I’m playing catch-up a bit. This weekend, Lifehacker ran a guide about living with a computer that’s past its prime. I’ve made a career of that. One of my desktop PCs at work (arguably the more important one) is old enough that I ought to be preparing to send it off to second grade. And […]
I’m sitting here watching NBC’s tribute to Tim Russert tonight. Although he was famous for being the biggest political guru of his generation, he was also the author of two books, both about fatherhood.
He died today of a heart attack. He was only 58.
I would have liked to have asked my dad what to do to minimize the risk of heart attack. Being a doctor, he should know. But I can’t. He died of a heart attack in 1994, age 51.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of renting a car. The insurance company was paying–the pleasure came courtesy of the 81-year-old woman who rear-ended my wife and son as they sat at a stop sign–but I learned a lot about rental company tactics.
This week I read a story on Get Rich Slowly about a couple who refuses to budget. The conversation ended when the person who needed to budget bragged about getting five shrubs on sale for $10 each. She didn’t need them, but the deal was too good to pass up.
Yes, it’s possible to improve the performance of an aging laptop. What’s better is that there are at least three things you can do that won’t cost any money. And while there’s a lot less under the hood of a laptop that you can replace when compared to a desktop, there are two (sometimes three) hardware upgrades you can make that can make a big difference.
Early in The Millionaire Next Door, Danko and Stanley single out the Scottish. When my wife, Emily, read it, she said, “That explains everything about you!”
When I read it, I thought it explained everything about my two grandfathers–one was rich, one was poor, both were Scottish, and both spent their money pretty much the same way.
I’ve been reading a lot of these kinds of books because I’m not going to let what happened to us back in May ever happen again.
Two weekends ago, I headed back up to Bethlehem Lutheran Church to rebuild the computer lab I had set up for them a few years ago. Built on P3-based Compaq Deskpros and Windows 98, it had held up, but was desperately in need of repair.
The vision of this project was to set up a lab in a declining neighborhood, where kids could come to do their homework and adults could come to learn computer skills. The lab is run under adult supervision, and outsiders with teaching and/or training experience come in occasionally to teach computer literacy classes.
Ultimately, I want this project to produce some sysadmins in North St. Louis. Years ago, when this was in the planning stage, I told Pastor John Schmidtke that I wanted to see some Mercedeses and BMWs in that neighborhood, purchased with salaries earned from skills picked up in that lab.
Well, that hasn’t happened yet. But there’s still time. In the meantime, how about if I talk about what I’ve learned from three years of operation?
Following closely on the heels of the question of how to pray, people often ask me where faith comes from, and where they can get more of it.
Real keyboards. I’ve written a lot about keyboards in the past. I’m picky. I’m a good typist, or at least used to be before my wrists went the way of Bo Jackson’s hip (with all due respect to Bo Jackson; that’s not to say I could type like Bo Jackson could run or throw or hit a baseball), and the majority of keyboards are absolutely abominable. Maybe that’s because I learned to type on manual typewriters–no, I’m not that old, my high school was just that far behind–but I need some feedback from my keyboard. The first computer keyboard I could touch type on was the old-fashioned IBM PS/2 keyboard. I eventually learned how to handle the abominable cheap oatmeal pieces of junk, but I never learned to like them.
IBM’s buckling spring keyswitches evoked strong emotions; people either loved them or hated them. Other highly regarded keyboards generally used keyswitches made by Alps Electric; they were a little quieter and a little softer but still gave some feedback.
Those who managed to get them swear by their Northgates, or the present-day Northgate clones, the Creative Vision Avant Stellar and the Ortek MCK-142, both of whom boast of their Alps keyswitches and claim the true Northgate legacy. I understand their feel is just slightly softer than the IBM. I had a keyboard with that kind of feel; I believe it probably used Alps keyswitches. I didn’t like it as much. My sister took a liking to it so I let her keep it. I just kept buying used IBM PS/2 keyboards, the older the better. The older ones are theoretically less reliable because of potential heavier use, but they feel better. But two of my IBM keyboards are acting up now, so what to do? Do I really want to buy more used ones that are prone to go south all too soon? An original unused Northgate OmniKey sells for an Imsai price these days; they’re almost priceless. (I see some used OmniKeys on eBay right now for $50; even used ones rarely end up selling for that.) A clone will set you back $130. I’m willing to pay a fair sum for a good keyboard, but I’m a little wary of spending 10-12 times the cost of a normal keyboard on something I haven’t ever used before. I suspect I know their feel; IBM lightened up their feel towards the end, just before they stooped to everyone else’s level and started bundling $12 keyboards with their systems. I suspect the Northgate clones feel like those late-model IBMs, and I want something a little firmer.
Zeos used to sell highly regarded keyboards (from what I’ve gathered, they were actually made by a Taiwanese company called Nan Tan, who’s still in business but seems more interested in making commodity $12 keyboards these days), but Micron bought Zeos years ago and jettisoned the keyboards. Nobody talks about Zeos keyboards anymore. I only used one of those once, and I don’t remember it being the bomb, but I remember it being a lot better than, say, a run-of-the-mill NMB keyboard. Supposedly they used Alps keyswitches as well, so the feel was probably a lot like a Northgate.
I was learning far more about keyboards than I ever wanted to know, but I still couldn’t find anyone who would sell me a decent keyboard for a two-figure price. Then I stumbled across www.pckeyboard.com . That’s Unicomp, a small company out of Lexington, Kentucky. The significance? IBM made keyboards there. They spun off Lexmark, and Lexmark made keyboards there. Real keyboards come from Lexington, Kentucky, just like real baseball bats come from Louisville, Kentucky. I don’t know what springs to mind when anyone else hears the word Kentucky, but those are the two things I think of.
In 1996, Lexmark quietly sold their keyboard technology to these guys, who quietly sell IBM lookalike/feelalike keyboards for about 50 bucks. They sell both the so-called “enhanced” models (no thanks) and models with the old-fashioned, loud, patented buckling springs that go clackety clack. They also fix IBM keyboards. I like this. For half the price of an MCK-142, I can have what I really want. They even claim to have a 104-key model with Windows keys, which would be really nice, but I can’t find it on the Web site. I’ll have to call. I’d buy two or three 104-key buckling spring keyboards in a heartbeat because I constantly use the Windows-M and Windows-R keyboard shortcuts. I usually redefine one of the ALT keys as a Windows key using Microsoft’s Kernel Toys, but that doesn’t help you in NT, and it’s good to have two ALT keys. The ALT-arrow key combinations get awkward if you redefine the right ALT key, but ALT-F4 gets awkward if you redefine the left ALT key.
They apparently also had a programmable IBM feelalike in the past, but I can’t seem to find pricing on that one either. Programmable macros along with the IBM feel would be true luxury. I’d probably willingly pay $150 for that, as frequently as I re-key certain strings of characters.
It looks like I need to make some friends in Lexington.