Helpless ... and proud of it

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Since today is a Friday, I’m going to indulge in some frivolous commentary about my new keyboard. OK, so it’s not really new; it’s just “newly modified.” Take a look at my keyboard, pictured below.

Now, some might describe this keyboard as “broken”; I call it “improved.”

You see, one of my pet peeves about computer keyboards has long been the location of the Help key. It’s a key that is rarely used, yet it’s positioned directly beside one of the most frequently-used keys, Delete. So unless you’re an extremely precise typer, you occasionally hit the Help key accidentally. I, by my own admission, am not an accurate typer. I hit this key far too often.

Sure, there are a number infrequently-used keys located next to frequently-used ones. The difference with Help is that unlike, say, the tilde key, which simply types a character that can quickly be deleted, pressing the Help key launches the current application’s Help system—which proceeds to take over your system as it launches. Apple’s Help system is bad enough, with its glacially slow loading, but at least you can quit it when it’s finished via a quick Command+Q.

The real offenders are applications such as Microsoft Office: Once Office’s help system launches, there’s no way to dismiss it via the keyboard; you have to manually mouse over to the teeny-weeny close button. In either case, if you’re typing along at full steam, trying to keep up with a stream of literary consciousness, accidentally pressing Help brings your transcription to a screeching halt.

(Back in Mac OS 9, there was a handy utility called Helpless that simply deactivated the Help key. Sadly—for me, at least—there’s no OS X equivalent. I could use a keyboard macro/shortcut utility such as Script Software’s iKey to assign, well, nothing to the Help key—so that it doesn’t do anything when I press it—but installing software to remove keyboard functionality seems a bit backward.)

So earlier this week, after yet another fit of accidental-help-system-launch frustration, I decided to take drastic measures. I simply pried off the Help key itself. Yanked it out like a loose tooth begging to be pulled. I haven’t hit the Help key since, and one of my biggest little computer annoyances has been solved. Permanently. If I need to use Help, I just access it from the menu bar.

Actually, on my Tactile Pro keyboard, there’s still a recessed button that I can press; I just can’t hit it accidentally.

This solution may not look great, since my keyboard now has a little hole where the Help key used to be, but it works. And I admit that I got a little bit of perverse satisfaction when I pulled that key out, knowing it would never have the pleasure of interrupting my work again.

My real beef is with the genius who many years ago decided to put such a “destructive-to-workflow” button next to one of the most frequently used keys on the keyboard. But at least now I think about that person only when pondering theories of hardware design, rather than several times each day when my work is interrupted.

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