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My layout switching experience

  • Started by engiwengi
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A bit of a story.

I learned qwerty in primary school and have used it my entire life, now in my final year of my bachelor's. I was fairly good; I could usually type at about 110 wpm without a problem on basic online tests such as 10fastfingers. The idea of any other way of typing never even crossed my mind.

I first learned about alternative keyboard layouts when I stumbled upon some blog or article describing the Dvorak keyboard layout about 4 years ago. Now I’ll let you know that I absolutely love maximizing efficiency and all things related – so obviously it was love at first sight. Many times, I rushed into trying to learn Dvorak cold turkey but eventually I would hang my head in shame and revert back to qwerty due to the sheer effort and pain required to switch.

On perhaps the 7th or 8th time I attempted the switch (over the course of 4 years) I actually stuck with it for a while – about a week. I was up to 40 or so words per minute, and it really was feeling pretty great. Unfortunately, something about the layout became more and more blindingly obvious. Most might say the position of the L, but for me the positions of U and I were just so nonsensical I couldn't believe it. Every time I had to move my hand from the useless U and click I it infuriated me more and more. I had to find something better.

By this point I had heard about Colemak, but brushed it off for whatever reason. I finally took a proper look at it, and decided to do some proper research this time. I discovered some irritation about the positions of H and D, similar to my disdain of Dvorak’s misplaced I. I gave it a go nonetheless, got up to about 20 words per minute and it was already clear I had the same problem. I found Colemak Mod DH on May 14th and immediately fell in love – for real this time.

Quickly my proficiency sky rocketed, I hit 50 words per minute in about a week, 70 after 2 and 90 after 3. Now about 5 or 6 weeks later I’m quite happily hitting 100 wpm, though I do not practice even one tenth as much as I did in the last 3 weeks than the first 3 weeks. Importantly, I’m using 10 Fast Fingers to measure it, on Key Hero with more realistic writing I usually get anywhere between 80 and 100 wpm for a quote.

I love Colemak and I’m very happy I switched, and have recommended it to everyone that I think is nerdy enough to be interested! Also thank you stevep99 for creating Mod DH, I don’t think I would have without your contributions to the community. DreymaR's enthusiasm and contributions have also come in handy and been an inspiration :) I have since recommended it to my best friend, brother, and even my father, who are all interested in making the switch. I believe my brother is at about 30 wpm on Colemak-DH!

My method.

Stage 1: Layout Memorization
WPM: 0 - 15
Time in stage: 1-2 hours (Day 1)
I used this website http://first20hours.github.io/keyzen-colemak/ and simply worked through from the beginning until I could consistently do the entire alphabet. I had the layout open in a separate window that allowed me to check when I wasn’t sure of a letter. Once I had completed all of the letters I minimized the layout and continued for a while, not allowing myself to check.

Stage 2: Common N-grams and Words
WPM: 15 - 30
Time in stage: 2-3 hours (Week 1)
After memorizing the layout I completely eliminated the picture to allow me to check for letters. I used websites https://zentyping.mrap.me/#/ and https://10fastfingers.com/top1000 to let me train on the most common words and bigrams. Particularly 10 fast fingers top 1000 was helpful as it contained extremely common words.

Other notable things were occasionally using Colemak-DH for instant messaging.

Stage 3: General Practice
WPM: 30 - 50
Time in stage: 5 - 6 hours (Week 1)
By this point I was starting to work up a flow and getting used to the layout, I exclusively switched to Colemak-DH for any non-time constrained things such as commenting on reddit, emails, and instant messaging friends. I started using https://10fastfingers.com/typing-test/english and https://www.keyhero.com/free-typing-test/ as my go-to for improving and tracking wpm. This stage was primarily just practice.

Other notable things were very often when I would read a word or sentence away from my computer I would envision how to type it (I know it sounds weird but it felt like really good practice).

Stage 4: Time Constraints, Specific Letters, and Amphetype
WPM: 50 – 70
Time in stage: Week 2 (about 2 hours a day of focused practice)
I switched entirely to Colemak-DH, taking a hefty hit to my daily WPM. This was a huge deal, as I had a large assignment due and decided to write it entirely using Colemak-DH. I think this was critical to my experience, and really pushed me over the edge from just learning Colemak-DH to using Colemak-DH. I wrote the assignment over the course of a two days or so and my wpm went from 48-52 to 58-62 after completion, I think the fact that I really needed to type quickly to get the assignment done on time helped.

