Friday, February 27, 2009

Learning to Type, a frustrating and liberating experience

About three months ago I read Steve Yegge’s blog about typing. Man, did his message hit home. I realized quickly that he was right and that I was not as good as I wanted to simply because I was not able to get my thoughts into the computer fast enough. And, “fap, fap, fap”, did I ever have that experience.

Every day I did that exactly thing, type a sentence or two then realized that I had a typo so I had to go back and fix it. So, I finally bit the bullet and downloaded a couple of programs to help me on my way. One of them was aTypeTrainer for the Mac which is free and good enough. I started learning, slowly, slowly. I practiced almost everyday, but programming was too slow and it made me very frustrated.

After about one month of frustration I decided to take a test to see how I was doing. 10 WPM and a couple of spelling mistakes. That is really, REALLY, slow. Should I quit, am I too old to learn this. I wish I did this when I was fifteen, or twenty, or even thirty, anytime but now. But, I hate quitting, so I kept doing it. To add to the frustration I’m using a standard keyboard with a standard layout which makes it difficult to get at those curly braces. But I like to have the Swedish characters available when I type, so switching to an American layout is not an option. I did do some customization, to get rid of the dead keys as I wrote about “before”.

On top of all this I am doing multi-platform development in Javascript which forces me to hack on different platforms everyday. I was using Textmate on the Mac and I tried to use the E-editor, the Textmate for Windows, on Windows. But they are not quite equal and the small nuances makes it very annoying. Then one day I was having an argument at work about editors and I found myself defending Vim since the modes that it uses allows you to have very accurate movements without having to resort to control-keys. I never really made the leap to Vim before and now I found myself defending it just because it lets me move around a file without forcing me to move my hands away from the standard typing position. As a consequence I’m writing this in Vim and I feel quite happy about it. I got the basic movement patterns down in a few hours and now I have to see if I have the stamina to keep Vimming, just as I have kept on touch typing.

I am by no means a good typist yet, but I’m up to 30 WPMs right now and I feel that I can get into a typing flow that I have never experienced before and it feels very good. It is actually fun to comment code, since my hands fly over the keyboard while I’m doing it. Ok, ok, maybe not fly, but at least they crawl at a decent speed :). So, thank you Mr. Steve Yegge, for all the pain and suffering that you’ve given me.