Monday, February 15, 2016

In search of sit stand desk solutions

Numerous health related studies the last few years have pointed to sitting for long periods as being extremely detrimental to good health.  One Canadian study has even described sitting as "the new smoking".  I don't know if I'd go that far but too many years of sitting at a desk writing code has taken its toll on my back, and my health in general if I'm being honest. More and more, back related pain is forcing me to take frequent breaks and interfering with my focus.  As a true believer in "the zone", I know I do my best work when I'm hyper-focused for long stretches. Getting into "the zone" is hard enough but maintaining that level of concentration with an aching back is impossible.

The solution to my back pain is most often just standing, moving, and stretching. Of course, the longer I put off the break, the worse the pain and longer it takes for me to get comfortable again. The solution is obvious, work from a standing position.  At home, I've begun working on my laptop standing at the kitchen island and so far, no pain. In fact, I feel great but I do worry that a full eight or nine hour day might be too tiring, at least until I can build up some strength. To begin at least, I'm going to focus on "sit stand desk" solutions that transition between sitting and standing positions without a great deal of effort.

Work will provide a standing desk solution for anyone who asks but my situation is a bit more complicated.  I spend most of my day working in a customer lab where I can't permanently modify the setup. Worse, I often must change computers in order to use some specialized equipment. So my attempted solution going forward is twofold.  First, I requested a standing desk at my office. My IT guy thought he could find me something in the company warehouse.  Google and Amazon have raided my company for the last few years and we just can't seem to keep up our headcount. Maybe the only good thing is that there are many old computer desk setups just waiting for a new owner. Second, I'm now searching for a portable solution I can carry with me. The solution must be easy to setup and tear down and, since I intend to pay for this experiment, it has to be inexpensive. Time to get creative.

UPDATE: Sometimes people surprise me.  Word got out that I was looking at standing desk setups and both my work locations jumped up and offered to provide me with a sit stand desk solution. I must admit I was humbled by their response.  Both locations even went with the same desk: the Varidesk Pro Plus 36.


My primary office unit was installed almost immediately and the first day I started to feel the benefits. After just a few days standing roughly 90% of my time, I feel great and I swear I have more energy and better focus.  My legs are tired at the end of the day but it's that good tired that comes at the end of an intense workout. Given a few weeks, I think I'll build up my endurance and I'm betting I won't even feel it after that.

I was skeptical of the standing desk fad but I am now a believer.  I only wish I had done this years ago. I thought it might be too hard to focus while standing.  I was so wrong. It may not be a fair comparison given where I started but I feel just as focused.  Time will tell.  I'll update this post after a few months and tell people how this lifehack works long-term.  Till then, I'll be on my feet. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mi Band - My $15 fitness tracker gets the job done

If you're looking for a simple fitness tracker to count your daily steps, provide simple sleep tracking, work with the Google Fit app, and run for over a month on a single charge, look no further than the Xiaomi Mi Band.


I paid only $15 with free shipping from GearBest and only just missed a sale for $11. In my eyes, that makes the Mi Band too inexpensive to pass up.  I've started 2016 with the goal of walking 10000 steps every day.  I won't always reach that goal but I will be able to track my progress and that does wonders for motivating me to drive up my step count. I always forgot my pedometer but the Mi Band stays on my wrist, even in the shower, so I can't forget it.

This ultra barebones wristband gets the job done.  Program the Mi Band with your daily goal and the Mi Band provides three leds that indicate your progress in thirds toward your selected goal. Raise your wrist and the Mi Band displays your current status.  One led blinking means your working on the first third of your goal. One solid led and one blinking says you've finished the irst fthird of your goal and you've working on the second third.  Your goal has been completed once all three leds are solid.  Need an accurate count?  Just use your smartphone and read the step count over Bluetooth LE. Want to track your steps over time?  Google Fit will automatically download and save your daily results.

So if you're not trying a fitness tracker because of the cost, don't wait.  If it ends up in your top drawer with all those other gadgets, you won't have wasted much money.  On the other hand, you might use it.  Who knows, maybe someday I'll "upgrade" to a better fitness tracker. Oddly, I don't even know what that means.  For me, this works.  If it broke, don't fix it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Years Lifehacks

Let's face it, people rarely keep their New Years resolutions because most of us choose resolutions that are unpleasant. Lose weight, exercise more, work harder and longer hours, and so on. It's not that these are bad choices but we choose them because we don't really want to do those things. No wonder people normally give up on their resolutions only a short number of weeks into the year.

Last year I decided to try something a little different. Instead of a typical New Years resolution to do or not do something major, I made a small, easy to keep, change to my normal routine in the hopes of improving my life. Isn't that really the goal anyway? I had gotten into the habit of listening to talk radio during my commute and found the constant hopeless negative energy was really started to affect my mood.  I was wasting 1.5 hours of each weekday making myself less happy. So to kickoff 2015, I decided to make better use of that time. But instead of a resolution like "learn German from a set of CDs", I just decided to listen to podcasts and pre-program a mix of educational, news, and entertainment content.  With a smartphone and a good podcatcher app, this is a simple change but one that has truly been 100% positive. And on days I'm sick of podcasts, I stream music but I always avoid the radio if I can.  No news and absolutely no talk radio.

My morning commute is now filled with technology news, science discussions, engineering lectures, and the occasional comedy podcast to lighten my day. It's these type of changes that I've sometimes heard described as "lifehacks", small changes to improve our well-being. In a future post, I'll list some of my favorite podcasts and why I'm such a fan. But for now, I want to discuss my next planned lifehacks.

For 2016, I want to work on starting my day earlier to give me more time in the morning to walk my German Shepard, something I love to do.  Problem is, I have always had trouble waking up in the morning, especially during the dark mornings of winter. In the summer, I typically wake with the sunrise which gave me the idea for something to try. My solution? I purchased a Philips HF3510 Wake-up Light, an alarm clock that simulates the sunrise and eases me into wakefulness. I love it!  I now wake feeling more rested and never hit the snooze button.  Of course, my dog loves it as well since we get more time together in the morning and I have more energy to start my day.

I have some other changes planned and I'll share them later. I would also be curious what small positive changes others have tried and how that's played out.  But remember, I'm not giving up coffee, chocolate, scifi, or the occasional piece of red meat.