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Penti Chorded Keyboard (software-lab.de)
192 points by shakna on July 18, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 131 comments

I feel like computers are such an important part of our lives now that it's surprising so many people settle for the entrenched option of 'standard QWERTY computer keyboard'.

I realised a while ago that since I spend so much of my life interacting with a computer, I should really invest significant effort into improving, even marginally, the ergonomics and bandwidth of the IO channel between my brain and the computer I am interacting with. This realisation and the ensuing quest for a better option led me to adopt the Ergodox EZ keyboard. This has been the most significant improvement to my day-to-day interactions with computers since learning Vim. It did take several months to adjust and a significant amount of effort went into designing the optimal layout to suit my needs, but the results have been incredible.

- I never need to look at the keyboard

- My WPM rate is sufficient that I can type almost as fast as I can think

- The palms of my hands never move (zero wrist flexion)

My keyboard layout can be found here https://github.com/Ganon-M/ergodox-vim-ubuntu

If any of you out there are heavy Vim users and want to take your ergonomic experience to the next level, I suggest taking a look at the above layout.

I use a QWERTY and I can type faster than I can think. I can routinely type at 130 WPM and at bursts up to 140 WPM. But I didn't type this comment that fast, not even close. I think much more slowly than I type. Point being, I can already type far faster than I need to on QWERTY, so why bother switching to something else, where I will almost certainly be slower for a period of months at best?

Personally I think speed is generally overrated for the reasons you mention, if you type at around 100WPM you probably won't be significantly limited by your fingers for any practical task. For me it's more about comfort, I switched to a better keyboard and the Dvorak layout because I started to have wrist pain. I don't know if dvorak is all that superior to qwerty but it gave me an opportunity to completely re-learn how to type since very few keys line up, and this time I tried to learn proper hand and finger placement etc...

It really depends on what you're using your typing skills for.

If you're trying to record verbatim what someone is saying, you could easily have to type much, much faster than that.

Stenographers are often required to type at least a hundred WPM faster than you type, and some people speak even faster than that. The demands are even higher when more than one person is talking at the same time and you're trying to record them both.

There are some tricks one could use to speed up plain old QWERTY, however. In particular, you could use macros. That's essentially what stenographers use on their special steno keyboards. A single chord will translate in to a full sentence. Likewise, you could trigger a macro on a QWERTY keyboard with a single chord and that can boost your WPM significantly, if you use a lot of them.

Recording verbatim conversation is a pretty rare typing use case I would say. Court reporters use steno machines for that, no non-chorded layout is fast enough.

The vast majority of people are typing up some sort of copy or code, both of which are limited by thinking speed if you're anywhere above 80wpm or so.

Even writing a relatively casual e-mail I find myself limited by thought speed rather than typing. I can type a sustained 120-150wpm but frankly it's mostly a party trick, I don't think it makes me any more productive than someone typing 60-80wpm.

People do not speak at 230 wpm. Ever. It does not happen.

Edit: I stand by this. Auctioneers do provide a good counter example but much of what they say is just repeated phrases.

Why do you say that? As a stenographer, it absolutely happens: I know because when I try to write along to some people, my words per minute meter goes above 230 occasionally. (It would go above 230 wpm more than "occasionally" except that I'm not that fast yet.)

Here's an example of a professional stenographer dealing with 300+ wpm days (search "300wpm" in this page): https://jadeluxe.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/year-in-career-201...

> People do not speak at 230 wpm. Ever. It does not happen.

Yes they do. 230 wpm is close to the upper limit for natural speech, but bursts of speech at that rate are quite common if the speaker is in a heightened emotional state or they are trying to convey a lot of information quickly.

Research into subtitling (closed captioning) by the BBC and OFCOM found that live programmes normally have bursts of speech at over 200 wpm. The BBC article below includes a sample clip of a presenter reading a news report at 230 wpm; while it sounds rushed and the presenter occasionally stumbles over a word, it does not sound completely unnatural.




Average speaker is 150, an auctioneer is 250-400, the fastest person. The fastest talkers male and female can recite over 500,600 words per minute.

People can certainly and some people while exited/upset may.

This also probably varies greatly by language.

Someone speaking a language like Chinese, where most of the words are single syllables, could probably speak a lot faster than someone speaking, say, German, where the words are often super long.

That's just my mostly uneducated guess, though. It'd be interesting to see some real-world comparisons of this.

I don't have a source for this, but at some point I read a paper which indicated that for languages with a lower information density per syllable, people speak faster, and vice versa, so on average all humans communicate the same amount of information per second.

I've somewhat noticed the same thing with just regional accents of english. The faster the accent, the more "filler" the speech contains.

> 500,600 words per minute

I realise 500/600 looks like 5/6, but 500,600 reads to me as 500600. Maybe | is a good unambiguous character to use for "or".

Dashes are customarily used for ranges. 500-600 wpm; 35-75 Kph; 2-3 grams. While a / can be used for words "and/or", using it with numbers leads to confusion with fractions: 2/3.

> While a / can be used for words "and/or", using it with numbers leads to confusion with fractions: 2/3.

