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.

blog music productivity

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.

productivity technology

The iPad and Favorite Apps

I’ve had an iPad now for three months. In that time, I’ve barely touched my laptop.

Some observations:

1. For content consumption, the form factor is compelling. The book analogy is apt – I hold it like a book, it’s closer to my face and eyes, and it encourages and facilitates sharing with others. I use it in a much larger range of situations than I would a laptop, and more often – in bed, on the street, at a cafe. It’s tactile – using my fingers to touch and interact and engage with media / content can seem more direct when compared to keyboard and mouse.

However, while it facilitates increased consumption, it isn’t always the best tool for efficient consumption – if I have a backlog of Google Reader articles I want to go through, I’ll use the keyboard and mouse on my desktop, which are vastly more efficient still for most tasks. Ironically, it’s given me a greater appreciation of how important the development of the mouse, keyboard and windows-based UIs have been to the overall advance of the computer age. The iPad encourages shallow consumption – if I need to analyze and synthesize information, this usually means flicking between several web pages and applications at the same time, which means my desktop.


Pocket notebook

Fisher Space Pen and Moleskine notebook.