The Best Keyboard in the World

Rarely is the statement “the best xxx in the world” used accurately and sincerely, but when it comes to the IBM Model M it is the only just way of describing it. The IBM Model M is to keyboards what Seinfeld is to sitcoms: the best one made and still the best one made (sorry to any Cheers, Friends or Frasier fans out there).

All this hyperbole I’m throwing around must now be explained. Instead of going over the history of the Model M and how it has reached its status to many as “the BEAST keyboard EVAR made” (translation: “best keyboard ever made”). I will give you 5 reasons one reason, the one true reason, why no Razer, Steelseries, WASD or DAS keyboard can beat IBM’s baby.

Springs

Look at any (non-membrane) keyboard nowadays and you will see plastic moulds called switches. You may even see different coloured ones or ones from different manufacturers. They all give a different feel. The most ubiquitous make of these switches is Cherry, who have more than 20 different types. Switches vary in stiffness and clickiness. The diagram below shows the mechanism of a Cherry MX Red switch.

Cherry MX Red Switch
Figure 1
If you want a good explanation of how these switches work click here. You will notice that these switches use springs. So, what is so special about the IBM Model M’s springs? They’re buckling springs. Which as the name suggest means that the spring doesn’t just compress, it bends. The diagram below illustrates how the Model M’s keys are actuated, whereas the diagram above of the Cherry MX Red switch shows a spring compresses uniformly. 

Bucklingspring-animation-300ms
Figure 2
I honestly do not know how this makes such a difference, but the difference is so beautiful that I don’t even bother to ask why. Typing on a Model M is like typing on a typewriter, without all the nuisances. Like typing on a typewriter you will hear someone using this keyboard. It’s probably not suitable for shared offices or late-night writing, but otherwise the sound is part of the experience.

The IBM Model M will help you type faster. 

I believe this is not only because of the physical difference in the key design, but also in the experience of typing. The ping at the end of each keystroke is so satisfying that it motivates you to keep typing. I sometimes find myself typing things out twice instead of copying and pasting them because it’s such a pleasure to type on. Other keyboards (which I will admit I have not tried many) just don’t provide this. There’s also something charming about using a keyboard that was made in a time when most people had never heard the word “internet” and Apple was earning less than IBM (or most other companies for that fact). 

This does have the disadvantages of old technology being well, old. There are two things you will miss most from the Model M. Because Windows didn’t have a start menu when this keyboard was first made, there isn’t a Windows key present which is annoying for us power users. Though newer Unicomp models (which are mentioned below) do feature one, I would still recommend the original IBM/Lexmark made ones with some keyboard remapping, for example to remap Caps-Lock to the Windows key. USB, like the start menu is younger than the Model M so connectivity is provided by PS/2. This means that laptops will require an adapter (make sure it’s labelled ‘active’). Though PS-2 does provide a few benefits like not using up a USB port if your computer has a PS/2 port and there are technical advantages of PS/2 which this article highlights.

So where can I buy one? No, this blog post was not sponsored (I mean I did complain about the lack of a Windows key)

Finding a Model M can prove tricky. If you can find a source then you will not regret the time you invested in acquiring one. I will say however that despite my love for this keyboard, it isn’t worth £400 so don’t just buy the first one you see listed. I managed to get mine from Bluegoose systems, after a friendly email exchange, for £80 which includes postage. If you’re looking for more sources try some listed on this forum post. If you’re in the US or Canada, finding a source is considerably easier and if you want a brand new one you could always choose Unicomp who produce still Model Ms. However, they are not the same as the original Model Ms produced by IBM and Lexmark. If you’re elsewhere on the globe, I’m afraid I don’t have any links, but tying searching for “IBM Model M sources [your country]”. 

References 

Figure 1: Animated Cherry MX images from Lethal Squirrel on Geekhack.org

Figure 2: By Shaddim – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30568410

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Bridge Of Spies Shows That Spielberg Still Has it

We all know what a good director Spielberg is. I’m not going to repeat the fanboying, but I will tell you about how Spielberg’s latest film is a sign of more good to come.

