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Emacs user learning Colemak, slowly

  • Started by jfmcbrayer
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So, nothing too much special about my Colemak story. I guess the only interesting bit is that I don't have a strong reason to learn it. I don't really have RSI -- only a touch in my right hand which is more mouse-related than keyboard-related. I touch-type about 90WPM on QWERTY with about 99% accuracy. I'm a long-time Emacs user, but don't have Emacs-pinky.

I suppose I'm just learning it for fun while I wait for keyboard.io to crowdfund. I'm going through "Learn Colemak in 9 days", a little bit slower than one lesson per day (I'm doing a lesson every day, but sometimes I repeat one rather than moving on).

A couple of observations.

  1. The errors I'm making are more likely to be hitting the opposite-hand Colemak key (e.g., r for i or e for s and vice-versa) than hitting the QWERTY key.

  2. Colemak is really terrible for gesture typing (in SwiftKey Flow), for a lot of the reasons it's good for touch typing -- you're just moving back and forth on the home row.

I'll update as I proceed. I'm not up to the point of actually measuring typing speed yet.

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As you read our experience forum, during transition usually people complains firstly about RS, then EIO or LUY, then PG.

RS is the first complaint and you can get over it within a fortnight/month. Others takes more time to master.

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I'm a heavy emacs user. I have stuck with the CAPS as CTRL as opposed to the Colemak backspace to keep the left-hand pinky in good shape.

Also I used the Tarmak system to learn Colemak and found it to be very good in helping the transition

I now use Dreymars wide angle mods on full Colemak and really rate it all - glad I made the switch

I wasn't a fast qwerty typist at about 50wpm hunt and peck, so I have easily superceded that, currently at about the 70wpm mark with an accuracy > 98%

That keyboard.io looks a lot like ergodox. I would wager that it will end up just being a very expensive DIY keyboard (Its the cost of the switches that do it). You'd probably be better off keeping an eye out for a 2nd hand Kinesis or Maltron. Or the poor mans option is to get an old microsoft 4000. A middle ground could be a typematrix..

Colmeak feels great and definitely worth the pain associated with learning, taken me approx 10 months to get this far

Last edited by bph (17-Apr-2014 13:46:39)
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bph said:

I'm a heavy emacs user. I have stuck with the CAPS as CTRL as opposed to the Colemak backspace to keep the left-hand pinky in good shape.

Yeah, I'm considering that. The backspace on CAPS has been pretty useful in the typing tutorials, but I do rely on CAPS as CTRL in Emacs. I may be able to set up a 'tap for backspace, hold for control' setup. I know AHK can do that for Windows; don't know how I'll do it on Linux. Some variation of this, I suppose.

bph said:

That keyboard.io looks a lot like ergodox. I would wager that it will end up just being a very expensive DIY keyboard (Its the cost of the switches that do it). You'd probably be better off keeping an eye out for a 2nd hand Kinesis or Maltron. Or the poor mans option is to get an old microsoft 4000. A middle ground could be a typematrix..

It is a lot like Ergodox, but it's not DIY. I can't be trusted with a soldering iron, so Ergodox is out for me. I'm hoping that keyboard.io will end up being cheaper than a secondhand Kinesis Advantage (not interested in Kinesis Freestyle, because it's the thumb keys I'm interested in). We won't know for a few months yet. I have a Microsoft 4000 at work, and it's not a bad keyboard. Probably the best mass-market keyboard, and very reasonably priced. I'm considering a TrulyErgonomic, too, but that's just as much as a used Kinesis.

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I think you'll love C-r and C-s; good luck!

jfmcbrayer said:

Yeah, I'm considering that. The backspace on CAPS has been pretty useful in the typing tutorials, but I do rely on CAPS as CTRL in Emacs. I may be able to set up a 'tap for backspace, hold for control' setup. I know AHK can do that for Windows; don't know how I'll do it on Linux. Some variation of this, I suppose.

I haven't actually tried either of these, but:

https://github.com/alols/xcape
https://gitorious.org/at-home-modifier

jfmcbrayer said:

Colemak is really terrible for gesture typing (in SwiftKey Flow), for a lot of the reasons it's good for touch typing -- you're just moving back and forth on the home row.

Check out this thread also.

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lalop said:

I think you'll love C-r and C-s; good luck!

