We now live in a world where there are more internet-connected devices than there are people and the computer keyboard is fast replacing the old faithful pen as the preferred means of putting words onto paper. Yet, in spite of the ubiquitous nature of the keyboard, not all keyboard layouts are created equally.

For those of us living in English speaking countries, the keyboard layout you are most likely familiar with is the QWERTY layout, so named after the first six characters of the top row of letters. The QWERTY layout was first created in the 1870s by Christopher Sholes. Prior to Sholes’s invention, typewriter keyboards featured an alphabetical layout which was particularly prone to jams caused by clashing typebars (the metal arms on which the letters were mounted). Sholes, therefore, devised the QWERTY layout as a means of speeding up typing by separating commonly used letter pairs (such as ‘st’ or ‘th’) and thus minimising jams. Since then, QWERTY has become the default keyboard layout for English speakers. Yet, it is not the only layout that exists.

The most common QWERTY alternatives are those that exist in countries that speak languages other than English. These layouts were based on the same principles as QWERTY, but were tailored to better reflect the linguistic nuances of other languages. French speaking countries, for example, use the AZERTY layout, while Russian keyboards use the JCUKEN layout, which is designed to accommodate the extra letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Nevertheless, even within English speaking countries, alternative keyboard layouts exist, the two most common being the Dvorak layout (named after its inventor, August Dvorak) and the Colemak layout.

The Dvorak and Colemak keyboard layouts were invented to make typing faster and more efficient. The Dvorak keyboard, for example, places the most commonly used letters in the middle row, and favours the right hand over the left (using the QWERTY layout, only 32% of keystrokes are made on the middle row and over half are made with the left hand). Some studies have shown that the Dvorak and Colemak keyboards do allow for faster typing speeds, yet others have failed to do so. Either way, if you were to swap your standard QWERTY keyboard for a Dvorak or Colemak keyboard, it would almost certainly result in months of pain, as you unlearn QWERTY and get up to speed with the new layout. Still, proponents of these keyboards believe the investment is worth it, and at the very least, given how uncommon these keyboard layouts are, it will guarantee that no one will ever use your computer at work ever again.

The following quotes have been written using a standard QWERTY keyboard, but in each case, some sort of (distinct) transformation has been made (for example, by the typist shifting the starting position of his or her hands on the keyboard and then typing normally or by mapping the current keys to new letters). Note that all punctuation has been removed from the quotes to avoid confusion.

1. YTU YP SBPOF SMU BOTHPD PT ARPD EOYJ YJR RNPAS BOTID
2. BCSS ZKJSC LFDGJ KYM LYIBL BPKE EPCF CUJIDE EPCF EDCKE VGDSHYO QGLE SHRC HEL K DCKS LJIDE
3. RUTW QRQL KWQ QXQV CJTQW EFKV EFQ PKEQW YV BR EUYJQE
4. 63W F84T8H8Q H92 WQH5QW E98HT 58J3 8H Q R3E34QO 048W9H R94 Y8W 8HRQJ97W D48J3

For your chance to win a $50 book voucher, identify the four transformations, decode each of the quotes and email your solution to: inthemargin@actuaries.asn.au. Tower Heist (Actuaries 198 Solution) The solution to the skyscraper puzzle given in Actuaries 198 is: 14 correct answers were submitted. The winner of this month’s prize, selected randomly from among the correct entries, was Michael Eabry, who will receive a$50 book voucher.

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