Revenge of the keyboards

Your keyboard hates you. Do you blame it? You abuse it with your fingers and even fists.

By DAVID SHAMAH
October 11, 2005 20:54
computer keyboards 88

keyboards 88. (photo credit: )

Your keyboard hates you. Do you blame it? You tap, tap, tap on it all the live long day, abusing it with your fingers and even fists, dumping cookie crumbs and sugary scuzz from spilled soft drinks and coffee. Imagine having someone clunking you on top of the head all day. We boss keyboards around like slaves, and if we were the victims instead of the perpetrators, you can be sure we'd rise up and rebel. It's a wonder they haven't thought of it yet. Don't feel too bad for the lowly keyboard, though; it gets its revenge against us. It's got a few ways to drive us crazy, making us rue the day we learned touch typing. Ever notice how sometimes when you type in a correction, letters not only appear - they also disappear? Yep, you've become a victim of the old insert key trick, where the old UNIX holdover overtype routine comes into play. But that's small potatoes, as far as keyboard guerrilla tactics are concerned. To wreak vengeance on you when it gets really mad, your keyboard has one potent weapon it uses to drive you crazy. Watch out - it might just press its key caps key. You don't realize something is amiss until you've typed a few words, or even a few lines - and to your horror you realize you've been typing in capital letters. You panic; there's no way you can submit that report in ALL CAPS! And if you've sent an e-mail to a friend or a newsgroup in capital letters, expect the abuse to pour in because of your "shouting." Of course, if you keep a cool head, you can just use the un-caps command found in many word processors, where you highlight the capitalized text and magically transform it into plain text. But the keyboard knows what it's doing; it knows we're going to panic, and how the horror most of us feel when we see those capital letters will be enough to send us wildly tapping the delete key, forcing us to do the typing all over again. It's like a real life Frankenstein tale come true - the creations we gave life want to upset the apple cart and make us their servants! Don't take this uppity behavior lying down; if we let the keyboards get away with their little caps lock mini-revolution, it'll be just a matter of time before they have us working for them. DO YOU WANT to live in a world where you have to spray the keyboard with a pleasant smelling disinfectant/polish every day, or constantly shake the board upside down over a trash can to get rid of stray crumbs? I thought not. But we can still save the day if we act now. We must urgently gain control of the keyboards before they get control of us! The first step is to disabuse keyboards of their little caps lock scheme. Fortunately, there's a free program called CapsUnlock (http://www.brainsystems.com/capsunlock) that will put you in the caps lock driver's seat. Once installed, the caps lock will act just like the shift key - it will have to be actively pushed in order to create capital letters. CapsUnlock also gives you a workaround which will temporarily restore the caps lock function, but it puts you in control, with the keyboard doing things the way you want - as the natural order of things should be. Next, it's time to do away with insert key antics. Insert ToggleKey (http://www.mlin.net/misc.shtml) disables this near-useless key altogether, instead playing a loud beep when you've accidentally pressed the insert button, eliminating yet another of the keyboard's revenge tactics. But why stop there? Why not go all the way in asserting your power over the keyboard? Finally, you can make the keyboard do what you want, the way you want it - with Qliner Hotkeys (http://www.qliner.com/hotkeys/). Hotkeys, as you may know, are keyboard shortcuts that configure keys to perform various functions. Often, you will see extremely busy, extremely productive people moving their fingers hither and yon all across the keyboard, opening and closing applications and files without breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, you labor away with the mouse, clicking on menu after submenu and playing futilely with the keys to get at your files. And when you ask them how they do it, they always give you some esoteric, zen-like answer, like "all it takes is a lot of practice." But what they don't tell you is that they've been using a keyboard utility program that lets them set up shortcuts to those files and programs on their keyboards. Windows itself has some built in keyboard shortcuts, like "control-c" for copy or "control-x" for cut, that work throughout the system. But setting up shortcuts for other keys has been a bit of a hassle; you had to acquire (usually buy) a shortcut program, and they were usually hard to set up. NO MORE. With Hotkeys, setting up keyboard shortcuts is as easy as pie. After installing, you press the Windows key (or if your keyboard doesn't have one, the caps lock key, which Hotkeys automatically converts into the Windows key, thereby disabling its capitalization abilities). When you press the key, you get a view of a virtual keyboard with all the mapped keys displayed, including the built-in Windows shortcuts and a few that Hotkeys supplies, like an analog clock. To get to any of these shortcuts, you just press the Windows key in tandem with the appropriate letter or number - for example, you get that Hotkeys clock by clicking Windows key + T (for time). But the point of Hotkeys is to set up keyboard shortcuts for anything and everything in your system. The way you do this is simplicity itself - while the virtual keyboard is displayed, just drag the icon of the program or file you want to create a shortcut for to the key you want to link to - and you've got a shortcut! I've been having lots of fun keyboard mapping. I put my OpenOffice icon on Windows key + O, my iTunes on Windows key + I, and... you get the idea, I'm sure. Basically, anything that can be accessed in Windows can be mapped (you can insert a path instead of dragging an icon if you want). The next version of the program (due this week) will have scripting capabilities, which will be very cool, because then you'll be able to set up all sorts of programs, like recording radio shows or copying CDs in automatic scripts. Another nice feature is Hotkeys' ability to display no fewer than 100 foreign keyboards (including Hebrew), so if you're typing on a keyboard that doesn't have little stickers with the non-Roman letters on it, you can always check by pressing the Windows key. It also supports Dvorak keyboards, if you're into that. There are all sorts of keyboards out there today, from straight-up 127-key models with a cable that goes into the back of the PC to mini-USB and wireless models - as well as keyboards with the keys in all the wrong places, "split" ergonomic keyboards, etc. If you want to make a splash with the cool computer crowd (not to mention Interpol or the FBI), get the most interesting looking Happy Hacker Keyboard (http://store.yahoo.com/pfuca-store/), which, despite its name, is made for people who do real work instead of just playing on-line computer games all day. The HHK boasts (very) high quality construction, multi-platform support, and a soft touch that is supposed to be easy on the fingers. The HHK is one of the biggest selling keyboards in Japan, and it sold out in its initial US run in just three days! And most importantly, according to the guy who designed it (http://itpro.nikkeibp.co.jp/members/NBY/techsquare/20040531/2), it knows how to follow orders - which is all any of us really wants in a keyboard. Qliner Hotkeys is free; for Windows 2000 and XP. ds@newzgeek.com


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