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Typewriter Keyboard Conversion 368

graymalkn writes "My wife has repetitive stress problems and prefers typing on old-fashioned mechanical typewriters. For Christmas, I converted a mechanical typewriter to work as a computer keyboard. My favorite feature: slap the carriage return for Enter."
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Typewriter Keyboard Conversion

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  • haiku (Score:4, Funny)

    by bobtheprophet ( 587843 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:01PM (#4995496) Journal
    So tell me the truth
    What exactly makes you want
    a keyboard that jams?
  • You'd think that there'd be LESS stress with an elecronic keyboard than a mechanical one.

    What am I missing here?

    • Re:That's wierd (Score:5, Informative)

      by stefanlasiewski ( 63134 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMstefanco.com> on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:09PM (#4995547) Homepage Journal
      Hard typing can lead to RSI.

      From the page:

      she finds old-fashioned mechanical typewriters much easier on her fingers because they offer gradual resistance rather than the feeling of moving through air then hitting a wall, like most computer keyboards

      Different keyboards work for different people. If you're used to typing on a Smith-Corona, I can definatly see how the "hitting a wall" can hurt your fingers.
      • Re:That's wierd (Score:2, Informative)

        by Tablizer ( 95088 )
        Different keyboards work for different people. If you're used to typing on a Smith-Corona, I can definatly see how the "hitting a wall" can hurt your fingers.

        The theory seems sound (pun): If you can rely on the click sound, then your ears serve as the feedback mechanism instead of your fingers. IOW, use audio feedback *instead of* physical (pressure) feedback. Appearently the person at issue has learned to use their ears for feedback. Perhaps most of us got too used to the pressure feedback, which is perhaps a big risk to RMI.
    • The lack of resistance is a bug rather than a feature.

      The mechancial keys on an old typewriter would trigger before being fully depressed, therefore you could type without having to hit the endpoint where the resistance becomes a solid wall, you could pull up gradually when you wanted to.

      Most "quiet" keyboards offer little to no resistance as the key goes down, but an absolute solid wall once the key is fully down. what's more, the key does not register unless you have gone all of the way down, so you're required to hit that wall.

      It's the sudden stop that's bothering the woman in question here, having constant weak resistance is what she wants.
    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:14PM (#4995584) Journal
      Some people will feel pain in their fingertips when striking the keys because of the hard stop. Using a clickety IBM keyboard doesn't help and in some cases makes it worse. The impact on the fingers on a mechanical typewriter is much more gradual, with a soft stop at the end of the key travel.

      You're right though that the keys on such a typewriter are harder to press, possibly leading to a different kind of RSI, which can be alleviated by switching from a typewriter to a regular keyboard, as some people working in a typing pool have found in the past.

      The typewriter is an interesting solution, but I wonder if this woman might be off just as well with one of those rubber keyboards like the ones that came with those IBM PS/1 systems.
    • Check this out (Score:3, Interesting)

      You'd think that there'd be LESS stress with an elecronic keyboard than a mechanical one.

      Yeah, I think so too, but what do you guys think about this [robotics.com] computer chair?
  • Watch out! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mononoke ( 88668 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:03PM (#4995507) Homepage Journal
    There's gonna be White-out all over the screen!

  • Just kidding!

    Seriously, this is very cool. Like something out of a Terry Gilliam movie...

    • it actually started on the early Apple computers as Open Apple and Closed Apple then moved to Command for the ADB(Apple Desktop Bus) keyboards of the macintoshes.

      As for Linux support, the command keys on my Linux iBook work the same way as the winshit key (whiteouted of course) on my Linux server.

      It looks as if he is connecting this typewriter to an older (pre usb switchover) macintosh, but I haven't found a specific quote to that effect.
  • Seems so simple... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:04PM (#4995511)
    Early keyboards used to have a "clicking" resistance mechanism, until "quiet" keyboards created the "flying until you hit a wall" feeling that the poster's wife complained of.

    We seem to all have standardized now on similar keyboards in tactile function, but that clearly leaves a market to serve those who perfer other styles of keyboard. Could this kind of keyboard-that-feels-like-a-typewriter device have enough appeal to get a mainstream keyboard maker behind it?
    • by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) <rcs1000@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:13PM (#4995579)
      It made this wonderful 'click' sound when you pressed a key, and it felt beautiufully made. I used it as my main typing keyboard for ages (although I needed a connector for using it with those pesky PS/2 ports we have these days...)

      Best of all it was beautiful to use. If only the 's' key hasn't gone.

      The funny bit is, I never missed the 'Windows' key.

