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Input Devices Programming

Weak Typing — the Lost Art of the Keyboard 362

mikejuk writes "How do you type? Hunt and peck? Two thumbs? Touch type? Two thumbs touch type? For the first time since the computer was invented, the standard QWERTY keyboard is challenged by new ways of inputing text. And yet even the iPad virtual keyboard has two useless dimples on the F and J keys. Perhaps it isn't time to give up on the home keys just yet."
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Weak Typing — the Lost Art of the Keyboard

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  • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @07:50PM (#37299250)

    Is it just me, or is there nothing to the posted article?

    A summary seems to be, "Over a hundred years ago, people learned to touch type. This is the best method! Or is it? Yes, it is, you should learn it. Oh, but it doesn't work on phone keyboards. The two thumb method is better for that. You should learn that one too. Yeah, it sucks that you need to learn two ways to type, but whatcha gonna do? Go get some training software and learn to touch type!"

    Thanks for letting us know that typing is a useful skill, I guess.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Thanks for letting us know that typing is a useful skill, I guess.

      i wash soneo,e haf yold me thus yeard aho@@@

    • Speaking of two thumbs method, I really hope that I can buy a decent smartphone that has a slide out keyboard in the future. Having run one thumb through a table saw it doesn't function very well on touchscreens, I'll be very annoyed if all phones go with touch keyboards.
      • HTC Desire Z, or whatever they call it in $YOUR_AREA

        I have it and use it for IRC, mail, ssh ++.

      • by narcc ( 412956 )

        If you want a slide-out keyboard, you can't go wrong with the new Blackberry Torch 2 (9810). Though if you plan on typing a good bit, the Bold 9900 has the best smartphone keyboard on the market today.

        The future is here now, no need to wait :)

      • by ross.w ( 87751 )
        You could always add a bluetooth keyboard if that makes it easier
      • You might want to look into a SawStop.

        As for phones, when I borrow my wife's iPhone and use the on-screen keyboard, I never use my thumbs to type on it; I always use my index finger. Efficient? No, but no touchscreen keyboard on a phone is ever going to be efficient; there's no tactile response and no space for full-size keys (or key images rather). I have all my fingers and thumbs BTW.

        On a regular QWERTY or Dvorak keyboard, I'm quite fast however.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Efficient? No, but no touchscreen keyboard on a phone is ever going to be efficient; there's no tactile response and no space for full-size keys (or key images rather).

          One word: Graffiti

      • by hitmark ( 640295 )

        This will depend on how big of a nation you live in, and about how close your native language is to English when written. The smaller the nation, and the further from English (resulting in odd letters or perhaps even replacing whole alphabets) the language is the less likely that there will be a slide out keyboard phone in your market.

      • I find i type best on touch screens using two index fingers. I hold the phone, in landscape mode, with the thumbs and middle fingers of both hands and use both index fingers to type with, dividing the keys up between the hands as in touch typing. I can type quickly and accurately like this without much effort.

      • by tycoex ( 1832784 )

        Personally I find that using Swype with my index finger decimates my two-thumb typing speed (and ease).

        It really comes down to personal opinion though, but if you have trouble using thumbs to type I suggest you check out some of the alternative keyboards such as Swype.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kayumi ( 763841 )

      > Is it just me, or is there nothing to the posted article?

      How can you say that. This is a concise and insightful analysis
      of the history of
      the art and practice of the grandest of all
      skills from its birth to its current sad state. It is also a great example of another greatly admired skill of using many words to
      hide lack of content. The author lays bare
      is deepest feeling and
      the innermost workings of his brain (image used without permission from the
      makers of Hannibal). We should
      applaud the author for his e

  • by innocent_white_lamb ( 151825 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @07:52PM (#37299262)

    When I was in high school I learned to type on big manual Underwood typewriters in typing class. I also learned some other skills in that class that seem to be going the way of a lost art, such as how to properly fold a letter to fit into an envelope.

