Thursday, 24 September 2009

Numeric keypads; what is the point?

As I hinted the other day, I've recently had some stress/RSI symptoms in my arm. Nothing too serious, just definitely worth fixing ASAP. I'm by no means crippled with RSI or anything, but I am on a mini-crusade for programmer-health, and want to help others avoid unnecessary stress / irritation.

I had a very productive session with a physiotherapist today, who made some really constructive and pragmatic points (for example, demonstrating quite simply and clearly that the curve on my corner-desk points the wrong way, and simply swapping to a mirrored desk could help hugely).

But one startling point she made while observing me; as a programmer, I move frequently between the keyboard (in my case a decent ergonomic split jobbie) and the mouse (now a shiny new "vertical" model) - code a few lines, use the mouse to click a few buttons, test a few things via the UI - rinse, repeat.

Sure, I use the keyboard shortcuts, but I would struggle to remember the hundreds of magic key-presses and "chords" that drive Visual Studio.

Very rarely do I use the numeric keypad. Heck, I also use a laptop, and the only time I find myself looking for Num Lock is when my password inexplicably doesn't work. Yet every time I move between keys and mouse I have to travel this pointless distance.

Lets not do that

Numeric keypads; absolutely useless. Underused, oversized, badly placed, and they don't agree with 'phones on which way the numbers should go.


Goldtouch Keyboard

She gave me a tip to simply try a keyboard without one, letting me have the mouse much closer. You can pick up a "Goldtouch" ergonomic keyboard (sans keypad) for about GBP25 at Amazon. This is so simple and so obvious that I'm just stunned that people insist on still including it, even on "ergonomic" keyboards. If it is so ergonomic, why is it causing unnecessary travel?!?!


USB Numeric Keypad
If you want a keypad (and I do find them handy occasionally), then buy a USB keypad (like they sell for laptops) - roughly GBP10, and that is for the models that double as a handy USB hub. If you're right-handed, stick it on the left, or on the far side of the mouse - whichever you prefer and find most comfortable. Plus you can move it to either side if a "sinister" shows up at your desk.

Join the revolt! I invite you to ditch (or move) your keypad today!

22 comments:

charlie said...

I'm with you on number pads not being all that important. And being a sinister myself, I like the idea of being able to move the pad around to a comfortable spot.

To address one of your other comments, I'm a big believer in keyboard shortcuts, both for efficiency and ergonomics (using the mouse a lot hurts my arm). One thing I find fascinating about it is that I actually don't "remember" the shortcuts very well either, but my muscles do. I find that if I add shortcuts one at a time, it only takes a week or two to integrate a new one and stop having to consciously think about where it lives. My fingers just remember where to go when I think "line cut" or "project settings".

Marc Gravell said...

I understand, and I'm trying to increase my shortcut usage (I do use shortcuts/chords - but I suspect I could/should use them a lot more).

Kev said...

Hi Mark,

Has the keyboard arrived yet? It looks a bit cheap, whats the action like?

Kev

Barry Kelly said...

If you spend any time at all entering numbers, you'll quickly appreciate the numeric keypad. I personally can't stand laptop keyboards, and generally carry around my full-sized keyboard (numpad and all), in part owing to the their limitations.

Michael Foord said...

You just need to learn to touch-type on your numeric keypad and then you'll appreciate it.

You'd appreciate it more if you'd ever had a data entry job. I find keyboards *without* them really annoying - I use a Kinesis Advantage keyboard for my RSI (expensive but awesome) and have an external number keypad.

Marc Gravell said...

Oh, I agree that they have their uses - but I'm not sure that *integrated* on the keyboard is the best. I have a USB keypad en-route ;-p

I was looking at the Kinesis earlier, actually. I could stretch to the price, but I'd rather try with something a fraction of the price first. Very cool, though.

Marc Gravell said...

@Kev - I wouldn't say it feels cheap at all. And if you see the list prices... no idea why the black model is so cheap on Amazon at the moment (the cream model is still expensive), but it works a treat.

The different layout is going to take some getting used to, but no different to (for example) switching to the different layout on the MS "natural" etc.

Being able to do a 3-fingered salute with my left hand is nice, though. The main thing I need to relearn is to use the bottom half of [ret], because it is a single-line [ret] key (most UK models have double-height [ret]). The overall feel and build quality seems pretty solid and pleasant.

SlashEne said...

Use the red dot of thinkpad keyboard
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thinkpad_keyboard.jpg.
You'll never need a mouse again (Except if you play video games ;))

Marc Gravell said...

Are you volunteering to buy me the laptop? ;-p Actually, I really like the look of the multi-touch hybrid laptop/tablet (X200 etc) - could be a great option, if only they were cheaper...

Ben said...

Hmm, very tempting. I had a scare two weeks ago with very painful arms - one morning I woke up and the pain hadn't gone! I've already got an ergonomic keyboard. Tried swapping mouse to other side. Using more keyboard shortcuts.
Fortunately after a weekend 'off', and (most importantly) using a different chair on my home PC, I'm fine again. But it was an awful scare.

I do actually know a guy who had to quit programming completely (and it was his own company), because of RSI, so it's not just a myth!

And the price is ridiculous if you compare with the prices on the Goldtouch site...

MartinRL said...

When I started working as a software developer some 12 years ago, a colleague about the same age as I am now, gave me the advise to put the mouse in front of the keyboard, as well as switch between using your left and right hand several times during the day.

I've sticked to that advise, and so far so good.

Ben said...

Did it.
Got the keyboard last night.

Playing with it today. Haven't quite worked out the best position yet. I can't quite get into the "don't lean your arms on the table" approach.

And there's going to be lots of fumbling for the cursor, home, end, delete, pageup, pagedown keys.

Now I'm looking out for a similar amazing offer on an Evoluent mouse!

Marc Gravell said...

@Ben - I used the registry to swap [\] and [Caps]. I don't use [Caps] very often, so it doesn't matter that it is on the top row!

Marc Gravell said...

@MartinRL - I'm not an ergonomics expert, but wouldn't that mean you have to extend to type? I type quite a lot...

MartinRL said...

@Marc - No, you have the keyboard at a convenient distance just as normal.

Instead of reaching for the mouse, past the num pad (if you have one, and you're right-handed), you simply move down ca 10 cm with your right OR left hand in order to use the mouse.

An ergonomic desk that gives you support for your elbows helps, and a cordless mouse is almost a must.

Ben said...

@Mark, 'scuse my ignorance/laziness, could you post the registry scancode you used?

Marc Gravell said...

I'm lazy; I used SharpKeys, which allows you to just press the keys you want to remap. For me, I've mapped 003A to 0056, and 0056 to 003A.

John Braine said...

Yeah I'm totally with you on the goldtouch. It's my keyboard of choice after trying a lot of different ones. I think it's crazy that so many keyboards pronounce themselves to be ergonomic yet take up so much desk space.

A lot of the 'ergonomic keyboards'incorrectly copy each other on the little feet they have too, which should really should tip the keyboard back NOT forward.

Ben said...

@Mark, OK, funny I installed SharpKeys, then I read on the site that one of the things it WON'T do is swap keys, so I didn't even try.

(Reinstalls...)

Marc Gravell said...

I didn't see that before ;-p Funny - it works fine for me, both on my XP desktop and Win7 laptop.

Martinho Fernandes said...

@Ben: there's also KeyTweak.

jb said...

Ben, take a break for goodness sakes! It does seem like the good programmers spend most of their waking hours on a computer though, and therefore I am thinking of a different career as well. I enjoy many other aspects of life too besides computers.