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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!


#82. I never took any computer or typing classes in school. So, naturally, now I’m a software engineer.

This is pretty much the way my life works. I come up with a plan, and think it through, and set off to accomplish something. I work, and work, and work, and make some progress, and then — guh! Sonething happens to screw it all up, and I wash onto some uncharted shore, with just my loincloth and a packet of beef jerky, and I have to make the best of it. And eventually, it works out, but all that planning shit goes right out the window. You’d think I’d have learned by now.

Anyway, back in high school I had the option of taking typing. Not a lot of guys signed up for it, but a few did. It was pretty damned easy, I guess, when you think about it. Hell, I played video games — I could have aced through something that required only a little bit of finger dexterity. But I laughed at ‘Typing 101’. Nay, I scoffed. I may have even guffawed, just a little.

I wanted nothing to do with typing, or keyboards, or computers. Oh, sure, I’d occasionally have to type a letter, or a college application, and then I’d hunt and peck my way through it, mumbling and cursing under my breath. And once I finished whatever I was writing, I’d pack the typewriter away and be happy that I wouldn’t have to see it again for another few weeks or months.

Then, I got into college. (I guess that smudged application essay with all the x’ed out mistakes and White-out was just fine after all, huh, Mom? Nyah nyah.) And I was greeted by a whole new world of possibility — more typing, and computer studies, and computer science, and programming. All these doors had opened to me. So I ran right over and slammed the damned things shut, one after the other. Nope, nope, nope, and nope. I was going to be a scientist, dammit. I might use a computer to build a spreadsheet, or — if I had to — type up some results. But learn to type, or — gasp! — program? Nuh uh. Not gonna happen.

Remember, this was back in the early ’90’s. (Yes, that’s nineteen nineties, smartass. I’m not that fucking old. Dickhead.) But the internet was in it’s infancy, and there really wasn’t a ‘web’ to speak of. Not to mention that there was an awful lot of beer to be drinking, and sports to be playing, and TV to be watching. How the hell many academic interests did I really have time for? I’m just one man, fer Chrissakes.

So, I made it through college without succumbing to the enticements of the keyboard. I went to grad school, in a far-off city, while my then-girlfriend / now-wife stayed behind to finish up. I didn’t know many people, or have a hell of a lot to do. I learned about email, and discovered the web. Suddenly, I spent a lot of time in front of a computer screen. I was still hunt-and-pecking along, using two fingers (and a thumb, when I was really feeling racy) and taking ten minutes to write a damned sentence. (Think I could have written this blog back then? Nah. I’d have had to give up breathing just to find the time.)

It was about that time that a friend of mine from high school wrote me and changed my career path. He was transcribing public-domain texts into HTML for Project Gutenberg, or some offshoot thereof. I had a lot of time on my hands; how’d I like to help out? So I looked at his list of texts to convert, picked out a Sherlock Holmes story, and went to work.

There were a lot of other stops along my path, of course. I didn’t leave grad school to volunteer fell-time for Project Gutenburg, of course. (Though the money would have been just about as good.) I helped to set up a web site on campus, and loaded content onto it. I took on some freelance projects. I did some more work with my friend, this time for cash and under the the umbrella of his one-man startup company. I picked up skills, and started typing with all my fingers, not just the indexes.

Actually, though the experience above was key to my becoming a software engineer (the web site I helped with turned into my first programming job), it probably wasn’t the main factor that improved my typing skills. No, for that, I can thank another enormous time-sucking activity that I got into during graduate school: MUDding.

If you’re not familiar with MUDs (and MUSHes, and MOOs, etc.), I think I can explain them pretty easily. They’re text-only virtual ‘worlds’, where people hang out and chat and kill stuff and buy shit and go on quests and pretend they’re warriors or soldiers or aliens, or whatever. Okay, mainly, they go off in private areas and pretend they’re having sex with each other. But that’s not the point, dammit. The point is that they’re online escapes, where bored kids like me could slay dragons and pilot mechs and earn points and rise up through the ranks of the other dingleberries playing at the time, and make a few friends in the process. And they were actually kinda fun, at the time — try to imagine Ultima Online, if Infocom were in charge of it. All text, so all typing. Nothing but typing. Typing to move, typing to talk, typing to eat, typing to sit down and rest, typing to go to sleep in the damned game, for the love of Christmas! And I played a lot. For a couple of years there, I had little better to do in my free time. (Oh, all right, fine. There were a thousand better things I probably could have done. But I didn’t do them, all right? I did this. What the hell can I tell you? I’m a moron.)

And now, ten years or so later, here I am. I’ve got eight years of honest-to-goodness programming under my belt. I type at work (when I have work, that is), I type at home, and I type in my free time. I probably type in my sleep. I’ve been typing for so long, and so often, that I can finally (as of about five years ago) type without looking. I can listen to music while I’m typing. (Look! I’m doing it right now! Look! Look!) I can talk while I type; I can even look over my shoulder at something else while I’m typing, with relatively few issues. Here — let’s try it. I’ll look out the window and type something, and then just leave whatever I produce right here.

DSwe fse;w sev cfs3j0k bwe3 stha sv09 shj3;1.

See? Wasn’t that… um, oh. Hmmm. Look at that. Damn, I’m a doofus. Guess it’s back to school time for me. Bitches.

All right, I’m yankin’ your chain. Lemme try it for real, just for my own curiosity:

Sge sekls sea shgells by the sea shore.

Okay, so that’s only marginally better. Dammit. So if I’m ever in a horrible disfiguring accident, and my neck is permanently twisted so that I’m looking over my right shoulder, I won’t be able to type any more. I guess I’ll just have to keep that in mind. That’s just one more horrible disfiguring accident I have to try to avoid, now. The list is getting pretty long. I should probably be writing this shit down somewhere…

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