Diigo (a “personal knowledge management tool”) is a browser extension that allows one to collect all sorts of information from across the web in a central repository where it can be easily accessed, shared, annotated, searched, and remembered.
I don’t know that I aspire to be a polymath, it is more like I hunger to be one. I consume information in copious amounts and synthesize it together to help me understand the world (and share what I learn). But this presents a great challenge – how can I consume massive amounts of information while not losing what I have learned previously?
The answer is augmentation (along with an acceptance of my finite nature). In the past this might have included a physical filing cabinet, for me it consists of Diigo and a few other primarily digital means.
When one saves a site or article to Diigo, Diigo creates a record associated with that specific page. I then add one or more tags to categorize (create a taxonomy) this record among all my other records.
In addition, if the page includes content I consider to be of important, I highlight it and Diigo saves my highlights as well. It also allows me to add notes to the page. Recently I was reading an article about Thomas Oden and something he said connected with something William Barclay had said, so I added a note about the association.
Sometimes the pages can be summarized in a paragraph or two – in which case I attach a description to the page. I also use the description as a place to remind myself why I cared about this page.
Right now I have 25,361 items in my Diigo. An item is a record which is associated with a specific piece of content (usually a web page). Under many of these items are highlights and notes which help me remember the importance of the content.
I personally pay for their Professional level. It is around $60/yr. ($5/mo.), but I consider it well worth it.
There are some features/enhancements I’d like to see Diigo add in the near future, I’ve outlined my ideas below:
Archive.org Integration – Right now Diigo can save a copy of a page if requested, which is great, but I’m wondering if it would make sense for Diigo to integrate with The Wayback Machine and cache every saved page.
Implement Hierarchical Taxonomies – Right now tags are a flat taxonomy, that is, no tag is a parent or child to another tag.
Separate DB of Trash Links – Right now I tag worthless pages as f-value, so if I come across them again in the future I don’t waste time rereading the material. It would be nice if Diigo maintain a per-user database of trash links and had a small visual reminder when we visited a useless site (e.g., a small trash can on the Diigo button).
Acquire / Integrate Zlink’s Better Search Chrome Extension – This nifty little extension lacks transparency about how it handles data, where it is stored, and hasn’t been updated since late 2015, but it offers a number of highly useful features. My favorites are:
The ability to vote up or down search results, also to delete search results (thus when one searches for the same term again, one sees customized search results).
Customization of search pages with navigation to other sites – e.g., makes it very easy to repeat the same search using another search engine with one click.
Expand API – The API currently supports only two methods – retrieve bookmarks and add bookmarks. It needs (at a minimum) the additional abilities of editing and deleting bookmarks.
I’d also like to have a way to exclude certain tags / sites from the retrieved bookmarks.
I wrote this primarily for myself – sometimes I don’t remember everything I do when setting up a workstation for development purposes…it may be of interest to others.
You’ll note that there are several areas missing from this arena – no build automation, task runners, etc. Maybe I’ll get around to adding them once I settle on some…but in the meantime, this still works for me.
[See bottom of this document for a list of revisions to this document]
Install Git for Windows for version control, ensure that Windows PATH is selected during the install so that you can use git from the command-line without needing to use Git’s special CLI.
I’d recommend also getting yourself a GUI to manage Git. Personally, I prefer that the editor I’m working in provide Git integration, but sometimes this isn’t available – in which case Atlassian’s SourceTree seems to do a good job.
Editor / IDE
IDE stands for Integrated Development Environment. This software offers numerous tools to expedite code development.
Editors on the other hand are much simpler, yet some people prefer them. We’ll look at a few of each of these.
NotePad++ – This is my base editor. The User Interface isn’t amazing, but it works beautifully. Especially awesome when it comes to working with large files.
Brackets – An open source project by Adobe, has a number of useful extensions. UI is attractive, I use this one over NotePad++ usually, except for note files (NotePad++ remembers the text you enter even if you don’t save the file) and large files.
If you are wondering where your xdebug.so file lives: /usr/lib/php/20151012/xdebug.so
And Code Sniffer:
And www folders:
Microsoft’s Visual Studio – An IDE with a long and venerable history, more recently integrating a number of Xamarin cross-development features into the IDE. The Community Edition is free.