      (If anyone has a WORKING IBM keyboard like this, please, please reply as I would love to get a hold of another...)
      • I have three or so of those 5-lb IBM desk dominators that I grabbed from being tossed out at my old job. What's it worth to ya?
      • These are the only keyboards that I will use. Every system I use has one.

        They are called a "type M" or "model M", depending upon who you ask.

        They are actually quite easy to find. I have purchased several from goodwill for $5/each. You can also find them on EBay fairly cheap. [ebay.com]
        • I have about 4 of them sitting in a box -- however, they have a weird connector (large, 5 pins in a half circle -- I thought that they were the AT-style connectors, but I tried the AT -> PS/2 connector I had sitting around and it didn't fit.) Any suggestions where I could find an adaptor for them?
          • Hate to tell you this, but that sounds like an AT connector.

            It should be larger then a PS/2 connector, with five robust pins, in a half-circle. Assuming that the center of the circle is the center of a clock, pins will be at 3, 4:30, 6, 7:30 and 9.

            The PS/2 connector has 6 pins, but one of the pins is N/C (not connected). Otherwise, its just a mechanical conversion from the larger AT style to the smaller PS/2 style.

            Of course, there is a lot of computer styles out there, and what appears to be a normal AT-style connector could be some weird proprietary or non-pc connection.

            Google for a bit, and if you're stumped, take a picture of the keyboards, and the connectors, make a simple webpage with the ability for users to add comments, and link the page to your sig. You should get an answer. :)

            • Hate to tell you this, but that sounds like an AT connector.

              AT's not really a connector style -- it's a protocol. The XT system (pre AT) used the same 5 pin half-circle connector. It's not terribly uncommon on older keyboards to find a switch to move from XT to AT style.

              I'd look on the bottom, under the little flip-up panels to help tilt the keyboard to you. You might find a little switch there.
        • Every system I use has one.

          How about at work? I've never even bothered trying to bring in one of these things there just because they cause a fair amount of racket -- especially when I'm flipping away at 80-100wpm :). I type loud enough on a quiet keyboard that I've gotten the occasional passerby to stop by my cube thinking I'm beating something to death.

          Anybody here ever brought one of these things into a cube farm? Just wondering how much it bothers other employees, if it does at all.
          • Considering people used to use mechanical typewriters in rooms full of desks with 4 foot spacings and NO cubicle walls... stuff 'em. If they don't like it, tough noogies.
          • I've brought them into cubefarms-a-plenty. Yes, it does bother people. No, I don't care. No, they don't ask me to take it home.
          • >Anybody here ever brought one of these things into a cube farm?

            At IBM in the early 90's I worked in a cube farm (Austin campus, building 42), where my primary machine was a PS/2 mod 80 with an 8514 display.

            It had a model M keyboard attached to it, and I used to regularly get people stopping by my desk to see what the hell was going on (I was typing around 130wpm at the time, I'm down to 110 or so now). Nobody ever complained about the noise so much as treated me as some sort of curiosity (I guess I was the fastest on the first floor at the time or something, I know there were people upstairs that were faster).

            I've tried to keep a model M on my home machine since, and have usually managed to do so... though once I had to settle for a "compact" model. Same buckling-spring design, but with more of a laptop-style layout.

      • It was probably an IBM Model M. I'm typing on one now and I have several more in the closet for future use (between cats and my wife I've already ruined 2). I acquired them after junking out old PS/2 76's at work.

        If you want one of your very own, go to eBay and type "ibm keyboard m" in the search field. Plenty of results.
      • by Deathlizard ( 115856 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:31PM (#4995675) Homepage Journal

        They made the original IBM keyboards and they still make them.
        • I bought two from them last summer, when /. had a story about keyboards and several people mentioned them, but both keyboards were defective. I returned one for repair, and it came back defective (several non-working keys). The shipping costs were piling up, so I quit. The keyboards are a great idea, but I spent $100 and still don't have one.
      • I had a brand new one that I picked up from a place I used to work with old IBM equipment. It was in the box and everything. I threw it out when I moved two months ago.
      • You can find the good IBM keyboards at thrift stores, swap meets, hamfests, used computer dealers, computer salvage yards.. usually for under $5 (hell, usually for under $2).

        The good ones are called the `IBM Model M', and they have real springs under the keys. More info at http://modelm.org

        I personally own about 50 or 60 of these, but you can't have any of them (they're my lifetime supply of keyboards. Yes, you can use a PS/2 => USB adaptor with them, so they should work on new hardware for many years to come). I've managed to break only one Model M in my life... well actually my old boss did, he dumped a 16oz. Starbuck's coffee with extra cream & sugar directly into it, and I didn't find out about it until it had had time to congeal.. probably I could have salvaged it by running it through the dishwasher, but it was starting to draw flies, so I decided it was dead...

