The Keys to your Working Comfort

Khail Mechanical Keys
Khail Mechanical Keys

Now that we are spending more and more time in front of our keyboards, the more comfortable you are, the better your experience will be. The more pleasant the time spent, the better the standard of work will be, and the more productive you will become. All of this is easy to conclude, of course, but how do you make your typing experience as wonderful as possible?

The answer lies in your own fingertips!

Your Fingers do the work.

The point of contact between you and the keyboard work that you are doing, or the global internet as a whole, are your fingertips. These incredibly sensitive body parts are actually pressing the keys on your keyboard, so if you are trying to find a better typing experience, then start here. There are more choices than you would think about what to use, so start thinking about what makes you more comfortable. Because the act of typing is so automatic to us, we don’t generally think about what can change in the micro-second between you pressing a key, and the symbol appearing on the screen, but the answer to that is the main reason for the selection of key-types available today. So, how does it feel to press those keys? What changes can you possibly search to make the process of typing ‘better’ for you? Here’s some history:

Rubber, Silicon, and Mechanics

For those of us that started out on typewriters, we know how much easier it is to type on electronic devices: Remember the force required to hit that typewriter key so that the metal arm threw itself at the paper with enough force to print on paper? Today’s keyboards don’t have to use that kind of pressure – now all you have to do is press the key with enough force to make two contacts meet each other under the keypad. Most keyboards are mass produced, so the cheapest way possible to manufacture these keyboards is the one that most well-known names go for.

 

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, and connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard. The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again. While the differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch, they are all built to eventually fail.

If you are looking for a better experience, there are keyboards that have mechanical switches: Rather than based on one contact pad below the keyboard, these switches have individual mechanisms underneath each key-cap, and require much less force to produce a result. Are these more expensive than rubber-domed switches? Of course, you are looking at buying a much more up-market product, with a longer life and better working action. If you are spending a lot of time writing, gaming, or communicating every day, then why not make the investment to create your best possible working environment?

 

How the Mechanics work.

Let’s get a little technical, here: In most cases the mechanical key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and the message sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm, by the action of a lever next to the key. This is a double-edged sword, however. The user may experience a learning curve getting accustomed to these keys. They are used to a ‘full stop’ to their typing action, where the key ‘hits bottom’, and sends a signal to their fingers that the signal has been received by the computer. There is also a sound generated that also tells them that the action is complete: No-one wants to stare at the screen to see if the message has been correctly received, we just expect that it has. However, we have gotten used to this sound, so the choice of where the key bottoms out and the sound that it makes when that is finished is completely up to the operator. In other words, your decision to move to a mechanical key-operated keyboard is a personal one based on what you are accustomed to (I.e., one that feels and sounds like a regular rubber-domed switch), or – at the other side of the spectrum – one that has a ‘click’ sound, and has no push-back to your finger action.

Your preference will be somewhere on this spectrum, somewhere, so in our next post, we will discuss the different types of mechanical switches, and what they offer for you on that spectrum.

Is your Keyboard making you Sick?

dirty-keyboard 2Generally, office environments can be the cleanest area of any business. After all, any kind of pollution found in the air of factories, delivery yards, and car parks would – you would think – be stopped at the door. However, new research from Health and Safety experts shows that office environments have their own health risks, and your computer keyboard could be to blame.

Illness-causing bacteria easily live on commonly touched work surfaces such as keyboards, computer mice and office phones, and the average shared desk is a prime breeding ground for infection. In fact an average keyboard can have 200 times more bacteria than a toilet brush!

The Reality of the Shared Office.

In today’s business world, open-space offices are more likely to be shared. Part-time staff often make up a high percentage of most offices, and they all share their desk environment. You could say that everyone in a working environment is sharing each other’s home and travel environment, complete with all of the bacteria and illness that total strangers are sharing.

Many workers that spend different times of day in the administrative work-space also bring food with them, and many more forego a lunch-break to eat at their desk, making keyboards a breeding ground for bacteria.  While washing your hands between ‘the outside world’ and the closed office area would no doubt help – and has become automatic for many workers – this doesn’t protect against droplets of saliva that inevitably fall on the keyboard during talking, sneezing, and coughing.

A recent study analysed swabs obtained from the keyboards of 30 computers and found microbes on all keyboards, examples of mould, yeast, bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Micrococcus and Enterococcus. In fact, past studies have found more than 3,000 organisms per square inch on a keyboard, and more than 1,600 on a computer mouse.

