Illustrated Keyboard Evolution

I have a really bad typing habit. It seemed I’ve always had it, but that’s not really true. It finally dawned on me: my fingers must be remembering something. But, what? It turns out our lack of a uniform keyboard character standard dates back to the 1920’s, if not earlier.

When I type contractions like isn’t, can’t, doesn’t or won’t, likely as not, I won;t type it correctly. It’s embarrassing. It looks like I just don’t care enough to proof-read my text. As my eyes increasingly reveal symptoms of old age, it becomes harder for me to spot my little mis-punctuations.

On a modern Mac or PC keyboard, the semicolon (‘;’) is adjacent just to the right of the apostrophe (”’). But I first became aware of my new typographical problem some time in my early Mac days. I’m not even a touch typist; I’m a hunt-and-peck artist, summa cum laude, at speeds up to 70wpm on a good day. What, then, were my fingers “remembering?”

I Googled search term “typewriter keyboard,” quickly learning that American typewriters, at least, were uniform as to letter key placement. But they were somewhat inconsistent on punctuation character placement. Most of the early mechanical manual typewriters placed the apostrophe above the ‘8’ key, or SHIFT-8.

My first typewriter as a kid was an awful old Smith Corona, literally not much newer than the one pictured below. My parents palmed it off on us kids, and bought themselves an Underwood – on which I stole hundreds of hours.

Smith Corona

LCSmithSuperSpeed

 

My last typewriter was a state-of-the-art IBM Selectric. Note that its keyboard layout is identical to those on the modern Mac and PC:

IBM Selectric

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But my first desktop computer was my Apple II, and it seemed clear some of the punctuation keys went “anywhere there’s room.”

Apple II

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I’ve composed on modern Mac and PC keyboards since I bought my Mac Classic, around 1986. The keyboard layout had morphed back to the now “standard” Selectric layout, where key placement has largely remained on mainstream keyboards ever since.

Mac Classic

Apple_Macintosh_Plus_Extended_Keyboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used Keytronics keyboards for years on the PC. I’ve used Apple Extended and Logitech on Mac ever since. I close this riff with a photo of my Logitech. It’s solar powered, and really works, even in low ambient light. It has a standard layout, and may be the best keyboard I ever owned. But my fingers are still confused.

Logitech Solar

Logitech

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Card Games, Personal Security and Random Numbers

There’s a dirty little secret in programming: generating truly random numbers is tough. When are random numbers really random?

Nearly everybody plays a computer game such as Solitaire from time to time. Have you ever had this deja vu feeling you’ve played this same game before? Did that initial “deal” look unsettlingly familiar?

Have you ever yelled at a computer game, “who shuffled this?”

My irritation with this led to remembering all the nasty little complications we’ll “overview” in this article.

There’s a reason for “bad shuffles.” To make each game unique, computers depend on random numbers.

If you don’t play computer games, you still probably realize security passwords are also just random numbers and letters. There’s a more serious side to this discussion. Random numbers are essential to secure password generation, encryption, and even national security.

The core idea to a series of random numbers is unpredictability. Knowing what one number is, should give us no clue what the next number will be.
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Do Juries Have No Place In the Patent System?

I read a proposal today that essentially suggests taking expensive patent trials (a la Apple-Samsung) out of the jury system, putting these disputes into the loving hands of an “expert tribunal” instead.

Readers are free to check their own resources and form their own conclusions. Below is my own comment, which I posted to GigaOM.com today. It is still in the moderation queue – a necessary evil these days – but I felt it worth repeating.

I think the proposal to replace juries with a tribunal of experts in patent disputes is more dangerous than the ills it proposes to remedy. (1) the patent system is itself a legal process, and to exclude plaintiffs from due process would be wrong. (2) Empaneling a jury free of bias and susceptibility to being swayed is the job of the trial attorneys; (3) ”Experts” can be biased too, but there is no appeal from that, and (4) a panel of programmers would look at the code, determine that different subroutines and methods had been called, and conclude that therefore it is impossible that a look and feel issue could have been copied.”

— Alex Forbes

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Great First Impressions of iPad2

I ordered my own iPad2 on Wednesday October 5. I only found out later in the day that Steve Jobs had just died.

