A Landmark Of Sorts

Last time I was in Florida, about 2 years back, I bought a new HP Laptop. It has been my primary tool for all browsing and posting since. I don’t know if they have a lousy grade of plastic in the keys, or if I just type one heck of a lot… or both… But here are two pictures of some of the keycaps and the mousepad. I think you can see a bit of wear…

For comparison, I have a Compaq from about 15 years ago with Linux on it that was my “daily driver” for several years (a half dozen?) though I was not blogging then. It has nearly pristine key caps. Make of that what you will. I did wear out a keyboard on a Mac iBook and had to have it replaced (about 3 years? Maybe 4…) so at least part of it is me…

Here’s the pics:

ASDF key caps with wear

ASDF key caps with wear

RTUY Keycaps and mousepad view

RTUY Keycaps and mousepad view

It’s a good thing I touch type ;-)

I learned to type in a formal typing class in High School at about 17 years old. I was one of 2 boys in the class (it was predominantly taught to girls so they could be secretaries. I’d figured out that typing was going to be important in college…) Despite the grief I was given by the less bright males in school, it was one of the two most valuable classes I’ve ever taken. (The other was my final class in college, when I took an acting class. Learning how to enter a character and hold it for 2 hours has been highly useful in a ‘professional’ setting…)

We started on manual typewriters, then worked up to using the one row of IBM Selectric typewriters when we were fast enough. They were a new thing then… To this day, I find the IBM Selectric to be one of the best typing instruments I’ve ever used.

The key feel on the HP is quite good too, but frankly, given that the IBM was used day in and day out for years, and we never had any worn key caps “issues”, I have to think that they used a better class of materials.

So here’s to a “benchmark” of sorts. Like the worn teeth of old cattle, or the rut in the road where all the wagon wheels pass; these key caps say that there’s been a lot of characters flow out these fingers. It’s also an interesting point about nature that my fingertips show no wear at all ;-) An observant person will note that the “home row” has more wear than the others (the fingers rest there, and wiggle a bit, even when not pressing those keys) and that the “high usage” letters, like vowels, have the most use. In theory, you could do a wear map and compute the likelihood of any one character being used (rather like the “population counts” used in crypto work).

At some point, I’ll likely need to replace the keyboard, or use a bluetooth outboard keyboard. For now, I’m still typing fine, even if I can’t read the key caps at all. Guess that old touch typing class was a good idea after all ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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29 Responses to A Landmark Of Sorts

  1. BobN says:

    The keyboards don’t seem to be holding up very well at all. My wife got a new Dell laptop about a year ago and her keyboard is unreadable. I’m one of the dumb guys that was too stupid to take typing. There is no way I can use her laptop. It affords her better protection than encryption.
    I use a USB wireless Logitech keyboard and am on my second keyboard for the year, the numbers just seem to rub off. In the old days a keyboard lasted forever.

  2. Gail Combs says:

    As I said before, stay away from the black keyboards. They are most likely made from recycled plastic. Since plastic is long chain hydrocarbons, recycling chops the chain lengths and makes them weaker/softer. Also a lot of stuff used to be made in the USA (or Japan) now it is made in China and their QC is crap.

    (we try to get used computer stuff because things like keyboards were better made back when)

  3. Gail Combs says:

    Speaking of computer type stuff, I ran across this and found it interesting: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/wp/2013/03/11/u-s-farmers-grow-wireless/

  4. PhilJourdan says:

    I believe we are about the same age (based upon previous writings of yours). I am mid 50s. And like you took a typing class in High School (probably not far from you – Marin County California). I do not recall the mix of boys and girls (only that there were more girls than boys), but like you I took it not to become a secretary, but to type papers in College. We learned on IBM Selectrics (remember, this WAS Marin County), but for college, I got a 20 year old Royal. It was manual, and looked newer than the antiques you see in stores – but not by much.

    I am not as hard on the keys. But I am sitting in bed as I type this, with the keyboard at a 180 degree angle from me, so if I could not touch type, this would look something like this: ernrine hirheienap erhiehre

    I know where the keys are, so I can type without seeing them.

