QWERTY vs. Dvorak: The Fable of the Keys?

Original QWERTY typewriter key layout

Description: Original QWERTY typewriter key layout
Attribution: U.S. Patent No. 207,559, issued August 27, 1878 to Christopher Sholes
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago, someone told me the QWERTY keyboard (named for its first six keys) was a mistake. There was another design that had proven more efficient, easier to use, and less likely to cause injuries like carpal tunnel. It’s called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard and was created by Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-in-law Dr. William Dealey in 1936. Unfortunately, this miraculous invention never took off because people are resistant to change…or so the story goes.

It turns out the most favorable research for the Dvorak keyboard was conducted by none other than Dr. Dvorak himself. Later studies showed there wasn’t much to gain – if anything at all – from switching over from QWERTY. Advocates claim Dvorak has the edge in terms of ergonomic design but this isn’t clear. If a benefit exists, it appears to be a small one. Here’s more on QWERTY vs. Dvorak from The Independent Institute:

At a conference attended the other day by your reporter, a distinguished academic economist (who had better remain nameless) cited the “QWERTY” layout of the standard typewriter keyboard as a clear example of how markets “can make mistakes”. It may have been the millionth such reference. Many a textbook cites this case as proof of a certain kind of market failure — that associated with the adoption and locking-in of a bad standard. For years, if you cited an example of a “pure public good” (another kind of market failure), it had to be a lighthouse. If you needed a case of “positive externalities” (yet another), you would very likely go for beekeeping. In its field, QWERTY has achieved the same iconic eminence.

Which is only apt, because the tale of QWERTY is a myth — just like those other two cases. More than 25 years ago, Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate, showed that when lighthouses were first built in Britain they were provided by private enterprise; tolls were collected when ships reached port. So lighthouses are not pure public goods. At about the same time Steven Cheung examined beekeeping and apple-growing in the state of Washington. He found that apple-growers paid beekeepers for their bees’ pollinating endeavours; those services were not, in fact, an unpriced “externality”…

(Read the rest at The Independent Institute)

President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?

President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?

President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?
Attribution: Alexander Gardner (November 8, 1863)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

President Lincoln is the centerpiece of American mythology. Public schools teach us to adore him. His brilliance and leadership are hailed by historians and politicians. President Lincoln saved the Union, freed the slaves, and inspired a nation. Check out these glowing words from Roy Klabin at PolicyMic:

Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most celebrated presidents, having led us though our most troubled times. He was made great not by the circumstances that he found himself in, but the fortitude and honor with which he navigated them. The Civil War that erupted, and the manner in which Lincoln quelled it, showed us that however varied the ideas within our flourishing democracy may become, our strongest virtue comes in sustaining our unity and resolving our differences.

Fortitude? Honor? Please. Unfortunately, the truth is far uglier. President Lincoln’s quest to “save the union” cost an estimated 750,000 lives (including my third great grandfather). He wanted to force African-Americans to resettle in Central America. And there is no evidence he helped to pass the 13th Amendment, despite what Steven Spielberg would have you believe. In fact, the only 13th amendment President Lincoln tried to pass was the Corwin Amendment, which sought to prevent interference with slavery. Here’s more on the mythology surrounding President Lincoln and the 13th Amendment from Thomas DiLorenzo at LewRockwell.com:

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, is said to be based on several chapters of the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns-Goodwin, who was a consultant to Spielberg. The main theme of the movie is how clever, manipulative, conniving, scheming, lying, and underhanded Lincoln supposedly was in using his “political skills” to get the Thirteenth Amendment that legally ended slavery through the U.S. House of Representatives in the last months of his life. This entire story is what Lerone Bennett, Jr. the longtime executive editor of Ebony magazine and author of Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, calls a “pleasant fiction.” It never happened…

There is no evidence that Lincoln provided any significant assistance in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives in 1865, but there is evidence of his effectiveness in getting an earlier Thirteenth Amendment through the House and the Senate in 1861. This proposed amendment was known as the “Corwin Amendment,” named after Ohio Republican Congressman Thomas Corwin. It had passed both the Republican-controlled House and the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate on March 2, 1861, two days before Lincoln’s inauguration, and was sent to the states for ratification by Lincoln himself. The Corwin Amendment would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery…

(See the rest at LewRockwell.com)

What did Nathan Hale Really Say?

