Technology, Travel

Continuing Thoughts on Portable Keyboards

I’ve been on a keyboard buying spree lately after cancelling my WayTools TextBlade order two weeks ago. While I like the iPad’s software keyboard, I can still type faster on a physical keyboard. Writing code on iOS devices prior to the iPad Pro has been a torturous exercise, with constant tapping and re-tapping of the 123 and #+= keys to access commonly used programming characters. An external keyboard makes this all so much easier.

With the money that was credited back to my account from WayTools, I now have three working keyboards that I can use with my iOS devices or Mac computers:

  • iPad Keyboard Dock (iOS only)
  • Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard
  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (MFK)

These are in addition to my venerable Logitech K760 solar-powered keyboard which I’ve been happily using for the past four years.

Three keyboards for my iOS devices

iPad Keyboard Dock

This keyboard was originally sold as an accessory to the first iPad. Featuring a 30-pin connector, it also works with the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd-generation (with Retina Display).

To get this keyboard to work with the iPad Pro, I bought a Lightning to 30-pin cable adapter and a 30-pin female to 30-pin male extension cable. At 0.2 meters long, the Apple adapter is too short to position the device and keyboard in a usable manner. Note that not all 30-pin to 30-pin extension cables are made alike; some only transfer power and not data. The non-cable version of the Lightning to 30-pin adapter is another option if you want to use the iPad Keyboard Dock with an iPod touch or iPhone.

Two downsides to using the iPad Keyboard Dock. The first is the cable and adapter mess that you have to go through to get the keyboard talking to the iPad. You’ll have just as many cables if you want to plug in an old PS2 or ADB keyboard into an iPad.

Second, the iPad does not charge when plugged into the iPad Pro’s 12-watt AC adapter via the Keyboard Dock’s passthrough 30-pin connector. The iPad’s charging indicator turned on, but the battery continues to drain.

Says it's charging, but the iPad Pro's battery is still draining when connected to the iPad Keyboard Dock

As a result, I don’t see myself using the iPad Keyboard Dock with the the iPad Pro. It still works well, however, with iPads that feature the 30-pin connector. I can see using an older-generation iPad has a distraction-free writing station in the future.

I was able to win the iPad Keyboard Dock on eBay for just a cent. The cables alone to get it to connect to a Lightning device cost $28!

Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard

I bought this keyboard for two reasons. First, it will work alongside my K760 in the office. I have two laptop computers, along with my iPhone 6s and my iPad Pro that I’d like to use with an external keyboard from time to time. Both the K760 and the K811 can only connect with three devices at a time. Having both keyboards on my desk allows me to use the K811 with one computer and the K760 with another computer. Both keyboards will also be paired to my iPhone and iPad Pro.

I’ve used abyssoft’s teleport in the past to link up my keyboard and mouse/trackpad to multiple computers, but I’ve noticed that transitioning from one computer to the next is not as smooth as it used to be.

Second, the K811 (or the Microsoft keyboard) may replace the K760 as my travel keyboard, as it’s slightly smaller and lighter than the solar-powered keyboard.

Typing on this keyboard feels different than on the K760 or the aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard, but I am slowly getting used to it. One thing that has been throwing me off on all of these keyboards is the different buttons on the top row. For instance, F8 on the K760 is a battery indicator button, and the power switch is at the end of the top row. On the K811, F8 and F9 are for adjusting the backlit keys and the power switch is on the edge of the keyboard. My muscle memory is constantly under attack whenever I switch between these input devices.

The keyboard normally retails for $99, but you can find the K811 keyboard for around $84 on Amazon or between $40-75 on eBay.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

The primary selling point of the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is that it folds in half. This makes the keyboard half the size of the K811 keyboard when you’re not using it.

The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is half the size and a tad lighter than the Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard

While the keys are all in the same place as a regular English keyboard, the size of certain keys is variable. Punctuation keys such as comma, brackets, and double quotes are smaller and the T, G, H, and N keys are bigger. There’s also the giant crease in the middle of the keyboard where it folds in half. I wonder if Microsoft tested slightly larger versions of this keyboard with keys that were the same size. I would prefer this even if the keyboard was slightly larger. A bigger MFK that folded in half would still be smaller than the K811 when stowed away.

The MFK can switch between two devices via Bluetooth. It has an OS-switch key in the upper-right that re-configures the Fn/Command, Option/Alt, Home, Control, and Escape keys for Windows, Android, or iOS. One thing that’s annoying is that the Esc key in iOS mode functions as the Home button, even though the dedicated Home button on the bottom row does the same thing. I’d prefer if it acted as an Escape key.

