Truly Ergonomic Numeric Keypad

I got the opportunity to try out the latest product from Truly Ergonomic (http://www.trulyergonomic.com); their mechanical numeric keypad. It uses the same mechanical switches as the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, which I reviewed in a previous post, together with a patented layout specialised for data entry. Now, I don’t belong to any of the target groups, which according to the text on the box are “Billionaires, Accountants, Financial Professionals, Data-Entry Users and any Individual that requires entering a lot of numbers, easily move around cells/fields, and editing contents“, but I use Excel every once in a while, and that is where this keypad really shines. More on the actual usage later.

box

The keyboard came in a nice box, with the familiar colours from the TE keyboard. The box contains the keypad with quite a long USB cable, and a quick setup guide. Nothing else is really needed.

contents

As you can see below, the key caps have the same profile as the keys on the TEK, and the feel of the brown Kailh mechanical key switches is solid and reliable.

profile

comparison

What I was surprised to see was that they layout of the keypad was quite traditional. Compared to the radically different physical layout of the TE keyboard, I was expecting the numeric keypad to also be unconventional. However, as I started using they keypad, I realised that it is just as it should be in order to excel (see what I did there) at data entry. I haven’t tested it for gaming, but the positioning of the arrows and modifiers relative to each other, makes it apparent that it is not the intended use. It is a specialised tool intended for a specific use case.

Functionality-wise it has exactly what I need when working with spreadsheets; numbers, Tab, Enter, Esc, Backspace, and arrows to move around. To access symbols like =/*-+ you use the Fn key, which felt a bit weird at first, but as I used it more, I realised that I don’t really use the symbols that much. It is not a calculator.

There are also a couple of nifty features. To enter edit-mode for a cell in Excel, there’s a shortcut directly on the keypad. You also have access to Undo, Redo, Cut, Copy, Paste, Home, End, PgUp, and PgDown directly using the Fn key. This means that you don’t have to go back and forth between your keyboard and your keypad for most of the functions needed. Also, by using the Shift key on the keypad, you can use the symbols that are normally available on the numbers too (like !@#$ and so on).

I have found one negative thing with the keypad. In Finland, we use a , for decimal point, not . . However, the keypad always produces . on that key. You have to hold down the Fn key to produce a , . Now, I’m not sure whether that can be configured somewhere, of if I could or should reconfigure Excel to use English settings for decimals, but it is a bit of a hassle.

The price tag of $75 makes it perhaps a tad expensive for a casual user, but for people that use Excel or enters data daily and for a living, I feel that it may be well worth the investment.

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Battling RSI – part 4

I am not an expert when it comes to repetitive strain injury, or RSI. What I write here is simply based on my own observations and experiences, and may not apply to you in any way. This is just the story of my life at the keyboard.

In part 3 I was researching different ergonomic keyboards, and resulted in getting a Truly Ergonomic keyboard. I wrote a bit about the keyboard and first impressions in my review, but nothing really about my experiences and modifications. This post will act both as part 4 of the RSI series, and the second part of my Truly Ergonomic review.

First, the TL;DR version. The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard is a great piece of equipment. It took a week or two to get used to it, but it has saved my hands and wrists from RSI. It is quite easy to modify the layout, and allows you to tweak it to fit your own specific needs.

In order to understand the approach I took, first a bit of background to my keyboard usage is needed. I learned to touch type in school, on electric typewriters with Swedish/Finnish keyboard layout. This led to a few strict principles. First, I always and only use my right thumb for space, while alternating the use of both left and right shift depending on what other key is being pressed. I also got really used to the staggered layout with the keys not in straight columns, but slanted to the left. Having my right thumb reserved for space, meant that when I started to use Macs, I strictly used my left thumb for the cmd key. I was also using the Swedish/Finnish keyboard layout, which unfortunately on OS X means that in order to get certain characters, you need to use really weird keyboard combinations. For instance {} is produced using shift+alt+7 and shift+alt+8, forcing the hands to contort uncomfortably.

Taking the keyboard into use, I had decided on a few principles. The first one was to start out with the default settings, keeping it as vanilla as possible.  The second one was to keep the control button where I want it (caps lock). The third one was to use English keyboard layout for programming.

