No post today. (Well, except this one, and it doesn’t count.) It’s Super Bowl Sunday in the USA.
I am waist deep in keyboard shopping anyway. You think shopping for photo gear is hard? It’s dead simple and straightforward compared to keyboard-land. Good Lard, as the Irish say. I think I have almost decided on the Kinesis Freestyle Pro, but not quite to the point of pulling that proverbial trigger.
I almost bought a Keychron Q10 or V10 Alice, because the layout is very close to my old Microsoft, but at the last second I realized I was only looking at it in two dimensions! The Microsoft has very slight tenting—only ~5°, but that little bit appears to be crucial. (“Tenting,” as you might guess from the word, is raising the middle of the keyboard so your palms aren’t flat, but angle a little bit towards vertical.) The Keychron is dead flat. Oops. Back to shopping.
Here are two of the most interesting videos I’ve found yet. The first one explains QWERTY and how it got that way:
The story of QWERTY is fascinating and a little horrifying! To think the whole world has been following that thoughtless plan for more than a century. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of a Hill Climbing Algorithm before. Explains the U.S. Constitution, too!James’s history of keyboards is a very satisfying.
Here’s an interesting thing I learned in video about computer optimization of keys: you could make the QWERTY keyboard a whopping 13% more efficient just by exchanging the “J” and the “T.” [UPDATE: actually he said J and E. —Ed.]
And the second one is brief tour of what are coming to be called “Next Gen keyboards”:
If you haven’t been keeping up, this one will seem futuristic. Change is certainly afoot.
That’s enough of this. Something different mañana. Go Brock!
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Featured Comments from:
Bryan William Jones: “A good friend of mine just published Shift Happens, a two-volume love letter to the history of keyboards. Here’s the book’s site.”
Mike replies: Completely sold out, which is perfect for that topic. Seems like most things in the keyboard world are sold out as a usual condition, only occasionally and intermittently becoming available again.
Grant: “Hey Mike Tohnsjon. You are righj. I Jyped jhis commenj jhirjeen percenj fasjer!”
Mike replies: Showing how ridiculously fastidious I am, I actually corrected your comment. You misspelled “jhirjeen” as “jirjeen.”
John Camp: “I think the extra efficiency you’d get with the Dvorak keyboard or any of the others is mostly illusory, and would most apply to people who are typists—that is, professional typers of words. I estimate that I type roughly 400,000 words a year. But the thing is, I’m not trying to type 80 or 60 or 40 words per minute, or any other number, because I frequently pause to think, and reconfigure what I’m about to type, or to rework something I already typed, and I don’t know how that would fit into an efficiency calculation. I think I’m efficient enough, and wouldn’t get any better with any of the other keyboard styles, but what I really need is something that would keep my fingers and wrists from being damaged by the work. For example, if a Dvorak board made my typing 27% more efficient (a dubious claim; read the Wikipedia article,) that doesn’t mean that if I type 1,000 words averaging 5.5 letters each, I’d have to type fewer letters. I still have to type 5,500 letters on either keyboard. That’s why I mess around with different keyboards—not to reduce the amount of word done, but to reduce the repetitive stress, which some of these other styles might do. I hope.”
Mike replies: Fascinating points, and apropos. The task of writing ≠ the task of typing. I note that Next Gen (layered, minimal key count, ortholinear, etc.) keyboards are mostly reviewed by coders (and a few gamers), who have very different needs than writers do. Coders’ income, as I understand it, is directly tied to how fast they can type; also, they type all day long, and they seem to be mental ninjas on keyboards, such that they can readily learn alternative layouts (Colemak, Workman, Dvorak) and moveable keystrokes and on and on. I think if I switched to a keyboard on which seldom-used characters were relegated to an invisible (non-legended) function layer, the rest of my life wouldn’t be long enough for me to get comfortable with it. A ninja I am not.
I wonder the same thing about the pacing of the work. I used to say that I sound very articulate when I write but that’s because no one sees me staring at the ceiling for ten seconds trying to think of the right word. Or going over what I already wrote obsessively to polish every little phrase, hunting for those elusive little ambiguities that scurry around like mice. (A book which might interest you: William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, a favorite of a mercurial English professor I had at Reed College.) I also remember something I read once, which is that H&P typing methods tend to be less susceptible to RSI than touch-typing. However, my brain is getting worse as I get older, and my coordination is suffering incrementally more as time goes by. I would say that what I’m looking for is the ability to type reliably and thoughtlessly. (At present it looks like it’s going to be a long road.) Kye Wood put it best:
“THE UNINTENDED BENEFITS: Flow. Touch typing removes the process of conversion from thought—to characters on a page. You just think it—and it magically appears in front of you.”
That’s what I’d like.
As far as your goal of reducing repetitive stress, you might look into the Glove80, which is the current darling of the keyboard community and appears to be the Kinesis Advantage 2 that we both have, but done better. But personally I think the key for me, pardon the pun, will be a split keyboard that offers tenting. Moving the halves apart and angling them for optimum comfort, and then un-pronating the wrist at least a little, seems like it will do the trick for RSI. And it can be done without changing the standard layout or stagger. You do need to get your arms at the right angle, which might require adjusting chair or desk.
The keyboard I’m most interested in is the Dygma Raise. But unfortunately Dygma is currently in a nine-month desert in which they can’t deliver product (the last-gen v. 1.2 is sold out and the v. 2 doesn’t ship till October). Such an egregious business blunder doesn’t portend well for the survival of the company in the long term, but the keyboard itself looks great. It’s mostly a standard horizontally-staggered QWERTY with additional thumb keys added, built-in wrist rests that are cleanable and replaceable, and robust tenting (an add-on to the v. 1.2 and built in on the v. 2). It also has the other features I personally want for no good reason, like shine-through legends, hot-swappable switches, and PBT keycaps.
In the meantime I’ve ordered a Keychron Q11 (gets here tomorrow) and a set of the brand-new Gamakay Mercury switches (check out that bokeh! I helped create a monster). I’ll experiment with that and see if I can figure out what a true split keyboard will do for me.
nivivar: “If you haven’t purchased a keyboard yet, I highly recommend one of the Kinesis split keyboards. You can adjust the angles to your liking, making them as extreme or gentle as you would like. This would allow you to slowly adjust to using a split keyboard. There are the Freestyle2 for PC or Mac, Freestyle2 Pro, and Freestyle Edge RGB. I have the Edge RGB. I don’t really use the RGB part or the customizable programming, but I do like to have a white backlight sometimes like a laptop keyboard. Lastly, you also get an option with the keyboards of selecting the key mechanisms, so if you like quieter keys or the clicky keys, you get to choose which.”
Mike replies: The Edge RGB was a finalist for me, and I wonder if I might have made a mistake in not choosing it. Two turnoffs for me are that the switches are not swappable—I’m sensitive to noise and I’m usually listening to music as I work, so if I get stuck with noise I don’t care for I need a way out—and I was turned off by the way Kinesis overcharges so blatantly for the tenting kits, which should really be included in the price. I mean, the Freestyle2 Pro already costs $169, and then they want an extra $53 for the few bits of plastic in the tenting kit. Feels…predatory.
As I say, though, these might not have been very good reasons for passing over the Edge RGB, which I probably would like.