May 2012

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Which laptop is best for you?  This speech is intended to answer that question with regards to physical aspects of a laptop.

This is my eighth Toastmaster speech.  Two more before I earn the Competent Communicator award.

If this ends up being a help to others, I’ll do some more speeches on similar topics. Speech reviews welcome.

Toastmaster Speech #8 Download if the stream doesn’t work.

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Update 6/4/2013

A lot of people have had issues with this keyboard.  Mine is typing duplicate letters randomly.  I can not longer recommend that anyone purchases this keyboard.  The form factor is great. The execution, not so great.

Original Review

Keyboards have been boring.  Did you know that there are mice out there that you can put weights in so it weighs the exact amount you want it to weigh? I have such a mouse.  It frequently turns to my keyboard and has a good chuckle.  Thanks to the AZiO Levetron Mech4, that chuckle has been silenced.

The number pad is one of the least used things on everyone’s desktop.  Why does it exist?  Why is it not optional?  Why does everyone have to tilt slightly to the left all day so they can type?  Typically, the mouse is on the right side of the keyboard.  All the more reason to get rid of 4 inches of unused number pad. The mech4 makes the number pad optional.  What a great idea! It seems so profound when you buy a keyboard that actually has had this done.  This was the #1 thing that I was looking for in a keyboard.

The #2 thing I was looking for was anti-masking.  Most people would not care about anti-masking enough to even know what it is.  Let me explain it simply.  Hold down the ‘J’, ‘K’, ‘L’, and ‘;’ keys with your right hand, then hit any other key with your left hand.  Did the key you hit with your left hand actually type?  If not, you are experiencing masking.  This doesn’t usually matter.  Who hits 5 keys at the same time anyway?  The people who care are typically gamers.  I want to move to the upper left (2 keys), while walking (1 key), and casting a spell (1 key), and taunting the guy I am casting the spell on (1 key).   This was also an issue when I rewired an old keyboard to make two player arcade controls.  All of the sudden, one player couldn’t move.  It was because their movements were getting masked.  It seems like a feature that should just be there in a premium keyboard, but like the number pad, often overlooked.

With a keyboard that is going to cost over $100, you expect quality.  The #3 thing that I was expecting was quality.  With the Mech4, I knew going in that it was a mechanical keyboard with Cherry black keys.  That means that the keystokes were going to take a consistent amount of pressure to register.  There are a lot of keyboards out there that have keys that are not consistent with the pressure you need to press a key.  Test out your keyboard (I apologize if I have now made typing annoying for you :)).  Cherry black keys are also somewhat loud.  You need to know that going in.  It doesn’t bother me, and my cat is currently lying with her left-rear foot about 1/2 inch from the keyboard, so it’s not too much of an issue for us.  A co-worker may not be so happy about the noise though.

Those were the three major criteria for me.  There are a few keyboards that meet this.  And, as you already know, I purchased the AZiO Levetron Mech4.  It not only meets my three criteria, but it adds a few interesting changes from your normal keyboard.  There are programmable buttons on the left of the keyboard, a button to turn on and off the ‘windows’ key, a volume knob, and a neat little contraption that sits on the top of the keyboard and provides six additional programmable buttons.  The keyboard is a rock, the skid pads are huge so it doesn’t move around on my desk, and it has a built-in palm rest.

On the negative side, there are a few things they could improve.  The keyboard takes two USB connections and does not have any option for using a PS/2 connection.  The sides of the keyboard, where the number pad would plug in if I used it, take up about 2 inches of space on the sides of the keyboard that I consider wasted.  Back-lighting on the keys was not a show-stopper to me, but may be for some other users.  Unlike some people, I usually have the lights on when I am working or playing.

Finally, someone is paying attention to keyboards!  AZiO has made a product that should make other vendors take notice.  Perhaps, more innovation will come in the near future and we all can benefit from the creative thinking that has made its way into products like the AZiO Levetron Mech4 Keyboard.

There are other reviews on this product on-line.  Please check those out as well before making a decision with your money.  As you can tell my this review, I am quite pleased with the purchase.

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It’s about time for some enjoyable reading. This time, I decided to to opt for something in the science fiction realm. It was a snap decision to buy Pathfinder.  I have read Ender’s Game and thought it to be awesome.  So why not another book by the same author?

Pathfinder initially struck me in two ways.  First, the cover is one of the best covers I’ve ever seen.  The blue color is great, it is shiny :), and it has a dagger on it.  The second thing that struck me is that it is 600+ pages long.  I really wasn’t expecting that much, but in the days of Harry Potter, perhaps that is what people are expecting.

I mention Harry Potter because this is also a book intended for teens.  I appreciate a few things about Orson’s writing in this book.  It is as clear as possible.  He goes through great lengths to explain what is going on in the “science” parts.  At the end of the book, he actually reviews what is the most perplexing of these in length. His writing is clear and straight forward.  It is clean enough where I would have no problems reading it to a pre-teen (although I don’t expect they would understand everything that was going on).

Pathfinder is an adventure.  It takes the reader to places that have never been thought of before.  It also ties this place in with concepts we already know.  Things everyone has knowledge of such as sailing, taverns, and friendships are in the book so we feel like we can relate to this new world.  He describes this world brilliantly.  From the waterfalls to the Tower of O (you have to read it to know what the Tower of O is :)), you feel like you are there.

The reader is left with more questions then answers.  It felt like watching the TV show Lost.  For every question that was answered, two more popped up.  Some things were explained incredibly well and other things were ignored all together.  The dagger that is on the cover of the book is a good example of this.  It is on the cover of the book and yet hardly gets mention in the book.  In this way it feels like an incomplete adventure.  My guess is that is because there is a sequel coming out later this year.

The characters are memorable and distinct.  Each one of them plays a role that only they can play.  It makes for interesting displays of teamwork when their “powers” are used together.  One of the abilities that Rigg (the main character) has been taught is the ability to observe his surroundings.  Some of the best parts of the book are when he uses this analytical skill to play mind games with other people.  He will notice things that others may not and that gives him the upper hand in getting his desired result.

There are intertwined stories going on in Pathfinder.  Since some of the characters were more likable than others,  I kept thinking how much I wanted to know what was going on with the characters I did like.  Orson does a good job of mentioning those other characters even though we are following someone else.  This way, we don’t just forget what was going on and remember that we are getting two or three (or four?) stories in one book.

The pacing of the book is slow at the beginning and then faster towards the end.  It is more of an adventure book then an action book.  That written, some of the last chapters were full of action and made me forget just how much I should be sleeping and not up reading.

I had a good time reading Pathfinder and will most likely read it again to my son when he is old enough to understand it.  As fun and adventurous as this book is, leaving things open-ended doesn’t much appeal to me, if I’m left with more questions after the second book in the series; I’ll probably stop reading there.

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