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Yet another programmer switching to Colemak

  • Started by jsmithy
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About a week and a half ago I made the choice to switch to an alternative keyboard layout.  I decided if I was going to switch I needed a layout that would not only lessen typing strain but would also eventually allow me to type faster.  I figured that if I was going to put forth all that effort into rewiring my poor neurons I wanted ease+speed.

Originally I was going to use Dvorak, but a couple of things made me think Colemak was the right choice. So here is the run down of the reasons I chose Colemak over Dvorak and others.

  1. On all the typing "efficiency" tests, and the carpalx test, Colemak and Dvorak were either very close or edged to Colemak.

  2. How quickly could I learn the new layout. I didn't want to be stuck in a long learning period where my work would suffer unduly. The experiences on this forum made me think I could get up to a usable typing speed faster than Dvorak.  I had a friend who switched to Dvorak at about the same time and this has held true, I'll track down his progress so I can to match it with my experience.

  3. Other layouts (like workman) claimed better statistics in areas but the research seemed less than Colemak and the benefits seemed, at best, not much better.

  4. Colemak came default on all the macs/ unix machines I use, and with its popularity I'm hoping windows soon.[/li]

  5. Not a factor in my choice, but I have enjoyed the same shortcuts ctrl-a,z,x,c,v,q,w etc.

My pertinent bio. 36, male, programmer.
QWERTY speed: 24 years, average ~80wpm,  max ~90wpm.

This is now day 12 for me. day 1-3 were me doing a colemak by night approach, once I got consistent results above 25 wpm (day 4) I switched over to Colemak full time.  I have used typeracer (for speed tests), 10 fastfingers (now that I can run the common words practice, which needs ~50wpm), and Amphetype (for learning my problem words).  I have been putting at least 1-2 hours a day in pure typing tests, which I will now slow down on now that I am at a more reasonable speed and I need the time back ;).

My current progress is here, based off of my type racer scores (which is similar to my Amphetype scores).

Image Progress

progress first 100 days

day    average    max
1    10    11
2    12    15
3    18    26
4    25    31
5    31    38
6    35    41
7    37.5    44
8    41    44
9    43    47
10    43    47
11    48    56
12    48    56
13    51    60
14    48    60
15    53    60
16    54    65
17    51    65
18    55    65
19    55    65
20    56    65
21    57    65
22    57    65
23    58    65
24    27    34
25    43    49
26    48    53
27    51    54
28    53    61
29    55    61
30    57    63
31    60    70
32    61    70
33    59    70
34    61    70
35    59    70
38    62    70
39    65    71
40    65    72
41    63    72
43    63    72
44    62    72
45    64    72
46    65    72
47    66    72
48    64    73
49    66    76
50    67    76
51    68    76
55    66    76
56    67    76
57    68    76
58    69    76
64    63    76
67    66    76
69    64    76
70    69    76
73    66    76
74    70    79
75    70    79
76    68    79
77    70    79
82    68    79
83    71    81
84    74    81
85    72    81
86    68    81
87    70    81
88    72    81
89    72    81
90    73    82
91    73    82
92    75    84
93    69    84
94    70    84
95    74    87
96    70    87
97    67    87
98    69    87
99    68    87
100    70    87

The huge drop in performance on week 3 was my obsession of trying to use both thumbs to hit the spacebar, depending on the previous key typed (which I am still doing). That basically caused a ~1 to ~1.5 week regression which I have now recovered from.

http://data.typeracer.com/pit/profile?user=colmako
http://10fastfingers.com/user/462865/

UPDATE 09/27/2016 (nearly 3 years of typing in colemak):
Old QWERTY speed: TypeRacer: 83 wpm avg, 89 wpm max
Current Colemak speed: TypeRacer: 88 wpm avg, 93 wpm max. 10fastfingers: 103 wpm normal test, 88 wpm advanced
Thoughts on Experience and Comfort: See my post in this thread.

Last edited by jsmithy (01-Oct-2016 22:31:14)
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Great progress so far. How's about your accuracy?

Last edited by Tony_VN (13-Nov-2013 06:22:36)
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With typeracer my accuracy is always hovering around 94%. For the Amphetype its ~97%, both around the same wpm right now.  My only explanation is that I'm trying to type really fast with Typeracer and making more mistakes which brings me down to the speed of Amphetype were I'm typing slower but making fewer mistakes.

My last 3 Amphetype scores.
45.7 wpm, 98.1% accuracy
50.9 wpm, 98.7% accuracy
47.2 wpm, 96.4% accuracy

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@jsmithy,

Sounds like great progress.

Not sure about your point of number 3:

> Other layouts (like workman) claimed better statistics in areas but the research seemed less than Colemak and the benefits seemed, at best, not much better.

I can't find Shai's research on the Colemak layout.  It would be great if he could publish the methodology behind the layout.

