Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dvorak: one year of typing weird

As of today, it's been one year since I started using a Dvorak keyboard. It feels completely natural, and it's really a lot easier than typing on a standard keyboard. And the wrist pain that prompted the switch? Gone, totally. My wrist issues were bad for a while; I had even done research into surgical options. Switching to Dvorak has less down time (assuming it takes three weeks to get back to typing relatively quickly and error free) and much less trauma than the surgery. An hour of Typing Tutor every night for three weeks, and that was pretty much all it took. Another month to get back to my usual typing speed, and all was well.

Dvorak has also improved my typing speed. Shortly before I switched, I had occasion to find out exactly how fast I typed on a standard keyboard; I typed in an entire play script, so I could reformat it into something we could easily make notes on. I averaged around sixty words a minute on the long haul. And, I recently did a similar project transcribing a speech. I played it back at slow speed and typed in the entire speech in one stretch. I averaged almost seventy words per minute on the rough draft. Not bad, especially given that my previous speed came after twenty years of touch typing. And, did I mention the pain-free?

In retrospect, switching has been completely worth the trouble of the transition, and even worth the low-grade problems I have with my inability to use a standard keyboard. A lot of hardware is qwerty-based, and isn't switchable to Dvorak; the video titler at work and the external keyboard I plug into my lighting console are both standard, and I've had a few other occasional hardware issues. One of my two Palm Pilot keyboards is qwerty-only, and a lot of phone hardware isn't Dvorak-switchable. I've never been able to touch-type reg keys for software, so unless I'm at my work computer (the only keyboard I have on which I actually switched the keycaps) I need to revert back to qwerty to hunt-and-peck the passwords. And, when I sit down at a stranger's keyboard, I revert to two-finger typing, and I feel a little silly. But not as silly as I'd feel having to put on wrist splints to type.

Another oddity of the wrist pain: it comes back a bit if I spend enough time playing video games. I had a game binge last week, when I had some free time but not nearly enough mental energy to write, and after a few hours of Raven Shield and Unreal Tournament, I was feeling a bit twingey in both wrists. I'm really not considering this a bad thing; it's extra incentive to write instead of loafing by gaming.

Now that I'm a year in and completely at home with Dvorak, I briefly considered becoming bi-keyboardal (di-keyboardic? Polytypic?) and re-learning a standard keyboard. But I really don't see the need. I'm getting by fine now as a fully Dvorak typist. If I ever need to do a significant amount of typing on an unfamiliar keyboard, I can always change the keyboard layout temporarily. I've had to do this enough, I've gotten it down to a science. The catch (naturally) comes from Microsoft. On a Mac, you change the keyboard layout globally; on a PC, you need to change it for every application, and even occasionally for different text fields in the same application. This can be a problem not just for me, but for the next person to sit down at the computer, if I forget to change it all back. If I start typing Dvorak I'll immediately recognize if the keyboard is qwerty, but if a normal typist starts typing and getting strange characters, they experience Extreme Cognitive Dissonance....

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