Repetitive strain injuries
are a serious, but often ignored problem for businesses. A brief search for RSI statistics
shows that businesses lose $20 billion each year to healthcare costs for their employees, and more than $100 billion in lost work while their employees recuperate. How much does that translate in losses for each individual injured on the job? One source I found says an average injured worker costs businesses $29,000, and up to 60% of those injuries are RSI injuries (Albion Research
). If you've got a business to run, this should worry you.
I remember reading about the nonsensical adherence to QWERTY in a 1997 Discover Magazine article called The Curse of QWERTY
. The article said "When typists use QWERTY keyboards, they type half as fast, make twice as many errors, and move their fingers 20 times as far". That got my attention.
Did you know that the original QWERTY keyboard design is from 1874
? The staggered keys were used to prevent the mechanical parts of the typewriters from banging into each other, and the rumors say that the QWERTY layout was intentionally designed to slow down right-handed typists so they couldn't type fast enough to jam mechanical typewriters.
Time is money, and I want to go fast. I also have straight fingers, not staggered ones. Since I think most people have straight fingers, it's no surprise that using an old-fashioned QWERTY keyboard leads to repetitive strain injuries
and carpel tunnel syndrome
Maybe the straight-fingered people should dump their 1874 QWERTY keyboards for something a bit more modern, don't you think? It doesn't matter how much it costs - if you have even ONE employee develop RSI problems, you're going to lose a whole lot of money very fast.
I was one of those injured workers at one time. I was in so much pain that I could not function. Although my injuries were not from using a keyboard, I was injured in precisely the same way that keyboard users typically are, and I could no longer use a computer. With money from worker's compensation, and lots of free time from not being able to work, I invested more than $5000 in ergonomic keyboards - I tried pretty much every one on the market that I could find. I would buy a keyboard for whatever it cost to get it, and then I would try to type with it. Each keyboard was a miserable failure.
Of course, the last one I tried was one of the TypeMatrix keyboards
. It was the cheapest and smallest keyboard of them all, so at first I completely ignored it. I was sure I would need a large and expensive keyboard to fix my large and expensive pain problem. With nothing to lose, I decided to order one and give it a go. The other keyboards made my pain worse, but with the TypeMatrix my pain stayed about the same. That was good enough for me, so I returned the other keyboards, and decided to give myself some time to heal before really giving the TypeMatrix a workout.
This gave me some time to do some patient, thorough research on the TypeMatrix keyboards. I already could tell that they were better than the other keyboards I had tried, but I wanted to know why. How could a relatively inexpensive little keyboard be so much better than other keyboards costing up to 10 times as much?
I remember as a kid how hard it was to learn to type on the QWERTY keyboards at my elementary school. I think it was a good 5 years before I was skilled enough to be typing at 40 words per minute. I thought for sure it'd be a long, hard process to relearn how to type on a completely different keyboard. In actuality, it only took me about 2 weeks to get up to 40 words per minute on the Dvorak TypeMatrix keyboard. In another 2 months, I was typing between 60 and 80 words per minute - faster than I could type BEFORE I was injured - and I was still injured! RSI injuries are often permanent, so without my TypeMatrix keyboard, my pain will flare up immediately just as badly as the day I was injured.
TypeMatrix funded a more rigorous scientific study
, and found basically the same things that I experienced. It only takes 8 to 24 days to get up to speed on a TypeMatrix keyboard. What I discovered through experience is that the old rumor is true, the QWERTY keyboards are definitely designed to be hard to use (and probably from the Devil too). That's why it takes so long to learn how to use a QWERTY keyboard. It's NOT because TYPING is hard - Typing is easy if you have a TypeMatrix. The Devil can take his 1874 QWERTY keyboard back to hell.
First off, the TypeMatrix keys are not staggered, they're in straight rows and columns (a matrix), so each key is exactly where you expect it to be each time you type it. You only need to move your fingers up, down, left, and right. There's no ridiculous reaching at various angles anymore. Because of this, I make less mistakes, even though I'm typing faster. I switched to the Dvorak layout, but even the old QWERTY layout is acceptable when arranged in such a common sense way. Heck, probably any layout would be OK if it weren't in a retarded staggered configuration.
