Putting Accents on Characters on Mac

Accents, everyone has one but some characters have more than one, and writing them on a Mac can be hard unless you know how.

I really only need one type of accent, the “sine fada” in Irish that goes over the vowels. They look like this: á, é, ó, ú and í.

For a long time I used Option-key using an Irish keyboard map I got off Justin Mason years ago. I haven’t used it for some time now and every now and again I wonder if there’s a better way of doing it using the standard keyboard maps on a Mac.

Turns out there is.

This page explains how to use the accent menu, but you can also use “dead keys” to type accents.

The accent menu is dead simple. Press the key down for a little longer than usual and a menu will appear with the accents required. Press the corresponding number and your accented character appears!

The dead key approach is probably faster however. Use the keyboard viewer to see your keyboard layout. I have a large split Microsoft keyboard and I’m using the British PC layout now so when I hit the Option key the accents are highlighted.

If I want to type “I like to eat cake” in Irish, and not “I like to eat shit”, I must use “Option-e” followed by “a” to get “á” in one word:

“Is maith liom cáca a ithe.”

I’m sure by now you’ve realised just how important accents are in daily life. It’s the difference between delicious chocolate and something that looks similar but tastes quite different. Yeah, you really needed that mental image didn’t you? Sorry. 🙂


Remapping the Keyboard on a new Macbook Pro

I must have an odd keyboard, at least for one that’s paired with a Mac. It’s a Microsoft split keyboard and has a bunch of extra keys that aren’t on a Macbook Pro keyboard, like a dedicated # key and the keys are all over the place compared to the laptop keyboard. But I like it that way.

I’ve heard comments from people who use my laptop and they are confused by how shift-2 doesn’t print @ but ” instead, and the key by the left shift prints \ instead of ~ (which is over by the Return key). They’ll say, “Oh, it’s some sort of PC keyboard?” Well, yeah.

This is not the first time I’ve had to fix my keyboard. A long time ago Justin Mason created a useful Irish Fixed Keyboard Layout, but for some reason with this latest hardware upgrade it wasn’t working exactly as planned. The #, \ and ` keys were mixed up. Luckily, with the help of the Key Codes app I could detect the the key code of the physical key pressed. For example, the key next to the left shift is key code 10 so it was just a matter of editing the keyboard layout in a text editor and changing that to output “\”. Logout and login to refresh and the key works!

What’s odd, is that this keyboard layout has served me well for almost a decade and didn’t need editing, which is why I’m documenting it in this post.

I looked at both Ukelele and Karabiner but the former looked overwhelming (yeah, then I went editing XML by hand..) and the latter doesn’t work in macOS Sierra (there’s a simplified “elements” version for Sierra). Then I thought I should just edit the keyboard mapping directly. 🙂


Slowly learning Dvorak

At the recent Automattic meetup in Quebec Matt gave a passionate talk about how great the Dvorak keyboard layout was and handed out paper copies of The Dvorak Zine.

The meetup was hectic and the first chance I had to try it out was on the plane home. Just over 5 hours from Montreal to Heathrow, London. Here’s what I typed in about 2 hours:

Mad! Typing this on the flight back to London using the dvorak keyboard layout. It’s slow going but I have plenty of time to practice, it’s a long flight! My finger memory says QWERTY but they’re very slowly mapping to the new layout. Vowels come first followed by s, m, l, n and d.

It’s definitely a better layout but right now I am so slow! I’m glad that I have power on this flight. No need for the extra battery! I love how th are next to each other.

Gotta get me a layout I can stick to the keys of the macbook.
Watched the Hurt Locker while typing this.

I always type i instead of d.

Gonna watch Night at the museum 2 again, just so I can watch the ending, finally.

I’ve got three seats to myself. Maybe I should sleep? Seems that would be the most sensible thing to do, now wouldn’t it? Looks like we’re about half way across the Atlantic! The film is fast forwarding nice and fast!

Time for a break from Dvorak!

Wow! Layer Cake is a great film! A bit violent but good ending! Only 156 miles to go! Then at least an hour in Heathrow! Can’t believe I didn’t Sleep!

Yes, I didn’t sleep. That was a long day, and Layer Cake was on my laptop (freshly ripped from the DVD I bought before leaving). I can heartily recommend Air Canada. Best experience I’ve had in economy on a trans-Atlantic flight.

Anyway, changing the Mac OS X keyboard to the Dvorak layout is easy, as it is in Linux too. Trying to login using the Dvorak layout is a right pain though.

I didn’t try to rip out the keys of my Macbook but I did rearrange the keys on a wireless keyboard. It actually didn’t help, mainly because the keyboard itself isn’t that comfortable.


The next step was to run through a few Dvorak keyboard training tutorials. They went well and I repeated the first tutorial several times, improving the times and accuracy each time. I’m not doing quite as well as Nick is doing though. I’m impressed.

I’ll persevere. My hands are retraining themselves. The Dvorak Zine is a great help, but if I tried using Dvorak for work I’d be 90% less productive right now. Matt, that ok then? 😉