Category: ergonomics

Ergonomorama

Ergonomorama

I have hardcore tennis elbow. I’ve spent a couple grand accommodating this. Maybe you can learn from my ergonomic expenditures.

My ergonomic backstory

In 2008, the job market was not so hot. I had worked my first ever tech contract, which felt kind of terrifying to me since I was basically guaranteeing future unemployment by taking a short-term (but career-advancing) role. The recession hit, my contract ended, it predictably took forever to find re-employment, and so I took an interim job in a chiropractic clinic that needed someone bilingual to help out. Big mistake!

When I started hooking patients into their traction weights, I suffered a very bad repetitive stress injury that left me with permanent chronic tendinitis (tennis elbow) in both arms. Multiple courses of physical therapy haven’t helped the issue. My RSI constantly gets flared up whenever I use keyboards, mice, touch screens, game controllers, and a whole host of other real-world objects now, and increased flare-ups have spread the pain and injury from my hands to my shoulders and back. It’s difficult to manage because of how severe and sudden the injury was, and how many regular activities (all tech usage plus brushing hair and teeth, pouring water jugs, carrying groceries, shifting gears, etc.) can flare it right back up again.

However, the upside is that the pain has given me license to spring for any ergonomic upgrades that I need to keep it manageable. I hope these annotations on my various ergonomic purchases over the years are helpful to those of you who are considering a more ergonomic workstation. Some purchases have definitely been more worthwhile than others!

Sit/stand desk

I’ve got a GeekDesk v2, which is no longer offered but is similar-ish to the v3. I got the smaller frame size with the relatively larger desktop size, which no longer seems to be an option, but was in between the small and large sizes that are currently offered. My frame is silvers and my desktop is black. I’m mostly happy with it, but I might do more research and make a different purchase today if I got a do-over.

My main complaint is the desktop surface itself. I recommend getting your own desktop, or covering their laminate one in a material that doesn’t so readily accept water and finger oil marks. I see my clients surreptitiously scrubbing to remove marks all the time, I and I feel bad! I want to tell them not to worry and that it happens all the time on my side too, but I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. This probably seems silly, but if you have even a drop of obsessive tendencies (or design snobbery) in you, I urge you to procure your own desktop. GeekDesk marks do scrub out with the right cleaner, but it’s annoying to have to do that more often than actual cleanliness concerns would dictate.

Also note that if you screw or clamp anything into your GeekDesk, you need to make sure its thickness is acceptable—it’s too thin for a lot of hardware, so I’ve had to get special screws or jury-rig a spacer in some clamps. Furthermore, GeekDesk is a little dicey when it comes to weight management and overall stability compared to some of its competitors. I’ve tightened the frame every few months (hang on to that allen wrench), but I worry about all the weight I currently have on it. I don’t think I’d be able to add a giant second external monitor, for example.

Lastly, the GeekDesk doesn’t have any memory presets for height. This isn’t wildly important if your desk is pushed against a wall where you can make a little mark or something, but my desk floats in the middle of the room so I don’t have that option. I kinda wish there were a few presets even though I mostly get by just going by what feels best. I don’t love having to press two buttons to lift and lower it, either—I get that it’s a safety mechanism, but I’d like to be able to one-hand it.

Oh, and I’m not a treadmill desk person, but if I wanted to be I don’t think the GeekDesk would be tall enough for me (I’m 5’11”). Unless you got really fancy and set your treadmill into your floor, the height of the treadmill would make the tallest possible position of the GeekDesk too short to comfortably type while maintaining a good monitor height, even with a pretty darn tall monitor arm. Granted, I haven’t actually tested this setup, but my sense from the height presets I currently use is that it wouldn’t work out. (I generally max out the desk’s height when I’m standing at it, with my keyboard tray in a low position.)

The GeekDesk was the right price point at the time I made the purchase, but I’d consider getting a different brand if I were in the market for a sit/stand desk today.  At the very least, I’d say do more research than I did; there are far more options available today as standing desks gain popularity.

Monitor arm and accessories

I’ve got my 13″ MacBook Pro and external monitor in an ESI dual monitor holder and laptop tray. I love the arm 90% of the time, but it’s just barely too short for my desired ergonomic viewing angle and FaceTime webcam height. (I’m 5’11” with a fairly long torso; a monitor with an integrated webcam at the top would help with the latter point.) Test and measure to make sure the arm you get goes as high or low as you need, especially if you’re tall and/or you use an adjustable height desk. Mine definitely doesn’t have enough flexibility for my preferences; I could also use some monitor pitch tilting which it doesn’t offer. Some brands allow for a setup that let you buy a separate “raiser” piece; even if you don’t spring for that at the beginning, it’s a nice option to have if you discover you need more flexibility.

I strongly dislike my ESI laptop tray. The knobs on the bottom are insanely difficult to adjust, and the tray only slides small enough to snugly fit a 15″ laptop. The rubberized strips don’t actually hold a smaller laptop in place, so I have to jam something in there (currently two decks of cards) to space my 13″ laptop farther up in order to get an acceptable FaceTime camera height for video chats. (Vain, but come on; that’s how I spend 80% of my client interaction time. No one needs to see me with nine chins while we talk.)

If I were to make this purchase over again, I’d find something that was better compatible with my smaller hardware, but that still used a VESA bracket. (Note that the Humanscale laptop trays use their own proprietary latching system, while ESI uses the more standard VESA bracket system. I think other brands do the proprietary connector thing too; double check the connection hardware before you purchase.) Some better cord disguising in the laptop tray also wouldn’t hurt.

When I was researching monitor arms, I found that Ergotron arms are often way cheaper, but ultimately inferior. After reading reviews and checking measurements and weight limits, I determined that they weren’t right for my needs. But I pinned a zillion of them on my ergonomics board, in case you find that data helpful. I found it very helpful to check out monitor arms in person, though, as the overall build quality becomes much more apparent with a floor model you can move and swivel.

My ESI monitor arm system works well enough with my desk thickness, but just barely. You may actually need shims or spacers if you have  a very slim desk surface, which may end up looking ugly or compromising stability. These arms add a ton of weight, which may be a problem for some hydraulic sit/stand desks. And lastly, my model doesn’t handle super-huge heavy monitors like the older 27″ iMac, or possibly the Thunderbolt Display (much to my dismay). Check the weight limits of your desk itself as well as each arm of any monitor support systems before you get too deep into designing your setup.

Keyboad tray

I modded my GeekDesk with a custom ISE brand pull-out keyboard tray wide enough for a left and right mouse as well as a keyboard. (Because it’s custom there’s no retail link for it, but I purchased it and had it further customized at Keeney’s Office Supplies.)

My tray, while very wide, is just narrow enough that I need to get numpadless keyboard models in order to comfortably mouse both left and right. (These are a good idea anyway for proper ergonomics.) Most keyboard trays aren’t wide enough for dual mousing, but most users don’t need them to be. If you’re pro numpad; you may want to look for a model that has a separate mousing tray attached. Just be careful to minimize the distance your dominant hand has to travel to reach the mouse—I find that keyboard trays with a dedicated mouse platform often place the mouse way too far from the keyboard for my comfort.

Commence maximum type muffling!
<tray:width = 100%>

A huge advantage of the keyboard tray is greater flexibility with sit/stand setups. I opted for a tray with fairly complex swiveling and pivoting features that allow for different heights as well as depths and angles. This is better for keeping a neutral wrist position (especially when standing), as well as for compensating for the relatively low height of almost all monitor arms. You want your keyboard fairly low and your monitor fairly high (if you’re me and/or tall or slouchy), but sometimes you want a different height when you’re sitting than standing. I recommend springing for a more robust tray that gives you more options. I actually see that ISE makes a dedicated sit/stand desk version now, though I get by just fine with my less swoopy version.

If you opt for a dedicated keyboard tray, especially if you’re pairing a tray with an adjustable desk, I recommend finding a local office supply shop that can cut and/or otherwise customize things for you. You should also measure like crazy. The crossbar on GeekDesks is so far forward that it blocks a full keyboard tray brace installation. (I don’t really know the proper name for the piece I’m calling a brace, but it’s the long metal track that you screw directly into the desktop to mount the tray.) It’s really nice to test all the movements out anyway, so it’s worth the effort of finding an in-person shop.

You’ll also need to possibly use different hardware than what comes with your tray, depending on the thickness of your desk. If you cut down your brace length, I recommend finding or drilling more spots for screws to compensate for any brace length removed, just to make sure it’s very well attached to your desk. Can’t be too careful with super heavy and expensive equipment, ya know?

