The quintessential input device, the keyboard, despite its similarities to the typewriter, is nevertheless the subject of great confusion. Some of the most important, basic keys are misunderstood. Some even fail to recognize that hitting a letter on the keyboard causes the same letter to appear on the screen. With a keyboard as a prop, hysterical antics of many sorts can follow.
We have a service contract at a local college. I got a call one day from someone who said that their Mac IIsi was having a problem. Upon questioning him, he said that whenever he typed on the keyboard, the image on the monitor was shaking. All sorts of monitor problems ran through my mind. I asked him if it was only when he typed and he replied yes. Well, since it was a contract, I figured we'd better go see what was happening. My tech called me about ten minutes after arriving and reported that the problem was not the computer, but his desk. The desk vibrated every time he typed on his keyboard. I am still shaking my head on this one. The sad thing is that this guy has "Dr." in front of his name and is a professor at a major college.
For a computer programming class, I sat directly across from someone, and our computers were facing away from each other. A few minutes into the class, she got up to leave the room. I reached between our computers and switched the inputs for the keyboards. She came back and started typing and immediately got a distressed look on her face. She called the teacher over and explained that no matter what she typed, nothing would happen. The teacher tried everything. By this time I was hiding behind my monitor and quaking red-faced. I started to type, "Leave me alone!"
They both jumped back, silenced. "What the..." the teacher said. I typed, "I said leave me alone!" The kid got real upset. "I didn't do anything to it, I swear!" It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. The conversation between them and HAL 2000 went on for an amazing five minutes.
Me: "Don't touch me!"
Her: "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hit your keys that hard."
Me: "Who do you think you are anyway?!"
Etc. Finally, I couldn't contain myself any longer and fell out of my chair laughing. After they had realized what I had done, they both turned beet red. Funny, I never got more than a C- in that class.
Many people have called to ask where the "any" key is on their keyboards when the "Press Any Key" message is displayed.
Tech Support: "Is the capslock light on?"
Customer: "I'm not a computer person."
This, while fixing a problem starting up the system:
Tech Support: "What other strange irregularities do you notice when you boot up?"
Customer: "My numlock lights up. Could that be the problem?"
One user noted that MAC keyboards are typically relatively small, but that IBM keyboards are "big" things with "keys all around the top and down the sides" and so forth. He figured that this might be one of the reasons why IBMs and MACs "don't like to talk to each other."
I was helping an executive-type over the phone with a VMS command. I kept giving him a command to type, something like "whois xyz1234". He kept getting an error back. Finally I asked him to read exactly what he was typing, letter-by-letter, "w-h-o-i-s-s-p-a-c-e-x-y-z-1-2-3-4". I told him to type a blank instead of the word "space." He then asked me how to do that. Trying not to laugh, I explained what that long key at the bottom of the keyboard was for.
Tech Support: "Now press the spacebar."
Customer: "Return bar?"
Tech Support: "No, space bar. Space."
Customer: "I have an enter bar, return bar, and a shift key?"
Tech Support: "No, space. Space bar. The long horizontal key."
Customer: [confused sounds]
Tech Support: "Ok, see your c, v, b, n, and m keys?"
Tech Support: "Right under them."
Customer: "How many keys are on the 124-key keyboard?"
Customer: "What's the zero-with-the-slash-through-it mean?"
Customer: "Is that the letter zero or the number zero?"
Tech Support: "Your password will be...a small 'a' as in apple, a capital 'V' as in Victor, the number '7' --"
Customer: "Is that a capital '7'?"
This guy calls in to complain that he gets an "Access Denied" message every time he logs in. It turned out he was typing his username and password in capital letters.
Tech Support: "Ok, let's try once more, but use lower case letters."
Customer: "Uh, I only have capital letters on my keyboard."
Customer: "So I hold down control, alternator, and delete?"
Back in the good old pre-PC days we sold a system that required the user to hit Ctrl-A in order to sign on. We sold one to some outfit in Canada. Well, trying to get them going over the phone took an hour. We'd say, "Hit Ctrl-A," and they'd say, "Ok, we hit Ctrl, eh? And nothing happened, eh?"
I saw a woman sitting patiently at her desk, staring directly at her monitor, doing nothing. Figuring something was up, I looked over her shoulder to see that she had typed her name on the command line. I asked what she was waiting for, and her reply was that she was waiting for the computer to log her on. Only problem, she hadn't hit the "LOG ON" key. She'd have sat there all day.
Another user called in one day with an installation problem. I talked him through the process of getting to a DOS prompt and asked him to type, "D I R Space A Colon" and press Enter. I heard 5 slow erratic key clicks followed by a very long pause. Finally, he asked, "What's the colon look like?" I told him it's the key with one dot below another dot. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "The two-dots key! Why didn't you say so?"
Customer: "It still doesn't work."
Tech Support: "And you are typing the underscore character?"
Customer: "Yes. I call it the dash."
A friend of mine had just discovered email, and I noticed him pause for a few moments, examining the keyboard. "What's wrong?" I asked. He said, "Where's the smiley key!?!"
A user called me with problems installing her PC Access and it sounded like it might be a defective floppy, so I had her get to a DOS prompt. I told her to type "D I R Space A Colon" and press Enter. After a long pause she asked, "Do you want anything in that space?"
Tech Support: "Type 'D I R Space A Colon.'"
Customer: "Is there a space after 'space'?"
It's really bad when the computer does something stupid. Presumably, the programmers of the operating system or system software would know better. Many computers are known to report the following error message when the keyboard is not plugged in:
"Error #101: No keyboard. Press F1 to continue."
...or some variation thereof.
Customer: "What am I getting a keyboard error for? The keyboard isn't even plugged in!"
Email from a friend:
Tech Support: "Ok Bob, let's press the control and escape keys at the same time. That brings up a task list in the middle of the screen. Now type the letter 'P' to bring up the Program Manager."
Customer: "I don't have a 'P'."
Tech Support: "On your keyboard, Bob."
Customer: "What do you mean?"
Tech Support: "'P' on your keyboard, Bob."
Customer: "I'm not going to do that!"
My friend was on duty in the main lab on a quiet afternoon. He noticed a young woman sitting in front of one of the workstations with her arms crossed across her chest and staring at the screen. After about 15 minutes he noticed that she was still in the same position only now she was impatiently tapping her foot. He asked if she needed help and she replied, "It's about time! I pushed the F1 button over twenty minutes ago!"