Stretch Clock

Having a somewhat obsessive personality, I tend to get very focused on what I’m working on.  Hours can go by with me forgetting to stand up and stretch, rest my eyes, have a drink, etc.

A long time ago, I wrote a little break timer program to run a countdown clock in the background.  When the time was up, it would blank my screen out, and say “Time to take a break”.  I configured it to do a series of 30 second micro breaks followed by a longer 5 minute break (all configurable).  It worked great for a while, but then I added a Cancel button for situations in which I wasn’t ready to take a break.  Oh how lame I am!  Pretty soon, the cancel button was king.

Strech Clock Gadget Now here’s a pretty cool windows sidebar gadget called stretch clock.  (Turns out to be written by another programmer/musician named Shane, from the Washington band Fanny Alger).   It’s a very simple idea.  It just counts down a user selectable number of minutes, and when the time is up, it pops up a web page with a short video of a stretch to do.  There are a bunch of different videos, less than one minute each, and it randomly selects one each time.

Strech Clock Video

The big difference with this compared to my old program is that the videos are compelling enough that they make me want to stand up and follow along.  Yes, the guy in the video is a total geek, but then hey, who am I kidding?  So am I!  And surprise surprise, these stretches always feel really good.

Ergonomic Crisis

As a professional programmer by trade, I spend most of my days sitting in front of a computer.  Many of my hobbies put me right there in the same chair too.

Every few years, I go through an ergonomic wake-up call – the really depressing, getting-old variety like “oy, my <body-part> is <depressing-pain-symptom> from <computer-activity>”.

Some typical examples:

“oy, my left hand is numb from trackball-clicking”
“oy, my right-shoulder is getting tendonitis from mousing”
”oy, my back is killing me from sitting all day”

When my years of right-hand mousing starting torquing my shoulder, I switched to left-hand trackballing.  Now that’s been a few years, and I’m getting lots of bad left-hand pains and numbness.  A couple years ago, I went to the sadistic pins-and-needles doctor who poked me and sent electric shocks through the nerves in my arm (fun for about a minute, then downhill after that).  The conclusion was that I don’t have carpal tunnel, yet, but it’s obviously some form of repetitive strain injury.

Clearly the human body isn’t designed to sit in a chair all day, typing.  I’m only 40 and my body is falling apart.   I try to take breaks during the day, but programming requires an obsessive mind – the kind of focus that has you sitting in your chair for long hours not noticing that you’re freezing cold, starving, dry-eyed and tired.  I go to the gym a couple evenings a week, which really does help, but it just isn’t enough.

This obviously affects my ability to enjoy guitar, keyboard, woodworking, even holding hands with my kids.  It’s a sad moment when you have to tell your four-year old daughter, “Ouch sweetie, please don’t hold my hand so hard- it hurts my fingers”.

I definitely need an ergonomic overhaul.  I’ll write up some of my experiments in the next few weeks.