My Compaq Portable arrived successfully in one piece just after I published my introduction to this project last month, and I found it to be in even better shape than I expected. However, I’m afraid my example did not escape The Keyboard Problem — 100% keyboard failure thanks to decomposing foam used in pre-1984 machines. After the near-spiritual experience of its first boot-up, I was only able to activate a single key when prompted by DOS (2.12, I’m assuming) to enter the current date — the number 5. This is by far the most common ailment among Portable buys, and it was far from unexpected. Unfortunately, my complete lack of personal workspace at the moment will likely prove to be the most stubborn obstacle to restoring function to the keyboard for longer than I’d like, but I’ve been able to maintain sound patience. (Also, nobody seems to know what a “punch” is? Maybe I’m misattributing the term.)
Both the sheer volume of obscure documentation on the replacement of the foam and metal contacts and the differences between each restorer’s approach is quite astonishing — one claimed to find success using only materials from a dollar store, which isn’t often said of computer repair projects in 2018. Hackaday’s coverage of the repair is carefully considered and comprehensive, and there’s more than enough diligent references available to render any detailed records of my own attempts a waste of time. My first chance to peek inside came while I was surrounded by new Portland friends in their community house, who were all amusingly bewildered by my decision to buy such an object. I broadcast a boot-up on Periscope, as well as a longer attempt to electrocute myself and replicate a forum poster’s claimed typing using only his fingers to conduct the necessary current across the contacts. I suppose the bullshit is obvious, but I was more than willing to sacrifice my life, as you’ll no doubt observe.
The keyboard itself was ridiculously well-fastened and overdesigned, and the first sight of the Portable’s internal architecture revealed by our removal of the main cover panel was a genuinely gasp-inducing experience. I’m certainly not a well-experienced and/or professional hardware person, but I’m compelled to note that I have never seen electronic hardware built this well — even in agricultural implement applications, much less consumer-targeted products. I completely understand why retro electronic nerds love these so much and I can only hope to soon channel a sufficient imitation of their discipline to get the keyboard functioning fully.