Books of Note

Practical Common
LispThe best intro to start your journey. Excellent coverage of CLOS.

ANSI Common
LispAnother great starting point with a different focus.

Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence
ProgrammingA superb set of Lisp examples. Not just for the AI crowd.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Das Keyboard -- Are you man enough? 

Here's a twist on computing's oldest peripheral... I happened to be reviewing something on the Finding Lisp blog page this morning and one of the AdWords adverts happened to catch my eye. I clicked and found "Das Keyboard - The Blank Keyboard." In this case, the keyboard doesn't have any labeling whatsoever on the keys. They're all blank. The Das Keyboard folks bill this as a way to increase typing speed because it will quickly break you of the temptation of looking down at your fingers to determine which key is which. The keyboard seems like a quality product (as much as you can tell from a web site, without actually having your fingers on one). It retails for $79.95 with free shipping to the USA.

Personally, I found this most interesting because I have wanted to teach myself to type on a Dvorak keyboard layout for some time. While you can buy Dvorak keyboards or even dual-marked keyboards, the most common way to learn Dvorak is by just using keyboard remapping software present in every OS out there. But, then I'm tempted to look at my fingers. That's particularly true when I'm typing "computer things" like code or OS shell commands. If I'm just typing long stretches of prose, I don't find much need to glance down. When I have to type find / -name foo -print 2> /dev/null, or something like that, there is much more tendency to look down, particularly since Dvorak moved lots of the symbols to (IMO) non-intuitive places. This keyboard may be just the thing to help with that.

Or you could just buy it because you're an ├╝bergeek and it's cool in a minimalist sort of way.

Update: If you're cheap, you can just do this.

Update: An anonymous commenter suggested the Optimus keyboard. This thing, if it ever gets produced, would be very cool. I don't know how well the keys would hold up over time, but you'd get major props from everybody at the office. Essentially, it solves the problem of remapping keys once and for all.


If the goal is to learn the Dvorak layout, then save your money. A mislabeled keyboard will be just as useful as a regular keyboard. You'll start wondering where the period is, see it on the keyboard, and hit it to get a 'v'. Not quite what you wanted eh? So you'll look at a visual aid, and see that you need to lift your left middle finger up a row and hit that key.

With a regular keyboard you'll also have all of the symbols on top of the numbers visible too which helps since they're never going to get memorized. So it's the best of an unlabeled keyboard and a labeled one.

You could also wait until the Optimus keyboard is released.

Then again, it sounds as though it will be quite expensive...

I second Nolan's comment. I learned Dvorak with a normal keyboard, maybe two months after I switched from German to US layout (much more coding-friendly).

I used this course:
twice or three times a day, repeating each set of two lessons.

They're really hard in the end, and actual typing is much easier than most of the words in that course.

The point I'm getting at: since the course starts with just part of the home row, gradually introducing other keys and rows, you *never* have to look at the keyboard (at least you shouldn't).

After a month I could type quite well already. Now I'm much faster than before and my hands are much less stressed :)


I would vote for this keyboard as being much more manly! :)

I have normal HH keyboard myself (black non blank, sporting lame cursor keys!) and I can highly recommend their products.


I have the blank, black HH keyboard and it has my highest recommendation (besides getting a C- for value :)

-Conrad Barski

I came here to mention the blank key Happy Hacking Keyboard, but Conrad already did. Still, I can give the link:

There is a black version, as Conrad alluded. They are disgustingly expensive. The HHK Lite has tempted me a little, but I'm happy with my MS Natural Pro. Soon enough (well, maybe a few decades from now) my keys will be blank too.

Maybe I'm just hard-headed, but I just switched my keyboard map and forced myself to learn the keyboard map. I used to switch back to QWERTY when doing email or writing a doc, and learned Dvorak while coding. After a couple weeks, I didn't feel the need to switch anymore.

Gordon Weakliem

If you have an original loud-clicking IBM 101-key keyboard, you can actually swap the keycaps, which ought to help immensely with learning dvorak. There are blank keys, and then the keycaps snap on top of them. (So you could also have blank keys by taking all the keycaps off, but they would feel different.) I haven't gotten around to that though.

I created and learned a Dvorak-like layout around 1982 many years ago, without ever remapping keycaps. (Might have helped that I was already a touch-typist.) For me, the most fascinating parts of the experience were after I was pretty fluent in the new layout, I'd be typing along full speed, and then come to a word I hadn't used with the new layout yet. You end up noticing how the mind chunks the motions together, and it takes a bit of time to rebuild that chunking in the new form. The other weird parts were the first times using vi and emacs with the new layout (I chose to move the control-letter mappings along with each letter -- seemed more sensible that way, and turned out to be easier to do in the intervening years, in the numerous OSs I've used over that time.)

I have a HH Pro blank and I agree that it is great but too expensive to completely reccomend.

I have been typing in dvorak since 1991 - I switched cold turkey and have never regretted it. I learned by placing a picture of the layout in front of me and finding the key by touch after locating it on the pic. I was a 30 year 50 wpm typist who was getting a sore right hand. It took me a month to retrain and my speed was up to 50 again. Today it's about 90. It's worth the change.

The "Das Keyboard" is a bit of a hoax - it's a blanked out inexpensive KeyTronic. See this site:

If you want a keyboard that has separate keytops and rearranges easily without 'tippiness' get a Fujitsu. I have 2 model 8725's that have been running for years. It's out of production, but here's a link to the replacement, available in clicky or silent.

New West BC

Do not switch to Dvorak unless you are already a good QWERTY touch-typist. I learned Dvorak *first*, and now I'm helpless on public computers, until the day I can bring myself to learn QWERTY.

A blank keyboard might be nice; I have never really learned the punctuation on the top row of the keyboard. But then, maybe a few days of writing Perl would bang 'em into my brain.

If it was possible to get a boner for a keyboard, then Optimus would be the one. Oh, who am I kidding- I just looked at it, and won't be able to get up from my desk for at least 10 minutes.

ok, call me a cheapskate. But can't you go and buy a keyboard for 10-15 quid (the way the pound is at the moment that's probably $10-15 or euro 10-15!!) and then take a scourer to the keys?

I would have thought half an hour of effort and you will have an equivalent blank keyboard. Just as long as the nipples on the F and J keys are noticeable, you won't have a problem.

I learned to touch-type around 1972 or so, and I've never ever looked back. So something like this is absolutely superb. It takes around two or three weeks to really get up to speed with touch-typing, but the benefits are immense.

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