A while ago, I wrote about how the keyboard was going out on my old laptop. The circa 2004 Dell was the one I used in my standing desk writing arrangement, and I was reluctant to part with it. Since my setup is narrow, I don’t have a lot of space to have a separate mouse alongside a conventional keyboard. The laptop, with its integrated touchpad, was perfect.
Alas, that laptop’s keyboard was starting to skip, and the screen was dying, too. It would take longer and longer to come up from dimness when I started working with it. I looked into how to disassemble the screen and replace the bulb, the condensers, the transformers or the whole mess. This is certainly not beyond my technical capabilities, as I’ve restored monitors to life previously with some electronics jiggery-pokery. However, this was going to be more work than the poor old darling was worth.
How to proceed? Shell out many hundreds of dollars to buy a new laptop to sit on the writing desk? I’m far too tightfisted for that.
I went back to first principles and worked out what I really wanted. Did I NEED a computer that I could set up at a comfortable writing height on a very small surface? Well… no, actually. Come to think of it, I don’t. I just need the keyboard to be at a comfortable height to work at, and the screen to be at a good height and angle to look at.
So in truth, I didn’t really NEED a laptop to write on, per se, just the convenient form factor of a laptop. I came to realize that what I really needed was a wireless keyboard with an integrated touchpad. This is the one I bought, a Keysonic ACK-540RF. I could hook up to the laptop and use it to drive a conventional computer and screen. The dying keyboard and screen on my old laptop wouldn’t be an issue, since it would serve as little more than the box to drive all the peripherals.
Once I made that conceptual leap, it wasn’t much of a stretch to abandon the laptop altogether. From the dark corridors of the Office of Obsolete Objects, found in the far-flung Forbidden Forest, I scrounged an old PC and an old, unused screen. After blowing off the dust, finding adapters for the old sockets and installing 10^3 updates and security patches, the machine was ready to serve as a writing box. I set up my keyboard + touchpad combo device on my standing desk, plugged in the USB wireless dongle and, presto, I’m back in business for less than $70. My standing desk is right back in service. With yWriter and DropBox, my writing is wherever I need it to be.
Actually, since this PC is marginally newer than that old laptop, it’s a bit faster. This isn’t really much of an issue on the typing itself, but it shows up during the disk access on saves and loads.
The one thing that has been an adjustment is that this keyboard has a slightly compacted layout. I touch-type, so the letters aren’t an issue, but my fingers haven’t quite learned yet where all the peripheral keys are. I guess I could remap the thing to make the INS and DEL keys (which are now little slivers on the bottom row, below the SHIFT) map onto the SCROLL LOCK and PAUSE BREAK keys, which are up in the upper right. I keep pressing PAUSE BREAK when I mean to press DEL. Maybe one day I’ll get around to it.
In the meantime, I have learned that, once again, there is ALWAYS a tech solution for your problem, once you spend some time in thought to determine what your problem actually is.