Oh, here’s my only real annoyance with the ISE tray: the whole thing is super high quality solid and HEAVY hardware, but then the little plastic doo-hickey that acts as a stopper is cheap and flimsy. (Not crazy about the fact that the stopper is a few millimeters taller than my GeekDesk is thick, either!) So when I adjust my tray a little too aggressively, especially when pulling it forward, a) the little ISE thing falls out, and b) sometimes the entire tray piece pops out of its track. I have to immediately stop whatever I’m doing, lift the heavy tray, and guide it carefully back into place.

The connection to hold the plastic thing also wears out with frequent removal and replacement, so the issue only becomes more pronounced over time. This is a problem I’ve been meaning to solve with creativity and possibly glue, but it’s an annoying design flaw that will probably irritate the sort of person who is interested in this blog post.

Keyboard and mouse

On that keyboard tray is an Evoluent vertical mouse, a Matias Laptop Pro keyboard, and a cheap Logitech wireless mouse on the left. Here is more detail on those, plus notes from my extensive keyboard research.

Evoluent vertical mouse

This mouse has totally sucky drivers, but good ergonomics in the hardware itself and good enough mouse functionality. It definitely takes a while to get used to, and isn’t great for activities like PC gaming where you need to have super fast response times. But it gets the job done, there are craploads of buttons if you’re a custom button person, and definitely reduces carpal tunnel type wrist strain. That isn’t my primary ergonomic concern, so it still sometimes hurts to use this mouse when my tennis elbow is flared up—which is why I keep a left hand mouse too.

I haven’t tried Evoluent’s wireless or Bluetooth vertical mice, but I’d like to upgrade to the latter eventually to free up a USB slot. However, their software is so crappy (half the button bindings don’t work at all in Windows 8.1, and they sometimes mysteriously reset themselves on any OS) that I’m reluctant to trust that the wireless models have successful Bluetooth or even proprietary wireless connectivity. If I ever bought one of these, I’d do so from a shop to which I could return easily if necessary.

Note that Evoluent does make a Mac-specific version of their mice, although I find that the PC one works fine on Mac (and actually works better on Mac than PC if you’re rocking a recent Windows OS). The company also makes right- and left-handed versions,  and  small and large sizes. I haven’t tried the left or small options in person, but I find the large to be perfect and can’t imagine that the small would be an improvement. (I mouse with my right hand dominantly, but have learned to mouse left to better manage my RSI. I don’t think I could fairly evaluate a dedicated left-handed mouse, though.)

One note of Evoluent ownership is that you should probably keep a cheap “guest mouse” available if anyone else uses your computer, like, ever. People unfamiliar with the Vertical Mouse tend to find it very intimidating. A cheap wireless Logitech that you can swap out does the job. (The Logitech I use for left-handed mousing is unremarkable and doesn’t merit elaboration here, except that I find symmetrical designs easier to manage with my non-dominant hand.)

I like that the Evoluent Vertical Mouse doesn’t need a dedicated mouse pad. It does just fine on bare surfaces, which I can’t say for Logitech or even some pricey dedicated gaming mice.

Matias Laptop Pro keyboard

The Laptop Pro was a stopgap solution for me—I needed a new keyboard FAST, ideally mechanical, ideally somewhat portable, and ideally a split ergonomic layout with some tenting options for comfort. The Laptop Pro really only checked the mechanical box; I intend to upgrade again eventually.

This thing is not as quiet as Matias advertises, so it’s just as clacky and distracting on mic as a deliberately noisy Das Keyboard. At least to my ear. Maybe you don’t mind that? Great!

The Laptop Pro is deceptively thick, heavy, and awkward to travel with. So while it has a smaller footprint than most keyboards, it isn’t actually a good portable keyboard at all (an Apple Bluetooth would be far superior, and neither offers any protection of the keys). I also sometimes have trouble with the Bluetooth connectivity even when it’s right in front of the target machine, but it’s hard to isolate the issue there.

That said, the battery life is amazing, and the fully powered charging ports are pretty darn cool too. It’s a very solid piece of hardware that feels well constructed. I’ve  had poor experiences with Matias’s customer support, but you probably won’t need it. I’ve always been able to solve wonky connectivity issues by just trying over and over again, unpairing and repairing, etc.

As I mentioned, though, I strongly prefer a split ergonomic layout, so I’ll probably pick up the Matias Ergo Pro when it finally releases. However, the ship date for this has changed four times since this spring, so if you’re desperate for ergonomic relief, you may not be able to wait. (That was the reason I sprung for the Laptop Pro even though it didn’t meet all of my needs.)

For a non-split keyboard with no tenting, I find the Laptop Pro astoundingly comfortable, and I do feel like I got my money’s worth. I can see it being a fantastic piece of hardware for people with less picky ergonomic needs than my own!

Other ergonomic keyboard options

Here are my conclusions on the other keyboards I’ve considered and rejected, in case you find those helpful:

Mechanical vs. not—I had been meaning to try a mechanical keyboard for years, and the folks at Geekhack.org finally got me to take the plunge. I’m completely sold and ruined for any membrane or rubber dome switch keyboard ever again. Not into the Apple-style ones, either, whatever those are called.

I found this link helpful in learning about which type of switches I like (Cherry MX Brown was my conclusion, although the Matias I eventually went with has its own proprietary switch type that’s similar in feel to the Cherry MX Brown). There’s also this Lifehacker piece, if you prefer hacking life over just reading web pages. And I learned a ton from MechanicalKeyboards.com even though I ultimately wound up purchasing elsewhere. They have GREAT options if your needs aren’t quite as picky and specific as mine; I’m still bummed I couldn’t pick up one of their cool backlit options!

Truly Ergonomic Keyboard—This keyboard was intriguing, but there were too many complaints about customer service to make me trust they’d handle a return well. The lack of tenting concerned me, because a tented keyboard I had tested while working at Amazon was far more comfortable, and I found their justification for no tenting pretty weak. More importantly, the special keyboard layout just seemed like too much to demand of users. I knew I’d be switching back and forth between this and a standard keyboard layout, which slows down my otherwise awesome typing speed. I also already have several international keyboard layouts kicking around in my brain, plus Mac and PC Ctrl vs. Cmd issues. I didn’t think I wanted to take on yet another one just because this one company said I should (with no tenting). :)

Goldtouch Go! Bluetooth—For the longest time this thing was incompatible with MacBooks (WHAT?!) yet worked with other Bluetooth hardware like iPhones, PCs, and Android phones. This made no sense to me, but a number of enraged Amazon reviews convinced me it was true. So I got on their mailing list and periodically harassed them every few months for over a year waiting for the updated version, only to eventually realize that I shouldn’t be trying so hard to snag a basic membrane keyboard anyway.

Well, GoldTouch never did email me when the redesign launched as promised , but they appear to have gone live with the fully Mac-compatible version. You can check that out and let me know if you like it. Its superior portability enticed me, even though it doesn’t seem as good for everyday typing. The folded-up factor seemed like a big help for travel, and the pseudo-tenting is a better ergonomic position than most travel keyboards offer. I may eventually get one of these if I end up doing loads more travel down the road, because it seems like the easiest to slip into my purse with an iPad Mini or even an iPhone.

Kinesis Advantage—this keyboard has different models ranging from expensive and complicated to really expensive and really complicated with foot pedals and everything. I’ve met people who swear by them, and I’ve tested them out for short periods of time, but the large space in between the two hands never felt like an advantage (hey-o!) to me. The expense and immense learning burden didn’t help, either. Definitely buy, borrow, or rent one of these from a place you can return it to if you give it a solid try and it doesn’t work for you. That said, bear in mind that anything that requires this drastic a relearning should get a lengthy trial period. I don’t feel that I gave it a full try, but I’m OK with that. I don’t believe it would fit on most keyboard trays because it’s quite deep compared to even most curved/split ergonomic keyboards.

Kinesis Freestyle + Ascent—The Kinesis Freestyle is another beloved ergonomic keyboard, but I found two major problems with it. 1) It’s got rubber dome switches instead of the vastly springier mechanical which I find way more comfortable. 2) It’s only comfortable with the Ascent hardware piece, which drastically increases the price and is just SO MUCH hardware. The Ascent also doesn’t fit well in some settings, such as in the distance between a keyboard tray and the top of a desk. All in all, it was just too much futzing and money for not a comfortable enough experience, at least for me. But I do find the Ascent’s tenting mechanism to be the most comfortable and versatile I’ve ever experienced in terms of hand/arm/wrist positioning. If this existed with mechanical key switches, and I had a few hundred extra bucks to blow, I might go back to this someday.