As Y_Y already indicated:

> I realise 500/600 looks like 5/6 ….

If we're going to fuss about typography, these things:

> 500-600 wpm; 35-75 Kph; 2-3 grams.

are hyphens, and you want an en-dash: 500–600 wpm instead of 500-600 wpm.

Or simply use a space: "500, 600".

It might be healthier for your hands. Imagine decades of inefficient keyboard and mouse movement. This person had RSI problems quite young:


Most alternative keyboard layouts reduce hand motion by putting the most used letters on the home row.

I think the biggest factor here is ergonomics, no? If you already type so fast then you can afford to lose some of that in exchange for better ergonomics moving forward. Especially since the speed loss is temporary.

Because in order to type, you have to interrupt your train of thought. The shorter the duration of that interruption, the better.

(This is especially important in programming, where I sometimes lose track of where I was in my mind while I type.)

Well, maybe if you can't touch-type. I find that I can type and think at the same time.

I have exactly the same mindset, if you spend 10 hours a day typing on a keyboard then investing a few weeks and/or a few hundred bucks to marginally improve your speed and comfort is a very good investment indeed.

In particular I'm always amazed that, in my experience, the vast majority of the professional software programmers I encounter never bothered to learn how to touchtype proficiently. I personally use the dvorak layout but I can understand staying on QWERTY for convenience but not knowing how to touchtype is very hard for me to rationalize.

Regarding the Ergodox I have a question, do you really find that "matrix" key layout (or "ortholinear" as they call it on their website) is really an improvement? It never made a lot of sense to me and when I tried a similar keyboard a few years back (admittedly for a short amount of time) I really didn't like it. The website says:

> When you extend your finger, it doesn't go sideways, does it? So why are the keys on your keyboard not directly on top of each other?

But... They do go sideways when I have a keyboard in front of me, my hands are not perfectly straight and parallel on the keyboard lest my wrist or shoulders end up in a weird position. Now of course in this case with a split keyboard you can move and orient them any way you like but I always wondered if there was actual science behind that choice or if it's just "non-linear layout == old mechanical typewriter leftover == bad".

> But... They do go sideways when I have a keyboard in front of me, my hands are not perfectly straight and parallel on the keyboard lest my wrist or shoulders end up in a weird position.

I've been using an Atreus [1] at work for several months now, it's a 40% angled ortho keyboard. I find my wrists and arms are at a natural angle, similar to how the would be on a standard keyboard, with the advantage of the linear finger movements of an ortho. The chording definitely requires some extra brainpower at times, especially since I still use a standard laptop keyboard on the go. I guess it's good mental exercise. I'm debating trying a 60% Atreus or one of the split keyboards next.

(It's also a fun and pretty easy project to build your own keyboard, and a point of pride harkening back to when craftsmen would build their own tools.)

[1] https://atreus.technomancy.us/

Ah yeah, that makes more sense. The keyboard I tried was a typematrix[1] and I really found it rather awkward to use. Maybe if I had stuck with it for more than a few hours it would've clicked eventually.

[1] http://allthingsergo.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/tm-...

I've never used a flat matrix keyboard like the Ergodox or Typematrix, but I've been using a Kinesis Advantage2 for a few months which combines the rectilinear layout with cup-shaped "key wells" and a rather distinctive staggering of depth that keeps each key relatively closer to the fingers pressing them as compared with other designs. I'm not sure I'd want to use the key pattern with a flat board, because it's still not something I'm completely sold on, but I think it works well enough with the concave design. I really like the idea of symmetrical designs in general.

The weird part about (non-split) "ortholinear" keyboards is that they seem to be built for perfectly parallel arms/wrists sprouting out of the center of your chest.

Split keyboards like the Ergodox fix this by splitting and angling each hand's individual keyboard.

But... standard keyboards are already angled for your hands. The [U,J,M] column is a perfect mapping of the curl of your right index finger.

The real issue is that typing tutorials for some reason encourage left hand finger positions forming a curls that are completely orthogonal to the natural curl of your left finger / left wrist position.

QWERTY tutorials encourage [E,D,C], when you really should be using [E,D,X] or even [R,D,C].

I type (in Dvorak) using the columns [W,S,Z], [E,D,X], etc. and am completely happy with the columns of a normal keyboard.

Thank you for mentioning that, it turns out that I do the exact same thing. It's true that if you look at tutorials online the hand position for the left hand is pretty insane to me: https://skambo.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Touch-Typing....

Do people actually type like that? My hand ends up in a very awkward position if I try to hit X (in qwerty, Q in dvorak) with my ring finger while it's trivial with my middle finger. Actually it's pretty funny because in the illustration above it does look like the hands are sprouting from somebody's chest!

Yes, because the keys on the keyboard are offset just slightly to the left, so it's easier to hit them by curling your left hand inward, than reaching up and to the right. Nothing+ beats an angled ortholinear keyboard though.

+ Except specially-designed ergonomic keyboards of course, but if you need one you'll know.

Exactly, standard keyboards are pretty bad for your left hand because of the way the keys are typically offset, so even if you hit different keys to the "standard" with your left hand things are shaped poorly.

