I’m a computer addict!

I’m not only dependent on my computer for work, I’m a computer addict, not because I know what HID is, or occasionally babble about a “cold boot” or “packet loss”, but because the computer has inveigled its way into even everyday shopping for things like cat litter!  For  years I used the “World’s Best Cat Litter” and then changed because the standard clay stuff was SO much cheaper.  Luck was with me and the cat did tolerate it, but after using it for a couple months, I found that I didn’t  like it for any number of reasons; not the least of which was the mess when the tracked litter gets vacuumed up into the Rainbow vacuum cleaner (water instead of a bag).

This morning, while contemplating vacuuming, I decided that I was going to go back to the World’s Best–probably both the cat and I will be happier and less hassled.  I’m close to Petco and to PetSmart and I know that both stores carry that litter; I’ve bought it in both places numerous times before–so just go get it, right?  But what do I do?  Head for the computer to check to see if Target carries that litter.  I imagine you are asking why I think this suggests that I’m a computer addict.  Well, Target and Petco are almost side by side so I could just walk from one to the other to check price and availability, right?  My excuse is that it’s early enough on Sunday morning that the stores are not likely open yet so I’d have to wait an hour or two to find out, even though I cannot buy it until the stores open.  I did not even think about that; I just sat down at the computer. The computer was my first thought.  In retrospect, it seems my only thought. I even looked at the prices for delivery of the 38-pound box if you ordered off the Internet!  I think that is probably a sign of computer addiction. This made me think about all the ways that the computer has become part of my everyday activities.

What else suggests that I’m a computer addict?   Well, I’m not a coupon clipper, but I await anxiously the arrival of my e-mail from Harris Teeter each Wednesday with the specials and the personalized list of the things that I normally buy that are on special this week. I send e-greeting cards for all occasions.  I check the weather not by turning on the TV, but by going to my computer.  Need postage stamps–just order online from the post office.  I think that the thing that most makes me think that I am truly a computer addict are the times when I find myself wishing some of my friends (who definitely are NOT computer addicts) had e-mail or checked it more often, or maybe even used instant messaging, rather than the phone.

Just the other day, I discovered that I did not have a telephone directory in the house.  A telephone directory would likely have been the quicker and easier way to find what I was looking for, but what was I using?  The computer!  (A friend actually gave me the information that I was looking for from her telephone directory.)  I think that all these things just might add up to me being a pretty hopeless computer addict!

So what?  Well, every time I head for the computer it’s more keyboarding and mousing.  Since I earn most of my living using the computer pretty intensively, this extra time spent on the computer is adding to all the other use.  Since I’ve already had surgery for carpal tunnel and Guyon canal decompression, and for purposes of Workman’s Compensation, have a permanent partial disability rating, and know from personal experience that I get symptoms of overuse when I work at the computer too long at one time, it would make sense for me to try to avoid computer use when I can–use the telephone directory, not the computer; walk to Petco from Target to check on the cat litter price!  Those alternatives probably did not even cross my mind!  Just let me get on the computer….

What this is telling me is that I must find ways to make my computer use fit my limitations! Just simple abstinence is not going to work for me. I need the computer to earn my living.   I do have many interests away from the computer itself:  cooking, painting, reading, but I use the computer as an adjunct in all my hobbies, too.  Digital records of my paintings as they progress, recipes kept on the computer, photographs from the (digital) camera downloaded onto the computer; so many things.  Did I mention that I’ve installed software to read books on my computer (as well as having a Kindle)?

Frankly, I have trouble thinking of an activity with which I do NOT use the computer.  Perhaps what I am really addicted to is computer use, but it still leads me to use the keyboard and the mouse, sometimes more than I should. What this is telling me is that I have to find ways to make my computer use fit my limitations   From past rehabilitation and recovery after the hand surgeries, I know that about thirty minutes of keyboard use per hour if it is really intense is my tolerance before I start to get discomfort, but since I’m hopelessly drawn to the computer for so many other things, I need to find ways be more efficient in my computer use –make my computer do more for me.

Take a break–preventing RSI/MSD.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had to wear them that I’m aware of wrist splints–but I couldn’t help noticing at the ASI convention that there seemed to be a number of them in evidence, which was not surprising given that we do spend a lot of time at the computer. Since I’m a veteran of bilateral hand surgery for both ulnar and median nerve compression, I’m intent on avoiding further problems with those specific issues, but I’ve learned that I need to pay attention to the rest of my body as well.