        Just hit the thrift shops, you'll find them...
      • There's a local surplus computer salvage shop in my town that had, like a whole bunch of IBM PS/2 keyboards. Ones that use the modern miniature-sized connector, no less. And they were selling them for just a couple of bucks each. (I rather suspect that they got them from SMSU, because I happen to recall their computer labs used to use these old PS/2s, with PS/2 keyboards, back in the WordPerfect 5.1 days when I first arrived.) I'm on my second now, and I have a spare for when this one wears out.

        And I don't miss the windows keys either. ;)
        • You recall correctly -- they had eight PS/2's in the back corner of the Computer Science Lab. I don't know when they got rid of them -- when I left in 1991 they still had them. I learned Pascal on those computers... and got my first taste of Novell networks...
          • When I got to SMSU in '91, half of Cheek Lab was those PS/2s. I think there were 32 of them. The rest was the amber terminals by which we students accessed our accounts on the CMS box.
            • Sounds about right -- they had VT100's (the real ones) in half the lab when I was there(to access the Vax 11/70 that I heard was removed right after I left), four tables of amber terminals that you could access several different systems on, and four tables of PS/2's that were on a Novell network. I learned Fortran on that vax from Dr. Schmidt -- still the best professor I've ever had.
      • Ah yes.... the original IBM 101key. I swore by it. I never gave it up until I had to... used it for years on my HDS X-Terminal!
    • I missed mine. . . until I got one of the new Logitechs. Ok, not the solid 5 pound monster the IBM was, and not quite as "clicky," but it seems to have just the right compromise between click and quiet with absolutely no feeling of "hitting the wall" that the membrane boards give you. I can type like in the "good old days" again.

      And I don't have to mess up a perfectly good typewriter to do it. I still love my old Underwood. Leave it alone.

      But for God's sake, don't make me have to *type* on it.

    • I still have an old IBM keyboard. Thing weighs 8 pounds, has a crack in it from when it was thrown in the trash (which is where I rescued it), and is missing a bunch of key caps (the old IBMs had generic blank keys, with the letters printed on a little cap that fit on top.)

      Works great for Counter Strike though...
    • Could this ... have enough appeal to get a mainstream keyboard maker behind it?

      Well, I've already seen this used as an example of "market failure". After all, this isn't exactly a new story. The problems (for some people) of computer keyboards and the "mechanical typewriter" solution has been pretty much common media knowledge for several years, and there seems to be a fair amount of medical support for it.

      If you believe the market theories, we obvious must have had typewriter-like keyboards for sale for several years now. No rational manufacturer would ever ignore such obvious demand. So where are they?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yes, it really works. Even down to slapping the carriage return for Enter.

    My wife suffers from repetive stress problems in her fingers and wrists. Sometime in October we were talking about different keyboards on the market for people such as herself. In the course of the conversation she mentioned that she finds old-fashioned mechanical typewriters much easier on her fingers because they offer gradual resistance rather than the feeling of moving through air then hitting a wall, like most computer keyboards. Ah-hah, I think to myself! At last I know what I will give her for Christmas. The first weekend after Halloween I went out and found an old Smith-Corona and got to work.

    The short how-to is thus: in a regular keyboard, each keypress completes a circuit. There's a little circuit board in there and I mapped all the connections from one terminal to another. This was then replicated inside the typewriter by wires going from the circuit board to strips of adhesive lamé, which contact their counterparts when a key is pressed. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that...

    The first thing to do was take apart a regular keyboard and figure out how it worked.

    The little circuit board there has two sets of thirteen terminals. A keypress is registered when a circuit is completed between one terminal from the left set and one terminal from the right set. All the rest in a keyboard is just a matter of getting the circuit to the right place.

    So I started out by mapping all the connections from each terminal to each other terminal. I did this by plugging the circuit board into my laptop, clipping one end of the aligator clip to a terminal and touching the other end to every other terminal. Most of the conections produced nothing at all or perhaps a beep, but sometimes a letter would pop up and I would record which two terminals were connected. This allowed me to make a chart of the entire keyboard for later use

    The first trick with the actual typewriter was to get all the regular keys to produce letters. Shift, Space, and Enter I would worry about later.

    A quick look at the underside of the typewriter provided the answer.

    Every time a key is pressed, the "lever" is pushed down and connects with the "crossbar" (the other end of the lever raises the hammer to strike the paper). The crossbar seems to both keep the levers from moving too far and provide the force to advance the carriage for the next letter.