> QWERTY tutorials encourage [E,D,C], when you really should be using [E,D,X] or even [R,D,C].

I meant "[E,D,X] or even [R,D,X]" of course

"In particular I'm always amazed that, in my experience, the vast majority of the professional software programmers I encounter never bothered to learn how to touchtype proficiently. "

I can't remember a single programmer I've worked with who has had to look at their hands while typing except for special characters.

Interesting, maybe there's a cultural aspect to it, here in France it's frankly not that common in my experience. Maybe it's because of the way it's taught (or not taught) at school, maybe it's because AZERTY is a garbage layout, maybe my sample is heavily biased somehow...

I'm French, and touch typing my Bépo keyboard.

I have to concur. Many programmers don't know how to type. Possibly most. Also, whenever I bring the layout up, the most common objection is that it's impossible because they could be touching computers that aren't their own, as if every programmer would be a system administrator as well…

I have yet to be forced into Azerty or Qwerty… except when playing TellTale games. Apparently they have found the One True Layout, and it is Qwerty.

I'm french and did stop looking as much at my keyboard when I switched to QWERTY. Mainly because of non-alphanumeric characters in a programming context. the ` or [] or {} are terrible to access with AZERTY

There's a difference between typing without looking and proper touch-typing. The latter optimises for hitting most keys while moving your fingers the least distance from the home row. It's pretty much how a keyboard is designed to be used. I was able to type without looking long before I taught myself to touch-type and I can confidently say that proper touch-typing was a vast improvement over my ad-hoc learned finger placement.

I also have an ergodox, and I found it a massive improvement. Mostly because it has so many easily reachable shifty-buttons that I can write all kinds of useful macros for it. I write a lot of haskell, and having keybinds for <$>, >>=, <*>, <|>, ->, <-, => and so on made a noticeable difference to the feeling of flow when writing code.

I've wondered the same thing but haven't come to a conclusion about it. I'm skeptical of any improvements the ortholinear layout would bring to be honest. If you are using a keyboard enough, the particular locations of any given key will be firmly in your muscle memory. However, perhaps it makes sense ergonomically for a split keyboard like this, since your hands are pretty much exactly perpendicular to the horizontal direction of the keys, so finger extension direction would indicate an ortholinear layout being ideal.

I bit the bullet and bought a "Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard" a few years ago, as it was the most conventional-looking split ortholinear keyboard available. It's a much nicer typing experience and causes me less finger strain, which started becoming a problem for me ~4 years ago. I would recommend strongly against that particular keyboard, since it uses inferior "kahil" brand switches that have exhibited various mechanical issues over the years (doubled presses and missed presses), but the kind of layout is definitely worth for me. The company has been extremely avoidant and unresponsive when I brought those issues up. It might have been due to a bad batch of keyswitches, so I can't recommend against kahil switches specifically, but TECK is definitely not a well-supported or well-executed product.

Regarding Truly Ergonomic, it's almost infuriating how poorly they are running their operation. They started with a great idea and a decent-sized following (in the beginning). All things considered their first-gen product was not bad at all. If they had owned up to the ghosting issues and focused on ironing out the kinks in the 200 series (or even 300), they'd be in great shape. But instead they alienated their target demographic. And instead:


They went back to typewriter layout, and now claim that infrared keyswitches are the secret to ergonomics. Complete With Marketing Copy Capitalizing Every Word. It's so bad that I genuinely thought some fly-by-night Chinese manufacturer had stolen their domain and logo. But nope, it's still the same people.

WTF? Did they lost their plot? How could they call it comfortable when it's horizontally staggered?

So today I found out that I own a legacy TECK model. I have visited their site some time ago the last time I remapped the keys with the online utility, so I'm baffled they went back to the century old typewriter layout, it's somewhat like they abjured what they professed few years ago. Bah...

I suppose they expect to sell more units of this more conventional layout.

My TECK has Cherry MX brown switches, and still has the double and missed-press problems.

Also lots of mechanical keyboards from companies other than Truly Ergonomic work fine with Kailh switches.

So I think it's the crappy TE firmware and not the switches.

I like the layout though, so I persist with using it at work. I much prefer my Ergodox at home though.

You'll only make up those months spent adjusting if you now spend decades using nothing else, and any time spent on a conventional keyboard will be slower than it would have been if you had not switched.

I simply do not understand the "increased performance" claims people in these situations make. There is no way.

All keyboards have fundamentally arbitrary layouts, some are just slightly more or less arbitrary than others.

This. I work as a sysadmin and the number of keyboards I have to interact with makes using anything other than QWERTY more of hassle than benefit. On a typical day I will interact with my phone keyboard (blackberry priv, hardware keyboard), my primary work desktop, my secondary desktop (used by colleagues sporadically), my gaming PC (used just for gaming), and my personal laptop. Now add the times I have to jump onto someone else's station or a family member's system and the constant context switching is just not worth it. I tried dvorak some years ago, but found it more trouble than it was worth it, since everyone else doesn't use it.

You're not in the target market then.

I use dvorak, on an Ergodox at home and a TECK at work. My phone keyboard is changed to dvorak [1].

