• Commentary,  Productivity

    Spark by Ergodriven: A Better Way to Test A Standing Desk

    When I first started experimenting with a standing desk, to see if it would work for me personally, I used odds and ends of household furniture two create two setups for test-driving standing desks.

    But the Spark by Ergodriven is a much better option. It’s a flat-packed sturdy cardboard temporary lift, meant to be placed on an extant table or desk and thereby convert the furniture you already have to a standing desk. The Spark comes in threes sizes, allowing you to choose a desk suited to your height. It’s made out of surprisingly sturdy corrugated cardboard, and it’s pretty easy to assemble.

    It’s also dirt cheap. Small Sparks for people under 5′ 4” or Medium Sparks for people 5′ 4” to 5′ 11 are $20.00 from Amazon; Large for people over 5′ 11” are $25.00. And because it’s flat-packed, it strikes me as something to consider if you do a lot of consulting that involves working from hotel rooms. You could have Amazon ship the Ergo Spark to your hotel, or stash it in your luggage and assemble it there. Most hotel rooms have a desk or table, and you can use the Ergo Spark to allow you to adjust your position from cramped and hunched, to standing.

    Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.

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  • Commentary,  Culture and Society,  Scholarship

    I Need a Shredder

    It’s been just over a month since I started my digital migration.

    I’m making slow but steady progress on getting rid of paper. I’ve been getting digital statements where possible for several years now; but the pre-digital years have been in file cabinets. I’ve gone through a couple feet of old financial data, and sorted it into trash and items to scan. I’m scanning them in, slowly, and getting rid of the originals.

    Picture of Amaxon's Basic 12 Sheet cross-cut shredderI desperately need a shredder; I’ve had to stop tearing up and scissoring old statements etc. because it’s too hard on my hands. I’m looking at this Amazon Basics 12-sheet crosscut shredder because it will also shred CDs (as I destroy old backups) and easily handle the average scholarly article.

    I’ve started reducing paper in terms of scholarly articles, and to a lesser extent, books.

    Many of the journals most pertinent to my academic field aren’t included in the full text databases available through my local libraries. Medieval Celtic studies is a little obscure. Accessing, never mind obtaining, digital scholarly articles is difficult if you don’t have an academic affiliation with a research institution with JSTOR and Project MUSE accounts. As an individual, it’s prohibitively expensive, and often, not not even possible to buy articles, (and when it is, a single article is often $10.00 or more, none of which money goes to the scholar who wrote it).

    That degree of inaccessibility means I need to keep hard copy versions of quite a few articles that I photocopied and that won’t scan well.

    • I already have an archive of .pdf scholarly articles and monographs that are indexed and listed in a spreadsheet. I’m checking printed and photocopied articles against that spreadsheet, and shredding those that I have as .pdf files.
    • I’m thinking about how to store the hardcopy articles. A filled file drawer is often difficult if not impossible for me to open and close, and doing it repeatedly is just not on. I thought about using comic book storage boxes, but they’re not quite tall enough for 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Still thinking about alternatives to file cabinets, including baskets with lids that will fit a standard bookshelf.
    • I’ve reduced the number of printed books I have by some hundreds. I’ve culled books I don’t need or no longer want. I’ve reduced it a bit more by replacing lots of fiction with ebooks, if they’re obtainable without DRM. I’ve lost too many expensive scholarly facsimiles, thanks to Adobe’s changing DRM, to have any faith in the longevity of DRM. I don’t mind DRM on a book I also have in printed form, but I’m no longer willing to buy DRM ebooks unless I have a printed copy too.
    • There’s a small problem with replacing scholarly books with digital versions that are Epub files in that citations are tricky, but I reckon I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it; I haven’t yet.

    Converting the paper bills etc. to digital is serving as a test case for scholarly hard copy conversion. I really want the articles to be searchable, if possible. That desire has me mulling over Evernote’s paid version. I’m also thinking about trying DEVONthink Personal. There’s also the possibility of relying on OS X’s Spotlight, too. I already use tags, which should help with Spotlight.

    I used to use reference managers, first EndNote then Bookends. But after trying several, including open source reference managers, I’m not a fan of reference managers. First, they don’t easily migrate. Second, I never could get the work-with-your-word-processor part to work well or predictably, either with MicrosoftWord or with Mellel. Currently, I’m using Pages for final formatting, anyway. So for now, the spreadsheet method suits me for managing bibliographic data. I like that it’s easily portable, and easily shared. No special software required.

  • Commentary,  Culture and Society,  Productivity

    The Less Paper Home

    I can remember all the stuff about the “paperless office” quite well, and even at the time, I didn’t believe it. Nor did I necessarily think going totally digital was a viable option for me. I still don’t.

    I like paper.

    It’s portable and doesn’t require electricity for operation. I can write just about anywhere with a notebook and a pen.

    High quality paper, as any Medievalist will tell you, is durable and if stored properly, makes a decent archive media.

    High quality paper and printing are sometimes easier for me to read than the screen; it depends a lot on the typesetting, the local light conditions and how heavy the thing is I’m reading.

