Shelter from the Storm

Mars soundtrack (the National Geographic tv-show) is fantastic. Nick Cave is just the perfect voice to convey that feeling of exploration and fear. Moon, Interstellar, The Martian, etc; it seems sci-fi movies got an appreciation for soundtracks that have a major role in the film – and I enjoy that.

As much as I like Cave’s main theme for Mars, after a few episodes, I was in the need of something like Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm. Exploration needs joy and celebration.

Agile according to Basecamp

Running in Circles is Basecamp’s view of agile product management. They acknowledge the value of working in cycles, but add three pieces: having the time to focus, being able to modify the original plan, and tackle the core unknowns of the feature first.

The first two are enablers that are provided to the makers by management. The last part is how the maker make the most of those powers. Together, they form a process that is nicely captured with the uphill / downhill metaphor. Uphill you are discovering the unknowns and making decisions about what goes in, downhill everything is clear and you are implementing it at warp factor 10:

Module counts

package-managers.png

I came across Module Counts, which tracks the number of published modules for major language package managers. At this point, npm has 600k packages published, which is 3 to 4 times what any other package manager has. I’m not aware of download statistic across different package managers, but npm has surpassed the 2 billions downloads a week mark.

Software architecture failing

Software architecture failing: tech writing is biased towards what the big ones do, which usually doesn’t fit most other contexts – but, who got fired for choosing IBM, right? Although I feel connected to this rant at an emotional level, I do think it’s necessary to elaborate more and make a positive contribution: help to create and spread that alternate history of software development. How do you do it? Hat tip: Fran.

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.

How it felt

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 at 40 wpm and, by the end of the month, I was at 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, real-time communication -chat, slack- was the only moment I struggled and felt like perhaps the switch wasn’t a good idea. I don’t know what people thought of me, but my writing 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:

  1. I started by using the Programmer Dvorak layout with a TypeMatrix keyboard.
  2. After a few months, I switched back to my good old ThinkPad keyboard because having to use a mouse again after years without it was painful.
  3. A few months later, I switched to the Dvorak international layout, because the Programmers Dvorak didn’t quite suit me.
  4. Then, I tweaked the common symbols I use for programming so they were more ergonomic for my daily tasks.
  5. 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 so I switched to the Spanish Dvorak.
  6. Finally, Spanish Dvorak wasn’t the improvement I was looking for, so I’ve ended up accommodating tildes, ñ, and other symbols in the Dvorak international as I see fit.

This is how my layout looks like today:

All these changes through the year have affected my ability to build muscle memory – 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.

Performance to date

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

In terms of speed, it looks like I’m mostly there. My median speed now is 65 words per minute, 2 wpm less than before. I had a higher peak (83 vs 79), but I was under 60wpm in more sessions.

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%.

Coda

My accuracy has improved, and having fewer mistakes to correct will help me become a faster typist as time passes. By learning to touch-type I also have grown more endurance.

This experiment was very humbling. I believe it increased my brain plasticity by an order of magnitude. Although I hope to improve my numbers, what’s more important to me is to promote a healthy use of the tools I heavily depend upon.

I spent the weekend reorganizing things, including my blog. I’ve got a new WordPress theme (independent publisher) which looks a lot more lightweight. I’ve consolidated the essays section with stuff that grew out of individual posts (I keep thinking that someday I’ll have the time to publish them as independent e-books), polished the about, fixed some links in the glossary, and started to reorganize the archives.

I’m also going to try a different approach in the following months: instead of having separate blogs for music, lifestream, thoughts, etc I’m going to publish everything here – I do not publish that much anyway, and I like the idea of this having a more personal touch.