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My Experience Learning the Dvorak Keyboard Layout

This post was sent to my newsletter on October 16th, 2020.
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I was wondering about what kind of technical posts, I could write, since I am still learning programming and I did not want to bother you folk, with this is how I learnt to do lists in Python and this is what dictionaries do :)

I then realised that it’s been slightly more than a year, I have been touch typing using the Dvorak layout.

So I thought, why not tell you that story? :)

Why did I switch to Dvorak?

I never learnt to touch type. It was always a some day, maybe cool skill to learn.
Ever since my computer support days in the late 90s, I have always hunted and pecked at my keyboard, using 2-3 fingers.
Or 4.
Or 5.
You get the gist.

And I was pretty comfortable with it, until I broke my back in 2017.

I now have three slipped discs at various point along my back, and one of them was compressing the nerves that go down both my arms a bit.

So the old way of typing, was now causing tremendous pain.

I asked my doctor what I could do and his answer was basically, change professions. (Silly sod)

But my physio sessions where I was strengthening my back muscles to take the load of my vertebrae, lit the bulb of what if I learnt to finally touch type using Dvorak? It was designed to reduce strain on the fingers.

Would that help?

Some Thoughts

I realise that I am in a lucky position, painful fingers notwithstanding.

My native language is English, most of the world types in English, programming is largely done in English and Dvorak was designed for English.

It would not have gone well for me, if I had to type in another language, because most of them adapt off the QWERTY layout.

While I have had no real issues adapting my fingers to shortcuts from my operating system and the various programs I use, I do realise that other folks might have muscle memory, that’s ingrained too deep.

How did I do it?

By switching to it cold turkey.
It was not like I had any other option.
The alternatives were to either endure shooting pains, up my fingers to my arms or give up typing altogether.

I switched my keyboard layout in Linux Mint on the desktop and MacOS on the laptop to Dvorak.
iOS does not natively have support for the Dvorak layout, so I installed Google’s Gboard and then switched that to Dvorak.

I practiced for about 10 minutes daily, using Gtypist on Linux, just to get a feel for where the keys were. I could see them on the phone and the tablet too, so that helped.

It took me a month to get the hang of it.
And the first two weeks, were absolutely miserable.
Emails, messages, writing, practically everything suffered.
I know.
I measured.
I averaged 2 to 5 words per minute.
I got yelled at.
And a few work balls got dropped too.
But that was a small price to pay, for what I hoped would be finger salvation.

But at the end of that month, I could touch type.
At 5 to 10 words a minute.

But I could do it.

A Year Later …

So, did it help?
Absolutely!
I now can type at close to 265 words a minute, with just my right hand.

Just kidding :)

It never was about the speed for me, though that has improved as well.
My good old patent pending hand claw typing, averaged 35 words a minute.
With Dvorak, I was at that speed in two months.
And then I just gave up on getting faster, because at around that speed, my fingers keep up with my thoughts.

The magic though, lies in the fact, that my speed has been on a gradual upward curve over the past year.
Four months ago, I was averaging 45 words a minute.
Today, I do about 55 words a minute.
And yet, like I said, it’s never been about the speed.

The best thing about Dvorak, lay in the fact that my fingers stopped paining.
I still have twinges once in a while, but those are few and far between and definitely a far cry from the daily agony of last year.

The other thing I’ve noticed is my fingers have become semi-autonomous typing appendages, if that makes any sense.
My thoughts flow out my fingers, on to the page. I don’t have to think about typing anymore.
Like I don’t have to think about walking. I want to go someplace and my feet just do it.

Finally, if someone had just told me just how comfortable Dvorak’d be, I would have made the attempt years ago.
It feels almost as good as scribbling notes on a pad to me. My fingers just roll over the keys, forming words.

You might not have crazy, flingin’ flangin’ fingers, but ought you learn to type with Dvorak?
My answer would be an emphatic, Yes!
(Two, no longer painful, thumbs up)


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What I Learnt from Antifragile (II)

This post was sent to my newsletter on October 18th, 2020
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What I Learnt from Antifragile (II)

I fell sick and missed writing last week.
I have to live up the name of the news letter, anyhoo.
It would not be erratic without me whiffing once in a while, non?
Apologies all around, anyway!

The Barbell Heuristic to Taking Risks

Basically a shortcut to figuring out whether you ought to do something or not, based on the risks it entails.
How do we take a decision, when we don’t know all the pros and cons?
How do we decide in an uncertain world?
Simply put,

What kind / amount of loss am I willing to accept, to gain some reward?

