Everyone learned how to type wrong: part 2 (Conclusion)

I ended this experiment within a week, but never gave an update.  The short answer is that I gave up and went back to QWERTY.  So basically I think Dvorak is like the Metric system in the US, with two exceptions:  It’s a a better system and most people that have seen both would agree.  The two caveats being

  1. much fewer people know about it versus the Metric System
  2. It would not be as easy to phase in.  With the Metric system, you could show both measurements on signs and labels for a while, decades even, and teach the next generation the new way from scratch.  But it’s kind of hard to use both keyboarding systems and be proficient at both, which leads me to my next set of points.

Going with my theme of two’s for the day, there were two reasons I chose not to stick with Dvorak. 

  1. Relearning the muscle memory in your fingers and brain to adjust to a new typing system is HARD!  I was typing like maybe, mayyyybe 3-8 words a minute, literally.  However, I knew this going in and was willing to suffer this for a while in order to make the switch.  This was a secondary reason for quitting.
  2. The main reason I gave it up is because, quite simply, support for keyboard layouts in Windows SUXXXXX!  I thought it was a change at the driver level or something fancy, that would make it seamless.  But no, its an unreliable software setting in Windows and it is often per application.  I used keyboard shortcuts to switch between QWERTY and Dvorak layouts and I would have to do this every time I started up my computer (although I’m guessing that can somehow be set at startup).  Anyway, I’d switch to DVORAK and be typing in notepad, then switch to Visual Studio or Word and I’d be back in QWERTY!  This was very very very frustrating.  It especially made entering passwords lots of fun.  I’m sure there are probably some more things I could automate or extra steps I could have taken to improve this, but I was expecting it to be a ‘one and done’ kind of setting change.  The fact that it was hokey at the outset made me wary and decide it wasn’t worth my time and mental investment to find out more.

Long story short, it seems to me that keyboard layouts in Windows are like the Calculator app.  Microsoft must have felt they perfected it in 1993 and haven’t touched it since.

Everyone learned how to type wrong

Okay, well maybe not everyone, but most of us.  For something a lot of us spend so much time doing these days, we don’t really seem to question how we do it.  There are the standard myths like that the standard QWERTY layout was to slow us down.  In truth, however, it was adopted from one particular brand of typewriter, the Remington No. 2, in 1878.  The original design evolved largely because of jams of the internal typing arms in early models.  I’ll save you the rest of the snooze inducing details of the history lesson.  You can check it out here, if you’re that interested. 

Since then, that old, bad, layout has just sort of settled in, like a cantankerous mother-in-law that’s come to live with you.  Then in 1936, along came Dr. Dvorak, with a new layout to make us all type at warp speed, reduce errors and protect kittens from climbing trees.  Check it out:

Dr. Dvorak studied how people type to optimize the behavior.  Notice all the popular kids are located on the home row: A, E, T, S, etc.  This lets users spend around 70% of the time on the home row.  Also, all the vowels are on the left side and the popular consonants are on the right, so the user is usually alternating right and left.  You can read the rest of the details here.

So what, you say?  Every keyboard and operating system is designed to use QWERTY and we are all taught to type that way, unless you weren’t taught at all and home grew hunt and peck style (I’m looking at you, Andre).  Some people claim to be pretty fast at hunt and peck, but they still need to look at the keyboard and are slower than they could be.  For comparison, here is the finals at the 2010 Typing Championship.  The winner won with 163 wpm.  Not too shabby by any means.  However, compare that to the Guinness World Record Holder, Barbara Blackburn, with a top speed of 212 wpm.  She also maintained 150 wpm for over 50 minutes straight!!!!  That’s right, granny could kick the pants off of the current fastest competitive typists, due in large part to the Dvorak keyboard.  The 2010 champion, Sean Wrona, even admits that Dvorak and another layout known as Colemak are better, but he seems afraid to take the plunge and switch: 
“I am frequently asked which keyboard layout I use. I have only ever used the traditional QWERTY layout. I recognize that Dvorak and Colemak may be better on the hands, but it would be too much of a loss of speed in my case to justify switching.” – http://seanwrona.com/typing.html

