Going Dvorak

I’ve never quite been a touch typist.

Sure, I learnt to type from tutorial programs like Mavis Beacon, but for some reason I’ve never used my little (aka pinky) fingers, just my 6 fingers and two thumbs so I never considered myself an actual touch typist. I’ve also always used UK keyboard layouts and much prefer it to the US layout. The reversal of @ and " never really bothered me as much as the shape of the return key. Since adopting Unix/Linux, I’ve also added the positions of | and ~ to my frustrations with the US layout. I never really gave any of this much thought since I was able to use pretty much any keyboard in front of me and never had any issues with RSI. At least that is, until recently…

In the last few months I’ve noticed more and more wrist pain, sometimes during the working day, but more so late at night or really early in the morning to the point that it sometimes wakes me up these days.

Since work is caring and considerate about these sort of things, they have occupational therapists around to do ergonomic assessments. So in the last few months, I’ve had a few assessments resulting in adjustments to my desk and chair layout and tried to take “micro pauses” every 10 minutes but nothing seems to make any significant difference. I even swapped out my trusty UK Apple keyboard for a Microsoft Natural 4000, which I found frustrating as hell, mainly because I am using a PC keyboard on a Mac which just feels weird (even after I swapped the modifier keys in software), too many keys are just in the wrong places physically, not to mention getting used to the curve in the keyboard.

I briefly tried a friend’s Kenisis Advantage out of curiosity, but I gave up 40 minutes later (considerably short of the 1 – 12 month learning curve it comes with) since I’m not a touch typist and it just felt weird having to stop and think about what I need to don’t my little fingers. I’m currently waiting on an order for a Mac layout GoldTouch V2 to try, but it will force me to use a US physical layout.

Researching various ergonomic keyboard manufacturers has left me with the distinct impression that UK layout Mac users such as myself are such an edge case that I won’t really be fully happy with any ergonomic keyboard. *sigh*

So the only thing left for me to do is to hack my brain. No, not literally, but I am going to have to remap my muscle memory to where everything is on a keyboard.

Since I’m going to go through this process to adapt to a US physical layout anyway, I might as well take the plunge and go Dvorak while I’m at it. Sure, it gives me a little more geek credit too, but it does sound like it may help reduce the wrist pain.

My largest concerns with going Dvorak are login prompts (and unlocking a screensaver) and using vim. For the login/password issue, I know I can always change the keyboard settings just at login prompt in OS X, so that should be enough of a crutch to get me started. Vim is a little harder, but I only really use a small subset of vim keyboard commands after the obvious ones (I kept getting distracted whenever I ran vimtutor). Conveniently, I found a handy little page of a qwerty vim user adopting Dvorak who documented her adventure. The page stood out to me since the domain name looks quite familiar. In fact, I know that very Dvorak evangelist!

So far, I’ve complete the initial preparation steps, like printed Dvorak & Programmer’s Dvorak layouts and stuck them to my monitor & configured OS X to have both input types easily available. Following this conversion advice I’m going to try Master Key for a while at a time while I get acquainted wit the layout before switching to it by default.

I’m slightly concerned by the initial hit in productivity, but I’m more concerned with the RSI in the long run, not to mention the impact of the current status quo is already having on my productivity, so now is as good a time as any really. Here goes nothing…

Posted from Ireland.

2 thoughts on “Going Dvorak

  1. I get a sinking feeling whenever I read up on RSI and what people are told for their particular cases, or twinges that seem to be going in that direction, because it’s not an area where there have been randomised controlled trials to work out what’s the best preventative approach, and there’s no real prospect of anything of the sort. I hope Dvorak works for you.

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