Standing Bird Desk

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Currently I do most of my writing on my MacBook or a Chromebook, while sitting on the couch. I do some work standing up using an older iMac, but I really hate the Apple A1048 keyboard so I don’t use it as much as I might. I use the Chromebook a lot for writing-on-the-go in places like the library; it’s lightweight, extremely portable (as long as their’s WiFi) and it runs a very long time on a charge; longer even than my iPad 3 with the Brydge keyboard, by two or three hours, depending on what I’m doing (the iPad runs out of juice long before the keyboard).

I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying an Ergo Depot Jarvis Junior. I’ll probably wait until I’ve moved to an iMac as my principal computer, and that move depends in part on how long I can see well enough with my spiffy high-end reading/writing glasses to use a laptop.

We’ve recently put up two bird feeders, at two different windows, and that’s got me re-thinking how and where I write.

One of the bird feeders is attached to a window in an alcove that has lots of natural light. It’s a super spot for a bird feeder. It got me thinking about a way to write standing up where I can see the feeder (and the birds!), which is a bit more difficult for me to do at the other feeder near the couch where I write a lot, because I can’t really get quite close enough to the window to see the birds clearly (there’s a reason they don’t let me drive . . . ).

So I’m trying a different standing desk experiment; one that has me rotating on a regular basis to writing in front of the window with the bird feeder. I’ve created another ersatz standing desk; this one involving a small plastic set of drawers resting on top of a low table, previously used by a sleeping cat and houseplants. I’m looking at this page for ergonomic guidelines about height and standing desks and this site’s nifty standing desk ergonomic calculator.

I’m mostly using the Chromebook; it’s a good way to continue looking at how much of a difference writing in the Cloud will make when it involves not only short form writing, like articles and blog posts, entering data in Google Sheets, and web-writing in general, but what it’s like working on long-form writing in the Cloud. I’m also using my iPad and Brydge keyboard (mostly, using Pages and Google Docs; I’m avoiding Microsoft Word unless a publisher requires it).

I could use it with my MacBook, but likely won’t. I’ve been using my bird feeder desk since March, and so far, it’s working better than I expected. Frankly, the birds are a huge motivation for me; they help me remember to shift, so I’m not standing rigidly, and they help me change my focal length, which is particularly important for my specific vision issues.

One thing I learned about my previous experience with standing desks: standing on hard floors isn’t fun, and dated carpet doesn’t count. I’m definitely buying a mat; a good one. The one my friends recommend is the Imprint CumulusPro. They’re now making the mat in a smaller 20″ x 30″ inch size, which makes it much more affordable; c. $45.00 rather than c. $72.00 for the 24″ x 36″ size. I note that The Wirecutter also favors the CumulusPro as a standing desk mat.

I’m contemplating wearing clogs or running shoes, because extra arch support makes a huge difference when you’re standing, though shoes/shoeless depends on the feet in question. Right now, I’m wearing a pair of Merrill hikers I bought for working with horses, and it’s made a huge difference over bare feet.

Mostly though the bird feeder is a super addition; it gives me an extra incentive to use the standing desk, and it helps me remember to change my focus from the computer screen to the window on a regular basis.

Tenth Anniversary of the Original iPod

First generation Apple iPod

First generation Apple iPodMy original 5 gig iPod, purchased in November of 2001, still boots, still charges, and still works. October 23 was the anniversary of the initial announcement regarding the then new iPod, and while mine still works pretty much as well as it did in 2001 (the battery is not what it was), I subsequently became a delighted owner of first a first generation iPhone (now, sadly, with a damaged sleep/power button) and then, an iPod Classic, and, last January, an iPhone 3gs.

But it’s been interesting to look back via this Macworld piece on The Birth of the iPod, and to look back at the pundits’ initial takes on the first iPod via a companion piece on The iPod: What They Said.

I started using my first iPod at first to store music, and then to sync data. It wasn’t long at all before it became an essential teaching tool for me, as I noted in this blog post from 2004 written in response to a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the Duke iPod project.

I note for the curious, that The Chronicle is still usually hopelessly inane regarding teaching with technology, despite their recent harried push at becoming cool with respect to instructional technology.

Standing Desks

Ikea Fredrik computer desk image

I’ve been thinking about standing desks and my ideal workspace for, well, a few years now. My interest has been spurred in part by people I know who, like me, write for a living, having positive experiences with standing desks. And of course there are the articles, like this one from early this month in The Wall Street Journal, touting the popularity of standing desks in Silicon Valley. Then there was this report from the American Cancer Society that stated:

women who sit for more than six hours a day were about 40% more likely to die during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Men were about 20% more likely to die.

Then I started hearing from friends who worked in large Silicon Valley complexes that their employers had gone beyond offering standing desks to standing-desks-with-treadmills. Marko Kloos, writer and VP alum was a standing desk convert, first with a trial setup, and then via a local Borders Bookstore closing, a more permanent pair of standing desks.

I’ve had a lot of different tables and desks for writing on a computer. When I worked in media production at a software content company, my desk was a solid door; it had plenty of rooms for a task light, a keyboard, a mousepad and two 20” Apple monitors. In a lot of ways, that was my ideal set up. I have a good task chair and a lovely adjustable computer desk made by the now defunct ScanCo company in storage, and no room at all in the apartment for a large desk. Mostly these days, I sit in a comfortable easy chair and use a piece of fiber board as a lapdesk under my Mac Book.

