My Current Devices

The devices that I have at my disposal have an impact on what I can achieve in terms of creating an RSI protective work environment for myself. I will seek to keep in mind that not everyone has access to these devices and to offer solutions for those with access to relatively limited technology. Only my most recent purchase, a gaming grade mechanical keyboard, was made with RSI in mind, but the other items can be made to help me to manage my RSI. These devices are current in that I currently use them, but some of them are very old, including a graphics tablet with the now rarely seen USB B connector.

My physical desktop (i.e., the setup on my desk) consists of a relatively powerful HP Envy desktop computer (technically it is under the desk), a Samsung 32 inch television that is used instead of a monitor, a Corsair Strafe Mk.2 mechanical keyboard, an aged Wacom graphics tablet, and the wireless HP keyboard and mouse that came with the Envy computer. That setup up currently runs Windows 10, but also runs multiple forms of Linux via Virtual Box, in addition to a Debian Linux version of WSL2 (Windows Subsystem for Linux), which I have configured with a third party graphics server to allow me to run graphical Linux programmes, despite WSL2 being presently limited to console programs.

In addition to that desktop setup I have three laptops. A Lenovo Yoga 530-14lkb 360 degree laptop recently converted back to Windows 10 for testing purposes after running Linux on it for a long time. I also have a rather damaged 2 in 1 Lenovo laptop that I think is a Miix 320-101CR, but I cannot be sure as the name details rubbed off on the laptop and it has been running Linux for a long time, indeed it can no longer be reinstalled with the Windows 10 it was purchased with. My most recent laptop is an Asus E203M Notebook PC, which was bought with Windows 10S, can run Windows 10, but is running Debian Linux.

All of those computers came supplied with Microsoft Windows, but with the exception of the HP Envy desktop computer have been used now or in the past as exclusively Linux computers. That is the common narrative for most users of Linux, as most computers that are not made by Apple come with Microsoft Windows installed. Sometimes the user is forced to switch to Linux as was my case with the Lenovo Miix. I did not think that it was possible to install Linux on it as I bought it in 2017 when most Linux distributions still struggled to install onto computers booting with the newer UEFI rather than BIOS booting system. I was forced to research further because a Windows 10 update rendered the laptop unusable for three days and barely usable afterwards. Unlike many more expensive laptops and desktops the Miix could not be set to boot in BIOS mode (usually known as Legacy Mode). It is normal for the cheapest Windows 10 laptops to lack a Legacy Mode, and there is not one on the Asus either. However the problem was not that the Miix could not run Linux, but that its obscure screen could not be handled by the lightweight Linux distributions I preferred to use, primarily Debian. I managed to install SUSE, Fedora, and Ubuntu on it. Its touchscreen broke and it had lay in a locker unused until I began putting together this website and decided to resurrect it for research purposes. The latest version of Windows 10 (2004: the version required for WSL2) failed to install as did all Linux distributions except Ubuntu, which the Miix is currently running. I bought that Miix as something small to carry around for writing purposes on the commute, in tea breaks, in libraries, and in cafes and pubs. Many authors end up introduced to Linux because that buy similar low powered laptops and find that despite that fact it came with Windows 10, that Microsoft's updates soon render a beloved laptop unusable until a friend introduces them to lightweight versions of Linux.

The Asus notebook was bought to replace the Miix and I did not realise at the time that it lacked a touchscreen. After a while I thought this was a good thing as it was the broken touchscreen that forced me to stop using the Miix. However, as my RSI worsened I began to regret my purchase because a touchscreen on a small laptop makes using web browsers much simpler. There is no touchscreen on the Samsung TV that acts as the HP Envy's monitor, but that is why my physical desktop includes a graphics tablet, as it enables advertising buttons and cookie consent notices to be clicked without the use of a mouse. Carrying around a graphics tablet defeats the purpose of the Asus being bought as a small and light writing device, but I am still working out how best to use it as my RSI worsens. One thing I will not do is to reinstall Windows 10, as that operating system remains too mouse centric. So while the Miix illustrates the process that leads many authors to switch to Linux, the Asus provides an example of why many RSI sufferers want to move away from Microsoft Windows.

