Posts Tagged ‘computers’

Standing Desk 2

March 4, 2015

In my first installment, I mentioned at the end that balance might be an issue. It is. There’s two problems. First, at full height, the VariDesk frame is cantilevered well forward of its stowed position, such that most of the load is no longer over the desk, but is hanging out in open space (I have the additional handicap of setting the 24″ legs on a 20″ desktop). Second, my rollaround computer desk was designed with a pull-out keyboard shelf. That’s because there’s no place to put your feet if you tried to use the keyboard directly on top of the desk. And that means you have to pull the VariDesk an additional twelve inches or so forward of where it wants to be.

I did that, and found that the whole frame got very tippy when I did so. As in “whoa, let’s push this back”.

As Lenin might say, what is to be done? There are several options. The first one, rapidly rejected, was to buy a new computer desk. The fuss and bother and drivings about were bad enough that I relegated that idea to the Last Resort folder.

Another possibility was to drill holes in the quarter-inch thick steel frame and screw the frame to the desk. Probably the second-best idea, and the second-worst inconvenience.

C-clamps on the back wouldn’t work, because there’s no room for them when the VD is in it’s stowed position. That leaves some sort of extension to the front of the desk to support the legs. If the legs had been the width of the desk apart, it would have been easy — an L-shaped shelf-holder would work — but as it was, there was no place to attach a support, other than on the front of the 1″ thick desktop itself.

Or on the top. The cleanest solution would be to buy a slab of quarter-inch plywood big enough to hang over the edge of the desk, screw it on, and stick the VD on top of it as if it was made for it. But plywood is expensive, and I was looking for a more minimalist solution.

Like, suppose you put a slab of plywood on the desk, and then cut away all the plywood that wasn’t actually holding stuff up. And suppose you substituted a steel plate for the remnant of plywood, on account of as how it was both thinner and stronger. To the Hardware Store!

Support Plates

Support Plates

Three trips later (did you know bolts came with both coarse and fine threads?) I had two lumber beam connector plates bolted to the desk, with the VD sitting atop them. It was still a little bouncy, so I went back (fortunately it’s less than a mile away) and bought longer bolts and some very large washers. The washers hooked over the edge of the base plate, and the bolts — two on the front side of the plate and two on the back side — went through the desk and held everything in place. To give myself some additional peace of mind, I stuck an old UPS that I was going to recycle on the bottom shelf of the desk, to supply some additional weight on the back side of the Center of Gravity.



This kind of setup undoubtedly voided my warranty, is probably dangerous, and certainly isn’t something that a sane person should try at home. If you try it, and your child gets crushed, well… post something on your Facebook page and I promise I will tag it with a Like.

Standing Desk 1

March 1, 2015

I’m typing this while standing up. My feet hurt. My back hurts. There’s a pain in my left leg just above the knee, and a tingle in the nerves of my right thigh. Obviously, I have things to learn about standing desks.

I decided to get a standing desk a month ago. That was about a year after my body decided it had fulfilled its evolutionary duties and could now coast downhill to retirement. My weight went up, my blood pressure went up, my aches and pains went up. This, despite the fact that I eat healthy, have no more than one or two bottles of wine at dinner, walk half a mile to class/meetings five times a week, and average an hour and a half per school day on my feet, lecturing. When the weather is good, most of the Summer and parts of the Fall and Spring, but none of the Winter, here in the NENW, I put in an additional two miles per day in walking. Doesn’t help. Or, no longer helps. I don’t mind the thought of me retiring, but I’d prefer that my body didn’t retire first.

Considering that I spend probably ten hours per day at the computer — in a little one-Starbucks/high-scabland town like Cheney, there’s not much else to do — anything I can do to increase my activity level there should be worthwhile. Yes, I’ve got a treadmill, The Imperial Walker, and yes, I’ve tried working on a laptop while walking, but it just didn’t work out. For one thing, I had trouble figuring out where my lap was.

Enter the standing desk. Reportedly, they give most of the benefits of a walking desk, while being much cheaper and more compact. Of course, cheap is relative. Amazon carries a motor operated, dual-surface, multi-monitor, medical workstation for $12,000, and a crank-adjustable work desk for $4500. I wasn’t that unhealthy, so I settled for a $350 VariDesk Pro Plus: a spring-operated, desk-mounted rig that was wide enough to take my two monitors. Ordered it last month, got it last week, put it up last night.

The way we were

The way we were

Here’s my original setup. Two monitors on a twenty-year old rollabout computer desk. Keyboard almost in my lap. Room at the top for my books and speakers. Room at the bottom for my UPS and NAS. The screen and keyboard to the left are for my Windows machine, which I bought to run school software on but otherwise keep in the closet. We won’t speak of it again.

Adding the standup feature was simple. (more…)

Why I’m Staying With Linux — A Valentine’s Day Story

February 18, 2011

OK, the week after Valentine’s day. A post-Valentineism. Look on this as a sequel to the Christmas Story.

