Pragmatic 50: Accidental Clicking

23 December, 2014


John Siracusa joins me to discuss RSI in depth, drawing on both of our experiences we look at what works, what doesn’t and why you should care. Keyboards, trackpads, trackballs, mice, chairs, we cover it all.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real-world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. This episode is sponsored by Igloo, an internet you'll actually like. Built with easy to use apps like file sharing, blogs, calendars, task management and more. Visit to get started. It's free to use for up to 10 people. This episode is also sponsored by is the easy and affordable way to learn. We can instantly stream thousands of courses created by experts in their fields of business, software, web development, graphic design and lots more. Visit to get a free 10-day trial. If you've ever wanted to learn something new, what are you waiting for? We'll talk about them some more during the show. I'm your host, John Chidjie, and my guest host for this, the 50th episode of Pragmatic is very special. Not only do we have a few odd things in common, like an eye for detail, and speaking of eyes, horrible eyesight, my contacts are now minus 4.25X, but anyway, that's to compensate for an astigmatism, apparently. Anyway, okay. So both of our first computers was a VIC-20. Neither of us are excited about air travel for similar reasons and so on and so forth. Anyway, my guest host originally became internet popular, I suppose you could say, through his writing on Ars Technica, writing brief commentaries on OS X releases, and more recently for a podcast called Hypercritical, which had 98 actual episodes, but ended. Currently, he's host of the popular Accidental Tech Podcast with Marco Armit and Casey Liss. I'm of course referring to John Siracusa and thank you, John, for coming on the show. - I didn't realize this was episode 50. That's exciting. You should end your podcast now. - What? No, no. - It's a nice round number. It's not how we do it, we just stop. - Yeah, well, you stopped at, okay, but just remember you stopped at 100, but technically it was really only 98 'cause one of them was a public service announcement and one of them didn't have you on it. So, you know, I'm just saying. - Episode number in the RSS feed says 100. I stopped at 100. - That's all that matters. - Yeah, I suppose so. But I go back and forth on this if numbers mean anything. It's kind of like an age. I mean, how many cycles around the sun have you done? It's just an arbitrary measure of something, but nevermind that. It's okay. No, I'm not stopping now. Anyway, right, lovely. Okay, so I thought it would be wonderful to get you on to talk about something that we've both experienced, although I think you've been through a tougher time than I have, and that's repetitive strain injury, or RSI for short. But before we get stuck into that, how much did you love that VIC-20? 'Cause I love mine. I miss mine sometimes. - My memories of my VIC-20 are very vague. I think the only concrete memory I really have of it is there was pressing the keys that made blocks of color on the screen. There were some keys that would like make, you know, like a yellow cursor shapes. You could do yellow, yellow, yellow, blue, blue, blue. And I don't, you know, that's a vague memory. Did it even have that many colors? I don't know. And writing basic programs of just, you know, printing your name across the screen and that's it. And like the shape of the thing, the color of the thing, what it felt like, where it was in living room in relation to the TV, but that's about it. I was young. - Well, I was young too, but I played with it for years on and off until we got a, I hate to say real computer, 'cause it was a PC running DOS, but nevermind that. Yeah, it's what I had, so there you go. But the VIC-20, now the memory I had was the silly expansion slot on the back, which had a more like an edge connector PCB connection So it was very rough around the edges, shall we say. And we had a game on a cartridge called Race Around the Block and we had a memory expansion cartridge which you needed to play certain other things. So of course you only had one slot and my memory was inserting and removing those cards was physically difficult and didn't always work reliably. So you'd put it in and it wouldn't load and you'd have to remove it and try and clean the contacts and push it back in again. It was... anyway. That was a while ago. My VIC-20 was a rental. We didn't own it. It was rented by my family. Wow. They didn't want to take the plunge and spend all this money to buy a computer at that point. I was like, we'll just rent one and see what it's like. That was back in the days when you plugged it straight into the TV set because monitors weren't a thing. Well, I don't think that was so much of a thing for the home. Certainly not a thing for a family that's renting a VIC-20. No, no, true. Anyway. Well, there you go. So, RSI and one of the funny things in doing the prep for this episode I found myself involuntarily shaking out my right hand I'm getting our phantom RSI pains and I know they're phantom RSI pains but I'm still getting them It's like don't think of the white elephant, right? What do you think about? That's part of the whole thing with repetitive strain injury is thinking about your body parts as part of dealing with it Exactly. So the thing is, there's a the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, which, you know, it sounds like it's for old people, but we're not old. So anyway, anyway, their public employees occupational health and safety program defines RSI as an injury to the musculoskeletal or nerve and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions, which is long-winded but pretty well covers it all but specifically not the hands, only the hands which is a common thing that everyone in our line of work is mostly concerned about RSI as it relates to hands and arms and so on but obviously it can apply to any part of the body. So we're apparently first identified in the 1700s by an Italian guy by the name of Bernardino Ramazzini sounds Italian and he described RSI in more than 20 different categories of industrial workers in Italy, including musicians and desk clerks. But carpal tunnel syndrome is a specific sub-category within RSI. It was first identified by a British surgeon, James Paget, in 1854. So it's not a new thing. But the first recorded mass incidence of RSI was actually in 1912 in America with telegraphs cramp from the poor telegraph operators sending morse code all day long. And I can completely understand that since I've learned Morse code. And fortunately that didn't send all day long 'cause it was just too slow and tedious and talking is a lot quicker. As well as one of the things that I didn't understand about amateur radio, because it's like, here, talk in Morse code. I'm like, but I can talk to you verbally. Why would I choose an inferior method of communication? But okay. - Yeah, RSI is basically, it's not meaningless but it's close to meaningless because it is such, it's an umbrella term and it's such a huge umbrella. It covers anything, like the definition is so incredibly broad. The only reason it has to be there is because you're like, I've injured myself by doing the same thing over and over again. And that covers such a wide spectrum. And when you say you've suffered from RSI, it's almost like you've, you know, I'm I'm suffered from suffering from bacteria or a virus. Like those are pretty broad categories. There's a lot of different viruses, a lot of them bacteria, and they're of varying severity to, you know, what they're going to do to you, how long they're going to take, are they going to kill you? Is it just going to be the sniffles? Exactly. So, yeah, exactly. And RSI is one of those, as you say, an umbrella term that sort of covers so many different types of injuries. So what I want to do is in a little bit, I'll break out some of the classified subtypes, but yeah, there's actually quite a lot more to it. But just to try and keep this down and focused, I just want to specifically talk about the RSI injuries that would be sustained in computer intensive jobs because well, A, that's both of our lines of work and B, a lot of the listeners to the shows lines of work. That's a lot of possessives there. The point is that I think it's probably of most interest. So we'll just focus on those. But the bottom line, I guess I'll get into the bottom line at the beginning, but lots of bad habits will lead to damage in much less time, whereas very few bad habits will prevent injury for a significantly long period of time, but you can't actually, there's no set of rules that you can follow that will guarantee you will never get RSI. And this is the thing that people say, "Oh, you use an ergonomic keyboard, "you can use an ergonomic mouse "or use a Dvorak layout of all things, "and you won't get RSI." But that's just not true. At least, yeah. - It's like motion sickness. Motion sickness is another, a very similar parallel to that. Some people get motion sick all the time. I'm one of those people. any kind of motion they get sick, right? Other people like, oh, I don't get motion sickness. I'm fine, right? But that's not the case. Everybody gets motion sick. It's just a question of what it takes. For some people, it would take going up, you know, into a jet fighter plane, which is something that people are never going to do, right? So you're fine. So basically when you say, I don't get motion sickness, that's basically true for, you know, for any reasonable definition, because you're like, look, do you have to do something incredibly extreme to my body to make me get sick? I basically don't get motion sick. repetitive strain injuries like that too. You say, I don't get repetitive strain injury. Some people through genetics or whatever, any normal activity they do, they're fine. But anybody can be made to throw up by being moved around. And anybody can be made to get a repetitive strain injury by doing some very awkward thing over and over again. It's just a question of how much it takes. And so it really is a continuum. And that's why until you know where you are in that continuum, you should never say, I had nothing to worry about. I I don't get motion sick. And then you go out on a crab boat in the North Atlantic. And then you're like, well, actually, I do get motion sick, but here's my threshold. So repetitive strain injury, the only way you know what will cause you to get injury is by getting injured. So you shouldn't be like, I've never had a problem before, and I've been doing this my whole life, especially when you're younger, like a teenager and your body's growing. Eventually, you will stop growing. You'll become an adult, and you'll become more susceptible to injury because your body's not constantly repairing itself like it did when you were 11 years old. So yeah, some people are lucky enough that no normal computer using activity will probably affect them, but you don't know if that's you until you get injured basically. - Yeah, when you were younger, did any older people say, "You're gonna be old one day, Sonny." Did anyone have something like that? Did anyone ever say that to you when you were a kid? - I wish more people had told me I was going to get RSI. They told me to get off the computer 'cause it would rot my brain. They did occasionally mention posture, but nobody said stop typing and using the mouse because you're gonna get repedestrian. 'Cause it wasn't a thing that people knew about when I was a kid. And I used the computer like crazy with terrible ergonomics for my entire childhood and I was fine. 'Cause when you're a kid, you can do a lot of things and be just fine, right? Yeah, you bounce back really quick. Then you get older and everything slows down and it's not quite so, yeah, the glory days are over kind of thing. And that can, like, especially if you start with computers like we did when we were, you know, the VIC-20, you start when you're young and you spend basically your entire life that you can remember using computers pretty much as much as you want, you're like, well, obviously I'm one of those lucky people for whom normal activity does not cause injury. 'Cause look at me, I spent my entire life playing video games, playing with computers, and I'm just fine. And that's the wrong thing to think because you don't know that you're gonna be fine. Like, RSI hit me when I was in my mid-20s. And up until that point, I, believe me, I had been using the computer plenty. And it was like, I guess I'm just one of those lucky people doesn't have that those things that I hear about you know mm-hmm well see my case yeah exactly and my in my case I didn't start having problems with RSI until only a year ago so although admittedly you know now that I felt what it feels like a little thinking back it actually started earlier than that but it's one of those things that you choose to ignore or you can't it's like I can't plug into someone else's brain who's had a certain kind of injury so I know how that injury feels so until I learn how that injury feels I can't actually enunciate to anybody that that is actually what I'm feeling is that injury. And until we become the Borg, I'm not suggesting we necessarily should, but if we did, then that would make that certain diagnosis a lot easier, I guess. Yeah, that's the big thing about people who like, until you sort of pass the point of serious injury, we're like, okay, something is seriously wrong. For months or years leading up to that point, those people, including myself, have been suffering from symptoms and been basically totally unaware of them, ignoring them, not associating them with anything, thinking, oh, I'm just tired, whatever. And you know, it's like you just you just shake it off. You're just like, oh, well, whatever. Like I felt a little stiff and then like you don't even think about it. You just like I go to bed. Boy, that was a tiring day of computing. You wake up, you're fine. The next morning, you just keep going. You just don't think about it. And as soon as you you know, you something you do get injured seriously and you have that flare up, all of a sudden, if you're, you know, eventually you become hyper aware of every part of your body that is connected to that part of your body that's injured. And you realize, you can feel yourself creeping up to that again. Like you become aware of things you weren't aware of before. You start to look back on your past self and say, "How was I so oblivious to the signals my body was sending me for this incredible amount of time that I didn't even notice this?" It's almost insane looking back when you think about it after you've actually been injured, while you felt that injury, it is strange, but it's one of those things. So, okay. Now you have spoken about this on an episode of Hypercritical, it was episode number six, and it was between 50 minutes and 30 seconds and one hour and six minutes, which is a sum total of around about, you know, well, 15 minutes and 30 seconds, roughly. So feel free, there'll be a link in the show notes to go and have a quick listen to that if you'd like. But there's a lot of stuff in there, a lot of stuff about RSI that you didn't discuss some of the other mechanizations of it. I really wanted to sort of dive into that a bit. But before I start too far down this track, I guess I'm curious, at what age do you consider that you learned how to touch type? 