Before switching, I took a few typing tests at http://thetypingcat.com/ resulting in an average typing speed of 80 words per minute. At the end of the first day with the TEK, I took the typing test again, and ended up at 52 WPM, with quite a few mistakes. The most mistakes being the lower row on the left hand. This was actually expected since my fingers now had to move straight down, instead of twisting to the right in order to hit the correct button. It didn’t take many days to get used to the new layout, and get my text typing speed up again.

Typing tests are one thing, but the real trial is to use the keyboard “for real”. One of the hardest things to get used to, and one that other people complain most about when trying my keyboard, is to not have the return key on the far right. For the first week, my hand twitched a bit to the right when it was time to press return, before remembering to use my thumb instead. However, not being forced to used my right pinky for return was one of the main reasons for me even getting an ergonomic keyboard, but being able to have a satisfactory hard -bam- on the return key to the right after you are done with something was really lodged in my spine.

The second hardest key to learn was backspace. There is a backspace key in the normal position, and it was so easy to use that one instead of the one in the middle column, so I ended up remapping the key to not do anything. I had previously tried to wean myself away from using that backspace, since it was the major cause of discomfort in my hand, but not even having the top-right backspace available made the process much quicker.

After the first week, the discomfort I was having with a normal keyboard was gone, and I was feeling more and more comfortable with my TEK. There were a few other modifications that I started feeling were necessary to have a truly comfortable experience. The first no-brainer was to map up the left-hand space to cmd, since I was already used to having cmd on my left thumb. Also, I decided that I wanted the tab key more easily accessible, so I put that also in the middle column, and moved -_ to the right ctrl, that I never used anyway.

Being able to type the letters “åäö” turned out to be complicated to begin with, and I wanted to have them in the standard position when typing Swedish of Finnish. For instance, “ö” is on the ;: key on an English keyboard, and on the truly the “ä” key end up on the right ctrl. What I did was to follow a tip on the TEK homepage. If you don’t want num lock for using numbers etc, you can specify an entire layer that is active when num lock is on. That is what I did. So now, whenever I need to write in Swedish or Finnish, I just hit my numlock key, and suddenly I’m in “scandinavian layout” mode.

My current layout looks like this:

TEK Layout

You can edit the layout and download the hex file from http://bit.ly/29ooL7D.

There are a few more things I’m planning on modifying to try out. The TEK homepage have one alternative layout where programming symbols and cursor movement is activated using the Fn-layer. That looks like something that I could benefit from. I just have to find a good place for the Fn key since the left space is already mapped up to cmd.

All in all, the TEK is a great keyboard and well worth the money to try out if you’re having problems with RSI and use touch type. Just give it a week or two, and you’ll feel the difference.

Truly Ergonomic Keyboard review – part 1

My quest for a new keyboard ended up with my purchase of a Truly Ergonomic Keyboard. I decided on the model called 229, having two standard keys in the lower corners. The model 227, has one wide key in each lower corner. Since I’m located in Finland, I opted for buying it from Amazon.de, from the seller getDigital.de, instead of from the manufacturer in Canada.

First impressions

The keyboard arrived in a professional looking package, with the wrist rest already attached, and a nice dust cover. (In the photo above, the keyboard is still inside an additional plastic bag). There was also a card with instructions how to choose the keyboard layout from the ones already programmed into the keyboard.

The TEK feels really sturdy and quite heavy, so it will not slide around on your desk. The wrist/palm rest is just soft enough to be comfortable, but not too spongy. The width of the keyboard is about the same as my previous Apple wireless keyboard, so I can have my external trackpad / mouse in the position I’m used to. The USB cable provided is about 1.8m long, so you won’t have problems reaching the ports on your computer.

The keyboard hardware

The Truly Ergonomic website gives you a lot of information about the hardware and capabilities, but I’ll try to distill the most important parts and tell you about the things they don’t mention, or that is hard to find on the site.

This is (as far as I can tell) the third revision of the TEK. The previous versions were called 10x, and 20x, with x being the variant number. If you search for reviews online, some of the older reviews complain about keypresses not being detected, or “double-clicks” happening. As far as I can tell, most of these complaints are for the older versions of the keyboard. I have yet to come across any glitch whatsoever with the keys. This might be due to other switches, or updated firmware. I’ll cover the firmware/software later in this review.

