Category: tech

Back to Big Tech :)

Back to Big Tech :)

I started a job at Microsoft last month. That’s right, I’m no longer an online dating coach! Now I’m a full-time Program Manager, working with early access customers to improve our products. I’m SO excited. (You might be surprised that I’m leaving behind the company I’ve built over the course of a decade, but the fact is, I’ve been burnt out on self employment for a few months now and have been actively seeking a role just like this one. I feel very fortunate to have made this move… and I’m keeping the podcast!)

Despite my elation, a change in routine is always challenging. There are so many things I have to readjust to, especially after three years of home-office-based self employment for my own one-woman company. Here are some of the odd adjustments I’m still getting used to:

Business Casual

Oh my god, it’s weird having to dress up for work again. Sure, I had to look good for my clients, but I was also mostly interacting with them via video chat. So, you know, nice shirt, nice lipstick, mascara, visible earrings, decent lighting on my face, cool backdrop = that’s all I needed to make a good impression. Now I have to worry about so much more!

HAIR. I have a lot of hair. (I started growing out a shorter cut when my husband proposed to me in early 2009 so I’d have “wedding hair;” I’ve basically been waiting for an excuse to stop growing it out ever since then.) I’m actually really liking my long locks these days, but they can be hard to wrangle in a manner that is both attractive and professional.

If I wear my hair down, which everyone agrees is the most flattering on me, it can get sorta vavoom/Jessica Rabbit real quick. Not a great “take me seriously as a new coworker” vibe. And yet, frumpier sleek coiffs make me less attractive, which generally harms my likability and therefore effectiveness because everyone everywhere is implicitly sexist. Yes, even other women, usually subconsciously; this is a Society Thing and not a Workplace Thing but I’m far more aware of it in a workplace where I inherently pay more attention to how professional microsociety views me.

And, like, when do I shower? At night, and risk Crazy AM Hair because you never know what you’ll get when you sleep on it wet? In the morning, and work out some sort of car vent system that simultaneously dries my waves while preventing condensation on the windshield during damp winter weather?

Don’t pretend this isn’t a real workflow I need to develop. For now, I have an entire drugstore stashed in the filing cabinet in my office. We’ll see what sticks.

SHOES. Business-appropriate footwear that’s comfortable, fashionable, and professional can be tricky. Sure, on regular weeks I can get away with a much more casual vibe, but I started my tenure here by jumping right into a massive customer-facing event. (Followed by a global all-hands among my distributed team, in case you were wondering.)

I gotta BRING IT with the footwear, espeically with an international audience (trust me, we Americans are slobs with our footwear and other countries judge us, I think often appropriately, based on this; wear better shoes; you probably need them). I also gotta be able to walk somewhat long distances with no warning because that’s what event planning occasionally requires. And yet I gotta keep it office appropriate.

I’ve been doing OK-ish on new footwear acquisitions, but I’ve probably bought four different pairs f because I truly didn’t have anything suitable and comfortable. (I have angry feet; don’t ask. Doesn’t help that I’m a size 11, a wide calf, AND a tall calf so sleek boots dip in for the knee joint about four inches below my knee, you know, right in the middle of my calf muscle bulge. It’s real attractive, trust.)

These have been wonderful for fancy days; a few other recent acqusitions help on chiller days. I’m astounded by how much I spent on shoes in the space of a month; totally worth it but like these are the actions of a woman with a suddenly regular paycheck, haha.

CLOTHES. I think I dress well in public most of the time, but the challenge is that now I have to actually remember what I’ve worn recently and mix it up enough to look like I actually change my clothes. I have TONS of stuff, but I tend to get fixated on two or three pieces that I feel really good in, and then re-wear those VERY frequently. Running my own home-based business allowed me to do this with few people noticing, except for my husband, who doesn’t count in this context, obvs. I might need to start documenting my outfits in some sort of insanely pragmatic yet ridiculous selfie journal for this express purpose instead of whatever look-how-wrinkly-I-got usual purpose people do that for.

Oh, and that customer-facing event with the business casual dress code? CHALLENGING clothing-wise (although I think we all did great, tbh). I tweeted about it and there were some helpful (though occasionally inconsistent) replies, in case you want to peek. It’s just psychologically much more fun to dress up because you want to than because you have to, haha.

