FAQ: Typing Injuries (4/5): Software Monitoring Tools [monthly posting]

FAQ: Typing Injuries (4/5): Software Monitoring Tools [monthly posting]

Post by Dan Wallac » Wed, 01 Dec 1993 00:55:58

Archive-name: typing-injury-faq/software
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.
 8 pages.

Archive-name: typing-injury-faq/software
Version: 2.3, 22nd November 1993

[This FAQ is maintained by Richard Donkin <richa...@cix.compulink.co.uk>
(please note changed email address).  I post it, along with the other FAQ
stuff.  If you have questions, you want to send mail to Richard, not me.
-- dwallach]

                    Software Tools to help with RSI

This file describes tools, primarily software, to help prevent or manage
RSI.  This version now includes information on diverse tools such as
calendar programs and even digital watches, which tends to contradict the
title somewhat.  It also includes information on software for pain-free
use of mice and keyboard s - it draws the line at hardware, which is the
subject of the Keyboard Alternati ves FAQ.

Please let me know if you come across any other tools, or if you have
informati on or opinions on these ones, and I will update this FAQ. I am
especially interest ed 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 automaticall y - any suggestions on how to
avoid this would be appreciated.

Richard Donkin

Internet mail: richa...@cix.compulink.co.uk  [note change of preferred address]
Tel: +44 71 251 2128
Fax: +44 71 251 2853


    Charles Hsieh <char...@speedy.cs.wisc.edu> for information on Mac tools.

Changes in this version:

    More information on using AccessDOS and Access Pack for Windows to reduce
    problems with mice, especially double clicking and drag operations.

    More information on Dvorak keyboard layouts, especially for DOS and 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.  A few use
sound hardware to alert you to a break, but the majority 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)
    Available from:
        Anthony Steven
        Office Automation Systems
        7 Clarks Terrace
        YO3 0DQ
        Tel & Fax: +44 (904) 423622
    Platforms: Windows
        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.

The latest version has some improvements: a TSR is supplied so that
typing in a DOS window will not affect the accuracy of the break times;
the program beeps three times before a break to let you stop typing
before it grabs control from the current window; and the minimised icon
shows you when the next break is due, changing periodically to cycle through
all the break times.

    Tool: At Your Service (commercial software)
    Available from:
        Bright Star
        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)
    Available from:
        Media Vision
        Tel: +1 (510) 226 2563
    Platforms: PC
        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
        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)
    Available from:
        John Fricker Software
        PO Box 1289
        Ashland, OR 97520
        Tel: 503/488-5699
        Mail: 71054....@compuserve.com
    Platforms: DOS (Hercules, EGA, VGA)

        Demo (VGA only, single exercise) available from:
            Compuserve: Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section,
                            file DSDEMO.EXE

        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
        reminder TSR.

        Cost: $27.00

    Tool: Exercise Break [formerly StressFree] (commercial software,
                free usable demo)
    Available from:
        Hopkins Technology (distributors)
        421 Hazel Lane
        Hopkins, MN 55343-7116
        Tel: +1 612-931-9376
        Fax: +1 612-931-9377
        Mail: 70412....@compuserve.com (Ignacio Valdes, the 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 supported via CompuServe or Internet, otherwise $39.95.
              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 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).

        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

    Tool: PC-FIT User-Saver (commercial software, free slideshow demo)
    Available from:
        Burggasse 88/16
        A-1070 Wien
        Tel: +43 222/526 02880
        Fax: +43 222/526 02889

        Demo (slideshow) available from:
            Compuserve: Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section,
                            file PCFITD.EXE

    Platforms: DOS 3.1 or higher, Windows (3.0/3.1), Macintosh System 7.0.1 or
        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)
    Available from:
        Anonymous ftp:
        CIX: sco conference
        Email to richa...@cix.compulink.co.uk
    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
    Available from:
        Various sources
    Platforms: Various
        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.

On Windows 3.x, you can use Barclock 2.2 or above - this gives you
a clock in the current window title bar, and also lets you type in
a message to be popped up every hour (or even more frequently if
you set multiple alarms).  Not intended for this purpose but simple
and effective, Barclock is available on many BBSs as BARCLK22.ZIP.

