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Sunday, 03 March 2024


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Thanks for sharing your research into typing and keyboards. I never knew about the variant layouts, or the nextgen keyboards. To me it makes sense to use the thumb instead of pinky for shift, control etc.

I too basically think and write for a living. And I also don’t need extraordinary speed, just greater efficiency and comfort.

One of these days I’ll find the time to give the change a go, and maybe find the budget for a better keyboard. In Australia we get an instant deduction of up to $300 AUD (instead of having to depreciate) for work expenses. There’s my limit ;~)

I’m not going to read it, but good for you posting it!

Quite a good article at https://hackaday.com/2016/03/15/the-origin-of-qwerty/ by Brian Benchoff arguing the influence of morse code operators upon the layout of the Qwerty keyboard - and rebutting the Stephen J Gould argument that the layout arose from marketing(Gould, Stephen Jay. Ch. 4 “The Panda’s Thumb of Technology” in Bully for Brontosaurus. New York: Norton, 1991). As an aside, that article first appeared as Gould's monthly column for Natural History published by the NY Museum of natural History in the mid-late 1980s. My grandmother lived pretty much next door to the museum and was a life member - she used to mail the magazine to me in Australia each month after she read it, and I always enjoyed Gould's articles and remember that I actually clipped the typewriter article before recycling the magazine. Of course, I've now lost the clipping ...

I've always stayed away from alternative keyboard layouts because I want to be able to type on other computers. I don't want to find out it's too hard to switch back and forth.

To me one of the greatest sins of layout was changing the location of the left control key to the bottom left. I use that key often, CTRL-C, CTRL-X, and CTRL-V being examples, and having to stretch down for the key with the left little finger is hard, inaccurate, and (I think) asking for RSI or tendon strain. I always swap it with the caps lock key as the first thing I do on a new computer.

Yes, this contradicts what I wrote about not changing the layout so I can type on other machines. But it's only one key, so it's easier to keep in mind.

Mike said

"I decided to publish this anyway, because I worked hard on it"

What about nobody caring how hard you worked?

Just sayin'

[Somebody does care...I do. --Mike]

Gotcha! That second footnote is an orphan; there is no ** reference in the main text. If you’re gonna use ‘em, you should point to ‘em.

[Well I'll be darned. Wonder how that disappeared. Fixed now. Thanks. --Mike]

You put your finger on the problem. Qwerty is certainly Queer.

Being a touch typist can be a curse. All four of my siblings were high school and college trained touch typists. One sister was the state champion! All three sisters were then restricted to “secretarial” jobs, rather than professions. My brother spent two tours in the Navy, and was trained in aviation ordinance for everything from small arms to air-to-air missiles. However, somewhere on his service record, it said “35wpm” and after graduating each ordinance school, he got a new typewriter. Even his sea duty was in the bowels of an aircraft carrier being Radar O’Reilly. I never took high school typing.

Putting bigrams far from each other may or may not slow you down, but it does reduce jamming, because the keys are coming in on more independent paths.

Also it tends to put common bigrams on opposite hands, which is good for speed.

QWERTY is clearly not the best possible layout, but none of the other conventional ones (big keyboards for touch typing using both hands) are enough better to be worth switching.

I decided to publish this anyway, because I worked hard on it. Please just ignore it if the topic bugs you! I'll understand. —Mike

Thanks! I found the article on keyboard layouts quite fascinating. Despite using the QWERTY layout without issues since high school, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It's more to my liking than any talk of "razors." Topics on male grooming hold no interest to me, a realization I've gathered from the titles of articles on this site (though I understand who your audience is). I hope your birthday was enjoyable! Wishing you a belated happy birthday, Mike.

I learned to type on one of those old mechanical Remington machines which was good practice for becoming a programmer in the early 1960s. I had to type on an IBM 026 Card Punch with a stiff mechanical keyboard. You had to be accurate because mistakes punching cards was a one-shot deal - no backspace for correction!

But it was good practice for writing - accuracy does count.

A humorous tale is I was hired by a high tech company as a marketing manager with a secretary but my first task was creating a catalogue and applications book. My handwriting was not great and the typists had trouble, so I immediately put in a request for a new IBM Electric typewriter with memory - they had just become available - and that was wonderful for making corrections. I was told by my boss that managers do not type in the company! My response was heard in the far end of the building and I got my typewriter.

When I used to work for a living (before retiring), I was in Europe often and frequently needed to use local computer keyboards. There are a few differences between the US version of QWERTY and the European ones I used; if I recall correctly, the Z was moved and some of the special characters above the numbers were as well. It was difficult enough to keep even this small number of variations straight and still be fluid while typing. So anyone who will ever have a regular need to use others’ keyboards is well advised to not make even small customizations on their own.

Like JH, I worked for a consulting company where we “professional” types collected data, analyzed that data, and wrote reports. Everyone hand wrote their reports on standard lined paper, subjecting our secretaries to the onerous task of deciphering said handwriting from multiple engineers while typing up our reports and handing them back for our review, editing, and correcting their typing mistakes. At one point my secretary complained to me she couldn’t consistently read my handwriting (I had the same problem at times with my own work!). I needed a solution and requested a typewriter. Management told me “secretaries type, not engineers”. With support from my secretary I was able to convince management that because I was a touch-typist, a typewriter would make her more efficient by making me more efficient. Someone on staff found me an old IBM typewriter, the kind that the IBM Selectric replaced, and had it cleaned up for me. I used that typewriter for about 11 years and it did make my secretaries work easier and more efficient. But all this was just before word processing became ubiquitous in offices, before every engineer had a PC on his or her desktop, and before secretaries became secretaries again and not just typists with corollary duties. I don’t miss the old days.

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