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Input Devices Hardware

Engelbart's Keyboard Available For Touchscreens 160

Posted by timothy
from the so-you-can-drive-too dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Doug Engelbart should be known to everyone on Slashdot — he did invent the mouse after all, among many other inventions all of us rely on today. There was one more obscure device he came up with that never really took off, though. It was called the Chorded Keyboard, and consisted of a system that allowed you to type using just one hand. The key to this system was finger combinations, which allowed up to 32 different characters — more than enough for the alphabet. Now that one-handed keyboard has been ported to work with touchscreens, and it could end up being quite popular. The key benefit is the fact you can type anywhere on the screen and don't even need to see where you are typing. The only difficulty is learning all the key combos, but once you have them cold you may be able to type faster than with two hands on your smartphone or tablet." Bonus: being software-only and open-source, it's much cheaper than a Twiddler.
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Engelbart's Keyboard Available For Touchscreens

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  • by bonch (38532) * on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:09PM (#38989503)

    ...a system that allowed you to type using just one hand.

    Wait, fellow poster! Please reconsider before you write that joke!

  • EMACS? (Score:4, Funny)

    by inode_buddha (576844) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:16PM (#38989567) Journal

    Just wait till the Emacs people come along... they're gonna have a gasm. Wait for all the keybindings in 3.... 2... 1....

    • Re:EMACS? (Score:5, Funny)

      by iluvcapra (782887) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:27PM (#38989717)

      It's a bit like an Emacs user's reductio ad absurdum : a keyboard that is all modifiers.

      • Re:EMACS? (Score:5, Funny)

        by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Thursday February 09, 2012 @08:02PM (#38990597) Journal

        I may be slow, but how would that be different thant Emacs today??? :)

        hawk

    • Re:EMACS? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:39PM (#38989867) Homepage Journal
      Actually, at the time chorded keyboards were popular, the first Emacs users were already around, and took a much different approach. Gentlemen, behold: the Space Cadet Keyboard [wikipedia.org]. Seven modifier keys. Seven.
      • Re:EMACS? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @07:00PM (#38990033)

        Someone needs to make a keyboard with ELEVEN modifier keys. For that extra push over the cliff.

      • by Khashishi (775369)

        The approach is not as different as you think. Modifier keys are essentially used like chords. By pressing a different combination of modifier keys, you get different characters.

      • Re:EMACS? (Score:5, Funny)

        by red_dragon (1761) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @07:36PM (#38990355) Homepage

        Seven modifier keys. Seven.

        I've always wondered what kind of moderation would result if one pressed Hyper-Super-Meta-ThumbsUp while clicking the Moderate button here on Slashdot.

      • by Trogre (513942)

        ...but... but where are the cursor keys?

        dear God, no!

        • When you think about it, it's not that much worse. After all; if the hand can get used to QWERTY, it can get used to anything. Think of it as a step up from Emacs's actual navigation keys: C-n = down, C-p = up, C-f = right, C-b = left.
          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            I still use those C-n, C-p, C-a, and other keys. A lot of applications understand them, including Firefox letting me use them now. Easier than moving your hands off of the home row to go use the arrow keys. Although for awhile I remember Outlook would insist on printing email without any confirmation everytime I accidentally pressed C-p to go up a line.

      • by Animats (122034)

        The MIT Space Cadet keyboard was a response to the Stanford SAIL keyboard. [stanford.edu], which had CONTROL, TOP, SHIFT, and META shifts. The SAIL character set had a reasonable set of math symbols, reached via the TOP key, and there were programming environments that used them. Here's a paper by John McCarthy [stanford.edu] on the SAIL character set.

        I've used both of those systems. The math symbols on the SAIL keyboard were nice, since they had display glyphs to go with them. All those function and shift keys on the Symbolics 3600

        • I deeply desire to have a Symbolics machine of my own some day—or at least a version of OpenGenera that boots properly. I am greatly fascinated by the AI period of computing history in particular... and I have a Razer Naga (12 shoulder buttons) even though I don't play Warcraft.

