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Dec 102017
 

If you take a look at a modern keyboard, there will be more than a passing resemblance to the IBM PC/AT keyboard of 1984. The differences are relatively minor – the keyboard may have shrunk slightly in terms of the non-functional bezel, there may be some additional media keys (typically above the number pad), and the overall construction will probably have been made a lot cheaper (the PC/AT was an expensive system and the keyboard was expensive too).

 

(The pictured mainframe keyboard is not a PC/AT keyboard but does have a half-reasonable number of keys)

But very little about the keyboard layout has changed. Oh there are variants such as the ten-key-less keyboard where the number pad has been removed, or even more extreme 60% keyboards which do away with the navigation keys as well, but overall the layout is still pretty much the same.

The very first thing to say is that ergonomically, keyboards are too wide which causes you to move your mouse too far out to use comfortably. This is where the age of the PC/AT keyboard shows; at the time it was designed, mice and gooey interfaces were a rarity and everyone’s hands were nailed to the keyboard. This is the reason why the ten-key-less keyboards exist, and from experience of using both them, and a modular keyboard with the number pad on the left, I can say that a narrower keyboard is more comfortable when taking the mouse into consideration.

But I like big keyboards (as you can tell from the picture), or more specifically I like keyboards with plenty of keys. A keyboard can have plenty of keys without being wide if it is deep. Changing keyboard layouts is contentious, but as someone who has used a wildly different set of keyboards I can say it is perfectly possible to get used to different layouts when those different layouts involve changing the non-touch-typing keys.

That is not to say that changing the touch-typing keys should not be considered; for one thing the staggered layout of the old QWERTY keyboard does make things tricky so orthogonal layouts should be considered.

Now onto some specifics …

Relabelling

In some cases, keys have been labelled the way they are just because that is always the way it has been done. Which is a damn silly reason especially when the name is not only inscrutable but wrong.

For example, Backspace is by description (and historically) a key that should move the cursor back one space to allow typewritten text to be overwritten – you could get an umlaut over an ‘A’ by typing A, Backspace, “ which would get you a very rough approximation of ä. Which is not what the key on our modern keyboard does – it rubs out a mistake, and some old keyboards labelled it properly as Rubout. I have also moved it to just above the Enter key which is traditional on Unix-layout keyboards which is not a bad idea more generally – it is still in a prominent position, and by reducing its size slightly we have room for an additional key in the main section of the keyboard.

The PrtScn key is one of those inscrutable keys that nobody who wasn’t around in the early days knows what it did. Pressing it would send the text contents of the screen to a printer. There are two reasons why we should relabel it Screen Copy – firstly that is what it does (it copies the screen contents to the clipboard), and secondly it gives people who don’t know what PrtScn does a fighting chance of discovering a useful feature.

In a similar way, it would be helpful to add Next Field to the Tab key as a description of one of its more useful functions. You can hear my teeth grinding every time someone takes their hands off the keyboard, uses the mouse to click in the next field, and then types again when one simple press of the Tab key will do all that for them. Of course the original use is still there and used within word-processors.

Finally, the Esc key has been moved to its traditional position, and added what is effectively its most common usage – Cancel.

The right Alt key is often configured as an AltGr key to allow it to be used in combination with other keys to generate characters not found on the keyboard – such as æ, þ, or œ (all of which should be used in English but rarely are because they are so difficult to type).

I have not been able to resist relabelling the Win keys to Super keys, which is what they are configured for in Linux (and used for much the same purpose).

Moving/Shrinking Keys

Why do both Shift keys have to be so big? It is well understood that inserting an extra key between Z and the left shift is unpopular because you have to stretch further for the Shift, but keeping it in position and adding a new key to the left (here a small Caps Lock) would work.

And on the subject of Caps Lock, why give such a prominent key next to A to such a rarely used function? EXCEPT FOR THOSE WHO INSIST ON SHOUTING! Of course, moving the Caps Lock key somewhere else may just lead to less shouting. And it allows a very common request amongst those who use it a lot – moving the Control key back to its traditional position.

