Computers, English, Writing

Handwriting and Touchtyping

Having good handwriting has long been one of the hallmarks of a well educated and well bred individual. And for good reason, it is a wonderful proxy for judging attentiveness – if one can’t be bothered to write well and legibly what else can’t he be bothered to do? Indeed, handwriting is an art in itself, much like framing is an art as much as painting, and an attractive, well made frame is going to add to the view experience. Attractive handwriting is a pleasure to read and facilitates reading in self in ways beyond just legibility, if one enjoys merely looking at writing he is far more likely to actually read it.

Bad handwriting is not just the chicken-scratch that your grammar school teachers hated so much (ans probably acquiesced to after a few weeks), no it is also overly wrought handwriting. This famous example is an excellent compromise between legibility and decoration – the goal is unique legibility.

This is unfortunately a skill that has become entirely disregarded especially as people increasing type everything that they used to write by hand. But even today when one looks at a friends writing, they will almost always make a comment if it is above our very low par. This new, democratic skill, typing, has replaced handwriting in both teaching and usage. However, like handwriting, very few bother to develop the skill. The skill to which I am referring is touchtyping and when someone can actually do it properly (a rare sight indeed), it is usually very impressive.

That is impressive, at that kind of speed there is no barrier to thought, the words are getting down onto the paper significantly faster than he could write them by hand. This is the main benefit of touch typing: speed.

However, it is usually taught in grammar or elementary school as a thirty minute class that goes on for half the year at most. At this point children have already begun using keyboards, in fact, they have probably been using them for quite a long time. Those habits are already in place and they are NOT easy to undo. As such, considering almost everyone finds touchtyping to be difficult at first, most people quit and never learn to type properly. Even when they grow up and have to type all day at their jobs, hardly anyone puts in the effort.

Until my hand was forced by switching to a new keyboard format, I steadfastly refused to go through the pain of having to learn to touchtype… Now that I have to relearn to type anyway I figured I may as well learn to type correctly. And it has been difficult but extraordinarily rewarding – everyone ought to relearn to type properly (or, better yet, switch to the Dvorak keyboard). There are plenty of good sites out there for relearning to type. So get to it and, while your at it, do something about that handwriting.

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France, Paris

An Adventure in Paris – FNAC

I thought that I was doing pretty well – despite what I expected, I managed to move from the US to France with relatively few problems. Until one nice gray day (the kind one learns to call ‘nice’ in Paris during the Fall) my laptop decided that it couldn’t be bothered. And, demonstrating that it had integrated into French culture far better than me, it quit working. I had an interview the next day and desperately tried to rouse my laptop from his strike but the grève endured. And I, like many Americans before me, dealt with the insolence of the working class by demonstrating the ease at which they could be replaced.

So I strolled over to the nearest FNAC as the day brightened (slightly less gray, one would call this kind of weather ‘pretty nice’). Sure of myself and my French capability, I found my new laptop in a corner of the second floor of the huge store. Sad and alone, a mid range Asus in a sea of Macbooks, ultrabooks, and multi-thousand Euro gaming rigs on one end and cheaper-a-night-out ultrabooks, he was prepared to scab on my old HP. Negotiations were long, I stood analyzing specifications for quite a while… ‘my old laptop has a terabyte of storage, you have only 256’ ‘yes, well I am an SSD, have you seen the kind of bandwidth I provide?’ ‘that may be so but my old laptop had a high resolution screen’ ‘well that may be so but it was also inches bigger, my pixel density is greater’ ‘Well how do you justify the fact that you have merely 8GB of RAM, a mere two more than my 6 year old laptop’ ‘2 more AND a whole new generation of chip technology, DDR4 has several advantages…’ and so forth. The negotiations lasted so long that another customer believed I was an employee. And, apparently to her own great embarrassment, asked for help with a purchase… madame, je suis pas un employé ici, les employés portent des vestes orange qui disent ‘FNAC’ sur le dos…

The process of purchase was quite simple: I went to the help desk, showed the employee the one I wanted, he scanned it, took me back to his desk, filled out the order form, printed out the invoice and handed it to me, I then took it to the first floor and payed for it, the cashier gave me a new piece of paper and three receipts, then I had to go up a floor to the retrait where a man gave me a stack of papers, another receipt and finally my new laptop. Then after presenting all these receipts to security at the door, I finally had my laptop. Who said the French were inefficient?

I walk home as the day had darkened into the territory of ‘okay’ and I started to wonder if I had closed my windows…

Finally home, and just in time as it had started to rain, the standard excitement of  opening an expensive new toy began to overtake me. My old HP looked unhappily from the end of my tacky IKEA nightstand. I sliced open the box, took out the cardboard inserts protecting the laptop, wondered for a moment if I had to charge it before using, and finally plugged it in and launched into that lovely first-use setup experience. Where you begin the long process of getting familiar with something you are going to be using for a long time.

I entered my name for the first time: the first name was alright but wait, what is wrong with my last name?

It’s an AZERTY keyboard! I had totally forgotten! After a moment of panic I decided “this can’t be so bad, the Q is in the wrong place and there are some extra letters but it could be worse. The A is in the wrong place as well… And the M, the Q… Wait I have to hold shift to make a period? Where is the question mark? Why don’t I have to hold shift for the exclamation mark? Do the French use it that often? The Enter key is tiny and – Oh my God, there is a whole extra key to use the numbers on the top row… ”

My old laptop silently looked down on me with derision.

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