The only times I have to use someone else's keyboard, it's only for maybe a word/login here and there, I'm not typing novels.

I'm very happy I've switched to dvorak on ortholinear keyboards.

[1] Dvorak is not a great layout for phones, it's good when using two thumbs, but all the switching from left to right side is bad for single-finger or single-thumb typing.

Hi, that's not true for me, 10y ago after months of thinking of the layout I'd stick with for decades I tweaked the Dvorak keyboard layout (switching the U and I) and went cold turkey. Qwerty is still in my muscle memory, I occasionally have to use it on other computers and I am slower with it. I am much more comfortable typing in Dvorak, the typing is significantly more relaxed. I never did it for speed reasons as I figured speech to text might catch up in the future.

Why would you switch the U and I? Just to make it even more difficult?

I use dvorak, and I've found it a hassle many times just switching the layout of the various PCs I'm using into dvorak. Worth it, but a hassle. At least the dvorak layout is semi-standard though.

Custom dvorak is a bridge too far...

The typing speed increase wasn't my main concern, it is just a side-effect that I felt would be easily measurable and that some people might care about. I also wanted to get an estimate for how long it would take me to become accustomed to the new keyboard, so measuring typing speed in a rigorous, empirical way seemed the best option. The main reason I did this was ergonomics.

Having one hand I felt this way, I spent a lot of money on a Maltron one handed keyboard, but I could never get it integrated into my work flow. And then laptops became popular, and I just can't be bothered to carry a laptop and a keyboard around with me. So unless I use one computer all the time, I can't get away from qwerty, so I've just stuck with it.

Maybe you already know this, but there are one-handed dvorak layouts.

It's fairly easy to switch your laptop's layout via software, the OS will just remap the keys.

So you don't have to carry another physical keyboard.

When I studied piano I was taught to flex the wrist, otherwise the tension of being in the same position leads to injury (RSI?). FYI.

Interestingly, I also studied piano for many years (from age of 5 until 18 I guess). I agree, wrist flexion is important, and I definitely do flex my wrists (sometimes in a seemingly exaggerated manner) when playing piano, however, for typing, I can comfortably type anything I want, including special characters, without flexing my wrists. Not sure if this is a sign of a well designed layout or RSI waiting to happen

Perhaps weighted keys make the difference?..

Yes, that's a very good point. The keys I'm using are Cherry MX Clears which have an actuation force of 55cN. From my own experience, it would require a lot more force to depress a piano key. So yeah, maybe wrist flexion is pretty much required when playing piano to avoid muscular fatigue in the fingers.

>it would require a lot more force to depress a piano key

55cN is a little on the high side for force needed to depress a piano key ("touchweight"). But the piano is velocity sensitive, and pressing with the minimum force won't get you any sound. Playing loud notes takes substantially more force.

It always amazes me how much wisdom is common knowledge in other pursuits or even cultures that does not show up when trying to search for solutions to problems in other endeavors. I think its one of those under researched fields of AI to try to link areas of knowledge where someone searching for RSI would see sources from piano training showing the need to flex the wrists.

You can also ask an ergonomic specialist, they do refer to piano posture at least.

Yeah, experts tend to explore related fields (I guess that's why they are experts), but I do wonder when actual, relevant one-off searching will actually work.

Have you since then used a normal standard keyboard, for example with a notebook? How did that go?

Yes, I actually discuss this in the README for my Ergodox layout. I purposefully kept an approximately QWERTY layout in the Ergodox so a standard keyboard wouldn't become totally alien to me. I also use a standard keyboard at home, although I only average a few hours a week on this. I haven't had any issues yet.

> My WPM rate is sufficient that I can type almost as fast as I can think

Can you quantify this? E.g. through https://typing-speed-test.aoeu.eu/?lang=en

I don't know how fast you think.

On my second try I hit 108 WPM, in the top 1% among a sample of people who go online and take typing speed tests (probably not representative of the normal population). But it's way too easy without punctuation. Real world speeds are definitely slower.

FWIW I find that my quicker-than-average typing is still definitely not always fast enough to keep up with what I want to write down.

I type at around 120 wpm on that test, and have tried to switch to an ergodox before. And it was an utter failure. I simply couldn't endure going back to typing at 40 wpm at best, with many errors. Too high of a learning curve.

Yeah, perhaps that was too strong a statement to make without qualification. Using the linked speed test I'm consistently getting between 75-85 WPM. While typing code I have recorded speeds of up to 60WPM, this is actually pretty damn fast for writing code which generally contains a lot of special characters and obscure words.

Yeah, I think you're probably about an order of magnitude off. People speak at five times your WPM, and it feels like I can think of words to say at least twice as fast as I can say them.

Thinking about something and putting it into correct English (or the language of your choice) is a different thing though, you don't usually type a stream of consciousness. You have to figure out the grammar, spelling of uncommon words, you can change your mind and rephrase something etc... Even spoken language is easier, it's often less formal and you can carry additional information through intonation and body gesture and when you're talking directly to somebody you have direct feedback to make sure that you've been correctly understood.