COMMUTE GEAR. Is there any more hideous and forlorn retail category than the commuter bag? They’re so depressingly pragmatically ugly. And the ones that look halfway decent hurt your tech and your back. Unacceptable. The very few exceptions to these rules cost like my entire hiring bonus (btw first one of those ever, what’s up future new bag). And much like my feet, my back/shoulders/neck are wrecked from the nefarious and confusing spread of chronic tennis elbow.

Please, send me links to acceptable commuter backpack (not messenger for me) models for me to hand-wringingly reject privately but appreciate publicly because we all know I’m going to have to make some kind of lame compromise. I HATE spending money on something that doesn’t feel exciting or well designed, haha. (I can’t believe I once owned an LG Chocolate phone, but that slider mechanism was incredible. Where is the LG Chocolate of commuter backpacks, I need that.)

Office buildings

BATHROOMS. Let’s talk about corporate restrooms. Specifically, auto-flushing toilets. Note to toilets: I will tell you when I’m done. You don’t need to interpret every shift as I pull my shirt back over my waistband or fish in my purse for a tampon as an auxiliary flush cue. You can just flush the one time, when I’m truly done, not before and not after and not when the door bangs slightly ajar either. Our state is still technically in a drought, you know! I know it’s confusing because of all the rain, but it has something to do with snow melt and global warming and I’m seriously not making this up. Quit wasting all that water.

(Athough, to be fair, another Big Tech former employer’s way-too-low-flushing toilets were definitely worse, and they also seemed like they over-taxed the local sewer system so the air around the urban campus smelled like sewage all the time. Point to Microsoft, even with caveats.)

Also, real quick: paper towel machines with automatic sensors. I am a Paper Towel Ghost. I can get soap and water just fine most of the time, but I stand there waving like an idiot dripping on the floor begging you for a towel. Have mercy on the new hire and let her dry her hands! (The kitchen towel dispenser mysteriously works fine every time; different model.)

KITCHENS. Sepecifically, CORPORATE KITCHEN SINKS WITH SPONGES. UGH. Sponges in corporate kitchens are always disgusting and stinky. I made the mistake of washing out my mug with one on my first day and my hand smelled like spongefoul all day long.

Here’s my handy if slightly wasteful trick, if you don’t want to literally bring in your own sponge like I plan to do:

-Get a paper towel
-Squeeze some dish soap into it
-Pour some sugar on [me] [er, on the soap]

Now you have the abrasion power of a scrubby sponge with none of the icky smell. And I checked with facilities; this is compostable when you’re done scrubbing. You’re welcome!

OFFICE EQUIPMENT. Despite having great coverage for equipment, I find all office furniture and gear wanting. The furniture pieces are ugly, the color palettes are boring neutrals that somehow always still manage to clash and depress, and the standard-issue equipment is never quite good enough. In addition to the stuff I’ll be getting via the ergonomics department, I have like four keyboards I brought in from home, and monitors sitting on reams of copy paper. Sigh. At least they’re free.

Actual tech company stuff

Okay, now that I’ve griped about the sometimes silly challenges, let’s talk about some WONDERFUL changes this brings to my life.

SALARY. Listen, sometimes it’s nice to have a paycheck that comes from someone else. It’s been a while. That’s all I have to say on this matter. :)

BENEFITS. It’s been ages since I had benefits that covered me, or were at all luxurious. Not having to worry about in/out of network is golden. Knowing that even with a high dedicutible my out-of-pocket max won’t be insane is also wonderful. I’ve had some scary and expensive ER visits and surgeries in the past couple years that we only just finished paying off, because emergency stuff is expensive and our benefits sucked. It’s insane how broken this system is in our country, but I’m super-duper-grateful to have cushy corporate coverage again.

PERKS. I get to ride a privilege bus! With Wi-Fi! It’s confusing and sometimes hard to book seats on, but it exists and I’ve never not gotten a ride when I wanted one yet. I’ve never worked anywhere that operated its own bus service from my home neighborhood to my work neighborhood before. Ridiculous. I haven’t yet gotten into the swing of doing actual work on the bus; we’ll see how that goes. Today I made a Twitter list. (Baby steps.) Oh, and I get a free gym membership to a gym so great that there is an individual spray bottle and towel roll at each and every machine in all rooms. Think about that. That is a fancy-ass gym. For FREE.