The reason I am rambling about all of this is because I have decided to take the plunge and switch to Dvorak.  I learned typing in a high school class and have been typing okayish with QWERTY ever since.  However, I find QWERTY kind of annoying and for something I spend about 8-9 hours a day doing, I’d like to do it in the best possible way.  I’ve got my Dvorak stickers, and I will be switching all of my keyboards at once, and spending 15-30 minutes a night doing typing lessons at keybr.com.  Windows, mac (not that I have one), and even android and jailbroken iphones all have Dvorak keyboard layouts available.  For a comparison, I have tested my current speed with QWERTY.  After 7:44 on keybr.com, I got an average speed of 50 words per minute, and a top speed of 62.  After I feel comfotable with Dvorak, I will be posting my new speeds, which will hopefully be a bit better.

Need any more convincing?  Here are 7 reasons to make the switch.

Using slickrun for serious email and Remember the Milk power from the keyboard

I’m a big Remember the Milk (RTM) fan.  I love the power of the lists, tagging, locations, etc.  I believe it has a lot more potential as an easy to use, powerful, tasklist.  There are still several annoyances and limitations to it, however.  One of the biggest is the level of effort required to get a task into RTM.  We all have those AHA moments, "ooh!  I need to..x", and one of the main tenants of Getting Things Done is to "empty your head".  The harder that is to do, though, the less likely anyone is to jot down an idea when they think of it.  That’s why I carry a voice recorder in my car and why there are various products to help us facilitate this perpetual mind dump.  So, along those lines, I would like to share a solution I’ve found to submit a task to RTM in under 5 seconds, depending on how fast you type.  If your typing isn’t quite up to snuff, well….that’s between you and Mavis Beacon. 

For this project, you will need

Okay, soooo, the idea here is that RTM users have an email address that they can send messages to and those will show up in their RTM inboxen.  Add to that, that RTM has a smartadd syntax so you can assign the list, tags, location, due date, etc in one pass.  So the idea here is that you have a command line statement that will send an email to your RTM account, using the supplied argument as your subject.  So for this I am using Slickrun because it so fast and easy, to trigger Thunderbird to create an email and send it to RTM for me.

Let’s get prepped:

  1. Install Thunderbird and slickrun
  2. Pick your favorite shortcut key combo to bring focus to slickrun.  I think the default is WinKey+Q or WinKey+W.  I prefer WinKey+A.
  3. Hit your key combo or use your mouse if you prefer the scenic route.
  4. type "add" (without the quotes) and hit enter.  A new magic word form will popup.
  5. Fill out the form with the following arguments, using your actual RTM email

Filename or URL

MagicWord (use whatever you want here, I like rtm)


"C:Program Files (x86)Mozilla Thunderbirdthunderbird"

Parameters: (copy that text verbatim, including the quotes)

-compose "to=’dan.xyz@rmilk.com’,subject=’

Okay, let’s skip ahead to using this little gem:

Simply hit your slickrun key combo, type your magic word, then enter your RTM task using smartadd syntax and make sure to add a closing quote and the end of it (to match the opening quote in the command argument)

Hit Enter

TBird will open a new window.  Hit send and go about your day.  It may take a few seconds for the window to disappear.  Feel free to minimize it (or stare at it if you’re easily entertained).

This will also work for other systems that have email addresses you can send to, such as evernote.  Here’s an example of the command line for evernote.  Make sure to grab your actual email address out of evernote settings of course.

-compose "to=’dan.abc@m.evernote.com’,subject=’

Enjoy!  Let me know if you found this helpful or not.

IIS 6 setup hell with MVC 3, Razor and _bin_deployableAssemblies

I just survived a huge ordeal with setting up MVC 3 to play nicely on IIS 6, so I thought I’d blog about it to make sure nobody else endures this mess.  I’ll go through these steps in order so you can roll through this issue as fast as possible.  I’ll save my long winded drivel til the end.

