Spend Money on Ergonomics

by Kevin7 min read23rd Dec 2011212 comments


Life ImprovementsSleepWell-beingPractical

Warning: This is an applied rationality post, about rationality applied to a specific area of life, not a generalized rationality post.

Ergonomics is incredibly important. Sadly, so many of us in the techno-geek cluster ignore well-defined best practices of ergonomics and develop the infamous hunched back of late night computer toiling.

Seriously, ergonomics is basically a solved problem. The mathematics of anthropometry in relation to body mechanics and repetive stressors on the body are quite well understood.

I am here to offer you a basic, incredibly important, yet widely ignored lesson of rationality.

Spend money on ergonomics!

I really can't emphasize this enough. It's such low hanging fruit, yet I know way too many master aspiring rationalists with egregious ergonomic setups.

It is accepted wisdom on Less Wrong that optimizing your career is important, because you'll spend 80,000 hours working on your career. Strikingly, ergonomics presents an even larger time-based optimization opportunity. With straightforward monetary investment, you can dramatically improve the next hundreds of thousands of hours of your life. The effect size here is just enormous. Spend money on ergonomics, and you will be less fatigued, more energetic, more productive, and healthier into the later years of your life.


If you must do your computing while sitting (and do consider alternative standing deskstreadmill desks, or a desk suited to computing while lying in bed), then a good chair is a stunningly good investment. If you make your living while sitting in a chair and computing, what is a $500 investment in your comfort and good health and productivity while sitting? A used Aeron from Craigslist costs around $500 and is the gold standard of ergonomic chair design. 

At the low end of ergnomic chairs, the Ikea TORBJÖRN gets a hearty recommendation. It's only $39. Buy some extras for your visitors? That's what I did but then they all ended up in the rooms of my roommates. At the midrange, I have recommended the Ikea Verksam, but it appears to be discontinued. I think the current model Volmar is similar enough though I have not personally sat in it.

The important thing when getting your chair is to make sure it actually fits your body enough to let you sit in a proper ergonomic position. Note that the model in these OSHA images is committing an ergonomics no-no by using arm rests. Yes, I know they feel good to rest your arms on, but they're a crutch. Most all of the positions where you are resting your arms on your armrest are really bad for typing 8 hours a day. Just take the armrests off of your chair and start building up your arm strength. Similarly, avoid chairs with head rests.



Unsurprisingly at this point, I will declare that ergonomic keyboards are just better. They used to be a premium product, but now Microsoft's entry level ergonomic keyboard is only $25. Also, DVORAK is strictly better than QWERTY, ignoring the inconvenience of being forced to switch back and forth between keysets.



Ironically, given that it is the default environment for computing, sitting is not very good for the body compared to standing or lying. This makes sense in an evolutionary biology sense -- the human body was definitely designed for working while sitting up, and sleeping while lying down. We can hack this a little by working while lying down, though many people have trouble focusing given the implied lack of focus of a lying down position.

So, a good mattress can be an investment in both your sleeping comfort and your working comfort. I think a good mattress is even more important than a good chair. You spent 1/4-1/3 of your life asleep! I can accomplish no useful work without a good night's sleep.

If you sleep with (or ever plan on sleeping with) a partner, get a queen size bed. A US full size bed is equal to 1.5 twin beds, which doesn't fit two full size adults. My parents sleep on a full size bed (along with a small dog!) and are plagued by insomnia, not enough space, and bouts of blanket stealing. Apparently, it was not uncommon among their generation to prefer the forced physical closeness of a smaller bed. This is ok sometimes, of course, but when we're talking every night, you'll sleep better when not forced to be crushed up against your partner. 

A king size bed is even better, of course, if your room can fit it. I got a king size bed because my partner and I both like to compute while lying down in bed, and two people plus computers fit much better on a king size bed than a queen size bed.

I like memory foam mattresses. A minority of people really don't. My heuristic on this is that if you think you'll like a memory foam mattress, you will. One nice thing about memory foam is that it doesn't transmit vibrations from one side to the other. This means that you could probably sleep while someone else is jumping on the other side of the bed. That would not work on a conventional spring mattress. I've heard latex mattresses are even better but I'm too cheap to take my own advice to the full logical conclusion. 

Feel free to skip the box spring, unless your bed requires one. 



This is an area where my own ergonomics falls short. I'm 5' 11'' and I just can't quite fit in my Hyundai Elantra. No matter how I adjust the seat, I can't get in a perfectly ergonomic driving position. I refuse to buy another car until I can get one that drives itself, so for now, it seems like I am stuck with a somewhat unergonomic driving experience. 

On hand positioning, note that the 10-2 advocated by some DMV and then driver's ed is basically wrong. Whatever slight advantage it might offer is offset by the risk that your arms are between the airbag and your body during a crash. 9-3 is a new conservative choice. I drive 8 and 4. The California DMV manual now supports this.


Fidget more often

One of the most important points of ergonomics is that injury comes from sustained stress. The body can handle a little bit of a stress for a short period of time without much in the way of problems. People often walk into a room and see me scrunched up in the most awkward seeming, obviously unergonomic and uncomfortable looking positions. Why do I do it? Well, it turns out that your body can tolerate almost any position at all for short periods of time. The important part is to notice when your body is experiencing too much stress and shift positions.

Take a step back from this article and note how your body feels, as you are situated. Do you notice any discomfort or stress in your neck, shoulders, back, or lower body? Try fidgeting into a more comfortable position. Next time you notice stress, fidget again. Repeat for the rest of your life.

The science of fidgeting is still surprisingly undeveloped, though more evidence is coming out in favor of it. Fidgeters are much less likely to be obese than non-fidgeters. Fidgeting also works as a technique to help with focus -- it's well documented for ADHD people, but fidgeting doesn't just help ADHD people focus.

Try barefoot shoes

Vibram Fivefingers are popular enough among aspiring rationalists that I frequently joke about the cult of the toe shoe. The evidence behind barefoot running as strictly superior to conventional running shoes at this point seems overwhelming. The evidence for barefoot walking as superior to shoe'd walking is less so, but it seems intuitive to me -- when you actually get tactile feedback from your feet painfully thudding against the ground, you're more likely to walk in such a way as to minimize stress on your body.

I really like Fivefingers, but got annoyed with random passerbys asking me about them everytime I leave my house. Also, they have a tendency to fall apart after heavy use and repeated washings. 

The cult of the toe shoes seems to be moving onto Ninja Zemgears. They're also much, much cheaper than Fivefingers, so it's not as big of a deal when they inevitably fall apart. They are also much less intrusive as footwear than Vibrams. People notice them less, and when they do, they think you are wearing comfortable Japanese slippers (Tabi shoes) rather than monstrous toe forms. 


I've offered a lot of suggestions here for how to actually improve your life. If you do this sort of life-hacking, you will be able to actually notice that you are happier, less fatigued, more energetic, and more productive. Just try it. No one ever regrets improving their ergonomic well-being. You'll get to spend more of your day at your peak level of performance instead of in a tense, fatigued, or uncomfortable state.

I'm happy to answer specific questions or give product recommendations in the comments.


212 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:09 PM
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I do like this sort of instrumental rationality post, but would like to see actual citations rather than mere claims of "overwhelming" evidence. Thanks for your service.

I got explicit permission from lukeprog to make this post without having lukeprog levels of citations. He's set a sort of impossible standard for mortals to follow. I agree that I would also like to see such citations, but I'm busy, and this post took me thousands of hours of procrastination and three hours of actual writing. I will do what I can to come back through and add citations later, or address specific citation wants in the comments.

Of course, I'm not actually in a position to give anyone "permission" on such matters. What I remember saying was that "As far as I can tell I am the only one penalized by not including citations, so hopefully you'll do just fine. I'd rather see the post written than have it be delayed a month or never happen due to an expectation for citations." Eliezer rarely gave citations, and people seemed to like his posts just fine. And if LW writers begin to think they need to have a lukeprog quantity of citations, then every LW writer will procrastinate on posts until the Singularity happens.

Anyway, thanks for writing this post. I wish I could afford an Aeron. I may get the Furinno.

People's expectations of citations are really high compared to people's willingness to cite.

Like, the citing is aversive/boring enough that it's currently a major barrier to me continuing to post about consciousness. I would have probably written at least twice as many articles as I did if I didn't have to cite.

I really love the well-cited content, but think that we're definitely losing articles that I'd like to read because they think that they should be citing things.

The problem isn't really lacking citations (after all, Yudkowsky's posts generally don't have many citations). The problem is saying "The evidence for X is overwhelming", while failing to provide any evidence of X. It's effectively saying "take my word for it".