    So I figured I could use the contact there to complete a circuit. Obviously, each lever and each part of the crossbar that it would contact would have to be electrically insulated. Then I would need something to act as the actual contact. For insulation I used gaffer's tape, which worked admirably. For the contact patches I initially tried aluminum foil but was having a bit of trouble soldering the wire to it. I spoke to my fencing coach, who has plenty of electrical soldering experience. He told me that you simply can't solder to aluminum but offered me a rather interesting bit of material: copper lamé with an electrically conductive adhesive on the back, which I did not even know existed. The stuff is perfect for repairing fencing lamés and seemed to be just what I needed. He got it from a former student who said it was manufactured my a rival electronics comapny and he had never seen it in stores. This leant a certain mystique to the project- working with rare and somewhat mysterious material and so forth.

    My first thought was to simply put the wire under the lamé and let the adhesive conduct and hold it in place, but the adhesive wasn't strong enough to keep the wires from moving around. It would have held for a while, but I needed something I could really move around, so I decided it would have to be soldered in place.

    After removing the crossbar and covering it with gaffer's tape, I replaced it in the typewriter and used a silver glitter pen (you can tell this was a labour of love) to mark exactly where each hammer touched it. Then I cut triangular strips of lamé and stuck them on over the contact areas. I used alternating triangles so that each one could have some spot large enough to solder the wire in place- the even ones on one side, odd on the other.

    Next up were the levers themselves. Oy, what a job. Each lever was wrapped first in gaffer's tape then in lamé. Soldering onto this lamé material works, but the problem is that the stuff is so thin that is burns/melts really easily, so any more than a minute touch of the soldering iron would put a hole in it and I would have to start again.

    From here I returned to the crossbar, soldering on wires (this illustration shows only one side done).

    Once this was done, it was just a matter of putting it all together. But first: the special keys.


    I knew from the start that I wanted my wife to be able to hit Enter by slapping the carriage return, so as to reproduce as closely as possible the feeling of actually typing on a typewriter (which you can still do on this thing, by the way- it is still fully functional as a typewriter). Took me forever to figure out how to do it, and even then I kind of cheated.

    What I finally settled on is a mechanism on the carriage itself that is responsible for dinging a bell when the typist reaches the end of a line. There is a small "hammer" that is pulled right (in this illustration) across the "anvil" when the end of a line is reached (I don't know what the hell these things are really called, so I'm just making these terms up). The anvil strikes the bell, shown through the hole in the lower left. After this is done and the end of the line is reached, the carriage comes to rest as shown in the illustration. When the carriage return is slapped, the hammer moves gently across the anvil, going in the other direction (the hammer is on a spring, so it can pivot counterclockwise around the screw shown).

    I wrapped the anvil in gaffer's tape and lamè and soldered a wire to it. The trouble was the hammer. I finally gave up on attaching a wire to it, as it would be almost impossible to keep it from getting jammed in the carriage, which would be moving back and forth all the time. So I cheated- the circuit for Enter is dependant not on two pieces of lamè touching, but on one bit of lamè touching the metal frame itself, in ths case the bare hammer. I figured it would be OK: since every other wire had to be insulated from the frame anyway, it would be no more likely to cause an error than any two regular key circuits accidentally touching the frame.

    After wraping the backside of the hammer in gaffer's tape so it wouldn't close the circuit when it rang the bell (which still works), all I had to do was solder a bit of wire to the frame and I was set. In case there was ever any trouble with this perhaps precarious mechanism, I also wired the key on the typewriter to act as a backup Enter.


    The spacebar was pretty simple, as there was a spot underneath where it struck a rubber pad. All I had to do was make the usual gaffer's tape-lamè-wire contacts and it was ready.

    Shift was a bit tricky. That is, it was easy to plan but because of the tight space and awkward angles it took a bit of doing to execute. Basically it was the same sort of contact, but this time wrapped around the bar that the "Shift Lock" mechanism locks on to. Unfortunately, I had to wrap the locking mechanism in gaffer's tape to prevent a circuit from forming with the frame, and this made it unable to actually lock the shift mechanism around the bar (wrapped in gaf tape and lamé).

    My only real regret on this project is that I never found a way to make the Backspace key work, since the mechanism that controls it is deep inside the typewriter, far to deep to get to without risking disaster.

    The next task was to solder wires onto the terminals of the circuit board left over from the keyboard. This was a nightmare- each one was maybe two milimeters from the next so getting the solder to stay on just one was a task in itself. Then I found that a few of the wires had lifted the conductor right off the board so I had to scrape off the green insulation a little further up the circuit to redo it (the diagonal one in the illustration), like a junkie looking for a new vein. And half the time fixing one solder job would heat the one next to it enough for it to come loose. Ah, memories...