Steven Spielberg has given us some of the best action films of cinema: Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Jaws. But also the most emotional films of cinema: Schindler’s List and War Horse. His range is almost unrivalled.

But, he’s not perfect. He’s the same guy that gave us The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and War of The World’s.

This means that when he comes out with a new film, you know it should be good, but there is a possibility of disappointment. In fact, the more good films Spielberg makes the harder it becomes for him because people expect better and better.

I can say that Bridge of Spies is in my top 5 most loved Spielberg movies. Okay, so I haven’t watched all of his films (don’t worry, I plan to) but I’ve seen some of his agreed upon best. I was expecting to enjoy the film. The trailer had the qualities of a really good Spielberg film: originality, moral questioning and happiness but with sincerity. After I watched it though, I only really thought one thing: I wanna watch it again.

That is very rare for me. I love a lot of films, but for me to feel that. I don’t think I’ve felt like that before, usually I just want to go the toilet. Something about Bridge of Spies makes it so enjoyable. It can be funny, especially Mark Rylance’s performance, and it can be tense. But it is always enjoyable. I was continuously engaged because despite knowing absolutely nothing about the true story behind this film I felt like I understood what was going on and who to root for, but I still wasn’t quite sure how it would all end.

Tom Hanks also plays a pivotal part in this movie’s success. He plays what seems like a Tom Hanks kind of character: a charismatic, straight-talking family man, but he isn’t a hero straight from the cookie cutter. He’s not an anti-hero, but you get a feeling that he’s not in the popular opinion. One of the greatest scenes of the movie is on the New York Subway which highlights that really well.

It’s directed really well. And I don’t say that because it says ‘Directed by Steven Spielberg’, I say that because it is. The camera doesn’t feel like it’s playing tricks either. Because this isn’t an action film, I don’t feel like something’s just hidden out of shot for a scare. The camera shows all and what I see is good.

The soundtrack isn’t John Williams. Literally, it’s not (don’t worry though he’ll be back for next year’s The BFG). Instead we get Thomas Newman who in his own right is one of the greatest film score composers. The same guy that scored American Beauty, Finding Nemo and Shawshank Redemption. I knew it was Newman before I saw the credits because it had that Newman feel, motif, whatever the musical term is. Now, unlike Seinfeld I really like Newman (Thomas Newman), and whilst it’s not going to get an award for best soundtrack, the score really drives the thriller aspect of the film through. It also gives it that grand war feel. Prime example here.

All in all, Bridge of Spies is a 5 star movie in all regards. If I had to find one fault it would be the somewhat unclear and boring scenes showing the American prisoner’s experience. They just didn’t keep up with the nature of the other scenes.

Windows 10: Conclusion

I enjoy using Windows 10. It’s been a pleasure. That said I also love using Windows 7 and even after its sixth birthday, it feels modern and adequate for today’s world (I am in fact using Windows 7 whilst writing this last post due to an SSD upgrade, but I do plan on going back to Windows 10 very soon).

This brings me to my conclusion. Do we really need Windows 10? Hell yes, if you’re on Windows 8/8.1. But if you’re on Windows 7, there are a few compromises in Windows 10 that may not be worthwhile to deal with for the new features. However, Windows 10 doesn’t need us to need it because it’s free and we’ll all want to upgrade before we have to pay.

I’ve covered most of what I wanted to in this blog series, but if you have anything that you’d like me to cover further do not hesitate to ask by tweeting me @mrbeady, emailing me dominiclondoninquiries@gmail.com or leaving a comment below.

If you’ve enjoyed these serial type blog posts, please do let me know. I will now leave you to watch hamsters riding monkeys or you could read some of my other blog posts.

