Multiple keyboards – 2nd keyboard for macros

At work we do a lot of data matching in excel, and the process isn’t really standardized, so we have lots of various keystrokes and subtext menus involved to get the data we need, and the series of keystrokes changes from week to week. This is sort of a pain, but fortunately we’re clever and more importantly, so are some more dedicated people who went out and coded the software we need. The idea was to add a second keyboard, and then map a bunch of macros to the second keyboard specifically for excel and a few other select applications, while still retaining the typical functionality of the first for things like typing and normal computer use.

The problem with this is that windows doesn’t distinguish between two USB keyboards in any particularly obvious way. You can bind key X to cut and P to paste on the second keyboard, but if you push X or P  on the first, you still get the cut and paste functionality. HID Macros is a freeware app that sits in the system tray and seems to have no problem detecting any number of keyboards/mice, and binding individual keystrokes to specific devices. At work our “macro keyboards” have the up and down arrow keys set to sort a particular column up or down, the A,Z,X,C,V keys can be pressed now without holding Ctrl for Select All, Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste (preventing pinky-fatigue).

Now, the program is a little simplistic, and it’s not as feature-rich as say, AutoHotKey, but it has dual keyboard support built in out of the box, and you don’t have to fiddle with it to make it work. It just… works. HID Macros is my preferred app. Every once in a while someone re-boxes a keyboard in a funny box, see typewriter-keyboard conversion, a single keypress footpedal, and most recently, an organ pedal board converted into a USB keyboard. See below:

http://blog.gregerstoltnilsen.net/2010/09/pedals-for-ableton-live/

Having some pedals from old organs laying around, we decided they would be ideal for the physical part of the interface. And as they, on the lowest level just consist of one full octave of switches, the easiest thing was just to make it work like a keyboard. Mapping the “white” pedals to “asdfghjk”, and the “black” to “wetyu”.

I ripped the controller board out of an old USB keyboard, and used a multimeter in continuity mode to find out which pins matched the keys we wanted. Then it was just a matter of solder two wires from each of the pedal switches to the right pins on the controller card.

Click on thumbnails for 1600×1200 “biggers”

Now this is really damn clever. He was very lucky to find an organ that has the pedals on a subassembly like that. With those giant switches, he could have made this a soldierless project and just used alligator clips. The best part is unlike all the other projects, this “funny box” is actually designed for long term use to be used as a foot pedal. Solid wood, metal frame… that’s what I’m talking about. I’m already trolling craigslist for an organ I can… harvest this from. Heh.

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One Response to Multiple keyboards – 2nd keyboard for macros

  1. Nate Whilk says:

    Excellent idea. I thought of this when I saw the first foot mouse back in the earliest days of the IBM PC. Unfortunately, I’m not an electronics tinkerer, so I had no idea how to do it.

    If I had one of these I’d probably use it primarily for the control, alt, and shift keys.

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