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Blog : Posts tagged with 'learning'

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New World

In which FP jumbles the letters up


K was digging through her boxes of zines last night, hunting for something, and came across one she thought I’d find interesting. She passed it over. It was The Dvorak Zine – “changing the world, one keyboard at a time”.

I’ve heard of the Dvorak keyboard before. It’s a keyboard layout specifically designed to make typing quicker, and easier to learn. I’d never bothered, though, to investigate it, and find out what the layout actually is. The zine, though, is cunningly designed. The back page is a keyboard map; you prop it up on your desk and start typing away.

I’m not a proper typist. I’ve never learned to touch-type. My typing is pretty fast for someone who can’t type; but really it’s nothing more than very fast two-finger typing. As a result, it’s riddled with mistakes, and I spend more time going back and correcting what I’ve done than it takes to type the words in the first place. The Dvorak keyboard, though, seems specifically designed for touch-typing – and, looking at keys that type different letters to the letters printed on them would just be far too confusing for me. So, I thought: an ideal opportunity. Why don’t I learn?

So, this morning, I set the zine up on my desk, and switched the keyboard mode over. Put my fingers on the home keys, and started typing: one letter at a time.

It was slow, of course it was. But, as promised, it was surprising how quick it was to pick up. Within a couple of hours, it was quicker to type without looking at the keyboard map than to use it. This might actually work.

To be honest: I haven’t used it to type this. I did want to get something productive done today, so after 3 hours or so of Dvorak typing I switched back to the traditional layout. I don’t want to lose my ability to type the old way, after all: we don’t have a Dvorak typewriter and we’re unlikely to find one. I’m very pleased with how quickly I’ve been able to pick Dvorak up, though. What mostly slows me down is: like most people, I think in terms of words rather than letters. I seem to mostly type using my muscle memory of whole words and word fragments. Switching to Dvorak, I can easily remember where all the common letters are and which finger to use for them: but then I have to spell each word out in my head to type it. Training myself to type in words, without thinking about the spelling, will take some time.

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Upgrade

In which I try to update the site


An administrative note: I’ve just upgraded the site to WordPress 2.7, the new, latest version, before I start on the planned epic redesign. And: it’s different. To you, the site itself should look just the same as before. On the underside, writing and managing the site, it looks completely different. I’m all-at-sea. Everything has moved about, and it’s going to take me a few days to relearn how to work the thing. That’s upgrades for you.

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Voodoo terminology

In which we speculate on understanding, and on pretending to understand


There are three types of people that I’ve always had to deal with at work. By extension, there are probably three types of people in the world, because I’m sure that none of the places I’ve worked at have been particularly unusual. There are three types of people in the world, and they can be divided like so: those who know what they are talking about; those who don’t know what they’re talking about, and admit it; and those who don’t know what they’re talking about, but are desperate to hide it.

There are two ways I could look at this. One, being uncharitable: they know they don’t know what they’re talking about, and are just trying to hide that.

The charitable view, though: I don’t think some people realise that words do have meanings, precise meanings. They’ve heard people who do know what they’re doing talking, and they want to fit in, so they string together words they’ve heard other people use, in ways that make grammatical sense, without noticing that they are making completely meaningless sentences. Maybe they think that this is the way normal humans talk. Maybe they think that if they use a word that they’re not sure of the meaning of, its meaning will change to suit them. Essentially, though, they’re behaving like small children: imitating without understanding.

These are the people who brought you the phrase “log on to our website”. They call the main case of a PC “the hard disk”. They will refer to “the system”, and expect you to know exactly what you mean. One colleague today, scrolling through her inbox looking for an email, said: “I know it’s in the system somewhere.” “That is not,” I wanted to say, “what that word means.”* These are the people who call me and say “the system isn’t working! We can’t do anything at all!” when what’s actually wrong is: they have pressed Num Lock and don’t understand why numbers are no longer appearing.** These are the people I have to work with, and the chances are, this is what the people who run the country are like too. These people, who not only don’t understand words, but don’t understand the importance of the right words, nevertheless get into important positions. And that scares me.

* She was looking for an email, because she wanted to print it out. She had called me over because her printer “was not working”. She didn’t have a printer selected in the print dialog box, and did not understand the error message she received, that said: “You have not selected a printer.” When I pointed this out, she said: “That’s never happened before. I don’t understand all these technical terms.”

** Yes, this has genuinely happened.

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Masochism

In which FP goes back to BASICs


No, I’m not a masochist.

I take a strange, geeky, masochistic pleasure, though, in making things hard for myself. In doing computer-based things the long way round. In solving the problems that are probably easy for some people, but hard for me. In learning new things just because it’s a new challenge.

Today, I was wrestling with a piece of Basic code in an Excel spreadsheet. I’ve not touched Basic since it had line numbers,* and I barely know any of it. I forced myself to work out how to do what I wanted in it.** It was mentally hard work, and meant a lot of looking back and forth to the help pages, but I got it done in the end. It might not be written in the best way, the most efficient way, or the most idiomatic way.*** But doing it was, strangely, fun.

* this is geek-speak for “a long long time ago”.

** or, rather, what the consultant I was assisting wanted.

*** for non-geeks: every computer language or system has its own programming idioms, which fit certain ways of programming particular problems. Someone used to language A will, on switching to language Z, often keep on programming in language A’s style even if this produces ugly and inefficient code in the other language.

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The Internet Will Kill Us All!!!

In which we learn something censored which could harm your health


According to this story in The Guardian, the government thinks that we shouldn’t be looking at websites that can show us how to kill ourselves. So, they want ISPs to stop us. Search engines should alter their results so that the first hit for “suicide” is the Samaritans. We shouldn’t be allowed to discuss ways to kill ourselves with each other.

This has all started because of two people, who met via the net, and killed themselves together. The Guardian is so concerned for our own safety that it won’t even tell you that they killed themselves by using charcoal to produce carbon monoxide. Careful. Now you know that – and you read it on the internet, too – you might go out and do something stupid.

The whole idea that people are more likely to kill themselves just because of the internet is very, very silly. People who want to kill themselves will do it unless they receive support or medical attention; the internet is just a scapegoat; and if it can persuade people to kill themselves in peaceful, non-disruptive ways, then so much the better.* The worrying thing, from my point of view, is the risk that this could be the thin end of the wedge. If the government can persuade ISPs to filter one topic, or can warp the results page for one search request, then they can do it for others. It doesn’t matter how well-meaning they are; they’ve crossed a line. The second time they want to do it, it might not be for such a well-meaning reason.

* Jumping in front of a train doesn’t just kill you, it will scar the driver for life too. Not to mention all the people who have to hose your fragmented remains off the track.

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