One man's torture is another man's pleasure.
Indeed. I believe I qualified my statement by recognizing that there are
plenty of masochists out there. For some mysterious reason ham radio seems to attract them.
It depends on what you're trying to do. If you're happy sitting on the top end of the 40m CW band having QRS contacts at 10 wpm, then a straight key can be entertaining. Sort of. For awhile.
My personal operating habits tend more toward DX pileups, occasional contesting and a little QRQ ragchewing, so a straight key is out of the question. I've abused my hands and arms enough during my lifetime. I have no desire to induce a case of carpal tunnel syndrome now.
Straight keys were invented near the middle of the 19th century by folks trying to find a practical way to use the newly invented telegraph code to communicate long distances via wires. To their credit they came up with a pretty viable way to do it considering they didn't have sophisticated communications technology nor a crystal ball. If you look at a Civil War telegraph key it's virtually identical to a WWII J-38. A hundred year plus lifespan for any communications technology is pretty awesome.
If getting a sense of history is what you're looking for, then you need a straight key. If the year is 2011 and you are just learning CW, and you are searching for the best and most viable way to do it, then you need a paddle and a keyer. I'm taking the liberty of assuming that what the OP actually would like, over time, is to become proficient enough in the mode to move down the band and have some QSOs at 15~20 wpm.
One guy may have trouble playing a simple tune on the piano while the next guy can sit down and rip off a night of music, too.
Which would seem to me...if you can actually make an argument by analogy...to be a good reason for learning on a keyer first….
A good straight key, tuned up for speed, I can still go the 22-wpm or so level.
Not for very long. BTW, how do you tune a straight key for speed? How does your arm feel after calling for an hour in a DX pileup as fast as you can send? Which, incidentally, will still be at least 10 wpm slower than everybody else in the pileup.
Of course, that is from lots of practice at a younger age.
Does the OP have the benefit of that option?
But I learned CW at a time when cold war Soviet pilots sent perfect code with a straight key strapped to their leg while simultaneously flying the plane...
Really? By the Cold War era the Soviets still hadn’t figured out voice communication for their fighter pilots? Did their cosmonauts use CW too? To think our astronauts were sending back TV pictures from the moon while Soviet fighter pilots zoomed around sending messages to each other via CW! Getting a little misty-eyed with our colorful nostalgia are we?
I think just the opposite of what most straight key enthusiasts believe. Learn to send well with a keyer first. If your interests lead you to experiment with a straight key or bug later, fine.