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Sometimes I remember to take a screenshot just before I start writing a new chapter. Here’s a chronological selection:
It’s funny (for me, at least) to notice how I learned I don’t need to be so precious about whitespace and visual noise…
…and having two side-by-side panes (one for writing, the other for notes) is easier than having them in one file and moving above and below.
Also, one thing I learned about my process… starting a new chapter is always painful. Every Single Time, it’s an abyss of a blank page. But:
At least I know it sucked before, many times, and every time I got through it. That knowledge makes it easier to endure.
Just sent my first book newsletter! It’s a thoroughly exciting moment, and I am nervous as hell.
I hate when I *really* want to continue, but my eyes, my brain, and my body are giving up since I have already been writing for five hours…
I powered through it. Seven hours of writing, and I’m exhausted, but I covered the story of computer keyboards coming home.

*drops dead*
I am actually really happy about this. One of my fears when sitting down to this project was: what new can I even add to any of this?
I read so many accounts of the birth of personal computing, from writers like Steven Levy who are way more talented than me.
But I feel good about this chapter. I found a new way to connect all this, centered around the keyboard (and UI in general).
In my research, I found little details that nobody ever mentioned before.
And, I will tell the story of the infamous 1969 Kitchen Computer in a new way I have never seen it being told!
Someone (@OrkneyDullard!) just reminded me of my first truly long-form piece, which I wrote in 2012:
It felt like such a complex piece, a personal milestone as a writer, and was one of the big building blocks that led to the idea of a book.
When you’re planning for a new chapter and realize you might have a small continuity problem.
Just had to descend into the murky waters of ~/Library/Group Containers/group.com.apple.notes/NoteStore.sqlite, to recover a timeline of…
…keyboard shortcuts I painstakingly constructed – and then lost owing to a careless use of ⌘X without a matching ⌘V. How deeply ironic.
In February, I posted this sticky note, saying that untangling all of this will be the biggest challenge.
Today, I finished untangling it, reaching an amazing milestone of finishing the last chapter that ties this whole arc together. (Sic!)
This arc might be the backbone of the book; it’s the story of what happened to keyboards between typewriters and computers today.
Here’s the list of chapters I wrote, and the corresponding titles and keys.
You might recognize a lot of the keys as still on your keyboard, which is why this is so exciting – each era influenced where we are today.
I’ve never seen anyone talk about it this way, and I always wanted to. Now I can. And, I suppose, I just did. :·)
More chapters have been written, and more will have to be. I still need to write the tough ones about QWERTY, ergonomics, and sexism…
…but this, *this* thing, this milestone, this feels incredible right now.

And tomorrow, I’m taking a day off. \õ/
BTW if you’re reading this thread and don’t want to miss the book announcements – sign up for the newsletter! aresluna.org/shift-happens
This was so pleasurable, by the way – learning all of this myself, just so I can explain it to my readers.
Show me that February sticky note now, and I can draw all the lines connecting everything in proper order, and tell you all about it.
On the other hand, pouring through legal documents was the least fun I had ever since sitting through the cringeworthy/sexist DEFCON talks.
Getting deep into ergonomics papers, and my apartment walls once in a while hear a loud “wow” as I learn new fascinating things.
Fascinating/depressing subject I didn’t even know existed until today: the sociopolitical aspects of RSI epidemic in Australia in the 1980s.
Interviews are hard, for me at least. They are stressful. Exhausting. I’m often disappointed in myself for not knowing how to ask questions.
But sometimes a really great one happens. It did today! It blew my mind. You have no idea how exciting the story of RSI/ergonomics will be.
(I didn't know myself just a few ago, which makes it seem even more of a great discovery that I can't wait to share more widely.)
(Go, go, little OCR recognition engine, go. Help me out. Tell me the secrets of the 1926 work of German keyboard ergonomic specialists.)
This is the most heartbroken I’ve been working on this book. Never been so anxious copy/pasting passages into Google Translate.
Untangling the most difficult chapter so far. Please wish me luck.
Celebrating finishing the most difficult chapter so far with the ritual of replacing an orange sticky note with an aggressive neon-pink one.
The sticky wall today vs. when I started. So many aggressive neon-pink notes, but still quite a few orange ones.
Trying to decipher notes for the next chapter I left for myself in the dark at the dead of night is exactly like that one Seinfeld episode.
What! This is way better than what I actually wrote.
Simeon knows too much.
The book brought me back to school! Taking a few classes at UC Berkeley to see how workplace ergonomics is being taught today.
A somewhat pretentious, highly idealized, intensely colour-coördinated portrait of a writer’s desk (right after the writer cleaned it up).
Who knew looking into typewriter-related crimes for the next chapter will bring me to a certain young, ambitious California congressman…
Coming up with chapter titles continues to be a rather difficult, but fun task.
Here’s a list of books that influence(d) my book: medium.com/@mwichary/shif…

