Archive for the 'things-you-learn-at-35' Category

Improvement Through Unlearning

August 21, 2009

So I turned down the opportunity to go out and drink beer for charity in order to be a complete geek.

Ok, full disclosure.  I am broke.  So the $25 cover charge for entry to the bar (and yes, it really was for charity) was exactly $21 more than I have in my wallet.  So what better to do then learn how to type on a completely different keyboard layout!  Enter the Dvorak keyboard layout.

Dvorak Keyboard Layout

Dvorak Keyboard Layout

What the heck?  Who in their right mind would attempt to learn that thing?  And the real question is why?  In answer to the first question, Master Yoda said in probably his most famous, properly ordered subject-verb-object quote, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Since I’m quoting Yoda in a blog post about typing on a Friday night, you can see that I’m pretty much in a galaxy far, far away from my right mind.  And secondly, to answer the why, it seems that in order to make progress, in this case typing more efficiently and faster, I have to unlearn something so firmly ingrained in my mind and fingers.  Fair enough.  I’ll give it a try.

The premise behind the Dvorak layout is to simply put the keys you use most frequently on the home row, thereby reducing movement of your fingers to those harder to reach areas.  Granted, it’s only a half-inch or so for most keys.  But to illustrate the point, the letter ‘E’ is the most common in the English language, and yet it is not on the home row of the QWERTY keyboard.  How could that be, you ask?  Without going into too much of a tangent, just know that the design of the QWERTY keyboard was purposefully to slow down the typist [UPDATE:  I learned from this site ( that the slowing typists down theory is a myth, so I struck it from the record because I don’t want to propagate false history.] due to the mechanical keys of yesteryear typewriters contantly getting stuck as typists developed their speed.  So the Dvorak layout has been around since 1936, and with typewriters virtually wiped off the face of the earth, this superior layout should be the norm.  Yet it isn’t.  And that just goes to show you that it’s tough to change a paradigm.

And the real reason for doing this?  Efficiency.  A paltry 20% of the keys in most large blocks of text fall in the home row of the QWERTY layout with only 5% of those keys occurring in sequence, meaning you don’t have to move your fingers from the home row to type a few keys in a row.   The same analysis on the Dvorak layout is a whopping 45% of the home row keys with almost 25% being sequential.  Check out this link to see some imagery that will make more sense.  I’m guessing that a 100% improvement in finger efficiency should translate fairly well into at least a 50% improvement in my typing speed.  Very scientific of me, I know.

Anyway, before I jumped headlong into learning to be a jedi typist, I needed to know my baseline using the normal style keyboard, or the QWERTY layout, as the sufficiently dorky would refer to it.  So I took an online typing test.  Here is a screen shot to show where I started.  78 words per minute!  Not bad!

Picture 2

But only 96% accuracy.  So I had to know what 100% accuracy would look like for me, so I did it again and managed only 61 words per minute.  Still not bad, though.  And compared to all the hunters and peckers I know!  You know who you are!

The next step was to convert my keyboard over to a Dvorak layout which wasn’t that difficult with Mac OS X.  Note that I didn’t physically change my keyboard.  I don’t normally look at the keys while I type anyway, so I figured I could learn Dvorak the same way, by not looking.  And hopefully it will become ingrained more quickly.

And then, on to actually start taking some Dvorak lessons.  Luckily, there is the ABCD Dvorak Typing Course just a click away.  And I started typing right away.  And from the outset, I could literally feel my brain remapping itself.  Talk about a challenge!  I spent an hour or so going through the first 10 lessons in order to learn the new home row keys.  And I’ll keep this up for a few months until I have it down.  But you’d be amazed at just how many words you can type with A-O-E-U-I-D-H-T-N-S on your home row!  Having all your vowels makes it easier of course.  But it takes me back to those terrible days of learning to type.  Remember these exercises?

ff jj fj fj

a sad lass had gas

Well, I had fun with it.  After all, I got to learn on a real typewriter!

So as with anything, diligence is the key.  I’ll be diligent.  After all, I spend my time at the computer a good portion of every day.  I write emails incessantly.  And I write blog posts here and there.  So I’m positive I will find the experience useful.  And the next time I get asked how fast I can type when I’m blazing away at the keyboard in some internet cafe in China, I’ll be able to confidently say over 100 words per minute!  Uh… assuming I can speak Chinese at that point.

Stay productive, my friends!

April Showers

May 7, 2008

I heard this interesting statistic the other day. (I know it’s May now, but it was April when I heard it, hence the title).

86% of americans shower once a day.
11% shower more than once.

