Break The Caps Lock Habit With This Annoying Buzzer

The much-maligned Caps Lock key has been causing problems for decades, and its continued existence is controversial enough that Google decided to drop it all together in their Chromebooks. Until the rest of the industry decides to follow their lead, they’ll likely be no shortage of awkward emails or overly aggressive comments that are the direct result of this treacherous key.

But [Glen Akins] thinks he has the solution. His creation is a tiny little USB notification device that has only one purpose: to make a terrible noise as long as the Caps Lock key is engaged. Think of it like the little indicator LED on your keyboard, but one that makes a terrible screeching noise that you simply can’t ignore. This is made possible by the fact that the Caps Lock status is handled at the OS level rather than the local input device.

The notifier is built around the PIC16F1459, as it allowed him to implement USB 2.0 while keeping the part count low. Beyond the PIC, the board uses a handful of passives and a transistor to drive the buzzer from a PWM signal. To avoid duplicated effort, everything was designed to fit inside the enclosure he already developed for his single-key keyboard that we covered last year. [Glen] and a fellow coworker from Keysight put together an excellent video on the creation and use of the buzzer that you can see after the break.

On the other end of the spectrum, and even smaller, is the “USB Capslocker” which is designed to weaponize this already troublesome feature of your keyboard.

56 thoughts on “Break The Caps Lock Habit With This Annoying Buzzer

    1. Yeah, remapping it is the only rational answer. I’m also a fan of putting escape over there. Unless you’re a dev in one of those strange case-sensitive languages that has lots of all-caps commands in it, which should not exist anyway. I saw some people having an internet fight about it once, and I couldn’t believe that some people thought there was a rational reason for the caps key.

      If there is ever a situation in which you need lots of capital letters in succession, that situation should be phased out and eliminated.

      Putting a buzzer on it only seems to be a way to make it even more irritating, but I guess it’s for youtube views which is fine

    2. I mapped it to 英数 (Eisu) for IME, it’s one of a few keys available for remapping on my 80 key laptop keyboard.
      Magic incantation for reference:
      .Xmodmap
      keycode 66 = Eisu_toggle Caps_Lock
      clear Lock

    1. I did that on my Atari ST. The keyboard was a bit odd, and I kept hitting the cap lock key. Removing the keycap definitely made it harder to hit.

      Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution.

    2. I have it disabled in my Ubuntu keymap, punishing it by not even giving it an alternative function. Sadly, this only takes effect after logging in, so may till cause mishap when entering the login password. Also, the key-code still gets send to remote machines when using VNC over SSH.

    3. Just re-map it to something useful. Vim user and tired of stretching your pinky finger to esc all the time? Remap capslock to esc.

      Tmux user and want an easier to reach key for shortcuts? Re-map capslock to ctrl.

      I’m sure there’s at least one frequently-used modifier key that’s in a more awkward to type position than capslock that you use hundreds of times daily. Pretty much any major OS provides the ability to re-map keys. It doesn’t really take that long to develop the muscle memory for the new key location either.

      Though I might not do this if my job involved having to sit down and use many different people’s computers daily (front-line desktop support or something like that.) ’cause I now get annoyed when I’m at a computer that *doesn’t* have it re-mapped.)

  1. ah. the caps lock, what is not even a caps lock, but a caps invert key. by far the most annoying behavior of the key. pc’s never got it right. don’t know why. yanking it of might be the best solution. will try it momentarily

  2. “Until the rest of the industry decides to follow their lead, they’ll likely be no shortage of awkward emails or overly aggressive comments that are the direct result of this treacherous key.”

    You forgot, kicks you out of games.

  3. I have my keyboard remapped. Caps-Lock is now an additional Ctrl key, and if I ever actually want to use Caps-Lock, I press both Shift keys at the same time, and one Shift key to release Caps-Lock. This would be incredibly annoying when doing install and maintenance of a Kerberos server, as the only way to work with Kerberos without losing one’s mind is to use Caps-Lock.

    1. This, a million times this. Rather than argue that, “No one should ever use caps lock” (read: I don’t have a reason to, and therefore nobody else should either), or “All reasons to use caps lock should be phased out” (see similar reasoning above), just change caps lock to a function or multi-key combo so that you have to intentionally enable/disable.

      We’ve lost the ability to see beyond our own use cases/experiences.

      I’ll go ahead and sacrifice a little credibility here… I’m still a “two spaces at the end of a sentence” guy. I understand the arguments around it not being necessary for formatting/visual reasons with today’s fonts. My reason/use case comes down to parsing text via regex, and it’s a ‘better’ way to distinguish between sentences vs. title/name or abbreviations, etc. It’s definitely an edge case, and while most people don’t spend time parsing text through regex, the “death to two spaces” argument feels the same as, “I don’t do this, nobody else should do this b/c it’s dumb.”