(Also a very nice reading list.)
The modern typewriter was invented between 1867–1873 at Kleinsteuber’s machine shop at 318 State Street in Milwaukee…
…I was in the middle of writing a chapter about it, when I completely by accident found myself traveling to Chicago for the weekend…
…and realized Milwaukee is not very far away! So I woke up at 5am this morning, rented a car, and drove up there.
This is me writing part of the chapter about the birthplace of the typewriter AT THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS BORN, exactly 150 years later!
It was kind of incredible to bring a 2017 QWERTY keyboard to where the original was being made, a century-and-a-half ago.
(The building no longer exists, so I sat on the ground. After a weekend of miserable weather, the sun came out literally minutes later.)
There’s only a (crooked) plaque nearby.
I am exhausted right now, but this was a perfect little moment.
Something kind of nice just happened. I needed to re-read a few chapters I wrote all the way back in May…
…to make sure they will connect with what I’m writing next. And I was surprised how much fun I had reading them.
The distance of time made it feel like reading someone else. And it was fun. And I actually learned new things. (Well, re-learned.)
Writing has become harder in recent months, but this experience helped a bit to find energy for the last dozen chapters.
If I enjoyed reading those, chances are other people might, too.
Excited about writing the next chapter: a stroll through the Typewriter Row in 1910’s New York, speed typing contests, and a tearful ending.
Interesting challenge to set up a walking tour of a place 110 years back in time. I didn’t know New York’s Broadway had cable cars then!

I actually have keyboard dreams now, sometimes.
Sitting down to write the most difficult chapter yet (about sexism around typewriting and computing). Please wish me luck!
Unforeseen challenges of unexpectedly interesting phone interviews.
Two evocative photos for tomorrow’s chapter about portable keyboards, where Corona typewriter (WWI) meets a ThinkPad (Space Shuttle).
The sun did this as I was writing today.
If starting a new chapter is consistently the worst part of writing, the feeling tonight is one of the best: I wrote most of a chapter today, and tomorrow is just riding the momentum and finishing it.
As I’m nearing the completion of the first draft, the reference book piles loom higher and higher.

(left = today, right = when I started)
Trying to keep sane with a few related side projects that are not just about writing. Testing a brand new one. The next newsletter is going to be something special!
80% done towards the first draft. Today’s chapter was awful: writing for eight hours through a headache, ended up with what feels like plodding, incoherent mess.
But I suppose that’s good. Done is better than perfect, and so on. What’s awful to write is not always awful to read – plus, even if so, things can be made better in future revisions.
Or, in other words…
In “Internet can still be good sometimes” news, I am having an email conversation with someone who actually used this 1959 Italian computer:
He sent me the computer’s manual (!!!), which I’m trying to understand via Google Translate. (And already uploaded to Internet Archive: archive.org/details/Olivet…)
I’m now at ten chapters left (including the intro and outro!), so I am doing A GIANT COUNTDOWN TO THE FIRST DRAFT.

I will celebrate each chapter with a PR stratagem of posting a selfie with a keyboard I own. I don’t really do selfies, ever, so this will be… new.

By the way, as I’m doing the necessary research, I am absolutely falling in love with Chinese and Japanese, and the histories behind their writing systems. I had no idea. You could spend your whole life studying those, and it would be a life well spent.
Whoa, I just managed to write “weather” in Japanese using a romaji keyboard, a hiragana keyboard, and by drawing the kanji shapes directly on my trackpad. It took me a few hours to get there, giving me a net speed of about… 0.02 wpm. But I feel rather accomplished! AMA.
When I started working on this book, I had no idea I would end up in a Cyber Monday shopping guide – particularly before the book is even finished! munidiaries.com/2017/11/27/you… 0_O

(The amazing Seiko UC-2100 keyboard. I wish I had the watch that goes with it: gizmodo.com/5401391/the-se…)
In today’s book adventures: Renting a typewriter!
So at a house party yesterday, someone used my Canon Cat to write a story in which I was a… dragon, complete with a drawing. The cat itself makes an appearance, too.

I basically could not be happier right now.
(Yes, it was a keyboard-themed party. Another friend wrote the beginning of a screenplay with a literal cliffhanger.)
The log of my friends trying all sorts of keyboards connected to my computer this weekend reads like someone rather quickly losing their mind.
Just scanned three hundred pages of a doctoral thesis on the typewriter industry. My left arm hurts. Will upload to Internet Archive in a few days.

(Huge thanks to the amazing Prelinger Library for allowing me to use their scanner!)
After a careless introduction of a key puller at my party my precious writing keyboard looks like this now. The red key is not even the right profile and is sticking out… but I’m embracing this for the next chapter. We’ll see if it has much less of the letter “n” than others.
Learning that how I feel *before* writing a chapter can be unrelated to how I feel *while* writing it.

Struggled so much with coming up with structure for this one and dreaded it, and yet it is so much fun to write – plus, of course, I completely changed the structure already.

(The perils of being a historian of a young industry. Asked a German institution about the DIN keyboard standards of the early 1980s.)
8️⃣ chapters to go!!!

