Perhaps August Dvorak Is More Your Type

One of the strangest things about human nature is our tendency toward inertia. We take so much uncontrollable change in stride, but when our man-made constructs stop making sense, we’re suddenly stuck in our ways — for instance, the way we measure things in the US, or define daytime throughout the year. Inertia seems to be the only explanation for continuing to do things the old way, even when new and scientifically superior ways come along. But this isn’t about the metric system — it’s about something much more personal. If you use a keyboard with any degree of regularity, this affects you physically.

Many, many people are content to live their entire lives typing on QWERTY keyboards. They never give a thought to the unfortunate layout choices of common letters, nor do they pick up even a whisper of the heated debates about the effectiveness of QWERTY vs. other layouts. We would bet that most of our readers have at least heard of the Dvorak layout, and assume that a decent percentage of you have converted to it.

Hardly anyone in the history of typewriting has cared so much about subverting QWERTY as August Dvorak. Once he began to study the the QWERTY layout and all its associated problems, he devoted the rest of his life to the plight of the typist. Although the Dvorak keyboard layout never gained widespread adoption, plenty of people swear by it, and it continues to inspire more finger-friendly layouts to this day.

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Acrylic Mold Makes For Professional-Looking Silicone Keyboards

The border between consumer electronics and DIY projects is getting harder and harder to define. First it was PCBs, which quickly went from homemade to professional with quick-turn services. Then low-cost CAD/CAM packages and high-end fabrication services gave us access to enclosures that were more than black plastic boxes with aluminum covers. Where will it end?

That’s a question [arturo182] begins to answer with this custom-molded silicone keyboard for a handheld device. There’s no formal writeup, but the Twitter thread goes into some detail about the process he used to make the tiny qwerty keypad. The build started by milling a two-part mold from acrylic. Silicone rubber was tinted and degassed before injecting into the mold with a baster. The keys are connected by a thin membrane of silicone, and each has a small nub on the back for actuating a switch.

There’s clearly room for improvement in this proof of concept – tool marks from the milling process mar the finish of the keys slightly, for instance. There may be tips to be had from this article on silicone keyboard refurbishment to improve the process, but overall, we’d say [arturo182] is well on his way here.

Meet MutantC: Raspberry Pi Sidekick Complete With Sliding Screen, QWERTY

Over the years we’ve seen the Raspberry Pi crammed into almost any piece of hardware you can think of. Frankly, seeing what kind of unusual consumer gadget you can shoehorn a Pi into has become something of a meme in our circles. But the thing we see considerably less of are custom designed practical enclosures which actually play to the Pi’s strengths. Which is a shame, because as the MutantC created by [rahmanshaber] shows, there’s some incredible untapped potential there.

The MutantC features a QWERTY keyboard and sliding display, and seems more than a little inspired by early smartphone designs. You know, how they were before Apple came in and managed to convince every other manufacturer that there was no future for mobile devices with hardware keyboards. Unfortunately, hacking sessions will need to remain tethered as there’s currently no battery in the device. Though this is something [rahmanshaber] says he’s actively working on.

The custom PCB in the MutantC will work with either the Pi Zero or the full size variant, but [rahmanshaber] warns that the latest and greatest Pi 4 isn’t supported due to concerns about overheating. Beyond the Pi the parts list is pretty short, and mainly boils down to the 3D printed enclosure and the components required for the QWERTY board:  43 tactile switches and a SparkFun Pro Micro. Everything is open source, so you can have your own boards run off, print your case, and you’ll be well on the way to reliving those two-way pager glory days.

We’re excited to see where such a well documented open source project like MutantC goes from here. While the lack of an internal battery might be a show stopper for some applications, we think the overall form factor here is fantastic. Combined with the knowledge [Brian Benchoff] collected in his quest to perfect the small-scale keyboard, you’d have something very close to the mythical mobile Linux device that hackers have been dreaming of.

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A Pocket QWERTY For Arduino And More

If you want to add a keypad to your Arduino project, the options are pretty limited. There’s that red and blue 4×4 membrane we’ve all seen in password-protected door lock projects, and the phone layout version that does pretty much all the same tricks. Isn’t it time for a full Arduino-compatible keyboard? [ELECTRONOOBS] thinks so.