WARNING: Depending upon options selected, this installs Hyper-V; if you are running another virtualization technology (Virtual Box) expect to experience BSoD errors. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience and I am not alone.
You’ll want something that provides a handy way for interacting with databases, in which case I recommend HeidiSQL.
If you don’t have a database server currently, you’ll need one. A couple options include MySQL, MariaDB, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL.
Oracle’s VirtualBox will provide you with a free and reliable method for creating virtual machines. More importantly, it integrates tightly with software such as Vagrant and Docker, whereas Hyper-V integration is still an unpolished creation.
You’ll also want a copy of Vagrant, which eases the management of Virtual Machines tremendously. You could use Docker, but in my experience, the Vagrant experience is much smoother.
To easily access one’s Vagrant box you’ll want a copy of OpenSSH. This is available in several different ways – the easiest being as part of the Git install. However, in order to use it, you’ll need to add ssh.exe to your Windows PATH.
You’ll need something to create/edit images with, I recommend paint.net. Despite its connection to a very basic predecessor (Windows Paint), this software can work miracles.
JPEGmini – Usually I wouldn’t recommend using lossy means of reducing image data footprint, but JPEGmini manages to offer significant lossy compression without any visible deterioration to the image, unfortunately it only works on jpeg files.
FileOptimizer – Offers compression for numerous different file formats in a lossless manner.
However, FTP is a plain-text protocol, so I’d look at using something SSH based like SFTP. In this case I’d recommend WinSCP or built-in functionality in your IDE (phpStorm for example).
You’ll also want a copy of ConEmu or another command line interface (CLI). This software is so much better than the default Windows console.
A good archive/compression application will make life much easier, and 7-Zip is the perfect application.
Hosts File Editor – While it hasn’t been updated since 2011, I find this software extremely handy when I want to make edits to the hosts file. It offers a nice GUI front-end for the hosts file and enables a number of different nifty features not built into the file itself.
Revisions To Document
Added location of www pages on Vagrant.
Moved VVV under Vagrant.
Added link to Louie R.’s article on using Vagrant/VVV.
Changed Basics for Developers to Version Control.
Added link to VVV Wiki Article about Connecting to MySQL.
Added section on database servers.
Added link to article on integrating with PhpStorm, location of xdebug.so.
Added location of Code Sniffer; PHPUnit, Composer.
You’ve heard the ads, perhaps dreamed of working from home. You envision yourself positioned in your own little office in the spare bedroom or a cozy corner of the kitchen, working away while the children play quietly nearby, the dog sleeps by your feet and the money just keeps dropping into your bank account as you faithfully apply your skills.
As a seasoned medical transcriptionist with nearly 11 years’ experience, I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the ups and down of working from home. There are many reasons people choose to work from home and certainly there are a lot of benefits from doing so. For me, my venture into this lifestyle started when my marriage fell apart and I was suddenly the sole provider for myself and the 3 of my 7 children still at home. I had been a stay-at-home mom for over 22 years and the thought of diving headfirst into the regular workforce was terrifying. I think it was a real saving grace for me and for my kids that during this time of great upheaval in our family I was able to still be the at-home-all-the-time mom while being able to work and provide for us. Being able to avoid the need for before and after school care and the predicament of knowing you really need to be in the office when your 6-year-old is running a fever significantly lessened the load for all of us. Snow days weren’t a problem, because I was home. Teacher conference days, Christmas break, summers….all were handled with so much more ease because I didn’t have to feel quite so pulled in both directions. I know a lot of women seem able to juggle working outside the home and family and do it really well…but I will always be grateful I had this opportunity to remain in my home full time.
So, for me having the chance to work from home really was a lifesaver and a blessing and I do encourage mothers (especially mothers with young children) who need to work to consider working from home. But, there are also special challenges and drawbacks and I’d like to present some of those here, because I think knowing what you’re up against can strengthen you to face the challenges and still achieve your goal of working from home.
