March 8, 2005

The Economist - Medicaid Budget Reform, Medicare

In many ways I treat American Politics the way other people might treat Sports.

So it's only right that I provide a primer of sorts for some of the issues - and I say provide, rather than write, since that's what the Economist is good for. I mean, honestly, I didn't even know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid till I read the article. It's pretty short, and is just an incidental piece on the likely upcoming battle over the the Medicaid Budget - but it serves well as an informative piece on the principal political and economic issues.

I sometimes wonder if I should refer to myself as subtitles - as in 'when subtitles was young', or some such - much as the Economist does; particularly their columnists. Now if you learn anything from watching the West Wing, it is that referring to yourself by something other than your proper name is a distancing gesture - put simply, you'd sometimes be better off thinking of yourself as the office or the function or the magazine or the column, rather than the person.

The Economist does not tell substantive stories about individuals - they leave that to the hacks at the BBC and those other rather disreputable organisations. There is an obsession with the particular that can move to the point of being inaccurate. People who are more willing to tell you stories of people they've met than to, at least part of the time, tell you about statistics of change, can and should be subject to the phrase caveat emptor - buyer beware, be careful of what they are selling. The individual at many times can be subject to so many tugs and pulls and can with such finality be swayed by something other than what is right - which is why at times being a person is just less than helpful. If you can help more people than you could before, that has to be a good thing, especially if you otherwise do no harm to anything except people's predjudices.

Perhaps it's not the best idea to blog policy - but again, that's what the Economist is for. I'm reminded of the image of the ship in Golding, and the mast, dipping sometimes into darkness. As Mr. Clements said.

Which my way of delaying you reading the article till I post the link at the end - Narratives, Stories, The Particular, are things that can affect us to an undue extent (take it from someone who watches as much television as I do), and I'm not one to romanticise the aggregate, the mean, the statistical and mathematical - it can only truthfully be thought of as dismal. But the will to move contrary to instinct and at least some of the time to be rational and detached, is, and you would think, has always been, a force for material progress, for general wellbeing, the inching towards less bad.

It takes great mettle to write communicative prose about subjects that are otherwise dismal, arcane and inflammatory. I'm not saying this is the acme of that, I'm just feeling the need to tell you why this won't be the last time I link to articles like this.

Posted by subtitles at 6:21 AM | TrackBack

Google Increasingly Irrelevant

I suppose I've noticed for a while now, that Google's searches have been returning more and more irrelevant search pages and links. (by the way, I'm writing this on the back of a Burger King tray liner - damn this dagger pen is useful)

I mean obviously I can't offer more than anecdotal evidence, but it's noticeable and I'm sticking with that. The wonder then turns to why. Maybe it's the product of google indexing *everything*, that now their previous strength, breadth, is now coming to bite the thing that's handed to them. And especially with idiots like me entering as much text as I do - and not just in easily closeted off domains like blogspot or livejournal or typepad, I wouldn't wonder if they're starting to get a bit swamped.

The other problem is no doubt the fact that they are still the market leader in online search, or since I lack figures to back me up, they at least have the largest mind-share. That would mean that most sites would be trying their darndest to optimise/fineagle their way into an improved google ranking. Personally I just skew my site to cater to the traffic they were sending my way anyway.

For better or worse, the fact that *I* get as many referrals as I do do off of google searches can't be the best thing yes/no?

I can't wait for it: "we're the market leader, so of course we'd be the most open to exploitation etc. etc.". Let the Microsoft schadenfreude begin.

Now this isn't to say that google sucks at everything - Google News is still by far the better new search service (compared to Yahoo news at least) - and honestly until MSN gets the stick out of its ass and starts being more standards compliant, it knows where the sun doesn't shine.

But all in all, my personal endorsement (as I've stated before), goes to Yahoo search. The only reason why I don't put that as my default search in my customised search.ini is that google pays me. The searches have been more consistently relevant, especially in certain instances. That and I find the interface fresher.

MSN search is the worst, cluttered interface, ugly and annoying - espcially compared to Yahoo after proxo has done its work. In terms of search relevance I'd have to get over a couple of bumps before I even find that out. You have to admire Google for making it profitable to have their search boxes and branding all over the fuck-shop, though it might get hairy eventually. I have to mention that MSN only recently began crawling my site (I didn't submit it I suppose) so I might check in and see if that leads to a rise in their referrals.

