Categories
Health

Fitting a treadmill desk into a small house

I’ve owned a treadmill desk for over five years now. Those shuffling strides add up; I crossed the 10,000-mile mark earlier this year, and I lost forty-five pounds during my first year of treading.

Treadmill desk downsides

But the treadmill lifestyle has its challenges, as well. For example, my particular LifeSpan model requires a lot more maintenance than I expected. The repairman has visited at least five times, and I’m on my third motor since the purchase.

Another challenge: the treadmill desk takes up a lot of space. Legit treadmills are too heavy to store vertically; wherever you place it, there it will stay. And, up till now, my jury-rigged IKEA Galant desk made things worse; the table sits on chunky wooden crates, leaving little room for much else. We can squeeze an air mattress beside the desk, but forget about fitting in a bedside table, a lamp, or even a guest’s suitcase. It’s that tight.

Fixing it with furniture

So, in an effort to make the room more hospitable, I recently bought a small Jarvis standing desk; it arrives this Friday. If my measurements are right, the Jarvis will perfectly straddle the treadmill, freeing up something like twelve square feet of floor space.1

That might not sound like much, but in a room that’s less than 100 square feet total, it should make a significant difference. Hopefully, our air mattress—or (dare I dream?) a futon—will fit more easily, and guests won’t feel like they’re being crowded out by a monstrous Megadesk.


  1. While I’m gaining floor space, I’m sacrificing desk space with the smaller, 30” x 27” Jarvis tabletop. I use three 24” external monitors and may need to reconfigure the mounts to suit. Hopefully I’m not solving one problem by creating another! ↩︎
Categories
Family

This is the happiest I will ever be—and I’m OK with that.

Shawn Blanc, fellow NaBlogWriMo participant, writing about a mess his kids left on the stairs:

One day, my boys will be grown and they will move out to live on their own. And my wife and I will finally live in a clean and quiet house. And we will miss the days, like this one, when toys were left on our steps and our boys were at home in the evenings to play and to laugh and fight about whose turn it is to brush their teeth first.

And so I try to remind myself in those moments of annoyance that the things which frustrate me now will one day be the things I will miss terribly and wish for again.

It’s hard to overstate just how tiring it is to be a parent of a young child. By 7 PM each night (my daughter’s bedtime), my wife and I are exhausted down to our bones—sometimes nearly to the point of tears.

So it is helpful to remind ourselves that we will very likely remember these few years as the happiest time in our lives. Our daughter still loves to dance with us, play with us, read stories with us, and snuggle. Those gifts ought not to be taken for granted.

And they won’t last forever. Adolescence will bring estrangement, and our daughter will eventually build an independent life. As time rolls on, we’ll hold our memories of her early childhood more and more dear.

So I’m determined to cherish those experiences now—even if I’m tired. ◾

Categories
Apple

Dark mode: better on the iPhone than the Mac?

In the most recent release of iOS, Apple added dark mode, and I’m a fan. At nighttime, dark backgrounds seem less glaring; they’re also less likely to disturb my partner sleeping beside me on the bed.

But I’ve actually taken to “running dark” all the time—day and night—on my iPhone. I spend most of my time indoors, where dark mode is perfectly legible and less distracting than its older, brighter cousin.

I’m not quite as enamored with dark themes on the desktop, though. I think it’s the overlapping windows that give me trouble. In dark mode, I can’t tell apps apart at a glance; they seem less differentiated.

Why is this? For one thing, it’s difficult to paint a shadow (like the one macOS uses to mark the active window) on a background that’s already dark. It doesn’t help that I spend most of my workday in Microsoft Office. Those apps support dark mode, but when it’s turned on, the interfaces are near-identical, dropping their distinctive “light mode” colors for a uniform gray.

Dark mode works on iOS because you don’t really need to tell apps apart by their interface appearance. On the iPhone, you only have one thing open at a time; you’re probably not going to forget what app you’re currently using. Even in the app switcher, the system helpfully pins each app’s icon to its thumbnail, so there’s no mistaking one for another. ◾

Categories
Apple

“And you can preorder it… today!”

