STOP YELLING ON THE INTERNET, or, A Better Use for the Caps Lock Key

My current project is to learn to type using an alternative keyboard layout called Colemak. QWERTY has problems. Here are a few, shamelessly borrowed from Colemak.com

  • It places very rare letters in the best positions, so your fingers have to move a lot more.
  • It suffers from a high same finger ratio that slows down typing and increases strain.
  • It allows for very long sequences of letters with the same hand (e.g. "sweaterdresses")
  • It was designed to prevent the keys from sticking, without any consideration to ergonomic or efficiency aspects.
  • It was designed so the word "typewriter" could be typed on the top row to ease demonstrations.
  • It suffers from an extremely high ratio of home-row-jumping sequences (e.g. "minimum")

Devorak is the most commonly known alternative keyboard layout (citation needed) but, for a number of reasons, Colemak wins the race. Mostly because Colemak keeps common keyboard shortcuts, like CTRL+V, C, B, X, Z, Q, and others. Less letters move around in Colemak, so it's less of a hassle to learn.

That said, it's still quite difficult! I never realized how powerful muscle memory was until I remapped the caps lock key to delete.

I strongly recommend making this modification on your keyboard, even if you never plan on switching away from QWERTY. It makes such a difference. Here are a few of the benefits:

  • Faster use of backspace. The delete key is ten times as far from your hands as the caps lock key. This takes time.
  • Less finger strain. Since you're not stretching, it's easier on your hands.
  • Use the mouse while deleting. This is a big one. Without this modification, if you want to click>delete, click>delete you need one hand on the mouse, and the other reaches across the keyboard. It's annoying. It's even worse on a laptop, where you have to move your right hand from mouse pad to delete and back, every time.

So, how do you make the switch? I will give Mac users instructions. PC users, you are more or less on your own.

  1. Download and install Seil. Run it.
  2. Under "Caps Lock" check the "Change Caps Lock" option. Set the new behavior to "Delete".
  3. Open up your System Preferences. Navigate to Keyboard Settings.
  4. On the "Keyboard" tab, open "Modifier Keys". Under "Caps Lock Key" choose "No Action". If you don't do this, your new Delete key won't repeat. It would just delete one character per keystroke.

OK. Now your caps lock key deletes. This was the easy part. Now you have to train your brain to use it. The only way I was successful was by remapping another key. I changed the normal delete key to "Left Shift" This way, I could not use it any more. I HAD to use the caps lock key if I wanted to delete anything.

Let me warn you - this is is frustrating for the first few days. You'll think hard about using caps lock, you'll be successful, but as soon as you start thinking about something else, you'll start using the normal delete key.

So - Set this up. Give it a shot. I'm thrilled that I did, and I use both delete keys interchangeably. I also YELL LESS ON THE INTERNET!

Next, I'll cover what I've learned about typing while learning Colemak!