In many ways, the various blog search engines are the ones most likely to send me traffic - there are a bunch.

Oh, and Opera, as of 8 beta 2, now supports multiple ed2k links on the page being passed directly to eMule. Happened at the same time the started fully supporting Movable Type.

Posted by subtitles at 3:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 1, 2005

Opera Customised Search.ini - Tutorial

I've uploaded a copy of my customised search.ini for all to use. It will give you more searches via the drop down search box, and you can add more searches to the address bar. Furthermore, if you enable your personal bar (right click on the address bar - customise), you can put a whole bunch of searches there.

In the interests of full disclosure, the search box of Google sends you to my customised Google search page, so that I recieve the advertising from the paid links in your searches - normally Opera would be the one recieving them (no longer true, but it now defaults to Yahoo Search). Similarly for and searches. I personally don't use Google any more, since Yahoo seems to have more accurate results. Also, you won't be able to set the number of searches per page through the Opera preferences.


Just download this (Updated for Opera 8.01). UnRar to your Opera Profile Folder (*not* the root Opera folder that has opera.exe in it) the exact location of which is explained here, or you can also refer to this. This will ask you to overwrite the existing search.ini - say yes. If you have problems, the default search.ini can be copied over from the root Opera folder.

Start Opera.

Simple huh?


If you updated Opera to either 8.0 or 8.01, they might have overwritten your old customised search.ini - but it'll have been backed up to something like search.001 or something in your profile folder - if that happens just close Opera, delete the current (new) search.ini and rename the old one, editing the new search.ini to change the version number to the current version - currently 6, as of 8.01. Or just download the file again from above.

If you want to know how to enable the personal bar look here. If you want more screen real-estate as a result, you can turn off the menu bar by pressing ctrl-F11 (this might change in Opera 8). And so it has, you now have to customise your keyboard shortcuts in advanced settings - use the Unix shortcut of Alt-F11, if you ask I might bother to post a download you can put in your profile folder.

To add more searches to the personal bar, right click on it and hover over "show searches". To move the search boxes around, press and hold the "shift" key while dragging and dropping. That's also the easiest way to move search boxes to the address bar to complement the drop down box. The other way is to right click and customise - the searches are under "buttons" category "search".

Press shift-F8 to highlight the drop down search box, shift-F7 to go to the first personal bar search.

Your right click menu is also enhanced so now when you right click after highlighting a word or phrase, your "dictionary" will be and "encyclopedia" will be wikipedia. All the available searches are also available under "search with". The default "search" will send you to Google, or the last thing you "searched with".

If you want to find out the various keywords to search in the address bar with, go to Preferences (Alt-P) - "search". There are examples in the preference menu to explain further.

When pasting something from your clipboard into a search/address field, you don't have to press ctrl-v and then enter, just press ctrl-d.

List of Searches:

Google, Yahoo, IMDB, (ad-blocker advised), Wikipedia, TVTome, Isohunt, Shareprovider,,, Google News, Neoseeker, Urban, Chicago Reader Short Reviews, for Artist/Song/Album, Pricegrabber, Pricewatch, Ebay,, Astalavista, Yahoo Bizfinder in Singapore. (there, have been changes, have a look at the trackbacks)

Further Reference:

All this was done with the Opera Search.ini Editor.

To move between different browsers, try Optool.

Also feel free to download the companion Customised default bookmarks, and Customised Toolbar Setup. Or all of these together as one file, together with the Opera Not So Compact skin, to unRar into the profile folder. These are also for me to customise peoples' setups when I install Opera for them. (This is too old now, you'll probably just want to get the search.ini provided above)

Note: if you want to keep up to date with this, you can comment, and then check the box to subscribe to changes to this post. I'll be tidying up the search.ini as I find the effort. It is now tidy - most hotclicked items are near the top etc.

Posted by subtitles at 10:07 PM | TrackBack

Proxomitron Made Simple/Idiot-Proof - Advanced Ad-Blocking

I'm uploading a copy of Proxomitron for you to download - it's my own setup, based on JD's filters. But what that means for you is that it'll cut out ads - so aggressively your head will spin.

