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Hands Down
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The Blickensderfer model 5 (a.k.a. Dactyle, pictured above)
A tragic story of when Remington and Rheinmetall guns and typewriters had a lot in common, and what might have been, before Dvorak, who stole it from George. Best when read out loud at a party with ample alcohol.

From "useable" to "scientific" to "simplified"

The twisted history of typewriters and weapons

The Blickensderfer model 5 of 1902 (above) is the mascot of this site because it was the world's first "scientific typewriter" and was amazing. Superior in every way to the huge, clunky Sholes and Glidden typewriter and its, jam-prone QWERTY keyboard, the Blick was: portable, smaller, cheaper, faster, lighter, and more efficient, reliable and popular — it even had interchangeable typeface wheels!

QWERTY almost seems like a cruel joke, once you learn its history

Bill Burt invented the mechanical "Typographer" in 1828, but it was big and weird and didn't take off, but it got a lot of people interested. Christopher L. Sholes invented the "useable" typewriter in 1867, but it was crappy and wasn't selling well because it was only barely useable, so he teamed up with Glidden to make it better and try to sell it. (They even showed it to Thomas Edison, who said it would be better if it was electric, so he electrified one with solenoids…but Edison's was crap, too, as it was a hunt and pecker.) Scholes and Glidden had trouble selling their crappy maching on their own (and there were others tinkering with typewriters at the time, like it was the cool thing before flight) so they sought a buyer to bail them out, before they were outgunned by better designs.

Arms manufacturer Remington was expanding into domestic machines (sewing machines and the like) after getting rich making guns for the US Civil War, so Scholes and Glidden hit up Remington, which was trying to find ways to spend its war bounty, and sold their struggling typewriter business in 1873, which became a hobby business for Remington. Scholes, who got a reliable salary and kept tinkering with his crappy machine, struggled to come up with ideas to make it as reliable as his salary, almost like a one-hit-blunder who lost the incentive to invent. But, to his credit, Sholes could be called the orignal keyboard enthusiast, wasting other peoples' money on unusable mechanical keybeards long before Geekhack, Reddit and DeskAuthority were around for him to post his build porn.

Remington still had unreliable sales of the unreliable Scholes and Glidden machine, because it was unreliable and still wasn't very good and cheaper and more reliable typewriters were popping up all over. Remington did seem to have bamboozled some reliable service contracts to keep their crappy typewriter business from going under. Meanwhile, George Canfield Blickensderfer, our hero in this tale, patented his reliable "scientific typewriter" in 1891, and the Adler Typewriter debuted in 1896, and by 1900 both took off and were a huge successes, with reliable sales, because they were both reliable machines and lighter weight. Blickendsdefer wins, though, because it was earlier, better, and "scientific." Besides, The Blick was a genius in France, no joke, where it was the best selling typewriter until WWI cut off its market.

Remington didn't sell a lot of typewriters, because they were crappy and unreliable and heavy, but they did reliably sell a lot of guns and bullets during WWI, because their guns and bullets were reliably good at killing people, and Remington became reliably the world's largest arms manufacturer. Adler was a new German car company, and they put their superlative German engineering skills to work making typewriters, well. Well, they didn't make any bullets during the war but they did keep making reliable German quality typewriters and started selling in the US under the Adler Royal name (working with US typewiter maker, Royal) right up until 1979, until they went under. My reliable grandpa had an Adler typewriter, because he liked reliable things.

Underwood Typewriters was founded in 1895, three years before Adler started making typewriters, and they were very reliable, but they were sort of post-patent knock-off's of the Scholes' model now owned by Remington (Underwood were sort of the Microsoft of the typewriter world, popularizing others ideas by making them a bit more reliable). By 1900, Underwood was reliably outselling Remington, which was still the underdog, probably because Underwoods were more reliable and less crappy than the Remington dogs, and didn't need heavy service contracts to keep the business afloat. Sadly, our hero inventor George Canfield Blickensderfer died in the noble month of August, 1917, near the end of the WWI. His tiny typewriter company couldn't field another success without him, (they tried to make conveyor belts after George was conveyed off to the undertaker). Soon Blick's company went under, too, unable to overcome the marketing muscle of the huge arms dealer, Remington, whose salesmen were staying buff by lifting one typewriter in each hand, and the typing pool swooned.

