Touch typing in Dvorak

On November 2016 I had a free month between jobs. Apart from some resting, reading, and general preparations for my new adventure, I still had quite a bit of free time to do new things or build good habits. It was while cleaning my office that I found a keyboard I had bought a couple of years back:

Its layout was a beautiful matrix -which is good for your fingers- and came with Dvorak by default. So it struck me: how about improving my typing during the coming weeks?

As a programmer, typing is an essential skill for me. I had been doing it for more than 15 years in a learn-by-doing way, and I plan to keep typing for years to come. I thought it would be fun to spend a couple of hours a day training in touch-typing and give Dvorak a second try. And so I did.

The experience

Before I switched, I recorded about 15 typing sessions at TypeRacer using the QWERTY layout, which logs typing speed (words per minute) and accuracy (% characters right over the total). I was at 67 wpm and about 95% accuracy at the time.

Progress was very humbling at the beginning; it felt like learning to walk again, and I swear that, sometimes, I could even hear my brain circuits being reconfigured! After a few weeks, though, I was under 40 wpm and, by the end of the month, I was under 50 wpm. I stopped quantifying myself by then: as I started working, I had a lot of typing to do anyway.

During the first months, the only moments I struggled and felt like perhaps the switch wasn’t a good idea after all was during real-time communication: chats, slack, etc. I don’t know what people thought of me, but my velocity at the time was typing-bounded – I was certainly a very slow touch-typist by my own standards.

But time passed and I improved.

Spáñish Dvorak and symbols

Throughout the process I changed my setup quite a bit: I started my journey using the Programmer Dvorak layout with a TypeMatrix keyboard. After a few months, I switched back to my good old ThinkPad keyboard because having to use a mouse again after years not using it was a pain. A few months later, I switched to the Dvorak international, because the Programmers Dvorak layout didn’t quite suit me. Then, I tweaked the common symbols I use for programming so they were better positioned. Besides, although the bulk of my typing is in English, I still need to write decent Spáñish, which basically means using tildes on vowels and ñ. TLDR: the Spanish Dvorak version made things more difficult, so I’ve just tweaked the Dvorak international to accommodate tildes and ñ as I see fit.

At this point, I believe I can patent my own layout:

All the changes I did to the symbol positions have affected my ability to build muscle memory for them – sometimes I still need to look at some specific symbol on the keyboard. However, the current version has been unchanged for months, so I only need a bit more time for them to stick.

The numbers

Given that I was a QWERTY user for 15 years, I thought I would give the new layout a year before comparing any statistics. The fair thing to do would be comparing after 15 years, but I’m a bit impatient for that. I went to TypeRacer again and noted down the results for about 20 races. These are the numbers of this totally unscientific experiment:

A few remarks:

  • In terms of speed, it seems that I’m mostly there. My median speed now is 65 wpm, 2 words per minute less than before. I had a higher peak (83 vs 79) in one of the current typing sessions, but I was under 60wpm in more sessions this time.
  • In terms of accuracy, I’ve improved a bit. My median accuracy has increased by 1,5 points, and I had only 2 sessions below 95% of accuracy this time.

Coda

Overall, I’m very happy with the switch to Dvorak. My accuracy has improved, meaning that I can maintain a longer typing rhythm. Not having to correct mistakes makes me a faster typist as well, and by learning to touch-type I also have grown more endurance.

This experiment was very humbling but fun. I believe it increased my brain plasticity by an order of magnitude, and I’m hoping to improve my numbers as years pass as well. However that turns out, though, I think of this as a gift to the elder me, a way to prevent typing pain in the future and promote a healthy use of the tools I heavily depend upon.

Las raíces de la longevidad

Want Great Longevity and Health? It Takes a Village, presenta las cosas que tienen en común las poblaciones que él llama «blue zones», las regiones con mayor longevidad del planeta (que presentan además menor índice de enfermedades asociadas al envejecimiento: cardiovasculares, artitris, psiquiátricas, etc): actividad física moderada a diario, sentido de propósito en la vida, balance vida/trabajo, relaciones intercomunitarias fuertes, dieta basada en legumbres y verduras con baja presencia de carne.

También ha presentado alguna charla en TED:

En busca del ejercicio perdido

Hace más de un año que descubrí y empecé a practicar el Tai Chi Chuan, gracias a uno de los talleres que había en mi ciudad durante el verano. Llevaba tiempo sin practicar ningún ejercicio y había estado leyendo textos sobre artes marciales, así que al ver taller no me lo pensé dos veces.

Aunque tenía un poco de miedo al tinte new age con el que se cubre hoy en día la práctica, el instructor me sorprendió muy gratamente por su planteamiento integral como arte marcial. Dos veces a la semana nos juntábamos en el parque que hay cerca de casa y seguíamos una rutina de ejercicios. Luego del calentamiento, practicábamos una nueva posición. Posteriormente, veíamos las aplicaciones que tenía esa posición tanto en ataque como en defensa personal mediante la práctica en pareja, lo que me resultó de una utilidad enorme para memorizar la posición e integrarla con las restantes a medida que íbamos construyendo una forma propia.

Fue muy motivador comprobar la facilidad con que, al final de las 8 semanas, podíamos ejecutar la rutina que habíamos ido construyendo de modo muy natural y sentido, también bello, a pesar de la no poca complejidad entre posiciones.

Aunque inevitablemente corto para entender los fundamentos físicos, respiratorios y meditacionales de la práctica del Tai Chi Chuan, ya en las primeras semanas de práctica uno se enfrenta al estudio de las posiciones y el equilibrio. Durante meses, me resultó enormemente gratificante la práctica diaria. Pero casi sin darme cuenta, los apuros del trabajo y los compromisos sociales fueron sometiendo mi esfera personal y lo he ido dejando de lado. Creo que la soledad de la práctica y la necesidad de encajar muchas cosas a la vez se impuso a mis ganas de mejora.

En las últimas semanas, me he puesto el objetivo de recuperar ese espacio. Con el ánimo de darle mayor continuidad, he puesto el foco en grupos que practiquen regularmente en mi ciudad, sean o no de Tai Chi Chuan. Porque si algo he aprendido en mi breve periplo por las artes marciales es que aprender a encontrar el equilibrio físico y mental es una habilidad que vale la pena desarrollar.