Charlie Hope

CSC Agility Platform Engineer for CSC Professional Services. Do family, church, music & sports too.

Homepage: http://torch.wordpress.com/

My set up for a height adjustable working environment

That in many professions, workers use a posture that is primarily sedentary has become a regular topic in the medical and professional publications. These highlight the risks and dangers that come about consequence of having a primarily sedentary occupation.
This led me to research options about changing my own home study/office area to be more flexible in this respect.
I no longer wanted to be limited to a single option:-
  • only seated
  • only standing
I wanted the ability to change the height of my workstation, which meant the additional monitor which provides me with dual monitor setup, had to be height adjustable too.  It also meant any cables, power and connection, would need to be able to accommodate any changes in height or action as a consequence of re-positioning either the workstation, the monitor or both.
The most adaptable and flexible solutions, are based around motorised height adjustable work tops.  Typically having some sort of switch/rocker in a convenient location to let you raise and lower your work surface.  However, most of these are cost prohibitive. And even though IKEA provides a solution in the UK, for many years this wasn’t available.

The Solution:

What I eventually arrived at, uses the following items of furniture and office equipment.
The Desk: IKEA – Galant (Bekant) Beech (IKEA now have height-adjustable version : Bekant – but I didn’t get that)
This desk has a curved aspect which fits well with my requirements for an additional monitor, space for the laptop, printer and general auxiliary workspace.
Height adjustable and flexible monitor stand by AllcamGSD110D (Monitor Arm)
Additional Height Adjustment components:

Here is the desktop set for standing height, seated desk and showing the height adjustable mechanisms:

Standing Desk - Standing Set-1

Standing Desk – Standing Set-1

Standing Desk - Standing Set -2

Standing Desk – Standing Set -2

Standing Desk - Seating Set

Standing Desk – Seating Set

Standing Desk - Adjustable Mechanisms

Standing Desk – Adjustable Mechanisms

So how is it working out?

Since I’ve had this setup, I’ve been working roughly half the day, with the standing set up and the rest of the day in a seated position. Generally standing at the desk in the morning, and moving to the seated position just before or just after lunch time. What I am particularly pleased about, is the laptop stand and height adjustable monitor arm. The gas sprung monitor arm, is very stable, yet very easy to move and adjust.  Equally easy is the laptop stand, I just use two positions, so moving between the two and tidying it away behind the monitor is straight forward.

So what about you, do you have a height adjustable desk setup at home?

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Moving to Mac OS X

In November 2014, I switched from using a Microsoft Windows based laptop for work to an Apple Macbook Pro.  This came about as a result of a change role at CSC, as I moved into a role within a Professional Services team.