    They no longer teach typing. My kids never got a chance at taking a class. Everyone was taught “keyboarding” and usually in grade school. But as far as I can tell, keyboarding is not touch typing. At least not like we had.

  5. BobN says:

    Touch typing is great, but I never learned it and have always been a 2 finger typist. It has worked out for the better for me, I have Arthritis and can not bent the fingers and wrist to do the drill. Being used to typing by 2 fingers, my speed approaches the better typists out there. Its quite amazing how fast you can get if your motivated and do a lot of typing.

  6. Gail Combs says:

    Good for you Bob, I too use the couple finger approach. (I did take piano so I use more than two fingers.)

    Have you tried glucosamine type product like ‘Move free’ ? I started going into old age arthritis and it has given me several more years of decent relatively pain free movement. For ~ a year I could not tie my shoes or put on my socks and now I have regained the mobility that allows me to tie my shoes again.

    I use Schiff because I do not have an allergic reaction to the shellfish they use in making it. (I am very allergic to crab)

  7. BobN says:

    @Gail – I have had it since 8 years old and pretty severe now. There are a few drugs that make me almost normal, but I can’t take them because of bad reactions. I have tried glucosamine and think it helps some. I started taking Boron via Borax and it has worked as good as anything. There was a thread on this on this site a while back. You might try it. Two teaspoons of borax in a liter bottle and take a couple swallows during the day, after a week or so I started feeling better.

    Your article on technology on the farm was very interesting. I live on a farm next to my son-in-laws farm and we are looking at trying several new ideas. We are working on a quadracopter to use it to check the cattle and even heard them around without going out in the field on mopeds. We also want to fly over the crops and look for problems. We irrigate and need to keep an eye on the water pumps and lines for leaks. A quick fly over will make it go very fast and save a lot of time.

    My pet project is indoor farming and I’m looking at a big project pretty soon. When I get going I will share on here as it is revolutionary.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    Per the Arthritis topic that’s starting up again:

    The Arthritics Cookbook by Dr. Dong is a very useful things. Dr. Dong is an American doctor of Chinese extraction. He noticed he had arthritis, but his relatives didn’t.

    The “short form” of the book is “eat fish, rice and vegetables” for a while until you are better, then add in some other things. (the long form is a whole book ;-)

    For me, I did a “binary search” of the other foods and found that there are two that account for almost all of my arthritic behaviours.

    1) “Cow stuff”.
    2) Tomatoes.

    At about 26, it was only “Cow stuff”, and even then simply not drinking a quart or two a day of milk was enough. ( I could still have a steak a week or so… and occasional ice cream). Now I’m going to feel a bit of it, even with just one steak. Or one big bowl of ice cream each Sunday. (Though cheese and butter are still not a problem. Not the right protein parts, I guess.) AND I could eat tomatoes.

    But over the years, the sensitivity goes up. I started hurting again about a year ago. Finally decided to try avoiding tomatoes (as the book said). Problem went away.

    I’ve done a couple of “challenges”. Had a pizza. Had pasta with marinara. Etc. Each time, the next day has a bit o “issues” with the joints. It’s a 1:1 cause and effect over several trials.

    So I’d suggest giving it a try. It has worked for me, and my spouse, and several other folks who have tried it over the years. (Dr. Dong was a practicing M.D. and used this in his practice where he refined the ‘watch lists’ of foods and tracked what worked.)

    Most likely, if you have an immunity driven response to a food, it will be something you eat often and like a lot. Also, simply adding fish (and the omega 3 fatty acids) decreases tendency to inflammation. Similarly, removing ‘oil grains’ reduces omega 6 intake and also helps reduce the tendency to inflammation. If you do eat beef, try to get grass fed (more omega 3, less omega 6).

    There is ONE metabolic pathway that turns unsaturated fatty acids into various needed materials that control the inflammatory potential (and other things too…). The omega-3 and omega-6 compete for that pathway. Nature expects a particular balance between them so the competition ends up with the right ratio of inflammation promoting vs inhibiting enzymes. About 3 or 4:1 IIRC. Most Americans now run about 25:1 (again, IIRC) so we are way screwed up on that particular bit of biochemistry.