    A few words of advice for anyone trying this themselves: use electronics solder- it doesn't stick to breadboard. I later got curious and tested regular solder on an old NIC and it stuck everywhere. Watch what you buy.

    At this point there were wires coming from the crossbar, wires coming from the levers, and wires coming from the circuit board. Time to connect them.

    Like I said earlier, each key is a connection between two terminals. Some terminals have lots of keys connected to them. For example, connecting terminal 4 and terminal 19 might produce "A" but connecting terminal 9 and terminal 19 might produce "F". Since 1-13 always connected to 14-26 and vice versa (i.e. no terminal from 1 to 13 connects to any other terminal from 1 to 13), I arbitrarily decided that the levers would all connect to 1-13 and the crossbar would connect to 14-26. Next I physically grouped all the wires by terminal, so that everything going to terminal 1 would be bundled together, everything to 2 would be together, etc. and labeled the bundles with masking tape and a marker.

    By the way, should you ever do this yourself, it would be handy to start off by marking on the underside of the typewriter which lever coresponds to which key. I thought of this rather late. Duh.

    With all the wires bundled, it was time to connect them to their corresponding wires from the circuit board. These were crudely soldered and covered with shrink-tubing or, when I forgot to put on the tubing first, more gaffer's tape.

    Fortuitously, the circuitboard fit nicely in a little space at the back of the typewriter. I made a little insulated nest of gaffer's tape and slid it in, where it fit perfectly- nice and snug. One more round of gaf tape to hold it in place...

    and it was DONE. We don't talk about the several hours I spent troubleshooting it after it was declared done, including the stuck C key on Christmas morning. Ahem.
  • by spazoid12 ( 525450 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:07PM (#4995535)
    Wow, my wife wanted stuff like diamonds and expensive kitchen stuff. But, I could've saved money and got her instead something from the thrift store and a bunch of solder?

    This also reminds me of my dad. He had old tools he preferred. No matter what fancy new modern tool we might buy for him, he prefers to use his old tools. And he never gets anything done. I thought only guys used that trick to get out of work.
  • by sQuEeDeN ( 565589 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:09PM (#4995551)
    All you really need is an IBM Model M [modelm.org] Actually, I have a Model F, AT, but it doesn't work, for some really annoying reason. Argh.
    • by Urchlay ( 518024 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @08:02PM (#4995814)
      Is it AT in the sense that it was designed for use with a PC/AT, or are you calling it an AT keyboard because it uses the larger, old-style 5-pin DIN connector (found on all IBM PCs before the PS/2, including the original PC, the XT, and the AT)?

      I bet what you've actually got there is an XT keyboard, not AT at all... physically, you can plug an AT keyboard into an XT, or vice versa, but the XT uses (used) a totally different wire protocol (8 bit serial, IIRC, whereas the AT uses 10 bits per byte). Also, the scancodes are totally different. I'm not even sure XT is the correct name for it (what did the original IBM PC use?).. anyway, most modern x86 machines freak out and start beeping like mad when you plug an old PC/XT keyboard in (either that or they just act like there's no keyboard)

      If your keyboard has only 10 function keys, arranged in a double vertical row on the left, it's probably an XT/PC keyboard (I'm *pretty* sure IBM/lexmark never made an AT keyboard without all 12 function keys).

      Supposedly, there's a way to use an XT keyboard in Linux 2.5 kernels, but you have to solder up some kind of adaptor, so you can plug it into a serial port. If you ever manage to get this working, let me know, as I couldn't find any docs on exactly what the adaptor does, or how to build it.
  • Anyone know if Dvorak Keyboards are supposed to reduce repetitive stress? If so, you RS sufferers should look into them. You get the added benefit of being able to type faster and everyone else getting pissed off when they sit down at your desk. Although last time I tried it, I became worthless using anyone elses computer.
  • by Myriad ( 89793 ) <myriad&thebsod,com> on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:13PM (#4995577) Homepage
    Those irritating typewriter sound effects in ICQ finally make sense!

  • by schlpbch ( 197942 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:14PM (#4995582) Homepage
    Your wife will be stuck in vi forever.
  • I tend to have a lot more trouble with my mouse in terms of repetetive stress.

    I wonder if this guy can replace it with my old Etch-a-Sketch? :-)

    • I tend to have a lot more trouble with my mouse in terms of repetetive stress.

      What I'd love is a mouse that's shaped like a pen. Here's how my dream mouse would work: you would grip it like a pen, click the buttons with your forefinger and thumb and make a simple drawing motion on the mouse pad to move the cursor. To select, you would hold down the button and draw like you were using a highlighter to highlight text in a book. It seems to me that the motions of writing are much more natural than any mouse or trackball I've ever used, and also more intuitive.

