My Kinesis Keyboard

Last updated March 30th, 2003


A description of how this very cool keyboard has made my life better, saved my marriage, and given my cat a glossier coat. (This is not entirely sarcasm; it really has improved my life. I experience less pain from typing, and I can type more with less damage, which means I get more done, and feel better. I even brush the cat more often than I did when my wrists were all damaged.)


News! I got one of these all spraypainted and shiny-looking. Here's more info.

I got a Kinesis ergonomic keyboard on March 6th from DMB Ergonomics. This page will log my experience with getting to know and use the keyboard. Thus far, this page has been typed entirely on my new keyboard. The manual suggests avoiding typing on other keyboards while learning, and I think they're probably right.

I've had some slight pain, mostly in my wrists (it was by my elbows in about '89 or '90, when it was fairly bad, but I've developed an amazing technique called "posture" since then), for a long, long time. It goes away when I use the Amiga a lot (because the Amiga 3000/4000 keyboard is, simply, the best plain old keyboard it has ever been my pleasure to type on), and it becomes worse when I use a crappy PC keyboard a lot, and especially when I have to use a mouse a lot.

I actually decided I wanted an ergonomic keyboard about 2 years ago. I worked for Xerox at the time, and I was doing research to convince them they should buy me one. Not much ever came of that. I found, and read, the typing injury FAQ (URL to follow as soon as I'm sure which one is current), and exchanged email with the maintainer, who apparently used a Kinesis. I talked to Kinesis, and they sent me a brochure. I never actually got one, although I was fairly interested; I just never had the spare cash or interest I needed.

I switched jobs, and discovered that my new job came with a fairly stiff PC keyboard, a desk which was too high, and which they will not lower, and no keyboard drawer. I've managed to get a keyboard tray/drawer now, but the keyboards are still pretty bad...

So, I broke down and got myself a keyboard. I got a Mac/PC convertible so I can (in theory) take it home and use it on my Mac. If it works out well, I'll probably buy another one or two when I have some more money, and have keyboards I can just leave on the computers. I still sometimes forget my keyboard at home, and let me tell you, I get nothing done when I'm trying to type on a plain old keyboard.

Based on what I'd seen and heard, I was expecting the keyboard to be about as hard to learn as the Dvorak layout was, and I was expecting it to be amazingly flexible and smart. So far, it's been much easier than learning a new layout, with only a few gotchas, but it's not quite as flexible as I'd like. (The number one problem is that I can't have different Mac and PC mappings in any convenient fashion, the number two being that there's no Mac or Unix software for uploading and downloading macros or key mappings.)

A quick summary: So far, I'm fairly happy. I can't tell whether this is better for my hands or worse, because I can't quite type fast enough or long enough for a good comparison. I'm tending to think it's better, but I'm a bit confused by a few things, and I'm fairly convinced I'll be better off if I can retrain my hands a bit more; my index finger on my right hand is still doing three columns of keys, and my ring finger and pinky on that hand aren't doing anything at all yet. Ugh. It'll take a while to get my hands trained. I can do the right thing by conscious effort, and it's actually a lot less work than my normal typing... I'll keep working on it.

The log...

March 6th 1997 (Day 1)

Just got the keyboard. A few weird things; it appears that there's a bug in either the keyboard driver or the netware software on my PC at work, so when I run the keyboard macro editing software on the PC, it logs me off of our network. The footswitch didn't work; the support rep I called suggested that the modular plug connector was possibly bad, and sure enough, swapping that fixed my problem.

Can't type well at all yet. It's in Dvorak mode, which is my preferred keyboard, but it takes some getting used to. One weakness; the '-' key is normally immediately next to the 's' on a Dvorak keyboard, but they had it up on the upper right, and the '\' next to the 's. I switched these.

At this point, I think it's neat, but I'm not typing well at all on it. I do like the feel of having my hands at a convenient angle to type; looking forward to more experimentation tomorrow. I would have experimented more with my Mac and my PC at home, but I forgot to bring the little cable adapters home with me.

March 7th (Day 2)
Much better today; I could actually type pretty well at work. Nowhere near my normal speed, but I can type without looking some of the time. Discovered that the keyware software puts my home PC in sleep mode. sigh.
March 8th (Day 3)

Well, this morning I can type at perhaps half of my normal speed, with far, far, too many typos. Still occasionally confused by the layout when it's strange. I've noticed that '6' is a left-hand key for my normal typing. (In fact, I typed that as '5' before because I thought 'right most left hand number key'.)