Can you feel the difference at this point?  How does it feel compared with Qwerty?

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I remember Shai saying that he spent ~1000 hours researching and developing colemak, but I too don't know what exactly he did :/.

Last edited by vaskozl (13-Nov-2013 16:23:11)

Posted without the aid of a rodent.

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Pinkyache, I couldn't find a single location where Shai describes how he developed Colemak, I agree that would be very helpful and that he probably should explain or straight out publish it. But, aside from the distance metrics, home row use, and others, which all compare favorably with Dvorak, some of his responses have included his thoughts on trigraph usage, and his initial scratched alternative keyboard layouts, which made it pretty clear to me that a lot of effort went into the design.

So "research" might be a strong term, but I feel good that it was at least thought out, and contains good metrics to back it up.

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As a note, my QWERTY skills have degraded precipitously.  Today I took some typing tests and I was at 18 wpm using qwerty.  That is too low as I sometimes need to use other peoples keyboards.  So I guess I'm also going to have to relearn it....

I probably should have taken the advice to type in QWERTY for the first 5-10 minutes of the day. I ignored that advice because I thought it would hurt my Colemak progress and I didn't expect my QWERTY to drop so fast.

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Indeed, the same thing happened with me within a couple of weeks. I've had to use another computer a few times now, but not for long enough that it's worth tracking down a USB stick and starting up the AHK script. The result is... very slow indeed. I haven't measured my QWERTY speed since switching to Colemak, but 18wpm sounds about right!

Ah well. Over 99% of the time, I'm using my own computer. It's a net gain :)

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It's possible there was no strict methodology.  Trial and error is very much a part of development, after all.

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Shai isn't one to blow his horn. Colemak has been something of a fire-and-forget, which puzzles me a little and sometimes feels frustrating. It'd certainly be nice to have Shai with us in this happy little community of Colemak users! He used to post quite frequently back in 2007, but hasn't in years.

So if you want research it's better be done by someone else. CarpalX is one of the better sites, but as with all model-based approaches you need to choose the right model (for you?) and handle the results with understanding and care. David Piepgrass (Millikeys) wrote an essay a while back, but it isn't proper research of course. Who, except August Dvorak, has had the resources for that? And Dvorak didn't live in the computer age and made some decisions that I at least disagree with.

Shai's methodology was a combination of computer-assisted optimisations and a lot of trial and error. He would make a layout based on key frequencies and bigrams, then think and mull it over for the "human factor" and try it out thoroughly. There were several attempts that fell by the wayside, or rather evolved into Colemak step by step. I too have heard him mention a thousand+ hours, and I believe that. His "human factor" design criteria have been listed elsewhere on this site, in FAQs and some of his posts.

*** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
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Dreymar, that sounds right based on the bits and pieces I've picked up about Shai's process.  It would definitely be nice to have him put in some of that in writing in a centralized place. Especially statistics about finger distance/usage.  I've yet to see a measure I like, most seem to use a distance based off of the fingers always being on the home row, pressing a key, and then returning back(which I strongly disagree with as fingers will often remain by the key they just pressed). As an extreme example paste qwerty over and over into one of the distance measures and it will say qwerty is the worst layout, when for that text it really should be the best. More realistic colemak examples are words such as edged, going, high, fulfilled, etc.

As a progress update, my learning has definitely slowed down and I've been sitting at ~50 wpm for several days now. The ~30 wpm increase I need to get back to my old qwerty speed is seeming huge at this point. I am confident I will get back there(and pass it), but I'm not sure when...

Fortunately I now feel like I'm typing fairly comfortably and my work product isn't affected too much at this point. A little more fluidity in my typing and the difference in my daily work should be negligible. So slow incremental speed improvements are fine. Overall, I definitely enjoy typing with the Colemak layout more and I've already made the choice not to go back.

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Even the Colemak web site lacks a compelling argument for the layout:

The FAQ:

Q. Is there any scientific evidence that Colemak is better?
A. Check carpalx and this forum.

Q. What makes Colemak better than the alternatives?
A. Easy to learn (?), Qwerty shortcuts (!), less work for pinkies (really?) and a link to a gigantic thread which doesn't really answer anything!

There are digs at Qwerty and Dvorak.  I assume that these flaws are partly addressed under Colemak (?).

The homepage suggests that Colemak is more ergonomic:

* Less same finger, more emphasis on stronger fingers
* Less keys swapped (easier for Qwerty typists to adopt?)

That's about all I can find before digging through the forum for odds and ends.

I think it would be good to abridge the design/process.  If only to lessen the headaches for potential switchers.

