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space-cadet keyboard

space-cadet keyboard in Technology


A now-legendary device used on MIT Lisp machines, which inspired several still-current jargon terms and influenced the design of Emacs. It was equipped with no fewer than *seven* shift keys: four keys for bucky bits ("control", "meta", "hyper", and "super") and three like regular shift keys, called "shift", "top", and "front". Many keys had three symbols on them: a letter and a symbol on the top, and a Greek letter on the front. For example, the "L" key had an "L" and a two-way arrow on the top, and the Greek letter lambda on the front. By pressing this key with the right hand while playing an appropriate "chord" with the left hand on the shift keys, you could get the following results:
L lowercase l
shift-L uppercase L
front-L lowercase lambda
front-shift-L uppercase lambda
top-L two-way arrow
(front and shift are ignored) And of course each of these might also be typed with any combination of the control, meta, hyper, and super keys. On this keyboard, you could type over 8000 different characters! This allowed the user to type very complicated mathematical text, and also to have thousands of single-character commands at his disposal. Many hackers were actually willing to memorise the command meanings of that many characters if it reduced typing time (this attitude obviously shaped the interface of Emacs). Other hackers, however, thought that many bucky bits was overkill, and objected that such a keyboard can require three or four hands to operate.
See cokebottle, double bucky, meta bit, quadruple bucky.
Note: early versions of this entry incorrectly identified the space-cadet keyboard with the "Knight keyboard". Though both were designed by Tom Knight, the latter term was properly applied only to a keyboard used for ITS on the PDP-10 and modelled on the Stanford keyboard (as described under bucky bits). The true space-cadet keyboard evolved from the Knight keyboard.
[Jargon File]
(1994-12-05)

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org
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