Deliberate practice, typing faster, and Emacs

I type at about 90-95 wpm. I wonder: Would it be worth getting even faster? How would I go about doing it without increasing my risks of RSI? I’m thinking about this because of something I read in Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. On page 172, Joshua Foer writes this about deliberate practice:

The secret to improving at a skill is to retain some degree of
conscious control over it while practicing–to force oneself to stay
out of autopilot. With typing, it’s relatively easy to get past the OK
plateau. Psychologists have discovered that the most efficient method
is to force yourself to type faster than feels comfortable, and to
allow yourself to make mistakes. In one noted experiment, typists were
repeatedly flashed words 10 to 15 percent faster than their fingers
were able to translate them onto the keyboard. At first they were’nt
able to keep up, but over a period of days they figured out the
obstacles that were slowing them down, and overcame them, and then
continued to type at the faster speed. By bringing typing out of the
autonomous stage and back under their conscious control, they had
conquered the OK plateau.

If I were to invest time into typing better, it would be for these reasons:

  • to lower the risk of RSI by making correct movements, like the way shifting to Dvorak helped me tweak my brain to type more effectively (I type at about the same rate on QWERTY and Dvorak, but Dvorak feels better)
  • to reduce the friction between thought and writing even more
  • to transcribe things more efficiently
  • to explore just how fast I can go

My brain’s more of a bottleneck than my fingers are, so typing isn’t getting in the way of much. It’s still something to be curious about, though!

The open-source Plover stenography program looks really interesting. I’m going to be on a Windows-host-Linux-VM system for a while, so I’ll need to wait for the Windows port (or shift back to Linux as my host OS).

Most typing tutors / speed measurements I’ve come across aren’t quite what I’m looking for because they display lots of text and scroll through it, which is good for buffering things in your head and not so good for training past the point of failure. Typing games tend to kill you once you miss too many words.

Enter Emacs. Among many many things, Emacs has at least one typing game. It’s not built in, but you can get it from the Emacs Wiki: The Typing of Emacs. A few quick modifications later (which I’ll post next week if I get permission), and I’ve:

  • added a “zombie mode” that will keep the game going even after you hit your threshold of failure
  • added the question-and-answer mode that the code hinted at

Zombie-mode Typing of Emacs lets me stay in the “this is going way too fast for me” zone, sometimes repeating a single word until I’ve gotten the hang of it or I’ve given up. For example, I haven’t figured out how to type CreativeCommons in 2 seconds. The closest I got in 10 tries was the one time I typed “CreativeComomns”, which was sooo close. Usually, the timeout kicked in on the last few characters.

Maybe it’s because I also have to hit Enter to submit what I’ve typed. Hmm, I wonder if I can redefine some keys…

Successfully typing CreativeCommons in 2 seconds still gets me around 95wpm, though, and reading + typing + pressing Enter makes it difficult to get down to 1-second time limits (darn those reaction times!). Maybe I’ll use my new Q&A support to play around with typing sentences.

If I spend more time typing in autocorrecting environments or shifting to editing after typing (it’s good to review anyway), then I might be able to loosen up enough to type faster. =)

There are plenty of sites and apps to help people get from 30wpm to 60wpm or whatever, but not really YouTube videos have mostly people banging away on keyboards. Are you the fastest typist among your friends? Have you worked on getting even faster? Do share!

2011-09-09 Fri 20:08

  • jstolle

    I’ve been meaning to get to typing skills for a while. My keyboarding skills are an insult to those who actually know how to type, and I seriously need to fix that. I had stared at GNU typist, but it wasn’t compelling enough to pull the trigger on it. Since I’m currently concentrating on doing as much as I can in Emacs, Typing of Emacs looks like the perfect tool for me. Thank you!!!

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    I’ve just posted my modified typing.el, with zombie mode (C-u M-x typing-of-emacs) and Q&A mode. Have fun!

  • http://about.me/justinhj Justin Heyes-Jones

    Nice post, and I love the name “Zombie Mode”. They say there are two problems in Computer Science; caching and naming things, so you nailed at least one of those.

  • http://heybryan.org/ kanzure

    Another trick is to take drugs (like stimulants). It boosts my wpm by about 20-30 wpm.

    see my stats here:
    http://www.seanwrona.com/typeracer/profile.php?username=kanzure

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    kanzure: Impressive speed. =) I won’t even drink coffee (I don’t like the long-term effects), so stimulants are out of the question for me.

    Justin: Well, when you start with a parody of The Typing of the Dead… <grin>

  • hannes

    Thanks for the “deliberate practice” concept and pointer to ToE.

    I noticed that zombification introduced a bug into the also-fun non-zombie mode. Here’s the fix http://www.emacswiki.org/cgi-bin/emacs?Compare=Compare&action=browse&diff=1&id=typing.el&revision=&diffrevision=9

    My own typing goal is better accuracy at moderate (60wpm) speed — I already type faster than I think, but typos always break my flow. I wonder if high-speed zombie-practice can help with that, by increasing the frequency of mistakes to the level where it’s easier to consciously fix them. I guess there’s only one way to find out :-)

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Ooh, awesome. Thanks! =)