When did you last Clean Up?

You can still protect yourself in a shared environment very easily, so try to perform the following tasks on an ongoing basis – we can attest to the fact that they work:

When you first start work, clean and disinfect your desk area, including phone, calculators, and especially your keyboard. You can use swabs or Q-Tips to do this. In fact, bring some cleaning materials with you as a ‘gift’ to the whole office.

Use Compressed Air to blow out any crumbs and germs that are hiding throughout the keyboard – in fact, give all grilles, ports and spaces a blast too, it will help your computer run better.

Turn your keyboard upside down, and lightly shake it to dislodge even more debris.

When you enter the office, or return from a break, wash your hands to protect yourself from others’ dirt that has been rubbed against you, and never eat at your desk.

You can also give everything a quick rub down and clean when you take extended time from the office: A few days, or vacation, to make it clean for others.

Perhaps the easiest way to ensure a clean area is to purchase a keyboard cover to cover the board when it isn’t being used by you. This can help protect against passer-by’s sneezes, coughs, and coffee spills. Many high-end keyboards come with their own dust covers, and they aren’t provided to help during initial delivery – they are for everyday use.

Finally, if you move around a lot, consider buying your own keyboard with a USB connection that can be used on any computer. Not only will this guarantee that you are only using your own equipment, it gives you the opportunity to buy one that fits your own typing style, and ergonomic requirements to make your working time more comfortable. This way you can ensure that your working time is not only clean it’s also comfortable, less stressful and more productive.

Is it Time to ‘Switch’ your Keyboard?

Truly_Ergonomic_Mechanical_Keyboard-227The more that you investigate about keyboards, in order to find the ‘perfect one for you’, the more detailed info ration you will find. Pretty early on in this process, it will become obvious to you that a keyboard’s keys, and the mechanisms below them, tucked out of site of the users, are the most important components that you will need to learn more about. The real job is learning about the switches below those keys.

The Finger points

After all, these are the points that your body actually touches any keyboard. Your fingers are the conduits that your brain signals communicate through. It doesn’t matter if you write blog posts, specialist technical journals, or simple e-mails. If you are at all uncomfortable, it is your fingers that will feel it first. Any kind of pain or discomfort you feel at the contact point will soon grow into nerve pain through your palms, wrists, arms and back.

Whether or not you are investigating moving beyond the ‘off the rack’ keyboard that comes with your working or home computer, or interested on what different products are on the market, eventually you will look at the different kind of physical keys that there are on the market, and you will be faced with a decision: Do I buy Rubber-Domed or Mechanical switches?

The Rubber-Domed Switch

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, and connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard, and connect between action and the letter appearing in screen.

The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – Repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again.

The differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch.

Being Mechanical

Mechanical key-switches are more elaborate and made in a better quality than other key-switch types.  In this system, each key has its own independent key-switch mechanism that will register when a key is pressed.

In most cases the key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm.

As there is no requirement to travel the full key travel distance when being operated,  typists enjoy the luxury of not pressing keys fully down, reducing the constant jarring action on fingertips when ‘bottoming out’ and associated unnecessary muscle action. Additionally, the constant use if these types of keys offer increasing resistance after the keystroke is generated, encouraging the user to stop pressing down the keycap and instead move on to the next keystroke. Finally, keycaps snap back to the starting position (i.e. up) more quickly than other key-switch types, facilitating faster typing speeds.

Of course, Mechanical key-switch keyboards are more expensive when initially bought, but their working life is much longer. Together with the lowered risk of injury caused by repetitive stress injury, you may want to investigate a keyboard with mechanical switches for a more pleasant working experience.

Thanks to Truly Ergonomic Ltd. for the use of a picture of their ergonomic, mechanical keyboard

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Are you a Sufferer?

webmd_rf_photo_of_nerve_compression

For millions of people, working, playing and communicating on a computer keyboard is a daily reality. With this work comes a specific set of possibly painful symptoms – especially if you aren’t working in an comfortable position. Many times we hear of someone that is “suffering from Carpal Tunnel.”, and it is understood that this was because of ‘too much typing’, but how do you know if those wrist and hand aches and pains are due to this well-known complaint, and what can you do to ease the pain or stop getting it at all?

What is Carpal Tunnel syndrome?

The human hands and wrists have many nerves, joints, and muscles that allow them to turn and work in different positions. How do we know when we are performing actions that can cause something as serious as this?