The newest version, the 227/229, use Kailh brown switches. They are tactile soft mechanical switches with an actuation force of 45g. This means that you feel a slight bump when you press the button, but it won’t make a loud click to disturb your colleague, unless you type (too) hard. The switches are mounted to a metal plate instead of directly onto the circuit board. This makes the keyboard more stable, and also reduces the stress to the circuit board and increases the lifespan of the keyboard.

The keycaps have row-specific profiles, and a concave cylindrical sculpted top that helps to guide your fingers to the correct positions. As far as I can tell, they adhere to the DCS family of keycaps.

Truly_Ergonomic_Keycap_Profiles

Unfortunately, this makes it impossible (or not impossible, but it will feel weird) to physically move keys from one row to another to reflect your customised keyboard layout. This means that you will have the wrong character printed on the keycap if you move keys around in your layout. However, the increased physical comfort is well worth it.

If you’re really into modding your keyboard, all keycaps (apart from the V-shaped and Space keycaps) are compatible with standard Cross-Mount keycaps (MX-Compatible). This means that you can order your own custom key sets from e.g. WASD Keyboards or Pimp My Keyboard. Just make sure that you get the correct row number to get the right profile for the keycap. You should be able to find an indicator under each keycap that identifies the row for the profile (either A, B, C, D, E, F or R1, R2, R3, R4).

The physical layout

Split_Symmetrical_Ergonomic_Keyboard_229-750x600

The keys are arranged in vertically staggered columns, that are angled to keep your wrists in a neutral position. A few highlights compared to other ergonomic keyboards is the straight F-key row with Esc and Del on either sides, the additional middle column of frequently used keys, and the cross-shaped arrow cluster on the right. You can also see that instead of a CapsLock key, there already is a Ctrl key in a comfortable position.

There are a few subtle differences in the default layout between the 22x and 20x models of the TEK; the most significant from my point of view is that the Tab key is in the upper left corner on the 22x-series, while it is in the middle column on the 20x-series. Also, the Backspace key in the top right of the 22x is instead the += key, and -_ to the left of that, keeping the top row as close to standard US layout as possible on the 20x series. I am not entirely convinced about these decisions, and I did some remapping after a while. I’ll cover my process in part 2.

The keyboard firmware and software

The keyboard came preloaded with a bunch of different layouts, easily selectable by dip switches under the keyboard. Layouts included English US/UK, German, French, Russian, Swedish (Spanish, Italian), Japanese, and Dvorak. Also variants of each for OS X and Windows that affect the position of Cmd/Ctrl/Alt/Windows keys.

If you want to rearrange the layout of your keyboard, there’s an excellent online editor on their site that allows you to define up to six different layers. NOTE! Only three layers at a time are easily accessible, in order to switch to the other three, you need to flip a dip switch under the keyboard. One additional note is that you can ONLY move existing keys around. This means that you can’t construct your own magic key that will produce an ‘A’ normally, and a ‘Z’ when shift is held down. I would have wanted to create keys that would produce { and } without any modifiers, but this was not possible. This isn’t that big an issue really, but it came as a slight surprise for me.

tek-online-editor

Once you have created a layout, you can share it to others or save it for further customisation easily by just creating a bookmark after pressing the Bookmark or Share button. The stored configuration is just a special URL that contains the information of your layout.

In order to actually use your new layout, you need to download the firmware file from the online editor by clicking the Save file button. This will download your custom firmware to a file on your computer. The next step is to load your keyboard with your new layout. This happens using a simple application on your computer. The firmware upgrade application exists for Windows, OS X, and Linux, and is really easy to use. Just start the application, click Load and then choose your downloaded .hex file in the file dialog. After that, click Upgrade. Your keyboard is now ready to use with your new layout.

truly-firmware-upgrade

In part 2, I will tell you about my experiences, learning curve, and layout modifications. If you have any questions about topics covered in part 1, just let me know in the comments.

