Mice, Keyboards, and Displays, Oh My!

I was talking with some friends recently about computer hardware and peripherals/accessories and what we would spend more money on. Some of my friends said that they would spend as much as possible on the fastest hardware and then just get a bunch of cheap peripherals. While I appreciate fast hardware and will always try to get some of the fastest that I can, I will always make sure not to spend the entire budget on just fast hardware. When it comes to my computing needs one of the most important things that I always look for are the things that I use to interface with my computer/technology. This covers input devices such as keyboards, buttons, mice, trackpads, etc. but also things such as displays and speakers/headphones. I always will pay extra for higher quality on those fronts. This seemed strange to some of my friends whenever I built/bought a computer, as they would wonder why I would spend more money on my mice and keyboards rather than spending a bit more on my graphics card/cpu/some other hardware.

There are a couple reasons for this:

The first is cost: As a general rule, your external display, mouse + keyboard, and speakers will last longer than your computer. As an example, one of my favourites and longest running mice I had was the original Logitech G5 lasted from 2006 until last year, after which it gave up the ghost, it would have lastest longer but I was quite rough with it. During this time it had gone through three of my computers (I do tend to go through computers faster than the normal person). It was supremely comfortable mouse that was great for every day usage as well as gaming.

What this essentially means is that if you get a new computer you do not need to go get all new peripherals and can just reuse what you already have. This means that you can amortize the cost of your peripherals of several computers. (Strange that I use computers as a measurement of time.)

The second, which I find to be even more important, is this is what you use to connect to your computer. I spend a long time on the computer and it doesn’t make sense to not use the best things to interface with your computing devices. I like to think of it as building a supercar and then attaching reins instead of a steering wheel, and a sofa instead of sport seats. It works, but you are definitely holding yourself back and there is also potential of harming yourself. High quality peripherals are usually more ergonomic and for me personally are much more pleasurable to use. If you are going to be spending any large amount of time on the computer then it is really important that you do everything you can to minimize any chance of RSI.*

How pleasurable my peripherals are to use is something that I find really important. A good keyboard, pointing device, display, and speakers/headphones just make me feel happier when using them. This then makes me work better. Having a terrible keyboard or trackpad on a laptop (ie. most Windows laptops) is one of the most frustrating things in the world and can totally ruin the laptop for me. On the other hand, having a nice keyboard with good feedback and an awesome trackpad with working gestures (current Mac laptops) make me work better. When your primary interface to your computer isn’t very good it makes it seem as if the computer is actively fighting against you and just adds to the frustration. Why would you want to add frustration to your life? Is having a more pleasurable experience really worth less than a few extra FPS?

I find that most computer companies do not pay as much attention to these interfaces with their computers. As proof walk into any computer store and see the vast range of computers with terrible displays, horrible keyboards and utterly unusable trackpads. I feel this partially adds to many people’s frustration with regular computing devices. What is interesting to me is that in post-pc devices, many manufacturers are not following the same path as the older PC market. How a device feels in your hand, and the display, the primary interface for most of them, are actually improving rather than degrading as they have been for most of the PC market. I think this adds to the love that most people have with their post-pc devices, that many didn’t have for their older computers. I just hope that this trend continues not just in computing but in other every day things. The one that I would love to see this apply more to would be in in-car entertainment systems, but I’ll save that rant for another day ;)

* Remember to take break every hour and walk around as well as to look away from the screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes!

Update!

So there goes my plan of regular updating this thing.

I got a reminder from my ISP telling me that this site was about to expire. I seriously thought about just letting the site expire considering that I rarely ever update this thing. Obviously that didn’t happen. Now that I have graduated and have free time (ha!) I figure I should actually try to keep this thing updated. Regularly writing is supposed to be a good habit (improving your writing/communication skills etc.) so I should probably keep at it.

