One-armed coding using a half-qwerty hack

[Matthew Daughtrey] is going to have one of his paws out of service for a while following some hand surgery. Making a living as a coder seems a bit harder with one hand but he was able to find some solutions online only to balk at price tags reaching $600. He came up with a way have similar functionality on a standard keyboard with creative key mapping and a few auxiliary buttons.

The product he’s trying to mimic is the half-qwerty keyboard produced by Matias Corporation. It sounds crazy, but you can easily use your right hand to type all of the letters the left hand normally would just by mirroring the key locations. That big gray thing you store in your mellon and frequency put at risk handles this automatically. You should give the demo a try. We found that we’re quite good at it and only get confused when switching between the two halves of the keyboard.

But we digress. [Matthew] wrote a script that will mirror all the key mappings when he holds down the Windows key. He then hacked a second keyboard to extend momentary push sensors as seen above. He plans to use them with a partially mobile thumb after the surgery, or to build a foot pedal (we say build the pedal). An elegant hack that is a pittance compared to the official hardware.

44 thoughts on “One-armed coding using a half-qwerty hack

  1. Awesome idea.
    What about doing this with a laptop keyboard, and have a god use for that annoying “fn” key?

    I also tried the one handed demo, it was actually very easy to get the hang of after only a minute or two. :)

  2. Some interesting alternative suggestions above, but something like this is probably the best alternative there is for someone who is temporarily one-handed. Learning a new layout is a pain (ask me about Dvorak!) and by the time he’s getting the hang of it he’ll have the other hand back.

  3. the half-qwerty folks want $595 (+$20 shipping) for that f-ing thing? WTF is wrong with them?!? they have come up with something that can help people with disabilities and they are charging exorbitantly for it. they should be ashamed. this thing should cost less than 1/5th of that.

    from their site:
    “Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.”

    umm.. how is a $600 keyboard “accessable” by anyone? google: matias keyboard, and you will see all of their other products are far under $100.

    i have a good mind to develop an open source solution to this and actually help people out.

    MATIAS, i hope you find this blog and get to my comment so you can read this: you suck.

  4. Einomies:
    In other words going back to hunt-and-peck, since you’re necessarily moving your hand all over the place.

    That might work fine if you just have to type a few sentences, but it’ll get old real quick when typing is a major part of your job and you do it for hours.

  5. @magnetoo

    That’s why I said to use a compact keyboard. I find I can reach all of the keys with no arm movement on a thing akin to the EeePC’s keyboard.

    Then again, I have long fingers.

  6. magetoo,

    Did you stick with it or abandon it like most people do? I decided to keep at it and now type at ~70 WPM in Dvorak after about a year (it’s all I use). I learned the layout in a day for all of the standard keys – retraining my muscle memory so that my brain stopped trying to use Qwerty for everything was the only difficult part.

    I’d suggest a left or right Dvorak layout for anyone with a permanent disability or for anyone who doesn’t already know how to touch type. If you look at the keys to type anyway then it will probably speed you up if your hand is temporarily out of commission. If you touch type, it may be harder for you.

  7. I moved to Dvorak years ago, to halt progress of carpal tunnel syndrome. Works great, unless I’m mousing all day, for several days in a row. I just reset my keymap and go. I’ve a keyboard on my home machine where I’ve switched the keys around, for the wife and kids. They want to use my machine instead of their own? They can hunt and peck.

    I’ve thought of getting one of the DAS keyboards, just to mess with them.

  8. Einomies:
    I doubt you can keep your hand in one position the way a touch typist (or most people) normally do, though. (Even more so if the one position is over asdf / jkl;.)

    That’s assuming you are not some kind of weird alien and we have approximately similar anatomy; I would definitely have to stretch and strain to reach all keys with one hand myself, unless the keyboard is so small that I would have trouble hitting just one key at the time. (On the other hand, that’s already a problem with the Eee keyboards for me.) Maybe we’re just different.

    I guess the larger point is that muscle memory helps a lot. I broke with that and was severely crippled for weeks, which is why I’m skeptical that it could work with anything that doesn’t actively work with you — like the half-qwerty.