My "cruising" typing speed is about 80WPM and I don't think I ever feel like I'm typing too slow, for instance while writing this comment I never felt like my mind was getting ahead of my fingers. Maybe I'm a bit slow in the head, who knows...

> I realised a while ago that since I spend so much of my life interacting with a computer, I should really invest significant effort into improving, even marginally

In the world of guitars one can spend thousands of dollars having the perfect custom guitar built. I've often wondered why software developers don't invest as much in bespoke custom keyboards for exactly the same reason you have come to realize. I definitely think there's a market for it.

What's the potential benefit? What variables would you tweak on a custom bespoke keyboard?

Well I'm an Emacs user and would love to have Apple's butterfly mechanism style keyboard with the existing modifier keys for macOS (Command, Option & Control) plus the modifier keys from the Symbolics keyboards (Meta, Super & Hyper). That way I can separate out the key chords for window, application, and system commands from the key chords for Emacs text editing commands. I'd pay at least $1000 to have it custom built.

I think some of the variables include key layout, key switch type, keycap shape & material, key dimensions, the material of the keyboard itself, type of connector, LED colors & placement, extras like auxiliary displays, knobs, switches, sliders, and touchpads. I could continue...

"My WPM rate is sufficient that I can type almost as fast as I can think"

I _so_ wish I could think as fast as I can type.

Curious, what is your WPM at currently?

This is cool, but the author could sell his idea better. It took me a while to figure out what a Penti Chorded keyboard even is. The video linked at the very bottom shows why this could be useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_01ha1uS6Y&feature=youtu.be

I wish the author had explained at the start what problem this solves rather than launching right into an explanation of how it works.

Thanks for that. I thought it was a physical keyboard. Didn't realize it was a tablet-screen keyboard.

I've been trying to use it on Android for 40 minutes now (read: brute forcing and trying to match what I see with the docs) and I just figured out how basic stuff like backspace is supposed to work.

Some getting-started tips:

- The first thing you need is to touch all 5 fingers in a comfortable position to the screen. This activates the view that you were expecting to see. (This info is buried in the second to last paragraph of intro text.)

- To reset the buttons' positions (and get to pick new locations), activate another keyboard and then activate this one again.

- The arpeggio versions with two options (such as "tab/del") are directional: A->B is tab and B->A is del, where A and B are two of the five buttons.

- "del" is the equivalent of "backspace", not "delete".

- Backspace is supposed to be the arpeggio version of L, which is "- ##--" (index and middle finger), with middle finger first. So what you do is: press and hold middle finger, wait, press index finger, then release both. Do not release middle before you press index, do not be too fast, and do not be too slow. It's easy to be too fast or too slow, so keep practicing I guess...

- That mysterious little 6th button is the repeat key (this is also mentioned somewhere in the middle of the text).

- All keys disappearing when you tap next to it is not a bug but a feature: it allows you to use a second finger (while the first one hides the keyboard UI) to tap something behind the keyboard, such as opening a menu or selecting text.

- The lowering of audio volume (and perhaps some stuttering) is not your hitting the key combo for volume changes, but it's your music app detecting that this app is playing sound or vibrating or whatever and lowering its volume temporarily in response.

I'd like to notice an important thing: with this keyboard, one does not move the fingertips at all. The only motion required is press / release.

This is a great quality when hands are busy with something else, like holding a bike's handlebar, or an aircraft control rod.

It's also likely a good setup for some smart glove type of input device, where there are no keys to press but finger motions are detected.

If fingertips are allowed to change the position, a few more keys allow for easier chords and much more characters, all using the same 5 fingers. They can be touch-typed even easier than a normal keyboard.

Reminds me of the AlphaGrip[0] somewhat. Of the problems of using it, I mean. I bought it like 10 years ago, and sold it a couple of years later, it's good to see that they're still in business.

On the AG, instead of a combination of buttons to produce a keypress, you have 8 keys (buttons?) that can rock in two directions, plus thumb buttons, including red and green "shifts" that work as Fn keys. Normally you type text, pressing red shift you input numbers and arithmetic symbols, with green shift the rest of the symbols. It was great for games and got past my regular QWERTY speed writing English text after a couple of months.

Now, if you write in more than one language, you're screwed. Using other layouts would make the already difficult task for developing muscle memory even more annoying. I tried it with US-Intl layout (as I was used to it on QWERTY) to have a unique layout for multiple languages, but it quickly becomes unusable: to produce an "À", I don't remember exactly, but required 2+2 or 3+2 simultaneous keypresses, plus US-Intl is implemented different in different OS, so sometimes you have to take into account dead keys, sticky keys, sometimes not. And don't get me started on shortcuts and programming...

[0] http://www.alphagrip.com/

I actually used an Alphagrip daily at work for probably a year+. It halved my normal qwerty speed (120 wpm down to 60 wpm), but got rid of all of my wrist pain. Good exchange! I had a similar experience that I bought my first one ten years ago, then sold it after a few years of not using it. On a whim after I started feeling pain, I tried again and after doing typing tests for 10-15 minutes each morning for a month it finally stuck. Ended up modding it with a teflon trackball before I finally unplugged my normal keyboard and put it behind my monitor.