Lenovo Thinkpad T430

Apple Macbook Pro

Up till then I had used Microsoft Windows as my primary work OS, across a series of machine types and iterations of Microsoft’s desktop OS. In most cases, the machine specification has not been too shabby, and able to provide a reasonably productivity performance baseline.  In fact I wasn’t expecting to be re-fitted with another device at the moment of role change, having been using a Lenovo Thinkpad T430 with 8GB of RAM and running Windows 7, I at least knew that it could be trusted to support the execution of the all the tasks and activities common to my previous role. However, it didn’t have an SSD and the subsequent response lag due to disk i/o was evident, particularly at boot and during resource intensive activities – e.g. virus scans etc.
I had all the administrative privileges and permissions to configure the device to my preferences, e.g. personal preference on browser, and use of preferred PKM tool. (products that will have been mentioned elsewhere in this blog).
So what was the main reason to move to a MBP?  Primarily because I have a need to run a local lab environment on my machine, consisting of a number of virtual machines. The Apple Macbook Pro, in terms of specification and OS performance tuning, provides the best combination of high specification device with a highly optimised OS to enable the machine to perform this type of workload, without causing any significant performance lag. Certainly with 16Gb of RAM and 500 GB SSD the machine is by far the highest spec. device I’ve used.
I seem to have approximately the same level of administrative privileges and permissions in respect to device configuration. So after a few days to a week I was being to feel pretty settled with the device.
The main user experience switch for me has been, from mouse to trackpad.  While the Lenovo laptop did have a trackpad, I did prefer the mouse or mouse nipple control on the device, the trackpad never quite delivering the variety and dexterity of control that the mouse provided.  In contrast the MBP trackpad is a much more sophisticated, providing a range of multi-touch control gestures, which have superseded the mouse (of course multi-touch trackpad, capability is now common across many modern devices).  I quickly adapted to using a regular set of keyboard shortcuts and trackpad gestures to move around and manipulate the MBP.  Having said that, the lack of consistent and adequate application window menu control has been a surprise and slight disappointment. Within Microsoft Windows, the minimise, return to previous size and maximise window is an universal constant, and in Windows 7, the double click on the menu bar, and snap to resize the window on the desktop were very useful productivity shortcuts.   Mac OS X has some almost equivalent features, but unfortunately they are not quite so useful or consistently implemented.  Which is something I find strange after all the ‘uniformity’ and ‘conformity’ that is frequently mentioned in Apple marketing materials.
In Mac OS X there is a keyboard function and window menu function to minimise a window to the task bar (cmd+m). Unfortunately there’s no ‘return to previous state/size’ as a keyboard function, you have to open the task bar and click on the application window, even when the application is in focus (e.g alt+tab). The maximise window (maximise in its own desktop) – is a very useful function.  It is frequently (cmd+shift+f) or (cmd+crtl+f) and the same to return to the previous state. But not all applications acknowledge these keyboard commands.  Some don’t acknowledge either the minimise or maximise commands, some respond with an alternative response, or have bespoke or application-specific set of keyboard controls.
This inconsistency is frustrating and depletes the whole user experience, as such is as familiar to me as my experience using Microsoft Windows.
So after having the opportunity to try and use both operating systems for a work context, that I remain ambivalent on which is my preferred operating system.
This switch has not turned into any moment of revelation, or any dramatic ‘new dawn’. Only the cliched realisation that all things are a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and the most flexible and adaptable element in the mix is the human component and its faculty to adjust and temper the tools available the personal preferences and needs of the task in hand.

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Integrating the Experience across Desktop and Mobile with Pushbullet

I recall that Pushbullet appeared on my recommended apps in Google Play for a while. 

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Now that I’ve had it installed on my mobile and in the Chrome Browser, I wish I had done it sooner.

What does Pushbullet do?

Pushbullet does a number of remarkably simple things really well to generate a more unified experience across Desktop and Mobile.

When the desktop | tablet device & mobile are connected via Internet access (not necessarily the same Wireless access point)

  • Mobile App Notification are Pushed to the desktop (via browser or desktop app)
    • Send and receive SMS messages via desktop | browser UI
  • Share | Transfer files between Mobile | Desktop devices

For example, we are now all fairly familiar with some multi-factor authentication techniques that involve delivering a temporary code to a mobile handset, which then needs to be entered into a validation field on a web page.   While not terribly arduous it does mean accessing two devices and a couple of screen to ‘port’ that code between the mobile and the web page.

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So where Pushbullet makes it so much more easy, you receive the same message in a notification box on your desktop, making it very simple to copy the code and verify it, on a single screen – almost side by side if you wish.

The Unification of Communication through Pushbullet – considering it is a browser extension is quite tremendous.   It almost rivals some Enterprise UCC services for features and seems rather more transferable across devices.  For example:

  • You receive SMS messages that you can also send back a reply
  • Create SMS message direct from the browser 
  • You get notification of a call connection, with the contact details displayed if available from your contacts list. 

Moving files and images from a mobile has normally involved USB cable direct connections, though of course there are several file sync services that offer a holistic synchronisation service (those are normally orientated around the Mobile to Cloud pathway).  Pushbullet allows you to quickly grab an image or a file and Push it across very rapidly – great for receipt images etc.

