You have never seen a "keyboard" like this before, so your first reaction, probably on the order of, "Is that all there is to it?" is entirely understandable. A typewriter keyboard usually has about fifty keys and a computer keyboard usually has over a hundred. That only ten keys can function as more than a thousand takes a bit of getting used to.
The technique that makes it possible is called chording. It means exactly what you would expect: pressing combinations of keys rather than just one at a time. If you play a musical instrument, you are probably already familiar with chording, and even hunt-and-peck typists have to chord with the shift key to produce uppercase letters and various symbols. The Wlonk makes considerably more extensive use of the same principle.
Before we go further into that, let's get acquainted with the device itself. The first thing to realize is that you do not strike these pads the way you would strike the keys on a keyboard. For one thing, each finger is already touching its own pad, so there is no jumping around. For another, there is no need for your fingers to hover over the keys waiting to swoop down and strike; just press. When you press a finger it registers as part of a chord, and when you do not, it doesn't. You just relax and hold the device in any way that lets you feel comfortable.
Now press some of the pads and notice what appears on the screen. Each pad, when pressed by itself, is considered a numeric digit. The same pad always means the same digit. If the pads were labeled, the labels would probably be the digits zero through nine, because the pads are used individually only for entering those numbers. But because the numbers are so easy to learn, and because you would have to take your fingers off the pads to see the labels (which would not only slow you down, but would also interfere with the learning process), we leave them unlabeled, like piano keys.
To make things simpler while we teach you chording, however, we are going to speak of your fingers (and their corresponding pads) as though they were labeled. Thus your left little finger will be 0, your left thumb 4, your right thumb 5, and your right little finger 9. Instead of saying "press your left thumb and right index finger simultaneously" we will simply refer to the chord, which is 46.
We could call it 64 because the same digits are involved -- remember that the order of the keys is immaterial, because they are being pressed at the same time. Just as 1 + 2 + 3 = 6 and 2 + 1 + 3 = 6, 123 is the same chord as 213; it is the whole group that is important. We refer to the digits in ascending order for consistency.
The method we use to remember chords is not to remember the digits which make them up. At first, that may sound silly or wrong; but it actually makes a lot of sense, partly because, as we all know, numbers are not usually easy to remember. Most of us have an address book somewhere so we can find our friends' phone numbers when we need them. Even though we use those numbers frequently we tend to forget them, so we write them down. Trying to remember the chords by their digits would be a mistake.
What many people do remember easily are words and pictures. We know what our friends look like, and we usually know the name of the street they live on and what their home looks like, even if we do not generally recall the street number or the zip code.
So the trick we use is to remember words and pictures, and to translate them into digits when we need them. The heart of the trick is to have a consistent way to convert numbers into words and back again, quickly and automatically. For that, we rely on a conversion table, which takes a small amount of time and effort to learn.
That is the bad news.
The good news is that it is a very short table -- only ten items long. Take a quick look at the table now, and then we will explain how to use it:
|Digit||Sound||Possible Mnemonic Words|
|0||F, V, ph||Ava, off, wave, half, hive|
|1||K, Q, hard "g", hard "c"||key, cue, cow, go, ache|
|2||M||Mae, home, yummy, meow, Moe|
|3||S, Z, soft "c"||Si, Cy, Sue, sew, zoo, ace, haze, whiz|
|4||N||Noah, Annie, honey|
|5||D, T, th||the, Eddie, hat, wade, thigh|
|6||R||Roy, arrow, hair, row|
|7||L||Leo, yellow, wall, while, alley|
|8||B, P||ape, hobo, pew, boy|
|9||J, sh, ch, soft "g"||Joe, chow, shy, wash, age|
What we use are the sounds represented by consonants (not precisely the individual letters themselves, and not the sounds of vowels). For instance, four is represented by the "N" sound; you can try, for example, remembering the word "no" instead of the digit. Note that the "o" in "no" is neutral and does not translate into any digit. This holds true for all the vowels (a, e, i , o, u, and y) and also the "H" and "W" sounds. And because we are only interested in sounds, not in spellings, double letters in words count as just one sound and unsounded consonants do not count at all. Thus, although all the following words are different, our system translates each one of them as the digit 4: any, Annie, honey, inn, Hannah, Noah, annoy, win, whine, whiney, own, yawn, Hun, eon, Hanoi, Winnie.
Some sounds are not as distinct as "N". "D" and "T," for example, are considered phonetically equivalent here for that reason, so "toe," "doe," "Etta," and "idea" all translate as the same digit, which is five.
The two that are hardest to distinguish from each other are one and nine. You will probably want to pay a bit more attention to these.
Making pictures in your mind will help you remember the table. They do not have to be realistic or even in good taste, but they should be memorable and vivid. Suspending codes of morality and laws of physics and letting our imagination dream up whatever it wants are the best ways of creating images we can easily recall.
