Article about legendary keyboard maker Cherry's 50-year-history

Nowadays, chances are you associate Cherry with the clickety switches on fancy keyboards. But it's been a global company for decades: if it's boring business-to-business hardware and it clicks, it might well be a Cherry.

With an assist from computing legend and junk mail collector Ted Nelson, the Internet Archive has collected a wide array of catalogs featuring some of Cherry Electronics’ Snap-Action switches from the 1960s. One such circular described Cherry’s appeal to manufacturers as such: “An entire company devoted entirely to one product—switches. This specialization means thorough application analysis … efficient, reliable assembly of switches … automated testing techniques … faster service.” And while the firm is best known for its keyboards today, these switches look nothing like the perfectly clicky mechanisms that Massdrop fans and heavy writers have been fawning over for years.

So where were they used? A notable example of a place where you’ve probably unknowingly used a Cherry microswitch is an arcade.

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ZX Spectrum-style keycaps for your mechanical keyboard

Sinclair's ZX Spectrum is one of the UK's classic computers, a cheap and cheerful gadget that went toe-to-toe with more powerful, expensive stablemates for a decade. What it wasn't lauded for, though, was its terrible soft rubber keyboard...

This was upgraded a couple of years in (perhaps after competitor Amstrad bought out Sinclair and applied adult supervision) with a hard plastic board that was at least theoretically possible to type on:

(These photos are from Tynemouth Software (Previously at Boing Boing), which sells all sorts of useful goodies to put these old machines to modern use.)

Though not the greatest, the Sinclair hard-keyboard was fine by the form-before-function standards of 1980s 8-bit trash computers. And now you can have something very similar indeed on your cherry-stem mechanical keyboard!

Achieve a true vintage look on your ortholinear keyboard with the Teletype Z-Series double-shot keyset, featuring a classic white on black colour scheme.

Z-Series is unlike any other previously available keycap profile, flat and non-sculpted featuring a circular surface and a square base. This profile provides a truly retro computing feel while maintaining a comfortable typing experience. These keycaps are produced by Devlin in the UK.

This keyset is for the Planck keyboard and therefore only contains 1u and 2u keycaps. See the keyset diagram image for all include keys. Please note: This keyset does not feature homing bumps or bars on the F and J keys.

As the copy says, the set fits only the Planck keyboard and other very similar models; perhaps a more complete set will be available later. Read the rest

This keyboard is Zlanted

The Zlant keyboard -- a compromise between tiny "ortholinear" grid keyboards and a traditional staggered layout -- will be available soon.

Plancks are one of my favorite keyboards. However, I've found it to be a little bit of a struggle to get some of my friends into the form factor, especially people who aren't as devoted to mechanical keyboards as we are.

Personally, and I'm sure many of you agree, I consider the Planck to have the most efficient form factor for its size. I feel as though many 40%'s make a few too many sacrifices with what gets placed in additional fn layers. So, after trying to re-work the wheel several times, I realized that (at least for me) the best staggered 40% would really just be a staggered Planck. It's not exactly the same as a standard stagger, using a uniform .25u stagger, but it's enough that it should feel a little more natural to people that can't fully adapt to an ortholinear lifestyle. Additionally, having an identical layout to the Planck from a keycap perspective, it's much easier to find keycaps to fit this layout than many other 40%'s. There are so many keysets out there with Planck/OLKB kits that it's easier to cover a board with keycaps that say what they do instead of just fitting a hole that's the same size.

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Gorgeous low-profile miniature mechanical Planck keyboard

It won't be arriving in time for Easter, let alone Christmas, but this keyboard features three particularly fabulous qualities: the tiny 40% size, the unstaggered grid layout, and a new type of keyswitch that's both mechanical and low-profile. $150 at Massdrop.

Note: The base price is for the assembled Planck Light. It comes in black with tactile switches, black alphas, and white modifiers; in navy with clicky switches, white alphas, and black modifiers; or in silver with linear switches, white alphas, and black modifiers. At checkout, you can get the unassembled kit with your choice of any of the above combinations—including all blank semi-translucent white keycaps—for (- $10). You can also add a carrying sleeve for (+ $8). If you select an assembled keyboard, the other selections at checkout will not apply.

IMPORTANT: Note that it "beeps and boops."

Also notable, the PCB is outfitted with a dual-channel speaker that can play two notes at once (an upgrade from the previous version). In the default firmware this will make a few different noises—like a short series of beeps on startup, notifications when you put the board into Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) mode, plus noises when you change the default layout to prevent mishaps when typing quickly. The speaker can be disabled by flashing new firmware. A noiseless version of the default firmware is available on the GitHub.

(Here is my own planck setup)

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Watch this 120-year old mechanical organ play a song

Martin Molin traveled to Speelklok Museum in Utrecht for a demonstration of the Gavioli Dance Organ, part of his wonderful series on old-timey mechanical instruments. Read the rest

Star Trek keycaps for your mechanical keyboard

The Roddenberry Shop sells the Galaxy Class keyset, designed to look just like the user interfaces from Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spinoffs. If anything, it's a radical improvement on the shifting, zero-travel Okudagrams from the show, as its for mechanical keyboards only. Make it click, number one! Read the rest

Review: Filco Minila Air wireless mechanical keyboard

Filco's Minila Air ($130, Amazon) should be my perfect keyboard: mechanical, high-end, sturdily made, with reliable Bluetooth and a cunning compact layout. It's even smaller than tenkeyless, but still comes with a proper set of arrow keys. It does everything I want—and fits in the same bag as an iPad.

Thing is, though, I don't like it.