Would be nice to see an upgrade with a working shift key (the modifier is not actually sent) and a wireless option...

This reminds me of steno keyboards and the plover system. It's interesting, but I don't think it's the most important thing for developers. In my opinion a comfortable keyboard like an ortho one, and a bunch of helpers like modal editor and shortcuts using something like qmk provide the most value. That takes you to like 90%. Using steno after that is just pushing you to like 95%. (I know that's some weird random metric, but hopefully I got the point across.)

Stenography is likely overkill if you're only coding: an orthographic and/or split keyboard, keyboard shortcuts, a snippets, and autocomplete gets you most of the way there. Unlike prose, you really don't crank out that many characters of code very quickly.

The question is really: how much of your day do you spend writing prose rather than code? For me, I have a lot of instant messaging to do with coworkers in remote offices, or emails to write or respond to, or design documents to write. In this case, stenography really helps me out, and since I've learned it, I might as well use it for coding where it's convenient (mostly comments but also for writing some new lines of code.)

I just wonder if there's any chorded keyboard implemented as a smartphone bump case (with 4 buttons on the one side and one for the thumb on the other side, but maybe some other layout), so user can grip it with their hand and use for input.

Should be painful to learn (obviously), but then should beat on-screen keyboards because it won't require tapping (and even looking) at the screen at all.

Indeed; who has never dreamed of a DataEgg keyboard on a smartphone.. https://www.media.mit.edu/wearables/lizzy/dataegg2.gif

This is a cool idea. New explorations and innovations in this direction are very welcome IMHO. I'm still a bit dismayed after reading about Douglas Engelbart's 5-key chording keysets that there's very little on the market to fill such a niche completely.

It may be argued that we now have mouses with 5+ buttons, when Engelbart himself scaled back from 5 to 3 for the mouse hand, and we're now used to keeping one hand on the keyboard where we commonly do two- and three-finger chords, but there's a certain level of facility that I think can still only be realized with a dedicated chording keyset.

Engelbart's keysets could also provide two-way communication (by puffing air under the keys) to do things like prompt for certain responses when mousing over certain screen elements, which still seems slightly out of reach for smartphones' limited "haptic feedback" (not that I saw that mentioned here, just something that came to mind when I saw this was an implementation for touchscreen devices).

I’d like to see someone develop a chorded keyboard with some sort of gesture based feedback. An advanced sign language for computer input.

Cameras, etc could be used to read our gestures:



I also think our hands could do more in keyboard position. Lift off slightly and gestures could be recognized by a camera, even things like 2-finger scrolling could be done by lifting the fingers slightly and doing it.

Same with pinch-zoom or scroll. Or when working with a 3D model, making a hand shape as if you were gripping a globe, you should be able to twist and rotate objects on screen.

I remember posting excitedly about this on Slashdot 15 years ago and am just remembering it now. This should be easily achievable with modern libraries to get basic detection working.

Although some abhor the idea and want more complex keystrokes chords, for myself I think there are specific gestures I consider intuitive and wouldn't have to particularly learn anything new.

LeapMotion gesture sensors were shipping in HP Laptops at least 5 years ago, this is from 2013: https://www.cnet.com/pictures/this-hp-laptop-has-a-built-in-...

How does it compare to the Soli?

A friend of mine created a chorded (virtual) keyboard for making typing on tablets easier[0]. The more common the letter, the simpler the chord combination.

[0] http://asetniop.com

Is this project still active? I remember seeing this years ago, but it seemed like the developer walked away from it.

I would really like to have the ability to install asetniop on Linux, and have the layout be configurable.

It's still active - he launched iOS and Android apps earlier this year. I don't know if he's planning desktop support, but you might try shooting him an email.

My dad had an Agenda which had a 5-key chorded keyboard[1]. It was quite cool, you could actually type in your pocket to an extent.

[1] https://www.microsoft.com/buxtoncollection/detail.aspx?id=4

I had never heard of this device, looks very nice. Thanks for sharing.


Surprised no-one has mentioned the Microwriter [1]. In my teens I saved up for one to use with my BBC computer but never really got on with it.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microwriter

I got a Microwriter AgendA from someone around the turn of the millennium, and I loved the chording system as an idea, especially for mobile input. I've reimplemented it once or twice using the down/right arrow keys and 4/8/6/return on the numpad of a typical keyboard, as a novelty.

And I bought a CyKey, so both devices seen in this image in your link:


But it is enormously slow; it's approximately like typing with one slow finger, with writing being enough let alone punctuation.

I'm most surprised nobody has made a HTML/JavaScript chording thing that works on multitouch tablets to be an overlay (maybe a bookmarklet?) to type into textboxes. So this Penti keyboard link is a great interest to me.

My Dad had a Microwriter AgendA! I learned some of the chording, and used to write "Choose Your Own Adventure" games using its desktop software (which looked a little like a wiki, I guess) and download them on to the device to be played.

I want to build a mirror chorded keyboard, using an existing split design like a Dactyl or Ergodox, where a modifier on each side gives you the mirrored key (mod+A gives you ', mod+e gives you p, etc.)