With both the Apple Watch Series 5 and the AirPods Pro, Apple offered preorders on the very same day they introduced the product.

With a turnaround that short, customers face a dilemma. You can preorder the device, but you have no guarantee that the bauble will live up to Apple’s hype. There are no third-party reviews to guide your decision. Questions about the device’s capabilities inevitably linger. You’re literally buying sight unseen.

On the other hand, if you wait to order, there’s a decent chance the product will sell out and that you won’t get it on Day 1. Case in point: the AirPods Pro currently have a two-to-three week back order.

I wonder: how did Apple decide that these devices would be available for preorder immediately? Why not a few days later, as with the new iPhones? Here’s a cynical theory: maybe less expensive items (like the AirPods or the Watch) are more likely to be impulse buys. The customer doesn’t get a chance to weigh her purchase carefully. Instead, she acquiesces to the lizard-brain desire that Apple’s marketing engenders.

If that was Apple’s strategy, it worked—at least on me. ■

Categories
Tech

Will cutting the “Ribbon” finally fix Office for Mac?

Yesterday, at its annual conference for IT pros, Microsoft revealed a new version of Outlook for Mac. The Verge published a glimpse of the app’s revamped interface, and it looks promising—simultaneously cleaner and more useful.

We’ll see more of that refined UI tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s examine why Microsoft might be eager to dump an interface element that has dominated its software design for over a decade.


Ribbons on the Mac

I’ve generally been a fan of Microsoft’s “Ribbon” UI, which premiered in Office 2007 for Windows. It exposed features previously buried in submenus, and it simplified the productivity suite’s legendarily complex toolbars:

The Ribbon UI was successful enough that it eventually migrated to Office for Mac. Unfortunately (and ironically), on OS X, the Ribbon created the same problem it was designed to solve: interface cruft.

More specifically, the Ribbon conflicts with a permanent fixture of macOS: the menu bar. Every Office for Mac app has two similar yet contradictory menus—the operating system’s persistent menu and Office’s Ribbon. Making matters worse, some of the heading titles in these two menus are identical, while the options within those sections are not. This unfortunate mess leaves the user with no idea where to find a given feature—the Ribbon? The menu bar? Both? Neither?

Let’s visualize this problem. In each screenshot below, I’ve highlighted the duplicative menu items. First, PowerPoint for Mac, which boasts two redundant headers:

‘View’ and ‘Slide Show’ appear in both the Ribbon and the macOS menu bar.

Next, Excel, which has three:

Word:

OneNote:

Finally, there’s good (?) old Outlook:

For each menu pair, the submenus are not one-for-one identical. They have different items, different orders, and vastly different interfaces. And there’s no obvious explanation for why only some menu titles pull double duty. Why are there two “Insert” menus but only one “Format” menu?

In addition to confusing the user, these duplicative menus cramp the interface, consuming an unnecessary amount of vertical space.


A new hope?

So… does the new Outlook, with its “Ribbonless” interface, fix these problems?

Image courtesy of The Verge.

Honestly, I’m not sure it’s the perfect solution. This interface still spends a lot of vertical pixels.

On the other hand, because I’m so excited to see the redundant menus vanquished, I’m willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. I can’t wait to try the new app.

So… what about the other Office apps? Microsoft tells the Verge that “there are no plans to announce updates to the ribbon elsewhere on Office for Mac” (emphasis mine). That’s an interesting way to phrase this statement. Microsoft isn’t denying that possibility of the feature being in their pipeline; they just claim that they haven’t planned its reveal. Tricksy.

My guess: if the new Outlook app is well-received, we’ll eventually see the Ribbon (and its redundant menus) removed from Office for Mac, for good. ■

Categories
Internet

Your Instagram feed makes people sad.

