Category: working from home

My AltConf 2016 talk: Sell Out and Save the World!

My AltConf 2016 talk: Sell Out and Save the World!

Woohoo! I’m so excited! Last year I spoke at AltConf in San Francisco during Apple’s WWDC week. I’m really proud of the talk I gave—I had refined it a bunch, tested it in front of different audiences, and poured a lot of my soul into it. (And yes, a lot of emojis.)

It’s a little bit about how to feel OK having a corporate job. It’s a little bit about diversity in tech. It’s a little bit about why online dating sucks. If any of that sounds interesting to you, please watch it!

(And feel free to let me know what you think, but you know, be gentle with your constructive criticism. I’ve literally never given a talk at a conference before.) <3!

Sell Out and Save the World – AltConf 2016 (best viewed on a bigger screen so you can follow the slides. And none of the videos or animations play in this slide processing, but if you’re DYING to see the Taylor Swift Apple Music ad, go here.)

Resolutish

Resolutish

Intellectually, I’m not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions—heck, I’m not even sure about how you capitalize and punctuate the phrase. :) I like to think that the time of year shouldn’t have a massive impact on deciding to make improvements in your life, you know?

But I’m in a weird spot this year. My part-time tech writing contract comes to a close at the end of January, which means I’ll be circling back to working on The Heartographer full time. I’m launching a few new products and initiatives soon that just happen to be coming out in Q1 2015. And I have a medical procedure coming up in March that will go much more smoothly if I can get a better handle on my physical health in advance.

For me, January 2015 will end up being a time to spark change and transition, whether I meant it that way or not. And while the philosophy of “make improvements independent of the new year” is a sound one, I never actually implement changes. Like, ever.

Discipline and follow-through have long been huge weaknesses for me. But as I prep for business and life shifts over the next year, it’s increasingly important that I get a better handle on the part of me that resists working hard to effect positive change in my life. It’s time to start actually trying instead of pooh-poohing the whole idea.

On La Dolce Vita, Paloma Contreras shared a few thoughts about how to make 2015 the best year yet. First on the list was setting intentions instead of resolutions. This totally jibes with me—on the one hand, I’d love to not give myself wiggle room to bail on what I set out to do, but I’m self-aware enough to know that the whole fear of failure thing would make me drop all my firm resolutions as soon as the going gets tough.

So, in the spirit of actually following through with some intentions, even if the outcome isn’t as drastic or simple as I’m hoping, I’ll share with y’all some of my intentions for the new year and beyond.

Learn

I’ve been wanting to get savvy with photo and graphic software for ages, so I can better self-help when I need to create a quick visual asset for my business or one of my many sites. I’ve made my poor husband (who is a video game designer, NOT a graphic designer) create and modify SO MANY business cards, ad graphics, logos, header images, you name it.

Photoshop is top of the list in terms of learning to create my own stuff, but OmniGraffle is next, as well as learning a bit more about actually manipulating a camera to take better pictures.

And this may sound frivolous, but I’d like to get the hang of applying false eyelashes. I’ve read how-to guides online and grilled every makeup artist who’s ever applied them for me, but I think what I need more than anything is a few extra pairs and some dedicated time to practice.

Falsies (I swear they’re called that) make a huge visual impact in the videos I produce! Of course they’re fun in social settings too, but I really mainly wear them for business. God, how weird and boring is that? You’d think I was a burlesque dancer or something! :)

Ship

I’m working on an iPhone app with Brandon, who does 99.9999% of the actual coding. While he’s helplful in teaching me some stuff, I can only have a certain impact in how much progress we make—but if I stay motivated, ask questions, meet regularly with him, and generally keep the marketing and production balls rolling, we tend to do more actual coding work too. I’d love to see a working app prototype on my device by the end of this year, even if we don’t actually get a smoothly tested version for sale on that timeline.

I’ve been writing a book since 2009, for Frey’s sake, but I finally started making true progress this fall after applying a sort of GTD-like system to the project. I’d like to either get that book fully self-published this year, or have a firm deal with a traditional publisher.

I’m launching some video courses soon, which have been in the works since last summer. I expect those to ship in Q1 of this year, yay!

