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The Obsessive Pleasures of Mechanical-Keyboard Tinkerers

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For months, Luke Bassett had been searching for a particular hard-to-find item, whose market value he estimated at a thousand dollars. He found a collector who was willing to sell him two, for a total of six hundred and fifty. That was a bargain, but there was a catch. Payment had to be made by bank transfer, and the seller wouldn’t ship. Bassett was living in Connecticut and studying computer engineering; the seller was in Ukraine. This was more than a year before the Russian invasion, but there were still logistical challenges. Luckily, Bassett had a wealthy friend, in Barcelona, whose sister-in-law knew someone in Kharkiv. The sister-in-law’s friend made the pickup, then sent the package to Spain on the wealthy friend’s private jet.

What Bassett bought were two sets of computer keycaps: the squarish buttons you press when you type, maybe half a pound of plastic altogether. I was looking at one of the sets, which he had installed on an OTD 360 Corsa, a keyboard that was produced in limited numbers in South Korea in 2013. “The keycaps were made back in the nineties by a German company called Cherry,” he said. On the face of each letter key was a Roman character, in black, and a Cyrillic character, in red. On eBay, for twenty or thirty dollars, you can buy a keycap set that (to me) looks the same, but to Bassett, there’s no comparison. “These were made for a Russian company, and only a few sets still exist,” he said. The keyboard was unusual, too. “It’s one of a hundred made by one of the most influential designers in the world. The color of the case is called hyper gray, and what’s unique about it is that each one is a slightly different shade. The designer was trying to reproduce the gray of an earlier keyboard of his, but he never did get it right.” Bassett acquired the keyboard in a trade. Next to it, on a table, was another scarce model, a Kira 80, whose Escape key Bassett had replaced with a keycap from a series called Mummy II, made by a keyboard artisan known as PunksDead. “That keycap is rare,” he said. “Right after I got it, a guy offered me three grand for it. And I was, like, ‘Hmmm, tempting—but no.’ ”

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Illustration by Maria Chimishkyan

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/the-obsessive-pleasures-of-mechanical-keyboard-tinkerers?utm_source=pocket_discover

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