Thursday, 17 September 2009

On Trying to Get Comfy

This morning I’ve been trying to solve a number of semi-long-standing problems with the set up of my computer at home. By the set up, I don’t mean software, that’s all tootling along as well as can be expected, but the actual physical set up of my workstation.

The fact that I decided to do it this morning was triggered by pain in my wrists when I sat down to type. Inspection showed them to be red and rather sore. I decided that I needed a wrist rest, like I have at work. However, I have no such thing, and the fact that our local town centre is currently closed off for a funfair means that going to search for one would mean a 30 mile round trip, so I fetched a hand towel from the airing cupboard, rolled it up, and discovered that even if I did have a wrist rest, it wouldn’t fit on the desk in any case.

I decided it was time to install the small flatscreen monitor that a friend loaned me over a fortnight ago. The giant (really giant) old fashioned monitor that I’ve had for several years started off with a beautiful screen, but has now got to the stage where (a) it looks all white & milky, (b) all the windows have wiggly edges and (c) it has irritating diagonal stripes crossing the screen. It is also so big that even if I have it right up against the wall at the back of the desk, my nose is almost touching it when I sit at the desk, which is probably not very good for me.

In my office job I am trained as a DSE (display screen equipment) assessor, which means that I’ve been on courses that tell me how people SHOULD sit at a computer when they’re working, and tell me all sorts of horror stories about RSI (repetitive strain injury) or the even more catchy WRULD (work related upper limb disorder). Partly because I spend so much of my life stressed and tense, and partly because I’ve done a lot of jobs involving data entry, I do have various problems with my shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. At work, where it comes from the health and safety budget, I have a special rollermouse device, a workstation properly set up, and a chair that does almost everything except stir my tea.

Home, however, is a different story. Buying a rollermouse is beyond my budget, so I have two mice, one each side of the keyboard. When my right hand starts to hurt, I use my left, when my left hurts, I use my right. When they both hurt I get a glass of whisky! The keyboard sometimes wobbles a bit, so I wedge it with a piece of tissue, and the chair (a cast off that was headed for a skip) provides no support, and doesn’t really fit under the desk (which isn’t a desk at all, but a table with drawers, also rescued from a skip, sanded down and repainted by me). Furthermore, the printer has to go on the floor, so I often rest my left foot on it and end up sitting lopsided too.

None of this was a problem until about 3 months ago when broadband entered our lives. Before then, internet time was just a couple of short sessions each evening, I didn’t blog, didn’t do very much on facebook or twitter (it was all just too slow and cost a fortune on the phone bill), and just typed up the occasional document or did a bit of household budget stuff on spreadsheets. I was never on the computer long enough for it to be a problem. Now, however, I’m online all the time, I read & write blogs, I footle around on facebook, try constantly to keep up with e-mails, watch digital TV stuff on the iPlayer, and as for twitter – well, let’s just say that I’m more than an occasional user!!

And my body knows it. So, I thought replacing the screen would be a good idea. Furthermore it would mean that I could tell the friend who loaned me the monitor that I’d set it up, so I wouldn’t look like an ungrateful so-and-so! Like everything, it turned out not to be that simple. Getting of torches, crawling under desks, locating wires and so on, was followed by a gargantuan effort to move the giant monitor out of the way (hampered by the chair getting stuck in the doorway – everything’s a bit tight round here – we have way too much stuff), then the discovery that I needed to reset the screen resolution because the new one wouldn’t work (more unplugging etc) then dropping the giant monitor on my toe (why do this job in slippers?) then needing to find polish to dust the desk properly, then setting the whole lot up properly.

At that point I tweeted “I want my mummy”, and the Wonderspouse tweeted back that my mother would actually be one of the least helpful people to have around since she is even more OCD than me and would be even more stressed. He then rang me up to tell me to keep calm. I would say that the battle between me and my workstation has now reached some kind of uneasy truce. The rolled up towel now fits on the desk and is an adequate enough wrist rest for now to stop my most paranoid fears about nerve damage preventing me from ever playing the viola again. The screen is almost at the right height (assisted by Donald Jay Grout’s “A History of Western Music”), although my desktop icons have all gone haywire and it’s so small that I can only see about 5 tweets to a screen. It isn’t stripey or faded or wiggly though. The chair & desk situation remains poor, but to sort that out would require serious removals, which will need much preparation (there is a bookcase on top of the desk for starters), and maybe financial outlay.

And all the time, the maths books sit on the other desk, where I should be working. Maybe I already knew that I wasn’t going to get enough assignment done to gain the marks I need to get a higher grade. Maybe all the computer moving activity was just a diversion to confirm the inevitable. I can almost hear my ambitions of a decent mark dropping to the ground like a giant monitor onto a toe. Maybe it’s time to listen to the wise Wonderspouse again, when he tells me that all I need to do is pass the course – I can worry about degree classifications later. I’d never think of chastising somebody for not getting high marks in every assignment, so why do I do it to myself?

So am I comfy? Well, not really. The knowledge that the computer set up is still not finished unsettles me. A few of the physical problems have been solved, but many remain. The unfinished maths assignment also unsettles me. But I have simply reached the end of my resources with it, having been under so much pressure for so many months. Most of this pressure, I hasten to add, self-inflicted. Perhaps it is time, as the Wonderspouse suggests, to draw a line under the maths coursework situation, to take a break, and then to revise gently for the forthcoming exam. Then, if I can manage that, I might try to indulge in an activity very foreign to me, which I’m told is called “relaxing”.

This wasn’t what I intended to blog about at all this week, but, like computer set-ups and maths assignments, things aren’t always exactly as we would wish them to be. I think it might have been good for me to write this, even if a little dull for you to read. If there is anybody out there still reading at this point, then I admire your perseverance – thank you!


  1. I'm still reading!!!

    The joy of the cobbled together computer desk set up, something I gave up struggling with five years ago when my last desktop conked out and I decided to move over to a pretty apple macbook - not before I had landed myself in hospital with concussion thanks to desk/computer related head injuries (don't ask!!!)

    But now it's worse than ever... the problem with a laptop is that any DSE advice goes out of a window and work places become the bed and the sofa. The desk in my office/spare room is currently under a mountain of bills to be filed, a selection of birthday cards and boxes of various things that have been bought in past months. The clothes horse permanently occupies the space the chair should!

    Maybe I need to do a spare room clear out and dig out the DSE advice once again!!!

  2. I'm impressed you're still reading Helen!

    Laptops are indeed the very devil - the advice on the DSE course at work was to tell people not to use them, or if they had to, to get another screen as well!

    In fact, I'm still not comfy - the borrowed screen was broken by the next day, so the Wonderspouse lent me his screen and he now has a VERY old one from years ago. The workstation setup in this house still has some way to go!

  3. As usual - absolutely hilarious but I bet even you have not had to deal with Squeaky the tomcat who insists on spraying all over Spousette's lovely mammoth proportion flat screen in the middle of the night when we're not looking!

  4. Naughty Squeaky!!

    I knew there was a reason I kept my study door shut!