blog productivity technology

Right Size: Keyboards

We live in a time where avenues for personal exploration and expression have never been greater: in a similar vein to when I was investigating smaller sizing options for pianos, I recently started looking at another kind of keyboard. Computer keyboards are still the default entry device for the digital world we live in, and chances are, you used one today. The mechanical keyboard space has many hobbyist fans and benefits from an innovative, tech-native community; given my experience with the Steinbuhler piano keyboard, I leaned in the direction of smaller form factors and better efficiency. And keyboards have been shrinking over time: the only keyboard I used when working was on the company-issued laptop, while the last full-sized keyboard I can remember seeing on a desktop was an entire decade ago.

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Right Size: Pianos

There is no one size fits all when it comes to shoes: no one would pay for shoes that don’t fit, and compared with only having to cater for shoes in only one size, creating shoes in a range of sizes costs manufacturers a good deal more. They do this because having one size means only a small group of people is able to enjoy and use the product the way it was intended, and as a result, fewer shoes would be sold.

This doesn’t apply to pianos though – keyboards only come in one size, and if your hand doesn’t happen to fit, you’re out of luck. This state of affairs discriminates against those with smaller hands, and the struggle against ergonomics these pianists persevere through to play the instrument they love is something those with larger hands don’t experience. You were simply out of luck – until relatively recently.

I was grateful to discover David Steinbuhler’s smaller keyboards four years ago – in keeping with his philosophy, he offers not just one, but four alternate sizes with increasingly narrower keys – and when I first received my upright, I never enjoyed playing music so much. Everything was unprecedented: I was doing things on the piano I’d never been able to do before – in particular, playing previously impossible chords cleanly – and doing the things I’d done before felt more effortless and natural.

DS5.5 keyboard on my Walter studio upright – note the large empty blocks on either side, space which would normally be taken up by keys on a bigger, regulation-size keyboard. Steinbuhler partners with Walter to produce upright pianos with his keyboards you can order from his website, which I’m incredibly thankful for, and how I got mine.

Over time, you accept that the world is a certain way, but in the age we’re fortunate to live in, suddenly Lasik comes around and changes your perception of life forever – or a piano that fits your hands arrives, and profoundly transforms your ability to create and enjoy music.

Update: David tells me their company became a non-profit a couple of years ago, and is dedicated to furthering awareness and adoption of alternative keyboards; in addition, the growing movement and community has a website, which is a comprehensive resource for anyone wanting to find out more, including information on piano manufacturers and technicians.

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Taken with the Nokia N8 – Sydney:

and Bondi Beach:

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Dinner and Hope





Roast duck and pork over rice for five dollars. Oranges, nashi apples, sixty cents a pound. A punnet of strawberries, a pack of bokchoy, a dollar each. Bing cherries and lychees for two dollars a pound.

I recently started going into Chinatown for groceries (along Stockton, and also Powell). Of course, I knew that things would be cheaper than Safeway or Cala, and there would also be things found nowhere else. The hustle and bustle, Asian-style manners (line etiquette equals line cutting), smells on the street and wet stores the department of public health probably wouldn’t approve of, small grannies and smaller children, docile frogs stacked in styrofoam boxes, pungent durian and jackfruit, pirated VCDs and the occasional cassette tape, and Cantonese, the lingua franca.

What did surprise me was how I felt last weekend when I went into a dried goods store, hunting for egg noodles, Chinese sausage and fish balls. Some gentle Cantonese pop played as I browsed the small aisles, and for some reason, I felt a sudden happiness, even euphoria. I listened to simple melodies, occasional words half-remembered and half-learnt, occasionally making sense, and heard in them the voices and sounds I grew up with. In this city where I’ve been trying so hard to change myself, being reminded of where I came from and who I am, and the people who helped make me this way, made me happy.

The sounds, sights and smells, take me back to market shopping back in Malaysia, pasar malams and eating in stalls, noisy cousins and relatives, and I start seeing a bit of myself in people around me everywhere I look, because they look like me, and I feel like I almost know them. Home-cooked meals, picking at fish heads, bone marrow, eating rice from a bowl.

As I need it a four block-walk away, an entire world apart, self-contained and self-sufficient.


Chinatown New Year

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blog technology


I don’t own a TV.

However, two months ago I bought a Dell XPS 420 desktop and a 30-inch monitor (3007WFP-HC). The machine is spec’d with 4GB RAM and the least inexpensive quad processor in Intel’s lineup, with a basic dedicated graphics card. All up, slightly less than $2.5K. This is a box for processing photos, surfing the web, playing the occasional game, and occasional work (IntelliJ at 2560 x 1600 = productivity).

What I didn’t expect to be doing was watching movies on demand. I joined Netflix last week, and discovered their all-you-can-eat movies-on-demand, which comes with all but their most basic plans. I signed up for the $8.99 1-disc at-a-time plan.

I remember what a buzz there was when Netflix first came out with its DVD rentals via mail plan. I can see what the fuss is about, having just got my first DVD in the mail, but online streaming movies are amazing. Sure, the online selection doesn’t approach that of the mail-out collection (it’s growing everyday), but that would be to miss the selling point, which is huge – if I find something I like, I wait all of 20 seconds before I start watching. Quality is on par with DVD, perhaps a little less, but eminently watchable on a 30-inch screen from my couch. I’ve been watching mostly foreign movies, and if my tastes ever ran into 80’s television sitcoms and series, or B-grade movies (they don’t, but if they did), I’d be all set too. $9 a month is simply a no-brainer.

Looking online, the major free-to-air stations like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are making available full episodes (some in HD) of most of their series (together with ads) as well. For music, I use Pandora or Slacker, and more and more radio stations are streaming their broadcasts online (which I listen to through this sidebar gadget). I’m typing this post listening to KQED and glancing at the Windows sidebar where I have the weekend weather, latest exchange rates, and time in Australia and Asia where friends and family are.

What I do miss TV for is broadcasts of live events (basically NBA games). Then again, that’s what friends with cable, sports bars, and HDTV, another amazing technology, are for.