Reviews

Labtec wireless keyboard+mouse for free (review)

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Here's a great deal I just came across tonight. Last night I dropped a full cup of hot Barry's tea on my keyboard so, rather than sticking it in the washing machine and hoping for the best, I went shopping for a new keyboard. As it turns out, most of the keyboards on the market fail two very simple requirements:

  • The six key insert/delete/page-up/down block should be three keys across and two down.
  • The function keys should have a default action to work as a function key.

For some reason both Logitech and Microsoft got it in their thick skulls a few years ago that everyone would rather have a cramped six-key block and wanted to press a special key before the function keys worked as advertised, so for the last few years it has been very difficult to find anything else.

Beyond those two basic requirements I also needed:

  • USB support, preferably directly on the keyboard but an adapter would do.
  • Basic volume controls - nothing fancy, just simple volume up/down keys.
  • Those special Mac keys, if possible, but I can live without them.
  • Not made my Microsoft :-)
  • It doesn't have to be wireless, and it doesn't have to include a mouse.

There are a few keyboards that fit all of the above, but unfortunately the most likely candidate, the Logitech S530 kit runs $80, a bit rich for my tastes right now.

After trying several stores, including buying a Micro Innovations keyboard that will go back to the store as it has a really bad key layout (I made the mistake of not checking first), I happened across what I think will work out just fine, despite failing some of the requirements.

The Labtech Media Wireless Desktop is a PS/2 keyboard + mouse set that retails for $40 that on a normal day I wouldn't think much of, but Radioshack has it on sale for $20 and then has two $10 mail-in rebates that make it completely free (excluding taxes) - what a deal! What's even better, only one of the two rebates has a limit on the number that can be submitted, so ultimately you could have a whole bunch of these for $10 each!

Having been using it for about an hour, now, I must say that I'm learning to live with the keyboard's small shortcoming. As intimated I needed a USB keyboard to work with my Mac, but luckily I had a PS/2-to-USB adapter which made it work. This has one side effect that I'll cope with - I can't do shortcuts of more than three keys and it drops the keypress if the keys are held in for more than two seconds, nothing earth shattering but occasionally annoying.

Beyond that little niggle, the keyboard and mouse are proving to be very good. The keyboard itself is very light so takes a little getting used to if you sit around with it on your lap (I'm used to a heavier keybord).

Under Mac OSX I can use some of the extra keys, mainly the audio controls and the sleep button, while the application launcher keys go unused. I must say that I like how the sleep function works in OSX, it pops open a dialog asking if you want to restart, shutdown, put the machine to sleep or cancel, which is better than how I've seen Windows XP work where it just immediately goes to sleep. I'll probably see if I can adjust the system keymap to use the extra keys, but it isn't a big deal.

The mouse is basic but works well. It is an optional mouse that seems to have good tracking - certainly as good as the basic Logitech ones we've been using for yonks. Unlike many mice on the market today, this one just has the basic two buttons and single-direction scroll wheel, which is just fine for my needs.

Finally, as this was my first wireless keyboard set I was interested to see how well the distance detection worked. The manual says that the keyboard and mouse should be kept within 1 meter from the base, so don't hide it on the other side of the room but you should still have enough flexibility to move around your desk (or spin around on your chair). As mentioned, this is my first wireless keyboardset and it is working quite well - no cables to get caught on chair legs or clutter up the desk.

So, for $0 this is shaping up to be the one of best computer purchases I've made, and for the price I recommend picking one up yourself.

19" widescreen monitors are awesome!

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I'm having a major bout of monitor envy. At work, after my suggestion, they upgraded the office so everyone is on LCDs and as part of the deal the Geek gang got swishy new 19" widescreen Viewsonics. They're awesome. With a native resolution of 1440x900 it has 1.6 times the screen real estate of a 15" 1024x768 screen, has lots of width to place windows side-by-side (useful for code comparisons) and doesn't make you crane your neck to look from top to bottom, unlike some larger screens. One really cool feature is that if you have two computers available, one with a regular 15-pin VGA connector and one with a swishy new DVI connector, you can have both of them connected simultaneously and just press a button on the screen to switch between them, so using this I've got both my Mac and beefy PC ready to go as needed. I will definitely say that the DVI output from the Geforce 6800 in the PC is far superior to the VGA from the Geforce 4 MX on the Mac, the text is much more crisp. To give you even more screen envy we got them for about $216 with free shipping and a $20 rebate brings the price to under $200, a third of what we paid for our 17" LCD a few years back! NewEgg is where we got them and to make life easier for you here's a link to search their site with the various options we went for:

TaxCut vs TurboTax

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For the first few years we had to do a tax return in the USA I used TurboTax to do so. Back in 1999 it was pretty simple for us to do our taxes as we had almost nothing to list in it. Over the years it got a bit more complicated but continued to be manageable. Around the 2002-2003 time-frame Intuit, who makes TurboTax, decided to do some naughty things with their software - the installed some extra limitations on how or when you could install their software, which would pose problems if we ever needed to verify the data in future years. At that point we switched to using TaxCut and it has served us fairly well since. Last years results were proving to be a little tricky with TaxCut so I tried TurboTax and was quite surprised - while TaxCut seemed to stick with the same interface every single year, TurboTax finally got an interface and usability revamp which has made it much easier to use than the competition, and I think we'll be switching back for another few years. Confusion, confusion. In a day or two I'll know how the end results of each compare and that will probably be the deciding factor.

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