I use the opposite-hand control just like I do with shift, so that shouldn't be a big deal. (Assuming sarcasm here, but I can't actually tell.)

lalop said:

I haven't actually tried either of these, but:

https://github.com/alols/xcape
https://gitorious.org/at-home-modifier

Yeah, after following a couple of links, it seems like xcape is the best and standard solution. I may also try using SPC as both SPC and CTRL with xcape.

lalop said:
jfmcbrayer said:

Colemak is really terrible for gesture typing (in SwiftKey Flow), for a lot of the reasons it's good for touch typing -- you're just moving back and forth on the home row.

Check out this thread also.

I'm looking at that right now. I tried MessageEase a long time ago on my previous tablet, and wasn't impressed. The learning curve was too high, and at the time it didn't have word completion, so you had to hit the top of the learning curve before seeing any benefit at all. I'm giving it another try right now. It's eased a bit by the fact that the tap keys are mostly the same as the Colemak home row, and everything seems a bit less random now. It's going to take a while before my ME speed overtakes my SK speed, though.

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jfmcbrayer said:
lalop said:

I think you'll love C-r and C-s; good luck!

I use the opposite-hand control just like I do with shift, so that shouldn't be a big deal. (Assuming sarcasm here, but I can't actually tell.)

I don't actually see how it could be sarcasm.  What I meant was that their new locales make a whole lot more sense given their usual functions (backward search and forward search).

jfmcbrayer said:

I'm looking at that right now. I tried MessageEase a long time ago on my previous tablet, and wasn't impressed. The learning curve was too high, and at the time it didn't have word completion, so you had to hit the top of the learning curve before seeing any benefit at all. I'm giving it another try right now. It's eased a bit by the fact that the tap keys are mostly the same as the Colemak home row, and everything seems a bit less random now. It's going to take a while before my ME speed overtakes my SK speed, though.

I would say that its more important utility is accuracy (when the keys are set to large), making programs like vimtouch much simpler to use than with typewriter-style keyboards(especially now that they've added a few modifiers).

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lalop said:
jfmcbrayer said:
lalop said:

I think you'll love C-r and C-s; good luck!

I use the opposite-hand control just like I do with shift, so that shouldn't be a big deal. (Assuming sarcasm here, but I can't actually tell.)

I don't actually see how it could be sarcasm.  What I meant was that their new locales make a whole lot more sense given their usual functions (backward search and forward search).

I wasn't sure. I thought that you might be suggesting those chords are hard to type. But what you say makes perfect sense now.

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So, I've finished the tutorials, and am now working in practicing to improve speed and accuracy. I said before that I wasn't having trouble with mixing up the Colemak and QWERTY keys, but with hand mirroring. Unfortunately, now that I've added the less common letters to my Colemak repertoire, I am mixing up Colemak and QWERTY keys -- but only immediately after typing a letter that's the same in both layouts.

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About MessagEase: It's got word completion now (not that I use it because I don't like word completion). And if you want something that seems less random you could read about my "Colemakoid" MessagEase in that thread. I found it a lot more logical and pleasing to put QWFPG/ZXCVB/JLUY/KM in analogous positions to their Colemak ones, and I feel it helped me learn the layout easily. Can't judge whether it's quite as fast as the default layout as I'm the only user I know of, but I don't see why not.

As of today, you'd have to remap it by hand but that's not hard to do I think.

Last edited by DreymaR (22-Apr-2014 09:27:41)

*** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
*** Check out my Big Bag of Keyboard Tricks for Win/Linux/TMK... ***

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I'm getting used to MessageEase's default layout, and I can see why some things were placed the way they were (minimizing distance covered by common di/trigraphs).

On the Colemak front, I'm having RS troubles as I start trying to type more fluently.

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rs took me months to sort out, but it is worth it

hows your wpm shaping up?

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bph said:

rs took me months to sort out, but it is worth it

hows your wpm shaping up?

Terrible, so far, but understandable, given that I'm not practicing very much each day. I'm almost to the point of being able to use Colemak whenever I'm not in a hurry, but I'm not always doing so. Right now, I'm at about 18 WPM with 97% accuracy.

Last edited by jfmcbrayer (25-Apr-2014 20:31:22)
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Close to cracking 20 WPM now...got 19.5 with 99.5 accuracy, though it was on an easy sample.

Update: 21.2 (98.0) and 20.4 (97.8) today. Not thrilled about my accuracy. It looks like my biggest problem is with letters that are close to, but not exactly in, their QWERTY positions, especially when they immediately follow ones that are.

Last edited by jfmcbrayer (29-Apr-2014 16:54:48)
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jfmcbrayer said:

Close to cracking 20 WPM now...got 19.5 with 99.5 accuracy, though it was on an easy sample.

