More Keyboard Chat

Discussion in 'Pete's Computer Corner' started by pete, Aug 28, 2014.

  1. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    As mentioned in the Mechanical Keyboard thread, I now am the proud owner of a Rosewill Cherry MX Blue and a Corsair K70 Cherry MX Red keyboard. I'm very happy with them. However, I've always wanted to get one of the beautiful Optimus keyboards. They're kewl because you can either get a "keyboard" that's essentially a big tablet and each "key" is just a space on that tablet, so you could, for example, have a "space" that looks like the Firefox icon and it'd launch Firefox when you hit it. There were also a couple versions that had physical keys that did this. The drawback is that they're incredibly expensive. The Popularis is $1500, for example.

    Last year, Razer came out with a keyboard that has a big LCD and some keys that you can make light up like the Optimus keyboards. It's much better priced at $249. It's not mechanical, though, and I love me my mechanical keyboards.

    But, wait. I have an iPad.

    I found two brilliant apps that allow you to set up your iPad as an external keyboard with all the fun icons to click -- and a bunch more features. #1 is Air Keyboard. It was $2, IIRC. It gives you exactly the same functionality as the Optimus Tactus concept. The only drawback is that if you want to do custom stuff -- which I do -- you have to program it yourself and there's no manual. #2 was Mobile Mouse. It's also $2. It grabs applications from your Start menu (Windows) and creates little clickable icons for you. It also gives you a somewhat decent graphics tablet and a multitouch "mouse." If you're at all interested, go to their website and take a look at the videos.

    As far as the musician world is concerned, I would have loved to have a tablet with every single Finale button on it. I can program that, now, or look to see if someone's already created a keyboard layout for that. Photoshop layouts? Bunches and bunches.

    It's a great wide world of apps.
     
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  2. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    Back in the day, I used to have a special keypad for my favorite music program, Professional Composer. It wasn't much more than a numeric keypad in size, yet it allowed you to control note duration and placement, accidentals and the like.

    I could churn out a chart pretty quickly using the thing, but then Macintoshes went from the phone cord connectors to a proprietary one, and that was the end of that. I don't recall when the software "stopped working", but using it without the keypad was too much of an ordeal for me to manage.
     
  3. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Terry speaks truth. We both used Composer. I also used Finale and Professional Performer, from version 1.0 and on a Fat Mac. Dual floppies, baby!

    I should talk about limitations.

    I can physically program Air Keyboard "layouts" (as they're called). It's not difficult, but you have top remember that the Windows OS can be stupid. As an example, if I coded a shortcut to Google Chrome 64-bit and tapped the shortcut 50 times, I'd get 50 Chrome windows. I'd rather press the button and switch to whatever page(s) I currently have open in Chrome, which is the behavior you'd expect on a Mac. As mentioned above, Mobile Mouse does some of this for you, but it doesn't work properly for some apps, for some reason. An example is the Windows Snipping Tool (which is a fabulous tool, btw, but I think the Command+4 shortcut's been on the Mac for about 15 years or more). It just doesn't open. I don't know why. I will play with it further.

    I'm also either not seeing something or I'm doing something wrong in Air Keyboard. To make a shortcut that writes out text, you have to enter one. Letter. At. A. Time. And yes, it's case sensitive.

    I do have to say, though, that if I knew these apps were around a couple years ago, I wouldn't have bought an $80 Logitech G13 or a $25 Bluetooth keyboard for my main PC to "remote control" it. Yup. $105 worth of gear replaced by a $2 app.
     
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    That was actually moderately painful. Ouch.

    I mentioned above that one of the big drawback to "coding" text macros in Air Keyboard is that it looks like you can only record a keystroke at a time. That doesn't give me much incentive to record something like, "Yanagisawa A-901 Eb Alto - Lacquer - sn 00," which is something I use all the time on my picture gallery. I did think of an easy way around this: get a program that creates a text macro that you can assign to a keystroke, so all you have to do in Air Keyboard is code that keystroke. Simple.

