Friday, March 13, 2009

Leaving QWERTY Behind

When I was a freshman in high school, I really enjoyed taking “Typewriting I”. By that time, I was fast becoming an incredibly geeky pianist, so learning to type was quite similar to playing the piano. For me, typing uses the same brain functions as sight-reading on the piano.

That was 36 years ago that I learned to type. We had these ancient manual typewriters back then (no electric ones) and I could really bang some letters. I couldn't do anything remotely athletic, but I could type.

When I was 13, many of my friends earned extra money by mowing lawns or baling hay during the summer. Me? I earned extra money by typing the minutes for the local garden club. That right there should have been an indication of things to come.

After that, I learned 10-key by touch. Again, it was really enjoyable for me. One of my most favorite jobs was as a proof operator at a bank. You just sat there all day and encoded the amounts of the checks as fast and accurately as possible. I loved it.

So, I was pretty excited recently to learn about the Dvorak keyboard layout. Have you heard of that?

It was developed back in the 1930s as an alternative to the traditional “qwerty” layout that we normally use. The qwerty layout was developed to keep typewriter hammers from jamming. For example, the “t” and the “h” are used by different hands so you won’t press them very fast; if you did, the hammers would jam on the old manual typewriters.

Once electric typewriters were developed, this was no longer an issue. So, Mr. Dvorak developed a keyboard layout that would be conducive to speed and ease. On the Dvorak keyboard, one’s fingers use a lot less motion to type the most common combinations of letters.

Here it is:

Now, take a close look. Imagine your fingers on the “home row”. Just imagine how fast you could type words like “the, that, then, those”. The most commonly used letters are on the home row, the next common are above that and the least common below it.


Now, drum your fingers on the table. Notice how you drum inwards, from the little finger to the index. Dvorak noticed that and laid out the keyboard so that the most commonly-used letter combinations employ the same motion.

That's so cool.

The world’s fastest typist, Barbara Blackburn, was never a very good typist on the qwerty keyboard. But once she learned the Dvorak layout, she achieved a world record at 212 wpm on the Dvorak keyboard.


My fastest typing speed (with 98% accuracy) is 81 wpm. However, I’ve definitely hit a wall at that speed and can’t seem to get any faster. I would love to learn this Dvorak layout and really burn up a keyboard. It would be like learning to play “Flight of the Bumble Bee”.

Oh, and if you want to change your PC keyboard to the Dvorak layout, just follow these nine simple steps.

1. Select Start->Control Panel.

2. If you're viewing by categories (the default), click Regional Options.

3. Click Language Options.

4. Click the Languages tab

5. Click the Details button

6. Click the Add button

7. Under Keyboard Layout/IME, select United States-Dvorak then click OK.

8. If you want it to be default, select United States-Dvorak again in the Default input language pull-down

9. Click OK to close the control panel.

I did this and now the quotation mark button is all messed up when I go back to qwerty which kinda sucks.

Oh, and if you want to learn Dvorak, here’s a nifty tutorial. Click here.

I’m definitely going to give it a try, as I’ve always enjoyed things that are different from the norm.

I know it's pretty strange to get this excited over a keyboard. Sometimes my level of nerdiness scares me.



At 5:01 PM , Blogger Pati Mc said...

Your level of nerdiness is just fine, dear. Course, I am of the same ilk, so I may not be the one to ask. :)

I can see you now, popping off all of the keys and replacing them in Dvorak mode. Have fun with that.

At 5:53 PM , Anonymous Ken Fluahrty said...

Dvorak is the way to go!!

At 9:36 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

You are a nerd--and I guess it takes one, to know one! *grin*


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