Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard

I love it and hate it. I love typing on it, I love the key travel, and it makes my iPad a writing powerhouse.
For my last iPad I’d gotten a Zagg keyboard, and while it was pretty good I hated the metal rim around the keyboard and wanted something better. I found the Logitech Ultrathin, tried it out at an Apple store, and loved how it felt. Despite it’s quirks, I’m still using it now. To write this, actually.

The bad

I hate that it keeps disconnecting whenever something putting out more RF than a pencil is nearby, and that I cannot select text by holding down shift and using the arrow keys.

Logitech replaced my unit for free (they didn’t even ask for the old unit back) because of the disconnection issue, and the new unit is better than the old, but it is not without problems. I’m finding that if I’m using my phone as a modem and have it sitting next to the ipad, I get more disconnects.

The first unit had this crazy problem where it would act like I’d held the return key down. I’d get 20-40 blank lines. I’d have to delete them all and continue writing. The second unit has done this only once.

There is also a sharp edge on the little flap that folds out to hold the keyboard on in its closed mode. I read this in the reviews and dismissed it, but it is actually annoying. Not a dealbreaker, but a reminder of bad design every time I pick the unit up. I’m temped to take some sandpaper to it, but I don’t carry it that often – usually it’s bag to table, table back to bag.

The good

So it probably sounds like I hate this thing, but I don’t. The keys are awesome, and have just a bit of travel. I find this keyboard very fast, and I like the arrangement. The top row of keys has special functions that actually work. The keys are very slightly rubbery, and it is quiet.

The keyboard is very light. I don’t have to worry about charging it because it runs on a couple CR2032 cells, which have become so common I actually have spares in the house. My old keyboard for my old iPad did require charging and it was a pain. It really sucked to get somewhere and find I had a dead keyboard and no charger. They say the batteries will last a few years, but even once a year is not that much, and spares are easy to carry.

This keyboard has made the difference between my new iPad Air 2 being a toy and it being a really useful tool. The new Mac Book may be thin and light but I doubt even it is as light as the iPad/keyboard combo, and the limited OS on the iPad limits distractions – not entirely, but I can’t decide to rearrange my file system while evading my work. I even use it at home, sitting next to my computer because it’s more comfortable than using my Macbook Pro.

Perfection?

No, it’s not perfect. A long way from it. But it’s a pretty good solution. It’s not comfy to carry, but it is comfy to use (you can even type on it while it’s still in the package) and as long as I don’t set my phone down next to it, or have it near other electronic gizmos (like my office phone) it works pretty well.

Is it right for you? I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy one. Get to someplace that has it, try the keyboard out, and then ask yourself if you’re the kind of person who’s going to be driven mad by disconnects. The first one was bad, but I still used it. The second one still disconnects but not as bad as the first. I’ve got two Apple bluetooth keyboards, and I get tempted to take one of those, but they don’t travel well. So I stay with the Logitech. Sometimes I don’t really notice the disconnects. The rest of the time the on-screen keyboard popping up unexpectedly is like getting a whiff of a really bad fart (someone else’s) – annoying & disruptive, but you deal with it and move on. When it disconnects, pressing a key reconnects, so it’s not like I have to leave the app and re-pair.

Logitech, if you’re listening, please fix the disconnects. Add backlights to the keys and I’d have paid $50 more.

UPDATE: August 2015 – This thing is awful. The disconnects have gotten worse, sometimes to the point where I hit keys as often to bring the keyboard back to life as to actually enter anything. I cannot recommend this product.

Ever have buyer’s remorse?

Buyer’s remorse. There is no worse feeling than buying something that you thought you really wanted, only to look at it in the days afterward and realize I’ve wasted my money. If I’m lucky, I can take it back. If not, well, I guess that is education. It still sucks.

I’ve bought lots of things I’ve regretted afterward. It took a long time for me to learn not to do this. What changed?

I started an “I want to buy” list. I keep it inside the back cover of my journal.

It started during a time when we were especially short of extra cash, and I simply couldn’t buy what I wanted – even small items had to be planned. So I wrote things down when I got the urge to buy them, planning for the day when I’d have the cash. I found that this made it easier to save – scarcity made for better management. I hoarded my play money and bided my time. When I really felt the need to buy something – anything – I would consult the list and get something I saw there that I still wanted. I rarely regretted the choice. What I bought might not be exciting, but it wasn’t disappointing.

It stuck. I still occasionally slip up but it’s only with much smaller items. Now if something costs more than $20 or so I put it on the list and wait a few days. An especially good sale might get me to buy sooner, but I’ve learned that waiting actually makes it better, for several reasons.

