LGR Oddware: Twiddler Motion Controlled Keyboard Mouse from 1992

LGR Oddware: Twiddler Motion Controlled Keyboard Mouse from 1992

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[oddly jazzy music] - Greetings and welcome to "LGR Oddware," where we're taking a look at hardware and software that is odd, forgotten, and obsolete. And this time around, we've got this fascinating little handheld doohickey. This is the HandyKey Twiddler. Yeah, it is a mouse. It's a keyboard, it's a motion control input device controller thing.

Serial, keyboard connectors, all kindsa stuff. Let's take a look at it. All right. Enough twiddlin' around.

Let's take a look at the Twiddler, "the Mouse That Can Type." Yeah, it's a mouse pointer plus full function keyboard, and they do mean full function. Despite the lack of 101 keys on the thing, it can indeed input all 101 standard keyboard keys that you would have found on a PC keyboard in the early '90s.

So yeah, this right here is from the HandyKey Corporation in Mount Sinai, New York, and they sold it via phone and mail order only in 1992 for 199 US dollars. The packaging was printed in '91, but it seems it actually started to really go out to people in '92 and yeah, it was not sold at retail. This was one of those things that at least during its initial run, it was only available phone or mail order directly from the company.

So no UPC codes or price stickers or anything fancy at all like that. In fact, this packaging is just a plain old, cardboard shipping box with a paper sleeve around it. And that was all you got. And really it's what's inside that counts, which is the Twiddler itself. And this is what is known as a chording keyboard, a kind of device that's building on similar concepts that are used on things like stenotypes and braille machines. So you have different key combinations, or chords, that result in different inputs being entered.

So kinda like fingering the frets and notes and strings on a guitar and you combine those into chords. Well, here, you're just doing that with text and it's definitely not the first of its kind. I mean, there were devices like the Microwriter early in the '80s, and then later on, you had the BAT or B-A-T, the Octima 8, which were keyboard input devices using chording, but the HandyKey Twiddler, this. I mean y'know

is the mouse that can type and yeah, it's a mouse. So not only do you have the typing and macros, but it's a motion control mouse that lets you tilt it around and the X and Y axis in midair and move around a mouse cursor. And they were always showing that it was accurate enough that you could write in cursive and stuff seen in the marketing back in the day, something we have gotta try out. As for how that actually works, well, just take a look inside.

It's not a mercury switch, though it does use a liquid. Just check out this little bulb thing on the back of the PCB there, it appears to be a dual axis electrolytic tilt sensor. So you got five electrodes inside: two for X, two for Y, and then one in the center. And then depending on where that electrolytic liquid is touching, that indicates how you're moving around the Twiddler in midair. Yeah, it is a fascinating device on multiple levels.

And it's all thanks to Mr. Christopher S. George. This was really his brainchild as far as I know. And he's a guy that previously founded the Asiagraphics Corporation earlier in the '80s, and they made computer software that helped type Chinese characters as fast as English. So typing text in different ways seemed to be his thing.

And yeah, he was really into this idea as well as several people he knew, they invested multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars of his, his wife's, his friend's money into HandyKey to get this thing made. They actually packed them up and shipped them out from their dining room. And apparently they sold less than 1,000 units as of fall 1992, but word of mouth slowly spread, and they continued to sell them through the '90s. And according to Mr. George,

the idea was to give you freedom of mobility while typing or mousing, and you just don't have to be restricted to sitting at a desk anymore. So you could continue to work on your PC while pacing around or standing or giving a presentation without a traditional keyboard and mouse. You could just have the Twiddler and go through it that way. And of course, they also promoted it for use with folks that had RSI or other wrist injuries or people with one hand, or any kind of situation where a traditional keyboard mouse setup might not work. But anyway, let's go ahead and unbox it real quick. So we've got some software here on a three and a half inch high density floppy, or at least it would be, this was wiped before I got it.

And so I have to go and find some software. Anyway. Oh, and it also does support Windows, but that's only Windows 3.0, from what I can tell. 3.1 drivers,

maybe they were available later on, but not when this thing was distributed. And you've also got the "Twiddler User's Guide" with an illustration there showing kinda how to hold it and say, your thumb goes on the side of the top, depending on what you're doing, your fingers just sort of claw around it. It's 25 pages of stuff. And yeah, it does go over quite a bit, including how to install the strap, whether or not you should use it left or right-handed, I mean, you might not wanna use it in your dominant hand.

