Journey to the center of the keyboard's mind

Keyboard symbols are more than just fun - they're an important part of business.

pc keyboard 88 (photo credit: )
pc keyboard 88
(photo credit: )
In a recent session with my shrink (yes, genius does have its price), the talk came around, as usual, to my obsession with computers. And this time, my esteemed mental health care professional threw out a most interesting comment. "Computers contain a great deal of symbiology," he said. Symbiology!? What the hay does that mean? Unfortunately for me, the good doctor got a phone call that very moment. So there I was with a new psychic dilemma. Symbiology? Does that mean computer networking is somehow an analogy for our fear of being left alone for even a moment, which really, as we all know, is about our fear of death? Sounds like I really need to "talk to someone," as my former doctor used to tell me when I complained about the bill. But once I got past these "musings," I realized that what he was talking about were the symbols hidden deep down in your computer. For example, I've always wanted to end a sentence using one of those Spanish-style exclamation points - as in Hola That's a pretty cool exclamation point to throw into a sentence, if you ask me. And then there's the funny looking B they use in some European countries, the . It's a lot better looking than the regular B, in my opinion. And what about , , , and even ? It would be nice to have access to those as well. And keyboard symbols are more than just fun - they're an important part of business. While most Americans believe the world of currency revolves around the old greenback dollar, there's a whole world of other money types out there, including pounds, euros and yen - and even dollars have a little sister in the form of cents. As it happens, all these symbols and many more are buried deep inside your computer. English language keyboard layouts include keys for grave, circumflex, acute, tilde and my personal favorite, umlaut letters. How do you get at them? Well, you could memorize the list of symbol characters at In order to utilize non-standard characters - the ones that don't appear on the keyboard - you have to press the alt key, together with an esoteric numerical combination. For example, to type the upside down exclamation point, you have to press the alt key and type in 0161. Either that, or leave a space and pencil it in later. There are other ways to gain easy access to PC symbols without having to take a course in memory enhancement. Microsoft offers a free tool called the Keyboard Layout Creator (free download from, which lets you map symbols, as well as shortcuts or specialized symbols you find on the Internet. Using KLC, for example, you could technically create a keyboard layout using Hebrew characters that you would be able to access without having to switch language directions or use a Hebrew language font, which, as many of us who try to mix Hebrew and English know, can mess up your text something awful, with the English letters appearing on the page out of order, or your text "jumping" when you type in a quote mark or dash. With Keyboard Layout Creator, you could create a Hebrew alphabet using alt-control-shift key combinations, for example, that you would use when you wanted to insert a single Hebrew letter or word into English text, independent of Hebrew right to left requirements - as far as your text is concerned, you're using an English language keyboard character. KLC is easy enough to use - it's getting it that's a hassle. Nowadays, Microsoft makes you jump through all sorts of hoops if you try to download any of their often useful software, with your computer having to prove that you have a "real" serial number for Windows. It took me quite a while to download KLC, and I only put up with the frustration of having to install plug-ins and verification tools and symbols in order to compare KLC to another utility I found that was a lot easier to download - and, as it turns out, a lot easier to use than Keyboard Layout Creator. If all you want is to access Windows's already built-in symbols without reinventing the wheel - or the keyboard - you'll find CFISoft's Character utility a lot easier to use. Character sits on your desktop, awaiting your beck and call - and when you open it, you hold down the shift and control keys and then press a letter key that will give you the special symbol you desire. If you need a "u" with two dots on top, for example, you hold down, with the Characters window active, the shift-control combination with the letter u, and scroll through the eight possibilities for special symbols based on u (all the symbols are located on alt-shift combinations using a, e, i, o, u, c, z, s, y and n). Once you've found the symbol you want, just press the spacebar and the symbol will be copied to your clipboard, ready to be pasted into your text. I know that if my therapist was around, he'd say that Character, the program, is symbolic - it represents man's desire to work less hard and get more done! Download Character for free from (click on the "Accessories and Utilities" link on the left). [email protected]