Tag Archives: Lifehacks

Grinding Calories: Standing Desks, Treadmills, and WoW

I’ve mentioned a few times that I mine while walking on a treadmill. I grind out ore and volatiles (my DK is a Engineer/Miner, thank you, Electrostatic Condenser) in Warcraft while also grinding out serotonin and calories IRL. It takes a little bit of work to set up, but once you get your workspace arranged properly it’s easy to turn farming into an authentically healthy activity.

I’m not really big on spending a lot of time gathering in WoW, even though there have been times during Cataclysm that it’s been really profitable (especially early on, when raw mats were so expensive.) I enjoy gathering professions while leveling, but that’s because I gather while I’m doing something else – leveling – and not just going out and spending hours chasing yellow nodes.

(Coincidentally, I really start to struggle with keeping my professions up when I start hitting PvP and LFD for leveling in the mid 50s. I don’t really quest through Outland or Northrend.)

I’m also not really a big fan of just walking on a treadmill. At the very least, I need some music to keep me going. I really prefer going outside for a walk, but I have the treadmill because there are lots of times when I just can’t get out for a walk – too hot, too sunny, need to be near the computer for work, etc. – so I figured I’d try setting up my treadmill so I could use my computer, and see how it all worked.

Other WoW players before me figured out a long time ago that these two activities can go well together. So, I thought, hey, let’s give it a try.

Let’s take a look at my setup.

STAND IN THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE (NOW FACE LEFT)

Before we talk about the treadmill, let me talk about my desk first. I work at a standing desk. A few months ago, I switched from sitting on an exercise ball to a standing desk. There are numerous health benefits to standing instead of sitting all day long, and as someone who is susceptible to both back problems and cardiovascular disease I decided to give it a try.

I love standing while I work. My back is better, I’m more alert throughout the day, and I move around a lot more. My biggest challenge has been learning to wear shoes again – I worked barefoot for many years before this – and that’s not been that bad. (I may still get an anti-fatigue mat, because even though I’m through those brutal first few days of standing, there are still days where I get tired of it.)

I’m not trying to convince people of the merits of a standing desk here, though, but rather to point out that because my monitor is at eye level already. Getting the monitor up to your eye level is the biggest problem you’ll have with playing WoW on a treadmill. Before I had the standing desk, I mounted a smaller monitor on the wall with a VESA swing-arm mount and put the laptop on the floor. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. (You could put a small compact-footprint computer on the wall and use that with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or run a long monitor cable to your existing computer with a KVM switch – lots of options here.

The desk is essentially a buildup resting on top of my normal desk. It’s made out of 4×1 pine boards that my son and father-in-law put together in his workshop. I work on the black MacBook, which is connected to both the large monitor and various virtual machines (including one below, in the desk). The monitor hutch serves to both put the monitor at eye level and clean up cable clutter around the laptop. The large open panels down below are for electronic device storage; I have a Time Capsule under there, and will probably be moving more hard drives down there once I get my act together.

The key here was to experiment with the heights of the various components before setting in on a design. My first iteration of this desk was done with bankers boxes, shelves, and a laptop box for the monitor. The bankers boxes were cheap and surprisingly sturdy, but I could have used plastic milk crates or book boxes stuffed with newsprint to hold the shelf up. I added and subtracted until I got a feel for what was a decent height, then I measured where an ergonomic placement of the keyboard should be.

For me, it was 12.5″ above the desk surface while standing. I’m 6′ tall with long arms; your mileage will no doubt vary.

The design is really simple – two boards across, one board high, a support in the middle, a backing piece with cable cutouts – but getting the monitor up is the most important thing for this exercise.

Now, let’s talk about the treadmill.

RUNNING TO STAND STILL

Above, you can see what the setup looks like with the treadmill deployed. I use a manual treadmill (something like this one) that is powered by walking – no electricity. That’s both good – because it’s much, much cheaper than an electric one – and bad, because it’s a bit noisier, and I end up stacking reams of paper underneath the bottom to change the angle to make it easy to maintain a slow walk. (Yes, as I print out documents I have to walk harder while mining.)  I got mine for about $175, and I don’t have any major complaints yet.

The treadmill raises you up several inches off the ground, so if your monitor was at eye level while standing, it’ll be slightly below eye level when you get up on the ramp to walk. My trick was to put my monitor slightly higher than eye level while standing to help correct my slouchy posture, which works out well with the treadmill. If you’re mounting it on the wall you’ll want to measure from the treadmill height, not from the floor. (And wear your shoes, too!)

I bolted a platform desk onto the handle bars of the treadmill. This is a piece of MDF with some U-brackets holding it steady on the bars by going around the foam and steel pipe. These brackets are normally used in plumbing, but they had the angle I wanted, so, whatever. I then covered the MDF with black webbed kitchen shelf liner to provide a solid grip for my keyboard and mousepad.

This entire contraption can then be moved in place to where I normally stand in front of the computer, providing a higher platform over the normal desk area, where my laptop sits. This is necessary because the normal desk is too low, since I’m now standing 5″ higher!

This kind of setup can work no matter if you’ve standing or sitting – as long as you can get some kind of platform bolted on to the treadmill, you can put your keyboard and mouse on it.

And once you have your keyboard and mouse on it, you can play WoW while walking.

FINAL ADJUSTMENTS

So here’s the thing. When I first put the platform on the treadmill, I didn’t realize how low it would be. The handlebars are generally made for you to grab with your arms down somewhat, while typing you want your forearms to be almost perpendicular to the ground. So when I put my laptop or keyboard on it, it’s really awkward to use while standing still, let alone while moving.

