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Old 04-14-2008, 12:56 PM   #1
jonaskoelker
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Shamelessly pimping the Dvorak keyboard layout


Hello all.

I'm here to commit a few sins. For one, I will push my own ideals on you. For two, I'll make preposterous claims about me knowing, to some extent, how you think. And for three, I'll make you think about something that may be new to you.

(This is the part where you run away).

So, let's get into it. Since you're here, I take it you use Linux. You probably have high quality standards and want to use the best, even if that means you have to spend a bit of time finding out what the best is and learning how to use it to its fullest. The feeling that you're losing out on some better way of doing things would probably nag you the way it nags me.

(random aside: personality psychologists call this openness to new experiences, and find it correlating positively with intelligence).

So, where am I going? You've put some effort into your choice of OS. You've probably also put in some time in picking the right box to run it on, and probably either your car, your stereo, your gaming console or something similar.

How about your keyboard layout? Look down, you should see some 100+ keys. Look at how they are arranged. Not much system to it, except you can type the word "typewriter" on the top row, and there's a run of alphabetically almost-consecutive letters on the home row.

The job that your keyboard should serve is to let you input primarily text as fast, effortlessly and comfortably as possible. How well is that goal met? If you could swap the keys around in any way you wanted, what would you use as criteria?

I won't go into the details of the physiology and anatomy of the human hands (fascinating though they are), but here are a few observations, which admittedly are not my own:
  • Reduced finger movement: time spent on moving your fingers is time spent not hitting keys. As a corollary the most used keys should be on the home row (the one having `asdf' and `jkl;' on qwerty).
  • Upward bias: the second-most used chunk of keys should be on the top row, as it's more comfortable to move to than the bottom row.
  • Matching strength and work: your fingers should be used in proportion to their strength. In particular, your dominant hand (probably the right one) should be used more than your off hand, and your index and middle fingers should do more than your pinkies.
  • Alternation: you can type faster if you switch back and forth between the hands; while one hand is hitting a key, the other hand can search for the next key to hit.
  • Inward stroke flow: when you hit two keys with the same hand, you should move from the outside and in, meaning towards your index finger. Why? Because your hand is better at this than at the opposite. Try tapping your fingers on the table both inwards and outwards for a quick demo.
  • Few finger repetitions: it's slower to use the same finger for two consecutive keys than to switch fingers; the finger hitting the second key can move at the same time as the finger hitting the first key.
  • Few hurdle jumps: it's slow to move from the bottom row to the top row and vice versa, so that should be avoided.

Now look down again. You have f, j, k and ; on the home row; they're not used that often. You have the wovels except a outside the home row, even though they're used very often. I could go on, but I won't.

Now, why am I saying all this stuff? I find it interesting in its own right, and you may too, but the real reason is that I want to show you a better way of doing things. It's a keyboard layout called Dvorak. Here it is:
Code:
' , . p y  f g c r l
a o e u i  d h t n s
; q j k x  b m w v z
Seems strange? I was a bit baffled at first when I saw it. However, looking at the criteria, you see that the wovels are on the home row, along with some of the most commonly used consonants. Also, work load is shifted somewhat to the right (which is most likely your dominant hand), as it has more of the commonly used keys. Seeing how it conforms to some of the criteria I've outlined (and I could mention more), it makes sense to think that it's better to type on, right?

That's what I've found. When I first switched, I was typing slow as a turtle; I'm talking one character per second. And I was retraining a lot of muscle memory, and making a whole lot of frustrating mistakes. But, the one quality that redeemed this several times over, even during the transition period, was a feeling that I'm sure you've felt some time in your life: that what you're experiencing is amazingly right; that it's the way things should be done and there's no two ways about it.

When I felt this, I knew that I had been missing out for a long time. Do you want to be missing out?

Here's how you get started:
  • Load up A Basic Course in Dvorak, at http://www.gigliwood.com/abcd/
  • Open up an xterm, and type in "setxkbmap us"; have this ready for when you want to switch out of dvorak
  • Run setxkbmap dvorak
  • Type away
 
Old 04-14-2008, 02:24 PM   #2
Mega Man X
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It is an interesting layout indeed. I've tried a few times, liked, but didn't really used it extensively. A lot of studies about the layout were made several times and it failed to prove a lot of things you consider superior, such as speed and efficiency. Read some of these here.

I also believe its layout would work less(or more) effectively with different languages. Even with some programs. If you are used to vim, typing "wq" already lost its charm in my opinion. "alt+f", a pretty common shortcut and "ctrl+c" (perhaps my most used shortcut) are also not very friendly. It is a 1936 keyboard layout after all.

It is also important to note, that some keyboards already has a similar layout. The Korean layout is similar to Dvorak in many ways (most vowels at the left of the keyboard, almost all consonants on the right side).

So, yeah, it is an interesting layout and I think it is cool that you are bringing it up, but assuming it is faster and more efficient and comfortable, is a bit biased, in my honest opinion.
 