'Cause you sort of, you can, based on what I've heard, you can sort of touch type, maybe you can. - Yeah, I don't type correctly. I took typing classes from, you know, very young age, single digit ages, 'cause that was kind of a prerequisite by my parents. Like, well, if you wanna have computers, you're gonna learn how to type, because typing is one of those things you have to learn how to do on computers. So I learned to type on like, you know, the IBM Selectric little ball typewriter type things. Remember those? - Yeah, I know, yeah. - And you know, typing, took the typing classes, did all the things you're supposed to do, fingers on the home keys or whatever, but like, I just suffered through those typing classes, and I hated them, and I didn't actually learn anything. Instead, what I continued to do when I was out of that class was whatever the hell I felt like, and I do it to this day. I type entirely incorrectly with my fingers on all the wrong keys, only using probably like, occasionally my pinky to hit a modifier, my thumb for the space bar, and my first two fingers, and so like, if you saw me type, it's a mess. But bottom line is, I can type while staring at the screen most of the time. I can program while staring at the screen most of the time, which involves, you know, curly braces and parentheses or whatever, I don't have to look down at my hands, and I've been like that for years, but I'm not doing it the correct way. - Okay, so when you say you took lessons-- - So I've never learned to touch type the right way. Okay. But when you say you took lessons, you mean like in an actual classroom environment with a bunch of... Yes. An actual classroom with a teacher. Yeah. Like not just one, many classes, many typing classes over many years. And just I was a very stubborn child. So what's this actually? Like I did the exercises, you know, and it just never, I never, you know, I just did what I did to get through the class. And then I went back to, you know, how I want to use the computer, which was different. Okay. Well, see what I, my experience was, I started out with a typing tutor program, not on the Vic 20. Oh, I don't even want to imagine how bad I was in the Vic 20. I was, would have been hunting and pecking. But as you say, memories of that age are a bit fuzzy. But when I got to the PC, I started on a typing tutor program, which, you know, I thought I was doing okay. But then when I got to high school, grade seven, hang on, eighth and ninth grade, I actually did take typing classes, but they were school classes. And the weird thing for me was learning just how bad I was when I got in there. I thought, oh, I've done typing tutor on my computer. I'm pretty fast, I'm pretty good. And that's when you learn, okay, you're typing on a typewriter, you've got to have a correcting, you've got a correcting tape on some of them. And when I started the first six months, I was actually learning on manual typewriters because they hadn't gotten rid of all the manual typewriters when I first started learning it. And so we were learning on those. And of course, there's no correcting tape. So you don't want to make a mistake and your accuracy has got to be greater than 95% or 98%. It was weird for me and it was also cool because I was one of three guys in the entire grade doing typing Anyway, but I learnt how to type relatively well but my biggest failing is my index fingers keep crossing the imaginary line where my teachers often threatened to put a physical divider between the keys which they did for some problem students to stop their fingers from wandering wandering. But so far as looking at a document and then typing it out, I have this thing where I can do about 50-60 words a minute if I glance away from time to time. But if I can trust myself to not look away from the keys, then I can sort of get an extra 20-30 words a minute because that looking away really slows you down. So I do okay, but I don't do as much programming these days as I used to. And most of the programming that I do do is is more graphical based as in, you know, it's PLC programming packages these days are all object, drag an object to link this up. It's more mouse driven than it is keyboard driven. And I haven't done too much of that recently. I do have some scripting stuff. I spent most of my computing time using the mouse too. Like I, that's why typing was so disconnected because I wasn't using a command line. As soon as I got my Mac in 1984, it was all about using the mouse and then there's some modifier keys. It was just not a lot of typing. Even a text adventure game, you spend most of your time thinking and reading and then a little bit of time typing. - So are you blaming the Mac for not having a command line interface initially? - No, I just said like, that's like computing for me was not about typing. 'Cause I didn't really start programming in earnest until I was in college. Like I just played around with it until then. So, you know, using a computer meant using a mouse and I'm really good with a mouse, not so good with typing. - Yeah, I sort of, yeah, no, that's fair enough. I used to, I was the other way around. I started out spending too much time in DOS. So I found the mouse to be a little bit odd in the early days, but I guess I've got used to it and I'm a bit of a convert now. I like track pads, but that's another story. We'll get to that. But anyway, right. So two broad categories of RSI, musculoskeletal disorders and diffuse RSI cases. So musculoskeletal disorders. I just wanna list off some of them and some of what the conditions are. So first one is a bursitis. A bursa is a sac containing fluid and that allows the two surfaces to move joints without much friction in separate directions. But it's most often located in parts of the body where muscles or tendons glide over joints like knees and shoulders. Bursitis is therefore obviously inflammation of that sac and it's just caused by continual friction of the bursa. So that's one specific one. Now this one, next one, I have no idea how to pronounce it exactly. I looked for a pronunciation, but it's someone's name. I think it's de Quervain's syndrome, also referred to as mother's wrist or and wash a woman's sprain, which looking from this point in history backwards, this sounds very sexist, but irrespective. An inflammation of the tunnel that encapsulates the two tendons that moderate the movement of the thumb. 'Cause it's actually separate tendons that drive the fingers versus the thumb and the pinky as well, I think from memory. So sufferers have a tender and swollen thumb and that affects your ability to actually grip objects, which doesn't sound particularly pleasant. Next one on the list is, oh God, I'm gonna struggle with this one too, Dupertine's contracture, which is the inability to fully straighten your fingers into an open flat palm. Usually the ring and the little finger are affected the most, caused by an accumulation of scar tissue underneath the skin at the base of the finger where it meets the palm, and the tissue thickens and it shortens over time. Eventually, the tendons lose free movement and in serious cases, fingers can't be straightened at all. Obviously, that's going to be a bit problematic. Dystonia, more commonly referred to as writer's cramp. Actually, that's one. Have you ever had writer's cramp? No, I felt my hand be in pain after writing longhand, but that's a long time ago. I don't write with a pen at all or pencil at all. Yeah, I had the same thing when I went through uni. I would go through, you know, it was like a day of lectures, like six hours of lectures, and it was all handwritten notes, overhead slides, blackboards, sorry, chalkboards, or I suppose in the last year they started retrofitting whiteboards. Like, yeah, that's new fandangled stuff, that is. And I used to write pages and pages and pages of notes in my lecture notes books. And at the end of the day, my hand was so cramping up, it was so sore. But the funny thing is now recently, if I were to try that, I would get maybe a quarter of the page down and I'd be my hand would be cramping because I hardly write anything anymore. Who does? That's what keyboards are for. Exactly. Exactly. So anyway. All right. So yeah, right as cramp involuntary muscle spasms, involuntary hand tremors and twisting movements by the fingers and sometimes even other parts of the body are affected. But the tension in the hand and the arm can cause an unnecessarily strong grip on your writing implement. Most likely a pen, I suppose. oddly really prevalent amongst riders. That's strange. But it's also seen in musicians and office workers. So, okay, Games Keeper's Thumb. Also known as Trigger Thumb or Skier's Thumb is caused by strain under the ulnar collateral ligament. It causes swelling and pain specifically to the thumb. Ganglions. A friend of mine had these once. Cyst forms when tissue surrounding various finger and wrist joints become inflamed and they swell with fluid. It's usually painless, but it causes some discomfort because the cyst is sort of in the way and if it's directly on a joint and you physically bump it, it against the heart surface, it can sting quite a bit. And ganglions can increase in size over time, but they usually disappear of their own accord given enough time. But the mechanisms that cause ganglions are the same that are generally thought to contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. So development of ganglions could be a predictor of future arthritis. It's more of a causal link than anything, but anyway. Okay, Raynaud's disease. Blood supply to the bodily extremity is interrupted or inconsistent, usually due to damage to the nerve endings. And it's associated with prolonged use of vibrating machinery. It sometimes can be preceded by an infection caused by the low blood flow or working in cold conditions. Not so much a problem where I live, but perhaps more of a problem in your neck of the woods. But it usually affects the fingers and fingers can become sort of blue or white due to the blood vessel constriction. Anyway, it ranges from like a tingling sensation, like pins and needles to being very, very painful. some cases have been reported where gangrene sets in. That's horrible. But anyway, definitely not haven't had that one. Okay, a few more. Tendonitis is an umbrella term for the swelling of the tendons in the body from overuse causing tears in the tendons. And a number of more specific RSI conditions are grouped under tendonitis as a category, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or epicondylitis, which is the next one that's referred to more commonly as golfer's elbow or tennis elbow affixing oddly the elbow. Anyway, caused by inflammation of the tendons that connect to the bone exacerbated by the repeated strain, the forearm muscles that extend down to the arms, the wrist and the fingers and everything. Anyway, the extension and twisting of the arms, the biggest contributor. So, it's more common amongst sports people. So, I said we're gonna focus on on computing injury. So, I should keep moving. Cubital tunnel syndrome caused when the ulnar nerve is pinched along the elbow's edge and this compression causes the tingling and painful feeling in in the fingers. It generally affects the ring finger and the little fingers. So finally, the big one, which is the one everyone goes on about, carpal tunnel syndrome. And that's the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand. And it becomes compressed or squeezed at the wrist. And it affects the first three fingers primarily. Now, the thing about this is that, and some of these is that they're most commonly genetic predispositions. So there's a narrowing of the tunnel. And it's three times more common in jobs requiring assembly over data entry or keyboard related jobs, which is something everyone thinks, oh yeah, I'm working on a computer all day and I've got RSI, therefore I've got carpal tunnel syndrome. And that's just not true. The other thing that's interesting that I didn't realize and I was doing research for this topic is that women are actually three times more likely to develop this than men are for some reason, which is interesting. Anyway, so the result, it's a result of the combination of factors that increases pressure on the median nerve and the tendons in the carpal tunnel. It's not actually a problem with the nerve itself. It can be caused by trauma or injury to the wrist, overactivity of the pituitary gland, hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, of course, mechanical problems in the wrist joint, repeated work stress, repeated use of vibrating hand tools, and fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause. And on that topic, my wife actually was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome when she was pregnant with our fourth child. And it was quite extreme. she had to wear a wrist splint every night for months. Start off in one wrist was prevalent in the left and then in the last month of the pregnancy, she ended up wearing one on both hands. So, yeah, that's pretty severe. And it's more or less at this point that I'm curious what you were diagnosed with. Was it any of those? - It's actually difficult getting any sort of solid diagnosis for repetitive strain injury because you'll end up going to your doctor with a series of like vague symptoms. and they don't have x-ray vision. They can't tell exactly what's going on in your body, and most of the time you have a little bit of some of these. So tendinitis was the diagnosis that would most readily be given. The only thing you can do for the more exotic ones is rule out things like carpal tunnel functions, because like I said, carpal tunnel is actually very rare, just in general, a rare and repetitive strain injury. And there are specific motions with your wrists and tests that you can see. If you have carpal tunnel, this will hurt like hell. And if it doesn't, then you don't have that. And it's really easy to eliminate those. But then what you're left with is like, well, this hurts and that hurts and that hurts and that hurts. And the difficulty is they're like, well, you probably have some mild tendonitis and maybe you have this and maybe you have that. And the most exotic thing I think about diagnosis is that very often where you are feeling the pain is not where the injury is. You just mentioned, which I forget which one it was, like a cubital tunnel or something where it's like something, a nerve in your elbow, you feel it in your in your pinky and your ring finger. Yeah, I had that one way back when, you know, sort of numbness or tingling in your in your pinky and ring finger, but the injury is not to your finger or your hand, it's farther up and and what is it, there's a whole series of like things called thoracic outlet syndrome where like all the all the nerves and stuff that go through basically your shoulder. If that if you have bad posture, and you're all hunched up over there, and everything is all pinched up in your shoulders, you will feel it lower down in your wrists and your hands. But But the problem is not there. The problem is in your shoulders. So by stretching out your shoulders and doing these exercises to have a better posture, suddenly your hands feel better. I've had a menagerie of these things. And so it's not like if they can tell you, even if they could tell you, oh, I can do fantastic voyage, you go into your body and tell you this precise tendon is inflamed. It's not like this, oh, now I have a specific pill for you or something. Like there's almost never, the only good thing about carpal tunnel is there are surgical procedures to help fix that. that like if we know this is exactly the problem, we can go in there and open this up and make it a little bit better. But if you just have sort of, you know, tendonitis and a bunch of parts of your body are all pinched up squeezing on your nerves and tendons. There's no one thing you can do to fix that. So that my diagnosis were like mild tendonitis and some nerve constriction causing you know, blood flow constriction, nerve constriction and limited motion from muscle shortening up and you know, the works. but no, you're almost never going to get a very precise diagnosis that you know exactly what you need to do for it. It's always kind of like a whole body solution. - Absolutely right. And we'll get to that when we start talking about ergonomics shortly. But before we go any further, I'd like to talk about our first sponsor for the episode, and that's Igloo Software. Now, in engineering, I've worked in a lot of companies that use a mishmash collection of different tools to provide the basic functionality you need to get work done. 