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joined on 12/08/03
last updated 09/09/14
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Auto-complete typos make for great FaceBook postings, but that's no way for an adult to live. In the modern world, you pretty much need to have an iPhone, which means you pretty much need to have a phone equipped with a virtual keyboard that unless you're some kind of midget pixie, you can't effectively use for typing. (Effectively means more than 30 words per minute and without auto-complete because the definition of being an adult includes not actively trying to look like an ass.)

Fortunately, two companies are producing workable keyboard cases that allow you to employ your otherwise uber-useful iPhone as a pocket-sized computer. Unfortunately, each has flaws, and the one with the fewer flaws is paradoxically the less practical.

First up is Spike by SoloMatrix ( ), listed at $59.95 but currently with an offer of $10 off and available for models 4/4s and 5/5s. It's the one on the right in the photo. Spike is beautifully engineered, with a keyboard that stores in the back and swings out to cover the virtual one. You essentially type on the glass keyboard through the physical one.

The case is sturdy enough to offer some protection against drops, and the swivel and locking mechanisms are robust. When you swing the keyboard to the back, the iPhone retains its pleasing dimensions and operates just like Steve Jobs intended it to. The keys are slightly rounded and raised, which makes for easy and accurate two-thumbed typing, and the keyboard feels solid.

So what's not to like? One small thing is that every time you want to type something, you have to swing the keyboard out, then stow it back when you're done. That's acceptable though, you sign up for it when you buy a Spike.

More difficult is that the Spike keyboard covers up the virtual keyboard. If you try to switch from letters to numbers, you don't get a visual verification that you've done so; even if you do it correctly, you don't have access to the #, +, and = characters, so you'd have to swing off the keyboard every time you want to use them, and you're out of luck if you want to use the fun character symbols that Apple includes because there's no way to see them other than by swinging off the keyboard.

It gets worse. The primary letters are large and white; the alternate numeric and symbol characters are tiny and dark blue. It's not that easy to see them, and the arrangement isn't the same as on a QWERTY typewriter, so there's a long learning curve. I didn't stick with it long enough because of what seems to me to be a fatal flaw: the keys aren't backlit, you can't see them at all in the dark. It's a good keyboard, but it isn't a typewriter, and learning how to touch type on it with thumbs only seems like a task you would only undertake if there were no alternative.

As it happens, there is an alternative, the inauspiciously named Typo keyboard ( ) $79 for the iPhone 5/5s and $99 for the iPhone 6. The Solo Matrix web site does a pretty good job of summing up what's wrong with the Typo in a backhanded way by listing Spike's virtues. So, according to Solo Matrix, here's what's better about Spike, all of which is true:

*No battery drain or charging. Typo, on the other hand, is powered by an internal battery; it doesn't charge through the phone or even with an Apple charger, it uses the standard micro USB model. You only need to charge it about once a week, but you pretty much have to leave Bluetooth on all the time, which has security implications and also drains your phone battery.

*Touch ID sensor always accessible. The Typo covers up the home button. It provides a replacement on the keypad, but you lose the fingerprint reading ability and it's not as cool.

*Outstanding impact resistance. No way to test this without dropping the phone a lot, but the Spike case seems much more protective than the Typo.

The Spike keyboard also seems sturdier than the Typo, whose keys give a little. Then there's the form factor: the Typo adds the keyboard to the bottom, covering the Home key and extending the length of the unit so that it's a little taller and skinnier, which is less esthetically pleasing. It impedes access to the earphone port, not for the standard Apple headset but for any kind that has a fatter plug covering or a 90-degree angle from the wire to the metal prong.

But here are the plusses for the Typo, and they're enough to tilt the balance. Foremost, that battery means it is backlit. You can type in a dark room. Secondly, you can invoke the onscreen keyboard, so if you want to access the alternate characters or the emoticons, you can easily do so and then go write back to your message. Third, because it doesn't ever cover the screen, if you do not invoke the virtual keyboard, you can type while still viewing the whole screen, meaning you get to see a lot more of your text conversation or whatever.

It's a little more complicated to set up the Typo, but hardly more than any Bluetooth device, and it's still ridiculously easy. That said, Spike is even easier, installation just means putting the two part case on the phone.

While the Spike seems to have been created by engineers, the Typo has the air of a device made by somebody who uses a portable phone to do a lot of typing. Ryan Seacrest is one of the company's founders and seems to have had a significant role in the Typo's design, leading to a product that a jet-setting TV personage might find useful. The Spike may be the more elegant of the two, but Typo really does turn your iPhone into a Treo, and who could ask for more?

