Learn to type like a pro

I have been associated with computers for more than two decades now.

During this time, I have typed programs, typed posts, typed emails and then typed some more. As you may have guessed by now – it is safe to assume that I have typed a lot during this time.

All this typing would have consumed time – ** a lot of ** time. If I had a paisa for each time I saved money while typing content of 100 words, I would have retired by now to Goa or Kerala as a billionaire.

Before proceeding further, let us delve into a bit of history.

When computers came to be, it would have been an ideal if computers would have understood lesser humans like me with some magic and a bit of science. But that was not to be.

The problem extended on the other side as well. The people who were frontlining our conversations with computers formed their own secret societies and started talking to computers faster than ever before. Normal people would have done all that through a brain-computer interface – but we are talking about the cream-of-the-cream technologists here. So, they went ahead copying the humble typewriter.

And, thus started our (and eventually my) hate-hate relationships with keyboards.

— end of history lesson —

Keyboards enable me to talk to computers, but I never really called that a proper conversation. With all the mistakes I make in my typing, my computer would have launched itself into space & exploring Andromeda rather than be a party to the conversation.

Suffice to say that my typing –

  • is not fast – nowhere near it
  • is not accurate – backspace key on my keyboard often gets worn out. So much so that I have a bunch of cheap keyboards I bought only to extract the backspace key

The natural question now would be – why the heck would I not learn “touch typing”?

Believe me, it was not for the lack of will. Each time I see someone typing like this, I would drown in pity for my computer.

fast typing

I wanted to be like the hacker who can complete a 100-line Perl script while using his left hand to drink coffee.

So, it would be with the greatest of urgency that I would swear to become a ‘typing emiretus’ fifteen days hence. I would restart searching for a good typing program. I would download at least three and try at least five including the programs I had downloaded in my last great attempt. I tried

I tried gamifying the heck of the system without luck, and did not achieve anything by measuring my speed with specific keys. I even tried following tips by nobel prize winning typists, and for sometime, I tried typing with my wrists tied behind my back.

All of them were disasters. I would simply jump up and down one day, and try to stare down the computer the next.

staring the computer without typing

I would simply get bored of the whole exercise and revert to my old style after unceremoniously dropping everything. I could not accomplish much beyond the up/down arrows and A, W, S and D keys. And, that expertise was because of a game that I couldn’t simply stop playing.

 

To make matters worse, the point and click configuration I was doing at work to be called as an expert was replaced by something that would need me to type long programs.

Surely, the universe was against me.

Or, was it?

It was not long before I realized that I was the universe. So, the act of typing, or the lack of it, was also the self. And, huzzah to self, I tried my luck at the finding out the shiniest new program that could lift me up to the level of the aforesaid hacker (but this time he would be typing Javascript).

You know what – this story does indeed have a good ending. I came across this website called keybr.com.

type faster like a pro using keybr

I suddenly was enlightened about what I had been missing all this while –

  • I get bored of repeated typing of characters like this
    fff bbb ddd kkk ili lll
    This does not make sense people – it belongs to the unfortunate souls who are learning to type on a typewriter.
  • Since I could not really pronounce ‘fff’ and its counterparts, I had a hard time retaining it in my mind.
    I am not that intelligent.
  • I am not a person who has problems locating a key. Remember, I had typed typing with wrists tied behind my back. My big problem was not using all the fingers as God(s) would wish them to be.
    I could not sustain interest if I had to start all the way from using only the index finger to my whatever the other finger is called.
  • I would get real emotional about a program chastising me by holding off on a key just because I did not type it correctly. I was equally unhappy with a program that would accept whatever junk that came to it after ONE MISTAKEN KEY PRESS and score me negative numbers just because it could.

Keybr was the panacea I was looking for.

First things first – I loved that the program did not start from the very basics. I get to see words that I can pronounce and remember them for typing. This would be  the natural way of learning to type since that is what I do all the time.

Next, the program would gently show me the way with animation that I did not take kindly to. More importantly if there is a significant time lapse ( let us say 4 seconds) of me typing in wrong characters, it would treat my decision of refusing to type a character and move on. So the characters I typed after ONE MISTAKE (again in caps), would be ok.

Finally, I would not choose lessons one after the other or put up with a program that dare says I was a failure and could not proceed. Instead, I would be led like a king into deeper and deeper typing knowledge until I was ready to fight the dragon.

Oh, for God’s sake keybr! Why did it take so much time for me to find you? Now is the time I become a typing God before the Cortana, Siri and the like take over the world.

