Many decades ago I was a champion typist in the State of Texas, on both manual and electric typewriters. I had taught myself to type using a Gregg Typing book that I checked out from the Kingsville Public Library….
….and an 1896 Underwood typewriter that my granddad brought home from the Missouri Pacific Railroad shops that were closing.
By the end of May 1966, I was typing 70 words per minute (WPM) on that Underwood. My goal had been 60 WPM because my wise old grandmother told me that 60 was what the best business typists were able to do.
I enjoyed typing so much that my wise old grandmother helped me set up my very first business for the Summer 1966, a typing business catering to students at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University—Kingsville). While my friends were out in the hot South Texas sun washing cars, pulling weeds, and mowing lawns, I was inside typing papers and make a lot more money than they were.
My little typing business made so much money from 1966 to 1973 when I graduated high school that I started collecting music, starting with The Beatles and The Who. By the time I went off to college, I had over one hundred albums and a couple hundred 45’s (smile and nod your head if you know what a 45 is).
When I got to tenth grade—high school in Kingsville; ninth grade still was in junior high—I signed up immediately for typing class in summer school because it was a required course and I wanted to get it out of the way since I already knew how to type.
I got to class and was immediately taken aside by the teacher, Miss Short, because of my last name. Turns out that the reputation of my dad and his three brothers preceded me, and she warned me against following in my family’s footsteps in her class. She wasn’t going to put up with me.
Our class had 30 students and 30 manual typewriters. However, the school had just received a brand new IBM Selectric, and Miss Short warned us against even touching that typewriter. Typing class during the summer was 3 hours long on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with a 15-minute break halfway through. I sat there for the first 90 minutes bored as hell—
aaaa ssss dddd ffff
jjjj kkkk llll ;;;;
Bored, bored, bored.
During the break, I went over to the IBM Selectric, turned it on, put some paper in the roller, and started typing the lyrics to my favorite Beatles songs. Miss Short, who was out in the hall, heard the electric typewriter noise and thought that someone was simply holding down the keys and screwing with her priceless typewriter. When she saw what I had done, she admonished me and told me to stay after class. I figured I was getting kicked out of class.
Just the opposite. She admonished me again for touching the typewriter but then asked me if I wanted to do personal typing for her instead of sitting in typing class. Uh, okay….. Sure. Got an A+ in typing, my first A+ in high school.
For Christmas 1971, my wise old grandmother bought me a Smith Corona Coronet Electric typewriter.
I was the happiest 17-year-old on Earth, or at least in Kingsville, Texas. I used that typewriter through Christmas 1974 but still had it and the Underwood through April 1993.
In 1976, on an IBM Selectric II, I typed 306 WPM over a 5-minute typing test with 6 errors. It was a very unofficial test, timed by a group of friends in the Student Programs Office of the Texas A&M Memorial Student Center. I never told anyone until now that I cheated; I had my own IBM Selectric II which I had bought myself for Christmas 1974, so I was extraordinarily familiar with it. My wise old grandmother always said, “It’s good to be familiar with things….”
I got my start in computers in June 1978 when I bought an Apple computer. I replaced the computer in May 1983, switching to IBM computers and keyboards. I have never looked back at my decision there, and I’m still an IBM/PC/Windows devotee.
For the longest time I had an IBM keyboard because of the tactile feel and audible click of the keys. It was the most comfortable keyboard to type on. Then mass-produced keyboards for home computers hit the mainstream and IBM eventually followed suit with the crappy computer keyboards. I eventually succumbed to carpal tunnel syndrome, now called repetitive stress injury. Pianists, organists, and fast typists particularly are subject to it.
In April 2003, I resorted to voice recognition using Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS). Although I liked it, I enjoy listening to music when I work, and the music interfered with DNS. Thus, I went back to keyboard typing, but my typing speed continued to decrease and the number of errors increased. I was lost and depressed. Getting old sucks. JMHO.
Fast forward to May 2017. I had my business partner, one Joey Thaidigsman, a sophomore computer science major at the University of California at Berkeley (and with a 3.96 GPA!), build me a fine fine fine new super computer (named The Beast) to handle all my video and photo editing needs, leaving my old computer relegated to being 100% a music computer.
Once The Beast was up and running, I added a Sound Blaster X Katana sound bar to my music system and hooked it up to both computers so that I could also listen to music on The Beast. Once that was done, I decided I wanted a new keyboard. I was going to buy the best keyboard I could find.
That’s when I discovered gaming keyboards. IBM might have quit making their fine fine fine keyboards but that didn’t mean that the IBM feel and clickyness was gone forever. These gaming keyboards are also called mechanical keyboards because they have mechanical key switches rather than the rubber dome keys of mass-produced cheap keyboards.
I went to Fry’s Electronics and bought the most expensive mechanical keyboard they carried, a Razer Blackwidow Chroma. It didn’t work. After four hours with Razer tech support, it still didn’t work. They told me to return the keyboard as defective. However, they wanted me to return it directly to them and spent another 15 minutes getting me a Return Merchandise Authorization number. Unfortunately, the number woould be emailed to me within 24-48 hours. Huh? Email it to me NOW!
I disconnected, repacked the Razer, and took it back to Fry’s. Since Razer had lost me as a customer at that point, I chose the most expensive Corsair they carried. Took it home and couldn’t get the cool keyboard colors to work. Logged on to their web site, downloaded the most recent firmware, and the keyboard colors went crazy. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. After five minutes, I was dizzy and nauseated, and had accomplished absolutely nothing. I repacked the Corsair and took it back.
At this point I decided to look at non-gaming mechanical keyboards, of which the selection is about 10% of those available for gaming. I even got into trouble at Fry’s for opening every keyboard box in the mechanical non-gaming section and trying them out. After all my testing in the store, I came home with an Azio MK-Retro keyboard, a “typewriter inspired mechanical keyboard.” Looks just like that 1896 Underwood typewriter:
The keys are not backlit like the gaming keyboards, and they are round, which might cause problems for people who grew up with the square-key computer keyboards. It has no extras, like macro programming, or gaming key programing, or USB ports, headphone jacks, etc. It’s just a quality mechanical keyboard.
The whole purpose of this typing dissertation, though, is to tell you something that has amazed me. My typing speed has increased and my typing errors are down. I think it has something to do with the tacticle feel and the audible clicks of the keys, letting you know exactly when you have pushed a key and created a corresponding graphic on the screen. It’s really cool.
So if you’re a touch typist, especially an elderly experienced touch typist like me, but you have noticed over the years that your speed has decreased and your errors have increased, I can highly recommend a mechanical keyboard. Especially if typing is a significant part of your livelihood as it is mine.
For price comparison, the cheap plastic/rubber keyboards were as low as $6.99 and as high as $39.99 at Fry’s. The non-gaming mechanical keyboards started at $49.99 and went as high as $129.99. The gaming mechanical keyboards started around $99.99 and went as high as $229.99.
Here’s my workplace now. Ignore the cat food. It’s not mine. Seriously, I don’t eat cat food….
The little queen, though…. well, my desk is her favorite place to eat, and if there’s no food when she jumps up on the desk, she’ll plop her butt in front of the computer monitor and sit there looking all abused and neglected, demanding to know why I don’t love her anymore….
My next purchase: A new desk. Jim and I just closed escrow on a new home, so we’ll be moving during the next 30 days, and this old desk will go straight to the trash with a new desk being delivered to the new digs.