AN OFFICE. I’ve never had an office at an actual job; it’s great even though you have to be proactive about seeking out coworker interaction with anyone not immediately across the hallway. I swear there’s a whole Door Status Etiquette thing I could get into here, and its various translations and misinterpretations, but the point is, the ability to close a door when you need to focus or talk without disturbing others is amazing. And I bought a rug, and a lamp Grant hates and wouldn’t want around our house. And hey, my whole team happens to work from home every Friday, so I still get to enjoy my home office.

Pro tip for people in windowless offices like mine:

-Buy multiple plants and lamps
-Buy multiple grow bulbs; I like this one because it’s also full spectrum for SAD help (can’t hurt, right?)
-Buy multiple outlet timers; this two-pack works for me
-Set up lamps to point at plants, depending on plant light exposure needs (read the damn tag silly)
-Set up timers to light up about when you want to get in and shut off about when you want to leave
-The click off is jarring enough, I find, to serve as a signal to go home!

I’ll post more about office design as it evolves. But to tease the next section, I was able to put in a request to have my bright orange wall painted soothing gray. Heck yeah. :)

Also, WHITEBOARDS.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND RESOURCES. Today I got a free flu shot at the Microsoft Living Well Center, which has doctors and a little drugstore and pharmacy and an ergonomic assessment center with incredibly in-depth equipment options. That’s not even half of it! There are cafeterias in walking distance from any building. There are free parking spots if you just keep looking for them. There is a phone number for helpdesk, a website for facilities requests, an intranet to answer your every question that’s much easier to grasp than most intranets I’ve seen. I love a place with resources and infrastructure like this so you can self help and solve problems and be more effective.

There’s insanely helpful personality testing to improve collaboration across teams with diverse people. There are training modules on like everything. Eventually I can even formally seek a mentor. FORMALLY. I’ve only ever gotten on-the-fly soak-it-up-when-you-can mentorship in my life. To have a program that facilitates and formalizes this process just blows my mind. I haven’t been there long enough to take advantage of this, but I look forward to learning from Microsoft badasses with insights to share someday.

There is also a fridge in each kitchen full of free beverages that are mostly a bad idea for me but still nice to have, and nice filtered water and ice machines and vending machines that take Apple Pay, and if I remember to keep Wi-Fi turned on I can stretch the range on my Apple Watch to make vending purchases with my phone sitting on my office desk many meters away. Cool. It sells apple chips (not Apple Chips though). I love apple chips. I think they’re even organic.

Oh, and during events there’s lovely catered food for free, and in the cafeterias there’s lovely infused water for free. I like cucumber best. And there are Coke Freestyle machines. And really fresh healthy meal options including a totally well-stocked salad bar, which has a price cap so if you get all heavy items like I do you can never be charged more than a certain reasonable ceiling. #smokedsalmon

VOLUNTEERING. Microsoft has great volunteering campaigns with encouragement and matching. I’ve never worked anywhere that made my dollars count this much more when it comes to causes I care about. My first question in my first sync with my boss was how/if I could work App Camp for Girls volunteering into my schedule successfully; I’m confident that I won’t feel like having a day job cramps my volunteering much at all even if I now have to take official vacation time to pull it off. In fact, I think the structured giving and the increased connection opportunities with more women in tech will only help in the bigger picture.

All in all, I might seem quieter on Twitter than usual, but don’t fret—it’s because I’m soaking up all the joy this new gig has to offer. And now I only blog/tweet/podcast evenings and weekends. :)

iMore piece on Apple Watch bands

iMore piece on Apple Watch bands

Hey y’all! In case you missed the tweet, I worked my old Apple Watch band blog post into a piece for iMore this week. Enjoy! (Or rage-comment, if that’s your thing! I employed my good husband to filter the useful constructive criticism so I don’t have to read the parts that make me want to bury the entire internet under a little stone cairn in the backyard and never look back.) Cheers!At least "she" comes first here, right?

 

This picture makes me mad all over again every dang time I see it, heh. But hey, it prompted me to add the category “feminism” which I’ve apparently never done before. So thanks Apple, I guess? :)

Why I volunteer with App Camp for Girls

Why I volunteer with App Camp for Girls

You’ve probably heard of App Camp for Girls by now, right? It’s a fantastic organization founded by Jean MacDonald, who is a friend of mine as well as a an amazing, smart, experienced, well-connected, fun, patient, and tireless advocate for women in tech. The camp helps middle school age girls learn about mobile app development, from ideas to coding to pitching investors. I was the MC for Seattle’s camp last year, and will be again this year. I also help organize and recruit as much as I can.

