Thursday, November 01, 2007

Reuse of neurons

Few things are as annoying as having to switch between different keyboard layouts. It took me several years to get rid of the nervous twitch caused by switching between German QWERTZ keyboards and non-German QWERTY keyboards. The nervous twitch when writing my name, worrying about whether I had yet again written "Corrz" has only recently worn off.

After leaving Germany I settled on the Danish keyboard. It's a great keyboard for English, Danish and German. For programming, the placement of the {} braces can be annoying so I have a couple of keyboard macros in my .vimrc file:

map! hh {
map! jj }

The letters 'jj' and 'hh' occur very rarely in normal text so this doesn't interfere with non-programming use of vim.

So, happy as I am with my new employer-provided MacBook Pro, I'm not happy about the differences between the normal Danish PC keyboard layout and the one the Mac supports. It's particularly annoying on external keyboards, almost all of which have the PC keycaps.

It's not that I am totally opposed to changes in keyboard layout if they are justified. The most obvious improvement to the standard Danish PC keyboard is to get the rid of the currency symbol that squats like a belligerent drug addict in the penthouse of the '4' key. This symbol was invented as a placeholder for various local currency symbols in the days of 7 bit character sets on non-connected washing-machine-sized machines that processed accounts using reels of tape and chugged along with less processing power than a modern day SIM card. But now, what on earth could be the justification for a symbol that means "some currency, but we don't know which one". Find out and get back to us with the answer, dammit! In these days of Unicode and a three-letter currency abbreviations the only reason for keeping the running pancake in such a prominent position must be anti-Americanism or a misplaced sense of vague internationalism. I suppose it could be to annoy perl programmers and vim users.

Unfortunately, instead of turning this piece of prime keyboard real estate over to the rightful owner, the dollar sign, the Mac people have replaced the currency symbol with the Euro symbol. While marginally more useful this is no help for those of us that need the $ symbol (relegated to shift-alt-3) and conflicts with the standard placement dictated by the Eurocrats (alt-e). Granted, the Euro placement is a hugely verbose demonstration of why you shouldn't let bureaucrats design computer equipment (yes, it's a Word file), complete with a class system for keyboard symbols (level 1, level 2 and level 3 - it is imperative that the Euro shouldn't be on a less prestigious level than other major currencies). However, now they've settled on an standard, there are advantages to following it.

So without further ado, here are a couple of MacOSX keyboard layouts for Danish keyboard layouts. If you are the sort of person who looks down while typing they will allow the characters on your unseen screen to match the keycaps you are looking at. If you have parts of your reptile brain dedicated to the placement of the keys it will allow you to conserve neurons and nerves needed to learn a new layout and (not least) switch between the layouts. They are made with Ukelele and can probably be usefully combined with the use of DoubleCommand. I hope they are useful to someone other than me.



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