Computer Workstation Ergonomics

I spend almost every waking moment in front of a computer. I’m what you might call an indoor enthusiast. I’ve been lucky because I haven’t experienced any kind of computer-related injury due to my prolonged use of computers, but it is a very real professional risk. I get some occasional soreness in my hands or wrists, mostly after marathon binges where I’ve clearly overdone it– but that’s about the extent of it. All too many of my friends have struggled with long-term back pain or hand pain. While you can (and should) exercise your body and hands to strengthen them, there’s one part of this equation I’ve been ignoring.

I’ve been on a quest for the ultimate computer desk for a few years now, and I’ve talked at length about the value of investing in a great chair. But I hadn’t considered whether my current desk and chair is configured properly to fit my body. What about the ergonomics of your computer workstation?

The OSHA has an official page on computer workstation ergonomics, which is a good starting point. But like all government documents, there’s a lot more detail here than most people will ever need. The summary picture does give you an idea of what an ergonomic seating position looks like, though. How close is this to the way you’re sitting right now?

OSHA computer workstation diagram

Microsoft doesn’t get enough credit for their often innovative hardware division, which first popularized ergonomic computer input devices, starting with the Microsoft Mouse 2.0 in 1993 and following with the Microsoft Natural Keyboard in 1994. With Microsoft’s long-standing interest in hardware ergonomics, perhaps it’s not too surprising to find that their healthy computing guide is one of the best and most succinct references for ergonomic computing I’ve found. But you don’t have to read it. I’ll summarize the key guidelines for computer workstation ergonomics here, distilling the best advice from all the sources I found.

I know I’ve harped on this, but it bears repeating: a quality desk and chair will be some of the best investments you’ll ever make as a software developer. If you value your physical health, this is not an area you want to economize on. Hopefully you’ve invested in a decent computer desk and chair that provide the required adjustability to achieve an ergonomically correct computer workstation, too.

Computing ergonomics, adjustable desk and chair

1. The top of your monitor should be at eye level, and directly centered in front of you. It should be about an arm’s length in front of you.

Computing ergonomics, monitor position

2. Your desk surface should be at roughly belly button level. When your arms are placed on the desk, your elbows should be at a ~90 degree angle, just below the desk surface. The armrests of your chair should be at nearly the same level as the desk surface to support your elbows.

Computing ergonomics, desk surface

3. Your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees at a ~90 degree angle. Your seat should not be pressing into the back of your knees; if necessary, tilt it slightly forward to alleviate any knee pressure. Sit fully back in your chair, with your back and shoulders straight and supported by the back of the chair.

Computing ergonomics, legs

4. When typing, your wrists should be in line with your forearms and not bent up, down, or to the side. Your keyboard should be directly centered in front of you. Other frequently used items should be nearby, within arm’s reach.

Computing ergonomics, arms

When it comes to computer workstation ergonomics, these are the most basic, most commonly repeated guidelines I saw. Ergonomics is a holistic discipline, not a science, so your results may vary. Still, I’m surprised how many of these very basic guidelines I’ve been breaking for so many years, without even thinking about it. I’ll be adjusting my home desk tomorrow in hopes of more comfortable computing.

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Computer Workstation Ergonomics

Penguin Celebrations series

First, I have to give credit where credit is due: I first read about this series the other day over at Galleycat.

This new “Celebrations” series comprises 36 titles; all of the categories (fiction, biography, etc.) are represented here.

What’s great about these? Nothing, if you plant your feet firmly in the “nostalgia is a disease” camp. Lots, if you value simplicity and elegance in design and typography. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, though, it’s fascinating to read what Penguin’s John Miles says in The Penguin Collectors’ Society’s Penguin by Designers about the original designs that inspired these: “No matter how grand or famous the author the typographic treatment was exactly the same. So Robert Graves got exactly the same treatment as a little-known writer of a crime novel.” That’s an amazing thing to contemplate and speaks to the power of the Penguin brand.




Penguin Celebrations series

QotD Roger Mandel

“Quite broadly, I think of the fine arts as a method by which humans ask the big questions not necessarily knowing the answers, whereas design enables people to create answers quite concretely.  A strength of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design)’s balanced curriculum is that the fine artists help the designers consider the big unanswereable questions as they work on their chairs and buildings, while the designers inform the fine artists about how to make their ineffable expressions tangible. Art’s about more than being creative, it’s about developing a system of thought, by which you can solve complex problems to improve aspects of the world’s concerns.  More concretely, proportion, functionality, texture, and surface beauty are broad design attributes anyone should learn because they enrich visual literacy and acuity. Art education without elements of design is not useful in the end–which is why art teachers have had a hard time justifying to boards of education and parents that the visual arts are important in the curriculum.”ht I.D. magazine, September/October 2007How would you rewrite this paragraph if you replaced “fine arts” with “sciences”?  Talk amongst yourselves.
QotD Roger Mandel

One Red Paperclip: Or How an Ordinary Man Achieved His Dream with the Help of A Simple Office Supply

Design by Kyle Kolker

You might have heard this story: Man trades paperclip for house. More here.

