Ergodox EZ and Arrow Keys

I bought an Ergodox EZ Glow ergonomic mechanical keyboard in 2019 and I've grown to love it. It took me some time to adjust to a split keyboard, and even more time to nail down my personalized layout across three different programmed layers. The unmarked keys on the board did not take as much time to adjust to as I thought they would. I purchased the black model with Cherry MX Brown switches, and upgraded to Blue Zilent switches and gray/blue keycaps. Dreamy.

But after months of using this keyboard, there was one thing I could just not get used to: switching layers to get to the arrow keys. I never realized how often I use arrow keys until they weren't easily accessible. My solution was to get a tiny six key customizable keyboard from TechKeys. It fits perfectly in between the two keyboard halves. In addition to the arrow keys, I programmed the top left and right keys with an extra shift and space, because it's often quicker to tap the tiny board when arrowing around. I think it's an amazing set-up.

Now I just need to get some custom keycaps for the tiny board. I'm currently using leftover keys from my Vortex Race 3. Why two mechanical keyboards? I have a standing desk station and a sitting desk station. I use the Vortex while sitting, the Ergodox while standing. Excessive? Perhaps. But the Ergodox is not the easiest keyboard to move around, so this works for me. Plus ... I just love mechanical keyboards. It's a bit of an addiction.

Keyboard futures

Das Keyboard over at Ars Technica. It's a 2.6 pound monster with German-engineered mechanical gold-plated key switches. It's designed for performance, durability, and loudness. Yes, loudness. If you miss the audible feedback from keyboards of yore, this is for you. To give you a sense of how loud it is, the company also sells reusable earplugs. It's expensive (over $100), but if you like this sort of thing, you probably can't do better.

Me, I prefer silence while I type. But what appealed to me about Das Keyboard is that the company offers a model without any key markings. I'm a Dvorak typist, so I rarely look at the keyboard anyway. Some part of me thinks it would be great fun to have a keyboard with blank keys, mainly because it would satisfy my inner Secret Squirrel impulses.

Reading about Das Keyboard reminded me of a post I wrote in 2008 about the Optimus Maximus, an industrial art creation from the studios of Art. Lebedev. At the time this fancy keyboard was still in development, but it's now available for purchase. Cost-wise, it makes Das Keyboard look like a great bargain. It costs $2,400. No, that is not a typo.

Maximus OptimusWhy so expensive? First, it's not a mass market product. It's produced by an impressive design studio with a guiding business principle of 'no bullshit.' Hard not to like that. If you buy one, you can say you own a 'work of Art.' Second, it's a fantastic-looking keyboard and, as far as I know, the only one of its kind. Each key is an independent stand-alone OLED display. That means that each key can transform into whatever you need it to be. While this is great for Dvorak typists, imagine the possibilities for people who want to change key functions for different languages, for games, or for application-specific functions. Check out the demo.

Back in 2008, rumors were circulating about the possibility of an Apple keyboard that also used OLED keys. I'm still waiting for it. I would bet that it already exists, hidden away in a secret lab, just waiting for mass technology to catch up so it can be released at a relatively affordable price. I still think, as I did in 2008, that this the future of keyboards. The question, of course, is if there is a future for keyboards. Will we still use these devices in 2020?

Initial Thoughts of a New iPad 2 User

I've had an iPad 2 for four days and a Smart Cover for a day and a half. I'm not going to post a detailed review. There have been enough of those.  I will, though, share a few initial impressions as a first-time iPad owner.

First, the Smart Cover. It's remarkable. As remarkable as the iPad. That's no small achievement, and it deserves to win design awards. In case you missed the iFixit breakdown of this cover, it's worth your time to check out the magnetic gadgetry that makes this device work. It's easy to use. More, it's a pleasure to use. I love how the iPad instantly turns on when I open the cover. I love the ease with which I can stand my iPad up in two positions.

