I need to Shift into a higher plane of typing!
July 23, 2009 4:10 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a typing program that will force me to use the right shift key for left hand letters, and the left shift key for right hand letters.

When touch-typing, I have the bad habit of only using the left shift key. With intense focus, I can use the right shift key for letters on the left, but after trying many times to force myself to do this, I always find I am reverting back to my old ways (it's faster in the short term, slower in the long run).

I really want to correct this flaw before I go to grad school and start writing Truly Long Papers. But every typing program I can find fails to distinguish between the shift keys. Does anyone know of a program that is shift-specific?

I am not even sure if keyboards send a different key-code for the different shift keys. If this is the case, then I am determined to hack a keyboard and then hack an open-source typing program to do this... any suggested starting points?
posted by brenton to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you're overthinking of this as a "flaw". Unless you're taking some secretarial course where they care about your finger position, there's no penalty to typing the way you already do.

I break 80wpm using no system known to man, probably churned out 1000 pages in the last month alone, and my first reaction to your question was "Wait, there's a RIGHT shift key?"

I had to look.

So maybe invest all the learning time into more research, so you can type less?
posted by rokusan at 4:16 PM on July 23, 2009

I almost only use the left shift key and I type mountains of text. I'm not really sure why this is an issue... I wouldn't stress it. The difference it would make is minuscule at best.
posted by glider at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2009

I type nearly 90wpm+ on a good day and almost exclusively use my left hand for the shift key and right hand for the space. I wouldn't worry too much about it.
posted by proj at 4:47 PM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: The keyboard does send a different scan code for left and right by the way -- 2A/AA for left up/down and 36/B6 for right up/down if you really are serious about hacking something.
posted by glider at 4:49 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not aware of a program that does this, but something like this might be helpful for you:


It's an online typing program that allows you to custom enter the letters you would like to practice. You can also set whether it's upper or lower case. So I was goofing around with it, and I was able to tell it that I wanted only left-handed letters (by entering those letters), and then letting it know I wanted it to include upper case, which would require the use of the right shift key. For all I know, there may be other programs that do this as well.

So with this in mind, perhaps you can remove your left hand shift key entirely so that you are forced to use the right one, as you go through the left handed drills. As you feel you are losing your dependence on the left handed shift key, you could occasionally try to incorporate the full alphabet back again. Just keep repeating the drill as needed until it takes.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:50 PM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: I think using the opposite-side Shift key is also considered better for ergonomics. I have some mild RSI symptoms and that was one of the changes I found recommended - using both hands will strain the fingers less by requiring less stretching.

Personally I was in the habit of using the same-side Shift key, but I was able to force myself not to most of the time and it's starting to become a new habit for me - maybe just practice typing in a program and concentrate on using the correct Shift key?

I don't know of any software that does what the OP wants but it should be possible - a quick google shows that the left and right shift have their own keycodes in Windows, Mac, and Linux.
posted by 88nemeth at 4:51 PM on July 23, 2009

Response by poster: I am unquestionably, measurably slower when I have to type any capitals from the left side of the keyboard. I have prepared text that uses only capital letters on the right side of the keyboard, vs. text with both, vs. text with capitals only on the left.

For reference, I could hunt-and-peck type at 40wpm. Then I taught myself touch typing and can now type in excess of 90wpm--provided that it's all lowercase, or the upper case letters are all on the right side. When I have to start typing capital letters close to the left shift key (like A, S, Z, X, Q, or W) I am much much slower, around 40-50wpm.
posted by brenton at 4:54 PM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: I agree with rokusan and glider that it probably doesn't matter to typing speed or otherwise.

But to accomplish what you're asking about I would think that the simplest thing to do would be to disable the "wrong" key combinations somehow. You just need to find a program that lets you arbitrarily set hotkeys and distinguishes between the left and right shift keys, and I'm pretty sure I've come across that before. (So you probably want to Google for "hotkey" and whatever your operating system is.)

Just set the "wrong" key combinations so that they produce a space or a period or pop up a "Naughty, naughty!" dialog. Or maybe you can find USB-controlled cattle prods and tape them to your right and left temple, and deliver electro-shock therapy to the appropriate hemisphere of your brain.

Or here's another thought - write a script that automatically makes an electronic $1.00 donation to a charity directly out of your bank account every time you press the wrong keys.
posted by XMLicious at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2009

I'm with rokusan. The standard method of eyeballs-free touch typing is but one of many that gets the job done, and it's also not the kindest to your physiology.

