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The Lost continent of

You've found a bug on my site!

Now is a good time to put your work on a firm theoretical foundation

Sam Morgan

The Dvorak Keyboard

Confound your friends, and relax your wrists...

Qwerty?

Look down at your keyboard. Chances are that you are using some variation of the Qwerty keyboard layout (named after the first six letters on the top row). It was designed over a hundred years ago to help prevent mechanical typewriters jamming. Despite the fact that most contempary computer users have never even seen a mechanical typewriter, Qwerty has remained the dominant keyboard layout through sheer human inertia, despite it's many short-comings.

The Dvorak keyboard layout

The Dvorak Keyboard layout

The Dvorak layout was designed by a pair of efficiency experts (Dvorak & Dealey) over ten years around the 1920s to improve typing comfort, speed, and accuracy. It does this by moving the letters that are most commonly used to the places that are easiest to get to: If you are a touch typist you will be able to type 56% of English letters without moving your fingers from their home positions, compared to just 29% for Querty (check my numbers).

This means more speed, greater accuracy, and less strain. I moved across to the Dvorak keyboard when my wrists started giving me trouble a couple of years back. Combined with regular breaks (see 'Soundbreak'), the change cleared up my condition.

Changing Layouts — Computer settings

Most of us now type at a computer keyboard, where the keys you see printed on your keyboard have nothing to do with what your computer does when you press a key. It is possible to buy a keyboard with the Dvorak layout painted on the keys, but as the internals are just the same I just use a perfectly normal Querty keyboard — it stops me from peeking, and provides some rudimentary security from nosy co-workers (one guy, an idiotic IT manager, revealed his attempted snooping on my computer by insisting that my keyboard was broken).

To actually get your computer to start using the Dvorak layout depends on your operating system. It's pretty painless. Under Windows, you can change the layout you use in the control panel (under 'keyboard'). It's in 'System Preferences' if you're a Mac user. There are lots ways to do it under any of the many UNIXes around — the loadkeys command in console mode, and an entry in the X-windows config file for X works for me. Gnome and KDE users can just use their settings panel...

Changing Layouts — The Human Experience

I could touch-type, more or less, before I decided to switch layouts. I found a good typing program that knew about Dvorak, and practiced for 5-20 mins a day for a few weeks. After that I could resume my full work load (looking at the keys was no longer a problem...), though it was quite frustrating for a little while, as I kept making lots of mistakes. That seems to have passed. Typing just feels a lot more natural now. The letters in most words tend to alternate between hands — there is a rhythm to it.

The only really hard part was that during the retraining process I had a lot of trouble typing anything at all. You can only practice for so long each day before it becomes counter-productive, so no matter what you do life will be tricky if you have to work during your retraining. I mostly avoided any lengthy assignments, but the one letter I did write just after a training session was extremely frustrating. Surprisingly, now that I've retrained my fingers, I can move back to my old ways on a Qwerty keyboard without too much adjustment.