Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2018-07-02
  Changing habits, one key at a time.
I first learned to program on terrible square key calculator like keyboards, but back then the computer only had a few kilobytes of memory, terrible offline storage options, and no serious editor. We still wrote BASIC programs every hour we could get access to the machines, and considered ourselves lucky.

On a lark, I went over to the business department at high school, and signed up to learn typing. This involved pounding keys on a manual typewriter, and occasionally getting access to the high technology of an IBM Selectric typewriter. (You could change fonts, character pitch, and at it even had a backspace.) Still, it was mostly about the the letters and numbers, and a few standard symbols above the numbers. Nobody was trying to type a |.

In college, things progressed to the next level. Mainframes had hard disks (wow), and you could type something one day, and come back on another day and it was still there. Changing existing files became as important if not more, than creating new files, and so I buckled down and learned a few home grown editors, as well as the up-and-coming, vi editor. The control key, and the escape key became very important keys.

My favorite terminal at the time, a beastly thing, called the ATT DMD 5620 had the control key right to the left of the letter A, and the escape key right to the left of the number 1. Very easy to get to, and quick to punch. For years, I worked quite well.

Unfortunately, along that time came the IBM PC. This ruined everything. The computer was naturally seen as a successor of their popular typewriters (see above), and they wanted to make things as familiar as possible for people moving from typing on their typewriters to typing on the PC, so instead of putting the control key to the left of the letter A, they put CAPS LOCK there. For a while I fought a slow retreat, re-mapping keys in X windows with XModMap, or trying to find various utilities for Windows, but as I moved from startup to startup, it became too much trouble and I gave in to reality that I was stuck with that layout. So for almost 30 years I have been typing on computer where the control key is banished down to the row with the space bar, far in the gutter, and the back tick and squiggle have invaded the spot to the left of the 1, with escape key floating up in the sky with the function keys.

But the mass market machine came to my rescue--sort of. Since the keyboard had been turned into a $10 commodity with cheap switches and a terrible layout, it had actually created a niche market for people who cared about the device they were typing on. And it turned out that a great deal of them were programmers. So not only were there better buttons and switches, but a number of options let you re-arrange things in the firmware itself (usually with DIP switches, because of course that's what you'd use, we're programmers after all).

So I am trying to fight decades of bad habits. I have new keyboards with configurable layouts (and LED backlights, because again, of course you'd have that), and I have moved my control key back to where it should have been all along. At the moment, it is terrible painful. I either have to think first before typing a control sequence, or if using muscle memory, activate the Caps lock accidentally. But I will persevere. I will retrain myself, and rejoin the lost universe, where the keyboard is a finely tuned instrument for the programmer to create the program.

 
Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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