"Last Words of Nathan Hale"

“Last Words of Nathan Hale”
Attribution: Engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie (1858)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nathan Hale, the famous American spy from the Revolutionary War, is famous for saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” There’s just one problem. He never said it. So, what did he really say? The answer is below, courtesy of an interview with Becky Akers conducted by American Revolution and Founding Era:

“What lessons can Americans today take from someone like Nathan Hale?”

That liberty is among God’s greatest gifts to us, more precious even than life.

Many folks mistake Nathan’s sacrifice for nationalism – the “my-country,-right-or-wrong” mentality. And while that’s tragic, it’s understandable, given the warped version of his speech on the gallows bequeathed to us. That famous line – “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” – actually originated with Capt. (later Gen.) William Hull, one of Nathan’s buddies from college. He heard an account of the execution from an eyewitness, which he included in his memoirs as an old man. And then he paraphrased – inaccurately – the quote from a report on Nathan’s death the Boston Chronicle published just six years after the hanging: “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” Obviously, Hull’s condensation packs a greater punch, but it also changes “cause [of liberty]” to “country” – an unfortunate and nationalistic rewrite.

(See the rest at American Revolution and Founding Era)

Did Paul Revere Save the United States?

According to American Mythology, Paul Revere jumped onto a horse on April 18, 1775 and rode into the night, shouting “The British are coming!” But did Paul Revere’s Ride actually happen?

Did Paul Revere's Ride Save the United States?

Did Paul Revere’s Ride Save the United States?
Description: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
Attribution: Office of War Information
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Story of Paul Revere’s Ride

According to American mythology, Paul Revere’s ride was a solo one. He and other colonists knew the British were preparing to attack. So, he waited in Charleston for a signal from signal lanterns. One lantern in the Old North Church’s steeple would indicate a land invasion, two would mean a sea-based attack. He saw two lanterns and then rode through Medford, Lexington, and Concord to warn everyone, “The British are Coming!”

It’s a good story. One that has become a significant part of American history. It’s also severely flawed and in some respects, completely incorrect.

Paul Revere’s Ride: American History or American Mythology?

Interestingly enough, Paul Revere was little known for almost a century after his now-famous ride. Then in 1860, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a famous poem entitled Paul Revere’s Ride. Longfellow was an abolitionist and wanted to convince his fellow northerners to take military action to keep the Union intact. As such, he deliberately romanticized his work in order to create a legend out of Revere.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride

The truth as you might expect, is a bit more messy. The British Army was in Massachusetts that evening. They planned to disarm the colonists by seizing a weapons cache in Concord. They also planned to arrest the leaders of the budding American rebellion, including John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, learned of the plan. He sent two riders, Paul Revere and William Dawes, to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock. They were to alert colonial militias along the way.

Revere and Dawes rode to Lexington, delivering warnings to every house they passed. Other riders, perhaps as many as 40 of them, raced into the night to spread the message. No one shouted, “The British are coming!” Indeed, most of the colonists considered themselves British. The entire rebellion was about the colonists standing up for what they considered to be true British values.

According to Revere, the exact message was, “The Regulars are coming out,” with the Regulars referring to the Regular Army. And since the operation was a secret, it’s unlikely anyone actually shouted out the message.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Eventually, Revere and Dawes reached Lexington. They delivered the warning and picked up a third rider named Samuel Prescott. They proceeded to ride onto Concord. However, British troops spotted them in Lincoln. Revere was captured and questioned. Prescott jumped his horse over a wall and escaped. Dawes also escaped but later fell off his horse. Fortunately, Prescott reached Concord in time to warn the colonists. The next day, the British Army attacked. The Battles of Lexington and Concord raged. And out of that dust emerged the beginnings of a new country, the United States of America.

“‘Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear—
My name was Dawes and his Revere.” ~ Helen F. Moore, The Midnight Ride of William Dawes