What is your favorite key on the keyboard? Much could be said on the topic.

TEMPTING ANSWER: THE SPACE BAR?

At first, one is tempted to say the SPACE BAR. After all, it’s the largest key, and the only one we typically hit with our thumb. It’s very unique, frequently used, and is the AMUSEMENT PARK of the keyboard world. A huge key that can be pressed down on the left side OR the right side. It can slant. It has a nice shape – a sexy curve on ergonomic keyboards. It’s size would allow it to beat any other key in a fight. It’s arguably used more frequently than almost any other key on the keyboard.

20020727 - Hot Carolyn 105-0530_IMG

note the sexy curves of an ergonomic space bar

BUT WAIT! The space bar is a whiny little bitch! It’s the only key on the keyboard that doesn’t just POP back into the keyboard when you take it out. If you take the space bar out, it can take MANY tries to get it properly seated again. They always have those 2 stupid metal ‘levers’ that must be simultaneously perfectly inserted for your key to function. Otherwise you get one of those DOWN SYNDROME like situations where one lever is seated, the other isn’t, and your space bar is sloped like a slide. (Again, it is the AMUSEMENT PARK of keys, so a slide would be applicable. But if the slide is going down from left to right, then you’re not going to be able to successfully hit the key with your right thumb – it’s only going to work on the left half of the key.))

So in the end, the SPACE BAR is a WHINY LITTLE BITCH-ASS PIECE OF SHIT. It is the key most likely to cause you to have to go out and buy a new keyboard. Hundreds of tons of old keyboards go to landfills, and seep toxic chemicals into our water supply. ALL BECAUSE THE SPACEBAR IS A WHINY LITTLE HIGH-MAINTENANCE BITCH. In the end, while it may be fun to bash that key over and over again — there are even games that only require the space bar — one must conclude that, in practical terms, the SPACE BAR is quite likely the WORST key on the keyboard

THE RIGHT ENTER?

One of my personal favorites is the right Enter key — the huge vertical one on the edge of the number pad. There are many non-typing situations where you need to hit enter to continue. After 30 years of computing, I recently discovered yet another use for ENTER that I didn’t know about: Advancing to the right in menus. My right arrow key recently broke, so I’ve been forced to find alternative ways to navigate around. Most people just use a mouse, but in the end, a mouse is more work and is slower. You lose time reaching. You have to make a bunch of precise movements; it’s easy to mis-mouse. It’s impossible to mis-keyboard. When you want to go to the right, you hit a key and it goes to the right. No skill required.

20070910 - Beavis, day 2 - IMG_3581 - Beavis, in the cubby hole

Right Enter: Even more slappable than kittens!

SO ANYWAY, the right enter key is actually better than the normal enter key, because it’s on the VERY CORNER of the keyboard. You can slap dat azz — your keyboard’s ass — with your eyes closed, and still hit the corner enter. WITH YOUR PALM. The corner-enter and the escape key are the only keys you can really operate via a bitch-slap. And believe me — computers need to be bitch slapped. Hell, they want it. Bitches.

THE ESCAPE KEY?

I’m tempted to make the right-Enter my favorite key, but, honestly, the ESCAPE key comes in handy even more often than the enter key. Countless situations are easily exited from via the ESCape key. Hell, escaping as an abstract concept is way cooler than entering. Escape implies chase. A break to freedom. Getting out of the prison. Getting out of the window you are in. If you want to extend the window metaphor a bit further: ESCape is like smashing a glass window so you can get out of it. And, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “Smashing stuff is fun.” Or in the immortal words of Beavis, “Heh heh M heh heh. Let’s go break something.”

20100115 - Carolyn's computer problems - GEDC1333 - 'ESC'aping cat figurine

30 cat statues agree: I want to escape over and over and over again!

And ESCape is the only other key besides the right-enter that you can typically bitch slap with your palm. It’s a bit harder because it’s on the top, so I end up hitting it with the underside of my index finger. But a big part of my point is: Keys that you don’t have to hit with your actual fingertip are easier than keys you have to hit with your fingertip. And in the immortal words of Dildo Valerie, “Easy is better than hard.”

So there’s a big case to be made that the ESCape key is the best key ever.