    But much as I enthuse about paper, I don’t want to have to keep filing bills and receipts. For one thing, it’s time consuming, it takes up physical space we really don’t have, and it’s hard on my hands.

    We already receive as many invoices and statements as we can via email / .pdf. I’ve started scanning and OCRing the others. I’ve tried using my iPhone to photograph and OCR cash register receipts but it’s not worth the effort; they’re often just too hard to read as digital images, never mind OCR. So cash register receipts I need to retain are going into envelopes by month and date, and they’re going into a shoebox (I know, just like grandma !) after the data goes into a spreadsheet.

    My goal is to create a backed-up, cloud-synced, searchable archive of digital business/tax related documents, where I scan paper bills on receiving them (or as soon after as possible), and store the digital version as a searchable PDF.

    Once I’ve wrangled the secular materials into a digital archive with redundant backups, I’ll start on a digital migration for scholarly files.

  • Commentary,  Hardware

    Standing Bird Desk

    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.

    WeÆve 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 . . . ).

    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 my ersatz standing desk 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 CumulusProImprint CumulusPro standing floor mate. 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 wearing good shoes has 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.

  • Commentary

    Standing Desks Part II

    I first wrote about standing desks four years ago. I couldn’t find the kind of standing desk I wanted then under $500.00. At that point, I was looking for a standing desk in the purest sense; one that was used only when standing. So I opted for a couple of ersatz standing desks from repurposed bookcases, instead of buying a desk that wasn’t quite what I wanted.

    I’ve done due diligence in trying before buying; I know I want to use standing desk, and I want to alternate between sitting and standing.

    Since then we’ve learned a lot more about using standing desks. First, sitting and standing in alteration is a much better option, long term; hence the phrase “sit-stand desk.” Moving around, instead of sitting or standing for long periods, being able to switch between sitting or standing, or adjust position while standing, is important. Mobility is key; it’s not the standing that’s the issue, is that I’m not just sitting.

    Now, I’m looking for a more permanent solution, one that will continue to work in the future. My MacBook is approaching end-of-life, and I’m increasingly having visual problems beyond the ability of adaptive tech or glasses to compensate. I see a larger screen iMac in my future.

    There are do-it-yourself standing desk solutions; like this $200 do-it-yourself convertible standing desk designed by a friend at Instructables. There are a number of Instructable-do-it-yourself standing desks; this one is an Ikea Standing Desk Hack or this one that is electronically adjustable. For those of you who have a desk or table already, there are options like The Standesk 2200, a $22.00 IKEA hack.

    Picture of an Ergo Depot Jarvis Junion with bamboo topI’m not all that handy (being able to see strikes me as a positive in terms of using hammers and saws) and don’t currently have a desk at all, other than my converted bookcases, so I’m looking at pre-made standing desk solutions, and preferably, ones that are adjustable (I’m short) and that can switch between sitting and standing.

    I’m resigned to the fact that a durable high-quality adjustable sit-stand desk is going to be in the neighborhood of $700.00 to $1000.00.

    The Wirecutter, my go-to site for reliable, thorough reviews, likes the Ergo Depot Jarvis Bamboo. I do too (especially the bamboo top!), but it’s c. $700.00, which is really not an option for me. Ergo Depot sells the Jarvis frame separately, as well, but honestly, I’d likely be putting something like the Bamboo top on it in any case.

    Ergo Depot also makes a smaller version, the Jarvis Junior that is awfully tempting, Just the frame is $499.00. If I add the Bamboo top in the medium size (36” x 27”) $25.00, the digital memory switch to raise and lower the top (and remember settings, so it can be easily used by more than one person, standing and sitting) is an additional $35.00, locking canisters (so it can be moved to different locations) are $29.00, a solution for wire and cable management is $39.00, and a pencil tray (cat) is another $29.00. The total, before tax (shipping is included) to $656.00. If I go with the largest top available on the Jarvis Junior (42” x 27”)  that brings it to $680.00 before taxes (I’m pretty sure I’d be fine with the medium 36” x 27”; that’s a lot of space even with an iMac, keyboard and trackpad/mouse).

    That’s under $700.00, with either configuration, and not bad, particularly given the high quality materials and warranty. At this point, that’s a target for me, so I’m going to be trying a different temporary standing desk, one that comes with a birds-eye view.


  • Commentary,  Writing

    2016: It’s a New Writing World in the Cloud

    I’m still adjusting to a career as a full time writer.

    I’m not complaining, mind, it’s work and it results in pay. But it’s not something I ever envisioned doing for a career.

    I’ve made some of the changes I wrote about last year.

    • I’ve reduced the number of sites I run for other people. That’s been a welcomed decrease in workload.
    • I’m  using TextExpander even more now, for a variety of different writing projects and lots of site admin-related work.
    • I’m currently using an older 13” Aluminum MacBook as my primary computer, with regular recourse to my iPad with a Brydge keyboard case, and lately, to an older model hand-me-down Chromebook.
    • I generally do most of my email triage on my iPad, reading and sorting (and deleting) mail I need to keep, mail I can answer immediately, mail I can delete, and mail I need to answer as a separate task.
    • I haven’t touched Microsoft Word in a bit over three years, and that’s been wonderful. I’m using Pages via iCloud quite a lot, even on the Chromebook.
    • I’m also using Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, on the MacBook, the iPad, and the Chromebook.