3 Apps to Make Free International Calls

Gone are the days of haggling with unknown numbers, calling cards, and fidgeting with complex methods to reach out to a friend.

Internet has revolutionized the international and domestic calling space, and all you have to do now is to do a couple of taps to get to the dear one.

Of course, not all apps are born equal. Here are 5 apps that I really liked.

 

1. Skype

Skype has gone through a revolution of sorts, and has morphed into something more complex than a VoIP phone. While continuing to provide a consistent superior experience, Skype (under Microsoft) has stayed free and focused on its goals.

skype phone

You can do multiple things on Skype –

  • Audio call
  • Video call
  • Chat
  • Create groups
  • Use Skype on your desktop computer, Android/iOS/Windows phone

I liked the privacy settings on Skype since it allows me to choose who I talk to or chat with!

 

2. Coco

A relative newcomer to the field, but Coco grabbed my attention with simplicity.

You just install the app on your Android, iOS or Windows phone to get assigned a number. The app is pretty slick and fast, your number on the phone gets verified within no time, and you can get started chatting away.

icoco voice chat call

You can use the Coco number from anywhere – probably a double take on people who feel the need to remember a number against a person.

  • Audio call
  • Chat
  • Create groups
  • Send voice messages
  • Create/join chat rooms
  • Use the app on Android/iOS/Windows phone

Coco probably sees itself as a social platform that is mobile-first. You can capture moments within your life and share with others, or create/join local groups – “make new friends” as the app puts it. Looks like they are targeting an younger crowd.

Coco is still a startup. The quality is great, it is completely free, and ads do not distract.

Coco is something you could use when you desperately want a number assigned against yourself.

 

3. WhatsApp

Although WhatsApp gained immense popularity as a chat tool, it started testing audio calls about an year back. It looks like they have opened the gates to everyone now (except me – I do not see this enabled on my phone!).

The excellent WhatsApp capabilities got enhanced by the Voice call. Since everyone including my neightbour’s dog are on WhatsApp, it makes connecting with them all the more easier.

  • Audio call
  • Chat
  • Share videos and voice messages
  • Create/join groups

whatsapp

WhatsApp is supported on Symbian, Nokia phones, and on BlackBerry in addition to Android, Windows and iOS. This makes the app reach more people in the developing markets.

 

I have known other apps including Viber (too gimicky with stickers, spams Android notification bar), WeChat, Line, Messenger (by Facebook, probably does not have a bright future), Google Hangouts and Hike (only chat, made in India!). All good apps I am sure, and most promising to remain free for the indefinite future. But, none of them has the lasting impression as the three mentioned here.

 

Robochop: future of our industry?

People talked a lot when 3D printing came into the fore.

We could easily establish whole industries using one machine – that too local to the consumer. 3D printing certainly has its uses, but is constrained by the material it can use. The size of the finished product is limited to what the printer can do. You could produce parts that can be assembled after the printer finishes its job, but more such innovations are yet to be realized.

If you are the “live in today” type, all hope is not lost if you want to be served by our robot overlords. Robochop may be just the answer you were looking for.

robochop the future of industry

From March 16-20, internet users anywhere on the globe can use two robots to sculpt anything on a 40X40X40 cube through 2 robots. Part of the demonstration in CeBit 2015, these robots also go a long way in establishing the effectiveness and ease of instructions required by the human operator.

You design anything unique through the Robochop app. The robot picks up the high density foam cube and cuts it to shape on a hot wire. The sculpting process is automatic, but your design needs to be manually approved. You could make a stool, a small chair, or anything abstract. The finished product will be shipped to you at no cost provided you are on earth.

design prroduct on your own using robochop app

Future of CNC? Future of our industries? You can bet on it. The CNC machines of today require very precise instructions and whole engineering disciplines are based on that.

While the cube that you design may not have many practical applications, the technology demonstration goes a long way in establishing credibility of what can be achieved today and now.

Imagine a world where any human operator can do designs assisted by an easy-to-use computer program/app. You have considerably less manual intervention, reduced man power requirements, more efficiencies, and a quicker process.

We can then start populating Mars with all the man power that we don’t need here on earth.

Within the 5 days of CeBit, the two robots will process some 2000 cubes. So, you better hurry up if you want your design to be picked for the products.

Head over to Robochop website to start your design.

Voice recognition has come of age

While the world around me have been singing praises about Google Now, Siri and the new Contana, I never had any use for applications that understand voice.

First, I did not talk to my smart devices like crazies do.

Second, I loved to type – not because I was really good at it, but typing cleared up my mind. I could think while I type instead of looking at a monitor that freakishly showed any text I spoke.