THE ARROWS?

Here’s yet another one the non-power-user mouse people might not understand the value of: The arrow keys. More so with the left-right ones than the up-down ones. And more so the left arrow than the right arrow. The ranking is probably: left, right, up, down. I suppose your average lame user will simply use the mouse to go back and correct a typo. Me? I use control-left-arrow to go back one word per keypress. You can reach for your mouse; I’m not moving my arms. My mouse is at least 1 foot away from my keyboard. FUCK moving 1 foot every time I make a typo!

2007ish - painted keyboard at Home Depot (diptych)

One merely need look at a Home Depot paint section keyboard to see how much more often the arrow keys are used compared to other keys.

And no, backspace doesn’t win for typos. Backspace erases your work and causes you to have to re-do it. Arrow keys let you navigate directly to the typo and fix it, without having to retype. This is why backspace is not anywhere near the top of the list.

I recently spilled on my keyboard, and lost my right arrow. So now I have to use the right arrow on the number pad as well (which opens the whole “is numlock on or not?” can of worms — VERY UGLY WORMS). At first I was pretty positive I’d have to buy another keyboard. If I was a heavy gamer, I certainly would. In fact, just a year ago I would have had to buy a new keyboard over this. But I recently changed the way I play first person shooters for the first time in 20 years, now mousing with my right hand instead of my left hand, and a real mouse instead of a trackball. (I’ve reversed my long-held position and changed my conclusion: Trackballs are inferior to mice for games). This means that the keyboard keys I use are on the left side of the keyboard instead of the right. I never knew that changing my Quake3 keys would cause me to not have to buy a keyboard. Hidden payoff that saves me money!

ANYWAY, this spill has taught me a great lesson about the value of the arrow keys. I was floundering and frustrated all the time with a missing right arrow key. Non-power-users might not even notice it being missing, but for me, it was something that created stress every couple minutes of computer use. I have since trained my self to slam my hand way over to the right number-pad arrow key, and to also hit control-right-arrow (using the numpad-arrow) without looking as well. It took a few weeks, but now I feel stronger. Redundancy prevents catastrophes, and having 2 sets of arrowkeys only underscores just how great the arrow keys are.

OTHER TEMPTING CASES: BACKSPACE, CAPS LOCK

BACKSPACE a lot of people would be tempted to choose as their favorite, simply because it’s a big key, and it’s used more often, and it helps fix your mistakes. But I think, in the arrows section above, that I’ve outlined why I personally wouldn’t choose it as my favorite key.

20061225 - Christmas - Sawyers - Clint - reading Slashdot (by Vicky)

Look at this foo’ playin’ around with a mouse! Use THE KEYS, man! THE KEYS!

So what about CAPS LOCK?
A lot of people don’t use caps lock, but I recently trained myself to use it efficiently. Holding down shift with 1 hand and typing an entire word with just one hand represents a slowdown. Using either CAPS LOCK *or* SHIFT exclusively is going to waste time. The best thing to do is use the right tool for the job. If you just want to capitalize one letter, or you are typing a word that is typed exclusively with one hand (like “case”–typed exclusively with left hand, or “mop”–typed exclusively with right hand), then SHIFT is the best key to use. But if you are trying to type a word that requires both sides of the keyboard in ALL CAPS (for example, the phrase “ALL CAPS”), then your best bet is to hit caps lock, type the word as you normally do, and then hit it again. (Hell, if you’re using a mechanical typewriter, this method is less likely to jam your typewriter. But nobody does that these days.) Either way, it’s simply quicker and less work to do this. Holding shift down while you type 5 or 6 letters is NOT one keypress of work; it is the equivalent work of pressing several keys. I’d say about 0.15keystrokes per key typed. It’s simply less work to use the caps lock when applicable.

And in that sense, caps lock allows you to NOT have to hold down the shift key for a long time. It is a big effort-saver, you don’t have to strain your muscles as much, it’s big and unique — and that makes it a cool key.

SO WHICH IS IT?

I don’t know! There’s reasons to like a lot of keys on the keyboard ! I might go with ESCAPE, actually. Yes. It’s escape. Definitely.

