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No plan to prepare for digital age

Xero managing director Anna Curzon writes in for Stuff:

“It’s about time digital technology was recognised as an important topic of education because it’s crucial we prepare our next generation for tomorrow’s world.”

Someone could have written the same words any time in the last 40 years. It’s not a new idea. People said the same when I was at school in the 1970s. We ran similar comments when I edited The Dominion’s Computer Pages in the 1980s.

The idea is no more crucial today than it was before. Imagine how many Xeros, Vends and Orions we could have now if government listened then.

The difference is that we now have a vibrant home-grown technology sector to show the benefits technology-savvy citizens can bring.

Role models

We also now have successful role models; articulate industry leaders able to argue the case for technology. Curzon is one of them.

They run companies that bring in valuable export dollars. Their contribution to the economy is more reliable than the bust-boom cycles from, say, the dairy industry.

That alone should get them a hearing.

It’s chilling that after the effort industry leaders and others have put into explaining this, the Minister of Education and her officials ignored them.

There’s always a danger when industries push sector-based education agenda. It would be a disaster if, say, dairy leaders talked schools into adding dairy-farming to the curriculum.

Yet digital technology is hardly special pleading. It is as fundamental to the 21st century as reading, writing and arithmetic. These days digital technology is reading, writing and arithmetic.

Facebook MessengerIf you need to contact someone in a hurry, don’t use Facebook or other social media. That is, unless you know the person is happy getting messages that way. Many do, many do not.

Facebook is huge. It has 1.6 billion users. Facebook and its assorted apps account for about 30 percent of all US internet use.

Given those numbers, your message stands a good chance of getting through.

With a billion people spending 20 minutes a day on the site, statistics say your message should reach its target sooner rather than later.

Yet not every person is on Social media. Not even in the world’s rich countries . Not all the people with Facebook accounts are frequent site visitors. Many users are, to use the popular jargon, not engaged.

So unless you know your target will read your message before too long, social media is not the best way to send important messages. It can be hit and miss.

It looks odd, but the Truly Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard delivers on its promise of pain-free typing

The keyboard has its frustrations, but it works.

It’s now several weeks since I took on the Tek, and, yes, I can report it keeps RSI at bay — just as it promises.

I have minor RSI problems and, although I still find the Tek’s unusual layout strange, my arms and fingers feel much less stressed.

The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, to give it its full name, has a couple of ergonomic things going for it — it’s strange, but effective layout and the fact it is a mechanical keyboard.

Mechanical keys

But let’s start with first impressions. While it wasn’t love at first sight — it’s not a very pretty keyboard — I immediately took to the Tek’s mechanical keys. You get a satisfying tactile feedback when you strike them.

It is like using a typewriter. I also like the Tek’s small footprint. It compares well with that of the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard I had been using. A big beast, it dominated my desk. The Tek is 60 percent the size of Microsoft’s keyboard. I really noticed the difference — much more desk working space.

The other first impression concerned the weirdness of the keyboard’s layout, which does, however, start to make sense after a while. For instance, the Enter/Return key is in the middle of the keyboard, rather than on the outer right (which requires you have to use your weak pinkie to strike it). I have always found this forced use-of-the-pinkie nonsensical.

Using one’s much stronger thumb, to strike the Enter key when it is placed in the middle of the keyboard makes a lot more sense. The only problem is getting used to a different keyboard layout, especially if you still use other keyboards.

I haven’t been able to touch-type properly on the Tek during my several weeks of use and still find myself having to look at the keys. But the increased comfort of use and the lessening of my mild but sometimes painful RSI symptoms make it worth it. Having to switch between keyboards is the main issue for me.

However, the need for ergonomic keyboards is not going to go away. We now have a generation of children growing up who are using keyboards from their earliest days and will likely use them for decades. And touch pads and voice recognition software are unlikely to replace keyboards completely.

Split_Symmetrical_Ergonomic_Keyboard_227 Staggered_ergonomic_keyboards

What we liked

The Tek keyboard’s pluses are that it is a mechanical keyboard and that it has an unusual and symmetrical layout (see images). Commonly used keys, like the Enter, Delete, Backspace and Dash keys, are placed in the middle of the keyboard, so you use your stronger thumbs – or, in my case, index fingers – to strike them. No stretching delicate pinkies to the far reaches of the keyboard. However, there is a second Backspace key in the top right-hand corner, which I found useful.

