Today it seems that everyone knows about the dangers of living a sedentary lifestyle. These dangers are very high for those that sit most of the day working with computers. However, it is not the chair, desk or computer that is killing you; it is not taking a break from being seated and inactive that causes the damage! For people who work with computers there is now an optimised solution.
It has always been possible to set yourself a reminder to take a break by using the calendar software that comes with most office packages. However this has the problem that the reminders are too intrusive and do not take into account when the user may have been away from their machine. As a result the reminder generally becomes a nuisance, is dismissed routinely and is generally an irritation as it also needlessly clutters up your calendar!
Desktop Lifejacket is a computer program that runs in the background and for those that normally take a regular break they will not even know it’s there. However, for those that are beavering away at their computer, loosing track of the time and damaging their health by remaining in a seated position for too long, Desktop Lifejacket will discretely remind them that it’s time to stretch or move to get the blood in their arteries and veins moving again. Over the years this little reminder could be a lifesaver which combats the damage caused by hours slumped over a desk.
For a while now I have thought that there should be a software ‘guardian’ in built into any interactive operating system that warns users that they are damaging their health by not taking a break. However, this is not the case and from necessity I’ve written the ‘Desktop Lifejacket’; I’ve benefitted from it and I think that all computer-based workers will do. See the sections below for more information.
I wrote the Desktop Lifejacket because of the benefit I gained from changing my working habits. I think that it is an essential health and safety tool for anyone that spends a lot of time working with computers. The software..
· Intelligently reminds users to take a break,
· It detects if the computer has not been in use and resets itself so that reminders are not generated needlessly,
· Unobtrusively looks after your long-term health,
· Is configurable to users requirements and
· In future releases to subtly remind users with a red alert when they have been using the computer for an excessive period of time without a break.
There is no need for Desktop Lifejacket to be visible as an item in the users ‘Start’ menu, although it can be if that is what the user desires. The software is tiny and simply needs to be downloaded and placed in the users ‘Startup’ folder within the ‘All Programs’ menu. In this way, Desktop Lifejacket will start when the user logs onto their machine but the user will generally be unaware that is running and protecting them from some of the dangers of living a sedentary lifestyle.
Super-brief instructions are available but for users that require more help two more detailed installations options shown below.
Instructions to download the executable (i.e. the program only); this is useful for most cases but especially when the Desktop Lifejacket will be downloaded once to run on a number of user accounts on one machine or a number of machines share the same network drive. This does not use an installer program; the Desktop Lifejacket will not be an item in the users’ ‘All Programs’ folder nor will it need to be uninstalled by the Control Panel -> Add/Remove Programs.
Instructions to run the click-once installer; this is useful when there may be MS .NET Framework components missing that Desktop Lifejacket require (generally because your machine is not running MS-Windows 7) and each individual user wishes to install Desktop Lifejacket just for themselves. With this option a shortcut will be placed on the user's desktop and entries for Desktop Lifejacket will be placed in the ‘All Programs’ folder of the ‘Start’ menu and as an installed program it will need to be uninstalled via the Control Panel-> Add/Remove Programs.
Once installed the Desktop Lifejacket executable will not communicate with the internet and therefore not automatically require updating. Further updates may be available but it will be necessary to check the website www.desktoplifejacket.co.uk
Please note that by using this software you are accepting the End User Licence Agreement (EULA). As with all free software the EULA states that this code does not come with any guarantees and no support. No liability can be taken for any unexpected losses. The software is protected by copyright and owned by the provider.
Installation is not always straight forward. If there are any issues please see problems and resolution section.
On starting the launch screen is first shown…
If the user desires, the first time the launch window is show be the only time that this window is shown at all. To achieve this simply select the tick box ‘Place In System Tray On Start Up’ and then click ‘Store Settings’. From now on Desktop Lifejacket will be running in the background looking out in the user’s best interest of their health.
Most of the options of the form are self-explanatory and tool tips are present for most controls; simply let the mouse pointer rest over a control (button, text box etc.) for a while and some explanatory text should appear.
Desktop Lifejacket does not involve much interaction from the users. For much of its lifetime it will be running as a batch or background job. For this reason its behaviour may be slightly different from what may be expected from a MS-Windows application.
Unlike most programs when minimised Desktop Lifejacket will not be placed on the task bar at the bottom of the screen. Minimising the window causes the program to be placed in the users’ System Tray (generally bottom right of the screen). It is possible to open the above window again by double-clicking or right-clicking and selecting the correct menu option of the Desktop Lifejacket icon in the System Tray.
The time values entered for the behaviour of reminder alert are used instantly. This can lead to unexpected responses being generated when some data values are entered. For instance the Reminder Break Time must always be larger than the Snooze Time so it is often necessary to enter the new Reminder Break Time to the left of the existing time number before deleting the existing one. This means that the Reminder Break Time is made to be a larger number before deleting the figures to the right so that the desired value is eventually shown. This avoids error/warning messages that would be caused by deleting the existing numbers first and having the Reminder Break Time is less than the Snooze Time, which is not allowed.
To avoid Desktop Lifejacket simply popping up reminders at regular intervals it is possible to have it monitor the users mouse/keyboard input. If there is no user input for the specified time the Reminder Break countdown timer is simply reset. Desktop Lifejacket assumes the user has already taken a break and therefore does not pop-up a reminder needlessly.
The reminder alert is the simple window shown below. Using the above settings, after 35 minutes the following reminder will appear unless the mouse and keyboard has not been used for 5 minutes. If the mouse and keyboard have not been used for over 5 minutes then Desktop Lifejacket suspends itself until the next time the user provides an input. It then restarts the reminder countdown time from the start.
The window shown can also be seen as an example by clicking ‘Show Reminder’ button. The reminder can be adjusted in behaviour by selecting the tick-boxes shown in the ‘Reminder Alarm’ section. The ‘Always On Top’ option means that the reminder is always in front of any other window until it is dismissed.
When clicking ‘Pause’ button the Desktop Lifejacket suspends the countdown timer until the ‘Run’ button is clicked again. It may be necessary to re-open the launch window (via the System Tray icon) if ‘Pause’ is clicked via the reminder alert window. Once the ‘Run’ button on the launch window is clicked the application can be dismiss to run in the background again by selecting the ‘Minimise To System Tray’ button.
It is possible to store the settings that the user desires by clicking ‘Store Settings’. These settings will then be reinstated when Desktop Lifejacket is run again.
I hope that you find this software useful. If enough users download and use this application it may start a campaign to have a Desktop Lifejacket feature as an optional component of future operating system. In that way hopefully all IT professionals will then have the option to protect their health while working at their machine.
For issues and any improvement suggestions please contact the author at martin(at)martinhargreaves.org.uk.
An evolving set of problems and resolution has been created with the intention that this will be updated as needed.