Version: 2.0, 12th June 1993
This FAQ may be cited as:
Donkin, Richard. (1993) "FAQ: Typing Injuries (4/5): Software Monitoring
Tools" Usenet news.answers. Available via anonymous ftp from
rtfm.mit.edu in pub/usenet/news.answers/typing-injury-faq/software.
This FAQ is maintained by Richard Donkin <richa...@cix.compulink.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, which tends to contradict the title
somewhat. Oh well...
Please let me know if you come across 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. The major difficulty with all these
products is that when you are under pressure you tend to cancel out of the
break reminder almost automatically - any suggestions on how to avoid this
would be appreciated.
Any software vendors who want me to include their products in here are invited
to send evaluation copies.
Internet mail: richa...@cix.compulink.co.uk [note change of preferred address]
Tel: +44 71 814 5708 (direct)
Fax: +44 71 251 2853
Changes in this version:
Coverage of new version of StressFree, a.k.a Exercise Break
Added three new tools, Activity Monitoring Program, DOS Stretch and
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
alert you to a break, but most 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: Activity Monitoring Program (commercial software)
Office Automation Systems
7 Clarks Terrace
Tel & Fax: +44 (904) 423622
This product is specifically aimed at helping employers meet the
requirements of EC directive 90/270, so it is of most interest to
European users. It does not provide animations of exercises, instead
providing them in the manual - the rationale for this is that the
EC directive requires breaks to be taken away from the computer, so
sitting at your keyboard doing exercises is not allowed. In any case,
it is better for you to stretch your legs as well as arms, and rest
your eyes by leaving the computer, so this seems sensible. The
program feels less intrusive than some others as a result, it simply
pops up a small window asking you to take a break.
Unlike most other programs, you can set a hierarchy of some
work then micropause, longer work then short pause, and still
longer work then a long pause. This hierarchy is closer to
medical recommendations than just taking a break every N
Also, this program is only activated by keyboard or mouse
activity, unlike some other programs that pop up at a given time
even if you are not at your PC.
The program does not let you exit it or change the settings without a
password (though this protection is configurable) - ideal for companies
that want to discourage people from bypassing the program.
Tool: At Your Service (commercial software)
Tel: +1 (206) 451 3697
Platforms: Mac (System 6.0.4), Windows
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)
Tel: +1 (510) 226 2563
A sound card to plug into your PC parallel port.
Includes 'At Your Service'.
Tool: Computer Health Break (commercial software)
Escape Ergonomics, Inc
1111 W. El Camino Real
Tel: +1 (408) 730 8410
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.
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: DOS Stretch (commercial software)
John Fricker Software
PO Box 1289
Ashland, OR 97520
Platforms: DOS (Hercules, EGA, VGA)
Demo (VGA only, single exercise) available from:
Compuserve: Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section,
This break reminder program includes exercises but no ergonomic
information. It includes 11 exercises, taking about four minutes.
They are animated using a cartoon figure. The demo includes a
hand exercise that seems useful; the full program includes a
Tool: Exercise Break [formerly StressFree] (commercial software,
free usable demo)
Hopkins Technology (distributors)
421 Hazel Lane
Hopkins, MN 55343-7116
Tel: +1 612-931-9376
Fax: +1 612-931-9377
Mail: 70412....@compuserve.com (developer)
Demos (working program but reduced functions) available from:
Compuserve: Windows Advanced Forum, New Uploads section, or
Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section.
(Windows and Mac versions in latter)
Anon FTP: ftp.cica.indiana.edu (and mirroring sites)
CIX: rsi conference
Platforms: Windows (3.0/3.1), Mac System 6.0.5 or higher, DOS version soon
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 a large extent. One useful feature is that when
it is running minimised it shows the time to the next break, helping
you plan your work to the next break rather than it coming as an
The new release, 3.0, is renamed Exercise Break, supports Mac and
Windows and should include a DOS version. I have been trying out
a beta version and it has some useful features, including
Typewatch (no relation to the freeware program ...), which graphs
your typing rate over time, with optional warnings to slow down
and export facilities for spreadsheet analysis. It also includes
a full ergonomic checklist online to help set up your workstation,
and a picture of correct posture and workstation adjustment.
An unusual feature is the ability to include your own exercises in
the program, providing you have access to a Windows SDK, without
Cost: $29.95 if support via CompuServe or Internet, otherwise
Site license for 3 or more copies is $20.00 each.
This is the only tool with a redistributable demo that is not just
a slide show, so if you do get the demo, post it on your local
bulletin boards, FTP servers and Bitnet servers! Includes the
ability to step backward in the exercise sequence, which is good
for repeating the most helpful exercises. Hopefully a number of
add-on exercise modules will become available now that it is
possible to add exercises.
Tool: EyerCise (commercial software) Available from:
RAN Enterprises One Woodland Park Dr. Haverhill, MA 01830, US
Tel: 800-451-4487 (US only)
+1 (508) 521 4487
Platforms: Windows (3.0/3.1), OS/2 PM (1.3/2.0) [Not DOS]
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
"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).
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)
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: PC-FIT User-Saver (commercial software, free slideshow demo)
Tel: +43 222/526 02880
Fax: +43 222/526 02889
Demo (slideshow) available from:
Compuserve: Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section,
CIX: rsi conference, file PCFITD.EXE
Platforms: DOS 3.1 or higher, Windows (3.0/3.1),
Macintosh System 7.0.1 or higher
This program warns you to take breaks, provides exercises for the
muscles and for the eyes, and includes information on
ergonomics. Exercises are animations based on photos of a model
(mime artist?), which together with cartoons elsewhere lend a
light-weight feeling to this package, as far as I can tell from
the demo. Orientated to EC 90/270.
Cost: no prices available
Tool: Typewatch (freeware), version 3.8 (October 1992)
Email to richa...@cix.compulink.co.uk
Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/typewatch.shar
CIX: sco conference
Platforms: UNIX (tested on SCO, SunOS, Mach; character and X Window mode)
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...@cix.compulink.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
Tool: Various calendar / batch queue programs
Any calendar/reminder program that warns you of an upcoming
appointment can be turned into an ad hoc RSI management tool.
Alternatively, use 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
Various sources, e.g. Casio BP-100.
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
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)
Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/hsh.shar
Platforms: UNIX (don't know which ones)
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)
Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/xdvorak.c
Also built into Windows 3.x and available free with MS-DOS 5 and 6
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* :-). AccessDOS also includes
ways to avoid holding down mice buttons during drag operations, and
many other potentially useful features for RSI sufferers.
Dan Wallach "One of the most attractive features of a Connection
dwall...@cs.princeton.edu Machine is the array of blinking lights on the faces
Office#: 609-258-1798 of its cabinet." -- CM Paris Ref. Manual, v6.0, p48.