      1. I agree. There are edge cases where caps lock has a legitimate use. Might I put forth as an example the entire construction industry. Everything done on drawings by architects, engineers, designers, etc. is always all uppercase. This is done for a multitude of reasons. Granted some are historically based, and no longer apply. But others are still very valid. As a low voltage technology designer, one reason I can immediately think of is that is gives us a way to normalize the million different formats companies use for part numbers and IDs. Do you realize how hard it is to understand a part number that includes numbers and letters (both uppercase and lowercase)? “Is that a number 1, an uppercase ‘i’ or a lowercase ‘l’?” It’s infuriating!

        In short, “Don’t get rid of the caps lock key!”

    2. I should have added how exactly I do this. With Linux I use the i3 window manager. I have a script named “setkeys” in my ~/bin directory and I call this script from the end of my ~/.config/i3/config file with this line:
      exec “${HOME}/bin/setkeys”

      The setkeys script is simply:
      #!/bin/bash
      setxkbmap -model microsoft4000 -option -option ‘shift:both_capslock_cancel,ctrl:nocaps’

      When I’m running awesomewm, this is handled through a call to ~/bin/setkeys in my ~/.xsessionrc file. If you’re using Gnome or KDE, I know there’s some “run these things at startup” menu you can find in that DE’s config application, or adding a script in ~/.config/autostart-scripts

      You can find more possible settings along with brief descriptions in the xkb definition files. The system I’m at now is Ubuntu and the file to look at is: /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/base.lst

  4. The instrument division of Hewlett Packard used to be famous for their electronic pranks and DIY gadgets. I’m glad to see that Keysight has inherited and maintained that tradition.

  5. I guess I haven’t had a problem with the Caps lock key. It has always worked fine for me. I don’t use it often, but it is useful at times rather than trying to hold the shift key down while typing.

  6. This is for people who look at the keyboard while typing rather than for people who look at the screen while typing.

    If you can’t touch type, the caps lock key can be a problem.

  7. Caps lock had a use on the old Royal manual typewriter that I used to use, and there was a reason for it to be located above the shift key. But it’s not needed and is in fact counterproductive on a computer.

    For decades, I remapped it to cntl, until I got my latest employer-provided macbook pro where they foolishly eliminated the esc key, substituting a virtual key on a touch bar. The touch bar gives no tactile feedback, and sometimes the spot where esc should be located is used for some other function. A real hardware esc key is needed for both vi and emacs! Now my caps lock performs the esc function.

    I do admire the buzzer, both in its intent and in the execution. But it would never sound on any computer I own.

  8. Is it just me that never has trouble with the caps lock? I seriously don’t understand the issue. You are looking at the screen and see thats it’s on instantly. I also excceeding rarely accidentally hit it.

    1. I agree it’s not a problem if you’re looking at what you’re typing. But as a touch typist, I don’t need to look at what I’m typing, and I never look at the keyboard. Sometimes I read paper and type what I’m reading into the computer. Sometimes I type in a field that is masked, such as a password.

      I guess I agree that it’s rarely a problem, but it’s never a benefit, so even if it’s only a problem once a year, it’s a net negative.

    2. No, I look at the screen after half a sentence or so.
      My keyboard has only a tiny LED (0,7mm and barely visible in daylight) for caps lock, most wireless keyboards don’t have any. I changed the behavior of the caps lock to switch it on only and use the shift key to switch it off. But I would like to not only have the option “either / or)” but also tat both keys switch it off. Like on the old mech. typewriter off my mum. When this was possible in a mechanical system, it should be possible on a computer with no problem.
      A really bright caps lock LED would be the best solution. A buzzer would drive my colleagues crazy.

  9. I replaced the caps lock LED on my keyboard with one of those obnoxious self flashing RGB LEDs so that it calls attention to itself. (Long ago, I have also done that modification on another keyboard but with a really bright red LED.)

  10. ITT: I found the caps lock key so annoying that I devised a way to make it more annoying!

    Looks like I am in the minority here. I agree that the caps lock serves little to no purpose, but I very almost never hit it by accident and it certainly does not annoy me enough to warrant any of the anger/frustration that I see above.

    On a serious note, the project itself has fantastic build quality and a clear and concise write up that I wish all projects could have. Good work on that part [Glen Akins]

  11. That’s very cool but personally I don’t have any issues with caps lock , on the contrary, sometimes I need to use it to write references on Kicad, or long header names on some documents.

