13 November, 2006


Maybe you don't make your living with a keyboard. Or maybe you don't accidently sit down to write a quick post and get up a day or two, 13,000 words and 7 posts later. Still, you have to have learned to hate what the keyboard has become.

Dell makes dissatisfyingly mediocre keyboards. Their left shift key works on union scale, taking breaks every two hours no matter how important the job. They saved themselves about $0.30 worth of plastic, by getting rid of the 1/2 inch border around the actual keys - leaving the (somewhat?) important ESC, CTRL, Windows, "Second" and ENTER keys exposed to every careless brush of the palm. And they keep lining up the Insert, Home, Delete, End, Page up, Page down keypad differently every year. I will risk the judgement by calling them morons. Was anybody thinking? Could it really be that much more efficient to randomly rearrange them again?

But worst of all, Dell's keyboards are not, and nor will they ever be, IBM keyboards.

Ah. Do you remember the IBM keyboards? IBM still puts real keyboards like that on their laptops (last time I got to touch one, anyway.)

Their keyboards click.

That doesn't sound like much, but it's the world.

The click rewards the user twice. The first reward comes because your ears know what your fingers are doing. You can blithely tap along, reassured with every meshing of push, click and sight that all is well with the word. Every push yields a click, and every click yields a character. Oh, and to hear the shift key before the character key... heaven.

The second reward comes when your fingers know they can rest again.

You see, the click of the old keyboard was not just a reassuring noise. All keyboards make noise - nasty, pointless thunking noise, but noise. No, the click came when you had pushed the key about half way down, not all the way at the bottom. And once that key had clicked, your finger's work was done - every time. You could push that key half way, knowing the click would come, and quit. And, sure enough, the click came, and if the click came the character showed up on the screen.

Every time.

And rapture of raptures, when you hit the shift key, and you made it click before the character key, you could be SURE the character would be in upper case. Those shift keys worked on a commission, I tell you. They knew if they took a break, productivity would fall, and they'd be begging bread for their children!

Give me my Dell computer, and watch me backspace over and over and over because the shift key was only 83% depressed, while the character key was 86% depressed.

The agony!

Even using shorthand as I do (so that a 60,000 character series of posts only requires that I type 33,000 characters - now you know my secret) having to press every key through the bottom of the keyboard just to be sure it will show up on screen gets painful! And while you may wish that my keyboard hurt me enough to make me shorten a post or two, it never works that way. I am compelled to keep clicking through the pain until the muse leaves. (Actually, maybe if I would quit when the muse did people would read more?) I hope it's enough merely to know that I hurt with each word I write as much as you do with each word you read.

Anyway, if anyone knows of a good keyboard out there, I'll buy two, maybe three of them. Elsewise, I'll be cruising the IBM peripherals site in the next day or two.


Milly said...

I like my Dell, then again I have to type each word. I also don't know how to use every thing. So I'm obliviously in the dark. I do love the wireless mouse and keyboard, ahh the freedom that is until it’s battery dies and I’m stuck.

Oloryn said...

The fancy term for the wonderful feel on IBM keyboards is 'physiological feedback'. You know, via feel and sound, when you have properly typed a key - which is even more important for those of us who touch-type.

I used to relate use of keyboards with bad physiological feedback to an old telegraphers malady called 'glass arm'. 'Glass arm' meant that a telegrapher couldn't use a straight telegraph key for more than a few minutes without having his arm tense and freeze up. Glass arm was related to RSI, but one of the causes could be adjusting the key contacts so close that you couldn't feel when contact was made - no physiological feedack. The brain wants that feedback, and apparently if you deprive it of that long enough, glass arm is the result. I have to wonder if something similar happens in offices supplying people with cheap keyboards.

I have less problems with layout differences, but that's probably because relatively early in my career I had a job where I was typically dealing with 3 different keyboard layouts regularly - Burroughs terminals with ASCII layout for the shift of the number keys, PC keyboards with Selectric layouts (pretty much what we use nowadays), and a Commodore 64 at home, not to mention various layouts of function keys, etc. Already being a touch-typer, I eventually got to the point where I could switch from one to another and be comfortable with the new one in about 5 minutes. They only thing that typically bothers me anymore is the way the backquote and backslash keys tend to float around on modern keyboards.

Oloryn said...

