Using your Keyboard AND Head!

I do still occasionally get my hands dirty and interact with physical "computer users". These are just like regular people, except at their computer. The distinction is crucial because the difference can be vast.

Perfectly rational, sane, logically-inclined people suddenly become all sorts of unlikely character types, from belligerent twat and god-like know-it-all to its opposite, from research-crazy appearin' de-factoid brain-mattered smarty-pants to just plain stoopid. Today I will address one common sub-genre of this latter category; I call them "key-bored". Actually I just made that up, but it serves well enough. Maybe "key-bored stoopid". Yeah, that sounds about right.

In the real world, we want to get to know the tools we use every day, how to use them faster, more efficiently, more expertly, to become expert. Amazingly, in the headlong rush to master "computing" (whatever that is), and "computing tasks" (that would be "anything and everything", sir) most folk seem to skip right past that there mighty multi-lettered chunk of plastic (well it's just a keyboard, innit? Could a thing be more boring!), the thing they are actually touching, tapping, typing, inputting INTO: That big board full of keys there.. The Keyboard.

I'm not saying everyone should immediately learn to touch-type (that should of course be taught in schools, circa Day 1); most of us don't form writeable thoughts (that is, worthy of setting down) fast enough to fully utilize the skill. Anyway, I have observed that in most people, regardless of typing style, word-typing speeds naturally increase to "writinking", as I just now called it; that is; the speed at which thoughts form, edit and are finalised into write-down-worthy sentences. Out of the mouth, it's called "speaking", an act which even at the lowest technical standards is a highly complex process.

In other words, fast thinkers and fast speakers tend to be fast typers, by necessity. I've seen two(ish)-fingered typists who can type much faster than your average touch-typist (who sits around 60 WPM), though admittedly, the other way around is a more common scenario, or would be if most people could touch-type. I used to watch my mum type for hours, often hitting 160WPM+; a beautiful blur; you need all your fingers at those speeds, see, or else the two-fingers bump into each other and get confused, thinking themselves into more places at once than is physically possible, and not in the fun way, either.

Yes, touch-typing is a highly useful skill to have, but if you don't, don't sweat it; re-learning to type is probably not worth the effort; unless you have a big vacation block coming and a relaxed, deadline-free work atmosphere to return to, and then some more time, which is exactly the thing we are trying to save in the first place!

No, word-typing will take usually care of itself by itself; it's all the other stuff we do with text, or don't do, that wastes so much precious time, causes so much pointless frustration: I humbly suggest all "computer users" immediately learn..


Sounds like a great name, okay decent, fair enough-shite name for a book, but still, a cute name for this section of today's devblog (I blog every day, really, but hit "publish" very rarely). "What ARE all those darned keys? The amazing and wonderful tasks one can accomplish with a few simple, ubiquitous lettered button shapes", is another, though probably a bit long for the dust-jacket. There are at least a hundred of the buggers sitting right there in front of you and they all have useful functionality beyond their plain appearance..

Letters and numbers you know well enough; using them so much; me too; luv 'em! a-Z, 0-9; it's crazy, the stuff you can do with them1! You also know that if you hold down either of the (usually two) <Shift> keys you get the CAPITALIZED version of a letter, and same with the numeric keys; this time shifting the stroke to a common symbol, like "£", or the quotes around it; You know that if there are two lines of characters on a key, <Shift> gets you the top one, and you apply this convention to any key where you need to get to the top character. So far so good. But there is more. For example..

The no-nonsense sounding <Delete> key (aka "Dell-Boy", or <Del>, for short) DELETES STUFF! Pretty amazing, huh!

Seriously Why would you want to use the right arrow to move your caret1 in front of a character so that you can use the Backspace key to delete it, when there is a key expressly designed to do this exact same task from your caret's original location! Note, no question mark. On some keyboards, the Delete key is practically unused!

