Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

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hjalfi
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Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby hjalfi » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:00 pm

I just scored this from an electronics shop in Zürich. Cost me 25 francs.

IMG_20170916_191811.jpg


It's a brand new Maxi-Switch MAX II keyboard, made about 1979. From the press release, https://www.computerwoche.de/a/max-tast ... ms,1193136, poorly translated out of German by myself:

The MAX II has the same form factor as the MAX I, also are the plugs compatible. The keyboard works with a Intel-Microcomputer 8048 (or the programmable 8748), the scanning-signal for the 60 keys together generating the corresponding US-ASCII codes. For each squeezed key the corresponding code strikes the exit in parallel or in RS232 serial. Because of that the possibilities of this keyboard --- cry [the manufacturers] --- will be labelled as intelligent.


Essentially it's an industrial keyboard which generates ASCII. (Mine doesn't have the serial attachment.)

Embarrassingly, it took me until I got it home and unwrapped it before I realised that the layout was a bit familiar; it's the spitting image of a BBC Micro keyboard. The only difference is that the backtick/pound sign code is generated by shift-@ rather than shift-underscore.

This suggests that the BBC MIcro layout wasn't made up by Acorn --- it's a copy of an existing mainframe layout. This keyboard was made in 1979ish, at which time Acorn was working on the System 3 and the Atom, which had a related but different layout. This suggests that someone had exposure to whichever mainframe my keyboard is copying while doing the BBC/Proton industrial design. And I've also found some very similar Happy Hacking layouts, which corroborates this: http://xahlee.info/kbd/i/happy_hacking_ ... 447832.jpg

So I reckon this is a standard, if an obscure one. Anyone know where this came from? If the layout originally came from a mainframe terminal keyboard, it'd be interesting to know how the Acorn engineers got exposure to it...

(Well, I'd find it interesting.)

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1024MAK
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby 1024MAK » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:31 pm

A lot of the old computers took more hints on keyboard layouts from so called "dumb" terminal keyboard layouts than from other computers.

But most of the old "dumb" terminals and their keyboards have disappeared into silicon heaven...

And I expect that various people who went on to design the late 1970s and early 1980s computers would have encountered the "dumb" terminals as this was the normal communication link with university mainframe computers.

I have seen a web page about these terminals, but the URL escapes me at the moment...

Edit: this is a wiki of computer terminals which includes pictures as well including keyboards. Not the site I was thinking of, but very useful nonetheless :D

Mark
For a "Complete BBC Games Archive" visit www.bbcmicro.co.uk NOW!
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1024MAK
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby 1024MAK » Sat Sep 16, 2017 7:22 pm

More pictures of "dumb" terminals here.

Mark
For a "Complete BBC Games Archive" visit www.bbcmicro.co.uk NOW!
BeebWiki‬ - for answers to many questions...

Revaldinho
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby Revaldinho » Wed Sep 20, 2017 8:26 am

By coincidence I think I have the same Max II keyboard and bought from the very same shop ... but I got mine in about 1992/3 ! It was old-new stock even then. Was it this shop just off Langstrasse ? http://www.pusterla.ch/. Used to be a great treasure trove of cheap components and sometimes quite unusual stuff.

My keyboard is still waiting for me to get around to building a computer to go with it, but I may be actually getting around to doing that. Soon. Very soon. Maybe. :D

Rich

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Rich Talbot-Watkins
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby Rich Talbot-Watkins » Wed Sep 20, 2017 8:36 am

The Mimi 802 made by British Micro also has a keyboard very reminiscent of the Beeb's:

Image

Very slightly different layout, but Shift Lock is there, as well as a big zero glyph which takes up the whole of the key!

They date from 1981, around the same time as the Beeb, so I guess they were probably both inspired by a common ancestor!

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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby hjalfi » Wed Sep 20, 2017 9:05 pm

@Revaldinho: yes! That's the exact place!

Judging by the 'aw' I got when the owner saw me with the keyboard, I suspect it was an old friend. It's still full of wonderfully strange stuff, a lot of it looking like job lots of old-new stock --- weird and ancient connectors, bins full of things made out of bakelite, enormous metal electrical lumps, components by the bucketload, and some rather interesting looking unlabelled boards (going for large prices, unfortunately) which I think might be S100 processor modules.

