⌨️ Having trouble adapting to the Planck keyboard

I have been thinking that my goal to replace my work keyboard with the Planck EZ Glow—a 40-key ortholinear keyboard—has been a bust.

I tried to learn the Colemak-DH layout and customize the heck out of the board. I was fairly successful at both of those things, but not successful enough to feel comfortable typing in Colemak-DH all day long. I stumble on some of the letters, like B and K, and otherwise make a lot of mistakes. I also find the

Today I decided to change the layout back to the Planck EZ default, which is a QWERTY layout, and then tweak the “adjust” layer into a navigation layer. What I discovered is that my mind defaults to Colemak-DH when I use it, which means I can’t type in QWERTY on it anymore, and I can’t type on it well enough in Colemak-DH, either!

I am not ready to throw in the towel yet. I’m going to try to soldier on with QWERTY this week and see how it goes.

Double Commander

I am on a mission to replace Far Manager, which is a Windows file manager that I really love, and have used for over a year. Far Manager is a text mode file manager that has been in development since the 1990s. It is a lot like Norton Commander, which I used briefly in my DOS days. I like how fast the UI is, how easy it is to navigate the filesystem, and also how easy it is to read the file and folder names in text mode.

Unfortunately, it has a few drawbacks that have been driving me crazy. First, opening Visual Studio Code from it, which I have to do all the time, will often mess up the UI and require a restart. Second, the keyboard shortcuts—many of which I have memorized—are bonkers. The left and right shift keys act as completely different modifiers, and the left and right control keys act the same way. This is not a problem for my standard ANSI keyboard, but I am trying to move to an ortholinear keyboard which doesn’t have two shift keys or two control keys, so some of the functionality I rely on is inaccessible.

Today I found another orthodox (two-panel) file manager that runs on Windows, has a full graphical UI, and is very, very customizable. It’s called Double Commander. Life Far Manager, it is free, and it has the two-pane interface I love. Unlike Far Manager, you can customize nearly every part of the user interface, including all the keyboard shortcuts. I was able to pare down the default toolbars to a minimum, color the interface to have white text on a navy blue background, and learn the few keyboard shortcuts I need to know without any trouble. Prior to learning about it today, I thought I had tried all the orthodox file managers for Windows. Double Commander is my favorite of the bunch.

⌨️ I got my warranty replacement Planck EZ today. Everything on it works, and it came with clicks Box White key switches rather than the Cherry MX Browns my original one came with. I am very happy with it, and hope to get back on track with the Colemak-DH layout soon.

⌨️ My expensive Planck EZ keyboard with the broken LEDs is being replaced with a new one. The customer service rep is even seeing if I can get it with different keyswitches than it originally came with, to match the set I switched to.

⌨️ I have been walking through the troubleshooting steps that ZSA customer support sent me, but nothing is turning the LEDs back on again. I hope that the warranty will cover it.

I swapped the keyswitches on my Planck EZ and now the per-key LED lighting does not work at all. I am bummed. This thing was very expensive and I didn’t do anything with it that it isn’t designed to do. 😕

I will be driving most of the day. Thanksgiving is over and now I am looking forward to Hanukkah, which begins tomorrow night.

⌨️ Keybr

I have been practicing typing on Colemak-DH on my Planck keyboard regularly all week, after a two week hiatus. Keybr still has not enabled more than the initial six letters in its typing practice. It assesses my confidence on each key, and it still is not high enough for me to move on to the next letter.

It is slow going, even though I have memorized the layout 95% at this point. Looking at my history on the site, however, shows me that I have improved greatly since I started. I keep going, little by little, each day. I tonic it will be worthwhile in the end. The layout makes so much sense to me on my little ortholinear board, because with it I barely have to move my hands to type, which is pretty cool.

Material obsessions

I have two collections that I love but cannot justify: high-end headphones (each is sub-$500, but still really expensive and good) and mechanical keyboards (each is $240 or less). It took ten years to build up these collections, so the embarrassing amount of money I have spent is spread out over a long, long period. I was wondering today if people who spend a lot more than I do on vacations do so because they forego (and don’t care about) material objects like pricy headphones and keyboards.

Getting into these “hobbies” (if buying stuff can be called a hobby) was entirely accidental. I’m part of a product review program where I can occasionally select products I like for no money up front, and then only pay taxes on their value months later. I got my first taste of better headphones and better keyboards through that program, essentially through the luck of the draw. (I’m not in charge of which products become available for me to review.) If not for that, I probably would have no other headphones other than my AirPods, and would probably have a $100 Microsoft or Logitech keyboard that I would have to replace (because of wear) every year or two.

