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Chorded keyboard (wikipedia.org)
97 points by tosh on Aug 20, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments

Why did these never take off, even in a 'big niche' way? Is corrected typing on a smartphone sufficiently speedy for it not to matter? Is the skill required more at the 'musical instrument' level than the 'touch typing' level? Something to do with voice recognition always getting better?

Price, availability. For instance, steno software costed thousands of dollars. But this is about to change:

- Plover is a free, cross-platform steno software: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZGuBV1xe64

- This Canadian guy develops cool, quality steno and ergonomic boards. The Georgi is $95USD - significantly less expensive than alternatives. There aren't any official reviews yet, but Plover users on Discord seem to really like it.

https://www.gboards.ca/product/georgi (web site appears temporarily down though - was up yesterday.)

I'm planning to buy one this week - trying to get my boss to cover it since it will help with my mild RSI.

Don't forget the QWERTY mode! Steno requires a huge time commitment to learn, chorded QWERTY much less so.

And if you don't like it, it's a QMK based board so it can be reprogrammed!


There's also the more traditional Ergodox-like Gergo that is mostly a normal QWERTY board with some ergonomic improvements.


OLKB Planck keyboards [0] (presumably Preonics as well) also come with a Plover layout included in the default firmware.

[0] https://olkb.com/planck

There's a long motor-skill learning curve with these.

I've tried the "handykey twiddler" years ago and I just could not get motivated to practice enough to use the thing in real life.

For mobile use, the situation is is even worse because it requires the user to carry another piece of hardware in addition to the phone. Chording keyboards existed well before smartphones came on the scene, and the thinking was that you would have some type of heads-up/eyeglass display like Google-glass.

I guess it's just one of those funny things that people thought would be hot in the future but never materialized or turned out to not be desirable when it did.

If you're typing a single letter at a time, from what I've read, a chorded keyboard tends to be significantly slower because that's just how fingers work. (Similar to how a pianist can play melodies much faster than they can repeat chords, because they're not using the same finger twice in a row.)

If you assign common words or syllables to additional chords, then speed goes back up, but it becomes so much harder to learn -- so much memorization.

Stenographers (like in court) use a keyboard that relies on simultaneous keys (the chord principle, but still with more keys than fingers) to achieve speeds even greater than normal speech, with their own predefined combinations (tons of practice to learn) -- but unless you're transcribing speech in court or providing live closed captioning, it doesn't seem to be a skill worth investing in.

I have used a chorded keyboard for Braille. It's extra quick because there are single "chords" for common combinations like [and] [the] and [ing]. Even longer words like "people" have short-hand versions of one or two chords. The memorization isn't horrible, but I have to admit I've forgotten a lot over the years.

loosely speaking, I think there's a limit on finger actions per unit time, so if you're spending more per letter, you're getting a lower WPM

as an example, Matias' one-hand keyboard, in which half of the characters cost an extra keypress, had people getting up to 75% of their normal qwerty WPM [1]

I've never seen any study of a chording keyboard doing more than 70 WPM without a steno style multiple character output system

[1]: http://edgarmatias.com/papers/ic93/

They take significant practice to even get started, so the barrier to entry is pretty high. With a normal keyboard, anyone who can see and spell can immediately use it.

Made and tried to use a sort of chorded keyboard out of a keypad. The idea breaks down when you need to emit some key combination like Command-Shift-[ (I am a Mac user).

My solution to that was to have a command mode that separates out the individual keys. So you'd stroke Command/Meta/Shift/[/Command and it would send them all together.

A bit cumbersome, but for conflicting sequences like that you use often you'd bind it to it's own separate chord (or bind Meta+Shift to a chord).

At a minimum you'd need your keyboard to support NKRO, N-Key Roll-over, and you'd need a software like Plover.

Learning curve I guess. Usually "easy" devices take off.

The "40% keyboard" is part-way there, and has been a growing niche since 2015.

The concept actually did take off, but it doesn't look like piano chords. I think that keyboard shortcuts that use modifier keys are basically the same idea, and that's regularly used across every desktop OS.

As a daily Emacs user, I find the key-chord package [0] very useful. For example, to save a buffer all I have to press is "hu" (at the same time). It's a simple thing, but saves a little time and lessens "emacs pinky"; I use it hundreds of times a day.

[0] - https://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/KeyChord

In my .emacs.d - https://github.com/celwell/.emacs.d/blob/master/init.el#L261...

I remember looking into this package when I was trying to find a way to organize all my commands in emacs, but found that what I'd actually wanted was to be able to make any key a modifier key.