What I want to do with this is to retrofit it with a PIC and make it speak USB HID. And then use it, to type on. It feels lovely. It has a few interesting features, such as two of the keys being simple switches which bypass the microcontroller completely and just connect two contacts in the edge connector. Also, in a desperate attempt to wrench this post back on topic, quite useful for working BBC emulators with.

Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByWQAD ... sp=sharing
PCB scan (the single-sided, manually laid out PCB is a work of art): https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByWQAD ... sp=sharing

When I got mine, there were three keyboards. Were there four when you were there?

@Rich: yes, that's too similar for coincidence. A few differences around the right hand side but nothing major. The symbols on the keys are similar --- I got all excited for a moment before realising that meant nothing, as most keycaps back then would have been all bought from the same people. If British Micro were a small company, which seems likely given how little information there is, their OEM probably bought the keyboards readymade from someone like Maxi-Switch. I wish I could find a 1980-era Maxi-Switch catalogue.

I found this page on the BBC Micro keyboard: https://deskthority.net/wiki/Acorn_BBC_Microcomputer Apparently at one stage Acorn was using SMK keyswitches, who were closely related to Maxi-Switch, and the keycaps all came from Comptec. I suspect that doesn't tell us much.

crj
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby crj » Thu Sep 21, 2017 4:26 am

Hmm. Comparing that keyboard with both the BBC Micro and the Atom/System keyboard, it's really hard to trace a logical progression through them. I'm guessing there was some company that made keyboards for a whole bunch of people, and you saved money by sharing key caps.

Somewhere along the line, somebody signed off on the cost of red function keys. I wonder who that was?

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Rich Talbot-Watkins
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby Rich Talbot-Watkins » Thu Sep 21, 2017 12:38 pm

Just to drift OT a little, my PC keyboard is a Corsair K70 mechanical keyboard, with Cherry Blue key switches, and it's absolutely lovely to type on. For me, proper keyswitches are a must now, and the noisier the better! They bring back that Beeb retro feel, and they somehow make typing 'fun'.

On the red function keys, yeah that's a signature feature which I presume someone at the BBC insisted on. Would indeed be interesting to know how much they added anything to the price, presumably a bespoke order.

dominicbeesley
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby dominicbeesley » Thu Sep 21, 2017 1:02 pm

The coloured keys might not have been that bespoke/expensive, my memory is hazy but I remember getting the keyboards units from some punch card machines (early 1970's vintage I suspect) and they had coloured keys. (looked something similar to this http://i.imgur.com/5xIqJqP.jpg)

RTW, I'm with you on the keyboard, I got a Filco with Cherry MX blues a few years ago, it does my partner's head in, she works in another room but says all she can hear is tappy tappy tappy.

D

Revaldinho
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby Revaldinho » Fri Sep 22, 2017 7:51 am

When I got mine, there were three keyboards. Were there four when you were there


I don't remember now. I don't remember what I paid either. What I do remember though is that I got a one page spec/datasheet with it, and I know that I still have it in a folder somewhere. If you don't have that I'll scan it and upload to the thread.

Rev.

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hjalfi
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby hjalfi » Sat Sep 23, 2017 10:08 pm

I've got the datasheet for mine, thanks --- scanned to https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByWQAD ... sp=sharing.

@Rev: did you ever get yours to work? A scope is showing that mine is scanning the keyboard matrix, but it's not producing observable signals on the outputs. The 8048 microcontroller must be working, or else the keyboard scan wouldn't be working, but I'm not sure what else is wrong. I'm debating just removing the 8048 from the board completely and replacing it with a modern microcontroller but given that it's nearly as old as I am I'd rather not if I didn't have to.

Revaldinho
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Re: Origins of the BBC keyboard layout

Postby Revaldinho » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:54 am

That's definitely the same datasheet that I got with mine.

I don't think that I've ever used my keyboard. I might have connected it to a breadboard when I first got it just to light some LEDs and check it wasn't completely dead, but definitely have never given it gainful employment as a keyboard. Or at least, not yet. :D It's in a box in the loft, so at some point soon I'll retrieve it and see if I can poke it into life.

R


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