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    That "A" key

    • Started by GuyBarry
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    Hello,

    I'm generally happy with the QWERTY layout most of the time, but one of the things that most annoys me about it is that "A" key under the left-hand little finger.  It's the third commonest letter in the English language, and yet it's under one of the weakest fingers.  Not only that, it's remarkably easy to hit "Caps Lock" by mistake.

    So I had a look at the Dvorak keyboard, and I found that it had the "A" key in exactly the same position.

    Undeterred, I went on to Colemak, and discovered... that it had the  "A" key in exactly the same position!

    I've looked through a number of alternative keyboard layouts since then, and almost all of them seem to have the "A" key in this same annoying position.  Is there a reason for this?

    Last edited by GuyBarry (15-Apr-2018 15:37:55)
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    GuyBarry said:

    I've looked through a number of alternative keyboard layouts since then, and almost all of them seem to have the "A" key in this same annoying position.  Is there a reason for this?

    Hmm, most people complain about keys that *have* moved - notably S - rather than keys that haven't.

    At least A is one of the eight home keys. So you could say that A and S, being two frequent keys, are rare examples where Qwerty doesn't totally mess things up. That's why a lot of layouts tend to leave A alone.

    Some people have argued for pinkies not being used so much, but obviously there is a tradeoff. There are only so many good positions on a keyboard, and Colemak still  does decent job of avoiding excessive pinky use.

    Personally I find A not too bad, as the pinky stays mainly on the middle row. It's worse when the pinky needs to reach the top or bottom rows.  If you don't like A, I guess you must really hate the Qwerty P key!

    Last edited by stevep99 (15-Apr-2018 17:01:54)

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

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    stevep99 said:

    If you don't like A, I guess you must really hate the Qwerty P key!

    I'm not too fond of it, but at least P isn't too common.  One major drawback of Dvorak is that it assigns "L" to this key, which is needed far more often.

    I haven't tried to learn Colemak yet, but given that it retains one of the major problems of the QWERTY keyboard, I'm not sure if I want to.  I'd rather keep QWERTY but with the A and J keys swapped over.

    I note that something like this was tried with the proprietary XPeRT keyboard, but it doesn't seem to be well thought of round here.

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    You may want to look at CarpalX Partial optimization. It makes only 5 (or 10) key swaps from Qwerty, and one of them is A-D:

    qwkrfy.png

    But unlike Colemak (or Dvorak), there's no user community of any significance behind these layouts...

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    Thanks for that.  Apart from XPeRT, it seems to be the only one on this list that doesn't place the A in the same unsatisfactory position.  Seems to be some sort of blind spot amongst keyboard redesigners.

    Last edited by GuyBarry (15-Apr-2018 19:29:45)
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    GuyBarry said:

    Seems to be some sort of blind spot amongst keyboard redesigners.

    ... or an unnecessary obsession from your side ;-)

    I don't think this forum, which has dissected and discussed virtually every single element of the Colemak design, has ever questioned the placement of "A" ...

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    Why not?  It really is the principal thing that annoys me about QWERTY.  I probably wouldn't have even considered switching otherwise.

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    GuyBarry said:

    It really is the principal thing that annoys me about QWERTY.  I probably wouldn't have even considered switching otherwise.

    How can that be possible?
    Qwerty's placement of T and N - the two most common consonants - is diabolical.
    And then consider its placement of J and K - it's almost as though it's taking the mickey.

    Last edited by stevep99 (16-Apr-2018 10:10:45)

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    I don't find either T or N to cause a great deal of difficulty, as they're both struck with the index finger.  I agree that J, and to a lesser extent K, are a waste of space on the home row - that's why I proposed swapping A with J.  I suppose it might make sense to swap K with another key as well.  (I note that the XPeRT keyboard has a second E key in this position, which struck me as an interesting idea.)

    Having the commonest letters under the strongest fingers strikes me as the most sensible principle for keyboard design.

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    GuyBarry said:

    Having the commonest letters under the strongest fingers strikes me as the most sensible principle for keyboard design.