I think I am finally nearing “endgame” in both of these categories. I have fantastic headphones of nearly every type (dynamic and planar magnetic, open-back and closed-back, Bluetooth and wired), and they cover every situation, that I need. Similarly, I have mechanical keyboards for all of my computers, have tried a bunch of different key switches (clicky, tactile, and linear), and have even bought a “weird” ortholinear board that I never thought I would ever want until a couple months ago. Any new keyboard purchases are going to be about fixing something that is broken (my wonderful and unacceptably buggy Durgod tenkeyless) or trying out a different type of keyswitch on my new, hot-swappable ortholinear board. At least I hope that will be the case. Collecting more and more of these objects sometimes feels like an obsession, and is not something I want to keep doing forever.

⌨️ I got back to practicing Colemak-DH typing this evening. I am still not great at it, but I didn’t lose a step during my break from it, either.

⌨️ An update on my Colemak-DH experiment

I have temporarily stopped practicing on, or changing to, the ColeMak-DH keyboard layout. I haven’t been using my new Planck-EZ keyboard at all. I am still too slow with that layout to use it for “real” writing, and I have been writing and writing and writing for the past couple weeks.

I think I am still very excited about moving to the Planck and to a non-QWERTY layout. But I am more excited about my writing projects right now.

I plan to pick up Colemak-DH and the Planck keyboard again in a couple weeks, which is around my birthday, because I believe that my need for fast typing will abate by then. The Planck keyboard was supposed to be a birthday present, anyway.

⌨️ Chording

I have just started to use my new Planck keyboard for work for a short, short time each day. It has been rough going so far. I expected to have trouble typing in Colemak-DH because I just started learning that layout. I did not expect to have as much trouble with chording keyboard shortcuts. The problems I am facing are making me doubt whether I really can use a 40% keyboard for work, where it would give me the most benefit.

On my Mac, this is almost never an issue. In general, Mac keyboard shortcuts are easier to enter, and are friendlier to laptop-style keyboards that lack certain control keys.

Conversely, Windows apps like Excel make heavy use of function keys (F1-F12) and operator keys (-, +, *), which, on the Planck, live on a secondary layer that requires a key held down to access. When a Windows shortcut requires a function or operator key plus a modifier key (typically Shift, Alt, or Control, or a combination of them), I find it very challenging to enter it. There are just too many keys to hold down and it gets very awkward.

In Excel, I especially miss a key I never even used until last year: the menu key. I must find a suitable mapping for it, because I have come to rely on it for all sorts of things, primarily special forms of pasting. Furthermore, my Windows file manager of choice, FAR Manager, assigns important functions to keys my keyboard does not even have, like Insert, Right Shift, and Right Control, and makes extensive use of Shift+Function keys for common operations such as renaming a file.

I am slowly figuring out how to map some of the complex key command chords I use to single keys on another layer. That may be the answer for some things, but it doesn’t scale well. I may have to adjust what software I use and how I do certain things.

⌨️ Shifting

One challenge with the Planck that I did not anticipate is that I have trouble hitting the (little) left shift key, and I miss having a right shift key (the Planck has none). It is especially surprising to me because I rarely used the right shift key before I made it a goal last year to use right-shift all the time, rather than stretch my left pinky crazy distances. I think one reason left-shift is more difficult to hit is that the Colemak-DH layout keeps my fingers on the home row all the time. When I type QWERTY, my hands fly all around the keyboard like a concert pianist’s, so it feels more normal to shift my entire left hand to press the shift key.

To mitigate my shift problem, I enabled the AutoShift feature of my keyboard’s firmware. If I press and hold a letter key—which feels a bit like a firm press rather than a ling press—a capital letter is produced. It is a really smart feature, but I am still getting used to it, and it interrupts my flow.

⌨️ Chunking

I have been typing more and more each day with the Colemak-DH layout on my new Planck keyboard. I basically know where all the keys are, but my typing is laborious and slow. I have to think very hard to type every word. At my best right now, I make a plan for the word I will type next, then try to execute that plan without making too many errors. At worst, I look down at the keyboard and hunt and peck.

I remember when learning QWERTY that, after learning where all the letters were, I started to memorize certain patterns to type particular words or parts of words. In other words, I chunked it. Typing fast was a matter of stringing along series of predefined multi-key movements which acted like mental macros.