Chair and mat

Many ergonomic office shops sell dedicated standing desk mats, but I find those to be too hard on my feet. (It probably doesn’t help that I like to work barefoot or in socks/slippers.) I prefer my cushier Wellness Mat, which I stole from our kitchen sink area. My sense is that if you stand all the time, the firmer mats from an office store are better, but if you switch it up a ton like I do, or you’re just a shoe-hating hippie, a softer mat is your friend. See if you can test it out and return it if it doesn’t work for you.

When I elect to sit, I now use a HAG Capisco. This is the best task chair I’ve ever found for my needs, but it sure is weird! It’s made by a Danish company, and the idea is to promote “active sitting” which essentially means moving your ass around a lot.

You'd think it would be annoying to have the casters right on top of the mat, but it doesn't bug me. (Much.)
You’d think it would be annoying to have the casters right on top of the mat, but it doesn’t bug me. (Much.)

The seat contains a saddle-like lump in the middle that forces you to keep your legs apart, which can be tricky in a narrow skirt but I don’t tend to wear those. It also allows you to turn it around and sit backwards, leaning your torso forward on the back and armrests. I really like this option for longer phone calls when I don’t need to do much typing, but I can finagle typing in this position too if I need it which is nice.

I do still sometimes get weird issues in this chair, as with any chair—if I get super focused on a task for too long without shifting positions, I’m prone to some weird part of me falling asleep or feeling pinched. (But I’m not at a very healthy weight for my frame, so this tends to happen in any task chair.) I do find that the lumbar support plus saddle lump help me move around quite a bit, and the various pieces adjust just enough to help me switch up my positioning for good support.

There are a few options—you can elect to get a flat seat, but that removes the primary benefit so I wouldn’t recommend that route. You can also add on a headrest, footrest, foot ring, and different heights of pneumatic lift. I got the tallest lift in case I ever want to use it as a standing desk “perch”—not something I tend to do now, but I like the option. And I got the footring because when I tested it out in the store, that was the most comfortable at any height, but I’m finding that I don’t use it at all when sitting at a normal low height, only when I “perch” at my standing height which is very rare for me. It’s also very easy to add on later so maybe skip it in your initial purchase and see if you want to upgrade later. The headrest I would skip; I find it cumbersome and it doesn’t let you stretch out backwards or sit in the seat backwards. But generally, find a local showroom that lets you test out all the components before you spend.

Oh, another great thing about this chair is that it comes with many custom upholstery options, including several leathers and wool or hemp fabrics that are SO much more attractive than your average Corporate Polyester Bullshit Fabric. I got mine done in this bright red wool, which my cat and I both adore. You can’t tell a huge difference online, but the softer fashion-derived textile makes it read as a much less office-y chair in person, in my opinion.

Microphones and telephones

When I’m recording audio for a podcast, I use the Rode Podcaster in a boom and shock mount. It mostly stays out of the way during my day-to-day work, and I can pull it over to get right up close during audio sessions. The boom and shock are integral for me, but the boom arm I got as a kit from B&H Video is inferior (the arm slips all the time on my GeekDesk, and I’d like an easy-to-rig external pop filter, as I’ve noticed I kinda need it) so I wish I’d just bought this kit instead for less money. Either way, a boom arm is super helpful for allowing me to maintain a comfortable position while I’m recording, which sometimes takes ages. Even if you don’t get a boom for sound reasons, you’ll want to get one for ergonomic reasons so you don’t crane your neck in an awkward mic-kissing position for what can easily be two hours with prep and wrap-up. This is especially true if you type and/or reference materials on the screen while you’re recording.

Oh, and if you spend a long time on land line phone calls like it’s 1997 (I sure do), get a decent hands-free headset. I got this AT&T headset which works fine with my Panasonic cordless phone even though Panasonic claims it won’t. LIES. This thing works with Skype and Microsoft Lync too, although not FaceTime I don’t think (haven’t tried). Don’t be the idiot who gets a neck crick because you cradle the phone between your ear and shoulder!

And of course, for you old-school phone people, remember to put your phone close enough to your arms to minimize ergonomic strain. If you’re like me, you use the thing more than your brain admits, so be realistic about your phone frequency to distance calculations. :)

My weird office constraints

I use my home office for writing, recording, remote video conferencing, and in-person meetings with clients. While the bulk of my clientele is now remote, I see enough folks on site that I feel the need to keep my space attractive, professional, and functional for that purpose.

Because of this, and also because of the general layout of my office, my GeekDesk floats in the middle of the room, facing the door to my office. That can make cable management and disguising much more difficult than if I had a wall to help hide things. It’s still better for me this way, but it means that cords and cables can be kind of nightmarish.

So pretty, but for all those cords!
Pretty enough office, but for all those cords!

It also means that I have to kind of awkwardly swivel my monitors in order to see what I need while keeping a chunk of my desk clear to have line of sight with my in-person clients. (Not that I’m, like, casting ranged spells or anything, haha. But I want to be able to actually look at them instead of having a giant display blocking eye contact.)

I have to balance these client-friendly setup factors with my own ability to write and record comfortably the rest of the time. This is not a common set of constraints, but I’m listing my needs in case it helps anyone else figure out the right setup for their own office. For the most part, I spend enough energy beautifying the other elements in my office (cool wall color/art, nice rug, pretty objects displayed in bookshelves) that I think my on-site clients are forgiving of my existing cable and monitor ugliness. But it’s still something I’m always seeking to improve. Let me know if you’ve successfully solved these sorts of problems in a similar setup!

See? I'm distracting you with pretty-ish bookshelves.
See? I’m distracting you with pretty-ish bookshelves and of course cat pictures.

Where to buy ergonomic stuff

Whenever possible, I order my stuff from Fully (formerly Ergo Depot), which has showrooms in Portland and San Francisco. I can’t recommend them enough—shockingly great prices, no tax, free shipping, helpful employees who give great customer service, well stocked showrooms where you can play and test, and good return policies on non-custom stuff. They don’t give me a cent to shill for them, but it’s rare that I recommend a company this enthusiastically. Go give them your money.

ErgoDepot has the most complete upholstery options I’ve seen for the HAG Capisco, too. They’ll also send you swatches for free, though be warned those can take a while. Wherever you are, definitely find a place like this to try out the bigger-ticket items like desks and chairs, and possibly monitor arms too. Those you really don’t want to purchase sight unseen.

As for keyboard trays, as I mentioned, you’ll likely have to mod them out to fit your desk so you should buy them from a shop you can visit in person. Keeney’s was that shop for me, but if you’re not in my area, don’t be afraid to call around the more corporate-driven office supply operations to find a place with the right selection and ability to customize. It can be hard to find what you need in a consumer-facing office supply store, but you can even call tech companies in your area and ask them who does ergonomic assessments and/or provides office furniture, and go from there.

Keyboards and mice I’ve bought online, but I’m often torn between sites like Amazon and Newegg that have better pricing and shipping, and original manufacturer sites that are guaranteed to have the correct version of a product. When possible, I check the SKU and the critical reviews and their dates on Amazon/Newegg to see how likely it is that I’ll get burned by being sent the wrong product. But usually, if it’s the site or seller’s fault, you can get a return processed with no shipping fee, it just might slow you down a bit.

For this level of ergonomic wizardry, don’t even bother with normal office supply stores like Staples, Office Depot/Max, etc. They don’t stock a high enough quality level or a large enough selection with deep enough customization to be worth your time. Find the dedicated, nerdy shop nearest you that sells sit/stand desks, and ask them for resources if they don’t stock everything you need.

I think that about covers everything I have to weigh in about ergonomic equipment. What did I miss? Got any questions I can answer? I wish you all comfortable and healthy tech usage!

I was on some podcasts

I was on some podcasts

Hey folks, I was on a couple podcasts. I forgot to blog about them (or maybe I just skipped it because it felt redundant). Want to give them a listen? OK then!

Systematic #117 with Brett Terpstra—Brett is a rad nerd and we talked about a number of nerdy and non-nerdy things, including pets, kids, fertility treatment, image,  identity, selfies, selfishness, teenagers apps, development, speaking, Myers-Briggs whatnot, and more. I forget the rest. It was fun. Really fun. Oh, and mind-mapping. And working. And time. And productivity. Nerd stuff. Fun!

Less than or Equal #13 with Aleen Simms—Aleen is a fantastic advocate for diversity within geekdom and we talked about feminists, feminism, sexism, horrible employers, horrible workplaces, horrible comments, horrible experiences, and why you shouldn’t discredit anonymous stories you hear from women who have experienced insane levels of sexism and harassment and other bullshit. It was fun even though we both sighed in disgust a lot! Sometimes sighing is necessary!