That picture of the kids playing quietly and the dog by your feet? Yes, it happens sometimes…maybe once or twice a year?! Seriously, one of the biggest challenges to working from home is that because you are home everyone assumes that means you’re available…the kids, the neighbors, the dog, the cat. There have been so many times I’ve been on a roll typing away when one of the animals would get sick, or the dog would bark to go out. Then there were the times I would spot something outside my window…yep, the goats had broken out of their fence again and were running down the road or worse yet, heading for the neighbor’s garden! So keyboard tossed aside and a dash out the door to do a little mid-morning goat wrangling, or clean up after the dog, or answer the phone and talk for a few minutes with a lonely grown daughter in another state. I found the best way for me to handle distractions like these was to work either early in the morning (really early, i.e. 4 a.m.) or late at night, after kids were in bed and life had quieted down. Some companies will allow you to choose your own schedule and are pretty flexible while others are very rigid. If you can choose to work when there are fewer distractions that’s great. If not I think establishing firm boundaries right from the beginning is a key. Set up your answering machine stating that you are working and will return phone calls when you are finished. We have a code in our family that if we are calling home and really need someone to pick up the phone we call 3 times in a row. That is the signal that somebody needs to answer the phone right away! So you can either use caller ID or a code or another idea of your own so you are accessible in emergencies, but really try to guard yourself from phone interruptions.
Teach the kids right from the beginning that you are not to be interrupted while working unless it is urgent…and be clear on what is urgent. The younger your children the harder this will be. Of course when the goats escape…there’s nothing to do but catch them!
Working from home can be pretty lonely. I’ve spent decades at home…first as a full time stay-at-home mother and then as a working-from-home mother. While there is no workplace drama, there is also no workplace conversation or adult companionship. So, you have to find that on your own. Scheduling in coffee with friends or other activities that feed your soul can help to revitalize you and keep you sane, sometimes literally!
Some of the other positives include being able to keep handle on running the home with a little more ease than a mom who has to be gone from her home all day…you really can get 4 loads of laundry done and be there to turn off the oven when the brownies are done baking. And I believe scheduling a break so you can be there to greet the kids when they arrive home from school is a priceless gift you can give them, and yourself. I also scheduled a break when my kids were getting ready for school in the morning. One of my fondest memories is that every morning one of my teenage daughters would come into the kitchen while I was packing up lunches and say “Hey mom, listen to this song” and she would play me a new-found favorite song on her iPod. Just a little thing, but I was there for it and now that her high school days are over I’m glad I didn’t miss it. So, those are what I’ve found to be some of the basic ups and downs, positives and negatives of working from home. If it’s something you have been thinking about I’d definitely encourage you to do it!
Please feel free to post questions regarding working from home in the comments section below; help me determine what other topics I should cover in this series!
In my next post I will discuss working from home specifically as it relates to being a medical transcriptionist…the good, the bad, and the ugly…stay tuned!
If you are interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist I highly recommend CareerStep. It’s the school I graduated from and it’s graduates are highly sought after by transcription companies. They also offer the following programs: Medical coding and billing, medical office management, medical administrative assistant with EHR, pharmacy technician, health information technician, computer technician, executive assistant, medical billing, and veterinary assistant. Visit them today at http://www.referral.careerstep.com/ref12112.
I’ve been using Blinkist for well over a year now and am quite happy with it. There are free accounts (one Blink available to read each day selected by Blinkist) but I’m a paying subscriber ($4.16/mo.), I’m a little tempted to go Premium ($6.66/mo.) just to gain the ability to export my highlights to Evernote, but for now, I’m being good.
What Blinkist does is summarize important non-fiction books which generally take 10-20 mins. to read. It allows one to be familiar with the book without investing hours into it.
I also use it to figure out which books I really want to read. It is great to read a brief summary and quickly see whether a full reading will be productive.
Blinkist is accessible on smartphone, tablet, and via desktops/laptops. I tend to read most frequently on my smartphone.
Guide to This Post
You’ve already made it through a quick overview of Blinkist, but there is still a lot of material I’ll be covering, so here is a quick guide to what follows so you can jump around if you so desire:
Blinkist Features I Love
Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – This main consists of inconsistencies in their user interface – features aren’t available on mobile that are on full web, and vice versa.
Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – I have three specific features I’d like to see in Blinkist to make it more useful.
Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book
Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks
Blinks I’m Currently Reading
Blinks I’m Most Eager to Read
Blinkist Features I Love
Favoriting – If you like a Blink you can favorite it. I use this to keep a list of books I want to buy / read in full.
Highlighting – I love being able to highlight portions. I actually have OCD and my highlighting is more than a bit compulsive, but I’m still happy to have the feature.
Introductions – Provide a brief introduction to the book, oftentimes highlighting the books major topics, and usually including a small bio of the author.