Now, Remington wasn't the only arms manufacturer interested in more domestic moneymaking endeavors. German company Rheinmetall (pronounced like, "Rain metal," in case you were wondering if they really did make weapons...) patented several typewriter mechanisms, including the amazing 1935 split ortho design with independent thumb keys! It was a heady time, about the time ergonomics were becoming understood, and fascism, the original MAGA movement, tried to ruin everything. Rheinmetal engineers were getting an itch to design things besides bomb fuses, so they began thinking about a better key/lever (switch) arrangement. Rheinmetall's factories in Dusseldorf were totally destroyed at the end of WWII, in no small part because they made the massive main guns for Germany's feared Panzer tanks. Rheimetall sold a lot of typewriters, second to Adler's success. In fact, the legendary Commodore Computer Company originally existed as a tariff dodging Canadian assembly house for Rheinmetall typewriters, But ultimately, like Remington, Rheimetall figured there was more money in weapons than words, so they stuck with military gear. Today, Rheinmetall still rains metal, and is a major high-tech arms maker, including advanced tanks, guns, and even automated murder machines, like the gun for the Panzerhaubitze 2000 that could alter the war in Ukraine, if it ever arrives…

As I said at the outset, our story is a sadly tragic hero story, because, sadly, the better person doesn't always win. In fact, it it gets worse, with intrigue and intellectual property theft just after WWI, when the crappy QWERTY was finally gaining popularity (in no small part because Underwood was making less crappy, reliable knock offs). August Dvorak invented a new "Simplified" typewriter, and wanted to conquer the world with it, Dvorak thought his scientific "simplified" typewriter was better that the QWERTY, lump of crap by Remington, because it absolutely was. But August seems to have learned about poor dead Chuck Blick's idea of studying the English language and arranging the letters scientifically for greater efficiency, and then went on to patent his own layout invention in 1936, that looks very suspiciously like Chuck Blick's design without giving poor dead Chuck any credit. Dvorak's first success, though, was in 1933, when his typing students won a national typing competition using his Dvorak–Dealy layout. I'm not a fan of Dvorak, either because Dvorak didn't credit Blick for his work, and August is supposed to be noble, like the month George Can Blick died. Maybe I'm not fond of Dvorak because August seems to have cheated his co-inventor and brother-in-law, William Dealy, out of the patent naming deal, or simply because there are plenty of better layouts around these days (Dvorak is not crappy, but Colemak, MTGAP, and Hands Down are all, scientifically, better). Nevertheless, Dvorak was the best there was for 42 years (until Harvey Einbinder's 1978 patent), and is still much, better than QWERTY.

Guns and typewriters have a long history, and about the time Remington and Rheinmetall were making both, August Dvorak got the idea of getting rich by selling out his cousin and hocking his "simplified" typewriter to the hawkish US military, in an attempt to improve military efficiency (by weaponizing words?) The US military did like Dvorak's simplification, and made it "standard issue alternative" for decades. In fact, August Dvorak got Underwood to make typewriters with the layout he named after himself on them (making his name sound even more August), and they were sold to the US military. Dvorak was never designated required issue, for unknown reasons, but some speculate that the largest arms manufacturer, Remington, was none too happy about the US military buying patented competing non-Remington equipment from Underwood, and threatened higher prices for the weapons, so the US military agreed to limit Dvorak typewriters to "second supplier" status. That means that Dvorak was always an option in the military, if you wanted it, because it was better than crappy QWERTY, and that's how it came to be supported on all many computer systems, because computer makers had to offer Dvorak on any system they wanted to sell to the military—procurement rules. Remington eventually made Dvorak layout typewriters, after the patent expired and there was still a market with the military. The Remington Dvorak Quiet Writer was a hit with the military, probably because secret massages had to be kept quiet, like the sales of the Dvorak Quiet Writer: for every one Remington sold with Dvorak, they over 300 with QWERTY.

So, it may be no exaggeration to say that the two most popular keyboard layouts today are the direct result of US military procurement inefficiencies...

It's all bullets, folks.The whole world types on QWERTY,because of bullets

I recreated the 1902 Blick 5 layout, with minor updates to bring it into the computer age, and found some remarkable features that make it notably superior to QWERTY. You can see for yourself just how good (or bad) the 1902 Blick 5 layout is with the JSON file I made. Plug it into the PatorJ KLA of your choice and weep at knowing that it didn't have to be this way.

