Tag Archives: elite

Programming with your feet

footI started feeling a mild burning sensation in my left wrist a few weeks ago. This is a classic early sign of Repetitive Strain Injury.  Uh-oh. I had an email exchange not long ago with someone who now has to use voice activation because typing is too painful. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be. I decided to ignore Jane Fonda’s advice to “feel the burn” and looked for a way to alleviate the problem.

One approach is to reduce the amount of typing I do. But that is tough when you are running a microISV and writing a blog. I already use the text expander capabilities of the excellent Direct Access software to save a lot of typing (it tells me that it has saved me 51 hours of typing so far). I decided to try an ergonomic keyboard.

I bought myself a Microsoft 4000 Ergonomic keyboard. This is shaped to allow more natural positioning of the forearms and elbows.

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Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

For more comfortable wrist positioning it also has a built-in wrist rest and the front of the keyboard is higher than the back.

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Note the front of the keyboard (right) is higher than the back (left)

I was quite surprised how physically large it was when it turned up. The shape of the keyboard felt very strange to start with and it took me a few days of slow typing to get used it. The feel of the keys is nothing special and I haven’t yet used the extra gizmos, such as the integral zoom button. But I feel it is an improvement in comfort over the conventional keyboard I had before.

An unexpected advantage of the new keyboard is that it has improved my typing. If you watch a good touch typist, their hands hardly move. I (unfortunately) never learnt to touch type, I just didn’t have the patience. The clearer separation between keys for the left hand and keys for the right hand on the new keyboard made me realise that I was moving both hands left and right, more like a concert pianist than a touch typist. I am now moving my hands less and I think my typing speed has improved as a consequence.

I didn’t feel the new keyboard on it’s own was going to solve my impending RSI problems though. The major problem seems to be the continual Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-A, Windows-D, Windows-E and Alt-Tab key combinations I do with my left hand, hundreds of times a day. Using the right hand Ctrl key instead of the left one helped a bit. But it occurred to me – why are my hands doing all the work? My legs are doing so little that I often feel stiff when I stand up from a long programming session. Why not put them to use?

I Googled for foot pedals for computers. After wading through lots of hits for music and dictation foot pedals I finally found the Savant Elite Triple Foot Switch. This is a programmable 3-pedal foot-switch that plugs into a USB port.

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Savant Elite Triple Foot Switch

At £86.00+VAT it isn’t cheap. But what price do you put on your health? I ordered one.

When it arrived I wanted to program the pedals to map to the Ctrl, Shift and Windows keys. But I couldn’t install the device driver to program the pedals. After a call to the retailer it turns out the device driver doesn’t work on Vista, despite assurance on the website that the pedals could be used with “virtually any computer”[1]. Grrrrr. How long has Vista been out? I finally managed to program the pedals using my wife’s laptop – my last remaining XP box.

So now I can type using my feet for most of the modifier keys. I am using the pedals as I type this. I am still getting used to them, but the burning in my left wrist has definitely reduced. I think I can also type a little faster, but I am too lazy to do the speed tests with and without the pedals to verify this.  On the negative side:

  • Working out where to put your feet when you aren’t typing can be a little awkward.
  • The pedals tend to move around the carpet, despite being metal and quite heavy. Some small spikes might have helped.
  • Although the travel on the pedals is small, they are surprisingly stiff.

When I told a friend about the pedals he asked – why stop there? I could also be using my elbows, knees and head like a one-man-band. I could be working-out and typing at the same time. It is an intriguing prospect.

I just hope I don’t end up with burning ankles.

[1] System requirements have since been added to the website.