Just download, unRar, preferably into Program Files or something. Then run Proxomitron.exe when you want it to be on - remember to set up your proxy settings in your browser to point to "localhost", port 8080.

In Opera this means Alt-P, Network, Proxy Servers, under "http", add those values. It also works with FF and IE.

If you need more details, the help/installation files are included as a directory of html files. If you want proxo to startup with windows, just create a shortcut to it in your "startup" folder in your start menu.

I'm doing this, at least in part, because proxo can be difficult to set up properly and tweak till it's useful - this way you just unpack it and you're ready to go. The best thing about these filters is that the pages still end up looking nice and nicely formatted, and you'll start to realise how much ads can mess up site layouts. I had problems with a couple of sites, but I just added them to my blocklist and they work fine.

Again full disclosure prompts me to say that I've added my own domain to the blocklist, which means ads will show on my site. I put a lot of effort into making my ads fit the look and feel of the site, so I set it up so that I can monitor them when I browse myself. If you want to delete the entry, the file is in the directory called "Lists", "Bypass Lists.txt". The entry is [^/] - just delete it.

I'll probably make this post definitive. Hopefully it'll be part of my series on advanced Opera techniques. There are a bunch of files in the directory that don't actually need to be there, but I can't be bothered to figure out which those are, so there.

Posted by subtitles at 12:34 AM

February 28, 2005

Broadvoice Sucks - Sometimes | Broadvoice vs. Skype | Vonage?

This is my definitive post on Broadvoice, whose service I still use. I'll update this page as and when I have faults etc. In the interests of full disclosure, if you click on the provided Broadvoice links and sign up for service, I get a comission of your first month's bill. Go straight to the bottom of this post if you're looking for the horror stories.

Update 24/04/05: I've pretty much given up on Broadvoice, but I'm leaving this post as a cautionary tale to people to stay away from the company. I stayed with them for about 3 months and it was 3 months of intermittent service and static filled calls. I did eventually manage to get through to their help line, but their magic bullet answer is to change proxies. There are 5 that I've found, dca, mia, lax, chi, bos - none of which really helps me - all have problems at some time or other.

Their customer service is so lax that even though I've been topping search engines for "Broadvoice Sucks" for weeks now, they've never contacted me to help solve problems - or point out that some of the info I provide is very wrong - for instance the disconnection fee does not apply if you BYOD. I've moved to SkypeIN - which is fantastic and fantastically cheap. I might do more posts on VOIP, but Broadvoice is dead to me. Any referral fees will no longer come to me, as I will no longer be a customer in good standing. Die bastards Die.


Broadvoice offers a tantalising solution - you get a phone number in the area code of your choice and it can be very cheap: $7.50 a month for unlimited incoming calls ($5.95 + $1.50 "Regulatory Fee"). Sign up price is $10.00 if you want use your own device ($40.00 if you want them to send you one) or X-Lite (the softphone).

Then comes the first problem they're not immediately open about - if you don't cancel within the first 30 days, you pay a "disconnection fee" of $50.00. So be sure to be sure if you want to keep the service.

This is my setup: I use Phoneconnector to connect a phone to my computer. I can then use that to talk using either Skype or X-lite (for Broadvoice). I use the latest version of everything, drivers, applications etc. I'm using XP SP2. My connection is through Starhub Cable in Singapore (6500 down/384 up), and I tend to talk for long periods of time to the US.

Broadvoice vs. Skype (Sound Quality):

I prefer Broadvoice to Skype.

The sound quality is definitely better, especially on your end if you're on Broadvoice and the other person is on a normal line. That's the majority of my experience, and I assume that that's how most people will use it.

The reason for this though, is that Broadvoice uses a much less "lossy" codec compared to Skype - it sounds better, but it takes up more bandwidth. I don't have a problem with this, and have an upload speed of 384 kbits/s - so I'm still able to run say eMule in the background uploading at 10 kbytes/s with no noticeable effects.

However, anything more than that and the voice quality suffers from excessive lags, regular crackling, and the sound cutting in and out - though mostly on the recieving end - you will still hear the other person fine.

