Friday Report: Different Strokes
June 16, 2011
OK! Fingers poised over the keyboard, wrist muscles quivering in anticipation, nails trimmed, snacks to the left of me. Long silence. Longer pause. Nothing happens. Deadline is inching closer like Heemeyer’s bulldozer; it’s time to produce. Produce! Produce? Speaking of local produce, it sure is nice to have some of that fabulous Morales spinach again. Wait, wait, why am I talking about lettuce when deadline is staring back at me?
“His fingers are still poised, Doctor, but we’re registering no synapse activity whatever. Do you want to pronounce him?”
“I’m not giving up! One liter of caffeine, stat!”
I trained myself to type without looking at the keys. It’s very useF[.tup.tf rktm rypuo roujpiu ;pplomj du ujt ltuf/ only glancing at the keyboard occasionally to kwo4 ei54 6uw6 3uw6 9]k 67 -9jyl wf68w;;7 makes sense.
The problem with not looking when you type is that certain keys slip away if you don’t use them much. I avoid words that use the letter “Q” because it’s so hard to remember where it is. I just can’t find it without a key-by-key search. But with texting shortcuts nowadays, it’s perfectly okay to substitute the K, kuickly found beneath the right-hand forefinger.
Typewriters are on the road to becoming museum relics. The only holdover is found in the familiar keyboard. Computers co-opted the idea, adding mystery keys that send part of your savings to Microsoft.
Early typewriters of the 1830s were the size and heft of pianos. They struck one letter at a time as the carriage moved painstakingly over the stationary paper. For 50 years they only typed in capital letters and you couldn’t see what you were typing. By 1880, the paper was riding on a carriage that shifted up and down, allowing double-character keys. The “visible typewriter” was invented around this same time, allowing operators to see what they were typing.
The first typewriters that many of us would recognize were produced in the early 1900s by gunsmiths in New York’s Remington factory. They sold poorly. Businessmen weren’t impressed with a machine that typed only slightly faster than handwriting and cost a thousand times what a good pen cost.
Thomas Edison invented the electric typewriter in 1920. His device printed letters on a moving roll of paper and eventually became the first ticker-tape machine. Then, nothing happened for 40 years.
In 1960, IBM invented differential spacing. Prior to that, all the machines gave the same space to every letter. An “I” was the same width as an “M.” With differential spacing, the printed page could be justified not only to the left, but also to the right, giving a neater, print-like, page.
In 1936 there was a philosophical argument between two camps of typewriter key organization. One group championed the QWERTY keyboard as we know it today. The second patented the Dvorak keyboard with the most-used keys in the line that the fingers rest on, while the lesser-used keys were moved further from the action. Everyone agreed it was a better idea but one that never caught on. The last Dvorak machine was sold by Olympia in 1976.
Typewriters are still out there. An Amazon.com search comes up with 5,218 typewriters, ribbons and related typewriter miscellanea. Somebody out there is still buying correction fluid.
The most mind-numbing typing record was clearly set by Marva Drew, of waterloo, Iowa, who, starting in 1968, took six years and 2,473 pages to type every number between one and one million.
And she did it all without the q.