WhatPulse – Elasticsearch – Kibana

As I mentioned in my second post about RSI, I installed an application called WhatPulse that measures your keyboard and mouse usage, providing insight in how you use your computer. It produces a heat map of your keyboard, showing which keys are the most frequently used for different time periods.  Screenshot 2015-12-07 12.03.42

I wanted to get a more detailed analysis of how I was using the keyboard, so I started looking into how data is stored. I found out that WhatPulse stores its data in a SQLite database named whatpulse.db in ~/Library/Application Support/whatpulse, so I started poking around a bit. I used an application called Liya to dig into the data. liya

There are quite a few tables available, everything from total number of keypresses, to which key was pressed how many times in which application. The ones that I was interested in were the keypress-frequency and the keycombo-frequency. I wrote a small Ruby script to read the data, and post it into Elasticsearch. First I was looking into using Logstash with the SQLite adapter, but I couldn’t get it to work properly, and besides, I was interested in loading historic data, not updating elastic as soon as new data came in. The reason for using Elasticsearch was basically just that I wanted to try it out, learn a bit in the process, and also checking out Kibana. There might have been better tools for the job (I did the first graph in Excel), but this was a learning experience.

It took quite a lot of time deciding on how to structure the data in order to make it easy to analyse. I ended up with one object per hour, making the _id of the object to be of the form 2015-09-30T08:00:00+00:00. The object has one property per key, being of the form:

"Space": {
  "date": "2015-09-30T08:00:00+00:00",
  "keyCode": 32,
  "key": "Space",
  "keycount": 30,
  "total": 767,
  "percentage": 3.911342894393742
}

This data tells me how many times the Space bar was pressed during that hour on that date, how many keys were pressed in total during that hour, and the percentage of the space bar in relation to the total number of keypresses. By having an hourly sum instead of a daily, I get a better result, since only active hours are counted. This allows me to graph it daily, but averaging the active hours, instead of just making every hour in the day count.

As you can see from the screenshot of Liya a bit further up on the page, only keycodes are stored in the database. For “normal” keys, I could just do a key.chr to get the name of the key, but for the others, I made a simple lookup table:

  def _keymap
    {
      16777217 => "Tab",
      16777219 => "Backspace",
      16777220 => "Enter",
      16777252 => "Capslock",
      16781922 => "Left Shift",
      16781917 => "Left Ctrl",
      16781915 => "Left Alt",
      16781904 => "Right Command",
      16781905 => "Left Command",
      16781914 => "Right Alt",
      16781916 => "Right Ctrl",
      16781921 => "Right Shift",
      16777232 => "Home",
      16777233 => "End",
      16777234 => "Left",
      16777235 => "Up",
      16777236 => "Right",
      16777237 => "Down",
      16777222 => "Insert",
      16777238 => "PageUp",
      16777223 => "Delete",
      16777239 => "PageDown",
      16777216 => "Escape",
      32 => "Space",
      46 => "Period",
      16777264 => "F1",
      16777265 => "F2",
      16777266 => "F3",
      16777267 => "F4",
      16777268 => "F5",
      16777269 => "F6",
      16777270 => "F7",
      16777271 => "F8",
      16777272 => "F9",
      16777273 => "F10",
      16777274 => "F11",
      16777275 => "F12"
    }
  end

So, I ran the script, got a bunch of data into Elasticsearch, and now what. That’s when I installed Kibana. Kibana is a flexible analytics and visualization platform that is built to work with Elasticsearch. Not knowing what to expect, I started up the Kibana service, pointed my browser to http://localhost:5601 and was greeted with the following view: kibana_start

After reading a bit of documentation, I started by entering the name of the index in Elasticsearch I had imported the data into. You can see on the left in the screenshot the number of times I’ve experimented with this :). I knew that the index contained time-based events since I imported them with date and time. After entering the name of the index I wanted, Kibana looked through the index, and presented in the combo-box the different date fields that were available in the index. I chose the correct one (the one simply named date. I have a bunch of other (redundant) dates also defined (one per key entry). kibana_index

After creating the index pattern, Kibana shows a list of the fields that are found in the index. My example data contains a lot of redundant fields, but for experimentation I wanted to include any data that I might need. I then looked at the Discover tab, and saw… nothing. I thought I had done something wrong, something got botched in the import, or something else. The reason was that by default, the time interval it shows data from is the last 15 minutes. Since I imported my data from a several days old copy of the SQLite database, I did not have any data that new. Clicking the time interval in the top right allows you to choose a more interesting time interval.