  1. I assume you’ve got VS 2010 SP1 on your dev box, MSBuild and .NET 4.0 on your build box.
  2. Install MVC 3 on your dev web server, whether that’s local or remote or use one that has it if you’re paying for hosting.
  3. If you cannot install MVC 3 on your target web server, you can do a bin deployment as Scott Hanselmen explains, but that is really only useful for small projects when you’re deploying from your local dev machine.  Some people posted examples of how to setup MSBuild with a task CollectFilesFrom_binDeployableAssemblies, but the examples were either incomplete or I was too incompetent to figure them out, so I setup a simple copy step to make this happen (note – you’ll have to make msbuild variables for values like BinDeployableSource):
  4. <Copy SourceFiles="@(BinDeployableSource)"
            SkipUnchangedFiles="true" />

  5. Now here’s the kicker and what was really killing me.  You need the web.config from inside the Views folder!  My robocopy deployment scripts wasn’t setup to include web.config’s from inside the Views folder.  I have to credit Andrew Barber with figuring this out.

My setup:  I’ve got VS2010 on a dev box.  We’re using SVN and its kicking off a CI build on our build server, which then uses robocopy to deploy our web assets out to the dev web server.  If you’re having any issues fixing this, please comment on here or contact me and I’ll try to help you out.

Exercising at Your Desk Follow Up

I did a test with a heart rate monitor.

Just working at my desk, I burn 181 calories an hour with an average heart rate of 72. If I use the elliptical, my I burn 267 calories with an average heart rate of 89.

That makes 79 extra calories

If i do it 4 hours a day, thats 344 extra calories, without changing my routine at all I can burn an extra 10.8 pounds a year

Exercising at Your Desk

A while ago I had the idea about walking on a treadmill while working, then I saw a morning news segment about a study done by Dr. Levine, which is outlined here.  I have a nice Precor Treadmill at home, the 9.31,  and I use it almost every day which watching my latest Netflix rental and love it.  However, I don’t think my boss would be too keen on me dragging it into work along with a matching TrekDesk.  Nor would I for that matter.  I like having it at home. 

And so began my search for a more practical option to burn calories at my desk.  I purchased the PC Gamer Bike Mini, a cool device that is basically the front half of a recumbent bike and you supply the back half with whatever chair you prefer, in this case being my office chair.  Its a pretty smooth motion and its not too difficult to use while working.  The two issues I noticed are

  1. When doing thought intensive work, I occasionally wanted to stop and focus completely on the work at hand.  I didn’t see a problem with this.  I’m not expecting to be working out every second I’m at my desk.  I’m guessing users of the treadmill desk would want a break from time to time as well.
  2. On a normal height desk, while using the gamer bike, my knees go up too high and hit the underside of the desk.  I solved this by raising my desk up with four inch high spacers.

So this was a doable solution, but it was still a bit inconvenient to have to jack up my desk, especially at my current job where we all share a series of interconnected Ikea desks.  Raising it up would be very noticeable and annoying I’m sure.

So I needed a more practical solution.  While hunting around for a solution, I started looking at mini stepper machines, then eventually wound up buying a mini elliptical.  Current list price for it is $95.70 with free shipping.  The product seems to work pretty well overall.  However, while the motion keeps my knees lower, they were still grazing the underside of the desk.  After a little trial and error, I came across 2 motions that worked out pretty well.  The first was to have my knees point out to the sides and rest the outside of each foot on the elliptical pedal, and pedal that way.  The other way I came up with was to put my heels against the front lip of the foot pedal and pedal like a recumbent bike.  This way gives me a bit more of a workout and I usually take a break from it after 10 or 15 minutes.  Duct taping old insoles to the front lip made this a lot more comfortable on my heel.  The machine seems very quiet.  Coworkers sitting right next to me can’t hear it and its not really noticeable that I’m using it.  This is nice because it doesn’t reduce the appearance of professionalism in the workplace.  And for anyone that might be self conscious, they could use it without worry.

Conservatively, I can probably burn at least 100 calories an hour doing this.  So if I only do this for a combined two hours a day, that’s 1000 calories a week.  In month, I could burn a pound and in a year, thats an extra 12 pounds at least.  I’ve only had it for about a month and I workout regularly in the morning as well.  I’m just hoping for a slight bonus with this.  That and, with my fidgety nature, I’ll use it to some extent just because its there.

With so many people having desk jobs in today’s society, for just $100 a person, I’d think this would be a good way for employers to combat obesity and health issues in their staff and possibly even lower their insurance premiums.  If anyone finds this information useful and uses this at their work or some other desk workout solution, I’d love to hear from you and see how it’s working for you. 

