Ode to a Keyboard

At some point in college I started having pain in my hands and wrists that seemed to be a direct result of the time that I spent typing. It didn’t cause major hardship and I was able to complete my work without too much of an issue. However, given that I was looking forward to a lifetime of typing both for personal and professional reasons, I was concerned and knew I needed to diagnose the problem.

For starters, I knew that I had to examine and improve my posture and routine. For me, this meant making sure that I was sitting properly and taking breaks to relax and/or stretch my hands and wrists. While you should talk to an expert before doing anything drastic, I have found great resources on the internet for addressing mild carpal tunnel issues. That said, when I was having regular pain, I had a feeling that stretching exercises were not going to be sufficient for me, as I had already begun incorporating occasional typing breaks and the prayer stretch into my typing routine.

At the time, I was the fastest hunt-and-peck typer that I knew, but I wasn’t sure if that was partly to blame. I was also an average user of the mouse, which seemed to be related to the pain (I will put off how I have tried address that for another post), so occasionally switching my mousing hand was a short-term “fix”. In general, I believed that whether I was moving my hands to reach for the mouse or to reach across the keyboard for a far-off letter I was contributing to my problem.

Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard

The Keyboard Messiah

Enter the Kinesis Advantage Countoured Keyboard. One of my colleagues at Harvard recommended that I try it out. Of course, I had a PS/2 model at the time, but the layout was the same as the one linked here. The first two weeks were awful. Not physically painful, thankfully, but as someone who would occasionally hit the T key with his right hand – ok, fine, always not occasionally – this keyboard was maddening. It enforced good habits in a way that I had never experienced before. To be honest, I had previously tried using Mavis Beacon and other typing programs to learn “touch typing” in the past, but it had always been difficult to motivate myself when I could type so much faster with my hunt-and-peck method than the proper method. The Kinesis cured me of that problem – cheating often came at a huge penalty.

In one fell swoop, my daily routine changed pretty dramatically. I was now typing differently and had less pain. The Kinesis isn’t a panacea, but it certainly makes a huge difference — at least it does for me. In addition to the general contoured shape, and the enforced home row, I think that the fact that the modifier keys (shift, control, alt) are under my thumb seems to be part of the goodness for me. As a programmer and computer “power” user, I find that I end up using these keys pretty liberally, so having them under the thumb with little to no stretching seems perfect. Almost 10 years later, I haven’t found a keyboard that is more comfortable. Wherever I go for work, I make sure that I have a Kinesis on-hand (no pun intended), so I can get down to work doing some serious typing without compromising my hand health. Note, however, that there are a lot of options for ergonomic keyboards out there. Switching to a Kinesis requires a pretty dramatic shift, so if you are looking for more of a compromise, you might check out the recommendations from some recent posts from other sources like the the Adapt-It blog or the aptly named Ergonomic Keyboard blog!

Kinesis is a bit of a “niche” company, but they have been working steadily for years now and have a good selection of products. While I haven’t used any of the others, they seem to get good reviews from users including the No Carpal Tunnel Blog. From my experience, I would confidently recommend them as being well worth the price.

Last word

I am quite happy in general with all the Kinesis products that I have used and I should add that the company is great – I have owned multiple Advantage keyboards and when there have been issues the guys at Kinesis have quickly and efficiently helped me resolve them every time. That said, there is one oddity that I believe warrants a HOWTO here. When you are typing, this keyboard produces sound – not just as a result of the physical typing, but it seems to have a small speaker that produces an additional clicking sound for normal keys and a small beep for “toggling” modes (e.g. caps lock, key program mode, etc). The first thing that I do when I set up a new keyboard is to make some changes to the key layout and disable these sounds. While the documentation of all of this is pretty reasonable, it bears repeating here:

Effect Key Combination
Turn On/Off Key Click Hold Progrm and Hit –
Turn On/Off Toggle Tone Hold Progrm and Hit \
Print current key config (note, prints as if typed) Hold = and Hit s
Switch current key config to Windows Hold = and Hit w
Switch current key config to PC (good for Linux, no Windows key) Hold = and Hit p
Switch current key config to Mac Hold = and Hit m
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One Response to Ode to a Keyboard

  1. adaptingit says:

    We are planning to stock the Kinesis keyboards very soon now

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