What’s the deal with printers?

Posted by mitch on May 25, 2015
hardware, productivity

In 2001, Lexmark offered a PostScript USB printer for $399. No networking, but laser! For under $400!

I bought it. The printer couldn’t print straight (the paper tray was poorly designed), but it was laser! For under $400! On my desk! And it worked with lpd, which meant all of my computers could print (but not parallel to the edges of the page). Data Domain, in 2002 and 2003, actually had two of these same Lexmarks, slightly newer with some tweaks that seemed to fix the paper tray issue.

By about 2004 or 2005, Lexmark had a new personal laser printer, which I picked up for about $280. It could print straight and it was fast. Great printer.

In 2007, I moved to Boston and gave that printer away and bought a Canon all-in-one. It could scan to email or USB stick and create PDFs, photocopy, etc–it was fantastic and it was only $400 or so. Except that the fonts and text quality were quite bad, but other than that…

In 2009, I was preparing for and stressing over a set of presentations with millions of dollars on the line. I was worried about printing slides and bought a color Lexmark laser printer, I think for about $500. I printed my slides (50 pages or so) and didn’t use the printer for about 13 months. When I went to use it again, it had some internal error that apparently meant the printer was now a large boat anchor. I had kept the Canon and just kept using it.

In 2012, I had a job interview. I took my résumé printed on that Canon printer with me. I was so embarrassed at the text quality, I didn’t hand it to the interviewer. On my way home, I bought a beefy Brother color laser printer and eventually added the second paper tray and upgraded the RAM to 384 MB. The print quality for graphics was good (not great), and for text it was awesome. The Brother system cost me about $650.

The only issue with the Brother was that it often could take 2-5 minutes to warm up before printing. So if I was on the phone and wanted to print something and write down notes, the call could be well on its way by the time I got my document out of the printer. The other issue was that the Brother was a printer only and the Canon was getting long in the tooth–5 years of poor quality copies, no support for TLS-protected emails made it difficult to use for scanning–it was time to upgrade.

So I bought a monster HP color laser all-in-one with the huge extra paper tray and rolling stand. It cost about $1500 all told. When I printed a color document and compared it to the Brother, I was blown away–the HP graphics are just awesome. It can print 30 pages before the Brother wakes up to start printing 1. (No kidding!) It works with the Mac Image Capture app for both the flatbed scanner and the document feeder.

But… the HP doesn’t reliably wake from sleep over the LAN. It has issues with Chome and PDFs from time to time. The paper tray design is the opposite of what I want–it can hold 250 8.5×11 sheets and 500 8.5×14. I want 250 8.5×14 and 500 8.5×11. Seriously HP, get it together. Its 256 MB of RAM isn’t upgradeable (unreal, I couldn’t believe that). I’ve ended up stringing a USB cable across the office temporarily, since the networking doesn’t work (essentially).

During this time, due to the cost of the HP color toner, I bought a $150 Brother laser for my family to use. It’s black and white, takes up minimal space, it’s fast as heck, uses little electricity, and the text quality is better than the Canon–it’s a great little printer! I kind of want one for my office! But of course, no color, copier, or alternative paper trays.

Let’s review the issues for a device that is supposed to print:

  1. Doesn’t print straight [Lexmark #1]
  2. Poor text quality from a b&w printer [Canon]
  3. Total cost of ownership was $10/page, then required to throw away 60 lb of metal and plastic [Lexmark #2]
  4. 2-5 minutes to warm up! [Brother #1]
  5. Unreliable networking on a workgroup printer, stupid paper tray design, etc. [HP]

Is this so hard? I’ve bought 7 laser printers in the last 15 years and only 2 of them seemed to be good…and they were at the bottom of the market. It makes no sense and it’s frustrating.

My 3 Year Bookcase Project

Posted by mitch on May 20, 2015
home, productivity

Back in 2011 over the Thanksgiving break, I was playing with learning how to do things in SketchUp and drew a 3d model of a bookcase idea I had for my office. My office is in the “1/2 story” (the third floor) of my house, which means low ceilings. In my 2008 remodel, I gutted it, rewired it, vaulted the ceiling, and so on.