I see myself at the very beginning of the chunking process right now. It will take a lot more practice to get fast, but I plan to stick with it; hopefully it will be worth it in the long run. If I can type more efficiently I believe I will incur less RSI going forward. That is my main goal in switching keyboards and layouts.

I am trying a new keyboard layout, Colemak DH, and have switched around keys and reprogrammed the Planck EZ to enable it. Colemak is proving easier now that I can look at the key legends for the correct letter.

Oryx, Wally, and Planck

Today I started flashing custom layouts to my new Planck EZ keyboard. It runs QMK firmware, but the manufacturer has tools call Oryx and Wally that make customizing and flashing simple. On a software level, it is the best keyboard I have ever used. On a hardware level, it is solid, too, but I am not used to the ortholinear layout yet or the layers system. Typing with my left hand, especially the letters C and X, is a little problematic for me, because the Planck requires the use of different fingers than what I use for those keys on staggered layouts. Also, I my fingers tend to land in between the keys sometimes when I have to stretch my index finger or pinkie to reach a key.

I have been taking Matt Gemmel’s blog posts about the Planck as an inspiration for customizing it. Following his example, I created a numpad layout today, which will come in handy for work. I also turned on automatic capitalization, which capitalizes letters if you hold them down a tiny bit longer than a normal keypress. It is a cool feature, and may be more important for ergonomics than the layer system is for me.

I have also been practicing the Colemak layout on Keybr.com. Strangely, I could not get the web app to understand my keyboard layout unless it is in QWERTY mode; I have to emulate Colemak in the app, which is kind of a mixed blessing for now, when I could not even log into my computer in the Colemak layout.

All in all, it is fun to try something new. I wonder if I can actually learn the Colemak layout well enough to use it full time.

Colemak

I have started to learn the Colemak keyboard layout on my new ortholinear keyboard. Colemak is a modern keyboard layout designed to reduce finger travel (and overall hand movement around the keyboard), while preserving the position of some keys that are vital for chording with the Command or Control keys: C, V, X, and Z.

It has been brutally slow going. I have been a touch typer on normal, staggered QWERTY keyboards for over 30 years. I taught myself touch typing on my mom’s electric typewriter from audio tapes she borrowed for me from the library. Those tapes dated from the World War II. They were Army training tapes, and their oft shouted message was that good typing skills would help defeat the Nazis, which was a pretty crazy idea to me as a child in the early 1990s. When I was in high school, I took up guitar and played all the time. As an unexpected side effect, my typing speed increased dramatically, thanks to increased dexterity honed in guitar practice.

My typing speed probably peaked in college at about 100 words per minute. It has slowly diminished since, due to repetitive stress injury, acute injuries to my hands and forearms, and generally bad genetic luck when it comes to wrists. I believe my typing speed now ranges between 40 and 75 WPM, at about 95% accuracy. That is certainly good enough for me, most of the time. What isn’t is that sometimes typing hurts, and often when that is the case, I don’t have the luxury to stop, because I have to type for work.

Right now, on my new keyboard, with Colemak layout, my typing speed is about 8 WPM, and that’s with only five letters in the mix! It is interesting to be tackling something I am this bad at. I feel the struggle as I practice typing. Even when I know the correct key to push, I end up pushing the wrong one (the QWERTY one) sometimes. YouTube videos on the subject have taught me to focus on accuracy rather than on speed, so that us what I am doing thus far. I plan to practice daily for a while before changing my layout permanently.

I typically argue that one should further develop strengths rather than try to eliminate weaknesses. It is far better to be great at a particular thing than to be average at a ton of things. At this task, though, my goal is to be average rather than a typing speed demon, just not in pain while doing it. I have been a good typer, and probably could be again if it weren’t so painful to type blazing fast for more than a new minutes at a time.

My birthday present arrived a couple months early: a Planck EZ 40% ortholinear keyboard. Please excuse me for a while: I need to relearn how to type. 😅

⌨️ Somebody please tell me I don’t need a $245 ortholinear 40% keyboard! 😱

Lossless Music Discussion on ATP Podcast

The latest episode of Accidental Tech Podcast has a great discussion about lossless music, which is coming to Apple Music next month.

WebEx has virtual backgrounds?!

A software update at work pushed out the virtual backgrounds feature for WebEx. Since my home office—at least the part of it that is behind me and not under my control— is a mess, I enabled it.