First, I’m better prepared to make use of it. Because I’ve been thinking of it I know what i”m going to do. There’s a place to put it. This is especially important for large things, or things that require assembly.

Second, I have the money ready for it and can afford to miss it.

Third, I know it’s going to be a good purchase and that provides some satisfaction as well. In the rare circumstance where it wasn’t, I know I did my best to make sure it was.

That’s the way things should be. We should buy them because we’ve mindfully considered them, decided we need them, and they will contribute to our lives.

As an interesting side benefit, the want-to-buy list makes for interesting reading. I can see some items that get mentioned more than once. More than a few ‘fad’ items – things I got a very sudden and strong interest in – that definitely fall into the “I am so glad I didn’t buy that!” category. I can remember the enthusiasm I had a the time – and it sometimes reminds me of how I feel about something else now, which reinforces the need to use the list.

Over time I’ve learned that there are some categories of things where I can’t go too far wrong, and choices are pretty safe. Clothing is one. Shoes (might seem strange for some) are another, unless I get the fit wrong.

Expensive things that are rarely used are a danger zone. Expensive things for a new hobby I’ve suddenly gotten interested in are in the exreme-danger-don’t-go-here-without-an-adult danger zone.

Do you find yourself making some bad buying decisions? Give the I Want To Buy list a try!

Pen review: The Parker Jotter

I’ve written about this pen in the past I think, but not an actual review. It deserves one. It’s not flashy, not new, not born of a kickstarter project and it’s name has zero European cache.

Sure, some disposable ballpoints will write as well, perhaps a smidge better than a cartridge pen, depending on your tastes. But a pen is also a bit a of a talisman. It’s hard to build a long-lasting relationship with a disposable pen. The Jotter occupies the slot right above disposable, but I suspect one could outlive its owner very easily.

IMG_2239It’s the quintessential pushbutton ballpoint pen. Nearly indestructible. simple, foolproof. Made since the 50’s. The Parker cartridges are pretty good, but there’s probably no other cartridge format that is made by as many companies, in as many varieties as the Parker format. My experience is that freshness, even for the Fisher refills, makes a huge difference in writing quality, and Parker-style refills are likely to be the freshest in the store. Not to mention what’s available on the Monteverde site. And Easyflow. And Schmidt. And Schneider. And the Fisher refills, of course. Ballpoint and Gel are available, with the Easyflow 9000 being sort of in between.

The pen is slender and the barrel is smooth. The clip is strong and stiff, optimized for grabbing a shirt pocket, rather than a jacket pocket. Almost no reveal. Getting one of these out of a pen sleeve might just take a pair of pliers. The satin stainless finish is easy to hold, grips fairly easily. The refill will sometimes fit loose enough to click when writing, but that’s not unusual outside of Cross pens.

The clicky mechanism isn’t as precise and smooth as the Fisher AG7, but that’s ok. For you compulsive clickers, like me, it’s got a steam-punky satisfying click-clack. Your coworkers may not be as pleased.

A worthy companion in the ballpoint world. The eminently loanable pen – no chance of someone breaking it – if it wasn’t likely to be kept.

Sometimes I just want something I know will write, and usually that means the Fisher AG7, but the Jotter is lighter. A lot lighter. It’s also a smaller investment – $12 on Amazon (affiliate link) – and you can buy one almost anywhere.

When I think of a pen to leave in the car, or in a little-used portfolio, I think of the Jotter. When I think of a pen I need to rely on, and I’m not quite comfortable taking the $45 AG7 along, it’s the Jotter.

The challenge of recording ideas

You might have expected this to be about all the tools to record ideas, but they are only part of the solution.

The real challenge sometimes is getting past the mental hurdle of actually deciding to save the idea in the first place.

Like gifts. Have you ever thought of a great gift idea for someone who’s difficult to shop for? Did you write it down so that months later when you were at the mall in a panic 5 days before their birthday or Christmas or whatever you would have it? You didn’t? Don’t feel bad, I didn’t either.

I’m always convinced that I will think of it again. I always do, just as they’re unwrapping the much crappier gift I could think of.

It’s not just a challenge with gifts, however, it’s also a challenge with other things. A clever line to add to a story or resume, or a neat hack for organizing the kitchen or whatever. It pops in the head, and it might be saved forever if we’d just trust the process.

Recognizing that I was the problem

In Steven Pressfield’s life-changing work,The War of Art (affiliate link), he writes about resistance – the internally generated force that causes us to act in opposition to our own best interests. Fighting the Resistance is enabled by acknowledging it exists. I have to tell myself that I’m simply not capable of deciding which ideas are worth saving. A different me, the smarter me that sits at a desk, has to do that. My job is to get that me some stuff to work on.

