Let Your Fingers Do Less Walking
[From The Mensa Bulletin (September 1995) ]
I read with special interest Gerald Baker's letter in the July/August Bulletin (p. 7) partly because I recall Gerald's writing and correspondence from Mensa's old days and partly because I had recently written an essay on precisely the same subject. The following is substantially the complete text of that essay. The addition to Gerald's thoughts lies in the positive proposal for finally putting Dvorak into the public consciousness.
I have known about the Dvorak keyboard since 1942 when I ran across an article in The New York Times while in elementary school. Intrigued as I was by the claims of Dvorak, I nevertheless learned touch typing on QWERTY for the obvious reason: availability. I hated typing. I was error-prone. Every now and then, my fingers would not connect with my mind and I would have to violate the code of the touch-typist and sneak a peek at the keyboard. Worst, I found the process exhausting to my fingers and draining to my emotions as I had to fight for the off-home keys.
The computer has changed all that. The biggest psychic relief, of course, was the ability to make corrections on a word processor without retyping an entire page or fussing with correction tape or fluid. But I wanted to go further and relieve the tension in my fingers. Acquiring a Dvorak keyboard was no longer any problem. One may purchase a Dvorak keyboard, but a cost-free alternative is simply to use software that comes with many operating systems that allows instant reassignment of the QWERTY keys to the Dvorak configuration. And you may still share the computer with your non-Dvorak colleagues since the same software is quickly removable.
Software Conversions Windows 3.1 Windows 95/98 Macintosh* (OS 8.6+) 1. Open the Main window, 1. Click on Start, 1.From the Apple menu, highlight Control Panels and select Keyboard from the Control Panels submenu. 2. Double click on Control Panel icon, 2. Click on Settings, 2.Check the box next to the Dvorak option. 3. Double click on International icon, 3. Double click on Control Panel, 3.Close the control panel. 4. Open Keyboard Layout list, 4. Click on Keyboard, 4.A new menu will appear in the Title bar on the desktop, on the right side (if you are using a standard US layout, an American Flag will be displayed here). From this menu, select Dvorak. 5. Click on US-Dvorak entry, 5. Click on Language tab, 5. To switch back to QWERTY, select U.S. from this same Title bar menu. 6. Click on OK button. 6. Click on Properties, 6. If you wish to remove the Title bar keyboard menu from your desktop, re-open the Keyboard control panel and uncheck all boxes except for the one next to the keyboard layout you wish to use. 7. Select US-Dvorak from drop-down list and back out through 2 OKs. *Procedure courtesy of Matt
Your keyboard is now a Dvorak keyboard, although the key caps still read QWERTY.
Press here for a list of links to other conversion procedures. [Return with your BACK button.]
Low-cost KEYBOARD: If you want to spring for a convertible keyboard, there is now a $65 (plus tax and S&H) keyboard, Model 2000 DQ, that has switchable configurations made by DvortyBoards. In August 1999, they announced a ergonomic Dvorak keyboard (Model 2001 DQ) at about $90. Visit them at Dvorty. Their order phone is (877) 438-6789 (4DVORTY).
Converting the keyboard was utter simplicity; the next problem was to convert me. There is a highly-regarded program by Mindscape Software called Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that offers the option of the Dvorak keyboard (even though the actual keyboard it uses is QWERTY). A few weeks of re-learning touch typing with that program brought me back in Dvorak to the not very impressive level of my previous competence in QWERTY. From then on, it was only a matter of my own inertia to practice my skills to whatever level I cared to strive for.
Press here for a list of links to WWW lessons and testimony.
Has Dvorak made a difference? You bet! My fingers don't get tired, and I can type transparently, that is to say, without any mental regard for the typing process. The words flow from brain to screen, and thence to paper, with a feeling of direct translation. Do I type any faster? Only marginally so when measured in words per minute; reaction time and finger dexterity are still physiological limits. But I am definitely more productive overall since I can maintain a pace for longer before needing a break. Also, when composing original text, the fluency of the keyboarding is far less disruptive of thoughts about form and content than when my fingers would distract me with complaints.
Is there an objective basis for this relief? I believe so. Literature by advocates of Dvorak claims that the QWERTY keyboard provides for merely 300 words using only the letters on the home row while Dvorak provides for 3,000. A simple estimate of the difference in finger-reaching between the keyboards can be adduced from the following table which compares the two keyboards for the dozen most common English words according to The Guinness Book of World Records. For each word, I score 1 for a reach to a non-home row and ½ for an index finger reach for the center keys (G & H for QWERTY, I & D for Dvorak).
