A brief pair of notes

1) Dvorak typists: I’m sorry if the paper I relied on has some potential flaws.  If you want to share your extensive rants on the merits of various keyboard layouts, send them to me at doctorow@boingboing.net and I’ll be sure to read them over carefully.

2) You know how sometimes trying to fix one problem causes a worse problem, which in turn causes a worse one, and so forth?  This week, I was trying to turn off SafeSearch in Google Image Search (sometimes necessary to find things1).  In trying to turn off SafeSearch, a setting on a web form, I rendered my system unbootable2. (The worst part was, everyone kept saying “oh yeah — there’s a comic about that; have you read it?”)

Any guesses as to how that happened?  I have to go for now, but I’ll include the actual chain of events in my next blog post.

1 Like the Nate Silver Playgirl centerfold.
2 I’ve finally recovered it3 via a USB boot disk and some work, but it took several days and the help of a number of wonderful hackers. Thanks you, Decklin and sneakums.
3 And then promptly spilled milk on it, so the keyboard’s been through the dishwasher and is now drying4 in front of the fan. This is not a happy laptop.
4 Nested footnotes!

157 thoughts on “A brief pair of notes

  1. You’ve piqued my curiosity and I -have- to know how you did that to your computer.

  2. That’s a hell of a jump, going from clicking a simple radio button to an unbootable PC. You sir, are a master.

  3. If you log into google and turn off safesearch, it saves your preferences, I think.

    Also, do you really use emacs? I’m a vim user, but I’ve tried emacs a couple times. It’s powerful and interesting, but I find it uncomfortable, and of course I’m used to the modal way.

    Captcha: Hogan Brewers. Delicious.

  4. I am mildly curious as to why one would need a Nate Silver centerfold so badly that they would wreck their system…

  5. Shouldn’t there be another indent for nested footnotes?
    And shouldn’t it be using a different numbering scheme, or perhaps been called “3a” or something of that sort?

    And I think the only way to realistically assess the efficiencies of the two keyboard layouts is to take a large group of people – perhaps 1000, of a variety of cultures and nationalities, when they are very young and have never used a keyboard. Train half of them on Dvorak, and the other half on QWERTY. Then compare the average speeds.

  6. I wish to second; How exactly does one goes about rendering an OS unbootable via a web form?

    Being directed towards a comic you drew when trying to get help with cascading problems like that is deliciously ironic.

    Also, may be on to something with the re-captcha, Alex. Got “chafing” and “social” myself. “Social Chafing”?

  7. How could having a wrecked system lead to milk spillings?, that being said, it is less unprobable than a BSD Install leading to a Shark attack…

  8. @Moptophaha: out of those 1000, we know that 500 should be chinese. but then again, why would they be deciding between dvorak and qwerty…

  9. Upon a winter dreary, i came across an editor,
    it made my a#% feel quite um… fear-ee.
    Twas the hideous emacsbeast, ready to plow my butt cheeks into oblivion.
    For then i swore:
    nevermore,
    nevermore,
    Nevermore shall I leave the sanctity of notepad++ behind.

  10. @Click: Not necessarily 500, but there should be as many different nationalities as possible, preferably with equal proportions for each subsection (i.e. Asian, Caucasian, etc), so that we don’t see a bias depending on the natural dexterity of certain nationalities (if there is any)

  11. I know what happened! Instead of going in to the settings in the browser, you thought you’d edit the cookies directly from the command-line (because you’re, you know, insane). So you turned to your trusty shell, then slipped and accidentally typed “sudo rm /boot/vmlinuz*” and then accidentally typed your password.

    That’s it? Right?

  12. And I think the only way to realistically assess the efficiencies of the two keyboard layouts is to take a large group of people – perhaps 1000, of a variety of cultures and nationalities, when they are very young and have never used a keyboard. Train half of them on Dvorak, and the other half on QWERTY. Then compare the average speeds.

    This is basically right if your goal is just to determine the Platonically ideal keyboard layout (even then there’s some issues–e.g., maybe the currently-existing keyboard pedagogy is better suited to one or the other). It’s not right if your goal is to figure out what actual real-world people should do.

    It’s entirely possible that both: a) Dvorak is superior to QWERTY, and b) the one-time societal cost of switching is greater than the gains would be, even when amortized over an infinite amount of time. In that case, you wouldn’t want to encourage switching, even though the blank-slate keyboard study would tell you that you did.

