Home Office Ergonomics

When UMBC abruptly switched to full-time telecommuting back in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, I had to make some adjustments to my home office setup. Prior to then, I never telecommuted, and our basement home office sat mostly unused. Our printer is there, and I used to have a desktop Linux server there as well, but I now use a laptop for most all of my computing needs at home, so I got rid of the computer in favor of a Raspberry Pi to run the printer and a couple of other things.

As I settled in to the new routine, I slowly morphed my home office into something that worked well for me ergonomically. I brought my iMac home from work, as well as a Varidesk to give me a sit/stand option. Several months later, I bought a Lifespan under-desk treadmill, which necessitated some additional changes. I had to prop the Varidesk up on 2x4s, because it didn’t have quite enough extension to account for the treadmill’s extra height. I also bought a Kinesys Freestyle 2 split keyboard so that I could get my hands a little farther apart, as it felt unsteady typing on a standard keyboard while walking. This setup served me pretty well for quite awhile.

This spring, we got word that we could finally return to the office. Starting in July, I’ll be splitting my time about 50/50 between home and office. That means I need to get an ergonomic work environment set up in both locations, which means more changes. I’ll be taking the Varidesk back to the office, so I needed another sit/stand solution so that I could continue to work on the treadmill at home. I thought about purchasing an identical Varidesk, but quite frankly, with Varidesk, you pay a lot for the name. There are other products out there that are just as good quality for less money. Also, I wondered if maybe I could find something that wouldn’t require 2x4s to get it up to the proper height.

To make a long story short, I ended up buying a Flexispot M3. While the quality is by-and-large the same as the Varidesk, the Flexispot is built differently. It uses an ‘X’ shaped lifter system, vs the ‘Z’ lifter on the Varidesk. While the Varidesk surface moves toward you as you raise it, the Flexispot moves straight up and down. It seems a little bit more stable when fully extended, and perhaps more importantly, goes up a couple of inches higher, which means no more 2x4s.

The Flexispot has a larger top desk surface than the Varidesk, but a smaller keyboard tray. The keyboard tray also sits a little bit lower relative to the upper surface. The Varidesk’s tray was at about the perfect height for me, so I was a little bit worried that the Flexispot’s might be too low. I was also concerned that I might not have enough room for my mouse. The only way to find out is to try it, though, so I went ahead and set everything up and started my usual walk-and-work routine.

It turns out that my keyboard height concerns were well-founded. With the Flexispot fully raised, my screen was at the perfect height, but the keyboard felt too low. Surprisingly, though, in spite of the minimal space (there isn’t even enough surface for a standard sized mouse pad), I’ve had no problems using my Apple Magic Mouse. It turns out that the Magic Mouse only needs about an inch to inch-and-a-half in all directions to be fully usable. I’m able to work effectively with it, and have never had the issue where I run out of real estate and have to reposition the mouse.

I played around with the keyboard height for a little while, propping it up on 2x4s, loose-leaf binders, and whatever else I had on hand, just trying to figure out what would work. None of these MacGyver-esque hacks really worked all that well. When I tried to raise the keyboard up, I found that I lacked space to rest my palms, and also couldn’t see the top row of function keys, because they were hidden by the upper part of the desk. Eventually, I bought the VIP3 tenting accessory for my Kinesys keyboard. It includes integrated palm rests, as well as risers that raise the center edges of the keyboard halves, allowing for a more ergonomic wrist position. That got the keyboard up to a height where it felt comfortable to type. Also, the palm rests allowed me to slide the keyboard toward me far enough so that I could see the top row of keys.

This setup seems to work pretty well, but I’m at the top of the Flexispot’s height range, and to be honest, the keyboard still feels a tiny bit low when I wear shoes. Down the road, I may yet need to shim the desk up a little bit to get things perfect, but I’m going to try it this way for awhile before making further adjustments. Overall, I am happy with the Flexispot M3, but do kind of wish the keyboard tray height could be adjusted, as it would eliminate this one issue.

I’m sure I’ll be writing about this some more once I’m back at the office and settling into my new routine.


Farewell Brood X

I’m trying to remember to write down my observances of this year’s Brood X cicada emergence, so that I have some data points to refer back to when the next wave shows up in another 17 years. I don’t have a single photo or note from 2004, which is somewhat unfortunate, but my priorities were elsewhere back then. I guess that’s yet another neat thing about periodical cicadas — they provide reference points for different stages of life. Anyhow, this year’s crop is really winding down. Yesterday, I took a 5 mile walk. Most of the cicadas I saw on the ground were dead, although there were a few live ones here and there. The chorus in the trees is trailing off. Today was cool and rainy, and there was no real sign of them at all. So… for posterity: in our area, things kicked off around May 20, peaked around June 7, and wrapped up around June 21-22. Goodbye, Brood X. Hope to see you again in 2038, and maybe a few of you in 2025 and 2034.

Biking Pool


Summer is definitely here. Yesterday, we got in the pool for the first time this season. It was a bit later than we usually do, but it took a long time for the water to warm up this year. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, our pool got a LOT of use. I think I got in the pool more times last year than the previous 10 years combined. I used it quite a bit for exercise. Our pool is 40′ long, and it’s possible to swim laps in it, but you have to stop frequently to turn around. It wasn’t until last year, when we acquired a swim tether, that I really started swimming a lot. Swimming with a tether is akin to walking on a treadmill. You don’t go anywhere, but you can swim forever, and I now feel like I’m getting real exercise rather than constantly having to stop to turn around. I’m hoping to keep up the regular swimming this season.

I get the feeling that we are near the peak of this year’s Brood X cicada emergence. They are everywhere, and I’ve been spending a lot of time fishing them out of our pool. Unlike some other insects, periodical cicadas seem to be completely helpless once they hit the water. They can survive awhile in the water, but they can’t get out on their own. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve rescued. Once you get them out, though, they seem no worse for the wear. They really are fascinating creatures. If all goes according to the grand plan, we’ll be out of this house before the next emergence in 2038, so this will be the last year I have to fish them out of the pool.

I went out on the mountain bike this morning. Last year was my first exposure to summer mountain biking in a very long time, and I forgot how much more I sweat on a MTB than when biking on the road. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the activity — it requires a lot of short bursts of exertion, the speeds are slower (meaning there’s less cooling from air movement) and sometimes I have to get off the bike and push for short distances. All of that adds up to a LOT of sweating on hot, humid days, and last year, I quickly learned that a single water bottle was not sufficient to keep me hydrated through a 2-hour mountain bike ride. Also, when riding technical single track, it’s a lot harder to find opportunities to grab the water bottle and drink. Put those together, and I found myself getting dehydrated and running out of energy frequently. This year, I decided to start using my Osprey hydration pack in lieu of a water bottle, and it has been a clear winner. I can drink whenever I want, even through technical sections of trail, and I find myself drinking much more often and staying hydrated, and I can complete a 2-hour ride without pooping out and with plenty of energy to spare afterwards. Today, with temperatures in the mid-70s and the dewpoint hovering just under 70, I rode for 2 hours and went through 2.5 liters of water.