Hello, Matt: Every time I go to text somebody, I look at the keyboard and wonder why the letters are so mixed up. If they were in alphabetical order, it would be easier to find the key I want, I think. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Computer keyboards are the same way. Who made them like this? It can’t be to make things easier for the user. I think it makes things harder, especially when you’re learning to use it. You waste all that time looking all over the keyboard for the letter you want. Please give me a reasonable answer to this totally unreasonable situation. — Wendell W., North County
Yeah, Wendell, the farther away we get from the real reason for this weirdness, the harder the keyboard is to understand. These days there’s absolutely no reason for the keys to be mixed into such an alphabetic hash. Well, no reason other than “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But before you pitch that phone into a ditch in frustration, take a little time-ride with me, back to the mid-1800s, when some bright puppy invented a thing called a typewriter. Uh, know what that is? I never know how much ancient wisdom is passed down to the sparkly new generations who don’t really give a damn what happened much before last year.
Actually, the typewriter has a million fathers, going back to the early 1700s. Each inventor added his own mechanical tweak or came up with what he figured was a better overall design for a machine that would commit language to paper in rapid order. By the time stenography and telegraphy were speeding up the 19th-century business office, there was a real need for such a device. Comes along Christopher Sholes and his Type Writer with a two-row alphabetical alphanumeric key array, each key connected to a bar with the appropriate letter at each end. You press the key, the bar swings up and types the letter on the paper. The machines were prone to key jamming and other problems. Sholes studied letter frequencies in English spelling and considered different keyboard arrays. A few years pass, there’s more messing with Sholes’s key arrangement, and — voilà! — he designs a close approximation of our current four-row alphanumeric array, called the QWERTY keyboard. For speed and for no more type-bar jamming, QWERTY was the bee’s knees. Sholes’s second Type Writer model was manufactured by the Remington Arms company, when they weren’t busy cranking out rifles. The machine was such a hit that most future typewriters simply adopted Sholes’s QWERTY, and so it has been since the 1880s. Keyboard devices might make huge engineering leaps — electric typewriters, word processors, computers, cell phones — but no one’s seen fit to change the key arrangement, even though key-jamming problems and layout-based speed problems are things of the dusty, distant past that no one has to worry about today. Actually, there have been at least two contemporary redesigns of the keyboard, both claiming to be better and faster than QWERTY, but nobody seemed to care very much, so QWERTY it is, QWERTY it will be. Okay, Wendell? QWERTY was designed for a mechanical keyboard. We were just too lazy to change it as electronics gradually took over.
LET THERE BE LIGHT, DAMMIT
Matt: When compact fluorescent bulbs made their debut, I rushed out to Costco, bought twenty and, like foolish “environmentalists” (and I know that’s redundant) replaced every tungsten bulb in my home. I noted on each installation the date when it was lamped. Honestly, I thought the “eight times as long” was a stretch, but being young and foolish I believed the hype. Within two years every bulb was dead! Despite my lack of a receipt, Costco, bless their hearts, refunded my money for the bag of useless “environmentally sensitive” rubbish. I’d like to hear what others who marked their bulbs experienced, seeing as you want to continue this urban myth. I also found that CFLs dimmed substantially before they expired, something tungsten bulbs do not do. Shaving in equivalent light of a five-watt tungsten was challenging. For the record, there is a tungsten bulb still burning which was lit in early 1901, at a Livermore, California, fire station. I challenge any nabob of nonsense (environmentalist) to demonstrate such a longevity for CFLs. — Former believer, via email
Wow, Former! Trashing an entire social/political/economic movement based on a Costco light bulb. Well, we’ve let you vent your spleen and put out a cry for fellow travelers — others duped into believing all that econonsense. Grandma will probably be the first to sign on. She says she doesn’t look nearly as beautiful under the “green” bulbs as she did during the glowing tungsten years. We argued that she’s just getting older, but of course she won’t listen. So — power-saving bulbs an annoying hoax? You be the judge. BTW, the Livermore bulb was originally a 60-watter, made of hand-blown glass with a carbon filament. It’s now glowing at only 4 watts, but I don’t think even Costco offers a 110-year warranty on their product.