    In my opinion, typing class was the most useful class that I took in high school. I learned skills that I use literally every day.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Totally agree. Thought it sucked at the time that I had to learn, but now I can punch out this comment so fast, and accurate, it was totally worth it. And I also learnt other skills such as document formating, document naming conventions, and oh, how to not bash the crap out of keyboard...

      Amazes me the things that are clearly important for life that are no longer taught - perhaps it should be a requirement of any degree or certification.

    • Glad to see that I'm not alone in that regard. I learned in 7th grade with a personal typing class. I took off and got right up to 60 wpm. I've typed medical transcription for years and years and I'm fast, probably more 85-90 wpm.

      • by hawk ( 1151 )

        Summer school between seventh & eighth grades.

        Boy were my teachers happy about not having to read my handwriting any more . . .

        I used to be abled to do 100wpm on a manual. I can't hit those speeds any more, but I'm still fast enough that some people haven't believed I w actually typing until they looked at the screen.

        Ive only had one secretary who could type faster than I do (and she used to compete [seriously!])

        Anyway, everyone is missing the most important thing here: how would we play nethack withou

    • When I was in high school I learned to type on big manual Underwood typewriters in typing class. I also learned some other skills in that class that seem to be going the way of a lost art, such as how to properly fold a letter to fit into an envelope.

      When I was in middle school, we were taught to type on Apple IIs, though those weren't quite as nice as the IBM Selectric II I had at home.

      I'm obviously younger than you (unless those Underwoods were antiques when you used them), but even so I was taught how to

    • I took a similar class in elementary school (except using computers 'cause it was the 90's), and I can honestly say that I didn't learn a damn thing. I was still "hunting and pecking" until I taught myself C when I was in high school.

      The moral of this story: people will learn to touch-type if they need to. People who use computers a lot will unconsciously memorize the keys until they realize that they no longer need to look at the keyboard when they type as I did. People who don't use computers a lot wi

    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      I'm discovering that the callouses I get from playing guitar aren't so good for touch screens, either.

      Sorry to hear about your thumb, though. Table saws scare the bejeezus out of me.

    • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

      Strangely for me I had a different experience. I was also learning to touch type on my own at home at the same time. For whatever reason the daily switch from manual typewriter to keyboard prevented me from getting any good at it. Once I failed the typing class and only used computers my typing speed immediately went up to 100 wpm.

    • I agree there. Learning on a manual really enforces the muscle memory. Now on a soft touch keyboard I can type very quickly, actually too fast as I lose a lot of accuracy. Each new type of keyboard I use requires me a couple weeks to get the hang of it again (ie, mac keyboard took some getting used to).

    • Funny, I had a similar class in High School and it was the most useless class I ever took. Of course, I already knew how to touch type by then (my Mom taught me starting when I was ~10).

      It was also only the first or second year since they transitioned from old typewriters to actual computers. I think I taught the teacher a few things in MS Word in that class ... in between playing some silly typing game. Given that I finished every assignment before he finished explaining it (which did result in a few is

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        For me, at least, by the time I burst up to 120 wpm, there's not much left of my brain. Somewhere around that speed, it becomes like electronic circuit design once you hit a signalling frequency where you have to take into account transmission line effects. I think the brain has to begin sequencing physical motions in key clusters, like modems that modulate multiple bits per baud. I also think that if your hands don't stay extremely close to home position, just a small amount of sway from side to side i

    • In my work as a {groan} Help Desk staffer, I still encounter users who don't have basic keyboard skills. Either they are relatively young, and their experience with virtual keyboards apparently leads them to think that CapsLock is the way to enter uppercase letters, even on physical keyboards.... or they are {sigh} my age, and don't grasp how to use keys like Ctrl and Alt. ("Hold down the 'Alt' key, and then press 'Tab' ("where's that?").)

  • I touch-type with one hand, just because I can. It's not particularly fast or accurate compared to the other styles, but I can lay down or hold a drink while typing that way.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Wouldn't that increase the chance of repetitive-motion injuries? All the load goes to just one hand.

    • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @08:26PM (#37299468)

      You're not holding a drink. You're not kidding most of the people on this website dude. ;-)

      • I've often wondered why the #1 most popular password is "password" and not, you know, "stewardesses" or "miminypiminy"

    • I touch-type with one hand, just because I can.

      I'm pretty sure I've seen you on Chatroulette.

    • I actually learned how to do this when I broke my right hand years ago. At my best I was able to hit about 25 words/minute, so no speed records were broken, but to this day it helps me drink coffee and code at the same time, or use a mouse. Once you master how to do it you can seamlessly move between typing styles depending on what you need.

      It's also been a horrible habit as it caused me to put my coffee down next to my mouse numerous times. Learn to single hand type with your right hand or get a track b

  • This sort of sensationalism never would have been allowed back when Taco was running things.

    • Maybe. But without Taco, you gotta wonder who's gonna post a dupe of it on Tuesday.

    • by JustOK ( 667959 )

      In the Time of Taco, all stories, and verily, all comments, never stank of elderberries. Can we say that for all stories AFTER Taco?

  • Weak typing? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mensa Babe ( 675349 ) * on Saturday September 03, 2011 @08:05PM (#37299336) Homepage Journal
    The term weak typing [wikipedia.org] means something very specific in computer science, namely a property attributed to the type systems of some programming languages that have either implicit type conversion, ad-hoc polymorphism or both. Using it as the title of this story that has absolutely nothing to do with type systems [wikipedia.org] whatsoever, together with putting it in the "developers" section and tagging it with "programming", is highly misleading as it make us all anticipate a story worth reading which it certainly is not. I can only sympathise with all of the fellow Slashdotters expressing their disappointment. It would be nice if the stories where better titled next time. Thank you.
    • On the plus side, perhaps I have found someone who will finally I understand me. I've had to explain with frustration to many a C "programmer" that python is dynamically, but strongly typed. It seems the entire school of programmers descending from "C" thing static typing = strong typing. Which is amusing, because C is weakly typed.

    • At the very least, I was hoping that it was going to turn out to be a clever pun.
    • by hawk ( 1151 )


      You must be new here. :)


    • Re:Weak typing? (Score:4, Informative)

      by 32771 ( 906153 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @09:55PM (#37299910) Journal

      You could just read http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/ [lambda-the-ultimate.org] . Slashdot doesn't quite cut it anymore since the great dumbing down of 2008.

    • by macshit ( 157376 )

      haha, seriously ... when I read the title, I honestly thought this story was going to be about how the lack of [variable] type declarations in scripting languages was causing people to type [on the keyboard] less! oO;

    • together with putting it in the "developers" section and tagging it with "programming", is highly misleading

      So, you are saying that slashdot's weak typing system is a drawback?

    • May I express my disappointment on the lack of pun comprehension on Slashdot?

  • by Harald Paulsen ( 621759 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @08:13PM (#37299376) Homepage

    I never learned touch correctly, but I do type pretty fast without looking by using a weird combination of fingers. I rest my hands in a sort of home-position, but then I use fewer fingers to type. It's what have worked best for me. To describe how I use my fingers would be very weird, but one could say for most of my typing I use 3 fingers on each hand, in addition to right thumb for space and right pinky for enter/return.

    When I write code I usually spend more time thinking than typing, so speed haven't really been an issue. I score 60+ WPM and allthough that is a far cry from the 120WPM mentioned in the article it really is fast enough for me.

    • by rdnetto ( 955205 )

      I do something similar. I'm pretty sure it's because I never officially, learned to touch type - I just keep my fingers in the home position and let them wander over the keyboard as necessary, using whatever fingers are closest to the relevant key.

    • Yah, me too. I score 95 wpm on the online tests, but it's rarely useful for me to type at that speed. My home position is (usually):


      What? I learned to type on a C=64. Turns out having the middle finger right next to $ was handy for both directory listings (LOAD "$",8) and perl scalars. Shift under the left pinkie was pretty crucial for shift-arrowing back then too.