Some “New” Keys

Where is the Help key? We all know that F1 almost always functions as a help key, but why not have a dedicated Help key when the keyboard standard allows for it?

And in these days of increased concern over security, why don’t we add a Lock Screen button? Whilst it may not seem that important at home, in a corporate environment it should be mandatory, and it is not a bad idea in a home environment either.

The CutCopy, and Paste keys do the equivalent of Control-X, -C, -V, which might seem unnecessary but not everyone knows the keyboard shortcuts. Besides which, in edge cases the control key shortcuts are used for other purposes.

Most of the media control keys in the top right are pretty much standard if labelled differently. I have merged the up/down keys – so rather than use two keys to control the volume, you use one key (unshifted is down and shifted is up); I have “added” Bright ± and Contrast ± which are commonly found on laptop keyboards as Function sequences, but why shouldn’t they have their own dedicated keys and appear on desktop keyboards too?

The smiley key (😀) is a feature stolen from smartphones – an easy way to pick and select emoticons. I envision it popping up a dialog box to allow the arrow keys to move onto the preferred emoticon and Enter used to insert that symbol.

The Compose key is copied from old keyboards and allows you to enter certain symbols by using keyboard sequences – for example Compose, results in “ä”, and there are many possible sequences. It is a quick and easy way to type certain symbols.

And Find is also an obvious key to add – to search for things.

The Blank Keys

Also I have added a whole row of blank keys which would ideally be populated with re-legend-able keycaps (a clear plastic top which can be removed to insert a tiny scrap of paper with your preferred label). And they should be able to be programmed for whatever the owner of the keyboard wants.

Because many people have their own ideas on what should be on a keyboard.

Indeed with a proper keyboard controller (such as one from the keyboard enthusiasts‘ arena) any key could be programmed to send whatever you want.

Removing Keys

Don’t.

However much you believe a particular key is unused, there is probably some population of some type of computer user that uses that key more than you would believe possible. For example, I rarely use Scroll Lock (enough that I often use it as a custom key to control VirtualBox), but it is often used with Excel.

And I have seen suggestions that the grave/tilde (` and ~) should be removed because nobody uses it; well I use it a hell of a lot.

Dec 072017
 

Roy Moore is a despicable piece of rancid scum from the surface of a putrid pool, and almost certainly a child sex offender too. There are those who say that he is the victim of some sort of conspiracy and that these accusations are false.

Bullshit! Not only are there the accusers but a considerable amount of supporting evidence that he’s a sexual predator of young girls. And let’s be honest here, Moore is a self-proclaimed politician so of course he’s lying – it’s a surprise when any politician tells the truth. The claims are so credible that his own political party (Republicans) are deserting him; at least the Republicans with more than a gram of self-respect. One has even donated money to his opponent’s campaign!

Yet it appears that people in Alabama are still keen on voting for him. Given the number of available choices – vote for the Democratic candidate (probably something a Republican supporter would find hard), vote for an independent, or not vote at all – it is inexcusable for anyone to vote for Roy Moore.

In fact anyone who does so, has an unusually high toleration of child sex abuse. Enough that they should be suspected of supporting child sex abuse and perhaps should be investigated for it. Or added to the child sex offenders list (in the “supports child sex abuse category”).

Of course it isn’t possible to identify Moore voters (except perhaps from the scrapes on the knuckles), so we’ll simply have to lump everyone from Alabama together and treat them all as suspected supporters of child sex abuse.

Alabama’s new state motto: “Home of the Child Sex Abuser”.

Unless of course sanity returns and the voters in Alabama vote for anybody other than Moore.

Through The Doorway

Nov 292017
 

If you have not already heard about it, Apple made a mindbogglingly stupid mistake with the latest release of macOS (previously known as OSX), leaving their users open to an incredibly easy exploit that would give anyone full access over an Apple in their hands. Or in some cases, remotely.

The externally visible effect of the vulnerability is that a standard Unix account (root) that was supposed to be disabled was left with a blank password. Apple uses a very common Unix security mechanism that means the root account is unnecessary as an ordinary account (i.e. nobody logs in as root), although the account has to exist so that legitimate privilege escalation works.

