02 October 2008


If you follow me via the FeedBurner feed (at http://feeds.feedburner.com/AlexEaglesWeblog) then you are already getting posts from my new blog location:


I know it's strange to move from Blogger to Wordpress, just as I start working at Google. But well, Wordpress is really nice, and I'm in a linux dork phase so I wanted to host my own stuff.

If you're not following via FeedBurner, then stop reading this, and come to my new location!


05 May 2008

This is one thing I really like about electronic music: you have to be a super-dork to think this looks like a fun instrument to play:

I installed Reason 4 last night, which Gabe and I used among our tools in our laptop band. Reason 4 add this enormously complicated looking instrument called the Thor, which I know basically nothing about. So let me blog about it anyway.

The Thor is a synth of an analog waveform generator with such complicated options that there are arrows showing the flowchart and a table at the bottom listing part of the configuration. The knobs are a lot of fun - you can play one note on your keyboard and then just perform on the knobs. Best of all, it comes with patches from some electronic music savants, most notably, Plaid! It was a blast to play with a couple of their instruments.

December 16, 2007 was a big day for me, as longtime readers know. The great Dvorak switch, which hobbled my typing for quite a while, is finally over the hump, and I think it will end up being a success. Success in this case means lack of regret. I am back to a pretty reasonable speed on the zebra test: Accuracy: 100%, Gross Speed: 47 WPM. It's about where I was with Qwerty before going to the Das Keyboard. After getting married at the end of this month, I'll switch back to blank keys and I expect to get over the touch typing hump a lot faster, since I can already type a fair amount without looking.

Now, maybe this blog won't be the Dvorak blog anymore, but I will give a few parting thoughts to the topic. Dvorak is great if you like to be a one-man novelty act. This is partly because people tend to be conformist, and enforce that tendency on others by mocking differences. You'll get some blank stares from people who assume (probably correctly) that you'd have to be crazy to move around all the keys on your keyboard.

But also, although Dvorak feels better and is faster to learn, you're competing with 20 years (in my case) of qwerty. It took me 5 months to feel really comfortable with typing again. Now, mind you, I don't have a lot of discipline, so I didn't practice. I'm sure if I used a typing program (instead of deciding to write my own), it could have gone faster, but really, this has been a hard, hard thing to make myself do.

That said, it is now a major accomplishment, and I can move forward into the world even more special than I was before :)

23 January 2008

Arrival times on DC Subway

So awesome! I found that you can get the Metro's next train arrival times on your phone! It's exactly the same data you see on those electronic boards on the platform – I checked it for the Courthouse station, and saw that I had two minutes to make the train, and I ran down to the platform and just barely caught it.

It's extra nice that the page is intended to be displayed in a popup – so it's a tiny download.

1. Google “wmata <name of your stop>”
2.The second link (usually) goes to a small page showing the train arrival board. You can also find it on the station's page.

Like this: Clarendon

If you have an iPhone with the Jan08 update, add that sucker to your home screen!

21 January 2008

Typing speed update

I'm still on Dvorak. I guess that's really the big news, because it has been occasionally infuriating that I can't get words onto "paper" as fast as I think. But the more I get mad at this shortcoming, the more I'm reminded of how great it is to be a fast typist, and that's tho whole goal here.

I have taken the labels off five keys now, returning to their glorious and blank Das Keyboard state. I'm also still working on TypingHero, my Flex app that's supposed to make it fun to type faster. Gabe helped me out over the weekend to improve the wiring of my mxml views to their backing controller classes. It's great to work with true components, but it's frustrating that using best practices in Flex is so contrary to the examples and sometimes the language makes it awkward.

Sadly my speed has leveled out over this month, and is stuck at half my QWERTY speed...

Net Speed: 33 WPM
Accuracy: 97%
Gross Speed: 34 WPM

Net Speed: 33 WPM
Accuracy: 97%
Gross Speed: 34 WPM

I'll get a more useful and fun version of TypingHero soon, and of course I'll speed up my typing considerably using it. Of course!

19 December 2007

Typing Heroism

I'm now two weeks into the post-qwerty period of my life. To celebrate, I subjected my laptop to the switch:

The paper clip method worked very nicely and never made me feel like I might break anything.

I feel a slight desire to proselytize. I'm not going to knock on doors with a book of mormon, but I would like to be scientific about gathering evidence to make my case.

Before the switch, I was pretty fast on qwerty:

typingtest.com - default settings, Zebras
Accuracy: 94%
Gross Speed: 58 WPM

Irrational side of...:
Accuracy: 96%
Gross Speed: 65 WPM

Then I changed keys, and my last blog post was 407 words in about an hour:

week 0:
6.8 wpm

Only 10 times slower... but I would forget the end of my sentences by the time I got there.

week 2
Accuracy: 100%
Gross Speed: 27 WPM

So now I'm up to half my original speed. This doesn't exactly make the case, but I'm getting there.