If you're right-handed it might make more sense to do taking notes with your right hand and then using the Twiddler in your left hand and doing computing that way. Most of this is just going over how to set up things like macros and all of the chording combinations. There's a lot of 'em, we'll get to that, and here we go, the device itself. So yeah, the press often described it as about the size of an electric razor or a small avocado. Sure.

Really it's just a small little remote thing. It's got some thickness to it. And you've got 12 finger keys over here. So that's for all of these and then your thumb, you got six more up here and combined all of these lead to 4,000, over 4,000 combinations. And the way this works too, is it actually only inputs after you press a combination or a chord and then let go of the keys. So it doesn't actually enter anything until you press it and let go, which lets you get a combination in place.

And then so you're entering text one finger combo press at a time. This right here is the strap. So you can do it either on your right hand or left. It just kinda goes in there. And then this straps around and there you go.

Yeah, simple enough I guess. Now this is kind of an interesting situation going on. So you got all these connections and pass throughs here. So you have 9-pin serial and then you have an AT keyboard pass through. So you might think that this is for the text portion of it, but no actual communication goes on here. This is only for power.

So all the communication is done via serial and then there's a driver or at least there would be a driver if I had it on that disk and without going through serial, all it's using here is the five volt on pin five of the AT keyboard connection. So it uses that for power only. And then you plug in your keyboard there. So then you can have your normal keyboard still plugged in. But yeah, power here, communications here. As for figuring out how to actually use the Twiddler, well, it's a bit of a thing.

They claimed it takes five minutes to learn, but you know, they always say that. And then a weekend to get used to touch typing and then a couple of weeks for proficiency. As for how proficient, well, they say expect 10 words per minute at first, and then more frequent users could achieve up to 40 words per minute. And experts could get up to 60, 70, or depending on what you're doing and what kinda macros and shortcuts and stuff you have in place, because there's a lot of things you can do with all these different chord combinations. This was not the only Twiddler either.

They continued to sell these through the end of the '90s and then the Twiddler 2, well that came out in the year 2000 and they updated the device to USB instead of serial and AT keyboard connection. And then it also got rid of the motion controlled mouse stuff. So that it just has an IBM TrackPoint nub on top for thumbing around the mouse instead of using any motion.

Then in 2008, the company Tek Gear bought HandyKey and they updated it and made the Twiddler 3, which I believe they continue to sell. I mean, there's still a website up for it. So you can find those if you want a really updated one optimized for Android and mobile devices and stuff. But anyway, let's take a look at the original Twiddler and try it out with some DOS software. [piano music fades] All right, it's Twiddler time.

So, got myself strapped in here, at least as comfortably as I can. We have the HandyKey Twiddler driver version 2.0 going here and yeah, that is required to use this because otherwise it doesn't know what to do at all, but yeah, it's just usable as a normal keyboard now, so. Cool. We have these face keys and then we can apply chording to get all the characters on a full keyboard.

And it will do all of them if you memorize all of the different chords, there's a lot. Take a look at this key mapping section in the manual. There are so many combinations, there's supposed to be 4,000 that this thing is capable of. You don't have to memorize that many, but even memorizing like, 30 or 40 of these for a lot of the common keys on the keyboard, every single number, any of the function keys, page up page down, arrow keys, any of that stuff, you have to memorize a four digit combination. It's just a lot up front.

And the learning curve is ridiculous. And I have not gotten around that curve even a little bit yet, but whatever. So you can type though. [chuckles]

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and then beyond that, you're going to have to start using the chording system. So the red ones, and then you got the blue rows or columns, whatever, columns and rows. Yeah. The green ones are pretty much all punctuation. So, you got. Yeah.

Punctuation. Which I accidentally pressed a combination macro one there, you've got some basic words. Trying to remember the one for "the," dang it, I know it's in here. Oh, there it is. So the, the, the, the, the. And you could program in your own macros and words as well, if you want, but all right, let's just go ahead and open the typing tutor program that it came with, because that is ah they've got a couple of interesting things in there, so if you -- dang it, you know what? It's so natural just like go to a keyboard to type.

