Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Touch Typing

I have long been a fluent touch typist. I consider Typing to have been the high-school course that has been most useful during my professional career.

Early this year I started noticing increasing problems with my typing. Sometimes characters would be dropped. As many as half of them. When things got bad, even if I slowed down and typed a single character at a time, I lost quite a few. I was sometimes reduced to a mode of typing a character, seeing if it appeared on the screen, and then either typing it again or proceeding to the next character. I found this inefficient and quite distressing.

Initially, I thought it might be my keyboard, since I'd fairly recently acquired a new ergonomic keyboard. However, swapping the old keyboard back in didn't help.

I thought maybe I'd done something to mess up my software configuration, but checking all the settings I could think of that might be relevant didn't turn up anything out of the ordinary, and none of the changes I tried seemed to help. (Deleting Temporary Internet Files did sometimes seem to help a little bit, as did exiting Internet Explorer and restarting it.)

I found that I had the same problem on both my home and office computers, which made it seem unlikely that it was a problem with my hardware.

The problem seemed most acute when using Blogger, but checking the Help and searching the Web turned up no indication that anyone else was seeing this problem with Blogger. And it didn't only happen when I was using Blogger.

By this time I had to consider the possibility that the common factor was me. My neurologist ran some tests, and concluded that this was NOT peripheral neuropathy affecting my fingers (although I did have a mild case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that cleared up very quickly wearing wrist splints at night).

The penny dropped yesterday during a frustrating session creating a new blog post: I realized that the typing problem had started when I converted to Internet Explorer version 7, with its feature of "tabbed browsing," which I rather like. I typically have four to ten tabs open at any given time, more when I'm looking for information and links to put into my blog posts. The troublesome combination was typing into an IE form (e.g., the Blogger editor) while having a large number of tabs open.

I quickly tested this by opening a second IE window with only a single tab for Blogger, leaving the other window on the screen with all its tabs still open. Glory be! I could touch-type at my old speed once again!

It appears that IE 7's input de-multiplexing routine is so inefficient that it can't reliably keep up with a couple of characters per second when there are more than about six tabs open, even on a dual-core Pentium D 3.40 GHz processor with a 1 GB memory! This seems so preposterous to me that I'm asking for other IE 7 users to do the experiment and let me know if they see the same thing; alternatively, perhaps someone else can offer me a better explanation.

Jim H.

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Comment by Anonymous Anonymous:

I've observed lossage with firefox in the past. The problem wasn't as bad as yours. I usually have about 5 tabs open, but I don't know if that is related. Browser Javascript implementations are very slow, and I think that's part of the problem, since all these new Ajax sites are using lots of Javascrtip.

5:33 PM  
Comment by Blogger Thomas ten Cate:

I once was unable to type at all in Opera. Turned out that my characters were sent to a Java applet in a background tab. Perhaps you could investigate whether it matters if you have any Java or Flash stuff open in your background tabs?

2:14 AM  
Comment by Blogger Jim Horning:

After another month of observation, I am becoming convinced that Stephen Weeks' theory is closer to the mark than my original theory.

Preparing a long blog post in an untabbed IE window used for nothing else led to a noticeable slow-down in typing acceptance rate by the end.

That leaves the question of why Javascript slows to a crawl after such a modest amount of execution.

12:05 PM  
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous:

As far as I have been able to tell, touch typing is 100% impossible. It can not be done. It's not doable. Might as well ask me to play Quiditch.

7:34 PM  
Comment by Anonymous Anonymous:

Let me elaborate on my previous comment. When typing this post, I made about five keyboard errors that I had to go back and correct.
Can't they invent something better???

7:48 PM  
Comment by Blogger Jim Horning:

@ Anonymous:

"Back in the day," they used to subtract from your score for every error made. Five words per error, I think. One of my uncles was notorious in the family for having gotten negative words per minute on a typing test.

One of the neatest keyboard features I've ever used was on an ergonomic keyboard that split the space bar, giving you the option of mapping "left space" to BackSpace, letting your thumb do the work in its natural position, rather than requiring a large extension of your little finger. Unfortunately, I have not found this feature on any currently available keyboards.

10:32 PM  

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