At this point I was decent at typing all of the common letters, but lacked the ability to quickly type less common letters such as j, b, q etc. J in particular really hit me. At this stage I used http://www.keybr.com/practice as it allowed me to work on particular letters, I did this until the program said I had no letters to train on. I also found DreymaR’s post about Amphetype at this point. Downloaded it and particularly used the Focused Lessons part of his guide, which was a great help to my accuracy.

Stage 5: Flow
WPM: 70 - 90
Time in Stage: Week 3 (about 2 hours a day of focused practice)
Continuing to use Colemak-DH in everyday use, I still trained a couple hours everyday. I continued primarily to use Amphetype, https://10fastfingers.com/typing-test/english, and https://www.keyhero.com/free-typing-test/. At this point it was all about getting faster without losing accuracy. I focused strictly on typing like my keyboard was a piano, with fixed times between presses. This kept accuracy high and sped me up on less common words. Getting up to the 90s involved thinking about words I could type quickly and smashing them out, while slowing down on less frequent or harder words.

I also typed the majority of my thesis progress report during this stage, which helped immensely.

Stage 6: Everyday Usage
WPM: 90+
At 90, I felt happy with my speed. At this point I stopped focused training and now simply use Colemak-DH all the time.

Words I like:
start, question, -ould, nine, nearest, sentence
Words I dislike:
sometimes

nonstanionaries and entertainers are also quite novelty :)

I hope someone gets inspiration, interest, or just happy to see another colemak convert from this post! Thanks for reading.


20/06/2017 10ff Personal Best
11/08/2017 10ff Personal Best
03/09/2017 10ff Personal Best
12/09/2017 New 10ff Personal Best

Last edited by engiwengi (11-Sep-2017 15:08:39)
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Thanks for the nice writeup, and grats with your good Colemak-Curl(DH) experience and speeds!

Are you using the unified DH-mod, by the way?

Last edited by DreymaR (20-Jun-2017 13:31:45)

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Yes, I am. I suppose I should be thanking you as well for that? :)

It actually messed me up a little because I had started with stevep99's original version for a week or two then noticed that the layout had switched on his website when I was showing it to a friend... ended up downloading the merged layout that night and working incessantly to relearn M and K! I figured I should since I was still in the learning stage at that point.

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its possible to get good at 'sometimes' - trick is to break it up into two separate words in your head/fingers then it becomes quick and easy

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bph said:

its possible to get good at 'sometimes' - trick is to break it up into two separate words in your head/fingers then it becomes quick and easy

Yeah, great tip, that's what I try to do. There's just something awkward about the way my fingers have to roll that they just don't like it. Feels like something to do with the joint between my middle and ring finger perhaps.

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Thanks for the write-up, it's always good to get reports, and especially from people who have successfully made the switch to Mod-DH!
Sorry about the M-K switch, but at least now we have a DH that everyone is happy with, so I'm sure it will not change again.

You have taken to it very well, if your speed is anything to go by - in fact you have already overtaken me!  Makes me wonder who is the fastest DH typist is!

Last edited by stevep99 (21-Jun-2017 21:24:58)

Using Colemak Mod-DH with some additional ergonomic keyboard mods.

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Thanks Steve, no worries about the M-K switch, took a day or two to get used to, messed up a couple of common words I had gotten used to, but that's it. I have to be honest though I didn't really feel many benefits except the somewhat rare -LK words like talk, walk, etc were a tad easier. The more common ME bigram I guess I didn't notice as much, but it really pales in comparison to TH or HE, where it's nearly immediately noticeable.

I also noticed my right index was 'curling' a bit more - wanting to hover more above H, M and N, rather than just sitting on N. I don't really feel this on my left hand which lead to a slight feeling of imbalance, but I got used to it very quickly and don't notice anymore. I don't regret changing to the 'agreed upon' version, so no worries.

Recommending the layout to friends and family has led me to wonder about some things too, primarily a rough estimate of how many people are actively using Colemak or even Mod DH. Would be some interesting stats... I suppose the number of downloads you have on your github could give an extremely rough estimate if you assume 5-10% of people follow through with the switch.

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Good to hear that somebody listened for your recommendations and willing to try new layout. I can not tell the same about my surrounding. People look to my hobby as to a harmless geekiness. My brother told that in his opinion 99.99% of computer users do not care about switching from qwerty The only little respect I got from my coworkers when they found out that I'm using keyboard with no legend (blank keycaps) at work.

