Two-Thirds Keyboard Is Inspired By The Typesetting Era

We see all kinds of custom keyboard builds around here. Most of them are intended to optimize typing to the user’s desires. This glorious build from [Attoparsec] isn’t one of those, and is instead part of the growing joke keyboard genre. The so-called Two-Thirds Keyboard is inspired by the long-gone typesetting era.

The build is based on the typecases used in the era when type was assembled by hand. Typesetters would grab “majuscule” letters from the upper case of type, and “miniscule” letters from the lower case of type, when setting a page, which would go on to influence how we refer to those letters today. Letters that came up more often, like e and s, would get larger compartments in the type cases, while rarer letters like z and q would get smaller compartments. The Two-Thirds keyboard replicates this by giving the most common letters the biggest keys, while rarer letters and upper-case majuscule letters get smaller keys. The overall layout matches that of the popular Two-Thirds California Case of type that grew popular in the US in the typesetting era.

There were some engineering issues in building the keyboard. While stabilizers are available for wide keys like Enter and Space in regular keyboard designs, stabilizing keys that are wide and high is fussy. The build relies on multiple switches to enable them to move cleanly. Nor were 2×2 and 2×3-sized custom keycaps readily available. In the end, resin printing was key to producing all the necessary components.

Typing on the keyboard is not quick, but lower speeds were probably acceptable in the typesetting era. Regardless, [Attoparsec] used it for a full week to do it justice, going from around 10  wpm to 22 wpm by the end of the test.

It’s a fun build, but by no means the slowest keyboard we’ve ever seen.

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The Haunting Last Day Of Hot Metal Typesetting At The New York Times

The short film, Farewell — ETAOIN SHRDLU, produced in 1978 covers the very last day the New York Times was set for printing in the old way, using hot metal typesetting.

We’ve covered the magic of linotype machines before, but to see them used as they were in their prime is something else. They saw nearly a hundred years of complete industry dominance. Linotype machines had entire guilds dedicated to their use. Tradesmen built their lives around them. For some of us we see the rise and fall of technology as an expected thing. Something that happens normally, sometimes within spans that cover only a few short years. Yet it’s still a strange thing to see a technology so widely used shut down so completely and relatively rapidly.

To make it even stranger, the computer that replaced the linotype machines is so alien to the technology used today that even it is an oddity. In the end only the shadow of the ‘new’ technologies — showcased as state of the art in this video — are still in use. Nonetheless it’s important to see where we came from and to understand what it means to innovate. Plus, you never know when you see an old idea that’s ready for a bit of refurbishment. Who knows, maybe part of the linotype’s spirit is ready to be reborn, and all it takes is a clever hacker to see it.

Oh, and that title — ‘etaoin shrdlu‘ — is the linotype equivalent of ‘qwerty’. The first two columns of keys on the linotype machine make up those two words.

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Finally, LaTeX In HTML Files

Writing a paper in LaTeX will always result in beautiful output, but if you’d like to put that document up on the web you’re limited to two reasonable options: serve the document as a .PDF (with the horrors involves, although Chrome makes things much more palatable), or relying on third-party browser plugins like TeX The World. Now that [Todd Lehman] has finally cooked up a perl script to embed LaTeX in HTML documents, there’s no reason to type e^i*pi + 1 = 0 anymore.

For those not in the know, LaTeX is a document typesetting language that produces beautiful output, usually in PDF form. Unfortunately, when [Tim Berners-Lee] was inventing HTML, he decided to roll his own markup language instead of simply stealing it from [Don Knuth]. Since then, LaTeX aficionados have had to make do with putting TeX snippets into web pages as images or relying on the [; \LaTeX ;] generated from the TeX The World browser extension.

[Todd Lehman]’s perl script generates the PDF of his LaTeX file and pulls out all the weird font and math symbols into PNG files. These PNG files are carefully embedded into the HTML file generated from the normal text pulled from the LaTeX file. It’s a ton of work to get these document systems working correctly, but at least there’s a reasonable way to put good-looking LaTeX on the web now.