We all should have seen this one coming. And I know from comments left on previous posts that there are some of you out there who question the marketing wisdom of covers with no titles, but I saw three people pick this up from the new paperbacks table, read the spine and then the back cover, and one of them bought it justlikethat.


There’s just no comparing a cover like this with all the other ideas that were probably pitched for this; you’ve got to think that someone, somewhere, still thinks that a photo of the house the guy eventually acquired with title type that looks like twisted red paperclips was the way to go. Thankfully, the person with that idea lost.

Buy this book on Amazon.com
One Red Paperclip: Or How an Ordinary Man Achieved His Dream with the Help of A Simple Office Supply

ASHLEY WOOD'S TELEPHONE LINES

These pictures by illustrator Ashley Wood seem to be a cross between drawing and knife fighting.







Wood is one of those artists whose drawings benefit from controlled accidents. His slashing lines and spattered ink are part skill, part chance and part hydrological experiment. When you work that way, you can’t be too picky about your materials. The reverse side of the above drawing shows how some of Wood’s more fortunate accidents take place on stray scraps of paper:



I like Wood’s work. I like that he seems to draw on every available surface, from the backs of envelopes to waste paper, sometimes taping pages together when his experiment runs out of room.

I find his emphasis on telephone lines in these drawings worth noting for two reasons.





First, they show an important difference between drawing and photography. In most photographs, phone wires are so thin and insubstantial they don’t even show up. They certainly never rise to the important compositional element that Wood has made them here. It takes a human brain to fix upon a physically insignificant element and amplify and distort it into a major part of the drawing.

Second, Wood’s awareness of the telephone lines reveals the care and sensitivity necessary to make a “spontaneous” style effective. Despite the vigorous, almost violent appearance of these drawings, it required a subtle eye to notice a detail like telephone lines and a thoughtful mind to play them up the way Wood has.

ASHLEY WOOD’S TELEPHONE LINES

Reading in the news

One in four U.S. adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday… .

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year — half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who had not read any, the usual number read was seven.

“I just get sleepy when I read,” said Richard Bustos, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.
Read the rest:
Poll: 1 in 4 U.S. adults read no books last year (International Herald Tribune)

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Reading in the news

Advice for a Forty-Odder from a Twenty-Something

At the Kilgour lectures, OCLC President Robert Jordan said some rather challenging things to the assembled SILS throng. As an MBA and business guy, he up front admitted that his ideas might rub people the wrong way (but then, so did Fred Kilgour’s).

One of his ideas that stuck with me was his notion that, since UNC SILS requires a student to take more hours and do more work than comparable programs, it’s reasonable to ask whether the degree will make you more money or give you a chance at a more prestigious institution when you graduate.

That idea rattles around in the back of my brain during my classes, even the fun intellectual ones I take. And then, so do articles like this one by Penelope Trunk, on what to do in college to be more successful in your career. Of course, she’s talking to twenty-somethings rather than forty-odders, but let’s see how much of it I can apply to my situation.

  • Get out of the library. Hm, well, the point of my going to back to school is to get out of the office and spend time in a library (and it is a library school, after all). I have a lot of work and life experience, but I want the education to formalize what I know and give me a framework to learn new things.

  • Get involved on campus. It’s tough to be involved with many school activities because I don’t live on-campus, parking is a joke, and I have to give up the hours I would normally work to be on campus for special events. I read somewhere that being involved in career-oriented organizations–like ACM or ASIS&T–are preferred over school-related ones, given the brief time I have to devote to extracurriculars. Also, although I’m plenty involved with outside groups, I’ve never been asked about such participations in an interview and I don’t put them on my resume. At this stage, I have plenty of career experience that takes precedence.

  • Separate your expectations from those of your parents. I would amend this to include co-workers and friends. I would also amend this to yourself. Some older adults going back to school see the degree as the end-all and that the degree will, on its own, open doors to new opportunity. It won’t. My expectations are that my pursuit of the degree will open the doors–the hours spent studying, reading, thinking, meeting people, and so on. By the time the degree is handed to me on graduation day, I should already have plans in place for what happens the day after.

  • Try new things you aren’t good at. Just going back to school is a big new thing. To me, any other new thing is a little new thing.

  • Make your job search a top priority. Ye-e-es, I agree, to a point. If you hate your job, or don’t have a job, getting a job should be the most important thing. In my case, since I’m already working, I’m more concerned with meeting people affiliated with the school and its mission who are in a position to offer jobs. So I would say that meeting people and expanding my network is a top priority.