I wanted to take a minute to write about why I’m so passionate about App Camp for Girls and women in tech in general. I think a lot of people (particularly men) I’ve worked with over the years assume that things are pretty darn OK for women in tech. Well, guess what—they’re not! :( They weren’t when we worked together in a tech job back in 2007, and they aren’t now. Things have actually been pretty terrible for women in tech, myself included, and in some ways are only getting worse. That’s why App Camp for Girls is so important to me, and why I think it should be important for you, too.

I’ve been sexually harassed, passed up for countless advancement opportunities, and generally regarded as less than my male counterparts in every tech role I’ve held. I’ve also bought into this myself, assuming I was less capable or knowledgeable even when I was confronted with evidence to the contrary. Even when I had capable, technical female managers as role models. This stuff runs VERY deep. But I think if I’d encountered more targeted support such as App Camp for Girls at a younger age, it would have had an impact in my overall career trajectory as well as my confidence in my own potential.

AC4G
Here’s me, frizzy and exhausted, as I prepare to record a podcast from the App Camp for Girls HQ.

Let me tell you a story from my own adolescence. When I was a junior in high school on Bainbridge Island (a suburb of Seattle), I took a short trip to the Bay Area to visit college campuses. A friend of the family took me under her wing, introduced me to people she knew, drove me all over the area, and generally made it exciting to look into college life. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do with myself career-wise, but it was a rad trip that left me feeling like my future was full of promise.

On the plane ride home, I ended up sitting next to a woman who worked as a developer at Microsoft. We got to chatting, and she mentioned that she could go to work in much the same attire she had on the plane—Birkenstocks with socks (hey, it was 1998), jeans, and a non-ratty sweatshirt. I was in AWE. The idea of having a proper grown-up job where you could NOT WEAR A SUIT was kind of mind-blowing to me at that age.

I remember thinking to myself, right then and there, “What a shame I’ll never get to work somewhere cool and chill like Microsoft.” You see, because I fully believed, at age sixteen, that I wasn’t capable of being technically savvy enough to work at a software company.

By the way, after I graduated high school, I ended up attending an all-female college with a strong STEM program. But the damage had already been done by then—I didn’t think I could possibly survive as a CS major, so I pursued another path (linguistics) despite being surrounded by incredibly capable and technical role models and classmates.

Why on earth would I think I couldn’t work in tech?

It wasn’t because of my awesome badass career-driven mom, who had been working in a complex field her entire career. It wasn’t because of my encouraging driven dad, who had been nagging me about how smart I was in math and science since birth. It wasn’t because of my innate abilities, because trust me, I’ve now worked at some tech companies and there are plenty of folks less innately tech-capable than myself. So what was it?

Society. My lame condescending boyfriend at the time. My teachers. The entire educational system. The entire culture! Books I read, movies I saw, TV I watched, games I played, men who talked over me or condescended to me, women who implicitly coached me to pursue female-friendly fields. Who the hell knows? It was EVERYTHING about our world.

If a program like App Camp for Girls had come along when I first started getting excited about computers and realistic career possibilities, I might have taken a different approach to my education and my post-college work. Heck, I remember coding games with my dad on our Commodore 64, and chatting with random people via something called Q-Link on an incredibly basic modem. There was such an exciting appeal to computers and technology and the early Internet back then—where did that excitement go? Why is it that, by the time I reached high school, I was *certain* I had no place in that world?

Sexist biases start young

Here’s another story: when I was about three, I had a book that my parents would read me about careers. In it, the doctor was a woman, and the nurse was a man. I got *so distraught* by this, and regularly engaged my parents about how they must have made a mistake in making this book (future tester in the making!), because it was so weird to me that there were ladydocs and dudenurses in this book. That wasn’t *correct*, according to my knowledge of the world.

THREE YEARS OLD. Can you think of any explanations other than ALL OF SOCIETY, even at an amazingly young age, teaching me to conform to crappy gender norms? Ugh.

