Qwerkywriter Keyboard First Impressions

For my birthday my excellent friend Regan procured for me a Qwerkywriter keyboard, which is designed to mimic the look and clicky-clicky feel of an old school typewriter keyboard while still giving you the functionality of a modern computer keyboard. People have asked me to give a report on the thing, and I’ve been using it for a day now, which is enough time for me to give you some first impressions of it.

First off, you should all know that I am not the best person to vouch for how it feels compared to an actual typewriter, since the last time I used an actual typewriter for anything was freshman year in high school, when I typed just fast enough on a manual typewriter (25 words a minute) to be excused from a compulsory typing class. Since then all my writing, creative or otherwise, has been done on a computer. So while I can appreciate the old-school aesthetic of the Qwerkywriter, which is indeed endearing as promised, for those of you who were hoping for a report on whether this would offer a 1:1 experience to a Smith-Corona or IBM Selectric, I’m afraid I can’t help you there.

That said, I do have a frame of reference with manual computer keyboards, i.e., the older keyboards where there was a full and distinct “click” with each key depression. And as for those, well, yeah, this does the trick. The keys are clicky and clattery and for the folks who really get off on that sort of sensuously tactile experience when they type, this is probably going to ping their pleasure centers pretty hard.

For the record, I’m not someone who needs my keyboard to make a huge amount of noise, nor do I really care too much about the tactility and travel of the keys — I’ve spent too much time on laptops for that. But I do find the travel and clackery of the keys pleasant enough, and the noise does vaguely remind me of my days in a newsroom, which is a nice sense memory.

In terms of the physical aspects of the keyboard, it’s reasonably solidly built; the chassis of the keyboard is metal, as are the keytops (the mechanical aspects of the keys appear to be plastic). The keys are slightly wiggly at the top but the underportions are solidly placed into the base. The height of the base and of the keys put them at a substantial height off your desk, so if you’re used to a low profile keyboard, as I am, this will take a little getting used to and you should probably make adjustments to how you sit and type to make sure your wrists don’t suffer any undue strain (note this would be the case with any keyboard different from what you usually use; this is not a specific complaint against the Qwerkywriter). The keys are not backlit, so if that’s an important thing to you — and it is for me — be aware of that.

I type reasonably quickly (and idiosyncratically) and the keyboard had no problems keeping up with me; at the moment I’m typing slower on it than on my usual keyboard, and making more errors, but that seems more to do with me having to get used to the keyboard than anything with the keyboard itself. The Qwerkywriter connects via Bluetooth and does a pretty good job with it. I was able to connect with my Android tablet (shown in the picture above) and also to my desktop computer without any problems at all, and haven’t had any connectivity issues of note. The makers of the keyboard say that once it’s charged it can type for months before recharging, which I can’t speak to yet. Obviously it seems to be chugging along just fine.

Criticisms? A couple. One, the return bar is functional (whack it and your cursor drops a line, or you can program it for other functionality), but it really is an affectation, especially if like me you’ve never really spent any time on a typewriter. Also, because I’m not used to a metal bar being on my keyboard, my hand runs into it a lot, which I find vaguely annoying. If you’re a true touch typist who puts your hands like you’re supposed to, maybe this won’t be a problem. The base also has a fake roller bar in it, which is cute but otherwise inessential.

There’s a slot in the back for you to place a tablet or phone in, which is great (see above), but leads me to another complaint, which is not about the Qwerkywriter but is about mobile word processing apps, namely, that at this point they still don’t have some basic functionality (for example, neither Microsoft’s Office online version or Google’s Docs mobile app have the option to set a ruler on your document; Apple’s Pages does but I’m not usually working on the Apple side of things), which for me right now limits the usefulness of the tablet/keyboard setup. Your mileage, quite obviously, may vary on this (you may not have the need/desire to very specifically format as I do).

Also, for gamers, I’m not entirely sure that this is a fantastic keyboard for that. On one hand it is mechanical, which many gamers like, but on the other hand it is Bluetooth rather than directly wired, which introduces lag, and also given the key shapes, I sense a lot of opportunity for flubbed key presses.

Finally, and this is just me, but I sort of question whether I would take it out into public. It’s certainly portable (the keyboard is just under three pounds) but it’s also a little… I don’t know, precious? It’s one thing to bring a laptop into a coffee shop. It’s another thing to bring your Qwerkywriter, chunk it down, slip your tablet into the back, and clack away while you chug your soy latte. I feel like the hipster police will burst through the door in their skinny jeans and haul you away.

At home, it feels indulgent and (yes) just quirky enough to be fun. Out in the world, it might come across as oh my God look at me I am a really real writer as you can tell by my important clicky sounds. Again, I’m fully willing to admit this is a personal hang-up; I have a well-known bias against writing in public areas anyway. So take this as you will. You might be happy to be out in public with this, you shameless hipster, you.