Oh, and I was on some other even less recent podcasts. Want me to link to them too? OK then!

Better Know a Jackal #9 with Mike Beasterfeld—we talked about podcasts and TV and movies and games and linguistics and productivity and App Camp 4 Girls and ergonomics and some other stuff. Apparently I talked quite fast, even for me, which we both knew might happen, or at least I did. The only feedback I got on the episode was that I talked fast or that it was utterly fascinating, so I guess that’s a net positive, so maybe you should listen if you like fascinating things discussed at breakneck pace I guess? I am horribly biased here so don’t trust my input. Look at the show notes to get a sense of just how fast the talking was.

Tech Douchebags #8 with Jordan Cooper—I was on this a WHILE back and I think I forgot to ever blog-link it or maybe I decided not to because it was pretty profane but then again I write profane things here occasionally and am known to say them even more often so maybe that’s silly and anyway here is a snarkier show I was on with the hilarious Jordan back in May. It was snarky and fun! Jordan is both of those things! Not everyone needs an online dating coach!

Happy listening! Blame yourself if you think an episode is going to upset you based on the contents or opinions I’ve alluded to and then you listen to it and it does! You were kind of warned! OK then!

TV above the fireplace

TV above the fireplace

Ever since flat screen TVs took over the old cathode ray tube models, people have been mounting them on the wall, causing the earth’s interior design community to have a collective cow. Wall-mounting is so practical, though! It saves valuable floor and furniture space since TVs no longer have to rest atop a bulky media cabinet, eating up precious living room real estate. 1 When we toured a zillion homes before settling on this one, we saw living rooms with no TV or a wall-mounted TV, often above the fireplace, and an increasing number of finished basement dens with the “big” non-wall-mounted TV. People are changing the way they use their homes and view their TVs, and I think interior design is foolish to resist this shift. 2

We subsisted mainly on the projector in our finished den for two years, but then we sucked it up and bought a living room TV, mainly for parties and entertaining. We’re SO GLAD we did; we spend way more time on the main floor of our house now, enjoying natural light and sunsets and open windows while still being able to consume the media we love. I kind of can’t believe we waited this long; having a TV upstairs has really made us happier homeowners, and everything about our upstairs living room feels friendlier and more welcoming now. A TV also helps us figure out better furniture placement, and it just generally dictates how the room is used. And we spend more Couple Time there, since now we can play co-op games in the same space without me feeling like I have to slink down to the basement-cave. 3

After researching the right tech, size, price point, and features, we got our TV at Best Buy and paid them to mount it above our (functional, brick, wood-burning) fireplace.4 I know hanging a TV above a fireplace is a design sin to many, but it really is the only space that makes sense in our living room. I styled it in with a bunch of little knick-nacks that help hide all the cords and that blend it in a bit. We eventually hope to get hard-wired sconces flanking it, but given how pricey the rewiring and drywall is, for now we’re happy to just suck it up and use these lamps I got at a consignment shop. 5

This may sound insane, but aside from thinking ahead about how many HDMI ports we would actually need (answer: more than two, eventually) here’s my only TV purchasing regret: I actually am constantly bothered by the uneven bezel width around our LG model, and I wish we’d paid the several hundred dollars more for a similar Samsung choice that had a thin but even bezel all the way around. I realize that’s not a logically sound way to spend money, and that no one but me and Grant will ever notice or care about this, but it bugs me and next time around I think I’ll lobby him for the better industrial design aesthetic. 6

A larger shot of our TV and surrounding elements.

You can see my TV and fireplace here as they relate to the rest of the room—our front door is to the left, with only the storm door closed right now, and then a big blah but functional table/shelving unit house our DVR and consoles to the right. Beyond that is a corner window obscured by an enormous cat tree I promised not to move until Trumpy kicks the kitty bucket someday. I hate that black cabinet, but we needed something for the DVR and XBox 360, and this was $20 at our local thrift store. It’s solid, it already had a hole in the back for cords, and I don’t care if humidity or moisture from my plants screws up the already crappy finish.

Since we don’t really have a proper foyer/entry area, the spot just past the front door is where we put the mirror that used to be above the mantel. This works really well to have a sort of “check yourself” area before leaving the house. And while the TV above the fireplace isn’t perfect, I think/hope I worked it in OK. You don’t see it at all when you first walk in, because it’s behind you. Many clients don’t even notice that we have a TV until they leave, if at all.

A picture of my TV, styled in with antiques and other decorative objects.

The other day when I was rearranging the knick-nacks to add in some new antiques, I realized we are like the opposite of the Islamic design principle of aniconism. We have SO MUCH flora and fauna! Let’s see, there’s a brass owl, a ceramic rabbit, a steel larch tree, a glass hedgehog, a porcelain cow, a crochet cat, a jade dragon, a brass apple bell, and a ceramic foo dog. And that’s just the ones I can obviously identify in this photo. Plus there are subtler things like the floral pattern on one of my Voluspa candles, a ceramic vase that looks like a weird seed pod, and a viney pattern to the photo frame. And behind the Kinect upon which the kitty rests, there are some glass birds and some floral cream and sugar porcelains just to make it not look weird and bare back there. We are veritably obsessed with nature at House Roberts.

I also keep thinking maybe I should blend the TV in better by painting the fireplace bricks a dark gray or black. Ever since we bought the place I’ve been uncertain what to do with the fireplace. Redoing anything with actual stone/masonry seems insanely expensive and pointless since trends cycle back around and we may end up hating something new and wanting to go back to this original 1947 brick and wood look, ya know? Plus, while I dislike the terra cotta floor tiles, they do blend in pretty subtly and I don’t mind the actual brick or the wood mantel now. I maintain Pinterest boards for both TV disguises and fireplaces, and I keep thinking about what I could do to snazz this up, but I haven’t been inspired to inject change into this particular area of our home. I think I’ll wait and see how things look once we get our lovely gray Farrow & Ball paint up on the walls before we go too crazy! My dream fireplace would be in a marble like Carrara, but not too mod and not too traditional, and probably something with a little tan or gold veining in it too to tie in with all our warm wood floors and trim. I just don’t see it being worth the expenditure when this one feels fine enough to me, and we have loads of more functional and urgent updates like windows and a deck.

Anyway, the whole reason I bothered putting these ramblings into a blog post was because Jenny of Little Green Notebook posted about how she’s putting her TV above her fireplace. The woman is a professional interior designer, with a massive blog following, so clearly she’s got hecka great taste. If she can do it, so can we! :)

  1. This presents new challenges, though, since most of the “smart” TVs out there aren’t all that smart yet, so we still have to connect one or more bulky devices to our TVs with annoying unsightly cables. At least devices like the Apple TV are small enough to be worked into a typical mantel; not so with consoles like an XBox or with most physical disk readers. I expect this to change over the next five to ten years, removing the need for any media cabinet at all eventually. But it’s a slow process and it’s expensive to adopt all the new tech.
  2. I also think a TV hung up high is subtler than one shoved in a corner looming at you. And we don’t find the viewing angle at all troublesome, ergonomically; if anything, I think it encourages better posture/neck angles, and is easier to view when lying down on a couch.
  3. I get so sick of the misguided “Kill Your TV” mantra I received as a kid; TV is so much smarter and sharper and higher quality than it ever has been. After all, we’re watching incredibly creative projects like LOST and Breaking Bad and Orphan Black and Archer, not Hoarders Who Horde or The Real Housewives of Shut Up Already. (And lest ye feel judged, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching that stuff, it just doesn’t speak to me at all. And I don’t really get TV as a zoning out mechanism for the most part, because I prefer to zone out in other ways. But whatever works, man! Quit whining about killing TV and go find some super high quality program that captures YOUR interests!)