I’m also FINALLY launching a podcast soon. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be out in time for Valentine’s Day. Woohoo!

I’m also launching another blog at some time this year, which will be a more personal but specific venture. I’ll post here when it goes live.

Monetize

What a douchey word, right? But I need to make it a greater focus in 2015 and beyond. I spent the first seven whole years of my business under-charging, partly because I love what I do but also because I wanted my focus to be on great service and customer experience instead of great profit. But I’ve grown up and come to learn that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s OK to make a decent living doing something you love.

Now that I’ve laid that foundation, I need to have a firmer focus on monetization with every single business decision I make. Heck, even that new personal blog I mentioned is going to have ads, something I’ve kept off my other sites for the most part. The advent of sponsored content makes this so much more OK for me—I’ve seen poorly integrated sponsorships as well as amazing ones, and I’m confident I can find a way to make good money on a blog and still provide unquestionable value to readers. I’ve never ever tried making a blog profitable before, but this year I’m going to make it a focus and at least see how it goes.

Limit

We need to lose weight. Especially me. We’ve needed this for a while, but it’s particularly urgent as I have a surgery type thing in March that will go better if I’ve lost even ten pounds.

The problem, in many ways, is that my weight is HAPPY weight. I met the love of my life, found a love of video games, and have been slowly getting fatter as I enjoy sitting around doing stuff I enjoy with someone I adore. The only times I’ve ever drastically dropped in weight were both when I was living abroad, isolated, and terribly ill to the point of hospitalization. NOT a good association, you know?

We also need to limit our expenses. We’ve never made or stuck to a budget; we barely even try. But as we plan for our future, it’s more and more crucial that we not overspend. We’ve kept our heads above water and been delightfully debt-free or close to it except (now) our house, but we don’t really save and plan ahead.

I’d like to have a fund for home décor splurges, as well as unexpected repair projects. I’d like it to be no big deal when we’re confronted with astounding hospital bills from unexpected medical issues. I’d like to save up for vacations we don’t even know we want to take yet. But I need to get much more serious about seeing this desire through. Now’s as good a time to start as any.

Use

I have a ridiculously massive wardrobe, and yet I tend to get stuck wearing the same 5% of my clothes over and over again. That sort of makes sense to a point, since they’re items I love and feel great in, but it’s a bit silly and limiting. I also want to “shop” from my previous wardrobe by trying on stuff that I haven’t been able to fit into in ages—weight loss will give me a guaranteed shopping spree.

I have tons of craft supplies for cool projects that we just finally started unearthing when we cleaned out our basement. I’m excited to, say, check my Artsy Drawer (or Dresser) before I drive my ass all the way to Michael’s.

I feel the same about home décor and hardware—sometimes, we already have the right curtain rod that would look fine in a given room if I could just set my hands on it. I’m hoping that our Giant Basement Cleanse will assist.

Oh, and I love skincare and makeup, but I barely use most of my cool products. (For someone with an entire blog about this stuff, you’d be amazed how many nights I go to sleep without washing my face and then wake up annoyed that I have irritated skin.) I always want to spend more time and energy with my fun grooming products, because they really have an impact on how I look and therefore how I feel about myself. Why the hell am I just letting them expire under the sink? Let this year involve more masques and whatnot. And eyeliner. Use it or lose it.

 

So yeah, that’s my summary. What are YOU resolutish about this year?

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!

Animal Crossing décor inspiration

Animal Crossing décor inspiration

Grant and I have been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf on his new (pale pink) 3DS. I’m the mayor of the town, because Grant’s a sweetheart, and he’s just a citizen. We have tons of pals who are playing, too, so we’ve really enjoyed it. He played the original GameCube version, and maybe a bit of the prior DS one I think, and I worked in linguistic QA at Nintendo during the several months before the Wii version of the game was released in 2008. I’m pretty sure that’s a legally acceptable way to get my experience with AC across, haha. I’m having much more fun this time around, for what it’s worth!