Oh, also, the wonderful feedback in the IBM keyboards is derived somewhat from the feel of the punch card machines back in the day. The old 029 keypunches punched a column as soon as you pressed the key, which in some ways was a pain, because if you mis-typed, you had to start the whole card over again. But the feel was wonderful, as the punch card mechanism vibrated the whole machine with each punch. On 'buffered' keypunches (like the 129 and the keypunches for the 3-tier, 96 columns cards, 5496 I believe), where the card wasn't punched until you finished it, they kept the same feel by having a solenoid fire with each keystroke, again vibrating the whole machine. I believe some of the terminal keyboards kept the solenoid and the same feel. I'm not sure if that technique ever made it into IBM PC keyboards, but IBM still knows how to give a keyboard good feedback.

pearlie said...

I also like the clicking sound of keyboard which I miss with my notebook. However, I don't really mind it being quieter too - I use my notebook during meetings taking notes and all and I would rather not be making so much noise.

Yeah ... some keyboards are really moronic. I am thankful I don't use notebooks that utilise the Fn key for the most basic of ... well ... functions - especially when I use MS Excel a lot, the End+Arrow is so useful and if the End key is only activated with the Fn key, it is most frustrating as I would not be able to get it to work.

I am rambling I know but thanks for the opportunity to vent a little :)

codepoke said...


The glass arm story is excellent, and completely new to me. Thank you! I have touch-typed for 30 years now, and I know exactly what that must have been like.

When I'm writing one of these fun/whiny pieces, I always exaggerate for effect just as much as I can, but that stupid shift key gets to me. I really do remember the good keyboards, and I really do intend to buy a good one. I'm sure it will make me a happier camper.

I type 5-10 million characters per year. The keyboard and the monitor MUST be right. The CPU, ram, and drive space are all marginally important to me. Give me a keyboard!

codepoke said...


I am rambling I know ...

You're kidding, right?

I use my notebook during meetings taking notes and all and I would rather not be making so much noise.

Yeah, that's a problem. I never got over the self-consciousness to be successful at that. Also, I cannot do two things at once - at all - ever. Makes me glad I learned shorthand. :-)

codepoke said...


I want a wireless, 30 year old keyboard. Is that too much to ask? :-P

Milly said...

I want a wireless, 30 year old keyboard. Is that too much to ask? :-P

Nope just cut those wires and play on. Play being the key word. ;-]

codepoke said...

So far, this the best article I've found:
Dan's Data

And this is the best keyboard:
EnduraPro 104 with integrated pointer stick

Andreia said...

You know dear, you're soundin a bit PMSy these days with all these rants. Not that I know anything about that. Nope.can't relate. Thanks for the laughs!

codepoke said...

Just trying to shake off the hangover from last week's doctrinal binge. ;-)

Andreia said...

Good for you! I like hearing this you even if you are a bit grouchy. I hear you on the keyboard. Recently, one of my children helped me by getting rid of my right alt key.

Can I tell you the agony of a life without the alt key? I kept my first Mac keyboard. I say I am keeping it for the kids to play with but in truth, it is because I loved that thing like I have never loved another keyboard.

A good keyboard is like a good purse and well for that matter a good husband or wife. You buy them not knowing fer sure what you are getting. You just pray and purchase and then you gotta break them in. I'm kidding of course. Kinda.

codepoke said...

Shameful or not, I find grumpy rumblings very relaxing. :-)

Now, about that good purse....

karen said...

what are we gonna do with those laser keyboard thingies that project a keyboard?!? AGHHHH!!! I like the noise, too. Except when hubby is working on the 'puter in our room at 1 in the morning.
We are rearranging our home!!!

codepoke said...

Hmmm. Try #2 at commenting on my own blog.

I don't envy you the home rehab. Ouch!

But, I'd rather do that than be forced to use one of those projected keyboards. What were they thinking?

Shame on someone!

codepoke said...

I placed my order for two of the EnduraPro 104's today.

I don't like to spend money - full stop. It's not my idea of fun. But this has me almost giggling.

It takes so little to amuse some of us.

The Hungarian Luddite said...

I am typing right now from my 1993 M Model IBM Keyboard......clickity, clack.

And if this ever dies I have another one I bought for 10.00

There is a company that bought the patent for these keyboards. They run 50-70.00 2 colors and USB is available