    Well ... not really.

    There are hundreds of macro programs out there and most require a bit of study to learn how to code in their proprietary format. I can do without that. There was a nice program that I had with my old Cherry keyboard that recorded text macros, but you had to assign them to your function keys (e.g. F1, F2, etc.). I want to record more than 12 macros and I rather like using F5 and others for their original purpose. Microsoft's Intellitype Pro 8.2 software fits the bill perfectly, but doesn't work unless you have a Microsoft keyboard. So, I spent about an hour looking for a program that works in Windows 8 (most don't), doesn't have a steep learning curve, allows me to program more than 12 macros, and is completely free. I finally found one: QuickTextPaste. The program's all of 77K and is portable -- no install required, just double-click to run. It then creates another small .ini file in the same directory you stashed the application.

    EDIT: While QuickTextPaste is moderately neat-o, it also pops up a dialog when you run it. I suppose that's good if you want to make doubly sure that you're inserting the correct text, but it was getting a bit annoying for me. I went back to my 2nd favorite choice, Perfect Keyboard Free. It's not as easy to use as QuickTextPaste:

    1. Start the program
    2. Go under "Keyboard Triggers" menu and choose a folder ("Demo Macros," for instance)
    3. Click the Add Macro button
    4. Name the macro
    5. Click on the "Trigger" tab and choose "Hot-Key"
    6. Choose your Hot Key
    7. Click on "Macro Text" and type your macro text
    8. Click OK

    Eight steps instead of two. This thing has more features. I don't know if I'll use them, though.
     
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  5. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    unnamed.png

    So, that's the result. I'd use it as follows:

    Pick the model
    Pick the pitch
    Pick the finish
    Add an extra
    (The "From Soundfuga" button enters an HTML link in my Album Description field in my picture gallery.)

    Example: 900u Series - Eb Alto - Silver Plate - sn 00 ( - Martin Stencil

    I would then fill in the actual serial number and date and add the close parenthesis. Note that the button labels aren't what's being "typed." That's the stuff I added to the macro program.

    A feature I'd really like in Air Keyboard would be the ability to select an entire row/column of buttons and move them. You can only do one button at a time. The other thing I'd really like is to snap the buttons to a grid. I went through each button and position them properly. "2" is at position 0, 0. "900" is at 900, 0. The "From Soundfuga" shortcut is at 0, 400. Each button is 100x100.

    I didn't add pictures to the buttons because I really don't need them, but you can do that. Additionally, you can resize each button. Oddly, your screen size seems fixed at 800x900: you can't scroll any farther right or down.
     
  6. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    Back in the day when my employees were the terror of the Gulf Coast area (if you didn't properly rail your scaffolding, shore your trenches, or otherwise protect your employees from recognized hazards), I used to program extensive macros for the lot of them in order to expedite report preparation.

    Our inspection narratives (if done right) needed to detail the activities of an inspector from entry onto the job site (and sometimes before) right through the final submission of the report for review. The trouble was that a) the agency refused to authorize laptops for the field employees (I (who spent about 40% of my time sitting in the office) was issued one, as were all of the other supervisors; we pooled them and reissued them to our process safety management team, who had to write really extensive reports while in the field), and b) all of that handwriting took a lot of time. Doing one of these narratives consumed huge amounts of time, with the employees spending about half of their report time just writing the summary.

    Trouble was, the narratives for a typical OSHA inspection could almost be photo copied from one "typical" inspection to another. Other than employer representative names, union rep names, location information, and any salient items noted during the visit, you could almost "fill in the blanks", if only the agency would have accepted that. But, photocopies with filled in blanks didn't look good when the legal stuff came into question. A printed out narrative (typed or computer generated) was okay.

    This, of course, is a situation tailor made (almost typed "Taylor Swift" there) for a macro. Punch up the macro text, fill in the blanks, add any custom text, and there was your work.