About 16 months later in early 2013, I drew this picture and sent it to my architect, Carl Oldenburg:


I have a lot of heavy books and wanted short spans to avoid bowing. Carl whipped up this awesome SketchUp rendering:

Haile Bookcase 2013-03-09a

Who could say no to building that? Inspired by Carl’s skills, I spent some time practicing and playing with ideas. I really wanted to know what this was going to be like:



After various distractions, we had the design finalized by December 2013:

Screenshot 2015-05-20 23.44.05

In early 2014, I got in touch with Aaron Honore, who is the most serious, hardcore, and awesome cabinetry carpenter I’ve known (and I’ve known more than one). Aaron was booked for 6 months, but I was willing to wait.

Construction finally happened in September 2014. I worked out of my workshop during this time:


In 2008, before moving into the house, many rooms were gutted, the house was rewired, etc–this is what the front wall of office looked like about 4 months after moving in:


The below picture is what it looked like by the time Aaron was done with it. I think the install took about 2 weeks, I don’t really remember–certainly Aaron took his time and made it perfect:


For such a small project, it was still quite an outlay of time and a bit of stress. But having had the bookcase now for 8 months, I have no regrets. I certainly took my time and thought it through in great detail. There’s a built-in stereo section that connects an amp to the old speaker wire drops I put in during the 2008 remodel, LED lights under the eaves and the wall lights in the ‘A’ are wonderful.

My house is small. I highly recommend built-ins for small living. You can use every bit of space, and there’s no gap between the storage and the wall, which in some cases, saved me 2-3″. By customizing the depth of built-ins to narrower-than-usual in some cases (my living room has a 10″ deep bookcase that is 14 ft long), I’ve saved an effective 5″ of space in a room. If a room is 12 ft across, that’s significant.

What’s the point of this post? Beats me. “Take your time and do it right,” perhaps.



Update: I realized after posting this that I didn’t mention some of the non-obvious features of the bookcase. Sure, you can tell from the photos there are lights and doors. For anyone thinking about doing this, here’s a few things I did that I really like:

1. The deep shelves under the eaves have glass shelf insets to let in light to the back of the lower shelf. I’ve doubled up books on the bottom shelf, and this lets me see what’s back there if my eyes are aligned with the roof angle. The light spilling out above the books below makes the space feel more open that it would if it was dark:



2. The speaker posts, Ethernet ports, and power are in the back of the lower shelves where I thought I might want audio equipment. I also ran a 50 ft TOSlink in the bookcase from one end to the other, just in case I ever wanted it. One thing I did not consider was how difficult it would be to do the wiring because the shelf is fixed and only 10″ high. Having the removable glass panels turned out to be quite handy for that.



3. The light switch for the eave LEDs and the ‘A’ lights is hidden behind one of the shaker panels. It’s a double switch in a 1-gang box.


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Why I Hate Computers

Posted by mitch on October 16, 2013

Sometimes the string never ends.

I was working on some code today; debugging a new set of functions I wrote this morning.

Off and on I’ve had issues with my development VM reaching one of the nodes, another VM, in my test environment. As I went to clear the state on that VM, the network stopped working.

I figured this was perhaps a bug in VMware Fusion 4, so I decided to upgrade to Fusion 6 Pro. I went to the VMware online store to buy it and got an error when trying to put the product into my shopping cart:

Error Number:  SIT_000002

And an error again when I tried again.

I logged into my account, which remembered that I had put Fusion 6 Pro into my shopping cart before. So I went to check out and got an error that the cart was empty.

So I tried adding it again and it worked.

Then I got an error when I put in my credit card number:

PMT_000011 : vmware, en_US, There is money to authorize, But no Aurthorize delegated were applicable

Then I found a free trial of Fusion 6 Pro and downloaded that and installed it on a test Mac Mini.

I then started trying to copy the test VM to the Mac Mini and observed a 11.5 MB/s transfer rate, which is suspiciously close to the maximum speed of 100baseT. But I have GigE. What’s going on? I checked previous network traffic stats on both machines–they had both done 70-90 MB/s activities in the last day.
Wondering if it was an AFP issue, I tried SMB and noticed the network throughput stayed at 11.5ish. Multiple streams didn’t help.

I finally found that the negotiated speed was indeed 100mbps on the Mac Pro for some reason. Forcing it to GigE caused the interface go achieve and lose carrier rapidly after a few minutes of working.

