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One hand computer interface

25 Apr 2021 . Category . Comments #service #outreach #rsi

I’ve lost the use of my right hand for computer input as a result of tendonitis (temporarily I hope). I’ve managed to work out a slow but functional alternative by glide typing with my left hand.

You may have tried glide typing on your smart phone - it’s where you don’t take your finger off the screen until you’ve swiped between all the letters in the word you are trying to produce.

This same feature is available on tablets and Chromebooks. I decided to get a cheap Chromebook tablet, the Lenovo Duet (250 at time of writing) just for this feature. In the rest of this post, I’ll cover three topics:

  • Glide typing on a Chromebook
  • Glide typing on any computer via a Chromebook
  • Glide typing on any computer via a Chromebook with an external display

At the same time I’m of course doing the normal things like resting my right hand, sleeping in a wrist brace, and doing stretches. You should talk to your doctor to set up a treatment plan.

Chromebook

First off, you don’t have to use a tablet - even a Chromebook laptop will work ( see last section). However the usability is much better with a tablet, because otherwise you need to use a mouse instead of your finger. By default, the onscreen keyboard may not show up. To put it on your taskbar and make it pop up by default, do this:

  • settings, advanced, accessibility, manage features, keyboard and text input, Enable onscreen keyboard

That’s right, this is not in the regular keyboard section, but hidden in accessibility.

Once you’ve done this, you can glide type into anything in regular chrome OS, but not all Android apps and not any Linux apps. That’s a gotcha.

You can use your finger of course, but I recommend a pen/ stylus. The cheap rubber top ones work surprisingly well, and I’m rather fond of how they cushion the impact of tapping. There are also USI pens if you have a compatible touchscreen. These are rather new and confusing, but basically you should get the cheapest one with good ratings because USI is a standard and they are all functionally the same. They nominally help with palm rejection but for glide typing they only offer a finer point relative to a rubber tip stylus. I find myself using both for different tasks.

Any computer

This is where things get tricky. For people like me, switching to a Chromebook tablet for a month isn’t practical - there’s just too much that is platform specific beyond virtualization ( like my GPU). So I started working on using the Chromebook to remotely connect to my main computer. Here are some things that wouldn’t allow glide typing, only single key press typing:

  • VNC as an Android app or chrome extension or through Crostini/ Linux
  • Chrome remote desktop

Amazingly I could get glide typing to work through ssh, which is probably why I persevered with VNC for so long.

What did work, bizarrely from my view, was Microsoft remote desktop. Yes that’s an Android app you can install on Chromebook. Of course you need to set it up on your remote computer; for Linux I used xrdp which is amazingly easy to set up relative to VNC.

One really nice thing about remote desktop in addition to glide typing is an extra menu of options for arrow keys and function keys, which are not on the Chromebook onscreen keyboard.

Although I haven’t tested this with a remote Windows or Mac desktop, I’d be surprised if it didn’t work since RDP is a standard protocol.

Any computer, external monitor

UPDATE: This is broken in a recent ChromeOS update, see below

One usability problem with tablets is being hunched over them for hours. It reminds me of being in grade school writing by hand for hours on end. I really wanted to use an external monitor but this leads to a problem: you have to look at the tablet to glide type. This is because there is no visual feedback of your hand position until you touch the keyboard- unlike a mouse interface, where you have a handy pointer to tell you where you are.

After some playing around, I realized that the mouse could be used to glide type, and it provides the essential pointer for visual feedback. So I started searching for pen mice though I had never heard of such a thing. Look and behold, they are a thing and can be had on Amazon for about fifteen dollars; however the reviews are concerning. So I looked at the closely related space of cheap graphics tablets and found the xp-pen Star G640, which is basically a mouse in tablet form, and am now working with that. It moves the pointer as you hover over the surface and activates the ‘touch’ as the tip contacts the surface. It takes a little getting used to but works well, though I sometimes have a problem with keys sticking which I don’t understand.

In the video below, I’m demonstrating using a 100 dollar old Chromebook, not the Lenovo Duet, because that did not recognize the xp pen properly ( so don’t buy the Duet for this; get something with good monitor output). It appears the older Chromebook worked because it was running an old version of ChromeOS. Once it updated it had the same broken button behavior as the Duet, minus the rotated orientation. So this no longer works as of 5/12/21

I hope that between these three solutions you can find something that works well for you. I find myself bouncing between them depending on the task, using the final option when I need a big screen or otherwise can’t deal with being hunched over a tablet.