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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.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2015-09-how-fast-should-subtit...

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/41114/q...


https://www.quora.com/Speeches-For-the-average-person-speaki...

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:

http://www.looknohands.me

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:

https://www.trulyergonomic.com/

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?




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