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A Push-to-Talk Conference Call Foot Pedal

My current position at DPLA, especially since we are remote-first organization, requires me to be on lots of conference calls, both video and audio. While I’ve learned the value of staying muted while I’m not talking, there are a couple of things that make this challenging. First, I usually need the window for the call to have focus to unmute myself by the platform’s designated keystroke. Forget that working well if you need to bring something up in another window, or switch to another application. Secondly, while we have our own preferred platform internally (Google Hangouts), I have to use countless others, too; each of those platforms has its own separate keystroke to mute.

This all leads to a less than ideal situation, and naturally, I figured there must be a better way.

I knew that some folks have used inexpensive USB footpedals for things like Teamspeak, but that ran into the issue where a keystroke would only be bound to a specific application. Nonetheless, I went ahead and bought a cheap PCSensor footswitch sold under another label from an online retailer. The PCSensor footswitches are programmable, but the software that ships with them is Windows-only. However, I also found a command-line tool for programming the switches.

After doing some digging, I came across an application for Mac OS X called Shush, which provides both push-to-talk and push-to-silence modes, which are activated by a keystroke. Once installed, I bound Shush to the Fn keystroke, which would allow me to activate push-to-talk even if I didn’t have the pedal plugged in. However, I couldn’t get the pedal to send the Fn keystroke alone since it’s a modifier key. As a workaround, I put together a device-specific configuration for Karabiner, a flexible and powerful tool to configure input devices for Mac OS. By default, the pedal sends the keycode for b, and the configuration rebinds b for an input device matching the USB vendor and product IDs for the pedal to Fn.

Since I’ve bought and set up my first pedal, I’ve gotten used to using the pedal to quickly mute and unmute myself, making my participation in conference calls become much more smooth than it was previously. I’ve also just replaced my first pedal which broke suddenly with a nearly identical one, but I might make the switch to a more durable version. My Karabiner configuration is available as a gist for your use - I hope this helps you as much as it helped me!