It is easy to get so engrossed selecting and putting entries into CINDEX that I seem to lose track of time. All of a sudden it’s 3 o’clock and I’m still at it;   I know that I really should have taken some breaks–the cat has certainly made commendable efforts to get me to stop and pay more attention to her, but I’ve resisted.  While I’m not doing  particularly intense (fast-paced and long-duration) keyboarding, it is fairly continuous and other body parts (shoulders, back, neck) are also telling me I’ve spent too much time sitting at the computer without moving around.

cat at computer
break time?

My workstation is reasonably ergonomic, so one of the best preventive measures is just to take breaks appropriately.  Yes, it’s that simple, but not necessarily easy to do.

In the early stages of dealing with nerve compression, I needed strict enforcement of limits on my keyboarding and I tried several different “break” software programs–including setting the kitchen timer for hourly breaks.  All worked to some degree, but (for me at least) the best was WorkPace®.  What made this program work for me was the customization that was possible–from RSI prevention in healthy user to recuperation in the person recovering from RSI.

There are several things that I like about this particular program. In addition to timing, it provides exercises for muscle groups involved when you sit at the computer for hours and hours and hours–not just hands and forearms.  (Many of these were the same exercises that I was given during physical therapy before and after surgery.)

You’d think that when you work at home that all you’d need for a break is just get up and go away from the computer for a bit –wash the dishes or dust the living room, but that often does not address the muscles that need attention. I discovered that the appropriate exercises of neck, shoulders, back all helped a lot.  With this program the exercises are demonstrated and timed for you. I’ve found these to be really helpful in keeping me from experiencing more problems with RSI or MSD (whatever you choose to call it) and to get up from the computer feeling much better than if I don’t use them.

In addition to regular longer breaks, I was told to reduce my keyboarding speed, and to take “micro-breaks”  or micropauses between the hourly, longer breaks.  Micropauses are only a few seconds in duration, but seemed to make a huge difference in preventing symptoms.

Another advantage of the WorkPace® software is that you can program the necessary micro-breaks, and have it warn you of keyboarding too fast.  You might think that having micropauses is disruptive–but they grow on you and you shift your pattern of keyboard use without really being aware of it.  The software  is “smart”.  It recognizes your work pattern, and if you have paced your work so that you’ve taken the proper breaks or micro-breaks, it won’t interrupt you.

I started using this program when I was doing very intense keyboarding (read high-speed, continuous for hours at a time) and it helped then.  I’ve continued to use it with less intense keyboarding and mouse use because if I’m not careful I find some symptoms recurring even now after surgeries.

While using CINDEX, my keyboard pace is usually not such that the program needs to remind (force) me to take micropauses, so it adjusts itself to my pace and I can work more or less undisturbed until it’s time for a serious break–usually hourly.

Workpace® can be set for different levels of enforcement–some ignoring of breaks, or no ignoring of breaks.  If you opt for strict enforcement, your keyboard and your mouse are locked when it’s break time and there is nothing you can do until you’ve taken the break.  I don’t often use this level of enforcement, but if I start experiencing symptoms, then I’ll opt to have strict enforcement of my breaks.  Sometimes it’s frustrating when I’m told it’s time for a break and I really don’t want it–but since I cannot over-ride the software, I take the break whether I want it or not.  Usually after a couple of days of strict enforcement (and wearing splints as needed) there’s improvement.

My most usual level of enforcement with this is to allow one “ignore” which will give me time to finish my immediate thought, but still make sure that I do take the breaks I need.

The software can even help you select a level of protection/prevention that is suitable for your condition and work style.  I was impressed that answering the questions appropriately gave recommendations very close to those given me by surgeons and physical therapists.  This software has become as necessary for computer use as my MS Word or CINDEX. (If you’re wondering, no, I’m not part of an affiliate program for selling this software–it’s just what has allowed me to keep using my computer as much as I like).

Index Appreciation Day 2011

Connie dressed for the occasion

For several of us the first Index Appreciation day was  celebrated by meeting for lunch near Index, Virginia, actually in King George.  Gathering for this occasion were Connie Binder, Becky Horynak, Kay Pederson, Kara Pekar, and me.  We visited and had lunch. After lunch we made a “pilgrimage” to the Index, Virginia, sign. (Fortunately one of the group knew where to find it.)

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Across the road from the Index sign
Index Lane

It’s listed as an  unincorporated town in King George County, Virginia in Wikipedia. (I wondered why a name like Index was chosen.)  The Wikipedia entry was terse to say the least.  Just across the road from the Index sign was Index Lane.  As you can see, it is definitely not a populated place.