@jsmithy,
Typing the word qwerty repeatedly is a daft metric anyway (I'm actually quicker typing 'qwerty' under Dvorak.)   I get your point though.  Is it even possible to work out finger distance travelled? (Perhaps the physical mapping of human fingers.)  Glad you are enjoying your leap :)

Last edited by pinkyache (15-Nov-2013 21:12:39)

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No alternative layout has a compelling argument for it. Unless you're easily compelled - which I am, as are most people here. You too, Pinky, or you wouldn't be using Dvorak. All that Battle of the Keys stuff really leads to that conclusion: Lack of solid evidence either way. And it's hard to get funding or will for good research it seems.

*** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
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Hmmm, I am just 98.47203% satisfied with Colemak, but I use it anyway, it has been 2 years in fact.

Looking at the past, I had been just 67.3434% satisfied with Qwerty, but I had used it for even longer time.

Last edited by Tony_VN (16-Nov-2013 12:11:32)
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I wish I could get that level of satisfaction!  I don't disagree with you of course.  It was a bit of nightmare for me in choosing Dvorak, in part because there were other alternatives out there and a lot of hearsay. (Some of which is baseless.)

There are some published principles that forge the foundation of Dvorak's design. (See the wikipedia page.) 

My take on Colemak is that Shai had an interest in alternative layouts, and tried to design a layout for Qwerty typists with oft' quoted design principles garnered elsewhere (heavily influenced by Dvorak).  Add to that some trial and error (and feedback from others?), and you've got a labour of love or at least a tool to scratch a personal itch by a hobbyist.  A layout that seems to resonate well with many others (especially Tony_VN!).

Perhaps Shai is just modest and is happy to throw his layout out there for others to assess.  I'm sure there is rhyme and reason behind the layout (hopefully not lost to the annals of history).  Such as most common letters are on the home row etc.  Maybe the website would do well listing these.  Or perhaps the advocates could write a couple of concise blog posts.  I don't know.  I'm just venting my own frustration really.  Please excuse me.

If someone ever has an interest in why I use Dvorak, I try and give them a little overview, and usually add that there are alternatives.  Including Colemak that I describe as a layout that favours existing Qwerty touch typists that is heavily inspired by Dvorak.  I'll remark that both lack a solid scientific backing.   I'm not really a Dvorak or touch typing advocate due to my ongoing discomfort.  So rather annoyingly I just say checkout the wikipedia page, see what you think.

Sorry @jsmithy, I'll shut up now.

Last edited by pinkyache (16-Nov-2013 14:13:19)

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No problem Pinkyache, the frustration over the layout is understandable.  It's a big decision to switch, productivity drops for weeks, time consumed for the practice, and all for essentially intangibles that have no scientific backing (though there is a lot of anecdotal evidence).

All these modern layouts seem to be based on heuristics; they create some metric/statistic they think best approximates hand motion, and then run the computer simulations. The problem with this is really do we trust these measurements to reflect hand motion and typing comfort? I mean, typing comfort and what a person thinks is natural typing is very different, and different layouts seem to cater somewhat to this, hand alternation(Dvorak), finger rolls(Colemak), horizontal movement (Workman). I have a heavy science background and for me I trust if one of these metrics shows a large discrepancy between layouts then there is probably some real effect.  I just don't trust the "this is 5-10% better" to truly be better as I don't trust that these metrics are truly that precise (especially considering the "feel").

So I dug back through some of the sites I used when making my choice.
http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/?component_optimization : QGMLWB (No catchy name here! Or even pronouncable)
http://xahlee.blogspot.com/2011/06/keyb … s-it.html#!
https://forum.colemak.com/viewtopic.php?id=728 : Carpalx author on these forums
http://www.workmanlayout.com/blog/ : The Workman layout
https://normanlayout.info/compare : The Norman layout

Pretty much a standard fare honestly.  Really the only thing they share is that 1) Qwerty is bad, really bad 2) Dvorak and Colemak are good (just not as good as theirs).

To sum this up with a feel good message.  I'm happy with my switch to Colemak, and my friend who took up Dvorak is happy with his choice as well, yay equality. Now to just keep grinding away at my incremental speed improvements.

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pinkyache said:

Even the Colemak web site lacks a compelling argument for the layout:

A. Easy to learn (?), Qwerty shortcuts (!), less work for pinkies (really?) and a link to a gigantic thread which doesn't really answer anything!

* Less keys swapped (easier for Qwerty typists to adopt?)

The website really needs updating, but you're probably tired of hearing me say that.  It really needs to read something like "Less keys swapped (making tarmak feasible!)" and "improved QWERTY shortcuts on the entire friggin left-side, for those technically inclined people who use more than ZXCV".

I'd say that well-specified heuristics are a lot stronger than anecdotes, but in turn a lot weaker than peer-reviewed scientific studies.  Unfortunately, researchers just don't seem interested in this field (I guess they just think "QWERTY is already the de facto leader, so what's the point?") so we have to make do.   

