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Computing

One baby boomer's ergonomic guide to your aging and/or aching body

September 11, 1998
Web posted at 2:10 PM EDT

by Nicholas Petreley

From...

(IDG) -- Age discrimination certainly seems to be a hot button lately. It could genuinely be on the increase, but I suspect the topic also gets attention these days because the baby boomers are hitting about 40-something.

I'm just such a boomer. And I am becoming increasingly aware of the physical limitations and demands that come with age. After more than 15 years of typing at computers, I've only begun to have problems with eye strain and carpal tunnel syndrome in recent years. I've pretty much licked these problems, so I'd like to pass on what I've learned to boomers and nonboomers alike.

If it is at all possible, don't make any large purchases of display cards or monitors until you've tested them in a complete system. It's not enough to buy a great video card or a great monitor. You have to buy both, and they have to work well together and play nicely with your computer's motherboard.

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I learned this the hard way. Number Nine Visual Technology sent me two display cards for review last year -- the Revolution 3D and the Imagine 128. They worked well on every system except one -- my primary test machine. On that machine, both cards produced varying degrees of distorted text and graphics at high resolutions.

These cards simply didn't like my ViewSonic P17S monitor. It was just a bizarre, bad hardware mix. The monitor worked fine with every other display card I tried, and the Number Nine cards worked fine with every other monitor I tried. Go figure.

Since then, I have upgraded my system to use an ASUS P2L97-S motherboard with a 333-MHz Pentium II and switched to a ViewSonic P815 Professional Series monitor. The monitor is a pricey $1,300, but my eyes already are grateful for the change.

I've tested two Matrox cards with this monitor: the Millennium G200 Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) and the Productiva G100 AGP. The combination is superb, but although the Productiva G100 has an attractive price tag (I've seen it as low as $49), I recommend passing it by for the Millennium G200.

The G200 is crisp and stable with a 1,600-by-1,280-pixel resolution, 16 bits of color depth, and an 80-hertz refresh rate. And it screams on my system. Its 2-D performance on Windows and Linux leaves every other card I've used in the dust. Its OpenGL performance is quite remarkable. And although we all (cough) realize that IT people are too busy to waste time playing games, you might be interested to know that I clocked Acclaim's 3-D action game, Forsaken, at between 28 and 44 frames per second even at a resolution of 1,024-by-768 pixels with 16-bit color.

The Millennium G200 AGP street price is about $150, which is annoyingly affordable. (Just kidding -- what I find annoying is that I paid more than $400 for my old Millennium, which runs like a snail compared to these new cards. Worse, it fried itself to a crisp last week.)

Rather than make the unfair comparison to Number Nine's older PCI cards, I asked Number Nine to send me its latest and greatest. I'll let you know how they fare.

As for my carpal tunnel syndrome, I discovered that the problem was exacerbated by one of my favorite mice. This mouse has the primary button on the side. I found that you can aggravate carpal tunnel by clicking repeatedly with your thumb.

So I switched back to the Microsoft Intellimouse. Fortunately, one of the few things I can wax rhapsodic about when it comes to Microsoft is the hardware it resells. Not only does the Intellimouse fit my hand perfectly, I love the scroll button in the middle. I'm also the world's biggest fan of Microsoft's Natural Keyboard. Since I've been using the Intellimouse and the Natural Keyboard, my carpal tunnel has almost disappeared.

So what tips do you other boomers and nonboomers have for sore eyes or carpal tunnel? What combinations of hardware have worked best for you and your users?

Finger-tapping tip

I'm still looking for readers who are waiting for something besides The next version of Windows NT. In the meantime, reader Patrick Purcell submitted a great tip along those familiar lines:

What can you do while waiting for Windows NT 5.0? Stand on the New York Harbor and watch continental drift cause the coast of France to come crashing in."

Former consultant and programmer Nicholas Petreley will type for food. Reach him at nicholas_petreley@infoworld.com.

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