On learning a new keyboard layout

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

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 wasdkeyboards.com. 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.



One thought on “On learning a new keyboard layout

  1. Moema

    Very nice. Thanks for using my art. I imagine that will be nice with some colorful paintings too.

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