Homebrew external MacNTouch


One of the things that I've missed a lot since I got my 12" PowerBook is my old MacNTouch keyboard. I had grown very comfortable with using the keyboard, but the only downside to getting my new 12" was that the keyboard wouldn't fit in the new machine. It is about the right dimensions, but the USB ports are on the right side of the machine, rather than the back as before, so the keyboard couldn't be plugged in in situ. This was something of a downer.

However, one day (and I'm very disappointed with myself for not thinking of this before) I realised that it should be possible to use the MacNTouch as an external keyboard (like Fingerworks TouchStream LP). Sure, it's not as convenient as having it built-in, but it's a heck of a lot better than not using it at all. The keyboard itself is basically some clever electronics sandwiched by a circuit board on the bottom and a sheet of thin Perspex (Lexan for my American readers) on top. The only physical connection to the Mac comes through a very short and thin USB ribbon cable. If I plugged the cable into a USB extension cable, I ought to be able to use the keyboard with it just sitting on the desk.

I found the keyboard extension cable that we got with the replacement for our iMac keyboard, and plugged it in. It worked fine, and I'm using it now to type this. It's wonderful to have my gestures back again. Your custom settings are stored in the memory of the keyboard itself, so you can plug it into any Mac and it Just Works, without any special drivers. Even though I have a decent mouse with multiple buttons and a scroll wheel, there's nothing quite like surfing with a Touchstream! It's going to take a little longer to get back the knack of touch typing without physical keys, though I'm not as slow as I thought I might be.

I'm now thinking about how I can protect the keyboard (and in particular, the delicate USB cable) and make it look really spiffy at the same time. The keyboard is only about 5 mm deep, so the case needs to be shallow and lightweight so that I can transport it easily. I was thinking that rubber would be pretty cool, and would also have the benefit of stopping it slipping around on the desk. However, the prospect of doing a Google search for "rubber suppliers" fills me with dread. Another material I'm considering is the kind of high density foam used in camping mattresses. I could cut out a little indentation to hold the keyboard so that the it's flush with the top. Does anyone else have any ideas about how I could build a case? I don't have a great array of tools, so it needs to be something that's easy to construct with simple equipment.