Admiral’s Shark-tastic IBM updates of 2022!
Kali aka Sharktastica, expert and enjoyer of vintage IBM keyboards, looks back at some of the accomplishments and events of the last year.
Published December 9, 2022
I’m Admiral Shark (Kali, aka sharktastica), a vintage keyboard enjoyer from Wales, author of the eponymous Admiral Shark’s Keyboards and mod at /r/modelm! I represent the more historical and documentation side of the vintage/keyboard hobby. For this article, I will look back at some of the events and accomplishments of the last year, hopefully sharing with you an insight into the sort of things I do and giving you an appreciation for this really nerdy side of the hobby!
But first, an introduction…
I’ve been in the hobby since the summer of 2019, although I lurked geekhack and deskthority for many years before that. I have always been interested in [vintage] tech, but 2019 was when I finally decided to buy my first ‘serious’ keyboard and actively engage with the community. Mostly, after watching videos by chyrosran22. The beginnings of my website and content were somewhat of a marriage of convenience though - I was applying for a web development job and needed some stuff to stick in my portfolio, and what I created happened to be themed on my current passion of the time - vintage IBM. Three years on and recently celebrating its third anniversary in September, the project has far eclipsed that goal, becoming a pastime during the pandemic and now became a serious passion project with no sign of slowing down!
Today, my motivation is educating and preserving information. Specifically on IBM and family keyboards - a phrase I use a lot, meaning any company that makes/made keyboards for IBM, were a former division of IBM, or purchased IBM's IP and continues producing their former or derivative designs. Namely, this includes IBM itself, Lexmark, Unicomp, Lenovo and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions (TGCS). IBM and family keyboards throughout history are fascinating and always surprise me with new details and nuance. I love nuance, and there is so much of it to be found. I simply love finding it and sharing it with others.
Attending MKUK 6
Starting with a recent event, I attended the sixth MKUK meetup in London in September. I brought with me a sample of IBM keyboards (as seen below) and even gave a talk on the generations of IBM keyboards that was - thankfully - well received. Unfortunately due to travelling by coach, I couldn’t take any of IBM’s ‘big guns’ so I opted for a diverse selection of smaller keyboards with an emphasis on IBM’s ‘buckling sleeve’ keyboards (explained later on) many were eager to try out. Indeed, the LPFK (the left-most keypad) and all the buckling sleeve keyboards got the most attention. Big thanks to MKUK Discord and MechKey staff for making this meetup a reality!
My keyboard collection is also a marriage of convenience. I get many interesting keyboards to play with, and I get a lot of useful instruments for content and documenting! Win-win. These are some of the more interesting pickups over the last year.
IBM Electronic Typewriter 50/60/75 Keyboard Assembly (1440401)
This brick was the keyboard assembly from IBM’s first electronic typewriter series, which was IBM’s attempt at ‘modernising’ typewriters in the late ‘70s before they became completely obsolete. This thing with fewer keys than a 60%-er weighs about 5kg… Keystrokes are sensed via a series of reed sensors on the back. (Also don’t worry, I didn’t sacrifice a typewriter for this keyboard.)
IBM 4704 Display Terminal Model 100 Functional Keypad (6019273)
This “Model F50” financial communications keypad is the smallest Model F buckling spring keyboard capable of supporting an alphameric layout… if you so desire (the segregated sections don’t make typing on it easy). It’s otherwise a great macro pad.
IBM Wheelwriter 5 Keyboard Assembly (1351000)
This is a keyboard assembly from a later IBM electronic typewriter. Wheelwriters that used these were in fact the first vessels of the core Model M buckling spring keyboard assembly design when they were released in late 1984, and what’s special about this one is its date – 27th June 1984, the earliest production Model M-type keyboard I’ve seen thus far.
IBM 3471 InfoWindow Display Station Quiet Touch Keyboard (09F4231)
This is like the much-beloved (and costly) Model F unsaver, except it doesn’t have buckling springs. It has Micro Switch’s ST series dome with slider switches instead. A bummer but it’s a very cool keyboard nonetheless, and I think the switches are good enough for use. Just makes me long for a buckling spring one…
IBM Screen Reader/2 Keypad (1393387)
This is as small as buckling-spring Model Ms get. The SR/2 keypad was the peripheral component of the IBM Screen Reader/2, the first GUI-based screen reader designed to help people with hard or lack of sight access a PC.
IBM 5576-A01 Japanese Keyboard (79F0167)
Buckling spring but not a Model F or Model M… Brother (the same one known for printers today) made several keyboards for IBM exclusively for Japan for use with their PS/55 series of computers including this one. It uses Brother’s unique buckling spring implementation that features removable barrels that allow the springs and flippers to be ‘hot-swapped’ without opening the entire keyboard assembly. Oh yeah, it’s membrane-driven yet seemingly NKRO. I believe it has some capacitive or resistive tech to achieve this - I’m still investigating.