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Okay, so the next thing to talk about is the other umbrella category. So there are two categories of RSI. And the other one is diffuse RSI. And this is the one, I hate this, but this is just a reality. And the reality is that every categorization system out there pretty much seems to have a category called general. And I refer you to episode seven of this podcast of that title. Inevitably, as medical sciences knowledge increases on any kind of disorder, specific subtypes are classified, named, individually diagnosable, and they can have more specific treatments in some cases. Ultimately, there's an umbrella term that's left over for those that they haven't reached that point yet. And that's what diffuse RSI is for the one of a better description. It's the, we don't know what it is yet diagnosis. So yeah, and that's what I got. Okay, so ergonomics. Do you consider that you have an ergonomic setup, John? - Not really, it's better than it was. There's definitely a dividing line in my history of using computers. Before I had problems with RSI and AFTR and my before setups were just universally awful. My after setups are reasonable, but I don't have a special ergonomic keyboard, I don't have a special ergonomic mouse. I'm using just stock equipment, I just have it better positioned, so that, better positioned for my body, so my body's in slightly more neutral position. The reason, by the way, I don't have an ergonomic keyboard or anything is 'cause I'm such a terrible typist, And I can't type at all on ergonomic split keyboards. I bet they would probably help me, but like you talked about crossing the line. Like if I try to type on an ergonomic keyboard, I'll reach all the way across that gigantic gap and type the keys. Like it's terrible. Like, so I mean, maybe I would, I don't know. I just never got past the barrier of trying those. They would probably help me a little bit as probably would an ergonomic mouse, but old dog, new tricks. - Yeah, well, we'll talk about those in a minute, but I actually did used to have a Microsoft natural keyboard which is supposedly ergonomic. And I had exactly that problem where my finger would go across the other side and my fingers would start to like bump into each other 'cause I was crossing the line and it really slowed me down until, 'cause the number six was on the wrong side. And I say the wrong side, some people would say it's the right side and say, "Where do you draw the visible line?" But anyway, all right. So let's go to start somewhere. So let's start with the desk and the footrest. So just to run through the ergonomics, the good ideas, the not so good ideas. So desk and footrest. So the idea of a footrest is it lifts your feet slightly so that you can maintain a right angle of your knees if you've got the correct desk height. And the desk height should be adjustable to ensure your arms are 90 degrees when your chair is correctly positioned. And I say the desk height should be adjustable. Up until recently, in fact, every company that I've worked for until the one I'm currently working for, none of their desks were height adjustable. Does your company have height adjustable desks? - They're all over the place now. I remember standing desks are all the rage and the standing desks are also height adjustable. Obviously they go all the way up to standing position but they also go down to lower positions. But yeah, this is the first company that I've worked at. But this has been a trend, there's been a long time coming and now finally adjustable height desks. But before that, what you do have usually is adjustable height chairs and that's where the footrest comes in because you can move your chair to the right height and then if your legs are dangling, then you can get a foot rest to try to sort of complete the picture while keeping your desk at whatever height, it's just fixed that. Yeah, exactly. And I think it's great that the desks are now height adjustable because that's one of the things that led to my problem was having a desk that was way too high. So yeah, adjusting your desk height is important and you should take the time to do it. I know it's a pain in the neck for a lot of them. I mean, the motorized ones, the electric motorized ones, you've seen those ones, you can push the button up and down. - Yep, now that's what we have at work. - Jeez, you're lucky. Now we've got the ones that have got the pin in them. So the pin in there is like, be about a dozen preset height selectable holes on each of the, well, the bottom of the desk is actually a U-shaped piece of metal. So you take the pin out on one side and it kind of sets, it's sort of connected. So you slide two up at once and you put a pin in the front, pin in the back. It's a bit of a pain to set it up because someone has to lift it while you adjust the pin height. So we don't have the super flash ones you've got. - That's barbaric. Yeah, you need the electric ones. They're neat. - I'll petition for it. - I don't actually have one at work, but there are a lot of people around me do have one. I'm actually hoping to get one when I move my desk in the coming year, but yeah. - You're gonna get a window view? Window seat? - I'd probably die. - Why do programmers, we never get the window seat. Oh, he's happy in his cubicle. But no, we're going off. - I'm usually cold by the window. I would rather just have an office for the door that closes. - Yeah, okay, I hear you on that, that's fair enough. Why is it companies are going to a more open plan too? I mean, are they doing that? - That's why. - They still wanna pay for partitions. - It's not that the partitions cost money, although they do, it's that you can pack more people into a smaller space. That's what it is. - Yeah, the height of the partition seems to be getting lower though. I always figured they were just, I'd like to know if there have been any decent studies, topic for another episode maybe, and see whether or not there's actually a difference between in terms of productivity from having a cubicalized culture or having a semi open office culture. - There was a good story on that recently talking about open versus closed offices and young versus old people and whatever. I'll try to dig up the link and send it to you after. - Yeah, that'd be interesting. 'Cause I've noticed this trend and it just irritates the heck out of me 'cause I started out when I was working in North America, I was working at Nortel in Calgary and they had cubicles that were probably five foot, maybe five and a half foot tall. So, you know, they were, you sitting at your desk, you saw nothing of the outside, anything, except the little crack in the door. Well, it wasn't a doorway, it was more of an open area that you could walk through. But yeah, some people actually got those xylophone, not xylophone, you know, like a stretchy door that folds up. I don't know what it's, you'd think I'd know that, but I'm an electrical engineer. - Accordion? - Yes, like an accordion door. Yes, like an accordion door then. Is that what they're technically called? I don't know. That's a musical instrument that it folds up. That's it. Let's run with that. It's an accordion door. Everyone will know what we mean. OK, anyway, I'm getting sidetracked here. Right. So, right. So you mentioned standing desks and I did actually have a look into that. So standing desks should be at a height where your arms are at 90 degrees when you're standing. And but the thing with standing desks, though, is that they're a bit of a mixed bag because there's no lumbar support, obviously, because you're standing. And you need to correct your own posture. But some people report that they have better posture when they're standing at a standing desk than if they were sitting, despite the fact there was no lumbar support. So the interesting thing is, though, if you look at your reaching envelope and that is to say, you know, I can lean over and reach much further when I'm in a standing position than I can have a sitting position. And people say, "Oh, I've got wheels on my chair. I can roll my chair across," and so on and so forth. But some carpets that you will sit on, that the wheels are sitting on may have an annoying coefficient of friction and take a lot of energy to actually move across. So you tend to lean further and it's bad ergonomically. So there's no question that your reach envelope is larger when you're standing. And there's therefore less energy required to fetch or refer to other nearby information when you're standing rather than sitting. But there's more energy required to stand than to sit. And a lot of companies that I've worked at will not give you a standing desk. Just they want you know, you can ask for it, but they won't give it to you. Maybe that's different. Maybe that's something that's like you say, is a long time coming in North America. Maybe it's coming here. But these desks that I've got, they're height adjustable, but they're not. You can't make them standing desks. So it's a bit of a mixed bag with standing desks. I'm not totally sold on it. And ergonomically, there's no real significant conclusive proof that standing is necessarily better. It's certainly better for some tasks than others, but that's about as far as I'd go. Well, there's all those studies that say that the amount of time you sit per day is correlated with like how soon you die and all these other crazy, you know, sort of, you know, they're not it's just it's just correlations, but they're strong correlations and you're not people get freaked out about them. So that's why I think all these standing desks are appearing. Yeah, I agree. Absolutely. And it's drawing the incorrect conclusion from the data and that's a trap. But honestly, yeah, we'll get to the conclusions towards the end but honestly, yeah, just getting up and moving around from time to time is probably just as good. So, alright, chair. And this is the thing that really annoys me, is that people say, "Well, I've got an expensive ergonomic chair" and it's like, well, okay, a well-adjusted cheap chair is better than a badly adjusted expensive chair. So, you know, I just, I shrugged my shoulders because people say I've got an ergonomic chair, therefore I'm fine. And I see some people that just don't adjust. Either they don't know how to adjust it properly, probably, or the company hasn't taken the time to... Like ergonomically, we had an ergonomic specialist working at a company I worked at previously. And within, I think it was the third day that I was working at the company, they would come around to do an ergonomic assessment of your workstation and set everything up properly for you. And some people refer to them as the ergonomic Nazi, because if they came around and found that you were sitting not ergonomically, there was like an invisible strike against you. And they would like give you a really evil glance as they walk past you in the corridor. But do you have an ergonomic specialist where you work? We don't. I kind of wish we did. But then hearing about you, they're coming by giving dirty looks. They would probably grade me very poorly on my posture. I would like to have my things like I try to adjust everything, you know, just my seat myself. I like the chair that I have at work. I picked it out of the many different models of chairs that are available over the years in my office. I've picked the one that I like the best. I've adjusted it for myself. It's reasonably good. But I sit in it like a lazy bum half the time. My posture is bad. I realize it is. I just get lazy. I mean, and I'm not even the worst. Like we have in our office a lot of like actual furniture, furniture, and everybody has laptops. So a lot of people spend all day, and I don't know how they do this. I guess they're young people, sitting on a couch or like in like a beanbag chair or in a love seat, or like actual squishy furniture with their laptop on their lap, which looks comfy, but then it's just like-- - No, it's not. - Yeah, it's not, that's not the best, I don't know. Anyway, I'm in my regular office chair. I mean, for chair stuff, the most important thing, I think, is height. - Yes. - Because chair height influences, it influences the angle your arms are gonna be at and everything, and you know, if you get just that part right, then worst case, you can do, you know, I have a bunch of those big exercise balls, too, and we have those things that work as well. Worst case, if it's just the right height, then just sit up straight, don't have anything touching your back, just sit up straight with a good posture at work and you'll be okay. Like it's just, it's like sitting on a ball, you know, there's nothing on your back. There is no back support. You don't have to worry about if the back part is just right. It's just a flat surface for you to be sitting on that's at the right height for you. And that's half the battle. - Yeah. So I think we sort of mentioned it and you just did about the angle of your arms being at 90 degrees and the angle between your thighs and your back being 90 degrees, wrists held straight and in line with the forearms. And a lot of that comes back to the height of the chair. And in terms of distance back from the monitor as well, about 18 to 24 inches back from the monitor. And you'd think I'd be quoting that in metric, but nevermind. Anyway, so, (laughs) dear chairs. So as you said, at a minimum, absolutely need to be height adjustable. Gas lift is the most common these days. I remember I used to have an old screw lift chair and I used to hate that. You know, the ones underneath we had to turn the damn screw thing around a hundred times to get it to move. - Yeah. - Half an hour. Yeah, gas lift is the nicest 'cause it also has a nice cushioning sort of effect. But the downside is that a lot of people will use a gas lift chair and you find yourself sinking during the day and there's a leak, just get it replaced. Set it to the right height, it stays at the right height, everyone's happy, but anyway. The lumbar adjustment can help to keep your back straight to prevent that lower back pain and slouching but it's really there as a preventative measure. As you said, you really shouldn't be touching it, but it's there to stop you from, it's sort of like the warning, you know, whoops, you shouldn't be slouching like that. So it's handy to have. I find that having a tilt on the seat can help the angle of your legs sometimes, because