As an alternative, Apple uses sudo (and graphical equivalents) so that members of a certain group can run commands as root. Nothing wrong with that.

To keep things safe, Apple disabled the root account and because the account was disabled, left the password blank.

It turns out that the vulnerability was caused by a bug in Apple’s authentication system which resulted in blank passwords being reset and the account enabled. But it is more complicated than that; Apple made a number of mistakes :-

  1. The bug in the authentication system. Of course no software is bug-free, but bugs are still mistakes. Of course because no software is bug-free, it makes sense to take extra precautions to avoid bugs causing a cascade of problems.
  2. The root password should have been set to a random value to prevent access if the account was accidentally enabled.
  3. Apple’s test suite which hopefully they use to verify that new releases don’t contain previously identified bugs should also check for this vulnerability.

Although the precise details don’t matter as it’s the principle of defence in depth.

Hemisphere and Curves

Nov 292017
 

According to some trustworthy sources, Donald Trump has been caught out re-tweeting three far-right videos by those well known reprobates that make up Britain First. This either makes Trump an imbecile or a member of the far-right; quite possibly both.

For those who don’t know, Britain First is one of those vile groups that shows up on Facebook from time-to-time usually re-posted by a contact who should (at this point) know better. They were well known for producing posts that on the surface seem reasonable until you look closer; until you got to know that Britain First is a bunch of fascists.

So it’s time that the US realised that Trump is an embarrassment and kicked him to the curb.

Nov 262017
 

Just seen something daft on the idiot-box (also known as “television”) where a character claims to not be an atheist because she believes in good and evil.

Which is weird if you think about it. We atheists pride ourselves on paying attention to the evidence, and there is plenty of evidence for the existence of good and evil deeds. What there is not evidence for is the existence of some cartoonish personification of good and evil; those characters sometimes called “god” and “the devil”.

It isn’t necessary for good and evil deeds to require some mysterious actor who lives in the clouds; people are quite capable of both good and evil deeds without help.

Evil deeds are carried out by broken people, and personifying evil as a mysterious actor is a way of absolving us from finding the broken people and fixing them.

Light’s Shadow

Nov 252017
 

The last few weeks has seen an explosion in the number of sexual abuse scandals amongst US politicians, and a somewhat bizarre difference in how the two parties treat them. The most serious accusations have been made about a US politician called Roy Moore, a particularly loathsome piece of work (even before the accusations) who is accused of molesting teenagers. Of course he has denied the charges, claiming amongst other things that he has never dated any girls without the permission of the mother (as if that makes a difference).

Now some Republican politicians have reacted appropriately and suggested that Moore should withdraw, but far too many have continued to support him arguing that either the accusers are making it up, or that it doesn’t matter – a child molester is preferable to a Democrat. Donald Trump (himself probably guilty of sexual harassment) has come down in favour of Roy Moore, in effect agreeing with both positions.

Many evangelical religious leaders have also come down in favour of Roy Moore; you might think that religious leaders might demonstrate some level of moral leadership but in this case those who support Roy Moore show they are not entitled to claim any sort of moral leadership.

Other Republicans have pointed to disgraced Democrats who have recently been exposed as guilty of sexual harassment as if that is comparable with child molestation. There are two very clear distinctions; firstly the Democrats have generally resigned their position, have lacked support from within their own party, and lastly whilst sexual harassment is inexcusable, it is hardly comparable to child molestation.

To abuse an analogy, sexual harassment is comparable to holding up a service station with a toy pistol whereas child molestation is a full-on bank robbery where the robbers shoot the security guard dead just for trying to do her job.

It appears from this distance that a sizeable proportion of the Republican party is comprised of self-entitled arseholes who can do no wrong providing they support policies that support the ultra-rich; led by the buffoon Trump.

Nov 252017
 

The scariest predictions of robotics and artificial intelligence reveals a desolate future where almost everyone is unemployed because machines can do it better and faster than people. That will not happen simply because the economy would break down if that were the case – if people are unemployed they are too poor to be efficient consumers.

