Keyboards Are Crap

VT220When I started working with computers, our main system was made by Digital Equipment Corporation and we had a number of their VT100 terminals connected to it. Very primitive by today’s standard, but they did have a lovely, big, clacky keyboard.

The VT100s we used had been assembled at DEC’s plant in Clonmel, but they still had an American key layout, with a “#” instead of a “£”, for example; and a “@” above the “2”. To this day, I have my PC keyboards configured this way, even though they’re generally marked with the UK layout. Or to put it another way, the keys generate the character I expect, not what they say on the top.

Even after computer terminals were obsolete and we all got PCs, I continued to use a DEC keyboard, since you could actually type on it. Only when they gave me a laptop did the keyboard get relegated to the back of the cupboard, and in fact, years later when I left work I recovered it and took it home with me. Stole it, in other words. It needs a small adaptor to work with a normal, purple-coded, desktop PC socket, but it does work. (PS/2 mouse sockets are green, keyboard sockets are purple.)

But now I use my own laptop, and although I prefer a separate, external keyboard at my desk, there no suitable sockets, just USB. (I have a PS/2 to USB convertor, but it doesn’t work with the old keyboard. I think it might be unable to deliver the power required.) That’s why the old DEC keyboard is in the attic, and I’ve bought modern, USB ones.

And I don’t like them one little bit. Not only are they flimsy and unresponsive, the characters are painted on, and wear off in a couple of months’ use. It used to be that PC keyboards had their markings moulded in, but not any more. Well, not usually, I suppose. I bought an expensive Apple Mac keyboard, thinking it would be a quality product, and sure enough, the letters seemed to be moulded into the keytops and didn’t wear off. However, the keys themselves were exactly like the wobbly buttons on 1980s calculators, with about one millimetre of downward travel and no feedback, so it was impossible to type normally. I kpt mssng out lttrs. I guess Mac owners are too cool to type mere text.

Then I bought an equally expensive Saitek. Shite-Tek, more like. I had looked carefully before buying it to see that the white characters on the keys weren’t painted on, and sure enough, after a few months they haven’t worn off. It’s the black background that is painted, and that’s what is wearing away.

What I really need is one of those old, properly-designed ones, but adapted for USB. So I dismantled both another old PC keyboard, and the cheapest modern USB one, with Frankenstein ideas. It looks as though a brain transplant may be feasible. Just a matter of wiring the corresponding connections together. Twenty-six of them, and they aren’t designed for soldering. But worth a try.

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2 thoughts on “Keyboards Are Crap

    • The USB module is a little circuit board with one chip under a blob of resin. The connectors for the key matrix are labelled and I can generate key presses by shorting them, but they are on an edge connector with a non-standard pitch (neither imperial nor metric) and I haven’t come up with a good way of connecting them to the equivalent on the keyboard (standard 0.1″ ribbon connector). So, er, no.

      (I found that another old PC keyboard will work with the PS2 adaptor, so I’vebeen happy to use that.)

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