Final Summaries – Sums up the main point(s) of the book, recommends a related book to read.
Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist
The ability to take notes like one can on the Amazon Kindle.
Consistent features across devices, e.g.
Web App Lacks:
Ability to add to one’s To Read list.
Ability to add tags to a blink.
Ability to add Blink to favorites.
Ability to delete book from Currently Reading.
Ability to listen to audio.
Mobile App Lacks
Ability to add via the wish list items for Blinkist to create Blinks of.
Ability to buy book from currently reading list.
Finished List of Blinks completed.
from the web app.
The introductory material (especially the blurb about the author), quotes, and heading sentences for each “page” to be highlightable.
When highlighting on the mobile app, sometimes the arrows allowing one to expand or contract the selection never appear (I find this inconsistently happens when selected the first [or last?] word in a line).
Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist
There are several rather large changes I’d like to see Blinkist bring about. All three have to do with making the Blinks more productive and useful.
First, there is the need for page references. Right now one knows the Blink is about the book, but not the particular pages or even chapters being referred to. Ideally, there should be chapter and/or page references for all the major points the Blink summarizes so one can pick up the actual book and quickly read the specific section one wants to read more deeply, rather than needing to browse the entire book.
Second, it would be great if there were quotes from the book summarizing each of the major points the book makes. These could be footnotes included in the Blink. They’d allow us to read controversial viewpoints in the author’s own words.
Finally, it would be great to be given resources to see what the critics of the book say. For example, Noam Chomsky criticizes American Foreign Policy in Rogue States, but how would his opponents rebut his arguments?
Another, even more important example is those books dealing with health and psychology. Authors make statements but it is unclear their sources or whether this is the author’s own opinion of scientific consensus.
Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book
(3) Jennifer Kahnweiler. The Introverted Leader.
(1) Dr. Eric Berne. Games People Play.
(3) William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience.
(5) Dr. David Perlmutter. Grain Brain.
(5) Dr. William E. Paul.
(4) Noam Chomsky. Rogue States.
(4) Leonard Mlodinow. Subliminal.
(5) Atif Mian and Amir Sufi. House of Debt.
(5) Giula Enders. Gut.
(4) Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth.
(3) C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins.
(2) Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
(4) Tim Spector. The Diet Myth.
(3) Roy F. Baumeister and John Tiernye. Willpower.
(4) Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail.
(3) Susan Cain. Quiet.
Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks
Dr. David Perlmutter with Kristin Loberg. Brain Maker.
Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The Peter Principle.
James Rickards. The Death of Money.
Carl Zimmer. A Planet of Viruses.
Michael Alvear. Make a Killing on Kindle.
Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands.
Tim Ferris. The 4-Hour Workweek.
Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. What’s Mine Is Yours.
Walter Isaacson. Einstein.
Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller. Attached.
Margaret Cheney. Tesla.
Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.
Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Triggers.
Jon Ronson. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
Alex Epstein. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
Christopher Hitchens. The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
Christopher Clark. The Sleepwalkers.
Chris Brogan. The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.
John Lanchester. I.O.U.
Benjamin Graham and comments by… The Intelligent Investor.
Philip Zimbardo. The Lucifer Effect.
Gary Taubes. Why We Get Fat.
Suki Kim. Without You There Is No Us.
Thomas Paine. Common Sense.
Edward W. Said. Orientalism.
Phillip Coggan. Paper Promises.
Edward D. Kleinbard. We Are Better Than This.
Kevin Roose. Young Money.
Ha-Joon Chang. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.
Kabir Sehgal. Coined.
Ha-Joon Change. Economics: The User’s Guide.
Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky. How Much is Enough?
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto.
Eric D. Beinhocker. The Origin of Wealth.
Karl Pillemer. 30 Lessons for Loving.
Niall Ferguson. The Ascent of Money.
Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. Sex at Dawn.
Masha Gessen. The Man Without a Face.
Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince.
Blinks I’m Currently Reading
Stephanie Coontz. Marriage, a History.
Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Poor Economics.
Ha-Joon Chang. Kicking Away the Ladder.
Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The Upside of Your Dark Side.
Karen Piper. The Price of Thirst.
Jeffrey A. Leberman, Ogi Ogas. Shrinks.
Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Adam Braun. The Promise of a Pencil.