No joke; if I had a quid for every time I've seen someone do this, I would have hundreds of pounds, and I haven't done serious user tech for years. And that's only the examples I spotted after I stopped doing it myself!1 Seriously, I was at it way longer than I'd casually admit; it's not like me you know; I dig efficiency; I stab myself with pins when I execute a computing task the slow way, force myself to repeat it the quick way, and again until it's habit, fixed. That's how I spin my thing. But with this here keyboard, I simply didn't bother to investigate its possibilities; I guess I was too busy using it. This went on for years.

I know, I should have started with the self-deprecation, endeared you to me and my story right off the bat, but hey! nuffink's free in this world! Sometimes you gotz to suffer a bit to get to the good stuff1. And so I did, millions and millions of completely unnecessary key-presses. Then it finally clicked.

In one (quite superbly well-made) keyboard, I wore out the Backspace key. Have you any idea the number of presses these things are rated at?1 Anyway in text, <Delete> removes any text that's currently selected (I always knew that). In the absence of a selection, the <Delete> key deletes the characters sitting in front (to the right) of it. Who would have thought!? Backward AND Forward delete! I mean, how handy is that?

Answer: Not nearly so handy as it is once you know your modifiers..

Modify me baby!

Yeah, okay, you got me; I'm sketching for some future "beginners guide" type article, and the intro needs some work, but the juice is getting dropped in HERE AND NOW, and I guarantee you will learn something from within these next few lumps of text..

<Shift> (aka "The Shift key") is called a "modifier" key; when it is held down, it modifies the action taken; a small "a" becomes a capital "A", "1" becomes "!", and so on. <Shift> does other stuff, too. Hold it down when you drag and drop an item, and it instead moves the item, even if it's on another volume (<Ctrl> for a copy, <Shift> AND <Ctrl> to make a shortcut - and that's just the left mouse button!).

<Shift> also selects text. You know that inside text you can hit the arrow keys to move around, obviously. So add the <Shift> modifier, and now you are SELECTING text. <Shift>+<Right Arrow> selects one character; simple. Hold down the arrow key and your caret goes whizzing along selecting more and more characters of text all the way. Cool, but dumb; there are other, better modifiers.

<Ctrl> & <L/R Arrow> moves your caret one "word" at a time (any chunk of text with a delimiter at each end; space, comma, bracket, etc.; is classed as a "word") That modifier action works in all applications1, you probably knew that. And if you didn't, oh boy! The time you are about to start saving! Okay, now add the <Shift> modifier into the mix and you can select one word at a time, and if you hold down the arrow key, you whiz along rapidly selecting whole words at a time until you have selected a whole line or more. Kewl, but quite dumb for large sections; there are other, better modifiers (aka.. "come ere, there's more..")

Enter..<Home> and <End>, quite possibly the two most useful keys on your keyboard. <Home> takes you to the start of a thing, and <End> takes you to the.. you guessed it.

When you roll all the functions and modifiers together, you should see amazing power at your fingertips! You find your caret in the middle of a long URL somewhere, Ctrl-A does nothing (darned flakey browser!) but you don't flinch, you do..

<Home>, <Shift>+<End>, <Ctrl+C>

It's instinctive, and the URL is now in the clipboard. You want to delete the two characters at either side of the caret, your fingers go one-two, tip-tap on the delete and backspace keys and the letters vanish.

LEARN THEM BASICS! Just do it, and then practice it, and don't allow yourself to do shit the stoopid way, ever. The power you gain, and the time you save; it's worth every bloody pin prick in your venus mound! Nomatter how much you bleed!

<Ctrl>+<Home> -> Jump to start of document. Justlikethat! And much more. All right there in front of you; the bestest, quick-and-easy way to do the stuff you do each and every day except more S L O W L Y. And all those seconds become minutes become hours and days and weeks and yes, even whole months of time that you are, over the years, either using for other good stuff, living, or wasting away in stoopid.

In another devblog, I plan to blow the lid off one of most incredible "Hidden" features of ALL modern operating systems. A feature which can literally save you hours of time every single day (do the math!). A feature used so infrequently in the real world that mass adoption of its simple yet powerful feature set could quite literally revolutionise the planet's working practices and release millions of man-hours back to the people. Even we in-the-know, uber-technical, up-our-esoteric-arse types call it by its common name:

The Clipboard

Maybe another day.1

for now..


