October 30, 2011

Review: Leopold Tenkeyless Otaku Keyboard

I call this: computers,tech — Posted by KP @ 9:11 am


Months ago, I published a review of the Das Keyboard Ultimate Silent, one of the most popular mechanical keyboards available in the US. At the end of the review I said that I was returning the keyboard because while I loved it, the keypad was mostly useless to me and getting in the way of my mouse, and I was looking to get one of the “tenkeyless” designs popular with Asian manufacturers.

So I did. Months ago. And I took these pictures. Months ago. I wrote the bulk of a review. Months ago. And I have no idea why, but I just never got around to putting it all together. And I’m glad I didn’t, because what ended up happening is that last month Das put up this special offer on Reddit where you could buy a keyboard and they’d send you all kinds of swag, and that was enough to get me to do something about the fact that I’d been missing the feel of the Das for months. The other thing that made my initial reason for not purchasing it irrelevant is that Mac OS X Lion made the traditional mouse pointless, so I had stopped using one anyway, making plenty of room for the keypad.

So anyway, I went back to using the Das for my MacBook Pro, and my other purchase, the Leopold Tenkeyless, is now on my gaming rig. It’s not a particularly good choice for a gaming keyboard, but since I use the machine for less strenuous gaming these days, I’d been looking for something small and solid to replace the giant Logitech G15 I’ve had forever.


Leopold’s style is very similar to another manufacturer, Filco, which is generally considered to be a little bit higher-quality than Leopold. I really can’t comment on that, because I’ve never used one, but that assessment seems to be more-or-less universal.

Despite that, the Leopold has a few advantages:

  • the USB cable detaches from the keyboard, which makes it a little easier to transport, and I suppose you could replace the cable if you wanted/needed to.
  • It also has notches for the cable to run in to the left or right, if your setup works better having the cable come out either side instead of straight out the back.
  • There’s no branding on it at all, which some people like. I don’t mind as long as it looks good.
  • The lights for caps lock, num lock and scroll lock are blue LEDs built into the buttons. I think they look much classier than the Filco, which has basic LEDs on the upper-right of the board.

The Leopold feels very well constructed. It’s surprisingly heavy, and doesn’t scoot around on the desk. It manages to preserve traditional keyboard dimensions without wasting any space. It’s a great keyboard for tiny work areas, or work areas you’d like to be able to expand by shoving the keyboard out of the way easily.


In the keyboard community, Otaku is a Japanese word (which means “enthusiast”), which has come to mean having no markings on the keys. It’s the same thing as the “Ultimate” in the Das Keyboard Ultimate. Some people like it because it makes you look like a keyboarding ninja. Others like it because it keeps their less keyboard-savvy friends, coworkers and relatives from using their computer. Honestly I like it because I think the printing on most mechanical keyboards is ugly.

While I touch-type, sometimes hunting and pecking is useful, like when typing in a password, or other sequence of keys that you really don’t want to screw up on the first try. So there are disadvantages to having Otaku keys, but I still think it’s cool. It might bother me more if my primary computer wasn’t a laptop. Any time I really need the keys labeled I reach up to the keyboard that’s right in front of me.

Custom Keycaps

The keyboard as pictured in these photos isn’t how it comes. The keys are supposed to be all black. I bought a set of custom orange keycaps on eBay. One of my complaints about the Leopold keys was that the little ridges on the default F and J keys were very small and hard to feel. On a normal keyboard this might be a minor complaint, but when there are no letters to see, you need a little more reassurance that you’re on the right keys. I also felt that relative to the Das, the keys felt lighter and cheaper. I know the Leopold uses ABS plastic, I’m not sure if Das uses the better PBT plastic. It’s entirely possible they don’t. My orange keys are PBT, which helped, but it still doesn’t feel as good as the Das. I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it, but something makes it more comfortable to type on. It might be the shape or angle of the keys, or the spacing.


When it comes down to giving an actual recommendation, I don’t really know what to say. There are a lot of good things about this board. I haven’t been able to try its most direct competitor, the Filco Majestouch 2, but I suspect you do indeed get what you pay for. There are subtle design differences, which are a matter of personal preference, but the Filco is on average about $30 more, and based on what people say, that seems to be reflected in a slightly higher-quality product. The Leopold is not cheap crap, by any means. It’s just something to be aware of, depending on what your priorities are.