6Kevin10yI use the word "overwhelming" exactly once, on barefoot running. I realize now that I meant to link to the relevant Wikipedia article, which provides the overwhelming evidence. Updated the post.
6Sarokrae10yI'm just being difficult now, but I don't think this wikipedia article provides "overwhelming" evidence. I've read it and I'm still a barefoot skeptic, particularly since the fad has not been prevalent for long enough for us to really get good evidence that it doesn't cause as many problems as it solves. In particular, the "citation needed"s on the rebuttals to the criticisms of barefoot makes me nervous about trusting the pro-barefoot evidence, especially when it's equally likely that it's just been selectively written (like the vast majority of paleo diet literature - the other odd thing people rave about in the fitness community). Bravo on the other parts of the article though, I've found them enlightening.
5Unnamed10yI agree that "overwhelming" overstates the strength of the evidence. The main argument in favor of barefoot running is that it leads to fewer injuries than shod running, so for the evidence to be overwhelming it would need to include several studies (by different researchers with various study designs) directly showing this advantage in injury rates. But there seem to be very few studies which empirically compare injury rates for barefoot and shod runners. It's not clear if any of the studies cited in the Wikipedia article actually do so, and the review article that they cite observes that "well-designed studies of the effects of barefoot and shod running on injury are lacking" (Warburton, 2001). I saw Daniel Lieberman give a talk about his biomechanical research on barefoot running, and I remember that he said much the same thing: there's a shortage of studies looking at whether barefoot running reduces injury rates. It would be more accurate to say that there's a growing body of suggestive evidence pointing to the advantages of barefoot running (including research on the biomechanics of barefoot running and studies comparing injury rates for different types of shoes), or something similar but briefer.

So here are a few reviews:

I got used Aeron chair (the thing lasts forever, unlike other chairs I had that seemed to last 6 months on average), 30" (2560x1600) monitor, Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (which I use with Dvorak layout), and all of that was some of the best money I've ever spent. I also get the largest desk I could fit in my place, and I still regret that I couldn't get anything bigger. These are awesome ideas.

I tried many memory foam pillows, and they are a bit better than "normal" pillows, but I haven't been terribly happy about any of them. I always sleep on my side (I'm literally unable to sleep in any other position, no matter how tired, how the hell people sleep in airplanes or trains is a mystery to me) - people who sleep on their backs have very different pillow needs, so if you hear recommendation from someone who sleeps differently, disregard it completely.

Unless you're running a lot, and virtually nobody does, "barefoot shoes" seem entirely pointless, and their main effect will be marking you as a total nerd publicly.

Fidgeters are much less likely to be obese than non-fidgeters.

Correlation called, it wants its causatio... (read more)

2Tem426yAn update: barefoot shoes are looking more and more normal; it is now easy to find barefoot runners that look unremarkable. The 'barefoot' distinction usually indicates thin, flexible soles, no significant heel, and a wide toebox. They tend to be a bad choice if you are walking on hard floors all day long and will offer no ankle support, but otherwise I have found them highly ergonomic. I agree that Vibram Fivefingers are probably a bad idea. Regardless of how they look, they have stiff soles that force your toes into specific positions. For some people these positions will be comfortable, and for others they will not. I also question how such a stiff sole can be considered 'barefoot'.
1RomeoStevens6yI highly recommend vivobarefoot for anyone who has wide feet. They make a few models that are plain black or brown leather and look like normal shoes.
1[anonymous]10yWTF? I never remember breaking an office chair; I have broken a couple of wooden dining-room chairs and a hollow steel classroom chair so far, but I'm about 200 lbs...
0thomblake10yI've gone through lots of office chairs in my house; I use them for all of my household chairs and usually get them on the cheap. The most common failure modes from memory: 1. caster breaks 2. seat breaks off of the post 3. raising/lowering mechanism malfunctions, usually causing it to be permanently lowered or uncontrollable 4. wherever the back rest attaches to the rest of the chair breaks off - if there is an arm, then this happens on the bottom of the arm 5. bottom of the post breaks through the frame for the casters - even if still functional, it now scrapes the floor 6. fart smell On all-steel frame, fairly solid chairs I've only ever seen the post break once and otherwise it was always casters snapping off at the connection. But those are not only expensive but very heavy, and tend to be less adjustable.
0taw10yThe shitty plastic holding seat and back together that most chairs seem to use is usually the weakest link that fails first. It might be related to me being taller than most people (188cm, leverage multiplies force) and moving in chair a lot, most chairs being far too rigid to accommodate that.
9David_Gerard10yThe younger teen utterly trashed one of my ergonomic chairs that I'd had for five years at that point - back flapping loose, screws holding it together knocked out. She's 157cm (5'2") and weighs about 55kg (120lb). I have no idea how the hell she managed this. I'm 194cm/95-100kg and have nothing like this sort of trail of trashed chairs. (One whose back plastic warped badly from being kept too near an open fire.) I'm thinking it's less height and weight and more sheer talent.
1[anonymous]10yI'm about 1.87 m and I move a lot too, but I mostly move sideways rather than back-and-forth, and I don't lean on the back so much. (Or maybe they make better chairs in my country than in yours, but this doesn't sound likely.)
0dlthomas10yI'm about 1.95 m, move a lot, and haven't broken many office chairs.
[-][anonymous]10y 11

Maybe the next LW Survey should ask how tall we are, too. We might see some interesting correlations. :-)

... and how many office chairs we've broken?

[-][anonymous]10y 17

We can hack this a little by working while lying down

Almost all guides on how to prevent insomnia recommend not lying in bed doing anything else than resting or having sex so that you (roughly speaking) “won't confuse your body/brain about when it's supposed to rest and when it's supposed to work”, and in my experience that works quite well (even though I would describe that more like “you will be tired enough that it will be easier for you to fall asleep when you go to bed”).

7Kevin10yMy recommendation to compute in bed would be bad advice if you're trying to prevent insomnia, but if you don't have insomnia, or have insomnia easily hacked with a pinch of melatonin, then I see nothing inherently wrong with ignoring this advice of using bed only for sex or sleeping. You could also plop a nice little twin size memory foam mattress in the living room.
2Will_Sawin10yWhat about lying on a couch, like I am currently doing?
1Caspian10yI have found too much time lying down while awake anywhere causes problems. I think it is the lack of exercise, so alternating walking and lying may be just as good or better than sitting for a long time. A tablet is good for web browsing or looking over a text document while allowing frequent position changes, and okay for small amounts of typing while sitting, or tiny amounts while lying or standing. I haven't tried a good set up with a keyboard stand for lying down, but a laptop by itself was pretty uncomfortable. Typed while sitting on the couch.
-1Kevin10yI've found it difficult to have the room to get into a position where my hands aren't resting on a laptop keyboard on a couch without using a laptop desk. A mattress gives me more room to spread out and shuffle around.

Even just learn to type properly. I'm shocked how many people who type all day every day haven't bothered to spend a few weeks. (See linked post for full rant on the subject.)

The Microsoft squishy keyboards are very nice. Definitely my favourite Microsoft product ever. I have one at work, paid for by work - see if you can get one from your workplace.

(What I really want is a Microsoft Natural layout with Model M buckling-spring keys.)

