Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Key to my Boards

For the past week, I've been working on my keyboards. But not in the way you think.
As I mentioned before, I got a new computer to replace the Vista one, which wasn't getting any more updates. As a result, my keyboard, which I'd grown accustomed to, would no longer fit the new machine, which wouldn't accept any round plugs - only flat ones. I hoped that there would be some kind of in-between converter that would save me the trouble of having to get a replacement. No luck.
Something like this.

Getting my preferences across was trickier than intended, because I didn't know the correct terminology, and the guy pitching to me had trouble appealing to my tastes. So many of the available keyboards were of a different make than what I was used to - some had the board curved, some had the middle split in half, and some had protrusions either from the top or the bottom. What I wanted was something that was equally flat from above and below. But nothing from the sample displays provided what I was looking for. (I had better results from the keyboards hidden in their packing cases)

I also had trouble with getting my fears across coherently. When I used a wireless mouse, I noticed that there were instances where the mouse would briefly break off contact between my motions and the computer, which would play havoc with my precision-sensitive handling of images. I worried that this same disconnect would happen with a wireless keyboard, but my explanation didn't come off very clearly. Even the person explaining what I just said was confused, until she experienced using a wireless mouse that had wonky timing issues, and had to resort to a plugged-in mouse instead.
After much haranging at the computer store, I eventually found a keyboard that seemed borderline acceptable to my tastes - it had a reasonably flat base, wasn't curved, only jutted out at the top, and most importantly, had reassuring feedback when pressing down on the keys. It was only later that I found out after the fact that the kind of model I was most accustomed to was the Mechanical keyboard, similar to a typewriter. Yet that was the very kind of model that the guy was trying to sell me on, and I wouldn't hear of it.
Sooner or later, all technological talk devolves into this.
The only minuses with the keyboard that the Numbered F keys and Escape button were half the size of the regular keys. (I also liked the old model for propping up my handwritten notes against them and the computer screen for transcribing my pages) Another inconvenience was that the Print Screen button (which I used to image capture the numerous Microfiche Newspaper comics) was in the middle, instead of the left of it's usual position. Also, the indentations for the F and J keys were so slight I couldn't feel them. And I couldn't tell if the Num lock or Caps lock were on, because there was no light to indicate their use. And the top had a slight curve which kept me from feeling balanced.
Nowadays, people are more likely to use computers to play games.
How times have changed.
Eventually, my distaste grew to the point that I figured I should buy my own keyboard instead of using one that annoyed me so much. That, and I was anxious about having a battery that could run out of power in just a year.

I soon found our that while buying a computer with a keyboard is a reasonably torturous task comparable to buying a new car, it's just as hard trying to find a suitable keyboard all on its own. Keyboards are generally sold WITH computers, and not on their lonesome. It's like buying a controller for a gaming platform that doesn't allow multiplayer. To make things more troublesome, the number of available Mechanical keyboards to my liking were priced in the overcharged range. (The cheapest cost around $100) And the ones that were reasonable priced, their shipping costs were more expensive than the model itself, making any savings redundant.

So I looked around, asking various computer stores and pawnshops, looking (and failing) to find the required keyboard that would be just right for my tastes. And in the meantime, I was worrying about the window of returning the current keyboard I was using. I thought I only had two weeks until the warranty was voided. But a quick chat with someone who used to work in retail set my fears right - the two-week window was for computer terminals only. Computer components, such as mice and keyboards could be returned in four weeks.

That gave me some leeway until I could replace the battery-operated keyboard. But even with an extension, it was still crunch time.
The sacrifices one has to accomplish to get desired results!

After dubiously checking some online sources, being wary of any that I wouldn't be able to sample upon sight and feel, I came across a location selling keyboards for $5.00 each at a warehouse, a way out-of-place location that, ironically, I always passed by, but never really noticed. After making the hazardous trip via public transportation, I crossed the highway bridge with brief traffic lights, dodged the ingoing and outgoing cars & trucks on the gravel path, made my way to the inconspicuous side of the low-level building, and browsed the interior of the store, looking for my intended target. After circling the inside twice, I found them tucked away in a corner of the shop,sandwiched in a pile.

