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[P]
Options for one-handed programming?

By torpor in News
Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:54:33 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

What is the sound of a one-handed programmer working? Most of us with two hands are probably quite able to bang away at > 60wpm's, but what do those with only one hand who want to get into programming do, and what options are there for a disabled person to learn fundamental programming theory in a diabled-person-friendly programming language?


A friend of mine is very interested in becoming a programmer, but the problem is he is one handed, having lost an arm 10 years ago during a boating accident.

He's not trying to become a professional programmer in the sense of mainstream revenue - he just wants to learn the basics, and have fun learning to write apps (under Windows, but maybe Linux too if the tools exist).

We were discussing the ways that he can write code with one hand, and we're going to try the chord-based keyboard options out there, but my question for other K5'ers is this: What options are there for input devices that allow those with disabilities to rapidly develop software in languages such as C, or perhaps Delphi (win32)? Are there any particular scripting languages that are more conducive to 1handed input - C for example has a lot of {}'s and ()'s which are generally difficult to produce with one hand - are there other scripting systems or editing environments that make code construction easier?

If there is a particular *language* that is easier to type one handed, I'm going to help him learn it (learning it myself too, probably).

On the hardware front, I know that I personally live by my MS-natural keyboard (the only thing made by MS that I actually respect) and mouse, and that the hjkl keybindings for cursor control of 'vi' are to die for - but how does this translate to an environment that is conducive to 1-handed productivity? Should I consider writing a text editor for him that makes life simpler, for example?

Any input, insight, or assistance with this project from other K5'ers would be greatly appreciated - I'd be more than happy to provide a summary of my findings on the web somewhere for others that might be interested in this topic too (maybe a followup article to K5?)...

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Options for one-handed programming? | 34 comments (34 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
"What is the sound of a one-handed ... (1.00 / 2) (#8)
by _cbj on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 04:44:48 PM EST

_cbj voted 0 on this story.

"What is the sound of a one-handed programmer working?" A low, rhythmic beating followed eventually by the calm of acknowledged futility.

As for one-hand typing, there is a ... (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by octos on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 05:46:33 PM EST

octos voted 1 on this story.

As for one-hand typing, there is a left and right handed Dvorak layout for normal keyboards that was originally designed for a one-armed man. Maltron makes a one-handed keyboard. For a language that's easy to type and learn, Python can't be beat. There's no curly braces to define code blocks.

Re: As for one-hand typing, there is a ... (none / 0) (#11)
by analog on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 07:33:32 PM EST

Also worth noting is that keymaps for both one handed Dvorak layouts come with most Linux distributions.

[ Parent ]
Maltron RSI keyboard (slightly OT) (none / 0) (#28)
by Anonymous Commando on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 03:32:08 PM EST

As someone who has been dealing with RSI on and off for the past few years, the Maltron RSI keyboard looks very interesting. Has anyone here had any experience with these keyboards? I'm curious about what sort of learning curve there is with one of these types of keyboards.

I've currently got a raised-split keyboard (similar to MS Natural), but I'm always looking for something better...
Corporate Jenga™: You take a blockhead from the bottom and you put him on top...
[ Parent ]

My Advanced C Programming instructo... (none / 0) (#3)
by Greener on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 05:57:23 PM EST

Greener voted 1 on this story.

My Advanced C Programming instructor in college only had one arm. His left I believe. He was an excellent teacher but his typing skills were about 10-15 wpm.

He also had trouble using a friend's mouse when checking assignments one day. It was a <a href=http://www.logitech.com/cf/products/productoverview.cfm/51>Logitech Trackball Mouse operated by the right thumb. It was kinda funny at the time.

Take a look at Python. You'll have... (none / 0) (#4)
by bobsquatch on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 05:59:30 PM EST

bobsquatch voted 1 on this story.

Take a look at Python. You'll have to use ()[] for function calls and subscripting (and so on), but all nesting is done through tabs, not {} characters. It might be a little easier to type on a chording keyboard.

Of course, I've never used a chording keyboard, so whaddoiknow?

Hmm. I'm a "professional" programm... (none / 0) (#6)
by Arkady on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:05:27 PM EST

Arkady voted 1 on this story.

