28 April 2006

Battle Abbey

The Battle of Hastings was, interestingly, not fought at the Sussex beachfront town of Hastings at all, but many miles inland at the site of the town now known as Battle. At that sight, William the Conqueror founded a magnificent Abbey in 1070, with the altar stone at the precise point where King Harold fell.

This photo is taken from the lower level of the Monks' Dormitory Range, in the Monk's Common room. A very moving place to visit.

You can find more information at English Heritage's Battle Abbey website.

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Review: Apple USB keyboards

I must admit, I am a bit of a keyboard tragic. I have spent countless hours of my life testing keyboard after keyboard searching in vain for the perfect action. And frankly, I am appalled at most modern keyboards, with their soft, squidgy, imprecise keys.

To my mind, the best keyboards ever made were the old IBM ones which had a lovely tactile 'click' at precisely the point the letter appeared. You had absolute certainty about what you were typing, with audible and tactile feedback. The result? More accurate typing with less fatigue. When they were discontinued I spent my spare time scouring garage sales for second hand ones, with some success.

Alas, there are no keyboards on the market which are that good any more, and others I know share this sentiment. Why is that? Have modern keyboard manufacturers lost touch with what makes a good keyboard, or is the pursuit of low cost and high margin compromising quality?

Never fear. Apple has the answer. In fact, they have two answers, in their wireless and wired USB keyboards, and the good news is that they work with both PCs and Macs, so PC users can also have Apple style.

Make no mistake, these keyboards are pretty. With lovely white keys and compact transparent surround, they are neat, modern and minimalist. But it gets even when you start to type. The action is excellent--soft but decisive. There's enough tactility to be certain of the keystrokes, but very little actual resistance. I sometimes suffer from sore finger joints from typing, but that will be less of a problem now. And like the old IBM 'boards, you can hear these ones, not with that lovely precise IBM click, but a slightly more subdued one, almost as effective. It sounds a little loud when you first start tapping away, but it's a gentle and pleasant when you really start getting into it. It somehow sounds like quality and money :-)

Downsides? Of course, there are some. On the staff machine in the Apple store I could see just how grubby these white keys can get. You'll need to clean them down the track, no question.

Also, these keyboards will not please the 'media' heads who think they need a hundred little silver buttons to control media players, quick launch buttons for every application on their machines, etc. Frankly, I wonder about those sorts of people anyway :-) I used to have a KB like that, but never used any of the other keys, and it took up a vast amount of desk space. Apple have taken away all the keys I don't use and given me back a large chunk of desk. To me, that's a no-brainer.

These 'boards do have keys to raise, lower and mute the volume, and all worked first time on my Acer notebook. You also get a disk eject key, which is, of course, Mac only.

So far all my comments apply equally to Apple's wired and wireless keyboards. Of course there are differences. The wired one has a short cable and two USB ports on the back. It also comes with an extension cable if you need more reach.

The wireless one is Bluetooth, so no cables, but also, unfortunately, no USB ports. Instead it takes batteries and is therefore heavier. It sometimes takes a little while to connect via Bluetooth, and from what I here, you might get really frustrated when batteries start to wear out as strange things happen. But if you know in advance, that shouldn't be too much of an issue. However, the web has plenty of sad Bluetooth stories, so maybe there's a caution in there.

At the end of the day, I think the Apple wired keyboard is better than the wireless. Who really needs wireless on your desk? A short KB cable is hardly a great hardship, and it also gives you two additional USB ports, potentially far less problems, and costs half the money, with no future costs. Either will look cool on your desk.

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