I seem to have become somewhat obsessed with the design and furnishing of my house in the game. I never cared much about that before, but something about being a real-life homeowner makes it deeply satisfying. Most people go nuts with the many outlandish and brightly colored sets you can collect, but I’ve found myself drawn exclusively to extremely realistic and traditional design schemes. However, Animal Crossing only lets you customize your exterior in limited ways, so I’ve found myself incorporating elements of design that might be more appropriate outdoors into my AC rooms. Here’s my castle-style outside (new door and mailbox to come):

My "castle" exterior house in Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

For example, in my bathroom, I have a pair of these statue thingies called “Merlion(s).” I don’t know if that’s sort of like the Capricorn half-goat-half-fish thing or what, but I saw them in my Happy Homes showroom and went nuts and bought a pair immediately. Pretty sure they’d make more sense in a garden or courtyard, ya know? Perhaps you can’t tell, but water is continuously streaming out of their mouths, unless you face one and press the A Button. ;) Don’t worry about where the water goes. That’s not important in Animal Crossing. (Oh, and isn’t the parquet floor amazing? I would never have something that busy or frilly in real life, probably; we never saw a single detailed floor when we were house-hunting in Seattle. But I love the look especially with that wall; very Downton Abbey.)

My Animal Crossing bathroom, with a pair of Merlions.

Here are a couple more obsessive symmetry things that possibly belong outdoors, my maneki nekotachi (no idea if that’s how you pluralize it). I love the paw-raised kitty, and I used to have two with their right paws raised (which is more traditional) but Grant spotted a left paw one in the HHA and bought it for me. Yay! Proper symmetry: deeply pleasing. I know these are kind of a weird scale to have in an indoor home; they too look outdoorsy to me. But there WAS that big trend a few years ago of giant white ceramic animals that just sit on your floor and do nothing, so maybe these sort of fit into that category?

A pair of Japanese lucky cats (maneki neko).

Either way, now I kind of want to get a pair of these for my home office. After all, the right one is supposed to bring money/prosperity, and the left paw one is supposed to bring customers (according to this). What more perfect motif is there for my growing  business? I’m going to try to find a set that’s made of matte white, cream, or black ceramic with no colorful adornment, since I find the more traditional colored ones can look kinda gaudy. (And they also don’t go with my cool turquoise office décor.) There’s a local Japanese noodle restaurant called Boom Noodle that has some gorgeous plain matte white ones of various sizes on display in their foyer, so maybe they’ll share their source. After all, I can’t just run to Timmy & Tommy Nook in real life. Bummer!

Another matchy-matchy AC thing is my two Rococo Sofas, currently dyed Gothic Yellow but probably to be changed back to their original Gothic Brown at some point. (Oh, and matching Rococo Candlestick sconces on the wall, obvs. And yes matching fireplaces shut up.) I’ve actually been dying for two matching sofas in our real life living room (RLLR, LOL) but we’re having trouble finding two of the right dimensions and price point to work in our smaller living room/entryway, so I was pretty tickled to be able to scratch that itch in game. These are WAY more traditional and feminine than anything I’d put in my real-life house on purpose, but I think they’re charming here and the detail makes them that much more recognizable in the small scale of a DS game, even on an XL device.

A pair of matching Rococo Sofas and Rococo Candlesticks in Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

And yeah, I have not two but FOUR matching Peacock Chairs, because those too are lovely and feminine in game, and I also have two coffee tables instead of one because there aren’t many four-square coffee tables and SYMMETRY MATTERS PEOPLE. That probably should’ve been my post title, haha.

I used to have just plain cream sofas in my living room instead, which I liked a lot and now have in a weird upstairs den-like room because I’m smitten with the cowhide rug and retro TV. (The rug doesn’t scale well in a bigger AC room so I can just never ever expand this one, haha.) Even though I complained about retro legs in this long design post, I find them cute in this specific room, and somehow in AC all is forgiven. And I LOVE the look and idea of cowhide rugs in real life, but I don’t know that they’re all that practical in our home, and I don’t think Grant likes them that much, and I get the feeling I’d be “over” that look too soon for it to be financially viable. Again, AC to the rescue, letting me play with design elements I love in a safe space, haha. I actually love the look of two light sofas too, but in our household with a black cat already and with hopes for kids someday, cream sofas just wouldn’t fly. But something really clean and minimal with the arms the same height as the back is my favorite sleek look, even if it feels less functional. Aaaah, AC.

