Customizable keyboards

Sunday 5 June 2005

My wrists are hurting again, so I’ve bought myself a bent keyboard to use with my laptop rather than just slouching on the couch. By coincidence, I came across the Ergodex DX1 “input system”. It looks pretty cool: you can place keys anywhere you like on a special tray, and assign them any function you like. They aren’t selling it for use in typing text, but as a giant customizable function-key pad. They’re especially pushing it for gaming, I guess because that demographic doesn’t mind spending money on cool toys that can potentially help them push a lot of buttons a lot faster.

For my own problem, though, a bent keyboard helps. What would be even better though, would be to break myself of the habit of using hand-twisting key combinations. For example, when hitting Alt-Tab, it’s a lot better for me to push the Alt key with my right hand, and the tab key with my left. I’d like to customize my keyboard so that modifier keys wouldn’t work if they were used with a regular key on the same side. That way, I’d be forced to use the gentler two-hand combinations. Does anyone out there know of a way to do that?

There’s a registry key that can change how keys map to keycodes (Scan Code Mapper for Windows), but I don’t think it can do what I want.


The best thing I did for my hands was to learn to type with the Dvorak key layout. I used to regularly have burning sensations in my hands, now I rarely do. My hands just work a lot less. The down side is that it was a slow and frustrating transition.
I think the best advice here is to avoid repetition: use an ergonomic split keyboard at work and another type at home. Ditto for mice. Keep changing things up.

There are TONS of oddball keyboard devices out there to choose from, some ergonomic, some beautiful, some just plain hideous:

I highly recommend the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro (USB). It's hard to find now but it's got a lot of great qualities for software developers interested in an ergo split layout.

Ergodex is really intended for use with one hand, so it's not a true keyboard substitute (keys 1-25, for one thing, with optional expansion set of 26-50). But it is very cool. I hope to have a working device sometime next week to start playing with in earnest.
I'm willing to bet you could train yourself in less time than it would take to program a way to force yourself to learn the the new technique. (I agree it is more fun your way)

Still, if you do a dozen repetitions of the key combos a few times throughout the day, for a few days, you'll soon master it.

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