kibana_discover

Now it was time to do some visualisation. For this example, let’s say I want to see how the ratio between Space and Backspace usage changed over time since I switched over to the TrulyErgonomic keyboard. I chose a line chart from the Visualize – Create a new visualization menu, created a new search source from my selected index, and started adding Y-axis metrics. I chose Average aggregation for the fields Backspace.percentage and Space.percentage as my Y-axis, and added a Date Histogram as my X-Axis, with a weekly interval. After clicking the green “play” button on top of the left-hand panel, I ended up with something like this: kibana_visualize

Nice! We see that there is correlation between Space and Backspace, and on the whole, I use space more than backspace. However, I want to measure the difference between these two values, to try and graph my learning curve with the new keyboard. Luckily, Kibana 4 has support for scripted fields. You can create a new scripted field for an index by going to Settings – Indices and for your index, choose the tab named Scripted fields followed by the button Add Scripted Field. My scripted field looks like this: kibana_scripted_field

Now, we go back to our visualization and add a new average aggregation on our Y-Axis, and choose our newly created, scripted field. Remember to press the green play button, otherwise your changes will not show up.  kibana_visualize_scripted

There we go, we can now try to interpret what we are seeing here. The higher the diff curve is, the fewer mistakes I make. I started using my TrulyErgonomic keyboard in the middle of October, and we can see that the curve goes downward almost directly. After a couple of weeks, we are seeing progress, and it seems like I’m actually doing better now than I did previously with my old keyboard. Unfortunately I don’t have that much historical data about my keyboard use before switching over to the TrulyErgonomic, so we can’t be sure of what my baseline is.

I’m not sure that I’ve done things properly, or in the way they should be. This was just my first experiments with Elasticsearch and Kibana. Let me know if you have any comments on my analysis.

Battling RSI – part 3

I am not an expert when it comes to repetitive strain injury, or RSI. What I write here is simply based on my own observations and experiences, and may not apply to you in any way. This is just the story of my life at the keyboard.

In part 2 I was analysing which keypresses where causing discomfort, and how frequently they were used. I also found a replacement for the backspace key, namely ctrl-h. However, the return key was still an issue.

Some time before this I had started looking at different ergonomic keyboards, just seeing what was available, but when my symptoms got worse, I decided to actually go ahead and get one. The criteria I had were simple; it should be narrow enough so I wouldn’t end up with a similar situation as I described in part 1, and it should somehow alleviate the problems with backspace and return. Any other features would just be icing on the cake so to speak. I tried to identify the different features that were available, and this is the list I came up with:

  1. Narrow width
  2. Angle between left and right halves
  3. Tilt between left and right halves
  4. Separation between left and right halves
  5. Keys in column alignment
  6. Keys vertically staggered
  7. Less strain on weak fingers
  8. Mechanical key switches
  9. Reprogrammability

There are a big number of ergonomic keyboards available on the market, and most of the common ones only address points 2 – 4 above. They have a standard QWERTY layout, and are mostly all around normal, the only difference being the separation of the left and right half of the keyboard, often arranged in a V shape, with a possible tilt. The separation can range from small, like in most of the Microsoft ergonomic keyboards, to entirely separate halves like in the Kinesis Freestyle2 and Matias Ergo Pro. Keyboards of this type may also have a slight curvature in the alignment of the keys, implementing point 6, as can be seen in the Microsoft keyboards. However, none of the keyboards of this type address the issue I was having with the keys used by my right pinky (point 7). The sections below are about the candidates that I took a more in-depth look at.

TypeMatrix 2030

The first candidate that looked promising was the TypeMatrix 2030. It implements quite a few of the features in the list above. It is narrow, it has keys in column alignment, and most importantly, it places enter and backspace in the middle of the keyboard, allowing your index fingers to handle those. It does not have mechanical key switches, and costs around 100€.

TypeMatrix 2030

Disclaimer: I did not have the possibility to test one out IRL, so the following opinions are only based on what it looks like in photos, and what is stated on the TypeMatrix homepage.