The Lenovo Yoga went back to running Windows 10, because for employment purposes I needed a Windows computer with a camera for running Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Unlike the Miix it has been easy to reinstall Windows on the Yoga (and similarly when I briefly reinstalled Windows on the Asus). This disproves one of the myths that kept me initially from installing Linux on my laptops: that they could not be returned to proper working order as Windows machines, because of the proprietary drivers there come pre-installed with. In general a laptop converted to Linux can be converted back to Windows 10 easily enough, so long as Windows 10 has not become too complex in the meantime, as happened with my Miix. You can even go to the manufacturer's website and download the proprietary drivers, but the laptops run happily as Windows machines without them. It was when I most recently reinstalled Windows 10 on the Yoga that I discovered that I could use WSL2 plus a third party graphics server to run Linux graphical software. So I have had a Linux version of Emacs and a Windows version of Emacs running side by side in separate windows on a Windows 10 installation. Therefore it is now possible to run Linux without leaving Windows and some RSI sufferers that will be the preferable route to follow as Linux versions of Speech to Text is very poor compared to dictating into Microsoft Word.

I will close this discussion of my current devices with a focus on that one item that was specifically purchased to assist with RSI: my Corsair gamer keyboard. I first got into computers in the 1980s as a gamer, primarily through the best selling computer of all time: the Commodore 64. The 64 referred to its 64kb of memory. This Corsair keyboard includes a small computer that is driven by 8192kb of memory (or 8MB as we say in new money). Whereas the Commodore 64 involved full-scale games, including one of the earliest first person shooters in Castle Wolfenstein, the Corsair keyboard uses its 128 times larger memory purely to hold three profiles of lighting effects and keyboard shortcuts. It is a fully programmable keyboard, which in gamer-speak means that every single key on the keyboard can be programmed to do something else. Most programmable computers come with just Windows software and sometimes MacOS as well. The Corsair Strafe Mk.2 was the only keyboard I could find that claimed Linux compatibility. The keyboard profiles have to be produced using Corsair's iCue configuration software, but once written to the keyboard they can be used on any computer, including one not running Windows. There is a third-party program that allows Linux users to produce complex lighting effects, such as is possible on a Windows computer with iCue installed, but I was interested in the keyboard for the ability to reprogram the keys. I bought it at a sale price of £100 and was happy to take the risk that it might not work with Linux because I also wanted to test the claim that mechanical keyboards are better for RSI sufferers.

I need not have worried as the keyboard once configured in iCue will indeed work on Linux computers even, despite Corsair claiming otherwise, as computers without USB 3 sockets. My RSI reasons for wanting a Linux compatible fully programmable keyboard was that one of the key issues in RSI friendly computing is finding enough single press keys on a keyboard to avoid the use of key chords (e.g., pressing Control and C keys at the same time). Besides being worried that the Strafe might not work with Linux I was also worried that reprogramming, for example, the C key to Control+C might prevent me using the C on any other keyboards attached to the computer.

Again my fears proved groundless. I experimented by resetting the zero key in the Strafe number pad to become a second spacebar. When I tested in out the Strafe number pad zero produced a space, while the HP Envy keyboard number pad produced a zero. Because I had three profiles to play with I had just gained nearly four hundred possible single press keys, so what would I do with them? My original intention was to make the keys produce macros that would enact a series of commands, but this was problematic because the hardware macros could not contain anything operating system specific, especially as I wanted to use it on Linux after configuring the profiles via Windows software. I was also worried that using the letter keys would force me to do my main typing on the HP Envy keyboard and prevent me exploring if mechanical keyboards were better for my particular type of RSI.

My solution was to have the first profile called Normal to be for typing on the Strafe as if it was a standard keyboard. I called the second profile Control and it made all the letter keys type the equivalent Control key chord, e.g., typing the letter T appeared to the computer as Control+T and made Windows and Linux computers alike open a new tab in a web browser. I could still type the letters by using the laptop's keyboard or a second keyboard attached to the desktop computer. The third profile converted all the letter keys to producing Alt+key; e.g., typing F sent Alt+F to the computer and opened the file menu in many Windows and Linux programs. Naturally I called that third profile Alt. I would have like to have a fourth profile called Super (the Linux name for the Windows logo key), so that I could use a single key press for Super or Windows key chords. If I did not have a desktop computer I might have done without a Normal profile on the Strafe keyboard, but I wanted to avoid being forced to use two keyboards on the desktop. In Linux Super key chords can be reconfigured and in Windows they can be handled via the sticky keys option that allows modifier keys to be typed and released before the letter key is pressed, i.e., opening File Explorer with Windows Key followed by the letter E rather than Windows+E.

In later articles I will explore in more detail how to set up devices such as these to create an RSI protective system, but for now that is an explanation of the current device setup I am trying to manage my RSI with.