Third, though I tried multiple voice recognition tools a few years back, they could not really set my pace in the correct way.

A recent incident changed all that. I fractured my elbow in an accident and my right hand was rendered useless for typing purposes. I also took a leave of absence from office, and staying home without doing anything was a new experience. To retain my sanity –

  • I read books
  • Watched a few movies
  • Talked to my family members until they told me to stop. Talked even more with a few friends who finally stopped visiting

In spite of spending time productively elsewhere, I was a man on a mission as far as my blogs were concerned. I could not stay away for a long long time and expect all my faithful readers (numbered around 25 at the time including a couple of bots) to miss me.

I tried typing in one hand but it was seriously frustrating. Though I normally use 3 fingers/hand and am a slow typer, it was a bit of a workout to span the entire keyboard with just one hand and the process was crazy slowwwww.

It was during these hard times I turned my attention again to voice recognition software.

 

Windows 8.1 voice recognition sucks

I tried a hand (specifically my left hand) at the voice recognition capabilities provided by Windows 7, and Windows 8.1.

They seemed okay. Although they committed a lot of mistakes, it was still satisfactory to see whole sentences getting typed as I spoke. It took away my opportunity of improving my biceps by typing with one hand, but I was fairly happy .

There were problems though –

  • I could not get the software to understand more than a few words. I had to repeatedly speak in several different accents until the software could finally get it
  • It was nerve wracking to make navigate to specific words/sentences and rewrite parts of what I dictated earlier

 

After spending a couple of hours, and a couple of minutes researching for the latest in voice recognition, I decided to get Dragon Speech Recognition software. Although I’d heard about Dragon as the industry leader for voice recognition, I had never really paid attention. Boy, was I surprised.

 

Dragon speech recognition rocks

Dragon speech recognition is not exactly cheap. It costs around Rs.5k upwards. I started with the trial version just to make sure the money is going into something that is useful for me.

Dragon naturally speaking speech recognition

When you start Dragon speech recognition software, the first thing it does is to check your microphone and make sure it works well with the software. The next important thing it does is to prompt you to train the software. This takes around 15 minutes, but goes a long way in getting you two to work together.

Dragon software identifies Indian accent well, which was a big plus. Though Indians form a significant part of English speakers on the globe, they are not typically considered an attractive market since the spending is quite low.

Once all the setup is done, you can learn advanced commands, or see some of the commonly used commands in the sidebar.

Dragon speech recognition advance commands

As you can see, you can not only dictate text  to Dragon but also Search,  open applications, post to Twitter/Facebook in one go, and more.

You can even add new words or phrases, new commands and train the Dragon even more to suit your needs.

While this was not as exciting as “How to train your Dragon” (the movie), it made my life a lot less frustrating when my right hand did not quite function optimally.

All is not well of course.

I am now at the risk of losing my voice in addition to my eyesight due to my long hours in front of the computer. My family members have kindly taken to it, and have learned to ignore my ramblings while I keep dictating something or the other. And my neighbours throw side glances to silently inquire who and why I keep talking strange things.

In spite of all that, I’m now a believer. Dictating to the computer is far faster than typing. I’m still annoyed that I can’t think clearly when I’m speaking, but I will leave that to the future to figure out. I will continue to ride the Dragon a lot more in subsequent weeks.

Don’t click this

Seriously. How did you get here after following my instructions?

The title clearly says “don’t click”, doesn’t it?

The technology geeks would now probably be thinking about a number of weird ways to get here – use tab and enter keys after navigating to the website from the address bar, follow the damn feed, or just use voice control.

But for majority of us the feeling is just that – weird. The point and click interface is so embedded within our brains, that I cannot resist clicking at anything thrown at me to save my life.

A case in point is this website – http://www.dontclick.it/.

new way to navigate in websites

All navigation elements on the website are driven by gesture controls. It feels fresh, but absolutely ridiculous to be presented something and expect us not to click that.

But, when you keep your click-love aside, it feels just natural.

You hover over buttons to perform an action, and you hover over links since you indeed want to go somewhere. There is no need to explicitly perform the action once more just to reassure yourself and your computer.

Of course everything is an experiment in there. There are a lot of places where you will click needlessly and can record your grave error as intentional or by accident (yes, accidents do happen).

You can see the stats at the end of your playing around.

move away from click commands

You will see that most people do indeed the changed world better. We need a click-free future generation that will laugh and amaze over how people kept crazily clicking on things, and still survive the harsh world.

But then, why don’t we change today?