Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To Dvorak or not to Dvorak

The Dvorak question.

I'm thinking about learning a lot these days. In an Organizational Leadership master's program the L-word is bantered about quite a bit. Can organizations learn? What environment does it take for people to learn?

I ran across this article on the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard by Robert Parkinson on John Shipman's site. It is astonishing to me that we still teach and use the QWERTY keyboard. I was looking for a keyboard that one could use one-handed. Use one hand for typing while the other hand controls the mouse. I didn't know it but the Mac already has that keyboard "built-in", its called the Lefthand Dvorak, along with the Righthand Dvorak and the Dvorak/Qwerty keyboards.
Dvorak on the Mac.
System Preferences : Language & Text : Input Sources tab. Scroll down the list, check the box beside Dvorak.

Why would you want to switch? Take a look at the Gettysburg Address example (from the Parkinson paper - click to get hi-res image) you'll notice the abundance of keystrokes required to be made off the home row on a QWERTY keyboard versus the Dvorak.

Why is that important? Because the frequency of the strokes under the home keys makes for faster input. Try typing the passage below, called the Fraser Street example.

Fraser Street was in West Everett, Westward of Fraser Street was the great vast sea. Awed, we gazed seawards, attracted by crested waves which raced and ebbed. Children were scattered on the beach edged and strewed with seaweed. They waded in water as the sea surged in and retreated. They bagged crabs as eagerly as beavers saw trees. Brave crews, seafarers in fact, steered sea craft far away. The site of Fraser Street was not overrated.

Few vegetated in Fraser Street. Nobody wasted time abed. "Acts test the breed," was ever the sacred adage. Varied crafts and trades were represented. There was a caterer, a barber, a weaver, a cabaret, and a garage. Attracted, we started to see several scenes. We were greeted as friends.

The barber catered to a varied trade, representing diverse careers and different creeds. Saturday drew the best crowd. All were seated, relaxed, aware of fewer cares, less fagged. There we saw a few starved tattered beggars who bragged of "bracers" served at cafes after a wee meal of beef stew and cabbage. A better fare was resered for those reared on earth's greater swards.
-by Robert Parkinson

If you are from Seattle you may recognize the setting (Dr Davorak was at the Univ of Washington). If you do type in the passage on a QWERTY keyboard you will notice something peculiar. Your left hand does 90% of the work! Yes it may be a bit contrived an example, but WOW! Take a look (click for hi-res image) graphically... QWERTY keyboard on left, Dvorak keyboard on right.

Should I invest the time now to save myself time for the rest of my life?

Of the one skill that I learned in high school - typing is something I still use and use every day. I didn't want to take typing. I was in a class of 45 girls with one other boy. You would have thought all the smart studs would be taking typing, but no - just a couple of nerds. I never asked Bobby why he was taking the class, but my father made me. Talk about foresight.
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