I took apart my keyboard and something incredible happened…

It stopped working. Good joke, right?

I’ve been long interested in programmable keypads like this one from Novation:

Or the X-Keys one at about double the price:

Really though, how expensive does something like this need to be? I mean the two products linked above are nothing more than glorified keyboards in the end. So how does a keyboard even work anyway?

I took an old spare and a screwdriver and set to work to find out…

I’ve started the Electrical Engineering course at Khan Academy, and am studying for my Canadian Amateur Radio license, so taking matters into my own hands here only made sense.

I only started watching videos about how keyboards work *after* disassembling mine. This one is a little hilarious because the guy sounds like — I don’t know — annoyed to be even making a video in the first place…

I was trying to get the keyboard to send signals when plugged back in even outside of its hard shell, but couldn’t get it to do so. Maybe bad registration of the circuit onto the board.

Anyway, there are basically like multiple sheets inside the keyboard, which when keys are depressed, the two sides of the circuit touch together and a corresponding signal is sent.

I had a theory that my board wouldn’t register these signals because of needing like resistance against the backing board for the circuit to close, so I put back in one of the little circle dealies under “Z” so I could pass the “I don’t recognize this keyboard” test my computer was trying to throw at me (it could recognize anyway that something was plugged in).

Raised Z

Anyway, I put the whole thing back together as carefully as I could and gradually as the case was tightened, some of the keys came back online.

I have a little program called Keycastr which I use for trouble-shooting macros and other wizardry that allows you to see what key is being pressed in real time:

As you can see, only the top row of numbers and *some* of the function keys came back to use. Everything else stopped, which isn’t a deal-breaker but a good warning to be more careful probably for my next disassembly/reassembly project, which I promptly began immediately after on a Dollar Store USB number pad I bought a while back:

This number pad only has two assigned functions right now which work to increase or decrease size of text in a web browser (a couple of macros that run through Keyboard Maestro).

I was able to disassemble and reassemble this guy with no problem and got to play around with depressing the contact points with a screwdriver to send signals back into the computer via the USB connection.

There’s a problem I haven’t solved yet with using keypads/keyboards like this which already have a character assigned as triggers for macros. Yes, you can trigger your macro to fire, but the keystroke still exists. Unless you can like swallow or capture it somehow, so that the keystroke doesn’t get sent to the system as input, but the macro action triggered by it still does…

I’ve been able to work around this using a MIDI keyboard, since it’s of no consequence to my system if a MIDI note is fired — since it’s only function is to trigger a macro (ie, it doesn’t fire a character as well).

My setup is a bit different currently, but this should give an idea:

Read the whole story

So what’s the whole point of this?

I know if you’re not a macro person, this probably all seems crazy. But once you go macro, you can never go back. The leap in productivity is unparalleled and opens up entire new worlds of possibility as you start to be able to conquer the repetitive tasks in your daily computing routine.

Since I work in Support, the majority of those tasks happen in that context. My theory is something like: if I can build a basically functional prototype for myself which works in the contexts I need it, I can probably find useful ways to share those tools with others:

Plus, of course, it’s fun to just tinker with stuff — to take it apart, see how it works, and risk breaking it, all in the name of “science.”

More on that as it unfolds!