Jurassic Park Windows

Windows is cool again, assuming it once was (I think it was but I wasn’t alive), courtesy windowscentral.com

Windows 10: The Finer Edge

Microsoft Edge is beautiful. It’s not internet explorer! (although internet explorer still exists for you weirdos). Edge isn’t the fastest, but it needn’t be. It feels very responsive and light and that’s partly because it is very light, it doesn’t yet support extensions and offers a scarce list of settings. You can tell it’s built from the ground up, but that’s better than anything with the words “internet explorer” in it. I love the look of Edge, squared tabs, flat icons and a wonderfully simple interface. It certainly is a relief from my Extensions filled Chrome.

It is also very capable and is more like safari or opera than internet explorer. It also shows webpages properly and in some cases better than other browsers, for example when I watch a Twitch stream it shows the more modern video controls, whereas chrome and Firefox still show the old controls and seem to have a harder time rendering the videos. There are still a few nuances, for example you can make a tab a new window, but not make a new window a tab.

I couldn’t talk about Edge without mention of the annotation features, but it’s not because they’re that good, it’s just that Microsoft really want us to care. I still find them gimmicky and fairly basic. I did actually try to use it to highlight text on a webpage, but the highlighter doesn’t even follow the text so I quickly gave up. Only on a tablet can I see the handwriting and drawing usable. The clippings can be useful as it does allow you to send to Onenote, although it never seemed to turn up in my notebook, or you can save it as a bookmark. If you’re a heavy Onenote user, you’ll probably love it, but for us Evernote elephants, well we’re stuck with Evernote’s web clipper. The reader view however is superb. It allows you to read an article without annoying pop up videos and flashing adverts whilst still allowing that website to gain ad revenue. It’s not a new feature, Safari has had it for half a decade now, but it’s amazing that Chrome, Opera and others still do not support such a seemingly simple yet useful feature.

Microsoft Edge

Nope. Microsoft Edge shows off that it’s more than a web browser, it’s an annotating beast, courtesy microsoft.com

Windows 10: Cortana and your Privacy

Cortana is in fact a feature first in Windows 10 – Siri still isn’t featured in OS X and I don’t believe Linux has a personal assistant. Sadly, however, I haven’t been able to use Cortana because it ‘requires’ (or Microsoft requires) for you to let Microsoft collect a lot of data about you and have location services turned on. And you can call me a privacy freak, but I ensure you I’m not, I use Google now and have loads of data stored online. But I don’t want Microsoft to be able to look at my files or utilise my computers to install updates for other Windows users. Essentially, I want the same level of privacy on Windows 10 that I had on Windows 7. Even with Cortana turned off, there are a lot, seriously loads of settings you’ll need to turn off in order to regain your privacy. This video will show you how to do that and they’ll probably be overridden in the next Windows update which you have no control over. Whilst I doubt Microsoft wants to use your data for evil and I believe they have good intentions, they will happily give it all away if the NSA come knocking. I am not doing shady business on my PC by the way, I just have always felt I could trust that only I knew what I was doing on my PC, in Windows 10 spyware seems to come out of the box. Perhaps, my view of the PC as the holey untouched digital device are dated, but I still view my PC as very separate to the web (only connected when I want it to be).

I mentioned briefly that you have no control over when updates are installed. However, this is probably for the better and more good will come from the extra security than the lack of controls. Updating software is essential not only for bug fixes, but also for security updates and most users don’t think about updates. In fact, they’re a nuisance. Windows has always been known for constant overly pushy update messages. I even remember, my friend’s mum objecting to him installing Windows on his Mac because it always bugs you for updates. And don’t worry it won’t start updating whilst you’re performing mission critical tasks, like brushing up your food pics in Lightroom.

