Everything you know about keyboard ergonomics is wrong

Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard

Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard

Depending on your age you may not notice it yet, but after a few years of typing all day every day at a full time job, your wrists will start to feel uncomfortable. Eventually you will start feeling pain. All because you’ve been using your keyboard wrong the whole time and not paying attention to logical keyboard ergonomics.

It’s also disappointing that ergonomic specialists fail to address this problem. Most specialists that I’ve encountered during my career only focus on back and neck ergonomics. And when a user does specifically ask for wrist ergonomics advice for their computer workstation, most of the time the specialist just recommends installing a keyboard tray.

Maybe the companies I’ve worked for just hire bad ergonomics consultants. It’s baffling to me that there seems to be no logic behind keyboard ergonomics. When these specialists setup the keyboard trays, they keyboard was now lower than before and tilted even more upward. This doesn’t make any logical sense.

Natural Keyboard Ergonomics

Think about the natural position of your wrists. Now think about how most keyboards have legs at the back in order to raise the back of the keyboard, to make the keys tilt more towards you. Well, this makes no sense. You want the opposite. You want to tilt the keyboard away from you or have it completely flat if your arms are actually parallel with the desk surface.

Your wrists should be straight on the keyboard, not tilted up. That is their natural position after all. Take a look at the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard with the wrist stand attached:

This is how your keyboard should tilt in order to relax your wrists. Not just the vertical tilt, but also the slight sideways tilt and rotation so that your wrists can be at rest not just vertically but also horizontally and in their rotation. Basically, 360 degree ergonomic perfection for your wrists.

I’m not advertising this keyboard. This is not a promotion for Microsoft. It’s just the only commercial keyboard I have found that provides logical ergonomics. There may be other “professional” ergonomic business keyboards that look like they’re from the 90’s and offer this feature at a price that’s 5x more expensive, but there doesn’t seem to be any ergonomic keyboard at this price point that does it right.

Typing Styles

One thing I need to point out is that this ergonomic keyboard setup is best for touch typists. I’m assuming if such a large part of your job is typing, that you are a touch typist by now. If you hunt and peck for the keys, then and only then the “traditional” keyboard tilt might work better for you. But if you rest your hands on the keyboard most of the time, then you should try out this keyboard or some sort of stand for your own favorite keyboard.

So think about the natural position of your wrists, and how they feel at rest in front of a keyboard when you’re ready to type. If they’re bent upwards, that is not their natural at-rest position. Try tilting your keyboard to raise the wrist area. And make sure your monitor is also configured ergonomically, since eye strain is another topic that often gets missed by ergonomic consultants.

Disclaimer: I am not an ergonomic expert or medical professional. Consult with a professional to avoid any medical issues. This article simply describes the setup that I have personally found to be optimal for myself.

How to upgrade memory on an Acer Aspire One

My Acer Aspire One came with 1GB of memory, and after installing Windows 7 on it, that 1GB has become inadequate. I bought 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory on Newegg for just over $20. This is great value for the money, and improved the overall performance of the netbook significantly. This quick guide will show you how to upgrade the RAM on an Acer Aspire One AO751h, but it might apply to many other laptops as well.

NOTE: Follow this guide at your own risk. I am not responsible for any damages or injuries caused by following these instructions. Your laptop may differ from mine.

1. Buy the correct RAM for your laptop. For my Acer, I bought one 2GB stick of Corsair 800MHz DDR2. Make sure you’re buying laptop memory, not desktop memory. The laptop RAM is obviously a lot smaller.

2. Shut down the laptop. Disconnect your power supply and remove the battery. Ground yourself by touching something metal. I touched my steel computer case. This should dissipate any static electricity that is on you.

3. Get a small phillips screwdriver and unscrew the two screws holding the memory bay on. Then gently pry it off – it is still held in by plastic clips.

4. Remove your RAM by pulling the two tabs on the sides apart, and pulling the RAM up and out. Be gentle.

5. Install the new RAM by pulling the two tabs on the sides apart, and gently inserting the RAM into the slot. Once it starts going in, release the tabs, and when fully inserted the memory module should snap into place.

6. Screw the cover back on and push down on it a bit to get it to clip in. Reinstall your battery and power on the laptop. Right click on “Computer” on your desktop or in your start menu, and click “Properties”. If you see 2GB of memory indicated, the install was a success!

Why you should defragment your hard drive

For those of you still using Windows XP or any earlier version of Windows, you need to manually defragment your hard drive. Windows Vista and later versions do it automatically, unless you disable the option to auto-defragment on a set schedule.