Hmm. I'm a "professional" programmer, and I type mostly one-handed, not because I've only got one, but because I've never learned to type normally. I've a few suggestions from my experience: 1) get a small keyboard, like the old Apple ones or the infrareds that come with the "network computer" thingies 2) learn the keyboard shortcust; jumping back and forth from mouse to keyboard is a major annoyance 3) you're right about the {} in Perl, C and C++; beware of the () in Lisp as well; Perl is a good choice, probably, since you can do most things many ways and you might be able to skip most of them; C's preprocessor directive #define can be used to define a text block to replace later with { or }; this should work on any C system: #define foo_open { #define foo_close } void test function() foo_open //do something here foo_close Good luck to your friend. -robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


Re: Hmm. I'm a "professional (none / 0) (#14)
by Arkady on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 07:57:20 PM EST

Sorry about the formatting here. Silly me; I expected it to treat the comment as plain-text, since I didn't see the pull-down menu for specifying HTML-formatted that the posted stories' comment secion has. So here's that but of C preprocessor stuff again:

#define foo_open {
#define foo_close }
void test function()
foo_open
   //do something here
foo_close

or, with the "other" style of indenting:

void test function() foo_open
   //do something here
   foo_close

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Re: Hmm. I'm a (none / 0) (#19)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 10:24:10 PM EST

get a small keyboard, like the old Apple ones or the infrareds that come with the "network computer" thingies

The Happy Hacker is a great small keyboard and it helps you keep your fingers on the homerow by removing a bunch of the extraneous keys. (They are still availible chorded if you want them, though.) It also has the control key in the correct place.



[ Parent ]
I'm probably going to RSI one day s... (none / 0) (#2)
by Fish on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:13:26 PM EST

Fish voted 1 on this story.

I'm probably going to RSI one day soon, so I need to know these things.

Valid question, good detail in the ... (none / 0) (#5)
by raph on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:32:15 PM EST

raph voted 1 on this story.

Valid question, good detail in the body of the post.

The Twiddler is an very interesting... (4.70 / 3) (#10)
by iCEBaLM on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:37:44 PM EST

iCEBaLM voted 1 on this story.

The Twiddler is an very interesting device. It's a one handed chorded keyboard and pointing device aimed at mobile/wearable computing I do belive, but there is absolutely no reason why you can't use it with a desktop. There are Linux, Windows, Dos, Palm and Mac drivers available, however it isn't cheap by any means: $200 US plus shipping.

Re: The Twiddler is an very interesting... (none / 0) (#30)
by CodeWright on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 07:58:07 PM EST

I use one on my wearable computer.

Not because I have one hand, but because I can go anywhere and (with my iGlasses) be working & online 24/7.

OH YEAH.



--
A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
You could code something that uses ... (3.30 / 3) (#9)
by mind21_98 on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:41:50 PM EST

mind21_98 voted 1 on this story.

You could code something that uses the wheel on your mouse to choose ASCII characters, but this would be extremely slow. I recommend that he gets a voice recognition program and trains it to adapt to his style of programming.

--
mind21_98 - http://www.translator.cx/
"Ask not if the article is utter BS, but what BS can be exposed in said article."

Voice Activation (none / 0) (#18)
by nuntius on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 10:16:09 PM EST

I agree with the previous poster--voice activation would be a good way to go. Even if he has trouble integrating it with his favorite code editor, he should be able to edit the plaintext code in something like (I hate to say it ;-) M$ Word and easily import it into his project.

Hey, that way he can compete with the rest of us--hold a manual and code at the same time. He'd might even input text faster than I do!

Does anyone already code by voice?

[ Parent ]
There is absolutely no reason why a... (4.00 / 1) (#1)
by ramses0 on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 06:46:32 PM EST

ramses0 voted 1 on this story.

There is absolutely no reason why a person with one hand can't get into programming. the best way to learn programming is with pencil and paper, imho. But editing code is a totally different story ;^)= Since you're already familiar with vi, and the biggest difficulty will be typing all those silly braces, consider showing your friend vi, and the command ":ab [ {". This will turn on abbreviations so that whenever you type "[" then "space". I can see that it would be very easy to specify certain common keywords such as ":ab `wee while( )<cr>{<cr><cr>}" or ":ab -ill while( )<cr>{<cr><cr>}" depending on whether your friend is left or right handed. I've never thought of it before, but now I'll know what to do if I ever lose the use of my hand. The biggest difficulty will be to decide which commands to abbreviate, what their abbreviations should be, and how to keep track of what you've abbreviated to what. If you think that using vi with neat-o abbreviations is the way to go, post a message here, and I'll give you some more details about tips and pitfalls. But to pick out a nice programming language? Consider python. I've never used it, but it totally does away with the familiar brace-block structure and forces you to control code-flow by white-space/tabs. Everybody indents their code anyway, so supposedly it's pretty easy to pick up. --Robert
[ rate all comments , for great justice | sell.com ]

I don't understand this at all (none / 0) (#12)
by JJC on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 07:46:16 PM EST

What exactly is the problem with typing one handed? Sure, it's bound to be a little slower (to start with) than typing with two hands but all you need is practice. In fact programming should be good for typing with one hand because you are typing from your head so you don't need to touch-type. I would definately not suggest you choose a language based on how easy the syntax is to type. I guess US keyboards must be different to UK keyboards in this respect because on the UK keyboard map {}, () and [] are easy to type with one hand. Hmm, okay, I just looked at a picture of the happy hacker keyboard and they're in the same place so maybe not. Okay maybe there's something I don't understand here.