    Also, we can entertain our friends better. Whether you admit it or not, cartoons and games are GREAT for calming a fussy kid, and now that we have a TV with a couple gaming consoles hooked up in our living room, we can capture the attention of babies on up to five year olds who would otherwise find it boring when we tried to interact with their parents. I assume our TV will come in handy when we have kids of our own, too. ;)

  4. This was a complicated, stupid, expensive process, fraught with insanely ineffective bureaucracy BS and numerous hidden fees. I managed to get them to knock off a couple hundred bucks for being such incredible nitwits about the whole thing, but I urge you to not do what I did. I’m not very handy or confident when it comes to big structurally dependent projects like this, but I would absolutely DIY this process if I had to do it over again. If you DO hire it out, save every single receipt and get written quotes with names and employee numbers for every single aspect of the process if you have a big box retailer do it, and tell them you want the wood-only installment but you want the team to bring masonry tools just in case, and that you’ll pay for the masonry upcharge at that time if and only if it’s truly necessary. Also, insist on waiving any kind of consultation appointments. It’s a totally unnecessary upcharge, like gold-plated USB cables.
  5. I paid more than those lamps were worth to get modern drum shades put on them at my local lamp shop, because I can just never find ready-made lamp shades that look anywhere near as nice as the hand-made ones do. I consider this expense totally worth it. If you have a lamp whose shade is irking you, I urge you to visit your local lamp store and look into this. They tried on multiple harps until they found the right one, and they adjusted everything perfectly so everything sits at just the right height, lighting up the room but not blinding anyone with an inadvertent glimpse of exposed bulb.
  6. I literally still haven’t bought a single humidifier because none of them look like this.
Form over function: The Fashion Edition

Form over function: The Fashion Edition

I fell deeply in love with this purse on first glance—to the point where I probably would have been willing to shell out the $178 (marked down from $400!) even when I wasn’t specifically in the market for a new bag, because it was so beautiful and seemed so incredibly functional. But once I opened it up, the love affair was over.

Perfect color-blocking (not so much that it'll look dated when the trend subsides in a year); perfect bright punch without veering into Neon Territory; perfect silvery gray and ivory that are cool and pale yet murky enough to hide dirt. Crossbody strap for maximum ergonomics, comfort, and security. Cool looking hardware. Not too prominent a brand logo. SO LOVELY!

For you see, this purse had no pockets whatsoever on the inside. And those two flimsy external pockets were too short to hold an iPhone (as well as being prohibitively exposed and annoying to open and close). So it’s essentially a purse that size exactly right for a full-sized iPad, but with no room to carry an iPhone, let alone a stylus, headset, wallet, keyring, or anything else you might want to carry with you along with your tablet and I guess the condoms that fit easily in the outer pockets. Hair ties. I don’t know. Not a f-cking wallet or phone or keys, that’s for sure. Anyway, my point is this: what percentage of women do you think own an iPad, but don’t own an iPhone, AND are willing to shell out for a purse that’s very clearly an iPad-intended form factor? (You can’t totally tell from my shot, but it basically looks like a case with a shoulder strap and some detailing.)

Furthermore, this bag was also less than an inch deep inside, and just exactly wide enough for the standard size iPad, naked. Which means that I couldn’t carry my iPad in the bulkier hardshell keyboard case that makes it extremely easy to type during meetings. (Does it surprise you to learn that that’s my case of choice? It is if I’m actually going to do anything with my iPad that warrants bringing it along with me in a purse and not a full-sized commuter bag.) Grrrrrrrr^n.

I may sound ridiculous to whine about this one bag, but it’s not just this bag. I find this problem coming up quite often in the women’s handbag design. There are rarely enough pockets to keep all of your crap in a useful location that makes it easily accessible and unlikely to ding up the other glorious brushed aluminum items in your bag. I even tried to have one custom made once, but the gal who made it underestimated the size of the iPhone (and so did I since I had it made about a month before the first gen came out). So it fits the crappy feature phone I had at the time, but anything as tall as an iPhone falls out. I would LOVE to re-line a bag (all bags) with a custom lining that is an entire wall pockets for different items, including all the basics I mentioned above, plus a business card holder and some makeup. I even tried to have such a thing commissioned twice, but it’s hard to find craftsperson who will work with leather these days, and I don’t think I’m willing to invest the time to become skilled enough to solve this problem myself.

In the same casual Nordstrom browsing this morning, I also opened up a flat wallet made by HOBO International, a strangely named company that purports to make handbags and other small leather articles “designed by women for women.” The wallet I examined boasted a smartphone pocket, and it was advertised as such with a little card that said “smartphone pocket” with an arrow, in a way that would grab your attention when you opened the wallet (which any shopper is CRAZY not to do!). I tried putting my iPhone 4S in there in its incredibly thin case*, but of course it didn’t fit in this slim flat wallet. I tried removing the case as well, but no dice there either. And keep in mind that the 4S is thicker but shorter than the more current 5 – I don’t think a 5 would have fit height-wise, let alone one of those crazy Samsung phablets that make me get all size envious. (Edited to add, the reviews confirm my suspicions.)

You may not appreciate the look, but you've never opened and closed a more satisfyingly clicky, solid, metal lipstick case in your life.Suffice it to say, I’m not buying the purse, but now I’m also mad at Marc Jacobs for not thinking this stuff through. Carrying my technology in a way that’s useful and accessible and fashionable matters a lot to me… to the point where I would probably spend full price for something that really accommodated that goal, even though that $400 price tag is crazy sauce to me, because I’m so frustrated at NEVER having owned a purse that makes proper use of space and fully addresses all my tech needs (let alone my Where Do I Put This Pretty Real Metal Designer Lipstick Tube So It Doesn’t Get Scratched By My Keys And Whatnot needs. Apple’s not the only one with great industrial design, ya know.). Do I put another period there, Chicago? ANSWER THIS USE CASE. GOD. See? Marc made me all capsy and it’s only Monday.

*Yes, I have a case on it. I’m disappointed in me, too. But I’ve shattered or chipped so many glass fronts and backs of so many iPhones now, and I drop the thing so many times in a given week, that it’s simply a requirement even though it saddens me to cover up such beautiful design. Gorilla Glass my ass.

OmniSavvy

OmniSavvy

Image directly from OmniGroup, with permission. <3When I first started listening to Back to Work, I had never heard of OmniFocus or Getting Things Done with David Allen. But since hearing Merlin extoll this system’s virtues, I got on board and eventually got the book (print AND Kindle), and eventually even wound up buying a Mac and shelling out for both OmniFocus for Mac and OmniFocus for iPhone. I’d literally never spent that much on any given product before.

And now, I feel like I’m finally starting to get it! I still haven’t even finished reading Getting Things Done (for shame; I know) but I’ve started implementing more and more of my obligations and commitments into OmniFocus. And you know what my real epiphany is? The “Waiting” category. As you knowI’m a big fan of email. But given that other people aren’t always great with email, I’ve taken to sticking my outgoing emails (and even phone calls) into the Waiting context after I reach out to someone. Now, if other people drop the ball, I have a much better record of who I need to re-nag. This is excellent for clients who pay me to bug them about their online dating goals.

I can’t tell if this is how the Waiting context is supposed to be used or not, but it’s been a HUGE help for my business. Not only does it track which outgoing contacts I need to follow up on, but it helps me learn which clients are email averse, so I can adjust my communication style and method to better reach them and ultimately to help them find love more effectively. After all, if receiving a bunch of emails from me is annoying, then that isn’t how I want to reach you! (But, ya know, go sign up for my newsletter anyway.)

I’ve also learned how to apply radii to specific errands, which ROCKS. Now I have blips go off whenever I leave my little Ballard bubble and venture east of the freeway—one reminds me to pick up swanky cocktail ingredients at Wine World, because I am a lush who works from home and drinks sidecars when she damn well pleases; and others remind me to buy certain items whenever I geolocate near certain stores. Organic bagged lemons at Whole Foods, where they’re a fraction of the price. Cat food at the vet that carries our special prescription. Epsom salts at the drugstore since I use them constantly for my tennis elbow. I even have a reminder to think about whether there’s anything I want fixed, purchased, or demoed (demo’d? Demod?) when I’m near an Apple Store.

The yellow kind, people. Trust me.

Merlin mentioning this geo-functionality in relation to toilet paper in a very early episode of Back to Work is actually what got me interested in OmniFocus in the first place. What can I say? Icky though it may be to talk about, he’s right: you think about buying more toilet paper when you’re on the can and you run out, not when you’re out in the world near a Target or Fred Meyer (because those are the two places that carry Charmin Basic, the stuff that is nice on your derrière but doesn’t screw up our 1940s sewer system.) Not anymore, friends! Now I think about toilet paper whenever I drive near an appropriate vendor. Look, I never promised not to overshare here. If you’re a geek like me, you know that despite being an uncomfortable discussion, this is a friggin’ EPIPHANY.

Frankly, I couldn’t have figured all this out if the OmniGroup didn’t have such fantastic phone support. But they do! You can just call them! And they answer! And they’re super nice and patient! And funny on Twitter! So quit waiting. Go get yourself set up with this software suite ASAP if you’ve been holding out like a dummy. Heck, I’ll probably be confident enough to help you learn how to use it!

