My new keyboard

29 June 2012 6:17 PM (keyboard | emacs | life)

I have been using GNU Emacs for a few years now, at first only in my spare time, and for about 1.5 years also for work. Since I've started using it for work my init file has exploded in size and my knowledge of both emacs and emacs-lisp have as well.

As a result of using it full time, I have started paying more attention to what I'm doing and how I can do it faster or more efficiently. Sometimes this means writing a function, and possibly hooking it up to some key combination, but sometimes it also means changing the way you use your PC.

The first change was trying more and more to leave the mouse behind and use the keyboard for everything. In emacs this is easy, there are many window managers that offer this, mostly tiling, and for browsers this is somewhat more difficult.

After switching to an almost completely keyboard-based system, I was starting to feel pain in my left pinkie. It was getting tired of always having to travel to the lower left bottom of my keyboard in order to press that darn CTRL key that I use oh so very much. So I switched my CTRL and Caps Lock keys, as is suggested by many an emacs user.

Following that, much later, was the desire to type more efficiently. I've read a long time ago already that QWERTY was designed to be slow and that it is unbelievable that we all still use it. Now, as I don't like mangling my keyboard by using a layout that it was never designed for and which was never designed for it, like dvorak, I chose colemak. I've now gotten the hang of it, for the most part, and I'm happy with it, it types pretty nicely and still fits well on a QWERTY keyboard.

At this point, I'm at the stage where a friend of mine commented to me, once, that he would just love to see a burglar/thief make heads or tails of the setup I'm using, since my keyboard doesn't show the keys in the right place, when you log in you're greeted by an empty screen with no hints on how to proceed, the CTRL key is not the CTRL key and the mouse does absolutely nothing.

But, after a while of using colemak and paying attention to my typing and paying attention to tips about how to type, like use the modifier on the opposite side of the keyboard in relation to the character you have to use with it, I got frustrated by my keyboard. Using the modifier opposite of the key you're using with it doesn't work well if they're hidden away from your hands, all the way down in the lower right and left corners. So I started keeping an eye out for keyboards that would better fit my needs.

After weeks, months, of seeing absolutely nothing that interested me I finally came across Xah Lee's Ergonomic Keyboards Gallery, I see my vision has come to life. The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard seems like exactly what I'm looking for, finally a keyboard that has big modifier keys on both sides.

From the moment I saw it I knew I wanted it, but impulse buys are never a good idea, so I slept on it, talked to some people I respect and I thought about it, it is ���230 after-all. Then after a few days there I am, ordering it, having just weeks before proclaimed that I couldn't fathom ever paying more than some ���20 for one.

Unfortunately it was still in production, or at least this batch was, and I had to wait. I went to pick it up a few days ago, an extra charge of ���64.12 was added by customs. The people that brought me there were intrigued and surprised by my purchase and didn't really understand it, but they thought it looked cool nonetheless.

Now I have it and have been using it for a few days. Man is it different. It's like learning colemak all over again, although luckily this seems to be going faster.

The few moments I have where I don't screw up every single word and have to type everything at least thrice I feel comfortable using it. Having both the Control and Shift keys near the sides of my hands, big and high up is convenient. Being able to press RET with either my thumbs or my index fingers is much more comfortable than my right pinkie. It also makes a nice sound when I'm typing and the keys are not all that resistant, so I don't have to press hard, on either the modifiers or the keys, which would be a pretty big downer.

Of course it's not all perfect. I still have to press M-x with just my left hand, since the right ALT key is an AltGR key, which is completely different and doesn't seem to be recognized as a modifier by any program, instead being a direct switch on the keyboard itself. But in this case I could look into reprogramming the keyboard's firmware, which it supports and allows, to switch the two alt keys, or I could use xmodmap. Having my Super key in the top-center portion of my keyboard is an adjustment, I usually use it as the modifier key for everything window-manager related. And, of course, having often-used keys such as (back)slashes and brackets/accolades in far-away places is different. But I'm sure I will overcome these difficulties once I get a little more used to it.

Well, writing this post should help, I feel my proficiency has grown about 10%.

Anyway, if you're writing a lot on the computer, or you use a lot of modifier keys with programs like emacs, I won't yet recommend buying it, but I will recommend taking a serious look at it, it might be just what you are looking for, even if you don't yet know you're looking for it. In the end it cost me ���293,12 and I haven't regretted it yet. In fact, I already felt completely lost when using my netbook, to which I did not connect my new keyboard.

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