      I find myself migrating keys between hands or fingers as needed. I think I pulled that in from piano play

  • Umm. No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nashv ( 1479253 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @08:16PM (#37299410) Homepage

    I RTFA. Besides the fact that the author seems capable of writing a 1000 page essay in an attempt to convince the reader that 'grass is green', the article also does not take into account that typewriters have staggered heights rows of keys.

    Staggered keys are more suitable for touch typing - the P key is at a higher row than the L key, and this is good, because your little finger can be lifted up high easily to reach the P key. On many modern keyboards though, keys are flat - especially on the chiclet style keyboards most laptops have. This means you have to stretch your fingers far in order to reach some keys while adhering to the touch type system. No matter much you stretch, your pinkie is not going to reach the Backspace key for example, without some odd contortions of your hand. This is just inefficient and awkward.

    Of course, the hunt and peck method is slow. The obvious easiest system to work with is what we do intuitively after some time on computers - use all your fingers and whichever finger is closest to hit the required key.

    • But the backspace key on a typewriter is (was) also unreachable by pinkie. And if you closely examine your keyboard you may notice that the keys on that are also slightly elevated. Not to the same level as a typewriter but still enough to make touch typing on a kb more efficient than whatever system you're advocating.

      • by nashv ( 1479253 )

        It maybe a local effect, but I mostly see ultra-slim chiclet style keyboards these days , and personally use a Macbook Pro. So no, these keyboards do not have any elevation on upper rows. Everything is flat.

      • And if you closely examine your keyboard you may notice that the keys on that are also slightly elevated.

        Not always [logitech.com]. I'll admit that this keyboard is definitely harder for touch-typing from a cold start, but I've just gotten too used to the minimal movement and relative quiet of laptop keys.

  • I primarily use the middle finger and pointer finger of both hands and the right thumb (space) and left pinky (shift). I can also very accurately type about 75 wpm without looking at my fingers or screen and recognize and correct errors without looking at the screen. I've been programming, writing papers, etc for 20 years now. There's a lot of muscle sense built up.

    I only do short texts so speed doesn't matter. Most of the time typing is spent thinking about what you're writing. The only time I hit 75

  • I shout at the damn thing until it does as it's told.

  • I RTFA. I still don't know what it was that I saw. Maybe if the author knew how to type he'd be able to get a coherent thought down before rambling on like a vagrant on amphetamines.

  • I didn't even notice those dimples on the F/J keys until reading the summary. I've gone through life without noticing them on keyboards for some reason (or I either noticed them once but forgot about them). I'd still argue I'm a pretty good typing though. Shows how useless they are I guess.

    • Oh, and before anyone points out the obvious, the missing "at" between good and typing is more about a lack of proof-reading than typing skill. :)

  • Sort of like QWERTY touch typing, but without any sort of structure

    It's more like my fingers learned it over 25 years.

  • When the conversation does turn to technology, Microsoft and Apple are bashed with information that is often years old and often not relevant to the topic. It seems there's been a flood items posted recently (coincidence with Taco gone?) and I'm struggling to find "News for Nerds and Stuff that Matters". But I am still bitter from a post I recently made with an excerpt from a published article with the citation requested by the authors that was yanked and the misinformation/guessing continued unabated. Appa

  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @09:44PM (#37299852)

    I have been programming since 1972. Wrote a lot of useful code. Have a solid reputation as a master programmer. Made employers happy enough to pay me well.

    But, I can't touch type. I tried to learn, but there is something about my brain that just can't get it. (I also tried and failed to learn how to play the piano.)

    I don't view this as a handicap. I spend more time thinking than typing, so my overall productivity isn't affected. Besides..I can type fairly fast with 2-4 fingers.

  • It was a lot harder with 6 rows of keys.

    Damned keyboard had 90 keys and prepared hot metal type to then do the printing.

