Saturday, January 29, 2011

HARDWARE: Keyboards And The Letter N

I was reading a column by a noted SF writer who shall remain nameless because he's so right wing and idiotic about it, I feel constrained against giving him any publicity whatsoever. Plus, I'm more than a little ashamed of myself for reading his column during my Saturday stroll through websites I only visit once a week.

This week, he wrote about keyboards and his own family's keyboarding history. His mother was a typing speed demon on the typewriters I first met in high school and used for the first decade of my professional career (a sportswriting job). Like he, I earned my keep on a relic that would invoke spasms of laughter if AJ or Angela ever saw it. I really did love my old Underwood, which was old when Bramalea was first founded. I'd guess it was close to 30 years old when I used it in the late seventies and early eighties. I grabbed it as the one gift I really, really wanted when I left The Guardian. And I even used it for awhile post-newspaper life. But even then, I was into computers and had spent an ungawdly amount for an early Apple. When I finally got a shift-key adapter for the Apple (ah hunh, it only had capital keys initially) and a printer (another two grand for an early Epson dot-matrix), I was mostly done with using the typewriter.

I eventually sent it along with some other typewriters I cudgeled from friends, with a missionary headed for Costa Rica. Even got a letter from the young girl who ended up with mine.

I've railed against the development and placement of the various non-character keys on the keyboard. While I wasn't an IBM Selectric aficionado, the decision to NOT use its keyboard layout for the IBM computer that finally came out and overtook the desktop-computing world ranks as one of the most idiotic decisions ever foisted upon the working world. It wasn't the WORST decision ever. That one came with the iteration of the IBM PC that decided to move the function keys from the left-side of the keyboard to the top row, beyond the easy reach of people with normal sized hands. (or smaller ...). THAT was the WORST DESIGN DECISION EVER!! People who bring up the chiclet keyboard on the IBM PCjr are johnny-come-latelies with no standing. If you never used a keyboard with the function keys in the left place, then you are barred from commenting. You don't know what you're missing.

However, over the years, my supply of 88-key keyboards with the function keys placed correctly and the control key atop the shift key, with the alt key below it (that's right, the CAP SHIFT KEY WAS OUT OF THE WAY SO THAT YOU COULDN'T INADVERTENTLY START TYPING EVERYTHING IN CAPS, like that), eventually wore out and become unusable. I was forced to start buying, and buying and buying new keyboards. Because of another feature from user hell.

Embossed keys. It seems just about every keyboard maker saves the pennies and just inks on the character identifications. And for some reason, over the years, that means I have accumulated a spare room full of keyboards with the letter N missing. Or so unreadable as to be missing for all intents and purposes. The M key suffers to a certain degree too. But it mostly survives my ham-handed pecking. I am a ten-fingered touch typist. And I don't exactly rest my digits on N or M. Yet time and time again, the N goes the way of the dodo bird. It's a VERY common letter, but so are the vowels and they don't disappear. I tend to hover over the keys, so the so-called home row isn't in the process of constant touch. It's just the N. Or rather, it WAS the N.

I recently bought my one-millionth keyboard. It's life expectancy is measured in months. By the time I get used to it, it will be time to change again. It's a fact of life. An unexplainable fact of life.

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