    Keyboard layout design goes a lot further than just putting frequent letters under strong fingers.

    You should for example also take into account same-finger bigrams, which cause strain and slow down typing a lot.  You risk increasing these a lot if you put too-frequent letters (esp. vowels) on the index-fingers, since they operate 6 keys each.

    Merely swapping A/J on Qwerty will eg. cause problematic AN and HA same-finger bigrams, both are very frequent.

    Last edited by ghen (16-Apr-2018 11:43:23)
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    ghen said:

    Keyboard layout design goes a lot further than just putting frequent letters under strong fingers.

    You should for example also take into account same-finger bigrams, which cause strain and slow down typing a lot.  You risk increasing these a lot if you put too-frequent letters (esp. vowels) on the index-fingers, since they operate 6 keys each.

    My thoughts exactly. In my opinion, A is in a good place where it is, because (on an ANSI keyboard) qa/aq bigrams are none existent, therefore the left pinky only has to take care of of this one button, unless you're using an extend layer and it's mapped to Caps Lock (like me, although personally I have no problem with using the left pinky to type A and use the extend layer).

    Swapping J and A would indeed increase the same finger bigram frequency. I've just run a quick test on stevep99's layout analyzer for comparison:

    Spoiler:

    BNf3udH.png

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    ghen said:

    Merely swapping A/J on Qwerty will eg. cause problematic AN and HA same-finger bigrams, both are very frequent.

    That's a good point - I hadn't considered that.  It's more complex than I thought!

    You could swap A with K, I suppose, but then AI becomes difficult.

    Last edited by GuyBarry (16-Apr-2018 12:56:25)
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    If you want to make only one change, bringing E to the home row (swap with K, same position as Colemak E) will be much more beneficial than moving A within the home row.

    See for example this topic: What single change would improve QWERTY the most?  Quoting from it:

    cevgar said:

    As everyone here has pointed out already, the CarpalX site claims the E/K swap is most efficient, and it seems to hold up to scrutiny. E is the most used letter in the English language (something like 9%), and really should be properly seated on the home row. J is the the least frequent letter on the home row, but the H/E, N/E and M/E digraphs kill that one. K is the second least frequent letter on the home row, and under a strong finger, so it makes sense. Conveniently enough, it is also a mirror swap. Same finger, just a different hand. Those are supposed to be easier to adapt to.

    Last edited by ghen (16-Apr-2018 13:38:52)
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    ghen said:

    I don't think this forum, which has dissected and discussed virtually every single element of the Colemak design, has ever questioned the placement of "A" ...

    Oh, I'm not so sure about that. I seem to remember some discussion, although I can't point to a link. In particular, it's been noted that A is in fact the most common letter in Portuguese, as pretty much the only Western language – in nearly all the others E have that honor if I recall correctly.

    But it's not been up for scrutiny in quite a while. And while there's some worry about pinky strain the pinkies are remarkably agile after all and have all these "janitor" tasks. Mine really gets a workout with the Extend key (on Caps), and never complains. He's such a brave little fellow. ;-)

    Thumbs are ranger/warrior class, strong and dexterous. Pinkies are rogues. Ring fingers are stronger than pinkies but completely stupid... guess their class is peasant! :-p

    Last edited by DreymaR (16-Apr-2018 13:59:30)

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    All right, so how about a three-way swap?

    E to the K position
    A to the E position
    K to the A position

    The "QWARTY" keyboard :-)

    That would improve the accessibility of both E and A, without causing any major bigram problems that I can see.  AD and DA are both fairly common, but no more common than ED and DE (I'm guessing).

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    DreymaR said:

    Oh, I'm not so sure about that. I seem to remember some discussion, although I can't point to a link. In particular, it's been noted that A is in fact the most common letter in Portuguese, as pretty much the only Western language – in nearly all the others E have that honor if I recall correctly.

    Check out this little beauty!