This is why I volunteer. This is why I donate my time and energy and hardware and connections and expertise. This is why I uncomfortably ask for money, tap people I barely feel competent about emailling, tweet at famous folks who don’t usually give me the time of day. This is why I force the conversation towards donations, towards equality, towards feminism, towards topics that sometimes feel too frequently discussed or burdensome in some social situations. This is why I bug everyone I know on Facebook and Twitter and beyond to get involved, to donate, to like, to share, to comment. I do it so my future three-year-old daughter won’t have already made up her mind about what she can’t do for a living, because that is INSANE.

How you can help us

You don’t have to be a woman to help us. You don’t have to have a daughter. You don’t have to volunteer your time, or even donate money. You can still help a TON!

Donate what you can afford, and ask others to chip in. Corporate relationships are particularly valuable, as they can often afford to sponsor more than any given individual. All of your donation info can be found at http://appcamp4girls.com/contribute/. Make sure your employers know about us. Ask about donation matching policies. Really dig deep to see if you can increase the reach of smaller individual contributions.

Volunteer your time, sponsor a team, or connect us with people who might be good volunteers or sponsors. Volunteer info can be found at http://appcamp4girls.com/volunteer/. The most helpful thing you can do is to fill out the form on this page, so we can capture you in our system and tap you when the appropriate need arises.

Share our Indiegogo fundraising campaign with your world! Comment on the post, donate there even if you’ve already donated elsewhere. Pay attention to our milestones and stretch goals, and consider helping us get over hurdles as the campaign progresses. Info about the campaign can be found at http://igg.me/at/appcamp4girls/x/3845393.

Like us on Facebook and share our statuses, possibly with your own custom message. Tag people you think might like to be involved. Tell stories about how gender inequality has affected you or people close to you. Take a second to personalize your sharing from time to time, so that people understand and relate to the cause and feel more compelled to engage. Put up with the fact that I use words like “engage” when talking about this stuff. :)

Follow us on Twitter. All of us. Signal-boost our voices by retweeting important messages, and tagging people you think would be interested in volunteering, donating, or otherwise furthering our cause. Consider keeping us un-muted even when we might be noisier than your typical following habits permit—recognize that hearing our voices at full volume is a small part of effecting change. It helps you and everyone you follow understand the very real struggles that women in tech face even in 2015, and it helps normalize a more balanced and diverse gender breakdown in tech and in general. Twitter lists of all App Camp for Girls volunteers can be found at https://twitter.com/superpuppy/lists/app-camp-for-girls/members and https://twitter.com/macgenie/lists/ac4g. We’ll consolidate at some point. For now, just click twice; you can handle it. :P

Follow us on Instagram. C’mon, that stuff’s just fun! ;)

-Remember that no matter how great an ally you are, you (and I and all of us) still have room to learn and grow. We probably harbor implicit biases and internalized sexism that takes FOREVER to dismantle. We’ve probably been accidentally sexist or judgmental in a way that harms our own cause at some point. We have to aim to do better moving forward, but we can’t let every misstep hold us back. Be gentle with yourself, be gentle with us, and be gentle with everyone you encounter as you try to help us all bridge the significant gender gap in STEM fields. This is a moving, shifting, learning process for all of us. It’s hard work, and it sometimes puts us all in an uncomfortable position, but the end goal is so totally worth it.

Thanks for reading and for your support—see you around WWDC next week!

 

 

Why I kept my Apple Watch

Why I kept my Apple Watch

I bought an Apple Watch, which arrived (kinda late) on launch day, April 24th. I got the 42mm Sport with a white band, despite reservations about that exact model. I dithered for a while about whether to keep it or not, but I ultimately decided to hang on to it, at least for now. I thought some of you might be interested in why, as you may be going through similar decisions.

Wrist texting.

I love being able to see text messages and iMessages on the fly. While not all my texts are important or time sensitive, most of the ones from my husband and a few key business contacts are. I like being able to see texts immediately on my wrist, even if I’m out and about or in a meeting. I can always just ignore the ones that don’t merit immediate attention. But, if I’m waiting on something specific, and I’m with another person, I used to have to let them know the reason and keep an eye on my phone for the incoming text informing me, say, whether Grant would be joining us for dinner or not. Being able to monitor this kind of input on my wrist feels less rude and more reliable—and lets me stay in the moment easier.

Dating app videos.

I made this video about online dating apps on the Apple Watch, which was a lot of fun to produce. (Grant helped a TON with all the editing, by the way!) I’m mostly unimpressed with the current dating app ecosystem, but I think it will be fascinating to watch the apps mature to this new device over time.

