At 1:00 pm on Friday, January 28th at the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference and exhibition, Hank Torres set an official Guinness world record for typing hands-free. Following an accident over 20 years ago, Hank has been paralyzed from the shoulders down and therefore has to use alternative methods for using computers.
For the world record, Hank used a computer fitted with a piece of software called Swype® and a special input device called the Tracker® Pro. This is a ball that sits on top of a display that uses reflected light from a small dot placed on a person’s forehead or attached to glasses.
The test phrase is;
The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human
Hank managed to do this in an official time of 83.09 seconds, which is faster than you might think when you consider that it has to be done without using you hands. In practice, Hank got it down to about 77 seconds but when you have an audience of a few hundred people watching, along with an official adjudicator from Guinness holding a stopwatch, it’s a little stressful!
If you want to get a feel for the challenge, try typing the test phrase yourself using your regular keyboard and see how long it takes. You also have to get it exactly the same, with “Serralsamus” and “Pygocentrus” capitalized and “razor-toothed” hyphenated. If you make a mistake, you can go back and correct it but to achieve a record, nothing less that perfect is acceptable.
Now try doing it again with a single finger. And now hold a pencil in your mouth and try tapping it against the keys. Not so easy, eh?
The test phrase was initially used in test of the ability to use cell phones to generate messages. Based on the notion that an SMS message is limited to 160 characters, the phrase contains exactly 160 when you include spaces and punctuation.
A second design feature was that the phrase had to be cognitively challenging but not impossible. Something like “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” is now so familiar to people that it is not a cognitive challenge – you don’t have to think about it.
The use of words like genera, Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus add challenge because they are low-frequency words, and low-frequency words always make us ponder just a little bit more. And for those who are pondering, genera is the plural form of genus, which is Latin for “birth, race, or stock.” This in turn derives from the Greek γένος meaning “to beget” or “to be born.” Going even further back into the mists of language, Sanskrit has a similar-meaning word, jánas, making this a very old word indeed.
Pygocentrus has a much more interesting history. The Greek word pygo (πυγο) means “rump” or “bottom” or more simply, “rear end.” The suffix centrus comes from the Greek kendros, which means “a sting.” So it’s literally “a sting in the tail.”
Serrasalmus has the first element, serra, from the Latin meaning “saw,” as in a saw with jagged edges and teeth. The salmus is also Latin and means “salmon” – the same thing you can enjoy with lemon butter and capers or simply lightly grilled and served with tasty brown rice. So the family of Serrasalmus is made up of saw-toothed salmon. Try slipping this into your next dinner engagement! You could toss in that salmon itself is probably related to the Latin verb salire, which means “to leap,” but then you would start to come across as a know-it-all so best to hold that back for another day.
Meanwhile Hank’s challenge to all comers is to beat his record before he beats it himself. Having established a new benchmark, the game is, as they say, afoot. Or is that “ahand” – without hands?