The “Meta, Super” (AKA “Windows”) Key

On the bottom of your keyboard, in the lower left, there is a button that is very essential to our modern computing. Typically called the “Windows” key, this button does a variety of tasks regardless of the operating system. On Windows machines a key press will open the start menu; on Ubuntu pressing the button opens the dash. Even on Apple Mac computers, there is a “Windows”-like button in the form of “command”, which does similar tasks such as OS shortcuts and functions. Whatever popular operating system you use there is a purpose for that button.


Closeup of a modern Dell keyboard.
Source: http://cdn.overclock.net/8/86/860645cd_38550_xlargenss_ndo4190.jpeg

However the concept of a “meta” button is fairly unique, and it is certainly confusing as well. After all, why is it called a Windows key if Microsoft didn’t even make the keyboard, and why do I have to press Windows when I could be running a Linux variant? Moreover, why do buttons such as control and alternate have in-application uses as defined by the program, but the Windows key is almost always controlled by the operating system? This short write up looks at the history of keyboards pertaining to the titular extra function key, why it was implemented, and how it has become a mainstay in hardware and software. Furthermore, we will also once-and-for-all decide upon a name for the key that is ubiquitous, meaningful, and non-partisan.

History of Keyboards

As we know, the QWERTY key layout came to popularity during the era of typewriters. As technology advanced and electronic typing machines became popular, they inevitably used the same general layout. Early computers, however, had more varied functionality compared to a simple typing machine. As such they needed more keys. Throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, keyboards were custom made for a particular machine, terminal, or device. The extra keys, such as control, each were added by a different machine instance, and they had their own special purposes within that environment. No standard for keyboards existed at the time, and as such the designers added keys and changed layouts to best suit the keyboard’s intended use.


The Commodore 64 computer. Notice a CTRL and a SHIFT, as well as the logo key (Commodore Key) in the very bottom left. The C Key switched modes and offered additional shortcut keys.
Source: http://www.classiccmp.org/dunfield/c64/h/front.jpg

One of the first interesting keyboards of note was the Knight Keyboard, a keyboard designed by a Tom Knight for use within MIT. This keyboard has a “meta” button, allowing for Emacs hotkeys and other unique functions. The Knight keyboard was influential, and it marked a point where the special keys on the keyboard started moving to their final positions.


Observe all of the unique keys that we do not have on our modern keyboards. (Press RUB OUT to reload!)
Source: http://world.std.com/~jdostale/kbd/Knight1.jpeg

Evolving further, Tom Knight developed the Space Cadet Keyboard with a SUPER, META, and HYPER set of keys! For early programmers and computer scientists (using LISP), these keyboards were an amazing time saver. The complex mathematical characters and symbols were easily typed, as the keyboard had over 8000 possible keys with all of the modifiers available.


An insane amount of keys confused non-computer literate folk, but was a godsend for shortcuts.
Source: https://webwit.nl/input/misc/spacecadet/5.jpg

Space Cadet was overkill for the average user, though. So in the mid-1980s IBM began coupling their new Model M keyboard with new computer sales. As popular as IBM was in the mid 1980s, the keyboard began catching on quickly due to the easy layout, uncomplicated interface, and rigid durability. Many typists today are still using their 30 year old Model M keyboards today.


Model M Keyboards are manufactured new today as well, and they are sometimes preferred to membrane and even other mechanical keyboards because the buckling spring mechanism is just so satisfying to type with.
Source: https://www.preater.com/modelm/images/model-m-front-large1.jpg

You will notice that the layout is very familiar, but the absence of the Windows key is striking! Because the use of a special modifier key (besides the shift, control, and alternate key) was made popular by text-based operating systems and programs, one would gradually be introduced on keyboards until the mid 90s when Windows 95 was to be released. IBM partnered with Windows to create a “Windows standard” key layout with the Windows key in the usual place.


