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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Keybone Loff

netcurmudgeon on the glory and wonder that is the IBM keyboard. 

You may not know it by name, but you know what it is. That hulking beige beast of a 101-key keyboard at came with every IBM PC from the '80s to the mid '90s, the one with real mechanical keys that have real travel and give a satisfying click with every keystroke.
Mine is not a model M, but a 7953, though I just bought an M on eBay as a backup. Mine has a quieter click than the M (each key has an individual membrane rather than a buckling spring, so it's tippety tappety rather than KLAK KLAK KLAK) , and does have windows and menu keys--but still has the great tactile feel (it's not squishy--we hates us squishy keybones--we wants to know when the key engages) and it's still heavy enough to use for home defense. Which is a major issue for me, at least, when it comes to choosing keybones)

I have, in fact, taken the screws out of mine, opened it up, vacuumed it, pried all the keycaps, cleaned the undercarriage with q-tips and isopropyl alcohol, and soaked the keys in hot soapy water in a colander in the sink to get the grime off. (I hear a dishwasher works good too, as long as you use the Tupperware setting.) I've had this keyboard for over ten years. That's 14 novels, seven or ten partials, about fifty short stories, and untold quantities of words in media mining, email, nonfiction, proposals, and... livejournal entries. (I can kill a five dollar keybone in under nine months.) The "e" is just barely starting to wear off this one, and I don't use a keyboard condom, and I do eat at my desk.

That malfunctioning ctrl-key was fixed with a pry-off, a good vacuuming, and a dab of lubricant.

All hail the IBM keybone. I spend 12-14 hours a day on this sucker. You'd better believe I love it.

It is the one true keybone of which all others is merely shadows.


When I worked in CubeLand, I got complaints that I was "typing too loud". My PC got upgraded and the IT kid said "here, let me give you a new keyboard to replace that clunky old thing", and was promptly snarled at, given a ten minute lecture that started with "You can have this keyboard when you pry it from my cold, dead hands", went into a capsule history of the Model M including the higlights of the differences between an old-fashioned Model M and the flimsy disposable plastic crapware they ship with PCs these days, the rapidly-dwindling supplies of good solid keyboards, and ultimately ended with him standing there, slack-jawed, and saying "wow, you really know a lot about keyboards".

Dude, I type for a living. I have three tools: a reference library, my mind, and this. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without it, I am nothing. Without me, it is nothing. It is my life, and I must master it as I must master my life.

...so, the kid thinks I'm a little weird now, but at least he hasn't tried to replace my keyboard. And people down the hall from my office can tell when I'm in the groove, just from the sound.
That rant is a think of beauty. Thank you.
Damn straight. When the keyboard that came with my computer in '98 was biting the dust in '03, I was looking around for a replacement. An /old/ replacement. See, I went to the store to look at new stuff. You type on it. thwub thwub thwub. Nail it harder with your fingers, and you get... thwub. No matter how hard you type, you still can't tell you're typing.

And the old keyboards? Don't have Windows keys. Yeah, I need a key that every hour or so forces me to take my hands off the keyboard and use a mouse to close a completely useless and unnecessary popup. Ooo, sign me up. Worthless excresences of Windows polluting my /physical/ environment...

So, around that time someone asked Neil Gaiman what keyboard he used. Northgate Omnikey, he replied with a paen of praise. And there was one on eBay, and I bought it for $60-some and drove over to Livermore to pick it up. And damn if it isn't good.

Keyboard is what decided me on type of laptop, too. HP is the only manufacturer that makes laptops with keyboards that are even slightly clickety.
My laptop's an HP, too, for just that reason. *g* Okay, it weighs eight pounds, but it's got a keyboard I can *use.*
For many years, my biggest quarrel with Macintoshes was that they had mushy keyboards. They've gotten better since then, and I love my mac, but I remember the good oldfashioned IBM keyboards fondly. I wouldn't want a windows machine if you offered me one gratis, but I grew up with a properly clicky keyboard, and nothing else will ever be quite right.
Hee. I feel the same way about Apples. I had to use them at work for years, and I loathe the damned things.

At least with Windows I can turn off the perkiness. The last thing I need in my life is a computer with a face. *g*
Ah, yes. I do have an IBM keyboard down in the basement with the rest of the computer arcana. The action is lovely.

The Apple laptop keyboards are sweet, too.

What I use, though, is a MS natural keyboard -- one of the raised ones, not the el-cheapo bent ones. I had to find a mini-din to USB adapter to use it with my eMac.

Cheap keyboards are exactly that.
I have an IBM M-series on my mezzanine in my study, Just In Case. I'd probably be using it today via a USB-to-PS/2 adapter, but there's no Command-key and that kinda cramps the style of an obligate Mac user.

However, there's an alternative. The Matias Tactile Pro is basically the Apple-compatible equivalent of the M-Series. Apple used Alps microswitches in their original Extended Keyboard, which was about the best keyboard they ever made; Matias bought up a shitload of switches and put them inside a USB-compatible current Mac layout extended keyboard. It feels lighter than an M-series, but it's got the same clattery positive key action you're talking about, unlike the normal Apple "dead fish" feel.

(Which reminds me, I've got to fix my Griffin iCurve so I can stick mine back on my desk, under my powerbook. Powerbook is a big model and desk is small, so I have to raise the laptop above the keyboard, but the iCurve began to lose its grip after a year or so and I abandoned it rather than risk dumping a 17" powerbook on the floor. Most annoying.)