#include <stdio.h>

int main()
{
   printf("Hello world\n");
   return 0;
}

No problem whatsoever. Just to prove my point (to myself at least) I typed this comment with one hand. This is a non-issue if you ask me. Sorry if I'm being dumb and there's something completely obvious I'm overlooking here.


Help him learn a one-handed keyboard (none / 0) (#13)
by Imperator on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 07:50:13 PM EST

I'm sure there are a few one-handed keyboards available; help him learn to type proficiently with those. If he isn't familiar with it already, teach him how to use a good CLI environment (probably one of the free Unices). Python would also be a good choice; not only is it light on syntax, but also it allows you to express yourself very compactly. (Almost as compactly as Perl, but without the endless metacharacters.) Also, Python is a great programming language with which to teach programming to anyone.

Re: Help him learn a one-handed keyboard (none / 0) (#23)
by Foogle on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 12:27:25 AM EST

A command-line interface? What are you thinking? If he has trouble typing, making him type more is not the answer. You can only type so fast with one hand... I think a mouse environment, in this case, would be much better.

-----------

"You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."
- They Might Be Giants
[ Parent ]

Re: Help him learn a one-handed keyboard (none / 0) (#31)
by Imperator on Sun Jun 11, 2000 at 12:09:00 AM EST

Switching between keyboard and mouse is very annoying. (Try this for an hour: sit on your mouse hand and use a GUI environment.) If he can learn to type proficiently with one hand, there's no reason for him to use the mouse at all.

[ Parent ]
Nonsense (none / 0) (#15)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 08:09:32 PM EST

You program with your brain, not with your hands. If your friend had half-a-brain, then it may be troublesome, but i don't see how a single hand is a real problem for programming.

The average productivity of a developer is 10 lines per hour, in about every language. No that hard to type. (I didn't beleived that myself, as I routinely do 1000-1500 lines of code per day. But when, at the end of a project, you count the code that have not been rewitten/removed/obsoleted, you get about 10/20 lines per hour. As usual, YMMV)

Most of my best program have been done with no keyboard, no screen, no pencil and no paper. It is an intellectual game.

Maybe, your friend is at advantage, because he may think _more_ before writing, which is always a good thing.

Cheers,

--fred

PS: And for the '{}[]|^&%$~' he can remap the keyboard.


Re: Nonsense (none / 0) (#17)
by torpor on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 10:04:55 PM EST

I agree with you that programming is very much a mind exercise. But what we're having problems with are the physical limitations. There is a certain degree of physical demand required in order to be able to write code in C, after all. However, it looks like Python might be a very good start for him, so we're going to set up a Python environment on his laptop tonight...
j. -- boink! i have no sig!
[ Parent ]
the twiddler (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 09:52:13 PM EST

The people at the MIT wearable computers group use these one handed keyboards for their wearable computers. Nice and compact, but it's about $200 for one. But, hey, whatever gets the job done. I know if I was in the same position I'd be more than willing to shell out $200 so i could program and such.
here's the link to the twiddler site

One-handed keyboards (none / 0) (#20)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 10:27:26 PM EST

