Standing Desk Fantasies

POSTED Tue Apr.22.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Personal, Things

As I save money up for the impending living room cafe conversion, I’ve decided to switch around the office with a temporary standing desk that was in the basement office. I’ve been working in my living room for the past couple of years now, so the basement office doesn’t get used very often.

The Old Setup

Old Office Desk Setup

My old office desk was a 48×36 inch surface that I’ve been using since I used to have 20″ CRTs. The extra depth (3 feet!) was important to get enough work space. After switching to LCD and buying some sweet Ergotron monitor arms, I ended up with a HUGE workspace and plenty of space. The desk remained free of clutter because I put up a bookshelf to my right where I keep all the junk that USED to be on the desk, and made sure to keep it clear. The cutting mats I got to use as a giant mouse pad, and are printed dark/light on either side for when I need to take product photography.

So why change? After coming back from GiveCamp 2014, where I spent a lot of time moving around a large space between projects, I suddenly developed an aversion to sitting. It also helped that my green bungie cord chair was starting to fall apart, so sitting in it was becoming rather uncomfortable.

The New Setup

Standing Desk Setup

The new/old setup is using a $20 IKEA LINNMON table top on VIKA KAJ adjustable-length table legs; the GERTON legs are the new version. The table top is significantly more shallow (24″ versus 36″), but the desk space is all usable because of the monitor arms.

For the curious, here’s what’s visible in the picture:

  • A 1200DPI monochrome laser printer, an inexpensive Brother HL5370DW network printer.

  • Two old Dell monitors: 20″ at 1600×1200, and 27″ at 1920×1200. They used to be exclusively on my PC, but then I discovered that I liked OS X Mavericks for multi-monitor better; they have finally gotten it mostly right. Windows 8.1, by comparison, limps along on its clunky mixed-mode UI with 90s-style desktop management. The Mac has become my main workstation now…who’d have thought this would ever happen?

  • Two Ergotron LX monitor arms. The Mac is driving the monitor on the left, and the PC is driving the monitor on the right. The entire suite of monitors is controlled from one keyboard/mouse using Synergy with the Mac acting as the input server. I can move my mouse cursor between machines without thinknig about it; it helps to remap the Apple Key (aka “Super”) to Control on the Windows side so I don’t have to think about using COMMAND-C versus CONTROL-C for copy/paste operations.

  • There’s a Thermaltake USB3 hard disk dock just behind the left monitor arm; it’s used to backup to bare 3.5″ hard disks.

  • The keyboards are a Logitech K811 bluetooth keyboard on the Mac, and a CoolerMaster CMStorm Tenkeyless mechanical keyboard using extra-stiff MX Green key switches. It is awesome.

  • I’m still using an Apple Magic Mouse here, but I’ve since replaced it with a sexy Logitech T630 bluetooth mouse. The advantage is it’s much smaller and can connect to two devices quickly. It also has way better “glide” action, and can have its acceleration curve flattened using ControllerMate. The Magic Mouse just makes me angry every time I use it, so it’s on the secondary Mac notebook (my old 2007 MBP17) with yet another Logitech keyboard, the solar-powered bluetooth K760.

  • The PC also has a Logitech G700s gaming mouse, which is merely OK. I will probably replace it with a new Logitech Anywhere MX, which is my favorite overall desktop/mobile mouse. The only reason I’m not using one now is because my old one wore out; they have a history of developing rotten click action after about two years, so I’ve been making-do with the G700s until my displeasure subsides.

  • I have a cheap-o Nady MM-242 4-Channel Stereo Mixer, which I use to mix output from the Mac’s bluetooth audio and the PC into the input for my old hand-me-down Pioneer VSX-26TX Receiver. The Bluetooth audio is converted to line input by a Logitech wireless speaker adapter. I used to have the XBOX 360 plugged into this too, which is why I needed the mixer, but even without that it’s convenient for adjusting the balance between the Mac and PC audio.

  • The webcam is a Logitech C910, which works also on the Mac when the built-in webcam doesn’t cut it. It’s on the PC for Skype video conferences.

One issue I had is that all my crap is exposed under the table, so I bought a cheap pull-down roller blind at Home Depot, had it cut to width, and then mounted it on the underside of the desk. If it ever unwrinkles, I’m going to try painting it the same color as the wall behind it. It is a marginal improvement.

Standing Desk Setup

The Future Setup

This table will be replaced by a new motorized standing desk from Steven Yu’s $399 Stand Desk Kickstarter. It’s already fully-funded on Kickstarter with 24 days still to go, so you can still jump in on it if you’re in the market for a desk. I’m thinking of getting this color scheme in white/platinum, though there are other options available:

Stand Desk

The desks are expected to ship in November 2014, and they look like a solid bit of engineering. I must admit that I’m backing this also from a desire to support Asian American entrepreneurism…hopefully it works out!

