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Standing Desk – Week 8

March 15, 2011

I thought I’d post an update on the standing desk experiment now that I’m in week 8. I’m a full convert at this point and don’t plan to go back.

First, the pros –

  1. Burning somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 calories per hour. This adds up quickly and is more than I initially thought. One of the first things I noticed after making the switch is how much hungrier I am when I get off work.
  2. Weird looks from coworkers, especially in week 1.
  3. Feel more productive and focused on tasks. It’s likely a product of being in a more active position. That and I think better standing up.
  4. Freedom to pace around, which also burns calories.
  5. Feel less glued to my desk than before. It’s faster and more convenient to walk down the hall for things.
  6. Extra desk space underneath the lectern part of the desk.
  7. Cheap to make the switch. You only need an extra 14″ of height, and I rigged mine out of spare materials lying around the office. Having a slight tilt to the raised desktop is key.
  8. Easier to collaborate with others in the room. The monitor is at everyone’s eye level, and no one has to lean over to see.
  9. Improved posture. I slouch when I sit. I also slouch when I stand, but standing all day has improved it a bit.
  10. Office chair now used for things like my laptop case, hat, and coat.

A few cons –

  1. Uncomfortable shoes are more noticeable, and my Dr. Scholl’s gel inserts were money well spent. A couple of female colleagues have pointed out that standing desks won’t work so well if you wear heels.
  2. Tiring at first if you’re used to 40 hours a week sitting, but I got used to it by week 2.
  3. Harder to hold the phone receiver with my shoulder while I’m typing. I find myself sitting to take phone calls.
  4. Need a better champion for the cause than Don Rumsfeld.
  5. Many things in my office like my desk drawers and the giant file bin next to my desk were designed specifically for seated access.
  6. My raised desktop isn’t that large, so not as convenient when I have to hand write notes. Who hand writes notes at this point, though?

IdeaRobber’s been a little sparse lately and will continue to be until I’m out of thesis world in May. Looking forward to picking up the writing pace this summer. Thanks for reading.

Francis Ford Coppola on emulating the masters

January 30, 2011

Some perspective from Francis Ford Coppola in an interview for 99%:

Is it important to veer away from the masters to develop one’s own style?

I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep, he said, “I was so happy when this young person took from me.” Because that’s what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.

And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

Standing Desk Experiment – Day Two

January 20, 2011

I’ve been wanting to try a standing desk for a while now.  There’s a good bit of research out there on the health risks of sitting.  Our culture is growing increasingly sedentary, and I’m one of those people who works a desk job and then goes home to my other computer desk or to the couch.  A blog post this week by Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani spurred me to improvise a standing desk using things I found around the office.  The height difference between a sitting desk and a standing desk is really just the length from your knee to your hip, which in my case was about 14 inches.

I’m halfway through day two, and I can already tell a big difference.  I’m finding myself constantly shifting my weight from one leg to the other.  It may not burn many calories, but over the course of 40 hours a week and 2,000 a year, it adds up.  I tilted my keyboard platform forward like I’m standing at a lectern, which I’ve found is much more comfortable for typing.  As far as adjusting to working while standing, I’ve always been a pacer, so I really don’t mind ditching my chair.

Here are some pictures of my new setup:

The top of the monitor is right at eye level, and the keyboard and mouse are at a height where my elbows can just hang naturally.

I found the keyboard platform in a storage closet.  The two towers are actually Sharper Image personal heater/air conditioners that we bought back when the office was having AC problems, but they haven’t been used in a while.  Gaining some extra shelf space for books was a nice bonus.

The mouse platform is an old file bin that I turned on its end, and I used a binder clip to attach it to the platform for added stability.  My phone fit perfectly underneath.

Here’s the view from the side.  The monitor is sitting on a file container with a couple of reams of paper on top.  The keyboard platform had a 1″ backstop on it already, which worked perfectly to give it a slight tilt forward.

Check out that Lifehacker post for images of other standing desk setups.

Give Pujols an Ownership Stake

January 16, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals fans are a little more nervous this year than usual as Albert Pujols enters the final year of his 8-year, $111M contract.  Pujols has arguably been the most productive player in baseball over that 8-year period.  Since signing his last contract extension, which as of this writing narrowly cracks the top-25 in baseball history, his accomplishments include a World Series title, 3 NL MVPs, 2 gold gloves, and All-Star appearances in every year.

The Pujols talks have some similarities to the recent Derek Jeter extension in that both players have value to their organizations extending well beyond on-the-field statistics.  Pujols had the third best-selling jersey of 2009 according to MLB (Jeter was #1).  In 2010, Sports Business Daily rated Pujols as baseball’s 2nd most marketable player, just behind Jeter.  As the face of the Cardinals franchise, it’s more difficult to put a dollar value on things like Pujols’ impact on season ticket sales, but the impact is there.

