DIY work setup: A combined sitting and standing desk
I’m a sloucher with terrible posture, and I would like to keep working in my sedentary profession of a programmer for quite a while. Current research suggests that sitting all day isn’t good for you (nytimes.com). Standing all day isn’t ideal either. I’m also a passionate DIYer. So I set out and built myself a standing and sitting desk, combining the best of both worlds.
Disclaimer: I’m not studied in ergonomics, and just documenting a setup which has worked for me for about half a year now.
In essence, a standing desk is nothing more than a few stacks of books and boxes on your regular desk. There’s IKEA hacks which get you a workable solution for a couple of dollars. But they usually lock you into your choice: Standing all day. I’m using a laptop with wireless keyboard and trackpad, so wanted a setup I can easily convert into sitting position.
First of all, the desk wasn’t cheap or easy. Its beautiful, solid beech, took a day to plan, two days to cut and assemble, and two days to sand and paint. So this is something for the years to come. And its still about half the price of those size adjustable ergonomic desks.
Google Sketchup is surprisingly effective for planning furniture in 3D. Once you get over the initial freakout of not being able to work primarily based on numerical measurements, that is. It allowed me to plan the desk design and parts, but also position a virtual dummy, and fill it with to-scale models of different equipment from their 3d warehouse. I made sure that it fits both my current 15inch Macbook Pro, but also a (theoretical) 27inch iMac with an external monitor at correct eye height. You can download the model if you want to poke around a bit.
So what’s special about my desk? The fact that you can take the laptop in its holder from a standing position, and place it into a sitting position, all while retaining a correct eye height. This mainly works because both keyboard and trackpad are placed in a custom-built polystyrene holder (my instructions), which sits on my lap in sitting position, freeing up the desk for the stacked-holder combo. It also means that you’re not locked in to a certain height, since the small pedestals are much easier to replace than a solid desk plate and legs. Granted, a moveable setup doesn’t work so well if you have an external monitor or iMac. But I found that I’m perfectly happy with the screen size of a (high res) laptop. Single tasking and a good window management app like SizeUp get you a long way.
A note on posture: I found a correct line of sight to be most important: With a straight look you should meet the upper third of your screen. More than a few centimetres up or down from that will give you neck pain. Many standup desks are built to operate the keyboard with your underarms at a 90 degree angle. I’ve found that less comfortable than the downwards facing angle, but that only really works if you also angle your keyboard as shown above.
Should you go off and build a fancy desk right away? Probably not. Try if working standing fits you. Get to a comfortable height, stacking more books, taking away space under your keyboard, etc. Once you’ve got it carved out of wood, any (good looking) tweaks will get more complicated.
Apart from the “hardware”, what has really helped me was a little application forcing me into regular breaks. As a Mac user, AntiRSI is simple and effective. Relaxing your eyes and stretching helps a lot, but even just moving around works wonders (my plants are always perfectly watered!).
It’s probably too early for a recommendation, after half a year of usage (read this guy’s real-life experience report). I’m averaging about four hours standing per day, so its going well.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my amazing dad for making the desk possible (I neither possess the tools nor the skill to pull this off alone). And to my multi-talented wife for her encouraging feedback and sowing the keyboard holder.
After being inspired by a TED talk about window farms, I decided to build my own! I’ve always been a tinkerer, and like greens around me. One day I’ll have an awesome veggie garden, but for now a window farm is the best option for our small city apartment.
So why not just put plants on the window sill? Its just more space saving with a window farm, as you use less room for containers through hydroponics and efficient continuous watering. And it was as much fun to build the whole setup than to harvest fresh veggies now!
One word of caution: Its neither the cheapest way to get fresh veggies (see my shopping list), nor the most environmental friendly. There’s the building/shipping of required parts, plus the small amount of energy consumed by the pump and artificial lights during the winter. In the end, I see it as a hobby for people without easy access to a real outdoor garden :)
So here’s some nerdy details on the farm, probably most interesting to fellow window farmers:
- Water flow: Using a t-valve system. I was able to achieve constant slow bubbles through the right tube material (PVC, low “water resistance”), and valves to control the amount of air.
- Suspension: Fishing string is practically invisible, easy to work with, and surprisingly strong. But that’s only for the topmost bottles, the other ones hold up themselves through the screwed in bottlecaps.
- Reservoir: The thickest and lowest water bottles I could find (1L), as I want to maximize the height and light exposure on the window. Works as long as I’m home to refill every couple of days, need to come up with something better for longer breaks. Using about 1m of tube underneath the reservoir (mostly hidden in pictures), to have more water pressure against the t-valve, and avoid the bubbles going the wrong way. I’ve also split up this tube loop and re-connected it with an “i”-style tube connector. That allows me to easily exchange the water by letting it flow into spare bottles, and saves me from deconstructing the system, which will put too much strain on the frail tube outlets.
- Plants: Basil and Parsley works the best for me, just planted cherry tomatoes, two types of strawberries, chives, garlic chives, rucola, lettuce, and oregano.
- Lights: Using two 13W lights which are on 12h per day, so roughly 7ct energy costs per day. I’m hoping to turn them off during summer.
- Safety: The lights look close to the water sources, but are actually an completely separated suspension, with drip loops for safety. I’m not using check valves, but rather gravity: The pump is sitting higher than the water reservoir levels, ensuring that no water can reach the pump or its electricity.
- Other: Used three IKEA containers underneath the windowfarm both as a basic failsafe to catch drips and leaks, but also as easy waterproof flower pots to grow more plants in.
In the 5th arrondissement, which is my favourite quarter in Paris.
We attended a piano concert there, by candle light, in a mini church. Very atmospheric.
Cape Palliser - Viewing East from the Lighthouse
Crazy Architecture along the Great Ocean Road, Australia
Badges in Brunswick, Melbourne
Was biking back along the waterfront from a BBQ (yes, <3 welly summer!) - perfect timing for the shot
In the middle of Rimutaka National Park
A New Home
My Mephisto powered blog has been criminally neglected, and hence self-destroyed (at least that’s how I like to think about it). I’ve finally admitted that despite being a web-dev, I don’t have enough time to devote to the technical aspects of my own blog. The consequence: I’ve moved to a hosted service, Tumblr. Soon you’ll find the old content here, hopefully including the old permalinks.