Tonight, I could type simple words in the dark, and I'm starting to see something like normal typing with fewer typos than I had at first. I still "feel" a lot of typos that turn out to be correct, but I'm starting to have a good sense for the keyboard. I still hit ENTER when I mean SPACE, though.

March 9th (Day 4)

As of this morning, I am comfortable enough with the keyboard that I could probably be tolerably productive using it; a good thing, since I have to go to work on Monday and be productive. :)

As of this evening, after a horrifying day spent arguing with MS-DOS about the nature of memory, I'm basically comfortable typing on this keyboard. I still have a lot of trouble with getting ENTER and SPACE confused. I haven't had to do any remapping for a day or two, though, and I'm pretty happy with my selected mapping by now. As soon as I figure out a good way, I'll be posting my layout. I have not yet found any use for macros, but I do use the footswitch (to make the right hand keywell a number pad) occasionally.

March 10th (Day 5)

I would say I'm now comfortable enough with this keyboard that I can use it without significant difficulty. I'm starting to get some use out of more of my fingers, although this has tended to be accompanied by increased typos, as I relearn yet again. I still don't use the foot pedal much, although it was fairly convenient when I was entering numbers a lot.

At this point, this will probably go from a daily log to a log updated only when I notice something unusual; things seem to have settled down.

March 19th

Just a note: I no longer have trouble switching to or from this keyboard. I'm still making too many typos, but I don't think there are more now than there were when I was using a normal keyboard. It's hard to tell.

March 21st

Forgot to bring my keyboard in to work. The difference is amazing; in 5 minutes on an old PC keyboard, I was having trouble typing, and my hands hurt. The keyboard I have at work when I don't have the Kinesis is exceptionally bad, but even then, I've discovered that my limit is really about 10-15 minutes on any "normal" keyboard. I've stopped having trouble with most of the keys. I still plan to post that layout eventually.

March 24th

Remembered the keyboard. I typed more this morning than I did all day on the 21st, and the only pain I have is from having the keyboard at a ludicrously bad height, because they still haven't gotten me a keyboard drawer, and I keep forgetting to put the keyboard on my lap.

My hands actually feel better after typing on this for a while. Not as much better as they do if I rest, but it's an improvement, rather than a source of damage. Sort of neat.

March 25th

I nearly forgot the keyboard on my way to work; I have established that I consider having the keyboard with me valuable enough to justify driving back about eight blocks. Considering removing arms from chair so I can type with the keyboard in my lap more of the time.

April 4th

The keyboard drawer, which has made it, is quite an improvement. I still can't get quite a comfortable posture, but I'm a lot closer. I still forget the keyboard sometimes, and life sucks without it. If it happens again, I'm just going to run and grab it, which will probably be, overall, more productive than sitting around typing a few words.

April 12th
I finally got a chance to see a doctor about the wrist pain that prompted all of this. It turns out that I have (had?) an inflamed tendon; the big things he reccommended for this are all addressed by my new keyboard. I am getting a second keyboard to keep at work. I'm quite happy.
October 25th
Much later, the situation is that I have three of these keyboards. They're wonderful. I have run into a problem - I get a lot of missed keys, and worse, missed modifier releases, but only under Unix; I'm planning to spend some time looking at the keyboard driver to see if I can spot anything that might explain this.
February 10th, 1998
Followup to that: The problem still occurs, but is now rarer; my guess is that it's a timing bug, and I've learned not to trigger it.
September 8th, 1998
Haven't seen the problem in a long time, but I'm using the keyboard in AT mode now; it may be a harmful interaction with my Unix box's way of doing PS/2 ports. Love the keyboard dearly; will eventually use them on everything.
April 3rd, 1999
Problem with PS/2 mode also seems to have gone away. I had problems with one of the keyboards locking up; Kinesis sent me an upgraded circuit board. I've discovered that NetBSD 1.4 will probably support the keyboard connected to a PS/2 to USB adapter, which may help with my laptop. Stupidly, I'm typing this on a "normal" Mac keyboard, and my hands have already started hurting again. Argh. Where's my brain?

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