Ergonomics

Originally published in The Clarion | April 27, 2011

If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk starting at a computer screen, I’m sure you have at some point experienced some sort of physical pain as a result. Whether it was a headache, sore back, hands, wrists or any number of other ailments, extensive deskwork can undoubtedly result in a pain in the neck. While I know of no miracle cure, there is an entire market of products for the home and office that claim to assist in reducing the wear and tear experienced when sitting at a computer for extended periods of time. Outside of specialized equipment, many common-sense tips also greatly assist in lessening the uncomfortable results of desktop computing monotony.

I typically spend at least five hours of every workday staring at my computer monitor, clicking and typing away at whatever project or unannounced catastrophe is at-hand. Over the years, my workplace environment has changed, by necessity more than anything, to be specifically tailored to what works best for me. Considering this, what works for me may be a nightmare for you. I recently spent tens of hours over a couple of weeks on an audit that required me to copy and paste data from a spreadsheet into a terminal, making modifications as necessary in a web browser along the way, just to go back to the next cell and execute the same process once again. It did not take me long to realize that what I thought was the perfect computing setup was terribly lacking. My wrists and hands were numb yet sore, my back was stiff and even my feet were shooting with pain. I was reminded of a term I had learned in a High School computing class – ergonomics.

By definition, ergonomics is the science of designing the job, equipment, and workplace to fit the worker. While most of us who use computers on a daily basis typically have decent environments in which to work, adjustments in our existing equipment or replacing certain items with new ones could go a very long way in decreasing or eliminating physical pains associated with our daily routines. Take a moment and consider the simple manner in which you sit in your chair while computing. Do you keep the same position for hours upon hours or do you mix it up occasionally? Monotony can be a very bad thing especially over long periods of time. Personally, I try to make myself adjust my sitting position every few minutes while computing and get up for a stretch or short walk at least once an hour. Doing this contributes to increased bloodflow to the extremities and lessens the likelihood of stiff muscles and joints. Again, this may sound like common sense but even those of us who have done the same job for years upon years could use a bit of it from time to time.

 

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Web Category #6 – Communication and Social Media

Originally published in The Clarion | April 20, 2011

Our sixth and final category of defined Web categories – Communication and Social Media – is one of the fastest-growing arenas of today’s Web. Used as a tool for expedient communication and collaboration, the Web has put mankind in touch with simple clicks of a mouse. Beginning with eMail and Bulletin Board services, the Web has evolved into a communication and collaboration mechanism that allows families to keep in touch, businesspeople to easily work on projects from remote locations, friends to stay on top of others’ day-to-day lives and has created opportunities for new friendships to be established that most likely never would have been without the Web.

Take a moment and consider the typical activities you may engage in when using the Internet and Web. Whether you use Internet technologies only from home, only from work, only from your Web-enabled smartphone or a combination of all three, odds are good that a very high percentage of your online activities include various methods of communication. From eMail to Instant Messaging services, Social Media websites like Facebook and MySpace to collaboration sites like GoToMeeting.com, Web and Internet technologies and services combine to form the most profound and robust communications mechanism on the planet. Recent studies even claim that younger users of these technologies often suffer from withdrawal and depression symptoms when their online communications tools are taken away from them, even if only for a short period of time.

Over the last year I have written entire articles which centered around online communications mechanisms including Social Media websites, Instant Messaging and of course eMail. Other sites and services are prevalent online, including websites tailored to singles that claim to find your perfect match swiftly and for only a small fee. Most websites for news outlets include a comment or chat area that allow their readers to communicate about specific stories of interest. The same is true for most any subject-specific website where people with similar interests converge to discuss their favorite sports team, reality television show, hobby or most any other shared interest. The introduction and advancement of communications mechanisms on the Web and Internet have undoubtedly altered the way most of us go about our daily lives. Whether for the good, well, that is certainly debatable.

Although it has been mentioned previously, I feel our current subject matter requires a brief reminder about online security (or a lack thereof). Common sense goes a long way in life, and this holds especially true when using Web technologies. If an offer seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Online communications mechanisms (including eMail) typically use insecure, unencrypted transport protocols – in a nutshell, it is not very difficult for your message to be compromised. With this in mind, never share account or password information online. If your financial institution needs specific information, just pick up the telephone and call them. The conveniences of online communication are never worth the troubles you may encounter if your personal information becomes compromised.