  9. fartface:
    Chording keyboards are slower. And there is a learning curve before you get up to speed. Hacking your own half-qwerty seems superior in every way (cost, speed, learning) unless you plan on going wearable.

  10. Sam:
    One day? Wow, that’s quick. It took me about two weeks to get back to where I was when I first got my C64, years ago, and sort of knew where most keys were. I went to strict touch typing simultaneously though, from using “muscle memory with visual feedback”, or whatever you might call it.

    It’s been about a year now, and I’d say I’m up to normal, or above; no WPM figure for you though. (Plus it really helps not having to look up at the screen and back down, so that’s an additional gain.)

    But the major advantage is really that I’m using a relatively sane custom layout that makes better compromises (IMHO) between (weird, foreign, exotic, national) additional alphabetic characters and “programmer’s symbols”.

  11. If anyone want’s a cheap Matias half-keyboard (They rock, if you are complaining about the price, don’t buy it) I had luck emailing their support and asking to be put in line for a “refurbished” model, returned nearly as new. They then sell this for $150.

  12. I’ve tried a few times to come up with an idea that would allow me to mouse and type effectively at the same time, but this would be ideal…

    That is, if I could figure it out. Maybe I need more practice, but with the demo, I couldn’t even seem to type the letters I already know in their standard configuration correctly.

    I never actually learned touch typing as such, I just went from hunt and peck for so long I learned the muscle memory and now I can type around 100wpm when I’m in the zone.

    Maybe my brain is messed up. There wouldn’t be anything new there. :p

  13. The Matias prices are ridiculous, and I can’t see it as anything more than gouging. They used to sell the half-keyboard for $100, which was bad enough. Now the refurbished model costs more than that? Bah.

    They also went out of their way to C&D anyone who tried to come up with a cheap software or other hardware solution, so I have no sympathy for them.

  14. not sure if i am convinced on this one, it would be great if you where permanently loosing a hand, but it would take me to long to learn the new key-set if i only needed it for a few months. i type pretty slow 27wpm two handed and 14 one handed on a normal laptop keyboard. with one hand i can reach from “a” to “‘” without moving

  15. heh thats what i get for skimming. though he could have easily just mapped the trigger key to be a keyup/deydown and made it toggleable without the need for a second part. /owwell still works i sppose.

  16. Dear Disgusted et al,

    Perhaps you are forgetting how economies of scale operate in manufacturing. Allow me to refresh your memories. The more you invest up front the bigger the production run you can afford and the lower the retail unit price. To get a keyboard down below $100 you must manufacture a whole bunch of them; you have to borrow a whole bunch of money up front.

    Very often, the more innovative your product the more uncertain the market and the more likely you are to share the pain with early adopters and people who really need your gizmo rather than bet the farm to finance a huge production run.

    Example: A manufactured bluetooth keyboard costs about the same as one of the bluetooth modules inside it.

    So maybe think harder about who sucks and who doesn’t

  17. Since someone (or two) has already mentioned Auto Hot Key (AHK), I’ll just add my recommendation for it as well.
    For those looking for different keyboard layouts or alternate keyboards for carpal tunnel relief, I recommend the alphagrip (now the iGrip I think).

    I have a couple of them and love it. Faster typing for me (about a week of transition initially), and much easier going from mouse to keyboard and back. Highly recommended. I’m about 35-40 wpm on a qwerty, and 40-60 wpm on the alphagrip.

  18. @john_3000

    A Microsoft Natural Keyboard costs about 19.90€ here.

    There’s no way they could explain being 30 times more expensive, economies of scale or not. Even if those keyboards were are hand-made.

  19. I don’t get this. I thought most keyboards can be typed with one hand? I have a Microsoft keyboard with shift/alt/ctrl on both end. I have no problem typing anything with just one hand. In fact, I typed all this with just one hand.

  20. Dear none,

    A factor of 30? Definitely way. Easily. But of course price doesn’t really need to be justified in terms of cost. It should be placed to maximize revenue.