My personal neuroses notwithstanding, the Qwerkywriter seems like a solid, pretty and enjoyable mechanical keyboard which I can recommend if you like the basic feature set of mechanical keyboards and also enjoy the old-school typewriter aesthetic. Be aware that you will be paying a premium for that aesthetic — these things are currently going for $350 — but if you’re down with that, go for it and have a ball.

(A link to the Qwerkywriter site, by the way; the other links above were to the ThinkGeek sales page.)

The Big Idea: Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby takes a while to summarize her work, including her latest novel, Company Town. But as you’ll see in this big idea, this isn’t (just) because she’s not great at making a fast pitch. It’s because there’s a whole lot going on in what she writes.

MADELINE ASHBY:

Veronica Mars versus The Terminator.

That’s how I came to think of my latest novel, Company Town, available today from Tor Books. I wish I could tell you that I’d made that pitch right from the start. But in truth, my pitching game just isn’t that strong. When I pitched my first novel, vN, I rambled on for a full half-hour before the editor smiled patiently and told me I should work on my pitching technique. He bought the book anyway.

I do get better at describing my novels after I’ve been working on them, for a while. It’s a bit like trying to explain a dream to one’s therapist: you think the nightmare is about a blinding black fog that swallows you whole, but as you narrate it, you realize it’s really about depression. I often feel that I don’t truly know what the book is “about” until I’m writing posts like these. And I rarely come up with a catchy, high-concept elevator pitch until far too late in the game.

“It’s about seeing,” I told some students at the University of Toronto about Company Town. I was there to answer questions about vN, which they’d been assigned to read and discuss. They asked about my next book, and I described it in much the same way io9 did, only with a lot more rambling and cursing: “In the near future, everybody is enhanced, with implants and other improvements that make them stronger, smarter, and more on top of everything that’s going on. Except for one person, Hwa—and her lack of enhancements turns out to be her superpower. Hwa works as a bodyguard, protecting sex workers in an oil rig that’s basically its own independent city state. But after the oil rig is bought by the wealthy Lynch family business, Hwa gets roped into protecting the youngest member of the Lynch family, instead. And meanwhile, someone is killing local sex workers, Jack-the-Ripper style.”

What that summary doesn’t mention until later is that Joel Lynch, the boy Hwa is charged to protect, appears to be receiving death threats from the future. Hwa figures the threats are bullshit, and suspects someone within the family of trying to de-stabilize Joel’s position as the heir apparent. It’s a classic noir plot: the bad-ass brought in to do a dirty job, who discovers family secrets in the family business. Only these family secrets have to do not just with big money and real estate and inheritance, but the future itself, and one very ruthless vision of it.

In my other line of work, I help people design for the future. Which means imagining many possible futures, and encouraging others to do the same. After all, as Alex Steffen is fond of saying, you can’t build what you can’t imagine. That’s the guiding principle of a lot of strategic foresight work, and it’s also a principle of Project Hieroglyph, an anthology and an ongoing project I am happy to participate in.

But doing this work means that you run up along a lot of different visions of the future, some of them not so nice, and some of them just plain horseshit. Once at a conference, I was doing a book signing with a prominent transhumanist who told a man in his sixties that yes, there would be more time to make up with his kids. Yes, even though he hadn’t spoken to them in years. Yes, he could expect a series of innovations — neural implants, smart drugs, genetic editing, whatever — to prolong his lifespan so that he could make up for whatever he’d done wrong. He said this with a straight face. Maybe he even believed it. To this day, I’m not sure.

Experiences like that got me thinking about competing futures. About how so many people view the future as a zero-sum game: I win, you lose. “Who are the winners and losers in this scenario?” is a question I get asked, a lot. Barring a major disruption (like, say, the arrival of the Internet, or the arrival of penicillin, or the birth control pill, or, or, or…) the answer is usually that the “winners” then will probably be the winners now, and the “losers” then will probably be the losers, now, because structures of power exist solely to perpetuate themselves and therefore the status quo. But thinking about “winners” and “losers” elides the variety of experience along a spectrum of possible futures, and offers only a narrow view of success or failure. The dystopia is already here. It’s just unequally distributed.

Company Town gets called a dystopia, and on some level, I guess it is. It’s a world of rampant genetic discrimination, and uncontrolled corporate oligarchy. Poverty still exists. But in a lot of ways I think it may be my most optimistic novel, yet. There’s alternative energy and vertical farming. Sex work is decriminalized and unionized and for the most part it’s a lot safer. It takes place in Canada, so there’s socialized medicine. (But it takes place in Atlantic Canada, so abortion access was once limited.) And those implants? And gene therapies? They actually work.

It’s not always great. But it’s not always awful, either. And that’s the future.

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Company Town: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.