Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Epoxy Keytopper Update

As you can see, I've been iterating the epoxy keytopper experiment, and I'm quite pleased with the progress we've had so far. I got some opaque resin dye to make the keys a bit more attractive. They're sort of a smoky gray color in this batch; I think I'll use more dye in the next batch to see if I can make them truly black. This batch of keys is also thicker and stiffer for some reason, whether because I didn't use enough hardener in my first batch (I sort of approximated the one-to-one ratio) or because I made sure to fill the wells all the way up to the top. I think it's an improvement, because while the keys are harder to cut down to size using scissors, they also don't flex and buckle the way the first batch did, making the overall feel a much more secure one. Because I didn't cut the keys down, though, I had to lift them up so their overlapping edges didn't accidentally press the keys in the row beneath them. I bought a couple of packets of foam mounting squares (usually used for scrapbooking) and stuck 'em on, two squares per key. It works fairly well, though as you can see my rows are not quite even, and there's precious little wiggle room between certain of the keys. I'll definitely have to come up with a more consistent method of sticking these things on. It's still too haphazard and time-consuming. Plus the adhesive on the mounting squares is definitely too weak to stand up to repeated off-center pressure from pressing on these keys. I think to be truly effective we'll probably have to put a small glob of superglue between each of the four layers. I think the company that was supposedly selling the silicone Sidewinder skin ripped me off; they charged my Paypal account, but I haven't seen any sign of the skin, and they're not answering my emails. ETA: They emailed me a day after I posted this, saying the skin was on back order. So hopefully it'll arrive eventually. Oh well. As you can see from the picture, I had to take the space bar off the machine because otherwise the vowel keys would hit it when they were pressed. (That unearthly red glow is made by the LED backlighting of the Sidewinder. I think I might cover the gap where the space bar used to be with black gaffer's tape, just 'cause it's a little creepy-looking.) So I think this method is going to require permanent conversion of Sidewinder into steno machine, which makes me less reluctant to use superglue. I'm happy to report that the feel is already drastically better -- the full-sized, uncut keys are much easier to work with, and the foam gives them a bit of a lift that's also pretty comfortable. I wrote a paragraph or two with Plover on this keyboard and it was drastically better than the first prototype I posted, which itself was quite a bit better than the undoctored keyboard. So I'm hopeful that this will be a good starter machine for the stenocurious at PyGotham, and if I can work out a reliable templating system (any ideas on that are very welcome!) in terms of how to position the keys easily and consistently, I think this would make a nice little kit that we could sell at a modest profit to benefit the Plover Project. The only real bottleneck is the 24-hour curing window between batches, since I still only have the one mold, but that's really not so bad. I think I'm on the right track.

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