Custom Macro Pad Helps Deliver Winning Formulas

For those of us with science and engineering backgrounds, opening the character map or memorizing the Unicode shortcuts for various symbols is a tedious but familiar part of writing reports or presentations. [Magne Lauritzen] thought there had to be a better way and developed the Mathboard.

With more than 80 “of the most commonly used mathematical operators” and the entire Greek alphabet, the Mathboard could prove very useful to a wide number of disciplines. Hardware-wise, the Mathboard is a 4×4 macro pad, but the special sauce is in the key set implementation firmware. While the most straightforward approach would be to pick 16 or 32 symbols for the board, [Magne] felt that didn’t do the wide range of Unicode symbols justice. By implementing a system of columns and layers, he was able to get 6+ symbols per key, giving a much greater breadth of symbols than just 16 keys and a shift layer. The symbols with a dot next to them unlock variants of that symbol by double or triple-tapping the key. For instance, a lower or capital case of a Greek letter.

The Mathboard currently works in Microsoft Office’s equation editor and as a plain-text Unicode board. [Magne] is currently working on LaTeX support and hopes to add Open Office support in the future. This device was an honorable mention in our Odd Inputs and Peculiar Peripherals Contest. If you’d like to see another interesting math-themed board, check out the one on the MCM/70 from 1974.

18 thoughts on “Custom Macro Pad Helps Deliver Winning Formulas

  1. I was hoping to find a quick description of how this works without resorting to searching the source code. I was pretty disappointed the day I learned that keyboards don’t send the actual UTF characters being typed but rather keycodes which are basically button positions. I had hoped to be able to be able to build a supplemental keyboard with math and foreign language symbols.

    So instead I started memorizing Compose Key sequences.

    Apparently that’s also how this macro pad works.

    The mathboard works on Unix systems (including Apple Mac OS) and Windows. When using the Mathboard on Windows, the open source application WinCompose must be installed and running.”

    So I guess it’s just sending the appropriate Compose Key sequences? That’s cool.

    But what’s this stuff about LaTex, MS&Open Offices, etc… Does it somehow know when the user is in one of those programs and send a different set of key sequences? If so then how? That sounds like an interesting hack worthy of some discussion!

    1. DuckyPad has software to do that kind of thing actually. Not sure if I can post a link to it, but it’s always being advertised on the HaD homepage. I have one, and there is software that detects what program has focus and changes the keypad profile accordingly.

  2. If I were to do this – and it does seem like a useful thing – I would use switches with clear removable caps that allow you to change the legend without having to order custom dye-sub caps.

    1. I had them printed with a UV printer. The prints are very durable on the white keys, but on the colored keys they tend to come off after not very much use.

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