All of these keyboards could benefit from improvements to iOS. One is the ability to re-map hardware keys so I can make the Caps Lock key function as the Control key; I can do this on OS X within the Keyboard pane in System Preferences. Second, I would love to have Emacs-style bindings throughout iOS, as this would allow me to edit text faster. I’m a particular fan of Control-D to do forward delete.

Like the K811, the Microsoft Foldable Keyboard retails for $99, but it’s available for $59 on Amazon or around $40-50 on eBay.

Future Travels

I didn’t have the K811 nor the Microsoft Foldable Keyboard until this week, so I ended up bringing my K760 to the Code/Media 2016 conference in Dana Point last week. The K760 worked fine, but I would have preferred the reduced weight and bulk with the K811 or Microsoft Foldable Keyboard. I’ve been trying to get my travel weight down to ten pounds or less, and every ounce counts.

Since long typing sessions is not yet common on my trips when I’m traveling with just the iPad Pro or the iPhone 6s Plus, I think the Microsoft Foldable Keyboard would serve my needs better than bringing the K811. When folded in half, it’s much more portable. Over time, I hope to adapt to the odd-layout and smaller keys. If I’m traveling for work with my laptop, I would definitely bring the K811, the Roost Laptop Stand, and a wireless mouse. Having the display elevated is much better ergonomically for me.

Note: Some of the product links in this article are affiliate links with Amazon. Purchasing these items using these links may provide me with a small referral commission.

Wearing my new personal uniform while doing pull-ups at the local park.
Decluttering, Journal, Minimalism, Travel

My Minimalist Uniform Project for 2015

Since my exercise and weight loss journey began in the middle of 2014, I have lost about five inches off my waist (34 inches to 29 inches). That custom tailored double-breasted suit from Hong Kong that I got in the summer of 1995? I’m glad that style is coming back into fashion because the muffin top is gone, and the suit fits me again! Those durable North Face shorts I wore on my Desolation Wilderness backpacking trips in the late 90s and early 2000s but hid in my closet the last decade because they had gotten too tight? Time to start planning another backpacking trip because they’re loose and comfy now!

Getting my suit fitted and adjusted in Hong Kong circa 1994. After my weight loss, it fits again!

Getting my suit fitted and adjusted in Hong Kong circa 1994. After my weight loss, it fits again!

Seeing that the clothes I’ve been wearing the past several years are now too big, I’m jumping head-first into this sartorial opportunity to do something I’ve long wanted to do but was afraid to commit to: creating a minimalist uniform for myself. I’ve been inspired by people like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama and others who have adopted a minimalist clothing approach or a personal uniform. They’ve chosen to wear the same or identical clothes every day in order to concentrate on the things that are most important to them instead of wasting time on deciding what to wear. While my daily decisions don’t yet affect the financial future of multi-billion, multi-national companies nor the fate of the free world, I can still benefit from simplifying my life and freeing myself of the clothing decision every day.

Read more on my Minimalist Uniform Project

Decluttering, Travel

Saying No To Freebies (And When To Say Yes)

Along with lightweight travel, I have been reading sites on no impact and clutter free living. One of the things at I have been trying to improve at is determining when to say yes or no to freebies. Like many people, I have a soft spot for those free items handed out at conferences and on flights. When you stop to think about it, however, most of these items ultimately end up in the same place, the trash. Take this flight that I was just on. The stewardesses had been going up and down the aisles, handing out free drinks in plastic cups along with straws and napkins. Bea over on Zero Waste Home talks how on many airlines, even the recyclable items often end up in the trash bin. In the end, I declined the free drink and the snack. I do have some work to do, as I am drinking water from a disposable water bottle. At least we will continue to refill it throughout this trip. For our trip to Australia, we will bring our own water bottle from home.

Of course, there are times when you have to seize the opportunity to get something good for free. For example, this morning, we were in the Milwaukee Airport, awaiting our flight to Boston. We heard on the PA system that they were looking for volunteers to give up their seats. In return, travelers were offered free roundtrip tickets. With our open travel plan today, there was no reason to say no to this offer! These tickets will come in handy in the next year as we plan additional screening dates for Autumn Gem.

Decluttering, Journal, Tech, Travel

Lightweight Travel to Maine

Rae and I are at SFO right now, awaiting our red-eye flight to Boston. We are headed to Maine for a Labor Day weekend wedding at which we will be the photographers. For the past several years, I have endeavored to lighten our luggage on all our our travels. While I didn’t think it was a problem at the time, I seriously overpacked when I was studying in France during college. I brought way too many clothes packed into two suitcases and a garment bag. In addition, I had a backpack and a laptop with me in the City of Lights.