Reading Marco Arment’s post about his redesign of Overcast for Apple Watch also egged me on—I don’t get the sense that most of the people making design decisions for apps like Tinder have quite the same indie level of passion and thoughtfulness, but I’m looking forward to being proven wrong… and possibly making more videos to showcase new or different functionality as dating apps mature.

It’s fun being part of the club.

This is a ridiculous reason to keep a $439 purchase, especially when money is pretty tight for us right now. BUT I haven’t had the joy of having the newest hottest gadget at the time of launch in many years. I know it’s a little cheesy, but it’s SO much fun to feel like part of the club, you know? The geek club, the early adopter’s club, whatever. I also made the point in this prior post that having a super tech-geeky gadget sort of visibly identifies me as a technophile, which people might not otherwise assume from the rest of my appearance. (Which is ridiculous, but that’s a whole other problem.)

Even though finances are tight, I managed to justify keeping it because it really doesn’t take that many client hours for me to pay for the thing again. The problem is that I haven’t been able to work over the past several weeks due to some medical stuff I’m going through, but the fact is, I can rekindle my usual client flow soon enough that I was able to talk myself into not returning the thing. Barely. :)

And I LOVE when strangers talk to me about the watch! I’m sure that’ll get old at some point, but it’s fun to have a hip new thing right now. And I’ve been really surprised and pleased by the diversity of the people who are interested in it—it’s definitely not just the expected white male cis straight software engineers, haha. I’m loving the observations and interactions that come with the watch.

OMG Apple Pay!

I’ve still got an iPhone 5s, so I was new to Apple Pay. Using my wrist to check out is SO COOL and futuristic! I can’t get over how convenient and easy and fun it is to use—I’m one of those people who is a ball of chaos in most grocery checkout lines. Anything that means no fumbling for cards or phones is a huge boon. This is seriously the way of future payment processing; I’m convinced of it.

About a week after I’d gotten the watch, I wandered into a random boutique staffed by two 20-something gals. They both recognized the watch and talked to me about it in detail. It was so cute; one of them even ran around the counter and cuffed my sleeves so it would show off more prominently and spark more conversations with strangers! :)

Anyway, the cuffer-gal, who managed the store, mentioned that she was looking into getting new payment processing technology. She was planning on getting something other than an NFC-enabled terminal, most likely chip and pin, but I talked her out of that and into NFC by explaining Apple Pay and that this technology was available in lots of other devices, not just Apple Watches and recent iPhones. I truly believe NFC is going to change the way we transact over the next few years. I’m glad I won her over; I think I did her store a favor!

Fitness tracking.

I’ve never been a huge fitness buff—one time in 2006 I completed a sprint triathlon, and I’ve basically never *really* worked out since. Ugh, that was so exhausting. :) So while I need to lose weight and focus more on health, it’s just not something that’s very high on my list. I would never wear a dedicated fitness band like a Fitbit or Garmin, as many of my friends do—I just don’t spend enough time or energy focusing on fitness to justify the cost.

However, since I wanted an Apple Watch primarily for notifications, I was happy to also get to benefit from its built-in fitness features. I’m surprised to say I find them quite enjoyable—even though I think the “stand” sensors are a bit off, and should probably be smart enough not to tell me to stand while the watch is actively giving me driving directions, haha.

When I set up my watch a second time after initially wiping it to deal with some buggy dating apps, I took the opportunity to increase the activity goals from the bare minimum, too. It feels nice to have an easy, techie way to encourage myself to move my ass a bit more. When I recover medically and can actually work out like a normal human, I can totally see having fun with the sensors to better track stuff like calories and heart rate.

Doodles.

I’m a sucker for doodling. I have so much fun with it. I don’t really care for the heartbeats or the weird morse code or gauche oddly-textured animated emoji, but the little drawing app is a BLAST! It’s also a big reason I’m glad I got the 42mm—those four millimeters make a huge difference in terms of being able to write legibly or draw clearly.

I only wish that you could use more than one color on the same doodle canvas, and that things didn’t necessarily disappear quite so quickly—I’d like a way (besides screenshots) to save doodles someday, too. But I get that this isn’t meant to be a fully featured drawing app. I just kind of enjoy using it like that.