From MarketWatch (last year), “New study claims Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are linked to depression”:

Why does social media make so many people feel bad? The study didn’t analyze this, but Hunt offers two explanations. The first is “downward social comparison.” You read your friends’ timelines. They’re deliberately putting on a show to make their lives look wonderful. The result: “You’re more likely to think your life sucks in comparison,” says Hunt. The second reason: FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

On Instagram, I filter my life through the rosiest possible light. Here’s a theoretical example: one night last winter, my family played “Go Fish” by firelight. It was totally a “’grammable” moment—if I first cleared away the clutter, staged the shot, and heavily edited the photo.

But that post would conveniently leave out the seven failed attempts to ignite the logs before they finally caught. And it wouldn’t include the tantrum my daughter threw when we refused to top off her fireside milk cup. Or mention the fact that we hadn’t touched the fireplace for years before that night.

Is it dishonest to share only the joys—and hide the annoyances and heartbreaks? And if others get jealous when scrolling through my curated feed, should I feel guilty? ■

Categories
Apple

Does the Series 5 have worse battery life than every previous Apple Watch?

Siegler’s right. I wouldn’t give up the Series 5’s always-on display, but it comes at a high price: significantly worse battery life than its predecessors. I didn’t buy the original (“Series 0”) Apple Watch, but I’ve owned the Series 1, 3, 4 and 5. The S5 is easily the poorest battery performer of that bunch.

Case in point: it’s currently 8 PM, and my Series 5 Watch has fallen “into the red”—18% charge left. Now, to be fair, I haven’t charged the Watch since last night (I wear it as a sleep tracker). And, thanks to the time change here in the U.S., this day has been an hour longer than normal. But I’m still disappointed to be skating so close to “power reserve mode” each evening.

For now, the Series 5’s battery life is… adequate. But I’m not sure that will be true two or three years from now, after a thousand charge cycles. Those are big charge cycles, too; fully depleting the battery day after day will take a toll on battery health.

How much better does Apple Watch battery life need to be? With the Series 3, I could expect 50–60% battery life at the end of an average day. That seems just about right—that extra juice helped the device last through more demanding days. It also left some headroom for the inevitable battery degradation endemic to lithium-ion technology.

Let’s hope that Apple can clear that bar again someday, with some future Watch hardware iteration.

Categories
Apple

AirPods Pro observations (that I haven’t seen elsewhere)

I resisted the temptation to buy the AirPods Pro… for an hour or two.

Oh, I still resent the fact that my three-year-old, first-gen AirPods last barely an hour before the batteries die. And I hate adding yet another device to my list of frequently upgraded technology. Most of all, I feel guilty about dropping $250 on the very definition of a luxury item.

Despite all that, I hated the thought of reverting to wired earbuds, with their doorknob snags, cord rewraps, and constant tangles.

So, yes, I’ve re-upped my AirPods subscription and upgraded to the AirPods Pro. In lieu of an actual review, here are a few thoughts that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere:

