Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Current Word Processing

A few years back, I started getting some RSI symptoms in my hands. Tingling, numbness, cramps. Developed a case of "trigger finger," tenosynovitis, that eventually required surgery.

I've mistreated my mitts over the decades, and for the last seven or eight years, I've foam-taped the heck out of them when I work out, because there is no connective tissue left in a couple of joints. I can sprain my thumb taking my socks off, I'm not careful ...

Bad ju-ju for a writer.

I went looking for ways to ease the stress on my hands, and tried various split or ergonomic keyboards, starting with the Mac's now-out-of-production version; then one by FingerWorks that was flat and so sensitive that if I spilled a drop of water on it, it would type a letter. Bad keyboard for me, but a great touch-pad, the iGesture, also now out of production.

Ended up with the Kinesis Advantage, which looks, as I told J.D., like somebody took a big ice cream scoop to it in a couple places and then filled the hollow with keys. Major control keys lie under the thumbs, and it is every so much easier to use than any board I've tried. Even has an optional foot switch that can allow one-handed input, by shifting all the keys on half a board so each can input two letters, depending on the foot switch's position.

First one I had had a QWERTY/Dvorak switch. (Dvorak, a much more reasonable method of letter and sign placement, supposedly requires on 1/16th as much movement as classical QWERTY keyboards, which were designed to keep typists from going too fast and jamming the keys, back in the mechanical machine days.) I wore that one out. (Actually, wore the wire out, and didn't realize I could replace that, so I got a second one. They come up with a wireless model, I'm going to buy several.

Unfortunately, when I'm on a roll, I can type somewhere between seventy and ninety words a minute, and trying to learn the changeover to Dvorak, where on a good day I might could do twenty-five words a minute drove me nuts. They say it takes about forty hours of practice to get relatively adept at it, but I couldn't make myself wait while I was actually trying to get work done. My brain had run off down the road babbling to itself while my hands were struggling to keep it in sight. No good.

If you have RSI problems, or even carpal tunnel syndrome starting to loom, consider trying one of these babies. It's not cheap -- about three hundred bucks when I got mine -- but compared to the cost of hand surgery or not being able to type, that's a pittance.

They told me it would take while to get used to it. It did -- all of thirty seconds. I sit with it on my lap, lean back in my chair, and haven't had any real problems with my hands since.

I can't go back to a regular keyboard. One of the reasons a laptop isn't of interest -- keyboard is all wrong for me now, and if I have to lug this one along, it kind defeats the point ...


Argonautica said...

Man, that does look comfortable, but 300 bones is steep considering I'd have to get one for the office and one for home. And then still probably spend most of my time on the laptop.

Have you ever switched back and forth between that and a regular keyboard?

Steve Perry said...

I've used normal keyboards away from home since I got the ergonomic one. It's difficult. You quickly realize how much harder the normal layouts work your hands.

Edwin Voskamp said...

I had a spot of RSI a few years back, doing 80-100 hours a week at the keyboard and went for the most gorgeous solution: Herman Miller Aeron with a split programmable keyboard (then made by Kinesis) mounted on the arms. I had the company leave off the touchpad in the keyboard and mounted a large trackball in its stead.

Not the cheapest solution.

Steve Perry said...

Very nice rig, Edwin.

Wave of the future, for keyboarders, the ergonomic work space.

I moved mine to my lap because my nephew, who is a programmer, MIT grad, said that was the prevailing useage at school. At about the same time, a therapist doing serious bodywork told my collaborator to put a pillow in his lap and put his keyboard on that, to ease strain.

Sounded like good advice to me. Seems to work fine for me. Sitting up straight or leaning back is better than hunching over. Eventually, I will probably mount my track pad on the chair arm, too.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

I went Dvorak a few months ago; I'm typing as fast as I was on qwerty, with no wrist or hand pain. The down side: I can no longer type qwerty. This is a problem with a wide range of necessary non-Dvorakable devices, ranging from video titlers to my collection of portable Palm and PocketPC keyboards. I'm back to hunt-and-peck when I'm not using one of my converted keyboards.

I have a Perfect Chair I use for writing, and it's extremely ergonomic. What I've been looking for: a wireless keyboard with a trackball or touchpad built in. It's nice to lean back with a wireless keyboard on your lap, but when you have to repeatedly lunge forward to a flat mousing surface, you're defeating the purpose. I'm a bit surprised I can't find anyone who makes one....

Mark Jones said...

I haven't gone as far as a Kinetic keyboard, but both at work and at home I use the split Microsoft keyboard. Using a standard keyboard, of the sort I learned on and used for so many years before, feels incredbly awkward and cramped now.

As for other ergonomics--I use a standing desk for my computer at home these days. It works pretty well and I get more exercise standing (and shifting and dancing and walking off frequently) than when I sat in a chair for hours at a time.