Colemak, week 4

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I have made much more progress than I anticipated in just 4 weeks. I now regularly type at 50-55 words per minute, and sometimes hit 65. This is learning a new keyboard layout in addition to learning touch typing. I have for typed exclusively in Colemak for at least two weeks, and find that my old QWERTY muscle memory very rarely interferes. The S, which was one of the hardest transitions since it only moved one key over, is second nature now. Of course, I still make many mistakes. And interestingly, I cannot type well when tired. The new muscle memory hasn’t gone that deep yet.

I have noticed that I do my fastest practices early in the morning, and on the first try. The following tries are inevitably slower. I suspect it is because I attempt (against my conscious will) to type faster than my hands have learned in the succeeding tries, but there is no such impulse in the first try.

The most important thing I have learned is the need to keep your fingers on the keyboard. I previously typed by looking at the keys because I floated my hands above keyboard and needed to realign often. But by keeping most fingers where they need to be, I hardly ever lose the keys. That’s the one trick I’d recommend a beginner touch-typist to focus on for fastest improvement.


On learning a new keyboard layout

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I’m learning Colemak. It’s like your typical keyboard, but you switch the letters around. There are tons of other blogs out there that give a fuller history, but I will give you a brief one here: Because of the physical limitations of mechanical typewriters, the best layout of keys at the time was an inefficient, uncomfortable staggered layout where frequently-used keys were placed in hard-to-reach places. In fact, it was built to make the typist slow. None of those reasons are valid for computer keyboards, but the ol’ QWERTY layout on an unergonomic staggered keyboard is now the standard.

I could type at over 80 words per minute, but never learned true touch-typing (typing without looking). I got the idea in my head to learn touch-typing, and while I was at it to get a sensible layout and an ergonomic keyboard. And once the idea took root, I became obsessed with keyboards.

The ergonomic bit will have to wait a while. I’d like to have one of AcidFire’s keyboards, if they ever become available. Barring that, maybe a Keyboardio, if they ever make a case that doesn’t offend my masculinity (I really don’t need coworkers commenting on my butterfly-shaped keyboard). But the touch-typing and efficient layout I can integrate right away. So I did.

You’d be surprised, but there are tons of layouts out there. I narrowed it down to two: Norman, which concerned primarily with ergonomics of hand movements, and Colemak, which is all about efficency. Since Colemak is more established and is even implemented by some keyboards in the hardware layer, I ultimately went with that one. I installed virtual keyboards so I wouldn’t need to change my actual keyboard to practice, similar to how I type Chinese without a dedicated physical keyboard. But it took a great many days of vacillating and even trying to design a custom layout that merged the two (I did not find a balance that was good enough to justify yet another layout (but I would have called it the Ivak if I had)). And after all that frustration, I finally devoted time to training my fingers to forget Qwerty and condition them to quickly type in Colemak.

I’ve trained for about two weeks now, and I am moderately happy with the results. I am typing at about 40 wpm in the context of writing prose, but coding takes much longer because I have not trained programming, because as far as I know there is no such thing. But I notice my speed increasing every day. It really is just a matter of practice. Even now I am reflexively typing the right key, reaching for the backspace, then realizing that I hit the right key by sheer muscle memory. It’s neat!

I lost Qwerty proficiency much faster than I gained Colemak, though. But it’s OK; I think that by touch-typing Colemak and doing that funky typing-while-looking thing with Qwerty will help to insulate those two sets of muscle memory.

One final thing, though it’s about the keyboard itself rather than the layout: I took the plunge and purchased a WASD V2 from It’s gonna be pretty, with one of my mom’s nice black-and-white pieces of art overlayed on all the keys. I also didn’t print any letters on the thing, just a few media keys. Her logo/emblem/crest is over the “Windows” keys, my name and website are on the space bar, and there’s even a little QR code that leads to my web site (because why not?). I can’t wait until it arrives, but I hope it turned out OK. Tracing the 3MB image into SVG took it to 15MB, diluted the quality, and nearly killed my PC when trying to work with it.


On Colemak

This post has moved to a new home! If you're interested in Ivan's technology-related ramblings, please see!

So I’m learning the Colemak keyboard layout. I’m typing this post at a blistering 15 words per minute, but it feels like 15 words per hour. It’s like learning to type all over again, because it is. But I don’t remember it being this painful. Despite the excellent practice that this blog post provides me, I’ll have to cut it short so I don’t go crazy. Gah! Ghur ur rgl;us.