The standard QWERTY keyboard has been in use since the 1860s. It requires you to splay your elbows and twist your wrists out slightly too, causing strain. The Tek seeks to overcome this and keep your arms and wrists straight by placing the commonly used keys in the middle of the keyboard. This makes for more width in the keyboard overall (despite the smaller footprint) so you do, indeed, hold your arms straighter, as it makes the keys symmetrical – see image. The only problem is your fingers don’t know quite where to go if you’re used to touch-typing on a conventional keyboard, and especially if you use both.

This symmetrical key alignment is the Tek’s big point of difference – it’s not the only mechanical keyboard out there. And it’s a valuable difference as it cuts back on hand and arm strain when typing.

Less tiring

But the Tek’s mechanical action is also important. Keyboards that use mechanical switches require less effort to press down the keys, so are less tiring on the hands. I found this to be true.

The clicking sound and tactile feel of the dish-shaped keys also help you not press too hard. Ideally, says the Tek brochure, you should “float” your hands above the keyboard for maximum comfort. But getting to this nirvana is hard if you are accustomed to the kind of membrane keyboards used on laptops and tablets, and still need to use them. These keyboards give much less physical feedback, so you tend to hit the keys harder. It seems necessary too. I want to “float” with the Tek because it really does cut back on finger and hand strain. But I’m not there yet.

As a check, I did a conscious comparison of the Tek with my excellent Logitech iPad keyboard and I definitely found I had to hit the Logitech’s flat membrane keys harder. My Mac PowerBook laptop proved better but still not as good as the Tek, especially for prolonged typing.

Using the Tek got me thinking about that other ergonomic problem – the mouse. Stretching for the mouse also causes strain. There is still some stretch with the Tek keyboard, so I went googling and found the Roller mouse. This could sit well with the Tek if mouse fatigue is also an issue.

What’s not so good

It’s noisy – all that clicking. Lots of people like the sound, including me, but it could annoy others if you share office space.

The Caps-lock position. The key for this is above the number keys, which is a bit odd, although I can live with it.

There is also a Gmail problem – the two space bar keys (another unusual Tek feature) seem to get stuck sometimes and either won’t work at all or you need to click the mouse to activate them. Alternatively, they act as the ‘Enter’ key and take you to the next line in the email. Again, clicking on the mouse sorts this out, although it’s not ideal. This is a Gmail issue, not a Tek one though.

Re-programmable keys are another special aspect of the Tek. This sounds good, but we are getting into seriously geeky territory here. I’m not sure many people want to play with their keys this way. However, it makes sense if you have an IT department, or just like tinkering. It means the keys can be optimised for other languages, for example. Also, one keyboard reviewer complained about thumb strain, so re-mapping some keys could make sense for some users.

Cost – there have been some complaints about the cost – US$249. However, mechanical keyboards tend to have a long life and other mechanical keyboards are also pricey. Much cheaper is my Microsoft ‘natural’ ergonomic keyboard, at about NZ$60 nowadays, but it comes with cheap membrane keys.


Yes, the Tek is worth it. It’s not very pretty, but it is comfortable and non-pain inducing to use. I won’t be able to touch-type properly on it so long as I continue to use other keyboards, but I can live with this because of the other benefits.

Keyboard strain issues tend not to be taken as seriously as other industrial injuries, but they are quite as real. So it’s good to see an effective keyboard that doesn’t look like an ugly medical device – announcing your problem to the world – or doesn’t take over your desk it’s so big.

USEFUL EXTRA: Researching this article took me to some useful places. This website on RSI and keyboard issues might be helpful for some as it features some anti-RSI exercises – stretches are known to help.

Bill Bennett writes: I asked Johanna to review the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard as she has experienced RSI pains with everyday keyboards. 

eye spy on LinkedInLinkedin was useful for a moment.

That was when it was about staying in touch with former colleagues and business contacts.

It works as a contact book with automatic updates. Linkedin manages the links when people move jobs. People often move jobs in industries like technology and telecommunications.

When Microsoft Outlook was still popular, you could sync it to Linkedin. Your address book would stay up-to-date.

Linkedin at work

This was powerful for journalists with large contact books.

Need to grab someone from Telecommunications Giant for an interview on latest developments? There will be someone on Linkedin.

Want to find the person who explained software-defined networking in an earlier interview. Maybe they can help with a feature on the latest software-defined storage developments.

Linkedin was — still is — great for fact-checking. You can’t remember how to spell a name, or don’t know a person’s new job title. The information can be there at your fingertips.

But not always. Often people don’t update their Linkedin profiles fast enough when they move roles.

If you need to track down someone in business who you don’t know, Linkedin is sometimes a good place to start.

Not as good as it was

In Linkedin’s early days you could often find the details needed to phone or email someone. This was great for a journalist needing to interview a person in a hurry.

