Shift Happens Book Companion

Author’s commentary

If the book’s extras volume is akin to DVD extras, this is a version of “director’s commentary” – a perhaps too obsessive list of various details and follow ups to certain design decisions, photos, and other parts of the book.

Volume 1

Cover & Slipcase
The story of the evolution of the covers is in my newsletter, and also to some extent in the extras volume on page 34. The symbols used on the spines come from various keys throughout history (everything except Shift). In the first volume, the symbols (drawn by me) originated on typewriters and other electromechanical keyboards. In the second volume, all the symbols come from computer keyboards.
The endpapers showcase eight Shift keys from important keyboards – this time with their legends intact.
The book starts with an intentional “cold open,” without any front matter or title. The rejected earlier versions of this opening chapter can be read in the extras volume, on pages 36 and 52.
The titles and page numbers in the book are typeset in Gorton, a font known from computer (and typewriter) keyboards, which has been resurrected for this book. Read more about Gorton’s history in the specimen for Gorton Perfected, the resurrected font, and also see the extras volume on page 10.
There is no remaining trace of the actual device made by C. Latham Sholes, so I hired a 3D modeller to recreate it based on drawings and one existing replica. This reproduction is presented in actual size, so you can imagine pressing this historic key; see also pages 20, 115, 117, 223, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298, 308, 617, 626, 734, 857, 930, 986, 987, 992, 993, 1011, 1017, 1018, 1020, 1025, 1033, and 1034.
The historical photos in the book are on beige background, which slowly gets replaced by gray as the book moves towards modernity.
One paragraph on this page simulates text wrapping and hyphenation on an early typewriter.
Like with many spreads in the book, I tried the direction the people or objects are facing to be consistent: one direction, toward the edges, or – like here – toward the spine.
This is one of the five “most important keyboard” spreads. See also: page 94 (Underwood №5), page 408 (IBM Selectric), page 664 (IBM Model M), page 996 (iPhone), and… page 1132 as a bonus (IBM Correcting Selectric II). See also: extras volume, page 50.
The section break and footnote symbols come from various keys throughout history. In this volume, all the symbols originate on typewriters and other electromechanical keyboards. In the second volume, all the symbols come from computer keyboards. The symbols are also used on the spines of all volumes.
The typewriters on the left-hand side are both what we would call “ortholinear,” and a little bit a foreshadowing for 100 years later.
The !!1 typo appearing on this page is a Shift joke looking forward a hundred years.
The buildings are meant to be to scale… with one another, of course.
You can see how I took the photo of one of these books on page 46 in the extras volume.
The vinyl record on the left was deliberately juxtaposed with the audio cassette on the right.
The tricolon symbol used for secondary quotation marks in this book is a nod to the mysterious tricolon key on the first Sholes & Glidden typewriter (see page 1076).
One of the few examples of me deliberately showing a dirty keyboard, to remind people how dirty and nasty keyboards can be!
The first of a few examples of “mysteries” – the next spread revealing the answer to visual questions from this one. See also: page 811, 831, and 1064.
This address on this ad harkens back to the Broadway, New York story in the earlier chapter.
This is an actual scan from a Royal internal magazine talking about alignment testing.
Etaoin shrdlus (see page 267) have been inserted on pages 146, 262, 301, and 1128.
The story of this musical typewriter photo is shared in my newsletter.
Typesetting here simulates a misadjusted typewriter where the red ribbon shows at the top of each line.
Acknowledgements usually go to the beginning of the book, but it was important to me not to have any front matter and not lose any momentum before jumping into the story. So I reimagined acknowlegements as a showcase of various styles of typewriting – from 19th century, to almost in the computer era. All of these have been done using a program I wrote to take scans of typewritten letters and assemble them into a typewritten page.
The style of these visuals has been inspired by an article in Computers And Automation in 1972.
The style of these visuals has been inspired by an old Polish book, which you can see on page 967.
I specifically wanted to avoid showing drawings and patent drawings for machines that actually existed – I wanted them to be seen as they were. However, in this case, and also on pages 178-9, it’s the patents that actually matter, as this machine never made it to production, and the only remaining photo of it (see page 550) doesn’t show the layout in more detail.
One of few examples of being able to flip two pages to see a machine in two different states. See also: page 483, 830, 856, 873, and 1128.
