Inputs Of Interest: X-Bows Ergo-Mechanical Keyboard

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way up front, shall we? This ergonomic mechanical keyboard was a free sample offered to me by X-Bows. They contacted me after I expressed interest in trying one in the comments of my post about the Kinesis Advantage. I had my doubts about this keyboard as far as my own personal ergonomic needs go, which are admittedly on the extreme side. TL;DR: I won’t be abandoning my curvy girls anytime soon. But I will say that I’m definitely impressed by the X-Bows.

X-Bows was founded by a doctor who saw a lot of RSI issues in programmers and writers and decided to take matters into his own hands. The keyboard was born on Kickstarter in 2017 and now comes in three models. They sent me the mid-range model called The Knight, which retails for $249, but seems to be on permanent sale for $199. The top-of-the-line Knight Plus has a magnetic, detachable 10-key that can attach to either side. Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: X-Bows Ergo-Mechanical Keyboard”

Inputs Of Interest: Curves Are The Key To My Type

While I may have fallen in love aesthetically with the ErgoDox I built, beauty is only skin deep. And that’s funny, because you can see right through it. But the thing is, it’s just too big and knife-edged to be my daily driver. I keep missing the space bar and thumb-thumping the acrylic wasteland between the thumb cluster and the mainland.

The point was to make a nice portable keeb, even though all my trips for he foreseeable future are going to be limited to the bed or the couch. But it has to be comfortable, and the ErgoDox in its present state simply is not long-term comfortable. I’d take it over a rectangle any day, but it would probably end up being a half day.

Ergo isn’t so much a preference for me as it is a necessity at this point. I feel like I can honestly say that I might not be typing these words to you now if it weren’t for the Kinesis. I don’t want my fingers to do unnecessary legwork, or downgrade from the quality of typing life that concave keys have afforded me. So let me just say that using the ErgoDox made me want to build a dactyl even more than before.

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Inputs Of Interest: ErgoDox Post-Mortem

In the last installment, I told you I was building an open-source, split, ortholinear keyboard called the ErgoDox. I’m doing this because although I totally love my Kinesis Advantage, it has made me want to crack my knuckles and explore the world of split keyboards. Apparently there are several of you who want to do the same, as evidenced by your interest in the I’m Building an ErgoDox! project on IO. Thank you!

Well boys and girls, the dust has settled, the soldering iron has cooled, and the keycaps are in place. The ErgoDox is built and working. Now that it’s all said and done, let me tell you how it went. Spoiler alert: not great. But I got through it, and it keyboards just like it’s supposed to. I’m gonna lay this journey out as it happened, step by step, so you can live vicariously through my experience.

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Inputs Of Interest: I’m Building An ErgoDox!

I’ve been using my Kinesis Advantage keyboard for two months, and I love it. I’ll never go back to a regular keyboard again if I can help it.

There are a few downsides to it, however. The biggest one is that split distance between the two sides is fixed. It doesn’t have Cherry MX blues (although the browns plus the firmware beeps is pretty nice). It doesn’t have layers, really — just a ten-key under the right hand. And honestly, it’s not very portable.

ErgoDox with Nuclear Data keycaps via geekhack

I took the Kinesis out to a coffee shop a few times before they all dried up into drive-thrus, and plunking it down on a four-top out in public made me realize just how large and loud it really is.

And so I’m building an ErgoDox keyboard. What I really want to build is a Dactyl — a curved variation on the ErgoDox — but I can’t just go whole-hog into that without building some type of keyboard first. That’s just my practical nature, I guess. I realize that the comparison is weak, because I’ll have to hand-wire the keyboard matrix when I make the dactyl. Assembling an ErgoDox is child’s play, comparatively. Our goal today is to lay out just what I’m getting myself into with a build like this one.

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Inputs Of Interest: The Differently Dexterous DataHand Directionalizes Digits

If you had debilitating pain from repetitive stress injury in the 1990s, there were a lot of alternative keyboard options out there. One of the more eye-catching offerings was the DataHand keyboard made by DataHand Systems out of Phoenix, AZ. The DataHand debuted in 1993 with a price tag around $2,000. While this is admittedly pretty steep for the average consumer, it was well within the IT budgets of companies that wanted to avoid workman’s comp claims and keep their employees typing away.

In theory, this is holy grail territory for anti-RSI keyboards. The DataHand was designed to eliminate wrist motion altogether by essentially assigning a d-pad plus a regular push-down button to each finger. The layout resembles QWERTY as closely as possible and uses layers to access numbers, symbols, and other functions, like a rudimentary mouse.

Although if you put them this close together, you’re kind of missing the point. Image via Bill Buxton

Ergonomic to the Max

Typing on the DataHand is supposed to be next to effortless. The directional switches are all optical, which probably has a lot to do with the eye-popping price point. But instead of being spring-loaded, these switches use magnets to return to the neutral position.

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Inputs Of Interest: My First Aggressively Ergonomic Keyboard

Ever since my RSI surgery, I’ve had to resort to using what I call my compromise keyboard — a wireless rubber dome affair with a gentle curvature to the keys. It’s far from perfect, but it has allowed me to continue to type when I thought I wouldn’t be able to anymore.

This keyboard has served me well, but it’s been nearly three years since the surgery, and I wanted to go back to a nice, clicky keyboard. So a few weeks ago, I dusted off my 1991 IBM Model M. Heck, I did more than that — I ordered a semi-weird hex socket (7/32″) so I could open it up and clean it properly.

And then I used it for half a day or so. It was glorious to hear the buckling springs singing again, but I couldn’t ignore the strain I felt in my pinkies and ring fingers after just a few hours. I knew I had to stop and retire it for good if I wanted to keep being able to type.

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Inputs Of Interest: Ears To Communication For Everyone

Welcome back to Inputs of Interest! If you haven’t heard, I am all ears when it comes to new ways of talking to computers and machines. And speaking of ears, did you know they can do useful tricks? If you squeeze your eyes shut tightly and/or yawn widely, you might hear a low-level rumbling sound like distant thunder. A decent percentage of people are able to move theirs voluntarily, but not everyone. Maybe you already knew you could rumble, and have used it to entertain yourself, or dampen the unpleasant sounds of life.

No, you can’t reach your tensor tympani with a Q-tip. Image via Research Gate

That rumbling is caused by a muscle in your middle ear stretching out. It’s called the tensor tympani, and its purpose is to shield your ears from loud sounds like chewing, and oddly enough, thunder. When the tensor tympani are activated, they pull the eardrums taut to keep them from vibrating and getting damaged. Unfortunately, they don’t react quickly enough to protect us from sudden sounds like gunshots.

Nick G is able to rumble on command, and wanted to see if he could somehow use it as an input mechanism that he calls Earswitch. He got a cheap USB otoscope camera and figured out that the tensor tympani’s stretching movement shows up well enough to trigger motion detection software. So far, [Nick] has been able to demonstrate control of a few things, like the Windows on-screen keyboard, Grid3 assistive software, and a head tracking utility.

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