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Lots of years ago, I worked for a company that was providing us with new typewriters. Our existing typewriters were the older electrics with mechanical arms that jammed easily if you were a fast typist. The new ones would have a ball type mechanism. In addition to not jamming, this would allow us to change the font when needed by simply popping out the ball and putting in a different one. As it was, we had a separate typewriter with a larger font for use in communicating with visually impaired customers. This would be so much easier!

The day arrived when the new machines would be delivered. The salesman brought in the first of the new machines. As it happened, I was one of the faster typists so mine was to be one of the first replaced. 

I’d been having a lot of jams and the arms on my typewriter had needed replacement several times because the severe jam damaged the arms. 

The salesman put my typewriter in place and invited me to try it out. Many of my colleagues were standing around as this type of machine was new to all of us and we were all anxious and excited. So, as fast as I could, I typed —

“The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog”

Wow! No jam! But what appeared on the paper was —

“Yjd ‘gcjt p>e usq hfmldh skdp yjd pa;f xos,l eru” Hmmm something was really wrong with this picture!

We all stood there stunned! Everybody in the office knew I was an accurate typist, not just fast, so the chances that I made a mistake was possible but this mess was not! The salesman looked a bit puzzled but brusquely waved me out of the chair and smugly typed…

Hmmm his results looked no better! Suddenly he did a palm plant to his forehead and dashed out of the building to his car saying he’d be right back. 

On his return, he popped the ball out of the machine and put in a different ball. Once again, he gestured for me to try it out. With a bit of trepidation, I typed —

“The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog”

Wow! No jam! And, sure enough, the sentence appeared properly on the paper!

Suddenly it occurred to me! Dvorak vs QWERTY! You see there is more than one layout for a keyboard. We used standard QWERTY key layouts but the ball in the typewriter was for a Dvorak. When I typed a “T” for instance, the ball delivered a “Y” because the Dvorak key layout places the “Y” in the spot where the “T” is on the QWERTY. 

Issue resolved, the new typewriters were a success! 

Rebecca DeShaw

Although retired, Rebecca continues to be an active web and instructional materials designer and data systems specialist.

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