Seth Godin. Tribes.
Lawrence Lessig. Free Culture.
Blinks I Am Most Eager to Read
Tom Rath. StrengthsFinder 2.0.
David Richo. Daring to Trust.
Oliver Sacks. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.
Doris Kearns Goodwin. Team of Rivals.
Mark Goulston. Talking to Crazy.
Donella H. Meadows. Thinking in Systems.
Dr. Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti and… The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.
Noam Chomsky. Failed States.
Jeremy Rifkin. The Zero Marginal Cost Society.
Ori Brafman. Sway.
Walter Mischel. The Marshmallow Test.
Helen Fisher. Why We Love.
Robert Karen. Becoming Attached.
Brene Brown. Rising Strong.
Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. A General Theory of Love.
Ray Kurzweil. The Singularity Is Near.
Josh Kaufman. The Personal MBA.
Richard Koch. Living the 80/20 Way.
Brian Tracy. Eat That Frog!
Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Childhood Disrupted.
Laura Putnam. Workplace Wellness That Works.
Patrick M. Lencioni. The Advantage.
Ron Friedman. The Best Place to Work.
Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence.
Dr. Frank Luntz. Words That Work.
I Make Money
I try to write only was is worth reading and to only recommend products I believe in,still I figure you deserve to know that I will get paid if you sign up for Blinkist through one of the links on this page.
Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with Evernote. I wish there was something else that worked better than it did, but I haven’t found it. Microsoft OneNote seems significantly clunkier.↩
I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized The Level had been shipped to me but then stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!
I’ve been using it for the past few months. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet / garage / attic. Well, it is a New Year and I am ready to report.
It Is All About Me
Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.
I have a quantity and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.
Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.
Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.
Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc. I suppose). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).
Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they don’t just say this. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.
I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.
The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.
You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it.
Does It Work?
We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.
I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experienced significant flares in my chronic pain if I remained in any one position too long. It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time either without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.
Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.
These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.
The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.
Found Out the Hard Way
When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t a tricky experience meant to throw you on your back, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on a carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.
Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion – use carpet!
The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices.
As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:
Why would I buy this product? Is it because its new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is grand advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?
If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:
What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?
Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying repeatedly. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will need replacement or repairs.
For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hr. each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.
The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.
What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?
Sometimes the pain can get bad after ten or fifteen minutes, definitely if I try to do seated desk work for more than one day in a row I’ll end up somewhat incapacitated by the end of the second day.↩
I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.↩
Not usually and this includes perhaps attending a meeting which is sit-down and walking around the office, to the bathroom, etc…You know, normal stuff.↩
Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.↩
Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.↩
Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor.↩
Occasionally folks reach out to me with a product or service they would like for me to review – Fluidstance was one of said companies. They told me they were shipping me The Level so I could put it through its paces. I eagerly anticipated its arrival…and I waited for it…and I waited some more.
As time passed I figured they must have decided not to send me The Level after all…maybe they decided my blog wasn’t getting enough traffic, maybe they had run out of units to send out to bloggers. I was giving up hope.
Then I received a followup email asking how things were going with The Level. I was confused. Wait, you sent me The Level? When? FedEx delivery confirmation shows that the package was successfully left on my doorstep nearly a month ago. Gahh!
This is the first time I have ever had mail stolen off my front porch (at least that I am aware of) and it sucks. I was really looking forward to giving The Level a try.
I find my knees begin to hurt after a period of standing at my desk and I have to revert to sitting and I hoped that using The Level might allow me to spend longer periods at a time standing.
So, it sucks for me, but it also sucks for Fluidstance, since they sent me a moderately expensive product for review and I can’t review it because someone stole it.
As a poor substitute, I’ve compiled some resources together below to help those who are interested in learning more about The Level do so.
A positive review (no author mentioned) is over on GearMinded entitled simply, “Fluidstance Level” (May, 2015).
Gahhh! I just went through the first forty results in Google for “fluidstance” to garner the above reviews and now I am even more disappointed than before. Without exception, every one of the reviews I found in those first forty results where positive!
“But Dave, you should have Google ‘fluidstance review’, that would have given you better results.” You are so right, so I did and found the following:
[Update: 10/28/16 – Some international users of SugarSync have reported issues using the link I included in this post. Thanks to Bill & JN for an updated link that appears to work internationally as well: https://www.sugarsync.com/account/cancel]
I started with SugarSync many hears ago and I’ve been a paying customer since October 2009 and have been a fairlyavidsupporter of them.
