Monday, 16 August 2010

Dvorak Melody

it was a dark and stormy night...

Sometimes I have some colleagues coming over my desk just to say hi, to ask some questions or grab some cookies. And sometimes I can see that they cut the conversation short and say bye. Only a little later I realize I've kept typing on the keyboard while chatting with them.
They might have thought I was too busy to spare some minutes to have some words... again! Damn it!

It's not my fault! Well, no, not exactly; oh, ok! it's my fault, happy now? Kind of my fault, more of a misunderstanding, let's put it this way.

I should really take some time off and explain to each one of them that the typing is not distracting me from any conversation, that I'm paying attention to them, but there is a part of my brain that has been trained since I was fourteen to command the fingers to move on the keyboard, without that interfering with my train of thoughts. Maybe a notice, close perhaps to the "Warning! Evil testers at work" panel might do.

Back in the old office there were some colleagues that couldn't stand seeing me typing while looking elsewhere, like out of the window or with my head turned to better chat with Giuseppe or Nadia.

I learned typing in high school. It feels like a century ago. In many way it was.
Our teacher, Mrs. Tagliabue (talk about namesake! Tagliabue can be translated as Cut-the-ox, and Mrs. Tagliabue was definitely quite ehm, straight-to-the-point) would bring the class to the typewriters room twice a week: it was at the end of a long dusty hallway, full of display cases packed with old, even dustier (if possible), gloomy-looking animal taxidermy.

Once in the room, each student would sit in front of the assigned typewriter, a manual Olivetti that had certainly seen better times.
As much as some of us didn't consider typing an important subject, nobody had the guts to not to do what Mrs. Tagliabue said: she could easily scare the hell out of us all.
So, after sitting, we would all put the exercise book on one side of the typewriter.
We had to clip an A4 sheet on top of the keyboard, place the hands below it, fingers on the assigned keys and off we went.

A simphony of out of synch 14-years-old typing endless lines of aaaa mmmm frte juyi would than echo through the hallway.
Once in a while, among the tic, the tac and the toe, a muffed "ouch" or a more prosaic "fanculo" could be heard.

Why? Well, the keyboard of a manual typewriter is not like a pc keyboard. The lines are more angled, the keys are far from each other and quite tough to press.
In order to type one needs to apply the right amount of force with enough speed. And hopefully manage to apply force and speed on the keys. If not, the finger would get quickly, violently and painfully stuck in between the keys.
In this case, trust me, the "ouches" and f-words were more than justified.

Not that Mrs. Tagliabue would have approved any of it. She wanted the class quiet, no matter what: and no, trying to amputate one own's finger was not an excuse reasonable enough to disrupt her class.
The only noise allowed was our typing orchestra: we sounded a lot like the Stomp. The rhythms would mix and blend. There was Silvia, our fist violin, so swift, precise, able to reach allucinating high wpm speeds.
There was Ciaccio on the drums, a QWERTY percussionist. Dario was in tune us, but more with the rave music he was so much into.

We moved to electric typewriter in the last term of the 2nd year. By then we had got rid of the white paper and clip, swearing had gone down dramatically, and now the new purpose was the perfect blend of precision and speed.
Electric typewriters changed the rhythm and style of the class.
So long Stomp!
Welcome Daft Punk!

No traces of computers in that room for the remaining years of high school. I left high school but not typing. I kept doing it and things didn't change: I still don't look at the keyboard, plus I managed to reach more or less the same speed on the English keyboard.

I've also developed new habits: I type in tune with the music I listen to. I noticed that Gershwin is great for emails, while Daniele Silvestri fits better for blogging.

And then there is this multitasking thing. Because typing is just natural to me, I happen to find normal to keep on typing while doing other thinks, like talking on the phone or speaking with people.
I know it may come across as a very rude and disrespectful behaviour, but in all truth the speaker has my utmost complete attention, while the automatic typer is switched on.

So, if you see me sitting at my desk typing and, at the same time, nodding my head and even lip-singing "Foggy Day" or "They all laughed", no, I'm not crazy, I'm just dealing with some office e-mails.
On the other hand, singing Paolo Conte means I'm doing something that requires attention, as Conte helps my concentration.

On the other hand, if we chat and my hands keep going back and forth on the keyboard, I'm not trying to get rid of you, so don't worry and, if you really don't like it, just tell me and I will stop.

In the next week, however, you might see some changes in this routine.
I've started learning a new keyboard layout, called Dvorak.
I had read about it in the past, but never won my laziness and set myself to investigate.
Some days ago, however, one of the blog I follow published a post about it.
Just enough to fuel my curiosity and start to look on the web for some info. I have found some interesting pages and, given that changing the keyboard layout is effortless, I decided to give the layout a try and started learning it.

During the weekend I went through the central home row and part of the up-row. I will probably be done with memorizing the layout by Wednesday (unless I decide to bake one of this evening).
After that, thanks to the teaching of Mrs. Tagliabue, I'll have to step up to make the typing very fluent and smooth: there is a melody you need to master if you want to type well and fast. And Dvorak is quite different from QWERTY.
Trying to type on the Dvorak with a QWERTY mindset is not going to work, so I'll have to do my best to get the right tune and train my brain to command the fingers on a new score.
Right now I find frustrating that, once I switch the keyboard layout, I become once more like that 14-year-old, struggling to remember which letter was where. I'm used to speed but now I struggle like a snail on a sunny day.
Still, I do know that I don't have to let this frustration win, but keep exercising.
That's why I'm goint to get an extra keyboard to rearrange as Dvorak.
And that's why I will start to use a bit of Dvorak in the office too. Just a little bit each day, starting from the mail and escalating to documentation writing up to the real-time master level of live chat.

So if you're a colleague of mine and you're reading this, be warned: if in the next few weeks you drop over my desks and start talking to me, but I seem to just pay attention to the keyboard, well it's the sad truth.
It's not that I'm being impolite, I'm just trying to remember where the letter "R" is.

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