There I was, thirty years after I first sat down at an Apple IIe , and I suddenly found myself wondering if I would ever use a computer again without pain. How could I work if I couldn’t use a computer anymore? I had to seriously ask myself this question. It took a bit of a winding road to figure out what was going on and two EMGs to confirm it, but after all these years, it was clear to the medical community that I had developed a repetitive stress injury (RSI) called cubital tunnel syndrome in my left arm.
Cubital tunnel syndrome is like carpal tunnel, but in your elbow instead of your wrist. What a misnomer! Sometimes my pain went all the way from my armpit to my fingertips and made me want to gnaw my own arm off. I don’t think you can really understand neuropathy unless you’ve felt this weird, annoying type of pain firsthand. I hope you never do.
Can you stop and seriously imagine not being able to use a computer for the rest of your life? Or at least feeling that way because doing so causes incredibly annoying pain? I feel like we’re all vaguely aware of the standard list of anti-RSI precautions, but let’s review:
maintain good posture — sit with feet flat on the floor, wrists straight, elbows at 90°
put the screen an arm’s length away at eye level
take frequent short breaks
Yes, those are all fine and good. But there are other things you can do to avoid computer-related RSIs, like using ergonomic inputs, and building a custom setup that fits you exactly. This isn’t a study kiosk at the university library we’re talking about — this is your battlestation! The problem is that many people are stubborn, and won’t go out of their way to do anything to proactively prevent these injuries. But you don’t have to cross a bridge when you come to it if you have a map that shows you a way around the body of water.
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way up front, shall we? This ergonomic mechanical keyboard was a free sample offered to me by X-Bows. They contacted me after I expressed interest in trying one in the comments of my post about the Kinesis Advantage. I had my doubts about this keyboard as far as my own personal ergonomic needs go, which are admittedly on the extreme side. TL;DR: I won’t be abandoning my curvy girls anytime soon. But I will say that I’m definitely impressed by the X-Bows.
X-Bows was founded by a doctor who saw a lot of RSI issues in programmers and writers and decided to take matters into his own hands. The keyboard was born on Kickstarter in 2017 and now comes in three models. They sent me the mid-range model called The Knight, which retails for $249, but seems to be on permanent sale for $199. The top-of-the-line Knight Plus has a magnetic, detachable 10-key that can attach to either side. Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: X-Bows Ergo-Mechanical Keyboard”→
Despite the passing of several decades since that scene in Star Trek IV, the Voyage Home in which Mr. Scott remarks “A keyboard! How quaint!“, here on earth, they remain a central plank of our user interface experience. A plank is an appropriate metaphor, for the traditional keyboard with its layout derived from typewriters and intended to minimize type bar collisions has remained the same flat and un-ergonomic device for well over a century. If like [Tom Arrell] you suffer from repetitive strain injury to your hands and wrists from using a keyboard then a more ergonomic alternative is a must. His solution was to build his own keyboard in two halves.
He was inspired by a colleague’s Ergodox, but balked at the price. Then he found the Dactyl, an open source 3D printed keyboard in two halves, and resolved to build his own. Unlike the Dactyl, however, he wanted his ‘board to be able to operate as either a linked pair operating as one or a pair of separate keyboards. In went a pair of Sparkfun Pro Micro boards to his slightly modified Dactyl, along with a full complement of Cherry MX Brown switches.
The final product lacks key labels so is not for the faint-hearted. But he persevered with it and after a couple of weeks was able to use it without a crib sheet. It’s a bit higher than its commercial equivalent so it needs some improvised wrist rests, but for the price, he’s not complaining.