      It's such a simple thing that I'm sure someone has made one already, but I haven't been able to find it. Has anyone ever seen a mouse like this?

  • Nice hack but I think a mini-itx [mini-itx.com] could be squeezed in there as well. This would make is a full up self contained system. Then go for the retro look and add a lcd to the top of the carriage....Priceless

  • by pkiguruman ( 413057 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:20PM (#4995612)
    what good is the keyboard if you can't backapspce? the user must be a bpretyt damn good typist.

    (or maybe I'm just a really poor typist)
  • ...till someone figures out how to attach DaVinci's helicopter design to an Apache.
  • by netsharc ( 195805 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:32PM (#4995682)
    Looks like the monkey that has to type out your webserver content everytime someone makes a http request is going to die of overwork soon. :)
  • by TheHawke ( 237817 ) <(moc.rr.xts) (ta) (nipahcr)> on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:32PM (#4995688)
    She's stuck using the margins that are available to them on the manual typewriter... You see, shes sitting there rattling away and then, DING! end of margin. No word wrap, no automatic carriage return. She has to hit the manual return level to move the unit back to its original position, thus issuing a CR to the program.
    The other issue is ZERO arrow keys so if she has to move the cursor to edit or change posistion or shift to another page, she has to fuss around with the mouse, hence more chances for her carpal tunnel to get worse.
    He should have butchered the machine up, disabled the automatic advance, got the backspace to work, and then found a way to wire in a 10-key keypad that would have given almost all the functions of a standard 101 KB.

    Oh, I can see her now, trying to enter a URL on a browser with it... heheh it'll drive her bonkers...
  • fundamentals of RSI (Score:5, Informative)

    by trance9 ( 10504 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:34PM (#4995699) Homepage Journal

    This just needs to be said:

    1. A new keyboard isn't a good solution to an RSI problem. The only good solution is to type less. Changing your keyboard may "feel" better for awhile because you will be stressing different muscles. But you will still be stressing muscles and unless you make a fundamental change the problem will come back again.

    2. Posture matters more than anything else. Perhaps with "more resistence" you are forced into a better posture. A good typing posture leaves your arms free so that all of the muscles through your arms, shoulders, and even back can come into play while you type. By distributing the work throughout as many different muscle groups as you can you eliminate the stress on each muscle.

    3. You stress your muscles even when you are not typing, just by sitting in the "typing position" you are creating stress. It takes work to hold your fingers ready over the home row, and if you don't get a break from that, that alone can contribute to your RSI.

    I had two rounds with RSI problems and I'll tell you how I solved it--today I'm seemingly healthy again. I tried all kinds of different keyboards, mouses, workstation arrangements, etc., but only the fundamentals worked in the end.

    My first round at RSI I won by changing the fundamentals: I drastically cut the amount of time I spend sitting in front of a computer by giving up video games completely. Nothing else worked, but cutting the time I spent in front of a computer in half made a difference.

    My second round with RSI was more difficult to beat, I had to change my attitude. First I took a two month hiatus from touching computers--I was consulting, so I simply stopped consulting for awhile until I felt normal again. When I returned I tried to make some changes, like altering my keyboard, and I failed. Back to another two month break. In the end I had to learn to get up and leave my workstation every so often--anywhere from 15 minutes to 30min, and just go for a little walk around the office. I also had to learn that no matter how pressing my deadlines were, if I didn't feel right, it was time to go home.

    It took me a LONG time to change my work attitudes, so that I no longer sat in front of a computer for too many hours, or worked too much in a day. I learned to think while walking around the room rather than sitting at my desk, I learned to take more breaks, and these are FUNDAMENTAL things that matter--changing your keyboard is a minor factor at best.

    Before I recovered I'd lost a total of five months to long breaks required to get me back to a healthy state. I was paranoid about it, I stopped on pain and took long breaks--many people feel work pressure and try to find ways to work through the pain, I just gave it up. I figured that although I suffered financially at the time (and still feel some effects of that) it was more important to me to have a long and full career in the future.

    I've had things pretty well under control for the past five years now, but it takes dedication and paranoia and you have to grow a pretty serious attitude about it.

    I think people who feel they can "fix it" by changing keyboards or rearranging their workstation are only prolonging their suffering.
    • I think besides the obvious attention to proper posture (which is about 75-80% of solving the stress injury problem, in my personal opinion), get a keyboard that doesn't force you to turn your wrists at a side angle when you type.