What separates Pujols and Jeter is the difference between valuating a career at its peak versus one in decline.  The Yankees were looking more at Jeter’s value as a brand, and the decision to extend his contract had more to do with his value as a leader and as an icon than it did with his hitting.  At the age of 31, Pujols is in the prime of his career and likely has many more years of high production left.

One approach to retaining Pujols would be to include a percentage ownership stake in the team.  Like Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith before him, Pujols is an icon of the city.  A stake in the team would provide him with income and influence well beyond his playing career.  While the other baseball owners would likely hate this precedent, it would be immensely popular with fans.

Part of the societal appeal of sports is that they are much closer to true meritocracies than what we see in the business world.  Athletes can’t buy homeruns or a higher batting average, and regardless of whether someone is born into wealth or poverty, success is primarily a measure of performance on the field.  Pujols’ value extends beyond his numbers, and his contract should be designed with that understanding.  If Pujols were a top-performing attorney or a corporate vice president, making him a partner would be a sensible next step.  Why should it be any different in baseball?

Is plagiarism really an epidemic?

November 9, 2010

One major concern about the mass volume of material available online is that students are more likely than ever to cheat and plagiarize.  Plagiarism is often described as a growing problem or an epidemic.  There is some cause for alarm.  Besides simple copy-pasting from websites and articles, there is also a booming industry of essay mills like echeat.com where students can purchase papers for “collaborative” purposes.  There is also a common and troubling misconception that everything published on the web is free to use and republish, an issue that came back to bite the editor of a Massachusetts magazine called Cooks Source last week.

I’m unconvinced that plagiarism is an epidemic partly because the data cited tend to be enforcement numbers.   An increase in enforcement isn’t evidence of a change in the number of infractions.  This is the same fallacy the DEA often uses, citing the number of drug arrests as evidence that drug use is on the rise.  Survey data of students are arguably a better metric for instances of plagiarism as opposed to data from teacher surveys, which the British Association of Teachers and Lecturers used in 2008.   Teachers have a strong bias around plagiarism numbers because of the increase in enforcement and the greater availability of tools to catch plagiarists, including sites like WriteCheck.com or simple Google search verification of suspicious passages in student assignments.  Catching a plagiarist was considerably more labor-intensive before the Internet, so it makes sense that teachers were more likely to let suspicious passages slide rather than do the many hours of library digging it could take to confirm a suspicion.

Another factor to consider is that while students have more tools to enable plagiarism, their incentives to cheat are arguably lower than they were before the Internet.  The potential gain must be weighed against the risk and consequences of getting caught.  Napster, for example, allowed people to easily download the equivalent of thousands of dollars worth of music purchases with little or no risk of repercussions.  When combined with the general social acceptance of file-sharing, it’s  no wonder the site took off in popularity.  “Epidemic” is a fair label for file-sharing, especially as it was practiced in the early 2000s.  The incentives for plagiarists just don’t line up as well.  A one-second Google search by an instructor is often all it takes to catch an offender, and the punitive measures are serious – often an automatic F for a course or even expulsion.

As for the essay mills, Dan Ariely conducted an informal study with another Duke professor where they ordered 12-15 page research papers on the topic of cheating from four different sites at a cost of $150-216 per paper.   All four papers they received were chock full of citation errors and incoherent sentences.  None would have received a passing grade in a university course, and two of the four were 35-39% copied from other works according to WriteCheck.com.  Ariely requested a refund from the two essay mills at fault, which he didn’t get.

As of this writing, anyway, teachers have a considerable upper-hand.

Beach Boys are not suing Katy Perry

August 8, 2010

Media outlets are getting overly excited about the legal posturing between Rondor Music and Capital Records over similarities between Katy Perry’s song, “California Gurls,” and the Beach Boys’ correctly spelled classic by the same name.  The Beach Boys’ label, Rondor, filed a “diminutive claim” against Perry’s label, seeking royalties and credit.  A couple of top headlines from a Google News search:

“Beach Boys threaten Katy Perry over ‘California Gurls’? No lawsuit Just Yet.”CBS News

“Beach Boys versus ‘California Gurls’ in Court?”Time

It’s a good rule of thumb is to be skeptical of every news story containing a question mark in the headline, a deceptive technique Jon Stewart once dubbed “The Cavuto” after it’s serial use by Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto.

Example of "The Cavuto"

It’s troubling that media outlets would imply that the Beach Boys themselves are up in arms over Perry’s song.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Beach Boys have been vocal in distancing themselves from the spat.  A spokesman for Mike Love said that any action was entirely up to Rondor, and both Love and Brian Wilson have said that they like Perry’s record.

As to the substance of the complaint, no one with a functional set of ears could confuse the two songs for one another.  According to Rondor, Snoop Dogg’s single utterance of the line “I really wish you all could be California girls” constitutes copyright infringement.  Here are the two songs in question.  What do you think?  Does Rondor have a point?

Beach Boys – California Girls

Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg – California Gurls

Copying is not Theft

July 30, 2010

A one-minute video from questioncopyright.org.  Arrangement by Nik Phelps. Vocals by Connie Champagne. Animation and song by Nina Paley.

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