The points I hope everyone takes away from this are:

  1. It is possible to workout at your desk in a practical and cost efficient way without embarrassment.
  2. I am a huge dork!

GTD Update

7 months later and I feel a lot more in control of my life, thanks to GTD and a little motivation.  I just finished David Allen’s follow up GTD book, Making it all work.  I have to say that I highly recommend this book, even to those that have read Getting Things Done.  He doesn’t modify the process at all, it’s not about that.  Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention when I first read (and by ‘read’ I mean I listened to the audiobooks 17 minutes at a pop during my commute), but this new book seemed to put it all into a better perspective.  The 6 horizons of focus (the name might seem a little froo-frooey, but they are very important) finally sunk in, from runway to 50,000 feet.  Although not a true GTD tool, I have adapted Remember The Milk (aka RTM) to the engine behind my GTD system.  I looked at the GTD contenders and have played around with most of them.

  • Outlook I have to use for work and I believe it could be a great GTDish tool, but I don’t really use it as such, so I just use the mail and calendar out of necessity for my job.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind using it.  I use the Plaxo toolbar to sync all my outlook calendar items to my google calendar.
  • Thinking Rock looks very cool and one of the new complete GTD systems, but it doesn’t quite fit my lifestyle as it is a desktop app and I use multiple computers during the day, not to mention when I am on the go.
  • Omnifocus looks cool.  It seems to also follow GTD very well from what I am told and has an iphone app, so its mobile, but the desktop app is for Mac and there’s no web interface, so that one’s out.
  • Pen and Paper works, but I am too gadgety for that, although I do keep a pocketmod in my wallet in case of a planetwide EMP or zombie apocolypse (you never know).
  • As I just mentioned above, Remember the Milk is how I roll for personal task management.  I was using todoist.com for projects.  I liked how you could reorder stuff easily, and then I would copy and paste from todoist over to RTM, but then I realized how crazy that was.  So just recently I took a commenter’s suggestion and used RTM properly.  I have a few main lists:
    @blog (i may not keep this, I’m not sure yet)
    Then each project becomes a list and tags are used for contexts.  I only have 3 contexts right now, because it should be as simple as possible:
    @home (i need to be home for this)
    @lunch (something I’ve deemed that I can knock out quickly over my lunch break and may require to be done during business hours (ie. doctor’s appointment))
    @driving (something I have to drive to)
    @katieshouse (girlfriend honeydo list :-)  )
    I made smartlists for @home and @lunch contexts since I use those all the time.
  • For work, I use something called Abstractspoon Todolist for a couple of reasons:
    very fast with no lag time since its a simple desktop app
    easy note annotation with each task.
    each task can instantly turn into a project and get subtasks.  Sometimes I like to break down development efforts like this, so I can separate the planning and the doing.
    I can copy and paste a range from it into outlook, so I can do my weekly status reports with zero effort.
    it has tons of properties and filtering and sorting.  My big thing right now is at the end of the day, I categorize tasks as @today, so I can line up what I expect to accomplish the following day.  I find this is very helpful in staying organized and motivated me to get those tasks done by COB.  I’ve read that there’s some mental commitment that happens when we put an item on a list and flag it with a due date, even if its self imposed.  There’s a greater feeling of accomplishment when it gets done and a feeling of being jipped(sp?) when we don’t get it done on time.  For my personal tasks, I only set deadline when something absolutely HAS TO get done by that date.  I’ve missed due dates for quite a while in RTM before I realized I set too many.  So now I just have my @action list filled and everything tagged by context.  Whenever I have some free time, I just go to the appropriate context and attack.  That way, I can be productive wherever I am and I never (reads: "rarely ever") feel jipped.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I feel pretty comfortable in my GTD setup.  I may streamline it a little over time.  Now I just need to get a little bit more motivated find some people to actually read my blog.

On to the next level, soon. Okay how about in 5 years?

In today’s world of missed deadlines, project cost overruns, missed new year’s resolutions, pounds of fat not coming off and so on, it sometimes seems like the most truly awe inspiring a human being can experience or witness is someone actually meeting a goal or deadline.

