Reimagining the Desk – A Journey With A Stiff Neck

One of the earliest things that I had written about was my living room.   Specifically, I took a picture of my chair, my laptop, and the rest, and I then told the story of the Poang and how I tend to sit in my chair and write.   I also do more than that, all sorts of software development for fun and profit, as well as pretty much treat the thing as an office.

There’s a problem.

I originally thought that it was a Tall Guy Problem.  It’s not.  It’s simply a problem.

After reading Reddit and the Tall Subreddit where people take random selfies looking uncomfortable because the world was not engineered for someone over 6 feet tall, I came to the conclusion that Mom was Right.

My posture had become awful and my coveted chair was contributing to it all.  Back pain, stiff neck, and general achy self were some of the things I had noticed.

Yeah I know, Hey, Bill, Take Control.  Grab the Reins.

Ok, Smart Alec that lives inside my head, what do I do?

The house I live in has my desk.  The desk is in the Florida Room.  That room needs insulation and since the exposed beams warm the place to another five degrees F warmer than the rest of the house as soon as the sun starts to bake it, I had abandoned my desk almost immediately after I settled into it.

Don’t ask, it’s too warm to use.

The Ikea Poang in the middle of the living room is under a vent and a ceiling fan redirects the air conditioning so it’s comfortable.  I used to say that it was the coolest seat in the house, but I’m not so certain.

What I did was to relocate to the dining room.

I have an old 1950s or earlier solid maple table in there with matching solid wood chairs.  When Mom got this set, I took a liking to it.  I saw an opportunity when she started complaining that it didn’t do well in her kitchen in Barclay Farms, Cherry Hill, good ol’ New Jersey.  So I “helped her out” of it and it’s been with me ever since I moved into my first Philly apartment.

After waking up with a proper stiff neck that never went away and some other disturbing creaks and cracks that were getting more insistent, I tried some minor changes.  It convinced me that while this isn’t perfect, I’m onto something.

Ergonomically speaking, your eyes will track to the center of the device that you are using.  In my case it is a 16 inch wide laptop.  If I put that on my lap, it will create some problems.

The worst problem is that since I slightly recline in the Poang, the view to the laptop means that I am looking down.  In the more than 10 hours a day I am sitting there using the laptop, my head ends up with chin literally glued to my chest.  That is not a good position.  Not at all.

The laptop had to be raised off my lap and placed onto Mom’s Maple table.

Good first step.  Now, slide back… great!  But those chairs are stiff.  Nobody wants to sit on an un-padded wood Captain’s Chair for hours no matter how nice it looks.   Plus the angle is still “down”.

I slid the chair aside, moved the Poang in.

It’s much better.  My eyes are dead center on the monitor.  The picture I took from my right shoulder, while it is out of focus, is perfect for showing the view I get from the bouncy chair.

One problem.  I am an excellent touch typist.  Mrs Momarella and my good friend Donna W. from High School taught me well.

The laptop is just below shoulder height.  That doesn’t make for comfort.  In fact, I tried typing that way for all of five minutes.  My hands nearly came off at the wrist.

Seeing that I can type with my eyes closed almost as well as I can with them open, I needed something else to happen.

I pulled the captain’s chair out again and used it for a platform to set the track ball.   It’s a big clunky thing that uses up my USB port and won’t sit on the arm of the chair.  Since this is “work hour use only” no worries there, I’ll just “own” using my dining room as my office.

One more thing.  Keyboard.

My old school IBM Model M Keyboard with the clicky keys!  Lets try that first. 

Nope.  It drains too much power to use on the USB converter thing.

Digging through the Parts Cabinet, I found an old Microsoft wireless keyboard.  That is on my knees right now just inside the picture.  It works “well enough” but I still want my PS/2 Keyboard.   Once I find my powered USB hub, I know that it will drive the keyboard I really want to use. 

Too bad you can’t get those clicky keyboards with bluetooth though.   It’s 1980s technology that will work because it’s just that good.  Too well designed to toss with real mechanical switches on each key.  They weigh almost as much as the laptop does.  I have about 4 of them in the house buried under the bed because when people tossed their old PCs, the keyboards would end up at the computer shows being sold for a mint.

If 5 dollars could be considered a mint.  Now they go for between 80 and 200 US Dollars more on auction and reseller sites.

No, I won’t share.  Get your own.  Besides, I may figure something else out with my coveted clicky IBM Keyboard Model M.

Yes, I have Ideas.

For now, I have my Tall Guy Adaptation.  It really isn’t about being tall though, it’s more about looking at how you are working and making sure you are sitting at the right place to put your head when you work.  When I touch type… I can set my head back and close my eyes, like this paragraph was typed.  If your are smaller and have a shorter torso, like about 95% of humankind, you can vary the height of everything so that you can work with it at ease.  That is why most “office chairs” have those adjustments to make things more comfortable.

But Laptops?  I’m beginning to realize that they just aren’t meant to live on your lap for 10 hours at a stretch.

Besides, if you do, these days, you will end up toasting your legs.  I’ll leave Mom’s Table to handle that for me.  I’m nice and cool listening to music on headphones, typing on my lap, and resting my head back with my eyes closed.

Yes, I can do this with my eyes closed.

Really.

Writing can be an effortless experience.   If I could only have told my 12 year old self who was bored hearing about all that in English Class in Mr Custer’s Sixth Grade Class in Stafford School on Berlin Road in Cherry Hill.

Boring as hell but useful.  Not everything can be an adventure novel after all.   Some come with a beige cover and will bore you to tears but you will use it every day of your life.

Just like that table and laptop combo.

Now oddly enough, before I wrote this up and headed on my little obsessive journey for desk nirvana, the Washington Post had written an infographic on this same subject.  I’ll make it a point to get out of my desk and chair more often, or I’ll at least try.

Since the poster is at this PDF link, it won’t fully display here.   On the other hand, I see that picture below and think… Is THIS what I put my body through?  YUCK!!!!

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