Like in a few other places, it was important to me not to limit the scope to just American output – hence one of these ads being from France.
You can see how I took the photo of one of these books on page 47 in the extras volume.
This first keypad page is matched by the second one much later in the book, on page 985.
While this image has circulated on the web for many years, this is a brand new scan in a much higher quality from the original, hard-to-find source.
This spread of etaoinshrdlus is matched by another spread on page 1198.
This was among the hardest photos to find in the book.
A work-in-progress photo of this keyboard is in the extras volume, page 51.
The last diagram here foreshadows an upcoming chapter about Chinese typewriters.
This is my first typewriter, which I got for the 2014 article What I learned about languages just by looking at a Turkish typewriter, which is referred to in this chapter.
I fell in love with this photo after seeing it on the wall of the Living Computers museum in Seattle – it’s a very rare first-person photo of someone typing. The kind people at the museum put me in touch with the owners of the photo.
These required years of eBay searches, and I am pretty sure I made enemies in some rail ticket collectors, with whom I got into bidding prices.
This was originally just a few photos, but I kept finding new ones that told the story of the evolution of the key punches really well. Please note the visual consistency: women always look toward the spine.
I requested the Library of Congress to digitize this bottom photo of a very rare keyboard in the process of making the book.
The “cream” version of IBM 026 is much more rare, and I was happy to find it in Spain and take a picture of it.
A first example of “computer output” font FF Dot Matrix (read more in A note on typography).
Note the easter egg – slashed zeros – in page numbers of this chapter. The irony here that early computer output and keyboards sometimes used regular zeroes and slashed or deformed the letter O, deeming it less important. (Compare: page 387, page 423, page 500, page 507, page 531, and others.)
Please note the consistency of people always looking away from the spine.
I wrote about the story of chasing the author of the top photo in my newsletter or on page 42 in the extras volume.
I like the juxtaposition of the sweaters on this page and the woman wearing a sweater on page 303.
After not being able to find any good photo of a teletype being used to communicate with the computer, I was happy to commission a photo from Eric Furst, where we recreated an output of a 1960s program.
These are all from my collection – I have never seen a juxtaposition of various styles of IBM font balls, nor a small collection of the competitors’ balls.
Perhaps one of the spreads that was the hardest to find photos for. The photographs of offices with Selectrics are not labeled “photos of offices with Selectrics” – this required sifting through many offices photos from many decades.
The last footnote here harkens back to Linotype and page 251 in particular.
I colorized the left photo to match the right photo for more consistency. The right photo was contributed by Matthew Kirschenbaum, the author of the excellent book Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing.
The photo at the top here is briefly mentioned in this newsletter issue.
This excellent typewriter identification photo was found almost by accident, just by perusing (again) the wonderful Hungarian photo archive Fortepan.
I wrote more about Martin K. Tytell and Peter Tytell (including my conversation with him) in my newsletter or on page 88 in the extras volume.
These high quality photos of the Selectric bug were taken from someone at the National Cryptologic Museum just for this book.
This is a genuine output of me keylogging myself when this chapter about keylogging. There was originally a passage in the chapter about it with some observations, but I had to remove it for brevity. Some traces of the experiment are still out there on Twitter.
It was import for me to show devices in use in general, and any electric/electronic device with its screen on in particular (for a perfect example, see page 897). In moments where it wasn’t possible, I recreated the screen with the utmost care to for its appearance. All of screens prepared in post production are labeled “simulated screen.” See also: pages 641, 682, 716, 719, 738, 794, 807, 853, 868, 869, 955, 992, 993, 1024, and 1025.
This spread is deliberately put on black with green accents as an easter egg.
The photo at the top was particularly interesting to discuss with a little crowd over at Mastodon.
Was very happy to include a letter from Tomasz Lem (with his permission), writing about his father Stanisław Lem, my favourite writer.
I briefly wrote about my Olivetti Praxis 48 in an issue of my newsletter.
I collected too many interesting photos of people typing on various keyboards, all facing right. The overflow from this section can be found in the extras volume (pages 26-31).
This photo was a wonderful result of me asking on Twitter about photographs of people with their first computers.