Life basically consists of three outcomes:

  1. The safe outcome, with little to no success, but you don’t lose anything
  2. The normal outcome, with some middling success, but you stand to lose some.
    • But here’s the kicker. You might stand to lose everything, if you don’t understand the risks you take, or if the risk is unknowable. (Blow ups due to these unknown risks are what are now popularly called, thanks to Taleb’s earlier book, Black Swans)
  3. High Risk, high reward! You know you will lose, but if you win, you win Big! It helps if you take risks with a domain that you have deep expertise in.

Taleb suggests that the best and safest way, to make decisions that propel your forward with minimal risk, is to ignore point 2 altogether.
Most of your daily life decisions ought to be with point 1.
Some of your decisions you, go to point 3.

Your strategy is to be as hyper-conservative and hyper-aggressive as you can be, instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative.
— Taleb, The Black Swan

And that is the barbell strategy.
It looks like an unbalanced barbell actually, like the one on the cover of his next book, Skin in the Game.

This is what will give you maximum peace of mind.

Risk taking also becomes easier, if you have options like I pointed out last week.
The best worst case scenario, is one that you have the option to reverse. (like buying something you need, but uncertain about how it’ll be? Easy to buy it, if the thing comes with an option to return it if you don’t like it.)

Three personal life cases,

Money

I don’t understand investing.
I do know, that I need a nest egg for when Abby & I are old :)
Ergo, barbell strategy.
Most of our money is parked in safe investments like the Provident Fund and fixed deposits.
And some of it, in risky stuff like stocks and equity mutual funds. (since this is not my domain of expertise, I pay someone trustworthy to help me out.)
So if the market crashes like it did earlier this year, I was not as worried as other folk.
I did not lose my shirt.
I could follow, what the given advice at the time was (Stay Invested) with a clear, calm mind.
And I am confident, compounding will work its magic over time over both sets of investments.

Work

Let’s put the barbell, to work here too.
Your safe, boring job is one end of the spectrum.
Your risky side projects, hustles, are the other.
You need both.

You could either do both together, or serially.
Work a safe job for a few years, then take up a risky moonshot, and if it doesn’t pan out, go back to another safe job.

While right now, I am in between jobs, due to health reasons, in my earlier lives, I had pretty boring jobs.
But, I write a lot. I teach a lot.
And that brought me a lot of opportunities that helped me through really trying times in the past two decades.

Health

This is relevant to me, because it helped me get fit over the past year.
I have three slipped discs.
Do I have surgery?
The docs are undecided. Or rather they are, but are unwilling to guarantee, how long the surgery would help me.
And I had bloated to 98 odd kgs at my worst.
What do I do?

So, the safe thing to do was to lose weight.
And the hard thing to do was to get strong.
Both of which, are progressing along nicely.
I lost 30 kgs and am doing aggressive physio to build up my back muscles, so that my poor vertebrae don’t have to do all the heavy lifting by themselves.
I feel much better today, better than I did in my twenties!

And that about does it for using barbells to help make decisions.
That’s all we have for you this week :)
I really do hope, this little heuristic, changes your life as much as it did mine :)


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What I Learnt from Antifragile (I)

There seems never to be the right time to write or the right amount that I could learn from Antifragile, so I’m just going to take a long, rambling stab at it this morning.

It will be a living document that I’ll keep adding to on the blog, sooner or later, but for now, this is just for you, my dear newsletter1 family.

Here goes …

While I love the way he writes, I don’t have that much a familiarity with English that, I can easily process stuff like this, every time I just want to grab a principle quickly.

“what physicists call the phenomenology of the process is the empirical manifestation, without looking at how it glues to existing general theories.”

or

“In Peri mystikes theologias, Pseudo-Dionysos did not use these exact words, nor did he discuss disconfirmation, nor did he get the idea with clarity, but in my view he figured out this subtractive epistemology and asymmetries in knowledge.”

Drives me bonkers every time.
Hence this little screed for me to look at, whenever I want to.

Antifragile

I got lucky when I stumbled on Antifragile in early 2013.

I was slogging at the end of nearly a decade long effort of digging my sorry ass out of debt.

And while I was doing that, I was trying to learn how to handle money better.

How to invest it well or at least the general principles, of how not to lose money, forget about growing it.

And more importantly, how be resilient enough, to handle stuff that life threw at me.

How not to stress.

