Wrist Rest and Keyboard Ergonomics

I am currently in the middle of finding a new keyboard to use. Typing is something I do a lot in my work, and a keyboard is the main interface with which I produce, so finding the best possible tool for it seems like the logical thing to do.

My current main keyboard, the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard, is a good one. It’s a bit on the large side, though, and it’s not something I can travel with comfortably. It’s also starting to slightly fall apart after about two years of daily use. I am also curious about using a mechanical keyboard, and want to see if it helps improve comfort or speed or the feel of typing (or hopefully a combination of those).

I found the keyboard that matches my criteria the most, but this post is not about it.

Before deciding to get that keyboard, one thing that bothered me the most is the lack of wrist rest. The Microsoft Sculpt has a large wrist rest, and I always put my wrists on it whenever I’m typing. So I was worried that the lack of wrist rest will cause ergonomics issue. After reading a little bit more about wrist rests, though, it turns out I’ve been using it wrong the whole time.

Here’s a picture:

keyboard_posture
(Source)

It turns out the right way to type is to sort of hover your wrist above the keyboard. A wrist rest is to be used to rest the wrist on when you’re taking a break from typing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration from the United States Department of Labor says:

  • comp_keyboard_bent_wrist
    Figure 1. Bending the wrist upward.

    Performing keying tasks without a wrist rest may increase the angle to which users’ wrists are bent (Figure 1). Increasing the angle of bend increases the contact stress and irritation on tendons and tendon sheathes. This is especially true with high repetition or prolonged keying tasks. Keying without a wrist rest can also increase contact stress between the users wrist and hard or sharp workstation components.

  • Resting the wrist/palm on a support while typing may inhibit motion of the wrist and could increase awkward wrist postures.

So it turns out I have been using an ergonomic keyboard the wrong way. No wonder my palm/wrist area is usually sore after a long session of typing, the pressure they get every time I’m typing must have been the cause.

Right now, while waiting for the new keyboard to arrive, I’m trying to fix my typing posture again. It’s hard to remove an old habit, but it’s probably going to be easier for things that are done regularly like typing.

Raising Good Adults

Another gem found on Reddit:

[…] parents raise good children but should instead be raising good adults. The thought blew my mind and really got me thinking.

Let kids be kids. Let them screw up occasionally and let them be sad every now and then. They’re only preparing themselves for the real world and will be ready to face it when the time comes. Most parents do a great job raising good children and when those kids grow up, they’re clueless how to handle real world problems.

There are nuances on that line of thought, of course, and I am not even sure if I know how to be a good adult, but it’s still a good thing to keep in mind.

The Need for Speed

Yesterday was an interesting day.

I was working as usual when a couple of guys arrived at our house bearing new internet. High speed internet.

For a couple of months we have been trying to register to a new, fiber optic internet service that’s been available in our neighborhood. Our efforts were met with a brickwall, it seemed, because the company behind it was highly known to be slow and inefficient to the core. I really did not expect much, as my existing internet (provided by the same company) was pretty usable and dependable despite being relatively slow at 2 Mbps.

And then unannounced they came, and after a quick hour of pulling cables to our house and setting up the hardwares, we now have a faster 10 Mbps internet at home. This also includes some features that come with the package like cable TV (awesome, although we don’t watch TVs a lot) and landline phone (for real).

I understand that 10 Mbps is slow for some. But here in Indonesia, it’s a dream. It’s the type of internet that I’ve been yearning about for 15 years. In the meanwhile I (and many people in this country) had been using various different technologies to connect to the internet: dial up, 3G, EVDO, HSDPA, broadband, and finally this one.

Our internet used to be so slow that we never stream videos: instead we download them and watch them offline minutes or hours later.

Our internet used to be so slow that whenever we had to download something big, we queued that in a download manager before we went to sleep, and in the morning we hurriedly check our computers hoping that it all worked out successfully with no interruption.

Our internet used to be so slow that I bought GTA IV on Steam back in 2012, and I could only download and install it now, three years later.

Our internet used to be so slow that my daughter could watch videos on the iPad, or I can work; but not both at the same time.

Yesterday I downloaded a 1.6 GB file less than fifteen minutes. This is mindbogglingly fast for me. “It’s done?” I hear myself asking, “but I still want to do something else!”

Of course, this being Indonesia, you always have to expect and prepare for inexplicable issues to arise. This means I’m keeping the old broadband internet active as a backup, and so now we have two available internet connections at home. It’s now for my daughter to watch Youtube with, and we will open it up for guests and families too.

