Hands Down
Other Layout Variations

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. Just after the US Civil War (1861–1865), there was intense interest in all things mechanical (think transcontinental railroad), and along came Christopher L. Sholes who invented the "useable" typewriter in 1867. But Sholes’ typewriter 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.

As with so many in the military industrial complex (it's been a thing since long before Ike coined the term and warned us about it), arms manufacturer Remington was expanding into domestic machines (sewing machines and the like) after getting rich making guns for the US Civil War. 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 GeekhackReddit and DeskAuthority were around for him to post his build porn pics.

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 under the name Dactyle 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 typewriter 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 or AMD of the typewriter world, popularizing others ideas by making them cheaper and 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 followed him under, unable to overcome the marketing muscle of the huge arms dealer, Remington, whose salesmen were staying buff by lifting one typewriter in each hand as 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... and still do...) 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 only 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 cheaper, less crappy, more 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 today much better than QWERTY.

So you see, guns and typewriters have a longer history than Guns and Roses, and about the time Remington and Rheinmetall were making both (guns and typewriters, that is), 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 most computer systems, because computer makers had to offer Dvorak as an option 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 sold 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) ⌨️

Work In Progress

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

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.

 † I have studied many dozens of layouts in many languages, in my Hands Down research. I have subjected many Hands Down variations to analysis with corpora from many languages, especially English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and to some smaller degree, Nordic languages. This multi-lingual research has been primarily to validate some of the "phonotactic" basis for Hands Down, that should, theoretically carry some value across languages. I have also been exploring some of the methods and solutions of some of the other layout design approaches, not wanting to totally re-invent the keyboard (there's already Open Steno's Plover for that). I've learned a lot about how these languages deal with different phonetic and orthographic features, especially diacritics. So, while the focus of Hands Down on these pages is presented as English-first, and it does excel at English, just like other smart keyboard features, Hands Down is designed to be as forward-looking as possible, envisioning a Polyglot optimized layout that excels at several languages simultaneously (this is a Herculean effort–or perhaps Sysiphean–a hill against which many have already expended great effort with minimal reward). I am approaching this problem with smart keyboard features, like combos and Adaptive keys (tools the other approaches have not used), though OS support for such a keyboard is a complicating factor. My preliminary tests for Polyglot are very promising, (exceeding Bépo in French only, and nearly matching AdNW in German only, and exceeding both in mixed language corpora tests).  At the moment, my research has involved too much hand calculation of complex statistics, as I lack the comprehensive tools and corpora to do more exhaustive research. I'll get there, I'm slowly working on those tools, sourcing my corpora, and learning more about the languages' historic keyboard initiatives–it will just take me a while.

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.

※These stats are from 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. This is a twisted take on the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule, where you can get 80% of the benefit with only 20% of the effort. 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. (See u/keybug's comparison of semi-optimized layouts, noting their comment about bang for your buck in the conclusion.)

Workman and ASSET are statistically better layouts (than either Notarise or Norman), but they both involve moving many more letters from QWERTY, meaning potentially diminishing returns for your learning effort. For this reason, you may want to give Notarise a test type, and see if 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 might have called it "FOB FUEL" had I not derived this layout explicitly for the xkcd fun.