2Kevin10yIBM Model M15, but prepare for sticker shock...
2David_Gerard10yNice one! Pity I don't even have a computer any more with a PS/2 socket ... that would tempt me to get one.
2arundelo10yI'm typing this on a Unicomp keyboard [http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/cus101usenon.html] that is a (licensed) clone of the IBM Model M, but with a USB connection. When I've used PS/2-to-USB adapters with my PS/2 Model Ms, I've had trouble with dropped keystrokes. (Maybe I need better adapters; the ones I've used have just been whatever the store had.) My keyboard at the office is a Kinesis Advantage [http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/advantage.htm].
2David_Gerard10yYes, a Unicomp is on my shopping list. PS/2 to USB adapters are iffy because they're not actually electrically identical. That Kinesis looks fantastic! (And I see that, unlike the Microsoft Natural, they put the 6 key on the correct hand ...) Is it membrane or mechanical? Does it go >clickety-click< ?
4lincolnquirk10yI have used a kinesis contoured for 4 years or so. It uses Cherry Brown switches. They're not especially clicky, but they have long travel and they have served me relatively well ergonomically over the last few years. The kinesis also has a "click" sound it plays on every key press (optional, but recommended).
0arundelo10yPresumably mine has the same switcheslincolnquirk's [http://lesswrong.com/lw/5r6/spend_money_on_ergonomics/5img]does; I have (at least roughly) the same model and his description matches my experience. I also keep the electronically generated click turned on. It's not very loud, but that's good, because one of the main downsides of model M keyboards is the worry about bothering fellow cubicle dwellers with the clackity-clack. My mods: * Remapped (via the Kinesis's programmable firmware) to . Thebuilt-in key [http://lesswrong.com/lw/5r6/spend_money_on_ergonomics/5ieq]is too tiny, wobbly, and close to the key for a user of a vi-style editor [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vim_(text_editor\]). * Swapped the mappings and keycaps of the up- and down-arrow keys, so that each is in the same column as the corresponding vi movement key. * Remapped the extra <\> key (below ) to . (This key is already , but only if you switch keypad modes. I use this mainly for pasting into PuTTY [http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/] with +.) * Remapped some of the thumb keys (and used the included extra keycaps) so that I have a and an for each hand (and no Windows key [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_key] or Menu key [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menu_key]). (A nice side-effect of this is that I have two s and not an and an . I know it's possible to do this in Linux, but I haven't gotten around to figuring out how yet, which means when I use rdesktop to access my work computer from my home computer I have to remember to use only the left key on my Unicomp.)
2Kaj_Sotala10yPS/2 to USB adapter [http://www.amazon.com/USB-to-PS-2-Adapter/dp/B00007AP2O].
0David_Gerard10yThank you! These things don't always work, but they're worth a try ...

"I like memory foam mattresses. A minority of people really don't."

I tried a memory foam mattress - the Tempurpedic Cloud Supreme, queen size. This is a $3000 bed. It felt amazingly soft in the store. But when I tried it at home, it was unbearable, for 2 reasons:

  • I don't roll over in my sleep. Doctors don't believe me, but I don't. Memory foam is very good insulation. So I would wake up around 3AM, drenched in sweat, because the foam underneath me was about a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, then roll over to a cold part of the bed, then wake up 3 hours later when that part got hot.

  • People talk about getting back support from a bed. You don't want back support. At least, not when we're talking about the small of your back. With soft memory foam, the heaviest parts of your body - your torso and your butt - sink deeply into the foam over time. The small of your back does not. Pretty soon your body is in an upside-down-U shape, with torso and butt sinking down into the bed, while between them the small of your back is bent over a lump of memory foam that it isn't heavy enough to squash. Painful.

Before that, I had a semi-wave waterbed, a very cheap one (for a wat... (read more)

2Vaniver10yI'm curious about his heuristic- did you think you'd like it before you took it home? (For anyone trying to aggregate opinions, I have the exact same mattress and enjoy it.)
0PhilGoetz10yYes; I tried it in the store several times before buying it. Why would I spend $3000 on a bed if I didn't think I'd like it? I now have a spring mattress that I bought at a garage sale for $10, including delivery. I like it better.
0Vaniver10yIt could have been someone else's purchasing decision, or you were reluctant until you laid down on it. I was pretty sure the answer would be yes but wanted to check.
0bogdanb10yTwo people commenting on LessWrong both own a Tempurpedic Cloud Supreme, queen size!? Is that a very common model in the (I assume) US?
1gwern10yThe birthday paradox comes to mind.
1Kevin10yThe cheaper memory foam mattresses on Amazon right now aren't pure memory foam, but mixed foam, and they are much more breathable while you sleep. Something like http://www.amazon.com/LinenSpa-Viscoelastic-Mattress-20-Year-Warranty/dp/B00474X5DO/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1324654812&sr=8-10 [http://www.amazon.com/LinenSpa-Viscoelastic-Mattress-20-Year-Warranty/dp/B00474X5DO/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1324654812&sr=8-10] claims air flow as a product feature.
0taryneast7yInteresting - I'm the opposite - can't stand water beds, because I turn into a U-shape with small of back down and head-and-butt up... So uncomfortable! Whereas I love my memory-foam mattress. Never looked back! One other feature I love is a drastic reduction in partner-based sleep-disturbance (through movement... can't do anything about snoring). As a compromise, you know you can buy a memory-foam mattress-topper. That gives you the support of the normal mattress, with the softness of the memory-foam. It's also much cheaper than buying a whole memory-foam mattress.

Citations desperately needed. Your methodology seems to be, "If someone tries to sell me something claiming it is more ergonomic, it must be better enough to be worth the money!" In particular, I recall reading (I will see if I can find my source shortly) that the studies showing Dvorak keyboards superior were run by Dvorak himself, and subsequent studies have failed to duplicate his results. I don't know about Aeron chairs or the other things you mention. I can confirm that Aeron chairs are comfortable, but have seen (first because I haven't looked) no evidence that they are better long term.

Edited to add: XKCD mentions it, but then there's this leading here, but also pointing out this and this counter to the original article. In any event, it seems wrong to say that Dvorak is clearly better - things generally seem murky. For me, 1) the ability to sit down at any computer and immediately have my full typing speed, and 2) not having to retrain significant habits, and 3) not having to reconfigure all of my keyboard heavy programs are clear and significant benefits of QWERTY. Trading these off for questionable gains is foolish. Trading these off for clear gains may make sense - but show me the studies.

My methodology is having an unusual amount of subject expertise on the subject and then spouting my own wisdom. My wisdom is backed up by an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering where the only thing I ever really enjoyed about industrial engineering was ergonomics, and subsequent continued efficient absorption of information on the subject.

Dvorak is only barely superior to QWERTY keyboards for speed; it's true advantage is in comfort and preventing RSIs.

4dlthomas10yA much better methodology than the apparent one! How is it more comfortable and less RSI-causing? I saw something about requiring less motion - but if that's the benefit how does that square with the desirability of fidgeting? Edited to add: Also, it requires less motion for standard English, not random strings, I presume - so if I spend a lot of time typing shell commands or other things that were chosen to be easy to type by people sitting at a QWERTY keyboard, would we expect to see the opposite effect?
3Vaniver10yCarpalx [http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/?], which I linked to in another comment, is keyboard optimization software (as well as several recommended layouts that it outputs). You can train it on whatever corpus you want- and so if you run a keylogger for a week or so, you'll be able to get a keyboard layout that's optimized for the things you type.
5dlthomas10yRight, but that's even more awkward in terms of portability.
8shokwave10yDo note that portability is basically a non-issue. If you expect to spend one-twentieth of your typing time on other computers (an insanely high estimate even for a backwards company's "IT guy") and we pessimistically assume that learning a new layout will magically reduce your old layout skills to hunt-and-peck[1], the gain in speed only has to be something like 5 wpm before it drowns out the lost speed on old layouts. [1]: This is not supported by my experiences; two of my close friends have remapped to Dvorak and their QWERTY skills only mildly deteriorated. None of the concerns you have raised have been a problem for them; although one thing that did happen is it became impossible for any of us QWERTY users to type on their computers (something they quite enjoy).
7[anonymous]10yThat basically happened to me. I've switched away from QWERTY in 2006 and really only ever use it if I fix something on my mother's computer. Previously I was typing at 80-90wpm, now I don't even know where the keys are anymore. I could maybe get back to 30wpm with a week of practice, but most of my QWERTY skill is gone.
3dlthomas10yI don't spend 1/20th of my typing time on computers I don't control, no. But I do think the time I spend on other computers is more likely to be particularly time critical, and I don't expect to get any real speed gain from the transition as my work is generally more thought or compute bound than typing-bound (data entry might be sped up significantly, but I don't spend 1/1000th of my time at the computer doing data entry). They aren't married, are they? My wife complains enough about my running ratpoison...
0shokwave10ySure, and learning a different layout would make it even more thought- / compute-bound.
0dlthomas10yIt doesn't work like that. Typing does not take conscious thought - it is overlapped with my thinking. Speeding up my typing even tenfold would not significantly speed up my output.
1shokwave10yIf your typing speed increased tenfold, you would go from "generally thought/compute bound" to "always thought/compute bound".
0dlthomas10yExcept when bound by something unrelated. My point is that the gains are minimal, and putting my optimization effort there is ridiculous from a speed perspective - that's not how you do optimization, if you want to do it well. If there are actually large RSI gains to be had, that's another matter.
0bogdanb10yIt’s of course anecdotal, but I write almost daily in three languages (English, French and Romanian, with quite a few accented letters via AltGr) on Dvorak, in addition to the various computer languages I use as a programmer, and it doesn’t feel worse than QWERTY at any particular task (which I use on computers not my own), except in the very limited sense that shortcuts and games tend to assume the latter. There are a few common shell commands that are particularly ill-matched to Dvorak’s ideas, like “ls -l”. But the point of Dvorak is to require minimal movement by keeping your hands in the “home position” and only moving your fingers. Which I do, but only when writing prose, like I do now; when I do things like programming and command-line work however my hands move a lot more (since you need to hit numbers, symbols and navigation keys often anyway), and words-per-minute are not quite as important. (I have a reflex by now of typing “ls -l” by almost swiping my index finger along the l-s keys and hitting “-” with the middle one, which is completely different from how I’d hit those keys when writing text. I got similar brain-macros for common Ctrl-{CXZV} combinations that I never need to think about.) (I thought about switching to Dvorak for “coolness” for years but never bothered. I did switch half a decade ago when my hands started hurting. The hurting stopped, but I can’t tell if it was related, it’s not like I tried going back. I do use QWERTY without trouble on other computers, I just need to remember to look at the keys often otherwise my brain switches to Dvorak. For the record, I also used to look at the keys before switching, just a bit less often. I typed a lot from memory, but I wasn’t really touch-typing, just kind of dancing my hands around and peeking every now and then. I forced myself to lean Dvorak without key-caps, and now I can touch-type on it, much faster than I used to on QWERTY and completely blind. Note that I was 25 or younger when I swit

Has there been any research into the effects of turning your monitor to portrait (e.g. 1024x1280) rather than landscape? I have my work monitor set up this way and it's so much better for pretty much everything I do with it. Landscape is good for watching movies from across the room, but PDFs and terminals and web pages and spreadsheets and documents in general work very well indeed in portrait.

ETA: I set younger teen's PC up this way and she refused to go back to landscape. She's a complete and utter technophobe whose usage pattern is social media, YouTube and Windows Live Chat. I don't think she even bothers swivelling it back for movies. I recommend people try it and see if they like it.

6jmmcd10yI like it but I tend to go back and forth. Multiple windows in Emacs are more clearly distinguished if they're side-by-side instead of one below the other. And Inkscape fails to take advantage of portrait-mode -- it puts a crucial toolbar to the right of the workspace, so you get a very tall, very narrow workspace in portrait-mode.
0taryneast7yme too, though I'm a vim user. I have a really big monitor and like to have three buffers open side-by-side (plus the directory listing)... which lets me see models, view and controller side-by-side (or thing and thing_spec, depending on what I'm working on).
0sketerpot10yI am to the point now where I basically need to have two windows open side-by-side if I'm working in emacs, ever. Even if they're open to the same buffer, it feels Right. The only problem is that they both end up with some unused horizontal space, because most things I edit don't have very long lines. Anybody know what to do with the extra horizontal space? Speedbar [http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/SpeedBar], perhaps?
0gwern10yMaybe you could open up a third window for the second buffer, and yoke the other two of them to the first buffer using follow-mode?
3taw10yLarge monitors would have mechanical and safety problems in portrait modes, or would need much heavier and bulkier support. Windows 7 and KDE (sadly not OSX) automatically resize windows to half-screen-x/full-screen-y if you drag them to left and right. That means you can often use your monitor as two smaller portrait monitors (my 2560x1600 usually has two 1280x1600 windows, or a bit less due to start bar), but when you need full screen for something it's available.
4David_Gerard10yIf the mount swivels, the monitor's designed for it (e.g. my work one - somehow I snagged the only swivelling monitor in the whole office). Failing that, it can often be remounted vertically with minor screwdriver attention (e.g. my monitors at my previous job). Weight really isn't that much of an issue with LCDs, particulary compared to CRTs. (Have you ever slung two 19" Sun monitors (34kg each) about, repeatedly as part of your job? Me neither, we had Windows admins for that sort of thing. Never go into Unix admin without a dodgy back.)
3dlthomas10yI don't follow this at all.
2NancyLebovitz10yHigher center of gravity, though I don't have a feeling for how tall a monitor would have to be for this to be a problem.
2dlthomas10yIf it pivots about the center of the screen, wouldn't it necessarily have the same center of gravity? That's how my monitor at work works, anyway.
0NancyLebovitz10yThat makes sense-- I was thinking about finding a way to stand a landscape-oriented monitor on its edge rather than a sensible built-in feature.
1dlthomas10yAh, yeah, that does sound ill-advised. Maybe that's what the earlier comment was thinking too.

Is there any data supporting the idea that dvorak/colemak/some other new keyboard layout are actually better than qwerty. Like, actual data collected by doing research on actual people that type stuff, how their layout of choice affects their health and typing speed. I do know that you get figures like "on average your fingers travel twice the amount if you type on qwerty as compared to some other layout", but actual data from actual typists?

Thanks for opening the floodgates on this topic. The bikeshedding reactions strike me as kind of silly, given that "failing to even try to optimize for ergonomics" is a much bigger and more prevalent issue than any of the individual decisions.

0Kevin10yThanks, and yes, totally silly, but very unsurprising to me.

While we're trading good ergonomics secrets, I'll point out that Mac BreakZ is pretty exceptional as these things go. If you're banging away on a MacBook every day like me, you should start using this before you get a repetitive stress injury (RSI).

Also if you already have wrist-strain issues, try typing in Dvorak. Seriously. Due to my past computer usage, I used to have to wear uncomfortable wrist braces every night to prevent my fingers from constantly going numb. After several years of suffering with this and assuming I would one day need carpal tunnel ... (read more)

5lukeprog10yThis. This might get me to switch to Dvorak. I'm quite worried about needing carpal tunnel surgery.
4Kevin10yNote that the comment thread here correctly points to Colemak as both better and easier to learn than Dvorak. http://colemak.com/ [http://colemak.com/]
1Louie10yThink I agree. Colemak looks superior. I'll recommend people learn that in the future.
2Dorikka10yOr QFMLWY [http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/?full_optimization]?
2Kevin10yI don't know... I think my preference for Colemak is something like that rather than eke out the last little bit of optimization out of my keyboard, I'd rather be able to tell people that I use Colemak than Quifimelewey. That I'll take the memetic social coherency of being able to signal something not too overwhelmingly weird and requiring of lots of explanation everytime you say it. I suppose you'd have to say "I used something designed in CarpalX". Probably I will end up procrastinating about how to decide how to actually make this decision that will forever alter the course of the rest of my life rather than actually just picking one layout and immediately noticing improvements.
4FiftyTwo10yMy big problem with learning Dvorak is that once I was accustomed to it I suspect I would find it very difficult to use qwerty keyboards, and given that they are standard and hence I have to use them fairly frequently on machines other than my own it would impose excessive costs. (Though if theres a way round this, other than carrying a keyboard everywhere, I'd be interested to hear.) As for the general lack of optimisation, I suspect every individual user/manufacturer has no particular attachment to qwerty but there is a general benefit from having a standardised keyboard however good its design is.
2bogdanb10y[Dvorak user anecdote:] If I need to touch-type on others’ computers, it’s annoying. I personally touch-type only when I write prose longer than a few sentences. For everyday stuff it doesn’t bother me at all, I just need to look at the keys often enough, otherwise my brain resets to Dvorak; if I see the keys, I can almost touch-type normally on QWERTY. (If I need to write more than a couple of sentences, I usually switch the layout and remove it before leaving the computer.)
0jmmcd10yI don't have any experience with ergonomic keyboards or alternative keyboard layouts, but I can recommend one slightly less drastic option: a small wireless keyboard that sits in your lap. I have one of the small Apple keyboards and for normal computing I use it on the desk (or even use my laptop's keyboard). When I'm in paper-writing mode I put the wireless keyboard in my lap, and it helps a lot. I used to get occasional wrist pain and now I don't.
0David_Gerard10yFor Windows and Linux users, Workrave [http://www.workrave.org/] is the equivalent program to remind you to take breaks. I use and recommend it.
2[anonymous]10yI've been using the built-in break enforcer in Ubuntu, but 1) it doesn't warn me of upcoming breaks except by changing the colour of its icon in the notification bar, and 2) is way too easy for me to circumvent.
0David_Gerard10yI didn't know there was one built-in! Workrave gets in your way; you can make it go away or disable it, but it's harder to pretend to yourself that you're not.
2[anonymous]10yYou can activate it on System > Preferences > Keyboard, the last tab of the window. But since it doesn't warn me beforehand except through the icon, I sometimes end up rot13:qvfnoyvat vg naq er-ranoyvat vg (juvpu erfrgf gur gvzre) if I'm doing something “important” when the icon is red, and even to fjvgpu gb n iveghny pbafbyr jvgu Pgey-Nyg-S1, naq xvyy gur tabzr-glcvat-zbavgbe cebprff sebz gur pbzznaq yvar to end a break. If a break enforcer wouldn't erfrg gur gvzre jura vg'f qvfnoyrq and would oybpx gur Pgey-Nyg-S_v_ pbzovangvbaf nf jryy, I would find it much more useful. (I sometimes even make a deal with myself [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ep/applied_picoeconomics] whereby I decide to donate €50 to charity unless I never cheat on the typing break enforcer during the next week.)
1David_Gerard10ySounds like you need something to electrically disable the keyboard for ten minutes an hour ...
2dlthomas10yOr just set up something elsewhere that needs to be dealt with. An alarm clock in the next room, or whatnot?

For writing, Dvorak is great. But it doesn't play nice with unix shell commands. Try typing ls -l in Dvorak and you'll see what I mean.

If you're a coder, try a modern layout like Colmak.

0[anonymous]9yAs a data point, after aliasing ls -l to a, Unix commands don't bother me at all on Dvorak.

A useful article, thanks. I particularly appreciate the context of spending money on ergonomics as we'll use it for 80000 hours, or so! Very interesting way to rationalize spending money on ergonomics.

I find using a Fitball as a chair facilitates the fidgeting mentioned and it's quite real that using an appropriately sized fitball will provide many of the ergonomic standards, like horizontal thighs and forearms. A fitball doesn't facilitate a straight back, instead it encourages one to strengthen one's core muscles and hence decreases lower back pain indu... (read more)

We can hack this a little by working while lying down, though many people have trouble focusing given the implied lack of focus of a lying down position.

The second part of this sentence matches my experience: I foolishly tried saving the cost of a desk for a while by using my computer lying in bed. Eventually I bought that desk and it was one of the best investments I ever made: my ability to stop procrastinating and avoid distractions went through the roof as soon as I was upright.

not enough space, and bouts of blanket stealing

An extra blanket solves that problem for about $20. A full-size bed will suddenly feel large when you don't have to snuggle just to fit under a blanket. Oh, and get that dog off the bed.

7taw10yMore like "$20 and huge loss of intimate contact at night". Getting blanket a few sizes larger than bed is the only correct solution to blanket stealing.
9shminux10yMany prefer their intimate contact before they fall asleep. As I said in my other comment, YMMV.
3taryneast7yA huge blanket does not always solve the problem... some people really are unaware that every time they roll over in bed, they move the blanket towards them... and will keep doing it until there is simply no blanket left on your side of the bed. Two blankets solves that - and for me, adequate sleep wins over "intimacy when I'm too asleep to even realise it's happening"

I'm new to this site and I love the title, "less wrong". As a ergonomics trainer, I can identify with the "less wrong" concept vs bio-mechanical perfection which, is usually unobtainable in the average (even above average) workplace. That said, I see a number of people taking exception to the idea of "working in bed". I would absolutely agree that routinely working in bed is just plain inadvisable whether one thinks this is ok or not. Good ergonomics is as much about breaking bad habits as it is about adopting new ones. This i... (read more)

8beoShaffer9yHi wkeller, welcome to Less Wrong [http://lesswrong.com/lw/do9/welcome_to_less_wrong_july_2012/]. Do you think working in bed is inadvisable solely because it can interfere with sleep habits, or is it also bad from a bio-mechanical point of view?

One shoe that I can recommend for the "barefoot" style people is the Feiyue. It is very, very padding-light (designed for martial arts), very inexpensive (~15-20 USD from Amazon.com), and doesn't look as affected as other "barefoot" shoes can. Indeed, the rights to produce Feiyue and Feiyue-inspired shoes in the West are owned by a French company that has attempted to make Feiyue a style icon, so I've actually received compliments on mine on the streets.

Of course, the "stylish" French version costs 3-5x as much and doesn't hav... (read more)

I'll buy a toe shoe when they're warm, waterproof, and increase my height by an inch and a half. :P

/me loves his hiking boots

5dlthomas10yI'll buy a toe shoe when 1) I take up running, 2) they look as good as the shoes I typically wear (which I find comfortable anyway) while maintaining an ergonomic edge in some circumstances, or 3) they are shown to have significant benefits for the kind of activity I generally do. None of these seem especially likely.
0Prismattic10ySo, toe shoes are obviously never going to compensate for your height. However, toe shoes that are warm already exist [http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/products/Five-Fingers-Flow-Mens.htm].
[-][anonymous]10y 6

Ergonomic keyboards are nice, but even more importantly, I'd recommend one with mechanical switches. Best thing I ever bought. Cherry has good cheap ones, but mechanical switches last forever, so you could also go with an old Model M. I also use my own custom keyboard layout, but Dvorak is just as good for most users, really, but I'm an Emacs user, so there. (I use 7 modifiers. Don't judge me.)

Honestly, I don't get office chairs. I think they're all horrible. I use big, comfortable reclining chairs with plenty of pillows. Recent research backs me up on thi... (read more)

3Kevin10yI used a Model M for a while until I spilled water on it. I quite liked how it felt, but my current understanding of ergonomics is that as long as you can type sufficiently quickly on it, something like the Macbook Pro chiclet keyboard is better for preventing RSIs because your fingers move less and with less force. I still prefer the subjective feel of a Model M.
0[anonymous]10yThe keyboard on my netbook is (astonishingly) good enough, but I find most “modern” keyboards absurdly hard to type with.
0rhollerith_dot_com10yWhich netbook? I mean, I would be interested to learn the Make and model.
0[anonymous]10yIt's a Samsung N150 Plus.

I'm a university student trying to decide between the Torbjorn and an Aeron. Normally I'd just go with the cheaper option, but I'd like to know if there's enough of a difference to justify spending ten times more on the Aeron. I've worked in an Aeron before, and while they're very comfortable, I don't want to drop that kind of money on comfort without long term benefit.

Does anyone have any numbers or anecdotal evidence to help sway my decision in either direction? Thanks!

Since commenting on old posts is now, like, officially encouraged, I'll share my experiences here.

First, Aeron chairs ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE. I worked in an office where every chair was an Aeron for more than a year, and it was a source of deep physical misery. Yes, I know that they're highly adjustable; I'm pretty sure I messed with every single flap, knob, and lever on them. But none of those doo-dahs fix my fundamental problems with the Aeron.

The Aeron's design forces you into an 'ergonomic' sitting position. This is terrible... (read more)

2mingyuan1yAs for other ergonomics stuff, I use Dvorak on an Ergodox EZ [https://ergodox-ez.com/] with a tilt/tent kit (I also like the Kinesis Freestyle [https://kinesis-ergo.com/shop/freestyle2-for-pc-us/], with the VIP3 accessory kit; I'm pretty indifferent between the two). I switched to Dvorak a bit over two years ago, and I actually haven't noticed any difference in my RSI. But then, I've always had elbow problems rather than wrist problems, so maybe it just wasn't the right fix. I still use Dvorak because it doesn't seem worth switching back to QWERTY (which I have long since forgotten). My mouse is a wired Anker vertical mouse [https://www.anker.com/products/variant/anker-ergonomic-optical-usb-wired-vertical-mouse/A7851011] (screw Bluetooth), which I like fine. It's way better than a trackpad and while I'm not actively in love with it, I also am never unhappy with it. I previously tried a Kinesis Savant Elite2 [https://kinesis-ergo.com/shop/savant-elite2-triple-pedal/] foot pedal so that I wouldn't have to use my hands so much (I mapped it to scrolling up and down as that was what was giving me the most trouble at the time). However, it's hard to use a foot pedal if you (like me) don't like sitting in a standard chair position, so I haven't really made use of it. I use an UPDEZK desk topper [https://www.amazon.com/Height-Adjustable-Standing-Desk-Converter/dp/B07263FQ7R] to convert any desk into a standing desk. I like it because it has a low profile (meaning that if you already have a desk that's the right height for you when seated, adding this desk topper won't ruin that), works well (easy to use, handles heavy monitors well, and has withstood two years of near-constant use without seeming to deteriorate), and is relatively lightweight - not so much so that I'd recommend carrying it between rooms with you, but enough that it's really easy to move around, store, etc. I currently basically only work standing at my desk, or lounging in various positions on the c

Also, DVORAK is strictly better than QWERTY, ignoring the inconvenience of being forced to switch back and forth between keysets.

Extra Datapoint: I've used Dvorak since I was 13. It took me maybe a week or two of using it to do my homework before I felt comfortable. Back in 1998, it was a pain in the ass for my family for the first few years because it was tricky to switch the computer back and forth, but this is a solved problem in modern OSs. The last time I experienced the slightest inconvenience from using Dvorak was 4 years ago when I was in colleg... (read more)

One thing that was saliently missing from this post: the importance of being able to move screens and input devices around. I got an Ergotron Dual Arm and it's great, and I also have made sure to set up so that keyboard and tablet can be moved around a very large surface. Not only does this allow optimizing the positions, it also enables a second type of fidgeting.

Not sure if you count it, but another thing is light levels, screen size and quality, and even basic aesthetics. And things like air quality and temperature to I guess... Yea, maybe those should be in a more general "work environment" post.

0MaoShan10yTrue, and while looking up the links for the chair (I miss my knee-chair from twenty years ago, too) and the shoes (I will definitely get the shoes), I thought about the fidgeting, and the sloping seat, and since the chair seemed too similar to the normal (mid-grade) office chair that I have, I received instant improvement by considering why I wasn't comfortable, and lowering the chair height. Changing the chair height and screen angle helped a lot just now, and I wouldn't have thought to fix it otherwise.
1MaoShan10yAn update, for honesty's sake: I bought the shoes, but due to a mistake in the sizing options, I got a pair that was much too small, and returned them. In one of my first practical cases of avoiding sunk cost bias, I didn't reorder them or try to get my daughter to wear them, but took the loss of the shipping charges (not refunded) and bought a set of boots that were on sale and much more practical for my line of work, and used the extra money I would have budgeted on the shoes for ergonomic value into buying a set of Chinese relaxation balls, which, mumbo-jumbo aside, do relax me and stimulate the nerves. So, I use them when watching TV or when idle, once a day. I save time by playing with my balls instead of just playing wi--well, you get the idea.

Anyone have an estimate or range on how long it takes to switch from QWERTY to DVORAK? I copy at about 80 wpm and compose at about 30 wpm, and have invested about 100 hours in learning / drilling / exploring QWERTY techniques. How long should I expect to spend learning DVORAK?

6wedrifid10yDon't know. But note that Colemak is better than Dvorak for all the same reasons Dvorak is better than Qwerty. If you are going to optimise you may as well do it properly!
2shurane10yAlso note that there are keyboard layout programs like carpalx [http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/]. You could try for the Q*MLW* layout, which is supposedly quite a bit faster than Dvorak and Colemak. You can look at statistics and examples on the website, too. It's rather fascinating.
0Mass_Driver10yThanks, learning Colemak actually looks like it would offer a fantastic return on investment of time. I'll try it over the holidays.
4bogdanb10yIn my case it was really annoying for a couple of weeks, then about a month later I noticed that I hadn’t noticed the new layout in a while, and I was faster than on QWERTY a few months later. HOWEVER: 1) I was on vacation at the time, so I didn’t use the computer all day long as usual. It probably would have gone faster if I did. 2) I was at most 25 when I switched; it might take longer if you’re older. 3) I wanted to touch-type (on QWERTY I kept dancing my hands around and peeking at the keys), so I switched “cold turkey” by spray-painting my keyboard uniformly black, to be unable to look at the keys. I’d expect the time taken and frustration level to be very different with visible keys, though not necessarily both changing in the same direction. (I now use a “normal” keyboard with switched key caps; I still touch-type, but it’s useful when you need to hit a random key every now and then for mouse-centric stuff like media players or Photoshop. Or finding that damned ampersand... For the record, the all-black version is cooler and {roomate|sibling|ancestor}-proofs your computer.) 4) I didn’t keep records of typing speeds; I remember I did a few tests around the time, and I did improve significantly, but (a) I can’t remember the numbers exactly, (b) I never needed much speed, since I mostly program and I need to stop often to think, and (c) I wasn’t touch-typing before switching. 5) My adaptation was very non-uniform. I could type well enough after a couple of days, but the “S” key for some reason (and another I can’t remember) still gave me occasional trouble a couple of months later. [ETA:] 6) In case it wasn’t obvious from the above, I didn’t use QWERTY at all for the first couple of months.
4Jonii10yI've been practicing dvorak for about a month. Not much since I got above 10wpm(1 hour a day for a week), but I've used it when there has been typing to be done. I've gotten to 40wpm, and I started with 70wpm qwerty speed. Incidentally, I've also forgotten how to type with qwerty. I'd suggest you find a week when you are free to use about an hour of your time every day to practice dvorak and don't need to type anything really, and then maybe another week when you are not under any stress about your typing speed. After that, you should be able to type well enough to cope, but its gonna take more time than that to get even faster. If you know some systematic touch typing systems already, and know how to use them, i think you might be able to retain your qwerty ability. I lost that because my touch type system for qwerty was so wild and unorganized, and learning this more proper style pretty much overwrote that. Also, knowing these proper touch type systems probably help you learn dvorak faster.
3lavalamp10yIt took me about a month to get up to speed when I did it a decade ago, but at the time I was a measly 30 or 40 WPM hunt-and-peck QWERTY typer. Hearsay says that if you want to maintain proficiency in both layouts, it takes a little longer. (I now type at something like 70 wpm.) I wouldn't switch unless you're looking for more comfort. From my totally unscientific reading of numerous anecdotal reports on the internet, good typists don't typically gain much if any speed when switching. Oh, and all programmers: figure out how to rearrange your keyboard layout. The []{}()+=/?-_ keys should NOT be typed by the same weak finger, that's total insanity. You can rearrange one or two keys per week and it won't slow you down too much. (I have a keyboard that lets me swap key positions.)
0bogdanb10yRemember that the rules about keeping your hands in the home position are for typing long stretches of normal text, i.e., prose. When I’m programming my hands always move up and to the sides as needed, and for most of the keys from 7 to backspace I use the first three fingers (and the left hand for shift, not the left pinky). The pinky goes to those keys only if they come up in prose by accident.
0Antisuji10yWho types []{}()+=/?-_ with their pinky? I occasionally type ']' and '}' with the pinky, but more often I use my ring finger. The only characters in that set that I always type with my pinky are '/' and '?', and those are not common enough to worry about. The others? never.
0[anonymous]10yBTW, IMO typing the C with the middle finger, the X with the ring finger and the Z with the pinky seems ridiculous to me, even though that's what pretty much any typing tutor I've seen recommends. (As for the right hand, the brain-dead ISO mechanical layout [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyboard_layout#Mechanical.2C_visual_and_functional_layouts] makes it ridiculously easy to accidentally end lines with the key immediately left of the Enter key, e.g. ù on the Italian layout -- and there are several Facebook pages about that.)
0lavalamp10yExcept for "(" (mistake on my part), QWERTY and Dvorak touch-typists do. Twisting your wrist to hit those keys (not to mention the backspace key) with a finger other than your pinky is a good way to get carpal tunnel...
1Antisuji10yI am a QWERTY touch typist and I do not, nor do I twist my wrist to hit those keys with my ring or middle fingers. Rather, I move my hand to the correct position. Touch typing does not mean your hands have to remain in one location, unless of course I am misapplying the term. Incidentally, the reason I did not switch to Dvorak long ago was that my vim keybindings work much better with a QWERTY layout and I was not willing to remap those.
1lavalamp10yYeah, if you're going to move your hands, it's important to move your whole arm and not bend at the wrist, as you say you're doing. (I used to bend my wrist to hit the backspace key; I got a keyboard with the backspace key in the middle and it made a huge difference.) But my recollection is that you're supposed to do as little moving of the hands as possible. Wikipedia seems to confirm my recollection: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FingerHandPosUSA.gif [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FingerHandPosUSA.gif] I was lucky enough to not know VIM when I switched...
0dlthomas10yLikewise. I am a touch typist in that I can type while the keyboard is nowhere near my field of vision, I may not be a touch typist by any more specific definition (I certainly don't consciously follow a particular approach). I will move my hand to be more or less centered on whatever I'm doing, only twisting it when I need to hit several keys at once (which seems likely to be necessary with any keyboard). This is the kind of thing that I'm worried about. Changing over any particular application is undoubtedly doable. Changing over everything is undoubtedly a headache, and in some cases may not even be possible (flash games, say, not that I play a lot of those).
0DSimon10yFor momentary games, it's easy enough to switch back and forth as necessary. My xmonad config has shortcuts for the appropriate xmodmap calls, and Windows is nice enough to put up a layout-switching tray icon if there's more than one keyboard in your list.
0dlthomas10yFor momentary games, that's quite reasonable indeed.
2shminux10yIs typing speed your bottleneck? If not, why bother, 80wpm is plenty fast for most uses.
3Mass_Driver10yI increasingly have mild pain in my finger muscles and hand bones; it's mostly a safety concern for me.
4bogdanb10yAnd to complete my earlier answer above, I did switch because I was beginning to have hand pains, and now I don’t. Pirates decline and global warming, etc.
1CharlesR10yIt took me about three weeks.

My current stack of optimizations:

Keyboard layout: NEO 2.0 - optimized for German. Maybe someone feels like putting together a engl. version. It has some added niceness besides the arrangement of the letters. For engl. users Colemak seems best.

Using as much monitor space as can fit on the desk. 24" monitors are affordable now. I use a few of them. For traveling I have a underpowered netbook, that is lightweight and still fine.

To use multiple computers on the same desk check out synergy. It is just awesome.

All my computers run f.lux, which dims them do... (read more)

This should be crosslinked with the http://lesswrong.com/lw/gx5/boring_advice_repository/ (there are some entries present that give some of your advice exactly (albeit shorter).

That ergonomic keyboard link is not $25. Perhaps it was on sale?

Also, DVORAK is strictly better than QWERTY, ignoring the inconvenience of being forced to switch back and forth between keysets.

And carpalx is strictly better than DVORAK. It even has an option to keep zxcv in place, which makes adoption that much easier (as those are the most common shortcut keys).

I'm 5' 11'' and I just can't quite fit in my Hyundai Elantra. No matter how I adjust the seat, I can't get in a perfectly ergonomic driving position.

This surprises me, as I am 6'0" and my dad is ~6'2" and we both enjoy our Elantras. Is the issu... (read more)

3lavalamp10yI think the take home lesson from that site is that QWERTY is horrible and almost everything else is a drastic improvement...
2bogdanb10yDon’t forget the secret lesson: using anything but QWERTY is rare, though users of keyboards are not, so it’s a high-visibility status statement. Especially if you do move your key caps, then pretty much nobody (not in the select few who can find the relevant settings quickly) can use your computer easily. It’s an excellent excuse not to cede the keyboard ;-)
1Vaniver10yQWERTY is closer to optimal than it is to the worst layout, so I'm not sure that's the case. Even so, switching to DVORAK instead of COLEMAK or QGMLWY is just silly as DVORAK is worse and harder to learn.
2lavalamp10yThe reference class I had in mind was "keyboards intelligently designed for use by humans", not "random keyboard layouts" :) But yeah, obviously if you're going to learn a new layout, learn the best one available. I just looked it up; Colemak was released in 2006 ( http://www.colemak.com/wiki/index.php?title=FAQ#What_is_Colemak.3F [http://www.colemak.com/wiki/index.php?title=FAQ#What_is_Colemak.3F]). It didn't exist when I learned dvorak, which makes me feel better about lavalamp_2001's research skills. My perception is that Colemak and QGMLWY aren't so much better than dvorak as to make it worth the effort for me to switch again.
2wedrifid10ySounds right to me. The returns are far too diminished!
1Kevin10yYup. Agreed that there is room for more optimization and DVORAK isn't the end-all be-all of keyboard layouts. I still use QWERTY myself so saved this research for others in the comments. Thanks. It's an '06 Elantra which was the last one before the model update, so an '07 Elantra is a little bigger. I mean that I would like to be able to sometimes drive with my arms in a practically, straight, almost locked position, and that I can't get the seat adjusted in such a way that I can do this without lowering the steering wheel such that it is obstructing the speedometer. Agreed that that's the most important missing citation. I was surprised to see that the California driving manual has been updated to support what I say here: http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/signaling.htm [http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/signaling.htm] Sounds like lowered hand position while driving is now actually consensus and the meme just hasn't quite penetrated.
2Vaniver10ySo, I didn't comment on this earlier, but I continue to think about it. If you aren't taking your own advice on this issue, how strongly do you believe it? Is there a good reason for others to take it? I mean, it makes great sense for people who find typing effortful or start developing RSIs to switch to colemak or qgmlwy. But the impression I get is that happens to a minority of keyboard users, and thus switching before you develop any troubles is a lot of preventative effort with low chance of payout. For example, I memorized the qgmlwy layout in about a day, but found that whenever I typed with it it was a constant battle to manually force the qgmlwy layout instead of using the muscle memory of qwerty. I suffered through my 7 wpm for a few days before I decided that it was more important to do my work at a reasonable pace than switch keyboard layouts. I don't see a reason to try again (until I start developing a RSI), and so am hesitant to recommend to other people that they try (though I'm willing to point out superior alternatives to dvorak). Am I seriously underestimating my chances of developing a RSI, or is this indicative of a wider trend that optimizing without math is, well, premature? [edit] I should also say, I'm much more willing to spend money than time on ergonomics, and keyboard layouts are very much a time thing, not a money thing.
-1Kevin10yThat was not actually my own advice but was added to the article at the suggestion of my roommate, a DVORAK proponent. I don't type professionally or very much in the scheme of things, so am not particularly concerned about my risk of developing RSIs from typing specifically. I'm still intrigued by Colemak so think I'll actually give that a try this upcoming week.
0Douglas_Knight10yThanks the for the citation. I have updated away from you.
0Vaniver10yAh, ok. We're driving a '10 and a '11. Great! That's the sort of thing you should be linking to in your post. (No need to have a list of references; direct links are better.)

What can I do given that my home computer sits on a desk which comes up almost to my chest, and my mouse is in front of my computer on the edge of the desk, so that in order to use it, I have to let my arm hang down from the shoulder, bend back up at the elbow, then forward with the edge of the desk touching my wrist? I've tried setting the mousepad on my knee, but the armrest of my chair gets in the way. And I still have to move both arms back up to type, and they're sitting on the table to get them into typing position. Needless to say, of late, my right wrist hurts...

6Kevin10yAspiringKnitter, one of my favorite values on Less Wrong is that people bet things, or are willing to pay money to settle information one way or the other. To do this definitively here, I'd like a picture of your ergonomic setup. One picture of you (ideally with a shoe or something on your head to prove it is you) in the ergonomic position and setup you were using at the time of this post, and then another one of you in a different ergonomic setup. Obscured personal details is fine, of course. In exchange, I'll donate $100 to the charity of your choice. Or I'm actually willing to give it to you if that's your preference. I'm sorry to keep engaging you on this, but you faced such serious allegations of trollness that were basically unresolved except by Will's very vague denial of being you. I thought your ergonomic setup was such a hilariously bad caricature of everything bad about ergonomics that I found you unlikely. It's worth it for me to confirm for this community that you are a real person. And $100 is $100, right?
3Mitchell_Porter10yI'll bet US$1000 that AK is a real person... wait, that method of making a point didn' t work so well last time. Still, as a step towards broadening the minds of AK skeptics, allow me to mention the possibility that she is semi-real. What if she's a non-Christian female, here to see how the LW cult responds to a woman who advocates religion and rationality at the same time?
3Kevin10yI might have a better sense of your setup if you take a picture, but it sounds like the main problem is that the desk is much too tall? This is something like a small kitchen or dining room table desk? Is there a reason that you're stuck with this desk forever? Desks are quite cheap in the scheme of furniture when bought used, or can be improvised out of a spare door and some boxes. Basically, that setup as is sounds awful enough that there isn't a whole lot of things I can tell you. You could also try making or buying a lap desk and moving the keyboard and mouse off of the desk and onto your lap.
3AspiringKnitter10yI see. Thanks. Do you know of a good way to raise the height of a chair? I tried to figure out the underside of mine, but... The internet cord is stretched across the entire room already and can't be pulled much farther than it already is, so I don't know if I could move the computer (which is a netbook, but there's no wifi, and it's hooked up to a monitor because it has a pathetic screen anyway-- so the keyboard is of necessity stuck with the rest of it up there). And mostly, I just can't change anything around. No, seriously, anything. Any suggestions for minimizing the risk of RSI, at least?
8dlthomas10yGetting a cheap wireless router will reduce your constraints. Cheap enough, and it'll additionally reduce RSI by making you get up out of your chair to reset it every so often!
6saturn10yHere's a standard 50-foot network cable [http://www.amazon.com/RiteAV-Cat6-Network-Ethernet-Cable/dp/B0026HSQ3I]. Also, the fact that you're that afraid to even ask your parents about a new desk is probably a bad sign.
2dspeyer10yEthernet cables (and ethernet gender changers for sticking two cables together) are cheap. Much cheaper than furniture. If your chair looks like it might have a height adjustment, it probably does. The controls are often on the armrests (presumably because it's one of the more frequently used features). If you can't find it by experimentation, look for a model number on the chair and try Googling that. Some chairs have online manuals.
2JoachimSchipper10yPut a phonebook on your chair, with a cushion on top if you think that's more comfortable? It's good enough to experiment. You may want to spend some actual money eventually.
2Tripitaka10yAnd buy a new LAN-cable, if the old one is too short.
1AspiringKnitter10yOoh, great idea, thanks!
0Kevin10yI'm guessing you're under 18 and your parents are annoyingly resistant to change? Otherwise, and perhaps even if those are your circumstances, you need desperately to assume control over your environment. If I were you, I'd probably get some pillows on the floor and curl up on my side and sort of hunch over the laptop and change my position a lot while using it. Possibly move the monitor to the floor as well. What kind of chair is it? Most rolly office chairs have a hydraulic lift that will raise the seat when you pull the lever while not sitting on the chair.
1AspiringKnitter10yNo, I'm not under 18 (but I do live with my parents, and my mother would have a heart attack if I tried to swap out this desk). Now that's an interesting suggestion about the laptop. Except the cord's so short I'd have to lie right in front of the door if I were online... Thank you. I found the lift thingy, at least.
0taryneast7yYour mother cares more about a desk than your future health? She deserves her heart attack. Talk to her seriously about the issue involved. You might be worried about her feelings... so talk to her about the fact that you're worried about her feelings. But don't guess at what you think her feelings are going to be.

This exercise ball chair helped me a lot with lower back pain. It's also a lot of fun and stress-relieving to bounce around while working! Additionally I built a high table to occasionally type standing up, which is also fun/effective.

I'm mildly surprised that the suggestion for an ergonomically sound chair is something like this and not something like this. I now stand at my desk, but when I was sitting, I found the kneeling chair far more comfortable than any conventional chair.

4NancyLebovitz10yKneeling chairs went out of fashion, but I have no idea why. Did people feel as though the chairs looked too weird, or were the chairs not all that good for a lot of people? Disclaimer: I found kneeling chairs to be utterly useless, probably because my legs are too short for them.
2michaelsullivan10yI bought one for work 6-7 years ago when they were in fashion, and used it for a short while, but found that what it did to my knees was worse than what regular chairs do to my back. Ball chairs get very uncomfortable in the butt if I sit in them too long, but otherwise have no drawbacks.

If you must do your computing while sitting (and do consider alternative standing desks, treadmill desks, or a desk suited to computing while lying in bed), then a good chair is a stunningly good investment.

You didn't mention sitting on the floor! The best solution here is to ditch your chair, get a low table, and start sitting on the floor.

6kpreid10yWhat position of sitting on the floor is long-term comfortable and healthful for the legs and back, and also allows a keyboard in reach?

On the car thing, if you can't improve it maybe you can decrease it. Have you investigated your local mass transit options? I travel entirely by train, and it's very comfortable because I have room to change position whenever I want. Also, I get my commute time back as reading or gaming time. Granted, I live in NYC, which makes it easier, but many cities have more options than you'd expect.

I realize moving closer to your destinations, or to a city with better mass transit, are very big deals and probably not worth it for the ergonomics alone, but next time you move anyway, this may be worth keeping in mind.

[-][anonymous]10y 1

One nice thing about memory foam is that it doesn't transmit vibrations from one side to the other.

I suspect that if you're using this app, that wouldn't be so “nice” (though I've never actually used it on a memory foam mattress myself).

0taryneast7yI use sleep cycle every night and I sleep on a memory foam mattress. I have never noticed an issue with sleep cycle - as I keep that right next to my pillow.

Interestingly I can sit and work on the PC almost the whole day with no problem (I do shift positions a lot and have breaks, move around). But I can't read a book for a comparable time-span without getting neck and shoulder ache. And that despite changing positions a lot more. Reading while standing, while sitting, which laying in all kinds of ways. Does anybody have an idea why?

0Vaniver8yDo you have a bookstand, or do you hold the book up? You could compare by, say, holding up your monitor while using the computer. (Not actually recommended, for obvious reasons.)
[-][anonymous]10y 0


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Marginally ergonomic issue, but in the "optimization via computer peripherals" bucket Twiddler keyboard looks interesting http://handykey.com/specs.html. For one you can type in bed without need for a table, but also good potential input for wearable computers that are around the corner. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V2i_7oX8mw (I think this guy is working on http://9to5google.com/2011/12/19/google-xs-wearable-technology-isnt-an-ipod-nano-but-rather-a-heads-up-display-glasses/)

1Vaniver10yYou can format links a lot more cleanly by enclosing the word you want to link in brackets and putting the url in parentheses afterwards: [example]( http://lesswrong.com/ [http://lesswrong.com/]) turns into example [http://lesswrong.com/]
0DSimon10yDo chord keyboards actually get up to a reasonable speed? I have a hard time imagining myself getting all the touches simultaneous enough, and I play DDR!
0Dr_Manhattan10yReportedly 60 wpm

I've noticed that the temptation to rest the arms which you've mentioned with regard to office chairs also happens, in a different way, when I'm driving. When I'm lazy or tired I sometimes allow my arms to fall, and just hold them up by clinging on to the steering wheel. This is not good for stability of steering.

0orthonormal10yOr your wrists- I got a mild RSI that way.

This post is the typical mind fallacy (well, typical body fallacy, as the case may be) running rampant. Almost all advice you state as unconditionally useful works for some, but does not work for others.

QWERTY keyboard may or may not be an issue, depending on the person. Same with chairs, desks, mattresses, bare feet, Mac vs PC (OK, you didn't discuss that one, but it felt like you did), fidgeting, car[seat] choice...

No one ever regrets improving their ergonomic well-being.

But quite a few find that it was not worth the price and did not live up to t... (read more)

4Kevin10yNo, this is statistically significant typical body mechanics. Subjective reporting of effects may vary.
3Arran_Stirton10yDo you have any data to back this up? (Be it second hand or third hand) For the record I'm not actually against improving ergonomic well-being, I'm just interested in the statistical significance. Mostly so I can estimate if it's worth implementing certain things at the point in time, or if the disruption caused won’t be sufficiently counterbalanced by the benefits. Also the DVORAK is not necessarily a better layout in practical terms. While for pure typing it surely is a great improvement upon the efficiency of the QWERTY keyboard it has several potentially crippling disadvantages. To start with standard keyboard shortcuts like ctrl-c and ctrl-v become harder to use. And actually learning to type on a different keyboard layout at the same speed as previously is a substantial investment in time. Plus there's the incompatibility with control systems based on the QWERTY keyboard (this is most noticeable in games where the WASD keys often replace the arrow keys). I'm not sure the increase in performance really warrants such a disruption.
3dlthomas10yI expect it would be just as noticeable in games [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_%28computer_game%29] where HJKL keys replace the arrow keys...
0Arran_Stirton10yTouché Perhaps I should have said "one of the most common occurrences of this would be," or something instead.
3dlthomas10yBut... then I wouldn't have had the chance to signal around the fact that I play obscure games!
5Arran_Stirton10yTrue! And that would be a tragedy.
-1Kevin10yhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169814198000997 [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169814198000997] should have it but is paywalled.
8lukeprog10yLuckily, some website called Common Sense Atheism made it available [http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Amell-Kumar-Cumulative-trauma-disorders-and-keyboarding-work.pdf] .
0Douglas_Knight10yAs far as I can tell, that article says that there have been no studies of the ergonomics of alternative layouts, in contrast to hardware changes, which are well-supported. It does say that dvorak and others were designed by people who knew about ergonomics.

A Kinesis Advantage contoured keyboard is amazing. Hard to get used to. I would use it, but it doesn't have the windows keys, which I remap to the mouse buttons. The single worst thing you do at your computer is click the mouse button. You must not click mouse buttons. The entire wonderful ergonomic Kinesis keyboard is not worth clicking mouse buttons for.

Also, the 'esc' key on the Kinesis is truly horrible. It's basically a tiny, mushy, rubber mouse button way up in the corner that's hard to press and doesn't work half the time. Literally the single worst key I have seen on a keyboard, ever, including the Timex Sinclair and my smartphone touchpad.

2DSimon10yThe first thing I do when I get a new computer is remap Caps Lock to escape. Every time you do that, a Vim-angel gets its wings.
2lavalamp10yI use a Kinesis Advantage keyboard. Everything PhilGoetz says about its escape key is true. I am now in your debt.
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