Strawberry Yoghurt, a Flexible Keyboard; and some Detective Work in OSX

By Graham K. Rogers

Updated 22 December 2004 (contact information)

The moment I saw it in MacAddict last year, I wanted a flexible keyboard of my own. E-mail to the US distributor brought no reponse, so I wrote off the idea until this year, when the Bangkok Post carried advertisements for a similar product. I contacted the address in the advertisement and picked one up from the distributor, Martien Vlemmix of FlexKeyboard, a few days later.

flexible keyboard

Although he gave me a 101-key version, he also showed me one without the number-pad. The two were dark grey, but white is also available: indeed, with enough orders, he could provide keyboards in any colour.

"Flexi Keyboard" hardly conveys just how bendable it is -- mine is draped over the back of a chair as I write this. It is made of a rubber-silicon composite: totally waterproof. I tried water and a strawberry yoghurt. The dog helped with the cleanup, before I immersed it in water, then ran it over with my BMW K100RS motorcycle.

I have put a full set of images here.

Designed for a PC, the keyboard can be used with the Mac. It comes with a USB plug and a PS/2 adapter. There were no conflicts on either the G4 or the iMac, although identifying some of the non-QWERTY keys was not easy. Instead of the Mac's 15 function keys and the CDROM eject key, there were 12 function keys. Some other keys were also mapped differently.

For the Mac, therefore, this is not a 100% alternative -- shortcut keys may not work until you find out which keys to apply. Typing is not affected.

The feel of the keys may not be everyone's idea of perfection. Fairly firm pressure is needed. The keyboard can only lay flat on a desk, so slanting it (as I like to do) is not easy. For those who use a laptop, this is unlikely to be a problem.

The keyboard costs 590 baht which compares well with PC keyboards now available.

I would anticipate that users who are reluctant to allow dribbling infants near their computers might like this. It is also a good standby keyboard (keyboards fail when you have deadlines). It may be useful for hospitals or establishments where sterile environments are needed: these keyboards can be be disinfected fairly easily.

CRON games

I am not certain when it started, but every so often while typing, the active application was no longer taking data.

Drat. Click. Carry on.

I concentrated and realised it was not random. Questions must be asked when tracking down a problem: what did you install last; what is running when the event occurs? Activity Monitor provided some answers.

It is easy to watch processes that are running, but to catch one that only appears for an instant, is like trying to catch quarks in a tea-strainer.

It was regular -- every five minutes -- which made focussing on the screen easier. When it occurred (this took about 30 minutes to see and confirm) there was an automatic fix of prebinding: a process to link files to applications. This is done on installation, but OSX updates prebinding regularly.

To seek out the application receiving all this attention, I opened Console and selected the System Log. It takes a while to sift through all the text, but being a regular event narrowed it down.

As part of the detective work, I decided to update prebinding using Terminal (see below) and this improved things a little. It cleared up several unbound files, but revealed that some applications do not bind properly because of how they operate. Discussions on the Apple forums reveal that this is normal.

In the middle of all the "fix_prebinding" text were entries marked CRON. This is Unix-speak for time-related processes. You can create these to run commands at any time interval: this is how the regular maintenance works.

The logs showed that one application was receiving much atttention. I opened terminal, started Pico (this is the editor that the mail program Pine is based on) and had a look in the "crontab" file in the relevant directory. I was able to identify that it was part of the security application, LapCop.

An email to the company produced the information that when I had updated to Panther, I should also have updated this program. A download of the correct version cleaned up the crontab file and the problem ceased.

If things are not running 100%, a little detective work will track down the cause: one step away from a fix.

The prebinding command in Terminal is

sudo update_prebinding -root /

Press return and enter an Administrator password when prompted.

There is a certain perversity connected with writing columns. Invariably, as soon as the week's magnum opus is sent, or appears in print, something is updated. I recently mentioned Macaroni. Two hours after I read my paper copy of Database, an e-mail arived notifying me of version 2.0 (and a week later, 2.0.1). The quick update fixed a problem that had caused a slow shut down.

There were some subtle changes and Macaroni now includes a facility for removing localised content: other languages that one does not use. This comes checked by default, but when it runs will do nothing unless the user has selected specific languages. You can now also turn off Macaroni with a button in the Preference panel. Macaroni can be downloaded from www.atomicbird.com or from Versiontracker.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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