Shareware Beach

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

One-Handed Keyboards

Filed under: Hardware & Gadgets — Jan @ 17:46

A DataHand review I found on the net, mentions that the DataHand is unusable with just one hand. That’s absolutely true. Because the keys are grouped together per finger, you really have to use the correct finger positions to type at any speed. Using the wrong hand to press a key is totally cumbersome.

I do have a one-handed keyboard. It’s called the FrogPad. It’s designed to be used with portable devices like PDAs and cell phones. You hold the device in one hand, and use the keyboard with the other. The FrogPad is small and very thin. It easily slides into its protective cover and your pocket. I have the USB version of the FrogPad, which I use with my Samsung Q1 UMPC. The Q1 has no keyboard other than an on-screen one. There’s also a Bluetooth FrogPad for devices without a USB port (or if you just can’t stand wires).

The keys on the FrogPad are roughly the same size as those on a normal keyboard. The most common letters, at least for English, can be typed directly. The other half of the alphabet is formed by holding down the green modifier key while pressing the letter key. There are separate modes for symbols and for the numeric keypad.

The FrogPad works great for typing in passwords, search queries, etc. It takes less than an hour to get the hang of it (i.e. typing while looking at the keys, without frustration). I don’t know how long it would take to become proficient at it (i.e. typing blindly at speed). I’ve never tried to use it for anything beyond quick newsgroup posts. But it’s certainly way more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition that the Q1 runs.

If you often have one hand unavailable, for whatever reason, you could plug the FrogPad into your desktop PC’s USB port. Use your regular keyboard for two-hand typing, and the FrogPad for one-hand typing. Typing on the FrogPad with one hand will be faster than typing on any two-handed keyboard, including an ordinary keyboard.

FrogPad

A company in the UK called Maltron sells special single-handed keyboards. These have regular keys, like on a Cherry keyboard. There’s one key for each letter. Given the size and price (295 GBP) of the Maltron keyboard, keeping lying around one on your desk like you could do with a FrogPad is not really an option. But if you permanently have only one (free) hand, it does look like a worthwhile investment.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Complaining Culture

Filed under: Life & The Universe — Jan @ 19:59

I just unsubscribed from a mailing list I’d been receiving for many years, though I read it with much less interest lately. The list was intended as a place where customers using a particular service could discuss their experiences. But lately all that people were doing was complain. Sure, the service has experienced some hiccups lately, and many of the complaints stemmed from actual grievances. But those problems weren’t the end of the world, or I would have stopped using the service long ago, rather than just unsubscribing from the mailing list. It seems that the small group of regular posters the list had left, had turned complaining into some sort of culture.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m the last person who’ll suffer bad service quietly. If I’m having a problem with your product or service, you’ll hear from me. I’ll gather up enough evidence to explain the problem clearly and convincingly. If I can, I’ll even point out my preferred solution. It’ll be a long email. But it’ll be polite and factual.

Some of the bug reports for my own software include apologies for bearing the bad news. Don’t apologize. You’re doing me a favor by pointing out problems, particularly if you include step-by-step instructions to reproduce it. Since we released the software with the bug, it’s extremely likely we simply didn’t know about it, or can’t reproduce it. Just Great Software doesn’t include bugs.

While I consider it very generous if somebody takes the time to point out problems in a helpful matter, pure complaining is a whole different story. If you report a problem on a mailing list or forum, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it, it’s easy to start complaining and blaming people for not caring. But it doesn’t help. If you’re right that those responsible are unwilling or incapable of fixing the problem, complaining is a waste of time. Evaluate your options and decide whether living with the problem or moving on to a competitor is the least costly solution. But if you’re wrong, continuing to cry “Wolf!”, even if it’s staring you in the face, isn’t going to make anybody more sympathetic to your cause. There’s probably a whole pack of wolves elsewhere that needs to be dealt with more urgently.

Dealing with complainers, particularly those with genuine problems that people can identify with, is not always easy. If communication is one-on-one, like tech support email, terminating the relationship with a full refund may be cheaper in the long run. You have to be careful, though, as complainers like to spread the word. Better take the blame, even if the customer is unreasonable, than to give the impression you’re simply trying to put a lid on the customer’s nose.

Forums and mailing lists is where it gets tricky. Once somebody starts complaining about a genuine issue, other unhappy people are likely to chime in. And it can snowball from there, as it did with the mailing list I unsubscribed from. In most cultures, there’s quite a bit of social pressure not to be the fingerpointer or the one to cast the first stone. When the stones are flying around already, it’s much easier to chime in. Complaints have to be nipped in the bud.

Having a track record of solving problems quickly and adequately is a tremendous asset when dealing with complainers. It’ll make your loyal customers far more likely to chime in and ask the complainer to take a deep breath. They’ll also be far more effective at it than you could ever hope to be. If the customer is complaining to begin with (as opposed to politely pointing out an issue), they will likely see your promises as cheap lies anyway. But when others point out that you’ve already earned their trust many times, you may not even have to respond at all.

Building up such customer goodwill is extremely important when you do your business in the open. Starting a forum is trivial. Creating a real community is hard. That’s why I’ve never rushed with setting up forums for my own products. (Expect further rollout later this year.)

If somebody simply can’t be pleased, it’s best to resort to what the complainer will likely call censorship. But it’s not. Censorship is when you tell people what they can and can’t say, period. Telling people what they can and can’t say in your very own forum is simply good housekeeping. They can still say whatever they want. They just can’t do so on your forum. As long as you don’t go overboard with it, your loyal customers will be happy you keep the house in good order. Then they can go on sharing tips and techniques how to get the most out of your product, and even how to work around problems, without having complainers spoil the party.

Because when complaints become to numerous, the nice people will eventually start to leave, leaving you with just the complainers. And that’s not why you set up the forums to begin with. Do what you can to foster a positive culture on your forum. Forums don’t run themselves.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Sunset Over the Chao Praya River

Filed under: Photography — Jan @ 17:33

Sunset Over the Chao Praya River

Friday, 1 February 2008

Good Time to Sell Your DataHand on eBay

Filed under: Ergonomics — Jan @ 17:33

Ouch! I just noticed the notice on datahand.com that they’re no longer able to manufacture them. Hopefully this will be a temporary situation.

If you have an unused DataHand collecting dust, this is a good opportunity to fence it on eBay. Used Microsoft Explorer Trackballs sell for more than what they cost new when they were in production. While this might not happen for the DataHand (it’s quite expensive to begin with), you’ll likely get a good price. People who are used to the DataHand don’t want anything else! I’m certainly glad I have a spare.

However, learning how to use the DataHand might be a better investment.

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