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

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    I ran "QWARTY" through the layout analyser and got this.  The top same-finger bigram was AD on 0.005161:

                    position    bigrams   total
    finger 0    0.01551    0.00066    0.01617
    finger 1    0.13029    0.00578    0.13607
    finger 2    0.20279    0.01853    0.22132
    finger 3    0.61795    0.05373    0.67168
    finger 6    0.53420    0.04154    0.57575
    finger 7    0.30046    0.02206    0.32252
    finger 8    0.26045    0.02517    0.28562
    finger 9    0.05943    0.00454    0.06397

    total *    2.12108    0.17201    2.29309

    An improvement over QWERTY in both respects.

    Hours of endless fun!  I think I've just discovered a new toy :)

    Last edited by GuyBarry (16-Apr-2018 19:46:49)
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    GuyBarry said:

    All right, so how about a three-way swap?

    That's what she said...

    You're now officially deranged. Enjoy. ;-)

    stevep99 said:

    Now, that is a beauty! I swiped it for my locale post. <3

    I was only almost right it seems. Icelandic is quite small, but the Irish and Welsh shouldn't be ignored of course. And ignoring the Basque can be dangerous it seems. ;-)

    Last edited by DreymaR (17-Apr-2018 08:58:41)

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    GuyBarry said:

    All right, so how about a three-way swap?

    E to the K position
    A to the E position
    K to the A position

    The "QWARTY" keyboard :-)

    That would improve the accessibility of both E and A, without causing any major bigram problems that I can see.  AD and DA are both fairly common, but no more common than ED and DE (I'm guessing).

    According to the layout analyser, this layout is actually worse than the one only swapping E/K.

    (But still better than Qwerty, due to moving E.  So it seems you have put three steps forward, then two steps back. ;-))

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    ghen said:

    According to the layout analyser, this layout is actually worse than the one only swapping E/K.

    That's because in my layout analyzer, the Qwerty E key position is by default rated slightly worse than the Qwerty A position. I think that's not unreasonable, as most people seem to think the four home keys are best. The key-effort ratings are adjustable though, so GuyBarry can adjust the effort values of the A and E keys if he desires, to try to find a layout that's perfect for him :P

    Last edited by stevep99 (17-Apr-2018 11:34:06)

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

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    DreymaR said:

    I was only almost right it seems. Icelandic is quite small, but the Irish and Welsh shouldn't be ignored of course. And ignoring the Basque can be dangerous it seems. ;-)

    The map seems to imply an overestimate on some of those smaller languages mind - I guess they are just colouring in regions based on the language name rather than suggesting the languages are widely spoken in the region coloured. Most people in Ireland can't speak Irish and even fewer people in Wales can speak Welsh.

    Last edited by stevep99 (17-Apr-2018 12:02:00)

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

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    Good points. So I was actually quite right after all. Goody! ^_^

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    stevep99 said:
    ghen said:

    According to the layout analyser, this layout is actually worse than the one only swapping E/K.

    That's because in my layout analyzer, the Qwerty E key position is by default rated slightly worse than the Qwerty A position.

    I think the QWERTY E position is an easy one to reach, because the middle finger is longer than the other fingers, so you can keep all your other fingers on the home row and still hit it with ease.   The QWERTY "E" and "I" keys are probably the two most accessible keys on the top row.

    In practice, I almost never hit the "A" key with my little finger as I'm supposed to.  My hand moves to the left and I hit it with my ring finger.  (I hadn't even consciously realised this until I thought about it just now.)  That's probably why I make so many mistakes while typing - my hands are constantly moving out of position to accommodate the awkward keyboard layout.  I suspect many QWERTY typists do the same sort of thing.

    When I tried to learn Dvorak, I made a point of always keeping strictly to the correct finger positions, and one thing I noticed that there was a lot more strain on my left-hand little finger.  The "A" key hadn't moved, but my hand had moved.

    So I think I would rate QWERTY "E" position above QWERTY "A" position, myself.

    I think that's not unreasonable, as most people seem to think the four home keys are best. The key-effort ratings are adjustable though, so GuyBarry can adjust the effort values of the A and E keys if he desires, to try to find a layout that's perfect for him :P

    I'll have a play around with the ratings then.  Thanks very much for coming up with the analyser - it's extremely useful!

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