    So Do Not Buy corn oil, soybean oil, or similar oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. Use butter, coconut oil, olive oil, canola and safflower can be OK too. Even good old lard is better. (The studies that found ‘saturated fats’ to be bad for you confounded saturated with trans fats as ‘solid fats’… Later tests of pure tri-stearate found no impact at all on cholesterol from it.) Palm Oil is a great shortening. Just using saturated fats in place of seed oils can help cut down the omega-6 load and get you closer to a good Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio. Putting flax meal in your bread and fish on the table adds Omega-3 (though I’d suspect that farmed fish fed grain meal likely has a worse Omega-6 / 3 ratio than wild fish…).

    That whole omega-6 / omega-3 ratio thing is very important. Don’t blow it off. Grasses and algae are high in omega-3, so things that eat them are better for your inflammation tendencies (so grass fed browsers and fish are good; seed fed not so much…) And certainly don’t pour corn oil and soybean oil down your throat by the spoon full as most folks do…

    Once the omega-6 / 3 ratio is closer to historic norms, and you’ve identified and removed any foods that set you off; things ought to be a whole lot better (presuming it is an arthritis type that is immunity mediated…and inflammation driven…)

    Then there’s all the other things that seem to do some good. But after that basic food and fatty acid ratio are made right for you…


    Looks like I’m about 5 years older. Not significant, IMHO.

  9. Another Ian says:

    My typing (as such) was learned on a punch card machine – hand written had worked up till then. And I think that the flat deck they had still has hand problem benefits.

    And don’t I recall that the IBM Selectric was a landmark in that it had secretarial opinion in its keyboard?

  10. Petrossa says:

    I have the motorskills of someone with cerebral palsy so 10 finger typing is out of the question. I have a hard time as it is with 2 fingers since for some reason one hand is slower then the other and that causes letters to be switched around. Where i would be without spell checkers…
    Using a Logitech K800 backlit keyboard, the letters are white transparant plastic in black. That way they never wear away. Very quiet typing too.

  11. My best kb was a Fujitsu one that outlasted several computers. The keys were double-moulded, with an internal black plastic with the letter in relief, then the outer layer of grey plastic was moulded on to make the key shape. Somewhat expensive to make, since each key was a different mould rather than having the letter applied with a bit of paint afterwards.

    These days I can’t find that quality of both feel and longevity, so I treat keyboards as a consumable and get a new one when needed.

  12. CompuGator says:

    Re: Arthritis topic that’s starting up again
    E.M.Smith says (14 July 2013 at 3:43 am):

    The omega-3 and omega-6 compete for that pathway. Nature expects a particular balance between them so the competition ends up with the right ratio of inflammation promoting vs inhibiting enzymes. About 3 or 4:1 IIRC. Americans now run about 25:1 (again, IIRC) so we are way screwed up on that particular bit of biochemistry.

    Presented in Chiefio’s numerically more-intuitive omega-3:omega-6 order, the desirable ratio is 1:2–1:4 (comparable to what he previously stated). But the “typical American diet” ratio is 1:14–1:25 (hitting the upper end-point, had he not written the ratio in reverse; some readers might’ve already detected the inconsistency from its context, then mentally corrected without actually noticing).

    Excerpt from authoritative source to follow.

  13. CompuGator says:

    “Omega-6 fatty acids” [selected excerpts only]
    University of Maryland Medical Center [(Bal’m’r’)]
    Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide[:] Supplement

    [….] Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. In fact, some studies suggest that elevated intakes of omega-6 fatty acids may play a role in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. The typical American diet tends to contain 14–25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.

    The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids, though grass fed beef has a more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.

    There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids, and not all promote inflammation. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils, such as linoleic acid (LA). Be careful not to confuse this with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Linoleic acid is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the body. It is then further broken down to arachidonic acid (AA). GLA is found in several plant based oils, including evening primrose oil (EPO), borage oil, and black currant seed oil. GLA may actually reduce inflammation. [….]

    For general health, there should be a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio should be in the range of 2:1–4:1, omega-6 to omega-3[. A]nd some health educators advocate even lower ratios. The average diet provides plenty of omega-6 fatty acids, so supplements are usually not necessary.

    Not having looked at these issues in any detail before, it’s reassuring for me to see that the authoritative presentation which I excerpted, is consistent, overall, with what’s been written by others in the earlier comments above.

