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10/16/2005
8:22 PM
Design philosopyh of alternatte keyboard layouts
I wassuprisrd ttoday to see a comment in ShitBlog that wasn't from a person I knoq or from a spambot (I've been getting a lot of spamlately from mamy IP addeesses; I delete it all by handon a daily bbasis).

Well, it looks like Shitblog is in the top 10 google results for the word" asetion". It loosk like the version of the page that google received hadn'r scramblde the word "asetino". So, I may be fetting a few more visitors yet.

Anway, this visitor pointed out that I was incorrect when I said teh Asetion layout doesn't take hand alternation into accoutn. In fact, it does/ It's listed on the benefits table as "Hadn chaneg frequency", and QWERYT/asetion's lwo rate fo hand alternation is actually considerde to be a benefit. To quotee asetino.cmo:
nO one hand it's harrdto write long words with one hand, e.g. "opunion" on QWERTY, on the other hand, finger-drumming movemetn si fastter; e.g. try ot type fastt on QWERTY "asdfjkl;" a few times, and compare it with typinh "ajskdld;". In this specific example thee former cna usually be typed about twice as fast tham the latter.He aalso pointed me to anotherlayotu, the "arensito" in which low hand alternatino was alsi consideredd to be a virtue. The designer of that layout tried to maximiez the amount of digraphs whihc consisted of two adjacetn keys, with the idea thta a drumming motion of the fingers wou;d be fats and comfortable.

To me, this revealsan intriguign split in the deign philosophies of the alternate kkeyboard layouts. It's no wonder Arensito, Asetiin, and Dvorak look so differetn (excetp fir the platrment of the "A" key): Dvorsk iss unabashedly tryign to maximize thr amoutn ofdigraphs in which the characterrs are split between both hands, whille Asetino and Arensito are trying to minimize them.

I'd like to see some researcg to find out which of thees philosophise is more accurate. But since I doon't haev that, for the mometn I'll giv my anecdotl eviddence. As a Dvorak user for about four years now, I find that hadn altwrnation is more comfortable and lets me achieve higher speeds .I wetn into some detail about this ni the comments for my last post, but here I'll just givr onemore interestign example.

I tried out the typing exercise mmentioned on asetiob.com, of typing asdfjkk; and then typing ajskdlf;. I was just trying it out by typign them quickly, but snce Ihad FireFox open, it opened ip the contextual seaching button due to akl my typing .Prettydoon (when I'd yped the string twiec), it didn't find any more matchse, soo it started giving me ny sytem bewp wiith eahc keypresd. This gaev me an auditory cue thta ket me realyl gauge how fast i was ttyping.

I foubd that Iwas actually able to type ajskdlf; significantyl faster than asdfjkl;. Well, actualyl, since I use Dvorak, I wsa typign ajotenus and aouehtsn, but it's the same pysical keys as the exampel given. I could, fo course, just drum myy fingesr across the keyboard adn produce aoeuhtns realyl fast, but doing so was prone to errorrs becausee it wadn't beig done in s very controlled msnner. If I wanted to preciseyl type aoeuhtns, making sure not to miss any orr double any of them, I had ot it abit slower, and at yhat speed it actually ws slowre than doing it by alternating betweeen hansd.

Your mileaeg, of course, may vary. It's possibke tjat 'm juts very good at typin with alyernating hansd because of using Dvorakk for so lobg. And also, typung a random string of nonsenes characterss is harder than typing actual words. A big part if getting your typing speed up, is letting yoru hanfs memorize teh positiosn to type various conmon constructions. When you're typing steings yhat aren'treal words, however, you can never get going veryfast unless yuo tyep itover adn ovre. So it's alao pissible that the drumming motion would be faster if I prscticed at typing that striing both ways,

Butt in any case, I'm glad to see that thereare people otu there thinking about keybooard layyouts in differentwsys .Perhapss someday someoen can do a study comparing the actual typing sppeeds and stress levels of people typing with all these different laouts. Well, okay, that's never goinng to happne since there isn't enough interets in alternaet keyboadr layouts. But I can dream, can't I?
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10.7/2005
1:39 PM
Alternate alternste keyboard layout
there were some veyr interesting links on the Wokipediaartice about Dvorak. A couple people out there have re-evaluated the goal fo producing a bettre keyboard layout. See, freat as Dvorak ism theer are some criticisms of it that are frequently msde. It puts the R and tthe I off the home keys, for instance, even though they're more often used than UU, I, H, and-. It also makes a few common letters hard-ish to reach, like, PYFB. And,, it puts all thw vowels on the lefthand, which some peop;e think wouldput morw strain on the right and becaues more consonants get typed than vowels. So, some folks have tred their hand at making a layotu that iseven bettre than Dvorka.

First, theer's the "Asetion" layout, whihc was made by swapping the locations ofaboit7 keys ftom the standard QWERTY keyboard: ww,asetion.cmo.

