Saturday, 4 October 2014

Top 3 tips for an improved typing experience - part 3


In this final part of my 3 keyboard improvement tips, let's look at an idea which is designed to allow the hands to adopt a more comfortable typing position when using standard keyboard hardware.

Tip #3: Use a Wide Keyboard Modification.

This tip is based on the Colemak Wide layout, but in fact will work well regardless of the layout being used. When I first heard of this idea, I was sceptical. But now, having tried it out for a while, it has become one of my favourite keyboard mods. Below are examples for both the Qwerty and Colemak layouts. There are Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator files available if you want to try it out - these particular examples assume a UK keyboard.

The Qwerty-wide layout introduces greater separation between the hands and allows easier access to keys on the right-hand side, such as Return.
The design of most standard keyboards cause the hands to be unduly cramped together. This is especially the case with many smaller laptop keyboards. This modification addresses this design flaw by moving all the letter keys on the right-hand side of the keyboard by one space to the right. As a result, it introduces a greater separation between the two hands, as the home position of the right hand is now further to the right.

My laptop keyboard, using the Colemak layout combined with the Wide modification.

This change also provides the additional benefit that the commonly pressed keys on the right edge of the keyboard, such as Return, Backspace and Right Shift, become more accessible, and require a much reduced movement away from the home position.

The possible drawback though, is that to make room for the moved letters, the keys [ ] / = need to move to the central column of the keyboard, which may look strange at first sight. Despite the unusual aesthetics, in reality these keys are rarely typed, and if necessary can always be remapped to more convenient positions e.g. by using something like my AltGr Programmers mod.

A difference of one key-width may not seem like a huge difference, and in an ideal world it would be better yet to have an even greater separation. But nevertheless, having tried if for myself, I have found it does make a noticeable difference. For those who are touch-typists and have control over the equipment they use, and I am now convinced of its merits as a worthwhile change.

Download: Example scripts for all three tips are available from my keyboard-tweaks GitHub repository.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Top 3 tips for an improved typing experience - part 2


Continuing my top 3 ideas for improving typing comfort and effectiveness, here is my next useful tip.

There are many computer users out there who have decided that the CapsLock key is a waste of a perfectly good key position. It's situated within easy reach of the left pinky on the home row, but for most typists, is rarely used.

Some folks have remapped their CapsLock key to some other function, such as an extra Control or Shift key. The Colemak keyboard layout, which I have recently started to use, remaps it to an extra Backspace key by default. These ideas are all excellent suggestions, but I have started to use a new setup, which I have found to be better still...

Tip #2 - Set up a navigation layer via the CapsLock key.

This idea is similar to and inspired by DreymaR's Extend Layer, but this version is implemented entirely using AutoHotkey.
Holding down CapsLock makes available editor functions.

By holding down CapsLock while pressing other keys, a new layer becomes available, much like my previously mentioned AltGr setup. The difference is the CapsLock layer provides navigation features such as arrow keys, home, end, page up/down, backspace/delete - all without the need to move your hands away from the home position on the keyboard. The navigation keys are situated in a similar layout to the usual configuration of the arrow keys, making it easy to learn and natural to use.

It also defines accessible additional shift and control within the layer to allow easy selection and editing of text. For example, Ctrl-Left (back one word) can be typed using only centre-row keys. For additional ease-of-use, common control-shortcuts such as copy, cut, paste, and undo are duplicated in this layer.
 
And of course, for those occasions where you do genuinely need to type a lot of capital letters, you needn't completely lose the Caps function, as it has been remapped to AltGr+CapsLock.

The real benefit to this configuration is, once you have adapted to it, that it allows very fast and efficient editing operations regardless of the editor software being used. It avoids the need to switch the right hand between the home position and the arrow key block, resulting in less movement and a more comfortable experience for the right hand.

To try it out for yourself, download the CapsLayer AHK script.

Next up: Tip #3...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Top 3 tips for an improved typing experience - part 1

Recently I became interested making my typing experience more comfortable and efficient. To this end I started looking at alternative keyboard layouts, but as a side effect of this, have along they way realized there many improvements that can be made even to a standard keyboard.

If you are looking to make your typing more productive, but don't want to do anything so drastic as learn a new layout, then there are still plenty of handy optimizations you can make.

Here are 3 useful ideas for improving typing comfort, speed and effectiveness.

Tip #1: Set up a custom layer via the AltGr key.

Make commonly used but difficult-to-access keys easier to type.

Ideal candidates for this are hyphen -, underscore _, equals =, plus +, and brackets { ( [ ] ) }. This is likely to benefit programmers especially, who often need to type non-alphabetic characters such as symbols and brackets. These characters are in difficult to reach positions at the top and right of a standard Qwerty keyboard, but can be made extremely easy and comfortable to type by assigning them to easy-to-reach keys in combination with your AltGr (or Right-Alt) key.

Keyboard mappings for the AltGr key.
Shown above my current AltGr keyboard mapping, implemented with the very useful AutoHotkey tool. To try it for yourself install AutoHotkey and use the AltGr Programmer script.

The AltGr key can usually be held down with the right thumb while the secondary key is pressed, all with the hands in the standard typing position. This enables many characters to be typed quickly and comfortably without awkward wrist movements or stretching the over-used right pinky finger. This simple remapping should make typing more comfortable, especially for those who are touch-typists.

Note, the AltGr key is by default used to type accented or other characters in non-English speaking countries. If this is the case you may need to be more selective in which keys and characters you want to reconfigure. In my setup, I have incorporated much of the US international layout so that many accented characters and symbols can be typed if required (eg via dead keys, indicated by light blue highlighing). I find that in practice though, the real benefit in everyday keyboard use comes from the easier to access characters which are now on my middle row: - _ { ( [ ] ) } = +

Next: Tip #2