  14. E.M.Smith says:


    Yes, I wrote the words in the “natural order” but resorted to the “accepted order” for the ratio (as that’s the way it is commonly presented). And yes, I figured folks here were bright enough to figure it out ;-)

    More Omega-3, less Omega-6. More grass and ocean source stuff, less grain source stuff.

    I’m also glad that you took the time to validate that there was backing material for the assertion. “Trust but verify” ;-) A good skeptic trait!

    THE biggest “hard thing to do” is getting the corn oil and soybean oil out of the diet. It’s in everything. Just do that and you can make large strides. So I used coconut oil, palm oil, butter, lard, olive oil, grape oil, and the occasional canola and safflower oils. There are a couple of designer safflower oils out there where they found a genetic variation that makes a better fatty acid ratio, so worth looking to find (but difficult to find). Realistically, though, I get 90%+ of all the benefit out of just shifting that fatty acid ratio to more Omega-3 (and avoiding all the artificial fats I can: hydrogenated, inter-esterified, whatever… just say no to plastic fats…) and avoiding tomatoes and “cow stuff”. The rest ends up in the “can usually just ignore it as nothing hurts” realm.

  15. Another Ian says:


    Last week


    This week

    There is the link between omega-3’s and prostate cancer. Difference equivalent to two extra fish meals a week if I remember correctly


    My wife’s first take was “How does this square with populations like the Inuit?”

    No doubt all will be well again next week.

  16. Another Ian says:

    On keyboards

    Our Asus ones seem to be holding up well

  17. Verity Jones says:

    Keyboards – old Dell laptop worn smooth after ~6 years, but I can pretty much touch type just from daily practice.

    @Gail Combs – I just got a wireless keyboard for a new Asus MemoPad. It has white keys on silver, and I remember thinking I’d have preferred black. I think I just started to like it more!

    All arthritis tips gratefully received as I’ve started to notice stiffness in my fingers, especially my right forefinger (which I put down to excessive use of the mouse wheel). I was diagnosed ~10 years ago with a mild form of Lupus, so it not really surprising. Before that I played around with my diet and found avoiding certain things helped with general well being, however I’ve since been so much better that my diet is now normal. Recent issues, including the beginnings of arthritis symptoms, mean I know I should pay attention to it again, but it is more difficult now since I travel a lot for work and my family’s food preferences are very different to mine.

  18. Gail Combs,
    I grasp at straws when it comes to arthritis “Cures”. Instead of purchasing the Schiff product you recommended on line I went to Walmart this afternoon and found a bewildering range of variants all called “Advanced Formula”. There were two that claimed to be “Triple Strength” effective within 7 days.

    Which to choose? The one with MSM (great for promoting offensive flatulence) and vitamin D?

    The one with hydroluronic acid?

    Just to be on the safe side I bought 80 pills of each (daily dose – 2 pills). The clinical test started today and the results will be published within 90 days based on a study with a single participant.

  19. Steve C says:

    That’s an outstanding bit of “wear and tear” on that keyboard. I’ve worn the letters off one or two in my time, but I don’t recall anyone I know resculpting the keytops before!

    My workshop machine still sports (from choice) an aging Cherry 102-key model, in trendy beige with a “Research Machines” logo. I’m not sure exactly how old it is, but it’s old enough not to have what I think of as the “space invader” keys between Alt/AltGr and Ctrl. It was secondhand when it came to me years ago, and has been in regular, reliable use ever since. They don’t make keyboards like that anymore. And I have a spare, when I get round to replacing its 5-pin DIN plug …

    No experience with arthritis here, fortunately. I’ll draw the conclusion that my typing (gash self-taught two-and-a-half finger pseudorandom) just isn’t athletic enough. ;-)

  20. adolfogiurfa says:

    @gallopingcamel: Want a real cure for arthritis?, that´s not other than “CAT´s CLAW”, period.

