FAQ: Typing Injuries (3/3): Software Monitoring Tools [monthly posting]

FAQ: Typing Injuries (3/3): Software Monitoring Tools [monthly posting]

Post by Dan Wallac » Tue, 12 Jan 1993 10:44:17



Archive-name: typing-injury-faq/software
Version: 1.8, 7th December 1992

This FAQ is actually maintained by Richard Donkin <richa...@hoskyns.co.uk>.
I post it, along with the other FAQ stuff.  If you have questions, you want
to send mail to Richard, not me.  -- Dan

                    Software Tools to help with RSI
                    -------------------------------

This file describes tools, primarily software, to help prevent or manage RSI.
This version now includes information on such diverse tools as calendar
programs and digital watches...

Please let me know if you know any other tools, or if you have information
or opinions on these ones, and I will update this FAQ.

I am especially interested in getting reviews of these products from people
who have evaluated them or are using them.  

Richard Donkin                          
Internet mail: richa...@hoskyns.co.uk              
Tel: +44 71 814 5708 (direct)
Fax: +44 71 251 2853

Changes in this version:

     Added information on StressFree, another typing management tool
     for Windows.

TYPING MANAGEMENT TOOLS: these aim to help you manage your keyboard use,
by warning you to take a break every so often.  The better ones also include
advice on exercises, posture and workstation setup.  Some use sound hardware to

warn of a break, others use beeps or screen messages.

Often, RSI appears only after many years of typing, and the pain has
a delayed action in the short term too: frequently you can be typing
all day with little problem and the pain gets worse in the evening.
These tools act as an early warning system: by listening to their
warnings and taking breaks with exercises, you don't have to wait for your
body to give you a more serious and painful warning - that is, getting RSI.

    Tool: At Your Service (commercial software)
    Available from:
        Bright Star
        Tel: +1 (206) 451 3697
    Platforms: Mac (System 6.0.4), Windows
    Description:
        Provides calendar, keyboard watch, email watch, and system info.
        Warns when to take a break (configurable).  Has a few recommendations
        on posture, and exercises.  Sound-oriented, will probably work best
        with sound card (PC) or with microphone (Mac).  Should be possible
        to record your own messages to warn of break.

    Tool: AudioPort (sound card and software)
    Available from:
        Media Vision
        Tel: +1 (510) 226 2563
    Platforms: PC
    Description:
        A sound card to plug into your PC parallel port.
        Includes 'At Your Service'.

    Tool: Computer Health Break (commercial software)
    Available from:
        Escape Ergonomics, Inc
        1111 W. El Camino Real
        Suite 109
        Mailstop 403
        Sunnyvale, CA
        Tel: +1 (408) 730 8410
    Platforms: DOS
    Description:
        Aimed at preventing RSI, this program warns you to take
        breaks after a configurable interval, based on clock time, or
        after a set number of keystrokes -- whichever is earlier.
        It gives you 3 exercises to do each time, randomly selected from
        a set of 70.  Exercises are apparently tuned to the type of work
        you do - data entry, word processing, information processing.
        Exercises are illustrated and include quite a lot of text on
        how to do the exercise and on what exactly the exercise does.

        CHB includes hypertext information on RSI that you can use
        to learn more about RSI and how to prevent it.  Other information
        on non-RSI topics can be plugged into this hypertext viewer.
        A full glossary of medical terms and jargon is included.

        CHB can be run in a DOS box under Windows, but does not then
        warn you when to take a break; it does not therefore appear
        useful when used with Windows.

        Cost: $79.95; quantity discounts, site licenses.

    Comments:
        The keystroke-counting approach looks good: it seems better
        to measure the activity that is causing you problems than to
        measure clock time or even typing time.  The marketing stuff
        is very good and includes some summaries of research papers,
        as well as lots of arguments you can use to get your company
        to pay up for RSI management tools.  

    Tool: EyerCise (commercial software)
    Available from:
        RAN Enterprises
        One Woodland Park Dr.
        Haverhill, MA  01830, US
        Tel: 800-451-4487 (US only)
    Platforms: Windows (3.0/3.1), OS/2 PM (1.3/2.0) [Not DOS]
    Description:
        Aimed at preventing RSI and eye strain, this program warns you to take
        breaks after a configurable interval (or at fixed times). Optionally
        displays descriptions and pictures of exercises - pictures are
        animated and program beeps you to help you do exercises at the
        correct rate.  Includes 19 stretches and 4 visual training
        exercises, can configure which are included and how many repetitions
        you do - breaks last from 3 to 7 minutes.  Also includes online help
        on workplace ergonomics.  

