[unrev-II] Field report: Twiddler chord keyboard

From: Paul Fernhout (pdfernhout@kurtz-fernhout.com)
Date: Sun Mar 26 2000 - 09:11:56 PST

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    From: Paul Fernhout <pdfernhout@kurtz-fernhout.com>

    All -

    Since Doug has advocated chord keyboards in the past, I thought it
    appropriate to post some recent initial experience with one. A chord
    keyboard requires pressing multiple keys at once to make some letters.

    Last Saturday, I ordered a "twiddler" one handed chord keyboard from:
    I received it on Wednesday. (The web site suggests a two week backlog
    but it was not the case.) Total cost with shipping was around $225.

    The twiddler can be used both as a keyboard and as a pointing device (by
    tilting it). The twiddler had twelve keys on the front as three columns
    of four pressed by the four fingers and six keys on the back in a circle
    on the back pressed by the thumb. It can produce any IBM key
    combination. When your thumb presses the mouse button, you can move the
    screen pointer by tilting the device like a joystick, and click by
    pressing various front buttons.

    It works alongside an exisiting mouse and keyboard, using the serial
    port for input (it also requires a keyboard passthrough cable for
    power). You could type with it in one hand and use a mouse in the other.
    You could use it as a mouse and use a regular keyboard for typing --
    although that combination would make little sense as it seems harder to
    use for occasional pointing than a mouse since it needs to be lifted in
    the air.

    So far I have practiced with the twiddler a total of around five or six
    hours, as well as mentally thinking about key combinations for several
    more hours. I have been practicing the alphabet and not any punctuation
    symbols yet. I am up to about five to six words per minute without
    looking at the keyboard.

    For reference, I can type about 40 - 60 words per minute on the split
    Goldtouch keyboard http://www.keyalt.com I use, but I am not a touch
    typist and have to look at the keys. Both my wife and I prefer the
    discontinued IBM split keyboard, and also like the Apple split keyboard,
    and dislike the Microsoft Natural keyboard.

    I have been practicing by just typing words as I think them up, starting
    with simple ones. Somehow I assumed the device would come with a
    tutorial suggestions or learning software -- more or less all there is a
    a key map and you are on your own to learn as best you can.

    I find using the twiddler reminds me some of when I played the violin.
    However, despite ergonomic claims, I find it awkward to hold and the
    first couple of hours I used it lead to wrist strain and finger cramp.
    Also, despite claims to accomodate a wide range of hand sizes, I have
    fairly long fingers (an advantage when playing the flute or piano) which
    feel cramped using this device. Since then I often hold it in one hand
    and use it in the other to allow more space for my fingers which feels
    better. If it was about an inch wider it would feel much better for me,
    and I might try to modify it somehow by attaching a spacer. My wife also
    has long fingers (which helps with her piano playing) and found the
    device awkward to use for the same reasons I did. She also thinks the
    keys are hard to push, and I somewhat agree.

    The twiddler key combinations are layed out in a more or less
    alphabetical sequence. It seems to me a sequence based on frequency
    might be easier to use (although harder to learn). You can remap the
    chords as desired, although of course now I have invested in learning
    the default for the alphabet. Also, as a programmer, several symbols
    that are commonly used like [] or {} seem to be mapped to more complex
    key combinations than I would like.

    I am learning to use the twiddler with my left hand although I am right
    handed (and use the mouse with my right). Primarily this is from
    thinking of reducing the potential for RSI http://www.tifaq.com/ to my
    right hand.

    I'm hoping to eventually interface the twiddler to a Palm device.
    I often think of things as I am falling asleep, or when I wake up in the
    morning, or when I go on a walk, and I would like the option of entering
    text when lying down or walking. I can do that with a Palm now with
    graffiti, but it is awkward and slow and requires using two hands and
    generally looking at the device.

    Here is some more background on "One-Handed Typing Devices":

    Note: I typed this on a regular keyboard and mouse -- I'm still too slow
    on the twiddler. At this point I have to decide if I will invest more
    time to get up to the 35+ words per minute suggested by the sales
    literature, or if it will end up as one more unused "toy".

    P.S. Typed this PS with the twiddler while petting a dog. Also note the
    NT driver when running keeps my computer from sleeping. Also partially
    edited this email with the twiddler.

    -Paul Fernhout
    Kurtz-Fernhout Software
    Developers of custom software and educational simulations
    Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

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