Photo by Wi Bing Tan

A little over a year ago I posted about switching back to the Dvorak keyboard layout. I have stuck with it since then and that is pretty much all I have used. I thought that I would give a quick update as to how that is going and what else is going on in my keyboarding life.

So far I am very pleased with how Dvorak is working for me. I find that when I am typing for long periods that I don’t have to move my fingers very much and it is quite relaxing. My major complaint with the layout would probably have to be the placement of the ‘L’ key. I think it is used a bit too frequently to be a pinky key. During general typing this isn’t too bad, but when typing for extended periods or while doing a lot of work on the command line (ie. running ‘$ ls -l’, all right-hand pinky keys), it can become a little annoying. Not quite enough for me to go back to qwerty, though.

When I do go back to a qwerty layout for short periods, I have a couple of minutes where I have to think about what keys I am pressing, but I have retained much of that muscle memory and if I have to type for longer periods, it comes back pretty quick (though I rarely need to do this). One thing that is annoying about switching back to qwerty on those rare occasions is keyboard shortcuts. I am a pretty regular Vim user and I have found trying to use Vim for short edits on a qwerty keyboard not to be worth the effort. I should probably force myself to use it, just to help maintain my abilities on that setup, but I generally just fall back to the likes of gedit/nano for those quick qwerty edits.

In my quest to perfect my keyboarding experience, I have made a few other tweaks to my setup. I think basically re-learning how to type makes you re-evaluate the things that you have lived with up until then. For quite some time after switching to Dvorak, I grew more and more frustrated by the typewriter-inherited stagger of a standard keyboard’s keys. It got to the point where I was ready to tear apart a bunch of keyboards in a quest to make my own. In the end, I was introduced to a bunch of columnar/matrix keyboards that are available on the market like the TypeMatrix, TrulyErgonomic, Kinesis Contoured, and Maltron, to name a few.

I ended up picking up a ~10 year old Kinesis Essential (with custom/hacked footswitches and upgraded memory, and much cleaner than the one pictured above) second hand from someone on the geekhack.org forums in like-new condition for much less than a brand new, modern version. This has been my primary keyboard at work now for almost 5 months and it is great. The hand separation and the use of thumb keys instead of pinky keys are welcome improvements (though at times I wish the hand separation were greater). The bowl shape of the keywells puts the keys into what feels like a much more natural location. The first thing I noticed when I started using this board was that when I reached for the keys, they seemed to almost press themselves as my fingers got there much earlier than my brain expected. All in all, I would say this is a great keyboard. A friend of mine has a more modern version of the Kinesis (though the PCBs inside look identical) and we are planning to convert it into a bluetooth keyboard. I’ll try to post updates as they come.

The other less major thing I have been doing is tweaking my Vim configurations. I have moved all my plugins into the vundle plugin manager and have made a number of keyboard remappings. The main one that most people would probably get thrown off by if they used my Vim setup is that, while in insert mode, I have swapped the numbers and symbols for all of the number keys (excluding the num pad). I find that when programming, variable names are used much more often than static numbers, as are many of the symbols, so this makes programming a bit quicker. This change is one that I think is taking longer to adjust to due to the fact that it is only remapped in the one mode in Vim and not across my whole computer, but I find that it is really only useful while coding anyway, so a system wide change isn’t really justified. Having said that, I do really find it useful and there have been times outside of Vim that I have wished I had it too. If anyone is interested in my Vim configuration, you can find it here.


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