No one should hesitate entering a computer field because they lack use of a hand. At various juggling festivals in the western U.S. I've met a one-armed juggler who can pass clubs with the best, and can juggle as many rings (four) and clubs (three) as I can with two hands. While collecting links for this reply, I came across a nice list of <a href="http://www.esmerel.org/misc/onehand.htm">one-handed resources that you might want to check out. There's the <a href="http://www.onehandkeyboard.com/">BAT keyboardBAT keyboard, a one-handed chording keyboard for desktop use. The neat thing about these is that if you have two of them, you can type with both hands at once, or with either hand independently. Available for Windows and for ADB Macs; I don't know about support for other platforms. I've read favorable reviews of this board, but haven't tried one myself. Already mentioned is the <a href="http://www.handykey.com/">Twiddler, a small chording keyboard which straps to your hand and is a de-facto standard among builders of wearable computers. This one is quite widely used and supported, <a href="http://www.handykey.com/drivers.html">drivers exist for most operating systems. A software-based solution that requires no exotic hardware is the <a href="http://www.dgp.toronto.edu/people/ematias/papers/ic93/ic93_ohk_1stEd.html">Half-QWERTY keyboard, which is especially useful for touch-typers who want to switch from normal QWERTY to a one-handed board. It's half a normal keyboard, and when you hold down the spacebar, it becomes a mirror-image of the other half. Found to be easy to learn for anyone who already knows QWERTY, and of course it's adaptable to other standard keyboard layouts. Sorry, I don't have any really good links for this. Also mentioned already are the one-handed <a href="http://www.mit.edu:8001/people/jcb/Dvorak/">Dvorak layouts (both left- and right-handed varieties). These also work with standard hardware, and are available for any platform. You can also roll your own. I personally use two-handed Dvorak, but have modified my keymap to my exact liking. For example, I have switched the caps-lock and control keys so that they match old DEC and Sun-style keyboards. If you're already using custom keymaps, try personalizing them to make them as useful as possible to you. Matt Brubeck mbrubeck@cs.hmc.edu

Corrected formatting (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 10:29:44 PM EST

Sorry, I botched the formatting on that one...

No one should hesitate entering a computer field because they lack use of a hand. At various juggling festivals in the western U.S. I've met a one-armed juggler who can pass clubs with the best, and can juggle as many rings (four) and clubs (three) as I can with two hands.

While collecting links for this reply, I came across a nice list of one-handed resources that you might want to check out.

There's the BAT keyboardBAT keyboard, a one-handed chording keyboard for desktop use. The neat thing about these is that if you have two of them, you can type with both hands at once, or with either hand independently. Available for Windows and for ADB Macs; I don't know about support for other platforms. I've read favorable reviews of this board, but haven't tried one myself.

Already mentioned is the Twiddler, a small chording keyboard which straps to your hand and is a de-facto standard among builders of wearable computers. This one is quite widely used and supported, drivers exist for most operating systems.

A software-based solution that requires no exotic hardware is the Half-QWERTY keyboard, which is especially useful for touch-typers who want to switch from normal QWERTY to a one-handed board. It's half a normal keyboard, and when you hold down the spacebar, it becomes a mirror-image of the other half. Found to be easy to learn for anyone who already knows QWERTY, and of course it's adaptable to other standard keyboard layouts. Sorry, I don't have any really good links for this.

Also mentioned already are the one-handed Dvorak layouts (both left- and right-handed varieties). These also work with standard hardware, and are available for any platform.

You can also roll your own. I personally use two-handed Dvorak, but have modified my keymap to my exact liking. For example, I have switched the caps-lock and control keys so that they match old DEC and Sun-style keyboards. If you're already using custom keymaps, try personalizing them to make them as useful as possible to you.

Matt Brubeck, mbrubeck@cs.hmc.edu

[ Parent ]

Hmm.. I don't "see" the problem.. (none / 0) (#22)
by Marcin on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 12:08:13 AM EST

I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but like some of the other people have pointed out I don't see the problem with one handed coding?

I mean, the keyboard has two shift keys, two ctrl keys, two alt keys, so if you want to do brackets or whatever you only need two fingers on one hand.. and i just tried it wasn't uncomfortable using either my left or right hand.

I don't see Cs abundance of (){}s as being an excuse for not learning C if you only have one hand. I'm not saying C is the best language, but it's the example you gave. :)

As other people have suggested though, keybindings and whatever can be very useful for repetitve tasks that would involve moving the hand from one side of the keyboard to the other a lot.
M.

Re: Hmm.. I don't "see" the problem.. (none / 0) (#24)
by torpor on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 12:46:25 AM EST

Try programming for 2 hours with one hand, next time you do it...

Anyway, he's primarily getting into it at a hobby level - so the 'hassle' factor needs to be moderately low, or it'll just be painful.

It's no fun trying to do cut/copy/paste operations one-handed, nor is it any fun trying to set up your code formatted correctly with just one hand. So we're looking at the various options, that's all.
I put a lot of forethought into my code, and a big part of the process is that I write the code (most of the time) in my head before I even start typing - this means that I often sit there typing away for 10 or 15 minutes solid before I do a compile... and a lot of the times, that's not linear typing, its with cut & paste, laying out function prototypes first and building stub procedures, etc.

