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Matt Dorey

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The Joy of Typing

Hero image for the joy of typing post

I find that lots of interesting jobs require you to know the Python programming language. It’s useful, famously easy to learn, and quite a fun language to boot. I decided to work through the Python course on Codecademy because the Ruby and JavaScript courses were excellent. It’s partly the fault of my Latin American Macbook but I found I wasn’t typing out the exercises very well: my brackets were always coming out wrong. Open/close brackets are over 8 and 9 on this keyboard but on the English layout they are over 9 and 0, and for the life of me I cannot train myself out of following the labels on the keyboard. This was confirmed by a site that I’d meant to check out for ages called typing.io, which lets you type over examples of code – I was slow but accurate, I did OK on everything except for brackets.

At this point I decided that it would be best to improve my speed — if I were not bothering to look at the keys at all, perhaps I would type the brackets automatically as well. I discovered a site called Typing Study which will teach you typing for free. It works the same way as most of the typing training software ever has by telling you where to put your fingers and then making you perform repeated drills.

It’s not as if learning to type again is that cognitively demanding, I thought. Well I was wrong. Initially it was very difficult – over the years I grew into using just three or four fingers to type and so I encountered a lot of resistance to the typing drills at first – my problem was not really one of remembering where the keys were, but one of moving the correct fingers. I would sit there and laugh at my inability to type simple drills of asdf jkl; and so on. It’s good work though, as there are enough complicated words for typing drills if you can get just beyond the home rows. You quickly get the impression that you are progressing.

For me, typing feels like a left-handed activity when you do it correctly. There are a lot of dominant characters that are under your left hand so I found myself using my left hand a lot more than I usually do. I think that’s why I really felt it as a learning experience. I still have more trouble with my right hand drifting out of position than my left, but hopefully this will get better once I don’t have to make so many trips to the dreaded backspace key. The experience has made me wonder whether I should attempt to learn to do other things with my left hand. I wonder how long it would take to train myself to write convincingly with my left hand.

I persisted because it was fun to think that I was rewiring my brain in some small way. At first I couldn’t quite believe that I had to work so hard to re-learn the skill. It might be because I am getting older. Like most people, I learned half-heartedly while at university. Thanks Mavis Beacon! This is the problem with a system that depends on handwritten exams to test subjects that actually depend more on keyboard input than they do on writing. You don’t realise the benefit immediately, so you tend not to commit.

Whether or not my brain actually is being rewired or not is beside the point though because the end results have been really useful for me. I have lots of ideas (not all of them good ones!1) and having a means of getting them in to the computer more efficiently is a productive use of my time, especially with not having that much else to do at the moment. You might notice that there are more posts on this blog at the moment. Obviously an increased typing speed (and comfort) contributes to that but there are also other forces at play and I will write about those in due course.

It’s not really about programming better, getting a job, or improving the blog though. My selfish motive is that if I can get ideas out of my head it helps me to sleep, and when you are sleeping on the floor of your parents’ flat you need to remove every damn barrier that you can. Also, sleeping better makes me into a nicer person and I can take more knock-backs in the job hunt if I am a nicer person.

Finally the process of learning to touch type is an example of another ideas: the 20-hour rule (itself a manifestation of the Pareto principle). It turns out that you just need to get in to something to get better at it, so spending twenty hours on a new skill or hobby is all you need to feel like you are making progress. That’s why they used to sell you “Learn C++ in 24 Hours” (though I notice that they don’t anymore!) and so on. Two hours a day for ten days and you’re set. Trust me, it’s true and that’s the joy of typing!


Hero image is 動靜之間 世界在改變 by Adikos, (cc-by-2.0). I cropped the image slightly and applied a filter (which should be pretty obvious).

  1. Linus Pauling: To have a good idea it is best to first have lots of ideas.
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