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Touch and go

Touch and go
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First Published: Tue, Jul 13 2010. 08 19 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Jul 13 2010. 08 19 PM IST
The distance from my keyboard to my mouse is, let me see, around 15cm. Approximately the length of one of those little rulers you get inside school geometry boxes. So every time I want to stop typing and click something, or vice versa, I need to move my right hand around 15cm back and forth.
Now note that number for a bit.
Imagine that I am going to use Gmail to find an old email from someone, open it, read it, compose a reply, attach a document to that reply, mail it to them, and then return to the inbox screen.
How many trips between keyboard and mouse is that going to entail? How many times will I have to type, click, type, click and so on?
I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my calculations, but according to my estimate the exercise mentioned above will require you to make around 10-12 tiny little oscillations between keyboard and mouse. And depending on how compact your workspace is and how ergonomically arranged your hardware is, this simple exercise could take a lot of time, and cause some stress on the physiology of your hands and wrist.
Indeed you might be spending more time shifting between various hand positions than actually typing or doing anything productive in Gmail.
Most people usually don’t register this when they are at work in the office or at home. We get so used to the way we type, click and interact with our computers that most people seldom realize how drastically inefficient most interactions with a computer mouse are. If you’ve ever had the tremendous pleasure of watching over an elderly government employee’s shoulder while he operates a computer, you realize this inefficiency instantly.
The old man at the LPG cylinder booking office or the railway ticket counter will slowly type something, turn, reach for a mouse, click, turn back, inspect the outcome of the clicking, ponder, type your surname, inspect, realize spelling error, reach for mouse, click near the error, backspace, go for tea break, come back, retype…
Meanwhile you strangle any little children within reach.
Which is why more people need to start using the plethora of keyboard short cuts available not just in so many applications on a computer, but also increasingly within online applications.
For many Windows applications such as MS Word, for instance, keyboard short cuts such as Ctrl-C to copy, Ctrl-V to paste, Ctrl-B to bolden text and Ctrl-I to italicize are very well known. These simple short cuts are usually executable with just one hand. Using a mouse to do the same thing is just wasteful.
Many popular online services such as Gmail, Twitter and even Facebook have keyboard short cuts as well. Let me show you how useful these short cuts can be just in the case of Gmail.
Once you have logged in, and activated keyboard short cuts in the Settings panel, you can press “u” whenever you want to refresh your inbox, press “c” to compose a message, press “/” to search for something… and so on and so forth. There are dozens of things you can do within the Gmail window, all without reaching for your mouse even once. Not only does this stave off Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and associated delights, it also improves efficiency. When archiving or deleting email just takes the press of a button, you tend to process dozens of messages in one sitting.
Twitter.com also has keyboard short cuts that let you switch quickly between screens and views with no help required from the rodent.
The problem then is keeping track of the keyboard short cuts for various services. Alt+Shift+1 is home in Twitter, pressing “g” and then “d” takes you to the drafts screen in Gmail, and Alt+Shift+3 pops up your pending friend request on Facebook.
Confused already? Don’t be. The best way to deal with this is to take printouts of keyboard short cuts for various sites and pin them up on the wall behind your computer. Over time you should be able to commit most of them to memory.
To find a whole array of keyboard short cuts just search using Google. And if you are comfortable with a little code, you can do a cool trick with User Defined Styles that tells you whenever a website has a keyboard short cut hidden away somewhere. Click on the Play Things link below for details.
Happy mouse-free browsing!
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First Published: Tue, Jul 13 2010. 08 19 PM IST
More Topics: Play Things | Sidin Vadukut | Keyboard | Mouse | Gmail |