This new internet service can go up to 100 Mbps, but for that you have to pay about 250 USD a month. Not an affordable price, but as time goes by I’m sure it will go down further. I’ve waited fifteen years for this. I know I can wait a little bit more.

On Blogging

I used to blog frequently. I don’t know if nowadays I don’t blog as much because I do not have the time. I do have some free time every now and then, it’s just that there are higher priority items to be done.

I used to think about random, slice-of-life posts in my personal blogs as something that’s fun to do. A hobby. But now that I have not been blogging for a while, I begin to see some values that I’ve been missing before.

Blogging is an examination of my thoughts. Writing about something usually means replaying events, conversations, as well as my thoughts and reactions about them. This is very valuable because nowadays it feels that life goes by so fast, it can be difficult to understand what’s going on and where I’m going. I feel that writing about it will help me make more sense of it.

Blogging regularly also gives me a rough history of my growth as a human being. I have blog posts from 6 or 7 years ago where I was complaining about the silliest little things, things I wouldn’t even notice nowadays. In my archives I also have found some well-researched posts, or short posts with unexpectedly brilliant piece of thoughts that make me go, “I used to be able to come up with these before?” These are inspiring

What all this means is that I plan to write some more.

Macau casinos are reporting losses due to anti-corruption drive in China:

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s bid to catch “tigers and flies” in an anti-corruption drive and weaker economic growth means Macau may face shrinking revenue until at least mid-2015, when new resorts open. The crackdown has deterred high rollers who account for two-thirds of Macau’s casino receipts, and wiped out about $73 billion in market value of companies including Wynn Macau Ltd. (1128) and SJM Holdings Ltd. last year.

“The VIP heyday is over,” said Philip Tulk, an analyst at Standard Chartered Plc in Hong Kong. “The anti-corruption crackdown doesn’t look to be a short-term phenomenon,” with funds flows between the mainland and Macau being much more closely scrutinized, he said.

I wonder what will the effect be once similar corruption crackdown is running full speed in Indonesia.

Multi-taskers: Suckers for Irrelevancy

People often start multi-tasking because they believe it will help them get more done. Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded. However, it provides emotional gratification as a side-effect. (Multi-tasking moves the pleasure of procrastination inside the period of work.) This side-effect is enough to keep people committed to multi-tasking despite worsening the very thing they set out to improve.

On top of this, multi-tasking doesn’t even exercise task-switching as a skill. A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.

Clay Shirky on multi-tasking.

Dogfooding

From “Dogfooding Until It Hurts”:

Dogfooding. Also called “eating your own dog food.” It’s pretty simple, right? If you work at Uber, maybe take an Uber car ride from time to time. If you work at Khan Academy, you’re probably pretty good at math by now.

In this video from 2009, Joel talks about dogfooding as being more than just using your own product. It’s about using your own product for everything you can imagine, even if that usage is a little uncomfortable.

I used Vesper for note-taking on the iPhone, and nvALT on the desktop. Despite the non-synchronicity between the two, I found them to be the best option for each situation.  Vesper is a masterclass in app design, and the amount of thought that goes into it really shows from all the design choices and what it says no to. nvALT, on the other hand, is lightning fast, can by synced with Dropbox, and gets out of the way of actual note taking.

My company has its own note-taking app: Simplenote. It has one big advantage over my current setup, namely synchronicity and availability on both iOS and OS X (as well as on the Web, Android and Kindle). My note-taking habit is contextual enough that I usually don’t need my mobile notes to be available on desktop notes and vice versa, but I have a suspicion that I shape that habit due to the lack of sync between Vesper and nvALT.

While I haven’t played with it enough, my initial impression is that Simplenote is really, really good. It’s not as fast as nvALT from my testing, but it’s fast enough. I like the design direction, and it contains many clever bit of thoughts. My only nitpick so far is that the desktop font is too tiny and there’s no setting to change it. But, being from the same company, I might be able to have a say about that instead of just wishing.

This honestly is not an easy change to make, but from today on I’ll be dogfooding Simplenote until it hurts. And see if I can do something about it.

Subscription Feeds Update

Nowadays, with Google Reader gone, I mostly read blog subscription feeds using Reeder on the iPhone. In the yesteryears I had been a voracious reader of feeds, subscribing to hundreds of feed at one time. Thousands of unread items were not unheard of. However, lately I’ve been filtering and pruning and generally trying to manage my attention better. This results in a constantly curated list of feeds that I keep revisit and update if needed.