        Quote from their literature:

        "EyerCise is a Windows program that breaks up your day with periodic
        sets of stretches and visual training exercises.  The stretches work
        all parts of your body, relieving tension and helping to prevent
        Repetitive Strain Injury.  The visual training exercises will improve
        your peripheral vision and help to relieve eye strain.  Together these
        help you to become more relaxed and productive."

        "The package includes the book _Computers & Visual Stress_ by Edward C.
        Godnig, O.D. and John S. Hacunda, which describes the ergonomic setup
        for a computer workstation and provides procedures and exercises to
        promote healthy and efficient computer use.

        Cost: $69.95 including shipping and handling, quantity discounts
        for resellers.  Free demo ($5 outside US).

    Comments:
        I have a copy of this, and it works as advertised: I would say
        it is better for RSI prevention than RSI management, because it
        does not allow breaks at periods less than 30 minutes.  Also, it
        interrupts you based on clock time rather than typing time, which
        is not so helpful unless you use the keyboard all day.  Worked OK on
        Windows 3.0 though it did occasionally crash with a UAE - not sure
        why. Also refused to work with the space bar on one PC, and has
        one window without window controls.  Very usable though, and does not
        require any sound hardware.

    Tool: Lifeguard (commercial software)
    Available from:
        Visionary Software
        P.O. Box 69447
        Portland, OR  97201, US
        Tel: +1 (503) 246-6200
    Platforms: Mac, DOS (Windows version underway)
    Description:
        Aimed at preventing RSI.  Warns you to take a break
        with dialog box and sound.  Includes a list of exercises
        to do during breaks, and information on configuring your
        workstation in an ergonomic manner.  Price: $59;
        quantity discounts and site licenses.  The DOS product is
        bought in from another company, apparently; not sure how
        equivalent this is to the Mac version.

        The Mac version got a good review in Desktop Publisher
        Magazine (Feb 1991).  Good marketing stuff with useful
        2-page summaries of RSI problems and solutions, with
        references.

    Tool: StressFree (commercial software, free usable demo)
    Available from:
        LifeTime Software
        P.O. Box 87522
        Houston
        Texas 77287-7522, US
        Tel: 800-947-2178 (US only)
        Fax: +1 (713) 474-2067
        Mail: 70412....@compuserve.com

        Demo (working program but reduced functions) available from:
            Compuserve: Windows Advanced Forum, New Uploads section, or
                        Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section.
            Anon FTP:   ftp.cica.indiana.edu (and mirroring sites)

    Platforms: Windows (3.0/3.1) (Mac and DOS versions underway)
    Description:
        Aimed at preventing RSI, this program warns you to take
        breaks after a configurable interval (or at fixed times).
        Displays descriptions and pictures of exercises - pictures are
        animated and program paces you to help you do exercises at the
        correct rate.  Quite a few exercises, can configure which ones
        are included to some extent.  Online help.

        Version 2.0 is out soon, Mac and DOS versions will be based
        on this.

        Cost: $29.95 if support via CompuServe or Internet, otherwise $39.95.  
              Site license for 3 or more copies is $20.00 each.
              (NOTE: prices may have gone up for V2.0).

    Comments:
        I have had a play with this, and it works OK.  Its user interface
        design is much better in 2.0, though still a bit unusual.
        expensive tool around and it does the job.  It is also the only
        tool with a redistributable demo, so if you do get the demo, post it
        on your local bulletin boards, FTP servers and Bitnet servers!
        Does not include general info on RSI and ergonomics, but it does
        have the ability to step backward in the exercise sequence,
        which is good for repeating the most helpful exercises.

    Tool: Typewatch (freeware), version 3.8 (October 1992)
    Available from:
        Email to richa...@hoskyns.co.uk
        Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/typewatch.shar
    Platforms: UNIX (tested on SCO, SunOS, Mach; character and X Window mode)
    Description:
        This is a shell script that runs in the background and warns you
        to stop typing, based on how long you have been continuously
        typing.  It does not provide exercises, but it does check
        that you really do take a break, and tells you when you
        can start typing again.  

