Sunday, March 26, 2006

Office ergonomics, monitor stands and keyboard trays

We shouldn't have to damage our health in order to use computer systems. Wait, let me try and rephrase that in a positive wording. Computer use should be a healthy experience. Computer designers might do well to remember the Hippocratic Oath which starts with "First, do no harm...". Unfortunately computer usage requires confining yourself to a fixed position, that's very bad for ones health. Besides remembering to get up and walk around a little every so often, there's a few things you can do to have your workspace more ergonomically correct.

At the moment I'm looking at "Monitor arms" and "keyboard trays".

Monitor Arms

LCD monitors are light enough you can easily mount them on a flexible arm, giving you the freedom to position the monitor "anywhere". At least that's what the makers say you can do. Certainly the old style CRT monitors had far too much weight to do anything like this.

Unfortunately the reality doesn't quite match up with the flexibility implied by the picture. To explain I want to run down a few of them, but first I should explain my experience with one of them.

I bought an Ergotron Neo-Flex LCD arm. I didn't bother reading the fine print, unfortunately. I have a 20 inch Dell LCD monitor that's really nice. I installed the monitor arm, attached it to the Dell LCD monitor, and all that went together very easily. The VESA standard LCD mounting specification sure makes it easy. Unfortunately, the monitor drooped. No matter the amount of tweaking I did, tightening of screws, etc, the monitor drooped a bit. Then I read the fine print and saw, right on the box, it was rated to hold monitors up to 18 lbs weight. Finding the fine print for the Dell monitor, it weighs 18.76 lbs.

Kensington 60106 Desk-Mount Arm for Flat Panel Monitor It has nice strong arms, etc. But it holds monitors up to 20 lbs weight.

GMP STANDARD LCD ARM No picture so I can't judge it from that. The description says it's got a fully articulated arm, but its rating is for monitors up to 14 lbs weight.

Ergotron LX Desk Mount Arm - mounting kit This is a variant on the Neo-Flex I bought. The arm is very flexible and nice. I suppose if your monitor is light enough then it won't droop.

DualSwing Arm Desk Mount Judging from the picture it's clearly going to have a lot of freedom in positioning the monitor "wherever".

The attraction I have to these is not just the flexibility and freedom, but the possibility of decluttering the desktop. By holding the monitor above the desk, the space which would have held the monitor stand can be used for other things. But, knowing my habits, it would just collect random sheets of paper and other stuff. Maybe it's just as well.

On the other hand this really interesting 19 inch monitor, ViewSonic VA1912WB 19" Widescreen LCD Monitor, only weighs 9 lbs. Hmmm....

Keyboard Trays

One of the rules of ergonomics is to keep the keyboard fairly low, only slightly above your legs. This probably has to do with the natural resting position of your arms.

Yet another rule of ergonomics is to keep your screen at eye level. Seeing as there's quite a difference between the low level recommended for the keyboard, and the high level recommended for the screen, one wonders how to bring harmony.

One way would be to keep the desktop itself fairly low. But I find that not to be the best, as my knees tend to bump into the desk. Plus theres this dream I have of less clutter on the desktop allowing for more room for other items.

With that in mind I found at Office Depot a keyboard drawer that fits under the desk. It's relatively nice and does the job relatively well. But, it's made from injection plastic and isn't the sturdiest thing. As I use it the thing shimmys around and I'm sure it's going to break some day, and I'm really displeased with the whole experience.

Studying it carefully, what appears to be the problem is leverage. The part holding the keyboard is sturdy enough. Where it really shimmies around is the tray on which the mouse sits. That tray is waaaay over on the side, so when I rest my hand on it there's a lot of leverage to pull the tray around.

This gives an attribute that's desired in searching for a replacement. Namely, tray should be supported on both ends rather than just in the middle.

MASTER PRODUCTS DRAWER Looks to be the ticket. The size is wide enough for my preferred keyboard and has ample room to the side for mousing. Plus it's steel construction should be sturdy. Unfortunately the dinky picture amazon shows isn't clear enough to give me confidence in this thing.

WAVETECH Underdesk Keyboard Drawer with Wrist Rest Also looks good. Again the drawer is wide enough for a large keyboard plus mousing. Unfortunately the construction isn't described, and again it suffers from a dinky image.

Kensington Fully Articulating & Adjustable Underdesk Keyboard Drawer Certainly is very flexible. Unfortunately at 26 inches wide the drawer isn't going to offer enough room for convenient mousing alongside a keyboard.

Under Desk Keyboard Drawer - Pewter Metal Art Looks to be very nice, and is made from metal which ought to be sturdy. However the drawer doesn't even attempt to provide a space to mouse. What rock has the designer of this been hiding under? Mousing is a very important part of computing, and has been so for 20 years or more.

