Author Topic: Ergonomics and modifiers?  (Read 3861 times)

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Offline joesventek

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Ergonomics and modifiers?
« on: Fri, 18 May 2018, 10:54:18 »
In my day to day work I have to use a fair amount of modifier keys. This in combination with one sided use of all the modifiers led to the first signs of what some call an "]Emacs Pinky.

That's why I'm on a quest to save my (left) pink now.

Here's what I've done so far:

  • Mapped Capslock to Ctrl.
  • Switched from german to "us altgr intl" layout on my 60% ISO board. This makes it easier to type commonly (to me) used symbols like { and }. On the other hand it makes it a bit harder to type stuff like german umlauts.
  • I'm trying to split the work the left pinky has to do with the right pinky. Shift is a good example.

Unfortunately this seemingly is not enough to save my left pinky.

So I went out to build my own split ergo keyboard featuring thumb keys. I thought putting the modifiers on thumb keys could save that poor pinky.
Turns out, while planning the build and the layout to be, putting all modifiers on thumb keys is not a good idea either. Because you know, sometimes, maybe often even, I have to press multiple modifiers at once.
Please note: I count keys to switch layers as modifiers as well.

I guess that's one of the reasons my custom ergo split project is stuck in limbo for so long now.

Just two hours ago I decided to give dual role on the home row a go. I already played with space as a dual role key und I did not like it because it often got in my way while typing.
So this time I put Ctrl on F and J and just for the sake of doing it a numpad layer on A.

I've been using those dual role keys now at work and they seem to work very well. I don't miss letters while typing and the modifiers are identified correctly when I want to use them.

So I think dual role keys on the alphas in combination with some thumb keys (on a split keyboard) might be a really good way to save the pinkies.

What are your thought? How do you save your pinkies? Any other tricks worth sharing?

Also I'm wondering while dual shot keys on the alphas are not more common? Searching did not yield many (useful) results.

Online vvp

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #1 on: Fri, 18 May 2018, 14:34:51 »
Dual shot keys postpone sending of key press event untill another key is pressed or until the dual shot key is released. This is a significant problem if you use your keyboard also for gaming or when you accidentally have pressed two keys at once while typing quickly. Example: lets say you type "yes" as "+y+e-y-e+s-s"(*) ... if y key is a dual shot key then you get garbage. If it is a simple key then this will be interpreted by programs without problem as expected. I do not know how other typist but this accidental press of two ordinary keys at once happens sometimes to me. It is never a problem if you do not use dual shot keys.

(*) +x means key x is pressed, -x means it is released

I have all modifiers on thumb cluster and I often press two modifiers at once. E.g. I use Win-Shift-<Number> often to control i3 window manager. Look at this post to see how I press two modifiers at once on my thumb cluster:
https://deskthority.net/post250605.html#p250605

The other option is "merge-able" macros. I use them to press chords like Shift-F1 as FnShift-A or chords like Ctrl-Shift-F1 as FnShift-Ctrl-A. FnShift is a palm button.

Good luck with your pinkie off-loading.

Offline joesventek

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #2 on: Sat, 19 May 2018, 03:42:52 »
The problem with dual shot keys you describe is actually what I experienced when I put Ctrl on Space. That's why I thought dual shot keys were no solution to my problem. This test was done with a really old version of TMK though. My recent test with modifiers on the home row was done using the latest version of QMK with IGNORE_MOD_TAP_INTERRUPT (the QMK documentation states: "makes it possible to do rolling combos (zx) with keys that convert to other keys on hold") set and have not experienced any of those problems when typing very fast. Time will tell how reliable this solution is though.

Thanks for the link to your solution for pressing multiple modifiers at once with the thumbs. Though I only had time to skim your post for now and I have to defer reading it thouroughly I can't see myself using this solution. At first sight it looks like this would just cause problems for the other fingers and/or unreliable key hitting.

Also I forgot to mention I played with one shot modifiers as well. So when putting all modifiers on thumb keys I would be able to press them in succession instead of simultaneous. I feel this is slowing me down considerably though, so I think this is not a good solution to me as well.

Online vvp

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #3 on: Sat, 19 May 2018, 13:15:30 »
OK, so the firmware postpones a dual shot key effect even more (until a key in a chord is released). Non-gamers would not really mind. Gamers would mind even the shorter postponement I mentioned before. Makes sense.

