Keyboard Hell!

I learned to type on a QWERTY UK keyboard layout, which despite the odd foray into US layout and resultant transposition of some minor characters (like @ to ", good fun for email addresses), was reasonably friendly for use as a developer.

Now however I’m using a Swiss German layout and all of a sudden the Alt Gr key has become a significant part of my life as I hunt for brackets (square and curly) where before it was only interesting after the introduction of the Euro.

I can’t help wondering if this has an impact on developers using this keyboard layout, or if they get used to having two shift keys. Friends have mixed views, and naturally research on the web gives a similar wide range of results, although the one area almost universally agreed is that having to use a different machine with a different layout is a pain in the posterior.

This hit home when I tried to use a couple of VMs that weren’t aware of my locale, with Swiss German keyboard labeling but UK layout in one and US layout in the other. At that point a Das Keyboard would have been useful, as would slightly less secure passwords without symbols – typing them into vi and then pasting rather defeats the purpose 🙂

Update: 21 February 2012

I’ve been using a Swiss German keyboard for six months now, and I am starting to get used to it even for programming tasks.

The one thing which still drives me nuts though is the ~ symbol. Not only does it require AltGr, but it’s also an accent key even though to the best of my knowledge German doesn’t use either ã or õ.

Free Wifi

I’m on holiday, and the holiday park where we’re staying has free wifi in their restaurant area, which is unfortunately not very reliable. Initially I was very annoyed about this – if you’re going to do something (and advertise it on your website), do it properly otherwise it’s just going to get up customers’ noses.

However, looking around last night, just about every person between the age of 14 and 40 had a smartphone in front of them, no doubt all connected to some poor mid-level wifi system that was never designed to be a carrier quality provider for a hundred or more subscribers. I wonder how many they estimated when they put it in – counting tables and assuming one laptop per table on average I reckon 20 max, so maybe not building in 5x or 10x redundancy is forgivable.

I remember reading somewhere recently that the average household has more than one mobile phone per adult, although of course with the available wifi my chances of finding the article before drop kicking my laptop in frustration is too small to risk. Suffice to say even a reasonable proportion of those phones being “smart” must be a scary statistic for small wifi providers; just in my two-adult family we have six active phones (not including the several holdovers each from old contracts), of which four are smart to varying degrees. This may seem ridiculous, but consider one each in two countries, a work Blackberry and a spare for visitors and it soon adds up.

Of course I could tether to my phone, but I’m in Europe and out of my home country, so ten days tethered roaming would likely lead to a bill larger than the cost of the holiday; if I’d thought ahead I could have picked up local USB 3G dongle, but then I was expecting wifi…

What is unforgivable in my view is that I’m typing this in notepad because they have a firewall in place that blocks my blog editor. I can’t imagine the blog admin page has much to offend a firewall, and my webmail is fine attachments and all, so the real security holes are still nice and open… Why do access point providers do this? It’s not even a check for inappropriate content, which you could perhaps argue is valid at a holiday camp, but “security risk” which I know for a fact it isn’t since I put the content there. Why would the firewall be any better at spotting this than my up-to-date virus software, and more to the point it’s a public wifi – some of the systems attached are bound to already be infected with something and the firewall isn’t going to help a bit with that.

Oh well, it’s annoying but I’m on holiday so spending a couple of hours getting round it is likely to get me in trouble with the family, notepad will do for now.

Hello World!

So here I am writing a blog entry.

The process of getting here has been rather convoluted, but an interesting example of coincidences and how they can lead to a position not intended but probably beneficial.

My previous mail provider had support for webmail, but the interface was pretty dreadful, so given I have a fast cable connection I thought of using Roundcube on my own machine to give myself a decent interface via IMAP. Since I have some spare time on the train, I fired up Fedora on VMware Player and set to work to see if this was any good.

I fairly quickly decided that it wasn’t worth the bother – compared to Gmail or Yahoo the available open source webmail systems aren’t anything to write home about, and using iPhone on the road and Outlook at home is difficult to beat. However, as an aside I checked out MovableType and thought I’d give it a go. A few minutes later I had an installation up and running, so here we are… apart from the fact that this clearly isn’t sitting on my laptop anymore.

During the above experimentation I managed to mess up my mail – by playing with DNS a bit too aggressively I transfered my provider, thus killing my mailboxes. Despite the mailboxes being paid for separately, and inherently independent of DNS, my provider deleted them when the name servers changed and was deeply unhelpful when asked to restore them.

However, new provider turned out to have a decent basic hosting offering with mailboxes, so emergency fix was to grab that offer, and less than 4 hours later I had my email addresses back. The new provider also turned out to be very responsive – under 15 minutes for help vs 2 days and likely to be useless from the other.

Net result was beneficial.

  • I now have hosting, not just email.
  • New provider is more responsive by a factor of about 100.
  • I have a blog on a real host, not my laptop.
  • They even have Roundcube – OK, it’s not Gmail/Yahoo but it’s better than before.

Finally, my Outlook client had all my emails backed up bar maybe two. Phew.