When I bought my first TypeMatrix keyboard, I had a choice of either their improved version of the old QWERTY layout, or their improved version of the Dvorak layout. I decided that if I was going to put forth the effort to learn to use a new keyboard, I would also try to learn to use a better layout. I decided to try TypeMatrix's improved version of the old Dvorak layout
, but I wasn't yet convinced that Dvorak was better than QWERTY. I wanted to try them both before deciding for myself which one was right for me. I had to order both the QWERTY and Dvorak versions of the keyboard, and return one of them using the company's generous return policy.
Back then, if you wanted a TypeMatrix, you had to choose between either the standard QWERTY or the Dvorak layout. Not so anymore - you can have both in one keyboard. I have been thrilled to try out a new product they call "skins". They're paper-thin silicone rubber covers that keep dust and dirt out of your keyboard, with the added advantage of displaying any layout printed on them. So, get a Dvorak keyboard, and put a QWERTY skin on it, and the TypeMatrix keyboards can switch back and forth between whatever layout you feel comfortable using. This means you can try out different layouts without needing to buy extra keyboards. The keyboard itself can switch between all the various layouts. They now have so many choices, approximately 60 at my last count, that it can be confusing to try to figure out what you should buy.
Even something as perfect as my trusty old TypeMatrix keyboard can still be improved. So, I recently decided to get a new one! During the ordering process, I asked Mary at TypeMatrix an innocent question about the difference between their 101 and 102 key keyboards. The answer I got was very exciting:
"All of the current keyboards have the capacity to map out any of the European languages, which require a 102 key keyboard. Our standard keyboard has 101 keys; their keyboards have 102 keys, but the TypeMatrix supports their languages. Actually, the 2030 USB will even support the Japanese language, which needs 106 keys (Fn + F3). Now, of course, you would need to use software support for other languages, but with the skins printed in virtually any language that exists, the TMx will work for any language - ergonomically.
We have also programmed into this keyboard the Colemak layout, which, we have understood, is valued among programmers. We don't have a skin for it yet, so that's why we haven't put out info about it, but we plan to order some soon. Fn+ F5 will put the keyboard into Colemak.
Fn + F4 will reverse the Alt and the Home (Apple) key for Mac users - however, they cannot also use Dvorak with this switch. You can only do one of the hard-wired switches at a time: Dvorak, 102, 106, Colemak, or Mac."
So, basically, you can do pretty much anything with the TypeMatrix keyboard. If you look at their store page, you'll see that they have a variety of skins for not only QWERTY and Dvorak layouts, but also for several different kinds of French, Belgian, and Swedish layouts. In addition, since unlabeled keyboards and blank clear skins are available, you can use your computer's keyboard mapping software to create ANY layout you want:
"If one ordered a blank keyboard, then an unusual layout could be programmed for the keyboard, stickers to reflect the assigned keys can be placed on the blank keys, and they will show through the clear skin, and there will be no real penalty for having stickers on the keycaps."
I've had fun experimenting with various custom layouts for my favorite games. Since I'm not much of a gamer, I enjoy being able to switch back and forth easily. The problem with this is that it'll only work on the computers where I've done the remapping. If I want to do it on another computer, I have to do the remapping again. However, Mary also leaked some information to me about a new fully programmable version in the works, that will retain any layout you want to program into it, without requiring any setup on the computers where you use it:
"We are currently working on the electronics for the 2030 model that will allow complete program-ability of the layout...There will be a program that you will use to assign the key codes to the keys and that will be registered in the hardware of the keyboard, so basically, your customized 2030 will stay that way no matter what computer you use it with. Those will be more expensive, but really cool, we think."
Yes, I think also - and I want one! But sadly I will have to wait...
In the meantime, at my request the company has agreed to put together a few popular TypeMatrix keyboard packages
to simplify your choices. They went a step further and gave me a discount code to publish for readers of this article. To save 25% on your entire order (could be $30 savings or more), just enter in the following discount code: LBC. I don't know how long they will keep that discount code active, so don't get mad at me if you waited too long and you have to pay full price because the discount code doesn't work anymore.
I recommend getting the Dvorak package
, since I think most people find themselves switching over to it eventually anyway. The package includes a plain skin to protect it, and a QWERTY skin to protect it while also converting it to QWERTY.