It doesn't really clean the glass surface, though. Apple claims that it 'brightens up your iPad.' That's true to an extent. But they also say it 'gently buffs off any smudges or fingerprints as you move, [so your] iPad always looks good on arrival.' That's not quite true. Certainly, the surface looks better than it would without the cover. But the gentle buffing is no substitute for wiping the glass screen with a microfiber cloth.  What I've found is that the cover—as I move it to and fro—gently removes oily smudges from the surfaces from the areas where the microfiber makes contact. But the microfiber only hits the glass in the ribs of the cover. Between the ribs, in the creases of the cover that allow it to be easily folded up, there is no contact. The oily residue remains in those spaces, appearing as Zebra strips of smudge over the glass surface. It's not a big deal, but it's worth noting that I still need to manually clean the surface.

Another minor annoyance I have with the cover is that it doesn't magnetically seal when flipped to the back of the device (when I'm using the iPad). It flops around a bit. I imagine that design constraints limit where magnets can be placed within the iPad, and these constraints account for the lack of a magnetic hold when the cover is flipped around to the back of the device. Still, it's not a big deal. It's easy to rip the cover off and toss it aside.

My final concern regarding the Smart Cover is that it doesn't protect the back of the device. I'm worried about scratching the aluminum. I'm not too worried, though. I trust that third-party vendors will soon offer stick-on protective coatings to address this issue. I'd rather go that route than plunge the iPad in a thick protective case. I don't want the device to be any thicker than it is. I want to hold the thin aluminum back in my hand when I use it. It's an important part of the tactile experience.

The last thing I have to say about the cover concerns material. I expected that the appearance of the leather model would shame that of the cheaper Polyurethane skin, but found that both models look very nice. In 5by5's 'The Talk Show' podcast, Dan Benjamin described the surface of the cheaper model akin to the 'Trapper Keeper' plastic those of us of a certain age will surely recall from childhood. It's kind of like that, but it's really much nicer to behold. It's nice enough that I went with a neutral grey polyurethane model and saved some money. I think it looks great.

As for the iPad 2 itself, I should note that I spent 10 minutes trying out a Motorola Xoom at my local Costco a week ago. This device is, as far as I know, the current 'best of breed' alternative. I thought the Xoom was competent, but it felt choppy and clumsy to the touch. A bit half baked. Now that I have spent considerable time on an iPad 2, I can you assure you that there is no comparison. It's a device that's living up to my childhood expectations of what 21st century tech might be. 

Is the iPad 2 perfect? No. There's plenty of room to improve. Is it the best mobile device I've ever used? Yes. Interestingly, a minor change made it more so. Based on a tip I read on TUAW, I upgraded to XCode 4, which allowed me to enable some new multi-gesture devices for the device. These gestures enable rotation through open apps with a gesture, a swipe to see all background apps, and a swipe to get back to the Home screen.

These seem like minor improvements, but they are not. They make a huge difference in ease of use, akin to how the Smart Cover makes a huge difference by waking up the device when you flip it open. That tiny convenience of auto-waking the device with the Cover vice having to press the 'Home' button makes the iPad that much easier to use. Likewise, these few extra gestures make navigating scores of apps that much more seamless and enjoyable.  I hope to see these additional gestures in the next iOS release. As for the fears that these features hint that the Home button is destined for the trash bin, who can say? I don't really care. I prefer to avoid using the Home button if possible.

My final note concerns the lack of software keyboard support for Dvorak. The lack of the Dvorak layout on my iPhone is no big deal. The screen is too small to accommodate full-handed typing. Not so on the iPad. I suspect I speak for Dvorak-typing Apple enthusiasts everywhere when I say that a software layout option is very important. Without it, we're reduced to hunt-and-peck typing on the iPad screen using an unfamiliar keyboard layout, or we're forced to buy an external keyboard to use iOS hardware Dvorak support. Attention Apple: this is a very simple fix.

Interesting stuff

A few notes of interest.

1. MacUpdate Spring Bundle: Yet another bundle for $49. Standout included applications are TechTool Pro, Parallels, Circus Ponies Notebook, and NetBarrier.

2. Google Wave: What would E-mail look like if it were invented today? Check out this video preview from the Google I/O developer conference. Pretty interesting and ambitious (and it’s open source).