So I, uh, improvised to get them a little higher.

(I’ll settle on a height I like eventually. For now, LotR and a tissue box will have to serve.)

Walking while controlling a character in WoW is challenging. I don’t think I should do any activity involving other players while doing it – grinding honor in BGs is right out. You have to make adjustments to your actions to accommodate the balance issues you’re going to have. Your reactions will be slowed a bit, and it takes you very much out of the walking zone. So I personally stick to mining or herbing while doing it.

I exercise not to lose weight, but for mood control. I have found that it’s one of the few things that can reliably improve my outlook, settle my nerves, relieve stress, and help keep me positive. While this setup has taken a bit of time and effort to put together, I’m glad that I can now go take a walk without ever leaving my desk. Walking regularly is important to me.

And I have a lot of Engineers to level, so mining is pretty important to me in WoW, too. :)

Enjoy the walk!

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From Warcraft to Outlook: The Razer Naga as a Productivity Tool

I received the Razer Naga gaming mouse over the holidays, and it’s a sweet mouse. With 12 buttons on the thumb rest and 5 on the top, there’s a lot of ways that you can use your Naga in WoW to help improve your play.

But I’m not going to talk about Warcraft very much today. Mostly because I’m still wildly experimenting with how to best use it in game, but also because the Naga has a lot of applications outside of Warcraft which make it a really interesting input tool. The efficiencies you get while gaming translate directly to other computing tasks… like answering email.

Yes. Email. Outlook, Mail.app, even Lotus Notes – whatever you use, the Naga is here to help you out.

I spend a lot of my professional life dealing with email. I get a lot of it (200-300 emails a day) and have to triage it quickly. I follow a lot of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero principles, where you don’t try to manage your work life through your Inbox. Emails either prompt an action from you, or they do not, but whatever you do, don’t keep them hanging around as reminders.

(I really recommend his original video and some of his follow-up posts on 43 Folders. It can really change your relationship with your email. Yes, you have a relationship with it.)

So here’s how my email life is set up.

  1. The Inbox is for deleting. Once the email has been read and the task captured (and, hopefully, the response written on the spot), the email should be deleted. An empty inbox is the goal.
  2. I delete instead of filing for several reasons. Deleting is faster than filing in nearly every interface I’ve worked in – one button and done. I don’t even try to categorize emails, because I use global searches instead. It’s easier to search a single folder in Outlook 2007 than many folders. I don’t want to have to remember where I put something. Where is it? It’s in the Sent folder. Always.
  3. All of my email – inbound and outbound – is saved in my Sent folder. I do this through an Outlook rule that puts a copy of all inbound email into my Sent folder. My outbound mail gets saved there anyways, so everything is in one place.
  4. I do keep a few folders around for saving copies of emails that shouldn’t get archived. Two, actually – Reference and Good Job – but things go in there rarely so I don’t feel the need to automate them.

So the tasks that I need to automate with my Naga are relatively straightforward.

  1. Delete email with one click.
  2. Reply to email with one click.  Reply to All and Forward are special cases of this one.
  3. Copy, Paste.
  4. Close windows when I’m done with them.

But I don’t want to assign these features everywhere, just my email applications! I especially don’t want to bind keys that are used in Warcraft to Outlook!

The Naga handles this with ease. The key is in Razer’s application-specific profiles.  Each application can have a unique configuration on the Naga, which lets you assign specific keys for just that application.

Here’s the Mac version of the Profiles preference pane; the Windows version is functionally similar, but much more… green. I’ve set up two separate applications here, in addition to the default.

  • Remote Desktop is for when I am working on my Windows machine. I work from my Mac remotely into my WinXP machine, so the “application” that is running is RDC. If you’re running natively, select your mail program of choice here. (Entourage, Outlook, etc.).
  • Warcraft is for WoW, of course.  I made a separate profile so I could change keybinds without fear of modifying the default behavior.

You’ll notice that I have Auto-Switch on for these two profiles. This means that if I am working in one application and switch to an app with a different profile, the Naga will switch automatically. So when I’ve got RDC going with Outlook and I switch back to the OS X Finder or Safari, my keybinds revert.

Let’s look at those keybinds.

I had to experiment a bit with this, but the best way to pass keys through Remote Desktop is using macros. A macro is a series of keystrokes you record with the Razer software, like so:

See that Record button at the bottom? Press that, execute the keystrokes, and then press stop. You can modify the delay as desired.

I made the following simple macros:

  • Delete – Ctrl-D
  • Reply – Ctrl-R
  • Reply to All – Ctrl-Shift-R
  • Copy – Ctrl-C
  • Paste – Ctrl-V
  • Close Window – Ctrl-W

and assigned them to the thumb buttons on the Naga.

And let me tell you, the experience of using the Naga to control Outlook is great. Absolutely fantastic! I read an email and delete it without thinking about it. It sounds silly, but saving yourself from having to reach over and hit Function-Delete (which is how you do it in RDC), or even the delete key, is quite nice. I drive with one hand instead of two. Zip zip zip zip zip email’s done.

I’m experimenting with other ways to automate tasks in different applications using the Naga; post-processing photo workflow comes to mind, especially with a combination of Automator actions and keybinds. I’m really happy with it so far and am completely hooked.

Can’t wait to see what else I can automate with this strange, wonderful, black-and-blue mouse!

With 12 Keys of Automating Goodness to Choose From!

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