It all started with an update. Linux updates more often than the other OS’s, because bug fixes are released as they are completed. Also Linux updates everything. You don’t have to go check each product to see if there’s an update (or worse, have one pop up when you open your app because need to use it right now!). Every few years, something goes wrong.

As I said in an earlier post, there was an update that broke my system. GRUB went away. Wouldn’t boot. Best I could get was a message from the Intel boot genie that no-one had given it a bootfile name. Turned on one of my backup machines and went onto the Ubuntu forums. I had a useful answer within an hour.

Let me say that again. Within an hour of posting, I had a response from someone at the company that had built my computer. Nobody gave me a runaround. Nobody accused me of piracy. Nobody pointed a finger and said I should talk to some other company. They didn’t laugh when I downloaded the wrong fix (twice). They just provided good, solid help. If it hadn’t been for the timing, my schedule, and slow internet connection, I’d have had it fixed that day.

Linux. Yeah. I’m keeping it.

Why I switched to Linux – A Christmas Story

December 10, 2010

This article from TechDirt started me thinking about my own experiences with Windows.

I have worked with Microsoft products for almost a quarter of a century. My involvement goes back to DOS and Win 2.0. When I was a contractor I built Foxpro database applications for the USAF, programming in the Foxpro version of dBase. When I was getting my Ph.D, I paid my dorm rent by working as a free-lance MS Access developer, programming genetics tracking software for OHSU. At one point I taught VB programming, until we switched to PHP. Even today, I teach Microsoft Office as part of our core business classes. What I’ve found is that my engagement with Microsoft has gone through three phases — enthusiasm, hatred, and contempt.

I’ll skip the intervening decades of technical disappointment and ethical disillusionment, this is a Christmas story, after all. (more…)

Ergotron Lx Keyboard Arm Update

November 28, 2010

This is an update on my original review. I was planning to do this at the six month point but I decided to move it up a month, to get it out before Christmas, if anyone is thinking of buying one for a stocking stuffer. So, I’ve had the arm for five months now and my opinion hasn’t changed. It’s still a solid piece of work.

That said, the tendency to sag to the mouse side is a little irritating. At least it hasn’t gotten worse. I am measuring it at almost exaclty one inch of sag when the arm and mousepad are fully deployed. Since I am working in front of an existing keyboard tray, I’ve found that one workaround is to over-rotate the arm slightly, and support the mousepad on the edge of the tray. I then counter-rotate the keyboard on the arm to compensate.

My only other advice is to pay attention to how you are routing your keyboard and mouse cables. Mine come in from the side and unless I am careful they will snag the various parts of the arm when I swing it into position.

UPDATE ON THE UPDATE October, 2011: About four months ago I swapped out my wired keyboard & mouse for a wireless one. The wireless signal gets attenuated by the back of the tray. Pulling the keyboard away from the back an inch or so helps. Resting it on top of a keyboard box (or Amazon equivalent) helps even more.

I still like it.

UPDATE ON THE UPDATED UPDATE February, 2013: Still going strong after almost three years. In addition to the attenuation problem, I found the monitor setup was sometimes blocking the signal. I finally velcro’d the keyboard/mouse sensor to the top of the arm. It’s a little tricky because the armtop isn’t flat, but once the stickyback took hold it worked fine. The other thing I did was get a slab of 1″ styrofoam and cut it to the exact shape needed to hold the keyboard. The box was a little too high and a little too deep.

The Ergotron Lx Keyboard Arm

June 28, 2010

I run multiple computers, a Ubuntu Linux box for most of my work and research, and a separate Win XP PC for those apps that have to have Windows. Yes, I know about VBox and Crossover and Wine, but sometimes it’s just more convenient. Now, the approved way to move between computers is a Keyboard-Video-Mouse (KVM) switch. I’ve not had much luck with KVM switches, they rarely last more than a year or so, and the latest one has a tendency to lock up linux so bad that I have to do a power cycle to get my mouse and keyboard back. The solution I’ve hit on is to use the KVM switch as a simple monitor switcher, and plug a separate keyboard and mouse into the PC. This, of course, means I have to keep sticking them out of the way and pulling them back out whenever I want to use the machine. Enter the keyboard arm.

After a whole quarter of pulling and putting, with intimations that I’ll be teaching the same class using the same software, I broke down and ordered a swivel arm for the keyboard. The one I chose was the Ergotron Lx Wallmount – surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of others out there (which may explain part of the price). It came today, and I thought I’d build a review as I went along, maybe posting a copy of it to Amazon, whence I bought it.

Packaging was simple, but interesting. The densely packed OEM box was inside a much bigger Amazon box, along with a large crumple of packing paper. The Amazon box was lighter than it looked. The Ergotron box, heavier. Maybe because the advertised weight of the system is 16.7 lbs, while the shipping weight is reported as 16 lbs. Go figure.

