Saturday, June 11, 2011

Spaced Out, or, Typing in Blogland

I learned to type in junior high, back in the 1970's - a period known as the Precellious Era, or Technological Dawn of Time (TDT).

In those prehistoric days, we used actual typewriters. MANUAL typewriters. The kind that went chock - chock-chock - chockety-chock when you struck the keys. The kind that had inky red-and-black ribbons on spools, and return bars that dinged every time you started a new line.

(How do they teach typing these days? Or do they? Maybe kids take texting courses instead, involving proper thumb position and maximum use of abbreviations. I don't really know.)

Back in the TDT, typing was taught as follows:

We started with the letter J. Just the letter J. (At least we assumed it was the letter J. The keys were all painted black, with no reassuring bumps on them to help us maintain proper hand position. We had to take it on faith and observe the results on the typed page. Those were harsh days - we didn't use calculators in math class, either. But I digress.)

We typed the letter J, over and over again, until our right forefinger could do it without conscious direction from the brain. Then we added spaces between Js, until our thumbs were capable of the same autodirection.

Eventually we graduated to K and L and I and O. We went from strength to strength until by the end of the semester we had mastered the entire alphabet, the row of numbers, AND all those funny extra symbols on the outer edge of the keyboard galaxy.

In addition to these coveted skills, we learned how to format letters and other documents, and also the proper use of spacing and punctuation. Which is what I'm really writing about today. (I can hear you wondering when I'm going to get to the point.)

Have you ever heard of muscle memory? It's the neurological phenomenon that allows you to get on a bicycle after years of no riding, and take off down the road without losing your balance. It's what allows you to type in a password or PIN without thinking, when if you stop to think you can't remember the code at all.

Here's how Wikipedia explains it: "When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems."

Where am I going with all this?

When I learned to type, all those years ago, I was taught to put 2 spaces between every sentence within a paragraph (and between independent clauses too).

So - unless I'm about to start a new paragraph - every time I type a period, exclamation point, question mark, colon, or semi-colon, I hit the space bar TWICE afterwards. Without thinking. Every time. Space-space.

That muscle memory created in my junior-high typing class is still in effect. I can't help it. I can't stop it. I need my space, man.

Unfortunately, HTML doesn't get it. Maybe HTML never took a junior high typing class.

If I type 2 spaces in a blog post, HTML inserts this funky code: " ". (This is called a hard space, or non-breaking space.) Then HTML does a really annoying thing: it keeps that code in place no matter what, so there's ALWAYS a space, even at the beginning of a new line. The space can't be compressed. It absolutely, positively has to stay there - which sometimes creates indents where they're not wanted.

Thus it is, that on any given day in Blogland, I'll sit posting happily, carried away by my muse, until I hit the preview button to see how it looks on the blog page. Cue the consternation:  Aaaaugh! Indented lines! (And where did all those extra spaces between paragraphs and pictures come from?  HTML again!)

So, muttering dire imprecations through my clenched teeth, I head over to the "Edit HTML" mode and delete all those hard space codes. It's VERY tedious. And annoying. I mean, really - I can't help my motor memory. Have punctuation rules changed that much in the last 35 years? Is it a crime to put 2 spaces between sentences? Is there no way out of this black hole of text code?

Oddly enough, I stumbled upon the solution to my problem while typing this very post (just 3 paragraphs back, to be precise). And it's the simplest thing imaginable.

Up until now, I've been doing all my posting in Blogger's "Compose" mode, because it's easier to upload pictures and do funky text effects there. But this post was typed in "Edit HTML" mode without my realizing it. When I went to look for the hard space codes, they simply weren't there.  Not even one.

And so my tale of typing woe comes to an abrupt but happy close. As long as I use the "Edit HTML" mode, I can 2-space all I want. HTML won't add any hard spaces. My text will be neatly and elegantly distributed on the blog page - no more unwanted indents!

Which leaves me with a new problem: the muscle memory that causes me to click the "Compose" tab before I start typing a post. I'll have to work on that one.

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  1. I think you & I were in school and learned typing about the same time, except that for me, I had it in high school at Granton High School, Clark County, Wisconsin. Manual typewriters, but our keys weren't blacked out, thank goodness, and we started with the asdfghjkl line over and over until it became second-nature, then on to the line above and once that was learned, on to the line below. By the time I graduated in 1974, I could type fairly well but still looked at the keys most of the time. I've gotten better about that over the years, but I can still tell almost instantly when I've mis-typed something and go back and correct it. I will never win any speed-typing classes, but I can do what I need to do in a reasonable amount of time.

    As for how the kids learn to type today, it's called "keyboarding" now and it's all done on the computer. No more ca-ching at the end of a line of type or correction fluid. They don't know what they've missed! There are software programs and fun games now to help students improve their keyboarding skills. They also start in elementary school. No more waiting til middle school (our junior high) or high school.

    I had to laugh at your trouble with the double-space after sentences, etc. I returned to college, to the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, in the fall of 2009. I'd completed 3 semesters in the UW system since high school and circumstances had worked in such a way that I was able to return again to pick up where I'd left off. I'm working on a bachelors degree in elementary education/special education-learning disabilities. I've had two classes now in computer education and ran head-first into this same 2-spaces rule right off the bat. It WAS difficult to overcome that habit, but I believe I've been successful.

    What part of our lovely state do you live in? I've lived in the southwestern part of Taylor County for the past 23 years, but was born and raised in central Clark County.

  2. Columbia County - sort of the north end of south central Wisconsin. Thanks for your fun comments!


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