A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I used Keybuild to set my phone’s keyboard layout to Dvorak left-hand. I wanted to make a follow-up post about how I’ve been trucking with keyboard layouts since then, because uhhh, it has consumed quite a bit of my time and thus feels like the kind of thing I should write up for a post.

The first thing is, I’ve been determinedly doing at least a little typing in the Dvorak left-hand layout every day, even though for most of that time I was “typing blind” with QWERTY legends on all the keys. Muscle memory did kick in before long though, fast enough that I’m sure I never fully lost it even though I haven’t used it in five years. Blind-typing in Dvorak left-hand was never going to be as fast or as accurate for me as sight-typing in QWERTY, but I probably got two-thirds of the way there after a little practice, which was suprisingly good.

I was undecided whether I wanted to order a set of keyboard stickers (to put the correct legends on my laptop’s keys) or a separate Bluetooth keyboard that I could also use with our desktop computer. I made various arguments to myself one way or the other – using the desktop would get annoying if I had to use its existing QWERTY board; using my laptop would get annoying without stickers, because I’m not gonna want to take a separate keyboard everywhere with me; stickers are cheaper; a dedicated board is more future-proof and versatile…

I did my own head in with all of this, and in the end I decided… to buy stickers. Then the day after that my tax return came in and I was possessed with the spirit of “¿Porqué no los dos?” and I also ordered a keyboard 😛 Excellent problem-solving there.

In the end I decided not to cheap out too much on getting a new board, partly because all the reviews I read on cheaper ones went like “the Blue­tooth is flaky as shit” and, well, I don’t want to make typing an infuriating experience for myself. So, ultimately, I ordered a Keychron K2(external link). Buying it from their own site was still cheaper than buying it from Amazon even though there was a US$26 shipping cost, so you know, screw Amazon. It arrived yesterday and before too long I’d rearranged the keys into the Dvorak left-hand layout:

a Keychron K2 keyboard with white-and-black keys arranged in the Dvorak left-hand layout

I then procedeed to discover the unexpected drawback to having a separate keyboard, which is that in Gidget’s mind, my lap having a keyboard on it = my lap is vacant, so I have to position the keyboard at all sorts of awkward angles so she can claim pride of place there:

photo I took of Gidget (a tabby cat) on my lap, with the keyboard placed precariously half on top of her

Overall this solution has been pretty good. The Blue­tooth works really well with my MacBook. It works less well with the Linux desktop, as in every time it wakes up from sleep I seem to have to re-pair it, and IDK what I’m doing wrong but I don’t seem to have the sequence of events optimised to make that happen first time every time. On the other hand though, the keyboard did also come with a cable, so I figure I might as well use it in cable mode on the desktop and Bluetooth mode with my laptop, and sidestep that issue.

Another unexpected issue I discovered is that when I rearrange the keys, the profile view looks like this:

close-up of the keys, the tops of which look all jagged and misaligned

Can you see how the keys tilt at all different angles from one another?! That’s because (and until now I had genuinely not realised this was a thing, so pls cut me some slack) the OEM profile of the keycaps that came with the board is a “contoured” profile, meaning each row of keys has a different height and shape. Maybe that’s fine if you have no intention of rearranging the keys, but if you do, it kind of sucks. The solution is to buy an alternative keycap set that uses a different profile, like XDA or DSA. Thankfully I overpaid my taxes by shitloads last year, so I was able to find and buy one of those and still have over 90% of my tax refund in hand. I haven’t received the new keycap set yet, so no photos (and I’ll have to deal with this obnoxiously tall hyphen key for a few weeks). However, it’s good to know it’s been a problem with a solution 😃

One good thing about Keychrons is that they come with Mac keycaps (Con­trol, Option, Command instead of Ctrl, Win/Super, Alt). Very few aftermarket alternate key sets have these, and those that do are seemingly all OEM profile sets (or another contoured profile like Cherry). Soooo, I had to give up on Mac keycaps. But after I’d made the decision to give up I realised I didn’t really need them anyway: it was already going to be useful, even pref­erable, to install the “Windows” keycaps for use on my Linux desktop, and use the keyboard in “Windows mode”.

So what I decided to do instead was use Karabiner(external link) on my Mac to swap Control and Command around. This means I can type shortcuts like Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V and so on, drawing on the same muscle memory no matter which computer I’m on, but on the Mac the Karabiner software will translate that into Cmd+C, Cmd+V, etc..1 Apparently MacOS itself has an in-built option to reconfigure them, but I only wanted to do it on the external board, not the laptop. Anyway, that’s working well.

Finally, hot on the tails of the new keyboard, my stickers arrived in the mail. So now my MBA keyboard looks like so:

a rose-gold MacBook Air's keyboard with white-text-on-black stickers placed to give it the Dvorak left-hand keyboard layout

It looks relatively similar to what my keys looked like before with the backlighting off, but the type is a little bit thicker, which aids visibility. One thing I will say is that because the stickers are basically the same size as the keys, my fingers are “catching” sometimes on the ridges – it’s not quite as smooth as using the naked keys. I guess I’m hoping either that that the edges soften over time, or that I get used to it. I mean, one of the two had better happen, cos it had already been doing my head in for 24 hours going between the external keyboard with correct Dvorak LH legends and the in-built keyboard without them… We’ll see.

So, that’s that. I’ve been using MonkeyType(external link) to assess my typing speed over the past little while. I’m already up at 60wpm with Dvorak left-hand after only switching back to using it full-time about 32 hours ago (compared to 67wpm with QWERTY a couple of weeks ago). The main thing that’s still jarring is some of the punctuation (like question mark or double quotes), even though others (like apostrophe and hyphen) feel really natural in their new spots. HTML is also kind of awkward because the < = " / signs are basically at the four corners of the board 😂 But overall, for normal typing, this layout already feels more comfortable, with less side-to-side movement required for my hand. And that’s really what I wanted, so I’m happy!

  1. As an aside, I’m sure there’s a whole episode of computing history on why everyone else standardised on Ctrl+Super+Alt and Apple instead went Ctrl (but it’s different)+Opt+Cmd (but this is the real equivalent to Ctrl on other systems) and I would really be interested to know what that is. ↩︎