TAPPING THE KEYS

roccat  keyboardBob uses what is called a mechanical keyboard. That is, there is an actual switch under each key. Press the key and you close a circuit that sends a digital code to the computer, perhaps a letter or a punctuation mark.

Cheap keyboards usually use a membrane under the keys; pressing down on a key makes two thin sheets of plastic come together at that point and close a circuit that tells the computer what you wanted when you pressed that key. Mechanical keyboards are more expensive than membrane keyboards, usually ten times the price.

We looked around on the web and found you can buy a keyboard for as little as eight dollars and there were many others for ten or twelve. But a mechanical keyboard typically costs around $100 or more. Gamers like them, and so do fast typists.

Bob uses a gamers keyboard called Merc Stealth. He likes it because it has a “feel” when you type. The key springs back when struck and produces what the manufacturers call an “audible click.” (Is there such a thing as in “inaudible click”.) Joy’s Solar Keyboard from Logitech, though not mechanical, also has a nice click. She is a super-fast typist and when she’s humming along, so to speak, it sounds like she’s playing Bach.

What prompts all this chit-chat, other than Bob’s fanaticism about quality keyboards, is the introduction of a new mechanical keyboard, the Roccat Ryos MK Glow ($139 at Amazon). It has an LED (Light Emitting Diode) under each key to give the whole thing a soft glow. You can change the colors. Other keyboards have backlit keys, as well. On Bob’s Merc Stealth, for example, you can change the backlighting on the keys to any of four colors, and you can also change the brightness.

The Roccat Ryos has an “easy shift” key lets you assign a second function to almost any key. By this they mean a macro. A macro allows you to store a substantial amount of text and tie it to one or two keystrokes. They’re typically used for chunks of type that come up often. They could be commonly used addresses, for example, or so-called boiler palter text that lawyers and other businessmen use. A fast processor and two megabytes of flash memory allow for over 500 “macros” to be recorded and stored on board. A thousand-word newspaper article, for example, would take less than six thousand bytes; so you could easily store more than 300 of them on the keyboard. Often you can record “on the fly” as your type, and assign that chunk of text to any key you want.

Bob’s long-time favorite keyboard is the Enigma. (No, not the German code machine from World War II.) But the maker no longer exists and the newest PCs don’t seem to recognize it. Must be a matter of having the right chip inside, and if anyone out there knows how to do it, Bob would certainly be grateful. Everything is heavy duty and the thing weighs close to ten pounds.

This would go double for the old Atex keyboard, formerly used by many newspapers. While most keyboards have 102 keys, that one has 140, and you could store an unlimited number of macros. The Atex was almost a dedicated keyboard, meaning certain keys were dedicated to specific functions, like “delete word,” or “move paragraph.” Writers love these. Stephen King writes with a dedicated keyboard, or at least he used to. It was made by Wang, a Boston company that no longer exists.

Here are two used web sites that deal with keyboards: MechanicalKeyboardGuide.com, and Hooleon.com. This last sells keyboard stickers, and we’ve noticed that a lot of people have keyboards with that worn off. They sell stickers in all colors, some with larger type for those who need it, and they even have stickers in Braille.

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