WARNING: The following contains a large dose of geekiness. Please consult your physician if you have known geek allergies.
About two years ago, I was suffering from pain in my hand and also realized that finally, for the first time in my life, I do almost all my work on my own computer, so thus I can feel free to experiment with other keyboard layouts. For the uninitiated, Qwerty was originally designed for typewriters as the most efficient layout possible to keep the bars from hitting each other and jamming. So, they scientifically analyzed a large word list and made a keyboard with this knowledge. Remington got his design and noticed if they moved just two letters, they could have the word typewriter on the top row, so it would be easy for salesmen to type. In any case, due to market momentum, most people still use this keyboard layout to this day.
Enter Dvorak. August Dvorak saw this issue in 1936 and designed his own layout, so that all the vowels would be on one hand and the most common consonants on home row on the other hand. This was optimized for typewriters, because he obviously wouldn’t know about important shortcuts like Ctrl+X, C, V for cut and paste as well as Ctrl+Z for undo and Ctrl+Q, W to quit apps and close windows on a Mac.
However, despite these limitations, I spent a month learning Dvorak and even reached a speed of 35 wpm. Unfortunately though, I experienced intense pains in my right pinkie finger from reaching up to pretty the L. I still can’t fathom how anyone would consider designing a keyboard layout so that a pinkie would have to hit such a common key so often. So, time to throw out Dvorak and keep looking.
So, I remembered my friend Zak Greant suggesting that I look into Colemak, since it keeps the cut and paste keys in place and has the added advantage of changing as few letters on the Qwerty keyboard as possible. It also keeps the punctuation of the US keyboard, so it’s also ideal for programmers. Another feature is that it strives to make each hand do its share of the work… oh yeah, and it also remaps your useless Caps Lock key to Backspace. This last feature alone will speed up your typing speed quite a lot with very little finger training, I highly recommend it!
Colemak keyboard install
So, first I have to install the Colemak keyboard. I went to Colemak.com’s Mac page and downloaded the keyboard. Then I took it into a free keyboard editor, Ukelele and added a dead key (a key which lets you enter another key to get special characters) next to the left shift so that I could easily type Esperanto and German characters. I should preface this by saying that I type around 80% English, 15% Esperanto and 5% German, but it’s annoying to always switch to the German keyboard just to type the umlauted letters like ä, ö and ü.
Caps lock config
Next comes the caps lock to backspace configuration. I already had a program called DoubleCommand installed, because I remapped the right option key on my Macbook to a forward delete key, which I find missing on a Mac laptop keyboard. So, I just had to remap the caps lock key to backspace and I was done. Well, not quite. Every time I pushed the caps lock key, the light would toggle. So, I installed another app called PCKeyboardHack and that fixed the issue. Ah, the perfect keyboard.
Hooked on Ergonomics Worked For Me!
For the sake of curiosity, I did a search on amazon for Colemak and discovered a gem called The Computer Athlete’s Handbook: Your Guide To A Healthier, Happier Techy Lifestyle. It’s not available in Germany, so I bought it for Kindle and read it on my iPhone. It goes over how to change your working environment to keep yourself from developing carpal tunnel syndrome. After reading this book and remembering a lifehacker article about how bad it is on your body to type on a laptop keyboard, I decided I needed something new. Unfortunately all the ergonomic keyboards are very Windows centric, and I’ve tried using one before and had no success with it.
Apple Wireless Keyboard
For a long time I’ve had an unused keyboard tray in my desk. I also had very poor posture, because my Macbook sits on top of a cooler, because after I upgraded its hard drive and RAM, it has always run very hot. I’ve always had to reach quite high just to type… not good. So, I read some reviews and decided to splurge for the Apple Wireless Keyboard and I have to admit that I absolutely adore it… with one caveat: the caps lock is horrible as a backspace key. They designed it so that it can’t repeat to prevent people from toggling caps lock twice by accident.
Eventually I discovered that KeyRemap4MacBook (after uninstalling DoubleCommand) has a Caps Lock LED hack which allows the caps lock on certain Apple keyboards to act normally, even though it keeps the light on. So, now I have the perfect keyboard setup. I made a site called LearnColemak.com to help me learn the setup, but found that I needed more training, so last night I bought Master Key, a typing tutor which turns mastering Colemak into a challenging game… I guess you could call it Colemak Hero without the cool graphics.
So, I should go practice my Colemak a bit more, so hopefully my next blog post will be typed in it!