A friend of mine bought this package, and played around with the QWERTY setting on the keyboard, but within 2 days he was already getting up to speed on the Dvorak mode. Did I mention the keyboard can switch modes instantly? Oh yes, yes it can. Just use the key combination fn + F1 to switch back and forth between QWERTY and Dvorak. When you plug the keyboard in, it starts out in QWERTY mode, and when you switch it, there's a little light on the keyboard to indicate when you're in Dvorak mode.
Back when I had to buy two keyboards to try out both QWERTY and Dvorak, I never even opened the box for the QWERTY keyboard. No one I know has ever stuck with QWERTY for more than a day or two if they were able to try out a Dvorak keyboard. If you're thinking of buying new keyboards for yourself or your employees, don't ignore Dvorak. You'll probably switch over to it after you've tried it.
I love my old TypeMatrix, but now that I've had some time to play with my new one, I think I ought to mention some of the differences, both good and bad. Keep in mind that all of the TypeMatrix keyboards are incredibly good compared to the standard QWERTY garbage, so I'm nit-picking here, but I think I better try hard to find some kind of flaw so people won't think I'm a mindless TypeMatrix fanboy!
Firstly, I love my TypeMatrix, and I must frequently take it with me when I'm on the go. It's pretty tough, but it's not indestructible, so it really needs some kind of nicely fitting travel case, which TypeMatrix does not yet offer. I keep mentioning this to them over and over, but so far, I've been on my own. What I've been able to come up with is the Dexas Clipulator
Unfortunately, the Dexas Slimcase is about 1/2 mm too short to accommodate the length of the keyboard, and it won't close if you try to stuff it in anyway. The Slimcase would have been ideal, but it can't easily be modified to make it work (I already tried). The Clipulator model is bulkier, and although it also can't accommodate the keyboard, it is easy to modify.
Basically, you can compare my photos here to see what I've cut out of the Clipulator to allow room for the keyboard to fit. There's a part with a U shaped notch in it that you've got to remove with a hot knife, scissors, and a file. Once you've done that, there's room for the keyboard and a few other accessories next to it.
Also, if you want to be able to quick-change your skins, you need to cut the little hole that the keyboard's cord is supposed to go through, so it's more like a slot that can slip on and off of the cord without needing to be threaded over the whole cord every time.
The skins are probably the best thing that's happened over at TypeMatrix in quite a while. They really add to the possible ways the keyboard can be used in an inexpensive and durable way. It's kind of organic, actually, since they also serve to keep dust and debris out of the keyboard mechanisms. However, I think I prefer the matte-smooth finish of the plastic key caps. My fingers can literally glide from one key to another. Maybe I just need to get used to it, I'm not sure, but the silicone skins are rubbery and there's too much friction to slide your fingers from one key to another. It might be possible to put a slick matte finish on them just like the keys have, which would be an improvement.
Another issue I have with the skins is that they're slightly different from the keyboard itself. The keyboard uses text labels so you KNOW what a key or function does. The skins have mostly icons, so you have to GUESS what the key or function does. Some are easy, like an envelope icon for mail and a calculator icon for the calculator, but some are not so easy like the caps lock, page up & down, back & forward, backspace, and a few others. Once again, the keyboard itself has text labels so it's clear, it's only the skins that use cryptic icons.
My old TypeMatrix keyboard is obviously my favorite because I've been using it so long. The newest incarnation is slightly modified, yet has the same model number. Mine is the TypeMatrix 2030 (it says EZ-Reach on the space bar), and the latest version is the TypeMatrix 2030 USB. My old one is PS/2 and requires an adapter to be used with USB - no big deal. That's not all that's changed though.
My older keyboard seems to have been made with tighter tolerances. There's ever-so-slightly more "wobble" on the keys of my new keyboard, compared to my old one. My old one seems to spring back after a keypress with a little more "snap" too. I'm not sure if the new keyboard has a bit more "frosting" on it's matte finish of the top of the keys, or if my old one is just polished smooth from all the years of use.
Overall, the physical differences are very small, and I probably wouldn't notice them myself without both keyboards side by side.
