Qwerty, Welty & God’s Cellist

Monday, March 28, 2011 I am grateful to Brother Gerald Muller, C.S.C. for his biography God’s Cellist — A Biography of Brother Jacob Eppley, C.S.C.

My grandmother’s Remington Portable Model 5 with Spanish qwerty

Monday, March 28, 2011 I am grateful to Brother Gerald Muller, C.S.C. for his biography God’s Cellist — A Biography of Brother Jacob Eppley, C.S.C.

My grandmother’s Remington Portable Model 5 with Spanish qwerty Today’s blog is dedicated to a man I knew not at all who failed me in the only class he ever taught me, typing. Brother Jacob Eppley, C.S.C. was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1896 and he died in 1999. In that long trajectory of 103 years Brother Jacob did many things well and he played the cello for the glory of God and the delight of his listeners.

Of this latter talent of Brother Jacob’s I was never to know until at a class reunion at St. Ed’s in Austin, 2009 my schoolmate Milton Hernández told me (we were comparing notes on our favourite brothers who had taught us in our years at St. Ed’s), “Brother Jacob was the most saintly of all the brothers and he played a virtuoso cello.” In my four years at St. Ed’s my dealings with the tall and slim man with the permanent smile was a fleeting one. I avoided him like many others because he had a penchant of cornering you and then telling you one of his terrible jokes. Sample:

Always remember no matter how poor your prose is, it could be verse.

On a more serious note Brother Jacob once wrote:

If I’ve proven an inspiration to others, it’s because the recipients have provided the impetus to effect the desired gift that can only come from above.

I found Brother Jacob aloof and this is probably because I never made much effort to know him better. I failed (the only course I ever failed at St. Ed’s) Brother Jacob’s typing class. At the time I was unaware that I was dyslexic. But I learned well enough that I can type this without looking at my computer keyboard.

In today’s NY Times in a column called Tools for Thinking, David Brooks writes:

A few months ago, Steven Pinker of Harvard asked a smart question: What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

The good folks at Edge.org organized a symposium, and 164 thinkers contributed suggestions. John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, wrote that people should be more aware of path dependence. This refers to the notion that often “something that feels normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice.”

 For instance, typewriters used to jam if people typed too fast, so the manufacturers designed a keyboard that would slow typists. We no longer have typewriters, but we are stuck with the latter arrangements for the qwerty keyboard. The above last paragraph startled me and I remembered how grateful I have been all these years for the good typing lessons that Brother Jacob managed to help me absorb. They have served me well and when I watch people peck at their computer keyboards I feel most superior and blessed!

Christopher Latham Sholes If the qwerty keyboard, which was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes and patented ( 207,559) in August 27, 1878, is of no further use, why has not someone invented the better “mouse trap”? I watch my granddaughter Rebecca peck at her computer keyboard and I wonder why they have not taught her the qwerty yet or some variation of it? It would seem to me that in a world were hands are no longer gapping sparkplugs that writing on a computer keyboard has become something of paramount importance. I predict that in the next few years iPad of the future will project a qwerty keyboard display on your table and you will be able to forgo the real keyboard. Will Rebecca be pecking even then? My relationship with typing became a necessity by the middle 60s when for reasons I do not understand, my ability to write legibly began to deteriorate. I cannot even sign my complete name now without missing letters and deforming the others beyond anybody’s understanding. I had to switch to the typewriter and that was a terrible situation. As soon as I made a mistake (many when you are not aware of dyslexia) I would tear out my sheet and start again. Writing was frustrating.

Eudora Welty Liberation came in the form of a blend of typewriter with word processor called a Smith Corona PWP-40 in the early 90s. It had a small screen and I could fix my mistakes. The machine would then store my letters and essays in little floppy disks, that, alas, were not compatible with the then emerging PCs. Further liberation came in May 1995 when I wrote for Equity Magazine an article on how I first went on line and communicated via email with Celia Duthie and her family who were on a vacation to France. I remember to this day the first time I dialed up (my email address was alexwh@wimsey.com) and Duthie’s Linux expert told me, “Alex, you are on line.” To do this I had borrowed my wife’s Think Pad which was an early IBM version of the universal laptop. My email program was called Eudora.

I was so afraid of computers (I stuck with my PWP-40 until my increasing work as a freelance writer made it stupid to continue with it) and so afraid of Word that I would write all my articles using Eudora. At the time I remember Nick Rebalski, who was my editor at the Vancouver Sun, telling me, “Our computers at the Sun are not compatible with Word Perfect so I have no problem if you keep sending me stuff with Eudora.”

These days I am fairly computer literate and I use, like most others out there, Word and Outlook Express (but sometimes Thunderbird Mozilla). I long for the early and wonderful days when Eudora seemed to be a magic wand to the world. I had always known that Eudora was named after the American writer Eudora Welty (1909–2001) but until today I had not known why.

Katheryn & The Smith Corona PWP-40 — Ivette & the Remington Portable M. 5 
 It seems that Eudora’s creator Steve Dorner in 1990 who worked on the program at the University of Illinois in Urbana also worked for NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications), and his first version of the program, which took about a year to develop, consisted of about 50.000 lines of code. Dorner wanted to make email easier to send and receive. He wanted this form of communication to be universal. While most now have no memory for Eudora, this program was indeed responsible in taking us to where we are today with email. In college he had read Eudora Welty’s Why I Live at the P.O. When it came to give his program a name Dorner remembered the title and rearranged it a bit to ‘Bringing the P.O. to where you live,’ and used it for the program’s motto.

Today I read Why I Live at the P.O. and I must declare that it is wonderful, that it is gothic and that I want to read more Eudora Welty.

I told Rosemary that my blog today was a connection between qwerty and welty. She looked at me puzzled and I gave her a Brother Jacob smile!

Why I live at the P.O.

Eudora Welty pecks at the typewriter

Link to: Qwerty Welty & God’s Cellist

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.