There were a couple of things that made me a bit hesitant, though. The first thing that sprung to my mind was the sheer amount of “extra buttons”. There are play, app, shuffle, dsktp, www, mail, and calc buttons that apparently start applications. There seems to be no possibility (in the keyboard) to reprogram these, and there is even a disclaimer on the page stating that “some multimedia/special functions are OS dependent and may not be fully implemented by OS X and others“. The other thing was the positioning of the modifier keys; shift looks to be in a good position, but the ctrl key is in the “traditional” position, and alt and command (if “start” is the command key) are really far down on the keyboard. My main use for a keyboard is programming, where the importance of the modifier keys is more prominent than when typing text. The final thing was that there is no separation between the arrow keys and the surrounding keys, making it harder to use the arrows by feel. However, there is a small bump on the down arrow, that might make it a bit better than other keyboards I’ve used that are lacking the separation.

Kinesis Advantage

The Kinesis Advantage is a really cool looking keyboard, and implements a lot of the features in my list above; it places the keys in concave key wells, reducing the distance your fingers have to reach, there is a tilt in the halves, allowing your wrists to be in a more neutral position. The mechanical keys are vertically staggered in columns, and there are separate thumb keypads for modifiers and enter, space, backspace, delete, etc. The keys can be remapped, and it also supports programming macros into the keyboard. The price is about 300€.

advantage-blk-1871x1024

I got the opportunity to try it out for a few minutes while visiting our Sweden office. The feel of the mechanical keys was great, and the thumb keypads felt like just my thing. The one thing that concerned me was the bulkiness and width of the keyboard, it is almost the same width as a regular full keyboard with numeric keypad. It also lacks arrow keys in an inverted t or cross shape, instead, the up and down are located at the bottom of the right key well, and left/right on the bottom of the left. I wasn’t sure either that I wanted a tilt in the keys, and in this keyboard there was no way to adjust the tilt. The final thing that I was wondering a bit about was that the function keys were not regular keys, but smaller “soft-touch” keys. The Kinesis Advantage has almost everything on my feature list, apart from the narrow width. This might not be as big a problem since you are still able to have straight wrists since the keyboard is symmetric with regards to the middle of the keyboard (unlike regular keyboards).

Another keyboard that is similar to the Advantage (and actually predates it with many years) is the Maltron Two-Hand 3D Ergonomic, that also incorporates keys in the empty space in the middle. There seemed to be no (easy) way to acquire one of those, and I just include the mention here for reference.

ErgoDox and ErgoDox EZ

The ErgoDox is an “assemble your own keyboard” kind of deal. The keyboard arrives in a kit where you need to solder components and mount key switches, etc. It is split into two halves, which of course allows you to arrange and angle and tilt the halves how you want it. The keys are arranged in vertically staggered columns, and have the same thumb keypads as the Kinesis Advantage above. It looks on paper to be the perfect keyboard for me, but the process of acquiring the parts, assembling, programming etc felt too daunting for me, so I reluctantly removed the ErgoDox from my list.

It wasn’t until after I finally decided on and bought a keyboard that I found out about the ErgoDox EZ. The challenge of assembling the ErgoDox yourself prompted the creation of the IndieGoGo campaign for the ErgoDox EZ. The layout and key arrangement are just like on the ErgoDox, the only difference is that it is a complete keyboard, and not a kit. As stated on the page: “We merely wish to make this keyboard available to anyone who wants it, regardless of their soldering ability“. The keyboard comes fully assembled and pre-programmed (of course allowing you to reprogram it). There are also additional accessories available like a palm rest and a Tilt/Tent kit that is not included in the original ErgoDox design. You can choose from six different mechanical key switches, and between printed or blank key caps.

ergodoxez

The ErgoDox EZ really looked like the perfect keyboard for my needs, and actually implements all of the features in my list above, but unfortunately it was not available at the time I was looking for keyboards. It is a strong candidate for my next keyboard though, if I can justify the price of approximately 300€ to myself.

Keyboardio

While the ErgoDox took the bulkiness away from the Kinesis Advantage, but otherwise kept the same layout, the Keyboardio Model 01 has taken a slightly different approach. It is split into two halves like the ErgoDox, but it is milled from solid maple, has an arc of thumb keys instead of the keypads, and in addition, a palm key on each side. It is fully programmable and also supports macros. It even has RGB backlights for each key.

front_view_rainbow

This is another strong candidate for my next keyboard, but it is even pricier than the ErgoDox EZ, coming it at around 330€. Unfortunately, the Keyboardio is not available yet, estimated shipping is summer of 2016.