IBM Industrial Keyboard with Pointing Stick (06H4173)
As a ThinkPad user, I’m pretty fond of the little red dot in the middle of their keyboards. Thus, I always enjoy playing around with one if I find it on a desktop-sized keyboard. This is a Model M13, but specifically the rarer industrial grey version.
IBM RANPOS Keyboard (86H1066)
This Model M9 - the Retail Alphanumeric Point of Sale (RANPOS) Keyboard - is a member of what’s in my opinion a criminally underrated subsection of the Model M family, the buckling sleeve Model Ms. It’s a point of sale keyboard, thus it has unique features like a magnetic stripe reader and a manager’s key-lock. But what’s unique about this one is that it’s new enough to be USB but old enough to have dye-sub PBT keycaps. Nice.
Basically everything I know about IBM and family keyboards is being poured into my website. Unfortunately, this isn’t a quick process but it allows me to break down and talk about some of the interesting developments over the last year easily!
To start off, those who may have visited my site just a year ago may be surprised by how much it has changed since then. I’ve been thinking about accessibility to information and the flow between areas of the site since then and have tried to make using the site a more clear and more guided experience. The order of the links on the nav bar is an example of this:
- Intro – You meet the core keyboard families, the companies that marketed them, and a bit about the site and myself.
- Directory – List of known keyboards and where to find out more. No over-the-top info, just a photo, year of introduction, what switches it has, a link to find out more and some part numbers (mostly for SEO purposes).
- Database – If you need specific per-part number info.
- Wiki – Where the good, descriptive, and properly cited stuff is.
- Articles – If you’re interested in ‘cutting-edge’ research and reference material.
Some of the aforementioned pages we’ll get back to shortly! Each section is usually more dense and complex than the previous one, so if you’re completely new to the hobby and IBM keyboards in general, the first pages you can visit will help give you the basic understanding needed for later.
Discovering Apple turned to Lexmark for a Model M-related keyboard design
In April, I released an article presenting my evidence that the Apple Newton MessagePad Keyboard (model X0044) from 1996 is technically related to the Model M family. To clear things up, because if you’re familiar with Model Ms, you’re probably thinking “how is that keyboard buckling spring?” The “Model M” designation was far from limited to just buckling spring keyboards. Maybe that was the initial intent, but it essentially became a declaration that the keyboard was an IBM flagship keyboard design in a given market. For laptop keyboards, the Models M6 and M6-1 were IBM’s flagship designs, using their “buckling sleeve” switches. These were found on famous IBM portables such as the IBM ThinkPads 365, 700, 720, 750, 755, 850, and RS/6000 N40 and 860. Turns out the X0044 is in fact an M6-1 Lexmark designed for Apple, based on the ThinkPad 500 keyboard design. In my opinion, the X0044 isn’t the best representation of IBM buckling sleeves but it's a very cool footnote in history. An IBM-Apple crossover would have been hard to imagine in the previous decade.
Writing the book on IBM ‘buckling sleeves’ switches
I’ve mentioned them a few times already, IBM ‘buckling sleeves’ (their real name isn’t even certain) are a seldom documented low-profile (by early ‘90s standard) tactile key-switch employed by IBM on various laptop and POS keyboards since 1991. Keyboards using this switch design make up a significant portion of Model M history yet many are probably unfamiliar with them. In a way, they were IBM's 'last stand' before employing traditional rubber dome (full-travel or scissor-switch) actuators for its keyboards. I think they’re very underrated, so I’ve set out to document them and make their place in history known! If you’ve used an IBM PS/2 L40SX laptop, an early to mid-'90s IBM ThinkPad or a modern IBM POS terminal, chances are, you’ve actually tried them!
Digging into the IBM 5576-C01’s insides and successors
My latest article features the IBM Japanese Keyboard/TrackPoint II (model 5576-C01). It's a Japanese-exclusive Model M variant with a TrackPoint, JIS layout and many unique design elements. It's very likely the rarest IBM TrackPoint keyboard. Very cool, but a detailed analysis of it is hard to come by in the west (unsurprisingly, the Japanese side of the hobby is way ahead of us on this) and its relationship with the later Unicomp EnduraPro and Ultra Classic isn't widely known with some believing the overall design to be a Unicomp original. This article addresses that.
The database reached 2,500+ keyboards
Perhaps the most important feature of my website hit a milestone in June - the Keyboard [Part Number] Database now has 2,500+ individual part numbers recorded! This database is one of the largest repositories of [IBM] keyboard data on the internet and is made available for research, reference and posterity. It contains per part number - the usually 7-digit code IBM assigned to individual keyboards by language and feature - design and chronological information on IBM and family keyboards. It’s built upon data collected from many sources. Other than satisfying curiosity, one of its useful benefits is being able to verify what keyboard should have what visual and electrical properties - for example, it could help people realise if a keyboard they’re interested in buying has the right connection they need or if a Model M they’re interested in is a rubber dome model being missold as a “clicky” (buckling spring) version.