      That's why I have a Microsoft Natural Elite Keyboard--because you type on this keyboard with the wrists not scrunched at an angle, I can type for much longer than with a regular keyboard. Mind you, some people need other types of ergonomic keyboards, so the MS Natural may not be suitable for everyone.
    • Hmm I can't fully agree with you there. What works for one person may not be good for another. There are many kinds of RSI and some people are more susceptable to it than others. If you get RSI easily, then switching to a different keyboard, mousing with your other hand, and adjusting your posture will only postpone the problem. But an average user may well find that by changing his posture and input devices helps, so that the early RSI symptons will gradually disappear over time.

      For someone who has progressed further into RSI, feeling not just "a funny feeling", but distinct discomfort and even pain, there is no substitute for stopping work completely. You did the right thing by giving up work completely and getting better. Switching to another input device such a a special keyboard, trackball or pen device, can be beneficial, but I would advice it only to people with early symptons of RSI, or people that have recovered from it.

      I solidly endorse your last advice: if you have progressed to the stage where you are suffering, then down tools!.
    • caveat : this is only a theory, however it seems to work for me

      ok, the theory is that the combination of weak wrists + lots of typing can lead to rsi

      if you want to keep using a computer, then the option that remains is to build up the strength of yr wrists

      a good way to do that is by doing pushups

      it is not however necessary to do them in a macho fashion - i.e. do as many as you can, as quickly as you can, in a row - if you try to do this you will exhaust yrself and be unable to and disinterested in doing them regularly

      building yr wrist strength by doing pushups is most effective if you do them slowly and do small sets i.e do 2 slow pushups, rest, 2 more slow ones, rest, 2 more

      even doing 6 pushups like this (3 sets of 2) will build up yr wrist and arm strength - find a combination that works well for you without too much strain

      i do 2 sets of 7 pushups most every day and never feel twinges in my wrists any more - i am capable of doing 4, 6 or 8 sets but i find it unnecessary to do that many - 14 pushups in 2 sets of 7 is quite sufficient - but if you have trouble doing this many start with less

      use hatha-yoga style breathing and breathe in while pushing up and breathe out while (slowly) coming down - it helps to focus on yr solar plexus (stomach area) and visualise this area as powering you up

      side-effect warning - this will also build up yr upper arms and chest muscles - however you may consider this a feature and not a bug

    • Some years ago when I was in high school, I suffered a complete meltdown with my wrists. Since then, I have learned about the Dvorak layout and the Kinesis Contoured keyboard. Both have made a tremendous difference for me.

      Quite simply, flat keyboards and the qwerty layout suck. Posture is not going to make much difference when the hands are doing so much extra work on keyboards which are not designed for the human hand and with an inefficient key layout.

      The Kinesis [kinesis-ergo.com] Contoured keyboard is designed for the proportions of human fingers, and also takes advantage of the thumbs.

      Naturally, if someone is in serious pain from typing, then he should stop everything immediately. After recovery is the time to think about switching to a better keyboard and better layout.

      My ergonomic typing story is detailed on my Explorations in Ergonomic Typing [umbc.edu] page.

    • by jcsehak ( 559709 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @09:57PM (#4996258) Homepage
      Very informative; thanks. Let me add to it:

      If your problem is not with the keyboard, but with the mouse, an easy solution that cuts your pain in half is to simply learn to mouse with your off-hand. It's so obvious, it's easy to overlook. That way, when one starts to hurt, just switch over. Of course, this is irrelevant to typists.

      Also, guitarists have had this problem sinch before keyboards were invented. Stretches for the guitarist [musicianshealth.com] are equally useful to the computer scientist.
      • by nido ( 102070 )
        I got an ibm thinkpad in August of 1999. Within a couple of months my right hand was starting to cramp up. "no problem", I said, and I switched to using the left hand on the track point. Then after a bit both hands were cramping up. So I started to switch back & forth. And then the pain gradually spread to typing too, and it hasn't gotten better yet.

        So switching mouse hands was, for me, a disaster - I should've changed pointing devices, or my usage patterns...
  • I've seen this before. The computers on 'Max Headroom' had
    old Underwood keyboards (and the cars were all Studerbakers).
  • by andyring ( 100627 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:35PM (#4995703) Homepage
    All technobabble and RSI talk aside, everyone seems to have overlooked a big part of this. Be honest, people. How many of you would be willing to put this much time and effort into a project simply for the purpose of making your wife/husband/boy/girlfriend happy? I read the article (yes, I'm actually a /.er who reads the articles, a shock I know) and while I found it interesting and intuitive, the thought at the back of my mind was, "Dang, this guy must really love his wife to undertake a project like this just for her."