  • Take an acting course. I used to act in community theater and in college; it’s a great place for meeting people. I think most people, though, would get more out of an improv comedy course: learning to think on your feet, under pressure, with people watching you, is a great experience to have. I took one at Dirty South Comedy Theater in January 2006 and it was a great experience. I actually felt my brain make new connections and re-shape itself. Bizarre. I’d like to take another course again.

  • Get rid of your perfectionist streak. My goal in school is to get B or better grades so that I can 1) get tuition reimbursement from my employer and 2) not obsess over my schoolwork. As one of my managers drilled into me, “Just give me 80 percent. Your quality level is already high enough that it’ll be better than someone else’s 100 percent.” The key is to balance effort against value: if it’s a paper that only counts 10 points, it’ll get less attention than the presentation worth 30 points. Depend on your teachers/teammates for feedback indicating if the work isn’t good enough.

  • Work your way through college. Heh. Next.

  • Make to-do lists. I’m performing much better in school having spent the last 20 years learning about productivity and efficiency systems. My favorite methodology at the moment is Mark Forster’s book Do It Tomorrow. (Here is Mark’s website, filled to bursting with great and actionable ideas.)

Considering that I’m now juggling a full-time job, family, banjo practice, and school, efficiency and productivity help me keep it all together.

(originally posted 2007-08-19, updated for micro.blog)

Penguin Great Loves series

Penguin has recently published 20 titles under the series title “Great Loves.” I’ve posted 6 of my favorites here; check them all out at the Penguin site. Out of the 20, there’s only about 2 or 3 that appear to lie just a bit outside the style and feel of the whole series; that the one that seems farthest away from the rest (the Freud title) is called “Deviant Love” makes me smile.

A really cool bonus: Penguin designer David Pearson describes one of the production processes employed in the creation of these covers. Fantastic stuff.

There’s a little bit more information over at the Penguin blog.







Penguin Great Loves series

Dictionary of Symbols

dictionary_symbols_sm.jpg

In art, literature, film and life, even the littlest image or reference can open a world of interpretation. This thick encyclopedia, with contributions from scholars in various disciplines, is an excellent guide to the major and more esoteric origins of seemingly everything – from “abracadabra” to “Zodiac.” There are a ton of spiritual, mythological and/or cultural tangents that hopscotch the globe and back in time. Whenever I pick it up, I learn something new. I find the animal and food-related facts particularly enlightening (ex; oranges, a fertility symbol, are given to young married couples in Vietnam; and in Ancient China a formal offer of marriage was accompanied by a gift of oranges to the girl). The book’s title is somewhat misleading. It does not have illustrations – it’s all text. Some entries are a couple sentences, others stretch for a few pages. If you have plans to deconstruct the next season of Lost, you might find this one handy.

– Steven Leckart

Dictionary of Symbols
Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant
1996 (current translation), 1184 pages
$15
Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

abracadabra
This charm was used throughout the Middle Ages. ‘One only had to write it down in the triangular pattern shown below and wear it round one’s neck as a sort of phylactery or charm to be protected from various diseases and to be cured of fever’:

               ABRACADABRA
                ABRACADABR
                 ABRACADAB
                  ABRACADA
                   ABRACAD
                    ABRACA
                     ABRAC
                      ABRA
                       ABR
                        AB
                         A

The word derives from the Hebrew abreg ad habra meaning to ‘strike dead with thy lightning.’ In Hebrew it comprises nine letters. ‘Placing aleph on the left side of the triangle - and its ninefold repetition - is the magical element.’ By arranging the letters in a reverse triangle, the celestial energies which the charm claims to entrap are directed downwards. According, the figure should be seen three-dimensionally as a funnel… Like amulets, talismans and pentacles, this charm seeks to give the individual a sense of protection through communication with the higher powers and with the mysterious laws which govern the universe.

almond (Italian: mandorla)
Because of its husk, the almond is generally taken to symbolize the substance hidden within its accidents; spirituality masked by dogma and ritual; reality concealed by outward appearance; and, according to the secret doctrine, the eternally hidden Truth, Treasure and Fountain… The almond is Christ because his divine nature was hidden in the human, or in the womb of his virgin mother. It is also, according to Adam of St Victor, the mystery of light, that is to say the end of contemplation, the secret of inner illumination… The geometrical shape of the almond associates it with the symbolism of the LOZENGE, since it is a lozenge with the lateral angels rounded off. Like the lozenge it symbolizes the union of Heaven and Earth, of the upper and the lower worlds and, for this reason alone, would be ideally suited to frame the figures of the saints. It symbolizes the harmonious marriage which transcends the dualism of matter and spirit, fire and water, Heaven and Earth… In esoteric tradition the almond symbolizes the secret (a treasure) which is hidden in some dark place and which must be discovered in order to nourish the finder. The husk around it is compared with a wall or a gate. To find the almond or to eat the almond means to discover or to share in a secret.

