Christmas in August

I’ve been eagerly anticipating for weeks now the arrival of a couple of work-related items. The first was a Timbuktu bag for my laptop. I had one of these years ago that Flock gave staff members, but it was entirely too small. It wouldn’t hold the oversize laptops I tended to get, and even if I had had a smaller laptop the thing could contain, there was precious little room for anything else in it. When I travel, I tend to have an assortment of books, cables, often a portable keyboard and stand for my laptop, etc. So the Flock bag never worked out for me.

The new bag, embroidered with the WordPress logo, could just about carry my whole trip’s worth of belongings. I requested a large backpack because I’ve been sporting a 17″ MacBook Pro for a couple of years now, and boy would this thing hold it. It’s more like the backpack wears me than like I wear it. My sense of this is exaggerated, of course, because I haven’t yet put anything in the bag, and it’s not at all broken in. I think it’ll be a great bag. (It was also stuffed with a couple of WordPress shirts and a mug.)

What makes the size all the more comical is that I have economized what I’ll be carrying around with me when I use the bag. Along with the bag, I also took delivery yesterday of a new 13″ MacBook Air, which is a good deal smaller than the 17″ MBP I’ve been lugging around. I feel like I’m working on an iPhone by comparison, and I feel as if I could tuck the thing inside one of the smaller pockets of my new bag (and lose it in there). I’ve also recently gotten a small Kindle, so that rather than porting around a behemoth laptop and several thick books, I’ve now got two slim devices and a whole bunch of empty space to carry around.

So far, I’m digging the laptop, though since I connect a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to it and use it on a stand as if it were a desktop machine, I’ve hardly taken advantage yet of its compactness. The thing is super fast, though, and so far it stays pretty cool (my other was a scorcher) and makes none of the worrisome sounds I had grown accustomed to. One of my favorite things is the MagicPad trackpad I got to go along with it. I’m still getting used to the various gestures for doing things, but once I get the appropriate muscle memory for them, I’m really going to like the way the trackpad changes my workflow. I may actually use some of the workflowy features of the new Lion OS whose cousins I’ve always dispensed with in earlier OSes. This already beats using the little bluetooth mouse I had been using, with its scroll ball that was perpetually broken for me.

Last, I recently got new business cards, which give me an odd sense of belonging (by which I mean that I feel a little out of my league here at Automattic, and having business cards and company equipment reassures me that there aren’t imminent plans to fire me). The business cards are nifty, turned sideways and featuring my ubiquitous snarly avatar and a QR code going to my gravatar profile on the back.

And that’s that. Christmas in August. Now back to work!

Tactile Buttons

One of my major beefs with the iPhone has always been its lack of tactile buttons. I’m not much of a texter anyway, and I’ve always figured I was probably less of one because I find it awkward to type on buttons that give me no tactile feedback when pushed.

This week, I’ve learned to some degree to appreciate the lack of tactile buttons. The Kindle has little buttons that you have to press firmly until they click, and it really slows my typing down. I find myself wanting something between what the iPhone offers and what the Kindle offers, a much more subtle physical indicator of a button press than the Kindle offers but something, at any rate, besides a tiny audible click.

I’m reminded suddenly of a difference I noticed years and years ago between keyboards for the Mac and the PC. This would have been in a college computer lab way back in 1995. The PCs (which still ran Windows 3.something if I recall correctly) had these great big clunky keyboards with ponderous keys that you just about had to mash with your elbows to depress. But when you switched to a Mac for some reason or another, you had these soft delicate keys that didn’t plunge and click so much as ease downward to a soft, springy terminal point. It was harder on the Macs to know you were typing individual letters because you lacked the definitive audible and tactile click, but there was something nice about that more gentle tactile feedback.

I’m undecided at this point on whether I’m coming around to the iPhone way of doing things or whether I’d like some tiny feedback when I push buttons. I do know that I wish the Kindle required just a wee bit less finger strength, which would allow me to take notes at least twice as fast as at present.

Taking Notes on the Kindle

I finally got a chance last night to try my Kindle out in earnest. One thing I’m hoping it’ll help me do is (if I can get over the urge to skim because its being a device makes me feel as if my reading of it can be perfunctory) to do a better job of taking notes. When I’m out and about with a book or am just bumping along reading casually, it’s easy to forget to make annotations. With the Kindle, I can make notes or highlight things any time I want; if I have the device on hand, I can add meta-data to my reading. For example, I sparked up Tom McCarthy’s Remainder last night and right away started noticing that he’s playing with boundaries and a sense of interiority and exteriority. From the moment I noticed the theme, I was able to add a note or a highlight any time I noticed a relevant bit. If I had been reading in a book without a pen to hand (or in a book I didn’t own), I might have made a mental note but forgotten it. Now I have breadcrumbs on my Kindle for when I wish to go back and reconsider my initial reading of the book. This is very handy.

The problem with annotations and highlights is that they’re kind of a pain to add. Using the tiny little arrow buttons to scroll to my place in the text is less than pleasant, and typing a quick note (for this non-texter) is arduous as well. And I sure wish there were a comma button among the default  buttons; I’d gladly sacrifice a quarter inch of space bar for a comma, but I now have to take notes in short, clipped sentences and separate lists with periods or no punctuation at all (or figure out what button sequence will cause a comma to be inserted). Taking notes, in other words, is pretty slow going.

The dream experience would include a tactile screen that I could touch, tap, pinch, or whatever to highlight or insert an annotation. I could then speak into the device and have the audio note saved. Voice-to-text software would then attempt to transcribe my audio note into a text annotation that I could correct after the fact (which would then feed back into training the device to understand my particular accent). Of course, there are barriers such as storage size for audio files and just the computational bits needed to accomplish such a thing. I’m sure the price point for the device would skyrocket with such things added. And I’ll bet the iPad or other devices have such features or have a roadmap that includes them.

But I have a Kindle. Still, I like the thing so far, and I’ve trained myself to some degree not to read perfunctorily. This could turn out to be a very good device for me, if not for my wallet.