Leverage a new toy

I love gadgets and having a new one to play with is an effective trick. Having a new app, a new voice recorder, a new whatever to record ideas in helps. Now the idea is just an excuse to use the new toy.

Reduce the barriers

By having something to put the idea in handy. There are myriad ways – pick one and have it handy. Ok, I will do another post the tools.

Get them someplace where they will be seen and used, or mindfully discarded

The next main challenge is getting the ideas into a place where they will be available. Like a gift journal or list, or the business idea list or whatever. Get them there. Don’t think, just transfer. The mindset is of a warehouse worker who’s just been ordered to move the 5 bagsful over there…just move it.

Trust in yourself

I’m not stupid. I’m not my worst enemy. I am sometimes weak, and sometimes I don’t move in the right direction, but I can get better.
And if I wrote down that Dad needs a sweater, it was for a good reason, and I should be thinking about that next November.

Take a good profile photo

One of the things that helps any online profile get more success is a good profile photo. It’s been reported lots of times that Linkedin finds that profiles with a photo get more views, and I know I’m more likely to look at someone’s stuff if they have a decent picture.

The challenge is getting a decent picture. Being cheap, and having a nice camera and a tripod, I’ve always been convinced I could get the right picture myself. I’ve tried several times and gotten good results, but I wanted better and a few weekends ago I got it. No rocket surgery in this – give it a try!

  • Find a spot by a large window
  • Wait for an overcast day, or early or late in the day if it’s sunny, or try a north facing window. NO shadows!
  • Wear a button down shirt in a simple color – white, blue, maybe yellow. Failing that, a polo shirt. Something just dressy enough to say “business”, but casual enough not to say “just business”. These shirts kind of disappear – we don’t really notice them.
  • Have someone else take pictures as you pose, or film yourself using video, and then talk to the camera. Film gets you a lot more shots and higher probability of getting something really natural looking, but lower resolution and it’s a lot more work to go through frame by frame.
  • Squinch.
  • Don’t over smile – if your eyes are squinty, you’re oversmiling
  • Get yourself to chuckle, or talk to your assistant
  • Be happy! You’re about about to get a great profile pic for free!
  • Take lots of shots. Lots. Film is good because you’ll catch lots of expressions, very natural ones, that you didn’t even know you made. I ended up using one that my daughter took because I wanted the higher resolution.
  • Look through the pics quickly and instantly delete any that are out of focus, or are obviously unacceptable. This should get you down to just a few to pick from.
  • If, after an hour or so of trying, you don’t get the results you’re looking for, then hire a pro. You won’t have any trouble. justifying the money, since you now know how hard it is. They have better lenses (to get that out of focus background) and instincts. Also, because they work with people a lot, the good ones can help you pose correctly to get make a good impression.

The hard part for me was getting the right expression. In 38 pictures I found 3 I liked enough to use. Still, all in it took about an hour and I didn’t have to leave the house.

So if you’ve been avoiding putting a picture on your profile, try taking one today!

Effective Lunchtime Writing

So with Ulysses on the iPad I’ve started writing at lunch time. It’s not possible every day, but I grab my iPad, wander to a different part of the building, find an empty cube and sit for a while.

Get away from the cube

I sit down with only one rule: I have to write something. I can write a blog post, or work on a story, or whatever, but I have to keep typing. Not non-stop like with freewriting, but I know if I’m just sitting there surfing then there was little point in leaving my desk, I feel guilty and I get moving.

Write something…anything!

It’s a nice break, it helps clear my head if it needs clearing, or sometimes it will get me thinking. Engaging in a creative process that is unrelated to the problem I’m solving often knocks something loose that helps.

If I’m working on blog posts, I’ll start with one idea, take it as far as I can, then I do a CMD-N to get an empty sheet and start something new. If something has some value, I move it toward the top of the list. When I’m done with it, I add it as a post. If I don’t at the start, I will add a heading to describe the idea – it will probably end up being the post headline, or will be close.

Change subjects/projects if necessary to keep moving

Not having to figure out where to store things, or what to call them, or what tags or categories or whatever to put on them makes it much, much easier to just bang out some ideas. The barriers are lower and it’s freeing.
If I’m working on a story, I just look over the scenes I have, or open an empty placeholder – a sheet with only a sentence describing something that has to happen – and start writing. It might prove to be awful (ok, at this point, most of it is 😎 but I’m getting words down and it’s easy to hop around.

Breaking down the barriers is the aim. If I can get trick myself into writing just a little, it will turn into a lot. Eventually that will turn into a book.

If you’re not a full time writer and you’re fitting it in here and there like I am, give this a try.