          I used to have a weird Compaq media keyboard that had a few extra media buttons, but I never installed the software that was supposed to go with it—hence, its six or seven extra buttons used the Natural Keyboard bindings

          • OpenGenera for Linux (Score:5, Interesting)

            by klapaucjusz (1167407) on Friday February 10, 2012 @02:59AM (#38992971) Homepage

            I deeply desire to have a Symbolics machine of my own some day—or at least a version of OpenGenera that boots properly.

            You won't have one properly licensed, since the courts were unable to agree who owns the copyrights to Genera. On the other hand, that means you cannot be sued by the copyright holders, since nobody is quite sure who the copyright holders are.

            You'll need:

            Setting it up requires a little bit of work (you'll need to set up a local NFS server and to tweak your X server's modifier mappings), but I warmly recommend it -- it's complete enough to do some real work in Emacs, and the full sources and documentation are there for your greater enjoyment.

            • And if you want the real hardware, check on eBay for the accelerator boards that plug into old Macs. You can pick up a Mac from the required era for about $10 and the boards (which are a Lisp machine CPU, but nothing else) go for about $100-200 periodically. They basically relegate the 68000 to being an I/O coprocessor and take over the system. The later Lisp machines were Alphas, and these also periodically pop up for sale - they also have the advantage of being a lot smaller than the early ones...
            • I actually already had the big package—just not the emulator. Now, to go see a VMware installation about a dog...
          • by Animats (122034)

            I deeply desire to have a Symbolics machine of my own some dayâ"or at least a version of OpenGenera that boots properly.

            At one time, in the early 1980s, having a Symbolics 3600, a single-user computer the size of a refrigerator, was something of a corporate status symbol. Interest declined after people discovered that 1) expert system weren't very useful, 2) UNIX workstations could do a better job running LISP, and 3) Symbolics hardware reliability was very poor.

        • by jackbird (721605)

          I'm typing on a Windows Natural Keyboard, which was the upper limit of excessive buttons for Windows. There are 19 extra function keys. The "calculator" button really brings up the calculator. The "Menu" button brings up a menu. The "Mail" button brings up Thunderbird. None of this is particularly useful.

          I have a sadly driver-deprecated MS Office Keyboard, that has an honest-to-god big beefy scrollwheel (not some little slider but a knuckle-sized rubberized spinny thing that looks like it came from a good l

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        The Symbolics were awesome. That's just an early model too, I liked the ones with the triangle, square, and circle buttons.

        They went a couple keys too far I think. But we do have a lot in use today. Control, Shift, Alt, AltGr, maybe Windows if you bought a cheezy keyboard; on Mac you have Control, Shift, Option, Command. Makes sense; a key dedicated to just windowing/os operations, a key for internationalization, and save ctrl/shift/meta for the application itself.

        Trouble is they have to be laid out wel

      • Woah, it even has the facebook Like button on the right! Really visioanry development for the time ...

  • I have two hands you insensitive clod!

  • by Colourspace (563895) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:17PM (#38989585)
    There was an early 'palm' computer around '90/1/2 (in the UK) that was very similar to this. It had a keyboard of five keys mapped to the positions of the fingers on one hand, but could, in the right 'hand' be used quite efficiently as a one hand 'keyboard' input device. Fucked if I can remember what it was called, but I do remember someone being quite proficient with it. Any ideas what it was? It would have been around the time of the Atari Portfolio/Early Psion machines.
    • To further jog anyone else's memory - It was mainly black plastic with yellow around the 'keys'
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That would have been the Microwriter AgendA you're thinking of; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microwriter

    • Re:IIRC (Score:4, Informative)

      by belphegore (66832) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:35PM (#38989805) Homepage

      I think the poster below is correct, it's a Microwriter AgendA. The picture at Wikipedia is of some other Microwriter device. This page has a picture of the AgendA:

      http://www.gifford.co.uk/~coredump/org.htm [gifford.co.uk]

      My friend had one around the same time I had my Psion Organizer II, ~1989 or so in highschool in the UK.

      • by Misagon (1135)

        The latest iteration was the CyKey [cykey.co.uk], but it is just a chorded keyboard, it does not record. The site does not seem to have been updated in a while.

        I could have sworn that there was a software version available for iPhone or MacOS' TrackPad ... but I am probably just confused and thinking of the TrackPad version of FrogPad.

