Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The hunchback has returned. The Daily Mail describes the spate of back problems caused by users hunching over laptops. "I also see many people in their twenties and thirties with a dowager's hump - a rounding at the base of the neck - after only a few years of looking down at a small screen while sitting slumped on a chair for long periods."

It's my honest opinion that anyone who intends to spend long hours at a computer should have, at the minimum a: 1) 20-inch flat screen to keep from going blind raised to the proper height; 2) quality trackball to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome; 3) a good set of headphones or speakers to keep from going deaf; 4) swiveling high-backed chair to keep from going crooked; and fast hardware and an Internet connection, preferably ganged to a double-WAN router with a failover arrangement.

Not very many people with a laptop are going to have as good. Developers and sales personnel in especial are vulnerable because they often have to travel to onsite meetings in order to apprise their clients of changes or demonstrate features, unless they are developing for the web in which case they may not have to physically move from home base at all.

The problem is being driven by falling prices and the increasing availability of wireless technology, which makes portable computers more attractive. ... This makes it more likely they will be used incorrectly. A common problem is perching a laptop on the legs so users stare down at the screen and put strain on their necks, spines and legs. He said he had seen dozens of Xrays showing signs of degeneration in the joints of regular laptop users.

As the user of a Sony VAIO with an 11 inch screen as a road machine, I am at a loss to discover how such a device can be used "correctly" because it is a tiny device whose virtues -- small size and battery life -- are directly related to its vices. If its screen were large enough so that you didn't have to hunch down and squint, then it would have been too big to start with. A high-speed, big-display laptop would weigh so much and use so much juice it would, to all intents and purposes, simply be a desktop machine you can lug around.

These limitations will probably be overcome in the future but for the moment laptop users must be content to be like those old time Welsh coal miners who had to contort themselves into unnatural positions to pick away at the ore. Maybe one day they'll do a remake of How Green Was My Valley but set in California.


Blogger Jeff Burton said...

How Green Was My Valley but set in California

There's so much material there - the pain when the breakroom is stocked with Sam's Choice instead of Odwalla, the anguish when the comp'ed dinner-work-past-time is moved from 6:30pm to 7:00pm, the hardship of high strike prices for your options...

5/30/2007 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...


5/31/2007 02:51:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...


or no back.

I'll pay the price.


5/31/2007 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger Brock said...

I await the heads-up display Oakleys - like Thumps, but for the eyes. Sync those suckers wirelessly with the PC in my pocket, and the problem is solved.

5/31/2007 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

But progress in computing has been curious. The keyboard and mouse are little different than what was introduced to the market 23 years ago in the first Mac, even though the RAM in most computers has exploded from being measured in kilobytes to being measured in gigabytes.

The "desktop computer" itself is a bit of a quirky anachronism. Having a device that had one component similar to a typewriter, it was somehow decided that a computer should be put on a desk. Even though a desk is basically a workspace optimized for the use of paper, the drawers of which were essentially today's harddrives. My computing work has little or no need for a desk, however. A free floating monitor and a keyboard down closer to the lap, and a few devices for holding whatever archaic pieces of paper I might need are more than sufficient, and actually superior to a big horizontal space.

The solution to the problem of laptops is simple: preferably, for serious, individual work, an attached screen is not necessary. Hi quality goggles attached to an ipod like harddrive/cpu/battery and then some kind of wireless input device would offer far superior views and far superior ergonomics, not to mention superior privacy. This does, however, not address improptu sharing of visual information. Nor does it address that slight problem of producing a goggle that doesn't leave the wearer looking like the 5th Ghostbuster.

5/31/2007 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger Mr. Spog said...

Instead of those goggles, why not modify the laptop so that you can detach the screen and stand it a few feet above the keyboard?

5/31/2007 06:22:00 PM  

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