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The Life of P

Tag: logitech

Three Blind Mice

Humans and our ancestors have been using tools for some two and a half million years.  Over that time I think we have earned the right to be picky not just about their utility, but just how they sit in our hands.  Certainly, I have always been abnormally selective in the cutlery I feel comfortable using (at home anyway, I can generally suppress it when outside): it must be slender, smoothly curved with a balanced weight distribution.  The reason, it eventually dawned on me, is that subconsciously I see cutlery as an extension of my fingers, giving rise to certain preconceptions about how it should feel and respond.  It also explains my affinity for chopsticks which are essentially a direct extension of two fingers.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I am similarly specific about my mice, being tools many of us spend hours each day using both at work and home. I recently described purchasing a new mouse as like acquiring a new limb, an idea which seemed to resonate with several people. A good mouse is a perfect example of how, when form follows functional ergonomics, a thing of beauty is created. I currently use three mice, with different choices behind each one.

The bedroom: my desktop is primarily a gaming machine and unsurprisingly sports a gaming mouse, a Razer DeathAdder. Razer understands that while there are technological requirements consistent across all gaming mice (high resolution sensor, fast response time), an individual’s mouse grip affects ergonomic considerations, as they distinguish between the most common palm grip, the claw grip and the fingertip grip. My gaming style is a claw grip which I find lends itself to swifter reactions. The result is that I wanted a mouse with an arched body for support and lipped edges to it buttons to avoid my fingers sliding off the sides (essentially concave buttons rather than a mouse’s typical convex surface). Unlike my other mice, this one is still wired to avoid the risk of running out of charge mid-game.

The Office: Conversely, at work I adopt a palm grip for comfort over long periods. When replacing my work mouse recently, I briefly considered one of the new wave of multitouch mice with the neat swiping gestures they bring. However it became clear that far too many ergonomic compromises have been made in all the touch mice on the market. Instead a large “handshake” mouse would maximise comfort and the Logitech MX Performance is the easy choice.  Its perfectly constructed sweeping body both feels and looks fantastic, while its freely spinning scroll wheel is a life-saver when dealing with long documents – a single flick of the wheel sends pages flying past. Despite its size, the mouse is surprisingly lightweight, requiring minimal effort to use for long stretches. Sold as rechargeable, opening it up reveals it actually runs off an AA battery, shipping with an eneloop (Sanyo’s new rechargeable range with a greatly reduced self-discharge rate, with which I have replaced all my AA batteries).

The Living Room: While my HTPC is primarily controlled with the same universal remote as the television to which it is connected, it runs Windows 7 and is capable of other functions that necessitate using a mouse from the sofa.  The Logitech MX Air is ideal as, in addition to functioning as a normal mouse when on a flat surface, it is gyroscopic so can also be picked up and used in the air.  Rather than waving it around in an exhausting manner, it is best used by simply angling it in the appropriate direction with a small movement of the wrist. Given that it is held more like a remote than a typical mouse, its weight distribution is crucial, sitting comfortably in a rounded ball that fits the palm of your hand with just the slender buttons at the front.

Home Theatre System Upgrades

While the blog was on hiatus, and using some of my newly expanded disposable income post-qualification, I completed phase 3 of the home theatre system upgrade. As I prepared to write about it, it dawned on me that I hadn’t documented Phase 2 last Christmas (or rather it was a draft that never got published). So prepare for tech overload as I tackle both below. First, on an unrelated note, Thor’s rules for touring in a band (contains unsavoury rock band language) are probably an equally good model for road trips and spending prolonged periods of time with anyone really.

Phase 2 of the upgrade comprised of a complete overhaul of the sound system. It had been on the cards for a while as I was in the strange situation where my PC’s 2.1 speaker set (the stellar Logitech Z-2200) actually sounded better than the cheap surround sound system in the living room. I was fixed on KEF 2005.3 speakers, with their excellent sound, powerhouse sub and stylish egg-shaped satellites. Plus they were British so this could be considered less a lavish expenditure and more performing my patriotic duty by supporting the economy. They demand a decent receiver and eventually I settled on the Denon AVR-1610. The combination has blown me away. My neighbours have been very accommodating.

This required a universal remote to wrangle the sprawling beast into something usable. I went with the Logitech Harmony One for a combination of ergonomics and easy software: you to select the equipment you have and then list the basic activities you perform to set up the remote in about an hour, though you can easily spend several more tweaking every single button on the device, as well as its touch-screen display. I had read people joking online about universal remotes saving their marriages but I can believe it. Anna stared in horror when she saw the new setup with four remote controls sitting on the coffee table. Now she can navigate it like a pro.