      • I had a Microwriter Agenda (indeed, I still do, though I'd need to replace the battery and see if it boots).

        I spent perhaps 20-30 hours attempting to learn the text entry system.
        In short - while I got to the stage that I had no real problems chording any given alphanumeric char, I did not exceed 10wpm on it.

        I can do this - easily - on even the worst on-screen keyboards, and I hit ~35wpm on my phone keyboard with a comparable amount of practice.

    • by Tapewolf (1639955)

      There was an early 'palm' computer around '90/1/2 (in the UK) that was very similar to this. It had a keyboard of five keys mapped to the positions of the fingers on one hand, but could, in the right 'hand' be used quite efficiently as a one hand 'keyboard' input device.

      There was something around then called 'The Egg', I think.

  • I type fine one handed, and faster than most with both hands.

    Example is this post. You just have to learn to shift around more.
  • Unless my life depended on it, I doubt I could ever train myself to use 32+ memorized "chords" to type all of the letters and numbers. Plus, you have to be able to backspace, space, and other stuff too. And any single-finger "chord" could be easily mistaken for trying to select something on the screen, or moving a cursor, etc. Sounds like it would need lots of rules, timing limitations, etc... really complex.

    I could be wrong, but in this case, I don't think I will ever know :)

    • Re:Shoot me (Score:5, Funny)

      by snowgirl (978879) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:29PM (#38989737) Journal

      Unless my life depended on it, I doubt I could ever train myself to use 32+ memorized "chords" to type all of the letters and numbers.

      Unless my life depended upon it, I doubt I could ever train myself to use a 101+ key keyboard...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hentes (2461350)

        Luckily for you you don't have to memorize it, as the function of every key is written on them.

        • by snowgirl (978879)

          Luckily for you you don't have to memorize it, as the function of every key is written on them.

          I don't imagine you tried the demo... it actually had the function of every key written on it as well. "Which one contains t... ok, now which one contains t... ok, oh, that one only has t left. Done! 't' has been entered!"

    • Unless my life depended on it, I doubt I could ever train myself to use 32+ memorized "chords" to type all of the letters and numbers. Plus, you have to be able to backspace, space, and other stuff too. And any single-finger "chord" could be easily mistaken for trying to select something on the screen, or moving a cursor, etc. Sounds like it would need lots of rules, timing limitations, etc... really complex.

      I could be wrong, but in this case, I don't think I will ever know :)

      I bet with the appropriate electrical brain simulation [slashdot.org] you could learn it quickly!

    • by dbc (135354)

      Nah. It is just practice. Just like learning to type or to use the buttons on a video game controller. For how many /.'ers are the buttons on a game controller instinctual?

      It does require motivation and a pay-off. Otherwise you will never do it enough to get proficient. I know Morse code. Simply obtaining a ham license was the original motivation for the considerable work it took to get minimally proficient. Radiosport contesting using high speed Morse was my payoff. And before you ridicule my addic

    • by Imagix (695350)
      Look up a product called the FrogPad. One-handed keyboard (comes in left and right-handed versions). Does punctuation and backspace (and arrows, and other special keys).
    • I just happened to recall that the Behemoth bicycle had switches on the handlebar so that Steve could compute while cycling. http://microship.com/bike/behemoth/ [microship.com] It took two hands, though. He simply entered the ASCII codes directly. So he didn't find it so hard to learn 'chords'.

    • People play the piano, the organ, the recorder, saxophone, guitar, banjo, etc. just fine.
  • Is it just me that never had that much trouble writing 1 handed? Just get a decent keyboard for your device and you're golden... Swiftkey's ability to predit "awsqhyhuqi" as "confort" is astounding (:

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's really weird, since "confort" isn't even a word.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)

      Swiftkey's ability to predit "awsqhyhuqi" as "confort" is astounding (:

      Was that supposed to be funny? Or are you just not as good at typing as you thought?

      • by errandum (2014454)

        it was meant as an example, just like "Landkfs" he sees as "Pandora". What's funny about great technology?

        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          The part about misspelling 2 words in one sentence right after you said you were good at typing. Or are predit and confort just words I've never heard of?
          • by errandum (2014454)

            Ohh, the grammar police. Sorry, didn't recognize you with that nickname.

