Microsoft Natural number pad chop

I’ve used a Microsoft Natural keyboard for going on 20 years. My setup is a trackpad on the left and a mouse on the right, so I can switch hands when using the cursor. This keyboard doesn’t have any fancy switches or expensive build quality, but it’s a good keyboard for me. However, it is very wide. After one time too many slamming my mouse into the side of the number pad, I got a new keyboard without one (I hardly use the number pad, anyway).

If Microsoft made a version of this keyboard without the number pad, I would have bought it in a heartbeat. It seems like I’m not the only one. Dan Beahm chopped the number pad off the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000:

Well, I finally got fed up enough with the pain in my right shoulder to take the time and effort to cut off my keyboard’s number pad. I’ve never understood why an “ergonomic” keyboard would dedicate so much physical real estate to a number pad, when that’s obviously where the mouse needs to be used.

Dan Beahm's modified Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

He links to earlier, more detailed instructions for the Microsoft Natural Elite by Trevor Blackwell, which are now offline, but can be found on the Internet Archive:

It’s always bothered me to have the numeric keypad on a keyboard. I write programs and prose, but I never enter in columns of numbers. Are there still people who do this? I thought computers were supposed to liberate us from that sort of thing. Anyway, this vestige of adding machines had to go! It forces the mouse to be about 3 inches farther away from where I’m typing than it needs to be, which adds up to a lot of unnecessary arm movement over the years. So I set about to chop the numeric keypad off the otherwise excellent Microsoft Natural Keyboard. It worked well (on my second try) and took about two hours.

Trevor Blackwell's modified Natural Elite
— June 6, 2021
Gold and blue, Bernal Heights, San Francisco
— May 9, 2021

Pandemic Year

A year ago, Jenny and I took an overnight trip to Berkeley for her birthday. The news was full of stories about coronavirus spreading in the US, and a cruise ship was held in the Bay, unable to offload her infected passengers. I remember looking out over the Bay, filled with a sense of dread.

San Francisco Bay from the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, March 2020

A few days later, the Bay Area’s stay at home order was announced and everything changed. The night before the lockdown, I made one last trip to the grocery store. As I passed a man on the sidewalk, we both stepped away from each other. Social distancing had begun.

Bare shelves, March 2020

It’s been a bizarre year. Empty streets and orange skies. Sourdough and Zoom fatigue. Soaring stocks and attempted coups.

This pandemic year has been hard on me and my family, personally and professionally. We’ve also fallen into some bad habits and had a hard time balancing work, child care, togetherness, and solitude. We’ve had to make compromises and learned just how much we rely on others for help. It’s been hard, but I’ve been thankful that we were able to make the adjustment to pandemic life fairly easily and I’m grateful to all the essential employees and their families who have kept society functioning. They deserve more.

However, as we mark one year of the pandemic in the US, I’m feeling something new: hope. We developed multiple vaccines in months, not years. It was a close thing, but Biden won, and competent people are back in charge. Then, the Democrats won the Georgia runoffs. It’s possible to do things again. The $1.9T American Rescue Plan is a truly huge response, appropriate to the scale of the disaster.

Rainbow over San Francisco, March 2020

We aren’t out of this yet, but the end is in sight.

— March 18, 2021
'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' props up a window on a warm day

In San Francisco, even our window props are serious literature.

— March 18, 2021

Right Up Our Alley

My friend from Minneapolis sent me this video before it blew up on Twitter. It was cool to see because I lived a few blocks from the Byrant Lake Bowl and used to go there frequently. The drone footage is incredible, but for me the coolest part is seeing behind the scenes at BLB. The New York Times wrote about about how this was made and some of the praise it’s gotten from from Hollywood. I hope the drone pilot (not to mention Bryant Lake Bowl) is able to capitalize on the exposure.

— March 14, 2021

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I Am Waiting, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 - 2021)

The Miyawaki Method: A Better Way to Build Forests?

This is an interesting article about Afforestt, an Indian company that is systematizing Akira Miyawaki’s approach to reforestation, which plants very dense, diverse forests on small patches.

It works like this: the soil of a future forest site is analyzed and then improved, using locally available sustainable amendments—for example, rice husks from a nearby mill. About 50 to 100 local plant species from the above four categories are selected and planted as seedlings in a random mix like you would find growing naturally in the wild. The seedlings are planted very densely—20,000 to 30,000 per hectares as opposed to 1,000 per hectare in commercial forestry. For a period of two to three years, the site is monitored, watered, and weeded, to give the nascent forest every chance to establish itself….

An engineer with a native zeal for quantifying systems, Sharma turned Miyawaki’s method into a set of assembly line instructions. Using an algorithm similar to Toyota’s assembly line that produces several different types of cars, each with its own requirements, he derived his own formula to make a multi-layered forest with plantings that also have different time, space, and other needs. Although his company offers consultation, training, and the actual building of forests, anyone can email Afforestt and receive access to Sharma’s graphs and instructions for planting a forest, start to finish. “Dr. Miyawaki invented this process, and whatever I understood of the methodology I wrote it as a standard operating procedure, so it could be replicated,” says Sharma.

— February 16, 2021

Sea wall graffiti, China Beach, San Francisco.

— February 16, 2021

Fake is the New Real: Fifty States with Equal Population

Neil Freeman has some interesting data visualizations, including this reimagining of the United States with 50 states of equal population.

The United States redrawn as fifty states with equal population

This is not a practical Electoral College reform proposal, but it does have some interesting advantages:

  • Preserves the historic structure and function of the Electoral College.
  • Ends the over-representation of small states and under-representation of large states in presidential voting and in the US Senate by eliminating small and large states.
  • Political boundaries more closely follow economic patterns, since many states are more centered on one or two metro areas.
  • Ends varying representation in the House. Currently, the population of House districts ranges from 528,000 to 924,000. After this reform, every House seat would represent districts of the same size. (Since the current size of the House isn’t divisible by 50, the numbers of seats should be increased to 450 or 500.)
  • States could be redistricted after each census - just like House seats are distributed now.

I especially like the names he chose for these imaginary states. They are primarily based on geographic features like lakes, rivers, and mountains. Some of the most evocative to me are Mesabi, Shiprock, Shenandoah, and Tidewater.

Freeman has another project where you can make random states and see how it affects presidential elections since 1996 (often dramatically).

Random United States of America
— February 13, 2021

Toddler QA

We’ve been potty training our son, and imperfect parents that we are, we’ve given into letting him play with our phones while he’s sitting. It’s amazing how quickly he’s learned to navigate the iOS interface. (And concerning, too. I try to keep an eye on what he’s doing in case he accidentally does something destructive.) His favorite thing to do is look at pictures, and I noticed something odd about the Photos app when he was playing with it.

He would look at a photo, and then drag down, which exposes the map view. When looking at the map view for a single photo, it shows just that one photo on the map. So he’d tap on it…and go back to the photo view screen and do it again. And again. And again…

I made a screen recording to show how this works:

The funny thing about this repeated drill down is that in order to get back to the main photo list, you have to navigate Back repeatedly. That’s a little unexpected! Thinking back to my brief experience with iOS development, I realized it’s an effect of using UINavigationController. Each time he tapped on the photo in the map view, he added another copy of the view controller to the viewControllers stack.

This toddler QA exposed a corner case that I doubt most normal users would ever encounter. I am not sure it’s worth “fixing” – you’d need to special case it to avoid adding view controllers to the stack – but it is funny.

— February 12, 2021