I was shocked last week when I started doing the calculations and realized that very soon, my 1 month post was going to be due for the Ergodox EZ report-out.
I’m actually starting this draft on my standard board at home because the hassle of carrying the Ergodox EZ to and from work got a bit much. Moreover, if I brought it home, I used it EXCLUSIVELY which kinda flew in the face of my plans to use it at work and maintain some semblance of proficiency with a standard board at night and on the weekends.
Let that in no way be considered a sign that my enjoyment of my newest ergonomic treat has lessened. On the contrary, the longer I go, the more I miss not having it when I have to write anything. I prefer it everywhere and everywhen.
This holiday season, as a reward to our kids for being excellent students, we purchased a Nintendo Switch as our family gaming console.
If you aren’t familiar with the Switch, it uses a pair of controllers called Joy-Cons to control the on-screen action. These can be slid into the sides of the device for mobile play, slipped into a grip to impersonate a regular game controller, or used with one in each hand – my favorite way to use them.
You can sit however you like and put your hand however they are comfortable. Playing racing games with one hand next to my leg and the other cradling my head is delightful – it reminds me all of all the time I’ve spent imagining what driving an actual car with a joystick might be like. I’m sure it would be better.
What does that have to do with keyboarding?
Typing on the Ergodox EZ is basically the same idea.
As I’ve gotten more adept with a split board, I find that my brain relaxes just a bit more when my hands are apart then together. This is likely placebo, but it elicits a different kind of mental state when I’m focused than when using a regular keyboard.
I love it.
It keeps my shoulders loose, my head more upright, and my hands happy. Pretty much all pain, discomfort, and stress have disappeared, especially during marathon typing sessions.
Hands apart takes a little bit to get used to, and even now I’ll get a moment’s hesitation where my brain has to remember that even though my hands aren’t right next to each other, they are still doing the same task – typing.
The first bit, when you spread things apart, it’s like my brain interpreted that as my hands doing two different things. But just like using a mouse in one hand and WASD on the other eventually turns into “gaming – shooter”, having the hands split becomes just “typing.”
I love that I do all these micro adjustments throughout the day.
Forearm feeling a bit strained? Lets increase the tenting angle (i.e. how far tipped up the center of each side is). Right thumb stretched – whoops, the angle of my chair isn’t quite right, lets move that right board over a smidge and add a twist – bingo. Hmm – that key stroke for getting in layer 2 feels off – lets swap it with the key next to it.
Every little thing helps and makes it more personal and more, me. And as an engineer and writer, I accept that there is nothing “perfect”. I don’t agonize and waste time deciding if the layout is perfect or the ergonomics of my desk are exact. Instead, iteration is the key. Small adjustments, sustained over time. It’s basically the same idea as Toyota’s lean principles.
As for layers and layout, I’ve officially declared version 1.0 of my setup. The configurator just makes it so easy to play and swap whenever I want, so expect this to continue to evolve.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this and the other posts talking about how the Ergodox works and what I like, but not a lot on what it’s done for my writing.
So far, the effect is muted. My current project is doing a cut edit to try to remove 10% of my existing word count. That means a lot of scrolling, clicking, and deleting.
Having the delete and backspace keys under single digit (thumb) is glorious. And having Ctrl-Z (undo) right there with them means that a lot of the process looks like me gaming or doing graphics work – hand on mouse and keyboard.
I am rather looking forward to my next project where I’ll get to start drafting again and see how long I can type without fatigue. I imagine the board will help, but I haven’t had much chance to test it yet.
The one big negative I can say is that I have plateaued in my progress with speed and accuracy, and I freely admit, it’s me.
My daily use is fine and I don’t have any issues with the board. But I’m at that stage now where familiarity only takes me so far. If I want to get REALLY good at it, deliberate practice is the only thing that’s going to work.
And I’m not surprised by this. Switching to Colemak was exactly the same thing – eventually, I could only be so good without buckling down and forcing myself to do the hard stuff – accuracy drills, speed tests, transcription practice, etc.
Where the Ergodox is going to be different and more challenging is in how the other powers mesh with it.
The first thing I’m going to start deliberately practicing (and indeed, started already) is using the mouse control via the keyboard (see layer 1 of my map). There is a very clear connection with my right hand stress and mouse use now that I’ve gotten this board, which is surprising because I’d already thought I’d eliminated that as a source.
But, lo and behold, I can feel it when I do lots of mouse swapping. I think the Ergodox lowered my overall threshold and now that the stress of typing isn’t there, the mouse use shows. So, in an effort to limit it, I’m going to work the keyboard more.
I know it will never replace a dedicated point device, but for 80% of my mouse use, better navigation through keyboard and keyboard mouse control will be sufficient, so that’s what I’m going to start on first.
Only the First…or Fourth…whatever
The Ergodox will definitely NOT be my last mechanical keyboard. Which I think is dead-at-odds with what I had stated when this whole thing began. Granted, a new purchase will not be soon – next year at the earliest – but I love the split keyboard so much I want something smaller and more portable to take with me on trips and to use at home. I find myself leering at pictures of them, trying decide which I will eventually get.
I know this also flies in the face of my stated goal with keeping up on regular standard boards. I think I’ll just work those moments in throughout the day instead of dedicating my evenings and weekends to them. Right now, I can go for nearly a week on the Ergodox full time, and 2 minutes on a regular keyboard is all I need to get back into the groove. If I just spend that responding to an email or journaling at lunch, I’ll be fine.
And I know that getting one of these boards will require that I learn how to deal with firmware and setting up a configuration compiler and computer stuff I said I wasn’t going to deal with, and QMK and custom maps and ordering keycaps and soldering. Just ignore that for now – that’s all in the future.
I mean, it’s not like buying mechanical keyboards is at all compulsive.
I can stop any time I like. They’re just tools. They’re useful, that’s all. I don’t have a problem – you have a problem.
No, I don’t need an intervention. I promise.