For the first installment of Subscription Feed Update on this site, here are two sites that I have subscribed to recently:

John Stanmeyer blog (feed):

I first came across it when looking for reviews of 2013 Macbook Pro, and ended up finding his post about it. The post was such a refreshing read after slogging through some of the more general, technical ones. Stanmeyer confessed that he is the “Anti-Tech”, but that makes his perspective even more valuable. From his experiences as a world-class photographer, he sold me on the laptop using stories and anecdotes better than any specs comparison can. I’ve been trying to find blogs outside of my own field to follow, and his blog is a perfect addition to my feed reader. It’s a bonus that his site runs on WordPress, using good old Neoclassical theme.

True Music Facts Wednesday (feed):

My experience with music is rather similar with photography: I like it, but not particularly in-depth about it. One thing I know is that I often enjoy a song or an album or a band better after reading a story, or a review, about it. Knowing the context of a particular music adds to the enjoyment, and this particular blog looks like a treasure trove of stories about music.

Feeds I’m unsubscribing from

Due to economy of attention, I made a semi-rule to remove feeds anytime I add some. Here’s what I’m removing from my reader, in the hope that it might find a better home in my readers’ (feed) reader:

  • Inside Envato. I’m not a freelancer anymore, and the content of the blog no longer matches my immediate need for education or entertainment.
  • The Great Discontent. First I have to say that I still love the interviews, so very much. Lately they’ve been changing their feed’s setting to only display excerpts instead of the full interview, and going to their site to read everything is such a hassle on mobile. I just don’t think any browsers on the iPhone is well suited for longform content, and the text-based alternative inside a feed reader used to be an acceptable substitute. They recently released a book version as well, and I’ll think about reading the content from there instead of from a feed, as the interviews remain relevant regardless of publication date.

Mac Apps’ Longevity

Ten years ago, when John Gruber opened up membership for his Apple-focused site Daring Fireball, some Mac app makers offered their apps as one of the membership prizes. I got curious and went to check how these apps are doing today. Additionally, I also wanted to know whether the URLs to those apps remain consistent for an entire decade or not. Here’s my finding:

[table tf=”last”]

App name, Current Status, Latest Version, Last Updated, Original URL

NetNewsWire,Alive,4.0 beta,Mar. 13, 2014,404moved here

BBEdit,Alive,10.5.10,Mar. 08, 2014,Works

Mailsmith,Alive,2.3,Dec. 26, 2010,Works, but the app was moved here

TextWrangler,Alive,4.5.8,Mar. 08, 2014,Works

Super Get Info,Discontinued,—,Dec. 19, 2007,Works

Interarchy,Alive,10.0.4,Jul. 25, 2012,Works

IconBuilder Pro,Alive,8.5.3,Dec. 02, 2011 (source),404moved here

CandyBar,Alive,3.3.4,Aug. 03, 2012 (source),404moved here

Pixadex, Iconfactory does not list the app here, so presumably dead,2.0.2,Jan. 27, 2006 (source),404

iPulse,Alive,2.5.2,Dec. 19, 2012 (source),404moved here

xScope,Alive,3.6.3,Dec. 2013,404moved here

Fetch,Alive,5.7.3,Sep. 10, 2012,Works

Style Master,Alive,5.0,Jun. 2009, apparently,Works

Audio Hijack Pro,Alive,2.10.10,May 22, 2014,Works

Nicecast,Alive,2.10.10,May 22, 2014,Works

VoodooPad,Alive,5.1.3,Nov. 6, 2013,Works, automatically redirects here

iDrum,Alive,1.7.3,Apr. 2, 2010,404, apparently acquired by iZotope, now available here

Path Finder,Alive,6.5.3,Mar. 12, 2014 (source),Works, automatically redirects here

Still alive:, 16 out of 18 (88.88%), , URL still working:, 11 out of 18 (61.11%)

[/table]

It’s pretty impressive how most of these apps still exist and get updated after all those years.

Writing Informative Questions

The “Beginning Auto Layout Tutorial in iOS 7” on the popular iOS development site Ray Wenderlich starts with this paragraph:

Have you ever been frustrated trying to make your apps look good in both portrait and landscape orientation? Is making screen layouts that support both the iPhone and iPad driving you to the brink of madness? Despair no longer, I bring you good news!

And it made an immediate impact when I first read it.

I have some experience coding for iOS 6, but I didn’t really work with Auto Layout; instead I did everything in code. Doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to say is that I had some familiarity with the general topic, but not with this specific feature.

