Keyboard Shortcuts and Custom Keyboards

MacBook keyboard

I admit it: I’m a keyboard guy. That doesn’t mean I don’t use a mouse (in fact, I’m a bit of a mouse snob), but I prefer to keep my hands on the keyboard as much as possible. This means I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts.

Using keyboard shortcuts is fast, much faster that moving your hand back and forth from the mouse to the keyboard and back. However, there are drawbacks to keyboard shortcuts: there are too many to memorize, most of the ones you want to use don’t exist or aren’t very logical, and, for the same program, they can differ between operating systems.

Case in point: I frequently use keyboard shortcuts when pushing large amounts of scientific data around in Excel spreadsheets. Since I bounce back and forth between OS X and Windows, I’ve compiled a list of Excel shortcuts (table below) that I’ve found to be extremely useful.

I’m a Mac user so I’m accustomed to modifying or creating keyboard shortcuts as I need them (OS X supports this very well; additionally, I also use Spark). Windows XP doesn’t provide a great deal of native support for programming keyboard shortcuts. However, I recently stumbled across AutoHotKey, an open-source utility for Windows that allows you to program hotkeys, create macros and remap keys. It’s great … I’ve already remapped my Windows keyboard to be more Mac-like. (I’ve swapped the control and alt keys — why is the control key so far away? — and turned off that annoying Windows key). Best of all, the portable version of AutoHotKey doesn’t clutter up the Windows registry.

I’ve also considered a hardware solution: EliteKeyboards carries several really nice keyboards, including the Realforce 87U Tenkeyless black keyboard, which has ergonomically weighted keys resting on Topre capacitive switches; several keys are swappable and configurable using on-board dip-switches. The keys are really stiff — there’s no movement or key chatter when you run your fingers over the rows, which is definitely appealing (nothing like a solidly built keyboard). The Realforce keyboard could easily solve some of my issues, including the position of the control key (many programmers prefer to place the control key to the left of the letter A and the caps lock key to the bottom left).

As someone with early signs of carpel tunnel syndrome, I’m on the hunt for a better keyboard. There are days my wrists really hurt. I’ve looked at several keyboards, but I’m really excited about the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard. It’s design is based on the symmetric shape and neutral position of the human body, promoting minimal flexion. It will be available with three types of Cherry keyswitches: Cherry MX brown (tactile feedback, easy to press, no click), blue (tactile feedback, easy to press, clicky) or black (no tactile feedback, difficult to press, no click).

The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard with Cherry MX brown keyswitches could make a big difference in how my hands and wrists feel at the end of the day, something many computational researchers and programmers would appreciate. Less pain would allow one to work longer and more effectively, and to be more productive overall.

… Don’t underestimate the importance of a really good keyboard.

Additional resources

Useful Excel keyboard shortcuts

Anchor or “lock” cells in an array. This shortcut cycles a cell reference between relative and absolute; extremely useful for fixing an array reference. Mac: command-T
Windows: F4
Move to the next sheet (the sheet to the right). Mac: option-right arrow
Windows: control-page down
Move to the previous sheet (the sheet to the left). Mac: option-left arrow
Windows: control-page up
Insert new worksheet. Mac: shift-F11
Windows: shift-F11
Delete dialog box (choose: shift cells left, shift cells up, entire row or entire column). Mac: control-hyphen (-)
Windows: control-hyphen (-)
Select entire row. Mac: shift-spacebar
Windows: shift-spacebar
Select entire column. Mac: control-spacebar
Windows: control-spacebar
Change the focus to the formula bar; make the formula bar active AND insert the cursor at the end of the formula (if one currently exists). Hitting it again while entering a formula returns your cursor to the worksheet (useful for selecting cells). Mac: control-U
Windows: F2

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  1. Keyboard Shortcuts and Custom Keyboards

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  1. wjjessen (Walter Jessen)

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    Keyboard Shortcuts and Custom Keyboards [link to post]

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  2. rdjfraser (Robert Fraser RN)

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    @wjjessen have you considered a non-QWERTY key layout? @malcolmbastien is a big fan, and it only cost time to learn the layout

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