So if you have a very slow broadband connection/super high latency, or you *need* to run your filesharing 24/7, Broadvoice is definitely not for you. I've found that Skype is much much better at working with limited bandwidth - but in the best case scenarios, Broadvoice is still better.

Broadvoice to Broadvoice I sometimes can't really distinguish from Skype, but like I said, I don't use it this way very often. I similarly have never really tried SkypeOut, so I can't say that much about its quality.

*caveat*: VOIP is really not about super-superb voice quality, even in the best circumstances, you're going to get the occasional echo etc. But having used plenty of traditional "budget" long distance services, the sound quality of Broadvoice is at least as good as those, only cheaper.

Broadvoice vs. Skype (Features):

Most important, with Broadvoice, I have a phone number people can call in to. And if the person you want to talk to most often has unlimited local calling in the US, you can just get a number in their area code and let them go crazy calling you for $7.50 a month.

With Broadvoice, there are unlimited plans, so if you know that's what you want it's definitely more worth it than say using SkypeOut.

Broadvoice vs. Vonage (Price):

I've since moved to using the $11.50 Broadvoice plan, since it was a chore to have people call me back all the time, and Phoneconnector has some issues I'll talk about maybe later. Vonage now has a cheaper plan at $15.00 (I'm not sure about other charges), but it's 500 free minutes out, unlimited in. They also offer X-Pro along with it. Personally I still find Broadvoice a better choice for me since I make my humungous amount calls all to the same place in-state.


My final bit of advice is to try out the various services yourself. Skype and Broadvoice are pretty much free/cheap to try, depending on what hardware you have and how much you know how to do. That's the best way of finding out. Just be careful of Broadvoice's 30 day limit.

My Litany of Complaints About Broadvoice:

This isn't the full extent of my problems, I'll save those for when I feel the need to get my bile up.

March 02 2005: Cut off in the middle of a call, wasn't able to call back. Still managed to get incoming call, but then got cut off after 20 minutes. After that could call in or out. All in all lasted about an hour of inconsistencies after which everything was fine. Concievably they were further fixing a previous problem, that I couldn't call my Singapore land line. But had been fixed at least a couple of hours before. Will probably be seriously considering whether or not to cancel up till my 30 day limit. You'd think if you pay for something it'd just work and not give you problems.

I've decided it's just easier for me to post my e-mails to Broadvoice below. I've *NEVER EVER* recieved a reply from them either by e-mail or with a callback - though the problems do tend to eventually get fixed. I edit out all the personal information.

Further Links:

From my own research the links below are the most useful, and contain the most horror stories for those who want to hear the worst of what Broadvoice can offer. If you're willing to trawl, you can go through these reviews at The most extensive and frequently updated report looks to be this one though: this seems to be the most exhaustive account of faults and problems a guy had before moving to Vonage. There are good reviews as well, but that's probably not what you came here looking for.

Latest e-mail to Broadvoice:

This is an update on the problem below that you’ve still not fixed and still not replied to me about.

The crackling sound still persisted, so I tried changing proxies from (which is what I’ve been using all along) to dca doesn’t ping quite as fast, but changing it to that seemed to fix the problem – however, after talking for an extended period (about 30 minutes), the regular crackling on the other side came back. When I called back, the crackling still persisted. I’ll say this again – this was never a problem before 12pm Monday March 14th Singapore/Hong Kong time.

Throughout all this, with either proxy, I was still unable to call the singapore numbers, though the mobile number might be okay now – the land line definitely isn’t.

You have to realise that I send you e-mails because your 24 hour support line is never *never* available.

At the moment, my “Broadvoice Sucks” post is now no. 2 on Google, by the way:

You can find the actual post, with these e-mails and the gaping hole of your lack of replies here:


Account no:
Order Number:
Broadvoice/Contact Tel. no.: call any time.
Using X-Lite softphone with Phoneconnector
Not using Router, connecting on gateway computer running XP SP2, ICS, Windows Firewall (exception for X-Lite)
Using Starhub Cable (Singapore), 6500/384

I’ve had a history of problems, as detailed below. I’ve received no replies to my e-mails, even though the problems below were eventually fixed.