WORD the of and to a in that is I it for as SUM QWERTY 2½ 1 1 2 0 2 2½ 1 1 2 2 0 17 Dvorak 0 1 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 2 0 5½
Roughly, one's fingers walk three times as far on QWERTY as on Dvorak. And that measure does not take into account other features of the Dvorak keyboard such as its propensity to alternate hands since all the vowels are on the left side of the home row and there is a tendency in English for vowels and consonants to alternate within words.
Why hasn't the Dvorak keyboard been adopted more widely? There are issues of economics and industrial health that transcend personal preferences and the explanation of inertia. Repetitive motion injury has been in the public's awareness since shortly after the computer has brought the keyboard out of the domain of the lowly typist or secretary and put keying activities into many more places, including the home, than had been previously. New mechanical configurations of keyboards have been proposed that are better adapted to human anatomy. The problem of injury has been addressed by reducing repetition administratively with mandatory rest periods. It is not yet clear, but perhaps the reduction of motion, which the Dvorak keyboard certainly does, may also contribute to the reduction of injury. Cumulatively, the effect of even small improvements in health and efficiency can make major contributions to general welfare.
To return to the anecdotal, my daughter has just entered junior high school and is enrolled in a quarter's course in computer keyboarding, replacing the traditional typing class for youngsters. She is about the age I was when I first learned about August Dvorak and his then-ten-year-old keyboard, yet because of inertia, she will still be using QWERTY. My daughter has enough other issues to deal with at school to persuade me to refrain from teaching her Dvorak at home, which would have forced her to take issue with her teacher and the school's curriculum. Keyboard configuration, evidently, is intimately bound to self-perpetuating social convention, and the problem of inertia, which has cost us dearly in lost opportunities for ameliorating physical and economic harms, must be solved socially.
What to Do
With all this in mind, I recommend the following simple action program. First, as a national standard, all computer keyboard manufacturers should be required to enhance their keycaps with a second set of symbols in the Dvorak configuration. As a concession to the majority of current users, the QWERTY set could be more prominent (larger, brighter), but the mere visual presence of an alternative configuration would be sufficient to make the using public aware of the Dvorak option. Second, as a related standard, all personal computing operating systems should be required to have a program to re-map the keyboard into either the QWERTY or Dvorak configuration. Since most already have this option, the cost will be negligible. Third, the various education agencies responsible for keyboard training should upgrade their software to handle either QWERTY or Dvorak and remind teachers to offer the choice to the students. Since keyboard operation is a rote skill, now taught by software rather than by humans, there is no need to retrain teachers in the Dvorak keyboard. No other mandates are required; the market, once freed from the rigidity of historical accident, will decide between the configurations.
Finally, I would like to think of this minimal-mandate (at critical points only), maximal-choice approach to promoting social change as a paradigm for procuring other, more complex improvements in our society.
2032 Gauguin Place
Davis, CA 95616-0542
Postscript WARNING! Re: Mavis Beacon versions.
The latest version of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (v. 8.0) no longer includes the Dvorak option. To be sure that the version you buy is DSK-equipped look for version 5.0. You may be able to find it among remaindered stock; do a search on the WWW for more info.
Still later: Mavis Beacon is now up to version 11.0.and they still have not restored the Dvorak function. I would welcome a report from any reader.
TLC and Mindscape have been absorbed by Mattel and the excellent history of typing formerly maintained by Mindscape has been scrapped. I would here pay tribute to the former Mavis Beacon which was an excellent trainer, but I can no longer recommend it for learning the Dvorak keyboard. See the alternatives below. (Return to text)
I have recently [May 98] been informed of a typing tutor program that accommodates the Dvorak keyboard available as freeware from China. I haven't had a chance (or need) to evaluate it, but you may obtain it from its author, Zijian Huang, by clicking on his name. I will be grateful for reports on the quality of this program and any other with which readers are familiar.
Later Information [December 2005]: An improved KPTyping Tutor (v. 7.0) is now available for download at a low price on-line from Hong Kong at http://www.fonlow.com/zijianhuang/kp/ as recommended in the following email message.
Subject: KP Typing Tutor program review
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 21:34:00 +0000
Dear Sander Rubin
I downloaded KP Typing Tutor about three weeks ago, and I found it brilliant! It sets out to teach all of the keys, and it does this brilliantly. Perhaps Zijian Huang took Andy Hawron's review to heart because there are certainly lessons for Dvorak and both left- and right-handed Dvorak typewriter skills now.