  12. Windows since many versions ago has the option to issue a high pitch tone when Caps Lock or Num Lock is pressed, and a low pitch tone when either is “released”. This feature is now under Ease of Access, Keyboard, Use Toggle Keys.

    I am sure Chrome books should have this somewhere too.

  13. Why the hate for Caps Lock? I use it often during programming and system administration. Don’t you?

    People who think they’re smart do stuff like remap Control or Escape to Caps Lock.

    People who are actually smart buy a programmable keyboard with split spacebar. A whole 6 units of space split up into different keys. You’ll never have to worry about using your pinkys to hit anything below the home row ever again. Get an ErgoDox or some other ergonomic keyboard derivative, and give it a try.

  14. I don’t understand the issue with the caps lock key. I never hit that key by mistake, ever. So I read all those comments on what the key was remapped to.. How can remapping the key help those who accidentally press it ? If you keep on pressing it, no matter the function you assign to it , you’re still going to hit it .. Now those that remove the key , smart idea. I still don’t understand how this could be the only key on a keyboard that these people cAN’T HIT PROPERLY?

    Caps intended ;)

  15. Windows has a registry setting that can disable it or remap it to any other key.

    The usability is something that only a programmer could love, but here’s a page with some downloadable .reg files to make it easier:

    https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/disable-caps-lock-key-in-windows-vista/

    You should open those sample files in notepad and sanity-check them before you apply them to your registry though, just in case they aren’t what they claim. Registry files are a malware vector.

  16. I didn’t know about remapping, but I have as habit used mostly the left shift key since the beginning. Thus I have a lot of keyboards with the offending keytop missing, and a hole where it was. Pluck with luck, save it or not.

    The (by most) most useless key is scroll lock, on my setup is the key which just turns on that tiny light inside. One day I noticed when I had two keyboards (PS2 and USB) that the lights on both keyboards were in a duplicate mode. So I hacked the little circuit board of a cheap USB keyboard with a single transistor on the scroll lock light and have it drive a relay to mute the radio tuner feed to the same mixer-amp as the computer sound is sent to.

    Seems like this article’s results could be done that way, just have the relay do whatever negative response you want. All it takes is a junk keyboard and a low current reed relay that the USB +5 will support driving.

    On Linux I notice the scroll lock is not supported, arrugh. So I would have to use num lock or a slim keytop on the caps lock key, and when typing not listen to the radio. I would like to hack a second relay and lock key turn on some lighting, maybe three. Don’t take my legacy keys away.

  17. That’s the only key that allows French uppercase accentuated characters on a MacOSX system. That’s a genius move from Apple, and everytime I have to use Windows to write French text on it, I’m feeling lonely. That *f*ucking* key’s behavior should have been the default. So don’t blame the Key, blame the OS (Windows/Linux) for not using it to its real potential.

  18. This seems like an odd place for people to have an issue with the caps lock key. Engineering is full of all caps; it’s part of most drawing standards. When I see lower case on a drawing, it’s generally a drawing that’s missing half the necessary details because people generally learn the all caps rule before they learn how to dimension properly. A lot of companies mandate it for file names as well, and for good reasons. My biggest problem with it is when the LED for it is too bright compared to the screen, then it can draw the eye down…an issue for something that I only turn off maybe 10% of the time. If it wasn’t conveniently placed, I’d just leave it on when sending quick messages and use lower case words to yell at people instead!

  19. Does this work on OSX? I did something similar a while back and noticed that OSX doesn’t send those reports to all connected devices, only the device that issues it. Or something like that. If you plug in an external keyboard and hit caps on your laptop keyboard the external devices caps lock led wont light up.

  20. If it Caps Lock does end up departing, I for one (probably the only one) would mourn it’s loss. For whatever reason Mechanical/Fabrication drawings always use Caps for every note. So there you have it… in one industry corner case you DO need Caps Lock!

  21. My gut reaction was this sounds horrible. But then.. I can’t remember the last time I actually used the caps lock key!

    Maybe I should map it to be my compose key. That would be more useful for sure!

  22. What the heck – Solutions that are in search of a problem usually create more problems.

    I have never heard of a problem with the Caps Lock. Like someone else suggested – I need it and use it all the time. I do mechanical engineering, and it is an absolute requirement that all drawings are 100% caps. Also, I make certain that the database info, drawing info, and spreadsheet info all match perfectly, which means more caps. I can work hours at a time with the caps lock on.

    Please don’t make people think that this is a problem that needs to change.

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