It's amazing what a difference a good keyboard makes, isn't it? I don't know why a machine that requires a little *more* effort to use--a clicky, slightly resistant keyboard--should make as much of a difference as it does in reducing fatigue seems really counterintuitive.
Since being bitten by the wireless keyboard bug, I find it difficult to use anything else. Mine's currently a Logitech Cordless Desktop MX3000, which is very groovy -- but when it comes to moving onto my other half's keyboard (which is a bottom of the range when -it-breaks-we'll-just-replace-it effort) I find it difficult to make the transition.

Oddly enough, I don't have any problems using my laptop's keyboard, even though it has a slightly different layout to my wireless one. I find them both incredibly easy to use :)

Actually, this post of yours has come at an interesting time for me; I was recently reading about which methods writers use when writing -- as in, how they get the words from their heads onto their word processors/paper. I know Anita Shreve writes her books by hand and only types them up when the first draft is complete. In The Fiction Writer's Brainstormer, James V. Smith Jr talks about using continuous speech recognition via computer dictation software. Personally, I just hammer everything out on my keyboard and/or laptop. What are your thoughts/methods, if you don't mind me asking?
The IBM keyboard I'm currently using is all that remains of the computer it was once attached to (IBM P200 from back when that was the considered fast).
My one complaint about my new computer is that its keyboard has a normal-size backspace key. Yes, I know I should feel insulted at having a backspace key twice as big as the others, but as they say, I resemble that remark.
We pretty much only use IBM keyboards here, except on the laptops, which are harder to change out. Though I have found a PS/2 -> USB adapter and I keep meaning to try it out.

The keyboard on this PowerBook isn't bad, there is travel and a satisfying feel to when the keys engage, but there's no sound.

Of course, it's the sound that many people object to. I've had guests complain about the noise when both ahf and I are typing away in the same room. Though why people are willing to give up good feel to get away from the sound, I cannot understand.

For a lousy keyboard, there's the one I use at work. A Dell, squishy as anything (though not as bad as my original one, I did some swaps to end up with something that wasn't complete mush beneath my fingers) and I'm constantly missing letters because I think that I hit them but the keyboard doesn't agree.

serious keyboard geekery

My old-fogeyness laughs at your IBM model M. Someday, when I am as filthy rich as can be, and if my arthritic hands still permit, I will have some smarty-pants engineer convert an IBM Selectric typewriter into a proper keyboard. Now that was a keyboard. And the Selectric had a beautiful action, a firm, decisive tappa clack that was never a *clunk*, the motor had a warm electric purring hum, it had *font wheels* and a correction ribbon, oh my God, I have dreams about her still. Nothing compares to that seductive keyboard feel and that sexy purr.

...however, my aching fibromyalgic hands probably couldn't handle a *real* keyboard these days anyway.

My aching hands are rather fond of the grubby Microsoft Natural I've got. The keystroke feel is a lot less mushy than many, and the ergonomic positioning really does seem to help. Boyfriend loathes it, especially since I've got a mouse shelf over the useless-to-me number pad and all that right-hander stuff over there. My only real ergonomic complaint is that I'd like someone to make a slender gel rest to fit the Natural's wrist rest. But I'm the princess with a pea about these things.

I wish to God it was easier to get an ergonomic keyboard on a laptop! I realize it's insane, but let me have my dreams. And my Max Headroom IBM Selectric II, please.

Re: serious keyboard geekery

Hee. I am a self-taught typist, which means that ergo keyboards are completely unusuable for me, because I don't use the right fingers on the right keys....
I grew up typing in faulty typwriters, where you had to hit the keys hard or they wouldn't know you'd hit them. So I'm a little rough on keyboards. I had a nice one that came with my computer... I don't know what was special about it, but it fit my hands nicely. The left hand shift, capslock, ctrl, tab, and left half of the space bar gave out. I finally replaced it.

The new keyboard is awkward and flimsy-feeling, and after about a week, the same keys got dicey. I must type awkwardly... or else hit certain keys harder with my left hand than the right, which is odd, because I'm right handed.

Anyway. I don't care so much about the noise that keyboards make, but I'd like them to last longer than a few weeks at a time.
I still have the old IBM keyboard on my machine at work, even though they've had to buy special adapters to make it function. When they got rid of the original machines those keyboards came with I had them save multiple keyboards so that if and when I wear this one out there can be replacements.

But I agree that the ultimate height of keyboard design was the IBM Selectric. I can't imagine why people deliberately gave that up for squishiness, but I also don't understand why the schools stopped teaching touch typing.
There's another selectric fan up above. *g*


Although I'm happy with my Mac, I miss miss miss the click click clackety-clack. I always felt so much more productive when making a joyful noise.
I have a logitech, with keypad (hates the number line I does).

It's a little strong on the return, but I got it because I hate the built on laptops. THe scroll wheel for my left thumb is nice. It's not more solid, in the return than the Mac keyboards on which I learned to types, so where I keep it (my lap mostly, since I've not a dedicated desk) probably is most of my annoyance with it.

As for durable, it survived going to Iraq and back. Needed some cleaning, but it survived the dust, so I'll keep it.

It's a veteran!