3. Adobe CS4: Dvorak and WebKit. I recently learned two interesting bits about Adobe CS4. First, CS4 drops Opera as a built-in rendering engine and replaces it with WebKit (the open-source browser engine used by Safari and Chrome, among others). That will fix the problem I encountered with Opera. And for Dvorak users out there, I received word from a reader that Adobe CS4 now correctly handles Dvorak and Dvorak-Qwerty. Finally.

4. QIDO: A company called KeyGhost in New Zealand is now offering a hardware device that plugs into a USB keyboard and allows one to convert from Qwerty to Dvorak instantly without relying on spotty operating system support (especially from Windows) and even spottier application support. They’re sending me one to test out and review. More to come.

5. History of the Earth in 60 seconds. I came across this several months ago. Watch 4.6 billion years of history compressed into one minute. Cool.

6. MIT Media Lab Center for Future Story Telling. I also came across this many months ago and have been meaning to post it. Here’s an excerpt:

Research will range from on-set motion capture to accurately and unobtrusively merge human performers and digital character models; to next-generation synthetic performer technologies, such as richly interactive, highly expressive robotic or animated characters; to cameras that will spawn entirely new visual art forms; to morphable movie studios, where one studio can be turned into many through advanced visual imaging techniques; to holographic TV. It will draw on technologies pioneered at the Media Lab, such as digital systems that understand people at an emotional level, or cameras capable of capturing the intent of the storyteller.

The MIT Media Lab does some very interesting work. The new Center is slated to open in 2010, but research is already underway. Sounds intriguing. Can I work there?

On Dvorak and the future of the keyboard

1. Dvorak-Qwerty redux

I decided to test out Tweetdeck, a new Twitter application in Beta developed on the Adobe Air platform. I like it. But when I attempted to hide the app with the shortcut ?-H ... it didn't work. Then it hit me. It's an Adobe app. Of course it doesn't work. That's because I type using a keyboard layout called Dvorak.

It's a common enough layout that it's included as an international keyboard option for both the Mac and PC. The Mac also has a unique keyboard layout called 'Dvorak-Qwerty,' which I use. This allows one to type using the Dvorak layout, but use Qwerty key combos. It's a thoughtful tip of the hat to Dvorak users who know and rely on standard Qwerty keyboard shortcuts.

Most of the applications on my Mac respect this convention and work very well with the D-Q layout. The glaring exceptions are Microsoft Office and Adobe products. I've given up on Microsoft ever fixing this problem, seeing as the OS still doesn't include a D-Q option (and likely never will). But Adobe? Come on. I can't imagine that fixing this little glitch would take much time. Correct me if I'm wrong, Adobe.

I've written about this on Adobe forums, I've sent in suggestions, I've posted on this topic here and on other blogs. Nothing has changed. While I'm sure that there are not many Dvorak typists using Adobe creative suites who rely on Qwerty key combos, I'm surely not the only one! And, hey, we're paying customers. And those suites are expensive.

Someday, I hope that Adobe will fix this relatively simple thing. Adobe: take heed that Smile on my Mac fixed this same problem with TextExpander with one simple update. I wrote to them about the problem. And it was fixed with their next update a few weeks later. Now that's service.

2. This Dvorak post rocks

So, I got an email a while back from Francis Siefken from the Netherlands, a fellow Dvorak user. He put forward a convincing case that switching the U and the I on the Dvorak keyboard would lead to even greater efficiencies. I love this kind of analysis.

Check out his post even if you don't use Dvorak, if only to appreciate the time and thought he clearly put into this. It seems that his blog may have went into hiatus after this one post (something that I can certainly appreciate!), but it's worth the read nonetheless. As is how he named his son, which also appears on this page. I hope we'll see more posts on his blog someday soon.

My view: why not switch the U and I keys? The point is that the keyboard—our primary interface to the digital realm—must continue to evolve. Dvorak, while imperfect, is arguably an evolutionary leap forward from Qwerty. But why stop there? I say let's continue to perfect the layout of keys to meet our needs.

