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DataHand (wikipedia.org)
111 points by hdivider on Jan 29, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

I currently own a pair of DataHands I found on eBay. They are pretty unique items, and start quite a few conversations, but I don't find them very practical -- probably because I don't experience extreme RSI pain that necessitates their use.

They are quite large. For instance, I could not bring them to a coffee shop (for more reasons than this) because the smallish tables wouldn't be able to accommodate my 15" mbp + the DataHands.

The build quality feel a bit lacking. These guys don't have the build quality of, say, an iPhone -- and for a $1,500 keyboard (retail), I would have expected a bit more.

Its a bit strange to move some of the lesser used fingers in certain directions without hitting other keys. I'm sure this could be fixed with a little practice, but moving my ring finger without moving my pinky and hitting another key was/is tough.

Overall, they are unique and interesting to have on a desk and pretend I use them. But if unless you have serious RSI and these are your last resort, I would probably recommend another ergonomic keyboard.

I have a pair in mint condition in a box somewhere. I found the holes for the fingers to be way too big and after trying it a bit never got used to it.

I wonder what it would be worth these days if I bothered to put it up on eBay, I bought it used for $280 at the time.

I sold a pair in good condition for ~$1500 (~$1300 in pocket) on eBay a couple weeks ago.

Last time I was looking, the company had put their prices up significantly, and then had no stock and no manufacturer and no news on when they would have any more.

Now it looks like their website is gone completely.

They don't come up on eBay much at all; I suspect you'd get a good amount for them.

You may be interested in knowing that someone is working on rebuilding the DataHand, you can follow his progress here:


Another interesting project to follow is the Nexus keyboard : http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=44940.0

Most of these keyboards based on the ErgoDox (and the ErgoDox itself) make the mistake of considering that the thumb is a finger positioned like the others. And the keys you're supposed to hit with your thumbs are just placed in a crazy way (totally non-ergonomic IMHO).

To me one of the rare person who really "got it" is "Jesse" (he's both here, on GeekHack and on Deskthority) with its "butterfly" keyboard.

That's one of the only split (and ergonomic) keyboard that takes into account the fact that the thumb's opposition-apposition makes it unlike any other finger.

Look at his "butterfy" keyboard here and how smartly the keys you're to hit with the thumbs are positionned:


As an owner of the ergodox, I appreciate the efforts and iteration here. Sadly, the ergonomics of most non-split keyboards are hardcoded to a magic number. With the ergodox, I currently have the halves about a foot apart and really enjoy typing that way. (I have also "tented" the halves in the past).

I agree that the ergodox is not perfect and the thumb clusters could be improved, I'm just not sold that the butterfly does that.

Here's an old post with my initial impressions of the ergodox [0]. I need to add an update, but I have since purchased a second unit for home and have been typing with the "Norman" layout since day 2.

(BTW, massdrop currently has the keyboard up for sale, but you need to act fast as there is only a day or so left)

0 - http://hairysun.com/blog/2013/04/02/oh-ergonomic-keyboard/

There's also AcidFire's project¹, which starts off by lowering the ErgoDox thumb keys and moves on into a more flexible system.

Separately, I've very gradually been working on a personal project starting with slightly modified Kinesis keywells for the fingers. (I've been using Kinesis keyboard for 15 years and am mostly satisfied with the finger portion.) I use small SPI / I²C adapters on the keywells for flexible separation and positioning². I have still not found a thumb arrangement I'm happy with, though.

¹ http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=44940.0

² http://oshpark.com/shared_projects/GVIRToBO

That's funny; while I really admire the butterfly design I don't really see it as addressing that specific complaint. It's still got the thumb keys in the same plane as the Ergodox, so as far as I can tell it shares the one minor complaint I have with the Ergodox.

The AcidFire Nexus design linked elsewhere in this thread attempts to address this by dropping the thumb clusters to a lower level, which looks like a really great idea. The only other design I've seen which addresses this problem is Oobly's: http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=49721.0

Note he's about to launch:


Really interesting, he did iterate a lot :)

I've been passively following the geekhack.org thread. I'd pay serious coin to get one.