I tried to login to my switch and couldn’t remember the password, but I did eventually.

Then I wondered which port the Mac Pro was on.

After many minutes, I tracked the problem to a specific cable, not a switch port, wall port, or a port on the Mac Pro. I’m not sure why; the cable had been working fine for years.

In part of all this I discovered I have very few spare Cat-6 cables.

I logged into Monoprice to order more cables and almost got charged $58 for international shipping–I might not have noticed, except at checkout, they said they only would accept PayPal for international orders. Apparently, Monoprice had decided I lived in the UK since my last order.

Much teeth gnashing to fix my country with their store.

Order placed.

Started to write this blog post and the battery was inexplicably dead in the laptop I sat down with, had to get a charger.

And don’t even get me started on Time Machine issues today.

I still don’t know if the network will work in that VM or not. I am confident my code doesn’t work yet.

I don’t know how anyone uses a computer. They are way too complicated.


My journey to Sanebox

Posted by mitch on March 31, 2013

(If you just want to read why Sanebox rocks, scroll down.)

Remember Xobni? Originally they were a plug-in for Outlook that did a few things–when a message was viewed in the normal Outlook interface, the Xobni plug-in would show other emails you had exchanged with the sender and it would show files that had been shared with the other person via attachments. The Xobni plug-in showed social information about the other person–profile pictures from LinkedIn, number of connections, and so on. And finally, the Xobni plug-in enabled better search for email than Outlook had.

Adam Smith, the founding CEO, gave a talk at MIT and for years, one of the things he said has been stuck in my head: “If you can improve email just a little bit, then you can create a lot of value.”

Mr. Smith was absolutely right. Email is incredibly bad for how it is used in most workflows today. In 2010, Mr. Smith left day-to-day activities with Xobni, and I’m afraid the company lost their way, becoming a contact tool rather than an email tool somewhere along the way. That didn’t work out well for Plaxo and I am not convinced it will work for Xobni. For a few years now, there hasn’t been any innovation in email that was interesting to me.

But in the last few months a few things came to light:

mailbox-iconMailbox, recently acquired by Dropbox. Mailbox built an incredible amount of hype, had a great video that looked interesting, got accused of some pump and dump action with TechCrunch, and ran up to over a million users quite rapidly. I lost interest in the app within minutes of using it. It was clear it was not going to scale to the amount of email I had in my inbox. One feature I did particularly like about Mailbox was the concept of putting an alarm on an email (e.g., a reminder to re-triage this message in a day).

Then there is Mailstrom. I am not really sure what Mailstrom does, but it sends me weekly reports of what’s going on in my inbox. There’s a tool you can use if you remember to go to their site and want to tediously triage stuff. I don’t want to do that. The web site talks about getting to Inbox zero, but I will never pull it off with what they offer. The report is kind of cool though:


Finally, there’s Sanebox. Sanebox analyzes the patterns of to/from in your inbox and sent mail and automatically moves emails to a folder called @SaneLater if it doesn’t believe you will be replying to it. So all bulk email ends up in @SaneLater. This has made dealing with email a ton easier. Sanebox also puts emails older than about 8 or 9 months into a folder called @SaneArchive. I went from 30,000 emails in my personal Inbox to just 1,700 in my Inbox and 1,800 in @SaneLater. It is now much easier to see which emails require replies.

Sanebox offers a free trial that runs about 2 weeks. Towards the end, they convert customers with a genius piece of messaging (paraphrased): “Hey, if you don’t pay us, we’ll move all your email back the way it was!” Brilliant–I bought it.

Email still sucks. But Sanebox has made it suck a bit less. And the best part is that there is no additional user interface to use.

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File Cabinet Tips

Posted by mitch on March 01, 2012

A few months back I posted about my favorite parts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and I wanted to expand on that visually. In the previous post, I mentioned the label printer and the effect it has on your file cabinet. Having neatly organized file folders is completely awesome. The neatness leads to more neatness. The other brilliance David Allen mentions is not to label the hanging folders if you must use them; instead label only the manilla folders. (He also says not to use the hanging folders at all if your cabinet can handle it, but sadly mine do not.)

