A year and change into the pandemic and I’m the kind of over it where I take up random hobbies just for something different to do. Road cycling was the best thing I’ve committed to in earnest, besides my pre-pandemic goal to become literate in Japanese.
Last month I decided to take my fancy new keyboard to new heights of nerddom by reconfiguring it to use Colemak.
Many coworkers and friends are ardent Dvorak typists, but learning an alternate layout never seemed worth it when I watched the pay their dark arts. Recently though, a bunch of folks in a Discord were comparing WPM scores on Monkeytype and I wondered if I could reach 150 WPM by moving to an alternate layout involving less finger movement and better ergonomics. After all, as many nerds will tell you, QWERTY was designed for typewriters.
In tenth grade, I remember taking a typing course where we also watched Pirates of Silicon Valley. At that point I think I’d done some typing programs like Mavis Beacon, but all of my papers were still hand written so I didn’t need to be very proficient. I played Starcraft and a few FPS games that had keyboard shortcuts, and had used AIM but high school was when my typing began in earnest. There wasn’t much SMS messaging at that time, and when it did kick off it was T9, which was a different hell. By the time I got to college, I was proficient at typing on a QWERTY keyboard, and the 19 years since cemented those skills.
When I started using Colemak, I was up to over 100 WPM with few errors, which is likely as fast as I’ll ever be unless I decide to make typing practice a bigger hobby.
Switching it up
Why Colemak? Earlier I mentioned better ergonomics and potentially more speed, but when I first began learning I immediately dropped to 16 WPM. That’s a 100 WPM decrease. Initially this seemed like a terrible plan, and I doubted I would be able to adjust, but practicing on Colemak Academy and then Keybr helped immensely. Doing my job was a little more ponderous for a few weeks, but I figured that many people at all levels of their career are not even touch typists, so I would just eat the speed bump.
Luckily, I learned fast.
For a few weeks I’ve practiced typing daily, which was both frustrating and humbling, as I fumbled my way through lessons that added words with a few new characters at a time. I could feel myself learn little combo moves wherein chords like ‘qu’ and ’th’ became easier to pump out automatically. I didn’t realize how much I took my typing skills for granted, with typing largely feeling like magic summoned onto the virtual page. With Colemak I had to think though every letter for the first time since I’d met Mavis Beacon.
After four hours and counting of practice, I’m back up to a steady 50 WPM, with hope that more time will get me closer to 100 again. I can’t say it was fully worth it to upend my entire computer world for this, but it did live up to the “something different” I set out to find.