My apparently undiagnosed masochism has inspired me to switch keyboard layouts. Aiming for pure obscurity, I’ve been typing using Colemak for the past several months. It’s no Dvorak in the popularity arena, having only an estimated userbase of 3000 as of January 2009. According to a computer aided layout optimizer, it’s also more efficient than the venerable Dvorak, ranking highly across all alternatives. Note that all statistics for Qwerty are hideous by comparison. Thankfully, Ubuntu makes it an available default keyboard layout, and for this, I salute Canonical. If only other Linux distributions would follow that lead, considering the benefits.
At first, it was like typing with someone else’s hands, and that person was constantly masturbating with a herring. My fingers stumbled across the keys as if drunk, and since Colemak is basically half Qwerty, each typed word was a cruel taunt against my previously idyllic muscle-memory. My Qwerty speed was outright ridiculous, with an average around 80wpm with bursts into the 100s. I didn’t so much type as thought my words onto the screen. But with Colemak, several keys haven’t changed, or have moved only slightly, so my fingers would revert to Qwerty like the stubborn undexterous sausages they had become.
Finally, after weeks of frustratingly glacial typing, I’d reached the blistering pace of about 50wpm, still plagued by the Qwerty demons of my past. More recently, it turns out my speed has once again reached the 80wpm average, with bursts into the 100s. It would seem I’ve reached parity with my previous abilities, with one major difference: my wrists don’t hurt nearly as much when I pour on full speed. With Qwerty, I’d have to slow way down to 60wpm or less if I wanted to sustain my typing for more than a few minutes at a time. Now I basically melt my keyboard through sheer unrelenting alacrity, even on my tiny netbook keyboard. When I notice I still slow down due to conflicting muscle-memory, it’s plain there’s room for improvement.
Keep in mind I’m a wretched old fart, and I’ve been typing Qwerty from 1993 up until late 2008. That’s fifteen years of typing with one layout, and in one year, I’ve almost completely switched. Unfortunately I’ve essentially forgotten how to type using Qwerty without looking at the keyboard itself. This doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should, since I rarely use someone else’s system for more than browsing porn the web for short periods, and texting is hardly a touch-typing affair. Hilariously, I haven’t moved my key-caps around to match the layout, so anyone attempting to utilize my Ubuntu system, if not already thwarted by the Linux underpinnings, would likely be completely baffled by any and all attempts to type. If anyone ever dared to steal my netbook, I’d just look for a guy slapping the keyboard and cursing profusely, but that might also just be Gary Busey.
It’s like driving a manual transmission in a world where every other car is an automatic, except everyone perceives my car as if it were an F16 in complexity. I couldn’t even lend my computer to any other human being I’ve met in person, because it would be as useful to them as a hamper full of black-widow spiders. So I’ll just have to advocate the cause, and eventually there will be enough Colemak users to change a light bulb, or at least more people than know your mother…
Carnally, that is.