        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.
        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.

        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!


- 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 simply cause your remaining
"good" hand/arm to deteriorate.

- change the way your mouse works to avoid or modify operations that
are painful - mouse dragging is a common problem.

    Tool: hsh (public domain)
    Available from:
        Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/software/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)
    Available from:
        Anonymous ftp: soda.berkeley.edu:pub/typing-injury/software/xdvorak.c
        Available as standard in Microsoft Windows, Windows for Workgroups and
            Windows NT
        Available for MS-DOS
        To quote the Microsoft documentation:

            Dvorak keyboard layouts are based on designs created by August
            Dvorak, a professor at the University of Washington during the
            1930s and 1940s. Dr. Dvorak studied the way people type standard
            English, and determined the most common letter combinations. He
            then designed new keyboard layouts to speed up typing and reduce
            fatigue. These layouts, now called Dvorak or simplified keyboards,
            were initially developed for two-handed typists. Following World
            War II, Dvorak layouts were developed for typists who use the right
            or left hand alone.

        It is doubtful that switching to Dvorak will have a major impact
        on RSI, but it may be helpful in preventing RSI.  If you do switch,
        your typing rate will go down a lot initially, which will help!

        Microsoft Windows products support Dvorak as a standard keyboard
        layout - look in the International setup in the Control panel.  

        MS-DOS supports this via the MS-DOS Supplemental Disk, available from
        Microsoft, which includes standard and one-handed Dvorak layouts.  
        These layouts are available for Windows in Application Note GA0650,
        available from Microsoft or from various online services as GA0650.ZIP.

        In the US, training and keycap stickersfor the Dvorak layout are
        available from:

4516 NE 54th St.
Seattle, WA  98105-2933
Tel: (206) 324-7219 (voice and fax)

If you are also looking at alternative keyboards, you might also like to look
at the Maltron layout, which is claimed to be more efficient than Dvorak.
See the alternative keyboard FAQ for supplier details.

    Tool: AccessDOS, Access Pack for Windows (free commercial software)
    Available from:
Compuserve, Genie, Microsoft Online, Microsoft Download Service, BBSs
    Platforms: DOS, Windows
AccessDOS has a range of keyboard and mouse control features that
may be useful, such as sticky shift keys to avoid stretching to
hold down shift at same time as other keys, and using the keyboard
for mouse functions.  It also allows serial-line interfacing of
alternative keyboards and other devices.  AccessDOS is available
from Microsoft on the MS-DOS Supplemental Disk.

Access Pack for Windows has roughly the same features but in a Windows
environment.  The mouse functions of Access Pack for Windows are  useful
for people who find using the mouse painful.  You can use the numeric keypad,
with Num Lock off, to do operations like drag and drop without holding down
a mouse button or a key on the keyboard.  You can also do double click
from the keyboard by pressing a single key just once.  You can  use
cursor control keys for all mouse movements, though this is rather slow, as
you might expect.  The mouse functions probably work best if you can use
some kind of ergonomic mouse or trackball and just avoid double click and
drag operations as described.  You can work entirely without a mouse - if you
want to use a real mouse as well as Access Pack functions, it must be Microsoft
Mouse compatible.

    Tool: PowerClicks, Mouse2 (shareware)
    Available from:
        Anonymous ftp: sumex-aim.stanford.edu,
info-mac/cfg/power-clicks-102.hqx (PowerClicks)
info-mac/cfg/mouse-2.hqx (PowerClicks)
    Platforms: Mac
(From Charles Hsieh)
PowerClicks is a cdev that can replace mouse click and mouse
click-holding with self-defined keyboard combinations.  For example,
I use my right hand to move the mouse around, and use my left hand
to press F1 for mouse click, and F2 for mouse click-holding.

Mouse2 makes the mouse move twice as fast, so that your hand doesn't
have to move as far.

Cost: PowerClicks is $3
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
Phone#: 609-452-8446       of its cabinet." -- CM Paris Ref. Manual, v6.0, p48.