Sunday, March 09, 2008

Muscle memory and a broken keyboard

Last week I moved to a new office, and in the process somehow the left alt key on my keyboard got broken. The right alt key still works, but my brain isn't compatible with it. Whenever I would try to use a keyboard shortcut that would normally use the left alt key, I'd accidentally type the mirror-image version. I'd hit alt-backslash instead of alt-tab, and in emacs I'd mix up M-d and M-k or M-space and M-backspace.

Some of you may be noticing that space and backspace aren't mirror images on your keyboard. The keyboard in question is a Kinesis contoured keyboard, which moves several keys to more convenient (but apparently more vulnerable) thumb-accessible positions. I highly recommend it for anyone concerned about Emacs Pinky.

Now that I've moved the ctrl and alt keys to my thumbs, I think it might be nice to do something about the shift keys (especially since I've never been able to break myself of the bad habit of typing capital letters one-handed). For my replacement keyboard I traded up to the "Pro" model which includes a foot pedal that can be used as a shift key. (This possibility came up at a recent lunchtime discussion about keyboards in which I uttered the completely ridiculous sentence "I need a memory upgrade for my keyboard so it can work with a foot pedal.") I'm not sure I'd have any better luck training myself to use a foot pedal than I have training myself to use normal shift keys properly, but it's an interesting idea.