It also enables you to

Have you tried Pushbullet ?

If so what do you like or enjoy about it? 

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How Google is Useful

Recently I blogged about Orientating around Android Devices.   While I did mention the use of applications and services in that post, I didn’t call out any in particular.

However, this screen shot, demonstrates one really useful service, I have become increasingly fond of and reliant upon.

That service is Google Now

Screenshot_2014-07-31-13-25-05

As a reasonably frequent traveller the information provided is succinct, timely and ultimately useful in assisting me plan, and schedule my actions.

As it covers a number of topics, including sport, useful local information, etc, and it is available on the desktop too – it is a pervasive, multi-device digital assistance.

Certainly in terms ecosystem and service, lock-in and increasing consumer dependency, I think Google Now, leads the field.

What do you think?

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Orientating around Android devices

 

At the start of May I received a replacement for my broken Blackberry 9300 Curve.  I am very glad to say it wasn’t another Blackberry, instead I received a Sony Xperia M – a reasonably modern Android phone running Android 4.3.

Moving to an Android based phone, has been a boon for me as it will nicely compliment my Nexus 7 tablet.  In fact the commonality of Google and Android is the basis for an almost complete repetition and synchronicity of many of the applications and services I use.  I still use a Windows operating system on my laptop, but is not a conflicting factor, as many applications and services are also accessible via the Google Chrome browser.

While of course the Microsoft Windows desktop operating system is still very dominant in terms of usage in the laptop | desktop space and more so with Windows Surface tablets.  Having such good quality access to applications and services  on two Android form factors (phone and tablet), has made me question the necessity of remaining on Windows as the operating system of choice for the laptop device.

Already core Windows Office suite applications and services (Outlook | MS Word, Excel) etc. are already or being made more tablet or browser compatible.  Think of the Office 365 service, and the Office Web Apps functionality, so further diminishing the requirement to have an actual application installed onto a Windows operating system as a necessity.

While most enterprises can’t consider abandoning Microsoft Windows as a device platform altogether, I think the personal consumer and many SME/ SMBs could strongly consider the possibility of an entirely Android (and here I stretch the term a little to include Google Chromebooks) based device eco-system.   Google Chromebooks are now a maturing and full featured alternative to the Microsoft Windows based device. 

Of course Apple also offer a very compelling set of devices, coupled to a very well integrated operating system and application set.  So both Google and Apple offer opportunities upon which to orientate or consolidate on to bring more common device harmony into a business.  We should not discount the option to consider a more explicit Linux based desktop system, such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint etc.,  though having tried them for a while, I believe they will always remain a more niche player in the desktop | laptop space, especially with such dominant competition from Apple, Google and Microsoft.

This brings in a further opportunity to consider moving away from device centric applications and data,  and how the virtual desktop (VDI) and application virtualisation options also need to be considered along side the choice of device eco-system.  

Other aspects to factor into these considerations include

  • Data and content storage and delivery – will this all be cloud based – e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft O365 – or are there other factors to be considered?
  • Do certain use cases necessitate the use of a local application and data set?  (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project)
  • Device management strategy – patching and updates – how will they be managed and delivered

Having also tried a Google Chromebook, (having used one while on a holiday break),  I can see how it could easily cater for 85% of the work and processes and I engage with as an Information | Knowledge worker.  Only that I need to work with and build fairly complex spreadsheets (using Microsoft Excel) is keeping a Windows based operating system as a necessity.  I do also wonder how well a device such as Google Chromebook caters for multimedia activities consumers need around managing and connecting with peripheral devices like cameras and editing videos etc.

More and more frequently I’ve seen the Apple Macbook Pro (or the Osx UI – via web meetings) appearing, and presume those users are benefitting from a harmonised device experience between the Apple Mac and their iphone device. 