    On that subject I have accumulated some (non-scientific) poll data I think is interesting: market size as a function of price. The poll question was more or less “what’s the most you would you pay for a real nifty portable keyboard?” and the result looks as follows with N=860 people who answered at least $50.

    $50 — max. market size (100%)
    $100 — market size down to 77% (of the maximum)
    $200 — market size down to 24%
    $400 — 5%
    $800 — 1%

    So you might say that as the price goes up market size falls off steeply at first but then flattens out when only rich people who don’t much care are left

  21. Back in gradeschool I had computers above and below the desk and I learned that the kinematic memory translates to feet just as easily.

    Typing with my feet while I have my hands full of pizza remains my favorite party trick. Sadly I can’t seem to work modern ergonomic mice with my feet.

  22. I agree with john_3000 on products that are novel or new. I work for a hardware manufacturer, so I see this every day. There’s a schedule for recouping the engineering time involved, and that schedule is based on number sold. Smaller number sold, higher price required to recoup. The fear of impending obsolescence also factors in. You can’t look long-term if the product is going to be obsolete soon, so a highER price is a must.

    There another aspect in this case with Section 508, though. The door opens to charging more for items that may be purchased through Section 508 as opposed to through other means.

    It’s similar to some medical providers charge way more than is necessary for the procedure, because they *know* they can bill insurance for it.
    A procedure may cost $500 for the uninsured, with significant discounts for paying cash or up-front/in-full, while I see the same procedure billed to insurance for twice or more. Likely the procedure itself costs somewhere in-between, as the discounted price may provide a higher percentage of actual payments from the uninsured, compared to the guaranteed payment from insurance.

    Market share is definitely dependent on price. But overall cost to the company also depends on marketshare. Larger marketshare results in higher rate of returns and more users to support. So lower price and higher marketshare can often cause more supports costs in the end compared to the higher price and smaller marketshare which is easier to support, and support well given the revenue.

    Would Matias sell more half-qwerty keyboards if they were cheaper? I think so. I’d buy one.
    But it seems they feel they have a good cash cow there – sell a few for high price, and it’s a high-profit scenario. It’s not like they have thousands of geeks bombarding them with requests or questions. So as long as there isn’t a cap on Section 508 device prices, they’re all going to be pricey and exclusive.

    It sucks worse that they squash all competitive products with their lawyers though… and maybe that’s the core rub.

    I’d love it if this wasn’t the case, but businesses are businesses because they’re there to make money – otherwise they’d be charities.

    @Eric: I’ve used Dragon in the past. The difficulty is the error-rate and the need for a semi-controlled environment. I kept getting “shed” and “flock” in my documents because I get frustrated.

    I’m sure with enough time I could get it going. But the same could be said about typing on a half keyboard, and it doesn’t matter if I’m in a concert environment or not for that to work reliably.

    It’s like those damn voice-recognition phone systems. If you’re not in a silent environment (umm.. I’m calling from a noisy store because my credit card got denied here!) they get all confused. At least the last place I called gave me the option to use touchtone-only navigation!

  23. Also, Eric, there’s obviously the privacy aspect. If you replace your keyboard with speech recognition technology everyone nearby knows what you’re typing, so to speak. That will definitely annoy them and probably you too.

    So at a minimum speech recognition has to be paired with a more discrete input system, e.g., a chording keyboard

  24. FWIW, they used to make and sell a $99 version as a “508 Keyboard” that’s more like a normal keyboard. The $600 version has mechanical keyswitches and is (on the upside) well made and (on the downside) VERY loud. The cheap version seems to be out of stock everywhere right now but keep an eye out for it.

  25. Yes call or take her to the VET immediately!!! If you ate a brillo pad it would prolly bother you too. You owe it to your dog as her owner to call a vet now, when you noticed it would have been better but… The soap will prolly upset her stomach, but the pad itself if not dissolved in her digestive fluids may causing trouble when trying to pass it.CALL NOW to be safe!!!

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