You know what my dream Apple Watch game would be? Draw Something, only watch to watch. I find it hilarious to have to come up with a decent pictorial representation of something on a tiny wrist screen. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Zynga should get on that shit.

Of course, there’s the ecosystem issue right now—I can only share my doodles with a select few people who also have Apple Watches. But it’s fun, and we communicate more than we would otherwise; I feel like we’re sharing little private jokes that bring us closer together than other communication channels would be able to do. This is the least “important” feature of the Apple Watch, but so far, it’s the most enjoyable!

The good outweighs the bad.

There are things I don’t love about the Apple Watch. But I think I’ll save those for another post, or just sit on them and hope they go away with a 1.1 release. Overall, I knew I’d be getting a somewhat low-featured first-gen product, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I like it so far. For the most part, the beneficial features outweigh the frustrations.

Right now Grant has my Apple Watch because I made him take it with him as an icebreaker while he’s out of town at a conference—I really miss my husband, but I also miss my watch! :)

Do you want your smartwatch to look like jewelry?

Do you want your smartwatch to look like jewelry?

I just had an interesting Twitter chat with Joe Macirowski about our various Apple Watch impressions. Joe said the 42 mm watch face was nicer to use, but that the 38 looked like jewelry, which he preferred. This seems worth exploring to me. Because I don’t *want* my smartwatch to look like jewelry.

I definitely think Apple’s smartwatch is the most elegantly designed product in wearable tech. I haven’t spent loads of time up close with any Pebble, but I’ve seen them enough to know that they’re not quite there for me, aesthetics wise. I dislike every fitness band and Moto thing I’ve laid eyes on.

If I could afford one of the swankier Apple Watch versions (likely the Rose Gold Edition with the Rose Gray band), I’d be much happier with the aesthetics… but ultimately, I still want the thing to *look like tech.*

I don’t wear a watch now. I haven’t worn a watch since the early 2000s, when I had a cheap stainless steel Fossil tank watch designed (I think) to knock off some high-end Cartier model. I started carrying a cell phone shortly after buying this watch, so I mostly wore that watch because it helped me look and feel and be more professional.

I was young—fresh out of college—and I was applying for jobs wearing a suit. (It’s sort of a trauma-induced thing after being sexually harassed by one of my first bosses—the more professional and serious you seem, the less likely you are to get hit on when the clock hits 5:01. Or so I told myself.)

I was also trying to be part of a corporate world that I didn’t yet realize wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what I wanted career-wise, but the work I found was administrative stuff in law offices and dressier-seeming corporations.

I didn’t yet know software was Land of the T-Shirt; I didn’t know games were Land of the Combat Boots. (I also didn’t know that both were fields where you’d get sexually harassed as a woman no matter what you wore, perhaps even more so than the aforementioned law offices.) I didn’t know I liked software or games or helping people figure out their online dating profiles. I was new at this whole Being Adult thing.

Wearing a watch on my wrist meant I was trying to display affluence, togetherness, formality—traits I didn’t actually possess at the time. Now I wear what I want and what flatters me for entirely different reasons… and I’m a hell of a lot better at spotting and shutting down harassers. (It helps that I left working in an environment full of the kind of day-to-day microagressions all women in tech face all the damn time. Sorry to make this watch post slightly political, but you know, it’s still depressingly relevant, so.)

Now, if I were to wear a dumbwatch, it would be almost entirely for aesthetics. It would have to be SO attractive (and water-resistant and easy to read) that I didn’t mind it getting in the way when I typed, or the extra weight it put on my wrist. It would have to kick ASS design-wise, and somehow still be affordable for my tiny indie budget.

Apple’s smartwatches are very pretty, but they’re not THAT pretty—especially not the ones I can afford. Therefore, I want the biggest watch face possible on a smartwatch, not just because it’s easier to read and use, but also because I want a watch that screams “I AM TECHNOLOGY!”

I want my smartwatch to make it clear that I didn’t buy a watch like this because *that’s my taste*—hell no. (If it were purely up to taste, I’d be in a thick Cartier tank watch with a band made from some kind of magically-no-longer-threatened species’s leather.) I want a smartwatch to communicate at a glance that this is a compromise between form and function. That I have better taste than that when it comes to actual decorative jewelry.