Old 04-14-2008, 08:57 PM   #3
taylor_venable
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I've always thought it was a neat idea, but muscle memory is so strong and some keyboard shortcuts depend on position on the keyboard (e.g. hjkl for vi users). One thing that I don't like about it is how all the symbols are moved around too, particularly the semicolon where the QWERTY "z" is. I've always mused, without actually trying it much, that it would be especially difficult as a programmer to get used to this. Any advice, experiences, counter-arguments?
 
Old 04-14-2008, 09:49 PM   #4
jbuckley2004
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Just as an experiment, I thought I'd give it a try. I just wanted to know if I still had the mental flexibility to learn a new keyboard after using QWERTY for almost 40 years.

Well, two weeks ago I did it, and have been typing exclusively with US Dvorak for four days now. It was - frustrating and even tiring at first, and I'd be surprised if my typing speed was even a third of what it was.

But that's after 4 days.

I'm gratified to know the old dog can learn a new trick.

Sorta like swearing off MS for Linux.
 
Old 04-15-2008, 08:50 AM   #5
Dox Systems - Brian
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I'd like to try it, but don't even know where to find one. Have never seen one in real life. I don't really have the money to throw around buying a new keyboard when my current one is still working anyways.
 
Old 04-15-2008, 10:21 AM   #6
slackhack
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jonaskoelker View Post
Now look down again. You have f, j, k and ; on the home row; they're not used that often.
I can see you don't use vim very much.
 
Old 04-21-2008, 03:01 AM   #7
jonaskoelker
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Location: Denmark
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Posts: 1,524

Original Poster
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(Sort of a multi-reply)

Quote:
("wq", "M-f", "C-c")
Funny, I find C-c much easier on dvorak. Personal taste, I guess.

Quote:
Assuming it is faster and more efficient and comfortable, is a bit biased.
Point taken, although I see wide consensus about the comfort benefits; maybe I'm caught in a circle jerk.

Quote:
some keyboard shortcuts depend on position on the keyboard (e.g. hjkl for vi users).
That's true, but it's quite rare in my experience. I think I've found vi, nethack and one or two more during my roughly 4 years of using dvorak.

Quote:
I've always mused, without actually trying it much, that it would be especially difficult as a programmer to get used to this. Any advice, experiences, counter-arguments
My experience is that programming isn't special: you get roughly the same benefits for code as for english text. Also, about half of the !isalpha() you need stay on shift+<number>, so the change isn't that dramatic.

Quote:
I can see you don't use vim very much.
I use it for writing mail, but that's limited to "i<text-of-mail><ESC>:wq", so I actually don't use `j k l ;' that much even in that case

Quote:
I'd like to try it, but don't even know where to find one. Have never seen one in real life. I don't really have the money to throw around buying a new keyboard when my current one is still working anyways.
You don't have to buy a new keyboard. Every major OS has supported software key remapping for the last... ever. I've given you the instructions for how to try it out on linux; permanent config change differs between GNOME and KDE. For trying it out on windows, go to "control->regional...->next-tab->details->add->US - dvorak", roughly. Or look up dvzine and follow their instructions.

If you want a keyboard with dvorak *labels*, there's the cheap DIY solution: shuffle your keycaps around, or buy a set of labels (I heard they're cheap) and put them on your keycaps. Obvious detriment of moving keycaps around: the markings of f and j are no longer under your index fingers.

If you want a keyboard with a built-in dvorak map, I know you can ergonomic keyboards on www.kinesis-ergo.com, some of which are qwerty/dvorak switchable. The benefits of this versus software mapping is that you can use dvorak in your BIOS setup, and that you can type your username/password in dvorak.
 
Old 04-21-2008, 07:31 AM   #8
Labman
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' , . p y f would be a stronger password than qwerty.

Are the keycap labels something I would find at Staples?
 
Old 04-21-2009, 12:24 AM   #9
jallands
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so new i don't even know how to spell "newb"

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonaskoelker View Post
Hello all.

Here's how you get started:
  • Load up A Basic Course in Dvorak, at
  • Open up an xterm, and type in "setxkbmap us"; have this ready for when you want to switch out of dvorak
  • Run setxkbmap dvorak
  • Type away
hey - i'm already a dvorak user because, well... people like you wrote stuff about how good it is, and i decided to switch. only took me a week to learn and i quickly got right back to the same touch-typing speed i had with qwerty.

however, i just got an ickle acer aspire one netbook, which runs linpus linux lite and i need to convert my keyboard input!! (i don't care about rearranging the keys - i never look anyway).

BUT!

i've never used linux. i really don't know much about computers at all. could you possibly reply with more detailed instructions? i'd really appreciate it - it SUCKS to use qwerty on this teeny teeny keyboard. i'll check out tutorials in the meantime, of course.

thanks!!
 
Old 04-21-2009, 05:23 AM   #10
H_TeXMeX_H
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You should post a new thread with that question, otherwise you seem to be hijacking an resurrecting an old thread.