  • The AirPods Pro are harder to remove from their case. You can still dislodge them with a carefully placed finger, but the rubber tips make nudging them just a bit more awkward.
  • Speaking of those tips, they really draw attention to earwax. With the old AirPods, your excretions filled up the speaker grilles, whose dark color hid some of the grossness. Unfortunately, the AirPods Pro’s lily-white silicone makes earwax easy to spot.
  • The noise cancellation is decent but not miraculous. I’ve never owned “real” over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones, so I don’t have a good comparison point. But don’t expect AirPods Pro to silence the obnoxious speakerphone near your bus seat or the pop soundtrack at Starbucks. AirPods Pro can take the edge off those noises, but it can’t eliminate them altogether.
  • The new gestures aren’t a slam-dunk. Like many others, I didn’t love the old AirPods’ “slam your ear” gestures. However, I was able to execute those gestures in a wide variety of situations—with an open palm, with wet hands, or even wearing full mittens. The new AirPods aren’t so forgiving; gripping the stem with two fingers requires some finesse. I expect this to become even more annoying on winter days, when I’m likely to have gloves on.
  • I’m glad one of the new AirPods gestures allows you to toggle noise cancellation on or off, but I wish it were easier to do this on the Apple Watch. The instructions: swipe up to access Control Center, hit the “Choose audio output” button, choose your AirPods Pro, and then select your noise cancellation option. As with many things on the Watch, that feels like two steps too many.
  • EDIT: With the old AirPods, you could flip each earbud upside-down and place it in the opposite ear. This was useful for placing AirPods under noise-blocking earmuffs—as I did when mowing the lawn. There’s good news and bad news on this front with the AirPods Pro. On the one hand, the “flip the AirPod” trick doesn’t work; the units don’t sense that they’re in my ears, likely because of a shifted proximity sensor. However, as I was happy to discover while leaf-blowing this afternoon, the AirPods Pro fit under my earmuffs in their normal, right-side-up orientation, thanks to their shorter stems.

All in all, I like my AirPods Pro. The improved sound quality and noise cancellation features are welcome additions. But we’re still well short of “peak AirPods.” No doubt Apple will continue to iterate on the product. I just hope the next major revision comes before my AirPods Pro lose their battery capacity (as they inevitably will).

Categories
Meta

Impromptu creative month?

I’ve never had much interest in National Novel Writing Month. Since my attempt to pen my own Tolkienesque fantasy saga as a twelve-year-old, I haven’t been tempted to try my hand at fiction.

But today, Shawn Blanc made me rethink my NaNoWriMo disinterest:

Starting today — Friday, November 1 — I’ll be writing and publishing something every day for the whole month of November. Though, instead of writing a novel in a month, I will be simply be focused on publishing something — anything — every single day. From photos, links to interesting things, articles, reviews, etc.

I’ve been looking for a reentry to creative work on the web.

I love this, and I’ve been looking for a reentry to creative work on the web. So, on a whim, I’m planning to follow Shaun’s example—posting something each day throughout November.

So far, so good; this post is Day 1!

Categories
Culture

Thoughts on ‘Hamilton’ and theatergoing in the age of the smartphone

Last week, my wife and I had the opportunity to see Hamilton live in Pittsburgh.

We had decent enough seats—ten or so rows back in the left-hand orchestra section. While the view was partially obscured (we couldn’t see the elevated balcony at stage right), we were close enough to see the actors’ facial expressions clearly.

We had an amazing time. There’s a reason that Hamilton is a worldwide phenomenon; it’s a remarkable work of art. The show is cleverly self-referential—reprising leitmotifs and coyly paying off its dramatic promises. It’s playfully historical—grounding itself in real events but freely reinterpreting them, too. And it’s strikingly original—showcasing a genre foreign to Broadway, while also paying homage to musical theater’s long history.

However, my biggest takeaway from the show had nothing to do with the onstage performance. I was more fascinated by what happened in the theater during intermission. While Emily ran to the restroom, I sat and watched the crowd.

Here’s the thing: everyone was on their phone. I mean, literally 90% of the audience spent the intermission either staring at their smartphone or cradling it in-hand. There were very few exceptions: the very old (some of whom may prefer not to own a phone) and the very young (i.e., kids who probably can’t wait for their first hand-me-down device).

We’ve gone through an incredible societal transformation in just a decade. Twelve years ago, a Broadway intermission would have felt very different. Sure, a few people might have made a phone call on their flip phone, but nobody could’ve pulled an addictive “everything” device out of their pocket.

What did the 2006 audience do during those twenty-minute breaks? Doubtless, many would’ve buried their noses in the program—perusing the cast bios or the second act’s song list. But many attendees would’ve chatted up a neighbor and reflected together on the show. The hall’s decibel level might’ve been significantly louder—many more voices adding to the cacophony (rather than silenced in rapt attention to their phones). ◾