And then I read that paragraph and the questions there gave me an a-ha moment instantly.

“Ah, so that’s what Auto Layout is for!”

“So these are the benefits!”

“It’s important to learn it, then!”

Using the form of questions, the author (Matthijs Hollemans) managed to teach and persuade in a subtle, yet effective, way. If he’d written a normal sentence (“Auto Layout is used to make your app behave correctly on portrait and landscape orientation”), it would sound pretty boring, with little to no impact to my learning. But by adding the frustration and brink of madness keywords, not only he managed to convey the purpose of the feature,  he also subtly showed me why it could be a better alternative compared to whatever it was I am using (hardcoding, in my case).

It’s an interesting writing technique. I like it.

Verbosity in Support Forum Replies

After volunteering on the WordPress.com support forums for a bit, one question keeps coming to my mind. “How long should my answer reply be?”

Because if need be I can be really, really verbose. I can explain how a question can be answered, and then add that the solution is not effective anyway and then add a better alternative, and then some. I can answer a question, then add a list of canned answers about future issues that might be asked, that might or might not be happened, but just in case, here are the answers anyway.

Or I can just say hi and then write a link to a particular documentation page and leave.

What is the sweet spot on this?

If the main objective is speed, then logically single line replies are best. Just write an answer that directly solves the question. Bam. It’s quick, the person who asks is satisfied, and I don’t have to waste time crafting long answers, time that can be better used answering others.

But this can’t be ideal in many situations. Oftentimes the question itself is suspect. Someone wanted to do something, but she didn’t know that doing so could bring an issue to her site. Trying to upload a really garish background image that will make the entire site unreadable, for instance. A single line reply can show her how to do that, but it’s better to understand first what she’s trying to do, and then explain why it’s a bad idea, and finally give a better alternative for what she’s trying to do (“Maybe get another background image? Here’s a link to a site that offers cool, subtle background images”).

So we can conclude that trying to understand what someone tries to do is more important than just giving him what he asks for. The downside is that it takes more time. This means that if we do this, we’re essentially sacrificing other users. To give you a good help, you will have to wait a little bit for it.

But perhaps, perhaps, waiting is not a bad thing. Unless it is an emergency, then a user probably does not mind waiting. Surely it is better to wait a little bit more for an answer that’s thoughtful and well-crafted, instead of an answer that’s quick but misleading?

Finally, what to do in case of emergency? Surely it needs to be solved fast, but first of all it’s important to be sure that the issue is indeed an emergency. Some users will say that all their issues are urgent, but those issues will of course have to be understood objectively first before an emergency action is done. And that understanding can be part of the phase where we try to understand what someone tries to do, two paragraphs before this.

Aside from all that, there are two other cases that I’ve found that can be used as a consideration.

The first is when someone mentioned that they’re trying to learn something. Like CSS customization, for example. In that case, it’s a good idea to not just provide an answer, but also adds a few things that can help her learn things better. I’ve explained how ‘!important’ works in a CSS thread, for example. That wasn’t necessary to solve the problem, but would be good to know for the person who asked.

The second case is when a question seems to be something that will be Googled a lot in the future, or it’s a unique issue with multiple facets of solution. Something that can be explained simply to normal users, but with technical gotchas that you might want to include for more advanced users. In this case, I will try to be quite verbose. I’ll add something like “you don’t have to read this, but just in case someone is interested…”, then include plenty of keywords, code snippets, anything to aid searchability and to actually explain the finer details.

That is the cool thing about forums, by the way. When you answer someone, you are also potentially answering someone else in the future. Someone might Google it and arrive at your answer, and then leave with a solution. It’s a good thing to keep in mind, whether you might have something to say to other people in the future with the same question.

So the rough algorithm will be like this:

Read the question, truly try to understand what happened and what the user is trying to achieve. Never write an answer before getting this understanding.

If turns out it’s an emergency, be quick to answer and put more importance on this.

If it isn’t, then see if the solution if harmful. If yes, take the time to explain and offer better alternatives. Mailchimp’s Voice and Tone site has good suggestions with regards to failure message, which to me is close to how an emergency situation should be handled.

If the question is harmless and can be solved quickly without the need of any extraneous info, then write a concise answer and keep it from being too verbose.

Additionally, if it sounds like the user is trying to learn something, it doesn’t hurt to add a bit more explanation to help her understand thing.

Finally, if the issue has multiple aspects to its answer that are not relevant to the current user who asks, but might be relevant to others in the future, be sure to include that.