1. And if "what I do wiv 'em", words that is, pleases your tongue and other language apparatus, I definitely recommend you raise your consciousness up a tad and get along to /words/. Do not run.

1. aka. "I-beam", "text cursor", "flashing line", "wonky i", "flashing pipe", "flasher", or whatever natives of your locale call the pointer that sits where typing happens. I prefer "Caret", because it's so few letters away from not only a large diamond, but a tasty and nutritious vegetable1.

1. Ahh.. reformed addicts. What could be worse at a dinner party? Hah! honest guv, I never starts the arguments, I just often seem to be at the receiving end of 'em!

1. I gave up physical violence as a means of conflict resolution circa age 11, but that doesn't mean I stopped fighting! ..Or resolving conflicts!

1. That would be Millions and Millions.

1. All applications where such behaviour is applicable, obviously you don't "jump word" in a flight simulator or image editing program, though as its a universal convention you will often find functional analogs in other programs that have nothing to do with text, so you will often find that while <L-Arrow> moves your; for example; gun sight one tick left <Ctrl>+<L Arrow> might move it by an entire housing block.

Conventions, despite popular advertising myth, are usually an Extremely Good Thing. At least in any field where you might find technicalities. For example; the modified shortcut <Ctrl>+<End> takes you to the VERY END of a thing. Anything with an end!

A text document has a "very end" (the final character or space of the final page - so it would put your caret exactly there; the document viewport generally follows), but so does everything in the world of stuff-we-use-keyboards-to-control, and this convention has usefully found its way into all sorts of places, being instantly functional and having that functionality instantly accessible to anyone familiar with the convention, which is itself fairly intuitive, and so easy to pick up with no learning whatsoever! Of course, bad conventions suck hard and need to be rooted out, tout de suite!

Once you learn all the modifiers - there are only three; <Shift>, <Ctrl>, and <Alt>/<Apple> - and how they apply to the other keys and importantly, to each-other-and-the-other-keys, you will find yourself applying this knowledge intuitively even in non-text programs, and very often you will find your keyboard shortcuts do exactly what you expect!

The <Ctrl> key modifier, as I explained, takes a regular "move" action, and transforms it into a "copy" action. That's true all over; working with files and folders on your desktop, or with large and small chunks of text in a letter or book, it's the same behaviour. Learn once: Add <Ctrl> = make a copy. Re-use again and again, wherever, whenever, for ever. In my (rather large and beautifully hand-bound virtual) book, Computing conventions = Very Good Idea.

1. A delicious orange vegetable which IS VERY GOOD for your eyesight, regardless of what some recent neo-nutritionists would have you believe - Guys! your eyes seemed to have moved dangerously far from your gut!

1. Oh shite! That goes for the final edits of this blogaroo, too! Seeing as how I, almost exactly five hours ago (as usual that would be 30m to write the thing, and then <insert counter> hours editing), said to myself "FIVE HOURS MAX, FUCKER! NO MORE! (I wasn't shouting, per se, but speaking in a loud, firm voice that needs at least capitals to convey with even a hint of accuracy) NOT EVEN ONE MINUTE! FIVE HOURS TOPS! (I set the timer) GO! And when it beeps, YOU STOP. RIGHT THERE! (Okay, by now I was actually shouting) BEEP=STOP. GOTTIT!?!? STOP!! NOT ONE SINGLE SECON

1. Today, all references are numbered 1, in honour of The First Reference, or "answer to the final 'why?'"; aka. The First Answer to the Last "Why?", like a long long line of "why?".."why?".."why?" questions, such as a persistent child might ask, challenging every single one of your answers with another "why?", until you are forced, at last, to hit them with the actual reason, to reveal the absolute truth of the matter, if you know it, that is. When flailing, you could always respond, "This all started as an infinitely small, infinitely dense particle; so small and dense as to not really exist at all. And then it went BANG. Go figure!"

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