I know that for me, typing >80 WPM's, having a comfortable typing environment is pretty important, so we just wanted to see what other programmers thought about the various tools out there.

j. -- boink! i have no sig!
[ Parent ]
You could try a different keyboard map (none / 0) (#25)
by Neuromancer on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 01:06:14 AM EST

Try mapping enclosure symbols to single keys. That's my thought on that. As for the speed of typing, most programming is pretty slow and deliberate. You're not going to write much that you don't think through thoroughly first. When I started programming, I was 4, and could only hen peck at the keyboard. I think that your friend could really do fine as a programmer, even professionally as long as he doesn't let himself get discouraged.

Similiar question and link to sticky keys (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by Anonymous 242 on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 08:45:19 AM EST

My wife has a disability with leaves her with only partial use of one arm. My largest challenge with weaning her off of Windows is the excellent stickykeys package that ships with the Accessibility options.

The closest I've found is accessx for linux at http://cmos-eng.rehab.uiuc.edu/accessx/ which has all of the features of Windows sticky keys, butt not all of them can be used at the same time like in Windows.

For example, in Windows with stickeykeys enabled, the user can hit one of the stickey keys (traditionally shift, control, and alt) once to have the binding stick to the next key stroke, or twice to have the binding stick until the sticky key is pressed again. With acessx for Linux, you can do one or the other but not both, which is a huge disadvantage to someone with the limited movement like my wife.

Not to mention, I'm having a very bad time installing accessx on debian. It comes prepackaged as an rpm and alien fails at conversion and I can't get the source tarball to compile.

Does anyone know of any other sticky key solutions for X? My wife has no tolerance for the command line (and why should she?).

Thanks
-l

Use the source? (none / 0) (#29)
by torpor on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 03:50:29 PM EST

The source is there - perhaps it'd be a small thing to modify it to do what you need it to do? It would seem to me that this community page for accessx would have other members that have encountered this problem. Perhaps you could bring it up on their forum and see if someone can hack together a fix? I'd do it for you if I had a Linux box with a GUI (all of mine are GUI-less right now), perhaps some other enterprising k5 reader can dl the code, install it, fix it for the way your wife needs it, and send it to you? That'd be a beautiful example of OSS working for people...
j. -- boink! i have no sig!
[ Parent ]
Re: Similiar question and link to sticky keys (none / 0) (#32)
by markbark on Sun Jun 11, 2000 at 02:15:16 PM EST

This may be flamebait....
but why not buy her an iMac?
Sticky keys are available for the MacOS, along with fairly reasonable voice activated control. (i.e. saying "Computer, Download e-mail". No clicking, just say it.

BTW, you could still run Linux on the iMac, as well as Windoze emulators (if you HAVE to have a certain app)

Look into it

MAB

[ Parent ]
Why not buy MacOS? (none / 0) (#34)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Jun 12, 2000 at 08:50:05 AM EST

If money were not a limited resource, I might buy an iMacs (after all they run Linux too), but that wouldn't solve the problem of sticky keys in Linux.

To be honest, I'm turning into one of those hard-core, rabid, bleeding heart liberal, free software only types and MacOS is just as encumbered as Windows (in fact the only difference between Apple's business practices and Microsoft's is market share, just ask Power Computing, Umax, and Motorola).

On the practical side, everthing my wife wants to do with a computer is more than adequately handled by free software for Linux (the current exceptions being a web-browser that doesn't suck - and Mozilla is close to being that - and sticky keys).

If we bought a Mac (and ran MacOS) we'd have to buy a serious spreadsheets, a decent graphics program, a database, and more so the end price ends up being far higher than just the list price for the machine in question. Not to mention that with Linux we can use old donated hardware by friends that have move on to the latest and greatest and still get decent speed.

Not only that, my wife is getting to the point where she actually LIKES Linux. This is good, it makes file sharing much easier, not to mention I don't have to figure out questions to how do this or that in Excel or deal with hard booting the computer 8 times a week (and that's not an exageration).



[ Parent ]
I'm not sure where... (none / 0) (#27)
by Anonymous Hero on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 12:53:02 PM EST

...but I once saw a full 10x-key keyboard, designed to be used with only one hand. It had the shape of a quarter of a hemisphere, so to say. It looked like it could be used. I actually know a one armed sysadmin. I guess the other kids wouldn't let him join in on the soccer game, so he took up computers. You should see him in action, he's amazing. Better typerate than me. And you should see him light a smoke with his Zippo. That blows my mind. He starts out with both the pack of cigarettes and the lighter in his hand, and half a second later he has a lighted smoke in his mouth. bolind@image.dk

Ousterhout suffers from RSI--and programs with one (none / 0) (#33)
by Anonymous Hero on Sun Jun 11, 2000 at 06:09:16 PM EST

Check out the scriptics web-site and look for John's page. He explains how he gets by using only one hand...

Options for one-handed programming? | 34 comments (34 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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