I gotta force myself to do this here, okay. So, T, W, T, U, T, O... and the R is in here somewhere.

It's over here. [chuckles] Man. So intuitive. So we've got typing practice, some instructions and da-ta-da, and a couple of mouse games, which those are cool. But okay, Typing Tutor. Oops, already messed up. [laughs] So this is just page one, and on page one, you just have the face or the single press keys on the front face here or the front columns.

[hums] Let's do this. Here we go. F, A, D, E. I can never remember which keys are where [chuckles] for long enough.

Like if I don't use it for a couple of days, I forget all over again. It's just due to not enough practice, that's all. You can definitely get used to it. Four words per minute. That's great. Let's try for a little bit better here.

Hey, look at that, 15 words per minute. That's about as fast as I can get. Usually if I'm really sitting here focusing, but that's really pushing it, and again, that's only on these single press buttons.

So if we, I don't remember the combo to "page down." So I'm gonna cheat here by pressing keyboard keys. So if you go to these red and the single press keys tutorial, and this means we're gonna actually have to start using chording, and that's when I'm completely just like, oh my gosh, any little bit of words per minute I had completely goes out the window, so.

D, I, A, L... Ooh, five words per minute. And yeah, I'm having to peek around here and look, I mean, it's got a little cheat sheet over there too, but it's backwards of course, from what you're looking at if you have your hand turned around like this. It just takes a lot of practice.

And I know that they said some folks could get up to 40, 50, 60 words per minute at a sort of expert level, but I don't understand how that would be worth it for somebody like me, who is entirely comfortable and able to use just a regular mouse and keyboard. I've read a bunch of specialized used case scenarios. But for me, if I want macros, I've got keyboards that do that and I've just, I'm so used to a regular keyboard that this doesn't make sense.

Even as something like where they were saying, "oh, stand up and do a presentation." Imagine fiddling around or twiddling around with this while you're trying to do a presentation. And then we get to the mouse stuff.

So let's go to "Memory Game." And the way that the mouse works is, you hold down the mouse button here and that activates the cursor. [chuckles] Yeah, it very much works like a joystick without a base, at least that's the idea. As long as that liquid inside there is moving around in a way that it can recognize, you kinda have to give it some momentum, then it'll work, and then you have left, middle and right mouse buttons over here, so, all right. "Memory Game," we'll do this. [hums] Hey, I got one.

Yeah. Hey! Pretty good at this guys. Hopefully you can kinda see how it works. You tilt back and forth like this. Twisting obviously doesn't do anything 'cause it's not measuring that, but yeah. X and Y and that's it.

And then the up and down, it's inverted like a joystick. That's what that is. And on the other one that it has on here is "Blackjack," which, B, "Blackjack."

So yeah, with this one you have to sort of physically move around the cards and pick 'em up like that. So I got an eight and a six, okay, well. Yeah, that definitely had a big risk of busting and I did. Let's try that again. Six. Okay. Well, let's just stay.

Let's see what happens. Yay. It's remembering to keep your hand and wrist in the right spot in order for it to go left and right. Because when I was first getting into this, I was constantly going up and down, I mean, I still do, but to the different corners instead of just going straight left and right.

It's kinda neat though, right? I think it is. So, Twiddler. That's some of the basic functions there. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in Windows.

So I was gonna try this with Paintbrush to see if I could do the cursive that they so used in their marketing. But yeah, the Twiddler driver, at least that I found here, doesn't actually work with Windows 3.1. So I'm just gonna go to yeah, PC Paintbrush. So let me try to write my name, Clint.

Come on now. There's that dead zone. Ahhh. There we go. Oh, my word.

It's trying to do fine movements like this that are just terrible. What happened there? [laughs] Oh, crap. Hng. Go over... there. Flawless. Okay. Let's try some games starting with "Lemmings," cuz that's a nice classic DOS mouse experience.