Years ago (early 80's) one of my Dad's buddies was a dealer for the Writehander.


It never really took off, but at the time, it was super cool.

Edit: some more links on chord keyboards:



I've been looking for this link for weeks: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/bibuxton/buxto...! Thank you!

My experiences with RSI leave me sceptical on these types of approaches which focus solely on minimizing hand and arm movement. E.g. hunt and peck typists are less prone to small tissue RSI because they make large movements using their stronger forearm muscles.

The injuries I experienced were due to holding tension in the shoulders and back (due to working while tired, altered posture while caffeinated and the self-directed stress of trying to get some work done).

Technical fixes like this might provide relief for a while but I think they miss the core problem, which imo boils down to your body not being relaxed while you work.

I went through a period where I spent thousands of dollars on ergonomic keyboards and chairs.

I bought the Datahand and used it for a good two weeks. The mouse cursor can only be controlled up/down , left/right with it. With too much graphical work, that cut my use of it short.

Several years later I started a strength training program, and within a few weeks my RSI vanished. At its worst, my arms would be numb when I woke up, I had sustained numbness in one hand for weeks, at one point I couldn't physically hold a mouse more than 15 minutes. It took a quick Google Image search to know I would never do a carpel tunnel release surgery.

After adding up the workout time spent, it was about 4 hours of strength training (no weights or gripping) that ended 5 years of debilitating wrist pain. From what I've been able to tell many years later, it was all from doing pushups -- which likely has everything to do with shoulder and back muscles. That ironic thing was, because the pain was in my wrists and arms, I thought doing pushups would cause too much pain so I had stopped doing them.

Now instead of ergonomics I think of how to be more active while and between working.

Here's a BitTorrentSync id of some exercises that really helped me: BDN7MZPLOUBODZ65VXQFBSUQ6WUJSOVOC

For two more anecdotes, my coworker and I have had similar experiences. My RSI isn't entirely gone, but I had to take a long break from pushups because of an injury. I'm able to start doing them again so I should get to it, because I had a significant reduction in symptoms after only a week or so of pushups.

This site might seem a little spammy, but its methodology for figuring out how many to start with and at what rate to increase the # of pushups was a big help for me. I started at about 3 pushups and even after a long break due to the injury I can do 15, which is saying a lot since I am completely out of shape!

Think you forgot to include the URL?

As someone currently suffering and having gone down the road of expensive keyboards and changing keyboard layouts -- can I confirm with you the specifics of your strength training program?

Taking frequent breaks, alternating to a standing desk, ergonomic everything has made my awful RSI go away almost completely.

Most important was breaks and not using a laptop keyboard/trackpad while sitting down in a chair, ever, for a long period of time. That causes insta-RSI for me.

I was using WorkRave to prompt me to take breaks. Paradoxically, this made things worse as I was getting more stressed about getting back to getting stuff done during the break. The key is to internalize and accept that you need to take breaks, and to relax during them.

Edit: particularly #14 in computer_desk_stretches.pdf

There is an open source stenography project called "Plover". The idea of stenotype is instead of typing individual letters one combines keys to form sillables (or commands), what makes typing blazingly fast (240 WPM in the video below) and is overall a less cramped movement, because after each sillable you can relax instead of keeping muscles tensed for each letter.


Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpv-Qb-dB6g

Demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAyIMnTqGB8

Has anyone had any experience trying to use this for programming? My feeling when I looked into it a while back was that it's heavily optimized for typing English, and that it might not be suitable for programming without some heavy modifications.

Even if it's not good for coding then I might be tempted to learn it anyway, but now speech-to-text is starting to get good enough that I'm questioning whether it'd be worth the time investment (at least for me personally).

I hope to use it for programming in forth sometime soon. Forth is ideal for steno because it is word based and unstructured.

Which is cool for outright speed, but there is a huge trade off.

For stenography, you consider English words as syllable sounds, learn how those sounds are represented with 1900s Stenography machine key combinations, and then to use Plover, learn where those Steno key combinations are on a normal keyboard(1).