    Way to go, sir! You sound like a great husband, a guy your wife was lucky to snag!

  • Mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by vidnet ( 580068 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @07:37PM (#4995710) Homepage
    It seemed a little sluggish, so here's a mirror [vidarholen.net]. Be gentle with it.
    • It seemed a little sluggish, so here's a mirror [vidarholen.net]. Be gentle with it.

      So if we break the mirror... will that mean seven years bad karma?
  • I feel the same way about falling from very tall objects (e.g., skyscrapers). I would prefer gradual resistance with little or no 'hitting a wall' effect at the end. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that...in fact, often the weak resistance offered by air is nullified by a strong downdraft.
  • This is old hat - in the future, everyone will be using typewritter keyboards.... I'm assuming that everyone here has seen the film Brazil (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0088846) yes?

    And I'll bet the best thing is having a "shift lock", which is a fantastic time-saving feature that seems to have disappeared from modern keyboards allowing you to enter all the shift symbols on the number keys without needing to hold down shift. Its great!

  • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @08:48PM (#4995979)
    a hammer and chisel!
  • Music to type by (Score:2, Interesting)

    When I read the article, for some strange reason I found that a certain tune was running through my head. Anybody remember the little instrumental that played 8 bars with the typewriter going in the background in time to the music, then the line would end, the bell would ring and then the unmistakeable, (to those of us beyond a certain age), sound of a carriage return, then on to the next 8 bars. Haven't a clue what it's called, but it's going to be running through my head for the rest of the evening now.
  • by Tekmage ( 17375 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @09:45PM (#4996221) Homepage
    Once upon a time, a long time ago, I did some stained-glass creative stuff at school... To solder the panes together, you had to wrap the edges of the pieces of glass with strips of sticky copper tape. From the description of the lame tape (so thin that it burns/melts really easily), the stained-glass stuff may be a better (future) option.

    A search for "stained glass copper tape" on Google turns up a few sources.
  • I learnt to type on one of those. Really.
    Ooh! the nostalgia.
  • CTRL-ALT-DEL ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sapped ( 208174 )
    I dunno about you, but I don't envy her trying to CTRL-ALT-DEL her way out of a lockup.
  • Fyi (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jsse ( 254124 )
    she finds old-fashioned mechanical typewriters much easier on her fingers because they offer gradual resistance rather than the feeling of moving through air then hitting a wall

    It's true that mechanical one has better feedback than those you find in computers, but don't ignore the extra straint that would be exerted after prolong use.

    Your wife need a better keyboard. Some serious manufactured computer keyboards offer proper resistance and a 'click' feedback before you hit the button so that after some use your fingers can change key when feeling the 'click'. All old keyboards you found in IBM terminals offer such mechanism. Very old Acer keyboard, like one I'm using, has similar design. They are much better than mechanical one, as they've less resistance and no chance of jamming.

    However, in order to lower cost, most newer keyboard behave just as you described. Not even Microsoft's Natural keyboard could offer the same feeling as in terminal keyboards.
  • Big mistake (Score:5, Funny)

    by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Wednesday January 01, 2003 @10:21PM (#4996353) Homepage Journal
    Anyone notice he took a photo of his checkbook on his photos?

    http://www.multipledigression.com/typewriter/pics/ pages/type07.htm [multipledigression.com]

    • Anyone notice he took a photo of his checkbook on his photos?

      Notice they are just deposit slips... no check blanks? Must be married

      (/me ducking bride when she sees my post)
  • Very clever, but check this out : ELECTRICLERK [ahleman.com] is a functional prop obviously inspired by the terminals used in Terry Gilliam's Brazil [sciflicks.com] , - complete with fresnel lens magnifyer and tiny b/w monitor. The guts of the thing is only a dinky old mac, but it's still a cool and flawlessly executed hack. :)
  • by Graymalkn ( 115421 ) on Thursday January 02, 2003 @02:21AM (#4997069) Homepage
    The biggest thing people seem to have mentioned is the lack of a backspace key. Yes, it is a problem. While reading people's comments on here, I finally had an idea of how to fix it- there are a couple of other keys on the typewriter that aren't being used, like the "1/2 1/4" key. The "backspace" key cap could be moved over to that key , which could then be wired on the underside just like the rest. It would even be closer to where backspace is on a regular keyboard. Thanks for getting me thinking about that.

    As for my wife being limited by the regular length of a line, this isn't the case unless she were to try using it as a typewriter at the same time. Otherwise, she would still be able to type merrily away even though the carriage had come to the end of the line, so there really isn't a problem there.

    One person emailed me with a link to an even cooler creation of his from a few years back: http://www.idiom.com/~decay/art_folio/letter.html