Note that Siefken emphasizes that the primary benefit of Dvorak isn't necessarily speed. It's comfort. If you're someone who types a lot (as in all day, every day) it may be worth your time to learn Dvorak if you're not already heavily invested in Qwerty. Let the keyboard evolve, and let repetitive stress be damned!

The careful reader might now ask why I don't use Dvorak keyboard shortcuts, preferring instead to keep using Qwerty shortcuts. The answer? The most-used shortcut keys are largely grouped down by the ? key, so it's easier and faster. D-Q is a great combo.

3. On the evolution of the keyboard

And speaking of the evolution of keyboards, check out the Optimus Maximus. It's expensive as hell, but wow. It's the future of keyboards.

And what's Apple doing on this front? Perhaps making an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) keyboard of their own. Will it be cheaper than the Optimus Maximus? Probably. Will Art.Lebedev Studios, creator of the Optimus and other wonderful and expensive design goodies, sue Apple? This might be a story we hear more about next year.

Scanner Art

Here's a project idea for the long weekend. Have you heard of scanner art? The basic idea is this: you scan things and you try to make something something artistic with it. Is it art? Is it really photography? Some say yes, some say no. I say, 'Who cares?'

I have found that I can get some extraordinary results with my trusty scanner (the Epson Perfection 4490). I particularly like how the scanner captures intricate detail in natural objects. Here are a few samples of items I've created (click for a larger view)., where the stunning work of Katinka Matson is often featured. Intrigued, I started experimenting with my scanner. I don't have any sage advice about creating scanned artwork, but I do have a few tips:

• Ensure you clean the scanner bed really well before you scan
• Be prepared to spend several hours cleaning up dust and artifacts from each image you scan with your image editor of choice (even if you DO clean the bed well, you will spend a good deal of time on this task).
• I prefer to scan in the dark with the lid of the scanner open. It produces nice clean lines and a black background, which makes it easier to extract the image.
• This is a great way to experiment with your image editing program (I use Photoshop), particularly for creating interesting backgrounds, arrangements and frames.
• Try scanning anything and everything. For items that might damage your scanner bed glass, some say to try using a transparent film (e.g. a rigid piece of clear plastic of the type used to protect business reports in days past). Haven't tried this myself — I just use the 'be really, really careful when scanning' method.
• Try playing around with arrangement and layering of your scanned items.
• Scan the same item from different angles, then try piecing it together the various images into one montage.
• Scan the same item at different resolutions, then try assembling something interesting from these scans.

If scanning objects appeals to you, check out Scanner Magic and Photo Vinc for more tips and ideas.

Dvorak-Qwerty support for Adobe CS

So, here’s my latest Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard support rant.

I received a very odd ‘personal’ response from an Adobe customer support representative regarding my request for Dvorak-Qwerty support for Adobe’s Creative Suite applications.

My complaint: Dvorak-Qwerty does not properly work with Adobe products.

(See my previous post for background on DQ if you have no idea what I’m talking about)

Here’s a snippet from what I wrote to Adobe about this annoying problem:

I must toggle to the QWERTY layout to use my shortcuts, then toggle back to Dvorak when I need to type. This is very annoying. Would Adobe consider posting a relatively minor update to address those users who rely on the Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard layout in Mac OS X?
They wrote back to me today (within 24 hours, as promised on their website):
I understand that you would like Adobe to post a minor update for Macintosh users who rely on Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard, as you have to continually toggle between these two keyboards in order to use it to type text and use short cut keys respectively.

I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.

We need to inform you that Adobe® Systems continually develops new applications and improves existing products, but cannot comment on unreleased products until a press release is posted. When new releases become available, the details regarding new features and purchasing information will be posted on the Adobe Web site at the following URL:

Ok. So they seem to grasp the issue, but then again … the response mimicked the phrases from my complaint so closely that it left me with the distinct impression that some sort of AI compiled and regurgitated a customized automated response based on my input. The part that annoys me most is that the automated response tries too hard to appear like it came from a real human. Or perhaps what annoys me is that it doesn’t seem like it came from a real human, but Adobe would like me to feel as if it did.