Defragmenting your hard drive will make a noticeable difference in your computer’s speed. Programs will open faster and the whole system will run quicker, as disk cache access will speed up after a defragment. What defragmenting does is reorganize fragments of files that spread out through the disk over time. Each time your computer accesses the hard drive, files get fragmented. Defragmenting your hard drive will also increase free space.

A program I highly recommend is Defraggler, made by the same company that makes CCleaner (another great program for speeding up your computer). To give you an example of what Defraggler or a similar defragmenting program can accomplish: my 320GB drive had 10GB of free space left before the defragment, and it was 23% fragmented. After running Defraggler and getting that figure down to 10% fragmented, I now have 55GB free space. So defragmenting my hard drive by only 13% gave me 45GB of free space, plus of course it made my computer faster.

All modern versions of Windows include a defragmenting program standard, and this includes Windows XP. To access the stock program, at least in Vista, open up Computer, right click on the hard drive, click properties. Click the Tools tab up top, and click Defragment Now. But again, I recommend Defraggler. It has more options and seems to get the job done better, and it’s also free.

So there you have it. Defrag your drives. Some people such as myself disable the auto-defrag option in Windows because it can start defragging when you don’t want it to. You should defragment your hard drive about once a month, depending on how you use your computer.

Windows 7 Ultimate on the Acer Aspire One Netbook

Windows 7, the operating system from Microsoft that people actually seem to like. Although Vista was actually a great operating system, many people trashed it for no apparent reason, other than just wanting to jump on the Vista-Hate bandwagon.

And even though Vista was and still is a great operating system, Windows 7 is a lot better. I would never even think about installing Vista on my Acer Aspire One netbook, with its tiny 1.3GHz Atom processor and 1GB of memory. But I did think about installing Windows 7. Sorry, XP lovers, but XP sucks. It is a very buggy operating system. It wasn’t designed to handle today’s hardware. The amount of small errors XP has annoys the crap out of me. It happened on my old Pentium 4 system, and is happening on my netbook.

I like tinkering with computers anyways, so I decided to install Windows 7 on my Acer. I had no data on the laptop, just a few things installed. I decided to do a dual boot for now. I downloaded Easeus Partition Master and formatted a second primary (NOT logical) partition. Then I plugged in my USB DVD drive, popped in the Windows 7 disc, and restarted the computer.

After booting from the disc, I chose customized setup and selected the new partition I made for Windows 7. After about 30 minutes, the installation was finished. I then downloaded the Windows 7 specific drivers from the Acer website, and the install was ready.

This was the simplest, easiest operating system install I ever did. Everything on the laptop works perfectly after installing the drivers. I can run full Aero with transparency if I wanted to, but doing that makes the computer lag, very noticeably. So I switched it back to the Windows 7 Basic theme (which was the default – I only switched to Aero to see how it would run). I then installed Office 2007, Firefox, Pidgin, and some other programs, and tweaked some settings to my liking.

Surprisingly, when I ran msconfig and checked out the startup items through CCleaner, there was nothing extra running that I didn’t need. The only thing I disabled was drive indexing; I turned the service off completely through Control Panel. I never use Windows Search, so I don’t need it running all the time and wasting resources. The only program running in the background is AVG Antivirus.

With the software all set up and configured, I did some initial tests. It seems to run at the same speed as XP. Firefox takes a bit less time to open. For now I will say it’s the same in terms of speed, making this a successful upgrade. No loss of speed while gaining more features equals success. Battery life estimates seem less than XP. When XP estimated 10 hours remaining, Windows 7 estimates 8 hours. Maybe it’s just better at estimating, but I haven’t tested it completely yet.

Windows 7 is a million times better to use than Windows XP. Everything is easier to do, looks nicer, and it just feels better. It’s a better overall experience. It makes the laptop feel more modern, with its tiny hardware specs. And the best thing is, it should get even faster in the next week or so, thanks to SuperFetch. That is why I am holding off on doing tests between the two. Once Windows 7 has time to optimize itself, I’m sure it will be quicker than Windows XP. I might do a side-by-side video of the two doing certain tasks when that happens.

If you’re thinking about installing Windows 7 on your Acer Aspire One netbook, you should go right ahead. I have found no negatives in the two days I’ve been using it so far. It is a great operating system, and works great with this netbook. It’s much better than Vista at handling resources. My install of Windows 7 Ultimate x86 (32-bit) is here to stay, and I will get rid of the XP partition after I do the comparisons. You should upgrade too.