I'm sure this'll be great. ["Let's Go" sound effect] ["Lemmings" Music plays] Yeah! [music continues] I mean, you know. [groans] it's doable. [chuckles] I got the nuke button pressed, that's all that matters. Blow 'em up. [music continues as critters pop]

I gotta say motion-controlled "Lemmings" in DOS is... an odd mental disconnect happening here. It all of a sudden doesn't feel like DOS "Lemmings," feels like I'm playing it on a Wii or something. [music continues] Just worse. [chuckles in electrolytic tilt sensor]

[music continues] There we go. Yeeeaah! [game music continues] Honestly, the mouse part is not that bad. [chuckles] And again, just quite novel playing with a DOS game. [chuckles] I like this. [game music continues] [chuckles] [Lemmings screaming, exploding] Oh yeah. Satisfying.

So this is something I've noticed too. [keyboard buttons clicking] Sometimes it just breaks the normal keyboard and I can no longer press anything. And I can't press anything here either when exiting out of certain programs. [keyboard buttons clicking] I don't know why it does that, have to reset the machine in order to get the keyboards input back. All right, so obviously we've gotta try an FPS.

[chuckling] And why not Duke 3D? Because it's got mouselook and movin' around. See how this works! [gameplay sounds] - Oh yeah. So you got mouselook. [chuckles] [gunfire sounds] That is pretty satisfying. [gunfire]

Oh dude. And I think I have got middle mouse mapped to forward or the right mouse, nope, it's middle. Nice. Which means I probably have right mouse for use.

[gun firing] [chuckles] Ooh, I'm gonna kill you with a Twiddler! Maybe, oh, I might kill the ground first. There we go. [chuckles] Okay. Why?

Space is jump, I'm pressing Space on the Twiddler. It works on the keyboard, but. Huh! All right, whatever.

I don't need to jump. I can just crappily move over this way. [moans] [scene exploding] [guns firing] [groaning] Gotcha. [chuckles] Oh, this is bad. [laughs]

Oh. Nobody puts Duke in a corner unless he's using a Twiddler. Okay, let's aim over here.

And forward, open, nice. [gun firing] I really wanna complete this level. [tense music] [guns firing] Oh, this is not gonna work. Oh, fire, fire. [yelling] - [Duke] Dude, this sucks. - This does suck, Duke.

It was worth a shot though. [pistol starts constantly firing] - What's going on? [gunfire continues] I'm not pressing anything. [laughs] Something's a little funky with, yeah.

All right, well, that is, that's the Twiddler experience. It's a little wonky, that's for sure. Games seem to freak out and either stop responding, or a button sticks and you get what we saw with "Duke" unable to stop firing. I don't know. I don't know, maybe that's weird DOS drivers being weird. Or maybe there's a fault with my particular Twiddler.

No doubt it's worn down over the last 30 years and it's not quite 100% anymore. Still, cool idea with the Twiddler. I give it props. But in my book, this first revision really is just an oddity and not much more.

I suppose that is it for this episode of "Oddware" about the fascinating little Twiddler. I very much see what they were going for. And I respect the idea and the people that swear by these things and have their niche use cases for them to make sense for their situations. But for me,

I just don't have that kinda situation. And for me, the trade-off doesn't make much sense when you're talking 40 words per minute at most when you get pretty darn good at it. And then there's the hand cramping that I kind of start getting. And it's just not something that I would see myself ever switching to. Really it's that mouse motion control stuff that is the most intriguing and really the most fun part about it, for me anyway.

And then they took it out from the Twiddler 2 and three. So that's not even something that stuck around. And that kinda makes sense, it's a little bit iffy, a little bit, a little bit oddware, in the way that it works, but I think it's a lot of fun. And if it was the motion control aspect that you were most interested in, kind of how I am, then there were other purpose-built gaming focused devices back in the '90s that did some pretty similar things to what this was capable of, but better in some ways, like the Cyberstik joystick thing, for instance. I mean, that's a whole 'nother Oddware tangent right there. So yeah, the Twiddler. Hope you enjoyed

seeing me twiddle with it! [twiddles with it] [upbeat lounge music] And if you did like this episode, then do check out some of my other Oddware things I've posted and more coming in the future, and yeah, let me know if you've used a Twiddler either in the past, or maybe you still do, I'd be curious about your used cases for it. Regardless though, thank you very much for watching LGR!

2022-01-09 09:45

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