Friday, April 27, 2018

A keyboard conundrum

Technology always creates new problems even as it solves old ones, and that’s certainly been true in communication, too. Consider the monks of centuries ago trying to copy books by hand, having to deal with frozen ink in the winter time (and frozen rooms), poor lighting, and having to correct mistakes by scratching out the mistake. Compared to that, we have it so much easier these days, until we don’t. As I recently learned yet again.

A little over a year ago I wrote about a technical problem that was keeping me from blogging: A broken keyboard. At the time, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before:
In one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever had happen to me, PART of my keyboard stopped working, and for no obvious reason. Specifically, the letters Z, X, C, V, B, and N didn’t work, nor did the left side of the space bar, nor the modifier keys on that side (shift, command, option, control). The letter W also didn’t work, so I couldn’t close a window with a keyboard command. Confusingly, some characters on that side of the keyboard did work.
A year ago I switched to another Mac keyboard we had, and carried on—until recently. In recent weeks the same thing, basically, suddenly happened to the second keyboard. I know we have a brand new one in a box somewhere, and have seen it only recently when going through boxes, but I couldn’t find it when I looked for it on purpose. So, I borrowed a PC keyboard from Nigel, until he wanted that one back and had me use a keyboard designed for use with a Mac (it has a Command and Option key right next to each other, which facilitates keyboard commands in the MacOS).

The two borrowed keyboards have very “clunky” keys, that it is, they take some effort to push down and are very noisy when used (the second keyboard actually sounded a bit like an old typewriter to me). I made a lot more typos on those keyboards, mainly because the keys are higher and harder to press than on the Mac keyboard I was used to.

I first used one of those keyboards when I bought my iMac back in 2008, and I thought it was the best keyboard I’d ever used. The keys are low profile (a bit like on a Macbook Pro or similar laptop), soft touch (require very little pressure to type), and they’re very quiet when I type (no distractions from the clicking and clacking of the keys). I’ve loved the keyboard ever since.

Through this experience I’ve come to appreciate how important a keyboard is to one’s overall experience using a computer, and how well/often they use it. For example, I don’t like texting on my phone because the onscreen keyboard is too small for my big fingers. So, I think it actually matters that people have a keyboard that they actually like, one that “feels” right to them.

And therein lay my problem.

Last year, Apple introduced new versions of their wireless keyboard that included a number pad (vital for me) and a new mouse, both with much longer battery life, among other things. However, for reasons that are way too meta to get into, my computer doesn’t like Bluetooth devices, so I wanted a USB keyboard, not a wireless one. The problem is, Apple discontinued their USB keyboard in June last year, and they’re no longer available.

I couldn’t find the new-in-its-box Apple keyboard, I couldn’t buy an Apple USB keyboard anymore, I was doubtful the wireless one would work, so, what could I do? I turned to to the Internet, of course.

I found out from The Verge that a company called Matias was “Building the wired Mac keyboards that Apple won’t”. It turns out, they make a wide variety of Mac keyboards, including the one I ultimately bought (photo up top), which looks and works like the discontinued Apple keyboard.

I should add that I also Googled how to try and clean Mac keyboards, since I thought fluff might be keeping the contacts from working. Turns out, it’s really difficult to do. I even found out that some people advocate putting them in the dishwahser (!), which CNET said you can do, but probably shouldn’t, Daskeyboard (makers of the second, clunky keyboard I used) declared, “DON’T Use the Dishwasher!”, and Computer Hope said earlier this year, “Yes, a computer keyboard can be cleaned in a dishwasher. However, we are un-aware of any manufacturer that recommends this method as the way to clean their keyboard.” Personally, I think that sounds nuts, but I may try to clean under the keys using more conventional methods.

The bottom line is that I got a replacement keyboard that meets both my needs and keyboard preferences, and it works great. But it wasn’t something I ever expected to need to do, let alone twice. And that missing new-in-its-box Apple keyboard will have a use, once it’s found, because we still have my old iMac, which we plan to use for other things, but it doesn’t have a keyboard (I looked inside its box to make sure there wasn’t one). So, everyone wins. Or, something.

Now, obviously, this whole thing is what people like to derisively call “First World Problems” because I have a computer and keyboard in the first place, regardless of whether I like a particular keyboard. Yes, of course. But it’s also the world I know, and central to what I do for pay and for fun. So, it looms a little larger for me than it would for someone who has to engage in hard physical labour every day just to survive. For example. I’m well aware of that, the fact that I don’t have to engage in hard physical labour every day just to survive, and that these facts and my awareness of them change nothing about how my life is affected by things others would never care about because their lives are so different.

In my reality, the world I live within, technology always creates new problems even as it solves old ones. This has just been a story about how I recently learned that yet again.

This post was written on my new keyboard. Of course.

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