Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Finger exercises

Several easy pieces

They call it keyboarding these days, but when I was in high school in the sixties the name of the course was typing. Despite being a college prep student, I took a full year of typing, sitting among the future stenographers of America. I knew it would be useful during my future career as a writer.

I was wrong about the career. There were periods of professional writing, such as my brief stint as a journalist and a few magazine pieces, but my livelihood comes from the classroom. Nevertheless, keyboards are a big part of my life and it helps that I can rattle off text with aplomb, speed, and accuracy. It was a big advantage when I returned to grad school for a math education degree.

Last month I was reminded about my weeks in typing class when I started digging through one of the archive boxes evicted from my parents' basement. Mom wanted to reclaim some space, which entailed certain adult children taking responsibility for material left behind. I started sorting through the box's contents and found myself looking at ancient documents from high school. The forty-year-old papers included some sheets from my typing class. Doodling!

Did you know you could doodle on a typewriter? I was already a self-taught typist when I began the typing class and picked up speed rapidly. My instructor didn't care if I finished the in-class assignments early as long as I did not distract my slower neighbors. Therefore I often banged out random short stories. (My preferred genres were science fiction and mystery.)

I also, however, tried my hand at some typographical humor. The source of my inspiration is unknown. Perhaps I had seen previous examples, but I don't recall any. All I have is the silent testimony of two pages of typewriter doodles. The players are characters from the keyboard and their dialog floats above their heads. Here's an example:

        How did he lose his leg?
Y   X X

I seemed unduly fond of amputation humor. Perhaps it just suits the medium:

      Victor, you don't have a leg to stand on.
V   Y

     They had to amputate his foot.
E  E    F

How delightful. The surgical vein continues.

     I happen to know that it's silicone.
p  p   P

     And the Queen said, "Off with his head!"
8  8   o

     Oscar, I don't think that Clyde is all there.
O  O    C

Of course, I was in high school. The local scene must have inspired this one:

     Shocking! And in public, too!
I  I  X  I I  I   I

It's tricky trying to replicate some of these typewriter gags on a computer. For example, here's a joke that depends on an overstrike, which is easy on a typewriter. Not so easy with a word processor or on a blog. The image is a scan of the original document:

Good typewriters also offered half-line spacing for convenience in creating superscripts and subscripts. I'm sure I used half-line spacing to place the feathers (apostrophes) close to the horizon (underline characters):

Just think. Had my mother simply trashed the contents of her overstuffed basement, these gems would have been lost to history. What a precious gift they are to us today, four decades later!


Anonymous said...

I still have the Olympia typewriter my parents bought me forty years ago. I don't, however, have any typing samples left from that era, and I'm sure I didn't produce any as interesting as yours!

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

I took typing in school, too (it was small and low on electives). Two years of it, but with my usual lack of dilligence.

So I didn't learn much - and I always peeked under the 'blind'.

I think instant messaging has done more for my speed in the last two years, actually. (Of course, I never did my thesis ...) Now if only I could improve on my accuracy so that I wouldn't need to make every third hit a backspace.

eProf2 said...

The typing class I took more than 50 years ago in Junior High School turned out to be the most useful class of my prep years. All of the other classes are in reference books. Typing with its hands-on experience has stayed useful now for more than fifty years. One of these days voice recognition computers will replace key boarding; but I think not in the near future as the engineers have been trying for more than a decade now to perfect VR.