This Unicomp keyboard looks the most like modern devices, just with a more simple paint-job.
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Unicomp_keyboard.jpg

Windows took the functions of many of the earlier iterations, such as super or meta, and emulated them somewhat for backwards compatibility. This, coupled with the 1994 “ISO/IEC 9995 Information technology — Keyboard layouts for text and office systems” standard cemented in place a dedicated “extra” key for the bottom left of the keyboard. ISO/IEC 9995 does not *require* the use of a Windows/Command/Meta key, but it recommends its use and gives guidelines for placement. The Microsoft Natural Keyboard was the first to stick a modifier key down there with the flag on it, and the popularity of Microsoft Windows 95 ensured that most keyboard manufacturers were printing the Windows flag logo on the key as well; as such it became known as the “Windows Key”. And that is how keyboards came to their current layout, and that is why we have a “Windows” button in the bottom left.

But What is it Called?

Here is where the story gets interesting. “Windows” is, of-course, a trademark, patent, registered idea, or whatever they like to call it. Alternative operating systems would have to pay royalties or something similar if they called it a “Windows Key”, so they had to choose a different name for it. Some chose Super, others chose Meta, Apple uses Command, and now we have a situation where this single key has so many different names. Looking at the underlying technology concerning modifier keys, the situation gets much worse.

There are generally 5 “mod” keys that change the state of the keyboard input. These states are programmed into the popular operating systems too, probably as a leftover from the old days when we needed to use hyper, super, meta, or alt in different situations. In particular, mod1 refers to the alt key, mod2 and mod3 were probably for meta (which used to be alt) and hyper, and mod4 was designated for super. When you press the Windows Key now, it registers as a mod4 key press, and older systems will still interpret it as such. The X11 system can reprogram any key to mod1-5, meaning the super key can change to any key, and that key will change the state to mod1-5.

So when you look at the facts, meta, super, hyper, and Windows are all *different* buttons altogether. We cannot call it any of them, because it might work for one system, but not for all. Furthermore, some operating systems knowingly mark the key as wrong for constancy and usability purposes, and now the entire world is confused about what to call the key. On almost all keyboards, the button will have a Windows flag, but we cannot call it Windows in other operating systems. Because that button’s activation calls a mod4 event, I believe it should be called and labeled as such. Technically it should most likely be called the “super” key, mod4 is the most non-partisan implementation of the button. Plus, it would be very interesting to look down and see the proper names of keys, such as mod1 and mod4. Finally, as a last note, the special key is not even needed, because it can be duplicated by pressing ctrl+esc at the same time.

Final Thoughts

Conclusively, the strange way keyboards were developed led to the use of mod keys that changed a keyboard’s state, thus opening up new button combinations and uses. Windows and IBM sought to simplify it, popularizing the Windows Key. The software aspect of many operating systems meant that 5 mod keys still existed, even though only 2 mod buttons are the norm on contemporary keyboards. Different names, drawn from the old names the keys had (alongside their functions), were applied to the Windows key, and alt was properly named alt. Some systems refer to the special key as super, meta, hyper, windows, or command, but almost all of them translate this key to mod4 on the software-side. So the correct name for the key is impossible to gather, because it performs the functions of many different keys from the past. And if you are using Windows or Mac OSX, the other mod keys are not used at all. There is no solution to our problem, because we have just universally accepted that our keyboards have a special key at the bottom, and that the key should perform “OS”-like functions. When it all comes down to it, a button is a button, and buttons are named by the operating system. Windows tells us we press Windows, Mac OSX tells us we press command, and Ubuntu tells us we press Super. *If you must* use a non-partisan name, mod4 is probably your best bet. Thank you for joining us on this frustrating journey into the special OS key. Maybe in the future there will be a new keyboard standard revision that clarifies the whole mess. And also maybe we will do away with that silly [hamburger button](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburger_button).

Bonus note: Thomas started developing his idea of a perfect keyboard with differentiated meta and super buttons.

TL;DR

Keyboards are stupid.