Shameless affiliate links, in case you didn’t already click to kick me a few bucks, you Scrooge:

OmniFocus for Mac
OmniFocus for iPad
OmniFocus for iPhone
Getting Things Done by David Allen

The Internet ROCKS.

The Internet ROCKS.

I swear, I don’t know what I’d do if we’d never come up with this whole interconnected awesomeness thing.

I re-launched my business earlier this year, which involved picking a new business name. It was incredibly hard to come up with a name I liked that was also what my business needed, and I was so much better at it when I had help from lots of Twitter and ADN friends. People were so generous and pragmatic and willing to share their expertise. Plus, I found a couple great blogs with loads of helpful naming advice. I wasn’t able to shell out for those experts like I hoped to, but they were still incredibly supportive of me, and I know I’d go to them if I had to name a more grown-up company with a proper budget in the future. I learned so much about this entire naming field that I didn’t even know existed when I named my thing this time around. Which is clear, because that name and URL sucked, and they’re much better now. :)

IMG_3978Since the big rename and relaunch, I’ve predictably had many woes getting the technical details of my new website together, not to mention the graphical stuff that just totally loses me. My husband Grant has been my biggest helper in the graphics department, but the amazing Berklee has been a close second. He’s been ever so generous with his time and energy, throwing business card ideas and mockups at me faster than I can download the files. This was the final design*, in case you were wondering, although I plan to change the “consultant” terminology to something that better encapsulates what I actually do. (“Coach” is the closest I’ve got right now.)

Bryan Redeagle of Capsule DX offered to help me with web stuff, and he was so appalled by some of the shoddy code in my former theme that he just full-on wrote me a new one, all custom from scratch and designed to fix exactly the stuff that was frustrating me. He never charged me a penny, because we worked out a special deal, but mostly because he’s fucking awesome and he honestly just wanted to help (and wanted code to shine like all perfectionist programmers do). I can’t thank him enough, or recommend his work loudly enough. I’ve never gotten this level of service out of anyone I’ve hired for any project, except for the amazingly affordable florist at our otherwise overpriced wedding. Most of you who know me know that praise does not come from me unless it is sincerely deserved.

Marie of Code it Pretty has also been a very generous donor of her time and expertise. She already generously writes a blog that just helps people figure out frustrating web crap, and she’s so cool about chiming in when I have something tricky to solve. And oh, remember when I wanted to make that app? Well, it’s still in the works; I’ve had to kind of put it aside in favor of earning money via my main business. But Marie is weighing in about user experience and will probably help with an Android port someday.

Martin and Doug and some other generous folks all piped up wanting to assist me, which is fan-freaking-tastic and also incredibly generous. (Oh, and I never would have gotten in touch with them if it weren’t for Rob Rix by way of The Modern Scientist, who connected things via Twitter, and whom I met via Keith Bradnam whom I originally connected to because of some Marco or some 5by5 thing.) Oh, and I’m totally going to connect with Brandon Wright to make completely different apps down the road, because we just find each other awesome to work with and he reached out to me because of Quit.

Dude, even my ergonomics are improving, not as much as I’d like but still some. Fellow standing desk enthusiasts, from Lex Friedman to Kelly Guimont have chimed in about footwear and other tips for making my home work setup more reasonable, and Twitter-whining about various aspects of it has often produced helpful results. The most helpful thing of all, though, was a visit to the Fully showroom in Portland. I urge you to set up an appointment if you’re near there. Either way, some of the best recommendations  and price quotes I’ve gotten were from them, and of course I discovered them online.

Oh, and you know how I suck at being new to Mac? Well, of course loads of people have helped me out with that. Heck, Paul Holbrook sent me a PayPal contribution towards buying the damn thing because he could tell how badly I needed to switch, and Michael Clifford straight up bought me a license for Moom because he knew it would solve my problems. Oh, and the fantastic Jean MacDonald reached out, helped me get settled with some fantastic software, and has generally been insanely helpful and fun. So all those folks and everyone else I’ve mentioned and then some have just been so full of great links, tips, and advice. Let’s see, what other resources have I fallen in love with online, thanks to Internet connections? Mixergy. Marie Forleo. Heck, even Jenna Marbles inspires me. Laura Roeder. So many more I’m forgetting. But I never would have found any of those sources on my own!

And how did I forge most of these connections? Why, by listening to shows on 5by5 and communicating with that network’s general audience. A huge chunk of my most interesting Twitter following also grew out of me baiting Marco Arment into retweeting something useful or funny or silly or random I posted, and then following every single person who favorited or retweeted whatever that thing was. And you know what? That strategy has put me in touch with some of the coolest Internet pals I’ve met to date. I’ve had great conversations with many a jackal, and I’m also launching a podcast soon with Kai Davis and Chris Zaborowski.

And, of course, Quit. Most people who are bothering to read this know that I’ve called in to that show a good number of times, and that I’ve finally taken my online dating coaching business full time thanks in large part to the nudges I’ve received from Dan Benjamin, and to the inspiration that a number of shows on his network have provided. I continue to seek ways to make it more sustainable thanks to his relentlessly business-minded approach. And, of course, his shows inspired me, but so do the connections I’ve made from listening to them and appearing on them. I even got one (just one so far, but still) paying client who heard me first on Quit! Altogether, the social aspects of the Internet and of 5by5 in particular have skyrocketed my own success and happiness and ability to easily and quickly find affordable and effective solutions to at least 75% of my tech problems on this earth.

Lastly, I made many of these connections happen because of my own output, lest you think it’s ALL just Internet magick [sic]. I made them because I was open to socializing with people and learning new things. I was willing to put myself out there even when exhaustion or shyness or House of Cards would rather prevail. I followed up on leads, wrote things down, Skyped/FaceTimed/GooglePlusHung my little heart out, learned a bunch of new stuff, flared up my tendinitis, lost sleep, called 5by5 and waited on hold for hours, checked my email/DMs/etc., read, wrote, retweeted, subscribed, shook hands, followed back, spent money, and generally put myself out there and followed up on shit. But that effort has been so incredibly rewarding, and SO much easier than it would have been without all this great Internet infrastructure.

So to my friends and family members who don’t get why the Internet is so important to me and why I sometimes can’t stop checking my iPhone, well, you’ll probably never read this anyway so never fucking mind. But the Internet rocks. :)

 

 

 

*Special Business Card Footnote: Futura on the front, since I know .05 people are going to ask, and a weirdly condensed Franklin Gothic Medium on the back logo. Vistaprint; wouldn’t use ’em again; saving up for proper letterpressing but first things first financially, thanks Dan. Going with a press guy in Chicago who can paint the edges red too because OMG sexy. Curt Stevens of Lithocraft if you need ANYTHING printed in Seattle; tell him I sent you. Avoid Allegra Graphics in Greenwood no matter how good a deal you thin you’re getting; you’re welcome.

Back to Mac after fifteen years

Back to Mac after fifteen years

I finally purchased a 13″ retina MacBook Pro for my birthday/business/a desperately needed upgrade. I’m mostly happy to be back to Mac for the first time since I was a teenager, but I’m still struggling with more than a few aspects of this transition.

I’ve become a bit of an Apple nerd without a Mac after Grant gave me a first-gen iPhone in 2007, and later introduced me to the 5by5 network and its current and former hosts right around the time Back to Work was starting. So I feel like I was well prepared for this move back to Mac in some ways, but also had my expectations built up unreasonably high by the Cult of Mac in other ways.

The whole concept that “things just work [better]” on Mac is what convinced me I needed to switch over, but Mac isn’t as flawless as I had dreamed up in my fairyland of operating system dreams. These are just some musings from a not-very-power-user who pays attention to the little details.

Cons:

Safari: Man, Safari is buggy. I thought the default browser would be all seamless and gorgeous, but it’s all sad and weird. Plus, perhaps I’ve whined about this excessively already on my social networks, but the lack of favicons in the bookmarks bars is a difficult adjustment for me. I cram a LOT in there and use the visual favicon indicator as a stand-in site name. This is a snippet of the first THIRD of my bookmarks bar, for example:

I like icons in this case.
I also just love the customization that browsers like Chrome allows. I don’t know if Safari even supports extensions/add-ons/whatever, but I haven’t even bothered trying. Chrome is my go-to even on this new machine.

