Dvorak for two weeks, a retrospective

January 20, 2011

Two weeks ago I switched to the Dvorak keyboard layout. The switch was motivated by a few different things:

Knowing real people that are using the Dvorak layout every day

I found out that at least 3 developers out of our group of about 11 use Dvorak. I had heard many people on the internet who had been using it before, but no one in real life. Having people you actually know using it did help in legitimizing the switch in my brain.

Emacs usage and RSI

Having switched to Emacs for Clojure development in order to pair with people at the new job, I started developing what has been known as “Emacs Pinky”. The pinky syndrome faded over time as I became more familiar with Emacs, but it made me think about RSI impacting me in the future. I decided that if I was going to change I would need to change while I was under 30. So far I feel like there has been less stress on my hands than Qwerty was.

I also decided that if I was going to learn Emacs, I might as well gain the muscle-memory with Dvorak the first time. This has been great since I still have to think about Emacs commands, so only knowing the command with muscle-memory on Dvorak keeps my mind from Qwerty/Dvorak contention.

Maybe typing faster in the future

Anyone that’s seen Phil type on his awesome keyboard pants knows how fast he types with Dvorak. It’s inspiring.

So, how has it been?

So far, Dvorak has been really cool. I’m 2 weeks (and a day) into the switch. Right now my qwerty is completely shot, so I try very hard not to use it any more. I did a completely cold-turkey switch, which was hard at the beginning, but I’ve had some understanding coworkers that have helped it not be as painful (they would drive the pairing while I was just starting out). My speed with Dvorak right now is about 1/2 of my speed with Qwerty, but it gets better every day.

The hardest letters to type so far are ‘q’, ‘l’ and ‘g’. I’ve also been having trouble with [] being switched, I end up typing / every time I mean to type [ (like I said, getting better every day). Overall, I would still recommend to anyone that types a lot that if they can take the initial hit, it’s worth the switch.

I recommend that if you do switch, switch like this:

  • Switch cold-turkey – switching half time will leave you crazy.
  • Print out a Dvorak keyboard (or stick it on your screen persistently) until you memorize the keyboard
  • Try not to be in a position where people have to watch you type – if you think it’s painful to type, imagine watching you type.
  • Don’t change any Emacs/Vim/whatever defaults (keybindings) – I couldn’t change since we pair on each other’s computers, so the default is always the best to learn

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posted in dvorak, emacs by Lee

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6 Comments to "Dvorak for two weeks, a retrospective"

  1. Geoffrey Grosenbach wrote:

    That sounds like the way I switched to Dvorak, about five years ago.

    Weeks 2-4 were the hardest. I started to be confident, but still made many mistakes and it didn’t feel natural yet. To this day I still can’t switch back to Qwerty without hunt and peck. But I find Dvorak to be much more comfortable, not to mention more ideologically pure. And I can do a reasonable 80+ wpm with Dvorak.

    I’m glad I stuck with it!

  2. Sami Samhuri wrote:

    It was about the same for me as well.

    I wrote the dvorak layout on my keyboard with a black marker and by the time the ink wore off I knew what was where. Probably took about 2-4 weeks or so.

  3. Aaron Toponce wrote:

    Welcome to the fold. I switched just about 6 years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long), and I’ve never looked back. My speed easily went up 3-fold, and my accuracy is 98% quite consistently.

    I switched due mostly to curiosity about the layout, but also I was suffering from RSI, which has completely subsided since the switch.

    After my switch, I too found a number of friends that were Dvorak typists already. It was pretty cool, and every job I’ve worked at, for the most part, there has been at least one or two other Dvorak typists.

    Our numbers are growing, slowly, but surely.

  4. Aaron Toponce wrote:

    I should also mention, that if you hang out on IRC at all, check us out in ##dvorak on Freenode. We don’t talk about much very often, but it’s fun to know others who share the layout. I’m eightyeight if you stop by. Drop me a ping, let me know you at least read my comment. :)

  5. Xah Lee wrote:

    i switched in 1993 after 2 years as a typist secretary/data entry clerk.

    started to use emacs in 1998.

    though, dvorak doesn’t help you with emacs pinky in any way. Better watch out. There are lots advices to avoid it, but mostly involving changing keybindings. But if that’s not your thing, or cant because pair programing… i don’t know, maybe kinesis keyboard will help but that doesn’t solve pair programing problem.

  6. John wrote:

    I made this switch in the early ’90s. I remember editing the Linux kernel binary to remap the keys! Learning to type words on Dvorak was a little easier than I expected. It was a few days before I could type without looking. The Emacs keys, however, were a lot harder. ‘Muscle memory’ as you say about did get in the way, since one really doesn’t think about the ‘f’ or ‘b’ in C-f and C-b; you just type them. Anyway, I’ve never looked back, and while typing on other folks’ keyboards is irritating, I never wish I still used qwerty.

    By the way, to become a true keyboard god, use the older (20- to 60-series) Thinkpads for your laptop and buy the USB or PS/2 keyboards with Ultranav for your workstation and server rack. The layout is identical, you never have to move your hands off the keyboard for the mouse, and you’ll never have to think about where the Esc, backtick, backslash, cursor or modifier keys are again.

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