            My main language is not English, so I'm very sorry for having touched you in inappropriate places. I'll do my best not to do it again ):

      • by nschubach (922175)

        The keyboard just hasn't been updated to support "predict" or "comfort" yet. It's coming in the next update.

  • You mean like the Frogpad? http://www.frogpad.com/ [frogpad.com]

    I've been interested in this keyboard for years, but figured it'd be too hard to type on anything else afterwards.

    • You mean like the Frogpad? http://www.frogpad.com/ [frogpad.com]

      I've been interested in this keyboard for years, but figured it'd be too hard to type on anything else afterwards.

      Things sold by a guy named "Dr Gadget" strike me as highly likely to be a gimmick or scam.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:29PM (#38989743)

    Stenotype, which is used for both court reporting and closed captioning http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenotype [wikipedia.org] can typically be operated at 300WPM.

    It has the advantage that you can already take classes in it, and that there are tons of people already trained to use it.

    I guess Paul Wittgenstein http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wittgenstein [wikipedia.org] might appreciate it.

    -- Terry

  • by martyb (196687) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:41PM (#38989887)

    Yes, I can see the learning curve is steep, I must be missing something, though, because lowercase letters (26), uppercase letters (26), digits (10), punctuation (26), and "meta" keys like Escape, Tab, Backspace, Delete, and enter (to name a few) exceeds the 32 chorded characters mentioned in TFA.

    I've often wondered if Morse Code [wikipedia.org] could be a viable option for data entry on a small screen. Admittedly, there are some punctuation and capitalization issues with this, as well. Yet, it WOULD permit one to text while not requiring one to keep their gaze on the screen.

    I suppose one could split the screen in half (e.g. left/right) to distinguish lowercase from uppercase and to allow additional symbols to be defined. I doubt I'm the first to think of this, but I've not seen anything like this being available, I thought I'd toss it out for consideration and discussion.

    • by dbc (135354)

      There are morse characters for punctuation. I don't know most of them, just the common ones. There are also language-specific characters for Cyrillic, and some oriental languages as well. So coming up with codes isn't the issue. The data rate isn't outstanding. Experts go 30 to 35 word per minute or so. I knew one old cigar-chomping sparks who first went to sea in a WW II Liberty Ship, who claimed "49 1/2" words per minute. I watched him operate, too, with a WW II era bug, beer and ash-tray handy --

    • by LihTox (754597)

      I've been expecting Morse code to make a comeback for text messages, because you could send and receive texts entirely by touch (if the phone vibrates in Morse code for incoming texts). Not terribly efficient perhaps but great for texting on the sly (e.g. kids in classrooms).

      • by dbc (135354)

        Did you see the bit on Leno where they had two kids texting over phones, race to hams with radios using morse code? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mfyf5Y5AHNc [youtube.com] Morse code won easily and handily by a huge margin. I know one of the hams (Chip), he said it was clear during rehearsal that morse code was going to win by a mile. It's actually pretty easy to send morse code, and as you say easy to do in a clandestine fashion. Copying, though, requires practice, practice, practice. Until it becomes a key skill

    • by sgt scrub (869860)

      I would think both would be exactly the same. Both are learning a series of taps. One is location based where the other is audio based. Learning would be up to which skill the individual was stronger at. Personally, I think drawing a character is the easiest. A hybrid gesture / character recognition software couldn't be any more difficult to write than either of the other two. In all reality though, voice recognition is going to beat all of them... considering it is already available.

    • by Scoth (879800)

      I'm trying to find the original source instead of blog posts, but several years ago now morse code beat out texting by a decent amount: Here [160characters.org]

      This was before smartphones, most qwerty keyboards, and things like swype but it's certainly viable.

  • by Khashishi (775369) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @07:25PM (#38990273) Journal

    I find your lack of capital letters disturbing.

    • by kryzx (178628) *

      Yes. We need way more than 32 characters. Unless you want everyone yelling all the time. (I think without lower and caps people will default to all caps. ick)
      And we need a decent amount of punctuation. Period, comma, apostrophe, question mark, and exclamation are all essential for basic communication. Quotes, hyphen, @ sign, etc are nice to have, and we're already over the 32 char limit. And we didn't even talk about numbers yet. 32 char won't work.

