Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Monitors, Keyboards, and Mice, Oh My!

July 2000

By Mike Gould

We all interact with the Internet with our eyes and fingers, and after a strenuous bout of web surfing (the only exercise some of us Web mongers get), the eyes get blurry and the fingers get tired. So let's talk about tools for the Web and how to use them. (And I'm tired of talking about operating systems, anyway. The concerned readers out there will be relieved, as was I, to observe that Microsoft's lawyers haven't contacted me yet about last month's article; I guess they're busy elsewhere...)

The Monitor and the Merry Mac
I have this big honking 19" HP monitor on my desk, and I love it. I have a 15"Sony monitor sitting next to it and I love it too, but not as much as I love the HP. That is because THE HP IS SO FREAKING BIG. When you achieve a certain fullness of years, you like your information as big as possible before your tired eyes. I recently succumbed to the inevitable and got some reading glasses customized for reading computer screens; i.e., focusing at arms-length. Those, and this big-ass monitor (Aside to editor: Jim, can I say big-ass in a family business magazine? If not, substitute "girth-enhanced") make staring at information for hours at a time much more pleasant.

So friends, go out and buy a monitor that is as large as you can afford. You make your living staring at it, so you might as well optimize the experience. You can get a 19" monitor for around $500 these days, and 17" for even less. Look for one with a dot-pitch of around 24; the smaller this number, the finer the "grain" of the monitor. And get a friend to help you lift it onto your desk; these suckers are heavy.

About that other monitor: 2 monitors are better than one. If you are a graphic artist, for instance, you put your picture on the big monitor and your tools on the small one. Or if you are an accountant, you put that big spreadsheet on the big one and your email and everything else on the small one. Macs have always supported this and PC's with (I think) Windows 98 and above can also do this. All you need is a cheap additional video card and you are wide-screen.

Or if you have deep pockets and want to be really cutting edge: get one of those new-fangled thin and sexy LCD monitors, also known as flat-panel displays. (Can I say "thin and sexy"? If not, substitute "Alley MacBeal-like and hormonally-enhanced") They don't flicker like the old-fangled CRT (Cathode Ray Tube - what your TV is, basically) models, they take up a lot less space and energy, and they look really great. 15" models are around $1K, with bigger ones costing an arm and a leg. But what a relief to the eyes.

And speaking of eye relief; take a break from your screen every 45 minutes or so. Go to a window, stare at something far away. Blink 'em often to keep 'em wet. All the hardware in the world won't protect you from overusing your wetware.

Keyboard = Surfboard
The keyboard that came with your computer is probably getting a little grody (a technical term) around the Enter key at this point. You could always get out the Windex (or Macdex, for us Apple users) and Q-tips and clean it up, but why not use this as an excuse for checking out a new keyboard? (Never spray cleaner on a keyboard, by the way; this can kill your 'board. Dip a Q-tip in cleaner and patiently scrub each key to a fine gloss - which can take hours. Or buy a new keyboard for $50 or so, keeping the old, dirty one as a spare.)

If you go to CompUSA or any of the other big chain stores, they have an entire aisle filled with keyboards. Just walk up and down the aisle, typing away furiously as you go, and select the keyboard that feels the best and has the right type of connector for your computer. (They say that the computers attached to those keyboards will eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare, but it will take a while.) I tried an ergonomic keyboard for a while, but couldn't get the hang of it. Others swear by them; your mileage may vary, but give 'em a try at the store.

Be sure to observe the proper stance regarding your keyboard: arms level, hands slightly tilted down. RSI, Repetitive Stress Injury, is no joke; it can be caused by keyboard activity and can be avoided by use of proper posture, etc. Speaking as one who had his left hand operated on for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (caused by playing the 12-string guitar), I can testify that you want to protect yourself here. If you have the finger tingles at the end of the typing day, see a doctor.

Mouseballs (Can I say "mouseballs"? If not, substitute "pointing device dust catcher apparatuses" - um, "apparati"? Hell with it - Mouseballs)

Your standard came-with-the-computer mouse gets its direction from sensing which way a rubber-clad ball bearing is rolling over a dust-encrusted fiber surface. There Is A Better Way: The Microsoft Intellimouse. Yeah, those guys; hey, what can I say, they do make great hardware! This jobbie is eunuch, I mean, unique in that it has no ball. A little red LED shines a light on your tabletop (no mouse pad needed) and senses direction by reflection. No ball to clean, extra buttons for Web surfing, scroll wheel, looks very cool, costs around $75, worth every penny. Buy one.

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