Sadly, it looks pretty awful. The background mostly leaves a halo around me un-obscured; sometimes it clips portions of my face or shoulder off. I have a very high-end laptop and a “very good” Logitech webcam (all webcams are terrible, I think), so I have concluded that WebEx’s technology is way behind Zoom’s, which does the virtual backgrounds flawlessly. I think I will leave virtual backgrounds on, for privacy reasons, and hope no one minds the weird visual side effects.

⌨️ Durgod Zeus Engine Upgrade

To my complete surprise, I discovered today that Durgod released an update to their keyboard configuration: Durgod Zeus Engine. The interface looks a lot better, and it is a little easier to use. They didn’t change the keyboard hardware driver to support function layers, which is unfortunately. I really want that. (Honestly, what I want is the ObinsKit software that powers the Anne Pro 2 to apply work on it.)

I set up a new RGB color scheme and remapped my CapsLock to Control, saved them to the keyboard’s local profile, and (out of habit) configured the Zeus Engine to not start every time I log on. I plugged my keyboard into my USB hub and will keep my fingers crossed that it will work reliably now.

Relearning how to type without arrow keys

Yesterday I turned off the tap layer on my Anne Pro 2 keyboard which is basically only for using Fn, Fn2. right-Ctrl, and right Swift keys as arrow keys. (The keyboard does not have dedicated arrow keys.)

I did this because I think the tap layer causes me a lot of problems, like the cursor moving up a line when I just meant to press the Shift key for its normal function. I also think it may be contributing to double keypresses somehow, but it could also be that I am still not used to the Khial Box White switches, which have a different actuation point than the Cherry MX Blues I usually type on.

Now, I am trying to get used to typing Fn + WASD for arrow keys. It’s not too bad, but it makes some keyboard shortcuts in Visual Studio Code, like “expand selection” (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right Arrow, which is nowFn+D) almost impossible to pull off. I even started looking into switching to Vim or a Vim-mode plugin for Visual Studio Code, so I didn’t have to use arrow keys at all. I gave up Vim pretty quickly, though. I know enough Vim to exit it (ha!) and edit config files, and that’s more than enough usage for me right now.

All in all, my typing has been more accurate since turning off the tap layer, but I have also had to think about how to use the arrow keys each time I use Fn+WASD, especially if there are other modifier keys involved. I have found myself using the mouse a lot more for text selection and navigation than I am used to, which is reminding me of how I used a Macintosh at school when I was a kid.

My (first) failed attempt to flash QMK on my mechanical keyboard

I wasted an hour last night trying to install QMK firmware on my work computer’s mechanical keyboard, a Durgod Taurus K320. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love that it has the best build quality, rigidity, stabilization, keycaps, and typing feel and sound of any of the many (many!) keyboards I have owned over the years. I hate that its software is buggy: so buggy that sometimes the keyboard hangs and I have to unplug it to fix it; so buggy that I have to plug it in directly to my laptop rather than through a USB hub; so buggy that that I cannot program its layers the way I want to.

Very recently, someone figured out how to run QMK firmware on it, which could resolve the stability and customizability problems I have with the board. Unfortunately, I was not able to figure out how to flash the firmware to the keyboard. The main problem I faced was that the keyboard was not recognized by the QMK Toolkit software (on Windows) even after I put the keyboard into bootloader mode, and even after I started messing with the bootloader firmware using Zadig.

After lots of tries, I couldn’t figure out. I think I dodged a bullet, though, because I’m not sure QMK can control the RGB backlighting, which, on this keyboard, is necessary to see the key legends. Fortunately, despite me trying to mess with it, my keyboard still works as well as it did before. It’s not perfect, and I really would like to create a more robust Fn (function key) layer, but I will live with it for now.

The menu key

I was thinking about creating a training presentation to help my coworkers with keyboards shortcuts, but was dismayed to see that our Lenovo laptop keyboards (which I never use, because I work from home and use external peripherals) don’t even have a menu key. Someone decided that Print Screen was more important, which may even be true, but it doesn’t help me make a good presentation for my coworkers. The menu key alternative, Shift+F10 is going to be a very hard sell, especially because F10 on the laptop requires the Fn key to be pressed, too.

I have gone from someone who did not use the menu key on my keyboard for 20+ years (since it was invented in the 1990s) to someone who can’t live without it (on my Windows at least). I made it a point to start using it a few months ago, and now I use it constantly. I recommend that all Windows users with an ANSI or ISO keyboard layout check it out. That key is positioned right underneath your thumb when you use the arrow keys.