I took them out one at a time, just barely having any clear space to put them down for resting. After checking, stacking duplicates, comparing differences and looking for faults (one keyboard had a broken stand), I eventually settled on two versions. One that was absolutely PERFECT, and one that was the same as what I used at work. But I couldn't decide which one to take back. And I didn't want to risk a return trip in case one turned out to be faulty. So I decided to play it safe, and took both of them. It was still a good deal.

However, with the new keyboard, there was now a new hurdle - one I knew was long coming. To make my viewing experience more comfortable, I propped my computer screen on a box sitting opposite my keyboard. My OLD keyboard model (with the circular plug) jutted it's wire out from the side. But these NEW keyboards had wires coming out from the middle, I didn't want to risk cutting into a perfectly good box when there were perfectly reasonable options available. Besides, what if I cut a hole, and it turned out I needed to relocate the opening to another side? (One keyboard wire was centered exactly in the middle, the other a little to the right hand side)

My complication was this - my computer monitor had three prongs - two situated out in front, and one at the back. This triangular position meant I needed to find something that would support all three bases at once AND leave enough room underneath for a wire to travel through. It was for this reason that I couldn't simply use the computer tower flat down as a base - there'd be no room for the keyboard wire to pass through.

After looking and failing to find a square box or plastic casing that exactly met my preferences, I checked a wooden footstool I made in woodshop during High School. It stood on two flat wide legs and was currently being used as a stand for the recycling bin. I couldn't have used it anyways - it was too high for my tastes. But I took a look at the space underneath, and realized I was complicating matters too much - all I needed wasn't a box with a hole - Bricks would handle the job just as well.

Now, the only problem was that there were no bricks available.
This was preposterous - I knew exactly what I needed to fix my problem, but couldn't find the proper materials needed to solve them. The thing is, I'm not much of a handyman, and haven't bothered to try fixing anything more complicated than hooking up my gaming systems, VCR, DVD and PVR all to the same TV. My highest level of mechanical competence is replacing the halogen lightbulbs in my room. So, being unable to find consistent construction material, I went for the next best thing:

I used Star Trek paperback books.

I'd already bought about fifty of them second hand, and planned to sell them off at cost to someone who was a fan. However, it turned out I'd grossly overestimated the extent of his Trekiness, and only bought three of them and stopped, leaving me with a box full of books I could hardly bother to read. At least this way, they'd be good for something. Granted, not all of them were of equal height, but the majority of them were consistent enough to be equal to each other, and I stacked them into piles, until they were uniform. Then, I lowered the monitor on top, but it still looked uneasy. Then I decided to put a piece of cardboard underneath, so there wouldn't be any threat of markings on top of the books, just in case I wanted to read them later.

But before I could even start using my main keyboard, I felt something I failed to notice. The keys had groves on the symbols that were clearly sticking out. I didn't want to be constantly feeling something on my fingers every time I typed something. I wanted them to be tactile-free.
Why should I change with the times?
The times should change with me!
Fortunately, I still had my backup keyboard, which, while not as good, was still enough to get the job done, and after plugging it in, I tested every key to make sure that they worked. One of my fears was that the reason these keyboards had been abandoned was because there was something wrong with them. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

I started using my backup keyboard, which was the same as what I used at work, figuring I shouldn't have any problem with what I was used to.

Guess what?? I had problems.
What worked for me fine at the workplace didn't work for me in the vicinity of my home. For starters, I had no wrist protector pad at work, but with this new keyboard, it would be easier to type without my wrist protector. Unfortunately, this created more wood burn on my forearms than usual. Furthermore, the space between the wrist protector and the spacebar was nonexistent, making it extremely uncomfortable for me to fall into my comfort zone. I knew I said I wanted a flat base, but not THIS flat! I didn't notice the discrepancy until it was too late.