some chairs, it just seems to be at a funny angle. And I'm not sure how to describe a funny angle, but in order to get that 90 degrees right, I found that the seat tilt, I only adjusted like five, let's say plus or minus five degrees from whatever it came as, factory default seat, I guess. I assembled it. Anyway, point is that seat tilt I find also helps. But the funny thing is that for a while there, I was reading a lot of ergonomic studies saying that armrests were helpful ergonomically. And I've done a bit of digging into this and I've found that's not necessarily the case. - Not just armrests, but wrist rests. - Yes. - Remember when people were like, "Oh, carpal tunnel is a thing." Everybody get these gel wrist rests in front of your keyboard. You should not have your wrist touching anything while you're typing. - Exactly. - Not a wrist rest, not anything. And arm rests, I have the arms, I unscrewed the arms from my chair at work. I don't like arm rests at all. I don't think you should ever be resting your things. It's just putting more pressure on all the little fleshy things that are going down from your shoulder to your arm to your wrist. And I don't want any of that being compressed or pressed in any way. And sometimes it hinders your motion because you can't have your arms in a natural position. So you're trying to avoid the arm rests or whatever. just no, I want them gone. Every work chair I've ever had, I have removed the armrests from. - Yeah, exactly. And I actually, in my early career, I bought into some of that and I remembered saying, oh, we really should have armrests. And then the older I got, the more I realized that they're actually a pain in the neck. And then I've read a few studies that armrests don't actually add any value at all, ergonomically, or immeasurable amount of value. So I now feel dirty, of course, having like 10 years ago, once advocated armrests, but no, no, ditched that. And they can stop you from getting your chair in the right position because depending on where your desk height is, sometimes the armrests bump into the desks or the armrests are above the desk or below a desk or right in the desk and you can't pull in the chair enough. Or sometimes the armrests bump into the desk until you sit on it and you press down on the little gas thing and then your armrests go underneath them. They get caught under the desk. They're just in the way of you getting everything in the correct position. I don't understand why they're on chairs at all. I guess people just feel like they want them. If your arms are small enough, like they fit inside the armrest, then no harm done, it's not a big deal, you're not resting your arms on them. But wrist rests are just the worst, because you see them everywhere. They take up room, and people actually rest their wrists on them. And not only is resting your wrist bad, because you're, again, you're pressing against your wrist and squishing everything up in there, like you do not want the stuff that's in your wrist to be squished up as it slides back and forth while you're doing your typing. But resting your wrist there means your arms are not in the right position. You're tilting your, basically tilting your palms out like Iron Man, you know, that you do not want to put your wrists in any sort of non-neutral position and then wiggle your fingers repeatedly all day. You want your wrists to be as neutral as possible, you know, just kind of like as they would be just kind of flopping at your side. That is perfectly neutral, right? Anything you do to change that position, including resting your wrists and then your fingers, you know, or keyboards that tilt upwards and then your wrists are on a wrist rest, terrible, bad. Do not put your wrists on a wrist rest. right. And just on a side note, the suggestion there is that Iron Man has... The Iron Man suit causes him to have bad posture, potentially. Well, like when he does the little... He's got the things on the palm of his hand, you know, he's like shoot stuff out of them or whatever. He's picking his hand up like that. Yeah. Yeah. That's just... It's not good. I still want one of those suits, though. But anyway, it's not repetitive. You just do a couple of times. It's not like you're thousands of times a day doing keystrokes while your wrists are in that position. No, that's true. I didn't actually have wrist rest sound, but I'm glad you brought that up because that was an oversight on my part. But yeah, I've never used. OK, I did retry. I actually did sit at a desk once that had a wrist rest. I used it for about 60 seconds and then I got rid of it because I just you're trying to avoid compression in that area. So why are you compressing it against it? Please explain. And it's putting things in the wrong position. They even have them for the mouse. You ever see those like they have kind of like a crescent shaped one that you're supposed to put like at the bottom of your mouse and then rest your wrist on that while you wiggle the mouse around. Yeah, build into a mouse pad sometimes. The only good thing that one by your mouse might do is avoiding that wrist rest might help you put your wrist in a better position because again, people use a mouse, they'll like lay their arm against the flat of the table and then your hand is lifting up to get to the mouse and then you're moving it around clicking the button. It's better if you, you know, lift your entire arm up off the table so it is floating and then your hand goes down onto the mouse. Yeah, I have my wrist rest so that I can avoid touching it. That's what someone needs to do. They need to rename it. Wrist... Wrist-Avoid or I don't know, whatever. The worst. Okay, so just to wrap up on armrests, there was a study by Cornell University and it showed that there was no significant improvement to wrist posture as a result of having armrests on the chair. So, there's a link in the show notes if you want to pore over the findings. It's an actual genuine study where they actually did try to study it impartially. So, there you go. Okay, trackpad versus mouse. Now you love trackpads, is that correct? I do not. I hate trackpads. I'm widening you up. I'm sorry. I knew you didn't like them. That's very mean of me. I'm sorry. But how about you start by telling me why you don't like trackpads? It doesn't have anything to do with ergonomics. I'm not sure where the ergonomics fall down on trackpads. It's just because I'm so much less efficient. I feel like it is an impairment for me to have to use a trackpad than to use a mouse because maybe it's 'cause I'm more experienced with a mouse, but I just think the mouse is a better proxy for pointing to something on the screen with my finger than the trackpad is. 'Cause in the trackpad, it's more like me shoving around a rock in a little Japanese garden full of sand, right? You know, push, push over there. Like the cursor is this thing, and as I swipe my little finger around, and every once in a while, as I'm moving it on the trackpad, it's kind of connected to the cursor, but then you got to pick up and I don't know if it's the acceleration curve or the the the fewer Muscle groups that are involved in me just moving my finger around a few square inch area Whereas when I use the mouse, I've got my my arm my shoulder my wrist my fingers every part of that entire system Depending on what kind of move I'm making fast sure and you know in Combinations like throwing a baseball every part of your arm shoulder elbow wrist fingers are all involved at different points to get that one big motion to get the ball going fast. And when I flick the mouse to the corner of the screen, maybe I'm using my whole arm, maybe I'm, I'm just using my fingers, maybe I'm using the my palm as leverage and flicking with my fingertips. Again, nothing to do with ergonomics just to do with like efficiency. All those things that I do with the mouse are probably terribly terrible for me ergonomically, but they're incredibly efficient. And you know, it's it's what I'm used to in the trackpad. I just well, I feel like I'm less efficient. because I'm less efficient, I feel like I get stressed. Like, you know, like stress hormones are released because I can't, like, I gotta go over to get that. Like, my wrists start to hurt in sympathy when I think about having to use a laptop just, you know, with the trackpad in front of me just to go type, type, type, then go over, swipe, swipe. And then having to like hold down the trackpad with like my thumb, you know, now that it's all one button, but either way, hold down and then swipe with the other finger, that, just the tension of that It's so much greater than the tension of me just having a mouse, holding down a button, just to drag a window from one place to the other. Doing that with a track pad feels worse to me. I don't know if I'm using the track pad wrong or the stress about it is just because I'm less efficient and I'm getting frustrated that I'm not able to do things as fast as I can think of them, but track pads do not work for me on many levels. - Okay, well, just on a couple of those points there that you made, I agree with some of what you said because pressing down, and the problem is, it's turning moment affects the amount of force that you have to apply. So the further away your finger is, or rather, hang on, because the actuation point is at the furthest extremity from the pivot point, and the pivot point being the edge of the trackpad that's furthest away from you, it's much, much easier in terms of the amount of force required to push down the actuators at the end that's closest to you on the trackpad. And that's, you know, like, okay, I get that, fine. But the problem is that that means that if I want to use the minimum amount of energy to push down the trackpad, I have to then draw my fingers down to the edge of the trackpad that's closest to me before I click them, which means I have to expend more energy in moving my fingers down to that point before I can actually click. Whereas on a mouse, my finger is always on the trigger finger and it requires the same amount of force, irrespective of the position of the finger on the mouse button, pretty much. So and also you have to spread your if you want to go to the bottom edge of the trackpad, which now when the track is all on button, it's like you said, but it used to actually be an actual button that was down there. If your finger happens to be at the top, now the distance between your thumb and whatever point you're finger using is increased. And now you're trying to hold down way over there, but then also precisely move your finger way up there. And so again, it's opening your hand up into a non-neutral unnatural position and trying to do precise movements with your fingers extended in that way. - Yeah, yeah, exactly right. And I guess I never got the hang of using my thumb as on the button. I just didn't, 'cause I didn't start using trackpads seriously until the multi-touch trackpads, which didn't have the button at the bottom. So, yeah. But the other thing that I do to overcome these problems is I use tap to click. I turn on, I go into the system preferences and I turn on tap to click. I was gonna say, yeah, like the alternative, the lower impact alternative of trackpads is tap to click where everything gets softer and sort of, you don't have to use as much muscle force to do things, but what you're trading is now you have to be super careful because now it's like any kind of missed, a finger that happens to drop down or move, like you can accidentally click things to accidentally do stuff, and I find that maddening. If I ever accidentally have a finger lands on a thing and interpret it as a click and it happened to hit a button and it dismissed something that I didn't even see what text was on it or I accidentally deleted something. again, with the stress and stress, mental stress is actually a huge part of RSI that books talk about in vague ways, but I found that is, you know, it's a big connection to me how sort of worked up you are about anything doesn't matter what it is, that affects how tense your body is. And you know, like just stress hormones and inflammation are all you know, connected into one big long thing. So if you are worried that you're going to accidentally graze your finger on the trackpad and inadvertently click something you didn't want to click, all of a sudden everything gets a little, not much more tense, but just a little bit more tense and that builds up over time. And so you're always looking for is just relax, comfort, you're not pressing the keys hard, you're not doing anything furiously typing or mouse or anything like that. And for me, I'm just not comfortable with tap to click, even though I know it would be a lower impact way for me to use trackpad. So I just I just avoid them entirely. Yeah, it certainly does increase the amount of accidental clicking. And I'm not going to sing anything to do with accidental anything. Anyhow. OK. The other thing that is also is that you mentioned the click and drag. You can also enable the three the three fingers to drag, which I which I do regularly. But I think a lot of it comes back down to, you know, on that accidental thing is it comes back to precision. And I find that the mouse is much better for precision pointing and precision clicking. And there's a lot less accidental clicking going on. And that's, you know, I suppose it sounds like essentially the majority of your argument. And I can't disagree with that, but the problem that I've got, sorry, don't wanna put words in your mouth. Some people, I was gonna say, some people, like this is just me, some people who've been brought up with trackpads just find the mouse weird and prefer the trackpad massively. Like they've only ever really used laptops. They grew up with laptops and the mouse seems like an anachronism to them. And that's what they like, they are more relaxed with the trackpads and you know, like, I think for those people maybe they're just chill about, you know, doing the gestures, second nature to them to do, you know, the sort of drag lock behavior where you're like, "Oh, now I'm dragging" and now they can drag without having to hold down with a finger and they're okay with accidental clicks or they're better at not triggering them or whatever, so I think that I can't really tell. I still say that I could if we did like a, you know, sort of a test where you had to click on squares as they appeared on the screen or some some some kind of laboratory test for like accuracy and speed. I still feel like mousing would be the trackpad people. But in the end, what matters is what you feel comfortable with. And so I see a lot of people, especially younger computer users who are very, very comfortable with trackpads and just terrible with the mouse. And for them, the trackpad actually is the right answer. Will you wait till the the iPad generation or tablet generation? I should say to be non brand specific, but the tablet generation, they look at the trackpad and the mouse as being ridiculous. 