****SAD UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2015*****

Typo was forced out of the phone business by BlackBerry, which claimed it had patented the keyboard design. Typo altered its design and looked like they'd battle out in court the right to make the second one, but for unknown reasons, it settled. Typo makes a keyboard for the iPad that seems to be well-received (the settlement had a size minimum for devices for which it can still make keyboards).

SoloMatrix, meanwhile, just sort of disappeared. You can still buy its keyboard from the website, but they never got beyond iPhone5 (Typo's redesigned keyboard was for the 6, and I believe it also works with the 6s -- but not the 6 plus).

So, at least for now, the market is bereft of iPhone keyboards that are oriented vertically. There are several makers of iPhone cases that have units that pull out horizontally, but not all programs can switch to landscape mode to work with them.
Thu, February 5, 2015 - 3:27 PM permalink - 0 comments
This really made my day. On one of the better sites that amalgamate Made in America products, I came across the improbable Mountain & Sackett, which produces ties by hand in Manhattan. MANHATTAN, the bright shining center of the universe still has an old-school textile company. Old-school as in they went into business in 1957, when the city was still a manufacturing center and I was also busy being conceived.

Their ties are conservative and priced in the $60-$75 range, which is what you'd pay for similar quality in a big department store. I bought the Eldridge Orange Neat Tie on sale for $46.87, along with a Charcoal Thames Silk Tie for $62.50, the full price. In a rare selfie, I'm pictured above with the Eldridge tie.

While the ties are made here, the silk is Italian. America seems to have lost its textile-manufacturing industry, especially natural-fiber wovens. Italy makes wonderful silks and wools, so if you have to import, that's a good place to import from.

They came in about a week, in a tie box with the company name letterpressed into the cardboard. Very mid-20th century.
They tie and drape well, and since I haven't bought many ties in the past two decades, a lot of my older ones are approaching reTIErment age so I'll be ordering more.

In the early days of the Interwebs, I did a story on how online technology might save small manufacturers, and tiemakers were a specific example. Rather than being locked into a geographic market, a small tie-maker might tap the world simply by putting pretty pictures of his goods on a website. It also seems to work to alert potential customers nearby that a small, family-owned manufacturing business still exists in the heart of the Big Apple.

Mon, October 27, 2014 - 8:48 AM permalink - 4 comments
For those who complained that they couldn't find American-made products and don't feel like wading through the various online compendia, here's a blog that tracks cool new products; if you go to this page, you'll get only made in America stuff:

The current top item there is something I've purchased and that I think is great:

Not that you actually need to spend $35 for shower soap, but this product works really well and I like the smell. I didn't at first, but it grew on me. They make several different kinds, collected from different places in the Far West; there's a small Burner connection to this one.

Soap doesn't usually make for a good gift, but I don't think any guy would be too offended by this. The scents, this one at least, seem pretty masculine.
Fri, January 25, 2013 - 8:35 AM permalink - 1 comment
A self-explanatory message to Sony Corp.:

Thank you for the opportunity to amplify my response to this survey about my recent query.

I specifically wrote about model WM-FX290W, but my comments pertain to any of the last-generation silver Walkmans in the WM line.

I had asked if Sony had terminated production of Walkman audio cassette players and was told that it had. Although it had been reported two years ago that Sony would halt production in Japan and stop selling them there, you kept making them in China for export to markets such as the United States.

As far as I can tell, there never was an announcement that the products would be terminated here. I noticed that the prices had shot up on, and when I checked your website found a notice that the final model was no longer available, and this was confirmed by your email of December 27th.

I object to the lack of notice and much more to the decision to end production of these models.

Since the early 1980s, I have been buying audio books. I work on a computer monitor all day long, and it's a relief for me to have a reader so that I can rest my eyes. I also listen to audio books in the gym or while doing household tasks that don't require much attention. I understand that there are newer technologies, but the audio cassette has a key advantage: you can't lose your place even if you lose power or switch devices.

My collection numbers in the hundreds of titles. I sometimes go back and listen to old ones, and I'd hoped to bequeath a nice library either to my eventual heirs or to some organization that would be able to make good use of them.

Without devices to play it on, the collection becomes worthless, and the cost of transferring to digital media, especially when labor is factored in, is prohibitive -- it would be cheaper to just buy the titles again.

Sony was a key player in the development of the Compact Cassette format, and invented the Walkman. Your company's role in the popularization of audiobooks was vital: without the Walkman, the format probably never would have taken off, having little advantage over vinyl except for use in automobiles and later compact discs.

Now you wish to abandon the market. Yes, other companies still make portable cassette players, but none are nearly the equals of the WM-FX290W. That model was nearly perfect, featuring easy controls, long life on a single battery, a convenient compact form, and good sound reproduction, all at a reasonable price. Its only flaws are a fragile battery door and, like all cassette devices, a limited useful life.