I can’t say that I expect to see a software update from Adobe that addresses my issue anytime soon. I’m guessing there aren’t too many users out there who suffer from lousy DQ support (and it’s not just Adobe products that lack DQ support), and I’m assuming that the Adobe user base is so massive and the number of suggestions to improve their software are so many that my little complaint may be backlogged until Adobe CS 10.

It’s nice that Adobe has a system in place to so quickly respond to a customer input. I bet a lot of R&D went into this auto-rapid-super-friendly-personalized response system. Still, it raises a larger philosophical question about automated, rapid customer support. Is a quick reply better than a delayed reply (or no reply at all) if it is canned and impersonal? Is it actually worse if it’s canned and impersonal and it attempts to be personalized in a very fake way?

In addition to the mimicry of my original complaint, the ‘personal’ message also included my name at awkward intervals throughout the response. Here’s an example:

Troy, also, please visit the following URL on the Adobe Web site for the latest customer service and technical information: [](
And later on in the (relatively short) message:
Troy, the Web Support Portal Representatives are available from Monday to Friday.
I'm convinced that a human would not reference my first name repeatedly in such an awkward manner.

The Adobe response was signed by ‘Victor M.’ of Adobe Customer Service. I’m sure that Victor M. exists, but he surely would not have typed out such a weird response to a customer. I really wouldn’t expect a human to type out a detailed response within 24 hours from such a massive company. It had to be a generated response. So what’s my point? If Adobe is committed to a personalized, rapid customer response, I would rather receive a message that said:

'Hi Troy, we get a bazillion comments and suggestions every week. We got your message. A real human will read it. We will consider your input.'
A week or two later, perhaps I would get a message that said:
'Hey Troy, We read your input. We understand that you've submitted a feature request about our support for Dvorak-Qwerty. It may be part of a future Adobe release, but we can't make any promises. We'll do our best. We're considering it. Really. Please understand that we have a bazillion other feature requests already in the queue, so your input will be addressed in the order it was received since we've determined that it's not a critical application error.'
Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather see a response like that. To be fair, perhaps the response I received wasn't automated. Perhaps Victor M. used creative cut-n-paste to respond to my query. Still, it seemed disingenuous; it seemed like a cookie-cutter response cloaked in a 'personalized' message. It seemed, in other words, automated in the worst way.

If any of you reading this are Dvorak typists who use QWERTY shortcuts (and use Adobe apps), please consider dropping them a note. Maybe all ten of us will get them to consider updating their software…

Dvorak victory! TextExpander fixed

Dvorak users of the world scored a little victory this week. The TextExpander team at SmileOnMyMac fixed the problem with the Mac OS Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard layout, detailed in an earlier View from the Dock post.

A recap of this bug: when using the Mac OS Dvorak-Qwerty option, TextExpander did not previously work. Now it does. How did this come to pass? Me and at least one other user asked that it be fixed. And it was fixed, very promptly. I’d like to thank SmileOnMyMac for listening. I am a very satisfied customer. And here’s more unsolicited praise for TextExpander — it saves me an amazing amount of time (I just used it to add the previous Em dash). My wife is a devoted user, too. She uses TextExpander to save keystrokes on her website.

Now I am going to try to get Adobe to fix their Creative Suite. Unfortunately, I must still switch to the QWERTY keyboard layout when I’m using PhotoShop and the other Adobe apps, and I shouldn’t have to do this. Maybe it will be fixed if Apple buys Adobe!

If you do your typing on a Mac and you use Dvorak, I want to ensure you know that you can quickly toggle between Qwerty and Dvorak (or Dvorak-Qwerty, or other languages). Once you enable these option in the International Preference Pane (found under Apple’s System Preferences), you can choose to show this input menu in the Apple Menu Bar. You may then quickly toggle between the different keyboard layouts using a keyboard shortcut of your choice (I use option-command-space).