Hands Down Polyglot for typists without borders 🇺🇳🏳️‍🌈🏁 (wip) ⌨️

Hands Down Polyglot project continues, but
Hands Down Polyglot will be based on Hands Down Neu.
The layout below is not likely to be the final for
Hands Down Polyglot.
deprecated

w g m¯ fˆ ¨ ' u o kq jz
r s n t b´ y i e a h
x c l d v` - p / ,; .:

(native OS support for Hands Down Polyglot is in the Hands Down layout OS bundle here)

🇺🇸🇬🇧🇨🇦🇳🇿 🇩🇪 🇫🇷 🇪🇸🇲🇽 🇮🇹 🇸🇪🇳🇴

Hands Down Neu lays the foundation
for the
Hands Down Polyglot project.

Hands Down was designed from the outset to be great in English, but fully aware that millions of people type in multiple languages on a daily basis. This has influenced some of the design choices. Since Hands Down is designed specifically for "smart" keyboards, combos are used to make typing in multiple languages easier and more comfortable than on ordinary boards, theoretically even easier than those layouts designed for a specific language (on an ordinary board). Ultimately, my goal is to create a fully "polyglot" version of Hands Down Alt-x with little to no compromise for any given (Latin script) language, made possible by the linguistic underpinnings of the layout and smart keyboard combos.

The basic principle for Hands Down Polyglot is to leverage the spacial distribution and memory of base glyphs to facilitate easy-to-learn, fast-to-use access to the full range of letters in every language, in much the same way that Q and Z are accessed via combos on K and J on Hands Down Alt-x. The two letters are phonetically similar, so they occur in the same place on the keyboard. But since they sound similar, they rarely appear together, so they don't compete on the keyboard like SFBs. Most glyphs that take diacritics behave in this way, and are much lower frequency than the base glyph, and most of the base glyphs are of such high frequency that they are already on home row. Yes, there is some variation in letter frequency between languages, but the top ten letters are mostly the same 10. This is where the challenge begins. (I have deliberately withheld combos from home row in anticipation of Hands Down Polyglot.)

In the 90s I worked on multilingual document features for WordPerfect (Mac 2.0, WP6.0), and other language software initiatives. I hope to contribute again by working with native speaking linguists at my current university to assemble test corpora and typists for this project. Below are some early "in-progress" ideas for using Hands Down Polyglot in non-English languages. In the end, the aim is to develop a single common layout that is at nearly as good as any high-efficiency layout designed specifically for that language, without penalizing performance in the other languages.

  • Q and Z are removed from the main layout with all Hands Down Alt-x variations, but they remain easily available with comfortable combos or vio AltGr. K for Q, J for Z. The two letters (K&Q, J&Z) are phonetically very similar, so they occur naturally in the same place on the keyboard; but also exactly because are so phonetically similar, they rarely appear together and don't compete on the keyboard like SFBs. Qu is very infrequent, and yet performs almost like a double-letter tap. I find these to be very natural positions for these lesser used letters, with related letters still convenient to reach. Hold Q just a bit to get Qu (caps derived from shift/capsLk state). QU is so ridiQUelessly easy that you don't need to design a whole layout around these low frequency letters: ThinQu.)

  • 🇩🇪Deutsch & Hands Down Polyglot? Swap J<->Z. Die ü, ö, ä, ß können mit Combos behandelt werden, genau dort, wo sich ihre ähnlichen Zeichen befinden, direkt in der Startzeile: UJ=Ü, EO=Ö, OA=Ä, RS=ß. Shift wird bei Combos respektiert. So bequem, so schnell.

  • 🇫🇷Français & Hands Down Polyglot? Les é, ê, è, à, ç peuvent être manipulés avec des combos, juste là où se trouvent leurs caractères similaires, juste sur la ligne d'accueil: IE=É, EO=È, IO=Ê, OA=À, SN=Ç. Shift est respecté avec les combos. Si pratique, si rapide, si confortable.

  • 🇪🇸🇲🇽¿Español & Hands Down Polyglot? Las ñ, á, í, ó, ç, ¿, ¡ se pueden manejar con combos, ahí mismo donde se encuentran sus caracteres similares, justo en la fila de inicio: NH=Ñ, OA=Á, IE=Í, EO=Ó, SN=Ç, P/=¿, Shift se respeta con combos, por lo que Shift+P/=¡. Otros acentos son fácilmente accesibles con combos. Tan conveniente, tan rápido, tan cómodo.

  • Skandina & Hands Down Polyglot? Byt A<->I. å, ä, ø, æ, kombinationer AE=Æ, , AO=Å, EO=Ä, OI=Ø.
    🇸🇪Använd kombinationer för att producera specialtecken, exakt där deras liknande tecken finns, direkt på hemraden: Skift respekteras med kombinationer. Så bekvämt, så snabbt.
    🇳🇴 Bruk kombinasjoner for å produsere spesialtegn, nøyaktig hvor de ligner på tegnene, rett på hjemmet: Skift respekteres med kombinasjoner. Så praktisk, så raskt, så behagelig.