I also made a quick Flash version of the typing lesson I've been working through, and would like to make a real game out of it. It's at TypingHero.com.

16 December 2007

Switching to Dvorak, or, the slowest typing ever

4:45 PM

It all started when I spilled some Guinness in my Apple keyboard a couple months ago. I tried to clean it up quickly, but after it dried, a couple keys didn't work. I ran it through the dishwasher, I heard that can work on NPR, but although it came out clean as new, the bad keys were still on vacation.

After moving around the corner in my building I pulled the keyboard out again and decided to take another shot at repairs. I discovered that the keys pop out really easily, there's a simple center post and two snappy clips. It was so much fun to pop out the keys that even though only Caps lock, Tab, and tilde are broken, I ended up with this:

So what would you do in this situation? Once all the keys are in a pile, it's a perfect time to make some changes instead of putting them back in those lame places they started in. The name for those lame places is the QWERTY keybard layout. (Ironic how long it took me to type QWERTY...)

[O]nce an operator had learned to type at speed, the bars attached to letters that lay close together on the keyboard became entangled with one another, forcing the typist to manually unstick the typebars, and also frequently blotting the document. A business associate of Sholes, James Densmore, suggested splitting up keys for letters commonly used together to speed up typing by preventing common pairs of typebars from striking the platen at the same time and sticking together. The effect this rearrangement of letters had on maximum typing speed is a disputed issue. Some sources assert that the QWERTY layout was designed to slow down typing speed to further reduce jamming.

So while QWERTY wasnt designed to be the slowest layout, it does try to help the typewriter deal with fast typers, and as a result, it is a slow and antiquated system that has become a anachronistic standard at best. Why do people still use it? Plainly, it is already on the keyboard, and people want to do what's familiar. Maybe they don't want to question common wisdom and norms. And sure, once you learn it, you can be pretty fast.

Programmers do like to question norms of course. And sometimes do wildly impractical projects, like using the fastest layout, Dvorak:

Once I had the keys in place, it took 10 seconds to switch keyboard layouts in OS X. Windows makes it easy too... you can probably find the tempting Dvorak option on your machine right now. Don't you want to click it, and ditch that lame layout from the 1800's? Look at the metrics, and imagine yourself Instantly typing 40% faster!

So that last claim is a bold lie. I've now spent almost an hour typing this, which is completely infuriating, so I'm going to get dinner. Check back in a week or two to see how long I can make myself do this.

(did I mention I've tried twice before?)

5:45 PM

29 November 2007

IntelliJ IDEA, week 1

I switched from eclipse to IDEA about a week ago, mostly due to prompting from jkuhnert. I feel like making a Borat reference: "Verry niiiice."

If I start getting preachy about IDEA, I'll have to back it up with real reasons why it is good, so here are my favorites. Mind you, I'm just learning things as I stumble upon them, and I'm no expert yet - but maybe these are some things you can look forward to in that crucial week 1... that time when you throw away most new tools you try.

First, the obvious things - it's streamlined for common developer tasks, doesn't try to compile your whole project all the time, and comes with most of the stuff you need, instead of giving you the pleasure of choosing the right plugins.

Keyboard shortcuts. I've had "learn more keyboard shortcuts" on my list for a while, because when it comes to raw productivity, you want to be able to do things in the computer at a similar speed to what happens in your brain. The mouse is fine up to a certain speed, but it hits a wall. Learning keyboard shortcuts, on the other hand, is an investment like making yourself touch-type, you can keep getting faster. IDEA really makes it possible to do away with the mouse. And, they are great about putting keymap hints on the UI, as well as providing a nice cheatsheet

The changelist feature. We are always somewhere between an svn update and an svn commit, and every change we make ends up in a list when commit time rolls around. Most of the time, I don't have a nice clean changeset to commit, because I've made some other changes that belong with each other, or I don't want to promote to version control. IDEA shows you that list of changes all the time, instead of at commit time, and lets you push those changes into different changelists as you go. It's really consistent, too, with the diff viewer open you can flip back and forth through your changes and move them to changelists there too. Howard Lewis Ship blogged about this one. Although duck_typer has a good point - you can just have multiple working copies of the project, and use one for each set of changes. That way if you touch the same file in two changesets, you're still ok.

The UI Layout. I actually have problems reading the text in eclipse, which makes me feel old. You can force some text size changes, but things like the navigator panel and tab titles were always annoying. For some reason, the swing UI in IDEA has nicer fonts, a more comfortable layout, and seems more responsive. (yeah, most things are more responsive than eclipse)

Anyway, those probably won't be my favorite features in a few months, but they're making me happy for now.