Adventures in Typing

I don’t think I ever seriously trained my typing. The good part of my typing is of course its speed, reaching 100 wpm for sprint runs. The bad part is the phenomenally awful typing habits.

A possibly biased analysis of my QWERTY typing reveals that my right hand pretty much adheres to the touch-typing rules, except that, some shortcuts excepted, it’s always responsible for holding the shift key for capital letters no matter which hand has the letter key. My left hand’s habits are what the monster might do if Frankenstein ever got a modern complete remake with a plot point involving a keyboard. Its “resting position” is on the QWER keys; it types A, S, Z, X, C with the thumb bending over to the left and R, T, D, F, G, V with the index finger. I’m kind of scared that it’s attached to me now, but I seriously can’t type if I try to make it stay at the correct home row. So this is what happens when you don’t learn touch typing the right way. Urk.

With this sort of typing skills I’m pretty amazed I only felt any awkwardness in my wrists a week ago. Six days ago (which, I should mention, was the last day of summer vacation, hence why I decided to add the category “procrastination”) I figured out the Dvorak setting on this laptop and started learning. I haven’t even mentioned acquiring a MacBook Air here, right? Yeah, that happened, and it’s partly for my gold medal and partly because the old one was rapidly approaching unusability anyway; this might or might not make another post.

That would be the end of the story except that I always have second thoughts about whether switching is a good idea. Followed shortly thereafter by third, fourth, and fifth thoughts, ad nauseam. I blogged about similar thoughts when I was endlessly comparing web services. After three days and committing the keys to conscious memory, I became a bit annoyed by the punctuation and the disproportionately awkward placement of R, L, and F. Of course it’s far better than my twisted QWERTY, but it was enough for me to look around for more options.

There is one other layout that showed up somewhat commonly, Colemak, which is much closer to QWERTY (all punctuation and nine letters preserved), and fixes those issues for me. So obviously I have to boot up my overanalyzing brain sector after reading about two hours of anecdotes on the web. In fact this is more justified than my typical overanalysis because, as also supported by those anecdotes, once I seriously learn to type in one, it won’t be worth it to switch to the other.

Pro-Colemak:

  • certain computer analysis tools support this as easier to type; particularly, it fixed all the annoyances I mentioned and I think that makes a difference
  • closer to QWERTY and therefore easier to learn from it; particularly, no relearning (or relabeling) all the infrequently-used punctuation
  • preserves position of a couple important non-terminal shortcuts, particularly copy/cut/paste. Dvorak jumbles them beyond recognition, although there is a “Dvorak/QWERTY command” option
  • for Vim-addicts, there’s a large Colemak/Vim discussion thread online and a couple quite friendly mappings. The Vim mappings officially recommended by the FAQ feel revoltingly un-Vim-like for me (among many other things, I find fFtT extremely useful), but further down the thread I tweaked YACVM and it seems pretty usable)
  • better for programming? I’m skeptical because they claim this is because of some punctuation getting moved away, but I don’t think any changed difficulty significantly. I don’t think I use the brackets more often than -=_+

Pro-Dvorak:

  • better hand alteration, although I kind of doubt this is a huge advantage for me considering how often I want to use my computer with one hand while the other does something weird, like operate a toothbrush. However, recent experiences not directly related to the computer have taught me that doing different things with one’s two hands is often a stupid idea…
  • being different from QWERTY and therefore less likely to become confused with it, and also less likely to let me keep my habits (I’ve already tapped X with my thumb at least twice in Colemak =_=). How can I mix them up when my left hand’s entire home row is different? (Unfortunately the rhetorical question is answered with “Yes, I can”: I keep reaching for the control key (originally the negative-utility caps lock key) and hitting the shift key. Oh well.)
  • moves the vi homerow hjkl to more spatially-cohesive positions (okay I made that up but what it means is j/k are next to each other and h/l are split but in the right relative position on a different hand and I use j/k more anyway). Colemak’s j is in the torture corner on top between hands, and it probably deserves that place more than f for normal people, but Vim is far from the only app that uses j/k for up-down keyboard navigation.
  • supported by more computers (verified on school computers)

And for sticking with QWERTY:

  • some people do say that it’s not worth learning anything else because 99% of the computers you encounter will be QWERTY. They seem to be the minority, though. Most people don’t regret switching layouts and furthermore others have mentioned that it’s possible to keep more than one layout in your brain if you regularly type in all of them
  • deep muscle memory that goes beyond English letters for me because of all the keyboard shortcuts I use regularly (amusingly it appears the layout doesn’t affect Quicksilver triggers and certain flash game keys)
  • no need to enter touch-typing position and mindset for typing a three-key shortcut. There are anecdotes of other people feeling this too.

So in the end I couldn’t decide that the reasons for either one exceeded the other, so I just went with an inexplicable gut preference for Dvorak. Candidates for the gut feeling include the urge to really feel different from QWERTY and the feeling that the Colemak forum is infested with blasphemy against the sacred Vim doctrine. But of course if I continue to analyze that then any productivity increase by changing my layout will be offset by all the psychological sidetracking.

Not that there has been any productivity increase yet, of course; quite the opposite. But I think I’m starting to

A marginally related fun fact: a few years ago, in my high-school calculus stages, I remember being able to touch-type on my TI-89. But I haven’t used it for probably a couple years, and now that skill is long gone.

Also I feel like an idiot for not having the following seven characters in my vimrc after I don’t even know how many years.
map ; :

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in Typing

  1. Hm… Let’s see what happens when I type this comment.

    QWERTY keyboard. My left fingers rest, in order from leftmost, on A, …3, 4. T, and space. Lolwut? My right fingers are even worse: somewhere over the right Ctrl (not touching key), L, semicolon, apostrophe, and right Shift. I typed the column 6 (Y,H,N) with my left index finger, although sometimes I type N with my right index finger. Uh my left index finger is overloaded and my entire right hand is underused.

    Shoot. At least I can still do some touch-typing, although I can’t spell “hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia”, “supercalifragilisticexpialadocious”, and “antidisestablishmentarianism” (and similar lengthy words) at my regular typing speed.

    I haven’t tried other layouts. Although I’ve tried Argentinian QWERTY. The punctuations are scrambled -_-

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