Inside the box that was in the box, the arm components (shelf, humerus and ulna (or biceps and triceps), and the wall mount) were well packed and well protected. One also gets two bags of smaller parts, and a six page, nine language instruction sheet, mostly pictures. The pictures are clear, which is good, because the text isn’t particularly useful. It isn’t unintelligible, just extremely terse, and limited to things that are hard to draw, like the fact that they recommend an installation that can hold up to 4x the weight of their system. They are serious — the screws they give you are two 10x80mm concrete screws that look like they’d anchor the tiedown hook for the Hindenberg.

Of course, the mountings have to be strong, because the arm itself is solid. Beat your way out of a crowd of zombies-solid. And heavy. I doubt that 0.7lb of that 16lb is packing material.

Installation was simple. Line up the wall mount holes. Drill. Screw. Assemble. Since it’s a “wall-mount” setup, they want you to put it into two inches of concrete wall, or into the thick part of a 2×4 stud. I was mounting mine on a computer desk, so I drilled two 1/4″ holes through the particle board and bolted it on using a 1 1/2″ long bolt, with a washer, lock washer, and hex nut on the inside. If this causes any durability problems, I’ll report back.

Assembly was equally simple: drop the humerus onto the wall mount shoulder, drop the ulna onto the humerus, screw on the palm (keyboard tray). That last part was the trickiest.  The keyboard tray is heavy, the screws are small, and the arm wants to move away when you approach it with a screwdriver. Getting the first screw in is really a two person job.

They give you stickons to keep the keyboard from wandering around and to help route the cables up the arm. Right now I’m letting them hang off the back, but I can see why you’d want to restrain them.

The tray itself is sized for a standard keyboard. My big old ergonomic aircraft-carrier style keyboard hangs over a bit on the sides, and an inch or so in the front.  The action is very smooth, both horizontally and vertically, and the tray stays where you put it. I have mounted it at the near edge of the computer table, and it articulates enough to put the keyboard in front of me, squared up to the monitor. There is an extension on either end that will hold the mousepad. It’s smallish (7×7) and it only sticks out on one side at a time. No using one side for the mouse and the other for your coffee cup.

So far, I only have three complaints. First, the mouse tray slides too easily, so if you push on it when moving the arm it wants to dump the mouse. This is evidently a feature, not a bug, because they give you a wall-mounted holster where you can put the mouse before you stow the keyboard for landing. Second, there’s a surprising amount of play in the joints, so that in certain configurations, deploying the mouse pad causes the tray to tilt in that direction — over an inch. The mouse won’t slide off, but marbles won’t stay on. There is also some shake in the arm when you type, which is to be expected, given that you don’t have three point bracing. Finally, the primary vertical wrist control (flapping your hand) is tightened via a recessed hex nut. They give you a wrench to reach it with, Unfortunately, the angle is off just enough that the end of the hex wrench can’t fit into the socket unless you move it to an extreme up position. The wrist is positioned well enough and is tight enough to not be an issue, but if it was an issue, fixing it might be a problem.

I’m giving it four stars.

I have published a five-month update.

Reading List Page

June 16, 2010

In response to user demand (i.e. one search in a two year period), I have decided to move my reading list from its obscure position as a long-dead post to a new glory on its own page. Look to your right, under Pages.

I go two-headed

July 11, 2009

My wife and I have been playing musical monitors. We saw a nice 23″ Samsung wide screen monitor last week, and I just had to have it. After I got it on my desk, I decided it was a little much, compared with my 19″ ViewSonic 903b. So, my wife graciously accepted it as a gift, and gave me her 19″ ViewSonic 912b. Plugged them into my linux box, configured them, and am now learning their little idiosynchs. For some reason, I can’t get them to mount as two separate screens – the Nvidia card wants to make them one big screen, with the mouse jumping from one to the other as you slide it across. That’s not bad, but it does change your windowing habits – it’s a little disconcerting to have 3/4 of your email message on one screen, with the RH 20 characters on another. So, what’s required is that instead of maximizing a window, I adjust the size to fit a single screen, and then drag it to whichever monitor is appropriate. That doesn’t keep the Opera bookmarks from spilling across the margin, though.

Right now, I have the left hand one set up as my main screen, with my working window for Opera. The right hand one is set up with my email, and with Twitter open in a separate Opera window (not tab). That way, when I use the KVM switch to move to the XP box on the LH screen, the RH screen still shows my comms flow. Gotta stay in touch with the flow.

One of the nice things about Opera is that you can tell it to refresh a page every x minutes, so my tweet stream updates every 15min in the RH page, and the email checks every ten. I understand FF has a plugin for that, and I don’t know what IE does – probably assumes your servant will come in and press F5 as needed.

One interesting thing is the different color balance between the two monitors. The 903 (left hand) shows the Ubuntu background as earth-toned brown, while the 912 is distinctly orange. I ran the color setups on both, and both are set to 5600 somethings (probably degrees).