Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All keyed in, or is that keyed out?

One of the reasons I wasn't as successful as I would have liked as a police dispatcher (although I loved the job and would go back immediately if hired) was that I'm not the world's fastest typist. Dispatch work involves quickly putting a lot of short, incomplete sentences into the CAD* -- sentences that are often dictated over a scratchy radio channel and involve a lot of numbers: codes, VINs, license plates, etc.

I self-trained as a typist, with my style evolving from my journalism experience -- writing long, coherent, well-flowing sentences. So moving to the staccato typing necessary in a 911 center proved difficult. I spent an easy summer on day shift, where things don’t happen as fast and I could catch up on the keyboard. But when I rotated to weekend swing shift, I had trouble keeping up with 30 cops on the radio, making traffic stops, checking driving or criminal records and such, all the while with phones ringing off the hook. It’s a multi-tasker’s paradise.

After leaving dispatch, I knew that whether or not I ever work in a 911 center again, I needed to improve my typing skills. So when I enrolled at Skyline College this fall to take a microeconomics class that is a prerequisite to my planned master’s program (I just got an A on the economics midterm, by the way), I decided to take a keyboarding skills development class.

It was a short-term, 1.5 unit class (for credit/no-credit at that), and I had my final tonight. The endeavor went well, with a couple annoyances. First, the class was advertised as an “online” class, with students supposedly coming in only for orientation, a mid-term and the final. But the only online part was e-mailing a weekly summary report generated by the proprietary PC-based software –- a special annoyance as I use a Mac and don’t do Windows. So I had to both spend a lot of time at the college’s computer lab and load a copy of the software into Virtual PC, which is notoriously slow.

Another difficulty was that the software (Cortez Peters Championship Keyboarding Drills) encourages accuracy over speed. Not that that’s a problem -– heck it was one of the things drummed into my head in the dispatch center. But in this program, the use of the delete key was prohibited. I love the delete key. With the delete key eliminating my errors, I can get up 52 words a minute with nice, error-corrected copy.

But errors are not permitted in Peters’ program. You mistype, you start over. In having to slow down enough to be perfect, my typing speed has dropped to about 31 words per minute. Frustrating, as I know I can be faster, but I’ve certainly seen my error rate decline.

Finally, speaking of frustration, there was an exercise that was constantly hair-pulling-ly annoying. Take a normal, sense-making paragraph and – in the name of concentration – type it backwards.

Three times in a row, without a single error.

Example, from the first paragraph of this post: .cte ,setalp esnecil ,sNIV, sedoc :srebmun fo tol a evlovni dna lennahc oidar yhctarcs a revo detatcid netfo era secnetnes -- *DAC eht otni … you get the idea.

Ugh. Try it, it’s hard

* Computer Assisted Dispatch program

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