    In the days of old, when type was hot
    And papers indeed were pressed
    Slugs were laid in a metal slot
    And papers came out of press

  • When I started doing SWYPE on my Android device, I realized the keyboards days where numbered.

    Can I type on my phone faster than my computer? No. But what about an enhanced system based on SWYPE on a keypad that is the size of a standard keyboard? Oh, and if you hit a button in the corner, the 100 most common English letter words appear (which are one fourth the words you type). And instead of laying it out like a QWERTY, you lay it out with the five vowels large, and the constants surrounding them.
    • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      I like Swype, and use it as my main keyboard on my phone, but it has some major drawbacks. If the word you want to type isn't in its dictionary (a fairly common occurrence for technical terms), it gets to be pretty annoying to use. And god help you if you need to enter a password.

      I think you'd have better luck adding a prediction key to the regular keyboard. Maybe cut the space bar in half, with the right half being space and the left half being "guess what word I was typing). Or better yet, do the inte

  • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @09:53PM (#37299900) Journal
    The typing classes I took in high school really didn't help that much, considering we were using typewriters that were so old the ink was faded out even when we changed in a fresh ribbon - the actual keys had been worn down over time and just didn't strike as crisply as they did 50 years previously when they were installed! It wasn't until around 1996 when my parents signed up for Compuserve and I started hanging around in the Teen Spirit chat room that I learned to touch type and to type fast. Very fast. I also have the valuable skill of being able to read something from paper and type it blindly onto the screen without making too many mistakes, which is true touch typing and definitely a dying art. Unfortunately, chat rooms have been replaced with Facebook, where replying fast and furious is no longer necessary. Kids today are missing out.
    • Instead of replying fast and furiously in chatrooms we are replying fast and furiously to phone texts. Same thing, different generation. And more useful for finding each other at noisy bars.

      • I've yet to see someone blindly type 75 WPM on a cell phone, especially with a capacitive touch screen or a thumb keyboard.
  • Keyboard? How quaint.

  • D and K keys. They are where you place your longest fingers in the home row. Only a moron would put them over F and J (but then that explains the layout of Qwerty). If you don't believe me, go into a pitch black room and try to feel out the home row. First using your index fingers, then using your middle fingers. Once you find the home row with your pointer fingers, it is a lot harder to seat your other fingers because you have to twist your hands to make them touch first.

    The only time the dimples on t

  • I've still got my IBM Model M (P/N 52G9658), well-known to be the Best Keyboard Ever. You can have it when you pry it from my cold dead hands. Which will be tough, because it can double as a weapon.

    Only problem is hooking it up to a cell phone. Haven't found a way to do that yet. Some might also claim it's too big and bulky to use with a cell phone, but I don't think they have their priorities right.

    Model M Forever!

  • I've used the home keys for as long as I can remember (legacy from learning to type on an old manual keyboard in the 1980's and using vi pretty much daily for the past 20 years)

    The one thing that has changed my habits recently though, was the Apple Magic Trackpad. I've always hated the mouse, and despise programs that make me take my hands away from the keyboard to navigate or access menu functions (hence my love of vi).

    These days, though, I have my mouse on the right hand side and my trackpad on the le

  • "Once it was the rule that lots of people were taught to type at school - but most of them were girls and most ended up in low-skilled jobs. As a result typing is seen as a manual worker's skill not worthy of anyone with a brain and a prospect of working smart."


    Also, typing, as with all skills, is improved by having interest in improvement (called humility) and the result of expressing said interest (called practice/study).