And after that, learn the Steno shortcuts which make it fast. Standard shortcuts e.g. rolling up word endings like -ing, -ed, -end; but also personal shortcuts like "I write the phrase 'Software as a Service (SAAS)' a lot so I'll make a one-press short mapping for it". This means that everyone uses slightly different Steno combinations to say the same things - to be fast, it has to be tailored by you for the kinds of things you write.

Which boils down to relearning how to spell every word in English a second way - seems like a significant chunk of the effort towards learning a second language entirely - and also relearning how to type, in a way that will pretty much only work on your computer.

And after that, you can write English prose quickly. But it doesn't apply well to command line software. Or programming. Or foreign languages. Or tables, lists, punctuation, etc. because you aren't typing character by character anymore. Things like 'find ./ -mtime -3 | grep mp3 | vim -' or 'vim XF86Config' - making sure to get the capitals right - have no easy English spoken representation, so until and unless you make a Stenographic form for it for yourself you will have to switch Plover off and type normally.

Mirabai Knight (the linked video presenter) suggests adding combinations for common programming patterns, essentially using it like a code-snippets engine. I don't know if this works well or not.

Another problem is right at the first bit where you need to "consider English words as sounds" you find that English has different words which sound the same (bear/bare, their/there/they're for example). So you can't just press the keys for how the word sounds, you also have to dodge around the words where that doesn't work, and remember the alternate mappings which only apply to certain words. That means you can't just learn a new word and type it because it might not have an obvious Steno representation, it might have one that's dodged around another word or is shortened beyond what you'd expect just from the syllable sounds.

Fundamentally this happens because some of the information in reading English is carried by the context. You hear "the bear mauled the victim" and you know which word is meant. Historically Stenography was encoding the syllable sounds directly to paper, and then the stenographer would read them back - it didn't matter that different words encoded the same way as the stenographer could interpret the context when reading back in the same way as they could when hearing the sentence in the first place. So Stenography was a fast way to take dictation, but producing a written transcript or document meant going over everything a second time reading it back and transcribing it - twice the effort or more, and not usually discussed when talking about speed.

Plover, however, is avoiding that work by automatically expanding the key combinations out to full words, saving you the rereading and rewriting work. At this point it does matter if separate words encode the same way because it can't choose one from the context like you can. So you have to interpret the context and deliberately encode the words as if they sounded different to give an unambiguous feed to Plover.

I can't help but wonder if you could get 25% of the benefit with 3% of the effort by 1. writing less (he says, after writing 700 words about it), 2. setting up some AutoHotkey style keyboard shortcuts for phrases you write a lot, and 3. having as many templated email messages as you can get away with.

(1). You can't use a normal keyboard, you need one which can handle 10-12 concurrent keypresses (aka anti-ghosting / n-key rollover). Most keyboards and laptops top out at ~6 simultaneous keypresses registering properly. Plover is why I have a Microsoft SideWinder X4 which is one of the few that can handle any amount).

IIRC, DataHands are super expensive and have a high learning curve. Anyone looking to upgrade should consider a Kenesis, wait for Mark 13: http://launch.keyboard.io/

That said, I toggle between chiclets and a kenesis.

There is also the Ergodox... but I think its expensive and you have to do it yourself. But boy it is beautiful.

I thought about an Ergodox; I don't mind soldering, but I decided against it anyway, because to me it looks like it's a bit short on the "ergo" -- it will help with the need to rotate the wrists outward, but they still have to rotate out of the neutral position in order to address keys on a flat keyboard, which makes the Ergodox look to me rather like a Kinesis Advantage without the Advantage.

It's not too difficult to add tenting to the Ergodox; just replace some of the screws with a longer variety so they act as legs. Also some of the Kinesis Freestyle tenting accessories have been adapted to the Ergodox to address these issues. It's a really hackable design, which is the main draw.

I would add that the flatness is only a problem with the kits sold through Massdrop, which use the laser-cut acrylic case. The original source files for the Ergodox include a model for a case which can be made on a 3D printer. That model does include some minor tenting.

i LOVE my Kinesis. Such a fantastic keyboard... anytime I have to use a normal keyboard it makes me a bit sad.