As before, I find I can no longer dial this number: . Previously I had been able to do so without problems. That number can still call in to me with no problems. Other phones are able to call in. The error message in X-lite is “408 – Timed out”. The problem no. belongs to my cable company (they also provide broadband to me) – it’s a digital phone service.

Previously when this happened I was still able to call in to the country (singapore +65), for example the mobile no. . Now this is not the case and I can no longer call that mobile no. I get the same error message: “408 – Timed out”.

*The biggest problem though* is that when calling a US no. – – the person on the other end hears continual crackling sounds at regular intervals, at least as of 12pm Monday March 14th Singapore/Hong Kong time. Previously there had been no problems and I was able to call and receive calls from this number with no problems – this has occurred at the same time I noticed the above problems.

The only time I had previously had this crackling problem was when I had had limited upload bandwidth from running P2P programs. I’ve since stopped using those programs while calls take place and that solved the crackling (so there have been no problems with this crackling for weeks since I figured this out) – but now, despite having stopped the P2P during calls, there are still these artifacts as stated above.

The crackling occurs regardless of whether I initiate the call or I am called.

Drop me an e-mail or call when it’s fixed – it’s only polite.

I maintain a log of the deluge of problems that Broadvoice gives me:

The worst part of this is that this is the last day I’m able to subscribe to your service without incurring your usage penalty of $50 if I later cancel my line – you tell me what I should make of that.


From: Louis
Sent: Monday, February 28, 2005 8:23 PM
To: ''
Subject: Can't call to this no.

Account no:
Order Number:
Broadvoice/Contact Tel. no.: call any time.
Using X-Lite softphone with Phoneconnector
Not using Router, connecting on gateway computer running XP SP2, ICS, Windows Firewall (exception for X-Lite)
Using Starhub Cable (Singapore), 6500/384

I’ve had a history of problems, as detailed below. I received no reply to my e-mail, even thought he problem below was fixed.

When it was fixed though, I found I could no longer dial this number: . Previously I had been able to do so without problems. That number can still call in to me with no problems. Other phones are able to call in. The error message in X-lite is “408 – Timed out”.

Am still able to call in to the country (singapore +65), for example the mobile no. . Everything else has been fine, I’ve been able to call US no.s and they’ve been able to call in. The problem no. belongs to my cable company (they also provide broadband to me) – it’s a digital phone service.

Drop me an e-mail or call when it’s fixed – it’s only polite.


From: Louis
Sent: Wednesday, February 23, 2005 9:13 PM
To: ''
Subject: Unable to recieve incoming calls (but can still call out)

Resent to comply with support instructions.

Account no:
Order Number:
Tel. no.: (call the singapore no. because, well, I can’t receive incoming calls on my Broadvoice no. ATM), call any time.
Using X-Lite softphone with Phoneconnector
Not using Router, connecting on gateway computer running XP SP2, ICS, Windows Firewall (exception for X-Lite)
Using Starhub Cable (Singapore), 6500/384

I’m having problems receiving incoming calls. There had been no problems with the service previously, I signed up about a week ago and had been receiving incoming calls fine. But while I can’t currently receive incoming calls, I can still call out, without problem.

What happens when someone calls in (now, that is), they just hear silence for about 10-20 seconds then an engaged tone – or maybe a cannot connect message. On my end, I get a call through, but when I pick up, X-Lite says connected, but there’s just silence. If I let it ring, X-lite acts as if 2 calls are coming in, on line 3 and line 2 – by which time the caller has already gotten the engaged tone.

Please fix this. I’ve restarted X-Lite a number of times, and restarted my computer/internet connection – and I say again, I can still call out without problems.

Also, when are you going to allow support for more efficient codecs on your service? Things like ilbc? Or basically just codecs that are more bandwidth efficient.

I’ve also still not received a response from you regarding your site’s incompatibility with the Opera Browser. This is a copy of what I sent previously:

“When I sign in to my account, instead of being brought to my account page I’m sent to a page that says this:

You are using a mobile device.
Opera/7.60 (Windows NT 5.1; U; en)
Click Me

I tried this with numerous versions of Opera, including the latest 8 beta. I identify as Opera. Please fix this. For more details on browser sniffing/headers etc. please refer to
In addition, the automated referral service ( you provide does not work in Opera, ie the referrer’s no. is not filled in when you go to the sign-up page.”