    This article is worthless; people lacking skills won't care because in truth

  • by Azure Flash ( 2440904 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @11:36PM (#37300354)
    Don't you dare call my typing weak. I'm using an original IBM Model M. My typing is so hard, if I did the same on your head I would probably crack your skull and cause lethal injuries. Mining companies call me in when their drill breaks, I type the rock into small chunks while they repair the drill. If I type in the air, it actually causes small shock waves capable of knocking down objects and pushing people back. I nail nails with my nails. I think you get the picture - the picture of a magnificent IBM Model M keyboard, that is.
  • by meburke ( 736645 ) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @12:05AM (#37300520)

    I believe the problem is that the computer input process doesn't suport efficient, fast input anymore. There is some type of computer psychosis that works against getting any work done. The whole, "type-a-little, stop, use-the-mouse, type-a-little" cycle is, IMO, detrimental to the whole thinking/producing process. The most productive programmers I know are the ones that use emacs or vi the most efficiently and have good typing skills. You can almost see the color changes in their faces when their skills are frustrated by some klutzy IDE. I suspect that the mental skills required to use things like Visual Studio and Eclipse are much different from the skills needed to think through and communicate thoughtful programming.

    And that, to me, is the difference. Programming, for example, is a creative process using a high degree of problem-solving. The process of communicating this creativity to the system should not get in the way of purposeful thinking.

    As for smartphones and tablets, etc., I have developed a rudimentary Morse code tab for my Windows 7 Tablet (Fujitsu convertible) that allows me to enter text at about 40 wpm through 4 "hot spots" on my touch screen. I just hate the gesture/ thumbpad interface provided by some systems. When it is done it should convert to a Windows 7 smartphone. I can teach Morse code to most people in less than 30 minutes.


    I learned to type in the early 60's on manual typewriters. My highest speed was around 90+ wpm achieved on an IBM Selectric that the Army had in our data center in Alaska. (Anybody remember that the input device on the IBM System 360 was a Selectric?) I had keypunching skills, teletype skills and tape-punching skills which were all relevant to computer programming and administration over the years. Commercial and military Morse code was transmitted by tape transport at a steady 60 wpm and if the printer was down I could listen and copy on the typewriter.

    My skills have dropped drastically due, in the most part, to lack of drill. (I also have a little chronic numbness in my pinky and ring fingers on my left hand.

    Also, I started turning off the screen when I was writing articles and stories to discourage my tendency to interrupt the flow of writing by immediately editing my typos and grammar. (I went from producing less than 1000 words per hour to producing about 4000 words per hour on first drafts.) Unfortunately, I developed a bad habit of looking at the keyboard which further deteriorated my touch-typing skills. Six months ago I was typing at an effective rate of 25wpm on my desktop, and less on lmy laptop. Through practice, I'm back up to about 70+wpm.

    The keyboard seems to make a difference: I switched back to an IBM PC AT keyboard. It is heavier than hell, has spring-loaded keys and makes quite a bit of noise, but it feels like the old selectric keyboard and immediately increased my typing speed. I'm about to replace it with a Unicomp version that has the extra 2 function keys http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/customizer.html [yahoo.net] . I've also heard good things about the Cherry keyboards.

  • by alizard ( 107678 ) <alizard.ecis@com> on Sunday September 04, 2011 @12:49AM (#37300706) Homepage
    75 word per minute world record for thumb typing [blackberryforums.com]

    An experienced typist on a conventional keyboard might be good for 75-90., the world record is 200+. Few of us will ever remotely approach these speeds, this indicates what's physically possible for humans operating human hands. 10 fingers is faster than 8 fingers and two thumbs.

    Which is why serious document production is going to be done on conventional keyboards, not virtual or thumb for the foreseeable future. If I have to type a 66 page document (that was a few months ago) I'm using all my fingers on a physical full-size or close to it keyboard.
  • by RogerWilco ( 99615 ) on Sunday September 04, 2011 @03:59PM (#37303872) Homepage Journal

    I think touch typing is an important skill for those jobs where words/minute matters. But I think that in the world today, 95% of what people do with a computer is limited by how fast they can think, not how fast they can type. it's nice if you can type without having to look at the keyboard, but beyond that, in today's world speed is not a requirement.

    Especially the case where there is a (hand)written text that needs to be copied is becoming very rare, which according to the article was the reason that touch typing was invented. Today most information goes from mind to keyboard, and is then copied electronically from then on. Rarely does a written text have to be re-typed. Of course there are some exceptions and some other cases where words/minute is still relevant.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling