[gambit-list] Emacs pinky...

Harold Ancell hga at ancell-ent.com
Fri Sep 25 11:46:25 EDT 2009

At 09:06 AM 9/25/2009, David St-Hilaire wrote:
>Hi all!
>I believe I've recently fallen victim to the infamous 'Emacs pinky'
>sickness (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emacs#Emacs_Pinky)... :(

:-( indeed.  I started having problems in 1993 myself,
although they're mostly related to mousing.  For that, I
position my mouse so that I don't move my right arm up
or down, and for the last few years I've been using a
Goldtouch keyboard which splits and tents (I only use the
former) but most importantly for me has only one column
of keys beyond the normal end of BS, |\, Enter, etc. so
that it minimizes how much my arm has to travel.

It's basically a laptop layout and for you, it might help in
that it has the arrow keys tucked right under Enter and to
the right of Shift and right Ctrl.  If you can train yourself
to use your left ring finger or pinky to hit those then you
can stop doing C-P/N/B/F and change how you do M-B/F.  I think
I've at least half switched to using the arrow keys for that.

>I made several changes to my working environment in hope to remedy the
>situation, such as swaping ctl and alt.

I used to do that for years and it's a BIG win; it's certainly
how the original AI Lab and LispM keyboards were laid out (I
stopped because I was in industry and had to use other people's
keyboards sufficiently often for a few minutes that it was just
too confusing).

On the other hand, the LispM and Knight/AI Lab keyboards had
rubout in the position caps lock is currently in, so while very
conveniently on the home row compared to the high right exile
of backspace it sure exercised your left pinky.

Here's what it looked like, this was the keyboard that I
believe the original TECO Emacs was designed for (or was
it designed for Emacs???):


or http://tinyurl.com/ycj2jnk

In this closeup:


or http://tinyurl.com/yd72j3j

Note how Meta is to the outside, and how both the Ctrl
and Meta keys are far away from the space bar, which
really changes the way your pinkies use them.

These also has Hall effect switches (VERY nice feel) and
were quite high, like 3-4 inches instead of the current
ISO? very short requirement that for a long time made it
hard to put good switches in a keyboard.

>I also am trying to learn to
>press control keys with one hand and the other combo key with the
>other thus using both controls and alt keys. I'll go check today if I
>can find an ergonomic keyboard too.

If you don't want to totally retrain yourself a keyboard like
the Goldtouch is a good option.  It's got very nice key
switches, say 2/3 as good as the Knight's Hall effect switches.

>Does anyone have some other ideas/tips for improving the situation?

This may not work as well for others since I played the
violin when younger and really trained up the dexterity
of my left hand, but ... I just checked, and I note that
I've unconsciously trained myself to do the following for
the various bucky bits (hmmm, I should also note that my
touch typing is totally self-taught, starting from hunt
and peck):

Left ring finger for Shift.
Left pinky for Ctrl ... but I curl it so that the tip almost
touches my palm and the front of it hits the key, from the area
just forward of the last joint to the middle of the segment just
before the nail starts.  That drastically changes the way you use
it such that I suspect Emacs pinky won't be a problem (I've never
noticed it).  For me, hitting C-B is a bit of a stretch plus a
little strain, though.

And I use my left thumb to hit Alt.  That requires quite a bit
of rotation of my left arm around the point hitting the Alt key
to hit the T/G/B column, and some for R/F/V, but that doesn't
seem to cause damage.

>Using vi is my last resort option as I am really familiar with emacs
>and love it alot...

Indeed, I've used Emacs since 1980 and won't use anything
else.  Here's the general book on RSI that I highly
recommend; you might have some posture issues that are
aggravating this plus it's advice on how to deal with
damage as it occurs and after is invaluable:

Dr. Pascarelli's Complete Guide to Repetitive Strain Injury

by Emil Pascarelli M.D.

ISBN-10: 0-471-38843-2



or http://tinyurl.com/ydcsrfw



or http://tinyurl.com/ybokxog

My only other piece of advice is to listen to your body.  As
the above book emphasizes ("Learn from your pain, pay attention
to your pain, and you should eventually conquer it."), once you
start hurting,  doing more is just going to pile on damage.

Don't end up like Bernie Greenberg, who permanently wrecked his
wrists in 1-2 weeks when he started playing the piano after
years of no force required instruments like the harpsichord;
from Wikipedia:

  The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte,
  which is seldom used except in formal language and derived
  from the original Italian name for the instrument,
  clavicembalo [or gravicembalo] col piano e forte
  (literally harpsichord with calm and strong). This refers
  to the instrument's responsiveness to keyboard touch,
  which allows the pianist to produce notes at different
  dynamic levels by controlling the speed with which the
  hammers hit the strings.

You must use your *arms* to do this, but he did it without
formal piano training and I guess didn't pay attention to
the signals his body must have been sending him (plus he
had perhaps accumulated a lot of damage up to that point).

Symbolics had to hire typist for him....  He's the most
extreme case I know of, but I watched other names you've
heard of seriously damage themselves in the '80s.  I
strongly advise you and everyone reading this to take this
issue with upmost seriousness.

One of my best friends has run the MIT EECS undergraduate
program for the last three decades and she reports that
about 25 years ago for 5 years MIT undergraduates had a lot
of RSI problems, but I guess awareness developed so that
it's now pretty rare.  But she did talk to a student about
3 years ago about a mandatory career change, since that
student wasn't going to ever be able to use a keyboard
(heavily) again....


You're welcome and I wish you luck.

                                        - Harold

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