Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Dvorak Project

I'm calling bullshit on QWERTY keyboards.

QWERTY was designed with typewriters in mind, not computers or even their predecessors/contemporaries, word processors. In addition, it doesn't take into account the anatomy of the human hand and the way it is easiest to move the hand -- basically, as a system, it ignores what makes typing easier, safer, and faster.

As a person who doesn't have enough to do as it is [/snark], I'm going to conduct a personal experiment: The Dvorak Project.

Why, and why now?
Though I had long ago read somewhere or the other that QWERTY sucks and makes no sense for the computer age, I did not really get interested in alternatives until I started working at a job where I type all day. The idea of increasing my speed really appeals to me; I’m one of those people whose words aren’t fast enough for her thoughts, so even work aside, it seems like a good idea. In addition, I had a friend get carpal tunnel, which has caused her a lot of problems. Could you imagine life without the ability to use a computer? I certainly can’t. As I investigated anti-RSI exercises, ergonomic keyboards, and the like, DVORAK occurred to me, and I found out that Dvirak can help to prevent them. This cemented my decision, as carpal tunnel is a scary possibility in my current line of work.

My first step was to decide where I would be learning Dvorak. I used to be online quite a bit when unemployed, and I still use my laptop at home on occasion. As a person with a full-time job, though, most of my computer time is spent using my work desktop and my phone (which, interestingly enough, has a QWERTY keyboard, which affects this experiment). Also, I worried that if I affixed the Dvorak stickers to my laptop, it would be hard to pry them off if I ended up hating Dvorak. Buying a new keyboard was the best choice for me, especially given that I wanted an ergonomic one as part of my anti-RSI strategy at work. Using a separate keyboard also means that I can take mine home with me to use with my laptop if I really wanted to do so.

Getting a Keyboard
My second step was obtaining the necessary parts. Dvorak keyboards are well over $100 for the cheapest version, so those were automatically out. I researched ergonomic keyboards and Microsoft's are the most widely-available and thus the easiest to find at a low price (yes, I'm cheap). I replied to a few ads on Craigslist; the people turned out to be rather flakey (big surprise). I posted my own ad and within a few days, someone was offering me his for $25. Given that it would mean not waiting for shipping, being able to examine the used equipment in-person before paying for it, and helping out someone local, I decided to go for it. I could have saved a few bucks by buying online, but that's a big maybe given shipping costs and the like. The day I bought my keyboard, I bought some blue Dvorak stickers for it from eBay for just under $5 with shipping.

Making Things Interesting
I obtained a messaging phone, i.e. one with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, in early 2009. In July 2010, I purchased my first smartphone primarily because it was the first Android phone and thus was easy to obtain cheaply from a friend who had upgraded. I was really happy because it also has a slide-out keyboard. I am such a keyboard phone addict at this point that I got my current phone, the G2, not just because of its 3G compatibility, its solid design, and its sturdiness, but because it, likes its predecessor the G1, has a QWERTY keyboard. I loathe touchscreen keyboards; my speed using my thumbs on a slide-out is fairly impressive.

What does this mean in relation to my learning Dvorak? Who knows, maybe my thumbs' muscle memory is different from that of my entire hand. Maybe the disparate format of phone vs. computer will be enough to ensure that I don't utterly confuse myself. Either way, my adoration of QWERTY on phone keyboards makes this a bit more interesting, don't you think?

A Real Keyboard?
Some people make their own Dvorak keyboards; I would do it, but I don’t want to go through the effort of re-assembling a keyboard if I end up ditching Dvorak. Also, you can't really re-assemble an ergonomic keyboard, so my anti-RSI measures would be somewhat thwarted. If I like Dvorak enough, I'll probably make a Dvorak board to keep at home for use with my laptop.

Progress Report
I'm currently waiting for my stickers to come in the mail. Once they do, I will go about turning my QWERTY-only keyboard into one that plays for both teams. In the meanwhile, I'm trying to place my hands right, get used to this ergonomic keyboard (it's really nice so far), and log my typing speeds every day starting today to get an accurate read on them as well as to the eventual changes that should occur.

What's Next
I am researching sites that have Dvorak learning tools and tips. The simplicity of this site is appealing. This one has goals and is more customizable. Yet another seems to be in a more self-learning style. Every site I've looked at that has tips on how to switch recommends going "cold-turkey" -- I don't know how possible that will be for me, but we will see.

Previously-Tested Range of QWERTY Typing Speeds: 68-75 wpm
Today's QWERTY Typing Speed Test Result: 70 wpm

Quote of the Day
"What a bunch of freaking nerds." -- Julio Perucho, in response to my Facebook discussion on Dvorak vs. QWERTY