  13. Nested foot notes remind me of House of Leaves and then of the IHOP comic (because I’m on xkcd) now I want pancakes.
    Overall: Google SafeSearch preferences have now made me want pancakes.
    I’m very indifferent on SafeSearch, I tend to keep it off.

  14. take a large group of people – perhaps 1000, of a variety of cultures and nationalities, when they are very young and have never used a keyboard. Train half of them on Dvorak, and the other half on QWERTY. Then compare the average speeds.

    Keep in mind that Dvorak is optimized for the english language, and that’s what it’s claimed to be better for, so your “variety of cultures and nationalities” should all be english-speaking (english-typing?).

  15. Unbootable? That is crazy… I don’t see how that could happen. Did it happen after you clicked “Save” or just when you clicked the actual radio button? What steps did you take to fix it (details!)?

    Very interesting though, I am looking forward to hearing more about it.

  16. Correlation does not necessarily imply causality, as I’m sure you’re well aware. It could be an unrelated issue. I, too, would like some more info- did your kernel panic when you tried to click the button or did you reboot and find things unbootable?

    An install of Sabayon I was running a few months ago would work fine form the automatic default install settings until it updated itself, at which point X completely vanished, and the system became unbootable, to boot- I’m still not sure why.

    My solution? Switched back to Fedora.

  17. You were using the touch pad, frustrated that you could not spot the “Do not filter my search results.” you slid your finger angrily and in this very moment forgot what you were looking for; in this same moment your eyes saw the desired option; These unlikely events caused you clicking the left button and thus selected some flip-flops, through another dimension. Then your face slipped and fell on the backspace, delete and del keys, which prompted a message asking you “Do you want to delete your bios ?” “DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DELETE YOUR BIOS ?” “Don’t Panic. Bye” to which you replied yes yes yes, because your vision was blurry from the K O R A V D keys stuck in your eye.

  18. In regards to the Dvorak-QWERTY issue, does it really matter anymore?

    If there’s a company or an institute that needs huge amounts of transcribing texts, they got programs and scanners that can do that nowadays.

    So for me, it seems like it’s a moot point to argue that one is better than the other

  19. @Storm: Always turn safesearch on when image-searching your childhood memories. The internet feasts on them, and leaves only horror in its wake.

  20. Regarding Dvorak: I do think it’s a ‘better’ layout, even for many non-English languages. They just have to be close enough so they don’t look like total mumble-jumble in English (I mean like tvualwoziwcfgyhscfk). Maybe it won’t be quite optimal, but it’s hard to see how QWERTY would be any better. Oh, maybe rearrange for diacritics and such, if present/common.

    I did try some alternate layouts myself. I was too lazy to use them for too long (even though an image of most keys forms almost instantly in my head), but they did feel noticeably more comfortable than QWERTY.

    Counter-argument against Dvorak: it’s biased towards minimizing one type of strain, and in doing so forms some other biases. But there also some other keyboard layouts that claim to be more balanced. Need to try some more Colemak.

    Yay for changing layout, but not key caps, BTW. That just somehow appeals to me. :-)

  21. I type faster on dvorak than I did on qwerty, so I guess I don’t really care what any research says. And its not like open source or environmentally friendly things or stuff where I think stuff would improve if more people did it, its a completely personal choice, so theres no need to preach it.

    I also stole the caps lock/backspace switch from colemak. Genius!

  22. @Jonathan:
    So basically, you did try the other layouts, found them to be better and more comfortable, but you still went back to QWERTY? Why?

    Personally, I just don’t give a crap about the whole thing. I learned QWERTY, and I just can’t be arsed to look into other layouts.

  23. I think I know how it happened. It started with wanting a plugin for firefox, so you had to upgrade firefox. But firefox had dependancies on a library, a GRAPHICAL library of course. So you had to upgrade that, which pulled your whole windowing system with it in the upgrade. And THEN you upgraded… libc by accident in the frenzy.

    I would never do something like that. Not more than once on any given week.

  24. I’m going to agree with Graham, if you want to use qwerty then who am I to tell you you can’t, but my personal experience is that after switching to dvorak, typing has become a lot more comfortable and my typing speed has increased quite a bit. Maybe it’s different for other people, but this is what I’ve experienced.

  25. I use Dvorak, because when I tried to learn to touch-type with qwerty, my hands started to hurt. That wasn’t fun.
    Also, my keyboard has really small bumps marking the (qwerty) F and J keys, so if I used qwerty without looking my hands would drift.
    Recaptcha: (Iowa?) removing

  26. You see? Google already is in control of your computer. You’d better trust us conspiracy theorists.
    Remember, the right question to ask is not “Is Google controlled by the CIA?”, but “If you were a CIA overlord with at least half a brain, would you do everything in your power in order to control Google?”

