My Bleeding Brains

June 21, 2011

keyboard use and maintenance

Filed under: Uncategorized — eeplebert @ 5:25 am

I taught myself to type with a Smith Corona word processing typewriter that could hold about 12 pages in its memory, and let you edit on a 2-line LCD screen with those segment display characters that looked like a digital watch readout.

I borrowed books and read everything I could about the Apple II and the Macintosh computers they used at the junior high and high schools that barely tolerated my attendance. I remember trading games on floppies with my fellow proto-geeks in the mac lab – a heavy walled room with wire-reinforced safety glass and double-locked doors.

The massive cost of that lab, the laser printers, was not lost on me at the time. It just struck me as strange that the library had been usurped in the “valuable enough to lock up after school” status. They locked the weight training machines, the computer lab, and the library.

The keyboards we used in that lab back then were quite similar to the one I’m using now. I’ve used the IBM Model M keyboards that were so prevalent in the PC lab at high school. I liked a few different models I’ve used with some combination of responsive and quiet keys. Anything beats the old Wang terminals in the Vax lab.

In some kind of bizarre tribute to the keyboard that I’ve written two Novembers worth of National Novel Writing Month on now…I set out to replace it – if necessary – when it began to have several sticky keys. I swapped it out for a logitech PC keyboard whose windows key worked fine as an apple key, but it didn’t have one on either side of the space bar and that annoyed me.

When that no longer sufficed I switched to a really nice HP that I found cheap at a thrift shop, but the space bar went wonky and got stuck down a couple months ago. So I fished back out the sticky-keyed Apple Pro Keyboard that came with my first Powermac – a dual G4. It was still a pain in the ass, but better than the alternatives I had around.

I looked to replacements and it just seemed the prices people wanted for a single USED Mac keyboard of any reliable condition were from $17-$30. New prices for such devices were astronomically inflated, and offered little familiar ground – in fact the Apple Keyboard as it exists today is a total aberration.

Why I’d want a white keyboard just because the aesthetics make some designer feel complete – it’s beyond me. It’s irrational fluff and superfluous to the function of the device to make me NOT want to touch it. Hands are messy, being human is messy. I refuse to accept – let alone type on – what looks like a big fugly calculator or Grandma’s jokey over-sized touch-tone telephone from 1988.

Just as I was about to despair the dismal state of the future and what keyboards have come to, a fluke of ebay presented itself. I found someone offering five (5!) of the very model I sought for $35 with free shipping. I waited about three days, hemmed and hawed, and then when another purchase fell through and the seller refunded me with regret that they had previously sold the item…I pounced on the keyboards.

(Good thing I did, too. I went back to leave feedback and found the seller had changed the selling price to $29.99 but the shipping was now $25-30. So I got it for half what it’s selling for now.)

I find myself amused listening to Kevin Smith and Joe Rogan talking about the differences between Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica and have a hard time suppressing my urge to shout “duh!”

I watched The Daily Show from June 20, 2011 earlier and found myself stunned that the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin has his book out on createspace right now. The same amazon affiliate I myself just published a proof on. Something deep and speechless inside me is stunned by that yeah.

I intend to opine further on what I did to rehabilitate this keyboard, the Apple Pro Keyboard 7803 with black keys that I’m using right now. Aside from the white-cord that had vs this partially opaque corded one, the performance seems the same. I plugged the mouse’s wee little transmitter into the same end as the model I just unplugged and it works the same.

I just know dudes who’d tinker endlessly with their guitar, uncles and relatives who are long since passed who fiddled endlessly with their CB radios, and countless other comparisons I could make. But I spent an hour or more this evening rehabbing this keyboard.

I followed a teardown PDF somebody made, carefully removing the screws, popped off the keycaps and blew off the dust, removed more screws, and then cleaned out the inside of the bottom case under the keyboard membrane layer. Since there appeared no liquid incursion, I didn’t complete the teardown, rather after removing the debris and wiping it clean with a damp cloth, I reassembled.

There were a few hangups aligning the screw hole in the metal shield that sits beneath the keyboard’s circuit board. It wanted to pull to either side and not let the screw to its hole. Eventually I had to step back, remove the upper clear plastic bezel, and reseat the connector leading to the USB port at the right hand side. Then the shield set properly, allowed me to screw it back together from the bottom, the central screw that holds the two halves together just below the cord-tension block.

The most time-consuming part of this adventure was the keycaps needing a good hard scrub on all four sides and the face. But the same damp cloth helped a lot, and some OCD-style rhythmic persistence (accompanied variously by: the Rachel Maddow show, the Daily Show, Bagged & Boarded and Plus One Per Diem) paid off in a slowly-growing series of rows of cleaned keycaps drying face-down.

After that was over, I had just to pull down the one remaining attached to the mac and monkey-see monkey-do the keycaps back onto the right keys. Everybody remembers a QWERTY but nobody can translate a phone number to digits when it’s read off as a word. There are plenty of keys I didn’t know where to put right away and I stuck the plain-caps for the 10-key on the number row above the QWERTY that is supposed to have the shift-keys above. Then I switched them.

The simple truth is that I’d rather have this old keyboard than the new chicklet-style white ones Apple is hawking now. Those look annoyingly easy to get dirty, and the low-profile doesn’t speak to me. I like the feel of the Apple Extended Keyboard from the Mac II days. I still have a few of those up on a shelf in the closet. They’re built to last and whenever I see one in a thrift shop in decent shape, I find it hard not to want to buy it.

I still aspire to piano lessons, guitar playing, lots of other things. But the typewriter, the keyboard, the qwertys I’ve used have been essential, central, important things in my life. I suppose this is a testament toward that end. All hail the tools I use to make my magick happen!


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