My big problem is that it's incredibly thick. Even with the supports flattened, the number row tops out almost two inches from the desk surface! You can always add a rest, but that obviates the keyboard's small dimensions and mobility. My hands are like aching angry spiders, rearing up on the wristbones.

Second, the unique layout has productivity in mind, not my plans to prettify it with fabulous keycaps. I just can't find a set that I like and which will fit. The supplied ones are perfectly decent, though.

Finally, most subjectively, the bulky casing also has some asymmetric greebling at the back. It's subtle, and it has its retro geometric charm, but is not my cup of injection-molded tea.

Were it not for the unexpected bulk of the case, I think I'd be satisfied with the Minila Air thanks to its obvious excellence in most other respects. Reliable wireless is especially rare among mechanical keyboards, for some reason, and models that have it tend to be either unnervingly cheap or annoyingly expensive. I'll be trying the Anne Pro ($90, Amazon) next, but I don't think I can live without my arrows.

Most of the above also applies to the wired version of the Minila ($120, Amazon) as it takes the same form. Read the rest

Halloween keycaps

1up Keyboards has these black and orange keycaps in stock, just in time for spooky season. They're $100 a set, and you'll need to have a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches to plug them into.

ABS Double shot 127 keycaps SA profile Compatible with Cherry style switches

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Alphasmart modded with mechanical keys

The Alphasmart ($30 on Amazon, but also ebay) is a low-end gadget much-loved by writers for its simplicity and enforced focus on the task at hand: writing. But among the many limitations is its cheap rubber-dome keyboard, the stuff of nightmares for serious typists. Enter Lazy Dog on the geekhack forums, who replaced his with a proper clicky 'board, all hacked into the original case.

I designed the PCB in KiCAD. This was my first time using KiCAD or any EDA software. I found it surprisingly straightforward and accessible, but also like most open-source software, possibly designed for use by aliens. ... After carefully connecting the flex cables, screwing it all together, and placing the keycaps, I finally had a fully working machine! It produces predictably loud tock tock tock noises, and is an enormous improvement over the previous keys.

What a beautiful monster. Read the rest

Preonic keyboard puts the keys on a grid

For a while I switched to a tiny ortholinear keyboard, the Planck, but gave up wrestling with both a new layout and the lack of unshifted numbers. But the Preonic, being offered in a month-long group buy at Massdrop, is tempting me with all its extra keys. It's $130 and requires assembly (soldering the switches, but not the board), with some case and keycap options to pick from.

(If you're wondering, these are for people who hate typing fast.) Read the rest

Data entry man at gas station has been taking inventory for 30 years

He can type numbers faster than I can read them!

Incredible data entry

I slowmoed down and calculated about 80+ WPM at 5 per word. Although it's all numbers so even faster. He said he had been doing this for 30 years! People that came into store would stop in their tracks and watch this guy with their jaw dropped. At first I thought is this for real and it was!

I couldn't figure out what make that portable data entry terminal is. I suspect it's quite old, but my shame is complete. Anyone know what model it is? Read the rest

Clickeybits: fidget toy made with clicky keyboard keys

Someone has beaten me to it: a fidget toy make of clicky keyboard switches. Clickeybits is a polyhedron into which six keycaps will go, and you can peck away at them individually or just roll it around for an orgasmic deluge of clicks. Read the rest

The best guide to mechanical keyboard switches

Like me, you may have taken an interest in mechanical keyboards only to uncover a world of baffling options. "Can I have a clicky one, please" is like asking for a drink in a pub: they'll stare at you for a moment then say "which one, mate?" Brandon West reminded me that Input.Club is the best guide to all the options available, so when someone asks you if you want your Cherry Yellow or a nice Lubed Zealio, you'll know to slap them hard across the chops and say, "How dare you. 55g Topre Realforce Linears or nothing." Read the rest

Make your keyboard look like a subway map

SA Metro is a set of keys for mechanical keyboards that form colored subway lines in the classic style of the London Underground map. Three editions are planned, covering staggered, gridded and ergonomic keyboard layouts; to be absolutely clear, it lacks standard legends. If it gets enough votes at Massdrop, it will be manufactured by Signature Plastics.

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Alien semiotics keycaps for your mechanical keyboard

The typography and semiotics of Alien are fascinating, and now you can have them on your keyboard. The G20 Semiotic Keycap Set from Signature Plastics embodies almost all of Rob Cobb's design work for the movie, right down to the references to Hindu mysticism from the briefly-glimpsed self-destruction console keyboard. Read the rest

An interesting collection of artisanal space bars

This is already a thing—the mechanical keyboards subreddit is my God now—but it should be more of a thing.

A collection of spacebars [imgur] Read the rest

History of Mechanical Keyboards

Andrew Lekashman offers a brief pictorial a history of mechanical keyboards, from adding machines to dumb terminals to Symbolics monstrosities to modern blank-key hacker totems. There was a lot of ingenious tech left by the wayside on the way to finding the perfect click.

Pictured above is one not included in the roundup, a particularly beautiful Raytheon(!) model that can be bought on eBay for $300, then sent to me.

Lekashman's tastes are grittier:

Ultrasonic I Plus

This keyboard is acoustic and operates entirely by vibration. This makes it more like a musical instrument than a workplace device. This is something that hasn’t been replicated in the keyboard market since 1982. The specific principle that allows it to work is called Time Difference Of Arrival (TDOA). This is like a form of echo-location to measure which key hits the acoustic transfer bar. Whenever a switch is pressed, a metal “slapper” strikes the bar, and transducers measure the sound wave produced, which differs based on the distance of the slapper from the transducer. Typing on the keyboard is delightfully clicky and pleasantly tactile.

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