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engiwengi said:

I also noticed my right index was 'curling' a bit more - wanting to hover more above H, M and N, rather than just sitting on N. I don't really feel this on my left hand which lead to a slight feeling of imbalance, but I got used to it very quickly and don't notice anymore.

Interesting observation! My hovering seems balanced. I keep my index finger tips over the homing nubs, which are the usual type at the lower edge of the keys. This leads to a slight curl, as my middle and ring fingers naturally hover at the upper edge of their keys and the pinkies at the middle. Keeping my wrists straight, this feels natural and relaxing. Both hands feel the same, pretty much.

I thought about hovering the inder fingers over the "triple point" between the TVD and NMH keys (in the Curl mod), but that felt a little too far. One side effect of the Angle/Curl mods is that the upper-row index finger keys (PB and JL) become just a little harder to reach. I don't want to exaggerate that effect.

One nice thing about triple point hovering would've been the reduced need for homing nubs. On the right hand, I'm missing the nub because I have an unmodded laptop physical board and use the Wide ergo mod which leaves the nubbed key at K (Colemak-vanilla H). I've scratched the home key a little to make it more tactile, but it's not quite enough. But ah well, I'm fine with this.

Last edited by DreymaR (22-Jun-2017 10:26:39)

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What I do for all my keyboards is, while leaving qwerty at them, I switch J and K because of homing bump. I really need it for touch typing in wide mod. Many laptop keyboards allow to switch keycaps as well, while sometimes homing keys may have a special bracing.

Last edited by ckofy (23-Jun-2017 20:32:23)
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Yes, that'll work but it's ugly and not always possible. On my Unicomp board I swapped N with an unmarked black key (originially from the down arrow). But yeah, there aren't always really good solutions available.

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Hehe, that depends on your (or rather, my) level of OCD tendencies! :-Þ

The board is a true wonder, and my most deeply awed congratulations on making it!

To me however, that part of the board looks ugly because it's neither fish nor fowl. It's QWERTY but with two keys misplaced. Sure, I don't actually look at the keys as I type but a thing like that is in fact enough to tick me off in the long run. And I do see my keyboard pretty much every day so I'd certainly like to avoid this (minor but constant) annoyance. YMMV. ;-)

That's why the unmarked black key was the best solution for me. It stands out, but not as a misplaced key. Rather, it's a visual design element. I wish I had another unmarked but nubbed key – then I could replace the T as well for symmetry. Nice!

Maybe I do have another black nubbed IBM cap lying around somewhere, hmmm...

Last edited by DreymaR (25-Jun-2017 11:13:29)

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DreymaR, I can not believe that you telling this. You are using custom layout that is not known by overwhelming majority of computer users, and you worry about "qwerty with two keys misplaced"? Let's count how many of them "misplaced" in layout you are using daily. I would consider that a benefit that in case of swapping J and K, K is located on the key which is actually type K in wide Colemak DH. I may tell you that when I show my keyboards with swapped J and K to other people, they do not notice that swap until they start typing. It is really not so visible as, say, turned over space bar. I do that with space bar so it is more convenient to press it with thumbs. No need to say that all these tricks are doable at mechanical keyboards. I do not believe in low profile keyboards with low travel keys and sincerely think that laptop keyboards should burn in hell. :)

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ckofy said:

I may tell you that when I show my keyboards with swapped J and K to other people, they do not notice that swap until they start typing.

Actually, in my experience, people don't notice the keyboard layout at all until they start typing, even if it's significantly different. I have previously worked with people for several days, using my laptop with it's rearranged Mod-DH layout, without them noticing. Often what happens, at some point they will want to type something on your laptop, and then you get the expressions of shock and confusing when weird letters come up. That's when you need to have The Conversation.

I think when you get into keyboard layouts, you start to develop a "layout eye" that ordinary users don't have!

Last edited by stevep99 (26-Jun-2017 12:30:26)

Using Colemak Mod-DH with some additional ergonomic keyboard mods.

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ckofy said:

DreymaR, I can not believe that you telling this. You are using custom layout that is not known by overwhelming majority of computer users, and you worry about "qwerty with two keys misplaced"? Let's count how many of them "misplaced" in layout you are using daily.

Then you didn't understand what I was trying to say. In the layout I'm using the keys are all correctly placed according to that layout. I don't mind typing on a board that's marked with QWERTY because I don't look at the letter keys while typing. I dislike typing AngleWide-modded on an unmodded board but I can deal with that.

