Sunday, October 02, 2005

Buttons, buttons, everywhere!

The PC keyboard is, of course, the single most important piece of equipment in your entire rig. The BackSpace key allows us to erase our mistakes, the Tab key allows us to more easily skip through large website forms so that we can inadvertently sign ourselves up for more spam, and the [CTRL-ALT-DEL] combination allows us to make right what Bill Gates made wrong (except, of course, that it no longer actually reboots the computer, so when Windows "really" freezes, this no longer does us any good.)

There are 26 letters in the English language. Add to that number the 10 number keys, the 17 various Shift-type buttons (including ESC and duplicate Shift, CTRL, and ALT keys), and the 10 punctuation keys, and we have 63 keys. I'll even be generous and allow for the numerical pad's 17 buttons and the 12 Function keys that nobody actually knows what they do anymore, and you've got a grand total of 92 keys. Incidentally, that's already four more keys than a grand piano.

Here's the problem. In an effort to be slightly more impressive than their competitors, keyboard manufacturers have started inventing keys. It all goes back to the [PrintScreen] key which never actually printed the screen in any version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. Instead, it takes a screenshot of the screen and holds it in memory where it is completely useless without third-party software. (Yes, you can paste it into the included Microsoft Paint, but why bother with such a useless program?) This key doubles as the System Requirements [SysRq] button, which as you might have guessed, immediately and quite magnificently fails to show you any of your system requirements whatsoever. There's also the [Scroll Lock] button which, once again, as the name suggests, completely doesn't stop you from scrolling at all.

Moving right along, we now come to the Pause button which doesn't pause anything, and the Break button which doesn't cause anything to break (although it does have the same chance of randomly crashing Windows as any of the other keys.)

Now we get to the good ones. The completely made-up keys that don't have anything to do with anything. I'm looking at a keyboard with 19 freaking keys that are only slightly programmable within the limitations of the required driver software. There is a Browser back, Browser forward, Stop, Refresh, Search, Open Folders, Home, Email, Mute, Sleep (which I just accidentally pushed while counting these annoying keys), volume up, volume down, play/pause, stop, previous track, next track, some button with a picture of a CD and a music note on it which I have no idea what the hell it is supposed to do, another button with a picture of a computer on it which again, I have no idea what it's supposed to do, and a calculator button.

Every one of these commands can be executed quite easily with either a single mouse click or a single hotkey combination such as [CTRL-ALT-I] to open "Internet" in your favorite browser. Maybe I'm old-school, but I like keyboard shortcuts. Granted, I've been using a computer since the pre-Commodore 64 days when you had to save your data to an actual cassette tape (yes, like the ones they put music on), and had to type everything. There was no such thing as Windows, or even a mouse for that matter. (Without Windows, there was nothing to point to or click on...) Still, I prefer the familiarity of the keyboard, and love the speed and accuracy with which I can execute commands. It is far better than a mouse for this sort of thing, as the keys are always in the same place, and they're easily accessible to me. I use [ALT-TAB] to switch between windows, despite having a mouse buttons designed specifically for that function. Why? It's easier, or at the very least, faster.

I don't need (and more to the point, I don't WANT) all of these extra buttons on my keyboard. They're nothing more than a nuisance, and they get inadvertently bumped when I don't want them to be bumped. "What's that you say? Just buy an older 101-key keyboard?" No dice. I went to Best Buy recently to purchase a new keyboard after mine finally died, and was irritated, though not actually surprised, to find that every keyboard they had on the shelf had all sorts of fancy lazy-man on it that I didn't want. Needless to say, the price for these "high end" keyboards reflected the value-added features that the manufacturers were so kind as to provide against my will.

I want to buy a basic keyboard, and if someone ever opens, I'll be the first customer.

Angry Internet Guy says, "Stop putting those unnecessary buttons on my keyboard. I don't come to your house and put 17 extra flush handles on your toilet!"

The stop sign on 5th street must die

Ever have this happen to you? You're cruising down the road, you've got the radio pumping, a cute girl next to you, and an ice cold blue raspberry slushee (also known as an icee) being held between your thighs because the cup holder wasn't big enough to accomodate it when all of the sudden, out of absolutely nowhere and for no justifiable reason at all, there's a stop sign in the middle of nowhere? You slam on the brakes, leave half the rubber from your tires on the road in the form of skid marks, the girl beside you hurts her arm on the dashboard, and your slushee ends up all over your car, not to mention your now freezing um, "lap".

Now, it would be one thing if I was simply not paying attention and didn't notice the busy intersection, but I'm talking about the kind of stop sign that comes out of nowhere, sometimes without there even being another road, and in the worst cases, the ones they hide just around a bend so that you can't possibly stop without prior warning (which they are usually kind enough to not offer.)

These things seem to have no reasonable explanation other than the fact that they tend to be right at the exit to the housing plan in which the local city councilperson lives.

My first instinct is, of course, to get out of the car and rip the truly useless signs down, but after the infamous Stop Sign case, I generally decide against it and utter the same mumbled profanities at the same signs time after time.

A perfect example of this is in front of a steel mill a few miles from my house. There is a stop sign in the middle of an otherwise lonely road, and the sole purpose of this sign is to annoy drivers. It is placed at the gate to the mill, and was apparently placed there for the safety of the workers as they cross the street to their cars in the small dirt section on the other side of the road. However, there is only a single two-lane road, with no intersectionwhatsoever, and you can see for a quarter mile in both directions. I'm thinking that an adult should have the common sense to actually look both ways before crossing the street. What really annoys me is the fact that the local police like to sit in that dirt lot in unmarked cars and ticket people who don't know about the dirty and therefore relatively camouflaged stop sign.

There should be a new sign that goes up in some of these devistatingly remote places where you can easily see for 500 feet or more in all directions. It should read STOP-ish, and you should only have to stop if there is actually another car or pedestrian on the road.

I think that if we all just run these stop signs, eventually the police will run out money to pay for the gas required to chase all of us, and sooner or later they'll get the worthless stop signs removed. Of course, the trick is to make sure that everybody does it during the same week so that they run out of money before all of the new money from the tickets starts pouring in. (I never said the plan was foolproof...)

If that doesn't work, we can always get drunk and redecorate every house in the neighborhood with toilet paper (to ensure that we get the house of the councilperson responsible for putting up that stop sign) every Friday night. To ensure that the cops don't get suspicious when they see us carrying 30 rolls of TP with us as we stagger drunkenly down the street, be sure to carry a highly conspicuous bag of weed or your recreational drug of choice with you so that they have something to focus on instead of the toilet paper.

Angry Internet Guy says, "Take down the stupid stop signs in your area or beware the TP!"