Sources and further reading:

Typing Through Time: Keyboard History

[http://www.commodore.ca/manuals/c64_users_guide/c64-users_guide-02-getting_started.pdf](http://www.commodore.ca/manuals/c64_users_guide/c64-users_guide-02-getting_started.pdf)

http://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/119212/mod-meta-super-keys

http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=51644

How to Correctly Tag and Organize a Music Collection

Across computers worldwide, every individual’s preferred method of music organization is different form the rest. Because music is shared through the internet in its disorganized state, the proliferation of horribly tagged audio has created a huge problem for anybody concerned with correctness and neatness.

The ID3 standard is available across many different file formats. These are the tags that our music players show and how different media players sort and organize the tunes. A few of the tag, such as Title, Album, or Artist are very standard and definitely used by most hardware/software. However, comments, rating, and all of the other useless information bits do not need to be included in a music file- it only clutters and confuses some players.

For those that are tired of seeing multiple artist/album entries in their iTunes, or for people deeply concerned with the accuracy of their ripped collection, there are no clear standards of which to follow. How music is organized on a drive, and how the file is interpreted after downloading it from the internet are all important aspects that should be diligently corrected and maintained. Now there are certainly a few groups that have attempted standardization (what.cd is a large influence), but inevitably their methods do not work for *every* instance or situation. The following is a guide written by us here at Sirrico-Net with a purpose of creating a *de facto* way of organizing. Our goal is to eliminate bad tagging worldwide and bring ourselves closer to an industry standard. This might certainly be boring, but it is definitely important.

How to Organize – File Structure

Where you put your music is a personal preference. In an “Audio” folder, in a separate hard drive, on a removable media, or even in a Win7 “Library”, the main location of the music collection is moot. What does matter however, is that the music is isolated by itself.

  • Never keep your music in a downloads folder

Artist

Within your music “container” folder/drive/media is where you will place folders containing artist names.

 

The artists’ names are typed however they are written and stylized by the artist. Your OS, file system, or file browser may do funny things to the order (such as placing numbers at the beginning or end) but that is not of importance. Artists with “The” in the name should be typed as “Beatles, The”. Some filesystems cannot use certain character is folder/file names, so artists with “?” or any other reserved characters should have those specific characters replaced with an underscore “_”.

 

Albums

Albums are placed within the artist folder as another folder. Each album is organized chronologically from release by denoting it with a year, a dash, and then the album name. The following is an example: “2011 – The Best Album Ever”. Any style elements should be reproduced as best as possible. Doubt over the year to mark should default to the year that release was published. Re-releases should have the new year, not the original.

The album art for that particular release should be placed in the directory with the title “folder.jpg” so older music players can display the artwork. Jpg is the recommended format, as some players refuse to recognize bmp or png files. Other artworks can be included as well, such as back.jpg (back of case) or disc.jpg, but they are completely optional.

 

Songs

Song titles should never stay “Track 1”, “Track 2”, etc… as if they were just ripped, and they should also never remain “wwwFREEm00siccom-goodbeats-bytheband.mp3” either.

“01 Song Title” is the correct format. First is the track number with leading zeroes. A space, then another space precede the song title. No other information needs to be present here, no disc number, no artist information, and no extra comments. Only the song title information is needed to differentiate files, and the trailing track number is used for alphabetizing in the OS and legacy music programs that cannot read tags.

How to Organize – Tagging

Newer music programs and hardware players are able to sort music based on the metadata contained within the file. You can tag a file directly through some audio programs, and also some operating systems let you edit the tags through changing the “properties”. Here are the only tags that are relevant:

  • Artist
  • Track title
  • Album
  • Release date
  • Current track number
  • Total tracks
  • Disc number
  • Total discs

Ignore (and delete!) all other tags. Always tag in groups, meaning highlight all relevant tracks in an album and tag common information all at once. Then go individually and tag track information, such as the title and track number. Whenever you see a music library with multiple artist/album entries that are seemingly identical, it is because those common tags are different.