I've never used linpus and have no idea how it works. But, I know you can change the keyboard layout on the command-line using:

Code:
/usr/bin/loadkeys dvorak.map
For Xorg, you would need to modify '/etc/X11/xorg.conf', these should be a section similar to:

Code:
Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Keyboard0"
    Driver         "kbd"
    Option         "XkbModel" "pc104"
    Option         "XkbLayout" "us(dvorak)"

EndSection
 
Old 04-23-2009, 05:14 AM   #11
jisjis
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Registered: Apr 2009
Posts: 18

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Quote:
Originally Posted by jonaskoelker View Post
Hello all.

I'm here to commit a few sins. For one, I will push my own ideals on you. For two, I'll make preposterous claims about me knowing, to some extent, how you think. And for three, I'll make you think about something that may be new to you.

(This is the part where you run away).

So, let's get into it. Since you're here, I take it you use Linux. You probably have high quality standards and want to use the best, even if that means you have to spend a bit of time finding out what the best is and learning how to use it to its fullest. The feeling that you're losing out on some better way of doing things would probably nag you the way it nags me.

(random aside: personality psychologists call this openness to new experiences, and find it correlating positively with intelligence).

So, where am I going? You've put some effort into your choice of OS. You've probably also put in some time in picking the right box to run it on, and probably either your car, your stereo, your gaming console or something similar.

How about your keyboard layout? Look down, you should see some 100+ keys. Look at how they are arranged. Not much system to it, except you can type the word "typewriter" on the top row, and there's a run of alphabetically almost-consecutive letters on the home row.

The job that your keyboard should serve is to let you input primarily text as fast, effortlessly and comfortably as possible. How well is that goal met? If you could swap the keys around in any way you wanted, what would you use as criteria?

I won't go into the details of the physiology and anatomy of the human hands (fascinating though they are), but here are a few observations, which admittedly are not my own:
  • Reduced finger movement: time spent on moving your fingers is time spent not hitting keys. As a corollary the most used keys should be on the home row (the one having `asdf' and `jkl;' on qwerty).
  • Upward bias: the second-most used chunk of keys should be on the top row, as it's more comfortable to move to than the bottom row.
  • Matching strength and work: your fingers should be used in proportion to their strength. In particular, your dominant hand (probably the right one) should be used more than your off hand, and your index and middle fingers should do more than your pinkies.
  • Alternation: you can type faster if you switch back and forth between the hands; while one hand is hitting a key, the other hand can search for the next key to hit.
  • Inward stroke flow: when you hit two keys with the same hand, you should move from the outside and in, meaning towards your index finger. Why? Because your hand is better at this than at the opposite. Try tapping your fingers on the table both inwards and outwards for a quick demo.
  • Few finger repetitions: it's slower to use the same finger for two consecutive keys than to switch fingers; the finger hitting the second key can move at the same time as the finger hitting the first key.
  • Few hurdle jumps: it's slow to move from the bottom row to the top row and vice versa, so that should be avoided.

Now look down again. You have f, j, k and ; on the home row; they're not used that often. You have the wovels except a outside the home row, even though they're used very often. I could go on, but I won't.

Now, why am I saying all this stuff? I find it interesting in its own right, and you may too, but the real reason is that I want to show you a better way of doing things. It's a keyboard layout called Dvorak. Here it is:
Code:
' , . p y  f g c r l
a o e u i  d h t n s
; q j k x  b m w v z
Seems strange? I was a bit baffled at first when I saw it. However, looking at the criteria, you see that the wovels are on the home row, along with some of the most commonly used consonants. Also, work load is shifted somewhat to the right (which is most likely your dominant hand), as it has more of the commonly used keys. Seeing how it conforms to some of the criteria I've outlined (and I could mention more), it makes sense to think that it's better to type on, right?

That's what I've found. When I first switched, I was typing slow as a turtle; I'm talking one character per second. And I was retraining a lot of muscle memory, and making a whole lot of frustrating mistakes. But, the one quality that redeemed this several times over, even during the transition period, was a feeling that I'm sure you've felt some time in your life: that what you're experiencing is amazingly right; that it's the way things should be done and there's no two ways about it.

When I felt this, I knew that I had been missing out for a long time. Do you want to be missing out?

Here's how you get started:
  • Load up A Basic Course in Dvorak, at http://www.gigliwood.com/abcd/
  • Open up an xterm, and type in "setxkbmap us"; have this ready for when you want to switch out of dvorak
  • Run setxkbmap dvorak
  • Type away


Sounds Geeky ... I'm definitely gonna give this a spin first thing this weekend !!!


Linux

Last edited by jisjis; 04-26-2009 at 04:36 AM.
 
Old 04-23-2009, 07:05 AM   #12
H_TeXMeX_H
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The reason I switched was because my hands hurt while typing excessively with qwerty. It's somewhat faster too, but then I was never good at typing with qwerty.
 
  


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