Truly Ergonomic

The last keyboard I looked at, and ended up getting, was the Truly Ergonomic keyboard (TEK). It takes a more traditional approach by being in one piece, and just angling the left and right hand keys. The keys are arranged in vertically staggered columns, and there is a middle column with extra buttons, which in the default layout are used as enter, backspace, etc. It uses mechanical switches, and is quite narrow and compact. The key arrangement is fully modifiable via an online configurator and a small program to load the new firmware into the keyboard.

Truly_Ergonomic_Mechanical_Keyboard-229-750x600

I had the opportunity to try out the TEK while visiting our Sweden office, and I immediately liked how it felt. The feel of the keys was excellent, and the size of the keyboard was just as I wanted it. It implemented the important features on my list, and on the whole felt like a solid piece of equipment. The one thing I was a bit concerned about was that it did not move as many keys to the thumbs as the ErgoDox or the Kinesis Advantage. However, the ones that mattered were moved to the middle column. An additional bonus was that the ctrl key was already in the (in my opinion) correct position. There were a few keys that were in a slightly weird location, but the possibility to fully remap they keyboard would take care of that. In the end, the TEK ended up being the best package for me at that moment, and it is my main keyboard currently. It cost around 250€ at the time, but depending on vendor and campaigns etc, you could get it for less. I will write a more in depth review describing my experiences with the Truly Ergonomic in another blog post.

Battling RSI – part 1

I am not an expert when it comes to repetitive strain injury, or RSI. What I write here is simply based on my own observations and experiences, and may not apply to you in any way. This is just the story of my life at the keyboard.

I have been using a computer since I was quite young. However, it wasn’t until I moved away from home to start studying at the university that my time in front of the computer increased to more than ~4 hours in the evening. Throughout that time, I didn’t have any problems with RSI, and I thought that it just happened to old people that didn’t know how to use a computer properly. The only physical discomfort I experienced from using a computer was one time after a full weekend of intense typing to get a project finished before Monday, when I got actual chafes on my thumb and pinky after, respectively, pressing space and shift too many times in a short time period.

Repetitive strain injury is an umbrella term for several conditions that are associated with repetitive tasks, such as typing at a keyboard and using a mouse. Note that carpal tunnel syndrome is one such condition, and is thus an RSI, but not all cases of RSI are CTS. Other examples of RSI conditions are golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow.

The first indications of RSI came after I started working full time as a software engineer, effectively increasing my time at the computer to 8+ hours a day. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly I was starting to feel some discomfort in my right wrist, arm, and shoulder. I didn’t think of it much at the time, since the change was so gradual.

At the office I was using a Logitech UltraX Keyboard (discontinued) and a Logitech MX510 mouse (discontinued). I really liked both the keyboard and the mouse. The typing experience was great, the keypress was short and precise, and felt like a high-end laptop keyboard. Likewise, the mouse was comfortable, and had just the extra thumb buttons needed (back and forward). Still, there was something that caused discomfort…

It wasn’t until I got a new laptop that I noticed what the problem was.  Since changing laptop also meant switching from Windows to OS X, I decided to try and use the internal keyboard to begin with in order to learn proper key combinations  etc. When I made the switch back to my external keyboard and started feeling discomfort again, I realised I had been symptom-free for the entire time I had been using the built-in keyboard.

For the first time I really paid attention to the way I was using the keyboard, and this is what I saw.

 My right wrist was in an really awkward angle, while my left was almost straight. It was the position of my right wrist that caused the discomfort. I moved things around a bit, centring the keyboard relative to the monitor, ending up sitting like this.

 The pain in my right wrist stopped, but it didn’t take many days before my shoulder and neck were starting to ache due to the distance my arm had to reach in order to use the mouse. This was the moment I decided to get a new external narrow keyboard. Since my new computer was a Mac, I ended up getting the Apple wireless keyboard. At the same time I also got the external trackpad, since I really liked the gestures the internal trackpad provided.

 Finally it felt like I had a comfortable position to work in, and the discomfort disappeared. However, after a few years, and a moving 450km north, I again started feeling symptoms of RSI. More about this in part 2.