I also can’t really tell you what’s wrong with it. I’ve heard critical things about it having a noisy spacebar, “mushy” enter or backspace keys, or that the Cherry brown switches don’t have a good tactile bump. I don’t find any of that to be true. There may be other keyboards that feel better, but there’s no defect I can point to. Still, it just doesn’t feel “right” to me. If I had never used the Das for two weeks, I might not have ever thought about it. But honestly, I used the Leopold as my primary keyboard for three months, and I couldn’t get the feel of the Das out of my head. It’s not a very scientific opinion, but take it for what it’s worth.

Where to Buy

If you’re in the US and interested in purchasing a Leopold, pretty much the only place to get it is from EliteKeyboards. Their stock and availability of different styles and switch options fluctuates, but they recently added some new models, including an all-white version.

If you want a Filco, Amazon is your best bet, as a middleman to some overseas retailers such as The Keyboard Company in the UK. And they support Amazon Prime, which is great if you’re a member. Try this link for a selection of what’s available. You can also find individuals selling used boards on there.

And if you want a Das Keyboard, you can buy directly from Das, or from other retailers like Amazon. J&R in Manhattan has at least some of the variants for sale, where you can try them in person.

October 29, 2011

Unbalanced Hardware Review: Original Nook vs. Kindle 4

I call this: tech — Posted by KP @ 3:10 pm

You know what there’s not enough of in the world? Hardware reviews pitting gadgets from several generations ago with stuff that just came out this month. All this This Brand’s New Thing vs. That Brand’s New Thing is great if you’re deciding between This Brand and That Brand for your next purchase, but what if you want to know “Is this new thing better than my old thing?”

So I am going to attempt to answer one such question for you, because I don’t really know myself.

My Situation

What we’re looking at here is if the new Kindle 4 (that’s the non-touchscreen one with no keyboard and just wifi) is better than my old original Nook (which has an e-ink display and a small color touchscreen at the bottom).

Let me first state that my technological life is much more heavily invested in Amazon than in Barnes & Noble. I have been buying stuff constantly from Amazon since 1997, when they were a bookstore. I have an Amazon credit card, which means that I earn gift certificates, and am more heavily rewarded when I use my card at Amazon than at another retailer. I also have Amazon Prime and am an Amazon Associate, so just in general, if I’m gonna make frequent purchases from either Amazon or BN, as I would filling up my e-reader, it just makes more sense to buy Kindle books than Nook books. And for a while I did, back when I read all my ebooks on my phone. But that got tiring, and I found reading on such a small, backlit screen was causing me to dread reading, and it would take me six months to finish a book. In fact I have several Kindle books that I started reading years ago and gave up on when I got my Nook, so I’m looking forward to finally finishing them.

When I decided I wanted to start reading again I knew I would need to invest in a device built for that purpose. I knew from using my dad’s iPad that that wasn’t it. So that pretty much narrowed it down to Kindle and Nook. I bought a Nook, basically because I felt that having a physical keyboard on something that is essentially a book is — Let Me Tell Ye — stupid. And after watching some friends using their various devices, I admired the efficient and flexible touchscreen design of the Nook — it felt much more like holding a book to me — even though I was well aware that I would be literally throwing money away by buying books from Barnes & Noble instead of Amazon.

I knew someday Amazon would come around and release a Kindle without a keyboard, and when that day came, I was commuting almost four hours a day to New Jersey, and my Nook was seeming heavy, large, slow, and as I was finishing the books I had on it and started browsing for more, I thought about how I would be wasting money. So when the new Kindles were announced and the basic model was so dirt cheap, I began asking myself if I’d really be happier with a Kindle.

Initial Research

I tried to read up on the new Kindle as best I could. I’d heard people say they didn’t like the page turn buttons because they’re smaller and built into the side of the device instead of flat on the front. They say it makes the device hard to hold. Well I like the buttons on the Nook, but I find the device hard to hold because it gets heavy after a while. The Kindle is 6oz. compared to the 11oz. Nook. When my arms and fingers are supporting half the weight, I find any shape easier to hold. Plus, I only have to push the buttons once in a while. Having to shift my hand a little to turn the page is less important than what position I’m holding the device in during my reading.

The Kindle’s buttons do feel kind of flimsy, but barring any kind of unseen design flaw, I don’t think they’re a problem. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that not breaking when you drop it is an important feature in a smartphone, you could probably break them, but if you treat your gadgets gently, the buttons are dainty but satisfyingly clickable.

