Easier on the eyes

For the most part, I’m a stay-at-home guy—commuting downstairs to perform the day’s toils on a Power Mac G5 with a couple of 20-inch monitors. For the past three weeks I’ve been on the road, working on my 15-inch PowerBook G4. This kind of time away gives me a new perspective on my once familiar world. The home Internet connection that seemed only adequately fast turns out to be far speedier than anything I encountered abroad. While the PowerBook performed its job in workmanlike fashion, I’m now reminded that a dual-monitor setup means a heck of a lot less window shifting. And now that I’m hunched over, two feet away from a couple of monitors set at a resolution of 1680 x 1050—rather than sitting comfortably with lap-bound laptop offering a closer view at 1280 x 854—I’m beginning to understand why I felt a bit bug-eyed and stiff-necked at the end of a long work day at home.

Ergonomically speaking, my setup stinks.

With that in mind, before I slip back into my bad habits, I’ve resolved to change the way I work. Those changes include:

Monitor placement

My monitors normally sit in the middle of my computer desk, thus allowing me to pile documentation, discs, remote controls, receipts, a tape measure, and a kitchen timer in the shape of a chicken in front of them. Removing this clutter and scooting the monitors six inches forward may not only force me to change my untidy ways, but also allow me to sit back in my chair, thus making me look less like Quasimodo at the end of the day.

Monitor resolution

As much as I love having 40-inches of desktop space to work with, if it will save some wear and tear on my eyes, I’m willing to scale both monitors from 1680 x 1050 to 1280 x 800. Granted, the displays aren’t as crisp at this resolution and it now takes far fewer stray icons to clutter up the desktop, but such a resolution shift is likely to pay off in fewer visits to the chiropractor.

Fixing fonts

When I adopted Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit as my text editor of choice I assumed that to merit my geek cred I must work with that program’s default font settings of 9-point Monaco. No longer. While it may earn the contempt of my big-brained brethren and sisthren, I’ve opted out of the default font and now use 18-point Times New Roman.

Likewise I’ve adjusted Microsoft Word so that its documents are always zoomed to 175% and mucked with Entourage so its display fonts are set to 14-point. Similarly, I’ve put the Command-+ keyboard shortcut to good use in both Firefox and Safari to magnify the type of the web pages I visit.

Minimizing mousing

I’m not a fan of Apple’s Dock and have instead adopted James Thomson’s admirable $29 palette launcher DragThing. I’m keen on its ability to launch items from customized palettes that contain applications, documents, and directories I often use, but I admit I haven’t used one of DragThing’s finest features to its fullest potential—specifically, the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to any palette item. Now that I have assigned those shortcuts to the applications I use most, I spend less time moving to the mouse to click palette items.

Another must-have utility that keeps my hands on the keyboard is Objective Development’s $20 LaunchBar 4. LaunchBar allows you to easily find and launch items on your Mac by pressing a keyboard command and typing in the first few letters or abbreviation of the item you seek. While it may sound like LaunchBar duplicates the functionality of Tiger’s Spotlight, there are important differences. To begin with, LaunchBar learns your habits. If I routinely type “Breen” to recall my sister’s snailmail address, that will be the first item that appears in LaunchBar’s list of hits. I can also enter abbreviations for items I often need to call up— $$$ for my Macworld invoice template, for example. LaunchBar also lets me navigate through my Mac’s folder hierarchy with the keyboard’s arrow keys, thus saving me another trip to the mouse.

I’ve made a good start but I’m certain there’s more I can do. If you have other ideas along these lines, I’d love to hear them—my eyes, neck, and readers would appreciate your thoughts.

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