austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Typewriter fever gives birth to a flood

If you ever have an infinite amount of time I suggest cleaning out a keyboard. I feel compelled to explain by an ``infinite amount of time'' I mean an infinite interval in the Lebesgue-measure sense, not countably or uncountably many discrete points of time since, under the latter interpretation, basic Cantorian study shows every continuous interval, however brief, is infinite and clearly I don't mean that's infinite enough for keyboard-cleaning. People shy away from me in elevators.

Keyboard-cleaning is a grand pastime since there's keyboards everywhere --- on your laptop, on your desk, hanging to the wall for a 1970s science fictiony movie look, embedded in the refrigerator for Brussels sprouts to send e-mail, clinging to your car's exterior begging to be let in --- and they're filthy, especially lesser keys which just accumulate topsoil. The United States Keyboard Farming Association estimates over $1.6 million worth of tomatoes are grown each year just in Delaware keyboards, then collapses back into its chairs, giggling with mad abandon.

Yet however new a keyboard is, there's abundant hair and other debris under the keys. On the modern keyboard more than half the keys are just diversions for the debris-production process, on the theory that horrifying wads of sugar-laden hair stuck under F9 are at least not jammed under the space bar. It doesn't work, but we're keeping employed the small-town, independent-shop SysRq key smiths.

Nobody knows where this gunk comes from. The average iPad's gotten three pounds of debris under the keys just since Saturday, and the iPad keys don't even exist. Cosmologists estimate four percent of all the universe's mass is hidden in keyboards. The Andromeda Galaxy is generally accepted as just keeping a really big ``R'' key from typing neatly. There's always more grit.

The phenomenon was noticed in the late 19th century, when the first typewriters were patented except for all the typewriters patented before the late 19th century. Keyboard grit was briefly useful, as it could be mixed with topsoil and make the later states bigger ones. Alaska is so huge because after World War II the nation opened the Strategic Typewriter Repository in Fairbanks. Hawaii looks tiny but before keyboard gunk there wasn't even a Pacific Basin. The whole ocean floor was keyboard-grit.

The fun way of cleaning keyboards is using compressed-air cans and blasting it. This way you get hair, fingernails, Cheetos dust, and what is convenient to believe are not stale boogers blasted into your mouth. This teaches you to keep your mouth closed, so you stop speaking intelligibly to other people, saving you from saying dumb things like ``I'm hoping to run this Windows 2.0 emulator''.

Plus after giving up on keyboard-cleaning you can blast compressed air around and tip the can sideways wondering if that weirdness is from the sideways-ness or the can running out, see what parts of the cat you can blast without being clawed (you can't), and get your hand cold-welded to the can. That's useful for days: you can say ``I'd love to help fix your dishwasher, but I have a can of compressed air cold-welded to my hand!'' That can stop people asking you for anything for ages.

Fishing with Post-It Note sticky sides between keys pulls out grit, but forces you to see the grit. You acclimate to the fingernails, popcorn kernels, lollipop shards, little saddles that mice use to ride squirrels, and so on. Then you realize you acclimated, get the whole chore's worth of grossed-outness at once, and run to the other room to squirm. You could put the keyboard in the dishwasher, but that's broken and you all your friends have air cans cold-welded to their hands.

If you want to try anyway, and have a laptop, remember first to remove the battery, then the other battery, any DVDs, and maybe also take off the screen, and the motherboard, and the daughterboard, and the graphics card, and maybe the casing. Then quietly throw the keyboard away and buy a replacement. If you order it online order the new keyboard first. Remember to patronize a local SysRq key smith.

Trivia: Royal typewriters were tested before shipping, among other things, by being used to type a series of lower and uppercase N's (``nNnNnNnN''), and the sentence ``Amaranath sasesusos Oronoco initiation secedes Uruguay Philadelphia''. Source: The Wonderful Writing Machine, Bruce Bliven Jr.

Currently Reading: The Ghost Map: The Story Of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic --- And How It Changed Science, Cities, And The Modern World, Steven Johnson.


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