otter
The otter, which rises to the surface of the water and then dives below it, posses lunar symbolism and from this derive the properties for which it is used in initiation. Otter-skin is used in initiation societies both among North American Indians and among Black Africans, especially the Bantu of Cameroon and Gabon… The shamans of the North American Ojibwa Indians keep their magic shells in an otter-skin bag. The messenger of the Great Spirit, who acts as intercessor between him and mankind, is supposed to have seen the wretched state of human weakness and disease and to have revealed the most sublime secrets to the otter and interfused its body with Migis (symbols of the Mide or members of the Midewiwin Medicine Lodge) so that the creature became immortal and could, by initiating humans, make them holy. All members of the Midewiwin carry otter-skin medicine bags. These are the bags which are aimed at the candidate at initiation ceremonies as if they were fire-arms and ‘kill’ him. They are then laid on his body until he is restored to life. After song and feasting the shamans present the new initiate with his own otter-skin bag. The otter is therefore an initiating spirit which kills and restores to life.


Dictionary of Symbols

If I don’t type to you before we leave, have a nice weekend, be sure to eat and dress sensibly, and be good to your mother. Unless she’s a roaring bitch hag who deserves the worst you can dish out without going to jail for it.

Oikos

Spotted last week in a New Jersey supermarket:



[Photograph by Rachel Leddy.]
Oikos

(οίκος) is one of my favorite ancient Greek words. Its meanings include house, dwelling, household, and family (as in “the house of Atreus”). Oikos the source of ec- and eco-, as in ecology and economics. It’s a key word in Homer’s Odyssey, which is about finding one’s way back home.

The cover of Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Odyssey makes this point beautifully, with a cropped version of “Earthrise,” an Apollo 8 photograph of our one oikos, taken as the astronauts orbited the moon. When the Odyssey begins, Odysseus may as well be on the moon: he has been removed from all possibilities of human culture.

Earthrise (NASA)
All Homer posts (via del.icio.us)

(Thanks, Rachel!)

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Oikos

Comments by readers on the last few posts

I do enjoy the comments I get and am grateful for them as I do learn a great deal from them.

My guess on tennis players and their tummies seems to be confirmed by several commenters, a tennis coach and a Spaniard who knows what Nadal eats. Their diets will shorten their careers and leave a competitive edge to someone who takes the next step toward fitness by abandoning outmoded and incorrect advice from fitness experts.

As to Barry Bonds, I do not know if he ever took steroids or if he unknowingly took them, thinking they may have been flax seed oil. He has never tested positive. Even though his “trainer” had a protocol that included steroids, he has said Barry was not on that. My main point is that you cannot see what his critics seem to see in his statistics.

Too many people are seeing patterns where there is only randomness. Humans do that. It may have been adaptive in the evolutionary environment, which though complex did not approach the complexity we confront now. This is really a failing; a failure to see randomness rather than pattern. Nassim Taleb has written a nice book on this called Fooled by Randomness. This whole home run thing is a problem of being fooled by randomness.

Barry may or may not have taken steroids. His increased mass is easily attainable by someone who trains for mass and speed without steroids. I weighed just a bit less than he at the age of 65, though I have recently gone for more power to weight in my body composition. The decline of other athletes that is cited as evidence of steroid use is illusory. Aaron did not decline by much either. And nobody among older players trained like Barry. Moreover, there is not a shred of evidence that steroids alter aging patterns.

Journalists have to sell papers. Ted Williams was excoriated in the Boston press, largely by a single sports writer who later told Ted that he had to sell papers. This is one of the greatest and most disciplined and moral players ever to play the game. So, ignore the journalists. What do they know or care about but to sell papers.

Thus, where do we go for the “truth”? What do you want for truth? You seldom will get it when things are as variable as home run hitting is. The truth is that we can’t see patterns in the data that confirm any belief and yet, if we are eager enough, we can see things that confirm any belief you want to have.


Comments by readers on the last few posts

My friend David Warlick gave me a great tip about searching the Web. Instead of starting with a huge search engine such as Google, start small. Pick an engine with a smaller database, such as Yahoo, and work through its directory, which is arranged by subject and sub-topic. Then, having identified one or two high-quality Web sites, go back and create a search phrase based on frequently found terms in the pages you’ve found. Now proceed to a big search engine and plug in these keywords for your search. Focus is everything: Get the search terms right and you’ll wind up with a much more useful list of results.