Select System Wing Platform, Keyboard & Mouse Platform, Memory Foam Wristrest Looks promising. At least it's wide enough for convenient mousing.

Premium Under Desk Kybrd Drawer Looks promising, especially as it has support at both ends of the drawer which should help the stability. Unfortunately at 25 inches wide it's too narrow for convenient mousing.

Other resources

The Human Solution offers a wide range of ergonomical products. Unfortunately their choices in the two product categories discussed on this page are pretty slim.

Ergo Works offers a wide range of ergonomical products. They have done a pretty good job in selecting good products. They have some monitor arms with relatively heavy duty weight capacity. Their choice in keyboard trays are pretty good. And more, such as nice chairs and desks whose height adjusts.

Hergo Offers a wide range of interesting monitor arms.

Flexrest Specializes in keyboard trays.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

God will give you everything that you want

Todays fortune cookie reads: "God will give you everything that you want"

Hmmm, I thought. Interesting coincidence with the prayer I've had for today. Here's a few thoughts that are wandering through me.

First, the phrase is very enticing. Lots of people over the millenia have prayed for X or Y or Z ... for example to be rich, to have women, etc. But I think the average person doesn't trust prayer, because they think prayers are never answered. So a promise like "God will give you everything that you want" seems hollow.

My prayer for today is inspired by teachings from Ron Roth, whom I've been listening to a lot recently. He suggests a form of prayer like "Divine Holy Spirit is my strength, Divine Holy Spirit is my health, Divine Holy Spirit is my life, Divine Holy Spirit sustains me...". It's a very positive statement said as if it were the truth.

The sense of it is very much in alignment with "God will give you everything that you want" ...

A couple things come to mind here.

First, is ... What is God? The typical Christian church claims God is a being sitting up in the clouds somewhere. As an individuated being, God is localized to a specific place (Heaven) that's far away from you or I. However I am understanding a different interpretation of what God is, and there are many spiritual teachings in alignment with this other view. Namely, that God or the Divine Presence is an aspect of everything. God is melded with every thing, every particle, every atom, all the way to every star and galaxy.

In our mind/ego we want to believe we are everything. We want to believe we can solve any problem that comes our way, that we can endure anything, etc. The stereotype for this are the movie characters like Max (of the Mad Max movie series) who is going through and surviving hell in the wilderness purely on willpower.

But what I experience over and over is the limit to what my mind/ego is capable of. It seems that it doesn't matter how brilliant or strong one is, there will always be challenges one will face which surpass your capabilities. What do you do then? Do you pretend to be capable? Do you hide? Do you escape the problem? Do you seek out help? Do you cry woe is me? Do you get strong and bulldoze your way forward? Do you pretend the challenge doesn't exist? All of the above?

What I am experiencing in these episodes leads me to an understanding of "God will give you everything that you want" ...

With God being melded with everything, being present in every action, then it doesn't matter what challenge you are facing. Even a challenge which surpasses the ability of your mind/ego to cope with the challenge, God is there. What I experience is if I first recognize that my mind/ego doesn't know how to cope with a specific challenge, and second I pray for the divine presence to offer a solution, that in short order a solution comes along.

On the other hand if I don't recognize the problem, or otherwise fail to pray for divine assistance, then I can struggle with the problem for days, weeks, even years.

The second thought that comes to mind is ... With God being melded with everything, then everything that you receive is in fact a gift from God. Every breath you take is God offering you air to breath with. Every step you take is upon earth provided by God for you to walk upon. Every bite of food you take was grown by God. That all is part of a viewpoint that God is melded with every action in the universe and every thing in the universe.

The last thought has to do with the "what you want" aspect. When you claim to want something, is that true? It's well understood that the conscious mind is only a small part of ones ego. That the subconscious mind is this vast sea of conflicting beliefs, emotions, ideas, memories, hopes, dreams, etc. It's very easy and common for someone to say "I want to be rich" (for example) and inside their subconscious being totally fearful of the responsibility (for example) that comes from being rich.

Whole libraries of self-help books have been written to show people how their subconscious often conflicts with their conscious self.

Any prayer you make, any desire you hold, is melded with your conflicting inner terrain. It seems to me that's what interferes with the success of prayer. The prayer is said with all of who you are, even the part that is in abject terror of the prayer actually coming true. The question is, which part of you is the stronger? The part that holds the conscious desire, or the subconscious part in abject terror of that desire coming true?

The thing is you won't know the answer to this until you begin practicing self awareness. To the Buddhists, self awareness is the desired end state from meditation. That by nonjudgementally witnessing your inner ego process one will have more and more awareness of the conflicts within you and begin to resolve them.