Monday, May 28, 2007

The Korean Keyboard

I'm only a fan of laptops for their portability. I mean they're great when you're about to hop, skip, and jump over an ocean or two but I'd rather have my keyboard, mouse and flat screen monitor all as separate entities that are free to move around on my desk as far apart as possible. So one of the first things on settling in list was getting a keyboard and mouse. And since I'm in Korea, I'd thought I'd get myself a keyboard and mouse.

My Keyboard & Mouse.

There's a Samsung store right down the street from me and I spent 25,000 for the Smart & Super SMH-710CB USB Combo Mouse and 27,000 for the Smart & Super SKG-720C USB Combo Keyboard. And they're okay. That store won my heart with it's proximity so when I saw a fairly decent keyboard and fairly decent mouse I picked them up more on an impulse buy rather than educated shopping. Turns out that there are better deals, like at GoYongsan where I could have picked up the keyboard for 16,800. Google doesn't tell me anything about the mouse so I assume that it spontaneously came into existence just for my benefit.

The extra 한자and 한/영 keys.

The keyboard is a Korean keyboard with English and Hangul characters and comes with two extra toggle keys that switch the keyboard's character set.

The 한자 (Hanja) key, to left of the space bar, deals with Chinese characters. Korea and China have an intertwined history result in a collection of Chinese characters that are still used in the Korean Language; the number systems are an excellent example of crossover if you're really curious. Many Chinese characters are homophones so matching the Korean equivalent requires some prior knowledge.

Using this key is easy:

  1. Phonetically spell the symbol in Hangul.

  2. Highlight the Hangul.

  3. Hanja-ize the Hangul.

  4. If there's a homophone conflict a menu should appear presenting you with your options for the correct Chinese character.
Let's try it out on an easy example: The number one. Now normally numbers are written out in their Romanized form but spoken in Sino-Korean; Pure Korean pronunciation is 하나 (Hana) and Sino-Korean pronunciation is 일 (Il). So, in our favourite word processor we highlight and hanja-ize 일, getting a menu listing the available Chinese equivalents, and choose the correct Chinese character 一.

The 한/영 (Han/Yeong, short for Hangul/Yeongeo ) key, to right of the space bar, is more straight forward. It simply toggles the keyboard between the Korean and English character sets that you see on all of the keys. The keyboard's state is usually displayed on screen.

The Korean Import Method Editor.

Straight out of the box, your keyboard's 한자 and 한/영 keys won't work. Even though you can clearly see these extra keys, the computer cannot. Of course, for some reason beyond my comprehension or Internet searching abilities, Korean applications like Hangul will automatically recognise new keyboard straight out of the box and work magically. For other applications, like Microsoft Office or your favourite web browser, you'll need to do some configuration on your (in my case North America) laptop to recognise the foreign keyboard and the new keyboard's extra buttons. Fortunately Declan Software has all that figured out the Korean IME.

The IME remaps the current keyboard into what ever language you want; this means that if you already have a keyboard you can buy keyboard skin instead of a new keyboard. and let the IME do all of the work. Really, there's really no need to buy a new keyboard unless you're going to buy one anyways. Enabling the IME also enables the Language Bar and the virtual language tools.

Korean Keyboard Problems.

After configuring the IME I had the following problems:
  1. My 한/영 button didn't toggle but my language did toggle when I used the ALT key right next to it.

  2. My Won (₩) key was typing the Reverse Solidus aka The Backslash (\) instead of the ₩ symbol.
The first problem was solved by the support article Microsoft, detailing a fault in the operating system and the second problem looks to be more a case of bad design that nobody complains about as hinted by this post that deals with boring computer geeky stuff like keyboard input codes.

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