Special Cases

As sure as music artists will try to be unique, there will always be situations that bring doubt onto the best tagging/naming methods. The general rule of thumb is to stay as close to the artist’s intentions as possible. Here are a few specific situations, though:

File Formats w/o Tagging Capabilities

FLAC, wav, and other common file types may not have ID3 information as part of the file data. Any good audio player will default to the old methods of collecting data – the filename and order as determined by the OS. The entire reason that we worry about correctly naming files and placing them in specific folders is because of these awkward file-types, and so the players can gather what information they can from the context clues. If possible, try tagging weird file types with the usual mp3 information, but if the information does not stick hopefully the player will figure out the rest.

Artist Changes Name

There are a few accounts of an artist releasing an album under one name, but then changing their name later and retroactively applying the new name to the old material. How to handle this is simple- use the name of the artist at the time of release to know what to tag it with. If the album is re-released later we can use the new name, but otherwise that original release should be directly tied to the name it was released under.

Extra Album/Track Information

Some tracks and albums *need* to be tagged with an extra bit of information, but we have already eliminated all of the tags except the essential ones. Say for instance a band re-releases an album in another country with bonus songs. The name is the same, but it cannot be *exactly* the same in our file structure or the OS will not accept it. In this case, we denote the extra information in the folder/file name within square brackets. “2001 – Awesome Album [Japanese Release]” would be an acceptable example, and within the track names we could have something such as “08 – Best Song on the Album [Live]”. The main concept to gain from this section is that pertinent information should not be placed in tags, but rather in the file/folder names within square brackets thus explaining it is not the official title but that extra information is needed.

Different Mediums

Some albums we may have multiple releases of in different mediums, such as a 24 bit vinyl rip or a cassette release. Just as we did in the above section, we need to denote this in the folder name with brackets- “2011 – The Best II_ Return of the Best [Vinyl]”. We do not denote CD releases because they should be the “master” release, or the release in which all others are compared to. Furthermore, because vinyl and cassette tapes usually use A and B notation for the side, we must use that same notation within our tagging.

Splits

Splits, or releases done by multiple artists should be labeled separately from the individual artists. The folder name should have both artists included, such as “Band, The & Buck Naked”. The artist appearing first should be the “main” artist, or the artist whose record label produced the release. If this information is unavailable or there is doubt, the written order should be the order they appear in the track. Single tracks with guest artists (such as those commonly done in hip hop) should not have separate releases in tagging or file names unless the artist specifically denotes it. In most cases square brackets will suffice- “02 – Hippidy Hop [feat. Young Hoppy]”, but if the song is actually called “02 – Hippidy Hop feat. Young Hoppy” then leave out the brackets.

Compilations and Soundtracks

Single artist compilations and greatest hits collections should be treated as albums. Record label samplers and multiple artist compilations are tricky, but it is probably best that they be put into a [Compilations] artist folder with album titles within. Moreover, soundtracks should be placed into a [Soundtracks] artist folder with “1999 – Movie Name” as the album folder titles. Tag compilation and soundtrack albums with the correct artist names, but the album title should be the movie soundtrack name or compilation title.
singles

Singles

Singles should be treated as albums, because they are indeed releases. See below for unreleased singles.

Un-categorized or Loose Tracks

Finally, tracks that were never released or leaked albums should be categorized as though they were official but with a [Leak] or [Unreleased] in the folder/title filename.

Conclusion

Correctly tagging our music collections is not only important, it determines the quality of our digital music for future generations. Whether your media player is a mess, or whether you are sick of searching through your downloads folder for the exact tune you want, consider tagging and naming your music with the correct conventions.

 

TL;DR

Tagging music is stupid
Sources and further reading:
what.cd
http://id3.org/

Installing a EurAsia 8-Pin MM3 Modchip (5501 and 1001 PS1) (Video)

This week, Thomas and I try out the EurAsia 8-Pin modchip for PS1 systems. With this modchip, your PlayStation can play backup discs, run homebrew programs, and games outside of your console’s region.

The EurAsia 8-pin MMC is often the first result when searching for these IC’s online, but are they worth the relatively cheap price? Within this video we install chips into a 5501 PS1 and a 1001 PS1 to test the chip’s effectiveness.