Over the last year or so I’ve found myself moving away from SugarSync and towards Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. I decided to cancel SugarSync and assumed I’d be able to login to my account and quickly cancel…if only I were that fortunate!
One can upgrade one’s account via the website, but you can’t cancel it.
Okay, slightly annoying. So how do I cancel? There is no contact info. I can find on the main site but there is a “Contact Us” link in the footer of the support page – that seems hopeful…
Nope, just a mailing address and instructions to use the support site from which I found the Contact Us link.
Fine, lets try searching the help desk (okay, I actually did this before looking at the contact info., not sure why I record this out of order). Entering cancel into the search area returns a link to this article: “Canceling a Paid Account.”
Here is where things get really frustrating. Take a look at the screenshot below:
Notice anything? Let me highlight three items:
The cancellation department is only open from 10 am to 2 pm (4 hrs.) Monday – Friday. What?!
In step 2 one is directed to “Open this article” and provided with a link, this link leads back to the article you were already viewing.
The screenshot with “Chat with Cancellation Department” button is really great, except for the fact that it doesn’t exist outside of those 4 hours each day! It isn’t greyed out, it simply doesn’t exist.
(Okay, let me rephrase that, there is a chat button down at the bottom but clicking on it outside of hours makes it disappear (and nothing else) AND the button is in a different location than where it is shown in their screenshot)
Great. I’ve now let several months go by, I am no longer using SugarSync but every time I remember to cancel it it is outside of the specified hours or I’m busy. Finally, today, I decided to give it another go.
I happened to notice when I was logged out of the site a phone number for sales questions (1-877-442-1693, there appear to be multiple versions of the homepage, the phone number only sometimes displays). The automated menu had an option for billing so I selected it and was soon speaking with a nice man who assured me he would help me. He put me on hold and then sent me an email which he asked me to check. I opened it and to my surprise saw that he was not going to cancel my account, instead he was just directing me back to the same window:
I reached a real person who was responding to billing questions but apparently couldn’t cancel my account.
I’ve typed out this email while waiting for SugarSync’s cancellation department to open for its very limited hours.
I finally got into a chat with a cancellation department representative. After all that they gave me a URL to visit to cancel my account: https://davidshq.sugarsync.com/account/cancel. My guess is that this URL will work for anyone just by changing the davidshq to whatever your SugarSync username is.
I’m also guessing that one can use this link 24/7/365 to cancel an account…but you might still want to go through their cancellation department as they could claim that it wasn’t properly cancelled, etc. and you might end up still being billed.
And thus ends the story of my travails canceling SugarSync (I hope).
I’ve been talking about self-driving cars for years, even posted about it on this site. I can’t wait for cars to drive themselves, for personal and selfish reasons, but there are several really good reasons for cars to drive themselves.
What would you have energy to do if you weren’t spending all that energy driving? What could you accomplish during your commute if you didn’t have to focus on driving?
Reduce Infrastructure Costs, Improve Roads
Want to see the roads better maintained? The driverless car could be the solution. We create roads to handle more than average traffic so that there won’t be as many traffic jams. Imagine if that four lane road could be two or three lanes instead. Driverless cars would allow this to occur as they would drastically reduce congestion and thus eliminate the need in many cases for expansion projects. This money could be redirected to existing infrastructure maintenance – eliminating those potholes and fixing those collapsing bridges.
When we held services after dark we lost a good portion of our church congregation. Why? Because many of our elderly couldn’t see well after dark and so would remain home.
How many elderly individuals are isolated due to an inability to drive? How many handicapped individuals are dependent on others for transportation? With driverless cars these individuals could be free to travel again!
And I Haven’t Even Mentioned…
And we’ve barely scratched the surface of the benefits of driverless cars. What about:
Reductions in insurance premiums.
Increased life of automotive parts due to gentler usage.
Decreased parking congestion due to fewer cars.
Decreased stress among humans due to driving.
In my article title I claimed this was a way to easily save many lives…but is it really so easy? The answer is yes. There are already driverless cars out there, it is a matter of moving ahead in a more determined manner to get these vehicles into the hands of consumers and to revamp them into models that everyone can and wants to use.