I've seen some commercial keyboards like this, but they're incredibly expensive and non-mechanical (mostly geared to people who are disabled/have limited or no use of one hand).

My theory is that the learning curve of a one handed keyboard that is just a mirror would be easier than a totally new layout like the FrogPad or the example linked here.

Reprogramming an existing split model means I could also build both the left/right hand versions and try to learn both.

This is 100% doable, hell 100% easy, within QMK (the current open source firmware of choice for custom MK builders)

> I've seen some commercial keyboards like this, but they're incredibly expensive and non-mechanical (mostly geared to people who are disabled/have limited or no use of one hand).

The Matias 508 is one such http://www.508keyboard.com/ , are there others?

One feature you might want in such an arrangement is a capactive sensor in the mouse: https://plus.google.com/105224327306964621564/posts/51Jkbioc...

You can also use AutoHotkey[0] to create a script to emulate any keyboard layout. I use it (among other things) to provide me with arrow-key navigation on IJKL keys by pressing the left Alt + <key>.

After the initial 'how does this work' it's almost trivially easy to create all kinds of new "shortcuts"!

[0] https://autohotkey.com/

The Ergodox would be really easy to reprogram this way. The Infinity is two independent one-hand keyboards, so that's probably the one you want.

I built one of these! With a shifter on the palm, and a separate control toggle, you'd get pretty much the full ASCII set.

Even though I'm right handed, it worked best on my left hand. This is because of how surprisingly nice it was to use my dominant hand to do something (use a mouse, eat, etc), while still typing with my left.

Alas I assume the reason this never caught on was due to the learning curve. People will never leave qwerty. Also it was pretty slow. When I built this back in 2005, I was thinking for PDAs and early cell phones and was only competing against T9 and early palm keyboards. After a few months of practice, I never topped about 45 wpm.

Was it something like this?


> Chorderoy is a an attempt at crafting an optimal method of text input for mobile and wearable devices aimed at those who enjoy the rewards that come with free climbing steep learning curves.

Recently I have been pondering something very similar, but strictly "arpeggio"-based [0] and for regular keyboards, and whether it could be comparatively performant like normal qwerty. I've amused myself fancying scenario when using just fraction of keys in an unusual way could perhaps beat traditional touch typing professionals. I've seen some video where blind person claimed that typing on braille keyboard [1] could be insanely fast.

Coincidentally, today I have been testing what my keyboard can handle in regards of how many simultaneously pressed keys it recognizes at most. (I know it depends on particular keyboard hardware and its "ghosting", but it was fun to try out [2]. I've squeezed 12 keys max.)

[0] in penti vocabulary, meaning progressions of several held and released keys, mainly to circumvent hassle of definition what timespan is still "parallel" and what "progression". Releasing the last key could be the end of progression and produce output. [1] like http://www.teach-ict.com/as_a2_ict_new/ocr/AS_G061/312_softw... [2] http://myfonj.github.io/tst/keyboard-simultaneous-keys.html not perfect, since some keys or OS key combos produces funky results…

I think there is going to be room in the future for a single handed symbolic entry system like Twiddler as we enter the era of immersive computing. It seems likely you're going to need a way to do text entry on-the-go, while wearing AR glasses. An input mechanism where one hand is dedicated to doing that seems like a good model, with the other dedicated to more fine motor gesturing.

Hi. I think you may be delighted to see what I have built. I would love to get your thoughts on it if you're in a related field. I can also let you try it if you'll give me feedback. How can I reach out to you? My contact is my username @opdig.com.

I have wanted to try something like this ever since I watched The Mother of All Demos.


Really nice to see this, 10 years ago I designed a chording system with 5 bits, distributing the difficult to use combination to less frequently used characters (like in the Dvorak keyboard layout). Was there any though given to this aspect?

Perhaps also the video snippets in this article are helpful:


This reminds me a lot of the old "BAT" keyboard:


I should explain more clearly how to generate an arpeggio in PentiKeyboard:

The rules are: 1. The last key must be pressed AT LEAST 80 ms later than the second. 2. The last key must be pressed MAXIMALLY 240 ms.

A backspace (DEL) is generated with middle and index finger.

While pressing middle and index finger simultaneously (or longer than 240 ms) gives an "l", you get a backspace when you first press the middle finger (as long as you like, but at least 80 ms), then make a short tap with the index finger and immediately release both fingers.

I still want to try this keyboard https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/DataHand

I did buy one of eBay many years ago, and after a long time of hardly any use (years), sold it again, and still miss it sometimes.

The good: fantastic design and build quality. Magneto/optical key sensors way better than any key switch on a normal keyboard. Really surprisingly easy to learn and adjust to "almost-qwerty" default layout. Nice for long-form typing, fingers roll around very short movements, very comfortably.