Hardware woes: My hardware is finicky, and I think I can safely say it’s my new rMBP’s fault, and not a PEBKAC thing. (I’m full of self-doubt about anything I deem an issue, but Grant’s 15″ work MacBook Pro helps us isolate Virginia Issues vs. Real Issues, and it turns out all this is real.) My Thunderbolt ports are wonky with HDMI display; I had to switch to HDMI-only to make things work properly. My external Logitech wireless keyboard regularly fails to correctly transmit my typing, even with fresh batteries and at the same physical distance as my old Dell laptop. It misses huge swaths of letters or just takes a full ten seconds to respond sometimes, which is maddening. And I don’t always realize it happened, because I type easily 100 WPM, so sometimes my email address gets entered like this:

 

This is supposed to read gentlesouls @ my full name dot com
This is supposed to read gentlesouls @ my full name dot com shut up yes I buy grandma footwear sometimes what of it

And my special Evoluent mouse was a bitch to set up with outdated custom drivers. My Logitech wireless mice don’t have the same sensitivity as I’d like, no matter how much I futz with the settings. And the trackpad system settings, while awesome with gestures, contained a few options that were so new to me I inadvertently set them up in a way that made it damn near impossible to use that mouse. That last one is my own fault, but it was interesting how the settings allowed me to fall into a fail-hole. (A Genius pointed this one out to me and I felt like a real ass that I’d actually taken the thing in thinking my trackpad was broken.)

Screen woes: External monitors are weird with this thing. It is MADDENING that I can’t have any program full-screen-ified on either display without the other display turning to 100% Useless Linen. What the fuck is that!? An Apple employee told me on the DL that that’s a bug Apple has no urgency about fixing. This is insanity-making to me; I love having the smaller screen full-screened on something visual. As of right now, I manually futz with the window size to accomplish this, but it’s a lot of extra mousing which is rough for me ergonomically, and it seems like it should be one of those things that “just works,” you know? The good news is that sites with embedded video tend to allow THAT component to full-screenify just fine. And then their video looks terrible on my awesome screen, haha. Lastly, I got really comfortable with the way I could snap and lock in Windows 7, and I miss that but I’m too cheap to pay for Moom or the other recommendations I’ve gotten about that sort of thing. I’ll get there, though! I also find the retina/non retina transition a little awkward, but less so now that I’m using straight-up HDMI and not Thunderbolt for my display.

Form over function in physical design: Maybe I’m crazy, but I actually find the latch-notch to open the screen incredibly awkward. I basically always have to do it two-handed, which is surprisingly inconvenient, and I often wind up greasing up the screen right around the FaceTime cam when I’m opening it, which of course is annoying. I miss the feeling of something that snaps shut and kinda springs open.

Green star of sadnessI also find that, not only am I short the number of USB ports I need, but they’re all way too close together when you have everything plugged in at once as I usually do. I had to buy an external USB hub, and when Grant got me this adorable Kikerland one, it didn’t work because the ports are just barely too close to one another so I can only use it with either no Ethernet to Thunderbolt adapter and charger, or no HDMI display. Just annoying given that these things were spaced out differently on my Dell. I foresee more annoyance with, say, certain USB memory drives and whatnot. I’m always annoyed when an admittedly pretty chassis gets in the way of actually making the  stuff inside more useful. (Side note; I don’t think I’ll ever start pronouncing “chassis” correctly.)

Software weirdness: I find it SO awkward to mount an application to the Application whatever on the whatsit. What the fuck kind of user experience is that? It’s also weird as hell to give permissions to different levels of developers.

Some of the Apple programs make me crazy, too. I hate how the menus in visual-tasked programs like Preview are text instead of visual, so it takes me nine years to find the way to highlight an element of a screenshot with a rectangle. (YES, annotate makes sense. But so does selecting a rectangle-shaped box like I’m used to, haha.) And this one is iTunes specific, but I see Mike Monteiro is as pissed as I am here:

 

 
I don’t understand why I can’t delete selected files by pressing delete or backspace, and why there’s no command-plus-key listed when I right click them with my admittedly non-Mac mouse. Such keyboard shortcuts are displayed for other types of activities. Why the heck wouldn’t there be a shortcut for such a crucial activity, and why wouldn’t it be listed? I finally looked it up and figured out it was CMD+backspace, which I’m sure I’m capitalizing and punctuating like a noob.* But why make me blind from that option in the righty-clicky menu that’s probably called something else on Mac? Is this one of those instances of Mac trying to make things better for me? I take a LOT of screenshots that I subsequently delete, so I don’t appreciate being forced to use the less ergo-friendly mouse-select-drag option or to look up how the fuck to perform a simple operation, which I also don’t appreciate now requiring two keys instead of one.

In fact, I’m annoyed that multiple things now require a multiple-key combo to work. PC keyboards have a Print Screen button; how great would it be if that still worked on Mac? And cropping a screenshot in Preview requires a splat K. (Shut up; you know what I mean.) And so help me god, I miss the Clear Desktop option SO MUCH. All I’ve figured out is Option-Command-H while in Chrome, then manually minimizing Chrome. I know I’m doing it wrong; I know. But you see what I mean about missing a one-clicky path? I guess those weren’t so much obvious as habit for me, but the work of setting up new habits makes me sad. I also find it super fiddly how much futzing I have to do to mimic basic behavior like tabbing through fields, etc. from a PC.

I also find it super weird how photos work. I love importing my iOS photos via iPhoto, but then those don’t show up in any kind of browsable path when I want to upload them to a blog post, for example. I can only access them by dragging and dropping them from iPhoto to a drag-and-drop-friendly upload option. It just seems weird. Again, I’m sure there’s some trick I don’t yet know, but why wouldn’t I be able to get to them via a standard file-browsing path? Why make everything so difficult?

And Finder. Ah, Finder. When I search for files, it does show me all these fucking developer files by default. WHY would I want that enabled by default? If you assumed I was too dumb a user to be allowed to delete things, do I really want crap from some JSON library or whatever? Just a strange thing to me. (I usually use an alternative to Finder, based on helpful recommendations from people like you, but still.)

I also found it insanely confusing to set up network connections within our home. Grant had to do it for me, and I still have to enter a password (?) every time I want to get shit off my PC laptop. It’s also weird how you have to manually turn on and off Wi-Fi. In 2013. WHY are we not yet at the point where the assumption is that if I have an Ethernet cable plugged in, you should use that, and you should just switch to Wi-Fi when that’s the only option? I swear my computer back in like 2004 managed that decision making well, and yet the new shit gets all confused by various options. Not a problem exclusive to Mac, but still!

Oh, and when I set up my Ethernet connection, it was surprisingly non-simple. I had to get an Apple employee to walk me through several confusing, in-depth network settings changes that were necessary to use the Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter successfully, which seemed weird since again, Apple shit should “just work.” Thankfully, he solved the issue, but it was definitely a software thing and not a network thing, which just seemed strange and needlessly complex. Ethernet is definitely not dead and definitely not just for power users in my mind. I also really would’ve appreciated just having a damn Ethernet port instead of having to buy a $30 thingy, but oh well. :)

What the fuck messages and restarts: Mostly, this machine is rad. But sometimes, when a program goes into Deep Failure Mode, no amount of force-quitting will actually make it quit. Sometimes that program is iTunes, and it won’t stop screaming Katy Perry in a Starbucks all of a fucking sudden, and the software-tied mute button doesn’t work, and the thing won’t quit, and the machine won’t shut down, and I have to manually press the fucking power button in 2013 and look like an ass (and yes I know I should’ve had the headphones plugged in but so help me god sometimes I’m That Person, OK? And I’m sorry. But I miss the hardware-tied mute button on my 1999 laptop that worked as fast as my reflexes did, rather than as fast as my locked-up OS did.) I’m sure I fucked up the closing parenthesis with closing punctuation rule there, but you get the idea.

Oh, and sometimes I get messages like this for no goddamn intelligible reason at all, usually from iTunes but sometimes from other things:

 

What. This is worse than every Windows error message ever. There's not even a KB article I can reference, you know?
What. This is worse than every Windows error message ever. OK not really, but still. What?

Yeah, and sometimes I also get updates like this, which I SWEAR the Cult of Mac promised would happen like never! To be fair, they’re rarer than the non-updatey kind, but still!

restart_bitch
Surprisingly weird ports: The USB, HDMI, and Thunderbolt ports made out of metal feel really low quality whenever I’m plugging things in or removing them. I suppose, being used to slightly flexible plastic-encased ports, they just feel scratchy or like I’m damaging them, or they don’t perfectly fit even the first-party cables I plug in and out. I don’t yet have a dock (I’m kinda holding out for an Apple display in the new skinny iMac chassis, fingers crossed for retina though I know it’s unlikely) so I plug things in and remove them a LOT. Obviously the Mag whatever charger is amazing and fuck you for making it different than the one we use to charge my husband’s 2011ish MBP, but everything USB and Thunderbolt feels… off. Low quality. In a way that really surprises me given the rest of the thing’s admittedly superior quality and design, you know?

