Shallow Thoughts : tags : keyboard

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 15 Apr 2010

Function keys on an Apple keyboard, on Linux

Quick tip from Dave, passed along to someone else trying to use an Apple keyboard on Linux:

On Linux, for some reason Apple keyboards' function keys don't work by default. Most of them try to run special functions instead, like volume up/down or play/pause.

But you can get normal function keys by talking to the kernel module that drives the keyboard:

echo 2 >  /sys/module/hid_apple/parameters/fnmode

This will only last until shutdown, so put that line in /etc/rc.local or a similar place so it runs every time you boot.

Here's an Ubuntu help page on Apple Keyboards with more information and other tricks.

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[ 16:03 Apr 15, 2010    More linux/kernel | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 01 Dec 2007

More Tips on International Input

With what I learned last week, I've been able to type accented characters into GTK apps such as xchat, and a few other apps such as emacs. That's nice -- but I was still having trouble reading accented characters in mutt, or writing them in vim to send through mutt (darn terminal apps).

The biggest problem was the terminal. I was using urxvt, but it turns out that urxvt won't let me type any nonascii characters. It just ignores my multi-key sequences, or prints a space instead of the character I wanted. I have no idea why, but switching to plain ol' xterm solved that problem. Of course, I had to make sure that I was using a font that supported the characters I wanted (ISO 8859-1 or 8859-15 or something similar), which leaves out my favorite terminal font (Schumacher Clean bold), but Bitstream Vera Sans Mono bold is almost as readable.

Of course, it's important to have your locale variables set appropriately. There are several locale variables:

Which encodings to use for typing and displaying characters.
Which translations to use, in programs that offer them.
How to sort alphabetically (this one also affects whether ls groups capitalized filenames first).
Overrides any of the others.
The default, in case none of the other variables is set.
There are a few others which control very specific features like time, numbers, money, addresses and paper size: type locale to see all of them.

Once I switched to xterm, I was able to set either LANG or LC_CTYPE to either en_US.UTF-8 or en_US.ISO-8859-1. I set LC_COLLATE and LANG or LC_MESSAGES to C, so that I get the default (usually US) translations for programs and so that ls groups all the capitalized files first.

Along the way, I learned about yet another way to type accented characters.

setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout us -variant intl
switches to an international layout, at which point typing certain punctuation (like ' or ~) is assumed to be a prefix key. So instead of typing [Multi] ~ n, I can just type ~ n. The catch: it makes it harder to type quotes or tildes by themselves (you have to type a space after the quote or tilde).

Even faster, the international layout also offers shortcuts to many common characters with the "AltGr" key, which I'd heard about for years but never knew how to enable. AltGr is the right alt key, and typing, say, AltGr followed by n gives an ñ. You can see a full map at Wikipedia (AltGr characters are blue, quote prefixes are red).

To get back to a US non-international layout:

setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout us

Of course, these aren't the only keyboard layouts to choose from -- there are lots, plus you can define your own. And I was going to write a little bit about that, except it turns out they've changed it all around again since I last did that two years ago (don't you love the digital world?). So that will have to wait for another time.

But the place to start exploring is /usr/share/X11/xkb. The file symbols/us contains the definitions for those US keyboards, and I believe it's included via the files in the rules directory, probably rules/base, base.xml and base.lst. From there you're on your own. But the standard layouts probably follow the ones in the Wikipedia article on keyboard layouts

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[ 16:48 Dec 01, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 22 Nov 2007

Typing accented characters (for ignorant 'murricans)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Today's holiday tip involves how to type international characters.

For the online Spanish class I've been taking, so far I've been able to manage without having to type characters like ñ or á. Usually, if I need one I can find it in one of the class examples, copy it, and paste it wherever I need it. But obviously that would be tedious if I needed to type much.

I hacked up a quickie workaround: a python script that shows a set of buttons, one for each accented character I'm likely to need. Clicking a button copies that character to the clipboard, so I can now paste via mouse middleclick or ctrl-V. (I'm sure that sounds pathetic to those of you who type accented characters every day, but it's not something most US English speakers need to do. And besides, now I know how to access the X clipboard from Python-GTK -- hooray for learning new things from procrastination projects!)

Anyway, Mikael Magnusson took pity on me and explained in simple language how to use the X "Multi key" to type these characters the right way (well, a right way, anyway). Since all the online instructions I've seen have been rather complicated, here are the simple instructions for any of my fellow US monolingists who'd like to expand their horizons:

First, choose a key for the "Multi key" that you're not using for anything else. A lot of people use one of the Alt or Windows keys, but I use both of those already. What I don't use is the Menu key (that little key down by the right Ctrl key, at least on my keyboard) since not many Linux apps support it anyway.

Find the keycode for that key, by firing up xev and typing the key. For my Menu key, the keycode is 117.

Now type:

xmodmap -e "keycode 117 = Multi_key"

Now you're ready to type a sequence like: [Menu] ~ n to type an n-tilde, [Menu] ' a for an accented a, or [menu] ? ? for the upside-down question mark, in any app that supports those characters.

Of course, you don't want to type that xmodmap command every time you log in, so to make it permanent, put this in your .Xmodmap (you're on your own for figuring out whether your X environment reads .Xmodmap automatically or whether you need to tell it to run xmodmap .Xmodmap when X starts up):

keycode 117 = Multi_key

I have one final useful international input tidbit to offer: how to type Unicode characters by number. Hold ctrl+shift+U, then release U but keep holding the other two while you type a numeric sequence. (This may only work in gtk apps.) For instance, try this: hold down ctrl and shift, then type: u 2 6 6 c. Cool, huh? You can use the "gucharmap" program to find other neat sequences (hint: View->By Unicode Block otherwise you'll never find anything).

Now it's time to check the turkey. Have a good day, everyone!

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[ 17:03 Nov 22, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry | ]