Common Workplace Fixes: A Series on How to Correct Those Annoying Sticky Keys, Squeaks and More

Office life has a way of luring us into a daily rhythm.


We come in, set our things down at our desk, head to the coffee pot, swirl around chunks of powdered creamer and then head back to start our day.

You sit down at your chair and it gives its customary ear-splitting creak. You start typing out your first email of the day and your shift key keeps sticking. A few minutes later, the fluorescent light above your desk begins its hourly flickering session.



You open your desk to find your stapler, only to be mired in a sea of staples, sticky notes and spare change.



Little Things Become Big Problems Under the Right Circumstances

Here’s the funny thing – you don’t really notice any of those quirks. Like we said, office life has a way of luring us into a daily rhythm.

Over time though, it only takes a few bad days or a developing sense of frustration to turn those once unnoticed annoyances into full-blown  daily harassments.

We’re going to use the next couple of posts on our blog to talk about some of these workplace quirks, identify what could be wrong and then give you some simple ways to fix the problem.

Our First Tip: Unsticking the Sticky Keyboard

You’ve most likely suffered from this annoyance. One day you spill a few drops of Starbucks on your keyboard and, a week later, your “a” key seems to be quite precocious. Halfway through a memo you realize that valuable vowels seem to have disappeared.


In this scenario, a mix of espresso, milk and sugar have most likely built up under that key and cause it to stick when you press down on the key.

However, if you haven’t spilled any coffee on your keyboard in a while, there plenty of other explanations. In most cases, the culprit will be a mix of crumbs, hair and random fuzz that collects under your key and dulls the impact of your key pressing down on the sensor beneath.


Whatever the cause, you’re going to need the right tools and about 15 minutes. Here’s what recommends for your go-to keyboard tool kit:fix-it

  • A cup
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dish soap
  • Paper towels
  • A flathead screwdriver

Before you start pulling off colons and arrows, make sure you take a photo of your keyboard so you can remember the layout.

To remove your keys, lift one corner of the key slowly. As Instructables writes, “Your keys were basically snapped onto your keyboard at the factory … therefore they can be unsnapped.”

This is probably the most important part of the process because this is where you can break things if you rush it. Though your keys can be snapped off without breaking anything, they are made of plastic and breaking off the anchors on your keys is a real (and frustrating) possibility.

If a key is giving you trouble, slide a flathead screwdriver under it and gently wiggle it back and forth.

Once you have the key off, the real work begins. Take your Q-Tip and dip it in the rubbing alcohol. Then, wipe around the base of the key carrier until your Q-Tip comes out clean.

Meanwhile, fill your cup up with water and swirl around some of your dish soap. Drop the key into the solution and let it soak for a few seconds. Pull it out and give it a thorough wipe-down with your paper towels.

Once everything is cleaned and dried, snap your key back on and everything should work as well as it did the first day you used your keyboard.

Looking Ahead: The Squeaky Office Chair

We’d say that the sticky keyboard – or at least the dirty keyboard – is the most common office-equipment quirk we’ve seen.

A good way to avoid this is to buy a can of pressurized air and spray out your keys every Friday before you go home. Also, this Lifehacker thread suggests wiping down your keys every week with baby wipes.

But keyboards aren’t the only things that can break down over time. Office chairs can become agonizingly loud given enough hours of use. Most people ask for a new chair or just write off the squeak as impossible to fix – you don’t have to make excuses and we’ll show you why in our next post.

QWERTY, Dvorak and KALQ: The History of Keyboards and the Legends Surrounding the Original

This past week BlackBerry CEO John Chen finally announced the news that he’d been hinting at for some time. Chen said the company will no longer develop QWERTY keyboard hardware for its phone.

So long, small plastic keys. A moment of silence, please.

By joining the rest of the touch-screen keyboard world, BlackBerry’s announcement brought into focus the QWERTY keyboard. And that got us thinking: How did QWERTY come about? Who invented it? Are there competitors?

To us, it seems so peculiar that one keyboard design would dominate typewriter, computer and mobile keyboards for as long as keyboards have been around.

The Origins of the QWERTY Keyboard Go Back More Than 100 Years

Christopher Latham Sholes. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t you, aren’t alone. The inventor’s name isn’t nearly as famous as his invention – the first typewriter and its QWERTY keyboard. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sholes was an editor at several newspapers in Wisconsin before Abraham Lincoln hired him for a federal position at the Port of Milwaukee.

The government job allowed Sholes tons of free time, which he devoted to various inventions. His focus settled on his best project: a writing machine.

Sholes, along with two colleagues, won a patent for the typewriter in 1868. Like many startups, he was struggling for cash flow. So, four years later he sold his patent rights to the Remington Arms Company, who helped the typewriter flourish.

In fact, Mark Twain used a Remington typewriter to produce the first-ever typewritten book manuscript in America.

Sholes Chose the QWERTY Layout to Prevent Typewriter Jamming…Or Did He?

The history books are certain that Sholes was the creator of the typewriter. However, the trail goes a bit cold when experts try and pin down exactly why Sholes designed the QWERTY keyboard.

According to Smithsonian magazine, Sholes found that when common letters were placed next to each other, typewriters were jammed because keys were hit in succession too quickly. The “type bars” connecting keys to letters would get tangled up.

So, he separated popular letters to prevent any problems.

“The type bars connecting the key and the letter plate hung in a cycle beneath the paper. If a user quickly typed a succession of letters whose type bars were near each other, the delicate machinery would get jammed.” the Smithsonian wrote in a Fact or Fiction post on their site. “So, it is said, Sholes redesigned the arrangement to separate the most common sequences of letters like ‘th’ or ‘he’.”

Below is a photo of Sholes’ drawings of the first QWERTY keyboard, courtesy of Google Patents. These drawings were submitted for the QWERTY patent and were approved.


As tidy as this story sounds, it didn’t add up for a pair of researchers from Kyoto University.

Japanese Researchers Say QWERTY Legend Is Just That…A Legend

In 2011, Japanese researchers Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka presented a paper that challenged the prevailing QWERTY origin story.

They argue that Sholes didn’t invent the QWERTY keyboard to prevent jamming. They say the machine’s early adopters, Morse code technicians, needed a keyboard layout that allowed them the fastest possible typing speeds so they could keep up with the Morse messenger on the other end of the line. So, Sholes designed QWERTY to meet that need.

Here’s what the Japanese researchers wrote: “If Sholes really arranged the keyboard to slow down the operator, the operator became unable to catch up (to) the Morse sender. We don’t believe that Sholes had such a nonsense intention during his development of (the) Type-Writer.”

We doubt historians and QWERTY enthusiasts will ever dig up the true story behind the origins of the QWERTY design. However, that narrative could become obsolete if another keyboard layout takes over.

QWERTY Competitors: Dvorak and Mobile Layouts

For several decades the QWERTY design faced no legitimate challengers to the typewriting throne. However, a doctor named August Dvorak created a new layout in the 1930’s.

This new layout featured all vowels in the middle line of the keyboard, replacing the current position of the A, S, D, F and G keys.

The popular consonants R, S, T, L and N are located on the right side of the keyboard where the P, O, colon/semi-colon, L and K keys are.

The Smithsonian says early proponents of the Dvorak claimed that the keyboard was faster, but the evidence on the claim is thin and the Dvorak design never gained much traction.

More recently, the KALQ keyboard has been rumored to be the future keyboard for thumb-oriented mobile users. The keyboard takes about 8 hours to learn, and users can surpass their QWERTY typing speed in as little as 12-13 hours, a Tech Crunch article reported in 2014.

Want to give it a try? You can download the KALQ