Spinny cursor of death: That still exists! I kinda miss when it was black and white, though. I’m surprised how often it has crashed, and how it behaves when it does—usually when this thing triggers there’s no amount of force quitting that can solve it, and I have to shut the damn machine off with the power button which freaks me out because SSD. I guess I expected less crashitude but what do I know? Not much about what causes that. So, oh well, at least for now. Windows crashes weren’t vastly less or more frequent, but I feel like they required a full reboot less often. I don’t exactly have great data on this, though. :)

EXPENSIVE software: Holy fuck am I broke. I’ve spent more on software for my new Mac since March 15th than I have in the entire past fifteen years of PC usage, if you don’t count MMO subscriptions. I appreciate the cool development community, but damn. At this rate I’m going to have to stop, like, drinking fancy-ass Seattle cocktails when we go out. (Hahahahaha good one, Self.)

Pros:

RETINAAAA: Oh my GOD the retina screen. It’s just mind-blowing. Everything is so crisp and clear and delightful. This screeeeen. I don’t even mind how I can see how much of the Internet uses crap fonts and images, and how janky most favicons look when they haven’t received The Gruber Treatment. I don’t care. It’s glorious. I use it for reading more than I expected because of the screen, though I expect to iPad read more once I get a retina Mini. C’mon, guys, don’t hold out on me.

Beauty: The industrial design is phenomenal. Everything looks and feels more attractive, despite my whining about the pseudo-latch and ports above. I can’t believe how sexy that aluminum is, especially after my cheap Dell laptop from 2007 that had a broken Ethernet card slot and a cracking, creaking hinge on one side. The elegance of opening and closing and using and touching the thing is amazing. And I love the matte black whatever of the hinge in the back. I could do with less bezel, but oh my God shut up Virginia you are so privileged.

Ergonomics: The built-in keyboard is a lot less ergo-unfriendly than I expected given my crazy tennis elbow. I think the switches on these keys are kinder to me. It still hurts to use for long periods of time, since the basic position of a flat rectangular keyboard plus trackpad is all wrong for me, but I’m broken so that’s unsurprising. And I normally find trackpads WAY rough on my tennis elbow, but this one is better (though still sometimes painful because I tend to overuse it). I’m surprised at how OK I’ve become with the freaky-ass new scrolling direction, too.

Gestures: The gestures on the trackpad are amazing! And so useful! I haven’t even bound anything special yet, but the default ones are fantastic and intuitive and I just love them. The pinching to zoom in and out ROCKS and I discovered it so naturally.

Messages: I know everyone whines about Messages on Mac, but I love itso far. Because my tennis elbow is oh so severe, anything I can do on a Big Keyboard instead of an iOS screen is helpful ergonomically, and I tend to message a lot with my husband. This makes that way easier. I also have terrible phone behavior and I appreciate not having to pay attention to that brick when I’m on The Big Screen computing. There have been a few weird glitches where messages seemed to disappear, or temporarily failed to be transmitted properly, but for the most part I’m a huge fan of having them on my actual computer.

SSD OMG: That hard drive! So fast! So quiet! AND DID I MENTION SO FAST!? SSD FTW 4EVA. BFF. I love it so much. (I paid to upgrade to 512GB, in case you were wondering.)

Sync City: I’m still figuring out how exactly to make everything play nice, and certain things don’t sync the way I want, but for the most part everything does sync across iPhone, iPad, and Mac. And when it works, it ROCKS. I love using Photo Stream; I love having text snippets theoretically sync in TextExpander (haven’t actually made that work yet, but I will); I love OmniFocus syncing even though I still don’t fully grasp how to get the most out of that damn software; I love more than anything that simple, boring-ass Notes syncs so I can edit and clear out items on a Big Keyboard and have them show up all edited on my phone when I’m on the go. Love Reminders syncing too. And Tweetbot, although it seems a little wonky and I wish it synced drafts across platforms. But still. Having a Mac opens my eyes to more of the benefits of being in the Apple ecosystem with my other devices.

iPhoto imports: I really love iPhoto. The way it snags stuff off my devices, sorts it, and deletes it is so much more helpful than the janky experience of attempting to do this with no helpful software on my PC. It’s by no means a perfect program, but I just appreciate something clearing off my phone of all those large photo and video files so I can keep track of everything while maintaining room for music on the go. Simple, but I really value it.

General love: And obviously, the thing just runs. The battery life is nice, the extra cable thingy they include is nice, the initial setup wasn’t horrible (I set it up as a new machine), and the memory kicks ass so it can handle the gabillion tabs I have open and programs I have running at any given moment. I love the thing and am glad I bought it, despite the whinings above. I guess I just expected the Pro column to be longer and the Con column to be shorter, you know? Still learning, though, so this will hopefully change over time. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you think I’m failing to grasp a certain set of helpful tips or software suites or what have you! Anything to get me over the New User hurdle is greatly appreciated. :)

 

 

*Also, fuck autocorrect for frequently changing “noob” to “boob” and having Marco Arment call me out about it on Twitter. Dammit. Not used to a global autocorrect yet! Mostly more helpful than harmful, but that learning curve suuuucks when suddenly every device I own is prone to Damn You, Autocorrect-isms!

Form over function

Form over function

Evoluent vertical mouseI’m kinda broken. I have super bad tennis elbow, which I’ll expand upon soon, but needless to say my medical needs hamper my ability to comfortably use and enjoy technology. I don’t just like using a split keyboard, I NEED to use one. I have this special terrifying mouse that’s so guest-unfriendly, I make a point of keeping a wireless “guest mouse” to the left of my keyboard. Touch screens hurt me. Monitor stands are too short for me. I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to ergonomics. And most Apple hardware can kiss my broken ass.

I’ve become a bigger and bigger Apple nerd since Grant surprised me with a first-gen iPhone in early 2007. However, I haven’t actually owned a Mac since high school. Shameful, I know! I fully intend to pull the trigger on an upgrade as a birthday present to myself in March. Yet this isn’t an easy decision, partly because Apple’s products, while beautiful, are incredibly unfriendly to my body.

I now spend more time working from my home office than anywhere else, largely because I like to force myself to work from the most ergonomically happy setup possible. It hurts me within ten minutes if I type from my laptop on the couch. So in deciding upon an upgrade, I first thought I might get an iMac to reinforce working from the same spot. I had my eye on the previous 27″ model, which was the ONLY model at the time that had a removable stand with VESA mount compatibility. But that was their ONLY option with that capability—they did away with the removable stand in the sexy new iMacs. So disappointing. Especially because a computer with an attractive display is a huge benefit for my client-facing desk setup. So I decided to get a laptop and maintain portability instead, even though I have to bring a keyboard and mouse with me to use it safely.

No num pad, but that sucks for alt codes which I use frequently.I’d also love to have a Bluetooth keyboard as sexy and beautiful as Apple makes them, all white and alumin(i)um and whatnot. But of course, those aren’t great for ouchy typists like me. Not only are they rectangular and the wrong springiness of key, but they have that stupid non-removable tube at the back that places them at the wrong angle for wrist health. At least they do make a model with no num pad, which is better for mousing since it allows you to place the mouse closer to your core, but still.  If they made a lovely wireless split keyboard that wasn’t a perfect rectangle but had the typical Apple keys, I’d still go for that. It’s 2013; it kind of blows my mind that the company that drafted their well-respected Human Interface Guidelines for software doesn’t seem to give a damn about how the rest of the human body works.

The exception to this problem might be their mice, sort of. I can’t tell yet. I find most track pads insanely painful to use, but the track pad on Grant’s work MacBook is less horrible than the 2007 Dell track pad I have on my laptop. I can’t tell if this is because track pads in general are better now, though. And I can’t yet say how I feel about the Magic Mouse —I’ve only gotten to play with them at Apple stores, and that never feels like an authentic user experience to me. If I do ever buy one, I’ll let you know how I feel.

Few can argue that Apple’s industrial design isn’t stunning, especially compared to the sea of shiny black plastic out there. But the “function” part still seems stuck in the 80s. If the retina iMacs and skinny retina displays down the road aren’t VESA-compatible either, I’ll be even more frustrated (and forced to seek some sort of attractive non-Apple hardware to get my needs met). It’s a real shame, since pretty matters to me almost as much as healthy does. Almost.