Switching to Colemak

After a failed attempt to switch to the Dvorak keyboard layout, a recent posting on Slashdot has got me looking at alternative layouts again, this time at Colemak.

Colemak_fingers.png I don't need to go into the virtues of Colemak – http://colemak.com/ already does that quite well. Instead, I want to share my own experiences. This will probably end up being a series of posts tracking my progress.

Glaringly obvious problem No. 1 was that the finger memory for my password was all wrong. Thank god I had printed the layout before locking my workstation! At first I used xmodmap to alter the mappings but when I came in this morning something funky happened and I couldn't type some keys so I had to nuke the X session. :sigh: I've now changed the xorg.conf instead. Fingers crossed. Once I'm happy, I might make an ebuild for the various files.

I like the way Backspace has been mapped to the CapsLock key. At first it felt very strange because I've never used that key before despite it being the most obvious place to put a frequently used key. My muscle memory sometimes sends my pinky up to the tab key and I lose focus of the textbox I'm typing but I'm sure that will pass.

Overall, it is much less pain than I expected it to be. The hardest key to get used to (by far) is the 'S' which has moved 1 spot to the right, but I'm already starting to type words without having to look for every key before I hit it.

Other annoyances are shortcuts. I have to be very careful in pine and vim lest I do something destructive, and Firefox keeps popping up the 'Page Info' window (CTRL-I) when I want the cursor in the Location Bar (CTRL-L). When editing in vim, I often find I hit 'u' (undo) when I really wanted 'i' (insert) and I'm left thinking "WTF? Where'd that block of text I just entered go?!". Typing ':' to get into command mode is also weird. I haven't tried vim with the suggested mappings yet.

Something interesting that it has brought to light is a deficiency in my typing style. On a QWERTY keyboard, I have always shifted my left hand one key to the left for the bottom row. I.e. Index finger hits 'C' and 'V', middle finger hits 'X', ring finger hits 'Z' and pinky hits 'Shift'. Either left or right index finger hits 'B'. This has never been a problem because I rarely type the digraph 'cf', but now the digraph is 'ct' which occurs much more frequently and with the same finger, I'm getting slowed down. It feels like I am, anyway.

KTouch is really helpful, but rather than installing the files to the system-wide directory as suggested on the website, I put them in my local config: ~/.kde/share/apps/ktouch/

Finally, something cool about Windows, I get the Colemak layout without having to do anything. Because of the way I use rdesktop to access Windows, the keys are already bound smile …. Well, okay, if I have to log in locally it will still be QWERTY but that's pretty rare.

Some cool home row words and phrases:

  • instantiated
  • interested
  • reinstated
  • ionisation
  • Either he is hidden or he's arrested and sent to detention in the eastern states
  • She said "He doesn't need to store the other instantiation"

Current progress: Lvl 2, 67 cpm, 77% acc

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