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  • Michael Krakovskiy 4:02 am on February 29, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Human–computer interaction, , , , , , , , , web component, web storage   

    Memex is Here 

    I think I finally found a piece of software I was searching for all of these years, the Memex that Dr. Vannevar Bush predicted. Too bad that the  good ol’ leader of the Majestic 12 is not around to see it.

    Evernote is almost everything that I ever wanted in a Memex. It now even has a web component which will let me use it on Linux. The text recognition actually works and is useful, unlike what the retards at Riya were trying to do.

    Evernote seems to be rapidly improving, in leaps and bounds. It was around for a while, but without web storage and access I wasn’t interested enough.

    This is best symbolized by what I presume is an old logo, which is pretty lame:

    The new logo, with an elephant (they never forget), a dog ear ear – now that’s recursive, and an overall look that would not be out of place on an early 20th century pencil box just simply rocks. There’s more hidden imagery in the elephant’s head. In any case, looks like a real pro made this logo.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:09 pm on September 14, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: actual product, , , Artemy Lebedev, brilliant designer, , , , , electronic devices, electronic products, , Frog Design, golf driver, golf driver head, Human–computer interaction, , immaterial products, input device, , Latvia, , , , , , , , Mouse Driver, non-skid rubber, , , Optimus Maximus keyboard, Optimus Mini Three, physical product, Pointing device, satellite offices, software preview, , , , , web design scene   

    Optimus Mini Three Full Review 

    I once read a book called “The Mouse Driver Chronicles: The True-Life Adventures of Two First-Time Entrepreneurs” about two guys who started their own company with an unorthodox business plan: making a real, physical product and selling it. This happened during the dot com era, when everyone was making money hand over fist with immaterial products: websites, content, synergy and such. At the very most, bits and bytes would overlap with physical world in online stores – you could order something online and get it delivered, but there were very few companies that produced an actual product. Well, there was one place that would send a real dog turd to a recipient of your choice, but they went under and I can’t even find their website. “Brick and Mortar,” a metaphor for physical world (as opposed to online) stores became a pejorative.

    So, these two guys embarked on creating a company with a single product: a mouse that is shaped like golf driver and selling it to big novelty stores and catalogs. Very not dot-com. Designing the product was easy: take a golf driver head, slap mouse buttons on it – there it is. Dealing with the manufacturer was a lot more difficult. These days most of electronic products are made in China, and flying there is pretty expensive. You have to deal with the language barrier, timezone shift, and cultural differences, while collaborating on making a physical product. A single miscommunication and a whole batch worth tens of thousands of dollars might be ruined.

    This is the reason why so many great product ideas go unrealized. A great example of that is SiliconFilm: a film roll-sized device that would convert your regular SLR into a digital one. Many people would want to buy one, but it’s been a stady winner of Wired’s vaporware awards.

    Mousedriver was a simple product: a stock mouse in a slightly different housing. When I’ve heard that Art. Lebedev studio was actually planning to make one an OLED custom input device, Optimus Mini Three, I had my doubts that it would ever become real, but plunked down 100 bucks (a special pre-order price, it’s $160 or so now) and was prepared to get my money back in a year or two. Instead, in less than half a year I got a parcel from Taiwan. Inside was a working Optimus Mini keyboard. A was dumbstruck.

    Now, Art. Lebedev Studio is a slightly more serious outfit than the mousedriver guys. It’s a large (about 150 people) design firm lead by a brilliant designer Artemy Lebedev. This guy:

    Artemy (aka Tema aka Art.) Lebedev is so notorious in Russian web design scene, that he goes by the moniker “Youknowwho.” The Studio is based in Moscow, with satellite offices in Latvia and Ukraine. Web design is their bread and butter, but lately they’ve been branching out into industrial design. Starting with a funky coffee mug called ColorShift Atmark, they’ve been steadily building their portfolio of actually manufactured objects.

    There are only two other design companies that excite me as much, IDEO and Frog Design. Lebedev Studio in my mind is destined to be as great as IDEO. One day I found out that my favorite toothpaste tube(Crest Neat Squeeze) and toothbrush (the “fat” Oral-B one) were both designed by IDEO, as well as many other wonderful things. Good design is very important to me, and Art. Lebedev Studio is finally starting to come out with things that I can buy.

    The concept design for a keyboard with buttons containing little OLED screens called Optimus recieved a lot press coverage. Lebedev would be crazy to attempt manufacturing something complicated like that, just as it would have been stupid to attempt to create Apollo spacecraft without building a Redstone rocket first. So Youknowwho decided to do a proof of concept – a three button OLED “keyboard” and called it Optimus Mini Three. As I mentioned before, mine arrived from Taiwan a short time ago.

