On ergonomic keyboards again

Following up on my review of three ergonomic keyboards last year, I pass along now Marco Arment’s review of the Matias Ergo Pro Keyboard, which he’s liking. From the features he describes, it sounds similar to theThe Goldtouch Go!2 keyboard I’ve been using, but with some differences, including one that would drive me crazy.

[T]he Ergo Pro’s two halves are physically separate and connected by a cable. This is a mixed bag: it provides flexibility, but it’s also frustrating to have no way to lock in your preferred setting, leaving you to figure it out again whenever it’s moved.

It does come with wrist pads, though, which are nice. Me, I’m sticking with the Goldtouch, but I thought I’d pass this along in case this new offering strikes someone’s fancy. Preorder links are in Marco’s post.

The pain and suffering of Scrivener exports to Word

As a writing tool, I love Scrivener. Unfortunately this comes with some hindrances:

  • Scrivener is not a standard format, so you have to compile and export anything you do to to anything with it.
  • Microsoft Word is a standard format in publishing—obviously people in publishing are a bunch of masochists—but Scrivener’s exports to Word are unstyled.
  • Scrivener’s exports to the .mobi format are barely adequate. Scrivener’s exports to the .epub format are famously incompatible with ebook retailers and need to be cleaned up.
  • Scrivener has no export to InDesign—perhaps to be expected, as InDesign can import Word docs.

What I’m realizing is that I’m going to have to use Scrivener for a first-draft tool only, and then export to Word and finish every work in Word. For someone who loathes Word, that’s a sad prospect.

But what’s more sad is that before I can get going on the Word doc, I have to go through and define all the Styles in the manuscript. And it’s not easy, because the process results in loss of tabs, loss of italicization, loss of any and every special style I defined in my Scrivener manuscript (e.g., styles for text messaging). I have to spend hours going through a novel-length document looking for words and sentences that should be italicized, sentences that should be styled as text messages, and so on.

This has me questioning my entire workflow.

Scrivener » Word (garbage) » Word (manual cleanup) » [final delivery formatting app]

And it’s a huge distraction from writing.

K is for Keyboard

Regular keyboards give me a pain — a pain in the wrist, specifically. It makes a huge difference when you’re typing a lot for emails, blog posts, proposals, articles … and novels.

I tried a number of keyboards.

Kinesis keyboard photo

The Kinesis Advantage is one of the most radical ergonomic keyboards out there. With scooped-out keyboard forms, it’s designed to conform to typical finger paths, not conventional keyboard grids. However, there’s a very steep learning curve. What put me off, though, were the rather long keystrokes. This issue can be addressed somewhat with some hacks, such as swapping key switches and adding rubber rings underneath each key to try to limit they keystroke distance, but this already is a very expensive keyboard (several hundred dollars) and having to take it apart key by key just to make it acceptable didn’t feel all that sensible, so I somewhat regretfully returned it.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic photo

The Microsoft Sculpt keyboard is a lightweight and modern offering from the company that had the most popular ergonomic keyboard in the 1990s. It wasn’t bad, but the Option and Command keys are swapped in position, which would require new less-optimal keystroke habits. In the end, I sent it back primarily for this reason.

Goldtouch Go!2 keyboard photo

The Goldtouch Go!2 keyboard does not have curves, but it does have a universal joint in the middle that allows you to angle they left and right halves of the keyboard, and even peak it in the middle, so you can find your own comfort position to avoid things like wrist pronation that can contribute to RSI. I like the quick-action scissor-switch keys, which are most like the keys on Apple keyboards, and don’t require a ton of motion in order to register a keystroke—very important when you don’t want to feel like you’re typing through mud. The keyboard has a switch for Mac and PC layouts. And it folds up, making it portable. Some people may dislike that it’s a USB keyboard, but I don’t mind—one less battery-driven device to worry about.

How I am happy.

Scrivener’s learning curve

For my writing—and editing, and prep for publication—I’ve been using Scrivener. It’s not an intuitive app by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it feels like something of a patchwork of basic functionality with miscellaneous add-ons. There’s no consistent UI between the various components of its feature set. Some of the screens are ridiculously unusable, small, or simply mysterious. One could teach an entire semester of Interaction Design using Scrivener as a case study for how to succeed at #doingitwrong.

But let’s face it, when it comes to writing books, what’s the alternative? Microsoft Word? What utter crap! Anyone as old as I am knows that the wordprocessor peaked with WordPerfect around 1990 or so, and since then it’s been all downhill. Word and its frakking paperclip can burn in hell. I marvel at how it manages to maintain dominance in the marketplace….

…until I look at the surviving alternatives.

Which brings us back to Scrivener. As a writing tool, it’s actually pretty cool and easy enough to use. You have documents organized in a “binder”, which is really a hierarchical folder system displayed to the left of the composition area. You can organize your writing into chapters, sections, etc. The idea for this approach is centered not only on having power and flexibility to move around and shuffle components of a longform writing project (novel, non-fiction book, screenplay, etc.), but also on ending up rather pre-structured for exporting your work into a publishable (or submittable) format, complete with table of contents.

And yet this last step is where you run into all the bizarre configurations and maddening interface design “features” of Scrivener. The “compile” process has a steep learning curve indeed.

Which is why I’m sharing this link:

Scrivener Quick Tip: Building an eBook Part 1 | All Things From My Brain.

Patrick Hester has managed to figure out quite a bit about Scrivener’s quirks and configurations, and explained them quite well in his blog. I’m finding it to be quite helpful, perhaps even more so than the 3 or 4 how-to ebooks I bought on the topic over the past couple of months.

So why go through all this in the first place? Because once you get used to Scrivener’s quirks, it’s actually quite a good little app. And it’s much more pleasant—and more robust, in the end—than Word. Even if it might be easier to use if it had a paperclip.