Actual physical objects made of stuff · Computers · Flat Things

Can you swap the keyboards between a Thinkpad T40 and an IBM SK-8845?


(I’m posting this because it’s something I searched for and didn’t find an answer to.)

The SK-8845 and its sibling the SK-8840 are IBM-branded keyboards with built-in trackpoint and trackpad.

They appear to be essentially the keyboards from Thinkpad T40 (or T41, T42, T43) laptops, pulled out and put in a separate case for use as a compact keyboard/mouse controller in a server room. They’re pretty good keyboards in a classic Thinkpad laptop sort of way.

I have an SK-8840, which is the (less common?) PS/2 variant. As far as I can tell from photos, without having seen one in person, the SK-8845 is the same keyboard with a USB plug on it.

Here’s the SK-8840:

IBM SK-8840 keyboard. I’m sorry, I removed the trackpoint. I always do – I never use it and it gets in the way a little. I do keep the trackpoints in case I want to sell up though. Have you noticed the trackpoint pin is rotated 45° from the normal Thinkpad keyboards? I wonder why.

Visually this is much the same as the keyboard on the T4x series of Thinkpad laptops, which are truly excellent. It doesn’t feel like a T40 keyboard though. It’s more like the later, still good but not quite so good T60 series. So I wondered whether it was possible to swap the keyboard part with that from (ahem) one of my T4x laptops.

The answer is no: it’s physically incompatible. The plate at the back is different, the connections are different, the stand-offs are different. It may be possible to adapt one into the other and that could be an interesting project for someone more ambitious than me, but it definitely isn’t a case of just pulling out the keyboard part and plugging it in. The same goes for the T60.

Here’s the innards, and the back of the keyboard plate, of the SK-8840:

Here are the backs of the keyboards from a T40 (above) and T60 (below):

That’s all.

Accents · America · Flat Things

Can the American be trusted?

I found a striking bit of cultural conditioning in my head today.

I watched Apple’s introductory video about iOS 7. That’s this one:

If you haven’t seen it already, and have some minutes to spare, watch it now.

The first half is narrated by Jony Ive, Apple’s (former) top hardware designer and (now) chief Designer of Everything.

The second half features Craig Federighi, their top software bod.

I’d be interested to know how you felt while watching the two halves of the video.

I found that for the first half, I was thinking “yes, this is really good work” and agreeing with everything I was told. But as soon as the switchover happened, I felt I was being sold. It wasn’t that I disbelieved it, so much as that I wasn’t able to listen to it: as soon as the words entered my head, my brain captured them and set them aside as marketing guff.

Ive, narrating the first half, is British. His accent is hard to place—I gather he comes from London but spent time in Newcastle—but it’s remarkably unaffected by working for an American company. He speaks slowly and, to me, sounds familiar and quite earnest.

Federighi, in the second half, is American, but I don’t have a good enough ear for American accents to know where from (and Wikipedia doesn’t say). I know nothing about him. But his accent is enough, for me as a British listener, to make me instinctively tune out whatever it is he has to say. I guess I’ve hardly ever heard that accent except in situations where it lacks credibility, and I’ve subconsciously learned from that.

I found this a bit shocking. It’s no surprise that we judge people based on how familiar their accent is, and anyone speaking after Ive (who has a voice good enough to narrate children’s TV) is going to have a hard time. But it was quite a thing, to have that switch in my head made so clear.

[Note: some similar cultural brainwarp is probably going on my earlier piece about Helvetica]

Academics · Code · Flat Things

Can you develop research software on an iPad?

I’ve just written up a blog article for the Software Sustainability Institute about research software development in a “post-PC” world. (Also available on my project’s own site.)

Apart from using the terms “post-PC”, “touch tablet”, “app store”, and “cloud” a disgracefully large number of times, this article sets out a problem that’s been puzzling me for a while.

We’re increasingly trying to use, for everyday computing, devices that are locked down to very limited software distribution channels. They’re locked down to a degree that would have seemed incomprehensible to many developers ten or twenty years ago. Over time, these devices are more and more going to replace PCs as the public idea of what represents a normal computer. As this happens, where will we find scientific software development and the ideals of open publication and software reuse?

I recognise that not all “post-PC” devices (there we go again) have the same terms for software distribution, and that Android in particular is more open than others. (A commenter on Twitter has already pointed out another advantage of Google’s store that I had overlooked in the article.) The “openness” of Android has been widely criticised, but I do believe that its openness in this respect is important; it matters.

Perhaps the answer, then—at least the principled answer—to the question of how to use these devices in research software development is: bin the iPad; use something more open.

But I didn’t set out to make that point, except by implication, because I’m afraid it simply won’t persuade many people. In the audio and music field I work in, Apple already provide the predominant platform across all sizes of device. If there’s one thing I do believe about this technology cycle, it’s that people choose their platform first based on appeal and evident convenience, and then afterwards wonder what else they can do with it. And that’s not wrong. The trick is how to ensure that it is possible to do something with it, and preferably something that can be shared, published, and reused. How to subvert the system, in the name of science.

Any interesting schemes out there?