The other standing desk that I was considering was the Terra from NextDesk, which is highly regarded for its aesthetics and functionality, if not for its $1500 price tag.

Personally I don’t like the leg design that much for either desk; the Stand Desk design has an advantage of not having the lower cross brace so it’s a little cleaner in appearance, though I was concerned about its stability without it. I emailed Steven to ask about its stability, and he assured me that it was very very stable without wobbling; their FAQ mentions that they had 16 beta testers who didn’t complain, but the amount of wobble would very depending on application. Hmm. The assembly video give me some clues about the stability of its construction. Here’s a still from the video:

Stand Desk Assembly

My armchair impression is that it is PROBABLY stable enough from the horizontal flange things locking into the top crossbar, which looks like folded sheet steel so its rigidity should be good. There may be some wobble given the mechanical play that is likely required in the moving legs, but even my new-old Steelcase Leap V1 chair has some wobbly bits (cough armrests), but in practice it’s very stable. My cheap-o standing desk now is actually pretty unstable by itself, so it’s braced against the wall using two rubber feet that hold it in place when I’m leaning slightly against it. As a result, it is supernaturally stable…so long as I am leaning against it to anchor it against the wall, which I do anyway thanks to my bountiful stomach. I won’t have that option with a motorized sit-to-stand desk.

The new desk will be 60″ wide by 30″ deep, which is larger than the space I currently have. However, I plan on moving the printer and filing cabinet that it’s sitting on downstairs to a secondary working office. Having the standing desk upstairs actually doesn’t quite work with my floorplan for the living room cafe, as it breaks the concept (and takes up the space for a giant TV), but we shall see!

Extra Pictures!

Other Angle Closeup New Chair


Braindump: Managing Documents

POSTED Mon Apr.14.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Musings, Process TAGGED

Happy Monday! Today I am thinking about my document management practices. It’s on my mind because I have quite a mixed list of writing assignments to tackle today, from strategic documents to training primers to process definitions. For some reason it’s really bothering me this morning that I don’t have one place where I keep everything, nor do I have a preferred writing application. So I think I’ll just think aloud here in this post, and see if some clarity comes to me. >>> Continue reading


“Coding for Charity” at New England GiveCamp

POSTED Wed Apr.09.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Encounters, Inspiration TAGGED

New England GiveCamp 2014 CAKE

This past April 4-6 saw me pitching a new tent in the hallways of the Microsoft NERD Center near MIT in Cambridge for New England GiveCamp, where around 100 developers of all stripes joined forces with their designer and marketing brethren to give 24 of New England’s most interesting non-profit organizations a big boost to their website and digital content management in a 36-hour no-holds-barred hack-a-thon.

This was my second time at GiveCamp, having been introduced to it in 2012 by area tech maven Kelley Muir, who with her husband Ian are two of New England’s great promoters of positive-minded social geekery in the tech community around Manchester. They are also part of the team that organizes New England GiveCamp every year as one of many similar conferences loosely affiliated with the world-wide GiveCamp organization. Like many of the “camp-style” tech conferences, the event structure is comprised of two groups of people: the organizers who arrange for the venue/food/sponsors to make the event possible, and the participants who provide the expertise and willingness to participate. Unlike a more formal event, a camp-style tech conference is largely self-organized and fluid, which can be very surprising the first time but quickly grows on you. Although I understood the concept intellectually, it really took me five years to understand how it worked on a deeper level. I needed to replace my hermit-like social proclivities with a far more adaptable and heartfelt set of rules, and I am a better person today because of this.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Sunday Meeting New England GiveCamp 2014 Main Room New England GiveCamp 2014 Hallway

But I digress. At the heart of GiveCamp is the idea of gathering together and pitching in to help those who are helping others. A large percentage of participants are web and software developers, some of them affiliated with the non-profits that they are helping. This year, I decided to participate as a designer instead as a WordPress developer, though I declined to lead a team because I wasn’t sure that I would have the energy to do it. Kelley had mentioned before that GiveCamp often doesn’t have as many designers available, so it seemed like it would be an interesting experience for me to try to fill that role. I have historically been reluctant to call myself a designer, but I figured I could suck-up my anxiety and risk failure for the good of the overall project. And, as I reminded myself, I was in the company of people who were doing the very same thing. This year, as in previous years, developers offered their weekend to take on technical work that was unfamiliar to them, learning-on-the-fly. It’s a very supportive environment, which isn’t surprising because the kind of people who volunteer for GiveCamp are by nature generous people. The spirit of pulling-together and helping ensure that every project gets done means that there’s a lot of resource sharing. It’s pretty awesome to be in a huge crowd of can-do, competent nerds with a penchant for lending a hand.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Night

The Experience

The event runs for two days and two nights, starting on Friday afternoon with pizza, registration, and final team assignment check-in. Each participating non-profit introduces themselves in the big room, which is pretty exciting as there are many interesting non-profits that you haven’t heard about. One of my favorites conceptually was Project Laundry List, an organization that promotes clothesline drying and fights to get cities to allow it so people can reduce their energy needs. We also are introduced to the schedule, the raffle, and hear from the sponsors who are on-site.

