ZX Spectrum-style keycaps for your mechanical keyboard

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/14/zx-spectrum-style-keycaps-for.html

My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 that my dad and I built from a kit. I would have been in… sixth grade? My parents wouldn’t allow video games in the house, and I became obsessed with learning to program so that I could make my own. I spent thousands of hours banging away in Basic and Assembly, trying to write something that resembled the state of the art Atari games of the day. By 1983, my skin had acquired the kind of pallor seldom seen outside of supermax prisons, and my parents were regretting that they had put me on the path.

Good times.


No, it has to be an unreliable membrane keyboard to have the real Sinclair experience.
Or, if you have a Sinclair QL, a RS-232 to USB HID adater like this: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Serial-to-USB-keyboard-protocol-RS232-convert-plug-and-play-RS232-Go-to-H-ID-DEVICE/32685576285.html an adapter cable and a little SuperBasic program will give you the real McCoy…


I didn’t mind the speccy’s rubber keyboard, although it was certainly not popular. I even wrote a couple of essays on it for my Postgraduate Diploma… in Computer Science. Not bad for a 48K machine!

The thing about the machines of that era was the openness of the architecture. The manuals specified what every byte in the 16K reserved for the operating system was for. Even early DOS commands could be accessed on the PC XT/AT (then IBM tried to lock things away with SAA, and wondered where their market base vanished to).

These days, who knows what lurks in the gigabytes of OS?


Ahh, back in the days when a human could comprehend these things. Do you ever get the feeling we’re already living in a Culture novel?

I learned most of my basic understanding of a computer from a BBC Model B. I used to love looking through the circuit schematics (I still have a fondness for the 6502), figuring out how all the chips interacted. These day…not a hope. Even if the circuit diagrams were published, so much is integrated into each chip it’d be hard to make anything from them. I was trying to figure out how to drive the (supposedly open) PXIe bus the other day, and I still have no idea.

If you want to know what’s going on at the OS level (rather than the hardware), you can always run Linux. If you know exactly which bit you’re interested in, that’s useful. If you want a broad but deep view, I’m not sure anyone has that anymore. Have the machines already taken over?


For real retro style, they need to go back to the original rubber keyboard, whose unique feel was popularly known as “dead flesh”.

Accept no substitute!


There’s old things that are better than what we have today (in the world of keyboards, Cream Damped Alps switches if you have officemates, or buckling spring switches if you don’t), and then there are old things that are worse in almost every way than what you can buy today, like the ZX spectrum’s keyboard (in any incarnation).

Making retro copies of old things that are worse than what we have today is a perversion, a fetishization of old crap simply because it is old, instead of seeking to preserve or resurrect old things that are good.

This product seems to me like someone deciding to make a retroclone of the original Imac’s hockey puck mouse. The only reasonable response is, “for the love of all that is holy, why!?”

No, that was originally used for the QL keyboard, which was then copied over to the Spectrum in a rare case of common sense.

This was the first Amstrad/Sinclair keyboard


Ugh, I was right about adult supervision, though. Very boring


The membrane keyboard was much worse. It required a chisel.

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But it didn’t come with a USB lead, like the one in the picture… apparently that was made by this guy who occasionally sells USB keyboards made from old hardware.

The new keycaps remind me more of 1970s calculator keys:


This guy could use some of those keytops:

Did it include the ZX Interface 1 with those loop tape microdrives that were so-oo cute? You could chain up to 8 together and the concept was pretty cool, except… 80K data capacity??? Oh, Uncle Clive, what were you thinking??

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