EJM Designs Limited Blog

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Candid: The Loki Keyboard that Bit Me

In Norse Mythology, Loki is the troublemaker, the gadfly, the instigator (in case you needed that reference).


And in day to day reality, I am a fallible tech geek. Some folks who blog - especially those that have a business - hold themselves at a must-be-godlike standard. I understand, however, that occasionally exposing my flaws makes me more human, and we can all do with a little more human in our day to day interactions. It doesn't happen often, so enjoy the story:

Ghost in the Machine

About a month ago, I noticed that I was having some keyboard issues on my workhorse laptop. Specifically, on occasion, when I was trying to do anything from advance between the regular cavalcade of almost a dozen working applications to simply keeping a cursor in a web form, it wasn't working. Things were popping up or shifting fields as though there was a sticking problem in either my ALT or CTRL or TAB keys - or all three.

I would do anything from reboot to pound on the ALT key to scream and invoke Thor to take down this Loki in the machine. (Hey, when you're hand-coding and can't get a "<" out to start an anchor tag, things get a little crazy in the room.) I once did a Trojan scour, found one and thought it was all good - for about 30 minutes. And sometimes it worked, sometimes it faded for a time, sometimes it sent me to the Xbox360 demo of Bayonetta to do some virtual killing of demons with gun-shoes.

Yes, this has been going on for a month. I'd done some rudimentary searches for MS bugs on Vista, but only came up with a few minor operational errors that appeared rare. Bad thing was, when I was hard-up for a solution, I couldn't do a decent search because my keyboard didn't work.

Threshold | Epiphany

And this morning it hit a threshold: waking after a restless night, not yet enough coffee in me, the bug came at me with the first touch of the keyboard. I could send an email with the mouse, but couldn't type the contents; the pressing of buttons resulted in the on/of switch that is CTRL+Space, which takes my English letter combinations and translates them into a selectable tooltip for Asian characters. Basically, I could get absolutely nothing done.

I got another cup of coffee, took a few deep breaths, and - suddenly - it struck me. Not any more monumental than any other epiphany as I was holding back hope for disappointment, but there it was:


With my graphics background on a Quantel Paintbox (pen & board), I have much greater preference for a mouse over the horrible touchpad that is on most laptops. About 6 months ago, I clicked-out my first, wired mouse and switched to a wireless Microsoft one I had previously purchased for my wife. It was a simple setup of a USB plug-in to a wireless receiver to accept input from the mouse ...and paired keyboard.

So, what if...? I went to the storage closet about 20 feet behind my desk, opened it up, and found said keyboard - sitting underneath a box of paperwork. I moved the keyboard to a higher shelf with nothing on top of it.

Guess what? No boxy, no pressy, no Loki.

Without pressure on what I thought was a do-nothing keyboard, the problem stopped: I'd been fighting with a keyboard in the closet with a box on it that was resting on the TAB, SHIFT, CTRL, ALT, and Space keys.

So what's the lesson here? Humanity, by definition, is fallible. Tech-savvy people, by definition, are fallible. And no matter how perplexing and unresolvable the problem you face, you may be surprised by the simplicity of the solution. Just pick up the box that's weighing you down.

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