    I’ve finally purchased Numbers for OS X and iOS, and I’m using it via iCloud and my MacBook and iPad for documents that Google Spreadsheet struggles with. I’m new to Numbers, so this has been interesting.

    I’m still using BBEdit for heavy lifting in terms of complicated HTML or CSS, cleaning up text files, Perl, and Regex, but I’m using Markdown more than last year, which BBEdit handles.

    I hadn’t expected how much, because of iOS 9 and Yosemite and Handoff, I’d be using TextEdit and the new version of Notes via iCloud. I wrote an AppleScript to count words in a TextEdit document, but I need to figure out how to trigger it from the AppleScript menu, and that means finding out where the heck the AppleScript menu has gone. It disappeared when I installed Yosemite.

    I’ve gotten deeply into using Scrivener and Scapple, because of a new non-fiction book and non-technical book I’m writing. Scrivener makes dealing with primary resources very straightforward; I can have them all in a single file, a file that I can backup easily, and Scrivener offers me a number of ways to organize my research and the current draft. Scapple I’m using mostly out of curiosity; I’m not given to mindmaps in general, though I know they really help large numbers of writers.

    I’m breaking my writing sessions into two or sometimes three hour chunks, and often, even smaller sessions of 90 minutes or so. That’s a lot easier on my hands.

    I’ve been writing at libraries more, partly because of the need to do research using non-circulating materials. I’m also deliberately choosing to write away from home, because the walk and the different environment is good for me in multiple ways.

    I’m using my iPad 3 and Brydge Keyboard more than I expected to, partly because I can read the iPad screen more easily than my MacBook’s or my Chromebook. I’ve tried Editorial, but so far, Editorial has been baffling. I’m interested in reducing workflow steps and processes, and Editorial seems to want to add both.

    Having rejoiced about being Microsoft Word free, I probably should take a look at the “cloud” versions of the Office suite, Office 365. It includes a terabyte of Cloud storage on Microsoft’s .servers, as well as the full suite on iOS, Android, OS X and Windows. I’d still want local options though, given outage issues common with Cloud services from, well, anyone.

  • Apple,  Commentary,  Hardware

    iPod 2001 still going

    I celebrated the tenth anniversary of the original iPod.

    The initial iPod was released on October 23, 2001. I’m pleased to note that mine is still going strong 14 years later. It’s funny now to look back and remember that I was absolutely sure I’d never be able to fill up five gigs with just music, or as Apple put it “1000 songs in your pocket.”

    I used my first iPod a lot for just listening to music, especially on the bus or working in the library, but I also used it for teaching. The fact that I could mount it as a drive via FireWire meant I could show students short film clips of plays or play audio files via the lecture hall’s sound system or workstation.

    Now, I have music on my iPhone, but not so much as I used to; I’m streaming a lot more via local WiFi. Instead, that storage that might have been used for music is now being used for photos and ebooks.

    I predicted that we’d be reading ebooks more; I missed entirely how much we’d be taking photos with our phone—though I used the cameras a lot on my iPhone 1 and 3, I mostly used them to take pictures of things I couldn’t see well, like street signs or small text on boxes. Now, I’m using the iPhone 5 camera more than my dedicated camera—and it’s changed the way I take pictures.

    No, I’m not taking selfies, but I am taking a lot more spontaneous pictures because the iPhone is right there, and I’m still using the iPhone camera as a visual aid, even though new plastics have made distance and close reading glasses possible for me. But I’m sending friends and families more photos than I ever did before—and seeing more in response, too.

  • Commentary

    Cooking with Your iPad and iPhone

    I have an article up at Peachpit on using iOS in the kitchen:

    Using iPads and iPhones in the kitchen may seem a little odd at first, but it’s a natural progression. You might start by using the iOS Notes app to create grocery lists; then you use apps to discover and save recipes. That leads you to enhanced cookbooks and dedicated recipe apps that are designed to be readable and functional in the kitchen. To make it easier for you to cook with iOS, I’ve become a kitchen pioneer, testing iPad and iPhone apps and tools designed for cooking. This article describes some of the best cooking apps and tools I’ve found in my explorations.

    Read the rest . . .

  • Commentary,  Publishing,  Scholarship

    VDM or Verlag Dr. Mueller Has a New Tactic

    I’ve written about VDM (Verlag Dr. Mueller), an exploitive academic/scholarly mill before.

    Writer Beware writer advocate and writer Victoria Strauss notes that VDM has a new wrinkle:

    . . . a company called Bloggingbooks that wants to publish your blog in book form

    Read Writer Beware’s warning about Bloggingbooks.

    Run away; you can do this yourself, if you really want to, via any number of online service companies. You won’t make much money, but you are less likely to be exploited.