Hands On 3.276% SFBs ⌨️

A transitional layout for migrating from QWERTY or Notarise to Hands Down (Works with any keyboard, ZXCV in QWERTY locations.).

w g l d b y k u q '
r s n t p f i e o a
z x c v m j h / , .

Finger/Hand Usage(ƒ) distribution (%)
Pnky Ring Mid Index
Index Mid Ring Pnky
7.87
8.06 12.81 19.43 ƒ(%) 17.70 16.50 8.67 8.90
48.2
L R 51.8
Same-finger bigrams%
0.047 0.062 0.498 0.357 sfb(%) 1.803 0.165 0.066 0.278
Total 3.276%
vs QWERTY 6.58%, Norman 6.37%, XKCD 3.28%, Asset 2.99%, Workman 2.96%

(native OS support for Hands On is in the Hands Down layout OS bundle here)

Hands On shares most of the Hands Down home block, on the keyboard you already have.

  • Shortcuts ZXCV are in their familiar QWERTY locations.

  • Hands On was designed to work on any type of keyboard (ansi/iso, ergo, matrix, ortho), without any need for programming. Hands On is respectable on its own, with 1/2 the SFBs of QWERTY. If you want to go all in, Hands On offers an intermediate step to fully optimized Hands Down layout variations.

  • Hands On for ergo keyboards shows exceptional performance, nearly as good as the Hands Down fully optimized layout variations on some analyzers.

  • Hands On for standard keyboards is perhaps the easiest way to get started with Hands Down level efficiency, without buying any hardware or programming.

  • Hands On and Hands Down layout variations (Reference, Alt) are in the native OS bundle for traditional keyboards (ansi/iso/jis), so you can get started on your layout transition with what you already have, and take it one step at a time.


※These stats are from kla.keyboard-design.com. Use the JSON files on the download page to see how it preforms with your own sample texts on the KLA of your choice.These stats are from the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool, with default settings. go ahead and copy the layout above and paste it into the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool to see for yourself, and compare with other layouts.

Get NotariseVery easy to learn QWERTY alternative 3.764% SFBs ⌨️

Relatively few letters moved for relatively large gains in efficiency. Works with any keyboard.

N O T A R I S E L A Y O U T

q w f d p y u l k '
a s e t g h n o i r
z x c v b j m . , ;

Finger/Hand Usage(ƒ) distribution (%)
Pnky Ring Mid Index
Index Mid Ring Pnky
7.86
8.43 16.22 18.73 ƒ(%) 20.07 12.50 9.23 6.97
51.23
L R 48.77
Same-finger bigrams%
0.028 0.079 1.152 0.153 sfb(%) 1.239 0.783 0.258 0.073
Total 3.764%
vs QWERTY 6.58%, Norman 6.37%, XKCD 3.28%, Asset 2.99%, Workman 2.96%

(native OS support for Notarise is in the Hands Down layout OS bundle here)

I designed the Notarise layout with an easy QWERTY migration in mind, and felt that it performs better than almost all that claim to be easy to use improvements on QWERTY, with fewer keys moved and better hand balance than most. Notarise is based on a simple rule of swapping rows to gain home-row efficiency. Only P and R have changed hands, and most other letters are on the same finger. It is comparatively easy to learn from QWERTY. If you're considering Norman, note that Notarise has ~40% fewer awkward bigrams, and moves about the same number of letters from QWERTY, so I think it is easier to learn with better return for your effort. I think that Workman and ASSET are better layouts (than either Notarise or Norman), but if they look too hard to learn, try Notarise. It might be sufficient for you.

Notarise is spelled with an S, because the layout name can be typed entirely on home row without repeating a letter. Yes, it's an S, an acceptable British English spelling.


These stats are from the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool, with default settings. go ahead and copy the layout above and paste it into the Colemak-DH Layout Analysis Tool to see for yourself, and compare with other layouts.

XKCD —A Hands Down variation…for "kids"

q m h g z y f o b '

s n r t p w u e i a

x k c d j v l , . /

For those who enjoyed the early net comic strip, XKCD, is a Hands Down derivative with MLKC doing a bit of a dance. It is surprisingly comfortable, and statistical performance is quite respectable. XKCD net comic is still going strong, and still as light-hearted yet relevant as ever.

I called it "FOB FUEL" before I recognized the xkcd fun.