Saturday, May 16, 2009

When Keyboards Attack

I am not certain why keyboards do not like me. I am not even sure why my keyboards do not like each other. One thing which I am quite positive about, however, is that I have far more problems with them than can be accounted for by chance. As I write this post, it is being done on a Dell Vostro 2510 which I bought, in part, because it is a business model laptop and this led me to believe that it might be built in a sturdier fashion than the models advertised for the general consumer market. This does not appear to be the case. Apparently, if I can touch it, I am likelier than most to break it.

This upsets me dreadfully. I have long considered myself to be a person who takes good care of tools, electronics, vehicles, and even furniture. I clean and lubricate tools as necessary when I am finished using them. I dust and surface clean, as well as surge and UPS protect my electronic devices. I use furniture oil to treat the surfaces of the wood furniture I own. I have my vehicle regularly serviced and seldom exceed the speed suggestions by more than 40 mph any longer. I just finished modifying a cheap surplus transformer to work with the older, but still quite satisfactory, Koss amplified speakers for use with my PC. They work perfectly. Keyboards, on the other hand, appear to harbor a deep seated hatred for me. This relationship is approaching one of reciprocity. Perhaps there is a Secret Order of Boardhood (SOB) which I have offended and become a sworn enemy without warning and for no discernable reason.

Over the past twelve months I have been victimized by keyboards on no less than five occasions. Before this period, the "forward" key cap in the lower right corner of a HP laptop caught on a shirt sleeve and was lost. Oh well, no big deal. The curse seems to have begun when the "t" key cap fell off the same laptop. Not oh well. I definitely had more use for t's than forwards. After far too long a search, I found a replacement keyboard for the exact make and model, bought it, replaced it, and all was well for several days until the entire computer quit. I learned something. Almost all of two entire series of that line of computer use the same keyboard, regardless of their part number. I do have a very lightly used keyboard and an unused double-life battery for HP Pavilion 5000 series laptops lying around, however, should anyone find themselves in need of such parts.

I began to become more suspicious of a possible keyboard conspiracy when the quad core, 64-bit refurb arrived with what appeared to be a totally unused PC, a wireless mouse which was worn but worked, and a wireless keyboard which refused to respond to anything I tried, including a thorough trouncing. Possibly I should have been more understanding when I saw that the alkaline batteries included in it were guaranteed good through 2001. What the hell, three keyboards down. I bought a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse on sale and they work fine on the PC. A little short on range, but OK. I did not yet know about Keyboard Jealousy Syndrome.

Very shortly after putting the Vostro "hot-rod-candy-apple-red-color" laptop into service, the "Microsoft" key cap fell off. I don't believe I did anything to encourage that. I can't even recall ever intentionally pressing it. Perhaps that was the problem. You may recall from past posts that I did not know where that key cap had gone and that theft by cat was my primary working hypothesis. I learned another something. Key caps may be interchangeable between manufacturers. This one was compatible with the deceased donor board's Microsoft cap. I snapped the used cap into position and it again worked as intended. It bothered my aesthetic sensibilities, however, because it was printed in a different style than all the other keys and thus drew my attention, in a negative way, whenever I used the laptop. When I found that the original cap had not been captured by a cat, but rather had simply been lost in the abundant clutter surrounding The Chair, I swapped them and all was well once again.

This state of affairs lasted nearly three weeks. Then an event occurred which taught me two things. The first was that inanimate electro-mechanical devices appear able to harbor a dislike or jealousy to the extent that a physical assault results. At this point I wish to make a non-legally binding, nor even necessarily truthful statement to the effect that I did not drop the wireless board onto the laptop's board. Believe what you will, but the laptop was suddenly left with non-functional "y" "h" and "j" keys. I examined, twisted, palpated, snapped, and used bad words, all to no avail. I then did what had to be done in a first responder, triage sort of situation like this. I used duct tape. Clearly, or rather very unclearly, this was not a good solution for me. I couldn't see the letters on the keys.

It is well known in the psychology and learning theory community that new learning is most likely to occur in a "crisis" or in a situation in which previously learned behavior no longer works. Otherwise stated, this may be known as "Necessity is the mother of invention." My great (really, for me at least) discovery was that the tiny, itty-bitty, fragile, scissor action, plastic parts that snap onto and support the key caps while allowing the rubberized contact to make or break the circuit are interchangeable ! What wonders a jeweler's screwdriver and a bit of close-up squinting can reveal! After replacing three of these little doo-dads with their equivalents from the cadaver board, I am once again pacified even though the j key is turned almost one whole degree clockwise.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"They say one of a baby's first non-verbal forms communication is pointing. Clicking must be somewhere just after that." – Author Unknown

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