(The selfie is me by the inimitable IBM Correcting Selectric II from 1973 that deserves its own chapter… and it’ll get one.)
I have been dreading writing the chapter about QWERTY and Dvorak for months. But now that it’s next on the docket, I find myself really excited to tackle it. Perhaps going through other tough chapters emboldened me, or perhaps there’s a huge element of randomness to all this.
it me

(An illustration for an article about the future of books. Popular Computing, November 1985. Illustrator: Kent Smith.)
Partly eager to finish the first draft just so I could run some statistical analysis on what I wrote.
Having conversations with myself a year ago (or, celebrating how much I learned in the interim).
Okay, tomorrow’s The Big One. The trickiest of all chapters: All the myths and truths of QWERTY and Dvorak.

I spent so much time researching this. The notes alone are 14,000 words. Here’s the lists of all my to-dos, and an already serious batch of title contenders. Let’s go.
(Not just 14,000 words of notes. I also wrote a 7,000-word scaffolding document that’s basically an FAQ from myself to myself about what I learned about all this – and a test whether I can answer simple questions like “Did QWERTY slow people down”?)
(But it’s just facts, and no narrative. Over the next two days, I’m turning all this into a fact-based, but also hopefully *enthralling* story of three separate inventors dying unhappy, having lost to QWERTY – including the very person who invented QWERTY.)
Oh, oh! Another thing. This is August Dvorak; it’s surprisingly hard to find photos of him.

(I’m also trying to get in touch with his family, but it’s hard – mostly since I don’t know how to.)
I want to say more about this moment – not just to savior it (which I promised myself to do as often as possible on this project), but also to share with anyone’s reading, in case you wonder about embarking on a parallel journey.
It feels… actually profound to realize that at this moment in time, I might be the best equipped person to untangle the mysteries of QWERTY and Dvorak. And I mean, really. Worldwide.
It doesn’t mean someone else cannot make smarter connections, work harder, employ more statistical analyses, or discover unknown documents. (God, I hope someone does, since I will learn from them then.)

It also doesn’t mean I can’t for sure fuck this up.
But right now, I feel I’m the person that can tell this whole story better than anyone else ever before, this story that eluded many experts. It’s a really great feeling.
And the best part to share: I didn’t get here because I have access to secrets, or because I’m particularly clever. I just really, *really* wanted to figure it out, and I believe I did this using tools and resources that most other people have.
Taking a short break from writing to validate a keyboard layout hypothesis…
Why don’t *you* try to write some recursive code and then I’ll judge you, Firefox.
Chrome went… a different way.
7️⃣ to go!!!

To celebrate writing about QWERTY/Dvorak, I apparently turned myself into a Dvorak typewriter robot. (Turns out, I have no idea how to take selfies.)
As a writer I’m supposed to be good with words, so with a mild embarrassment I’m reporting that it took me *two solid days* to realize people saying “progamers” was not a typo for “programmers,” but rather a shortening of “professional gamers.”
In my defense, there’s a huge overlap between keyboards for professional gamers and programmers.

(Also, a chapter title “Programmers and pro-gamers” has a nice ring to it.)
6️⃣ chapters to go!

Here’s me with the Cambridge Z88 (lent by @scottjenson) and an appropriately British background.
One of my favourite moments in this process is when what seems like a forgettable artifact reveals its actual incredible meaning – but only once you look closer and put time in getting to know it.
This is a 1928 thesis about typewriting errors, by Gertrude Ford.

On the surface it looks pretty boring… but this is the actual research that inspired a certain August Dvorak to try to reinvent the keyboard. I just got a rare copy of it from the University of Washington!
Also, it bothered me it was so rare, so I just scanned it and put it on Internet Archive: archive.org/details/AStudy…
Just finished another one, and now it’s just 5️⃣ chapters remaining.

This is my poor Olivetti Praxis 48 with a spacebar broken in half. (I might 3D print a replacement one day!)
For the chapter I’m starting to write today, I am tying Enigma, stenography, and assistive keyboards. If you’re thinking “are those really related?”, I have the same doubts. I guess I’ll find out as I’m writing…?
Had to split it into two chapters in the end. Wrote both via 11,000 words during the last two days, which is some sort of a personal record that I never want to repeat.

So, 4️⃣. This is me with the worst keyboard I ever wrote on.

ᴵ ᵃᵐ ˢᵒ ᵉˣʰᵃᵘˢᵗᵉᵈ
An unintentional moment of irony.
As of today, my first draft has both Clinton and Trump in it. Guess which one of them is treated with respect, and which one with cutting subtext.
An unexpectedly satisfying part of writing is making mini-timelines like these ones.They’re sometimes frustrating to piece together (I basically had to rent many old Microsoft Word help books on Internet Archive today), but they help a lot in straightening the story.
3️⃣ to go!

This is a keyboard I actually made. It only outputs spaces. Since this is my first keyboard, I call it a “space cadet keyboard.”

I might actually be done with the first draft in a week which is… surreal.
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