On the first night, the teams are very driven to figure out what they can do over the next 36 hours, and the first of several “team lead check-ins” occurs on the very first night. To keep things moving, the team leads are each asked whether they are “condition green, yellow, or red”, and whether they need something or have some extra capacity to pass along; the goal of GiveCamp is not just to get your own project done, but to get ALL the projects done. The meetings go very quickly.

At night, people start to wind down. Some people leave the premises to sleep on real beds at home or in hotels, but quite a few of us stayed in. “Tent Alley” is filled with tents with gently snoring techs inside; earplugs are highly recommended, as are eye covers. Some people brought inflatable mattresses, while others made do with whatever flat surface they could find. I had purchased a tent just for the occasion, and found it remarkably comfortable. It was a little sanctuary that I could escape into at the end of the day, but I found myself hanging out in the main room into the wee hours just sitting at one of the team tables and enjoying the late-night work vibe.

Meals, snacks, and beverages are all provided for by the GiveCamp sponsors. There were quite a few of them, and they provided a very solid array of food. Plentiful Monster beverages, sandwiches from Whole Foods, coffee and facilities provided by Microsoft, books from O’Reilly, cakes and cookies and S’mores and ice cream sundaes from night-to-night. We did not want for food, and vegetarians and gluten-free diets were accommodated. I can’t think of one bad meal…it was better than what I usually eat at home.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Food New England GiveCamp 2014 Participants New England GiveCamp 2014 Organizers

Most of the non-profits were looking for improved websites, and in some cases improved organizational workflow. As I was a “floating design resource”, I wasn’t assigned to anyone in particular so I followed one of the other designers, a 7-year veteran of New England GiveCamp, to see how it worked. I got assigned to a team who wanted a bit of logo work done, and then also got tapped to do a little WordPress training for one of their developers who was new to the platform. WordPress was the dominant platform at GiveCamp this year, though there were a few Drupal-based sites I believe. Not everyone was familiar with WordPress, so there was a lot of learning-on-the-fly and impromptu workshops given by the experienced developers, who gave tirelessly of their knowledge. It was very inspiring. It was also inspiring to see many of the non-profit executive directors on-site, actively learning about WordPress and working closely with their teams.

After the day’s work was done, a few people played board games, but largely people were there enjoying the work and the camaraderie of their peers. I ran around taking pictures (see the Flickr set) when I wasn’t drawing logos, and helped a few people with their WordPress questions when I could.

On the very last day, I got assigned to a team that wanted to develop a mobile app (Project Laundry List), and needed some design help, so I drew a quick UI mockup. Unfortunately, there was no time to actually implement it, so I have to finish the design work this week, but it should be pretty cool and I’m seeing it as an opportunity to develop some improved process for myself. I am increasingly being drawn into web development these days for my own work, so I might as well get good at it! There will be opportunities to share what I know in the future.

There was also cake! This year’s cake was in the shape of a lighthouse on an island (as the logo of NEGC is a lighthouse) with a tent next to it, and it was delicious.

The event ended around 3PM on Sunday, when every team gives a short 5-minute presentation on what the challenge was and what they did. After the last team presents, there is a raffle drawing for prizes; this year it was a Kindle Fire, a Kindle Paper White eBook reader, and a $75 American Express gift card. Then, it was time to go home. I got trapped in a detour on the way out from Boston and ended up driving through my old neighborhood in West Cambridge, out through to Route 2 by Alewife Station and on toward home. Then I slept for 12 hours.

It took me all day Monday and most of Tuesday to just pull myself back together; while GiveCamp is loads of fun and doesn’t feel like work, it IS pretty draining. On top of that, it appeared that I didn’t drink as much water as I thought I did, noticing only when I got home. Next time I should bring a big water bottle, as I was trying to avoid caffeine and sugary drinks and ended up less liquid as a result.

I can’t wait till next year! Truly one of the best events I have attended! Much thanks to the sponsors: APEX Systems, Bluefin Technical Services, Blue Metal, Catching Joy, Equity Office, General Assembly, Meltwater Group, Microsoft NERD, Monster Energy, NBI, Oomph, Pragmatic Works, SQL Saturday, and Whole Foods.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Participants

See you next year! MANY THANKS to the hard work of the organizers whose names I caught: Jim O’Neil, Kelley Muir, Ian Muir, Rachel Morris, and…the rest!