Windows 10 update options

As you can see you have some, but very limited control and Windows will only install updates when you’re not using your PC

Privacy is not security and Windows 10 is actually really secure. I am no privacy guru so I am not aware of the improvements Microsoft have made, but Windows 10 is as secure if not more so than OS X. Viruses, malware and spyware are still things you’ll need to avoid and I recommend you run a program like Malwarebytes as well as Windows Defender, but the operating itself is far less vulnerable than 7 and even 8.1. Furthermore, new password types have been added, like pass codes and the new Windows Hello service that allows for you to login with your face or finger. My favourite new password feature, however, is the ability to sign in with different methods. If I forget my pin, I can sign in with Microsoft account password (having already set it up).

Windows 10: What’s new

Something I found quite surprising is that over 20 years after its first debut, the start menu and taskbar are features people love and want to keep. As Satya Nadella said “we want users to love Windows.” If you compare Windows 10 and Windows 95, the desktop looks almost identical. Of course, I’m ignoring 20 years of innovation by drawing that comparison.

The evolution of the start menu. Windows 95 start menu (top), courtesy firealarms.redbat.ca and Windows 10 start menu (bottom), courtesy my laptop

Windows 95 start menuWindows 10 start menu

Of course, Windows 10 has an incomprehensible amount of improvements from 95, but even from Windows 8 there’s quite a good amount of new and useful features.

One feature I find very handy is the virtual desktops. Yes, I am aware that Apple and Linux users have had this feature for ages and Microsoft is just playing catchup, but it’s implemented and designed really well. It has keyboard shortcuts (which can be found here) and allows for windows to be dragged between desktops. I doubt that it properly supports trackpad gestures, but I haven’t been able to test that. One nifty use is for virtual machines, for example you could have Windows 10 on the left desktop and Windows XP on the right desktop. You could also use it instead of user accounts, just create a new desktop for your kid to use, then they can’t mess up your work (unless they’re too smart).

The universal notifications and action centre is another feature added that Mac and Linux users have had for a while. The side by side comparison below shows just how similar they are. Finally, app notifications don’t disappear into the unreachable aether after 3 seconds. If I get an email, problem with drivers or a calendar event they all come up on the bottom right (sadly, you can’t change the position without also changing the position of the taskbar). I say all, when in fact it sadly is not the case. Many desktop apps, like Evernote still use their own bespoke notifications that completely ignore the action centre. I can only hope that in time more developers make use of features like this in Windows 10.

OS X Yosemite notification centre (top), courtesy idroidwarz.com and Windows 10 action centre (bottom), courtesy winaero.com

OS X Yosemite Notification centre Windows 10 Action Centre

Windows 10: Many sizes fits all

If you haven’t, I recommend you read my previous blog post to fully understand this one.

How does Windows 10 work?

It’s pretty genius really – this is the future I’ve been waiting for: one OS for all the devices. First things first: continuum. This is as cool as it sounds – pretty freaking awesome. It’s the bridge between tablets and PCs – what Windows 8 lacked. It’s not too complicated, but pretty difficult to explain. I’ll explain it in terms of sports, if I have 2 square metres available I’m going to set up a table tennis match, if I have enough space I’ll set up a full size tennis court. The way the game is played is very similar and fundamentally everything is the same just adapted for the size available. Windows 10 also does this; it scales to the device you’re on. If I’m on a tablet – I’ll be in tablet mode with full screen apps and full screen start menu, a bit like Windows 8, however if I’m on a desktop – I’ll have the good old start menu and all apps will be windowed – including those from the store. This is best demonstrated on a 2 in 1 device like the Surface.

Continuum allows for Windows 10’s universality, but it still has some limitations, say I want to make the desktop app: Spotify full screen. There’s no option like there is on OS X to make an app full screen, instead I would have to make the desktop PC run in tablet mode (which also changes a few other settings). It’s all or nothing. Hopefully they add a simple fourth button on the top right of a window (similar to OS X). Up next: What’s new in Windows 10

Unlike Windows 8, Windows 10 adapts to the device you’re on giving you a more intuitive experience. Windows 10 in tablet mode (top), courtesy my laptop and Windows 10 in desktop mode (bottom), courtesy unixdo.com

Windows 10 tablet mode

Windows 10 desktop