FUDCon Tempe: I’d like to continue hacking, but my hands really hurt

During FUDCon Tempe, I managed to “Live IRC” a couple of the sessions I assisted. Throughout the week, I intend to publish a summary + pictures of the talks I assisted. The following is a paraphrasis of the talk. These pictures (CC-BY-SA) were taken by Tatica using her kick-ass Canon EOS Digital Rebel XS camera.

Mel Chua and Sebastian Dziallas(Pictured) co-presented this talk.

If you’re reading this, odds are you’d like to know how to extend your “typing time” on your computer. Mel and Sebastian did a great job outlining a lot of ways you can get more mileage out of your hands. The talk was extremely lively, which meant I didn’t transcribe a word of what they said, only general notes and topics of interest.

The first point to cover is Awareness.

Most of the attendees, myself included, where unaware that our typing habits hurt us. During the talk, someone mentioned Emacs as an example of software that hurt us. Beware of Emacs. It’s full of crazy multi-key combos, and if you really want to use it, just remap the keys to something more comfortable, and record macros whenever possible to minimize the number of keys you have to hit.

Second point is Mentality.

If using your computer hurts, perhaps its time to change your computer? In the picture on the left, the laptop base is meant to raise your laptop’s screen, to prevent you from hunching over.

The computer screen should be visible, without having to move your neck down to look at it.

This leaves the keyboard unusable, but that’s easily fixed: Use an external, ergonomic keyboard. And gloves. Sebastian showed some awesome gloves that help you keep your wrists in a slightly more comfortable position while typing.

Next up: Practices.

Reduce chording. Rest your hands off the keyboard, use a pillow and stand up occasionally.

In fact, stand up often. Walk around, stretch.

You should also switch hands when holding the mouse. Being ambidextrous helps, but you shouldn’t overcompensate. If you can’t, don’t.

There was also mention of some foot-pedal that helped you hold the ‘shift’ key. This was a terrible idea, as it caused injuries to your legs.

Finally, typing harder on the keyboard makes no difference. So, don’t.

The moral of the story here is that you should adjust the computer to you, not the other way around.

Movements. I previously mentioned stretching, y’know… Extending your arms and stretching them, like Sebastian above. Yoga also helps out, as does applying pressure to key points of your body. A massage wouldn’t hurt, and in fact, you should probably get one. During this point of the talk, both Mel and Sebastian showed a whole lot of… uhm… Toys.

Each of these were meant to apply pressure to key parts of your body. Like giving yourself a massage.

Bummed you don’t have one of those? There are other ways to help yourself. Placing a stress ball on your neck, and against a wall and rolling it up and down can help, as does holding a bean bag below your wrists while typing.

Another point discussed here was Tools. It’s not just hardware, software helps out too!

You can find this on System-> Preferences ->Keyboard

Gnome has a built-in typing break tool which forces you to stand up and take a break. Using an adjustable keyboard tray also helps, as does the ergonomic keyboard.

From left to right:
Conquering Carpal Tunnel by Sharon Butler
Dynamic Alignment through Imagery by Eric Franklin
8 Steps to a Pain-free back by Esther Gokhale

There’s a lot of books you can read if you’re interested in the topic, and while the picture above only highlights 3 of those, another was mentioned during the conference: The Hand Book (Preventing computer injury) by Stephanie Brown.

Finally, the disclaimer that should’ve been placed at the very top: Neither Mel nor Sebastian are doctors. If problems persist, please consult with a real doctor!

It was extremely fun listening to Mel and Sebastian talk about tips to extend our hacking time, and remember, Prevention is better than a cure. Happy Hacking!

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February 2011
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