Kinesis Advantage keyboard and learning Dvorak
27 Jan 2008

I bought a Kinesis Advantage keyboard with the intention of reducing my finger pain associated with typing. Obviously, I spend a good portion of every day typing, and my livelihood basically depends on my being able to continue typing.

I also decided to learn the Dvorak layout while I was learning the Kinesis keyboard. I tried learning Dvorak a few years back but gave it up because I was working with a lot of other people’s keyboards as well – it was too inconvenient to keep switching layouts.

On the Kinesis/Dvorak learning process

I really tried to make Dvorak work. I gave it a month. At the end of the month, I switched back to QWERTY. It’s a fantastic layout for cranking out lots of English text, but that’s not my use case.

On the Kinesis keyboard

Where to from here?

I still want to improve the keyboard layout. The Kinesis makes typing less painful, but some of my pains appear to be linked to the QWERTY layout. And the feeling of effortlessly flying through English text with Dvorak was just amazing.

To come up with a better keyboard layout, I want to log my keystrokes for a month. Each keystroke will be tagged with the time and the active process. The process lets me figure out whether the keystroke intent was a letter or a position. I can also detect errors by tracking Backspace presses. With that information, I can determine exactly which keystrokes or combinations are the most common for me.

In addition, I want a ‘trainer’ – a program that will prompt me with an arbitrary series of keystrokes and time how long it takes me to hit them. This will give me information on how strong and fast my fingers are and if any of them are particularly error-prone. From that, I can generate a map of the keyboard, each key associated with a ‘performance’ score. Combining the two datasets, I can then come up with an ideal keymap for me, given my typical usage patterns and my own brain-keyboard performance data.

I’d also like to integrate information on common digraphs, but I’m not sure how best to use them. I’m not sure that Dvorak’s assertion that alternating hands is the best thing to do. A common case for me is the ‘chording’ I mentioned previously, where a single hand can hit a sequence of keys very rapidly. The timing is simpler – I arrange my hand correctly on the keys, then use the individual fingers to press them in sequence. Of course, this sounds like the sort of thing that might cause tendon damage. But it’s fast.

There’s more discussion on chording and performance here.

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