I bought keycaps to stick on from Hoolean (quite pricey to get posted to UK) but to tell the truth I haven't attached them to my desktop computer's keyboard - they aren't really necessary when you are touch-typing(!)
There isn't really a comparison between this and Mavis Beacon though; MB has lots of exercises to improve speed and accuracy. And you can't buck the system - you can't change the keyboard under Windows and expect MB to accept it changed - unless you know something I don't!
+44 7766 710041
Earlier Messsage(Return to text)
From: "Andy" email@example.com
Subject: KP Typing Tutor program review
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003 22:30:02 +0200
Dear Sander Rubin,
I am writing in response to reading your article on the web about dvorak typing tutor programs. I want to comment on the KP typing program that you said you hadn't had a chance to evaluate yet. I have used this program to test the value of it. I personally found that while you have great control over the set up of the courses found in the program, you have to do a lot of the work of setting it up yourself. It does come with some courses in it, and these are good, but they are not so comprehensive.
I haven't taken full advantage of this program simply because of the time it would take me to generate a complete and comprehensive course. I don't think the courses that come with it are adequate. However I commend Zijian Huang for taking the time to make his program, and all the hours he put into it weren't wasted.
My closing comment is that I am still searching for a good typing tutor program.
Davidson & Associates, Inc. publishes Typing Tutor 7 (1996) and Knowledge Adventure publishes a later version Typing Tutor '99 Platinum Edition which have Dvorak options.
Al Christie, a keyboarding instructor from British Columbia, has kindly provided the following comments on switching oneself from QWERTY to Dvorak without using training programs.
....As a keyboarding teacher since 1965, I have been interested in quick input devices. This led me to Dvorak. About 15 to 20 years ago, I had the school-board technician modify an IBM Selectric typewriter for me. I used a technique which I often use with my students to teach myself to touch type on this machine. It is a very simple technique which I read about in a British Columbia Business Educators' journal.
I made a paper copy of the layout and hung it in front of me. Then I practised the alphabet, breaking it into groups of 3, 4. or 5 letters. (Saying the old alphabet rhyme gives the natural breaks). After doing each group until I could do it by touch, I went to the next group. When I got to the end of the alphabet, I had forgotten the first group. Therefore, the next time through the alphabet, I combined the first two groups (eg. abcdefg) and repeated each until I could do it without looking. After completing the alphabet this way, I did the entire alphabet by touch repeatedly until I could do it without looking. This entire process took about an hour (some students take less, some more). Finally, I reinforced by having students do alphabetic sentences (ones which contain all the letters of the alphabet), many times.
One doesn't have to purchase Mavis Beacon, or Typing Tutor - a simple text editor is all that is needed.
As an interesting aside, my daughter, who learned on QWERTY at school, uses my Dvorak machine at home quite fluently. I had moved the keycaps to the Dvorak configuration (something you didn't mention as a possibility in your article). She is bi-keyboardal as well as bilingual. I haven't pushed the Dvorak keyboard in my line of work. I show my students, tell them that most keyboards are QWERTY, and that Dvorak would put them in a minority. Then, I let them choose. For most, it's too big a mental jump to switch, so they stay with QWERTY.
Another keyboard training program, Master Mind Typing Tutor is available through DvortyBoards.
There is an inexpensive ($20) typing tutor, Master Key, for both Windows and Macintosh systems. It has a Dvorak option as well as QWERTY.
Dvorak-Like Keyboards in other Languages
Here are references to Dvorak adaptations to non-English languages. If anyone knows of other non-English keyboards, I shall be glad to exchange links here. Marcus Brooks has an essay on Introducing the Dvorak Keyboard Non-English Layouts, and there is a Dutch site with proposals for several other European languages..
- UK English
- US-Dvorak (Full)
- Dvorak (RH)
- Dvorak (LH)
The selected keyboard appears in the lower part of the monitor screen with appropriate symbols in each key cap umage. As you type on your keyboard the symbol appears in the window at the upper part of the screen.
How a professional typist found relief from carpal tunnel syndrome. See it now.
Some WWW references on Dvorak keyboarding
Return to article text.Dvorak International
Syracuse U. a 40-hour course by Bob Ranger.
Another course by Dan Wood.
Another article by Marcus Brooks.
Dvorak International, David Ingram, President. They publish a quarterly newsletter with anecdotes, advertisements, and articles related to the DSK. [N.B.: A link to their site has disappeared (Jul 00).]
P.O. Box 11985
Eugene, OR 97440-4185
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Created: 21 Jun 96
Revised: 10 Mar 06
Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 American Mensa Limited and Sander Rubin