  21. Lynn Clark says:

    My initial typing experiences were on a mechanical, black Underwood typewriter. Mostly, if I needed anything typed “nice”, my Dad would type it for me. I don’t think he ever had any formal typing training, mostly self-taught, I think. But he had all the touch-typing (such as it was on one of those old typewriters) technique down. When I got in high-school I did what you did and took the elective typing class, for pretty much the same reasons as you did. I think we used mechanical Olympia typewriters, but IIRC, there were one or two of the new-fangled IBM Selectrics at the back of the room. What an amazing thing to see that type ball move! And it could be swapped out with a different ball with a different font on it. Talk about high tech! I still love the feel of the Selectric, even though I haven’t laid fingers on one in decades. The office “girl” at the dance studio where I take dance lessons still uses a Selectric. After graduating with a B.S.E.E degree, I spent the next 30 years writing software. I always told people I typed about 40 WPM with gusts to 80. ;-)

    My kids all learned how to type on one of the many IBM PC clones I built while they were growing up. Mavis Beacon Typing Tutor software was their ticket to learning.

    As for keyboards, I dislike any that don’t have the Sun key layout (Control key at the left-end of the home row and Escape key at the left end of the row above the QWERTY row). For a VI user (I still use it — vim actually — whenever I have to edit a text file, perl script, shell script, etc.), that keyboard layout is optimal. My first experience of “workplace ergonomic problems” occurred when I went to a new job and had to use a PC-style keyboard (with the Control key below the left shift key and the Escape key at the left end of the function-key row, waaaaay above the number row). Within a week or so of using that keyboard with vim all day long, the little-finger tendon on the back of my left hand started hurting like hell. The solution was to buy my own Happy Hacking keyboard, which has the Sun key layout. Within days after using the Happy Hacking keyboard the tendon pain disappeared. Over the next few years I bought about a half-dozen Happy Hacking keyboards for use at work and at home. I still have a Happy Hacking keyboard shared via a KVM switch with two Linux boxes, and another one on a Mac Mini. Unfortunately, for reasons I won’t go into, I “have to” use the Apple full-size keyboard with my iMac. Even though it doesn’t have the Sun key layout, I still like the Apple full-size keyboard and talked my Dad out of letting me have his old one (he “upgraded” to one of the new Apple chiclet keyboards) as a spare in case I ever spill something on mine.

    As for the keycap wear, I’m a little bit surprised that the HP keys aren’t more robust wear-wise. One of the big features of the keys on the original HP series of calculators way back in the day was that the letter/number/symbol on each key was actually an injection of a different color plastic that went all the way through the key from top-to-bottom so that it would never wear off. I guess that process succumbed to cost-cutting issues.

  22. Lynn Clark says:

    s/talked my Dad out of/talked my Dad into/

  23. BobN says:

    A call for help
    My daughter keeps loosing her Potassium and Magnesium and gets deathly sick and has heart problems. She has gone in for transfusions of Fluid and it gets her recovering, but about a week later she will get sick again and need another transfusion. She has had an ongoing problem for years keeping Potassium in her body and would get a transfusion and it would seem to hold her for 6 months or so. She is going to be seeing her specialist again next week.
    Has anyone here come across this type of problem or know things that may help

  24. R. de Haan says:

    And this link: http://www.medicinenet.com/low_potassium_hypokalemia/article.htm

    Wish you all the best with you daughter BobN.

  25. BobN says:

    @R. deHaan – Thanks for the links, they look great. I appreciate you input!

  26. adolfogiurfa says:

    Potassium does not work alone, it works with sodium in the first place: So, to begin with, she must take that special salt which is a mix of 50% potassium chloride and 50% sodium chloride (common salt). This dietary salt is sold everywhere. Now, she must take every day at least 1 gram of magnesium, preferably as magnesium citrate.
    This syndrome is psychosomatic…..

  27. R. de Haan says:

    Mmmmm. I don’t know Adolfo. Too many problems today are put on the shelf “psychosomatic”.
    What I have understood that kidney problems could be at the basis of the problem but it could very well be a hormone problem. This is a subject for specialists, that’s for sure.

    What is fair to say is that most research is done on male subjects, at least in respect to in vivo medicine research and testing. Many typical women problems are not well understood yet.

  28. POUNCER says:

    Speaking of “LANDMARKS” and knowing of your interest in “henges” I call to your attention this recounting of the construction of a henge in Missouri…


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