The nice thing about this system is that the first image that comes to mind is usually the best. Simply think of the two things you want to link together and a silly picture will soon float to the surface of your mind.
For instance, an elaborate wedding where a Disneyesque COW slips a ring onto your left ring finger could be number one. Think about that for a while, and it will be easy to remember that the hard "C" sound translates as the digit one.
Or a long, ugly neckTIE hanging from your right thumb, for the digit five. These examples are just general pointers; we will not give you more, because the ones you make up for yourself will work best for you. To practice, try translating any words you see or can think of into digits and numbers. It is a great way to remember people's phone numbers. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques, "The Memory Book", by Jerry Lucas and Harry Lorayne, is an excellent introduction to the subject and makes a great gift for a high school student.
Once you know the digits, it is time to learn the alphabet. Our memory system uses two-digit chords to enter individual letters. To learn to chord the alphabet, you simply learn a list of twenty-six words. To make it easier for you, the words are in alphabetical order. The first letter of each word is the letter the chord creates, and is not actually used as part of the chord. (The vowels would not translate anyway, since they do not correspond to any of the digits.) Thus "a" is "arena," which translates to the "R" sound and the "N" sound, which are the digits 6 and 4; when you press those digits simultaneously that is chord 46. (Remember, because you are pressing the 4 and the 6 together, there is no real difference between "64" and "46"; we give them in ascending order for consistency, as we mentioned earlier). When you press the 46 chord, the letter "a" appears on the screen.
Again, remember that the first letter of the word is just the letter of the alphabet that the word stands for, and does not get translated into a digit. That is, "maniac" (for the letter "M") translates as 14 (N, C) rather than 124 (M, N, C). Here is the table:
|a||46||arena, Aran, Arnie|
|c||15||caked, C-deck, cooked|
|d||58||depth, dipped, dabbed|
|e||56||Earth, eater, erred|
|f||48||Fabian, "fine web"|
|h||24||human, humane, hominy|
|j||17||jackal, (Dr.) Jekyll|
|m||14||monk, mink, maniac, manic|
|n||57||noodle, needle, nettle|
|p||26||prime, prom, prim|
|r||36||razor, roars, rears, rowers|
|s||47||snail, salon, sailing|
|t||35||taste, tots, tides, tossed|
You may have noticed that the digit zero does not appear in any of these chords. That is because we reserve it for use as the shift key. If you want an uppercase letter, simply hold down your left little finger as well as the others, to make a three digit chord. Nine, similarly, is reserved to serve as the control key.
If you want to key a space, use the 45 chord. Your thumbs are your strongest digits, so we decided to use them for the most frequently keyed character.
Chords can use from one to ten digits, which makes 1,023 different chords possible. We have reserved three for system use. 0123456789 (all your fingers and both thumbs) means Escape. This combination has a special purpose, which we discuss in the next paragraph. 56789 (all the fingers of your right hand) means Okay or yes. 01234 (all the fingers of your left hand) means no.
Another way the Wlonk is different from a keyboard is that you get to decide what any chord "means." These initial chords we have given you are only to get you started. Any time you want to change or expand your chord assignments, no matter what you might be keying at the time, you can simply press the Escape chord. When you do that, the computer displays a special dialog called the alter dialog, which lets you change chord assignments. Until you leave the alter dialog, all your chords register there (and only there), rather than in the application you were working with.
The first thing you are asked is what chord you wish to alter. You can change any except Accept (yes), Reject (no), and Escape. If the chord is already being used, you will be shown its current meaning and asked to confirm (Accept/Reject, yes/no) that you really do want to change it and have not simply made a miskey. If you accept, you will be asked to specify what type of data you wish to associate with that chord. This is either a string composed of characters, or a single ANSI character code, which is a number between 0 and 255. You can use this to re-chord the existing alphabet (which some people, the left-handed for instance, may wish to do) or to generate nonprinting character and control codes.
String data means multi-character units built up out of existing chords. For instance, ". The", "ion", "1-800-", or even, say, a sequence of your word processor's function keys. If you make a mistake while entering this data, the Reject chord acts as a single character backspace. If you change your mind and decide not to alter the chord after all, an Escape chord closes the dialog without altering the existing meaning of the chord. The Accept chord terminates the entry of data, and update the chord's meaning before returning you to whatever you were doing before.
We suggest that you start expanding your chord set with those chords that are easiest for you to remember. 3256 for "my address," for instance, or 02468 for "Al's (phone) number." Whatever means the most to you is the best to start with.
The last thing to remember, but one of the most important, is that you probably will not need to remember the standard mnemonics for very long. Once you have been using them for a little while, the intervening steps blur until they disappear, and the desire to key an "a" results in your fingers pressing a 46 chord almost immediately. It just takes a little practice; surprisingly little, in fact.
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