2014 Resolutions Review 02: Developing Realistic Expectations

POSTED Sat Apr.05.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Musings, Process TAGGED

It’s APRIL 4TH (actually, it’s April 5th at the New England Give Camp, the “coding for charity” event held every year at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge), and this is the SECOND of ten monthly reviews of my year’s goals: “Groundhog Day Resolutions” (GHDRs). After picking the goals on February 2nd, I review my progress monthly on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, and so on until 12/12.

It’s been a very busy March, but I feel generally good about my progress because I am learning to be less demanding / more realistic about what I can do in a day. I’ll never be as fast as I want, or as good as some of the people I admire, but I can still make things happen.

>>> Continue reading

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Previsualizing Wall and Floor Combinations

POSTED Tue Apr.01.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Personal, Process TAGGED

To get started on my Living Room Cafe, I dropped by a furniture store to get a sense of some floor/wall color combinations. I also started a Pinterest board to collect inspirational design.

To get my head around the colors, I made some thumbnails swatches. While I had originally thought I wanted a light-colored floor based on people’s feedback, I’m finding the darker floor with light-colored walls to be more dramatic. The light-on-light Scandinavian look seems to rely on everything in the room being white, with some bold colored accents. I’m not sure I want that. I want something a little darker and intimate. I also am not sure if the sun-bathed Scandinavian interior looks good at night when lit with artificial light.

Next step will be to use a 3D program and try to visualize both daytime and night-time with to-scale objects.

Thumbnail Color Combinations


My Future Living Room Cafe

POSTED Tue Apr.01.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Personal TAGGED

“When I’m rich,” I have told myself since I was 16, “I’ll buy some land and build an awesome creative facility with a gourmet kitchen, underground shooting range, helipad, a big barn full of tools, with guest house and outdoor firepits. There will be ultra high-speed internet, of course, and rooms full of books. I’ll invite my friends to come out and jam with me on projects, and we’ll make awesome stuff.” I figured I would need a couple million dollars to do it right, and since I don’t happen to have that kind of money lying around, it’s remained a pleasant dream.

It only occurred to me earlier this year that I’ve been deferring more of my dreams than I needed to. I’ve had more work this year to pay the bills, and so I’ve been thinking of doing some home improvements. My couches have been scratched to pieces by my cats, and the carpet must be 25 years old. Interior decorating, however, scares me. I really just want to be comfortable, have lots of light, and have high quality furniture. I can’t afford the kind of couches I’d love to have, and so my home has accumulated a hodge-podge of inexpensive pieces because I haven’t wanted to commit to a theme. And besides, these days I am spending all my time at coffee shops anyway.

But what if I could turn my living room into a coffee shop? Who says I need couches, console tables and easy chairs? I’d much rather have some small tables and chairs, some spot lighting, and accessible walls to hang artwork and other collectibles to share. I have a ton of stuff I’d love to display somewhere, my own version of the “Museum of Useful Things”. Turning my living room into a cafe would also solve my lack of a set for shooting product photography, and it would be a cool video conferencing backdrop. And, with small tables instead of large couches, I would have a 15×20 foot space where I could work on larger project, host co-working sessions, and maybe even teach some classes if I put a giant TV on the wall. This could be really cool…so this is going to be my first real quest for 2014: Operation Dave Cafe.


In the diagram above, you can see the dimensions of the space, and messy pictures of the way it is now. My couch and armchair are much too large for the space I have. I would get rid of them and then move the desk downstairs into the basement, to be replaced with smaller 26×26 square tables on cast iron bases, which are quite affordable when purchased from a restaurant supply store. I would reuse the existing wooden dining room chairs I have, which are pretty sturdy and attractive as is. I bought six of them last year for $65/chair, and I can buy two more for a total of eight to be split around up to 4 tables.

Over the next few months I’ll start doing more detailed pre-visualization and costing, posting the details somewhere on the blog. It would already be a huge improvement to get rid of the furniture and put in the hardwood floor; a fastidious wood-working friend of mine has said he’ll help, and he’s even fussier than me with regards to craftsmanship. More importantly, he has already done this kind of stuff. Then, it’s a matter of building the tables and maybe hanging some track lighting, and perhaps repainting the walls a lighter color and deciding what to put on them. It is going to be a while until I have the money to redo the floors, but since my condominium is not that large it may be more affordable than I originally thought.

It seems doable. I AM SO EXCITED!


Fogbrain Battle Five: Saturday Sunday Slugfest

POSTED Mon Mar.31.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Process TAGGED ,

It’s been an eventful weekend, starting with Saturday as a “exploration” day that began with a field trip to a restaurant supply store and ended with a new personal mission. Sunday was more of a catch-up day, and I got to practice the “mental ritual” of clearing my mind once more. >>> Continue reading

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