A quick reminder: if you use Windows, check out SkyEnergy’s HotKeyz. This little freeware program allows you to easily remap shortcut keys (paste, save, copy, etc.) to match the QWERTY key positions while using the Dvorak layout. It works quite well.

Finally, I want to point out a new development that is full of potential for those of us who use alternative typing layouts. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to look down at my keyboard and actually see the Dvorak layout. I may be able to do just that in the not-to-distant future. Check out this ArsTechnica report about a recent Apple patent for a dynamically controlled keyboard.

Imagine a keyboard with organic LEDs on each key. If you’re curious about the possibilities, see Art Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus (it’s available now, if you can afford it). I imagine a future Apple keyboard that displays the Dvorak keys, then dynamically displays QWERTY keys when I press a command-key combination. And I envision my keyboard dynamically changing to display game-specific commands or key combinations for shortcut-intensive programs like Photoshop or Final Cut Studio. This is surely the keyboard of the future, and I can’t wait to get one.

Dvorak users of the world unite!

dvorak2 I encountered yet another Dvorak bug today. For the benefit of those (ok, probably all of you) who do not know what Dvorak is, it’s an alternative keyboard layout. It’s generally considered faster and more efficient than the standard QWERTY layout.

I can certainly type quite fast and, since the Dvorak keys are not in the same place as the QWERTY keys, I learned to type without ever looking down … it wouldn’t help anyways. Never needing to look down is a plus in my book. Anyhow, it turns out that TextExpander does not support the Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard layout. Dvorak-Qwerty is a Mac OS option (available via the International/Input Menu preference pane) that allows one to type in Dvorak but still access the command shortcut keys in their designated QWERTY positions. That means that I can type in Dvorak, but still use the QWERTY Command-C/V/Q etc. The tech support guy (who responded to my query very quickly, I should add) said that the add this support to the feature request list, although he was not authorized to say if it would or would not be fixed to add this support.

So what’s the bug? When the keyboard setting is DQ (that’s short for Dvorak-Qwerty), TextExpander cannot expand text. You type in the short cut, and your shortcut is replaced by … nothing. You just get an empty string where your expanded text should go. This is frustrating. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Dvorak user out there, though I’m sure I am not. A great feature of the Mac OS is the built in Dvorak support with QWERTY command keys. While Windows supports Dvorak as an option, it does not (and apparently will never) support the QWERTY command function.

Even though I use this alternate layout, I am a slave to Mac keyboard shortcuts (the QWERTY style shortcuts). The Mac OS has long supported this, recognizing the need amongst mac users to have command-C map to the ‘C’ character printed on the physical keyboard, even though it’s not the ‘C’ character in the Dvorak layout is located where the I character is printed. Make sense? Windows does not have this. I was using a freeware program called Hotkeyz on my Windows (work) machine to remap my keys. This solved the PC problem beautifully. But, alas, my IT staff made me take it off because of my workplace ‘no shareware or freeware policy.’ Blah.

Anyhow, most mac programs work fairly well with Dvorak-Qwerty. Except for TextExpander, and except for Adobe CS3 (actually, I don’t believe Adobe products have ever supported Dvorak-Qwerty … and except for Mac MS Office (which I don’t use - iWork handles Dvorak quite well). What this means for me is that I have to turn Qwerty on when using Photoshop, because Command-C otherwise does not work. I could re-learn the shortcuts for the remapped Dvorak keys, but I don’t want to. I like the shortcut keys mapped to what’s printed on the keyboard. Besides, I’m so conditioned to type the Command key shortcuts that it would take major reconditioning to learn the alternate locations. The bottom line for me is this: I know there aren’t many of us out there, but there are people out there that rely on Dvorak-Qwerty. The combo, exclusive to the mac, is one of those little things that makes my mac experience better than my work-a-day PC experience. I can’t imagine it would take much of a code fix to support this feature … it is built in to the OS, after all. So, Adobe and Smile on My Mac … please support the DQ keyboard layout!!

By the way, I found this nice little freeware app that fixes one annoying DQ layout problem - the inability to use command+shift in DQ