Making a ‘yellow pages’ for IBM keyboards
Sometime in August and as part of my accessibility focus, I was thinking of ways I could make it easier for someone to find out all possible IBM and family keyboard designs, perhaps each listed with a photo, basic facts and a link to where to find out more. Nothing too overwhelming. The Keyboard Directory is my answer to that. The Yellow Pages is what I like to draw parallels to for this site feature and the yellow buttons for links are a nod to this. It’s still W.I.P. It notably lacks many beam spring keyboards, keypads such as LPFKs, and many post-PS/2 era keyboards. I aim to plug these gaps as soon as possible.
Expanding my wiki
Technically, I started work on this mid-last year, but this year has seen a lot of my personal wiki-style pages start to mature and work their way to being put live. Right now, I have dozens of yet-to-be-public pages maturing when I have the time to write for them. I’m presently focusing on the big family summary pages, keyboards that have been seldom documented elsewhere, and some of the more famous individual keyboards. Everything in-between will come later.
My current recommendations are:
- IBM Model M keyboards
- Model M Enhanced Keyboard
- Model M4 & M4-1 Space Saver Keyboard
- Model M13 TrackPoint II Keyboard
- Model M-e Modular 67-Key POS, MANPOS & MCANPOS Keyboards
- SK-8835, SK-8840 & SK-8845 pointing stick & UltraNav keyboards
Making a gallery of IBM keyboard rear labels
A gallery for the rear labels (aka, keyboard ‘birth certificates’) IBM keyboards could have. IBM since at least introducing the Model F had a habit of including such strong documentation on the back of their keyboards that usually displays the keyboard's part number along with a date of manufacture and country of origin. The style of the label could vary from factory to factory, within the same country and between other countries. As IBM spun off its keyboard-producing and marketing organs, those offspring such as Lexmark, Unicomp, Lenovo and TGCS also once or currently retain this practice. This page is designed to document as many variations as possible!
Developing matrix simulators for Model M keyboard matrices
I recently made previews of my keyboard matrix simulator public! They’re targeted towards Model M matrix designs as my attempt to clarify how a Model M’s membrane works. Many people know Model Ms are 2KRO only, but there are some misconceptions about what 2KRO means and how capable the Model M matrices can be. These simulators allow you to ‘press’ keys on a virtual keyboard and you’ll be able to see what other keys you can or cannot press due to matrix limitations in real time! You can also make it display colour-coded representations of the matrices’ columns and rows across the virtual keyboard. One motivation for this site feature was how often I get asked “can my game combos work on a Model M?”, and this could allow you to find out for yourself before purchasing a Model M.
For now, the future of my website is simply maturing content. It probably wouldn’t be wise to introduce any new site features at the moment as I still have the Keyboard Directory and the wiki to polish. Q1 2023 will be a busy period for finishing those. I also eventually plan to try testing the waters on my YouTube as well. I have some ideas for content, but I need to build up some confidence and procure some better camera gear. Maybe next year I’ll make my move!
I’m also working on developing my first piece of hardware - the Modular Keyboard Converter. This is a Pro Micro or Elite-C driven board designed to allow one to easily convert several types of [mostly-vintage] keyboards using one board with swappable sockets. It’s currently undergoing many rounds of prototyping, each including more features and testing various ways of connecting sockets to MCU boards in an attempt to find and test the most convenient and secure way of doing so. I plan on open-sourcing the final design.
That’s pretty much it for today. Thank you to Tamas @ KBD.news for letting me write this for this advent calendar! If you want to stay informed about what I’m doing, please feel free to bookmark my website and follow my socials! I’m also always looking for more feedback to help me improve my site and figure out what people might want to see more of, so please feel free to get in touch and let me know what you think.
|Description||IBM keyboard content creator, documentor and collector|
|Occupation||Software & web development, research, teaching|
|Niche||IBM, vintage, history, (usually) clicky|
|Fav. switch||IBM capacitive buckling spring (vint-clicky), IBM ‘buckling sleeve’ (vint-tactile), Kailh BOX Navy (modern-clicky)|
|Fav. keycap profile||IBM beamspring, MT3, maybe OG Cherry|
|Other hobbies||Robotics, vintage computing, herpetology, bingeing Star Trek & Stargate|
|Links||https://sharktastica.co.uk/, https://linktr.ee/sharktastica, https://www.reddit.com/r/modelm/|
Published on Fri 9th Dec 2022. Featured in KBD #106.