'Cause I mean, it's like, you're indirectly moving a pointer on a screen. Why wouldn't you just touch it? - But they can never hit those window widgets with their fat fingers. - That's an operating system design flaw, not a, anyway. - It's a different operating system. I know they said window widgets. We don't have window widgets. We don't even have windows. If those people are gonna become programmers, guess what? There's a trackpad or a trackball or a mouse in their future. for now there is. For now, yep. But if they're alive today, I think it's probably in their future. No, that's fair enough, I suppose. But okay, with a bit of an aside there, but still an interesting discussion. The bottom line though, so far as ergonomically goes, I did come across this German study in the mid 90s that concluded that trackpads versus mice, and they concluded that trackpads were marginally better ergonomically, but I couldn't find anything more recent. And that would have been back before multi-touch trackpads and gestures and a lot of other stuff. So I, you know, and if it was that close, they saying it's marginally better, then it's really not that much better. So, um, honestly, my feelings for as RSI goes is that incorrect use of a track pad and incorrect use of a mouse can just as easily give you RSI. None is really seems to be any better than the other. Switching between them could actually reduce your overall risk because they'll generate subtly different strains from different usage patterns of different devices. So, uh, and this is the, the thing is I find that precision pointing in and clicking is easier with a mouse. So there are certain activities I do with a mouse and other ones I do with a trackpad because the trackpad I find easier for switching windows and you know, just being able to bring up the launchpad or you know, app switcher or whatever. You know, I just, I prefer to use or switching desktops and so on. So switching between desktops. So in the German study, where were the trackpads? Because the trackpad itself as a concept is one thing, but what I'm thinking of when I think of trackpad is a thing that is centered under the keyboard, kind of towards your belly button when you're using a laptop. Yeah. And that is perhaps the worst position for a trackpad to be in, because it is not natural for you to have your hands sort of closer to your body and have them tilted inward. So they're right in the middle. Like you'd want the trackpad to be kind of where the mouse is, arms at right angle, straight ahead. Your hand should fall on the trackpad. But in practice, most people who are using trackpads are using them centered underneath their spacebar, which is a very awkward position, and makes everything different about about, you know, mousing, you know, swiping around with their fingers on the trackpad. I, I would I do have a magic trackpad, actually, I don't use it. I bought it for an OS 10 review way back when but I mean, who if you gave them a magic trackpad would choose to put it underneath their spacebar right in front of them? No, you always put it on to where the mouse is, right? So laptops are necessary, necessarily an ergonomic compromise for portability. And yet that's what most people use. That's what most people buy as laptops. - Yeah, but the other thing that I find odd, and you're right, actually, it is a bad spot for it, is that some of the, I think it's HP, have theirs off-center. And I look at that and that's even more bizarre to my eyes. 'Cause I mean, doesn't that then therefore suggest that your users are right-handed rather than left-handed? 'Cause they're usually offset to the right. - You can never get it to the right spot because if it has to fit on a laptop, it's always gonna be, it's gonna be like, given the shape of a laptop, yes, the keyboard should be up there and the trackpad should be down there. Like the powerbook arrangement is the best you can do with a laptop. But if you're going to put the trackpad somewhere and the laptop isn't in the question, you're not going to put it anywhere underneath the keyboard. You're always going to put it to the right or the left of the keyboard, but you can't do that on a laptop. You don't have anything to the right or left of the keyboard. It's empty space. The laptop ends there. So they do the best they can. And the offset ones is like, you know, well, well, most people are right handed. Maybe they sell left left-handed models, who knows, but that's such a minor difference. Like even if you put it in the far right side of the laptop, it's still in a bad place. - Yeah, exactly right. Do you remember those laptops in the 90s that had a track ball and it was, you could click it onto the side of the laptop? And yeah, you remember those? - 'Cause those were like computers designed before they thought using a pointing device was something that was important to do. They're like, oh, well, it seems like people actually do wanna use these, you know, Windows or whatever with the pointing device, but our current laptop designs have no accommodation for it. I know, we'll get this semi-circle shaped thing and we'll click it onto the side. And ergonomically, it was like a track ball. At least that was off to the right and you could kind of use your thumb on it or whatever, but it was obviously, it was tacked on like the analog sticks were tacked on to the PlayStation controller. (laughing) The only difference is that PC laptops very quickly learned to copy the market leader, Apple. - And put their track pads, A, implement track pads, and B, put them below the keyboard. whereas the PlayStation didn't learn that lesson. But anyway, different show. - Yeah, I was gonna say, I'm not gonna let you turn this into a gaming thing. Maybe another time, not this time. Okay, so, all right. So just to let you know what I do is I actually cheat and rather you could argue that this is a sign that I'm neither bought into either alternative or either option, but I don't care. I have a mouse and a track pad and they're sitting right next to each other and I use one for some things and one for other things. So there you go. I have my Magic Trackpad right next to my Logitech Darklight which sounds really sinister, but it's not What do they call it? A dark field? Hmm, anyway, whatever Okay, I did use a Magic Mouse for a while and I really am considering a ceremonial burning ceremony for it because my hand hurts so badly after using it for a few weeks I just had to stop using a mouse altogether for a whole week to recover It was that bad So are you a fan of the magic mouse? I don't think I've ever used one like I've never I never used one as my main computer thing, whenever I've seen it in the store, it looks like a beautiful piece of sculpture, but it's way too low and way too low for me to use. And it also seems like it's too heavy. And so I've never even seriously considered using one for anything other than like display purposes. I do like the gestures on the top. I do like the idea of kind of a combination of, you know, you've got a little, because I do like gestures, but I can't use that. It's just too low. Beautiful piece of art, not a great mouse. - Yeah, exactly. No, totally agree on that. Okay, so when I did have my issues with RSI about a year ago, I switched temporarily to an Evolant. I think it is Evolant. I don't know how to pronounce that anyway. Vertical mouse for the Bluetooth model. There's a link in the show notes. And the link in the show notes is to the US Apple store, Apple online store. And there was a comment from someone, Stelios M from Lincroft, anyway. And they had exactly the same problem that I did, the Bluetooth side of it. It kept disconnecting, it stuttered when it was going across, the mouse was going across the screen, you'd need to bump it to wake it up enough for it to work, it would sleep like really quickly. So maybe if the wire, there is a wired model, maybe if I'd chosen the wired model, that would have worked out better for me, but I actually stopped using it mainly for that. And by which time I switched jobs, I had an adjustable height desk and my RSI went away after I got the correct height desk and correct height chair anyway. So I stopped using that mouse, but in any case. And you already told me that you still use your, you use stock standard stuff. What sort of a mouse do you use? Did you say? I'm sorry. I've just got an old Logitech. I don't know what model this is, but it's really old. Two buttons, scroll wheel. That's it. Okay. It's much higher than, than most Apple mice. You know, it's like logic mice. They usually like large and kind of fill your palm up. It's not one of the ones that's gigantic and shaped like a snail. It's more of kind of symmetrical type one, but I bought a couple of these mice, one for home and one for work. God, must be 10 years ago or something. They're a wired mouse, they're optical, but they're nothing fancy and they just continue to work. When they break, I don't know what I'll buy, 'cause every time I look at current mice, I can't use any of the Apple ones 'cause I don't like them. And the Logitech ones, my main problem with them is they seem to have, they're just bristling with buttons. They have buttons everywhere. There's buttons by your thumb, buttons in between the two main buttons. I just want scroll wheel, middle click the scroll wheel, And like, I do not need all these side buttons for navigation and back or whatever. I would just want to disable those and I don't even want them to be there. So, you know, I suppose I'll find one. - Yeah, I did the same thing. This mouse I've got here has buttons on the side. I'll disable them because I'll accidentally bump them and I flick between workspaces or something, or spaces, whatever, and I'm like, I didn't mean to do that. What are you doing? You know, I was squeezing my mouse. You're changing my screen on me. So yeah, I find it to be more of a pain than a help. But in any case, they were trying to help us, but it just didn't work out. Anyway, so just quickly on track balls. And a lot of people swear by track balls 'cause they can find movement to almost entirely the thumb and they keep the arm at a safer angle 'cause it's fixed and doesn't require moving around. And that's probably good. It's good in terms of less pressure on ligaments. But yeah, the truth is that it's really a different set of muscles that you're using when you're just moving your thumb around than you are when you're moving a mouse. So what were you really doing is, if you developed RSI as a result of using a standard mouse badly over a long period of time, then switching to a trackball will alleviate that, but that won't stop you from developing RSI as a result of using a trackball too much. Yeah, I think you're limiting the number of muscle groups that go into using a trackball. It's gotta be much smaller than the number of muscle groups that could go into using a mouse. Like, there's nothing you can really change up on the trackball. It is where it is, you could put it in a good position, but then, like, you're not gonna be using your elbows, and it's not like you're gonna be using it like you use the trackball, like a centipede game where you're just, you know, or like golden tea or whatever. Like it is not a whole body experience. It's all confined to just your fingers. That's what people like about it. I've always found them. I've always found that I'm not very accurate. Do you remember the old Mac track pads from Kensington with the four buttons on them and the corners? That just feels like trying to use a cursor while, you know, walking on ice skating rink. It always felt too slippery to me. I didn't feel precise. And it was just all in the fingers and maybe a little bit of the wrist. And I just, you know, I would not, I've never used that long enough to get RSI from it, but I would, I prefer something that lets me change things up, change how I'm using it more. Even a trackpad gives you more freedom than that 'cause you could start moving, you know, keep your hand relatively still and move your shoulder and your elbow to move your fingers around, or you could just move your fingertips or whatever, but the trackpad is, or the trackball is very limiting. - Excellent, absolutely. Did you ever come across one of those or try one of those things, Toshiba call them an AccuPoint. It's like a little rubber knob in the middle of the keyboard that you sort of like you can push and you apply pressure on. Yeah, you try one of those? Yeah, IBM had them on the ThinkPads for a long time. Yeah, that's it. They're not as bad as, like they work surprisingly well. They have the similar problem to the trackball in that it feels like you're driving the cursor around the screen like it's a little car. It doesn't feel like an extension of your arm and you're grabbing stuff. So it's kind of like using a joystick to vector the cursor around. Again, it's, it's a tiny little thing. It's only in one place, there's a limited number of muscle groups that you can contribute to making that move. It's basically you're just going to be putting one or two fingers on it and applying pressure in different directions. It's good because there's not a lot of motion. I've also never haven't used one long enough to you know, get RSI from it. it seems like it would be working a very small number of muscles, tendons and nerves to get the job done because it is super limited, but it has the advantage of not taking a lot of pressure and not having like, it isn't the center of your keyboard, so it's kind of an awkward position, but you have a lot of freedom with how you sort of meet up with the little nub, you know what I mean? And then all you have to do is meet up with it. You don't have to manipulate it, it's simply applying pressure. So ergonomically, I think that probably be pretty good, depending on how you end up turning your hand over to use it. I mean, no one has made like an external nub where like you'd put it to the right of your keyboard in a better position or whatever. - Yeah, and what does that tell you? - Yeah, I mean, that would just seem silly, I guess, but it's kind of like your vertical mouse. You know what I mean? If you can imagine, imagine your vertical mouse was securely mounted somewhere and it was like an F-16 flight stick. I think that's the one that like doesn't actually move, but it's just pressure applied to it, right? Yeah. You could have a vertical mouse that didn't move that you just applied pressure to that would work kind of like a track pad. And it would feel like you're driving the cursor around, which would be a little bit weird, but it might be ergonomically pretty good. I personally can't wait for the neural interface. Those experiments where they put a cap on your head and you can sort of like learn how to move the mouse around by looking and thinking in your brain. That would be awesome. I wonder how far off that is. Not in our lifetime, it seems like. No, don't say that. I really hope it happens in our lifetime. But anyway, all right. Just want to take a moment to talk about our second sponsor for this episode, and that's Now, is an easy and affordable way to learn. 