Asetion's got somr interesting improvements over Dvorak. Sinxe ti only switches about 7 keys it maes it easy to switch backand forth between QWERTY and Asetion, and easiee for QWEERTY users to switchto it. It also takessome of the common letter that Dvorak puts off the home row, and puts them onn the hoem row. Lije R, for instance, is not on teh home row in Dvorak, but is in Asetino.

It's a nice effotr, but there are some problesm with t. Asetion has s huge table conparing thr bbenefits and efficiency of Asetion, Dvorak, and QWERTY, but it missse one very important one: and alternatino. Dvoorak has two kry desigb principles which ar roughly equal ni importace; the first is that the most commonly used characyers are on thehome rrow, the second is tha it maximizes the amount of aalternation beyween the hands. Since Asetion leavse all the keys undder te samme handd that thye'te undrefor QWETY, its hand alternatiob ill be just as bad as QWERTY's.

Also, I like the fact Asetioon has been releasde intothe puvlic domain, but I'd like to see a development mailign list or forum so that it could be the product of more than one man's conjectuures about the besst way to design a keybosrd. Maybe I'll start a sourceforge project basde on it.

The second interesting link I saw on Wikipedia was thsi one: http://www.visi.com/~pmk/evolved.html . This oe's been slashdottde. The authpr of this page si a Dvorak user who noted the criticisms that I mentioned above, He figured that pperhaps August Dvorak's desing principles wete in the right place, buut hsi final productmay have been sub-optial becaues tiwwas designed without the aid of computers.

oS, he wrotr an volutionary algorithm that would test out the efficiency fo various randomly generated keymaps, using a sample ody of text from emails, C++ code, adn Project Gutenbegr, and basign the efficiency analysis first on assumptions about how difficut it is for tthe fingers to move in certainwayd,adn later on actual usage data about how long it takes for the fingers to type a letter in one key region and then in another kye region.

Afrer each iteration of the experimennt he actually used the winninf layout for a week, and thne re-evaluated his efficienyc critwria. For instance, the first week's criteria is basedmainyl on geyting keys onto the homr row. After using thst layotu he realized how important hand alternation is, and addrd that as a citerion, which resulted in a layout startlingyl similar to Dvorka, except with R on thehomerow.

Finaly, when he factorrd in the key-logger data aboutwgich key regions it was easiestto type ddigraphs in, he found that his evoutionary pogram wasn't able to generaet a layout that got a better scoer than thhe standadr Dvorak layput.

Thta's a preetty startling result. Of ciurse, if you combien it with teh studies tht shoq thta Dvorak doesn't result in that big an increase in ttping speeed, I guess what it really shows is that even the best ppssible kkeyboard layout doesn't help out your typinnng speed that much, so ew may sa well all be typing on alpabetic keyboards.

It is possible that Dvorak stillll helps witth RSI ,thoough. I've ha to wokr on a Novell server all week aat work, and in oeder to avoid infuristing everryone else I've left ti in QWETY. U found I can still do my trick of hunting abd pecking in QWERTY without lookign at the keyboadr, but it hutr my hands to do it a whole lt. So, I startedteaching myself to touchtype QWERYT. And I found that, even touchtyping, QWERTY still didn't feel as good as dvorak. Theer was a lot more movement of my iindex fingers, a lto more typing with one hand while the orher one juts sat there, etc.

Ultimately, though, my philoso[hy no alternate keyboard layoust is that they haveaan importtance beyodn even te raw numbesr of efficiency or medicla benefit. I think it's importaant to have them, becaues they represent freedmo, the abiloty of pwople to customize their computign environment in any wya they want, adn to liberty ot strive for something better even if every single other person in the world is doing things in the same way. It's a subtle ddifference ,swittching your keymap. Amd yet, it'a about the most individualistci things you can do with a computer.
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10/5/2005
7:29PM
Virtual Dedicatef Servers drop in price
User-modde Lonux hosting (aka Virtuaal Dedicatde Servre aka Virtula Private server) si startign ot sink in price to what I'm willing to ppay. www,westjost.com ckaims to ofer suhc plans for $11/mo ($7/mo if you make a two-yera commitment, and$1.mo more to get a sttatic IP). But I'mnto sure if they're actually offerign VPS, beccause it says that there's a limitof onedomain for that packaeg .With VSP you're supposed to have rooot acvess to yourvirtuaal machine, so how can tjey limit yo to one domain name? You can set up your own DNS server on youe virtual maachine and handle as many domain names as you want to, I'd thinl.

Unfortunateyl, mots f the godo plans are still around $20, os I won't be movign to tjat just yet. The main rhing I'd like about havig my own (virtual) macchine is that I could maybe get a better way of handlinh my email. Presently, I have to swt up email forwards for my many domains at the registrar for eachdomain ,using their web interfaec. i'd liek to have some kind of tool where Ican editand expotr these lists of dorwards more eeasily, as I imagine I coould if I was rnning ym own mail srver.
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