About Me

My Photo

Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Three weeks with a standing desk.

So far, so good.

I wasn't sure if I'd like a standing desk, but a recent move to a new apartment was a perfect opportunity to try one, as I needed a new desk anyway.

I looked at a bunch of different standing desk designs. Many --- especially the motorized ones --- were expensive, running into thousands of dollars. (E.G. the $1500 Viking desk.)

Then there were ugly, jerry-rigged things that mount on top of a regular desk, but that cost as much as a desk itself. (E.G. the $400 Varidesk Cube Plus.) What's the point of that?

In-between models were mostly tables, not true desks: they offered a large, flat surface with nothing specific to office use. For example, the $500 electrically-adjustable Ikea Bekant "desk" looks like a dining room table. Where's the keyboard tray, mouse tray, etc?

I also wondered about the added complexity of electric lift mechanisms.

I ended up getting a "Balt Ergo E. Eazy Standing Desk." Wayfair had the best price ($500), with free delivery. Here's their page: http://www.wayfair.com/Balt-Ergo-E.-Eazy-Standing-Desk-82493-BL1001.html

It adjusts from normal desk height (about 28"/71cm) to full standing height (40"/102cm), or anything in between. Height adjustments are manual, but with a pneumatic assist (more on that in a moment).

The keyboard tray can be mounted left or right of center and adjusts from 1.5''/4cm below desktop to 4.5''/11cm above; with a fore/aft tilt from +15 degrees to -25 degrees. The mousetray mounts right or left of the keyboard.

The keyboard tray has a built-in padded wrist rest. The mouse tray does not. (I added one.)

The keyboard and mouse mounts are sturdy steel --- a boon for a heavy-handed typist like me. (I've previously pounded many key/mouse trays into oblivion.)

It has an elevated printer shelf, and what they call a "CPU stand" near the floor that I use for a large (and heavy) uninterruptible power supply. The printer shelf is held by clamps, and can be mounted as desired on any edge of the desk. The "cpu stand" can be mounted left or right of center.

A hidden cable-tray in the rear of the desk helps keep power cords and cables from being a dangling rat's nest.

My setup, shown at standing height. I'm average height; about 5'9';175cm; I use the desk at the max 40"/102cm height, with the keyboard set above the desk height, so the keytops are about 42"/107cm off the floor.



The desk's central support tube holds a pneumatic cylinder that provides lift-assist (like hatchback lifts on a car) when you raise the desk --- it goes up mostly on its own. You use your body weight, leaning on the desk, to lower it. You trigger the raise/lower action via a manual toggle. So, while this isn't a fully automatic (e.g. electric) desk, the up/down adjustments are relatively easy; with little or no lifting at all. You loosen two knurled knob locks on the side pillars, release the pneumatic locking mechanism, raise or lower at will, then re-engage the locks. Full up to full down can be done in under a minute, once you get the hang of it.

Full down, shown below. I rarely use it this way, but when I do, I position the keytray slightly lower than desktop height.



Assembly was OK and was much like putting together Ikea-type stuff. It took about half an hour. All required tools (allen wrench, phillips driver) are included. Pilot holes are pre-drilled, so screws go in easily. There's no measuring.

Some of the parts (eg key/mousetray) seem to be made to fit a variety of desks, such that on this desk, there were a few parts left over --- something the instructions don't warn you about. It's a little disconcerting to finish assembly and have parts left over, but they were truly extra pieces that had nothing to do with installing on this particular desk.

I originally set up the keyboard on the left, but didn't like it. I took the desk partially apart and moved the swappable parts to the other side without incident.

The as-delivered printer shelf was a skosh too low to allow for my notebook screen to be at the proper viewing angle. I shimmed the shelf clamps with some washers to get the shelf above the height of my notebook screen. (The photos above show the original shelf height, before I shimmed it.)

After three weeks' use:

I originally thought I'd stand for a while, and sit the rest of the day, but I'm using it in standing position almost exclusively. 

I definitely feel the difference in my upper legs, hips, and lower back. Especially the first week or so, I was noticeably more tired at the end of the day. But that was expected and is a natural consequence of using muscles that otherwise would not have been used. The whole idea was not to be sedentary, so some adaptation time is to be expected.

One unexpected thing: My typing speed and accuracy has suffered a bit because I'm not anchored in a chair, and my unconscious body sway is foiling 40-years of chair-bound typing muscle-memory. But I'm getting used to typing standing.

So far, so good. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The graduation speech no one ever gives.


(via http://poorlydrawnlines.com/)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Via NPR: Edison's Talking Dolls Can Now Provide The Soundtrack To Your Nightmares

"Back in 1890, Thomas Edison gave us some of the world's first talking dolls. Today, the glassy-eyed cherubs that are still around stand about 2 feet tall; they have wooden limbs and a metal body; and they sound supercreepy.... Edison built and sold about 500 of them back in 1890. Now, new technology has made hearing them possible for the first time in decades."
The dolls were a commercial failure in part because they were expensive, and in part because the primitive wax recording technology required speech at a very high volume --- too loud for kids to produce, in fact.

The mechanism:



So, Edison used adult employees to fake childrens'  voices.

The results were, um, not euphonious.

Sample ("Now I lay me down to sleep..."):
http://www.nps.gov/av/ner/avElement/edis-heitz-dilg-edison-c-now-i-lay-me-20020211-90rpm.mp3

Full story:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/05/05/404445211/edisons-talking-dolls-can-now-provide-the-soundtrack-to-your-nightmares

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wristwatch computer concept, 1981

Byte Magazine  cover, 34 years ago, in 1981 --- the year the IBM PC debuted. (Obviously, this is a visual fantasy and not an actual product proposal. :)  )



Close-up:



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Carly Fiorina, billed as a tech maven, failed to register this domain.

http://carlyfiorina.org/


(And BTW, for those of you not in tech; she is not a generally beloved figure in the tech community. She's a 'profits over people' gal, as you'll see when you visit the above domain.)