Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wet Words

Yesterday I took apart my office keyboard for some much-needed cleaning.

I own a very old keyboard. It was the same one assigned to me when I first started working in my company over five years ago. Although I've changed PCs twice in those last five years, the keyboard has always come with me (as has the mouse and the CD-ROM drive, but this story wouldn't be as interesting with them). For all I know, it could even have been a used keyboard, which would imply that it could have had a succession of owners even before my arrival.

Why clean the keyboard? I just noticed that it was starting to look old and ratty at first glance. That, and I've been under a great deal of stress at work lately. An easy, non-thought-oriented menial task was quite welcome under the current circumstances.

I started off by borrowing a philips screwdriver from the Technical Maintenance department, which was pretty much all the hardware I needed for the task. ("What do you need the screwdriver for, Sean?" "Oh, nothing... I just wanted to see if it could fit up my nose, that's all.") From there, it took me only a few minutes to shut down my PC, disconnect the keyboard, and remove the twelve screws holding its casing together.

If you haven't seen the insides of a keyboard, I can tell you that it's a pretty mundane sight. Your basic keys are attached to the top half of the casing, and are set so that every keypress will exert pressure on one specific area of a thin rubber mat. Beneath this rubber mat is a sensor plate that detects where you punched your key, and transmits that information to the PC for digital translation. (What this means is that, if you're using a Qwerty-type keyboard, you can rearrange the keys however you want and still type according to the Qwerty configuration. But you probably knew that already, didn't you?)

While the mat and the sensor plate both looked fine, I was overly concerned with the top part of the casing where the keys were located. Years of putting up with my work habits had trapped any number of foreign materials between the keys and the case; By the time I finished removing all the buttons with a blunt plastic instrument, I could see the accumulation of dust, dirt, grime, hair, dandruff and bread-bits staring right back at me. For that matter, I suspected that a few more years would have molded the combination into a new form of earthly life.

It took me the better part of an hour -- and half a roll of tissue paper -- to get the casing clean. Even then, it had a burnt and smudged look where the grime simply refused to come off with a single dry wipe, and in some places the hair and dirt had already matted into solitary protozoan cells. I had to run the entire thing under a bathroom faucet and give it another wipedown just to give it the mere illusion of cleanliness.

The keys were another matter altogether. After I pried all of them loose, I dropped the entire mass of disembodied words into a Tupperware container for temporary storage. Remembering what happened with the main casing, however, I ended up filling the container with water a few times for a quick rinse, then taking out and wiping the soggy letters one by one. It felt strange , spending the better part of an hour cleaning one key at a time.

Of course, I knew better than to stack a bunch of wet materials onto a bunch of electronic components, so I stationed all of the above items in front of an industrial-sized electric fan and waited for them to dry.

After that, it was all a matter of putting everything back together again. I mulled over the possibility of giving myself a Dvorak configuration instead of the previous Qwerty-type setup, but I eventually decided that the size of my current workload discouraged it.

So now I have a clean keyboard. How does it feel, you ask?

Well, strangely enough, it feels a little sticky. It works just fine, but the keys seem a little, er, "slower" than normal. I don't know if it's because I did something wrong when I screwed the case back together again, or if it's simply because I'm not used to a clean keyboard. If you're the type of person who enjoys seeing it that way, I could be writing this entry merely because I want to reassure myself with these relatively pristine keys.

It's probably all good in the end, though. Even if I don't get used to this, I suppose that I can always just ask for a new keyboard. :)


* Sean in no way condones the wanton dissection of keyboards, even if they've committed heinous crimes beyond human ken. If you're planning to pry apart your keyboard to clean its insides, fix a problem with the sensor plate, or look for buried treasure, then be my guest. Just don't forget that I won't take any responsibility for when it ups and dies on you like a good electronic component does.

9 comments:

DarkHalf said...

LOL! I used to clean my keyboards once every 6 months when I still had a desktop (I use a laptop now). It was never a pretty sight. ;)

I *shudder* to imagine what I'll find if I decide to dissect my laptop's keyboard.

Maybe I'll stick to using a vacuum cleaner with a narrow head specifically to be used for vacuuming electronic parts. :)

cathy said...

Can't you just use alcohol instead of water? or get those plastic static dust thingies.

Actually, cleaning things is a good way to de-clutter your mind. I actually find cleaning up or organizing things relaxing...

> I've been reading your blog for quite some time now. I just can't find the time to leave a comment. Hope you don't mind.

Sean said...

Darkhalf: Oooh, that's great. It's nice to see that I'm not the only insane person in the world. :)

Besides... wouldn't dissecting your laptop's keyboard mean that you'd essentially be dissecting the laptop itself? It's not something I'd do to an instrument that most likely cost me an arm and a leg...


Cathy: I did consider using alcohol, but I wasn't sure if it was safe to use on the insides of a keyboard, or if it leaves any long-term residue when it dries. For that matter, I also imagined the possibility of the single-celled organisms feasting on the stuff. :)

It's okay if you don't leave any comments, actually. We all seem to be busy nowadays for some reason. I must point out that I've only been updating once a week lately, which is a far cry from my previous three-times-a-week habit.

jeff-reiji said...

that I agree. when doing nakaka-ngarag stuff, cleaning, or any similar activity, makes a great form of destressing therapy...

anyway, I just don't know if it makes one an anal person...

Sean said...

Reiji: It does, but only if the activity in question is done regularly. Cleaning a keyboard once every two years would just be weird; Cleaning a keyboard once every four hours would definitely be anal-retentive. :)

DarkHalf said...

Sean: Yes, that's exactly why I don't attempt to dissect my laptop keys. :) *sigh* a mini-vacuum sounds great right about now...

rai said...

my keyboard, albeit covered in dust (i PRESUME it's dust)is sadly to be stranded in such a state until i get over my fear of getting electrocuted while I clean it. O_o Is that stupid? Ha ha ha.

kat said...

Hmm... that makes me want to look closely between the spaces of my keyboard. Then again, maybe not.:)

Sean said...

Kat: You can try not to think about it, but after a few years it starts becoming very intrusive. When you want to write something and find yourself transfixed by the contents of your keyboard, for example, you'll know that it needs cleaning. :)

Rai: That's why I unplugged it first. :) The worst things that can probably happen at that point would involve either stubbing your finger, or damaging the sensor array somehow.

With that said, though... dust is nothing. I found the remnants of KFC lunches in mine. :)