Cream sofas and a cowhide rug in Animal Crossing.

The one thing I really wish AC let you play with was window treatments. (Or maybe they do and I just haven’t gotten there. No spoilers, please!) Can’t you imagine big dramatic swags and valances and whatnot to fool around with? It is sort of a bummer that if you expand your main room, you lose the window along the middle of the back, and the only windows in any of the auxiliary rooms are also on the sides, so you have to manually move the camera around to view them. Maybe that’s why they didn’t bother with drapery options. But I’d go NUTS if I had that choice, especially since that’s an area I’m toying with at home in real life, too!

Oh, and I looooove my bedroom, with the matching Exotic set. I just learned the other day that you can dye it, so I’ll probably start experimenting with that next. It’s way more Asian inspired than most of my home furnishings, and while I do love getting multiple pieces of a matching set, this much feels like overkill. But you get points for having multiple pieces of a set! Which remind me of the satisfying joy of obtaining set bonuses in World of Warcraft raiding gear, haha. Since there’s no way I’d turn back to such a hardcore MMO between my current time management and tennis elbow concerns, it sure is nice to feel like a semi-competent fire mage as mayor of our little town.

IMG_5089

Last stop is my kitchen, which is pretty boring but still kinda fun because I used the Kitschy Tile and the Kitchen Wall in there. I would never normally put something so patterned up in a real house, but it’s kinda charming and reminds me of Spanish kitchens in Barcelona and Madrid that almost all have granite countertops and ceramic Moroccan-inspired patterned tile on the walls and usually a different larger-scale tile on the floor. This isn’t exactly a replica of that, especially given that there’s no countertop to speak of, but it’s a sort of chaotic, pattern-filled yet traditional retro vibe that reminds me of living in Spain.

My Animal Crossing kitchen.

So there you have it! My basement is boring, so I won’t show you that… oh fine; you’re right. We might as well. Gotta store those gyroids somewhere. Here it is:

My Animal Crossing basement full of gyroids.

LOVE that Library Wall, but not as much as I love the Ivy Wall that’s brick covered in creeping ivy vines. That’s in my museum exhibit (aka closet) now. It was perhaps my only treatment that’s truly strange for an interior; I like to keep my AC houses freakishly realistic but the ivy on the brick was too pretty to pass up. It sort of made no sense with this Modern Wood Floor, but I might reinstate it here in my basement if I can find some sort of outdoorsy-looking alternative at some point. Something that looks like a temple floor all in ruins with vines running everywhere would be perfect, right? ;)

As part of my Animal Crossing In Real Life ordinance, I actually wound up buying two matching indoor topiaries to flank the entrance to my kitchen. They’re no giant white cats, but they’ll do nicely! Check ’em out:

Matching topiary kumquat trees.

They’re kumquat (fortunella marginata nogami) trees that were grown at Monrovia and sold by Lowe’s for mad cheap; the gal marked them down from $60-something to $30 because they’re no longer flowering (even though the left one has two little green fruits!). I’m not sure if they’ll survive happily indoors, but they seem a bit hardier and less sun-desperate than the Meyer lemons I’ve managed to kill over the years, so I’m hoping I can at least keep them alive and happy-looking, if not fruiting.

I know they were still staked here, and I know I could ideally remove that annoying white cable for a more staged shot, but REAL LIFE ISN’T A VIDEO GAME YOU GUYS. I have to pay an electrician to make it so I can unplug that cable. For now, you get the idea. (The matchiness of the left hutch is new, too.) I’m quite pleased with this much symmetry; after all, I’m learning that matching identical pieces placed like this offer a sense of polish and formality to an otherwise casual and kind of haphazard collection of furniture from over the years. If I ever find me a real-life Cyrus to dye them up all custom (read: please send me Seattle upholstery referrals), I’ll let you know!

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.

I suck at Photoshop

I suck at Photoshop

I’m trying to learn to become more independent in graphic design. I’m not remotely trained in any way. I’ve got an increasingly defined sense of design, although I’m just as susceptible to trends as the next blogger who suddenly decided that rounded corners were over yesterday. I finally got a copy of CS6 of my very own, but with no training or experience whatsoever, I of course suck at using it. And I’m constantly paralyzed by that. And since Grant is the one who’s been doing most of my image editing up until like right now, he’s the only one with access to the .psd versions of anything at all.

