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Keyhole metaphor

It was a long time ago… Windows 3.x was just released, I was a newbie, reading books about "desktop metaphor".

Quite soon I faced another metaphor, I named it "keyhole metaphor". It occurs when you have a large display, but enforced to see at data through a small, not resizable window, a "keyhole".

An example, it origins from Windows 95 days.

If you are familiar with Windows, you know that almost every installed program adds at least one directory to the PATH environment variable. And most of the directories look like "C:\Program Files\Long Company Name With No Abbreviations\Very Nice And Understandable Program Name" or "C:\Program Files\Common Files\Long Company Name With No Abbreviations\Shared Files\A Component Name". If you install a dozen of programs, your PATH would be quite long. Ok, let us try to inspect the PATH.

Do you remember how to edit a system-wide environment variable in Windows 95? "Start" → right click on "My Computer" → "Properties" → "Advanced" → "Environment Variables". "Environment Variables" dialog is the first example of "key hole": it contains a list of all environment variables, but only five variables are visible. BTW, on recently installed Windows there more than 10 environment variables set. The dialog window is not resizable. It does not matter how big your display is, you are not allowed to see more than five items in the list. («Больше двух в одни руки не давать!»)

Ok, we found "PATH" in the list, double click on it, and now see another "Edit System Variable" dialog. Oh, yes. You are not allowed to see more than 32 characters of the variable. (Limit is approximate because font is proportional.) It does not matter how big your display is. Shut up and scroll your few-hundred-char variable value in 32-char edit field. I started to hate Windows for this.

Ok, Windows 95 was released 20 years ago. Why do I recall this old stuff? Because "keyhole metaphor" is still in active use. Examples will follow.

P. S. Screenshots were taken on Windows XP. It does not matter. I believe that somewhere under the new Windows interface (I am not familiar with) you can find exactly the same dialogs.

#KeyholeMetaphor
#hate
#design
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Van de Bugger

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Keyboard LEDs modding

Abstract: Replacing keyboard LEDs with brighter LEDs of 3 different colors gives you ability to see keyboard state by peripheral vision.

Recently I have bought an IBM Model M clicky keyboard at eBay. The keyboard I have received was made in 1993, more than 20 years ago, but still was in perfect shape. Probably, it was refurbished, I do not know and care. The only problem was the cord — PVC isolation was very flimsy: it cracked into pieces, so I decided to replace it.

In order to replace the cord, I had to disassemble the keyboard. Replacement operation was quite simple — unscrew four bolts, open the case, unplug the old cord, plug the new one, close the case, and finally screw up the bolts. That's all.

When the keyboard case was open I noticed a small PCB with the keyboard controller and mode LEDs: Num lock, Caps lock, and Scroll lock. A question came to my mind: Why keyboard LEDs are so boring and useless? I have seen many different keyboards, and always these LEDs were small, dim, and always green (at least all three LEDs were of the same color). Let me try to make it more attractive and useful. It would be quite easy to replace existing dim green LEDs with bright LEDs of different colors.

My first intention was to use red, yellow and green LEDs — but I rejected such an idea almost immediately because of visual similarity to traffic lights without any logical similarity. After some thinking I decided to use following colors:

Num lock: I keep keypad almost always in numeric mode, e. g. Num lock is almost constantly on, so it is a keyboard normal state. Permissive green light looks ok to denote normal state.

Caps lock: I almost never type in all caps, typing is all caps is mauvais ton, so "Caps lock on" is a kind of exceptional state. Warning red light is ok to denote exceptional case.

Scroll lock: Scroll lock is often used to indicate alternative keyboard layout (e. g. Greek or Russian). It cannot be green or red, because these colors already used. I rejected yellow to avoid similarity with traffic lights. I decided neutral blue would be ok to denote alternative keyboard layout.

I had small soldering iron and all the stuff, so replacing LEDs on PCB was not a big deal.

The first try how they works shown the first problem. There were three holes in the keyboard case to let LEDs light through them. These holes were covered with a "LED overlay" — a shield carrying captions "Num Lock", "Caps Lock", and "Scroll Lock" with transparent windows to let LEDs light through them:

    Num  
    Lock
 
     ░░░
 
Picture 1. LED is off. Caption and transparent window.

The problem was that (a) holes in the keyboard case were bigger than transparent windows, (b) new LEDs were much brighter than old ones, (c) LED overlay was not dense enough to fully block LED light. Thus, when LEDs were on, light came out through transparent windows and through overlay:

    Num    
    Lock   
    ▒▒▒▒▒▒
    ▒███▒▒
    ▒▒▒▒▒▒
Picture 2. LED is on. Overlay dims light a bit, but does not block it fully, so hole in case is visible through the overlay. Note transparent window is not centered in respective hole.

To me that such picture was not very good. Happily, I was able to fix it: the overlay was painted on its back side; I scratched the overlay through the holes with small screwdriver and removed reachable paint, and so, enlarged windows upto holes' size:

    Num    
    Lock   
    ██████
    ██████
    ██████
Picture 3. Enlarged transparent window matching the hole. When LED is on, entire window is bright, there is no dimmed margin around the window.

When I solved the this problem, I faced the second one: new LEDs were far too bright, when a LED was on, it stroke the eye. To soften light beams, I added diffusers made of soft gasket taken from plastic 19 L water bottle (widely used in water dispensers). A rectangular piece of that gasket material was fixed in each window with masking tape, which also behaves as light diffuser.

Ok, LEDs did not strike the eye anymore. However, there was the third problem, flare light: When one LED was on, it also partially lighted neighbor windows. I put short pieces of black heat-shrink tubing on every LED and added protective screens made of black carton between windows. Screens were fixed with masking tape also.

Voila! To my taste, result was great: LED windows were much bigger than before, LEDs were much brighter (but not too much) and of different colors. Important consequence: after this modding, an active LED was noticeable by peripheral vision — I did not have to stare at LED to note a lock is on.

Later I have bough an Unicomp keyboard (it is currently manufacturing version of famous IBM Model M) because I suffered from lack of Win and Menu keys on the original IBM Model M. I was so pleased with my large color bright LEDs on Model M, so I reimplemented the modding on Unicomp keyboard. Generally, modifications were the same with minor differences:

1. Unicomp PCB was fixed with two bolts (in IBM keyboard PCB was fixed with double-sided adhesive tape).
2. Unicomp keyboard used smaller 3 mm LEDs (IBM keyboard used 5 mm LEDs).
3. Unicomp keyboard case already had some kind of screens to avoid flare light.

  #keyboard   #modding #LED  
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