  27. On the principle that people get emotional about things that are very important and things where there’s no actual evidence, I’d guess that there really is no significant overall advantage to QWERTY vs. Dvorak or vi vs. emacs. There are personal preferences, and some people ascribe results to changing keyboards, but I think maybe all fans have perhaps learned from an earlier xkcd that correlation doesn’t imply causation – a change of keyboard that happened to coincide with something positive would be remembered as the likely cause.

    Examples of things people get emotional about because they’re important: child abuse and genocide. Examples of things people get (or got) emotional about because there’s no evidence: the Dreyfus affair and Creationism (for the creationists, anyway).

  28. @Patriot: I was still quite slow. Some tens of words per minute does become tiring when you’re used to well over a hundred. If I’d suppress the urge to just type away on QWERTY for much longer, I’d probably start to hate whatever I’m forcing myself to use. Anyway, I had only been using it sporadically for a few days, not like I got stuck. I’ll probably get back to it sometime soon (for real; it wasn’t that long ago that I tried Dvorak and a bit of Colemak).

  29. I am a Dvorak user, although I fully accept that there is no evidence that Dvorak is better than Qwerty. I just started using it because I thought it might be cool.

    When I first started learning it, my brain got all mixed up, and it destroyed my ability to type in any layout. I had a couple week period when I couldn’t type in any keyboard language. Then my skill with Dvorak started rising, since I used it. My skill with Qwerty started going up again, although it never reached the point that it was at before I started this experiment. Since I was already most of the way to learning Dvorak, I decided to abandon Qwerty, so at this point my Dvorak is much faster than my Qwerty. Can’t say anything about my speeds before and after, though.

    No real point, just thought I’d share.

  30. I, personally, find Dvorak much more comfortable than QWERTY. There are some disadvantages (it’s much harder to type one handed, since I usually look at the keys for that, and my keyboard is still marked in QWERTY). My understanding is that there’s no evidence that Dvorak is actually better, but a lot of anecdote.

    My main reason for switching was forcing my brain to completely relearn a habitual motor skill. It’s good to do that every once in awhile. This is why I mouse left handed at work, juggle, yo-yo and unicycle (well that, and the last three are fun!). It’s good to force yourself to pick up new motor skills. Keeps your brain flexible.

  31. The emacs vs. vi comment was uncalled for. Come this fall I’ll have been a vi user for thirty years, and I’ll edit circles around you ctrl-X-esc-emacs weenies! (and that’s been true for about 29 of those years);->

  32. @Roger: For certain kinds of file formats, you are entirely correct. vi sucks for code. Emacs is over kill for config files. Can’t we use both? I do!

  33. I use vi and Dvorak.
    My personal experience is that Dvorak lets me type faster, but that’s not too relevant.
    Dvorak definitely requires much less finger motion. I know two people who switched only to alleviate wrist pain.
    vi is much more definitive. It’s the fastest path from your brain to the computer. It requires the least keystrokes and always wins for speed in a head to head competition with an emacs user. To see this, take any vi and emacs users who type at the same WPM, and have them perform the same typing and editing*.

    *livevivsemacstypingcompetition.info…?

  34. I use QWERTY over Dvorak for historical reasons at this point–the inventor of the QWERTY keyboard was my great-great-great-great-great-uncle or some such thing. I never quite got up to my QWERTY speeds in Dvorak, but I’m a 120+wpm typist so I wasn’t expecting to.

    vi not good for code? Just because we don’t have CTRL-META-ALT-SHIFT-hotdog-meal-deal command to automatically remove all bugs…

  35. I think many people use QWERTY for the same reason they use Windows…it’s just easier. Sure, you COULD use Linux and spend a month getting used to the UI and running a Windows emulator whenever you want to run a windows specific command, and yes, eventually, you will find yourself being better off, but the fact remains that when you go to someone’s house or work, the chances are that they’ll be using Windows, and then all your hard work was for nothing.
    Stupid Windows…with it’s 90% market share… *grumbles*

  36. Citation needed on the “slow typists down thing” being a myth.

    Admittedly this is not the same as wanting to slow them down, but from my understanding the change was to keep the keys from jamming. I’m sure that for some tuples of (words, people), typing is slower with qwerty than Sholes’s initial design.

    What say you xkcd?

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