Moist Eyes, Supple Wrists

by David Battino

AntiRSSThere's a funny expression middle-aged Japanese salarymen use: shiju kata — 40-year shoulder. It refers to the aching shoulders and neck you develop by hunching over a computer.

To that, I'd add Dry Eye; studies show we blink less when computing.

I've tried a variety of onscreen timers to remind myself to take breaks, but all were too obtrusive or complex. Then I found AntiRSI, and so far I'm liking it.

This simple program pops up a small, translucent "stretch" reminder every few minutes (I have it set to ten), and a longer "get up and walk around" box every 50 minutes or so. The slick thing is that the stretch reminder (titled Micro Pause) doesn't let you cheat. If you so much as touch the mouse while it's counting down your ten-second stretch break, the timer resets.

Any more healthy computing tips?


2006-12-13 13:30:19
That is great, but while you are resting, people in India, China, and other emerging nations are working. That is why employers are moving jobs away from developed countries to places where they have never even heard of RSI. Think about it during your next pause.
2006-12-13 13:50:28
Dutch Is that a joke? or are you really stupid.
2006-12-13 14:12:33
I suggest near-constant coffee intake. Not only does it keep you awake, recent studies have suggested that the caffeine may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. It also provides all the motivation you'll need to stand up and take a short stroll down the hall every so often. :-)
Andrew P
2006-12-13 14:16:37
I alternate between standing and sitting, my preference being standing. Fortunately, the desks we're equipped with here at work have "keyboard trays" adjustable over a substantial range of heights. When the need arises, there's also enough surface area to sit a couple of laptops side-by-each.

Most of the time I just have a keyboard on the tray and tilt-adjust the monitor to taste.

2006-12-13 14:26:36
Think about it during your next pause.

If your major competitive advantage is typing speed, then your job is going elsewhere.

Personally I benefit from thinking about what I am typing.

2006-12-14 00:53:21
Laptops are a problem. They're great, because you can take your computing power around with you. However, they cause strain because the keyboard is too close to the screen. The top of a computer screen should be "high" - a little higher than eye-level, whereas the keyboard should be "low" - low enough for one to type at it with one's lower arms parallel to the floor or even slightly lower. That's impossible with a laptop: either your arms are raised and your wrists cocked up, or your head-and-shoulders are aligned wrong and your spine collapsed. The answer is, where possible, to put the laptop up on a stand and use a separate keyboard.

Many of our problems are caused by excessive muscle tension. Adult humans in modern societies, in fact, carry around a lot of excessive muscle tension and have poor patterns of muscle-use. It's caused by our doing things that evolution never fitted us for - such as sitting for extended periods in chairs. Get up and walk around now and then, as you say.

People in mind-body disciplines, such as Alexander or Feldenkrais will talk of using minumum effort for tasks. Perhaps some people will recall the same concept from Eugen Herrigel's book on Zen archery.

But there's nothing mystical or "spiritual" about this. You don't need to clench your hands and stiffen your wrists to hit a computer key, you don't need to make your arm go rigid to brush your teeth. But, believe it or not, that's the kind of thing people do all the time - the kind of poor muscular habits we get into. And our body-awareness tends to be low, so that we're not aware of ourselves doing such things. It might sometimes help to be more consciously aware of how much effort we're using and let some of that go. But to really improve your "use of yourself" is not as easy as it sounds. Studies have shown that more people actually get down into a chair in an uncoordinated manner than don't - they sit down badly. The head goes back and down, and the spine compresses, and they lose a little length in the spine just getting down in the seat. It's all downhill from there. This is the root of the Japanese salarymen's problems - and wouldn't have been such a problem in traditional Japanese societies where they were kneeling on the floor. If the spine is not at its full length, then the shoulders and arms can't be used properly and with minumum effort, and the excessive muscle-tension and consequent pain kicks in. Really, the whole thing needs to be unwoven backwards: one would need to stand up, allow oneself to become "quiet" for a brief space and allow the neck muscles to release so that the head can "float" fowards and upwards, and then sit down maintaining full length, before one would be able to type without using too much tension in the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, or hands. None of this is as easy as it sounds.

But simply getting up and walking round every so often is better than nothing - actually 50 minutes is probably rather too long to sit in one go. No time is, of course, lost, because one can resume again after a short break and be all the more productive.

Some interesting thoughts here:

2006-12-14 06:48:58
A very similar utility for the Windows and Linux worlds is Workrave, found at
Brady J. Frey
2006-12-14 18:52:26
This is no different than save that it has a cleaner look and loses the cheesy icon... not so sure otherwise how it is any different, timeout's been there for a long time.
David Battino
2006-12-14 19:49:17
@ Brady: Time Out was one of the programs I tried for a while and found intrusive. What annoyed me was the way it took over the entire screen. And the crude icon turned me off as well. I also prefer the way AntiRSI resets its short breaks if you try to cheat.

Time Out has more features (such as the ability to play sounds and trigger AppleScripts), though, which could be useful for some people.

David Battino
2006-12-14 19:53:46
@ Michael: Thanks for the excellent comments. Interesting you should suggest putting the monitor’s top edge above eye level; I’d always heard that the top should be at eye level. I’ll check it out.
2006-12-22 15:29:55
Desk Doctor. As a stretch reminder its a heavy weight. First you get an on-screen medical assessment, including orthopedic tests. Then you get a tailor-made exercise treatment and prevention plan with video-guided exercises from a library of 100. Bottom line - it does the job very thoroughly.