ergonomic products Ergonomics Input Devices RSI RSI Software

Microsoft Kinetic soon to be available for PC?

After much success with the Kinetic motion capture/control system (formerly project Natal), Microsoft is thought to be soon releasing the gesture control system for the PC, including laptop and tablet type devices. This could soon start a revolution in computer input. According to this article Microsoft has applied for a US patent called ‘Gesture Keyboarding’ and this article suggests Kinetic for the PC may be imminent, so we have potentially revolutionary times for all RSI sufferers. It will however remain to be seen whether any gesture control system can match the productivity of the keyboard and mouse, but its about time we had a viable alternative!

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It’s a mouse! Ouch!!

Computer mouseI constantly see advertisements for ergonomic mice. It seems like every company has an ergonomic mouse out there that has been specifically designed to reduce RSI, improve ergonomics, help avoid injuries etc etc.

Just about every time I eagerly check out a picture of the new super ergonomic mouse, however, I am usually confronted by a picture of – well, a regular two/three buttoned mouse with scroll wheel. So I’m expected to continue clicking and scrolling and reaching out to one side to use these ‘ergonomic’ devices? I take one look at this and automatically think – ouch!

It is my opinion that designers need to start thinking outside the box when developing ergonomic equipment, and not just try to flog to the general public the same old mouse design with perhaps a shinier, rounder, more colourful appearance and expect them to believe it’s a major breakthrough. It is actually amusing to see how many ‘ergonomic’ mice there are available now. Obviously, no-one wants to be responsible for selling ‘un’ergonomic mice, so it has become an over-used label with a view to seeing how many gullible people bite.

If any of these manufacturers were serious about producing an ergonomic product then they should test these with a wider group of RSI sufferers with different types of RSI. Let’s face it, there are enough of us around these days!

One reason I recommend the Contour Rollermouse is that the designers obviously used some lateral thinking when designing this product. I can also attest to the device allowing me to prolong my working life by 2-3 years. I only wish I’d found one earlier so I could have avoided a more permanent injury.

I  don’t know about you, but I have a knack for looking at an ‘ergonomic’ mouse and saying ‘ouch’ without having to try it. Maybe I’m just an old timer at this….

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RSI Software

Windows Speech Recognition

I have long been an owner of an earlier version of Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking (version 7 I think) and have had much frustration in the past mainly due to the the software’s inability to recognise regional accents, well my accent anyway! Nuance appear to have a policy of no trial before buy with Naturally Speaking, which is a shame since I don’t feel like stumping up £80 to try out version 10 (once bitten etc etc), especially if it ends up that I find that it doesn’t meet my needs or expectations. I certainly don’t see why Nuance can’t make a time limited evaluation copy available for download. Maybe they think that potential buyers won’t be impressed with their software and won’t buy as a result, who knows …

Not being so much of a computer tech geek these days since succumbing to RSI, I have only just realised that both Windows Vista and Windows 7 ship with Microsoft Speech Recognition engine in them for free. Go to Windows Start menu and type in “Windows Speech Recognition” and hit ‘Enter’. You can use your computer’s inbuilt microphone, but may find much better results with purchasing a separate headset with microphone which sits approximately 3 cm from your mouth. The better quality the mic/headset, the better the results will potentially be.

The speech recognition engine from Microsoft appears to be reasonably usable. I quickly was able to enter the learning text. I was also quite surprised at how well it performed given the ultra quick learning cycle, and my low toned Scottish accent.

My trial in using this software is just beginning, and I’ll report back with a more detailed analysis later, but initial impressions are quite positive with certain reservations eg it works (or more accurately works with full features) only when using Microsoft applications, ie Internet Explorer, Word, Excel, Notepad, Wordpad etc, and only partially with some third party applications like Open Office and not at all with others eg Firefox (my usual browser, which it also appears to slow down). If I set Microsoft’s monopolistic tendencies aside, and try it out with their software, I find that it does a reasonable job of making Internet Explorer navigable with speech.  I would have preferred a little more help, however, with finding typical commands available to use with the browser. The windows help on the subject is reasonable, but not great. The few commands I did manage to find are as follows –

Windows 7/Vista Speech Recognition Commands for Internet Explorer 8. If anyone finds any more be sure to leave a comment and I’ll update this.

Speech Function
START LISTENING turns on speech recognition
STOP LISTENING turns off speech recognition
OPEN INTERNET EXPLORER opens internet explorer browser
MINIMISE INTERNET EXPLORER minimises internet explorer browser to the task bar
SWITCH TO INTERNET EXPLORER opens internet explorer browser from taskbar
CLOSE INTERNET EXPLORER closes internet explorer browser
BACK Back button
HOME Home button
FORWARD Forward button
STOP Stop button
REFRESH Refresh button
CLICK ‘link name’ Click on link with name ‘link name’
HOVER / HOVER OVER THAT Hover over menu to display contents
CLICK ADDRESS BAR Click on and select address bar
CLICK GOOGLE Click on Google search bar
SHOW NUMBERS generates numbers for every link on browser
TEN OK selects link number 10 displayed in SHOW NUMBERS above
PAGE UP scroll page up by one page
PAGE DOWN scroll page down by one page
SCROLL DOWN scroll page down by approx 1/2 page
SCROLL UP scroll page up by approx 1/2 page
bookmark name speak bookmark name to select your bookmark (or use numbers to select it)
PRESS CONTROL TAB navigates to next tabbed page
PRESS CONTROL SHIFT TAB navigates to previous tabbed page

Who knows whether speech recognition will ever be a complete replacement for a keyboard and mouse, but with a free copy embedded in Windows 7 and Vista it’s certainly well worth a try out.

