Somerville

Last week I acquired a new device, a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. And I do mean new. It was released that Monday, which is also when it arrived. I preordered it. I’m really not much of a gadget person, but they’ve been seeping into my life over the past few years–first an iPod touch, then an iPhone, various Kindles and other ebook readers at work, and now this Surface.

So why did I buy it? Well, my uses for one were mounting up.

  1. Traveling – I usually take my laptop with me when I travel so I can get things done and access my desktop at home remotely. I also like to access my desktop from across the apartment when I’m sending files to it from my scanner. But my laptop is old and slow now, and I’ve been wanting to replace it for ages.
  2. Reading – Reading ebooks on my phone was getting tiresome, especially when they were PDFs. I read a surprising number of those. And zooming and panning all over the page slows down my reading. The larger screen of the Surface already helping. And the stylus makes it easy to write annotations on PDFs, which is handy for doing math exercises.
  3. Writing – I actually had a pretty nice setup for writing using a wireless keyboard with my phone. But it only really worked well in my car, where I have a phone holder. A tablet would give me more options. The screen props itself up with its kickstand, and I can position it at odd angles without having it slide away. Plus it’s nice to have more screen space to work with.
  4. Drawing – I drew a bit earlier this year when I was rotating through all my project areas each week, but later I decided art was a low priority and dropped it. Since then I’ve been thinking a tablet would make it easier to practice at random times. Last week I tweeted my first Surface drawing.
  5. Recording – I have a digital piano with a USB port for exchanging MIDI data. For ages I’ve wanted to be able to record from it, but it’s not positioned very conveniently for recording to my desktop, and my apartment isn’t sized very conveniently for rearranging my furniture. I did record one MIDI sequence on my old laptop long ago, but like I said, it’s slow. A new laptop solves that.

So basically what I wanted was a tablet-laptop hybrid like the Surface or Chromebook. It would open up ways for me to do more with my projects, which is why I’m telling you about it. Hopefully you’ll me posting more on some of these projects in the near future. Why did I choose the Surface rather than a Chromebook? Honestly I didn’t think about it very much. But Windows was what I was used to, and I was more interested in using my device than in learning how to use it.

Since getting the Surface, I’ve been running across other uses for it.

  1. Hulu doesn’t seem to recognize it as a mobile device, so when I’m eating dinner, I can watch videos on Hulu’s free side while sitting in my usual spot rather than at my computer desk.
  2. The larger screen makes it easier to play in-person board game apps.
  3. The keyboard turns out to have n-key rollover, which means the computer will detect several keys pressed at once, which means I could learn and use stenography with an app like Plover.
  4. I can use my C-Pen with it to scan quotes from books when I’m working on projects away from home.

* * *

Computers have names to identify themselves on networks, and I usually like to name mine something meaningful. It took me some time to find a name for this one because I wasn’t feeling inspired by any of the fiction I had going. What’s been occupying me lately are themes, and the themes I’m into at the moment are math, steampunk, and cyberpunk. I thought about names of well-known mathematicians like Hilbert and Gauss, but those didn’t really grab me.

What kept floating through my mind was a woman I’d read about in one of my math books for teachers, Mary Fairfax Somerville. She was a mathematician and scientist in the 19th century and one of the first two women admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society. The textbook’s remarks were just a blurb, but I immediately felt she was some kind of kindred spirit. How could she not be, when she said things like, “I was sometimes annoyed when in the midst of a difficult [mathematical] problem someone would enter and say, ‘I have come to spend a few hours with you'”?

Her autobiography is available at Project Gutenberg, so I’ve started reading. From her daughter’s comments at the beginning, she sounds, well, too good to be true. Someone to learn from. And she nicely ties together some of my current themes. She was a mathematician and a woman in STEM, a topic I’ve been paying attention to lately. Better yet, as a woman in STEM she was something of a maverick in the Victorian era. She was basically a steampunk.

So I’ve named my Surface Somerville. But my friend Kenny and I have decided its real name is Mary Ada Somerville-Curie, because he wanted me to name it after those others.

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5 Responses to Somerville

  1. Sumurai8 says:

    Will it walk around the house telling you that you did everything wrong?

  2. Neat! I just got a Surface (3) back in August. My seven-year-old Macbook was basically in hospice, and I had been putting off getting a new laptop since I just use my desktop at home and my work laptop at work. But, with my new teaching assignment starting up, I needed something I could use to work on class from anywhere. The Surface was a fantastic option because it’s small and light (relatively), so quite portable, and yet powerful enough to do “real” work. So far, I’m quite pleased! (Except for the annoying times when it gets confused and stops registering key presses from the type cover temporarily.)

    I didn’t know that the type cover has n-key roll over! I was looking into to a make-shift steno system a couple of years ago, but never got far enough to get a keyboard that would work. And now I know that I have one already! Even better, Plover exists (so I don’t have to try and write my own steno system)! Looking forward to trying out some stenography! But, it’ll have to wait until I’ve finished class. Too much “real” work to do right now…

    • Andy says:

      Yay! I’m glad you have one too and that you’re pleased so far. Microsoft has an online test that lets you see what keys are being registered (http://www.microsoft.com/appliedsciences/KeyboardGhostingDemo.mspx). And I’m glad you have a teaching job! I’ll ask you more about that later.

      • Hmm, looks like the type cover doesn’t have complete n-key rollover. Pressing the home row (a-f, j-;) with c and m doesn’t register the m. I think I saw some punctuation briefs that used ten keys, which could cause some problems. But, certainly 6-9 keys at once would probably go a long way in learning steno—at least enough to know whether it’s something I’d want to be serious about!

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