Beyond sucking at the actual tools, and not having assets, I’m just kind of clueless and/or thoughtless about the actual content I want to create. Sometimes I build things dumb or ugly just to not have to rebuild an entire other thing, you know? I understand this to be a common problem in software development; it certainly was in the game companies I’ve worked at. No one eeeeever designs the UI to be big enough for German terms, for example! Take that sidebar, to the left. The text “my day job” is not an effective or eye-catching way to link out to what I actually do in my online dating consulting business. This is a really, really important part of my identity; I’m trying to do it full time after leaving Big Tech and it’s scary and I’m broke and I’d like to generate more traffic and more paying clients. So you’d think I’d want to really make that stand out, right? But my stupid, stubborn sense of aesthetics dictates that everything in that sidebar (custom built by Grant, and tweaked with some help from John Hardman) should be the exact same height/font size and roughly the same width. So instead of rebuilding the sidebar to allow for some different copy, or reworking it so that all of the link-images were larger and could contain more text, I just came up with “my day job” placeholder and asked Grant to tweak it into place and now it’s stupid and doesn’t tell you to please go hire me for the fascinating weird thing I actually charge money for. Sure, you can get there if you’re curious enough to click, but I don’t trust you! :)

Anyway. I got this new Mac recently too, and am sitting on a post about my process adjusting to Mac after fifteen years of PC. I got this idea to make an iPhone app and I’m sitting on the process of really figuring out how I want it to work and learning enough fragmented bits of how to program to understand how to formulate reasonable requests to the very kind folks who have expressed an interest in helping me make something functional. And I got a copy of Photoshop and I have no idea how to use it. Sometimes I just feel so stuck by all the things I’d like to learn more about and can’t justify taking the time to learn more about, ya know? Not that I’m always using my time well (self-subtweet to this blog post) but I feel guilting spending money and time on a Lynda course when I should be doing more things to generate Heartographer leads.

I’ll get there; don’t worry. And I’ll come up with something catchier than “my day job” eventually. Maybe you can help—what do you think I should put there to drive people to The Heartographer? (Oh, and I turned off comments à la Marco and John but I’m not coding-savvy enough to know how to hack my custom theme to turn them on for certain posts only, so I guess you’ll have to tweet/FB/App me your response. Which you were probably going to do anyway, because it’s 2013, right? (But I still get blog comments on my other blogs sometimes, and I LOVE THEM when they happen and aren’t spam or dicks. So maybe I’ll go back.)

You thought this whole rambling post was going somewhere, didn’t ya? GOTCHA!

Oh wait, I was going to post something. This is some of my incredibly unprofessional art-attempts that I’ve made in my pre-Photoshop days whenever I needed content for a blog post or an ad campaign and didn’t know diddley about image editing or computer drawing or anything like that and I just needed to GO already. I think my Shlok Crest inspired me to at least feel semi-competent at creating stupid little doodles that other people might find amusing, and it was just so much easier than trying to learn an entirely unfamiliar software program to get something simple out the door. Sometimes you just have to ship it instead of really making it great, you know? Which I hate. Anyway. Enjoy!

Questioning Kitty
I believe this is the one I used in my Facebook campaign, because I am a professional. I believe the copy was something like “Is your cat worried about you? It might be time to start dating again.” I don’t fucking know. It helped me break 100 Likes which was the douchey goal from a friend who’s a marketing consultant. Yay confused felines?
Happy Birds
This was a part of the one we used for my Stranger (local alt weekly) ad. The birds are supposed to make you jealous, I guess? I drew it with ballpoint pen on paper and Grant scanned it and futzed with it in Illustrator, I think.
Sad Bird
The sad bird represents you, single person who wants to pay me money to help you find love online. Also for the Stranger ad.
"Copy This Bird" - that's all I have in my notes
This bird was an early attempt. You can see me experimenting with avian eyebrows. I have no idea what I’m doing. Pretty sure this was in MS Paint, and I tried to make the body out of smart shapes. Bad call. You can totally tell where “circle” ends, huh?
Lovelorn Kitty
This was an earlier attempt at a kitty for the FB ad. I’m partial to him even though I’m not sure why his face is curly and his body hair is straight. Also not sure why he’s a he, nor why he lacks whiskers. Life is full of mysteries. I did this on Paper on the iPad I think, just the free pen setting.
Another Lovelorn Kitty
Another lovelorn kitty for FB attempt. Sorry for the failure to crop, but this is just gonna get slapped in here all speedy-like. He didn’t look sad or confused enough.
Concerned kitty
This cat is concerned about your love life. This is more the direction I was going in, and I like the colors, but after I did this guy I realized the dimensions were off for Facebook’s very rigid specs.