Phase 3 was a longer term plan that I hadn’t expected to occur so swiftly. The system’s limiting factor was that media was stored on the PC in my room and streamed wirelessly to the Xbox. The two-fold problems were that the PC needed to be on and wirelessly streaming HD content is doable (over wireless-N at any rate) but temperamental. The solution was to move the media to a NAS drive plugged into the router, and stream it through an HTPC sitting under the TV.

The former was fairly easy to select: Netgear’s ReadyNAS Duo was easy to setup and provided two empty drive bays. I added two 2TB WD Caviar Green drives and they automatically mirror one another, which is protection my video collection had previously foregone. I definitely recommend it as a first NAS unit for the home for ease of use, but do read the instructions and do not install a drive with data already or you’ll find yourself in serious trouble when the unit tries to create its own boot partition.

After much research, I decided to build my own HTPC using a barebones Shuttle XS35GT as the base. I became enamoured with the idea of attempting to build a PC with no moving parts, the dual benefits being low power consumption and, more importantly, total silence. The Shuttle is low powered, but packs an nvidia ION 2 GPU capable of streaming HD content. No optical drive was necessary and a Corsair 40GB SSD was relatively inexpensive (size is not an issue since the NAS takes care of data storage). The SSD would also provide a test to justify the expense of a larger one as a system drive when building my next desktop (so far, I’m convinced). The new machine was named Serenity, a nod to Firefly’s silent space shots.

I have to admit, booting up a totally silent PC is actually a little eerie at first since I subconsciously use the instant whir of the fan as feedback to know it’s working. I’m still tweaking Media Center and trying out Kylo which is a web browser designed for TVs at a distance. Control-wise the Harmony works for media center usage, but I splashed out on Logitech’s Air MX mouse (it’s gyroscopic so you can operate it by waving it in their air) and the svelte diNovo Edge keyboard, which is the only keyboard I’ve ever considered putting out on display. The finishing touch was an afterthought that only dawned on me once everything else was complete. Since I now had a PC sitting next the to the TV, I could attach my old amBX kit finally to create what amounts to a mutant Ambilight Sony BRAVIA TV.

Countoured Cruzing and Waves

SanDisk Cruzer ContourIt’s been quite a while since I last raved about tech devices here but I’ve recently picked up two reasonably cheap products that have instantly won my heart. Firstly I’ve somehow been surviving with a USB flash drive that holds a laughable 64MB, though admittedly I tend to use some of the spare memory in my 1GB flash mp3 player which can act as a USB drive.

Deciding to remedy the situation I did some research and picked out the 4GB SanDisk Cruzer Counter. The drive is spectacularly sleek with its curved brushed metal housing and a sliding mechanism that completely hides the connector (not just retracting with a hole). The “cruzer” lettering is illuminated in blue to signify activity. And in line with SanDisk’s reputation for fast thumb drives, the speed is fantastic for both reading and writing.

The Contour supports the U3 system for portable applications but my personal preference is to strip that out and use PortableApps which can be run on any flash drive (and even some better MP3 players). This lets you take around your favourite software wherever you go. Much of it is overkill for the average user, but having Firefox with your personal selection of add-ons is one of those things you swiftly wonder how you lived without. And carting OpenOffice and VLC around isn’t a bad idea either.

Logitech WaveThere is a lot less to say about the second purchase, except to say that I finally got round to buying my favourite keyboard. Logitech’s Wave is the sort of thing you might ignore for its simplicity but its functionality is perfect while remaining uncluttered: quality keys with exactly the right level of resistance, buttons specifically designed for Vista navigation, and a comfortable wrist-rest. I thought it might take me some time to acclimatise to the board’s subtly curved shape (ergonomic but not “split” like some other designs) but it strangely seems almost to guide your fingers to the correct keys. The “downside” is that to buy it standalone it is only available wired (the wireless version comes with a fairly average logitech mouse) but for a desktop machine there is little reason for the keyboard not to be wired.

Online the SanDisk Cruzer Contour retails for just under £20 and the Logitech Wave (corded) is available for around £35. Neither is the cheapest option, but nor are they outrageously priced, and the combination of excellent functionality and build quality coupled with pleasing design is exactly what I like to see in my tech gear.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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