 

LEAST FAVORITE KEY? WHAT ARE THE KEYS THAT SUCK?

WINDOWS KEY? It’s tempting to say the WINDOWS key, but frankly this key is a time saver. Windows-M to minimize all windows, Windows-L to lock your workstation (if you do this right, you can press the key while getting up, and use your keyboard as leverage so you don’t have to use your leg muscles as much). Windows-anything is a good hotkey combination that doesn’t interfere with already-taken-up alt- and control- key combinations. For instance, Winamp controls music with ZXCVB while you are in the program. I set up Win-Z, Win-X, Win-C, Win-V, Win-B as my hotkeys for those same operations when Winamp is not at the forefront. (Though, the best key to pause your music is actually the PAUSE key — However, mine stopped working in the same spill that cost me my right arrow key.)
So the WINDOWS key is actually a great key.

2ND WINDOWS KEY? The one with the menu on it? Seems pointless, but it’s a great way to right-click something without reaching for the mouse. So it’s a good key, not a bad key.

BACKSLASH! Not because it sucks in and of itself, but because every fucking keyboard manufacturer seems to want to put this in a different place. STANDARDIZE, PLEASE!

HOME/END/INSERT/DELETE/PGUP/PGDOWN – These are actually some of my favorite keys ever, but the fact that they re-arrange them on so many other keyboards reduces their value. I still can’t get over how people will reach for the mouse and pull the scrollbar down for 10 seconds to get to the end of a document, when they could have just hit Control-End. Morons.

“MOON KEY” – some keyboard shave a key to put you into sleep mode. I’ve actually had to use nail clippers to clip the plastic off of these in some cases. Sleep mode blows, and there should NEVER be a key that stops everything you’re doing to such a level. It’s as if 1000 ESCAPE keys suddenly cried out in the silence. Baby Jesus weeps at the moon key.

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KITTEH SAYS: Stai awai from moon key!

“PAUSE KEY” – It’s kind of pointless unless you set it up to pause your music, then it kicks major ass.

“SCROLL LOCK” – Another pointless key, but it actually has interesting and useful effects in Microsoft Excel. And if you use Winamp‘s Milkdrop plugin, it keeps you from going to the next visualizer preset. I use scrolllock! And it’s another key I lost in my spill recently :/

F9 – F12 is cool for being on the edge; F11 is cool for toggling fullscreen (and is another key I lost to my water spill, now I have to use Alt-Enter and Alt-V,F to toggle fullscreen in various situations). F1 is help. Other functions often start at F2 and continue. F5 is refresh. But it’s very rare that programs define so many F-keys as to get up to F9. I declare F9 the most useless F-key.

~` – The tilda/backtick key. Non-unix people probably never use tilda. The backtick is just a gross quote; you should use apostrophe. These unpopular characters end up being a corner key on the main keyboard swath. And you accidentally hit them sometimes when you hit ESCape. A strong argument could be made that this is the most boring and lame key on the keyboard.

OTHER RANDOM MUSINGS

WHICH CONTROL KEY IS BETTER? The left control is way better than the right control. It’s bigger, and I usually hit it with the top of my palm, directly under my pinky finger. Another key you don’t need to hit with your fingertip.

20080203 - preparing for the floor tiling - 151-5161 - Carolyn mousing on the spiral stairs

Keys that are hard to get to SUCK!

SWAPPING CONTROL AND CAPS LOCK: I’ve also used programs to swap left-control and caps lock. It takes some getting used to, but for me, I use control way more than caps lock (even though I use caps lock way more than most people). This is the setup of Sun SparcStation keyboards, and there are Windows programs that allow these to be swapped. It actually allows your hands to move much less. If you don’t use the palm-trick to hit left control (outlined in previous paragraph), it’s actually quite a strain to reach all the way to the bottom left corner to hit control 1000 times a day.

FUNKY ENTER KEYS: The main enter key is often in various shapes and sizes. This makes it an individual in a world of conformist keys, and thus a bit cooler. Though I still prefer the right-enter to the main enter.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave ’em here. I think I’ve fleshed this rant out about as much as possible.

Mood: annoyed
Music: Atari Teenage Riot – Midijunkies