  • There's these things [easyergonomics.co.uk] which look thoroughly uncomfortable and are WAY overpriced... not for me. Some minidisc recorders have spinny-clicky things, I have a couple and got pretty handy with that, although doing anything more than tracklisting would become an invitation for carpal tunnel treatment (IMO). I always figured that a single-handed five button job would be pretty easy to pick up; I figured this to be a logical progression from Braille, which uses six dots (ohreali?) and it doesn't take a blind person

  • by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @08:25PM (#38990788)
    I read "Twiddler" and it makes me think The Batman has been reduced from stalking Master Criminals to now pursuing Masturbaters...
  • by Nethead (1563)

    Baudot is a 5 bit code most familiar from the old news wire printers and early teletypes. It's also the code used for TTD calls for the deaf. Ham radio still uses it for RTTY on HF.

    It got around having only 32 unique characters by having a shift and unshift code, also known as letters and figures, to access a total of 62 characters.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baudot_code [wikipedia.org]
    The code was entered on a keyboard which had just five piano type keys, operated with two fingers of the left hand and three finger

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @09:19PM (#38991169)

    Since it is very common to hold a tablet with one hand, it would be interesting if someone would build a tablet with pressure senors on the back and side (for your thumb) so that the hand holding the tablet could type just be squeezing. Make the entire back of the tablet pressure sensitive so you don't have to worry about lining your fingers up, just let the software figure out which finger is which based on the relative location of each press/squeeze.

    • Better for smartphones, honestly. God, that was an absolute mess on my Droid3. Couldn't fit all five fingers on there at once, and even then, it didn't like multitouch at all. Still, I liked it a lot.

  • I remember looking into InfoGrip's BAT Keyboard [computerhistory.org] as an input device for CAD commands many years ago. It DID work with chorded input (it had to, being a product for the disabled), but I lost interest and have no idea where my BAT keyboard is now.

    Perhaps I am too old for this technology, as I also have a 3D mouse for navigation through models and never use it. It's just too easy to use the keyboard.
  • It was a chorded keyboard featured on the cover of Either Byte or PC Magazine back in 1978 or '79. I thought it was a totally cool device then, and I've kinda been experimenting with variations for the last 7 years.

    I got envious of those teenagers texting 60 miles per hour, and so I've almost finished a 4-"plate" Morse Code pad for my Windows7 touchscreen Fujitsu tablet that I hope to get working on my Windows7 Samsung smartphone. One-finger operation, plates for dot, dash, space and erase; and I might be a

  • I think I'm going to need some tutorials on this application. But is this the one? The Blender3D [blender.org] conquerer?
  • Dying for an iOS app for this, so that I can say goodbye to autocorrect.

  • by Mr. Protocol (73424) on Friday February 10, 2012 @01:43PM (#38997579)

    Jon Postel, who ran the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for many years, used Engelbart's NLS system to manage all of the information for IANA. He used a mouse and chord keyboard. I was interested at one time in user interface issues, and I'm located in L.A., so Jon kindly allowed me to interview him and watch him work (the Internet was a far smaller and more friendly place back then). NLS was designed to use these two devices in concert. The usage model was of a hypertext, with a mouse click on an item followed by a single-letter command. The command letters were typed in on the chord keyboard, at two chords per character. The scheme was to type in 8- or 9-bit characters as bits, five high bits followed by five low bits, or the other way around, I don't remember which. The effect was that to manipulate information, as opposed to entering it, you didn't have to move your hands back and forth to and from the keyboard. Just click-chunk-chunk, click-chunk-chunk.

    At two chords per character, and with pretty clunky-chunky piano-type keys on the chord keyboard, entering more than a few characters via chord keyboard was slower and more painful than using a regular keyboard. I asked Jon how many characters he would type on the chord keyboard before switching to the regular keyboard, and his answer was, "About ten."

    Jon was probably the last user of NLS aside from Doug & Friends. I believe ISI, where Jon worked, kept a PDP-10 running just to support his use of NLS in running IANA.

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