So what does all this mean? Well, I know have a goal where I am going to try to write at least one post a month (I know, high goal) but I figure I should try to keep something reasonable. I don’t want to write just small posts, but try to keep up on my epic length ones. I’m also going to try to post some more pictures and other media. The issue with that however, is that I have a super tiny account so I might see about expanding to another ISP or find someway of hosting my pictures/videos some place else. I haven’t exactly decided on that yet.

I also will actually try to get a bit more traffic here, not sure how I’m going to do that (no scummy SEO tricks) but I’m sure it will be an interesting challenge.

I also have some random other designs of things that I have bouncing around in my head for stuff that I can’t currently work on, so I might post some of them for other people to try out, so at least these ideas get a chance at life.

So that was actually a longer update than I was expecting, but that’s good for starting out I guess!

Trying out F.lux

I have always wanted to try out F.lux as I’ve heard that it stops you from staying up as late when you are working on a computer. As I am in exams, I’ve noticed that my sleeping schedule has become a bit messed up so I figured I might as well give it a try. I’ll post some updates on how I feel it works over the course of the new few days. I think it’s an interesting idea and can’t wait to see the results!

Game Dev Diary 2

It sure has been a long time since my last post. I admit that I should have done regular updates throughout the term, but I was just extremely busy with both our game and my graphics course. I’ll have a post up on the latter at some point soon.

Now before I go any further, I think I should just post a quick little blurb on the basic idea of our game, just to remind everyone what it’s about. We are working on two game modes, a multiplayer versus mode and a single player game that can be played co-operatively. The basic game mechanic is that you have to throw enemies (called “seekers”) of different colours into “vortexes” of the corresponding colours. That is the basic idea, but then we include many other mechanics on top of this core mechanic to create a fully fleshed out game. Below is the video that we handed in with our final milestone (Full size video link).

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Game Dev Diary 1

One of the classes that I am taking this term is Arts304 and the point of the course is to get into groups and develop a game. When the course started the project was supposed to be an educational game but now it can be any genre. Another requirement used to be that the game must be a mobile game as they are usually simpler and and not as deep, but that has changed as well. My group has decided to create an iPad game and I thought that I would document the development process as we go through it.

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Robots in Society

I’ve always been fascinated with technology and it’s impact on society. One of the things I’ve been recently been thinking about has been what would society look like if we had fully functioning robots as we see in sci-fi. I seriously do believe that robots will bring a huge change to society and I just want to lay out my thoughts out on how our world would change.

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Magic Trackpad First Impressions

So I was just trying out the Magic Trackpad at work. I thought I would just give a really quick update on my thoughts.

First of all it is a gigantic mousing area and it makes using all the built in gestures in OS X even more fun. I had noticed some earlier reviewers had said that it is annoying to use on a large display, but using it connected to a 15 inch MacBook Pro and 24 inch Cinema Display, I didn’t find it to be too much trouble. Fast flicks moved me from one monitor to the other very quickly.

Another big benefit is that if you are mousing around a lot, using it is much more comfortable. You just have to move your fingers a tiny bit and it works nicely, almost like a new age trackball.

Now the only problem I have with it right now is that the entire thing starts to move when doing certain gestures. Specifically anything that requires three or four fingers and you move up. I believe this may be due to the fact that my fingers are used to a flat trackpad and having one at an angle makes me push against it. I’m not entirely sure and will have to spend some more time with it to see if it’s a big problem.

Xcode Full Screen Tip

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated but I should have some updates soon.

Anyways neat Xcode (and NetNewsWire as well) trick to fullscreen the window. If you hold the option key and press the zoom (green) window, you will go full screen. Everything else will disappear and it’s really good for focusing when you are coding!

Interviewing is Like Dating and Thoughts on The Co-op Process

At school I just finished the co-op interview process. This means that us poor students had to deal with Jobmine, Waterloo’s co-op job search and application web app. Ask any student in the co-op program from Waterloo and almost all of them will have unkind things to say about it. We are told every term that it has been improved and that completely new revamp is “just around the corner”. This wouldn’t be too bad, except for the fact that every term, without fail, Jobmine will go down. Don’t worry this post is not a huge rant about Jobmine, but while I was sitting there and applying to jobs, I started to think.

