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I saw a thread about how to make a ♥ character in posts, and while the answers were helpful the replies were missing an important detail about why the user's attempts were failing. Seeing as I'm a computer scientist and I am familiar with most of the technical details I figured I'd explain it to you, and also how to make other characters.
Skip to bold words if you don't want technical details but do want to know how I made the sun ☼.
The set of printable characters has been primarily encoded in a format called ASCII. Since it's an 8-bit scheme, the valid ASCII codes are 0-255. Obviously, there's not 255 keys on your keyboard, so some mechanism to input the codes outside of the keyboard keys needed to be added. In Windows, ALT + numbers on the keypad does this but it must be numbers on the keypad, which is why laptop users are reporting they need to use the Fn key since most laptops use that to remap keys to the numeric keypad. Apparently ASCII 3 maps to a heart; 2 and 1 seem to be a smiley face. I am more familiar with what 13, 10, and 7 do (carriage return, line feed, and bell, respectively).
The world uses more than 255 characters to communicate, so later Unicode was developed. This uses a 16-bit scheme so it's capable of addressing 65,536 characters alone. This is still not enough for all languages, so some specific unicode characters indicate the next bytes specify one character, rather than their individual character. The same mechanism for inputting ASCII can be used for unicode, but it gets more complicated once you pass 0x00FF (255). You have to hold Alt, then press the plus sign (+), then press the hexadecimal code for the character. Unfortunately, this seems to depend on a registry key setting and your language options and I'm not going to discuss registry editing because it is not a task for mere mortals. If it makes you feel better, I can't use Alt+Numpad on my machine to input unicode characters either
If you can find charmap.exe on Windows, it shows you all characters that can be produced and as a bonus, you can copy the characters and paste them into your post.
The downside is some browsers still do not default to a Unicode character set, so for some people your unicode funtime characters might display as a hollow rectangle. Such is life.
To input special ASCII characters, use Alt + NumPad, where NumPad is some numbers on the number pad on the right side of your keyboard (people who know what they are talking about call it the "numeric keypad"). If you have a laptop, this probably means Alt + Fn + whatever keys this remaps to the numeric keypad.
To input Unicode characters, you MIGHT be able to hold Alt, press + on the numeric keypad, then input the unicode character in hexadecimal. Unicode characters might not work in all browsers, and the forums software might strip certain codes.
On Windows, charmap.exe can be used to find neat characters. It's how I found ☼ the sun!
USE THE NUMBER PAD, NOT THE NUMBERS ABOVE THE NORMAL KEYS ON THE KEYBOARD. This is what was missing from the post I read.
If someone is using a different font than you, anything that is not between 33 and 126 is not really guaranteed to be the same. This is the ASCII range where the letters, numbers, and punctuation common to US English live. Europeans, your 35 might be different; in the US it is called the pound sign, but you might be familiar with it as the hash mark. Some fonts might remap it to the British pound symbol; I haven't checked or done research.
For real fun, find the "right-to-left override" character and play with it. It looks like this forum strips that one out, but it will amaze your friends if you can figure out how the devil to type it.
wait...so can you tell me again how to do it on a laptop?
Sure I'll just type it u-- wait... it's text. On a screen. Why not scroll back up and read it again?
Actually it's not going to be the same on all laptops. On mine, the Fn key is purple, and the keys on the keyboard that are remapped while it is down have the character they represent in purple. On my wife's laptop, the key is grey and the same. The keys that are remapped to the numeric keypad seem to usually be iopjklm,., but I'm not going to claim it's universal. I can't really tell you how to do it without seeing your laptop keyboard. Consult your laptop's user manual for help.
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