I also encountered the same problems I had with the battery keyboard - it was too flat. I couldn't feel the keys from above my resting position. I needed to feel the difference from above and below, like on a staircase. One aspect of Autism is that the person can have little to no sensation of where their bodies are. As a result, they very often display aspects of clumsiness, unless they have a solid foundation to work from. Without the sensation of the keys above and below, I couldn't count on the accuracy of my writing.

I tried to compensate for this by making the rear end of the keyboard higher, by using elevation blocks at the back, since the plastic props obviously weren't doing the job. But even this failed to give me the results I wanted. I still couldn't tell the difference between one key or another.
Finally, after days of this, I could take no more. I desperately wanted to use my first choice, but the disconcerting feelings from the keys prevented me from doing so. I started by going back to my sources, checking the largest available supply of Government mandated computer merchandise - the local library.

It was there that I found a mouse design to my liking (after breaking mine through brute force), and where I found various potential keyboards. I checked my resources by looking at the nonsensical factory codes on the back. The mouses were trickier, because the red glare kept getting into my eye, but the keyboards were reasonably easier. That is, as long as nobody noticed the local weirdo flipping the computer boards over and taking notes. While double-checking the keys to see if there was any discernible difference, I was surprised to find out that some keys on a particular board brand were smooth and finer than what was on mine, and on other similar models on the library table.

I deducted that they must've worn away after extensive use. But I couldn't afford to wait the lengthy amount of time it'd take for the grooves to go away. So I decided to speed up the process. This was done by using a similar process that was done for umbrella handles. This is another area that needs further explanation - in addition to being fussy with mechanics and clothing, I had considerable difficulty in finding an umbrella that would feel comfortable in my hand. Every single brand I found, no matter what shape or size, the handle would always have an annoying divide straight down the middle that felt uncomfortable to the touch. After my Father bought one against my protest, I was surprised to find that he did something that made it much more manageable for me. Turns out his magic trick was simply using a file against the obtrusive end, and sanding them over. I didn't know that the handles could be simply filed down to make them smoother.
Basically Penguin's origin, but from the other end of the umbrella.
No, not THAT end.
Using the same principle, I decided to sand down the letters for the keys on the keyboard. ALL of them. Even the F-Numbered letters, which I hardly used. But I couldn't simply use a file, like the ones criminals use to break bars out of jail in hock movies and cartoons. I instead used a sponge-like sandpaper. Only problem was, this method turned out to be dustier than usual, and I had to wash it multiple times. Filing down keys that don't stay still can be tricker than it sounds.

It took me several days of getting around to doing this. I was partly reluctant to file away, worried that I might damage the keyboards, but also discomforted about finding a proper sanding position. I started off with sanding down individual keys to see if my theory would hold out. When the bigger buttons (Backspace, Shift, Enter) were sanded down without no visible effect, but definite tactile improvement, I started going on with gust on the others. However, doing one key at a time proved ineffective, so out of sheer frustration, I started rubbing the sand-sponge on its edge across multiple keys at a time. In the end, I wound up holding the keyboard somewhat like a guitar.

When the results were finally done to my satisfaction, the keys were not just smooth, but Smoooooooooooth. Where there were once annoying lumpy bumps that got in the way whenever I typed something, there were now dusty lumps that needed to be blown away. There were still a few keys that I couldn't completely sand away, but they were mostly inconsequential, and the few letters that stuck out (E & O), I figured would eventually be sanded away from constant use. There's still some annoying flakes of plastic dust hanging around, but those should also eventually fade away.

With that hurdle finally out of the way, there was only one unexpected obstacle remaining. The large White Windows icon at the very bottom of the keyboard. Normally, this would be easily ignored up close, but when viewed at a distance, when not obsessively typing away like a frenzied chimpanzee, would be very noticeable. Fortunately, some black marker tape over the offending area took care of the problem. Somewhat similar to what was used to block the glaring bright ON switch of my computer console. (A similar tactic that Luddites who were annoyed at the blinking 12:00 sight on VCRs used)

Long story short - I got a new computer and some keyboards. They work fine now.

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