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Web Category #5 – Science and Technology

Originally published in The Clarion | April 13, 2011

Our fifth defined category of Web content – Science and Technology – is most likely my favorite. Since the inception of the World Wide Web, countless articles, pages, sites and even technologies have been created in the many fields of Science and Technology. I feel it is fair to say that the Internet and Web are technologies that have bred new technologies. Without the Web and Internet, we would not have simple things like eMail, Social Networking, real-time banking and day trading or many other countless tools and activities that we enjoy using on a daily basis.

Since the fields of Science and Technology are so broad, this week we will take a look at a few general websites that focus on these fields. For starters, websites for virtually all of the major media outlets typically include some sort of Science and/or Technology section. While the articles and information included in these sites aren’t typically tailored to very specific subjects, they are updated frequently and include newsworthy information in these fields. As an example, the Science and Technology section of foxnews.com currently includes articles on recently undiscovered alien planets, a delay in the space shuttle launch rehearsal due to inclement weather, information on how algae could be used to clean up nuclear accident sites, the discovery of a new species of freshwater stingray, solar-powered homes, ancient books recently discovered in Jordan, earth’s misshapen gravity field and the discovery of a cousin to the T. Rex dinosaur. As you can see, the array of information included at foxnews.com is quite vast, spanning many subjects of both Science and Technology.

Outside of the major media outlets, countless websites exist that are more subject-specific in the realm of Science and Technology. Just a few sites that I have in my browser’s bookmarks include space.com, internet.com and makeuseof.com. While I may not visit these sites on a daily basis, each includes all sorts of information from the fields of Science and Technology. A site that I do visit several times a day is one I mentioned previously – arstechnica.com. Along with this site, another one of my favorites is slashdot.org – a website that prides itself in providing “News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters”.

Founded in September 1997, the name slashdot.org is quite the play on words – simply type the name of the site in your browser’s address bar and you will see what I mean. Obviously http:///..org is not a valid URL, but some fun can be had in seeing someone type such an address. Geek humor aside, slashdot.org serves millions of pages to hundreds of thousands of readers. Articles are almost exclusively user-submitted and span most every topic in the fields of Science and Technology. Many of the articles focus on Open Source operating systems and technologies, obviously one of my favorite subsets of Technology. Maybe you will also find some interesting information at slashdot.org as well.

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Web Category #4 – History

Originally published in The Clarion | April 06, 2011

I have previously mentioned that the Web can be considered a living encyclopedia. Gone are the days of waiting for the local library to open in order to research a subject of interest. While not all information on the Web should be taken as fact, a little discretion makes the historical information available invaluable. Many historians, while still publishing traditional papers and full-length books, make their work available on the Web as well. I am confident that a lifetime could be spent studying most any subject of history from the comforts of home.

Our fourth defined category of Web content – History – is such a wide category it is proving difficult to generalize for an article such as this. Just like with our previous category – News – there are a plethora of websites available to those interested in learning more about all sorts of historical subjects. Whether you need to read and study a specific historical subject for a class project or paper or if you simply have an interest in a specific subject, the Web is simply full of information that will satisfy your needs.

In order to narrow things down quite a bit, I have chosen three websites to mention as sources of historical information. These sites are history.com (the History Channel), si.edu (the Smithsonian Institute) and loc.gov (the Library of Congress). The History Channel is one of my favorite television channels, covering a wide array of subjects from all of history. Their website – history.com – includes features like “This Day in History”, “This Week’s Highlights” and one hundred or so “Featured Topics”. Using the Search feature at history.com should return results for most any event in history.

The Smithsonian Institute’s website – si.edu – is another content-rich site with an untold number of categories of information. One nice feature of si.edu is that there are categories of information tailored to the person requesting the information. There are sections for Educators, Kids and Researchers which assist in customizing the content for the audience requesting it. The Smithsonian site also has a search feature that will allow you to easily explore your topic of interest.

The website for the Library of Congress – loc.gov – is, as would be expected, an excellent resource of historical information, especially American History. This site includes Digital Collections, an online Card Catalog and a feature called “Ask a Librarian” that allows you to get answers in real-time using a Live Chat feature. Also included at loc.gov are Historic Newspapers, Sound Recordings, Film, Maps and Manuscripts from over the years. When you have time, explore these three sites for your favorite subject – you may be surprised at the wealth of historical information that is available on the Web – for free of course – and from the comfort of your own home.

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