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Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases
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Last updated January 1, 2014

Melting Keyboard Keys

Something in my finger skin secretions is melting my keyboard keys...has anyone else encountered such a thing?

Melissa Kaplan, August 2004

Answer Found

I think so, at least!

A few people have written me with suggestions, possible reasons why the keys are mushing and 'melting'. The one that makes most sense at this point is from James Jennings. He hit on a few things: the literal pounding my keys get, typical of people who learned on old manual typewriters, and the 3-layer key construction of newer more expensive keyboards, and the amount of time I typically pound away at the keyboard.

Those of you who grew up working on computer keyboards and later model electric typewriters (compare the first IBM Daisy wheel to the Selectric to today's Brothers, etc.) who never had the pleasure of typing on an old manual typewriter really don't realize what a difference there is.

The phrase "pounding away at the keyboard" is not just a figurative way of depicting someone busily working away. You had to pound the keys to make them strike the inked ribbon hard enough to make a clear imprint on the paper. If you didn't, you flunked business typing as well as made it very difficult for anyone reading your typed document. For those who are familiar with dot matrix output, especially those whose ribbons are drying out, you will know what it's like.

So, old habits die hard, and as soon as I stop thinking about the pressure I'm using to type on my keyboard, which really does have a nice response to a mild touch, I slip into my pounding mode. Since my functional time can be variable on a day-to-day basis, I usually do as much as I can when I can. On good and fair days, I get lost in a time warp, what seems like only a few minutes turns out to have been couple of hours (whereas on bad days, what seems like hours might be only a couple of minutes).

While I do stop and stretch and get up and move around, I sometimes slip past the "take a break every 20 minutes" recommendation that is in place at many offices to prevent development of CTS and other entrapment and nerve disorders).

As a result of my pounding in combination with my overdoing it, there's a lot of heat and friction as well as pressure applied to the keys.

As I understand it, the keys on boards like mine have an underlying post on which is mounted the core of the key; this would be the black you see on the E key. Over the core, on top (and sides) of the key, is a relatively flexible plastic. This covering, in which the letters, numbers and symbols are embedded, is designed to be easy on the fingers. The post construction means that the keys are flexible to the touch, responding wherever on the key they are touched. What makes these keyboards easy to use for people who learned on computer keyboards makes it easy to mush by people like me. James has observed this phenomenon where he has worked, where the mushers were people who had learned and did a lot of typing on hard manual typewriters long before they migrated to computers.

So, the answer seems to be: if you type like me, and you don't want mushy keys, buy a cheap keyboard with keys.

I am just happy to know that the mush is mechanical in nature, rather than biochemical. As long as my Cherry keys retain the integrity they need for me to keep using it without any degredation in accuracy or function, I'm happy to keep using it. Fortunately, as the importance of ergonomically flexible keyboards is increasingly being recognized in all types of businesses that rely heavily on employees spending a lot of time at their keyboards, there is an ever-increasing number of split and flexible keyboards on the market.


Click images for enlargement.



The History Of The Melting Keyboard

Back in 1998, when I was writing my book, Iguana for Dummies, I wrote it on my Toshiba laptop. My computer desk area back then was very small, and I could not spread out my notes and books anywhere. So, I parked myself in the middle of the couch, used the coffee table as a footrest, plopped the laptop in my lap, spread out my papers to my heart's content, and went to work.

As the months progressed, I noticed that I was wearing the decals off many of the keys on the keyboard. Since I touch-type, it wasn't a problem, as I was already used to where the ancillary keys were (those that are unique to computer keyboards). By the time I finished the book, the decals on S, D, F, G, L, E, C, V, B, N, , and . were completely gone; the R and T were partially, and the M mostly, gone.

With the advance I received upon completing the book, I purchased a new (bigger!) desk and, having practically crippled both hands, arms and shoulders typing so intensively on a small keyboard (thus acutely and severely exacerbating the pre-existing carpal tunnel syndrome/repetitive stress injury), I bought a new desktop keyboard, a Cherry D-9275 (made by Auerbach, in Germany, distributed by Metamorfyx in the U.S.) which I purchased from a local store specializing in computer keyboards, mice, and furniture for the differently abled.

I love my keyboard - it spreads, it tilts, it gives, and it has enabled me to work longer at the computer than I would be able to with a straight board or some of the other sort-of ergonomically designed keyboards sold in office supply and computer stores.

Anyway, after a year or so of use, I noticed that some of my keys look like they had been scored with a sharp object. Not long after that, some of the keys started to look smooshed. If you have ever tried to slip a spatula under cookies still too hot from the oven, you are familiar with the folding--rounded peaks and scored valleys--that usually appear on the surface of those cookies.

Well, that's what is happening to the same keys on my Cherry keyboard as the now naked keys on my laptop. Some of the Cherry keys (S, E, T) look like I've 'melted' away or squished to one side the beige overcoating coating, thus exposing the black plastic underlayer.

My doctors haven't a clue what is causing this, and none of us have found anything in literature searches on what could be causing it.

I do not wear lotions of any sort when working on the computer. What with my lizards and chelonians, and all the food prep and service, poop cleaning, bathing, and other daily care needs that happen around here, my hands are washed frequently through the day with a variety of soaps, the brands of which vary from sink to sink, and are switched throughout the years. So there is no consistent use of any soap or lotion product.

Some people have suggested I have very acid ecrine secretions, but my sweat does not corrode clothing fabric, and the hand pH hovers in the neutral range. And I don't corrode/melt my mice (a variety of Logitech trackballs marble, such as my current TrackMan FX).

If anyone has any real idea of what could or is causing this effect, my doctors and I would love to hear from you.




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