Now few people include direct contact information on their Linkedin profile. That’s because spammers abuse the information. They suck email addresses and phone numbers from Linkedin pages.

Linkedin became less useful when it found it could make money brokering relationships. If you had to email someone through Linkedin’s internal system, it could take days to get a response.

When messages turn up at the other end they look like Linkedin spam. Perhaps that’s why people didn’t regard them as serious.

You could send a few free messages this way. To send more messages you had to buy a subscription. Linkedin subscriptions are not cheap; prices start at US$60 a month.


Then people learned to abuse Linkedin.

You’ve seen the dreaded “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network” emails.

Often there is no clear reason why the person sending the email wants to link. Other times, the reason is clear enough, it is also intrusive. Connect messages roll in from real estate agents, car dealers and the like.

Some people take offence if you decide not to connect. Even when you have no real-world link to that person. That was the first sign Linkedin was losing the plot.

Then the weird recommending began. Before long people you’ve never met or talked to recommend you for skills that they don’t know you have.

Here’s the thing

Linkedin’s engineers built a powerful business database. It is full of valuable data. Your data. You gave it away when you filled your profile.

There’s a reason why you are  prompted for more data. Each extra field you fill is worth more money.

Linkedin sells this data for profit. That’s fine. Of course it does. Yet the usual social media relationship sees users get something worthwhile in return. [1]

It’s not clear if users get much back at all in return for their data. Some get jobs or contracts.

There are industries and regions where Linkedin has a job-market monopoly. Where you have little choice but to have a well-crafted profile. That is a whole different subject to worry about. It deserves a separate post. Sometimes Linkedin job recommendations are crazy.

Otherwise Linkedin is of no value to most end users. Linkedin gets a far better deal. It makes a fortune selling your information to others.

That data turned out to be valuable. Last week Microsoft acquired the business. It paid Linkedin US$60 for each customer profile. That’s the data you collected and entered.

It’s often said that “you are the product” with online services. The Microsoft deal makes that clear enough. You are also the unpaid researcher and data-entry clerk.

Microsoft’s plan

For people who depend on Linkedin for finding work, the Microsoft acquisition is terrifying.  The path between you and potential employers is now controlled by a company with a track record as a convicted monopolist.

Microsoft’s operating system monopoly might be in the past. It may have found a new one.

And anyway, Microsoft’s recent behaviour over Windows 10 upgrades shows it can still be a bully and insensitive.

Randall Stross at the New York Times makes another point in LinkedIn will make you hate Microsoft Word:

Mr. Nadella supplied one explanatory clue in an email that he sent to Microsoft employees. “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” he wrote, such as “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.” He went on to predict that such experiences would “get more intelligent and delightful.”

“Delightful” is not the first adjective that comes to mind here, or even the 10th. If I’m working in Word, I can’t see why I’d welcome the intrusion of even a close friend, let alone a bot telling me about a stranger pulled from LinkedIn’s database.


In 2012 criminals breached Linkedin’s security. They collected around 100 million emails and passwords. That’s about a quarter of all users.

It took the company until 2016 to acknowledge the size and scope of the breach. That alone would be a wake-up call about how the company regards your welfare.

Last month Linkedin sent out messages telling users it had reset passwords. When my message arrived, I considered jumping through the necessary hoops.

No value: quit Linkedin

Then it occurred to me that I get no value from being on Linkedin. I’ve never had a worthwhile job come from the site. Some suggested jobs are ridiculous.

Sure, people connect to my account, but that’s all they do. They don’t call or invite me to coffee. They don’t hire my services. I’m not going to get a job through the service.

Linkedin exists in a vacuum. All we are doing is building a better database for a giant corporation that gives nothing back. [2]

Not only do I get nothing back, but I get annoying emails. I killed every email-accepting option in my profile settings, but messages kept coming.

Microsoft’s plan doesn’t bother me. Having my data hawked around the market is irritating. But it’s an abstract and remote issue. So I quit Linkedin.

All about security

The security breach was the trigger for quitting my account. Linkedin was lax in the first place, then lax about warning users there had been a breach. That’s not good.

There’s a security risk having an account with any online service. That’s fine when there’s a clear return or function from the service. That’s not the case with Linkedin. On balance, the negatives outweigh the positives.

Instead of resetting my password, I killed my account. There are still a few links on sites to my, now-deleted, Linkedin profile.

Without the security breach and Linkedin-imposed password change, I would have left the profile to rot over time. Now I have one less security risk to worry about and one less annoyance.

    1. It’s debatable whether Linkedin is social media, we’ll let that one pass for now.  ↩
  1. Many people are happy handing over their data in return for what looks like free online services. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not passing judgement here.  ↩