    I opened the box, plugged in the USB cable, installed the software and was up and running in about a minute. USB devices are supposed to be plug and play, but can be very finicky – refuse to be recognized, fail to install drivers, etc. Wasn’t the case with OM3 – the usb communication code is rock solid.

    One thing you should know about the organic led screens is that they are extremely hard to photograph. They behave kind of like the old tv screens and computer monitors, having some sort of a refresh scan. Ideally, I would take pictures in a professional light tent with a camera on a tripod taking a lot of pictures with a slow shutter speed. I ended up taking a lot of pictures hand holding the camera with the exposure of 1/13th of a second. My lens has an anti-shake feature and I have very steady hands, but the pictures could be a touch sharper if I used a tripod. There are also problems with moire pattern that shows up in pictures, but is of course not visible to the human eye.

    Here I loaded some sample images from the web. They look very crisp live, but even with all the camera artifacts, they look passable photographed. The contrast and resolution is very impressive. Also, the plastic that covers the screens gives off very little glare and does not hold fingerprints well. The only thing that shows up is light-colored specks of dust. I did not even bother wiping down the buttons after pressing them for the most part.

    Here’s an example of the silly slot machine game that comes with the software.

    Here’s a closeup of a single button. There is a bit of an issue with the pixels right at the top and bottom: they are a bit off.

    The memory and processor resource tracking application shows a \little artifact: a small stripe of dead pixels. This seems to be a software issue though: these pixels work in other applets and images, and actually show up in the software preview. In resource monitor mode the software itself takes about 10% of processor time for itself. This can probably improved, but this is not much more than I would expect from any resource monitoring application. Overall the “configurator” software is in a pretty solid beta. It does not crash, but certain features need some work: the Windows Media Player widget keeps scrolling “Winamp” messages, time and weather widget does not change the weather and is hard to read, etc.

    I could not resist opening the this thing up. I pried up the non-skid rubber and found two screws. Mr. Lebedev has a habit of leaving funny notes in code comments of most of his websites. I was looking for a message, or the design team’s signature on the inside of the case (like with the original Apple Macintosh), but did not find anything.

    The keyboard is not completely silent – when in operation it generates a very faint buzzing sound and the buttons are slightly warm to the touch. I thought that there might a little fan inside, but did not find one.

    The keyboard looks like it’s made out of metal, but it’s actually very high quality plastic. To make it more hefty, the designers used two strips of metal as wedges that hold the pcb in place.

    I did not take apart the screen assembly, but unlike most electronic devices these days, the mini keyboard seems to have been designed with future service in mind. Replacing the screens is easily within the abilities of do-it-yourselfers. As you can see, the key mechanism is the soft, rather than clicky one. This is a matter of preference, of course, but a click, as a feedback mechanism would be nice.

    A lot of message board nerds cry – “unlike the full keyboard it’s useless!” The usefulness of mini three is in the software, of course. Even in it’s present state with one minute of spare time I came up with at least one cool use for it – a three webcam viewer. The picture is worse than the original, but the idea is that the left button shows Mount Fuji (at the moment under the veil of the night), the middle one – the Empire State Building and the right one – a live seahore webcam that lets me know what the weather is at my favorite fishing hole. I haven’t played with the SDK kit that is available yet, but it seems to be super nice. “What can I do with this?” – whine some on digg and reddit message boards. A hacker’s reaction would be different – “what can’t I do with this!”

    160 bucks seems like a lot of money for a three button keyboard. I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone. The thing is, people spend a lot more on stupid case modifications and other blinkenlghts. And this well-designed gem of an accessory would be the coolest thing as far as the eye can see in your personal hell of a cubefarm. It’s a little hackable art piece. Practical? Not very. Cool? You bet your squeedly-spootch. Is it a good deal? Well, a much lamer lcd display goes for 80 bucks. A very neat laser keyboard goes for 180. Shiny is expensive.

    I have one gripe with the design. The keyboard is made so that it will lie flat. I’d like to have a little wedge, so I’d be able to see it at an angle (I think I’ll make one myself). What I do like, is that the screens are easily rotatable in software, so you can just lay it vertically.

    Of course, it’s a bad idea to program Optimus Mini Three to trigger self destruct, as it’s not cat-proof. But I think I’ll program a cat toy sequence in it though. So far the plastic stood up very well to cat claws.

