Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Monday, November 19, 2007

Typing & Keyboards

According to a couple of online typing tests I took recently, I type at a rate of about 48 words per minute. I think these tests subtracted one word per minute for every mistake. I took a typing class during summer school one year, I think it must have been in fifth grade. We used actual typewriters then and when we had a speed test, they took off ten words per minute for every mistake. If we used the old scoring method on these new tests, I suspect my words per minute would be less than zero.

I do not use standard typing techniques. After that summer school class I did not use typing again until I started studying computer science at the University some fifteen years later. By that time all of the typing skills I had acquired in that typing class had withered away.

For some time after I got out of college, I thought about building a better keyboard, one that was more logical, easier to use, faster, cooler, etc., etc. Mostly I wanted a keyboard that could be operated with one hand, so you would have one hand free for dealing with papers and books. I also noticed we were starting to get a profusion of odd ball keyboards on various devices like telephones, adding machines and label makers. We still have the same problem and if anything it has gotten worse.

One idea I had was to lay out the keys in alphabetical order, like this:

A B C D E
F G H I J
K L M N O
P Q R S T
U V W X Y
Z

Notice that the four corners of the square are all vowels, and that the vowels E, I and O form a triangle in the upper right hand corner. A layout like this would certainly be easier for someone who was not familiar with the QUERTY keyboard, where there is no logical order at all. For someone who is unfamiliar with QUERTY, every keystroke is a hunt and peck. With an alphabetical layout, at least you can locate the letter you need.

Having the vowels show up in the corners of the square gave me the idea that perhaps vowels could be used as anchors for the layout. The second thing everyone learns in school after their ABC's is the vowels, so I came up with this layout:

A B C D
E F G H
I J K L M N
O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z

which puts all the vowels in the first column, except Y, and it is only a sometimes vowel. I came up with any number of fancy variations, but I never found one I was really enthralled with, and even if I did, what was I going to do with it? Tilt at windmills? Look how widely the DVORAK keyboard is used. Not.

By this time I had pretty much gotten accustomed to good old QUERTY, and I developed a perverse rationalization for staying with it. The DVORAK keyboard has put the commonly used keys in the home row, which means the uncommon keys are not on the home row. I suspect mistakes are more often made with keys that are not on the home row, and by putting uncommon keys there, you are doubly apt to make a mistake. By having keys effectively jumbled, the typist must develop a more flexible, and therefor hopefully more accurate, method of typing.

And now we have gotten to the point where QUERTY is ubiquitous and cheap. I think keyboards are now $6 at the local Fred Meyers store. Someday someone may come up with a better keyboard for small devices, but I am not going to hold my breath.

But enough about keyboards, let's get back to typing. Another complaint about QUERTY is that is causes you to hold your wrists at an unnatural angle. Your elbow are at your sides, your forearms are angled in towards the keyboard, and then your wrists must be bent so that your hands come at the keyboard straight on. When I took up typing again, I started with hunt and peck, and have gradually evolved my own method of typing that does not look like the official "fingers on the home row" method taught in school. I really can't say what it is because I do not know. I have thought about video taping it to see what I am doing. One more thing on list of things to do. I do know that my wrists are straight and there does not seem to be any home row thing going on.

Another thing they teach you in typing school is that your keyboard should be at a lower level than your desk. I used to follow this recommendation, but gave it up after a few years as I did not notice any trouble from using keyboards at desk height. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that I am not bending my wrists as I should be, so I am not suffering from a compound bend, and the other is that by tilting the keyboard up, I am not having to bend my wrists down to reach the keys. I do like to have the keyboard tilted. I do not like to use a laptop that is lying flat on a desk. I will prop the base up so the keyboard is at an angle. I find a large, empty, three ring binder works well for this.

No comments: