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Typing Injury FAQ (5/6): Software Monitoring Tools

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Archive-name: typing-injury-faq/software
Version: 2.4, 24th September 1994

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

This FAQ may be cited as:

     Donkin, Richard. (1995) "Typing Injury FAQ: Software Monitoring

World-Wide-Web users will find this available as hypertext:

   * (Dan Wallach's page)

[This FAQ is maintained by Richard Donkin <>. I
post it, along with the other FAQ stuff. If you have questions, you want to
send mail to Richard, not me. - dwallach]

Software Tools to help with RSI

This file describes tools, primarily software, to help prevent or manage RSI.
This version now includes information on diverse tools such as calendar
programs and even digital watches, which tends to contradict the title
somewhat. It also includes information on software for pain-free use of mice
and keyboards - it draws the line at hardware, which is the subject of the
Keyboard Alternatives FAQ.

Some of the information in this FAQ is now quite out of date, so please send in
an update if you use one of these tools.

I am especially interested in getting reviews of these products from people who
have evaluated them or are using them. The major difficulty with all these
products is that when you are under pressure you tend to cancel out of the
break reminder almost automatically - any suggestions on how to avoid this
would be appreciated.

In this FAQ, CIX refers to the UK conferencing system, not the US Commercial
Internet Exchange.

Richard Donkin <>


   * Amara Graps <> for information on Coffee Break
   * Charles Hsieh <> for information on Mac tools
   * Jean Wilson <JEANW@CLEMSON.EDU> for information on Plug-In for Windows

Changes in this version:

   * Added information on Coffee Break, Plug-In for Windows
   * Newly available as WWW hypertext


Typing management tools

Typing management tools aim to help you manage your keyboard use, by warning
you to take a break every so often. The better ones also include advice on
exercises, posture and workstation setup. A few use sound hardware to alert you
to a break, but the majority use beeps or screen messages.

Often, RSI appears only after many years of typing, and the pain has a delayed
action in the short term too: frequently you can be typing all day with little
problem and the pain gets worse in the evening. These tools act as an early
warning system: by listening to their warnings and taking breaks with
exercises, you don't have to wait for your body to give you a more serious and
painful warning - that is, getting RSI.

Activity Monitoring Program (commercial software)
     Available from:
          Anthony Steven
          Office Automation Systems
          7 Clarks Terrace
          YO3 0DQ
     Phone & FAX:
          +44 (904) 423622

     This product is specifically aimed at helping employers meet the
     requirements of EC directive 90/270, so it is of most interest to European
     users. It does not provide animations of exercises, instead providing them
     in the manual - the rationale for this is that the EC directive requires
     breaks to be taken away from the computer, so sitting at your keyboard
     doing exercises is not allowed. In any case, it is better for you to
     stretch your legs as well as arms, and rest your eyes by leaving the
     computer, so this seems sensible. The program feels less intrusive than
     some others as a result, it simply pops up a small window asking you to
     take a break.

     Unlike most other programs, you can set a hierarchy of some work then
     micropause, longer work then short pause, and still longer work then a
     long pause. This hierarchy is closer to medical recommendations than just
     taking a break every N minutes.

     Also, this program is only activated by keyboard or mouse activity, unlike
     some other programs that pop up at a given time even if you are not at
     your PC.

     The program does not let you exit it or change the settings without a
     password (though this protection is configurable) - ideal for companies
     that want to discourage people from bypassing the program.

     The latest version has some improvements: a TSR is supplied so that typing
     in a DOS window will not affect the accuracy of the break times; the
     program beeps three times before a break to let you stop typing before it
     grabs control from the current window; and the minimised icon shows you
     when the next break is due, changing periodically to cycle through all the
     break times.

At Your Service (commercial software)
     Available from
          Bright Star
          Mac (System 6.0.4), Windows

     Provides calendar, keyboard watch, email watch, and system information.
     Warns when to take a break (configurable). Has a few recommendations on
     posture, and exercises. Sound-oriented, will probably work best with sound
     card (PC) or with microphone (Mac). Should be possible to record your own
     messages to warn of break.

Coffee Break (shareware)
     Available via anonymous ftp
             + (mirror of Stanford)
             + (author's site)
          $5 registration fee

     "This locks you out of your program for X minutes every Y minutes. The X
     and Y are set by you. You can always see how many minutes you have to go
     till your break by looking at the digital countdown clock in the corner of
     your screen. You can also set a warning message to be displayed Z minutes
     before the break starts, to give yourself an added reminder. The program
     seems very stable, it's never crashed my computer (and I have a loaded
     system- always > 4 programs running in memory in addition to the 20 or so
     CDEVs and INITs), and it even lets serial file transfers run in the
     background while it's locked you out (if you were transferring a large
     file over the modem, say). I think the author, Thomas Reed, has done an
     excellent job, and I urge you to send in your shareware fee, if you are
     using this program." - Amara Graps

          Some people like to be completely locked out of their computer when
          the break occurs, other people would hate this. Still, since Coffee
          Break is shareware you can see how you feel about it in practice
          before you pay for it.

Computer Health Break (commercial software)
     Available from
          Escape Ergonomics, Inc
          1111 W. El Camino Real
          Suite 109
          Mailstop 403
          Sunnyvale, CA
          $79.95; quantity discounts, site licenses.

     Aimed at preventing RSI, this program warns you to take breaks after a
     configurable interval, based on clock time, or after a set number of
     keystrokes - whichever is earlier. It gives you 3 exercises to do each
     time, randomly selected from a set of 70. Exercises are apparently tuned
     to the type of work you do - data entry, word processing, information
     processing. Exercises are illustrated and include quite a lot of text on
     how to do the exercise and on what exactly the exercise does.

     CHB includes hypertext information on RSI that you can use to learn more
     about RSI and how to prevent it. Other information on non-RSI topics can
     be plugged into this hypertext viewer. A full glossary of medical terms
     and jargon is included.

     CHB can be run in a DOS box under Windows, but does not then warn you when
     to take a break; it does not therefore appear useful when used with
          The keystroke-counting approach looks good: it seems better to
          measure the activity that is causing you problems than to measure
          clock time or even typing time. The marketing stuff is very good and
          includes some summaries of research papers, as well as lots of
          arguments you can use to get your company to pay up for RSI
          management tools.

DOS Stretch (commercial software)
     Available from
          John Fricker Software
          PO Box 1289
          Ashland, OR 97520

          DOS (Hercules, EGA, VGA)
     Demo (VGA only, single exercise)
          CompuServe: Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section, file

     This break reminder program includes exercises but no ergonomic
     information. It includes 11 exercises, taking about four minutes. They are
     animated using a cartoon figure. The demo includes a hand exercise that
     seems useful; the full program includes a reminder TSR.

Exercise Break [formerly StressFree] (shareware)
     Available from
          Hopkins Technology (distributors)
          421 Hazel Lane
          Hopkins, MN 55343-7116
 (Ignacio Valdes, the developer)
     Demos (working program but reduced functions)
               Windows Advanced Forum, New Uploads section, or Health and
               Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section. (Windows and Mac versions
               in latter)
          Anonymous FTP
      (and mirroring sites)
               rsi conference
          Windows (3.0/3.1), Mac System 6.0.5 or higher, DOS version soon
          $29.95 if supported via CompuServe or Internet, otherwise $39.95.
          Site license for 3 or more copies is $20.00 each.

     Aimed at preventing RSI, this program warns you to take breaks after a
     configurable interval (or at fixed times). Displays descriptions and
     pictures of exercises - pictures are animated and program paces you to
     help you do exercises at the correct rate. Quite a few exercises, can
     configure which ones are included to a large extent. One useful feature is
     that when it is running minimised it shows the time to the next break,
     helping you plan your work to the next break rather than it coming as an

     The new release, 3.0, is renamed Exercise Break, supports Mac and Windows
     and should include a DOS version. I have been trying out a beta version
     and it has some useful features, including Typewatch (no relation to the
     freeware program ...), which graphs your typing rate over time, with
     optional warnings to slow down and export facilities for spreadsheet
     analysis. It also includes a full ergonomic checklist online to help set
     up your workstation, and a picture of correct posture and workstation

     An unusual feature is the ability to include your own exercises in the
     program, providing you have access to a Windows SDK, without programming.

          This is the only tool I know of with a redistributable demo that is
          not just a slide show, so if you do get the demo, post it on your
          local bulletin boards, FTP servers or BITNET servers! Includes the
          ability to step backward in the exercise sequence, which is good for
          repeating the most helpful exercises. Hopefully a number of add-on
          exercise modules will become available now that it is possible to add

EyerCise (commercial software)
     Available from
          RAN Enterprises
          One Woodland Park Dr.
          Haverhill, MA 01830, US
          800-451-4487 or 508-521-4487
          Windows (3.0/3.1), OS/2 PM (1.3/2.0) [Not DOS]
          $69.95 including shipping and handling, quantity discounts for
          resellers. Free demo ($5 outside US).

     Aimed at preventing RSI and eye strain, this program warns you to take
     breaks after a configurable interval (or at fixed times). Optionally
     displays descriptions and pictures of exercises - pictures are animated
     and program beeps you to help you do exercises at the correct rate.
     Includes 19 stretches and 4 visual training exercises, can configure which
     are included and how many repetitions you do - breaks last from 3 to 7
     minutes. Also includes online help on workplace ergonomics.

     Quote from their literature
          EyerCise is a Windows program that breaks up your day with periodic
          sets of stretches and visual training exercises. The stretches work
          all parts of your body, relieving tension and helping to prevent
          Repetitive Strain Injury. The visual training exercises will improve
          your peripheral vision and help to relieve eye strain. Together these
          help you to become more relaxed and productive.

          "The package includes the book Computers & Visual Stress by Edward C.
          Godnig, O.D. and John S. Hacunda, which describes the ergonomic setup
          for a computer workstation and provides procedures and exercises to
          promote healthy and efficient computer use.

          I have a copy of this, and it works as advertised: I would say it is
          better for RSI prevention than RSI management, because it does not
          allow breaks at periods less than 30 minutes. Also, it interrupts you
          based on clock time rather than typing time, which is not so helpful
          unless you use the keyboard all day. Worked OK on Windows 3.0 though
          it did occasionally crash with a UAE - not sure why. Also refused to
          work with the space bar on one PC, and has one window without window
          controls. Very useable though, and does not require any sound

Lifeguard (commercial software)
     Available from
          Visionary Software
          P.O. Box 69447
          Portland, OR 97201
          Mac, DOS (Windows version underway)

     Aimed at preventing RSI. Warns you to take a break with dialog box and
     sound. Includes a list of exercises to do during breaks, and information
     on configuring your workstation in an ergonomic manner. Price: $59;
     quantity discounts and site licenses. The DOS product is bought in from
     another company, apparently; not sure how equivalent this is to the Mac

     The Mac version got a good review in Desktop Publisher Magazine (Feb
     1991). Good marketing stuff with useful 2-page summaries of RSI problems
     and solutions, with references.

PC-FIT User-Saver (commercial software, free slideshow demo)
     Available from
          Burggasse 88/16
          A-1070 Wien
          +43 222/526 02880
          +43 222/526 02889
     Demo (slideshow) available
          CompuServe: Health and Fitness Forum, Issues At Work section, file
          DOS 3.1 or higher, Windows (3.0/3.1), Macintosh System 7.0.1 or

     This program warns you to take breaks, provides exercises for the muscles
     and for the eyes, and includes information on ergonomics. Exercises are
     animations based on photos of a model (mime artist?), which together with
     cartoons elsewhere lend a light-weight feeling to this package, as far as
     I can tell from the demo. Orientated to EC 90/270.

Plug-In for Windows (shareware), version 2.11
     Available from
          Plannet Crafters, Inc.

          $20, three week free trial

     This is a Program Manager extension with lots of features, including the
     ability to display a message box with a message of your own composition,
     at a configurable time interval. (Presumably based on time elapsed rather
     than time spent timing).

Typewatch (freeware), version 3.11 (September 1993)
          Available from
          Anonymous ftp
               sco and rsi conferences
          UNIX (tested on SCO, SunOS, Mach; character and X Window mode)

     This is a shell script that runs in the background and warns you to stop
     typing, based on how long you have been continuously typing. It does not
     provide exercises, but it does check that you really do take a break, and
     tells you when you can start typing again.

     Typewatch now tells you how many minutes you have been typing today, each
     time it warns you, which is useful so you know how much you *really* type.
     It also logs information to a file that you can analyse or simply print
     out. The warning message appears on your screen (in character mode), in a
     pop-up window (for X Windows), or as a Zephyr message (for those with
     Athena stuff). Tim Freeman <> has put in a lot of bug fixes,
     extra features and support for X, Zephyr and Mach.

Various calendar / batch queue programs
     Available from
          Various sources

     Any calendar/reminder program that warns you of an upcoming appointment
     can be turned into an ad hoc RSI management tool. Alternatively, use any
     batch queue submission program that lets you submit a program to run at a
     specific time to display a message to the screen.

     Using Windows as an example: create a Calendar file, and include this
     filename in your WIN.INI's 'load=' line so you get it on every startup of
     Windows. Suppose you want to have breaks every 30 minutes, starting from 9
     am. Press F7 (Special Time...) to enter an appointment, enter 9:30, hit
     Enter, and type some text in saying what the break is for. Then press F5
     to set an alarm on this entry, and repeat for the next appointment. By
     using Windows Recorder, you can record the keystrokes that set up breaks
     throughout a day in a .REC file. Put this file on your 'run=' line, as
     above, and you will then, with a single keypress, be able to set up your
     daily appointments with RSI exercises.

     The above method should be adaptable to most calendar programs. An example
     using batch jobs would be to submit a simple job that runs at 9:30 am and
     warns you to take a break; this will depend a lot on your operating

     On Windows 3.x, you can use Barclock 2.2 or above - this gives you a clock
     in the current window title bar, and also lets you type in a message to be
     popped up every hour (or even more frequently if you set multiple alarms).
     Not intended for this purpose but simple and effective, Barclock is
     available on many BBSs as BARCLK22.ZIP.

     While these approaches are not ideal, they are a good way of forcing
     yourself to take a break if you can't get hold of a suitable RSI
     management tool. If you are into programming you might want to write a
     version of Typewatch (see above) for your operating system, using batch
     jobs or whatever fits best.

Digital watches with count-down timers
     Available from
          Various sources, e.g. Casio BP-100.

     Many digital watches have timers that count down from a settable number of
     minutes; they usually reset easily to that number, either manually or

     While these are a very basic tool, they are very useful if you are
     writing, reading, driving, or doing anything away from a computer which
     can still cause or aggravate RSI. The great advantage is that they remind
     you to break from whatever you are doing.

          My own experience was that cutting down a lot on my typing led to my
          writing a lot more, and still reading as much as ever, which actually
          aggravated the RSI in my right arm though the left arm improved.
          Getting a count-down timer watch has been very useful on some
          occasions where I write a lot in a day.

          I have tried an old fashioned hour-glass type egg timer, but these
          are not much good because they do not give an audible warning of the
          end of the time period!


Keyboard and mouse control tools

Keyboard control tools enable you to change your keyboard mapping so you can
type with one hand, or with a different two-handed layout. One-handed typing
tools may help, but be VERY careful about how you use them - if you keep the
same overall typing workload you are doubling your hand use for the hand that
you use for typing, and may therefore simply cause your remaining "good"
hand/arm to deteriorate rapidly. There is probably a large number of people who
have worsened their RSI in this way and regret it.

Mouse control tools change the way your mouse works to avoid or modify
operations that are painful - mouse dragging is a common problem.

hsh (public domain)
     Available via anonymous ftp

          UNIX (don't know which ones)

     Allows one-handed typing and other general keyboard remappings. Only works
     through tty's (so you can use it with a terminal or an xterm, but not most
     X programs).

Dvorak keyboard tools (various)
     Available tools
          X window system software, via anonymous ftp
          Microsoft systems
               Standard in Microsoft Windows, Windows for Workgroups and
               Windows NT Available as a free add-on for MS-DOS

     To quote the Microsoft documentation
          Dvorak keyboard layouts are based on designs created by August
          Dvorak, a professor at the University of Washington during the 1930s
          and 1940s. Dr. Dvorak studied the way people type standard English,
          and determined the most common letter combinations. He then designed
          new keyboard layouts to speed up typing and reduce fatigue. These
          layouts, now called Dvorak or simplified keyboards, were initially
          developed for two-handed typists. Following World War II, Dvorak
          layouts were developed for typists who use the right or left hand

     It is doubtful that switching to Dvorak will have a major impact on RSI,
     but it may be helpful in preventing RSI. If you do switch, your typing
     rate will go down a lot initially, which will help!

     Microsoft Windows products support Dvorak as a standard keyboard layout -
     look in the International setup in the Control panel.

     MS-DOS supports this via the MS-DOS Supplemental Disk, available from
     Microsoft, which includes standard and one-handed Dvorak layouts. These
     layouts are available for Windows in Application Note GA0650, available
     from Microsoft or from various online services as GA0650.ZIP.

     In the US, training and keycap stickers for the Dvorak layout are
     available from:
          4516 NE 54th St.
          Seattle, WA 98105-2933
          Phone: 206-324-7219 (voice and fax)

     If you are also looking at alternative keyboards, you might also like to
     look at the Maltron layout, which is claimed to be more efficient than
     Dvorak. See the alternative keyboard FAQ for supplier details.

AccessDOS, Access Pack for Windows (free commercial software)
     Available from
          Microsoft, CompuServe, Genie, Microsoft Online, Microsoft Download
          Service, BBSs
          DOS, Windows

     AccessDOS has a range of keyboard and mouse control features that may be
     useful, such as sticky shift keys to avoid stretching to hold down shift
     at same time as other keys, and using the keyboard for mouse functions. It
     also allows serial- line interfacing of alternative keyboards and other
     devices. AccessDOS is available from Microsoft on the MS-DOS Supplemental

     Access Pack for Windows has roughly the same features but in a Windows
     environment. The mouse functions of Access Pack for Windows are useful for
     people who find using the mouse painful. You can use the numeric keypad,
     with Num Lock off, to do operations like drag and drop without holding
     down a mouse button or a key on the keyboard. You can also do double click
     from the keyboard by pressing a single key just once. You can use cursor
     control keys for all mouse movements, though this is rather slow, as you
     might expect. The mouse functions probably work best if you can use some
     kind of ergonomic mouse or trackball and just avoid double click and drag
     operations as described. You can work entirely without a mouse - if you
     want to use a real mouse as well as Access Pack functions, it must be
     Microsoft Mouse compatible.

PowerClicks, Mouse2 (shareware)
     Available via anonymous ftp
        o (Mouse2)
          PowerClicks is $3

     "PowerClicks is a cdev that can replace mouse click and mouse
     click-holding with self-defined keyboard combinations. For example, I use
     my right hand to move the mouse around, and use my left hand to press F1
     for mouse click, and F2 for mouse click- holding." - Charles Hsieh

     Mouse2 makes the mouse move twice as fast, so that your hand doesn't have
     to move as far.
Dan Wallach                  Princeton University, Computer Science Department  PGP Ready

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