Friday, November 17, 2006

Asset vs. Colemak

So the designer of the Colemak keyboard layout and I have been going back and forth, him criticising my Asset layout and me improving it. I think I'm nearly at the point where I can improve it no more, and it looks like this:
I could get a small improvement by moving L and Y in order to get Y in a more comfortable spot, and to remove the same-finger contention for the common digraphs LO, OL and MY. In order not to cause new problems, I'd have to shuffle Y, L, U, J, P, and K. However, this would make only 11 letters match Qwerty, which in turn means it is less different from Colemak, which keeps 10 letters. Actually, I'm kind-of considering switching P and U, which would make 13 letters match Qwerty, but my digraph data indicates that same-finger typing would increase by 0.52%. On second thought, the tradeoff is insufficiently compelling; I'll leave things how they are.

In the choice between Asset and Colemak, I guess what it comes down to is how much Qwerty similarity is desired. Asset keeps 12 letters while Colemak keeps 10; and in total, my Nov. 13 redesign also keeps 20/26 letters on the same finger, whereas Colemak only keeps 15/26. Unfortunately, how important it is to keep keys on the same finger is purely a matter of opinion, because it would probably take a quite expensive study to tell for sure.

Now, Colemak and Asset have many similarities, the only major differences I can see being that (1) Asset is more similar to Qwerty, (2) Asset's Y key could be better placed, and (3) Asset has higher same-finger typing.

Colemak's designer, Shai Colemak says that "Asset has 100% more same-finger ratio compared Colemak." That could be true (evidence?), but I tried a corpus of several books at and found that Colemak usually has under 2% same-finger typing, which implies under 4% for Asset. Now, if we assume digraphs typed with the same finger take twice as long to type as digraphs on different fingers (actually I think it's less than twice), then we would conclude that a Colemak typist could potentially type about 2% faster than an Asset typist.

So that's the trade-off. More similarity to Qwerty or 2% more speed. I guess we'll let the community decide. Mind you, Colemak has more followers so the conclusion is probably foregone. Anyway, I guess I should resubmit the new Asset…

It would be kind of nice if Shai and I could come to a compromise. For example, on Colemak's home row you see ARST:

If he switched R and S then S would be back in its Qwerty position, and the Ctrl+S (Save) shortcut would be preserved. My digraph data indicates that if R and S were switched, the amount of same-finger typing would increase by 0.22% (e.g. 1.92% instead of 1.70%), so one might expect typists that are 0.2% slower—no big deal, IMO. I guess he wouldn't think it worthwhile, since he has declared the layout "stable", but as I said on the forum… if he switches them, I'll drop out of the competition and replace my Asset page with a page that praises Colemak :)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Asset Keyboard

A while ago I designed an improved keyboard layout called Asset, which attempted to maximize similarity to Qwerty. Now I'm studying the history of keyboards for a school project, and I decided to update my design based on some advice from a guy named Scott. Scott informed me some time ago that he'd been using his own personal layout since 1992, which had a nearly identical home row to Asset. I took his advice and made a couple more tweaks too.

After making the new Asset keyboard I found out about a layout called Colemak, which led me to the "Million Dollar Keyboard" competition. In fact, it's nothing of the sort--the prize is sitting at around $250. Anyway, if anybody's reading this and likes the keyboard, and if I understand the poorly-designed rules correctly, then if you join Wikidot, you can vote for my design on 2006/12/28.

Firstly, they decided to use 2-round first-past-the-post runoff voting, which probably means they know very little about voting systems. The system they chose will not accurately measure the opinions of the voters. I would've probably recommended Range Voting, although if I were designing a system myself I'd probably use something a little more elaborate than standard systems. Secondly, leaving the polls open for only one day will exclude voters who either had something else to do that day, or were forgetful. Finally, now that many submissions have been made, it is clear that the submissions come in very different flavors:
  1. Designs that change the key layout from Qwerty to something else
  2. Designs that keep Qwerty, but rearrange extended keys or add new features
  3. Ergonomic keyboard designs
It doesn't really make sense to have only one winner out of all three categories, because for the most part, the designs in different categories could be combined (although categories 2 & 3 tend to conflict or overlap). For example, one could easily imagine an Asset Editor's Keyboard in the style of the Microsoft Natural Keyboard.