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Ten Key
Written July 28, 2008



The most valuable class I took at Richwood High School in the 1960s was not in a traditional academic subject.  I think I actually learned more from outside reading.

No, my most valuable class was typing, as taught by Mrs. Lucille Powers (right).  In this course, which lasted only one semester, I learned how to touch-type up to 90 words per minute.

Nowadays this skill applies not so much to old-fashioned typewriters as to computer keyboards.  Therefore, it's useful in my job of preparing graphics for television sports.

Also in the 1960s, while hanging around my father's Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership, I learned how to "touch-type" numbers on a keypad with ten keys.  The ten-key numeric keypad was a fairly recent innovation.

In the 1950s, the dealership had used adding machines something like the one below.

You could enter a number as large as $9,999.99, but that required punching in the proper digits on a selection of 54 keys.  There were no zeroes; in a "zero" column, you simply left all the keys unpunched.

The printer had an extra column, so it could print a total as large as $99,999.99 on the paper tape.

But then there was a fire.  And when we moved into our new building in 1965, head bookkeeper Gene Cheney got a fancy new Olivetti adding machine for his desk (below left).

<Another 1965 photo of Gene is here.>

Actually it was a more than an adding machine; it was a calculator that could not only add and subtract but also multiply and divide — all mechanically.

If you asked the "Divisumma" to compute a long division, it would sit there loudly whirring and clacking for half a minute while its spinning wheels performed multiple subtractions and multiplications; then it would finally print out the answer.

 (Three years later, when I first saw a newly invented electronic calculator in a college lab, I was amazed that it could divide two numbers instantly and without making any grinding noises at all.)

Another advanced feature of the Olivetti (left) was that it had only nine number keys, plus keys for single and double and triple zeroes.  That meant that you could learn to operate it by touch, without hunting and pecking all over the keyboard.

It was on this machine, or on simpler "ten-key adding machines," that I learned to punch in numbers rapidly without looking.

And I still use that skill today to quickly call up television graphics by their numbered addresses.


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