Here are some thoughts

The other day my son asked me why the keys on a keyboard are in a random order. I happened to know the answer to that question, furthering the illusion that adults know more things than children. My uncle, who spent many years in the old typesetting business, told me the story. He explained that keyboards used to be laid out in a logical, alphabetical order. Typists became so fast, though, that the mechanical keys of typewriters would get jammed up. I am actually old enough to have used a typewriter in middle school, and this was a frequent occurrence even with my inept typing skills. And so, the story goes, IBM invented the QWERTY layout of keys to slow down typists. So, we have a legacy system designed to make it hard to type. Now, I haven’t checked to see if the QWERTY story is an urban myth, since that would mean the possibility that adults don’t always know what they are talking about, but somebody has to have the courage to change this. I’m talking to you, Apple Computers! You are the big innovators; you are the ones 9 1/2 years ahead of other manufacturers. You should be the one brave enough to change the keyboard. You got rid of floppy disk drives before anyone was ready and we all adapted. You could transition the population with a switchable QWERTY/Alphabetical board.

While you are making that change, Apple, add this long neglected feature: A cents sign. It’s a bit absurd that there’s a dollar sign above the 4, but no cents sign. In all the years I’ve been using keyboards, I can never remember what the combination of keystrokes is that creates the cents sign. If they have to get rid of something, get rid of that ` thing to the left of the 1. It’s not really an accent mark, since you’d have to press all sorts of buttons to get it to appear above an e. The accent marks should be imprinted on the letter keys and appear when you press the letter with a helper button.

Speaking of cents, my son had this idea: The U.S. mint should make 99 cent coins. Everything seems to on sale for $something.99, and who needs all those single pennies weighing down their pockets? Have you ever stood there after buying something for $10.99 while you had to wait awkwardly for your one cent in change? Do you say, “keep the change?” or would that mess up their accounting system? You don’t know, so you just stand there & when you get your nearly worthless penny, you look for a little change cup on the counter to put it in. I know these observations are pretty cultural-centric, but if you’re reading this and you live in India, just bear with me… it’s one way of learning all the inane little details of life in the United States, in case you ever decide to live here.

And, if you do live in the United States, you have to get from one place to another. Even if you are a blogger, and you spend all day at your computer, you may occasionally look out the window and see that many people are walking on two legs, which is a roundabout way of bringing me to my next point:

Bipedalism seems an unlikely mode of transportation. Isn’t it precarious to balance a high center of gravity on two leg sticks? It just strikes me as a strange outcome of evolution.

As far as evolution goes, I’m constantly amazed that it has worked out as well as it has. Have you ever thought about what things would be like if evolution hadn’t done such a good job? There must be a planet somewhere with really messed up creatures. What if we had evolved to have a third leg that was always getting in the way? I know what you evolutionary biologists are thinking: “That would be inefficient & thus would tend to be replaced by a better system…. And I wear a turnip for a hat.” But, evolution is the result of random mutations, and it seems to me that there’s at least a slim possibility that the mutations necessary to get rid of a third leg might not ever happen to pop up.

And while we are on the subject of evolutionary mutations, I was surfing the internets today looking for an update on our species’ progress toward immortality, when I discovered that there is at least one multicellular animal that is known to be immortal. It is a small sea creature called turritopsis nutricula, a sort of jellyfish. It grows from a polyp to an adult & then the cells in its body actually reverse and grow back into a polyp, just like Benjamin Button, only back & forth forever. There’s another possibly immortal animal called a hydra. You see them all over in ponds and streams. They are tiny predators with up to 12 poisonous (to water fleas) tentacles. When it’s time for the hydra to reproduce, it has two options. If food is scarce, it opts for sexual reproduction. To do that, it grows an ovary, testes, or both, and releases gametes in the water to find their way to hydras with ovaries and fertilize eggs. But the hydra aren’t stuck with sexual reproduction. When food’s a-plenty, a hydra will sprout a bud on the side of its body which grows into a complete miniature adult hydra & breaks off. But wait! There’s more! Sadistic scientists of the 19th century discovered that you can squeeze a hydra through cheese cloth, dissecting it into a mush of individual cells & the cells will regroup & grow back into a hydra.

I tell you all of this because the bud-sprouting hydra reminds me of a science fiction movie idea I had years ago. I envisioned a race of people who reproduced by sprouting walnut-like spores on their backs, which would then fall off to the ground & if watered, would grow into babies. I figured that cultures would develop communal baby gardens to make sure the new ones were watered and cared for.

Now that might seem like a strange thing to write in a blog, but what attracts me to the walnut baby humans is that they are raised communally, and I think that would forge a strong sense of interdependence and group responsibility. So, Apple Computers, I’m just suggesting that the iWalnut Baby may be something to look into.

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9 Responses to Here are some thoughts

  1. mike says:

    QWERTY origin: not a myth (but not invented by IBM).

    home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/whyqwert.html

    Apple keyboard layouts: already changeable, by you, whenever you want.

    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=Mac/10.5/en/8424.html

    Dvorak is said to be the optimal choice.

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    • ericesad says:

      Thanks for the link about the real origin of QWERTY. My uncle passed on a few years back, so he won’t be bothered. I think there would still be a huge advantage to kids first learning to type if the keys were laid out alphabetically.

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      • Chocula says:

        The dvorak layout would be far superior to the abcde layout you propose. It’s actually optimized. The time it takes you, at first encounter as a kid, to learn where the keys are is insignificant to the time you’d save in having the common keys underneath your fingers.

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  2. Brittney says:

    Funny – I had no idea, but as I used to use a typewriter and experienced the jamming, I actually know what you meant!

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  3. Jodi says:

    WOW! didnt know the story behind the keys… very cool!

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  4. ramanuj says:

    you have got some original thinking! shared your post on my google talk.

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  5. Divya says:

    Nice!didn’t know that one!

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  6. […] Here are some thoughts […]

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  7. […] Some Technical and Scientific Musings Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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