I am lazy.
June 4, 2013 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Can I use separate numeric keyboards, one with the NumLock on and the other with it off?

At work, I currently use AutoHotkey to map some of my keys to automatically write out sentences/questions that I type frequently, to map certain key combinations to one key (for instance PageU = Ctrl + C/PageDown = Ctrl + V), and to perform macros of multi-step actions. I'm currently using every never-used key to perform an action (ScrlLk? Pause?), but I'd still like to automate more stuff.

Is it possible to use an auxiliary numeric keyboard like this in addition to the numeric keypad already on my keyboard, with one having NumLock on and the other having it off? Autohotkey, rightfully, treats these two situations differently. I'm envisioning being able to press a key on the auxiliary keyboard, which will perform the automated function, while still being able to use the numbers on my regular keypad (this is essential since I work with numbers).

This confuses me due to the fact that the NumLock boot settings can be changed in the Bios and somehow that makes me think that pressing the NumLock button changes how the computer interprets all number key pad entries. I'm hoping that's wrong and that each keyboard is handled separately. I use Windows 7.

Something like this or this would also work, but programmable keypads seem to be way more expensive than auxiliary numeric keypads. But if you know of a cheap programmable keypad, please let me know. Thanks in advance for any help!
posted by eunoia to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My assumption would be that this is a global setting, but it should be easy enough to verify if anyone has two keyboards kicking around. Almost certainly, a numpad extension would just identify itself as a keyboard.

I think your best bet might be a product specifically for this purpose, like this jobby. Then again it's an order of magnitude more expensive than a cheap numpad hack.
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:51 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Aaand if I would have read your entire post, I would have noticed you are already aware of this type of product. Shoot. Sorry.
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2013

AFAIK, interpretation of the NumLock/Scroll Lock/Caps Lock is all done in software --- the keyboard itself has pretty much on internal logic and just sends keypresses (and receives commands to illuminate the lock lights). So "turn NumLock on on one keyboard and off on the other" seems a bit of a nonstarter, since the current lock state is handled in software, and I'm pretty sure there's only a single state variable, not one for each individual keyboard. I just did some experiments (disclaimer: I use Linux, which may well handle things differently), with plugging in a second keyboard, and modifying capslock/numlock on the second keyboard affected the input from the first.

If you wanted one number pad to always be directional keys and the other numerals, maybe there's some way to do USB device-ID-filtering logic somewhere in keystroke interpretation?

Here's an interesting datum which may be of some use to you (again, coming from Linux and X, so maybe not directly applicable): I have my capslock mapped to be the "compose key" for accents. On the keyboard which was already plugged in, that sense is preserved; on the keyboard which I just plugged in, capslock is capslock, so clearly there's _some_ ability to differentiate. Reading the manpage for setxkbmap, I see that it's entirely possible there to set different mappings for different devices, so definitely software differentiation among different individual keyboards is possible. But I don't know what analogous software solution exists in Windows.
posted by jackbishop at 7:56 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Argh- I can't believe it didn't occur to me to try another keyboard! And yeah, pressing NumLock changes it on both keyboards. Crap.

jackbishop: That is extremely interesting about Caps Lock.
posted by eunoia at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2013

Still Linux but here's a thread showing how one can set different keyboards to have different keybindings (i.e. software interpretations of individual keypresses):

Searching on different interpretations of different devices in Windows suggests that, lamentably, the keyboard input is handled at a low, very difficult to hack OS level. This project reports some success but may not quite have the abilities you want:
posted by jackbishop at 8:11 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

jackbishop: That link is also extremely interesting. If a specific keyboard can be permanently identified as a specific language, it seems feasible that a specific keyboard can likewise be permanently identified as NumLocked. In theory, anyway. I guess the question is whether something like that can be done of the fly (while simultaneously using two keyboards). Thanks for the info! I'll do some more research.
posted by eunoia at 8:25 AM on June 4, 2013

Look into gaming keypads and keyboards. They'll be a little cheaper than the "business" ones you list but basically do the same thing.
posted by chairface at 8:44 AM on June 4, 2013

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