    I had done all of this when I was a field employee up in Illinois (I was the first inspector in a six state region to use a computer for field work, toting my own early Macintosh and a dot matrix Imagewriter printer in a special set of carrying bags everywhere I went; I actually had to obtain dispensation from the National Office in order to do this), and had perfected the process to the point that the program I was responsible for (our oil well drilling and servicing inspection program) was simplified to the max.

    Oil rigs, particularly inland ones, are extremely similar to one another, as are the employee titles assigned. When I visited a rig, I would first do the actual inspection visit, taking my field notes, and then return to the motel/office/restaurant/library where I would do all of the write up work. One macro covered the approach and opening, a second the actual walk around viewing of the rig, and a third the closing conference on the rig site.

    All rigs had a rotary table, a draw works, a set of capstan heads (used to hoist light items), a guy on a platform sixty feet in the air, two guys using huge wrenches attached to winches to make and break the connections in the drill pipe - all sorts of stuff capable of taking your arm or head off if not done right.

    During the inspection proper, each of these would be addressed in order, with notes taken on serial numbers, exposed employee names, addresses and phone numbers, dimensions and so forth. Then, it would be a doddle to "fill in the blanks" from the macro, point up the notes, and turn it in for review.

    Once, under exceptional circumstances, I visited a rig the first thing in the morning, was refused entry, printed up the search warrant application (kept in another macro), drove down to Benton to get it signed by my favorite Federal magistrate at lunch time (during which, we both hit the burger and salad bar at the local Wendy's), returned to the rig site after lunch, did the inspection, wrote the report, and then (just for the hell of it) drove the sixty miles to my office to turn it in for review before the end of the work day. Without the macros, it would have taken the best part of a whole week.

    Anyway, I took the same approach with my employees here in Texas, setting up all of their office desktop computers so that they could whip out a written report in a third of the time normal for the agency. It helped make our office a top performer for years.

    Nowadays, they do all of the writeup on a "computer program", one of those web based things where the "program" is always hanging up. It was part of an agency-wide work-over that has been nothing but headaches since it was instituted. Report generation time is way up at all offices. (I was lucky to retire just as the new system was being installed, and managed to avoid all of the grief that it entailed.

    So much for all of my work (and my office's productivity). I had bought macro programs for many years, but gave up on them when I found that there was very little work or writing that I do any longer that called for one. I do keep master documents for my music group, and do the "fill in the blanks" there. But, there are only a dozen of them at most. Ditto stuff for our tax return - templates rather than macros do the job these days.

    With System X (10) on the Macintosh, you can assign stuff to keys through the system itself. I've done this for keys on my wireless keypad, replacing some of the odd "function keys" with more reasonable "tab" and "delete" actions. But, there's just not enough need for text any longer.

    So, all those function keys above the keyboard go unused...
     
  7. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Terry, your post reminded me of something from my phone-support days when I worked at Apple.

    Stripping away the mystery of computer support a bit, there are a lot of people with essentially the same problem. There are also sometimes known computer-specific problems. When I worked at Apple in the early 1990s, one of the big "problems" was that the Parameter RAM (PRAM) battery in 3 to 5 year old Macs was dying. The symptoms people would have would be a startup chime and no video or the date would shift to 1955 (IIRC; that's Steve Jobs' birth year). Some folks would also lose connection to their external devices. Again, known issue and the fix was always the same. I used a nice little program called "TypeIt4Me" (which still exists!) that would type out all the troubleshooting and resolution, including the battery part number, when I typed "battery." I just had to fill in the user's name and the phone number.

    Oh. That PRAM/dead internal battery thing? It can happen with almost any computer. There are a few laptops that don't have them and a few desktops (mostly really old) that write that information to hard disk. So, if you're seeing odd dates and times or devices connected to your computer losing connection or even the dreaded black screen, you might just need a new battery.
     

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