Like, if bn takes me to the next buffer, I wanted bnnn to take me three buffers over. I didn't expect it to be a dealbreaker, but over time it got more and more irritating to me.

I wonder how hard it would be to modify the package to work that way. I guess you'd have to make it so it doesn't actually insert a letter until you release a key to establish it's not being used as a modifier, which I'm not sure if emacs is in control of

Isn’t that awkward though? I type H and U with the same finger. So now this involves some strange wrist / arm rotation - or changing the way I type.

Probably elwell is a Dvorak user. hu is pressed with both index fingers in their home positions in Dvorak.

I just tap the 'h' with my index finger and the 'u' with my middle finger. To me, this is not really a reach, I just kind of slap it then observe how cljs figwheel updates my browser :)

You can use any other key combinations, or even pressing the same key twice.

Here's a chorded keyboard that I bought to use with a NLS/Augment clone I bought for my PC: https://www.infogrip.com/bat-keyboard.html

Just in case anyone's interested.

I've been reading a lot about NLS/Augment (and Engelbart in general) lately. Any more information on your setup?

If you're interested in bragging/chatting more about it, my email is in my profile. I'd love to learn about what you're doing.

The program I am using is here: http://www.ndma.com/resources/ndm8543.htm

However, it doesn't seem to be updated beyond 1994. And it's missing some things from Augment like the journal. But the system itself is nearly identical with augment regarding the commands and stuff. Which is why I bought the chorded keyboard so I can experience it engelbart-style.

Toying with the idea of making a version of this in pharo smalltalk because I think one of the things that makes augment great is the customizability of it. Like emacs, if it doesn't do what you want, you change the code inline while it's running.


Much more interested in hearing about the NLS/Augment clone! :)

These are all the same product with different switches and labels on the box, interestingly enough.

But how is this related to chorded keyboard? Those are just smaller keyboards, with much less buttons.

If I recall correctly, the macro software lets you switch to a color directly which would be like a single chord [0]. On top of that you could use also have other buttons mapped to the standard modifier keys like Ctrl, Alt, and Meta.

[0] https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-5TkmS5Cyz80/TYkb47wkGzI/AAAAAAAAA... from https://sc2mechanics.blogspot.com/2011/03/configuring-belkin...

I remember looking into these for gaming some years ago and being disappointed that the thumbstick was just a digital directional pad and not a proper analog stick. Does anybody know of any good input devices of this form factor that have proper analog inputs?

Do you still use it? If so how does your WPM compare to a standard keyboard these days?

I've always wanted to try one of these out but I'm not much of one to make it myself.

There are many comments about the pros / cons / learning-curves / customization-payoffs involved for chorded keyboards.

I'm struck my how similar this is to a discussion about using vim.

Emacs supports chorded key combinations.


For vim users, there is a plugin called arpeggio: https://www.vim.org/scripts/script.php?script_id=2425

Reminds me of this app for mobile:


I’ve tried it a bit; not bad, but I can still type faster on my phone with my thumbs. One guy at my school (I think he helps develop this keyboard) has reportedly gotten up (or past) 60 wpm.

>With users reaching typing speeds of up to 65 wpm or more on their phone or tablet, DOTKey has unlocked the potential of mobile devices

I just did a typing test on my regular phone keyboard and got 60. But maybe this will bring me up to desktop speeds. And if I get a physical corded keyboard, I'll go interstellar!

Tried it a bit and directly get problems with the wrists. I would consult someone about the economics. I love the idea of typing without looking on the screen but I can't hold my hand in that position longer than a minute without getting pain.

Seems like the concept behind the Tap strap: https://www.amazon.com/Tap-Bluetooth-Wearable-Controller-Sma...

I like this idea the most, where you wear a ring on each of your fingers. Ideally you could map individual muscles in your hand to keys, which could give you a keyboard on 1 hand that you could use with any device: phone, desktop etc.

This is quite modern take on this, but doesn't seem it took off: https://www.tekgear.com/twiddler3.html

I own one, but never did manage to get much fluency with it. The build quality is good, though keeping it positioned in your hand right is tricky. I hold it with the bottom on my thigh so it doesn't slip down. The mouse joystick isn't analog and therefore basically useless.

That said, the ergonomics of it are stupid amounts better than any keyboard. You can just wheel your chair back a bit and sit however is comfortable. Changing position while using it is much easier too since you're just holding it in your hand.

I should get back to practicing on it I think. The advantages would be enormous.

I used one of these for a few months. I used it to write while walking around the mall or other mindless walking. It was pretty cool. I'll probably break it out again, was difficult to use for programming because lots of characters require custom chords I never got to making.