Of course Microsoft also offer their Windows Phone based devices, which also offer a similar integrated operating system and application set.  However, the application ecosystem for Windows Phone devices, doesn’t offer the same breadth of application support and availability that Apple and Android devices users have at their disposal.  Which for me is a detractor for opting to orientate around a complete Microsoft Windows device ecosystem.  Though in terms of UI design and strategy, I think both Apple, Google and Microsoft offer are continuing to recognise the need for distinct and yet harmonious and cohesive UI across all their device form factors.

As both device manufacturers and application developers, build services that accumulate pertinent personal data sets (photos & videos, music collections & playlists, quantitative data (location & travel, health & exercise metrics)), so increasing data transfer inertia or lock-in.  I think consumers will need to seriously consider which particular eco-system and device arrangement makes sense for them, as it look likes it will turn into a long term affair, and with not insignificant hurdles to overcome to move or transfer across manufacturers.

  • Do you share this view?
  • Have you already made a considered choice around a particular device set or eco-system? 
  • What were the determining factors for you?   

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Visual Magic with Word Lens

Google recently acquired Quest Visual – the developers of Word Lens – the incredible language manipulating app, that translated language in real-time while using input from the mobile device’s camera.

Word Lens

The app is currently available for free via Google Play.

To see how amazing it is – have a look at the video

It is currently available for Andriod, iOS and even Google Glass

For any traveller or language enthusiast this has a must have app.

And for Google  this plays very nicely into the Language and Translation service portfolio e.g. Google Translate

  • Have you used Word Lens?
  • What other mobile language tools would you recommend?

 

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The Humble Table of Contents & Hypermedia Navigation

A favourite topic of mine for blogging about is on tools and techniques to help personal productivity or group collaboration.  So you may wonder why mention the “Table of Contents”?

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Well since Quintus Valerius Soranus was credited with a little-recognized literary innovation: Pliny the Elder says he was the first writer to provide a table of contents to help readers navigate a long work.  The Table of Contents has been an invaluably useful tool to assist in content navigation since that introduction.  And remains an expected item to appear in any rendition of literary content whether physical or digital print form.

The advent of computer software and the Internet have brought adaptions, and automation.   Such as dynamically created TOCs in Microsoft Word or in Wikis such as Wikipedia’s (TOC info).

The core principle being the use of hypertext and hyperlinks (reference points) to form the navigation structure and format, so presenting the user with a method of navigation through the document contents.

With the advent of collaborative, content management systems, like Jive and Microsoft SharePoint,  while it is possible to render a TOC within an individual document, to navigate it’s own headings and sub-headings.

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What I find is actually lacking is an automated or dynamic inventory of the content of space, e.g. the actual records or documents that exist within that same.   At this point in time I’m not aware of either existing in the named example of content management systems I’ve given above.  I would be interested to hear of system that supports such a service.

I do create these myself, as a way of recording a breadcrumb trail, to be a record for my own use, and feel it does serve in ease my own navigation around self-service content libraries or document repositories.

It serves me well to store contextual material around such artefacts and I have benefitted from productivity gains by easily finding the article and context around is origin or purpose for storage, long after it has passed from my activity memory.

These manual document TOCs are part of Personal Knowledge Management kit bag.

Here’s an example I call “Key Links”

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I was slow to realise that Evernote has a “note link” functionality, and again these can be constructed and utilised as a manner to navigate and move between notes.

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See this help note “How to use note links to connect between notes” to understand how to create and set these up.

As it says:

One of the coolest things you can do with Note Links is create a Table of Contents for a set of notes inside of a notebook. This is particularly useful if you are sharing a notebook with other individuals.

And the Evernote Blog article:

Quick Tip: How to Use Note Links

Here is a youtube describing the functionality.

Evernote Note Links

My recommendation is always add a link back to the TOC document you have created, so you have the ability to go and return via hyperlinks with equal ease, there is no point linking somewhere and ending up stranded.

Like this:

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Do you use TOCs in this manner, in Evernote or elsewhere? 

Have you found an automation tool to do this?

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