I’m sure that’s a rather unrealistically negative viewpoint, but that’s how I feel sometimes.  I know I take on too much or set my schedules or deadlines too aggressive and so I suffer the consequences of missing it, and then in my mind its a failure, even if I did my best and actually was very heroic in my efforts to achieve what I was striving for.  When the finish line is way out of reach, its disheartening to know you can’t reach it.  Conversely, if you set it too low, its actually better because you’re more motivated since the end is in sight, you’re much more likely to hit the goal and then you get that mental high of achieving the goal you set out for.

Anywho, that is what I’m focusing on more, lately.  My organizational system, using GTD is working well.  I just need to apply another spoonful of reality when setting schedules.  I tried this out recently when I fleshed out my 5 year plan.  We’ve all had that question in an interview: "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?".

Well I sat down and tried to answer that.  I busted out a trusty Google spreadsheet, making a row for each goal.  A goal can be specific "Conquer Canada" or vague "get more better in shape".  Vague is fine here because we’ll flesh out the milestones in a sec.  I then made columns for every month from 1-6, then every year from 1-5.  In each cell I set a specific goal for the 5 year mark, then filled out every cell before it starting at 1 month.  I went over them again and again until it looked like I had a REASONABLE set of milestone stepping stones to reach the lofty 5 year milestone.  Then I took the 1 month goals and either made them projects on my GTD projects list or put them straight on my Remember The Milk to do list.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel like I have to constantly be improving myself, even if its just a little bit.  So every day I wake up, I’ve bettered myself from the day before.  Its like level grinding in real life, which was actually one of my favorite parts of Diablo 2.  (Sidenote:  I can’t wait for Diablo3 and Starcraft2!  I think I may take a week of vacation time just to play them right release)

If Microsoft played pickup basketball with 8 year olds….

Most people can remember a time in their childhood when one kid out of a group would disagree with how the others were playing and so they’d stomp their feet, yell NO and take the ball and go stand in the corner or just shoot free throws on one end.  Or maybe they’d take their ball and go home.  Maybe it wasn’t basketball, but some other sport or game.  “Doesn’t play well with others” would be the phrase I suppose.  Well that is how Microsoft is with the internet.  I wanted to take a look at the latest training certifications on Microsoft’s website at microsoft.com/learning and what do I encounter:


A message informing me that I have no choice but to install silverlight.  There’s no “html version” or anything like that.  Microsoft forces you to use their proprietary plugin.  <sigh>  This is ActiveX all over again.  You’re required to use their latest proprietary crappy software, when you hadn’t entirely recovered from their previous proprietary crappy software.

Think about the Java Applet.  It was a plugin actually done right.  It was on most platforms and for most browsers and everyone was happy.  Then Microsoft tried to break Java Applets by impregnating them with Microsoft proprietary crap.  Sun rightfully b*$#-slapped them back in their place and so Microsoft took their ball and went home.  They stopped including java support in their browsers.

Anywho, I wasn’t planning on posting today, but this particularly irked me.

Weekly Updates: Putting the Train back on Track

Weekly updates are probably the second most important part of GTD.  Which makes it less than or equal to good that I suck so horribly at it.  The hardest parts for me are probably A) getting around to it (kind of ironic, no?) and 2) taking too long to do it  (although I may be wrong on that count).

The biggest part of my weekly review right now is maintaining a spreadsheet listing out all my current projects and the steps for each, in order.  I then take the next step from each project and put it onto Remember the Milk.  It seems to work well.  It definitely helps keeping the spreadsheet because you really don’t know all the steps for even a medium or small sized project until you sit down and list them out.  One of the crucial things for Getting Things Done (or GTD) is that everything on the actual tasklist is something you can do.  That was a big pitfall for me in the past.  I would have something like "achieve world peace" on my tasklist.  I’d take one look at it and go "ugh" and never get started on it.  Or I would want to do it, but I’d sit and ponder for a while thinking what the next step toward that monster project would be and I’d either A) not remember, 2) think of the step 2 steps ahead or C) waste too much time figuring out something I’d figured out last week.  The weekly review is Cyberdyne (and maybe an ad-hoc review here and there), but during the majority of the week, I am simply a task terminator.

Next I plan to play around with Mind Mapping, figure out why its better than using my whiteboard or Evernote and whether or not I really want to step up to THAT level of geekiness.

I’d like to take one final second to give a shout out to my favorite lunchtime web series, Man In the Box Show.