The bad: huge on a desk, they are really chunky boxes and there's a big power supply and controller box. Basically unusable for one-handed hunt-and-peck typing. Really annoying to use as a mouse (can be done - one side middle finger does big movements, the other side does fine movements, but it's still stepped keyboard-based-mousing), but also annoying to move hand from keyboard to mouse and back because it involves careful lifting of fingers out of, or into, the key-wells - fingers are surrounded by keys you don't want to press. Because of that, can't hover hand over keyboard. Ever. Awkward unless you have perfect typing style - can't habitually press a key with the "wrong" finger, now there's a correct finger for every key and no other option. Expensive even then before their big price hikes and production problems, even second hand.

There was a one handed keyboard in BYTE magazine that was similar to this, it was built on to a half sphere so the hand naturally curled around it.

My only issue with specialized keyboards is that I have at least 6[1] I use nearly every day, not all of them are easily replaced, so much harder to go back and forth between styles than to just have one style you can use.

[1] Home workstation work workstation, personal laptop, work laptop, home server, work machines in the lab.

I wonder how efficient could someone be if they mastered this keyboard compared to traditional one? My first thought is that it takes more movement of fingers to achieve the same result. For example typing one letter multiple times would make you lift and lower multiple fingers at once. Or going from B to V takes no effort on traditional keyboard compared to raising and lowering combination of 3 different fingers. Nonetheless pretty cool

I would imagine having to use a touchscreen is a serious speed impediment, because of inherent latency issues on a touchscreen (if it responds too quickly, it gets too many transients). Physical chord keyboards should be able to go faster. I've seen various conflicting reports of how fast a chorded keyboard can go, possibly because it's really hard to find anyone with 10 years experience on a chorded keyboard.

I have no issue typing full speed with two thumbs on a large phone in portrait. This incidentally enables an 80-column terminal....

That is, even on QUERTY on a laptop keyboard I get significantly higher typing speeds due to the use of more than 4 fingers combined with the lower travel distance (measured relative to the target precision), along with the distinct tactile feedback of whether you hit the key or one next to it. Tactile feedback, like a blackberry keyboard, would allow even higher speeds and, most importantly, allow to keep the eyes off the thumbs, as they are needed to use typos as feedback and also to correct these typos.

I definitely agree about the tactile feedback, but thinking purely about how much more movement you have to do makes me think that traditional keyboard should be faster. Now if this would be mirrored to your other hand then I could see that someone who mastered this could in theory be faster. Purely speculating on all of these points thou

This will be very cool, if it ever ships: https://waytools.com/

Wow that feels like forever ago; that thing still hasn't shipped??

Here's a HN-er ordering one in Jan 2015 and being surprised that the expected shipping date is March 2015:


See also a related but more physical idea: a "Chordite"

- http://www.chordite.com/protophotos.htm

- http://blog.russnelson.com/chordite/index.html

So I'm the only person that didn't realize this was describing a soft keyboard and not an actual physical layout until I reached "Initially the letters "P E N T I" are displayed."?

Maybe this comment will save someone else the frustration.

Would love something like this for single-handed use in Android.

I'm amazed at how poor my typing skills in android are, after years and years of constant use. Something just is not working!

Nice, though I feel that if IO is the bottleneck (as opposed to the brain), then perhaps it's time to move on to a more intellectually challenging use of a computer.

This is true; I only feel like I can't type fast enough when working in something that requires churning out a lot of boilerplate. The rest is editing and adjusting. Which could be faster, I think, vs code doesn't for example autoclose html tags (or jsx / react) fast enough for my liking, doesn't seem to help me at all.

I'm hoping we'll soon get some ML for typing/completing boilerplate code.

I have to think there must be at least one disabled person that could benefit from a keyboard which did not force you to move your arm - and could work with 5 fingers.

True, right here! I'm temporarily disabled after Rt shoulder surgery and am looking for a left-handed-only keyboard solution (typing very slowly w/LH on the laptop kbd now).

I found a great mouse solution, a Logitech trackball mouse that sits in my RH sling [1] -- so good I expect to switch to it after recovery. But the kbd...

[1] Logitech MX ERGO Advanced Wireless Trackball https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0753P1GTS/ref=oh_aui_de...

I found myself thinking of teletype wire signals, probably because CuriousMarc have been uploading videos on them refurbishing a naval version recently.

So would someone typing on this keyboard look more like someone playing piano where they are holding and raising and lowering certain fingers?

It doesn't seem so in the provided "short" example video [0].

Unfortunately the thumb is on the wrong part of the hand for this system to work on touchscreen (imho). Maybe it would be suitable for chimpanzees, or a hardware device like a twiddler.

[0] https://youtu.be/z_01ha1uS6Y

I think so. If you click through to the videos you see it is all done on a phone. Seems like it would be hard to be fast without tactile feedback. The phone is just a demo of part of the concept.

> However, combinations where the ring finger is up while its neighbors are down is physiologically problematic.

Really? Why?

Because the middle, ring, and pinky all share the same muscle group.

Try this: hold your hand out in a fist and extend your middle, ring, and pinky straight out. Now try to flex each of the three extended fingers individually without moving the other two.

Now try the inverse: make a fist and try raising each finger individually without moving the other two. It's physiologically impossible because the muscle used for extension is shared between those fingers.

(Edit: extension is impossible, not contraction)

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