Some of the things I like that have change are there's several new and improved convenient features that are activated with the keyboard's "fn" function key. The ones I've been liking the most so far are the volume control that was added, and the number lock key that was moved. Some of the others I'm sure I'll use more once I get used to having them literally at my fingertips.
A few things I don't like are that the 10-key Enter key has been removed and changed to another ctrl key. I liked the Enter key, and I don't know why it was changed. The same thing happened with the page up and page down keys. They used to be next to the arrow keys, which made a lot of sense, and now they're moved "out of the way" where they can't be as useful anymore. The same thing happened to the delete key. It was swapped with the caps lock key. I almost NEVER use the caps lock key, but now the delete key is "out of the way". Some of the changes are obvious improvements, but other changes just seem like minor tweaks that perturb long-time users of the keyboard.
Some changes have unintended consequences in rare circumstances.
The fn key is no longer next to the copy, cut, and paste keys. It was switched with the ctrl key, which used to be in the perfect spot to find it easily. The fn key used to have a nice bump on top of it that made it easy to find by feel alone, and the ctrl key was in the lower left corner of the keyboard where it was always easy to find by feel. The copy, cut, and paste keys were the alternate functions I used the most. Now, the fn key is no longer on the same row as them, and I find myself fumbling around trying to hit the right key combination.
Oh, this gets much worse too...Since I navigate back and forth through text the quick way by using the ctrl key with either the left or right arrow keys, one whole word at a time, I'm running into a much more serious problem. If I miss the ctrl key and hit the fn key instead, the left arrow will work like the insert key, and the right arrow will work like the delete key. The insert function causes me to overwrite text as I type, and the delete function obviously deletes my text.
These problems are so serious that I cannot edit text at full speed without the risk of accidentally ruining my work without realizing it. Worse still is that these alternative insert and delete functions are not labeled on the keyboard or the skins.
I'll admit that I haven't been using this newer one for as long as the old one, and I'm still switching back and forth so I can compare the two. I suspect I'll get used to the new keypad Enter key, because it still functions as an enter key when the "num" keypad or fn key is activated. I probably won't get used to worrying about whether I've hit the wrong key and accidentally deleted my work. That definitely needs to be fixed. For that reason alone, I find myself clinging to my older model keyboard.
It's worth mentioning that as far as I know, I'm the only one that has noticed these problems. I'm what they call a "power user", and I push my stuff to it's limits. Many other people have bought and used these newer models based on my recommendation, and not a single one of them has ever had the problems I mentioned above. Basically, if you aren't in a hurry to use every keyboard trick there is for navigating and editing text, you probably won't even notice any of the things I've complained about, and that's why I own one of the newest models myself, and why I wholeheartedly recommend them to others, even with a few niggles that I'd like to see improved.
As mentioned already, there's a fully programmable version coming out soon that will give me whatever I want, however I want it. When that hits the market, then TypeMatrix will make the entire subject of keyboard layouts obsolete. You can make your keyboard any way you want, and then it truly will be YOUR keyboard.
I've been wanting to write this article for a long time time now. Some of you who have followed my past articles have seen me mention the TypeMatrix keyboards before
- I've been using mine since 2005. Wow, has it really been 5 years? It's just as beautiful as the day I unwrapped it. Clearly, I am in love.
My TypeMatrix keyboard has buttery smooth keys, and a strong build. It's never failed me, even when I accidentally broke one of the keys - entirely my fault of course. I can't remember what I was doing, but it had something to do with tiny little screws that go into computer parts. One of those tiny screws dropped into the keyboard, and I pried my [Enter] key off in a panic to find the screw. Unlike junky keyboards, my precision TypeMatrix has both a right way and a wrong way to remove a key
, and I did it the wrong way. Lucky for me, Mary at TypeMatrix sent me a new [Enter] key free of charge. I didn't even have to pay shipping! I really can't say enough good things about TypeMatrix, their products, their service, and their people.
I am an expert keyboard user, and I had to dig deep to find something to complain about in order to give some balance to this article. Given TypeMatrix's awesome return policy, you ought to just try out their keyboards for yourself. If you've got employees, you can save yourself a bundle in medical costs and lost time, as well as gain some increases in productivity by switching over to TypeMatrix keyboards.