That said: keyboards do send different keycodes for left and right shift. I don't know how to make much use of this fact in Windows or Mac environments, but at least in Linux you can do some very detailed fiddling with the way the various modifier keys and the others interact; see man dumpkeys, man xmodmap and man loadkeys for details. You could set up a Linux environment where only your preferred shift key for any given standard key actually works to shift that standard key. Having done that, I imagine your typing habits would pull themselves into line fairly quickly.
posted by flabdablet at 4:58 PM on July 23, 2009

Response by poster: To those who doubt that the shift keys matter, you really should do some objective experiments in a typing program, as I did. I bet you will be surprised by the results.
posted by brenton at 5:03 PM on July 23, 2009

I type about 100 wpm and I never use the right shift key. In fact, I never actively think about using the shift key and had to test myself just now while reading this question. Can you not hold down the left shift with your pinkie finger and hit the A with your ring finger?
posted by crankylex at 5:03 PM on July 23, 2009

Here's a Linux key mapping tutorial that may be of use to you.
posted by flabdablet at 5:07 PM on July 23, 2009

After years of hunt-and-peck, I finally learned to type in my early 30s (about 10 years ago). I don't remember any specific exercises geared toward splitting shift duties, but Mavis Beacon taught me to type and I use both shift keys. Lately I've had occasion to lots of left-hand chording, akin to always using the left shift, and while I haven't experienced any ill effects yet it does put the fear of RSI into me. It just doesn't feel healthy. I can't imagine doing this at high word speeds.
posted by rhizome at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2009

I also type with one shift key most of the time, and I'm almost certain it slows me down. I would also be interested in a way to re-train myself.
posted by entropic at 8:40 PM on July 23, 2009

KeyTweak will let you remap or disable keys, complete with a GUI that helps you do it. I used this to switch the Ctrl and Caps Lock keys on my laptop. You can use it to disable your Left Shift.

Do you think you can pull this off with just focused practice, though? Try typing a text that has only left hand-side keys capitalized. You can either make a list of words, or, since you are already a touch typer and might find that incredibly dull, write a quick program that will parse the words of a text and capitalize the first letter of each word if it is a left-hand word. Then type it, telling your brain that if you're using your left hand to start a word after a space and not using your right hand too, something is wrong.

I learned to use both shifts through Mavis Beacon, and can now use them interchangeably, though I don't recall if they were enforced. I still only use my left thumb for the space bar.
posted by ThatRandomGuy at 6:39 AM on July 24, 2009

Another datapoint: 90+ wpm, type regularly, would never use RShift except for punctuation.
posted by katrielalex at 7:43 AM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, everyone! I have found a solution that works really well. I will share my results here for posterity:

I installed AutoHotKey, which unlike most key-reassignment programs, allows you to specify key-combos, (which is needed for the Shift + Letter stroke) as well as distinguishing between the right/left shift keys.

Here is the AutoHotKey script I wrote for the letter "a" (repeat this for each left-sided letter):

<> Send X

The "+" means [shift], the "<>
It is very Pavlovian and I'm already being trained to use the right keys. It doesn't interfere with my general computing tasks too much either, since I hear the beep and know to backspace right away, even if I'm not looking while I'm typing.

The down side of this is that I have to have AutoHotKey running in the tray, but supposedly you can compile scripts into a standalone .exe that does the same thing for you, but my Vista had trouble compiling it...

Eventually I may change the script from replacing the letter with an X to only doing the PC beep, because there are times when it's actually faster to use the left-shift key for a left-sided letter. Example: "PC". If you've already got your finger on the left shift key from the "P", it is simpler to just hit the "C" without letting go of left-shift and pressing down right-shift. Also, one-handed typing (which I frequently find myself practicing while semi-preoccupied with something else) definitely requires same-side shift usage.
posted by brenton at 4:13 PM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: I forgot that the < symbol causes HTML syntax errors, the previous post got messed up... here's what it should have looked like:

Send X

The "+" means [shift], the"<" means "left side" (thus "<+" means "left shift"). When that combo and the letter [a] are pressed, AutoHotKey intercepts it and sends an "X" instead, as well as a PC beep!
posted by brenton at 4:21 PM on July 24, 2009

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