Online algernon

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #4 on: Sat, 19 May 2018, 15:32:54 »
You want one-shot modifiers, on the thumb cluster. One-shot means it remains active until *after* the next press, even if you release it. You can also chain modifiers this way, because one-shot modifiers do not cancel each other (talking about QMK and Kaleidoscope here, other firmware may implement them differently). This means if you want to type `Ctrl+Shift+Alt+F`, you type `Ctrl, Shift, Alt, F` instead. No chording, no weird finger gymnastics, and you only need one set of modifiers, saving a few keys on your layout. (Ok, you may want Right Alt)

I've been using oneshots this way for almost two years now, my pinkies love it, because they don't need to hold anything at all. My thumbs love it, because they can drum on the thumb cluster from time to time - and they don't need to hold anything either! My keymap loves it too, because I could put more useful stuff on my base layer, after removing all the Right modifiers.

Seriously, try one shot modifiers. They help, and are incredibly easy to get used to.

(You can also hold them, and they act like a normal modifier then. You can even double-tap them to have them lock until a third tap, so you can TYPE IN ALL CAPS WITHOUT CAPSLOCK OR HOLDING SHIFT! Awesome!)

Offline joesventek

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #5 on: Tue, 22 May 2018, 04:32:25 »
OK, so the firmware postpones a dual shot key effect even more (until a key in a chord is released). Non-gamers would not really mind. Gamers would mind even the shorter postponement I mentioned before. Makes sense.

Fortunately I'm not a gamer, so this is not a problem to me. I guess I just have to test out modifiers on the home row for a bit longer to make sure they work for me.

You want one-shot modifiers, on the thumb cluster. One-shot means it remains active until *after* the next press, even if you release it. You can also chain modifiers this way, because one-shot modifiers do not cancel each other (talking about QMK and Kaleidoscope here, other firmware may implement them differently). This means if you want to type `Ctrl+Shift+Alt+F`, you type `Ctrl, Shift, Alt, F` instead. No chording, no weird finger gymnastics, and you only need one set of modifiers, saving a few keys on your layout. (Ok, you may want Right Alt)

I've been using oneshots this way for almost two years now, my pinkies love it, because they don't need to hold anything at all. My thumbs love it, because they can drum on the thumb cluster from time to time - and they don't need to hold anything either! My keymap loves it too, because I could put more useful stuff on my base layer, after removing all the Right modifiers.

Seriously, try one shot modifiers. They help, and are incredibly easy to get used to.

I did try one shot modifiers and did not like them at all (because using them felt awkwardly slow to me and I got all confused when I accidentally hit a modifier). But I guess I have to give them a serious try again to finally form an opinion on them.

Online algernon

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #6 on: Tue, 22 May 2018, 04:42:45 »
I did try one shot modifiers and did not like them at all (because using them felt awkwardly slow to me and I got all confused when I accidentally hit a modifier). But I guess I have to give them a serious try again to finally form an opinion on them.

For accidental hits, I set up my Esc key to cancel any oneshots if active, and only act as Esc when there are no one-shots in flight. This made the accidental hits much less confusing. As for speed - that's just a question of practice. After about a week of using oneshot modifiers, I found I type capital letters faster, because my thumb got used to pressing shift, and moving my thumb slightly and tapping a key turned out to be faster than reaching for Shift with my pinky, and holding.

Offline stevep

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #7 on: Wed, 23 May 2018, 09:29:40 »
Thumb keys are the way to go. Thumbs are perfect for modifiers, but the design of traditional keyboards is unfortunately very stupid, which makes optimal usage harder to achieve than it should be.

One option is to go for a radically changed keyboard design, such as the ErgoDox or Planck. They provide convenient thumb keys and can be programmed in hardware. But they do require a bit of relearning, and it might be annoying if you need to frequently switch back to ordinary hardware.

Another option, for standard keyboards, is you can access the Alt keys via your thumbs, with alternative functions assigned to them. This works especially well on laptop-style keyboard where the Alt keys are directly below C and comma. Here are some ideas of what you could to with these modifier keys. Also some keyboards have split space-bars, such as the Matias Ergo Pro or the upcoming UHK, which allows you to use one of the spacebars for something else. I have been doing this for years and highly recommend it.