Volume 2

The first volume ends on Olivetti (widely considered a maker of the most beautiful typewriters and computers). The second resumes on ZX Spectrum (widely considered to be the one of the worst keyboards ever made).
This photograph was a happy accident. I randomly zoomed in on a photo I received from Mutant Caterpillar Games, and I realized it’s high enough quality that it could be shown this way.
I wrote about talking to Rick Dickinson twice – in the first issue of my newsletter and then when I learned about his passing.
I was delighted to find this modern photo that recreated a big chunk of my childhood – including the same encyclopedia on the shelvs, the same tape recorded I disassembled, and the same Eurobusiness game (a clone of Monopoly). The only reason I knew this photo wasn’t from the 1980s? The windows are too nice.
This photo is meant to mirror a similar photo on page 164, down to a chalkboard in the background.
This ad foreshadows The KeyPatch 10 accessory on page 704.
Getting one of these keyboards was a bona fide emergency.
This map is supposed to harken back to the much more glorious map on page 68.
The photo of IBM PCjr “chiclet” keyboard on this page comes with an actual pack of Chiclets from the same era.
This three-keyboard layout is repeated on pages 836 and 1092. An alternative view of two of these keyboards can be seen in the extra volume, on page 68.
The Model M 122-key keyboard on this page foreshadows the proposed worst layout described later on pages 1089-1090.
I wrote about this IBM keyboard in one of the newsletter issues.
I wrote about this keyboard in one on the newsletter issues.
I got the idea for this spread all the way back in 2002, when I was teaching usability.
This tableau was prepared by myself in a personal DEC museum in Holland. It was important to me to occasionally surround keyboards with related artifacts, even outside historical photos. See also: page 510, 517, 654, 655, 669, and 708 (also page 634, but that wasn’t my photo).
This treatment is meant to match the treatment on page 646.
I asked about this joystick on Twitter, and upon learning someone still has it, I solicited a few photos. When the photos came in an incredible resolution, turns out that I got them from a professional astrophotographer.
I wrote about the journey to find this photo in my newsletter.
After writing about the previous rare typewriter, I searched for a good photo of it, but after many years, I got nothing. Then, out of a blue, an owner of one reached out to me after reading the said newsletter – and I convinced him to take a photo.
I wrote about the process of restoring this photo in my newsletter and then on the book’s site.
The early mentions of the Apple logo key use an earlier version of the Apple logo (compare with the next page).
This collage of various overlays includes the keyboard surfboard I wrote about in my newsletter.
Throughout the book, the combination of keys pressed together (like CtrlB) are not spaced out, but keys typed in sequentially (see the footnote) are. This is inspired by Jef Raskin’s key combinations treatment in the book The humane interface.
This chapter uses N as its patron saint key as a nod to chapter 5 (pages 122 and 135 in particular).
The “switch“ on the left is kind of a joke going back to early chapters, but also showing how different keyboards are today.
I wrote about this photo being a late replacement in my newsletter – the original photo here has been promoted to a book cover.
I got this keyboard from a friend in Chicago. I moved it all the way to San Francisco, and then I… moved to Chicago with all my keyboards.
I found a grainy photo of this rare prototype on an old page preserved by Internet Archive. I tracked down the owner, who mentioned selling this keyboard to someone else. I eventually found that person too, but the keyboard was in storage in another continent. Eventually he managed travelliing to reunite to it, taking the photos for me using visual instructions I gave him that you can see on page 48 in the extras volume.
The red Esc key on this page foreshadows pages 934-936.
Locating a faithful representation of this interace in order to recreate it took a long time.
These standards symbols have been redrawn from me to match the other symbols in the book. (The original standard drawings are, as you can imagine, not very attractive.)
I wrote about this collection in one of the newsletters (and also in extras volume, on page 24).
What’s on the screen is Mavis Beacon, foreshadowing a future chapter.
I was trying to find good photos of this typewriter, but the only one I found had high licensing costs. This made me realize that buying an actual used typewriter just to take photos of would actually be cheaper – and it’s a trick I repeated many times.
I wrote about Canon Cat more in an early issue of the book’s newsletter. The screen shows one of Jef Raskin’s memos. See also: extra volume, page 50.
For the WASD keys on the margin, had fun imagining a new arrow layout I have never seen before (also see pages 688-691).
Floppy disks shown here are meant to harken back to the vinyl record and the audio cassette on pages 108-9.
Getting all of these screenshots of Mavis Beacon software required many nights in front of various emulators.
The message on the screen harkens back to the common typewriter filler text “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.“