Since then, I have flipped to the other side of the equation. I am constantly looking for better ways to pare down my luggage load. This trip is a little different in that we are bringing a lot of photophores gear to Maine. Still,we are not checking in any luggage on our flights. Some of my photo gear and laptop are stored in a LowePro CompuTrekker AW backpack. The tripod, camera bodies, some lenses, and accessories are in a Pelican 1510 hard case. Rae is carrying all of the clothing in a soft bag that’s backpack sized.

Why travel so light is a question I have been asked before. While I get to save a few dollars avoiding the airline check-in baggage fees, the main reason is that I enjoy having everything with me at all times. There’s a certain sense of freedom and liberty when you don’t have to lug and drag tons of stuff with you everywhere. Rae and I still remember all the steps we ascended and descended in the Paris metro stations; it’s not a good memory to have! From that point forward, both of us have followed a minimalist approach to travel. Furthermore, I enjoy the challenge of reducing what I bring to the bare essentials.

We are about to board the airplane, so I’ll be signing off now. We have some new gear to test on this trip, which I will describe in a future post on this site or on the Autumn Gem site. Stay tuned!

Journal, Travel

New North Face Surge and Recon Bag Differences

Rae and I were at Valley Fair this evening to meet up with Felix, Osvaldo and Cheryl. We went to the Eddie Bauer store to look at their new bag lineup. With its Adventure and Vantage backpacks, the company is taking cues from and targeting The North Face’s Recon and Surge packs. Eddie Bauer is currently having a back-to-school promotion and backpacks are $20 off. While the packs were of lesser quality overall than TNF’s lineup, they are $40 cheaper.

We then went upstairs to The North Face store. A few months ago, I bought a green Surge backpack. While inspecting the display Surge, I immediately could tell that this was the next year model! The new packs sport YKK zippers and have a lightly padded waistbelt instead of a simple waist strap. There are fewer pockets in the secondary compartment of the Surge, and the shoulder straps have been redesigned. The company also moved the top handle to the back. On the previous edition of the Surge, the top handle was attached to the part of the backpack that opens up. If you were to open the bag, the handle becomes useless. Good decision to move it up top.

While I find my Surge to be a serviceable backpack, there’s still room for improvement. Ideally, I’d like something that’s a cross between the Surge and the Recon. Give me the dedicated laptop compartment of the Surge and add the expandable mesh front pocket from the Recon. I could do without one of the front compartments of the Surge but keep the waistbelt and top handle of the 2010/2011 model. In a way, I kinda just described the Eddie Bauer Adventure backpack! One day, I’ll develop some mad sewing skills and fashion my own ultimate backpack!

Update: I just placed an order for an Ivar Revel G2 backpack.
Ivar packs are unique in that they have a shelving system inside the back. Most backpacks, including the Surge and Recon, are basically big pouches where everything sinks to the bottom. While comfortable with light loads, these backs can become a pain when fully loaded. I’ll likely be testing the Ivar in the Bay Area before our Autumn Gem tour to Australia next month. In the meantime, I’ve put up the Surge for sale on Craigslist. As I mentioned above, it’s a fine backpack, but not quite ideally suited for my needs.

Autumn Gem, Travel

Autumn Gem Tour Packing Recap

Packing for Autumn Gem Tour

Over on our Autumn Gem blog, I posted a recap and analysis of our packing strategy for our 25-day, 17-stop tour of the documentary. We’ve gotten packing light down to a near science, but there’s always room for improvement. Ideally, we’d like to go from three pieces of luggage to just one. Identifying what worked and what didn’t will help us reach that goal in the future! In an ideal world, I’d love to travel for months at a time with just a backpack. Computing and camera decisions always factor into the ability to do this, however. Carrying around a full-sized, 15-inch laptop (two of them on the tour!) and a digital SLR makes this nearly impossible.

When Rae and I traveled to France and Spain, I made what was at the time a painful decision to leave the computer and camera behind, taking only a small Canon PowerShot with me. In hindsight, it was a great choice, as the reduced bulk made moving from place to place much easier. Despite wheels and handle, rolling suitcases really do a number over time. At the time we went to Europe, the iPhone and iPod touch didn’t exist, but these devices today can replace a laptop for email and basic browsing tasks. Finally, a newer cameras like the PowerShot G11 or S90 offers the manual controls and RAW image support that I’ve come to rely upon in my DSLR.

The other benefit of packing less is that you have less to worry about losing. It was pretty easy to make sure that we had everything we needed before traveling to the next tour location; there wasn’t much to begin with!

Read the rest of the article on the Autumn Gem web site for more about our packing strategy during the tour.