[EMS Discuss] Keyboard Ideas

Wed Dec 19 16:50:50 PST 2012

Ideas for Better Keyboards


I hope this isn't more than you're ready to handle in this mode, but I 
get it organized better this way than in speaking.

Is anyone at EMS interested in and up to building and using 
alternative keyboards? This would include keyboard interpretors with 
special functions, or maybe expanding a minor capability. I made some 
limited versions of such keyboards 20 or so years ago, when we had 
discrete keyswitches instead of them being partly built into the 
circuit board. I even used one to the point of finding it hard to go 
back to a QWERTY keyboard, when a new interface was needed.

This is probably not far enough along to get into the Popular Science 
competiton, but maybe worth looking at for later ones. It isn't about 
an invention yet, but Arthur C. Clarke didn't have a working model of 
communication sattelites when he patented the idea. It was just 
generally agreed that they'd work.

Have you heard that the maximum diameter of most modern rockets is 
determined by the width of a horse? Two horses were often used to pull 
wagons, chariots and such. This determined the practical width of 
wagons, therefore roads, and especially tunnels, therefore trucks and 
things carried on trucks, then railroad tracks, trains and thing 
carried on trains, such as rockets.

Similarly, you've more likely heard that the QWERTY keyboard was 
designed around limitiations of early mechanical typewriters. This is 
true in more ways than you may know, maybe more than I know. First, 
the keys are mainly in left-right rows. Also, have you noticed that 
the C-F-T-6 row is at a different angle to left-right rows than the 
M-J-U-7 row (with all character rows to the sides having the same 
difference)? Why would that be? It's because in mechanical 
typewriters, each key was on top of a bar that went into the body of 
the typewriter to push other levers. If the above angles were the 
same, "B" would be in line with "Y", for instance, and the bars would 
conflict. Electric contacts are much more adaptable.

On my preferred keyboard, fingers would control only character keys, 
including Space and Enter. The thumbs would control "modifier keys", 
in chord keyboard fashion.

The character keys should be mainly in rows parallel to the fingers, 
in line with the forearms as they come from the sides of the body. The 
square keycaps should be turned to match these rows, so that, for 
instance, index finger keys could be closer to the index home keys. 
This means basically a separate keypad for each hand, probably still 
mounted on one frame. Home keys would be placed consistent with the 
average relative length of each finger, and other keys adjusted 

All keycaps should have more of a rubbery surface, not hard and 
polished, as I usually see today.

Perhaps if special rings were worn on the tips of each finger, 
keycaps, therefore keyboards, could be much smaller.

Besides standard placement of keys, key definitions could be easily 
progammable for each user, who could perhap carry a special flash 
drive that would work only to produce their own special key 
definitions, at least until a new standard is accepted.

Each thumb would control two (or three) "modifier" keys, like Shift, 
Ctrl, Alt and Fn, which the two thumbs could push in 16 (or 25) 
combinations, chord keyboard fashion. This would give 16 (or 25) 
possible meanings, for each character key, assuming you can push two 
adjacent keys with one thumb.

Pushing, Shift, for instance, twice in a row and releasing it would 
give Shift Lock, and the same with other modifier keys, and maybe 
combinations. Then, pushing any modifier key and releasing it releases 
the lock.

Keycaps wouldn't have letters, but would have two electrods in each. 
This would mean, for learning, the keyboard could be displayed on the 
bottom of the screen, showing the positions of fingers. Also, for 
those willing, instead of having "snap action" for tactile feedback, a 
small electric shock could be adjusted to give much the same sensation 
when electrical contact was made. Therefore keyboards could probably 
be thinner. (Or, could fingers be the actual electrical contacts to 
send the signal? None of this for those who fear electricity.)

A one-handed keyboards with a similar design might be as fast as 
conventional two-handed keyboards.

At one time I thought that the separate keypads should be curved and 
slanted inward, maybe about like the top of a basketball, because when 
my fingers are relaxed, in curved position, the tips tend to point 
inward. This complicates matters, but is worth considering. Maybe even 
a vertical, two-sided keyboard, with fingers on the far side and 
thumbs on the near side.

I'm mostly interested in writing. Back in CPM days, the 80's, 
MicroPro's Wordstar would first show a basic menu for all commands. 
There were no "Alt", "Fn", arrow keys or menu bar. When in "write" 
mode, pushing Ctrl and hesitating for a specified time would display a 
menu of possibilities. If I remember right, this occured on several 
levels. If this were still done, keyboard commands might become faster 
than a mouse for most commands. (Also there was no mouse or graphic 
interface, and for most things I liked it better that way. I like 
keyboard commands best, when available. The mouse is easier to learn, 
but maybe not, when taking a hand off the keyboard, to use.)

Further explanations available as needed, and free.


Beyond that, consider possibilities of pure chord keyboards. The 
ultimate would be in the form of gloves, ,maybe beyond "The Minority 
Report" version. My design would have a three-position switch or 
sensor at each major knuckle, and three switches at the wrist for 
three dimensions of motion. I count thirteen for one hand, for 
1,594,320 "instant" meanings. When used in combination with the other 
hand, square that number to get 2.5419E12. (One could also maybe add 
some two-position sensors for side-to-side digit motion). Obviously 
only the easiest of these would be used by most people. (A 
game-playing version of this was written about in Scientific American 
in the '90s, called a "Power Glove", while I was coming up with the 
idea. I only saw crude versions of it later. Has anyone else, maybe 
into games, seen more?)

Especially the latter design might be used only by the "next" 
generations, who would start learning it almost from birth, and maybe 
run the world by age twenty. To what degree is this already on the way 
in some circles?


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