We’ve all had a chance to review his life on TV newscasts, TV specials, online articles and analyses, and tributes. The number of tributes exceeded anything I hoped for or expected. Even at news sources I normally distrust, coverage was positive yet balanced and told a remarkable story that will be retold many more times in coming decades. I think iPad2 turned out to be a brilliantly fitting way to launch the post-Jobs era. It embodies all the design elegance, under-the-hood power and user-friendly simplicity he devoted his life to.

October 17 NEW YORKERToo few of us read and enjoy The New Yorker perhaps, but as one dedicated fan of that magazine, I can recommend their October 17, 2011 online article “How Steve Jobs Changed,” by James Surowiecki. Surowiecki is an accomplished writer and financial analyst who writes the magazine’s The Financial Page. Read Surowiecki article

But this post is about my first impressions of my iPad, even though its rationale is for me closely connected to reading my weekly The New Yorker on iPad and, eventually, all my other periodicals.

I was introduced to my first hands-on iPad experience by a friend whose eyesight issues may be worse than my own. He bought iPad to help rectify that. I find myself limiting reading sessions with print periodicals, either because of poor-quality newsprint, or lighting and glare issues with high-quality glossy magazine pages such as are mailed to me by The New Yorker and National Geographic. My friend says he can’t read a regular newspaper at all any more. I get all my in-depth news online, and for free, at sources such as BBC, Huffington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, PolitiFact and MarketWatch.

I’m fine with reading news on computer flat-screen panels. But I never cared for being chained to a computer chair to read books or magazines at length. I’ve already started downloading my The New Yorker issues to iPad, and find them eminently easier to read and navigate than those paper editions. This is a vast improvement over early industry efforts to find a suitable ebook format for periodicals.

I ordered the basic 16GB Wi-Fi model iPad. I don’t have 3G on my Verizon account and I’m unwilling to pay the monthly charges for it. 3G is great for iPhone, perhaps, and for people always on the go. Even if 3G was free, my lifestyle is such that I’d seldom be in a location where I’d have any need for it. Obviously, if you are “mobile” – move around a lot away from home and take your devices with you – the Wi-Fi + 3G model would be best for you. Continue reading

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Steve Jobs: The Man Who Changed Everything

In my Wednesday October 5th memorial article I said a few words for Steve Jobs:

[quote]Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought personal computing out of the science labs and back offices and into average American homes in the 1970’s. The Macintosh, a brilliant synergy of great hardware and a user-friendly software interface, created a sea change in home computing which still raises our expectations today.[/quote]

As I predicted in that article, only days after the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, even hardball political commentary broadcasts like Inside Washington were rediscovering how many ways Steve Jobs will continue to influence how we conduct our daily lives. One commentator said that people who used to read real newspapers and real magazines now read the online edition on their iPad. I’d like to take that a step further and say I know people who never used to read real newspapers or real magazines, who’ve started devouring serious professional news resources on their laptops and iPads.

It really doesn’t matter if one does or doesn’t “like” Apple. Some of us have a contrarian distrust of anything that becomes too iconic, too popular, or attracts anything that smells like a cult. Some people may feel all the credit given to Jobs somehow diminishes the real innovations of the many others in other competitive industries. And of course most homes, and the entire business community, still run on the Windows platform. Continue reading

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What’s In A Signature

I’ve long used a “signature logo” to help Summitlake readers connect with the fact a real person pens these pages. The signature is “Alex”. I just realized this graphic is 24 years old!

You’ll often see it at the bottom of those of my posts with a more personal flavor.

With quite a bit of practice, I created this on my new Macintosh 512K in 1985. At the time I bought that machine, there were no other models to choose from. The mouse seemed to be one of the most ergonomically “natural” I have ever used. I used a huge drawing nib, probably about 18px, to scrawl this out in the original Mac “Paint” program.
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25 Year Mark for PC’s

This month’s PC World magazine is celebrating their 25th anniversary, which pretty much coincides with the rollout of the IBM PC. Holy cow, has it been that long?

I bought my first personal computer, an Apple II with two 5-1/4 inch floppy drives and 48KB of RAM, in 1979. By 1982 PC Magazine was launched to cover the new IBM PC. (PC World was a spin-off startup after the earlier PC Magazine was sold to new owners, in the same year).
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“Situational Science”

Garry Trudeau exposed it in a big way in Doonesburytoday. “Situational Science” has been around for a while, but few knew there was a name for this social-political phenomenon. A quick check of Google shows that today’s Sunday cartoon strip is all the buzz on the Internet. Finally, someone nailed this new intellectual smokescreen on the head!
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