"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All Keyed Up

Like many of you, I learned to type using a QWERTY keyboard. Unlike many of you, I learned the skill of "typing" versus what is known today as "keyboarding". (Actually, today I think it's known as "thumb typing" a/k/a "early-onset carpal tunnel syndrome".) When composing a message on my phone, I like to use the "Swype" method, where I drag my finger over the letters and the built-in dictionary anticipates what I'm trying to spell and presciently inserts a vaguely similar word. (I was going to say it inserts a "homophone" but I don't think the sexual preference of words has any relevance here. Perhaps with the exception of "fabulous".)

My recollection behind the invention of the seemingly-random QWERTY display is it had to do with the frequency with which various letters are used -- most of the vowels and the oft-used consonants are concentrated toward the center of three rows so the powerful and flexible index and middle fingers can easily reach them. Outliers such as "Q", "Z" and "X" are relegated to the back-bench of the far side and lowest row where the pathetic ring and pinky fingers of the left hand flail weakly in search. (Of course, if you're left-handed then this isn't the case since you don't know how to spell anyway, what with being so "creative" and all, so the placement is irrelevant.) It's also said the deliberate separation of common letter combinations (such as "th" and "ie") was to prevent jams when closely-aligned keys were used one after the other in the old typesetting days. While these concerns lost relevance after electric typewriters, and later computer-based keyboarding, became the norm, this layout remains the standard. Even though some have proposed more intuitive arrangements, they have failed to gain acceptance and QWERTY remains ubiquitous. If you'd learned to type using, say, the Dvorak system but then had to confront a library catalog keyboard, you'd be flummoxed -- much like your first encounter with a Japanese toilet.

I learned how to type in high school, in a class that was part of the college prep curriculum and was offered along with a now-obsolete skill known as "notehand". This was a modified version of shorthand, made simpler by eliminating the requirement that you wear a skirt and cross your legs during its use. Using notehand would permit all of us university-bound seniors to take verbatim notes during lectures, capturing every word our professors pontificated for later review and test regurgitation and propelling us to graduate summa cum laude. (I personally discovered a less labor-intensive approach to note-taking, known as "skipping class".) My school taught touch-typing, where all ten fingers are involved in generating misspellings. However, many people make use of the "hunt and peck" method, relying primarily on use of the two index fingers to search out keys and strike them with enough force to punch holes in the onionskin (in the olden typewriter days) or cause unwanted repetition on the computer keyboard (resulting in phrases such as "go to hell motherrrfuckkkerrrrrrrrrr" ending up in your resignation email).

Strangely, over the years I've begun to use my own hybrid system -- I'm largely a touch-typist with my left hand while huntin' and peckin' with my right. This may be due to increasing discomfort from arthritis, or perhaps because I want to keep my right hand freer so I can quickly grab my sidearm as permitted by the Second Amendment. I saw a report on the news the other evening -- a restaurant in Louisiana offers a 10% discount on the check for patrons who bring their handguns inside. One of the customers interviewed said, "We've got to stand up for our rights." Yes, I'm sure our forefathers went to war to secure our independence so one day all citizens would have the freedom to eat collard greens with a Smith & Wesson strapped to their hips. Another point made during the story was that no one would be foolish enough to try and rob that restaurant, the implication being that criminals would fear being shot in the presence of so many weapons. Gee, don't we *all* fear being shot when weapons are brandished in public? I'm afraid that someone would try to rob the restaurant and half the diners would be killed in the crossfire. In a nod to "safety", the restaurant doesn't serve alcohol. I guess no one was concerned with the infringement of their Twenty-first Amendment right to impair their judgment with booze. If you feel compelled to carry a weapon everywhere you go in public, your judgment is already impaired and pounding back a Jack & Coke won't make much difference.

What do guns have to do with typing? I guess it was a stretch for me to try and connect the two topics. You might say it was a shot in the darkkkkkkkkk.

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