I didn’t like the news that the Kindle doesn’t allow you to load your own screen saver images. I have no idea why they do that. Even Apple never tried that. Thankfully the built-in wallpapers (if you get the non-ad-supported version) are very nice, and similar to what I had installed on my Nook. Related to this and also a negative is that as of yet no one has jailbroken, rooted or whatever-you-call-it’d the Kindle 4 yet, so there’s no way to customize things that were not meant to be customized. But I have a feeling that’s coming, and frankly, I just want to read a damn book with it, the other features that surround the book have never been that important to me.

This is an important thing to understand in my review: I don’t need a tablet, or a smartphone, or a laptop, or an MP3 player. I’m bothering to purchase and support an additional gadget in my life solely for the purpose of providing the best book-reading experience possible. I really don’t care if it plays sudoku or checks my email. There are far better devices for that already on my person.

I was initially thinking about getting the ad-supported Kindle, mostly because I heard that some of the ads were actually pretty useful coupons for purchases on Amazon, and that’s something I can always make use of. But then I saw some pictures and decided that I didn’t like the idea of taking my Kindle out of my bag with no control over what the screensaver is. I don’t care what I see, but it’s my Kindle, and I don’t want to be potentially displaying a giant advertisement for something I don’t like. So I got the slightly-more-expensive-but-still-amazingly-affordable version without ads, which is sold for $109, but I had almost $50 in credit card points to put towards it, which makes it even more of a steal. If you’re not sure how you feel about ads or no ads, you can also get the cheaper one and pay the $30 later to turn off the ads, which is a great option to have.

And if you’re wondering why I wasn’t looking at the not-yet-released Kindle Touch, it’s because I want physical buttons to turn the pages. I actually kind of love the fact that my Nook doesn’t have a touch screen (I mean it does have the little one, but not the book-reading-screen). I like to know that I can touch the screen and not cause things to inadvertently happen. And I like the physical sensation of pushing a button. I was going to reach for a metaphor, but then I realized I’m typing this on a mechanical keyboard, and maybe that’s all you need to know about me. Some people say they can’t enjoy an e-reader because they need to physically turn the pages of a book. Same thing, but I just need the button.

Old School

This had nothing to do with my purchase, in fact I didn’t realize it until after the device arrived, but I think one of the reasons I love the hardware so much is its similarity to my favorite PDA of all time (relative to the technology at the time it existed), the Palm m500. Thin, light, simple, reliable. If that’s all you ask for in an ebook reader, I highly recommend it.

October 14, 2011

iOS 5 for Stage Managers

I call this: phones,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:54 pm

Now that Apple has released iOS 5, here are a few new features I’m finding particularly useful for stage management.


If you’re a seriously anal stage manager with some disposable income, you may have already invested in some of the more robust and expensive task management apps like OmniFocus or Things, but if you like to keep your tasks more simple or cost-free, the Reminders app is a great addition. It also syncs with iCloud so you can see your tasks on all your iOS or Mac devices. One of the features of this app, and the new OS in general, that I’m most excited about is geofencing — the ability to have it remind you when you enter or leave a certain place (like your home or theatre) based on your GPS location.

I’m a heavy OmniFocus user, but I think I’ll probably be using Reminders to keep track of simpler short-term tasks like shopping lists. I also want to compare the geofencing abilities of Reminders versus OmniFocus.


Please note, the timer now has a “pause” function. I’m struggling a little with when you would use this — perhaps if the earth stops rotating for a few minutes while you’re on a ten? But I add it because it’s the kind of feature Phil Schiller is never going to bother to tell you about in a product launch, and you may have more inventive uses for the timer in your workflow than I do.


Week view in iCal!!!!!!

I don’t know about you, but I always have my calendar in week view on the Mac. With the Retina Display, I couldn’t fathom why I couldn’t have a teeny-tiny week view on my phone, too. Well now if you tip the phone sideways, you can. Only one minor nitpick from a stage management perspective: when you swipe to the side to advance through the days, it has a little division between Saturday and Sunday, denoting the new week. Of course the Equity week starts on Monday, and there’s no way to change this. So if you’re counting hours on your tiny screen, you may be a little distracted by having to break up the week differently than is indicated, but this is a very minor inconvenience compared to the awesomeness of having a week view at all.

Note: there is one roundabout way to do this: under Settings/General/Date-Time/International you can select United Kingdom, and that will fix your week start problem and leave you with a host of other problems in the formatting of your date, time, phone numbers, etc. Unless you’re British, at which point you’re totally set already and are probably wondering why we silly Yanks start the week on Sunday anyway.

Flags in Mail!!!

Finally! Seriously!! How hard was this? This is one of those things that even the simplest mail client on any device should be able to do. I could do a Let Me Tell Ye on this alone, but now it’s fixed and all is forgiven, so I won’t. You may now go about marking emails you need to follow up on, and when you look at them on your phone they won’t blend in with whatever other crap is in your inbox.

I should also mention that I’m having some issues with flag status updating between devices. So it’s more of a theoretical “finally” than an actual solution. It seems to work better on my iCloud account than on Gmail.

Notification Center

Finally iPhone users who don’t jailbreak can have a feature that other smartphone users had over 5 years ago — something we used to call a “today screen” back in the PDA days, which was even longer ago.

One of my favorite things about this little applet is that I was on a train last night and every time I looked at my notifications, the weather had updated with whatever city the train was passing through. I didn’t even notice it, it was just there. This would be great for the road — no more having to remember to update your weather app with where you are.

You can pretty heavily customize (for Apple, at least) the apps that appear on this screen, and how much they show you, and in what order. One problem is that you don’t have control over what calendars you can see. So say I have a work calendar (don’t be silly, I have six work calendars) and a personal calendar, but I don’t want to clutter up my notifications with my personal appointments — you can’t turn that off, even if you hide that calendar in iCal. What’s worse is that you can’t get rid of the birthdays calendar. So one day when I had three contacts with birthdays, that took up most of my 5 appointment slots, and pushed off things like, you know, the performance I had that night. You can have it show you 10 appointments, but then you’d have to scroll to see any other type of notifications. It would be great to be able to hide certain calendars from the notifications screen, and give them an order of importance, the way you can with what apps appear.

It would also be nice to get rid of that nasty linen background, but I assume we will have to jailbreak or wait for several years to pass before that happens. The linen, it grows on me not.

Find Friends

This would be awesome on the road. You’re on lunch break during load-in, and somebody finds a cool restaurant. See where all the members of your cast/crew are during the day and meet up somewhere. Nick and I once walked all the way around the campus of Minnesota State University Moorehead in like a foot of snow, on top of a sheet of ice, looking for our bus, and never found it. Now we could just walk directly to the location of our colleagues on the bus.

Otherwise it’s a little stalkerish, but this app would be amazing for keeping track of a group in an unfamiliar place, which is pretty much the definition of stage management on the road.


I don’t think of this as a big deal because I’ve had MobileMe and Google Apps for years, but if you haven’t been syncing your contacts, calendar, emails and bookmarks instantly over the cloud, you now have no excuse not to enjoy the convenience and security of knowing that your data is updated everywhere without you having to do anything.

October 13, 2011

iOS 5 and iCloud Day

I call this: mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 2:06 pm

I’m a little behind the curve because I spent all day yesterday in a theatre with slow wifi, so I just got around to doing the iOS 5 upgrade last night between 1 and 2AM, which I napped through, and then went straight to bed when it was done. The good news is, I appear to have missed the rush on the servers.

This morning I awoke intending to learn about all things iCloud, but after an easy and successful upgrade to Lion 10.7.2, I hit the wall of server meltdown that is no doubt occurring at Apple’s state-of-the-art, size-of-the-state-of-North-Carolina data center.

So here I sit, periodically clicking through the dozen or so screens of the iCloud sign-up process, only to meet rejection. It reminds me very much of the process of applying one’s Google+ invitation when it first came out.

The reason there are so many screens to click through is that Apple has done a nice job of making sure you understand the consequences of changing your MobileMe account to iCloud: stuff is going to go away. Mostly shared calendars are going to break unless the people you’re sharing with are also on iCloud. I, for one, have never used shared calendars on MobileMe or .Mac, but that’s mostly because not everyone wanted to pay $100 a year for a service that barely worked, and so I had few people to share with. Now that it’s free, maybe it will be a more attractive competitor for Google Calendar.

Also, some of the more obscure things that MobileMe synced (like dashboard widgets, keychain info, and mail accounts) are not synced with iCloud.

There are two other caveats to the upgrade that were cause for some slight concern:

1. All the Macs you sync with must be running Lion I have my old MacBook Pro on Snow Leopard as a contingency for needing to use something that doesn’t work in Lion. So right now I’m creating a Lion partition for that computer, so I can sync it with iCloud (which should be cool), but still boot into Snow Leopard in emergencies.