Which category are you in? Of course, the above percentages leave 3% unaccounted for, who obviously must shower less than once per day. This, unfortunately, is my group. Yes, I probably average 0.67 showers per day. That is, I shower twice for every three days. So I miss a day quite frequently, so what? Have you noticed before?

Now before you say “Eeewwww!”, all you uber-clean freaks just try to think of it this way:
…assume my average shower is 10 minutes in duration.
…assume I use a low-flow shower head at 2.5 gallons/min.
…assume my rate above of 0.67 showers/day.

So during an average day, the math looks like this… erm, I SAVE…

10 minutes/shower x 2.5 gallons/minute x 0.67 showers/day = 16.67 gallons/day
….which equates to 117 gallons/week!
….which equates to 6083 gallons/year! (that’s a lot of water!)

So let’s just hold off on the “Ewww…” and the nose twitching in my presence.  I’m doing my part in trying to save the planet, one shower at a time.


December 24, 2007

Also in the vein of learning one’s calculator…

Did you ever think of what the DRG button really stood for on your calculator?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  It’s that button that you have to use for trig functions.

We mostly used it on the Degree setting.  And I often thought it was a weird assembly of letters form the word degree… like DeGRee.  But of course, maybe it was British or something.  You know, like how they spell theatre or centre differently.  But even that never made sense because who would put the ‘r’ in front of the ‘g’?

Alas, I was just a dumb kid and didn’t try harder to figure it out.  Now, after reading my trusty  TI calculator book and understanding that the unit circle can be broken down into Degrees (360 of them), Radians (2π of them), or Grads (400 of them).  Hence the DRG.  Duh…

Pi (π)

December 24, 2007

How many of you know that the formula to calculate the circumference of a circle is 2πr (where r = the radius of the circle)?

Now how many of you also inferred that π = C / d? That is, that the value of pi (3.1415926… blah blah) is equal to the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter?

It seems to make perfect sense… but I can tell you that I have NEVER, to my recollection, been taught the value of π in this way. I was expected to memorize it as a constant. And this begs the question… WHY?!

If circle after circle after circle follows this simple equation (again, which is easily inferred based on the formula for the circumference of a circle), that π is equal to the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, why wasn’t THAT driven home in our brains instead of, the value of π equals 3.14…?

Anyway… where did I find this out? I was reading an old book I have on how to use my Texas Instruments calculator. Pretty neat book. And at least it solved one of life’s great mysteries!

This is the voicemail of Mark Sessoms…

November 19, 2007

I read a blog post that clearly resonated with me. It’s about the absurd length of our greetings on our voicemails.

So I’ve changed mine.  If you call me on my cell phone and get to my voicemail message, you’ll see.  To save you the trouble, it’s exactly the same as the title of this post… extremely concise.  Why say more? You already know the drill.

Here’s the post at Cranking Widgets.

Yet another thing to add to my “Things you learn at 35” list…

So…  How many of you decided to change your greeting after reading this?? Enquiring minds want to know!

Things you learn at 35…

November 18, 2007

Among the least important of things surely sits my list of things you learn at 35 years of age. Three things I’ve happened across in the last 30 days…all totally unrelated…

1. Scallops are shellfish. Did you know that?

They are also bi-valves. And they swim, which explains why their muscle (the part we eat) is so large relative to other bivalves like clams and mussels. Interesting, eh? You can find out more on this at wikipedia here.

Also, why is it that it only seems to be in the United States that we don’t eat the whole scallop?  We eat the whole clam and mussel.  Strange…

2. What do you do with tiny soap?

There’s no sense futzing with the soap when it gets too small. You drop it too much. It breaks and you mash together the parts. Why didn’t anyone ever teach us to mash the small soap bar to a new bar of soap. Duh! I’d bet most people just throw the tiny soap away.

3. What exactly is metadata?

It’s data that describes other data. Well, that’s so damn helpful, thank you! Even wikipedia convolutes the issue.

But while I knew what it meant, I never really read a good description of what it was until reread my old database textbook from college. The easiest real world example that we are all familiar with is the card catalog at your local library. All that data describes the data in the book, like the author(s), the category, an abstract on the content, etc. Data that describes other data. Bingo!

So why is it that we don’t learn some of these things (namely the first two) way earlier in life? Why is it that we go through life never questioning where a scallop comes from? Or why is it that we never ask what other people do with the soap when it gets too small to avoid wasting it. And the metadata question, er…nevermind.

All this is to say that we should not be so complacent in our lives to lose the inquisitiveness we once had as a child. Keep asking questions! Don’t be afraid to not know just because you are say, 35 years-old and should have learned it long ago. Keep learning!