What sets CTS apart from other, less serious, complaints is stress or damage to the Median Nerve. This runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, and becomes pressed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and, and controls impulses to some of the small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. The Carpal Tunnel is a narrow passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand, which houses the median nerve and tendons. It is stiff to offer support to the nerve and, when a sufferer’s median nerve swells, the tunnel narrows and causes the median nerve to be compressed. The result may be pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm.

How to tell if you have Carpal Tunnel syndrome?

Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the thumb and the index and middle fingers. Your fingers may feel useless and swollen, even though little or no swelling is apparent. These symptoms often first appear in one or both hands during the night, when your flexed wrists are relaxed.

As symptoms worsen, you may feel this tingling during the day. You may find it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. In chronic or untreated cases, people are unable to tell between hot and cold by touch.

How is Carpal Tunnel syndrome caused?

The condition is often the result of a number of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the Carpal Tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself. You may have a Carpal Tunnel that is smaller than others. More common, though, is a trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture; work stress where repeated tasks in uncomfortable positions causes the nerve to rub on the interior wall of the tunnel. Writer’s cramp may also be brought on by repetitive activity, but this is not necessarily a CT injury.

Can Carpal Tunnel syndrome be prevented?

At the workplace, workers can do on-the-job conditioning, perform stretching exercises, take frequent rest breaks, and wear splints to keep wrists straight, but correct posture and wrist position is the most important. Ensuring that your wrists and palms maintain a natural position during working, and other typing, hours is the major proven way to ensure that you protect our wrists, so if you type for multiple hours, make sure that your wrists and hands are relaxed, supported and neutral.

 

Is it Time to ‘Switch’ your Keyboard?

worker stress funny

The more that you investigate about keyboards, in order to find the ‘perfect one for you’, the more detailed info ration you will find. Pretty early on in this process, it will become obvious to you that a keyboard’s keys, and the mechanisms below them, tucked out of site of the users, are the most important components that you will need to learn more about. The real job is learning about the switches below those keys.

The Finger points

After all, these are the points that your body actually touches any keyboard. Your fingers are the conduits that your brain signals communicate through. It doesn’t matter if you write blog posts, specialist technical journals, or simple e-mails. If you are at all uncomfortable, it is your fingers that will feel it first. Any kind of pain or discomfort you feel at the contact point will soon grow into nerve pain through your palms, wrists, arms and back.

Whether or not you are investigating moving beyond the ‘off the rack’ keyboard that comes with your working or home computer, or interested on what different products are on the market, eventually you will look at the different kind of physical keys that there are on the market, and you will be faced with a decision: Do I buy Rubber-Domed or Mechanical switches?

The Rubber-Domed Switch

The vast majority of keyboards on the market today feature a Rubber or Silicon dome that sits directly under the key that you see, connect to the ‘works’ that lie under the keyboard, and between keying action and the letter appearing in screen.

The visible part of the key is called the Key Cap. These are relatively expensive items that must deliver a long life. However, it is the switch below it that receives all of the trauma and shock of being pressed – or hit! – Repeatedly over the life of the product. A much more cost effective method is to protect this switch with a simple rubber dome that sits under the Key Cap, and suffers the repeated shock of action time and time again.

The differences in the shape and thickness of the domes that the mass producer of your keyboard uses determines the travel distance, resistance, and tactile feedback of the switch.

Being Mechanical

Mechanical key-switches are more elaborate and made in a better quality than other key-switch types.  In this system, each key has its own independent key-switch mechanism that will register when a key is pressed.

In most cases the key is actuated (the keystroke is generated, and sent to the computer) halfway through the key travel distance. For example, the key may be capable of traveling 3 mm before hitting the bottom of the key-well, but the keystroke is generated after 1.5 mm.

As there is no requirement to travel the full key travel distance when being operated,  typists enjoy the luxury of not pressing keys fully down, reducing the constant jarring action on fingertips when ‘bottoming out’ and associated unnecessary muscle action. Additionally, the constant use if these types of keys offer increasing resistance after the keystroke is generated, encouraging the user to stop pressing down the keycap and instead move on to the next keystroke. Finally, key-caps snap back to the starting position (i.e. up) more quickly than other key-switch types, facilitating faster typing speeds.

Of course, Mechanical key-switch keyboards are more expensive when initially bought, but their working life is much longer. Together with the lowered risk of injury caused by repetitive stress injury, you may want to investigate a keyboard with mechanical switches for a more pleasant working experience.