This 41-button Arduino keyboard PCB is a stepping stone to his next project, a pair of two-way texting machines. (Which is nice, because we were totally going to suggest that). It’s based on that ubiquitous red/blue keypad, but it has a full QWERTY layout. There’s also a shift button that opens up special characters and uppercase, and the addition of return, ok, and send keys puts it over the top. The best part of this keyboard, hands down, is the soft, soundless buttons. Though you trade clicky feedback for comfort, it will be well worth it after a few dozen presses.

The keypad uses an onboard ATMega328P to scan the matrix for button presses, decode them, and send them via UART or I²C to an Arduino. [ELECTRONOOBS] has the PCB files available via Patreon for now, though they will be open in the future. The code is already available for download on his website.

Future plans include an LED to indicate when shift is pressed, and adding the special characters next to the numbers on the silkscreen (whoops!). Be sure to check out the build video after the break.

Want an Arduino-driven keyboard for longer hauls across the alphabet? Saddle up and ride this candy-colored mechanical unicorn.

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The Origin Of QWERTY

There are very few things that are surrounded with as much hearsay and rumor as the origins of the QWERTY layout of typewriters and keyboards. The reason behind the QWERTY layout isn’t as simple as ‘so the bars for each letter don’t collide with each other.’ That’s nonsense – it would make far more sense to improve the mechanism before changing the arrangement of the keyboard around.

That’s not the only fallacious argument for the creation of QWERTY. It’s also been called a marketing ploy; Stephen Jay Gould popularized the idea of the QWERTY keyboard being as it is so a salesman could peck out TYPE WRITER on the top row [1]. This also makes little sense. Why would the top row and not the home row be so privileged as to contain all the letters the make up the name of the machine. For that matter, wouldn’t a sales pitch be more impressive if TYPE WRITER were typed with one hand?

This doesn’t mean there’s not a method behind the madness of QWERTY – it’s just not as simple as jammed typewriter mechanisms or appeasing the wishes of salesmen in the 1870s. QWERTY didn’t come out of thin air, though, but folk tale history of this keyboard layout is sadly deficient.

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NFC Tags Add Old-School Functionality To New Phone

Back in the day, we had smartphones with physical buttons. Not just power, volume, and maybe another button on the front. Whole, slide-out QWERTY keyboards right on the underside of the phone. It was a lawless wasteland, but for those who yearn for the wild-west days of the late 2000s, [Liviu] has recreated the shortcut buttons that used to exist on the tops of these keyboards for modern-day smartphones.

There were lots of phones that had shortcut keys on their keyboards, but [Liviu] enjoyed using the ones that allowed him to switch between applications (or “apps” as the kids are saying these days) such as the calendar, the browser, or the mail client. To recreate this, he went with a few NFC tags. These devices are easily programmed via a number of apps from your app store of choice, and can be placed essentially anywhere. In order to make them visible to the phone at any time, though, he placed the tags inside a clear plastic case for his phone and can now use them anytime.

If you’ve never used or programmed an NFC tag, this would be a great project to get yourself acquainted with how they operate. Plus, you could easily upgrade this project to allow the tags to do any number of other things. You can take projects like this as far as you want.

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Alternate Keyboard Layouts – For Geekiness And Other Reasons

[BiOzZ] wanted to try a different keyboard layout than the ubiquitous Qwerty, so he grabbed an old keyboard and converted it to the Dvorak setup. This was accomplished by first popping off all of the keys from the black keyboard seen above, and boy did he find a mess underneath. It was nothing that a trip through the dishwasher (for the case only) wouldn’t fix, and the next step was to replace the keys in a different order. He found that a couple of them wouldn’t just go back in a different place, but had to be rotated 90 degrees to fit. Not a huge problem, you can see that he overcame the visual speedbump of letters facing the wrong way by adding his own letter labels. From there he walks us through the process of getting Windows to switch to the Dvorak layout.

I went through a similar process at the end of last year. I was experiencing a lot of pain in my hands from my prolific feature writing here at Hackaday so I chose to try out the Colemak keyboard. The white keyboard above is the one I repurposed using that layout. I found it quite easy to switch between two keyboard layouts using Ubuntu. After you’ve set it up in the keyboards dialog a layout icon appears on the panel. It wasn’t hard to pick the new key locations up, but it did reduce my typing speed by a factor of 8. In the end I found that adjusting my chair height and keeping my hands warm did the trick and I’m back on the Qwerty where I belong.