Of course the most rabid Tories will try to cling to the outdated economic model of capitalism beyond the point of sanity so they will try to bring a great deal of pain.

To give you a flavour of what Artificial Intelligence might bring, they are talking about machines replacing lawyers, solicitors, and barristers; which is not all bad. Legal fees are high enough that most people cannot bring civil suits beyond a point where only the simplest decisions can be made. Imagine a future where a civil suit can be automatically handled by machines battling it out at all levels from the County Court all the say up to the European Court in minutes and at a cost that almost anyone can access.

Of course if you work in the legal system, you might well disagree!

The most obvious way of dealing with a future where nearly everyone is ‘unemployed’ but still needs to be an efficient consumer is to use the basic income idea where everyone gets a reasonable income. The most immediate reaction to this is of course the belief that it is too expensive. Except that some basic maths shows that it is possible: the UK population today is around 65 million, and the UK economy is worth £2 trillion; a simple division shows that we could give everyone £30,000 per year.

Of course that would mean a few less amenities – the NHS, defence spending, etc. So in reality the basic income would be a great deal lower than this, but it is broadly feasible given some rather radical changes.

Does everyone deserve a basic income like this? No, of course not. But this is not about what the worst people in our society deserve, but making sure they function as efficient consumers. And as a bonus, by ensuring everyone has a basic income, you can be sure that nobody slips through the net.

This does not mean the end of jobs and industry, but it will radically change it. Imagine for instance that you do not get a salary, but a share of the profits – instantly the cost of labour is removed allowing a company to compete with low labour cost countries. But if that share is too low, people are likely to sit at home.

And of course work will have to be made worthwhile without (or at least minimising) the annoyances we find at work today. Get in the way of what people work to do, and they will disappear in the direction of somewhere else.

Essentially this is almost returning to pure capitalism – companies are free to get rid of workers at whim, and workers are free to leave at any time. That has always been one of the biggest problems with capitalism – workers are not free to leave work with many things keeping them at a potentially abusive work-place.

Those with more than half a brain will realise that housing costs are a big issue here; and a solution needs to be found or all of the above will only apply to those who get their housing costs for free (i.e. almost nobody). Any potential solution comes in two halves – what to do about those with mortgages and what to do with those who rent.

In the former case, the government can simply pick up mortgage payments when the house ‘owner’ cannot afford them. In return, the government gets a proportionate share of the freehold, so when the house is sold, they get their share back.

For those who rent, the government can also pick up the rent payments for those who cannot afford those payment and can decide what a reasonable rent is. Plus no landlord can kick out a resident for non-payment.

The Bench

Nov 022017
 

Autocorrect can be annoying when it happens to you, or amusing if it happens to someone else. But one thing that appears when you look at amusing autocorrects on the Internet is that you often find someone saying “it’s the phone” or “the phone is doing it”.

No it isn’t. It’s your fault.

Way back in the mists of time when we didn’t have smartphones and keyboards were big clunky mechanical things (some of us still use them), one of the first bits of IT security advice I ever gave was to read though the emails you are about to send. Whatever means you use to compose a message, there are chances of making a mistake. So what you get in the message you composed may not be what you intended to write.

As a bonus, you get a second chance to review your message to check for “thinkos” (like typos but where your brain comes out with something you didn’t intend).

If you choose to send messages (of whatever kind) without checking they say what you intended, you are responsible for the mistakes.

The Bench

Oct 092017
 

Those of you with sharp eyes may have spotted a new page linked to on the right-hand side (assuming I have not re-designed the site to look different to how it is today of course) – The Premium Gallery. This is a quick way of looking at some of the images that have been selected from my catalogue by Getty Images and Alamy for commercial sale. As of today, I have 240 images uploaded to EyeEm, 198 on the standard EyeEm market-place, and 47 selected for the “premium” collection. The gallery linked to contains around 35 images, so some are missing; this is merely laziness on my part.

Although I intend to update this gallery from time to time, it isn’t intended as an exact representation of what is available; it is more a test of the gallery function available with “Envira Gallery” (a WordPress extension) which I may make more use of.

Contemplating The Sea

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