I always say to my friends that the entire interview process is like dating and it got me thinking that how Jobmine is currently setup would make for a really crappy dating site. One of my favourite blogs to read is the OkCupid corporate blog. I really like how they use all the data they have to bring out very interesting analytics. It got me really thinking about the co-op process. Not all students know where they want to go and many don’t know much about the companies that are hiring them. I imagine things are better for the other side of the fence as employers get resumes and cover letters as well as a transcript. Companies find out a lot about the students while all the student can really know is what is written down as the job description (which a lot of the times is really crappy) and the company name which they will have to research. Not much is known about the actual job.

This is where the dating metaphor comes in. Would you be willing to date someone for 4 months based just on a brief description? Most people would probably say no. Co-op jobs are just the same. You essentially are “dating” companies to find out about them and for them to find out about you. The former is the key part there that a lot of students miss. You should not just be trying to sell yourself to companies but they should also be selling to you. I don’t want this to come across as some very elitist 37signals style post (just kidding guys!), but this is your future and you want a place that will make you grow as a person. You want a partner who will teach you new things, treat you nice, make you happy and who you will be able to do the same with. There will be an initial excitement, which will lull and then later you may discover things that you wouldn’t be able to know about from just a simple description. Sound similar to dating yet?

Now (good) dating sites have figured this out a long time ago. They know there are things that a simple picture and description won’t be able to do. This is something that OkCupid does well with it’s questions and “Quiver”. Essentially it gets you to answer a bunch of questions and then they take them and compare your answers to other people. Using these answers they give each person you see a separate compatibility, friendship and enemy rating. The “Quiver” is a bunch of people that they believe you would hook up nicely with. If you reject one of the people in the “Quiver” it takes that person’s attributes and answers into account when giving you new people. The whole thing works on deep analytics that it gets its users to complete. Questions do not need to all be done at once and you can answer more anytime you like. You are also able to input in your own questions and responses that you believe correspond to certain traits.

So how do we add this to our job search? Simply add similar features. Currently in Jobmine you have a skills section that is hardly ever used. I used it once in first year and have not updated my skills since then, proving employers don’t use it either. Essentially get a bunch of questions that students can answer such as “how important are free drinks in a workplace?” and things of that nature. Employers can answer questions as well for people that they are looking for. This way both can find out more about the the ideas and values of each other before the interview. Also, students can see just how much employers are into finding good talent rather than throw away workers by looking at the number of questions that employers have answered.

By having all this data on employers, students would also be able to see their compatibility with each job while searching and also do searches for things that are much deeper than just name and location. I want to search for a company that does pair programming? Done. This would make the whole job search easier. Also at the end of a term we students get ranked by our employers and given an employer evaluation. Why can’t we do the same for them? If a place is amazing, I want other students to know (shoutout to Fog Creek here!) and if it’s horrible I want other students to stay clear. This way we can see what our peers say about jobs. There are countless sites that already do this, so why not add this feature directly into Jobmine?

Now I realize that this idea isn’t exactly how things are done in the “real world”, but honestly the real world job hunt is crappy too. Why stick with a horrible design just because it’s what is used in the real world? Make the change now and maybe it will spread out to the real world as well. If the system works sell it to other universities that want to emulate University of Waterloo’s co-op program or make a commercial spin-off. Now if I didn’t have some other ideas that I was working on currently, this would be my number one side project. Hopefully someone is able to take my rough paper napkin ideas and put them to use to make the job hunt a better place to be. EAVB_PJOCZMLSHM

New Look

So I was getting bored of the old look so I decided to make a change. Right now this is a stock theme but I’m planning on adding my own spin on it. I like the clean design with tons of white space.

I also have had a bunch of ideas floating around in my head for blog posts but haven’t had time to put them down thanks to assignments, midterms and the World Cup. I hope my one regular reader enjoys them. :)