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It's broken down into sections I need so I can pick and choose the bits that matter the most for podcasting. Bouncing down your mix for for example, is one that I covered very early on, but you can pick and choose. You don't have to watch it in order if you don't want to. You can just pick out the bits you wanna have a look at. There's so much good stuff in there to list, and that's just one piece of software, and there's thousands more. So what's it worth? Well, for one low monthly price of $25, you get a completely unlimited access to over 100,000 video tutorials in the library. However, premium members with an annual plan can download courses to their iPhone, iPads, Android devices, and watch them offline. Premium plan members can also download project files and practice along with the instructor. Maybe you're just getting into pages, numbers and keynote now that they sync up nicely, and I say nicely, relatively nicely, between the Mac, iPad and iPhone, but maybe just scratching the surface of what's possible. Well, has training for all of those apps and their latest versions. If you're into Office 365, let's say, same deal for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and it's all in there and there's lots more. So I've been talking with for a while now and have enjoyed their content on and off for years. And I'm happy to be able to provide Pragmatic listeners with a special offer to access all of their courses for free for 10 days. Visit to try for 10 days. That's Thanks once again to for sponsoring the show. So quickly, I wanna talk about typing technique. We already talked a little bit about this before, but, and studies on this are all over the place, but it's generally accepted that a good typing technique will reduce RSI, but unfortunately, whether it's a useful or measurable improvement is difficult to say, because it's so difficult to quantitatively measure it. You know, fingers crossing, inefficient key selection, et cetera. It's very difficult to devise a test that actually accurately connects that with RSI, because typically the people that learn to type as fast as possible, people that are typing at very high rates are exposed because they're typing so much more frequently. It's like one exacerbates the other. So it's hard to separate those two, I think. And that's probably why there are so few studies that genuinely try and quantify that, unless you're aware of any. I didn't come across any. No, I've just had my own theories about that, like I've always thought that using fewer fingers seems worse because you're concentrating all your motion into a smaller number of fingers. But on the other hand, using fingers like your pinky that are sort of have smaller and weaker parts. they're not as sturdy as your bigger fingers. And they're often asked to do the most awkward moves to sort of, you know, go for a modifier while hitting a key with the other thing or whatever. And that's bad, like people using our EMAX users and are constantly going for the control key in the corner, which is why so many people remap control to caps lock or whatever. So I don't know either I would love to see it because I don't know how those two those two balance out with each other. Is it is it better to use all your fingers evenly and spread the wear? Or is it worse because you end up like because your smaller, fingers end up getting, are more susceptible to injury than your bigger ones, I don't know. Yeah I don't know either and I'm just trying to think about how you would devise a test to actually determine that that had any kind of statistical significance. I can't think of an ethical one, I can think of ways to do it, you could just teach a bunch of people to type with varying numbers of fingers and then you know just you do that enough then you're you're sort of intentionally injuring half of your group there because you're teaching them to do something the wrong way but you don't know which half so Maybe it is ethical. I don't know. I'm not a scientist. Tape up your index finger and your tape together two fingers and see how far you can, how fast you can go. Oh, God. Yes. Anyway. All right. Keyboards. Got to talk about keyboards. And essentially, I went down this road and I found things that were not what I expected. So I always love it when I'm doing research for this and I discover things I didn't expect that were non intuitive. So, okay. Two measurements actuation force for keys and actuation distance. So just a little quickly about some of the different actuators real quick, maybe I'll do an episode on keyboards at some point. I don't know if anyone really cares, but nevermind. Cherry Corporation in Germany make a lot of the mechanical keyboard switches that everyone, I say everyone, lots of hardcore programmers love their mechanical switches. And anyway, they range in force between 45 grams to 60 grams of actuation, and actuation force and distance of travels, right about two millimeters for your initial sensing distance and four millimeters before you bottom out. The traditional, and I say traditional, IBM Model M keyboard if you consider that traditional but it's been around a long time, anyway, uses a buckling spring which is a very unique sound and it is exactly what it sounds like. You push down the spring, it compresses eventually, the spring buckles and that's what causes a little latch to flick down and actuate the key. It's a very unique sound. I don't really like them to be honest. 65 grams of force and the actuation distance but varies between 2.3 to 3.7 millimeters. Alps or Mitsumi mechanical switches were used in the Apple Extended 2 keyboard. Actually, you mentioned, I think, that you used an Apple Extended 2 for a while. - Yep, that was from the time of my SE30 up until, I guess, the time of, oh, it's gotta be like maybe 1999. So I ran C30 until 1999. It was even longer than that. When did I switch to USB? Maybe on the blue and white G3, maybe. No, no, I still use it, but that was not an ADB port. As soon as they got rid of the ADB port, that's when I finally got rid of the Apple Extended 2. Well, you could have bought an ADB to USB converter. That's what John Gruber does. Yeah, but I didn't. Yeah, I guess that means that the dual, the Power Mac G5, that's when I stopped using the Apple Extended 2. Okay, cool. Fair enough. Fair enough, the travel distance of those is about 3.5mm for the Alps models because they made those out of two different manufacturers and they were slightly different between them. I couldn't find any information on the Mitsumi key switches so if you've got that I'd be curious anyone who's listening. So scissor switch over a rubber dome, also referred to as a pantograph switch, and that's the type that's used in the Apple aluminium keyboards or aluminium keyboards if you prefer. 65 grams of actuation force, a pretty standard, but the big one is the one to two millimeters of actuation distance. So it's less. So the scissor switch keyboards have the balance of that tactile sort of feeling, but they come along with that low travel. And some of the keyboards have much lower actuation force as well, but it depends on the model. The Apple model, not so much, pretty much the same as most mechanical switches. and even though buckling spring. So anyway, the lower travel leads to a lot of people who've learned on older keyboards to bottom out regularly. And I suffer from this, unfortunately. I try not to, but I can't help bottoming out on these keys all the time. So do you find that's a problem for you? - So that's the reason I switched from the Apple extended too, which is I still like better. That's still my favorite keyboard. I would still be using it today. But what I found what happened with them is that I would end up typing harder, like pressing more, partly because I felt like I needed to press more to make the clicking, partly because there's more pressing that needs to be done for the long travel on the keys. But you find yourself again typing furiously because you've had a brainstorm about something or because you're under pressure to do something or whatever, that is the worst thing ever, just the worst. And when the aluminum Apple keyboards came out, I immediately liked them because I felt like they forced me to type more gently, right? Because like the bottoming out type thing, if I feel myself doing that, it's like, you're typing too hard now. Whereas I didn't get that sensation with the Apple extended tube, because it's all about bang, bang, bang. And it was also super loud, it would drive my wife crazy. And so the aluminum keyboards, they're also very flat, which is another big thing. A keyboard should not be tilted. The keys that are farther away from you should not be higher than the keys that are closer to you. If anything, you might want to have a negative tilt where it goes down, but at the very least you want it to be flat. So the aluminum keyboards, they are slightly tilted, but barely compared to the huge wedge that is the Apple Extended 2. So these things are flat and they take very long. I type on them more gently. And if I'm not typing gently enough, I feel it and I say, "You should be typing more gently now." And so that's what I've stuck with since then is just the Apple Extended aluminum keyboard because it's my gentle typing keyboard. And the less I press on the keys, the more gentle I am with them, the better it feels time I rest. Yeah, exactly. It gives you the ability to correct yourself if you're hitting them too hard. And I find that when I'm in a hurry, I tend to hit the keys a bit harder. And I'm always sort of shaking my head at myself. And I know I should be typing more softly. But the thing is, I typed a lot on a typewriter in the early days, I used to be even worse. But I've gotten better with age, I think. Well, I like to think so. But anyway, and you brought up noise. And that's another thing is some people swear by the mechanical keyboards, but they are almost always a little noisier, almost. There's some models that are quieter, but depending on the different kind of switch, but generally mechanical keyboards are louder. And in an open office environment, I remember I had the last company, oh my God, two companies ago, time flies. I don't actually change companies that regularly. It may sound like I do, but I don't, but anyway. And he was a big fan of his mechanical keyboard and he was probably about seven or eight seats away. And you could always hear when he was typing from that far away. Is it, it's just, now imagine every single keyboard in the entire office is one of these louder keyboards. Makes me think of the old typing rooms back in the-- - Yeah, sounds like the newsroom in the old movies. - Yeah. - That was the background noise they were putting in, because everyone would be typing away on their mechanical keyboards. - Yeah, exactly. So anyway, but nevermind. Okay, so I did talk briefly. I used to have a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard. I also call them Microsoft, Microsoftic. That was interesting, anyway. And I used to get annoyed by the sticks being on the wrong side, but I eventually stopped using it 'cause it got water damage. I didn't really think it was that great a keyboard to be honest. And I used it way before I had RSI. I used it because my mother had bought it because she had been suffering from a bit of RSI. She had a job which involved a lot of typing and she got it and then she didn't want it anymore when she stopped working there and there's no point for her to practice her typing anymore. So it's one of those things I find is a bit of a trap to assume that if you just use an ergonomic mouse or an ergonomic keyboard that'll stop you from developing RSI, and that's really not true. And yeah, the tent angle on these ergonomic keyboards and all these different little, they'll tell you that the ergonomic keyboards are so amazing and everything, but my experience is that they weren't. And I didn't find, there's no objective studies that I could find. All the studies you'll find are typical manufacturer blurb. You know, it's like this keyboard is guaranteed to, you know, I don't know, save your wrist from dropping off or something insane. It's like, well, of course you'd say that it's your keyboard. You know, I don't trust that that is an objective test. And so I'm not gonna quote any, I haven't linked to any. And I honestly have my doubts. I think that the force of which you type and how many breaks you take is far, and the adjustment of your seat is far more of an influence than when they have an ergonomic keyboard or an ergonomic mouse. - Yeah, but all of the things being equal, the ergonomic keyboards do put your wrist in a slightly more neutral position. And the biggest thing I think ergonomic keyboards do for people who are having problems and they're using a standing keyboard is it simply changes their environment. If someone was using an ergonomic keyboard and started to get RSI, changing them to a non-ergonomic one might briefly help. But it does, what it's trying to get, like if you think about your hands, they're coming from a width that's wider than a keyboard, 'cause most people's shoulders are wider than the home keys, right? So you're coming in on an angle, and then your hands are, you're making like a triangle with your hands, but then you straighten your wrists so your wrists are facing forward. So now you're bending the tendons in your wrists at a different angle, then you're putting them down. The ergonomic keyboard is like, all right, let's relax that a little bit. Let's let them be in a little bit more of an angle. Let's let you not turn them over as much so your palms are facing straight down. And the corrections to those angles are so slight. It's slightly, it's not exactly parallel anymore. Now there's a little bit tilted. And how far tilted up are they? Not very high. They're tilted up just a tiny little bit. And sometimes that's all it takes to alleviate it, the problems that people are having if they have very minor problems. But like you said, there's so many other things that could be going wrong. you have an ergonomic keyboard and you put it on your desk and it's way too high. There, you have much bigger problems. And the thing is, people get an ergonomic keyboard and they say, I was having problems, I got an ergonomic keyboard never had a problem again, that could be true for them because their threshold for injury may have they may have just been crossing over and just making this minor adjustment while keeping all their other bad habits was enough to put them in that threshold, you know, again, with the motion sickness, we're like, fine on planes, I'm fine on cars, I'm not fine on crab boats, right? And it's like, well, just don't go on crab boats and you'll be fine. Right. Or go on crab boats on calm days and you're fine. Right. And so they found sort of their medium, or at least for now until they maybe get older or whatever. But the main barrier for the ergonomic keyboards, though, is can you still type on them? And the answer for me, unfortunately, is so far, no. Exactly. Keyboard layouts, just quickly. Now, I, again, read a whole bunch of different things saying that Dvorak was better than QWERTY. And in terms of efficiency, and in terms of Therefore, the logical supposition that, well, sorry, it's an incorrect conclusion to draw from the facts, whether you can call them facts, is that it's therefore better for RSI. The old story goes, and just to perpetuate the old story, that QWERTY layouts were favored by typewriter manufacturers. I think it was Remington, actually. And it was designed to overcome the tendency of fast typists by pressing common letter combinations close together, such the hammer's jammed. But the theory that was at Remington tried to lock in users that were trained to use theirs by their keyboards on their typewriters because, you know, by using a unique keyboard layout, and of course it stuck. Didn't stop other manufacturers from copying it. Now, honestly, I don't know if either of those is actually what's happened or if that's actually true. There's so much out there about this to and fro, I just don't know what to think. So what is undeniable though, is that the QWERTY layout was never developed with speed ergonomics balanced or tested with any kind of rigor whatsoever. It just wasn't. Or if it was, they kept it to themselves. But the funny thing about