It would, of course, be nice to have the design process on record, but I don't think it's really a big deal in this case.  It would only really help would-be layout designers at this point.  Better to just study the practical results.

Maybe I should learn dvorak just for the heck of it.  I always thought I would prefer hand alternation over rolls, and after adopting vim-like layouts everywhere, the improved Ctrl- shortcuts (what really made the decision) aren't quite as important to me as they used to be.  Not sure I could get used to the l placement, however...

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Again all this talk of rolls?  There's no mention of this on the Colemak site.

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This have been discussed at least 3 times or so.

Based on different factors, you can generate at least 1000 layouts that meet the requirements. Most of them are the same of efficiency, generated by simply shuffling the equivalent keys. Patojk layout analyzer is the best place to try this.

Even with fixed ZXCV and/or fixed QWABM, there would be 20 layouts or so that are equal with Colemak.

Adding individual factors like finger strengths, ideally each person will have his/her own layouts that is most suitable for him/her.

We should have a dedicated topic that named "Layout of the week" where each show their own preferable layouts.

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pinkyache said:

Again all this talk of rolls?  There's no mention of this on the Colemak site.

It's briefly described on, weirdly enough, the hand alternation page.

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Ugh, progress over the last 5 days has not been good.  While typing at ~50wpm isn't slowing me down a lot at work it's still a bit frustrating. Hopefully this is a wall I can break through.

I think I'm worst at what I call flash typing, when I haven't typed for a while then need to type something quickly. I got strange looks from my girlfriend yesterday when she asked me to google something and I typed it out as if I was drugged up sloth.

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jsmithy said:

I think I'm worst at what I call flash typing, when I haven't typed for a while then need to type something quickly. I got strange looks from my girlfriend yesterday when she asked me to google something and I typed it out as if I was drugged up sloth.

I've found this too. I think there are still remnants of QWERTY in my muscle memory, because I often find that the first or second word I type has me pressing the corresponding QWERTY key for one or more letters. This particularly happens if I've been using the mouse for a while and now only need to type a few characters, such as "cd .." which I've typed as "cs .." more than once. Mistakes like this have gradually lessened over the last month, but I think it'll be a while until they're gone completely.

Re: breaking through walls - I've found it very helpful, when hitting a sudden roadblock, to do some focused accuracy practice, slowing right down and making absolutely sure you're hitting every key correctly before pressing it. Gradually increase the pace, slowing down again if you make a mistake, until you're back up to speed. The main purpose of this exercise is to avoid burning incorrect key presses into muscle memory. It's not a cure-all solution by any means - sometimes a sudden drop in performance is simply due to fatigue and may only be reversed by taking an extended break from typing - but certainly worth a shot.

Last edited by Tetrinity (18-Nov-2013 21:16:03)
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Thanks Tetrinity, focusing on accuracy did help, now solidly up to mid 50's.  I got a 56 wpm average today so progress is continuing, albeit slower than I expected considering how much I improved the first 2 weeks.  I guess I'll just slowly get back up to speed over the next month or two.

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1 Month Progress Update.

So its now been about a month since I have started using Colemak and I have recovered about ~75% of my original typing speed while definitely enjoying the feeling of typing more.

TypeRacer: 61 wpm (~95% accuracy)
10fastfingers (best run): 72 wpm (~98% accuracy)
Amphetype (Kafka Metamorphisis, last 10): 62.1 wpm (98.4% accuracy)

I did take a huge performance hit for a week while I transitioned to hitting the spacebar with the opposite hand of the last key typed. After using it for a week or so I can say that sometimes I think the typing is more natural like this, but many times it's not natural as my non-dominant left thumb can be used multiple times in a row and sometimes quick flipping between both thumbs feels awkward.  I very much doubt it will lead to any speed or accuracy improvements, but I'm doing it now and will continue to use the alternation.

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~3 Month checkup.

Well typing in colemak for me is definitely more comfortable than qwerty and getting more and more natural by the day. This goes for both normal typing and for programming. I do feel there is less strain on my fingers on a day to day basis.

Speed wise, well, I am still improving, but very slowly. Measured using my typeracer account, from 0 wpm to 60 wpm took me about 30 days. From 60 wpm to my current 74 wpm, it's taken over 60 days.  All in all, I'm at 90% of my old typing speed after a little over 3 months. At my current rate of progress I will probably be back at my old speed in another 2-3 months, which would put me at about 1/2 year.

With typing speeds I am pretty sure I am faster on the majority of words already, but on certain harder words I will often make mistakes or just slow down significantly.  On those words I think it's just a matter of time before they become more comfortable.  I'm looking at you "unknown" and "edges".

My fastest 10fast fingers score
p6SDlsl.png?1

Last edited by jsmithy (04-Feb-2014 02:42:14)
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