Tuesday, November 04, 1997
The Typing Injury FAQ (TIFAQ) began in the summer of 1991. I was an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley and spending a summer internship working at NASA Ames. Through a combination of too much typing with extremely bad posture, too much driving, and sleeping funny on my arm, I managed to seriously screw up my right hand. I promptly tried doing everything with my left, and managed to screw that one up pretty good too within a week or so. NASA (or, actually the contractor who was employing me: CSC) first sent me to a local clinic where the doctor prescribed me these 800mg ibuprofen horse-pills which mainly served to upset my stomach, and a generic wrist brace, which didn't help in the slightest.
Friends of mine who had been through this before recommended the Valley Health Medical Center (in San Jose). So, I called them and eventually got them to treat me. They were significantly more competent, making me custom thermoplast wrist braces, teaching me exercises, making me do cold plunges to reduce swelling, and prescribing me a better anti-inflamatory that didn't kill my stomach (naprosyn, now apparently available as Alleve).
Over the rest of the summer, I went through ten kinds of hell trying to get CSC to pay for the treatment I was getting. Even then, once they agreed to pay for it, their *insurance* wasn't paying the bills on time, resulting in *me* getting threatening mail. What a disaster.
At the same time, I'd heard all about these nifty new keyboards. Back then, only one or two were for sale. Everything else was experimental or under development. By asking around on the net, I managed to get a partial list of the various keyboard vendors. Piecing that together with news clippings, I started calling all the vendors, asking for their brochures, digitizing the pictures, and making everything available. This is well before the web existed anywhere outside Switzerland, so the thing to do was to write an FAQ and post it to all the relevant newsgroups. That's where the TIFAQ began. I also had a companion FTP site at Berkeley where I put all the digitized images and everything else I could get my hands on. Life was good.
So, after that summer, I returned to Berkeley to finish my CS degree, despite wearing ugly wrist braces around all the time. I didn't actually get my Kinesis until late 1992. Before then, I still suffered through computer labs with terrible chairs and tables, and even worse, the keyboards were often cable-locked to the tables (so I couldn't even put the keyboard in my lap). For my last year, I was part of a research group where I could at least lay partial claim to a desk and set up my weird keyboard there.
I gradauted from Berkeley in 1993 and went to Princeton for graduate school. At Princeton, I finally had my own desk, my own chair, and I could modify them any way I wanted. I unscrewed the arm rests from my chair. I got a height-adjustable desk and lowered my keyboard six inches from normal desk-height. Life was getting a whole lot better.
The next major change for the TIFAQ was the Web. In 1993, the big issue among the FAQ community was how to convert your old FAQ to HTML without rendering the original illegible. I went with one of the more popular solutions, written by Thomas Fine (then at Ohio State University). You wrote your FAQ in plain ASCII text, but with section headers and things formatted in a specific fashion. You post your FAQ to the net as usual and his software picks it up and HTMLizes it. Everybody loved it.
About a year later, as the Web was growing in prominence and Netscape was all the rage, I finally bit the bullet and converted the whole thing directly to HTML, including nice inline images of all the keyboards. For a while, I was also converting the FAQ back to plain text and posting it, but eventually it became clear that the Web was the way to go and the old FAQ system wasn't quite as relevant as it used to be.
Today, I've mostly recovered from my original injuries, after at least six years of paying careful attention to my body and following doctor's orders. The TIFAQ is also alive and well, hosted by the Princeton University Computer Science Department's web server, and now maintained by the energetic Scott Wright.
The TIFAQ has been absolutely free for six years. Now, we're about to add advertising. However, the TIFAQ will still be the same comprehensive document it's always been, and the advertising will enable us to move to a real commercial server after I leave Princeton.
Dan is currently an assistant professor in the systems group at Rice University's
Department of Computer Science.
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Last Updated: 08/13/99