The market may be dying, but it's not dead. lists about one new book on cassette each day. As well, there must be hundreds of millions -- perhaps billions -- of audiobooks in people's collections waiting to be reheard or rediscovered. On top of that are music cassettes. But books on tape are typically listened to many fewer times than music, meaning the deterioration caused by repeated use is virtually nonexistent. This makes for a vibrant secondary market.

As long as Sony was making its last trusty Walkman, this content remained available to those who want it. I find it incredible that demand is so weak that one factory in the world can't be profitably run producing these useful little units, so emblematic of Sony's design acumen and consumer focus. Indeed, the price of remaining units has roughly tripled in recent weeks, indicating there are people desperate to have access to this technology.

I hope you will reconsider terminating the cassette Walkman, and in so doing turning mountains of useful and entertaining books and music into piles of petrochemical landfill.

Very Truly Yours,

Mitchell Martin

Addendum: Check out the reviews on Amazon.
Tue, January 1, 2013 - 7:46 AM permalink - 1 comment
These are awesome:

Flint and Tinder is a new company, started by a guy who walked into Macy's in New York and found that there weren't many good men's underwear choices and what there was, was made overseas. So with a pitstop on Kickstarter, he set up a company to make premium men's underthings at competitive prices.

I ordered a couple of pairs of briefs (there are other styles too) and they're super comfortable, much better fabric and cut than what I've been used to. At $21.95 each, they're about triple what I've been paying, but they'll last longer, and they're way more comfortable, no small consideration when you sit on your butt for 11 hours at a stretch.

We'll see how they stand up to a few washings, but I can see replacing everything in the 3d draw down with these guys. Score for the home team.

An interesting factoid from the Flint & Tinder "About" page ( ):

"For every 1,000 pair of underwear we sell per month, at least one sustainable job is added within our supply chain.
It's not a pledge or a promise... it's a fact."

There are benefits to buying American that go beyond primary jobs creation, but if you take that number as accurate, then $22 x 1,000 x 12, or $264,000 of annual purchases, at least in the apparel sector, creates one job. That number seems reasonable. Most of us aren't going to buy quite that much clothing, but if you can divert, say, $1,000 a year to domestic purchases, then you and 263 other people can add one permanent job to our economy.

Get that number up to $2,640, and it only takes 100 people.

Mon, December 17, 2012 - 10:59 AM permalink - 2 comments
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My Testimonials

March 13, 2009
Mitch is much too decent a fellow, for whom ends cannot justify the means. I've thought this since working under him as a Gazette staffer seven years ago. Now i know it, enough to say it.
January 12, 2006
everything i am today

it's all because of mitchiepooh

that fucker!
April 20, 2005
the only words to describe how deeply i feel about mitch are from one of my very favorite 80's songs ... someday i'll perform it live.

*i've changed the names to protect the inncocent.*

Oh Mitchie You're so fine,
Youre so fine you blow my mind.
Hey Mitchie
Hey Mitchie
Oh Mitchie Youre so Fine,
Youre so Fine You Blow My Mind
Hey Mitchie
Hey Mitchie

Oh Mitchie You're so fine,
Youre so fine you blow my mind.
Hey Mitchie
Hey Mitchie
Oh Mitchie Youre so Fine,
Youre so Fine You Blow My Mind
Hey Mitchie
Hey Mitchie

Hey Mitchie
Youve been around all night
and thats a little long,
You think you've got the right,
But I think youve got it wrong.
Why can't you say goodnight
So you can take me home Mitchie,

Cause when You say you will
It always means you won't
Youre givin me the chills
baby, please baby don't

Oh Mitchie what a pity you dont understand
You take me by the heart
You take me by the hand
Oh Mitchie Youre so pretty
Cant you understand?
Its guys like you Mitchie
Oh what you do Mitchie
Do Mitchie

Now When you take me by the hooves
Everyone's gonna know
Everytime you move
I let a little More show
There's Something we can use
So dont say no Mitchie!

So Come on and give it to me
Anyway you can
Anyway you want to do it
Ill treat you like a man
Oh Please, Baby Please
Dont leave me in a jam Mitchie!
February 24, 2005
He misses me when I am gone. That is a nice feeling... and is mutual.
August 7, 2004
Mitch is a bon vivant the way only a New Yorker who’s lived in Paris has a right to be. He will serve you French cheese and cognac in the desert. He will read you some of Adam Smith's finest poetry. He will write about you in international newspapers. He needs to bring some of that good living to Seattle!
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