Apple Releases the iPad, and it’s Just an Oversized iPod Touch

Where can I even begin? Apple just announced their very own tablet PC. Called the iPad. Let’s start with the name – it’s absolutely terrible. And I’m not even complaining about the stupid “i” scheme. Even iTablet would have been better.

Moving on. This thing is just an oversized iPod Touch. Even the software is almost the same, just on a bigger screen. The screen is 9.7 inches, which is way too big to fit in your pocket, and way too small to type on with both hands. Of course there are no physical keys. And when you type, the giant on-screen keyboard blocks a huge amount of screen.

And then, how do you even type on it? It’s too heavy to hold with one hand and type with the other. You can’t put it on your lap because you won’t see the screen. You can’t put it on a table because you’ll have to look down over the iPad, which will hurt your neck, shoulders, back, etc. The only way you will comfortably be able to type on the iPad is through an external keyboard and a stand for the iPad to prop it up like a normal computer screen. And all of that costs a lot of money if you buy it from Apple.

The screen will get scratched. Where are you going to put the iPad? In your backpack or briefcase. It will get scratched unless you get a cover for it, or protect it very very well. And a cover costs a lot of money coming from Apple.

Speaking of money, the iPad starts at $499. With only 16GB of flash storage. And no real operating system, unless you consider a slightly adjusted cell phone OS an operating system suited for a netbook or laptop. And that also means there’s no flash support. Oh but there’s over 100,000 apps! Well, with a real netbook, there are literally millions of apps.

So what do you get for almost $500? 16GB of storage, a glossy (meaning unreadable with other light sources present) 9.7″ screen that’s only 1024×768 resolution, and a 1GHz Apple processor. There are no USB ports, and Apple doesn’t even state how much memory (RAM) the iPad has.

What did I get with my Acer Aspire One for $314? A 1366×768 screen that’s 11.6 inches, a full sized keyboard, a 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. It also has USB ports, a camera, and it doesn’t need a case. Where does the iPad beat my Acer? It has a touch screen, an accelerometer, and a compass. Apple claims the iPad has 10 hours of battery life. My Acer claims 8, but can actually do 10. Oh, and I almost forgot, the iPad can’t multitask. You can only do one thing at a time. Amazing.

Now time to wait and watch the Apple fanboys camp out in front of Apple stores to buy this useless giant iPod.

You Don’t Need Much to Power a Media Center PC

Have you every considered setting up a dedicated computer to act as a media center in your living room? Well, if you have some older hardware around, you can do this right now.

Surprisingly, you don’t need a lot of powerful hardware to have a good, functioning media center. Case in point: I recently set up my old Dell Dimension as a media PC for my 1080p TV. This computer is around 4-5 years old, and guess what, it works perfectly as a media center. It is a Pentium 4 at 3GHz, 512MB RAM, and a Radeon X300SE graphics card with 128MB of onboard memory. Sure this sounds very weak compared to modern hardware: 4-8 GB of memory is now the norm, as well as quad core processors. But for playing 720p video, my setup works flawlessly.

Yea, believe it or not, that little X300 and Pentium 4 can play 720p video without any lag whatsoever. It can’t handle 1080p, but I’m 100% satisfied with 720p on my 52″ screen. And how much did I spend to make it all work? $7 at Radio Shack for a headphone-to-headphone cable. I plugged the TV in as if it were a monitor, using the standard blue VGA cable. Then plugged in the audio cable just as if the TV was a speaker system, and there you have it: a budget home theater system, while saving a computer from being thrown out or put in storage.

So if you have an old computer, but not too old, laying around, give it a shot and see if it will play high-def videos. You might be surprised. And if it can’t, you can always buy a $50 video card from eBay or Newegg. If my X300 / Pentium 4 computer can run a 1080p resolution and play 720p video, you can see right there that you don’t need to spend hundreds on a home media center.

How to make text on your netbook or other small screen more visible and easier to read

If you are using Windows XP and are on a netbook or using a laptop with a small screen, text might seem difficult to read. The fix for this is to download ClearType Tuner from Microsoft’s XP PowerToys website. This is Microsoft’s own tool for using ClearType text on Windows XP. ClearType is a technology that makes text easier to read by using special antialiasing methods on text (just how video games use it to fix jagged edges.

Below are two screenshots of how ClearType works on the Acer Aspire One netbook.

Before:

After:

The difference this makes on an 11.6″ 1366×768 display is huge. And I also recommend to set the slider to the darkest option, otherwise the text looks a bit blue: