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Muscle memory

03 Sep 2019

572 words

Fun things I discovered about my muscle memory.

1. Other people’s computers

For the last 5–10 years, I’ve been using the Dvorak keyboard layout for typing.1 At this point, I’m pretty fast and usually don’t make a ton of mistakes. Since I almost never2 use a QWERTY layout,3 I’ve gotten really slow with it. So, when I’m helping a coworker with a problem, I’ll sometimes switch their keyboard to a Dvorak layout and try to type normally. But my hands will often think, this keyboard feels different; it must be another person’s keyboard; other people use the QWERTY layout, and so I keep typing words as though I were using a QWERTY layout, resulting in a big jumble of random letters. Or maybe it’s not necessarily that the keyboard feels different, and more that I know I’m using another person’s computer. Because when I plug a new keyboard into my own computer, I can usually use Dvorak without a problem.

2. Proprioception4

I have two mechanical keyboards. At work, I use a keyboard with an ergonomic split-layout. At home, I use a tiny keyboard with slightly more traditional key layout. I can type reasonably fast on either of them. However, when I bring my home-keyboard into the office, my hands will just feel a mechanical keyboard, and since I am in the office, they assume I’m using the split keyboard, and keep trying to use it as such. When I tell my hands to insert a new line, suddenly my thumb will press the “Upper layer” button, because that’s where the enter key is on the split keyboard. This does not happen when I use the tiny keyboard at home, so, somehow, my hands can figure out whether I’m in the office or not.

  1. I learned Dvorak back in high school because I was dissatisfied with the Neo layout’s performance for English text and, as a high school student, I could afford the approximately 1 month of being essentially unable to type. If you’re considering learning Dvorak because you think it’ll make you faster, the speed gains are negligible, and probably not worth typing slow for 1–3 months. If you have trouble with RSI and are looking for fun and quirky ways to address the issue, Dvorak may be for you – although I hear Colemak is better, so maybe try that instead. 

  2. I do use a QWERTY layout when typing Chinese. Specifically, I use the Sougou Shuangpin layout. Shuangpin because Pinyin has me press way to many keys, and I don’t trust the autocompletion, and the Sougou variant because it was the first one in the list on iOS.

    Also, I use QWERTY software keyboards, both on my phone and tablet. 

  3. Ironically, the word “QWERTY” is more fun to type on a Dvorak keyboard than on a QWERTY keyboard, because you don’t get into that uncomfortable spot where your left index finger has to type 50% of the letters. 

  4. The title for this section is a joke. I know proprioception has nothing to do with detecting when you’re in the office or at home. (Or, at least, I hope it doesn’t. Otherwise this footnote would be very embarrassing.)