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Two indexers under the Index VA sign.
Kay & Becky

The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) provided latitude, longitude,  elevation, and a map name of Rollins Fork.  Google Earth  found it–though it was shown in  a slightly different location–right across the road from Rt. 625  and the corner where we found the Index sign under which we had our pictures taken.

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Three indexers under Index sign
Connie, Becky & Anne

A Google search turned up a blog for Index, WA with history of that town.  (Did any indexers celebrate Index Appreciation Day there?)  Place Names search turned up a 30 entries for places bearing the name Index, but shows Index, VA, as a “locale” where some others are listed as “post office”, “populated place”.

Clicking on Index, Virginia, link leads to a list of places near there.  Browsing through the Google search results was not at all enlightening, so my curiosity remains unsatisfied; however, since it’s not insatiable by any means, I’m giving up the quest (at least for now).

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Taking picture
Kay taking pictures

Place Names did show an Index, NC, in Ashe County (again just listed as a “locale”–I wonder if that one has a sign?), and three in West Virginia (a local, a populated place, and a post office).

Some Google searches for index and cartography combinations haven’t given me anything to suggest why there are places named “Index”–just doesn’t seem to keep with so many other place names that describe characteristics, like Dry Creek, or the like.  Maybe by next year when we meet at a place named Index we’ll have figured out why it called Index.

That’s probably the longest commute that I’ve done for a lunch, and I was a bit late   with all the road construction that I found between Durham and King George.  I’ll certainly do it again next year, or any time  in between Index Appreciation Days…just to hear indexing spoken.  Even with the road construction I saw a lovely sunrise, a murmuration of starlings (where I crossed the Rappahannock river) and a glorious sunset.  All in all, a great  day.

The CAT did it?

As I go about setting up for freelance work as an indexer, all sorts of things keep popping up that I realize I haven’t considered yet in terms of consequences to my work.

This whole chain of thought  started when I saw a post on CINDEX users list about the incident of the cat on the keyboard.  I realized this was something that could happen to anyone with a cat in the house.  I do have a cat in the house–and I have had cat on keyboard (not with the current cat–yet), but nothing really serious resulted then–I just had to undo a “hung up” computer.

Now, my cat does not seem prone to walk on the keyboard–she walks carefully along the edge of the laptop keyboard, but sometimes steps on the touch-pad, briefly.  Not likely to be a problem, right?  Then, I watch her go berserk chasing a bug that’s flying around the room and I realize that I probably should consider the possibility of cat-on-keyboard as a workplace issue since it’s not possible to exclude the cat from the office.

I vaguely remember seeing “anti-cat-on-keyboard” software somewhere a number of years ago (while working as a telecommuter with a very frisky cat in the house).  Unfortunately, that software was incompatible with proprietary software that I needed so I didn’t keep a link.   But there’s always Google.

While I was searching for this software, Trillian popped a Tweet onto my desktop from James A. Lamb about working on multiple machines and avoiding UPS.  Since the UPS was an issue that I’ve been thinking about, I followed the short link  to his blog article.  What caught my eye was his reference to off-again, on-again power problems–not frequent where I live, but it does happen.

After reading that article I browsed a bit more and found another recent post on “Assessing Risk”.  Had I though about doing this as I’m setting up a freelance business?  Not really.  As a telecommuter these issues were taken care of for me. Now I realize that is no longer the case–I have to deal with these issues myself.

Yes, I have an external hard drive for backup and I have an online backup (Carbonite), but reading the article on risk assessment has made me actually think about what my backup systems are really doing…what would happen with the cat-on-keyboard scenario?  If my work is being constantly backed up, will I lose my backup if the cat hops on the keyboard and destroys my work?  Will the modified file be backed up?  Will it overwrite the last save?   I need to know more about the parameters of my backup systems…continuous background backup sounds good, but is it really?

It occurs to me that I might want to take a proactive approach where it’s easily done–so back to checking out the anti-cat software.  Back to Google…searching for anti-cat-on-keyboard brings up PawSense, and BabyShield  (for PC users) and CatNip (for Macs).  Now, for some more risk assessment now that I’m aware of the need for it!  Maybe even assigning some numbers….

About me…

I am a freelance indexer providing back-of-book indexing of general trade books, textbooks, and scholarly works.

My areas of education include medicine (with emphasis in neurology, epileptology,  neuroanatomy and neurosciences as well as general medicine and health sciences), and experimental/physiological psychology.

Special interests and hobbies provide knowledge of wine, food, cooking/culinary arts, gardening, organic farming, art/crafts, birds, and pets.