Yesterday, on Twitter, I asked:

I wonder sometimes what would be the oldest extant word based on technology no longer in use. Taping an interview? Dialing someone?

I received many more answers than I expected, although it soon became obvious how my rules were impossible to follow, even by me: What exactly is technology, and which technology ever truly goes away?

Scrolling (who remembers scrolls?) feels different than fonts (used more than ever, in a digital form directly evolved from a physical predecessor), and somewhere in between these would be a tablet — a new tech inspired by old one, although without a direct connection. …


The rectangle behind you

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I crave follow-ups. When I was little, I loved opening the encyclopedia to learn more about something I just heard — particularly when it felt the volumes were roughly as big as I was. Later on, I cherished coming back from the movie just to read Roger Ebert’s review, or ⌘+clicking every link in the young Wikipedia.

Today, I still like looking up a newly-discovered word in a dictionary, an obscure product on Internet Archive, or a historical event on Google. In the middle of a conversation, you might find me scribbling something down to look up myself — or to send you later. …


The rectangle behind you

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As a grandson of someone who worked on the railways I might be predisposed to extreme punctuality, but as a speaker it’d my job to be timely either way. Going over your time limit in a talk is unprofessional and disrespectful towards the organizers and — more importantly — the audience.

Practice makes better. However, recently, for my Beyond Tellerrand talk about creative uses of keyboards, that would not be enough. I wanted to try out a brand-new experimental exercise with audience participation… but I had no idea how long it was going to take. …


How Doug Engelbart’s famous demo inspired a designer’s lifelong obsession with keyboard shortcuts

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Today we introduced a new way to master keyboard shortcuts: a redesigned panel that shows up at the bottom of your Figma screen. It will respond to your behavior by highlighting patterns in your keyboard use and help you discover new key combinations in a fun way. We’ve taken our inspiration from computing pioneer Douglas Engelbart, and wanted to briefly share how his work shaped our approach. (Read to the end for the deep dive into our new keyboard panel.)

One Monday afternoon fifty years ago, on a stage by San Francisco’s Civic Center, computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart gave a demonstration that forever altered the course of computing. …


Shift Happens newsletter

This is a newsletter for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards.

I’ve had, so far, a lot of luck with keyboard-related adventures. Two years ago I stumbled upon a magical typewriter museum in Spain, just a week later I visited what felt like its equally astonishing computer counterpart, and my recent trip to Japan also became a keyboard safari.

The lucky streak continues. Earlier this year, I was looking at my friend’s map, and noticed a few yellow stars fifty miles north of San Francisco. One was some sort of an interesting cypress tree tunnel. Another one, right next door? An old radio station. …


Shift Happens newsletter

This is a newsletter for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards.

It was four of us, four teenage boys sitting down to a computer to spend hours playing a videogame known to no one else.

It was four of us because the little corner of a room in a small panelák apartment, partitioned away to be “Marcin’s area,” could hardly fit more people. It was four of us because dividing the 14-inch computer screen into even more pieces would make them unreadable. …


Shift Happens newsletter

This is a newsletter for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards.

This happened about two years ago. It was close to the end of a workday. I was a little stressed out, more than a little tired, a coworker was standing next to me asking for a certain file, and so I went to my computer’s terminal, keyed in three simple characters: c:\

…and then I froze.

c:\ is a perfectly fine incantation for when you want to find a file, and you intend to start at the very top. It will work on every PC ever made. Other computers have equivalent sequences that achieve the same purpose; on a Mac, for example, you would type in cd ~instead. The thing is, I was using a Mac that day. …


Using a bunch of modern CSS to create a night mode for an app

I recently spent some time with a startup called Kite to work on the typography of their tools. Among their group of smart utilities helping programmers code, the centerpiece is a native/web app named Kite Copilot that sits by your editor to lend a helping hand. It looks like this:

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One early afternoon, a programmer using Copilot wrote to us suggesting adding a second, dark colour theme: a way to convince the app to use light text on a darker background. It made sense. The dark theme is something preferred by many programmers — indeed, a default in many modern editors like Atom or Visual Studio Code. …


Shift Happens newsletter

This is a newsletter for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards.

What am I typing this issue on?

Here’s one thing that’s been bringing me a surprising amount of joy when writing the book. No, it wasn’t figuring out final answers to puzzling questions (there really aren’t many), or finding Some Thing’s definitive first appearance (history, it turns out, generally dislikes the word “first” as much as it does “best”). It was encountering all the seemingly confused concepts, machines that didn’t quite belong, ideas before or after their time. The in-betweeners.

For a hot 19th-century second, the first popular typewriter looked like a sewing machine, complete with a foot pedal for “return.” Early 1960s computer keyboards had an extra component inside to… hit the case and make typewriter-like noise when typing. Along the same lines, there was an early computer with typewriter knobs. And a joystick to be mounted on top of arrow keys. …

About

Marcin Wichary

Designer/typographer · Writing a book on the history of keyboards: https://aresluna.org/shift-happens

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