Finding a good photo of a cabinet was hard, but luckily, one was volunteered by a reader!
The story of this photo is briefly mentioned at the bottom of this newsletter issue.
After many years of searching, this copy of Das Keyboard popped up on eBay just weeks before I had to finish the book. I was very happy I could photograph it using the same treatment as the HHKB keyboard on the same spread.
I wrote about the unusual keyboard in the bottom photo in my newsletter.
The Polish letter is using a comma typed above an S, rather than using a typographically proper accent. Also, the title of this chapter is in Polish, and means “typists and programmers.” It harkens back to the footnote on page 565.
I got this photo of a rare Japanese keyboard from someone who photographed it for a museum that never happened. The keyboard has since, unfortunately, been destroyed.
The word “tenki” is a nod towards “ten key.”
Wanted to show this keyboard specifically not just because of the French layout, but because the right side of the computer shows the codes of each key.
Notice the numero next to the page number.
While the bottom photo here is available freely on Wikimedia Commons, the top one was really hard to find.
This second keypad page matches the first one on page 239.
The message on the screen harkens back to the common typewriter filler text “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.“
This is my hand.
The message here (“egg freckles”) is an inside joke recalling the infamous Apple Newton message. (Apple Newton was Magic Cap’s competitor.)
I recreated the screenshot from the Buick Reatta by hand based on multiple photographs.
A rare example in the book of using black-and-white, less-than-realistic photos because other photos were not available.
One chapter title in the book was chosen so that it contained an ampersand, which the Gorton font presents in a rather unique shape.
The collection of pins here matches the one on page 115.
I typed this myself on my stenotyping machine. The first example of stenotyping was chosen so that it should be readable without any explanation.
The onscreen and printed message here harkens back to the story of Mark Twain on page 77.
The first example of a keyboard using Comic Sans. The rest are on pages 1037, 1108, 1176, and 1177.
The company working on this device actually sent me a physical set of photos so I could scan them and use them.
This is the only second chapter (see also page 121) that features a stylized drop cap, as a nod to both chapters talking about typography.
This photo showcases the pretty rare electric Royal HE typewriter.
The footnote symbols in this chapter alone are Atari ATASCII semigraphic symbols.
The photo here is meant to mirror the one on page 1058.
The chapter concludes with a specific end mark: the creepy and very memorable IBM PC smiley.
You can spot my typewriter (introduced on page 157) here.
Erare humanum est has an intentional typo in it.
This layout is meant to match the one on page 56, but mirrored.
This layout is meant to match the one with Tab keys on page 125.
I wrote about the medical keyboard here in one of the issues of my newsletter.
A rare (but important and necessary) example of a dirty keyboard.
I wrote about this toy overlay (and a strange thing I asked it to do) in one of the issues of my newsletter.
A tiny easter egg – a display saying QWERTY on a non-QWERTY device.
This spread is a great example of being able to showing four devices working, which allows to compare the different flavors of their segmented displays. Also, easter eggs: the number in the top right corner is the model number of the most famous Model M keyboard, and the number in the better left corner is the Polish (mild) swear word when read upside down.
An alternate view/close-up of the TI calculator keyboard can be seen in the extras volume, on page 69.
I wrote about discovering the Aesthedes computer in my newsletter.
The location of this last chapter opening photo is exactly the same as the one of the first chapter (on page 16). A view of me actually typing in this location is in the extras volume, page 98.
A fun little easter egg: The title of the last chapter ends with “…please continue.”
The names of people on the screenshots are the name of famous early typewriting speed champions.
These two pages feature double spaces after full stops.
This spread of wide spacing here is matched by another spread on page 266.
The image caption harkens back to the joke on page 1130.
I wrote about how I took this photo and the strange discovery it led to in my newsletter.
The label on this photo harkens back to the title of the opening of the book.
The last, bottom-most key appearing in the whole book is the key to hide the keyboard.

Extras volume

I avoided endmarks in the main two volumes, always leaving enough whitespace so that it was obvious a chapter was ending. However, this was impossible in this volume, filled with a lot of very short stories.
The bullet points here are the Atari semigraphic characters from chapter 37.
Some of the AZ keys were bought specifically for the index, and all were photographed exclusively for this occasion.
The index has a lot of fun and easter egg-y entries. An easy one to start with is looking up my name.

“The day Return became Enter” booklet

I wrote about the story of the cover and the opening page in my newsletter.
The footnote symbols in the booklet are all different symbols for Return and Enter keys.