Posted in Being human, cats, language

Eighties computer memories: PAWS

People often ask me how I learned to type so fast.  I don’t think they’re prepared for how normal my answer is (nor do I  think they’re always intending to ask me the same question I think they’re asking when they say it).  Because I tell them, and then I later hear it getting repeated in forms so garbled I can’t figure out how they came up with it.

It really goes like this:

I was in mainstream school for grade school (went to a public school up to fourth grade, private school repeating fourth grade then after).

I learned to touch-type the exact same way every other kid in my class at my second school learned to touch-type.  I just happened to do it more often and more persistently than most, for lots of reasons.  We had little patches we could get for learning and passing tests for different keyboarding speeds.  I practiced at the same computer program everyone else did (except much more constantly than anyone I met), until by the time I left that particular school I had a patch for 120 words a minute.  (They started at 20 or 30 and you worked your way up by 10s, if I recall correctly.)

Screenshot from Microtype Paws, with a picture of a keyboard, a cat with a smiling face, the practice line “He had cake and cola near the lake,” and a speed score of 140 words a minute.

There were probably a lot of reasons I did this more often than most kids.  But the main one was that I really liked cats.  And the computer program  (called Paws) that taught us typing was cat-themed.  That’s really all.  That and I enjoy things other people often find tedious or repetitive, and I have the potential for really good muscle memory.

But seriously?

It’s not complicated.

I just used a computer program I happened to be really drawn to.

Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over.

For years.

And I had the right combination of skills, interests, and opportunity to benefit from that constant repetitive practice.

Also, I didn’t have an Apple at home, so I couldn’t use the computer program at home.  And, as I said, I loved the part about there being a cat.  So I played it like it was a game, and I worked my way up the speeds until I hit 120 words a minute.

I wasn’t the fastest kid in school by any means, either.  I was up near the top but there were a couple kids who got up to 130 or 140.  Which are speeds I can do now, but not then.

People seem to expect me to have been in some kind of 100% disability-segregated environment my entire life (no) and to have always had the exact same combination of abilities and difficulties they see at whatever point in time thy met me (no, no matter what those abilities are).  So somehow I tell people I learned to type using a computer program with a cat in it, and it morphs in their head into some weird story about a program (as in “special disability program” — no) that taught me to communicate (no) using an extra-special keyboard (no) that was decorated with cats (no).  Or things along those lines.

No.  I went to a grade school/middle school for a few years, that had a very nice computer lab full of Apple IIe and IIGS computers (I loved the IIGS keyboards, they had relatively thin flat keys that were much easier on my fingers than the big clunky IIe keyboards).  We didn’t have Apples at home so that in itself was a novelty.  I spent a lot of time in there playing the same keyboarding game that all the other kids learned to type on.  I just spent more time doing it than most kids did.  And, as I said, had the skills and opportunities to make use of that practice in a way where my performance improved with time.  And that’s really all there is to it.

Oh also, Paws had a combination of different typing games.  There was usually a tutorial, some stuff typing the specific letters you were learning, some stuff using those letters in words and sentences, and a few different games involving the cat himself.  We also had to, at more advanced stages, do typing tests using a part of the program that timed your typing on a full screen for a certain period of time, typing entire paragraphs.  That part annoyed me a bit because it was one of the few parts of the program where the cat wasn’t pictured.

I suspect Paws is far too slow and retro and uncomplicated for most modern kids when it comes to computer games in general, but I really don’t think it’s in any way lost its capacity to teach touch-typing.  And I think I’d still enjoy it if I was trying to learn.

Also here is an emulated version of Paws 1.1 on archive.org if you want to try it out.

And just a reminder; Being disabled doesn’t mean your life fits into some kind of Template For Disabled People Only.  In fact, it never does, although some of us hide that fact better than others (and some have it forcibly hidden for us), and some of us appear to resemble the existing templates more than others.  But nobody actually fits the Official Disability Templates 100%, and most of us don’t even come close.  When most disabled people say computer program we mean the same thing everyone else means by it, we don’t mean special disability programming ™ that happens to be related to computers (although there’s plenty of those in the world too).  And unless we have some particular reason that touch-typing isn’t something we can learn, and unless our disability involves our hands in certain particular ways, then if we can touch-type, we’re likely to have learned touch-typing in any of the huge number of ways that everyone else learns it.  Which in my case was Paws.

Author:

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

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