I’m really excited about driverless cars and I hope you will be too. Yes, it is kind of scary to think about computers driving our cars – but, really, the computer will be much more capable than we are of maintaining awareness and responding quickly. Yes, there will be some bugs and bad things may happen – but my guess is that we’ll see at least a 90% decrease in accidents once driverless cars become the norm.
I have an old beast for a printer/scanner. It is nine years old in human years, which is like one hundred in technology years, but it gets the job done.
One problem I’ve run into repeatedly over the years is that of scanning software. At some point in the distant past the software that came with the scanner disappeared. Yes, one can still download the drivers off of the manufacturers site – but I’m talking about the software that makes the scanning process easier and more robust. Usually this software is from a third party company and thus the manufacturer’s site doesn’t include it as a download. So what is one to do?
You’d think there must be tons of free software options out there for such a simple and fundamental application – you’d be surprised (at least I was). Over the years I’ve used numerous different applications to scan – some commercial trials (FileCenter being my preferred one, but way too expensive for an occasional scan) and lots of crappy free programs.
File Format Support – It can create PDF, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, and other file types (I find the PDF support especially useful for multi-page documents).
Automatic Document Feeder / Duplex Support – ADF means that it can handle multiple pages without requiring user intervention and duplex means it can handle double-sided documents also without user intervention.
Simple Scan Management – Rotate pages, straighten images, crop, etc.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – Supports identifying the text in scanned documents.
Powerful – Need to automate your scanning using a command-line interface? How about distribute it via Group Policy? No problem.
Their prices are about as low as you can go for a real, true height adjustable desk.
The reviews I found about the company’s desks were favorable.
They offered a hand crank model.
Wait, I went with a hand crank model? Yup. I thought about going electric and while it was tempting I decided that a hand crank would probably last me many times longer.
The hand crank is a simple mechanical mechanism, unlikely to break – whereas electronic components almost always break down eventually. I have hopes that I’ll still be using this desk ten, even twenty years from now.
Because I want to be a hobo (of sorts) someday I went with a Medium top (24″ x 48″) so that it could fit into a travel trailer, etc. without too much trouble.
I splurged and bought a CPU holder ($100). I initially bought a Belkin keyboard and mouse tray through Amazon, but ran into some trouble getting it to adjust correctly (may have been a broken model or may have been my lack of mechanical skill) and returned it. I’ve planned on getting the keyboard/mouse tray from ModTable but just never got around to it.
Even if the Belkin had worked, it would have been a hack job. The metal crossbeam runs under the middle of the desk and most mouse/keyboard trays are made to have their track run vertically and the crossbeam sits firmly astride its desired path.
I did not buy the monitor arms. They were attractive but I opted instead for monitors that were height adjustable in and of themselves – which have worked out quite nicely.
I’m supremely happy with the table. The components all seem to be high quality. My only thoughts for improvement are as follows:
Is the central crossbeam necessary? Could there be a model without it?
The manual crank sticks out a bit and is easy to walk into. You can pull it out so that it isn’t in the way, but then you have to put it back in…which is a very minor annoyance, but if there was a way for the handle to fold under the unit, out of the way, that would be amazing.
Could it go a little lower? I’m on the vertically challenged end of the spectrum and technically the height of the table top is still a little too high for me ergonomically….if I ever get around to getting the keyboard/mouse tray that will drop it to the correct height, but, still, it’d be nice to go down to say 25 in?
As far as any suggestions to those who may be considering buying a ModTable themselves, here are my thoughts:
If you aren’t planning on living/working in tightly constrained quarters, splurge for the larger top size.
Make sure to install the CPU holder far off to the side, otherwise you’ll be kicking it when you are sitting down.
Splurge for the CPU holder and the keyboard/mouse tray off the bat.
Let me conclude by talking about expense. I’m used to owning used desks or pressed board desks – the kind you can pick up fairly inexpensively from Walmart, Target, or Ikea. ModTable is inexpensive compared to other height adjustable desks, but it is still expensive for those of us who frequent thrift stores for our furniture needs.
I heard (I think it was over at Lifehacker) that one should invest one’s money where one spends one time – which makes a lot of sense. Spend money on what you use most in life – a bed, a desk, a car, etc. For me and many like me, a desk is one of those things and the extra expense is worthwhile for our comfort as well as for our health.