I had it upto here, stressing about every bad thing that came along.

I was thinking about the same thing that Taleb espoused in this book.

It was not the title, Antifragile, that grabbed me, but the subtitle:

How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand

And the Prologue sucked me in totally,

Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.

Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind. This summarizes this author’s nonmeek attitude to randomness and uncertainty.

We just don’t want to just survive uncertainty, to just about make it. We want to survive uncertainty and, in addition—like a certain class of aggressive Roman Stoics—have the last word. The mission is how to domesticate, even dominate, even conquer, the unseen, the opaque, and the inexplicable.

How?

He then takes nearly 500 pages of dense prose like the two quotes up above to explain the how.

Make no mistake, I loved it. I enjoyed it.

I re-read this book every 8–12 months.

But I am definitely not smart enough to extract the principles I need, at a moments notice.

Hence this post(s).

Everything below, is now what I understand, (or think I understand) from Antifragile.

And why am I doing this?

Because the book changed my life for the better.

It gave me what Zig Ziglar called a new pair of glasses, to look at life with.

Or what Charles T Munger and Shane Parrish would call, a latticework of mental models.


Reading Order

If you get into Taleb zealotry like I have, and want to read the entire Incerto, then this is the order I suggest you do it.

  1. Antifragile
  2. Antifragile
  3. Antifragile
  4. The Bed of Procrustes
  5. Skin in the Game
  6. Fooled by Randomness / The Black Swan

Antifragile is the main work.

Even though it is the fourth chronologically. Every other book can be looked at as offshoots of some chapter in Antifragile.

Optionality

It is always good to have options. It is always good to check alternatives.

You gain a lot of freedom that way.

Options might be free, or you might have to pay for them.

But unless they are really expensive (which it really is not in most of life), it is always good to have options.

Case in point, after one case too many of being burnt over non refundable tickets, I started buying my air tickets, directly from the airline with the option to get a full refund.

Twice now, paying a bit more for this option has saved my hind quarters. Once I had to reschedule an entire multi city trip and the other was full refund, just as Covid hit.

Lesson learnt.

Now I look for options and alternatives even more in other areas of my life.

Domain Blindness

Some principle you use / do / see in one area of your life, can just as easily exist in others.

You can either diet and go to the gym and lift weights or become a manual labourer who hasn’t enough to eat and carries loaded bags.

The principle is the same. And the end result is the same. You drop fat and gain a six pack.

If you we can’t see the principle at work, we have a case of domain blindness.

I knew I could do a little bit every day on a certain task at work and get it done.

It never struck me to do the same to develop my skills.

Now that I see and am no longer domain blind, I use the same principle (steady, slow iteration) to lose weight, to complete my 12th standard and learn programming.


This is all I remember for now.
I’ll write more, as I realise more.



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  1. This was sent to my newsletter subscribers on Oct 4th, 2020. If you are reading this on the blog, you really should subscribe, if you want to read my stuff as soon as I put it out. 

Mountains, Holy Lands!

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I said to him: “Mr. Muir, someone told me you did not approve of the word ‘hike.’ Is that so?” His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied: “I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike!”

“Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

John Muir, A Parable of Sauntering



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P.P.P.S. The newsletters will now take a short holiday for about a month. Will see you soon!


Chop Wood, Carry Water

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A young boy became a monk.
He dreamed of enlightenment and of learning great things.
When he got to the monastery he was told that each morning he had to chop wood for the monks fires and then carry water up to the monastery for ablutions and the kitchen.
He attended prayers and meditation, but the teaching he was given was rather sparse.

One day he was told to take some tea to the Abbot in his chambers.
He did so and the Abbot saw he looked sad and asked him why.

He replied every day all I do is chop wood and carry water.
I want to learn.
I want to understand things.
I want to be great one day, like you.

The Abbot gestured to the scrolls on shelves lining the walls. He said,

‘When I started I was like you. Every day I would chop wood and carry water.
Like you I understood that someone had to do these things, but like you I wanted to move forward.
Eventually I did.
I read all of the scrolls, I met with Kings and and gave council.
I became the Abbot.

Now, I understand that the key to everything is that everything is chopping wood and carrying water, and that if one does everything mindfully then it is all the same.’

I don’t know, where I got this story from. Probably one of Anthony De Mello’s books.


Reflection

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trees reflecting in a pond

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The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

— Derek Walcott, Love after love.

Pair with these beautiful odes to the poem and the poet.



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