    For sticking with this lengthy and rambling post, I’ll let you take a little glimpse in my geeky life. Here’s a snapshot of a part of my table, including my fancy input accessories, for which, as you might have noticed, I have a bit of a weakness.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 6:52 am on July 12, 2003 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alphanumeric input devices, , Chorded keyboard, , , Dan, , Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, few other devices, gesture recognition, Human–computer interaction, , , Keyboard layout, Kinesis, law terminology, , , , Stenotype, , wussy rubber membrane ones   

    I Like Small Keyboards and I Can Not Lie You Other Brothers Can’t Deny 

    The perfect keyboard. A geek’s holy grail. And I am not immune to the siren’s call of this insane quest.

    If you think that there isn’t much innovation in the field of alphanumeric input devices, you are in for a surprise. If you don’t think so, then you’ll be less surprised.

    There are four main schools of keyboarding thought:

    1) Typewriter keyboards suck , if you are really hardcore, you should use chord keysets. A chord keyset is basically a keyboard that uses combinations of buttons (like chords on a piano) to encode letters and numbers. Since fingers don’t have to travel horizontally and vertically, tremendous typing speed can be achieved. Chorded keyset is somewhat similar, but not the same as a stenotype machine used by court stenographers. According to The Straight Dope stenotype training takes 2,700 class hours (some of the classes probably have to do with understanding law terminology and the like) and you have to type 225 words per minute at 95% – 98% accuracy to pass the state exam.

    Douglas Engelbart had really high hopes for his version of the keyset. Much of his research as well as The Mother Of All Demos included a setup that had a keyboard, a mouse and one handed keyset.


    A historic moment: Engelbart uses his chord keyset to delete the first Spam.

    Closeup of a keyset, or Small Black Hit’em Bugger Teeth as it’s known in Pigin English

    The problem with chorded keyboards is the super steep learning curve and what’s even worse, the skill of typing in chords seems to quickly deteriorate without practice.

    2) Then there are those who think that the root of evil is the QUERTY layout. I am yet to see a person who regularly uses Dvorak keyboard, and the whole superiority of it seems to be just a myth.

    3) In the olden times there was the horror of The Space Cadet Keyboard. There were a few other devices that LISP programming aliens seemed to use. Truly bizarre geekery.

    4) On the other end of the spectrum of weird keyboards are ultra expensive contraptions. Even though outrageous prices are binding this group together, the usefulness, good looks and coolness factors are all over the board for these. You have to be one rich (or fiscally irresponsible) geek to afford them. There are keyboards that are split in two, like this Kinesis keyboard that mounts on armrests. has one and likes it.

    Then there is a truly scary keyboard from the same maker that has bowl shaped indentations for keys:

    This $350 keyboard has vertical set keys. I think I saw somebody’s review of it which stated that using it hurts. A lot. And I think I believe that person.

    Fingerworks this $339 keyboard that has gesture recognition. Apparently uses one right now. The learning curve seems to a bit steep according to his post.

    I think that all of these far out solutions are a bit too much. Split keyboards are kind of nice though. That Kinesis keyboard is 133T, but I did fine with Natural Keyboard Elite.

    I also had Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro which was discontinued (I think) is just like Elite, but with a row of buttons on top. Out of those buttons the volume control was very useful. In fact, the perfect keyboard in my opinion should have a set of buttons for volume control. I might get a Griffen Powermate for that purpose though. But at $45 it’s pricey. But cool. The rest of the soft buttons were mostly useless.

    I wish I could map a button to a key combination that switches between keyboard layouts (Cyrillic and English), but that wasn’t possible with out of the box functionality. Some of the soft buttons are outright dangerous, like the crappy “sleep” button. If pressed by accident it would plunge all of your unsaved data into the buggy realm of Windows power management, the cursed ACPI.

    Before then I experimented with a “clicky” keyboard. I purchased an IBM model 42H1292 aka The One True Keyboard. These Irish built mastodons capable of various feats of endurance have special spring loaded keys instead of wussy rubber membrane ones. Manly. Very manly. A click of The One True Keyboard can be heard for miles in an empty cubicle farm. But also a pain in the ass. Turned out I don’t like the clicky sound, the keys were getting stuck sometimes (even though I bought an unused, keyboard gravy free one).

    Right now I am thinking of switching to a mini keyboard, like the Happy Hacking Keyboard. Right now I am typing this on a mini keyboard that my friend Dan lent me. It’s called MiniTouch. I has those IBM style clicky keys and a layout that with a little remapping could really work for me. Does anybody know a good Windows keyboard rempapper? The layout feature that I use the most is a function key that turns arrow keys into page up/down/home/end. Oh, and one thing that I do with all keyboards is turn off (by ripping out) the caps lock key. That thing is pure evil.

     
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