Definitely a fascinating piece of data entry history. A friend of mine got one in the late 90s; to avert an onset of repetitive stress injury. He was blazing fast with it; I never saw him do a wpm test, but he could put a line of text on the screen in a couple of seconds.

Did you guys see the movie Ender's Game? He was typing on a touch screen by doing little swipes with his fingers. I would imagine that it functioned like this DataHand one, but virtually.

Found something on GitHub: https://github.com/henrahmagix/enders-keyboard

I had one of these, it wasn't very hard to learn - the movements were very similar to querty. I started getting RSI and this helped a lot.

Now I learnt a bit about typing skills and ergonomics I am fine on a regular keyboard, but I would have kept on with the datahands if not for its massive lack of practicality.

Basic typing was great, but using it on a mac for programming was not so great - all the modifier keys were wrong, and the PS2-USB connection was flaky. Not to mention carrying it around with a laptop was basically impossible without a dedicated case...

I feel like there's been little adoption of innovative changes to HCI in terms of software development. Most engineers I know still use the same old keyboard/mouse/monitor. I am curious if there will ever be a time when software development resembles something like football.

How do you imagine software development resembling something like football? I'm honestly curious; that statement gives the impression of considerable thought having gone into it, but I can't for the life of me imagine what sort.

Speaking of which, there's finally going to be a Bluetooth-enabled version of the Twiddler, the Twiddler3: https://plus.google.com/105804767481830727070/posts/j4M9fmRr... . The best smartphone/tablet keyboard yet?

That's great! If nothing else, I wish the recent interest in augmented and virtual reality would revive the portable chorded keyboard (keyer).

I have wanted one for a while but currently they are somewhat difficult to obtain and the prices are high. It seems like a natural match for text input when using either class of device ("virtual" or "augmented"), although a difficult initial learning process might make it hard to sell to the general public. Still, you could try to target developers and IT people on the go (use case: Glass + keyer for SSH) or people who want to play an MMO when on the subway train or out for a walk.

Oh wow. You've just made my week. Thanks!

Spread the word! :)

That feels to me like it would be painful to type on. What is the use case?

It's a Bluetooth keyboard which can be used one-handed while standing, walking or sitting without a table. Because it's strapped to your palm, you should be able to touch your phone or tablet screen fairly freely without taking it off or putting it down. Unlike a software keyboard it won't consume 40% of your screen space, it has more tactile feedback and it may well be faster. Unlike a built-in hardware keyboard it will work equally well with the phone or tablet in portrait or landscape, and your gadget probably doesn't have a built-in physical keyboard anyway. Unlike most add-on physical keyboards it doesn't require a table surface to use. Maybe its only competition as an on-the-go physical keyboard addon for smartphones is keyboard cases like the Typo http://typokeyboards.com/ , and those have their own drawbacks: see for example http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/01/07/first-look-typo-bl... and consider that any keyboard case is likely tied to only one of your gadgets.

I don't know how comfortable it is to use as I've never touched one. It certainly looks as if it could be uncomfortable, but for some people at least it seems to be workable. Another problem would be stowing the thing when it's not in use: it should fit easily in a purse or coat pocket but would probably break the lines of a suit trousers or jacket. As a chording keyboard it's obviously going to take some time to learn well, too. All that, and the unusual figure you'll cut using it in public, may mean that this is strictly one for the nerds and the mobile-typing hardcore, but that would be fairly ok by me...

It also has an integrated pointing stick, which is probably useful for selecting text on a phone as well as being necessary for single-handed operation of non-touch devices. With a smartphone/tablet + Bluetooth headset + Twiddler3 and suitable software it would be possible to do a fair number of smartphone tasks without having to take the phone out and look at the screen. Similarly it ought to be suitable as a input device for controlling AR goggles as well as getting text into them (at least assuming the goggles have the battery capacity to run Bluetooth...)

You could have a chording keyboard as a transparent overlay on a multitouch tablet instead of having a representation of a physical keyboard taking up a large part of the screen.