Posted by subtitles at 4:19 PM

September 14, 2004


Powermatic are the distributers for my CMV monitor, and hence they handle the tech support for it. My problem was basically that the backlight on my 15 inch LCD was a bit too bright at the sides and the top - a manufacturer's flaw if I ever saw one. I brought it in the first time and it was okay, they changed the panel and everything seemed fine, and it was better, but the sides were still too bright, and I wasn't wild about the unevenness of the top viewing angle. So I brought it in again and they replaced the whole thing and I'm happier.

Granted it would have been nice if none of this was necessary, but every once in a while you're bound to have problems - just nice to know that these guys aren't too bad about it. Other than the fact that they're a bit annoying about asking for serial no.s and registration, the experience wasn't bad. Nice mild mannered tech guy who actually does the repairs, Mr. Liew. And I suppose it helped that it's very near Potong Pasir.

Posted by subtitles at 6:47 AM

April 20, 2004


One Word: Good Fun; Americans...

I don't really go in for action movies in general, but this wasn't bad. Honestly, it made me wish I had done something similar back at ISSE. There's a particular satisfaction in seeing people surprised.

Empathy my ass. Ties for top spot of worst use of piano soundtrack (on first impression) with Eyes Wide Shut.

I'm trying to analyse why this and 21 grams annoyed me so much, but Out of Gas (Firefly 1x08) is something of a favorite. Part of it at least is that Out of Gas used it in a very transparent way, that it wanted some exposition about the characters - there is a good reason that exists outside of the diegesis.

And as for the pornographic aspect of it, you should look at this.

Posted by subtitles at 9:39 AM | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

Antivirus and Firewalls are Good (If you're High and Don't Know Shit)

It's probably one of the worst myths that's bandied about in tech circles - that everyone should have antivirus software and a software firewall. I don't have a problem with the protection that these applications provide per se, but really, I just don't find them either necessary or useful outside of educating those who don't yet know how vulnerable their computers are - and consequently how to effectively and efficiently protect them.

The problem with antivirus software and firewalls is that they're software. This might come as a surprise, but software has bugs. And for whatever reason, either because these applications function at such a fundamental level with the operating system, or the companies producing them are just complacent in an unrationalised marketplace, these bits of code are particularly awful. But not only are they awful, they cost money to be awful, and often require you to subscribe to services that make you pay every year. Not that you'll ever really pay that subscription fee though, since every year without fail, these vendors will come out with "new" "improved" versions of their software that "add more up-to-date funtionality. Take that as code for they want you to pay to "upgrade" to something that is nothing more than your current application warmed over, with new features that are less than useless.

Another problem is that updating the software (not the virus definitions) is a chore for those who constantly clean install their systems - you have to download large chunks of data and reboot more than once most of the time. When it gets to the point where I'm thinking antivirus vendors should provide service packs that I can slipstream, something is wrong wrong wrong. The patch based model for updating software has it's advantages, but in this case I don't see why I can't eventually download a fully updated installer for when I clean install, instead of leaving my computer vulnerable for the download and reboot process.

Posted by subtitles at 12:54 AM

September 22, 2003

Why "Old School" Microsoft Mice and Keyboards are the best

*Warning* This is still a work in progress.

As people who read my blog know, I've been strident supporter and long-time advocate of Microsoft peripherals - ie: mice and keyboards. I suppose I've just felt it's time to express some caveats and to qualify the superlative nature of my praise - provide some context if you will, about the peripheral market in general.

In starting things off, it might be a strange thing to say (or not, depending on how rabidly Anti-Microsoft you are) but Microsoft actually make really good hardware - it's just a pity about the software (more on that later). In fairness though, Microsoft hardware can be some of the most expensive around, so it's not surprising that the hardware should be of good quality; and while Microsoft's mouse and keyboard software (the Intellitype and Intellimouse series of software/drivers) have real issues, they are still pretty much some of the best that I've used.