I use JetBrains IDEs a lot, and on my full size keyboard (kinesis freestyle pro), the key combinations are an uncomfortable for my small hands. Haven't done anything about it yet (and I'm not sure what I'll change), but I could really benefit from shortening how far I have to reach.

A little bit of (self-)hypnosis goes a long way with these, for picking up the motor patterns and then using them automatically (touch typing). Because you don't have to move your hands you can go really fast, achieve the illusion of direct mind-to-machine input. YMMV.

Can you explain more, or point us to a document on the subject? I purchased a twiddler 2 some time ago and found it to be a frustrating experience, although something that I'd like to utilize more.

Well, on the subject of hypnosis I recommend two books: "TRANCE-formations" (sic) by Bandler and Grinder, and "Monsters and Magical Sticks" by Heller



If you're going to learn to operate your bio-computer, please don't stop at typing faster, eh?

- - - -

One of the basic "exercises" or "techniques" that people often do with (self-)hypnosis is to set up a simple binary yes/no signal from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind, e.g. a finger twitches for yes, wags for no (non-response is a kind of "does not compute, please rephrase" message.)

From there you can "leverage" the connection for more structured communication. E.g. the Six-Step Reframe algorithm https://gist.github.com/calroc/4719702 (deprecated in the 80's BTW.)

In re: these chorded input devices, the basic idea is that you set up with your unconscious motor programs to wiggle the chorded keyboard the right way, letting your conscious subjective experience be that of "pouring" your words from your inner voice (or imagery) directly to your machine.

Once you've got good communication with your subconscious mind, it's pretty easy. I used to do it w/ a just a Dvorak layout.

The coordination needed to type fast on this keyboard seems like it'd be an issue. Additionally, defining "simultaneously pressed keys" seems hard and would oppose typing speed if it were to be more permissive and cause typing errors if it were tighter.

I used a twiddler and a frogpad for wearable computing, but decided on inputing through morse, voice or on screen keyboard (like oculus go/quest or daydream) and do the rest with a regular tweaked dvorak keyboard

All the security experts on HN say you should use a passcode instead of a fingerprint for unlocking your phone. However, it seems fairly easy for someone to just watch you over your shoulder input your passcode (i.e. "shoulder surf"), or have it be recorded on increasingly ever-present surveillance cameras (e.g. buses, subways, food courts, etc.).

What about putting buttons along the sides of your phone and using chorded combinations as your passcode? Seems squeezing those buttons would be much harder to observe or record (intentionally or unintentionally).

On my Galaxy S9+, I have 4 buttons: power, vol up/down and a stupid useless bixby button. Ignoring how to put it into 'password' mode, each of these buttons is effectively a bit. I assume you need at least 1 key to register an input (otherwise wait for a pause which I won't consider), so you get 15 possibilities. I think you could make a reasonably strong password using 4-8 chords (15^4-15^8 possibilities). Anyways, it's certainly better than those swipe passwords with an effective length of 9 Cr 4 == 128 which are readily seen and copied by nearby people.

Do you mean to say there are 9 choose 4 == 126 possible combinations for a 3x3 pattern? I think this would only be true if you could use a maximum of four dots in the pattern, which isn't the case.

Although calculating it this way will double-count some patterns which include long lines, I would say that there ar far closer to 9! == 362880 passwords. Even if long lines cut that space in half, 150000 more than meets your minimum of 15^4.

You're right. I goofed on my analysis. Instead of chose, it's indeed a factorial. You're also right, you can chose up to 9 dots, so indeed it is up to 9! combinations. Thanks for catching that.

Would be nice if we didn't already have touch id and face id.


"Don't use your fingerprint to lock/unlock devices."

"Use a long passphrase to lock your devices."

Seems touch id and face id is exactly what security experts tell you not to do.

>Basic security precautions for non-profits and journalists in the United States, early 2019.

Those are recommendations for a specific group of highly targeted individuals in specific situations. It's not "basic security", it's "basic security for people who have such damaging information on certain subjects that they may be killed for it".

For the general population, TouchID and FaceID are more secure than the most common alternative (which tends to be no passcode at all) and secure enough that common criminals aren't going to bother with it.

Stopping nation-states from intercepting your data and using it as a flimsy basis for your murder isn't something an average person needs to worry about on a day to day basis.

Yes, I forget how much of this was because of forgeability and how much was because of the ambiguity of digital rights in America. Compelling someone to share a passcode was considered a 5th amendment violation but we collect biological samples all the time with just a warrant so biological locks seemed less safe.

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