Update: 21.2 (98.0) and 20.4 (97.8) today. Not thrilled about my accuracy. It looks like my biggest problem is with letters that are close to, but not exactly in, their QWERTY positions, especially when they immediately follow ones that are.

I'm only up to P and G on my given typing tutor (first two letters it's introduced that are off the home row).  So far, I'd concur with your statement.  D and S have been the most difficult for me.  Sometimes N will also Qwertify without realizing it and strike the wrong key, but not as nearly as much as D&S.

I dunno why D is such a trouble for me, it's a different finger and requires finger movement! :Z

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Up to 22 WPM today, which is about what I'm used to on a mobile keyboard.

I know it must have been this frustrating when I was learning to type QWERTY, but that was over 20 years ago, and I don't remember it. All I remember was breaking 40 WPM in one semester of high school (on an IBM Selectric, not a computer!). and 90 WPM by my second year of college.

The good (?) news is that, at least when I am trying to type fast, my Colemak muscle memory is starting to interfere with my QWERTY muscle memory, especially for "the" and words containing it.

Last edited by jfmcbrayer (30-Apr-2014 13:59:24)
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unfy said:

I'm only up to P and G on my given typing tutor (first two letters it's introduced that are off the home row).  So far, I'd concur with your statement.  D and S have been the most difficult for me.  Sometimes N will also Qwertify without realizing it and strike the wrong key, but not as nearly as much as D&S.

I dunno why D is such a trouble for me, it's a different finger and requires finger movement! :Z

For me, it's R and S (though I think I've mentioned that before). I also have trouble with D and G, but that's a QWERTYism for sure.

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Down to 22.1 WPM today, though still with 97.6% accuracy. Today is my first day trying to use emacs with Colemak. Not going great. Actual typing speeds are worse than tests would indicate.

Hated letters: G, D, L, ;, but almost anything else, because of QWERTY interference. I have less interference when doing a typing test, because it's its own unique context.

Last edited by jfmcbrayer (05-May-2014 19:00:21)
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You're supposed to dislike the letters that get a worse placement in Colemak because they didn't deserve the one they had in QWERTY. I remember how nice the period and comma felt on Dvorak – but it turns out they have it a little too comfortable there. Oddly enough, the J isn't as annoying as, say, G, which goes to show just how rare the J is.

Furthermore, this can lead to some shortcut dilemmas like JK as navigation keys in Vim, and G shortcuts as you've noted. Since they're well placed for a shortcut on QWERTY, common shortcuts can be mapped to these keys. Ah well, at least it's not so bad as the `~^ symbols that are dead keys on my locale keyboard and used in code! :D

Last edited by DreymaR (06-May-2014 11:14:58)

*** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
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problem i had was that i didn't/don't touch type a lot of the emacs keyb shortcuts, e.g M-gg

e.g. I was looking at the keys in a hunt and peck style

Therefore I was making a lot of mistakes and it was frustrating

What helped me was a judicious rearrangement of some of my keycaps

I know this is frowned upon as it can encourage you to look at the keys and therefore not type correctly but it helps a lot with emacs

Months later and emacs is no longer a problem - I've completely reprogrammed all the shortcut s in my head

as someone else mentioned C-r and C-s are much better under colemak and they get used a lot

persist and all will become clear..

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Thanks, Dreymar and bph. I'm currently in cold-turkey mode at work, so things should improve fairly quickly.

I'm using BigCtrl, which helps with the loss of Caps for Ctrl.

Fortunately, in my head, most of the emacs key sequences are "these letters", not "these fingers", so there's less interference than there might be. C-g and C-s are kind of exceptions, so I'm adjusting more slowly there.

Also ';' is giving me the agita. I may remap it at some point, maybe swap it with "'".

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At first, I was all over remapping things, such as moving the minus key elsewhere and getting an unshifted plus key. But now I use the standard variants for those keys – except for the Wide/Angle mod of course. It's less confusing and in the end good enough for me.

*** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
*** Check out my Big Bag of Keyboard Tricks for Win/Linux/TMK... ***

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Let me add how much I hate typing passphrases right now.

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hey dreymar, i did think your mods to the no. row were a step to far - you have reverted to standard for the top row now?

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bph said:

What helped me was a judicious rearrangement of some of my keycaps

I know this is frowned upon as it can encourage you to look at the keys and therefore not type correctly but it helps a lot with emacs.

I'm kind of wanting the 4keyboard.com Colemak stickers, but my work keyboard, where I really need them, is a Microsoft Natural 4000, and the labels on the keys are centered, not in the upper left, so the sticker labels would probably overlap.

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