Microsoft peripherals are fantastic for the ergonomically conscious. While honestly the only way to avoid RSI (repetitive stress injuries) is to not use your mouse and keyboard, Microsoft goes some way towards helping find a comfortable middle ground between pain and neglect. In a design that has never been successfully emulated or duplicated (probably due to legal concerns), the Natural series of Microsoft keyboards are fantastic for those of us who know how to type. Two-finger typists need not apply, since the split nature of the keyboard isn't ideal for people who have to see what they're typing as they type. But for those who spent the time learning to touch-type, the more natural positioning of the hands with the Natural keyboards is ideal for extended text entry. And the built in wrist rest is good for those of us who never bothered to get rid of the supposed bad habit of resting their wrists while they type.

What is a pity though, is that Microsoft is no longer actively producing the best keyboards they (or anyone else) has made: the Microsoft Natural Elite. This was probably the first stable generation of Microsoft's entry into the Natural keyboard business, and it still stands up as the best keyboard I've ever used. The mapping of certain keys might be "non-standard" but as with most things, it's just a matter of getting used to it. What is so fantastic about this keyboard over later iterations though, is that the response of the keys is light and not too springy, a quality that while not everyone might like initially, I can guarantee is the most comfortable way to type. Not to say that the later keyboards are bad, since for me, any Natural keyboard can't go too far wrong - it's simply that the keys aren't quite as nice, and they provide features that, for me, range from the redundant to the annoying to the unusable.

Reviewers seem to be quite universal in their dislike of the fact that these newer keyboards interchange the function keys with "commonly used functions" like copy, paste, save etc. I'm in wholehearted agreement - the feature itself I have no problem with, but as others have been quite vocal about, there is no way to automatically toggle back and forth at start-up, meaning that whenever you restart your computer, you have to manually reset the function-lock key. There are fixes available from frustrated users, a simple registry change will do it, but the fixes are not perfect and extraneous keys like the Scroll Lock key are excluded from the fix. This is particularly annoying since my KVM switch, and I suspect many others, use scroll lock to toggle between computers (more on KVM's later). The fact that there have been numerous iterations of the Intellitype software since the launch of these keyboards is all the more frustrating, since this issue remains unresolved, along with an annoying bug I experienced of my Ctrl and Alt keys becoming "stuck".

Not fixing problems is an ongoing theme with Microsoft software, from the the fact that IE has been stagnant for years now, and more pertinently, that the Intellimouse software has had issues that have been "fixed" finally in the worst way possible - the removal of the feature. With the launch of the new 5.x series of Intellitype, Microsoft have resorted to the oldest trick in the bible they wrote on how to screw with their customers. "It's not a bug, it's a feature." The issue I had had previously with the 4.x series was that the "Program Specific" mapping of functions for the 4th and 5th mouse buttons. This was a good feature, since it meant that you could make the same button do different things in different programs, for instance Maximise IE windows and Send and Recieve in Outlook. It was also a popular feature with gamers who could use these buttons to map frequently used key combinations, to swift and lethal effect.

The problem was that, in changing between programs, the functions would bleed into one another, so that you'd end up closing an entire window in Opera when you intended to close a page. In complaining about this to Microsoft's support personnel, I was told that they would submit feedback to the development team in time for the next round of point upgrade bumpiness. Unfortunately this resulted in the feature being removed in it's entirety from the software. No warning, no notice, if you "upgraded" your software to 5.x, you were stuck without a useful, if not entirely working, feature. As far as I'm concerned, this signals an unacceptable policy in terms of how Microsoft support their products. They provide a feature, something that you take into account when you pay money for the product, and when they can't make it work (as they should have from the beginning) they take the feature away. That's not to say that Microsoft is alone in this behaviour, even Opera Software, who I otherwise worship, are prey to such tactics - removing functionality, though not in such unscrupulous ways I have to admit, waiting till a significant (read: paid) update to do so etc.

That said, (and program specific functions are exempt from this amnesty) Microsoft has tended in a sense to improve their products by paring it down. I love 5 button mice and don't think I could live without them, but in terms of ergonomics, thumb buttons and the like aren't exactly the best things. As my aching thumb and ring finger attest to, these buttons, while useful, are perhaps best done away with, as Microsoft has done with most of it's low to mid-range offerings.