« Last Edit: Wed, 23 May 2018, 09:37:26 by stevep »

Offline joesventek

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #8 on: Sun, 03 June 2018, 11:37:10 »
So after having used modifiers on the home row for a bit now, I come to the following conclusion: When they work, modifiers on the home row are really really great and comfortable! Unfortunately, no matter what settings in QMK I change, there are always some quirks that get in my way.

So the next experiment in trying to save my pinkies is building a custom split keyboard with thumb keys: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=95919.0

Online vvp

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #9 on: Sun, 03 June 2018, 12:38:53 »
Can you please elaborate on the "quirks".

Offline joesventek

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #10 on: Sun, 03 June 2018, 15:03:07 »
Sure. The problem is I can either make the modifiers or the alphas work reliably. Not both at the same time. After tweaking the available settings the best I can, I can make both work maybe 90% of the time. As soon as I type or hit the modifiers any other way than I usually do (faster, slower, ...), I get accidental letters when I want to have modifiers or the other way around.

I'm sure one can get used to this by being more disciplined when typing. Unfortunately I don't think I can though. Which makes me kinda sad because I really like the shift keys on the home row when they work. Unfortunately those are the least reliable dual role keys to me.

I'll keep experimenting with dual role keys on less frequently used letters though.

Online vvp

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #11 on: Sun, 03 June 2018, 16:43:15 »
Thansk for your response.
Sorry, I do not use QMK. Cannot you configure QMK so that dual role keys so that they do not depend on timeouts and speed of typing?

After our previous discussion I expected the firmware to buffer all the keystrokes in sequence (not sending anything to the OS just yet). Then a higher level layer would transform this sequence of keys presses and releases and emit them to the OS. The transformation would be done in such a way that if any key is both pressed after and released before a dual role key then the dual role key is interpreted as a modifier. In any other case the dual role keys would be interpreted as non-modifier.
This approach does not depend on speed. It depends only on the sequence of key presses and releases. Not good for gaming but it should work OK for typing.

Offline joesventek

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #12 on: Mon, 04 June 2018, 01:56:56 »
I think that's exactly what PERMISSIVE_HOLD does and which seemed to work very realiable for me on the first tests. Turns out, I hit the keys in the correct order but sometimes release them in reverse when typing fast. Without buffering this works as intended by me. With PERMISSIVE_HOLD set this would then lead to accidental (to me) modifier invocations.

I'm sure this can work for a lot of people. But for me it does not at the moment. I'll make sure to give dual role keys another go with my split keyboard though.

Online vvp

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Re: Ergonomics and modifiers?
« Reply #13 on: Mon, 04 June 2018, 03:27:54 »
I think that's exactly what PERMISSIVE_HOLD does and which seemed to work very realiable for me on the first tests. Turns out, I hit the keys in the correct order but sometimes release them in reverse when typing fast. Without buffering this works as intended by me. With PERMISSIVE_HOLD set this would then lead to accidental (to me) modifier invocations.
Yes, if you would release the keys in the wrong order while intending to use a dual role key as a modifier then it would not be recognized as a modifier. But modifiers are not used that often so it should be possible to train oneself to be more careful with them.
I do not use dual role keys myself mostly because I have 10 thumb+palm keys on each half so there is plenty of easily accessible modifier candidates for me. And I play games sometimes. But I planned to add their support to the firmware I use. Now I'm not sure it is worth the trouble.

The point is that just for typing they should work OK. They have only three drawbacks:
  • they change the timing of events
  • they need some other way to press the dual role key with its own modifier (e.g. if F is dual role key with Ctrl then there needs to be alternative way to pres Ctrl-F)
  • the order of pressing/releasing of a dual role key relative to the other keys needs to be correct when used as a modifier
Looks like the last point is hard.

I'm sure this can work for a lot of people. But for me it does not at the moment. I'll make sure to give dual role keys another go with my split keyboard though.
Well, from what I read here you seemed like the most avid user trying to give dual role keys some heavy use. Most people seem to use them only as SpaceFn. That may be somewhat different since space is pressed by thumb. Please, report your experience with dual role keys if you ever return to them again.