Monthly Archives: April 2012

Keyboards, touch typing, dictation

Shawn Blanc has done some research on keyboards for the Macintosh and written an exhaustive piece on using them as a professional writer: Clicky Keyboards. It’s not clear from the piece if Shawn is a touch typist but my guess is he is.

In 1985 I witnessed my friend Steve Splonskowski (still in college) typing at lightening speed on the awful Macintosh 128K keyboard. He was looking at the screen and typing away and it was a thing of beauty. I wanted to type like that so I bought a copy of the keyboarding instruction program “Typing Intrigue” and started playing the rain game (type a letter as it falls from the top of the screen) and quickly moved on to typing odd practice sentences.

At that time I was starting to contribute articles to early computer magazines and between that writing and early email with AppleLink, bitnet and a few other email networks I had enough of a writing load so that within a few weeks I was able to leave hunting and pecking behind. Once I’d made the transition to touch typing my speed and accuracy went down for a while but as I felt more confident and kept my eyes comfortably on the screen and my writing the feedback loop between fingers and brain got tighter and faster. The more writing, the better it got and as a person who had avoided writing for most of my life, a computer and touch typing was like opening a dam: writing spilled out of me on a daily basis.

The way to become a better writer is to write more. If improving your writing tool (a keyboard, a pen) helps then improve it.

Touch typing has changed my life by being one (important) part of the process of getting my ideas outside my head and encoded into writing. Before computers, keyboards, and touch typing my image of myself did not include “writer.” Here’s a now dated piece I did on the mechanics of this experience: How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

At some point, maybe after I’m compost, touch typing will probably go the way of cursive handwriting but until then it’s a useful skill to have and if you have it the layout and feel of your keyboard is an important part of your writing experience.

One of the things that will send keyboards and with them, touch typing to their grave is dictation: being able to talk to your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever and have the device type out (encode) your voice. We used to call this “speech to text” or “speech recognition” but the single term “dictation” will no doubt supplant those awkward phrases.

I bought a new iPad (3) for one reason (not the screen): it has dictation capabilities. I’ve been using dictation quite a bit on my iPhone 4S and I’m finding it quite useful and it’s quite good on the new iPad as well. However, it’s a very different writing experience from touch typing and so, my brain is making a feeble attempt to adapt. I really like the tight feedback loop that happens with touch typing and dictation is a different kind of experience. We’ll see how touch typists like me adapt (or not).

No doubt we’re in transition: I’m touch typing this on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard which works quite well for me and for any longer piece of writing/editing I’ll probably be using this tool but for a lot of the other writing I do I’ll just as easily be using the iPad or iPhone with dictation (or with their awful but useable onscreen keyboards).

Macedonia Brook Reflection

Macedonia Brook reflection

Macedonia State Park, Connecticut. The loop trail around this gem of a park is about 7 miles long and quite a serious hike. It goes over Cobble Mountain and crosses Macedonia Brook just below a large beaver dam. Wearing polarized sunglasses is a must on hikes but they actually prevent one from clearly seeing reflections like this so we’re in the habit of taking them off as we pass potential reflecting pools.

The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes

The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes

If Steve Jobs’s life were staged as an opera, it would be a tragedy in three acts. And the titles would go something like this: Act I–The Founding of Apple Computer and the Invention of the PC Industry; Act II–The Wilderness Years; and Act III–A Triumphant Return and Tragic Demise.

This excellent piece is about act II, the wilderness years he spent at NeXT and the start of Pixar and how that prepared him to return to Apple and start it on its climb back to success.

[via Asymco]

Apple’s Secret Plan For Its Cash Stash

Apple’s Secret Plan For Its Cash Stash

Connie Guglielmo at Forbes has written an excellent piece that looks like it’s a roadmap for Apple for the next few years: after adding more retail stores, server farms, a new campus in Cupertino, paying dividends, and buying a few companies to expand research and development, she thinks they’ll start buying pieces of their own supply chain. Tim Cook has done things like buy up huge quantities of Gorilla Glass from Corning, LCD screens from Samsung, and flash memory from a variety of vendors which gets him what he needs to build millions of devices a quarter but also gets him lower pricing and locks competitors out of both the pricing and the parts. Going a bit further into ownership of pieces of the supply chain with its huge pile of cash seems like a real possibility.

[via Asymco]

Plane Truths in Washington

Plane Truths in Washington

Photographer Jeffrey Milstein’s photographs of airplanes are currently being shown at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Mr. Milstein has been fascinated with the modern jet since childhood, earning his pilot’s license while he was a teenager. He loved hanging around the end of the runway at Los Angeles International Airport, feeling that he could almost touch the planes as they went by. He still loves spending time on the runway, and often shoots the aircraft as they are flying directly overhead at close to 200 mph. Mr. Milstein: “I shoot mostly at LAX, as the planes are coming in for landing. I hand hold a Contax 645 camera body with a Phase One digital back… After capturing the image I mask and neutralize the sky so as to show only the aircraft in perfect symmetry. This isolates it like a portrait.” “AirCraft: The Jet as Art,” is on view through Nov. 25.

Fantastic. I’d love to to see this exhibit.

The many voices of Siri

Siri is built into the iPhone 4S and can speak and understand English (US, UK, AU), French, German, and Japanese with more languages to be added in 2012 including Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish. Here’s more information about Siri.

As an iPhone 4S user I must say I use Siri all the time and while it’s not perfect (it’s still in beta) it really does make things easier.

My wife Anne just got a new iPad and while it does not include Siri, it does have dictation capabilities and it works quite well.

I think Siri and dictation make the use of multi-touch tools like the iPhone and iPad not only easier but fun.

[via Zapong]

Reflection in Pine Swamp Beaver Pond

Reflection in Pine Swamp Beaver Pond

On the Appalachian Trail near West Cornwall, Connecticut. We visit this beaver pond often and it’s surrounded by trees* so when the sky is right the reflections are great.

*Beavers choose waterways to dam that have a ready supply of food (tree bark) and building materials (branches) nearby. It’s absolutely amazing how much they can change a landscape in such a short amount of time, building lodges, dams, and food supplies so that generations can live in one place, continuously improving it.