So just as the old school Natural Elite keyboard is superior in many way to the newer keyboards, many of the older mice are still the best options, though their continued production is anything but certain. As a low end offering, the Intellimouse is still the best of it's class, with actually probably the most ergonomic shape and feel of all the mice - partly a function of it only having 3 buttons. It's only problem is that it is not optical, so cleaning is mandatory to maintain it's proper functionality. Personally I use the Intellimouse Explorer the most, which I find the best compromise so far in terms of comfort and usability, since it still retains 5 buttons.

My specific omissions from my recommendations might seem particularly egregious, but I'll explain. I find Wireless mice a bane - so much so that I deem them to be overpriced crap. Not to say they don't have their specific uses - my wireless Intellimouse Explorer is now used to control my computer when I'm using my TV-out, and my other mouse is back with my desktop. This is useful, but not for the price you have to fork out for the mouse - I only use it in this capacity since it's the most use I can find for it having already paid the money.

Wireless mice are to my mind ergonomically unsound. My hands and shoulder have never ached as much as when I was using that wireless mouse. Occasional use in front of the TV when I'm watchin movies/TV series I've taped/downloaded is fine - but for day to day use in work and browsing/email, it will do bad things to your arm and hand. The main problem is that Wireless mice are heavy. Very heavy. Other than the normal amount of hardware present in a wired mouse, you require an additional 2 AA batteries. This is ludicrous. The resulting weight and heft make for an extremely unpleasant mousing experience. And this is not restricted to Microsoft wireless mice. The Logitech wireless mouse I own is subject to the same problems due to it's weight.

What makes all this all the more frustrating is the the responsiveness of wireless mice leaves much to be desired. If your mouse continuously this manifests as a feeling that you're mousing underwater - exacerbated by the weight of the mouse. This in itself isn't so horrible, but in order to save power, it seems as if the mice become unresponsive after a period of disuse, so that when you sit down to mouse again, there is a frustrating lag in responsiveness initially. The positioning of the wireless reciever is another consideration you have to be mindful of, since at certain angles/distances, the mouse just stops working. Batteries are also an issue in that since I really am on my computer that much, they don't last, with such frequent usage, much more than a month. All in all, it just adds up to more hassle for more money. You're better off chucking your money off the side of a bridge.

And people wonder why I refuse to install Wireless products.

Another annoyance I would note, and which encompasses the Microsoft peripheral range as a whole, is that they are not the most practical items for KVM usage. Except for their most expensive and redundantly wireless keyboard offerings, all Microsoft keyboards are PS/2. Fine, I suspect PS/2 KVM's are probably better anyway. But Microsoft mice are (now that the Intellimouse is put out to pasture) all USB. Yes they have USB to PS/2 converters that work fine, but on a sqeezy KVM, you fairly have to jam the converter in next to the video. And of course there's a reason why I don't know whether USB KVM's are any better, because the keyboards don't support USB. I suppose the solution I'm using for my notebook connection is a good one - using a PS/2 to USB converter (difficult to find unless you know where to look, and pretty expensive) - but the nature of these converters means that no extra driver software is supported. That means that in my case, anything above an Elite keyboard makes no sense, since the functions won't get used, not that I used them anyway.

Buying OEM, Cheap Intellimouse/keyboard. Crapness of the UK keyboard

Firmness of scroll wheel, accelerated scrolling, program specific buttons - contrast with limitedness of logitech software - a4tech still the best in terms of hover and scroll - lack of standards. Microsoft leads to lots of empty clicks.

Trend towards ps/2 keyboards, problems with KVM switches, (another reason to have no frills keyboard) Hotkey control, USB/ps/2 converters not good for mouse.

Ergonomics, Microsoft is still the first and best to have ergonomic keyboard layouts - I couldn't live without a split keyboard. And yet obviously for those people who are still 2 finger typists and haven't heard of mavis beacon, normal keyboards might be more of an idea.

Louis still gets mouse pains: goodness of Opera for keyboard shortcuts/mouse gestures.

New Mouse drivers with program/macro mapping gone - close not very good, but great for opera....

Posted by subtitles at 9:01 AM