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Input Devices

Men’s voices harder to understand for speech recognition

In a BBC news story recently titled “Computers find male voices ‘harder to recognise’” describes how Edinburgh University scientists found that computer speech recognition software finds male voices harder to understand than female voices.

This they attribute to the fact that men “make ‘umm’ and ‘err’ sounds more frequently.”

I can attest to this. It is a common problem in general, and I was guilty of doing this in presentations in between lines as I paused to catch a breath. It’s also common when pausing between words when using voice recognition. A bad habit? Perhaps, but a common habit nonetheless.

In addition, the scientists found that, “Variations in pitch, tone and speed can also cause the system to misunderstand voices” – which goes without saying. No two people talk in the same way or style. If we did, we’d be a very boring species! Dialects and regional variations also come into play, and as such I can certainly see why speech recognition software has its work cut out to achieve results.

My own experience with trying out speech recognition wasn’t great. I think my low toned Scottish accent with plentiful doses of ‘umm’ and ‘err’ didn’t help either, but I did feel a bit aggrieved at its inability to learn my accent. It was some time ago so the software may well have changed and improved a lot since then, but I remember feeling frustrated at the many hours I had sunk into the system hoping it would learn my voice, all for naught in the end. Voice recognition in my mind has always had great potential for relief of over-used arm and hand muscles, but the effort involved in learning how to use the software, ie teaching the software to recognise your voice, for was a soul destroying and futile task!

It’s a sad but true fact that for me there really is no comparable alternative to the keyboard in this day and age!

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Text input controlled by thought?

In an interesting article in Hplus Magazine entitled ‘By thought alone: Mind over keyboard’, the author describes studies into how we can use the brain’s thoughts to control a keyboard input. The findings indicate that people with electrodes implanted in their brains can learn to type by using thoughts alone. It’s also possible to achieve this without these electrodes by using  an EEG type interface, although speed rates for typing seem to be slow if we take the current findings –

“Tweeting by thought alone is a somewhat slow process using this prototype technology –- we speak at approximately 120 words per minute. But, as with texting, users can improve as they practice using the interface. “I’ve seen people do up to eight characters per minute,” Wilson says.”

Ouch.. that would be a significant downturn in workload!  I can see this form of input being a considerable benefit to people with severe disabilities, however I do wonder what the long term health impacts are of having an electrode implanted in your brain. My guess is that it must surely at this stage be a large unknown. It is, however, an interesting area of research.

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New Ergonomic Products Page

rollermouseproI have released a new page on the site which contains a list of  ergonomic products it’s also available from the main menu on this site.

The page is not so much intended as a page of products that I endorse. It is more a collection of the latest products in the field of ergonomic computer input as well as some key older products. It may contain ergonomic products which I find to be useful, potentially useful, or completely bizarre, and will where appropriate have my comments on the product and if available, a link to a review that I have done on the item. I will clearly state whether I have/have not used the product.

The page will be updated/added to as new products appear on the market.

If you are a manufacturer that would like to have their product listed or reviewed by Ergomatters please contact us.

Ergonomics Input Devices Lifestyle

Microsoft “Natal” technology – the dawn of a new age in ergonomics?

In an interesting development, Microsoft has publicly shown at 2009 E3 a next generation games system controller labelled ‘Natal’ that is free of buttons and joysticks; the controller is essentially you. It relies on a sophisticated camera detection system to monitor the user’s motion and translate this motion into games controls. It also has a voice recognition engine. In an article on the BBC news site entitled ‘Microsoft previews new controller‘ a video shows a demonstration.

The reason that developments like this are exciting is that the games business, being a cutting edge, technologically advanced industry, usually pushes the boundaries of software and hardware development for the sake of market share.

Technology like this for, say, computer controls would ordinarily evolve a lot slower if there were a lesser need for it aside  from gaming. However, once developed, you can see how it could easily transform into some kind of gesture control for computer operating systems and applications. Who knows, you may even get a workout whilst doing a spreadsheet in the future!  Will a workout mat eventually replace the old desk?  Maybe we can eliminate the need for going to a gym!  Do employers only hire fit people in the future?

We are certainly at a crossroads with computers, where the basic mouse has been around too long and has created too many overuse injuries. It is more than time that we took computer input to a new level of evolution, and this may be the glimpse of what’s to come.

Whether this technology can save us from RSI related injuries is unknown, but it may help wean us off using a mouse. It may also lead to opportunities in computer use for people with all kinds of different disabilities, and not just RSI.

Is this the dawn of a new age in computer ergonomics, or is it just a gimmick ?

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