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Another Typing Tutor

By Larry Ayers

Last month I discussed Simon Baldwin's lesson-based typing tutor, Typist. In response to that article John Chapman sent me e-mail concerning another typing tutor commonly used on FreeBSD systems. With his permission, I'll quote from his message:

Dear Mr. Ayers:

In the Linux Gazette you recently expressed your interest in learning the Dvorak keyboard, and I thought you might enjoy playing with the attached Tk program called kp (=Keyboard Practice). It seems to be standard issue with FreeBSD, but I've never seen it in any Linux distribution or archive.

It was written for Tk4.1, but works perfectly well with 4.2. I haven't tried it with 8.0, though, so you might have to hunt up an older version of Tk, if you don't already have one. To set it up, either untar it in /usr/local/lib, or put everything into ~/bin, or whatever you like best. Then edit the "executable" kp file so that the first line corresponds with your version of wish (I have the 4.2 version in /usr/bin/wish4.2 on my Debian system), and the "cd" line points to /usr/local/lib/kp, $HOME/bin, or wherever you decided to plant the .tcl files. Copy kp to /usr/local/bin (or leave it in $HOME/bin, if that's in your path), fire up X, invoke "kp", and off you go!

In the "options" menu you can switch between Dvorak and qwerty, and in the "file" menu you can insert any ascii text file you wish as a model for practice. The filter allows you to limit the text to words composed of specific letters; swipe your finger over the keys in the home row, for example, and the filter will pull out only those words made up of the letters in the home row. Quite cleverly done.

If you decide that you want to use the Dvorak layout for Real Work(TM), it's quite easy to have xmodmap load a Dvorak keymap for you, and switch back to qwerty when you're done. Emacs can load a Dvorak keymap for you, too. And some clever soul came up with the idea of aliasing "asdf" to "xmodmap .kbd.dvorak" and "aoeu" (the same four keys!) to "xmodmap .kbd.default", so that your whole family doesn't have to suffer :-) , but can switch back to a "normal" layout with one simple key pattern. Presumably you could use the same trick to reset the keymapping in console mode, too.

The "clever soul" referred to above is Don Reed (according to a later message from John Chapman). Don Reed wrote an HTML file explaining his approach to switching keyboard layouts on the fly; John sent me the file, which you can read here.

Keyboard Practice is a useful and well-designed Tcl-Tk program; its ability to use any text file as practice material is a nice touch. It was written by Satoshi Asami <asami@cs.berkeley.edu>. It's not just for practicing Dvorak typing; a menu-item lets a user switch to QUERTY as well. Since the archived files occupy just a little over twelve kilobytes, you can access them in this issue of LG here. To try it out, just follow the instructions in the above quoted message from John Chapman.

John also suggested a reference to the Dvorak International Web-site, which (although not updated recently) has links to most Dvorak sites on the net. [Hyperlink removed 7-Dec-2001; the domain is now owned by another site. -Editor.]

Last modified: Mon 28 Sep 1998

Copyright © 1998, Larry Ayers
Published in Issue 33 of Linux Gazette, October 1998