        Typewatch now tells you how many minutes you have been typing
        today, each time it warns you, which is useful so you
        know how much you *really* type.  It also logs information
        to a file that you can analyse or simply print out.  

        The warning message appears on your screen (in character mode),
        in a pop-up window (for X Windows), or as a Zephyr message
        (for those with Athena stuff).   Tim Freeman <t...@cs.cmu.edu>
        has put in a lot of bug fixes, extra features and support for
        X, Zephyr and Mach.

        Not formally supported, but email richa...@hoskyns.co.uk
        (for SCO, SunOS, character mode) or t...@cs.cmu.edu (for Mach,
        X Window mode, Zephyr) if you have problems or want to give
        feedback.

    Tool: Various calendar / batch queue programs
    Available from:
        Various sources
    Platforms: Various
    Description:
        Any calendar/reminder program that warns you of an upcoming
        appointment can be turned into an ad hoc RSI management tool.
        Or, any batch queue submission program that lets you submit
        a program to run at a specific time to display a message to
        the screen.

        Using Windows as an example: create a Calendar file, and
        include this filename in your WIN.INI's 'load=' line so
        you get it on every startup of Windows.  Suppose you
        want to have breaks every 30 minutes, starting from 9 am.
        Press F7 (Special Time...) to enter an appointment, enter
        9:30, hit Enter, and type some text in saying what the break
        is for.  Then press F5 to set an alarm on this entry, and repeat
        for the next appointment.

        By using Windows Recorder, you can record the keystrokes
        that set up breaks throughout a day in a .REC file.  Put this
        file on your 'run=' line, as above, and you will then, with
        a single keypress, be able to set up your daily appointments
        with RSI exercises.

        The above method should be adaptable to most calendar programs.
        An example using batch jobs would be to submit a simple job
        that runs at 9:30 am and warns you to take a break; this will
        depend a lot on your operating system.

        While these approaches are not ideal, they are a good way of forcing
        yourself to take a break if you can't get hold of a suitable RSI
        management tool.  If you are techie enough you might want to
        write a version of Typewatch (see above) for your operating
        system, using batch jobs or whatever fits best.

    Tool: Digital watches with count-down timers
    Available from:
        Various sources, e.g. Casio BP-100.
    Description:
        Many digital watches have timers that count down from a settable
        number of minutes; they usually reset easily to that number, either
        manually or automatically.  

        While these are a very basic tool, they are very useful if you
        are writing, reading, driving, or doing anything away from
        a computer which can still cause or aggravate RSI.  The great
        advantage is that they remind you to break from whatever you
        are doing.

    Comments:
        My own experience was that cutting down a lot on my typing led to
        my writing a lot more, and still reading as much as ever, which
        actually aggravated the RSI in my right arm though the left
        arm improved.  Getting a count-down timer watch has been
        very useful on some occasions where I write a lot in a day.

        I have tried an old fashioned hour-glass type egg timer, but
        these are not much good because they do not give an audible
        warning of the end of the time period!

KEYBOARD REMAPPING TOOLS: these enable you to change your keyboard mapping
so you can type one-handedly or with a different two-handed layout.  
One-handed typing tools may help, but be VERY careful about how
you use them -- if you keep the same overall typing workload you
are simply doubling your hand use for the hand that you use for typing,
and may therefore make matters worse.

    Tool: hsh (public domain)
    Available from:
        Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/hsh.shar
    Platforms: UNIX (don't know which ones)
    Description:
        Allows one-handed typing and other general keyboard remappings.
        Only works through tty's (so, you can use it with a terminal or
        an xterm, but not most X programs).

    Tool: Dvorak keyboard tools (various)
    Available from:
        Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/xdvorak.c
        Also built into Windows 3.x.
    Description:
        The Dvorak keyboard apparently uses a more rational layout
        that involves more balanced hand use.   It *may* help prevent
        RSI a bit, but you can also use it if you have RSI, since
        it will slow down your typing a *lot* :-)  

--
Dan Wallach               "One of the most attractive features of a Connection
dwall...@cs.berkeley.edu  Machine is the array of blinking lights on the faces
Office#: 510-642-9585     of its cabinet." -- CM Paris Ref. Manual, v6.0, p48.