Forward to the computing past

I got a new computer this week. I went retro and got a desktop, which was kind of a big deal.

Every computer I’ve ever had, all the way back to the Kaypro II I bought in 1982, has been a portable. The Kaypro was the size and weight of a 1950s sewing machine, maybe one with a couple of bowling balls tied to it, but technically it was portable. A series of ever-sleeker and more powerful laptops, mostly Toshibas, followed it over the years. The most recent  went into commission in June 2007, just before I went to New Mexico for Taos Toolbox.

Five years is a long lifetime for a laptop that functions as a writer’s primary computer.  My work spreadsheet reveals that I’ve written 31 nonfiction books on it, in addition to tens of thousands of words of fiction, correspondence, journal entries, and blog posts. I needed a new machine–but what to get?

For years I’d staunchly maintained that only a portable computer would do for me. I liked knowing that I could take it anywhere, and I did take my laptops on quite a few journeys. But now that I have a smaller, lighter, netbook for travel, and do email on my phone, and will soon have one of these, it’s been a few years since I moved my primary computer at all. So why not think outside the laptop box?

I chose an HP all-in-one that actually takes up less space on my standing desk than the Toshiba laptop. I didn’t get the biggest or the flashiest screen, just a 20-incher, but trust me, it’s like Cinemascope next to the 15-inch laptop screen I’ve comfortably used for lo, these many years. Not great news, productivity-wise: movies and video look really good on it. The wireless keyboard and mouse that came with the computer are cheap and janky, but easily swapped out for something better. Otherwise, I’m happy with it.

Did I mention the touchscreen? It’s sweet. I may never mouse again.

 

 

 

 

Standing desk update

Three months ago I swapped out the desk in my home office–which is really just my office, as I work at home–for a standing desk, a process I describe here. How’s it going?

This morning my publisher sent me a link to this New York Times piece on the health benefits of standing, by fitness writer Gretchen Reynolds. Hundreds more calories burned in a day simply by standing instead of sitting. Many more benefits as well, including longer life and less fat deposited in the liver and other useful organs. But wow, hundreds more calories!

My experience with the standing desk seems to bear out, in a completely unscientific way, the science that says that standing is lots, lots better for you than sitting. Various health metrics have improved. So has my posture, which has always been, well, terrible. Still far from book-balancing perfect, but better. My overall energy level has risen, too.

Adjusting to the standing desk was far easier than I expected. Although I bought a high stool to use with the standing desk for sitting breaks, I’ve probably used it fewer than half a dozen times, and briefly. What I do use is a small, one-step footstool that I keep under the desk. From time to time I rest one or the other foot on it; this lets me change my posture without leaning forward onto my elbows or shifting my weight to one hip.

When using a standing desk, you want to keep your hips level and your back straight. The ergonomics should resemble this illustration, from Tinkering Monkey’s article on choosing or making a standing desk:

Is there a downside? People with foot, leg, or circulatory problems should do a little research and maybe check with their doctors before drastically upping their standing time. I don’t have any of those problems, and the desk is a great success for me. It does help to have a cushy gel mat underfoot. I bought one on Amazon for about $25.

I’d love to hear from people who’ve used a standing desk–bad experiences as well as good ones–and from anyone who’s thinking of taking the plunge.

 

 

 

Standing room mostly

I’ve transitioned to a standing desk.

I started thinking about it a year or so ago, after reading about the benefits of standing rather than sitting for desk work. Those benefits include (for a lot of people) increased energy, diminished back pain, weight loss, and–most interesting to me–improved focus and concentration.

I don’t have any back pain, but the other stuff sounded pretty good.

For a long time I pined for the GeekDesk, a hydaulic beauty that lets you raise and lower the work surface in seconds with the push of a button. (The ability to alternate easily between standing and sitting seems to help the transition to a standing desk, and even many long-time standers say it’s good to take a sitting break from time to time.)

But the GeekDesk is pricey, especially when you add the cost of shipping. I could never quite justify it, so I dithered and did nothing. Meanwhile, the awesome Cat Rambo did the opposite, i.e., something. She rigged up a standing desk and started using it. Her FB and G+ posts about the results inspired me, and when she posted that the IKEA Frederik desk can be used or modded as a standing desk, I went out and got one. At $149 it’s hella cheaper than the GeekDesk, although it can’t be raised and lowered, and I did the shipping myself.

I’ll pass lightly over the assembly process, except to say that: (1) this desk is the first IKEA product I’ve ever assembled that did not come with an Allen wrench, and (2) I put the desk together in our living room, while enduring the godawful Syfy movie “Swamp Volcano,” and getting it into my office eventually involved taking a door off its hinges and, when that proved inadequate, taking the damn desk partly apart and reassembling it in the office. So, um, put the thing together in the room where you plan to use it. Duh.

Anyway, I got it set up last night. My old sitting desk is on the left, the new standing one on the right:

newdesk1
olddesk2

My work habits are pretty jumpy; I usually take frequent bathroom, TV, walk, play-with-cat breaks, so it’s not like I’m going to be standing for hours on end in one place, like some literary-assembly-line worker. (Although my publisher might find that an  improvement.) But for sitting breaks at my desk, I got a $20 IKEA bar stool with a padded footrest. I’m also going to take Cat’s advice and get a gel floormat, like the ones chefs use.

I’ve only been at the desk for a couple of hours, but I like it. I’ve gotten some work done: revising an outline for my nonfic publisher, revising a short story, and writing this blog post. Time to down tools and see what that cat’s up to.