With a software-physical-keyboard it has to be visible as there are so many small keys to precisely hit, but with a software-chording-keyboard there could be a few sketched lines where each finger could press.

One day I'll get round to trying that in-browser with multitouch JavaScript...

I can see how it might be useful... but the learning curve has to be immense. There's video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rzFqEqzhmA

DataHand was customer of mine way back in the day here in Phoenix. They actually gave someone on my staff an early version of the product and after a VERY steep learning curve he was able to increase his wpm from 90 -> 110.

I kind of wish for something opposite, not a tool to minimize my physical movements, but to actually make me move more. I'm not talking about a computer on a treadmill. But, for example, if, say I'm moving something from one virtual place to another (copying files, etc), I would like to be moving something physically as well, I feel like that would get me more connected to what I am doing. The same reason it is much more pleasant and less distracting(to me anyway) to read a physical book that I'm holding, rather than something on the screen.

I have no concrete suggestions though.

Expect to see big innovations in this area with the commercial release of the Oculus Rift.

There are two big things the Oculus does:

Adds depth

Creates an enormous large (virtual) work space

Think about instead of sitting hunched over a small laptop in a tiny room, the entire Grand Canyon is your office. You don't need to use the whole thing, but the space is available just in case. You won't have to hunch over, you can move around, may be even run.

This user "okreylos" on YouTube has some really interesting videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/okreylos?feature=watch By combining the Oculus & Hydra with the Kinect, he has a tool to move around an interact with 3D data

There is someone else, who I can't remember, who used the Kinect to overlay images of his own hands in the 3D environment. Curiously, with all of this focus on augmented reality the solution may just be to pull the reality around us in to the digital world.

Would be cool to have the grand canyon, and an efficient eyes free keyboard, a one handed eyes free keyboard with buttons on which you could type at least 80 wpm.

Something like the leapmotion? https://www.leapmotion.com/

From the reviews that I've read, it isn't quite ready. Has anyone integrated one into their development process?

The Leapmotion is designed for analog input. Typical software development is nearly all digital input: hitting keys and such, which is something that you have to sacrifice in a system like the Leapmotion or a multitouch surface. I could see it being a lot more useful for games or graphic design.

There's been a few people playing with them reported on hackaday[1]. I'd agree with that assessment that it's not quite ready but they are definitely getting close.

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ahackaday.com+leapmoti...

Thanks for the link!

The gorilla arm http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/G/gorilla-arm.html will hit you hard if you try to use a near-vertical touchscreen, or hold your hands up and out to make gestures, for long periods. A better solution would be a touchscreen pitched at an angle like that of an eazel or a pitched writing-desk: as those historical precedents suggest, that seems to be a good compromise offering easy manipulation without as much of the hunching over that a flat desk inflicts on you. Or if you just want larger ratio of physical to on-screen movements you could just lower the sensitivity of your mouse.

The goal in "minimizing fingers movements" when typing is not about being lazy or not wanting to exercise.

The goal is to be a) more efficient and b) minimize the risk of developing RSI.

Nothing prevents you from still doing real exercise even if you have a keyboard made to minimize fingers movements: the two aren't incompatible.

You didn't understand me. It's not about being lazy or not getting enough exercise. It's about being more connected to your work. Maybe it's not the case for you, or even most people, but I am much more connected to what I'm doing if there is a physical component to it (writing down a lecture, even if I'm never going to read it, reading a book on paper that I'm touching, etc.)

> The goal is to be a) more efficient and b) minimize the risk of developing RSI.

Also 3 keeping one hand free, Douglas Englebart used a chording keyset during the mother of all demo, when using the mouse

And Steve Jobs decided not to include it in the first Apple machine :(

It looks like to use this input device you would have to do quite some wiggling of individual fingers sideways, without moving the other fingers on your hand, and that motion just feels terribly awkward to me - e.g. on a normal keyboard, if I move my right index finger to the left to press H, the other 3 move left as well; I can't just move one finger left/right.

Unfortunately, I think slower then I type.

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