2. The iCloud sync app for Windows requires Vista or newer Sue me, I don’t think a Mac user should pay for two copies of Windows 7. So my Boot Camp partition is on 7, and my gaming rig still runs XP. As you might gather, I don’t do a whole lot of fancy modern gaming on it anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m currently not playing anything at the moment. You might wonder what the point of even turning it on is. There’s not one, really. But when I do I like to have my bookmarks synced to Safari. So now apparently I won’t be able to do that.

Let me tell ye: I’m not paying like $200 to sync my bookmarks to a computer I rarely use. And frankly, I’m not putting another dime into that computer unless I receive another windfall from whence it came: an overwhelming amount of disposable income from a Broadway show.

I still haven’t quite figured out how iCloud is going to impact my life. I like the idea that my stay-at-home Mac will share more of the same files. I’m hoping that somehow this means I can carry less of my music library on my iPhone, but still be able to quickly download a song or group of songs from the cloud if I find I need them (and yes, I mean need, professionally, not just feel like listening to). The 32GB capacity of the iPhone 4 was pretty sad when it came out over a year ago, and for me is the biggest incentive to get a 4S. I would like to be able to fit a few movies (and about 60 episodes of West Wing, if we’re dreaming big — even 64GB isn’t gonna cut it) on my phone in a quality that will look good on the retina display, and right now I can fit like 1 or 2 at a time. So I’m curious to see how much iCloud can do to reduce the importance of having a large amount of local storage.

But for now, I will have to keep trying again, as the screen suggests. And somehow I don’t expect the experience is going to be any better, with millions of people uploading their entire media libraries at once, until things have a chance to settle down a bit.

October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 10:28 am

Last night I didn’t know what to say about Steve Jobs. My morning commute provided the answer.

In my corner of the A train, there were sitting eight people. Let Me Tell Ye about these eight people:
1. (me) iPhone 4
2. iPod Classic
3. Unknown device with Apple earbuds
4. iPod Touch
5. iPod Classic
6. iPhone4
7. iPod nano
8. iPhone 4

When I got off 5 and 8 had been replaced by White iPhone 3GS and Yellow nano, and another White 3GS and Lady with Earbuds were standing between us.

In the interests of full disclosure, at some point a lady sat down between 7 and 8 who seemed to be entertained solely by something called a newspaper, but she left, probably out of boredom, or to go wash the ink off her hands. Actually I think she got off at 59th, so maybe she gave up and decided to go buy an iPad.

This observation reminds me of a day probably around 2003 when I was on an N train, back when MacWorld was still held in New York. There were three guys in Apple polos, looking very much like the sightseeing sailors in On the Town, enjoying their liberty from the convention and studying their maps and obviously a little lost.

They looked around the car and landed on me. Seeing my white earbuds, one guy says, “let’s ask her, she’s got an iPod,” like that was a really exciting and fortuitous discovery. So I gave them directions, took pictures for them, and for the rest of the ride they asked me about my Apple products and what I was using them for. The point of this story is they approached me because I was the only person on the train with Apple earbuds.

The world has changed. RIP Steve.

Sent from my iPhone

October 2, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: Backstage Bathrooms

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:44 pm

Let Me Tell Ye: if you’re building toilets into your theatre — and let me tell ye, ye should, because it’s more comfortable for everyone and is required to meet Equity’s safe and sanitary policy — then please for the love of all that is holy, put locks on all the bathrooms.

Don’t try to psychoanalyze how I intend to use the dressing rooms and figure out which ones you can cleverly fit with plain doorknobs compared to locking doorknobs. Just let people sit on the can in peace and security. Just go to that by default. How much extra does it cost in a multi-million-dollar building for all the bathroom doors to lock instead of just some of them?

I don’t care if you think it’s a star dressing room and there won’t be anyone in it but the person trying to go, who can lock the whole dressing room when nature calls. Ye are wrong. Ye know how I know? Because I’ve seen it time after time, all over the country. Dressing rooms are used for many things, by many different people. In fact, I know of one venue in Connecticut where we had to use the bathroom in pairs to make sure somebody was guarding the door cause none of the crew-usable bathrooms (which were also dressing rooms) locked.

Which brings me to a slight tangent that even more venues are guilty of: if your only backstage bathrooms are in the dressing rooms, your theatre fails. Where is the crew supposed to go? I can tell ye, they do not want to invade the actors’ space during the time that they’re in the building, nor do the actors want crew members passing through their dressing room.

And if it wasn’t clear, this other bathroom should also lock.

October 1, 2011

Designer Run

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:33 am

A thought from yesterday:

Designer Run: so called because the designers are there, and everybody else is running around trying to finish blocking the show so the designers don’t think we’re idiots.