Saturday, 7 December 2013

§

The key codes on a keyboard have always included some keys that most people would rarely use. That is really not a huge surprise.

But even keys like ~ and ` have a use in things like csh. I use them on most days.

Even keys like & and % and \. I have few keys I have no use for.

But really, WTF is the "§" for? I have never, ever, ever, used § apart from this blog post!

And ± is the other part of that key, but even that I struggle to use. I was rather puzzled but the use of ± in the Netherlands on things like train times. They would have ± and a time. But they used it in a context of "approximately", like "~", so a train may be ±5 minutes late, which makes no sense. If really ±5min it would be either early 5 minutes or late 5 minutes, or maybe between 5 minutes early and 5 minutes late. They would use ±5 as meaning +5±1 or ~5min late, i.e. late, by 5 minutes or around that. Very wrong use of ±.

But I never use ± or § so WTF is it wasting a key on my keyboard?

P.S. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_sign says it is a UK specific keyboard symbol, why?!

16 comments:

  1. > But really, WTF is the "§" for?

    Referencing sections in legislation, particularly in the US. At least, that's where I see it used the most; I don't know if that is the intended use.

    For example, 17 USC §512.

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  2. IIRC it's also present on old Mac OS french (AZERTY) keyboards. Not sure it still is.

    Anyway, compose key wins them all.

    Compose S S §
    Compose + - ±

    :)

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  3. You have keys available to you that I envy - and I have a standard UK keyboard (or thought I did).

    If I had a ± I'd use it in at least one work email a day. Just to confuse people.

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  4. I think that must be apple specific. It's not on either of my (PC) keyboards.

    CPL (the ancestor of C) specified the use of the section symbol to delimit blocks of code. Since they don't nest, it was specified that for subblocks you would have to write an identifier, eg:

    §A
    §A.1
    §A.1
    $A

    Although if I read it correctly, you could close several sections at once:


    §A
    §A.1
    $A

    (See http://www.math.bas.bg/bantchev/place/cpl/features.pdf)
    So, I don't know why your keyboard has that key, but it Martin Richards and subsequently K&R had kept that feature, you would be using it all the time.

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  5. No idea why they think it's a UK keyboard symbol, it's not on my UK keyboards. I think the only keys I've never needed are ¬ and | (which are both on the top-left key, sharing with the backtick next to the 1). The | (alt-Gr backtick) appears to duplicate the pipe symbol at shift-\ in a bash shell, but I haven't found a use for the ¬ yet.

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  6. What does that key replace from the US?

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  7. I use it when writing engineering specifications "see §4.3.2" but since that is on a PC rather than a Mac, I have to use and ALT-0167 or the insert symbol function. Never noticed it on my Mac keyboard before today.

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  8. The crazy thing is they put that symbol there but not the # sign which I use every day, hiding that on alt-3/ctrl-alt-3 (depending on context).

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    Replies
    1. Agreed, the lack of # drives me mad.

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    2. Macs have a 'British PC' keyboard mode (in Mavericks anyway), where the keys are where you would expect on a PC (ie a few punctuation keys move about). You get # back, you still have £, and everything is right with the world. Except if you ever expected keys to produce the symbols printed on them ;-)

      Almost bought a Mac with a US keyboard because it was more sane, but then chose a UK keyboard as it has an extra key. And it turns out the layout doesn't matter anyway.

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  9. I'm a scientist and I use both regularly. I agree with Tony though, I'd prefer to have # available without having to press alt first.

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  10. The only time i've ever used § is when designing Ericsson Fault Management Expert rules as Ericsson use it to designate a parameter is set via the admin gui rather than read from a file. It appears to be a standard key on swedish keyboards but rarely used hence they chose to use it

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  11. It's a long time since I did it but I'm fairly sure there's an app that allows you to change the key preferences on your keyboard, so that # would be primary and ~ secondary etc. You can even re-task keys to different symbols.

    For everything else there's tipex :).

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  12. http://grasuth.com/2010/11/03/remap-key-on-uk-keyboards/

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  13. As I did most of my early programming on a genuine VT100 keyboard (although all of the EHT components on the VT100's I did have have since gone foom) I've always had my PC keyboard (1980's vintage IBM model M, acquired from various skips and one for £5 from some guy on eBay who didn't know what he was selling) set to US-english, where the # key is where it should be (Shift-3) and while there may be a key with a # on it on the keyboard itself, the only way I can remember what it generates is to press it.. \ and |
    This springs from DEC's idea of a UK keyboard resembling something really horrible, a bit like the old BBC Model B keyboard (got one of those, and it still works) where the * and + keys were something like shift-; and shift-: - I.e. truly horrible if you're used to a VT100
    About the only key I occasionally use that isn't on my keyboard (despite being printed on it) is £, which is easy enough to type with ALT-156, although I typically avoid using that symbol because Enigmail+Thunderbird seem to generate bad signatures for mail if the £ is included; A bug I still have never gotten around to reporting..
    I've also never had a use for the ¬ key, whatever the heck that is for (and it took me ages to type that, not having it in my keyboard map ;-)

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  14. ¬ is for ¾ face smileys :¬)

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