What Is Killing Cursive? Ballpoints. Probably.

I get it — you hate writing by hand. But have you ever considered why that is? Is it because typing is easier, faster, and more convenient here in 2023? Maybe so. All of those notwithstanding, I honestly think there’s an older reason: it’s because of the rise of ballpoint pens. And I’m not alone.

Bear with me here. Maybe you think you hate writing because you were forced to do it in school. While that may very well be, depending on your age, you probably used a regular wood-case pencil before graduating to the ballpoint pen, never experiencing the joys of the fountain pen. Well, it’s never too late.

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Better Coding Through Sketching

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, engineering students would take a few semesters of drafting and there would usually be a week or two of “computer-aided drafting.” In those days, that meant punching cards that said RECTANGLE 20,30 or something like that and getting the results on a plotter. Then we moved on to graphical  CAD packages, but lately, some have gone back to describing rather than drawing complex designs. Cornell University researchers are trying to provide the same options for coding. They’ve built a Juypter notebook extension called Notate that allows you to sketch and handwrite parts of programs that interact with traditional computer code. You can see a video about the work below.

The example shows quantum computing, but the idea could be applied to anything. The example has sketches that generate quantum circuits. Naturally, there is machine learning involved.

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Cursing The Curse Of Cursive

Unlike probably most people, I enjoy the act of writing by hand — but I’ve always disliked signing my name. Why is that? I think it’s because signatures are supposed to be in cursive, or else they don’t count. At least, that’s what I was taught growing up. (And I’m really not that old, I swear!)

Having the exact same name as my mother meant that it was important to adolescent me to be different, and that included making sure our signatures looked nothing alike. Whereas her gentle, looping hand spoke to her sensitive and friendly nature, my heavy-handed block print was just another way of letting out my teen angst. Sometime in the last couple of decades, my signature became K-squiggle P-squiggle, which is really just a sped-up, screw-you version of my modern handwriting, which is a combination of print and cursive.

But let’s back up a bit. I started learning to write in kindergarten, but that of course was in script, with separate letters. Me and my fellow Xennial zeigeistians learned a specific printing method called D’Nealian, which was designed to ease the transition from printing to cursive with its curly tails on every letter.

We practiced our D’Nealian (So fancy! So grown-up!) on something called Zaner-Bloser paper, which is still used today, and by probably second grade were making that transition from easy Zorro-like lowercase Zs to the quite mature-looking double-squiggle of the cursive version. It was as though our handwriting was moving from day to night, changing and moving as fast as we were. You’d think we would have appreciated learning a way of writing that was more like us — a blur of activity, everything connected, an oddly-modular alphabet that was supposed to serve us well in adulthood. But we didn’t. We hated it. And you probably did, too.

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