Anyway, there you have it. I have no idea what I’m doing but these were kind of fun and I didn’t have to buy anything, pay anyone, or violate copyright. Yay.

A brief note on QUIT! and quitting

A brief note on QUIT! and quitting

I’ve been meaning to craft a more thoughtful and ever-delayed post on leaving my job and going the solopreneur route, but I realized that maybe I should get something out there in the meantime to pimp the fact that I was on QUIT!. Twice! QUIT! is a new 5by5 show, in which Dan and his various co-hosts take calls from listeners about quitting their corporate stooge jobs and/or redefining themselves in their work life. My first call-in appearance was on Episode 2 – Everyone Gets Fired, when I called while squatting in an empty conference room at my corporate stooge contract job. And the next time was Episode 6 – The Voices In Your Head, after actually quitting, in which I got some great advice about how to scale up my business to be more financially sustainable.

Both times were SO phenomenally helpful, and downright fun. In addition to getting valuable input from the actual hosts,I also got loads of great suggestions and resources from the other listeners and chatroom jackals. I’ve had my hands full following up on leads, researching information products and referral structures, and generally getting my head back into the solo game. I’m SO excited to be devoting my whole self to my side thing, and even if it doesn’t pan out in the long run, I feel like I’m finally giving it the shot that it has deserved this whole time.

photo (25)
This guy is my only coworker now.

Here’s a big quitter’s e-hug to Dan, Haddie, Shlok, Mantwan, Michael K, Alex/aomind, T.J. Barber, _Funk, and everyone else who chimed in with words of support. I love what I do, and I’m looking forward to finding a way to make it work and make me enough money to stay at home with future kids and keep doing creative things that make me happy. I even added blog categories for “podcasts,” “freelancing,” and “working from home,” because those things are becoming increasingly important in my quotidian existence and my big-picture plans.

If anyone out there is thinking about quitting their job and/or has always wanted to try a business venture of their own, I urge you to listen live (usually Fridays at 2 PM Pacific) and try to call in if you can. Call in live at 512-518-5714 or leave a voicemail at 512-222-8141. Dan would love to hear from you; I’d love to hear you on the air; and most importantly, I think you’ll love the advice and support you get (even if it’s not what you were hoping for). Okay, mushy PSA over; back to your regularly scheduled complaining in my next post. :)

Eames obsession

Eames obsession

Now that we’re about to be homeowners, with much more square footage to fill, I’ve started lustily browsing new furniture. I came across and subsequently fell in love with a new (to me) furniture designer — or rather, design duo — Charles and Ray Eames. Specifically, I’m obsessed with their office chairs.

I stumbled upon this red leather lobby chair at one of my favorite web shops, and I was in love.  A bit more research and poking around helped me discover even more Eames hits, namely the Aluminum Group and the Soft Pad Group. Obviously, these are highly pricey designer pieces — for goodness sake, the MoMA shop sells them, so you know they ain’t cheap. But I’m pleased to report that I found several sources of seemingly decent-quality knockoffs!

Crate and Barrel has this leather “Ripple” chair in ivory and black, CB2 (a modern cousin of Crate and Barrel) has a green cotton soft pad knockoff, and Z Gallerie has a couple vinyl knockoffs. I think I like the ivory C&B ones best… I mean, aside from an actual Herman Miller red leather Aluminum Exec for me, and a matching Management for my Loveb.ug clients to sit in. I’ll never be able or willing to shell out for the real thing! But knockoffs or not, I’m excited to learn more about this design school, and to find more mid-century modern knockoffs now that we have a house to furnish!