Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Bob, Bob, Bob:
I have been reading your articles for quite some time now. Granted, sometimes you vent your frustrations that we have all felt as engineers. But, at least it applies to our industry. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good pot of red as much as the next Joe, and maybe you decided that most of us engineering "geeks" cannot cook, much less read a cookbook. (I refuse to believe that. /rap)

But, if I want a recipe for chili, I think I would get this month's issue of Family Circle or something similar. (Although, my pot of red would put yours to shame.) Let's get back to our frustrations with our jobs and leave the chili to boil on its own.

On second thought, perhaps your message did not miss its mark on me. Perhaps, just maybe, this does apply to engineering. (Yeah. /rap) Just maybe you meant that no design is perfect, and can be improved upon just like a good pot of red. Or maybe, you mean that the longer we sit on our designs, the better they get. Or, maybe it was just a recipe.
Ron Bell
via e-mail

Ron—my column was not about BEANS. It was about THINKING about beans. Even though I started with a "tried-and-tested" published recipe, I had to cut the salt by a huge factor and revise other ingredients and procedures. And I've now heard some rather favorable comments on my recipe. So, you'll have to swap me your best chili recipe, OK?!—RAP

Dear Bob:
My experience has been that strains on your body due to using the computer have been mainly due to the mouse, and in particular to the clicking operation, not typing. (Maybe. But even people who just TYPE, without any mouse-work, still have troubles. Luckily, I do not have such troubles. /rap)

That is why, I think, repetitive stress injury (RSI) was less of a problem for the secretaries and steno pool typists in the early days than it is now. I always tended to use the keyboard shortcuts and still recommend this. They are faster, once you know them, and less stressful. Still, there are some things that are harder to do that way. As part of my plan to beat RSI, I began to mouse lefthanded (I am naturally righthanded). This has a number of benefits, including being able to write and use the arrow keys more or less at the same time as the mouse. I found that I got used to using the mouse lefthanded in a matter of days, and in fact now do other things with my left hand that I would previously have done only with the right.

Recently, I discovered another option as well, with multiple benefits. Select "Control Panel-Accessibility Options" to get there under Win 95. (I never fool with that. I use a mouse as little as possible. I hate to click; I despise "double-clicking." /rap) Then select the Mouse tab, and choose "Use Mouse Keys." This turns your numeric keypad into mouse control; you can choose to have it work either with the numeric lock on or off. It is important to note that you are not choosing between using the mouse and using the keypad; you can use both. In fact, if you hold down one of the keypad keys and move the mouse at the same time, the cursor will move as the vector sum of the inputs. This is probably more interesting than useful. What is useful is that you can now get finer control of the cursor than is possible with the mouse. If you tap one of the arrow keys on the keypad, the cursor will move one pixel and no more.

This is useful for those frustrating times using drawing programs when you want to get two shapes to just touch, and similar programs. Furthermore, the 5 (on the keypad) key is now mouse click and the + (on the keypad) key is now double click. This is useful in two ways. First, in drawing programs, you often want to select an item (by clicking on it), but not to move it. With the mouse, there is always the danger that you will move the mouse after clicking. With the 5 key, there is no such danger. Second, I find that depressing keys (i.e., typing) is less stressful for my hands than mouse clicking. It is also possible to right click using the keypad and to move the mouse large distances, though I find it easier to just use the mouse for these operations under normal circumstances.

The name Accessibility Options seems to imply that Microsoft is thinking of this as something useful only for those who have some physical handicap. In fact, it is useful for everyone in my opinion.
Bruce Walker
via e-mail

Bruce, I checked into this. Hundreds of years ago, pianists and organists who practiced long and hard had RSI problems. I hope YOUR advice is useful to people who have to MOUSE a lot.—RAP

Dear Bob:
I've been enjoying your articles and columns for years. Keep up the good work. I also am an analog guy working in this digital world, and I fight the good fight when I can. (Give 'em hell! /rap)

I try to spread the word, through the use of your columns and articles, about the analog principles engineers forget about, did not learn, etc. It's quite amazing, as you frequently show in your column, that some engineers forget the old as soon as something "better" or "newer" comes along.
Marty P. Hoar
Seagate Technology
via e-mail

Some people forget old truths; some of us REMEMBER them. I think that those of us who can remember the old stuff are better off.—RAP

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
Please note NEW e-mail address:
[email protected]—or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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