2008/11/20

Back to the Model M

Last February I finally retired my old Windows 98 1 gig Athlon PC and bought a new 3 Gig Athlon 64 Dual Core PC from Velocity Micro. It came with a mouse and keyboard by Creative. The mouse is fine, but I was about to hold forth the other night on how much I disliked laptops for their flat keyboards when I noticed, nine months later, that my Creative keyboard is, in fact, flat. Yes, it is tilted up at the top by the usual retractable feet. but the board itself is completely flat. It's selling point is that it is "media-friendly": it has a row of buttons above the function keys to let the user play media files using the keyboard, rather than the mouse, a feature that I have not used at all.

No wonder I've been making a lot more typos! And I realized that it has been bothering me, the way that I've been having to sort of "stab" at the keys.

Back in the late '90's, when the GUI replaced the command line, the Web replaced Gopher, and when so many offices undertook major PC upgrades in anticipation of the Y2K effect, the library was the recipient of a lot of cast-off computers. Most of them went to Tallahassee Freenet to be sold for operating funds.

One day we received the remnants of an old DOS network, an IBM PS/2 system, a Model 80 386 server with several Model 50's as clients. They were running Windows 3.1, but didn't have the juice to run the new Windows 95. Nobody wanted to fool with anything older than a 486. So I took parts of it home, thinking that some day a PS/2 system might be an interesting curiosity.

That is how I came to own a couple of IBM Model M keyboards. These keyboards were heavily built. IBM had a reputation for durability. (I recall a story of someone dropping a Model 80 down a flight of stairs, with no damage at all.) Model M's are known as "clicky" keyboards. The keys are spring-loaded, and they click every time you press and release them. They are descended from the Selectric typewriter. As PS/2 peripherals, these keyboards were fitted with the new, smaller PS/2 connectors, which became standard on PC's until peripherals began to use USB instead.

I had pressed one of these Model M's into service with my old Win98 PC when its original keyboard was damaged by cigarette burns. Now I went to find it in the closet. I noticed how its keys rose by row in ranges from bottom to top, like an old typewriter. Yes, I thought, I miss that old typewriter action.

But surely keyboards have progressed since the Model M? Well, it appears to be debatable. Many users like the Saitek Eclipse, which features back-lighting, like a pimped-up lowrider, apparently a selling point for gamers. Others like the ergonomic Microsoft Natural Elite, to which I say, "Begone!". And then there is the Optimus Maximus, which runs to $1500.

I was surprised to find that the IBM Model M has a large and loyal following. It is, in fact, still in production, Lexmark having sold the rights to Unicomp. The Model M is the favored keyboard for Steampunk modding.

So, a bird in the hand. I hooked up my old Model M, and I'm very happy with it.

(Edit, 11/25: The $129.00 Das keyboard has been getting good reviews. The original came with blank keys, to facilitate the learning of touch-typing. A charactered-keys version is now available.)


Sore Toe Blues

A couple of years ago, retiring with a skinful of Black & White, I slammed my right big toe with great force against the bedpost. It hurt a great deal at the time, but it seemed to heal. In recent months, however, the toe has begun to hurt after a day on my feet. My doctor says that I suffer from traumatic arthritis. He suffers from it too, in a finger that he injured with a hammer. He recommended an herbal pain-reliever and sent me to get an X-Ray. Here it comes... Old Age.

5 comments:

zoe said...

Do your eyes still work? Mine don't. I had to start wearing glasses full-time 3 years ago and am totally blind without them now. THAT'S old age.

Peter said...

Strange they don't show in your photo...

And hi Brett. Just finished your lovely blog, and will soon be back for more. A welcome addition to the blogosphere. Thank you. And thank you v much for the sidebar, which I'll shortly repay.

Brett said...

Zoe, eyes that work? I wouldn't know. I've worn glasses since I was 12. Teacher noticed I couldn't read the blackboard.

Peter, thanks for the kind words. What don't show, my toes? I need a better photo.

zoe said...

HA! I've been wearing glasses longer than you then, on and off. I was born with a squint which was operated on in Tokyo but not quite enough so I had to under-go a second op in London.

One of my daughters had the same problem and the same op and Todd had the same problem too - but they managed to rectify it by eye-patches etc.

I think the problem is on my side of the family as both of those kids have the same bone structure as I do - and the same eye problems.

Brett said...

Then Zoe, I guess you get the prize (?) for having the worst eyesight. :) What I know is that any eyesight is infinitely better than none at all.