I know a lot of canonized writers—most notably Hemingway—favored standing while writing. Thomas Mann used to write while standing and using the top of his refrigerator as his desk. At over six feet, he has certain advantages that at 5′ 3”.5 I lack. I’m not writing anything like the books they wrote, or keeping their hours, but on a long day, especially one that’s deadline-driven, even with frequent breaks and moving around and actually leaving the apartment to take a walk, I notice my back and shoulders hurt, and there’s sometimes noticeable eye strain. I’ve been reading about standing desks for a long time, looking at other people’s standing desks and investigating the various possibilities. As an experiment about six months ago on a whim, I moved my laptop to the top of a half-height bookcase. It wasn’t quite the right height for me, so I put the hard cover unabridged American Heritage Dictionary under the laptop. That’s actually worked pretty well for me. I can easily move back to the easy chair when I get tired, and there’s enough space that I can even shift easily on my feet if my legs or back get tired. Plus, the cat has claimed the bottom shelf of the bookcase as Hers, which means when she gets bored she attacks my feet.

The experiment has worked better than I expected. All the same, I keep looking at adjustable standing desks, like this one from IKEA, the Fredrik:

Ikea Fredrik computer desk imageI know several people who use the IKEA Fredrik as a standing desk and are quite happy with it, and with it’s $149.00 cost.

Or there’s this one available from Amazon, the Safco 1929CY Adjustable Height Stand-Up Workstation, 29w x 19-3/4d x 49h, Cherry PVC Top for $290.07. It comes in cherry or oak finish for the PVC top. Image of the Safco standing workstation I’ve two friends whose employers at different companies offered them this Safco standing workstation. The top shelf and the keyboard tray are both adjustable, and the keyboard tray slides in or out.

Still, both are really designed for desktops, not laptops, and neither really offers the kind of space I’d like for a work area, so I think I’ll stick to my experimental bookcase for the time being. I note that oddly my feet hurt; less so than they did the first few months, but I’m contemplating clogs and possibly one of these “Anti-Fatigue” mats.

Sublime Imprint Anti-Fatigue Nantucket Series 20-Inch by 36-Inch Comfort Mat, Espresso

Crown Comfort King Antifatigue Mat, Zedlan, 24 x 36, Royal Blue (CK0023BL)

Anyone tried either of them? What are your suggestions for new adopters of standing desks? Did you purchase a desk or build one?

MacBook Pro

I confess, I’m intrigued, but not enough to let Apple or you pry my new 15″ Powerbook from my hands. Here are a few reasons why I’m not panting to get one of the new Intel inside MacBook Pros:

  • It only has FireWire 400
  • There’s no modem
  • I have to use a modem when I visit my mom, or I can’t get work done. Rural Maine isn’t the only place where broadband isn’t available—nor am I the only person who has to support users with modem access. I need to see what it’s like for them to use software or sites I create.

  • No PCMCIA slot.
  • So I can’t use a Cellular modem card. There’s an Express Card/34 slot but to save my life I can’t find anyone who makes anything to put in it.

On the other hand, I am dying of curiosity about whether or not Windows XP will work on the MacBook Pro and the new Intel iMacs. I know that VirtualPC won’t work—that’s a given—but given that both machines use Intel Core Duo, I wonder about the utility of having both Mac OS X and XP on the same box.

If Windows XP works natively, I’m in. I’m so in.

UPDATE: According to Beta News, the Intel Macs won’t boot under the current version of XP because the Intel Macs use EFI rather than the current Open Firmware used on current PowerPC chips, or the BIOS that’s standard on Windows. It sounds like it’s possible that a release of Vista later this year might work, but no one seems sure.

Hardware Lust Satisfied: Airport Express

Because The Spouse is writing this, we’ve purchased an Apple Airport Express. I’ve been interested in the Airport Express right from the start, and I have to say, it’s even better than I’d expected.

The first one we bought was a dud; it just wasn’t working, so I took it back to the Apple Store, who exchanged it without a problem, and I walked home with a new one ten minutes after I arrived at the store. Once we had a working model, the setup was less than ten minutes. It’s connected to the stereo receiver in our living room, using a standard RCA to Miniplug cable (the jack supports an optical connection as well). We took the option in the Airport Setup to have the Express dedicated to broadcasting music through the stereo— we could have also used it to expand the range of our Airport Base Station, but in a two bed room apartment, that seemed a little foolish. There’s also a USB port, so you could use the Keyspan Express Remote Control, or share a USB printer, and a standard 10/100 Base-T Ethernet port.

Why do I like it? For the past couple of years, I’ve done most of my writing on my iBook, on the couch. With the Express, I can wirelessly play my iTunes music, both my purchased songs and songs I’ve ripped from CDs, through the stereo. That’s pretty nifty, but what’s even cooler, is that since my computer is authorized on my spouse’s iTunes account, I can also play his iTunes songs, remotely or locally. And we can stream music from any of our computers to the living rooms speakers.

Plus, since the Express is tiny, it’s exceedingly portable— we can take it with us on our next trip, and share an Ethernet connection wirelessly, with up to ten computers.

I can see myself borrowing the Airport Express to take to campus and plug in to the classroom, to be able to play through the built-in classroom AV system without having to arrange for an AV person to bring special equipment and string long annoying cables.

I bet Airport Expresses are going to be very, very popular in the dorms this fall.