the Dvorak layout was that the Dr. August Dvorak, who may or may not have been born in August, in 1936 published the simplified Dvorak keyboard layout claiming vast improvements in speed and reduced fatigue. But the original study was cited by the US Navy and that sort of, you know, pushed Dvorak during World War II. But when I went digging for this thing, turns out no one can seem to find it, which is a bit of a worry. And there was an interesting study in 1953 by the Australian Post Office that found that Dvorak keyboard, if you look at the results carefully, was of marginal benefit at best. So. I guess to me, what makes sense is you're not reducing the total number of finger flexors, if you want to call them that to type a word, you're just marginally reducing the lateral finger movements. And that may not actually play as big a role in RSI as was previously kind of thought. At least that's my take. Have you come across, have you looked at this? I know a lot of people who do use Dvorak and it's kind of, yeah, it's mostly like I've heard that it's more efficient. I'm interested in efficiency. let me try doing that. And you know that it does, you know, if you're writing English words, lets you keep your fingers more on the home keys because there's more useful things near there and keeps the common characters easier, makes them less of a stretch. But like you said, you know, the absolute number of keystrokes is the same if you're typing the same thing. And the curse of increased efficiency is people don't just take that and continue at the same typing speed if you are gaining any efficiency from say not having to take your finger off the home row for words when you used to have to take them off. All you're going to do is most people are just going to trade that efficiency for typing speed, right? So now you're typing faster than you were before. So you're not really controlling all the variables. If you're saying like, well, we tried this and we tried that and marginal benefit, you know, like it could be that the Dvorak people are because, you know, it takes less muscle effort for them to type and they just simply type faster then or or they type in quicker bursts and really their their total typing speed is the same but they have longer pauses between words and individual words come out faster because they just feel so much more efficient I mean humans are weird like we'll just you will you may think the only difference is we just changed the keyboard layout but your habits will change based on layout and then of course most people learn on QWERTY and then you secondarily learn Dvorak so who knows if it will ever be as comfortable for them as their thing they learned on. And so these type of tests are so hard to do, especially if the expected difference is going to be small, that you're just never able to control for everything to a degree where you're not going to get some kind of slam dunk result where you're like, wow, that is a huge change, and it's noticeable, and we don't even have to control for that much. You can just see it's just a question of how big the difference is. So I'm not convinced that it's that much of a win, but I could be convinced that if you could snap your fingers now and say erase all the current humans and erase all the current human keyboards and make them all Dvorak, I would be fine with that because it does make a little bit more sense to me, at least someone thought about it a little bit. Yeah, exactly. And that is great. Unfortunately, whether or not that amounts to anything more, I mean, the figures that I saw in a few studies were 1 to 2%. Yeah, that's not much of an improvement. It's an improvement, but it's not much of an improvement. So I don't know. At least they thought about it, but still. And whilst the majority of keyboards in the world are not Dvorak, there'll always be an argument against 'cause otherwise what are you gonna do? Shove your Dvorak keyboard in your backpack and take it with you? So you ever at someone else's computer, "Hang on a second, I'll go get my keyboard before I can start typing." - Everybody I know who does that just uses a QWERTY keyboard, but just changes the input thing, in the little input menu, with a little flag in the menu bar or whatever. And just types the wrong keys. So if you come up to their computer and try to type something, comes out as gibberish because they're using a QWERTY keyboard with a Dvorak key like that. Yeah, but then the keys don't match. Like if you're pushing a K on the, in the K position on their keyboard, what's the letter K, but you're not seeing a K on, just like that's confusing the brain. That's just how they work all day. That's just insane. These people are special. I could not do that. Maybe I look at my keys too much. That's the damning indictment right there. I've just admitted it. Yeah, well, there's a couple of people work, have a keyboard that has nothing printed on the key caps. It's just all black. You ever seen that one? Wow, no, I haven't. It's an entire like full extended keyboard where the keys are entirely featureless black. That's intense. Wow. OK, you should get one of those. It'll train you not to look at the keys anymore. Well, that's true. If nothing else, that would definitely be a side effect. OK, so after all this gear, chairs, desks, track pads, track balls, mice, whatever that we've talked about. BYO or demand your company pays for it. And I've heard different things, people that believe that they've got issues with RSI and companies, some companies will pay for it, some people won't, some companies won't, some of them require you to go and get a medical certificate proving that you've got or a doctor thinks that you've got, which isn't necessarily proof, but whatever. The point is that, you know, should you bring your own or should you demand that your company pays for it if that's what you're doing for a living? Ultimately, in my opinion, it's just quicker and easier to get the stuff you want if you do it yourself. And I guess the the way that I try and approach this is if my job or my hobby involves working on a computer, then I want the right tool for the job or perhaps the best tool for the job to make my job or my hobby easier. And yeah, the computer is the tool of my trade. So therefore, I would like it to be a good tool of my trade and a better tool is just going to reduce my stress, make my life easier in the long run beyond RSI, but obviously RSI, you know, being the topic of this, the focus of this, but, and I think that if you take the time and a little bit of money to invest in a better tool for your job, even if your employer won't, you'll get a better net result in the end. At least that's what I think. However, in some cases, you're not allowed to bring in your own PC or Mac into a company, but generally they won't ban you from bringing in your own mouse, keyboard, trackpad, or ergonomic device of your choosing. And I'm pretty sure they wouldn't argue if you bring in your own chair, but I, 'cause I've seen people who have done that. They've just they've given up with the corporate red tape and said, you must justify why you have to sit on an ergonomic ball. And they just brought their own and said, yeah, whatever. So. That's just my opinion, I guess. Yeah, for companies like for paying for it, it's in the company's best interest to do this in the grand scheme of things, how much it costs to have an employee. This is peanuts and it is way less than paying for like disability, you know, or having to not have that employees work or having them take time off, that costs the business much more. Like, it is silly for them not to pay for that. The downside of companies paying for it is, very often it's difficult to get like the exact thing that you want. Like, oh, we have a keyboard tray. If you want a keyboard tray, this is the one you get. We bought a bunch of them in bulk, this is what you get. And then you feel like, oh, well, they're getting me this thing. I guess I can use this one, but I would actually prefer this specific one. And it's like the worst of both worlds. Like, well, we're giving you one, but you're going to turn your nose up at it and spend your money on your own anyway. And then like you said, that gets into rules of, am I allowed to bring my own stuff? Like I've always kind of done a hodgepodge of like company will pay for a lot of stuff. I'll bring some stuff of my own in there. Like at work, I use my own mouse and it's sitting on a tray table that I brought from home, which is the right height for my mouse to be at because I don't like using the keyboard tray. Often has this little tiny area for the mouse and I want a much bigger area for the mouse to have more freedom of motion. So I have, you know, like cobbled together what you need to cobble together, but in the end, it's silly for any company not to support its employees in being able to get whatever working environment they're most comfortable in because it benefits everybody. It's win-win, it's the company and the employee. - Absolutely, but the resistance that I've come across is, and I've actually had IT people say this to me, it's like, "Oh, well, if I give you that, "then everyone will expect it." And it's like, well, everyone will expect a working environment where you're not going to cause irreparable damage to their, from excessively using bad gear or something. I mean, I don't know. I guess maybe that's an exaggeration, but it just sort of stuck in my neck a little bit. And I think that a lot of, it's the same thing with screens and so on. You know, the standard screen size is 17 inch, Forrester 3, that's what you get, that's what everyone gets. And I started bringing my own 24 inch monitor 'cause I couldn't be bothered trying to get one the other way. This is like six years ago, but anyway. They're not that expensive either, but all right. Okay, last topic before we close, or the last element of this topic before we close is, is it all in your head? Because I got an email, because I post the topic list that I'm subjects I'm gonna be covering and it's up on Have a look, check it out. And this one was coming up and I got an urgent email only a few days ago when we were originally scheduled to record and it got literally got in sort of at the last minute as it were. And they had been through an interesting experience. So I think some of it's worth just quickly repeating. And that is that, you know, if you do fall, if you've had issues with RSI and you've gone to a more than one doctor, or, you know, if you've been suffering with it for years, you know, and it's been defined as diffuse RSI, so there's no medical reason that they can find that's wrong, then it could well be psychosomatic in nature. So, and the thought is that analytical people or overthinkers, like me maybe, I don't know, maybe at high risk. But anyway, I found the show, didn't wanna be named, but that's okay, sent in about this. And in their case, their RSI got to a point where they had to stop working as a programmer, pretty much had to stop working as a programmer for a period of time. They could only work on touch keyboards, like FingerWords TouchStream, which they mentioned for a limited amount of time each day. And they had, the pain was so bad that in their personal life, they had trouble pushing a shopping cart around because of the pain. And they went, after several years of talking to different doctors, doing all sorts of tests, different treatments, different ergonomic devices of different kinds, it ended up being a psychosomatic issue. And by visiting a psychologist that you're able to potentially address those issues instead and realize that it could be in your head. So if you develop bad RSI, doctors can't diagnose it, specifically it may be worth a shot because it becomes self-reinforcing. I think I'm feeling a pain, therefore I'm gonna avoid doing this. but the more you think about the fact that you're avoiding it, then you think that you're actually feeling it when in fact it's not actually there. Psychosomatic things. Not a psychologist. So this dividing line between physical ailments and mental ailments is kind of like, I think I talked about this on a hypercritical episode way back when, the dividing line between doing things in hardware and in software. It's mostly nonsensical if you start breaking it down. And what does that mean doing something in hardware or software like your software is running on hardware, the GPU is hardware, you're doing it on hardware, because it's being done the GPU, but it's software when you do it on the CPU, they're both hardware, they both take instructions, they both pull data that you know, so mental and physical, right? Is it a physical problem? Or is it a mental problem? Well, your brain is part of your body, whether you like it or not, it is not a separate thing is not cut off from the rest of your body. In fact, is an integral part of your body. things that happen in your brain absolutely do affect your body. And it's not like, oh, you have a mental symptom and it has a physical effect. Mental is physical. It is a physical thing. It's not magic. It's a big, fatty lump of things inside. It's connected to the whole rest of your body. So the idea that it's surprising that things that go on in your head affect other parts of your body, all of which are connected to the thing in your head, is not crazy. Just the simple thing is like stress and what stress does in terms of inflammation, that's something that's easier to understand. And conditions that have anything to do with inflammation can be exacerbated by stress. Beyond that is like, well, I have anxiety about this thing. I'm worried about this. That's causing stress. That's causing me to concentrate on this thing. Or just tension, when you're tense about something, and it causes your muscles to contract, and your blood vessels to constrict. And that could cause all-- you could get RSI-like symptoms from that type of stuff. It's all part of the same giant collection of things. So I find it completely non-surprising that things that go on in your brain can affect your body in dramatic ways, because so many things that go on, quote unquote, "in your head" can cause huge changes to your body. For people who have back problems, or anxiety, or even heart conditions, all sorts of things can cause big physical symptoms. So I'm very aware of that in terms of RSI, that being stressed or being tense or being intense can be the difference between feeling fine and feeling terrible at the end of a session of using the computer. - Absolutely. Yeah, and I think that it was definitely worth mentioning because it's so easy to fall into the trap of, there is a medical scientific reason for absolutely everything. And whilst that may well be true if you drive down to the finest level of details, okay, what exactly causes stress in the brain? Okay, well, maybe you're getting stressed about something and that's causing a release of a certain hormone and that hormone drives, you know, and so on and so forth. I mean, maybe you could break it down to that level. Whether there's value of breaking it down to that level or not, I don't know. But, you know. But that's the simplest case. The reason we draw the dividing line between, quote unquote, physical and mental is because the brain is so fiendishly complex, and we don't understand how it works. And it's really difficult to figure out how it works, because it's not particularly accessible. No, it isn't, right. And it is complex. It is more complex than a giant muscle that squishes blood around your body. You know what I mean? Like, in the heart, it's pretty complex. So we draw this dividing line, because it's like, we don't really know what the hell's going on in there. All we know is that thing's hooked up to everything else. And then something happens in there, you know? And so then it becomes the realm of psychologists, because they're like, well, we don't know how your brain works either. But we have a series of heuristics that we can use to try to influence, you know, they try to make you feel better mentally in that effect. And so it goes off into this entire other realm because it's not, you know, we have, we have, the only way we have to influence the brain is through like sensory organs, your ears, your eyes, you know, you have to hear things, think like, that's it. Like, we can't, you know, we can't do the kind of things that we can do. Like, you know, we can't ice it. We can't put heat on it. We can't splint it. We, you know, we can't massage it. We can't flex it. Like, all you've got to do is like, you've got to talk through it through this black box and you got it you know so it becomes a different kind of science but it's not because it's it's it's the same as the rest of your physical body we just have to treat it differently because our understanding of it is so incredibly primitive compared to our understanding of the rest of the body and understanding the rest of the body isn't that great either so we're all kind of in the dark about our bodies here we're just doing the best we can yep exactly well said I think we should probably wrap it up and at this point oh you forgot one more thing oh yes one One more thing, Lieutenant. One more item on the RSI checklist that I would think is perhaps the most important thing, and is the one piece of advice that I give people when they ask about RSI, like on Twitter or something, where I don't have time to go into a big, long conversation about it. The snarky two-word reply is, type less. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do if you have any kind of RSI problems. Whatever it is you're doing, and whatever it is that hurts, do less of that. And that's the easy one. And the second one, which you already mentioned, is if you're going to do the same amount, do not do that amount contiguously. Take breaks. So do you, whatever it is that you're doing, do it less. And while you're doing it, take breaks. If that means getting a program that sets an alarm off and locks your screen and makes you take a break, do whatever it takes. Those two things, in addition to all the ergonomic stuff we talked about, I think they're equally important with all the ergonomics. Just do it less. And how do you do it less? Like, you're like, well, I gotta go to my job. How do I possibly do this thing less? If you are doing things that are not part of your job that involve the same thing, find other things to do. So when I had the big RSI problem, I said I program when I'm at work, and I program for fun, and then I go to sleep. And I said, I have to find something else to do for fun. And it was an interesting phenomenon where I was like, now I feel good about watching a television program. You know why? Because watching a television program is not typing. And so I'd be like, you should start getting into movies, television shows, things do not involve you sitting in front of a computer and using a mouse and a keyboard. And I would do those things and I would feel good the way people feel good when they eat their vegetables or go to the gym. I'm watching a TV show, but it's like, I'm doing something good for my body by finding a hobby that does not involve typing, you know, or go jogging or whatever. If you want to do a double, I mean like I'm getting exercise and I'm not on the computer, but just type less, use the mouse less, use the computer less and take breaks. Excellent. I know you can't see my notes because I don't share my notes either, but that's okay, but that's pretty much exactly what was, the simplest piece of advice is to just get up every so often and take a break. You know, however you, whatever that break, you know, turns out to be, if you wanna go and do yoga for 60 seconds, well, it doesn't matter, just change what it is you're doing that's causing you the RSI issues or could potentially lead to RSI issues. And there's a whole bunch of different studies out there, sort of percolated it down. And the general consensus seems to be, take a one minute break about every 15 minutes, but extend it, so every second breaks, every 30 minutes, extend that to five minutes. So take a minute break, then work for another 15, take a five minute break, then work for another 15, take a one minute and so on. And just taking that break, getting up and moving around. Yeah, and taking a break doesn't mean, okay, well, I'm typing away at this email. Oop, now I'm gonna change and I am somebody, using the same keyboard and mouse. That's not what I mean, get up. And I tell you, I've given, I sort of, someone else asked me this a while ago and they're like, I'm in the zone, I can't get up now. I'm like, I don't care if you're in the zone, get up anyway. Even if you don't get up, even like, I find that the breaks that they recommend, you know, how often should I take a break and how long should I be? The worse off you are, the more frequent your breaks would be. Like taking a one second break every five seconds for the entire day is probably better than going for 30 minutes straight and taking a five minute break. If you're if you're bad off, like if you if you have a big RSI issue, and it's a big flare up, like 10 seconds of continuous typing versus a minute versus two minutes, that can be the world of difference that can be the difference between injury and non injury if you're in a delicate situation where you're trying to recover from something like you know, the total amount of time means like don't be sitting you know, if you're sitting in front of the computer from nine to five because you got it for your job, try not to be even anywhere near computer between that use an iPad or something like use something different, do a different motion do you know, anything, get away from it. But while you're there, get one of those programs that prompts you. And if you're having a problem, dial it up to some absurd thing that makes you take a two second break every 30 seconds. Like that sounds crazy. But two second break isn't that long. Just give if you're a programmer, it'll give you time to think give you time to breathe. There are many fringe benefits, you can become a better programmer by just chilling and thinking before you type, you know, or thinking between statements that you type now. Yeah, that's it. And one of the things I'm looking forward to with the Apple Watch is the it tracks how often you stand up and sit down and it's got the nice little dial and it shows you. So you can, you know, you could set timers and so on. There's an app written by Jim Biancollo called Stand Up. And that's one example of, I'm sure, dozens of different apps that help to time to tell you, well, you know, it's time to get up and move around. And go refill your beverage more often than you think you should. If you have a cup of water, go dump out half a cup of water, get a fresh cup of water. Just any excuse to get up and go walk someplace else. And the good thing about liquids is if you consume enough liquids, then you have another motivation. Exactly. If you have to, you know, go to the bathroom, don't try to hold it in. Just go as soon as you feel like any reason to get up and walk around is good because and this is fighting against the zone thing. The whole it's like, I'm in the zone. I got to keep typing. No, you will hurt yourself. Like, that's it. Maybe that's a young man's thing. I remember being in the zone. I still kind of get into it like that, too. But I find that if I am, I find that if I'm in the zone and I have to go home because I got to pick up the kids or something, I'll have that whole day, you know, that evening and that night and that morning to think about it. And when I come back in the next day, inevitably I will do something. I will undo whatever it is I did in the last, you know, 10, 15 minutes the previous day, because I have now thought of something better. And that's just something that comes with age and wisdom of like knowing that if you give your brain some time to work on this problem, that we'll come up with a better solution. What you think is the awesome solution is gonna work right now, probably would, but if it's all coming in a big flash, maybe think about it a little bit more. - I think that when you're in the zone, it gets very much tunnel vision and you tend to focus in on, yeah, this is gonna solve all the problems, this is brilliant, I'm in the zone, I'm gonna keep going. And you don't stop to think about the other ramifications beyond the specific issue you're trying to solve. And if you've got a bit of code that's gonna have a lot of interaction with other components, other objects, and so on and so forth, then you'll tend to miss things. And I, yeah, I totally agree. I found exactly the same thing. I take a break, I come back. I always churn out a better code than if I'm in the zone for, you know, I feel like I'm in the zone. I'm feeling like I'm doing great, but I'm really not. The next day, like let yourself sleep on it, because what you'll find out is you had an awesome solution to the wrong problem. And then when you look to the big picture, like, does this problem even need to be solved? What am I actually doing here? Do I even need this entire class? Do I even need this entire thing? It's like, is this an actual problem or have I, you know, have I framed the entire thing wrong? And I got to delete all of that 'cause it's the wrong approach. Even if it's like a brilliant implementation of that approach, like I find that all the time. And so yeah, taking breaks and thinking is beneficial. - Yeah, absolutely. So I find when I want to take a break from, and one of the great things, I know people have been ragging on tablets recently saying, oh, tablet sales are slumping, therefore it's the end of tablets or whatever, but no, it's not. But irrespective, the point is that that is now a new different data entry method using different set of muscles. So what I'll do is if I get fatigued or I wanna take a break from typing on a keyboard and I'm at home, I'll get up and I'll continue working on my iPad on the couch, different seating position, different set of muscles, and that's another way I can shake it up a bit. And that works for me. So I think that's great. So if I had to put an order of priority on improving and you had to get equipment, so beyond the free one, the completely free one that costs you nothing, I guess that's the definition of free anyway, which is getting up regularly, then I would start with the chair, followed by the desk and your foot rest. And 'cause everything flows from that. Yeah, adjusting your screen height. You know, if you can get an adjustable height, 'cause I know some people, some companies will just give you the monitor and the monitor's on a stand and it's sitting on the desk, you can't really adjust the height. Well, if you can get a monitor arm and adjust the height, then that's a big help for me. Just get a physician's desk reference, get a bunch of thick books. That's what I have at work. Just, you know, you went to college or you got some big books, stack 'em, put the monitor on top. Sometimes it's not the sturdiest in the world, but it works. - I actually worked for a company that, can you believe this, actually banned you from using books because they said the books were unstable. They had to be company approved monitor stand, like squares of plastic. - They're probably right, but as long as they're gonna give you the squares of plastic, that's fine. But I'm just saying, whatever it takes. For things with height adjustments, it doesn't need to be rocket science to get things in the right position. - That's true, that's true. I do prefer the monitor arms though, because I can position the screen in exactly the right spot. So, but anyway, that's getting the nice to have but not as important perhaps. And now we're down the list to ergonomic mice and ergonomic keyboards. And that's where a lot of people start. But honestly, I think you get diminishing benefit from them anyway. If you currently have RSI, then choosing a different ergonomic mouse or ergonomic keyboard could help, but it depends on specifically what RSI you've got. Try a few different ones and see what works for you. That's the bottom line. but don't think that just getting an ergonomic mouse or keyboard is just gonna save you. And then finally, when you're typing, just use as soft a touch as possible and the less strain, the better. And yeah, that's it. Any other parting thoughts, John? Any other wisdom? - We've solved the world's problems now. - We have, yes. - Go forth and type. - Or take a break from typing. - Yeah. (laughing) - Cool, okay. Well, if you don't wanna talk more about this, you can reach me on Twitter @johncheegee and my site at, which that's where this podcast is hosted along with my writing and some other stuff I've done. If you'd like to send any feedback, please use the feedback form on the website, and that's where you'll also find the show notes for this episode under podcasts Pragmatic. If there are topics you'd like me to cover, you can suggest and vote on them at the site under topics once you sign up for a free account. I've also started to release excerpts from the show that are one-off top, that are off topic and a cut from the main episode, I'm calling it Addenda. Look for it under the site under podcasts Addenda. You can follow Pragmatic Show on Twitter to see show announcements and other related stuff. Just quickly also I'd like to do a final thank you to two sponsors. Firstly, for sponsoring the show. If there's anything you'd like to learn about and you're looking for an easy and affordable way to learn, then can help you out. Instantly stream thousands of courses created by experts in their fields of business, software, web development, graphic design, and lots more. Visit to get a free 10-day trial. If you've ever wanted to learn something new, what are you waiting for? I'd also like to thank Igloo, an intranet you'll actually like, built with easy to use apps like file sharing, blogs, calendars, task management and lots more. Make sure you visit the URL to get started. It's free for you to use for up to 10 people, no credit card required, just sign up and start playing today. I'd also like to thank my guest host, John Syracuse, for coming on the show. And what's the best way for people to get in touch with you, John? You can find me on Twitter, my last name at Twitter @saracusa, and you can see my website where I almost never write anything these days at, and you can also find me every week on the Accidental Tech Podcast. That website for that is >> Fantastic. Well, thanks for everyone for listening, and thanks again, John. >> It's fun. [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Music] [Music]
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Show Notes

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John Siracusa

John Siracusa

John writes widely acclaimed OS X reviews for Ars Technica, blogs at his site Hypercritical and has a podcast with friends called the Accidental Tech Podcast each week.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.