However, swapping two keys on a board creates a visual dissonance for me. As I said, I may have a touch of obsessive-compulsive behavior. And as SteveP pointed out, having modded keyboards since 2007 I'm very visually focused on layouts.

On a side note, I found another nubbed black key! So here's the result - my Unicomp board with ninja nubs for both homing positions:

    Colemak-CAW_Unicomp_DreymaR_2017-06.png?dl=1

Not entirely sure how I like that. I'll give it a day or two before I decide.

Last edited by DreymaR (27-Jun-2017 09:44:02)

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I can understand your reasoning, I'm just kidding. :) You board looks great! I have one old IBM Model M terminal board, and it amaze me how easy the keys can be re-labeled on this one. Keys with tactile bumps are still the problem though. BTW, I have some experience of using "old style" home bump keys, where the bump is not a raised dash at the bottom of the key, but a raised dot in the middle of the key. I found this convenient, and it may be easier to make that stile of nob yourself in a not nobbed key.

Last edited by ckofy (27-Jun-2017 21:00:08)
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I haven't used any nub-in-the-middle keys myself. Because of the Curl mod, I think I prefer my nubs at the bottom now. I feel that my ideal index finger resting position is precisely over the modern-style nubs.

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Quick Update: Went to on vacation for a month and went right back to Colemak no problems. I've noticed I feel even more comfortable on Colemak after taking a break, feeling very good.

Planning to go the way of the wide layout myself once I buy my new keyboard. The layout is quite surprisingly cusomizable and fully programmable, so I've gone for a sort of ANSI + ISO layout, and most excitedly has a split spacebar. Looking forward to getting it, cant wait to try out the split spacebar, just praying that I can get used to it. You can see my current plan for the layout here. All of the blank keys I haven't exactly decided what to put on them, but likely keys I won't use often. On the extend layer I think it will be mostly DreymaR's except with some modifications.

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Nice, I hadn't noticed that clueboard supports a variety of different arrangements for space bar & bottom row keys. I can't imagine why anyone would *choose* to have the massive 6.5x single space bar when there were other better options available.

Your layout looks good! My main suggestion is, with so many nicely positioned thumb keys on that keyboard, I'd be strongly tempted to have Extend on one of them. I'm not even sure you need Backspace there, I find that, once used to using Extend, there is no need for a dedicated backspace key at all! Shift is in a good position, it should work well there.

Last edited by stevep99 (11-Aug-2017 15:58:27)

Using Colemak Mod-DH with some additional ergonomic keyboard mods.

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Yeah, I think many people stick with the default ANSI/ISO layout simply due to the ubiquity of it. Getting keycap sets in the default layout is guaranteed and no need to fuss around trying to get different sized keycaps for particular rows and such. For me, I feel like the usefulness of a split spacebar outweighs that, but I can understand it at the least.

I'm inclined to agree that having extend on the bottom row might be better, was just sort of sticking with the idea of remapping capslock since I'm used to it. I definitely want extend on the left hand, perhaps I'll try the key to the left of spacebar. Although can't say I'm a fan of using backspace on the extend layer, I'm sort of a backspace masher! (I know it's bad...)

Also updated the OP yesterday with my latest 10fastfingers PB, 115 wpm. Though honestly I rarely get higher than 105 in 10ff and 95 or so in keyhero (punctuation and rare words are hard!)

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A nice thing about Extend Backspace is that I at least tend to use Ctrl with it much more (that is, Extend+T+O)! Which again means far less mashing.

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Yes, perhaps I should try and convert to extend backspace. There's just something slightly uncomfortable about having to click two keys to backspace while I'm trying to type quickly. I feel like I haven't quite gotten used to using the extend layer as much as I would like. Having to move my hands away from my keyboard for the mouse so often makes me forget about it. If only putting a trackpoint/pointing stick on a mechanical keyboard was feasible... Gives me an idea for a custom keyboard!

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Managed a surprise 119, weird because it was far from flawless. Messed up a lot - definitely think a 120+ is coming soon if I try a few times in the coming days. Also got 130-135 or so on a quote in keyhero during some practice, however it doesn't really seem fair when you get a nice short easy quote.

g19GPeY.png

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Managed a 122 tonight, new milestone crossed. I'm thinking 130wpm highscore by the end of the year? I might be the fastest Colemak-DH user in the world!

HVAnV8m.png

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