And hey, as a woman interested in tech, it doesn’t hurt to wear a new first-wave gadget that automatically telegraphs a certain geeky streak and technical prowess to the men I meet at conferences and events. Plenty of them still assume from my gender and appearance that I’m less educated, intelligent, capable, technical, etc. than the men at the table.

A watch that screams TEEEECCHH does me a lot of little favors socially and professionally. My old dumbwatch tried to convince people I was something I’m not, whereas a smartwatch that looks like tech tries to help people understand who I actually am.

 

 

Edited to add: since you read all the way here, I’m including bonus content. Lucky you! (?)

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!

Quit lying about cords and cables

Quit lying about cords and cables

Something has really been bugging me lately. As I’ve become increasingly obsessed with fancy shelter magazines and blogs in my quest to beautify our home, I’ve come to realize that those publications totally bullshit their readers.

The glossing over of cables and heaters and vents is as maddeningly deceptive to me as celebrities Photoshopping out their imperfections. I feel like all these helpful make-your-home-nice guides are presenting a completely unrealistic standard by hiding every cord and cable in their perfectly uninhabitable but elegant spaces.

Emily Henderson offered a helpful peek into that world in her recent post. I’m OK with some tweaks to sell a pretty magazine—like Photoshopping out how that one console thing totally bowed in the middle (I guess). I’m also fine with contrived styling for a perfect shot—I mean, I like when Emily posts realistic shots side by side to give a dose of reality, but I accept that a stylist and designer is mainly going to post designed and styled images.

Right = truth, left = LIES. (All images via Emily Henderson’s blog.)

But I dislike LIES (which were clearly at Domino’s behest, not Emily’s. I don’t fault her, I fault the industry!) Little beautifications I get. But removing unsightly but NECESSARY elements like heaters and cords pisses me off on principle; it’s like pretending we don’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. These innovations have an aesthetic tax. Admit it, embrace it, and show me how to work around it, dammit!

Anyway, in my reality, heaters and cords exist and it sucks. Heaters can be hard to work around, for sure. I’m glad we now live in a home with forced air vents instead of baseboard heaters—those are both ugly and a major fire hazard! We just have to get stuff that sits up on legs and allows heaters to flow air underneath.

But oh, the cords. THE CORDS! Cord management is my single biggest annoyance in the two rooms I care most about, appearances-wise—our living room and my office.

Here, for example, is my new media console solution, complete with the consoles that mainly belong to my video game designer of a husband:

Trust me that this is the Extremely Pretty version.

Looks busy but decent enough, right? (Try to ignore the giant white cable on the right; I refuse to/have no idea how to Photoshop it out. It’ll be gone once we rewire the outlet because blah blah 1947 house.)

And here it is in relation to our TV, in case that helps explain the context of the entire space and its constraints:

Bonus points for noticing the crooked Wii sensor bar!

But here’s my secret efforts to make it look even this okay:

Don't even get me STARTED about how no blogs ever show rooms with honeycomb blinds like these.

See? There’s a huge mass of cables I’ve only somewhat concealed. You can see them if you look at the whole console at a fully level height, but it’s so low that mostly you can only see the tangle back there when you’re sitting on the couch and deliberately looking for cords. Possible, but not super likely.

Oh, and here’s my other sneaky trick: be careful with those curtains!

HUZZAH!

Yeah, these lightweight silk curtains are kind of puffed out from the wall because they’re basically concealing an entire R2D2 chassis width of just cable knots back there.

If I lived my life in the Domino Universe, I could just magically wish away these sorts of mortal tech-loving concerns. Instead, I spent hundreds on curtains plus hardware for the entire space in part to disguise this sort of cordage. I obsessively measured and fretted for months and pinned media storage solutions that were low-profile and kept that space feeling light and airy enough but still offered enough storage to fit all our consoles, somehow, yet breathed enough to let them all vent sufficiently (a real problem that glass-doored media consoles fail to address, FYI) and allowed our heater to heat. I stacked books and arranged lamps and pretty baskets filled with DVDs to conceal the worst of the cords. And it’s still nowhere near as schmancy as a magazine would tolerate. Which I’m OK with, but I wish they were, too!

I would MUCH rather buy a magazine that showed me expensive but insanely clever tricks for, say, building cord-management conduits directly into your walls, than faking that they just didn’t exist. Hell, I have this entire board of TV and media console disguises. I ought to start a board just for managing cord concealment options. Domino sure as hell isn’t going to do it for me!

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!