And he’s right. I got rid of all those plastic tabs and just label the manilla folders. I’ve bought really deep hanging folders so I don’t have to shuffle them too much. The downside is that the bottoms are a bit floppy and sometimes for smaller sections, they don’t work as well, so I am not sure the mega hanging folders are a good solution. But in any event, the labels are readable and look great, and more importantly, I find myself keeping up with the organization. As you can see below, I’m filing manuals for everything, which has been great to reduce the manual clutter. (I have a lot of other stuff in my file cabinets, but this is the only section I feel comfortable posting a picture.)

Give it a try if you haven’t already!

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Comcast: What is “Customer Service”?

Posted by mitch on February 07, 2012
business, productivity

For the last four years, I’ve been a happy business Comcast Internet customer. I just have Internet and voice with Comcast; no TV. I have 5 static IP addresses, and until earlier this month, Comcast has been rock solid with only a few minutes of downtime here and there. I am an outlier when I say that I love US Airways and I love Comcast. I don’t know anyone else who goes around saying stuff like that. In some areas, you might get hanged.

In January, I decided I wanted more speed, but I debated–should I upgrade to 105 Mbit down/20 Mbit up (about $380/mo) or 50/10 (about $190/mo)? I talked to the Comcast sales rep on Jan 4th and she suggested trying the 50/10 and see how it goes. So I said let’s do it. My install window was set for 3p-5p on Friday, Jan 6th, since they needed to upgrade my modem.

On Jan 6th, at 4:50pm, a Comcast tech knocked on the door. “If this goes well, I’ll be out of here in 20 minutes.”

The Comcast tech was a great guy, I really liked him. However, he was hanging out in my network closet until 9:30pm that night. My girlfriend asked if she should clean up the guest room so he could spend the night.

Why was he at my house so long? The initial modem configuration was a bit tricky to make sure my static IP addresses got moved to the new modem. This took a few minutes. After that, he wasn’t getting the speed that I was supposed to get–about 1 Mbit/s up. He replaced the modem. He replaced the line to the street. He called tech support several times. He eventually gave up and went home. The next day he called me and said there was some kind of signal interference issue in my block and that it would take a few days but it would get solved. I really liked this guy and I really liked Comcast, so I was easy going about it and ran on a regular basis. A few days later, around Jan 10th, the problem was fixed and everything was good. I was a happy Comcast customer.

I didn’t push the SLA issue with Comcast, but one of the reasons that the business Internet is twice as expensive as residential is that there is a shorter SLA. I work at home when I am not on the road and I require working Internet access. I initially wired my closet for both Verizon and Comcast, but never felt I needed to add Verizon–Comcast has been that solid. I am not sure what constitutes an SLA breach in this case, but let’s be honest, I couldn’t upload 500 MB files during this time–pushing large files to my co-lo in Texas would eventually fail. If I had a major deadline that needed this kind of activity, I would have been toast. But I didn’t and I liked Comcast, so I let it slide.

On Feb 2nd at 10:45 am, my Internet connection died. At 10:50 it was still down. I called the business support line and got a tech window of 1pm to 3pm. I noted to the woman on the phone that this was pushing the boundaries of the 4 hr SLA. She said it was all she could do. She might as well have been a United Airlines employee.

Around 2pm, a tech showed up. “Oh man, static IPs… I am not too good with those!” (paraphrased). He was a really nice guy, but not sufficiently trained for business Comcast deployments with static IPs. However, he knew this and so he called a co-worker who also came over. These two guys and a third guy on the phone spent 90 minutes in my house pondering the problem. The guy on the phone realized that my old modem had been recently deployed across town at a cafe with my configuration data in it. Once they realized that, they were embarrassed, apologetic, and noted that this happens constantly. What kind of business is Comcast running? One of the techs mentioned that they often deploy DVRs that are “erased” “refurbs” with old people’s personal data and recordings on them.

At this point I was losing my patience. My connection had been down for 5.5 hours. I had Comcast guys in my house for a total of 6 hours on multiple days with a total of 11 hours of downtime for what should have been a 10 minute operation. Comcast was sending out guys who were unqualified to work on my account and being very liberal with my time, patience, and SLA.

So after the Comcast techs left, I told @comcastcares on Twitter what I thought. @comcastwill was very active and responsive and indicated a “local leader” would get in touch.

Today, five days later on Feb 7th, I asked @comcastwill if there was any update. He indicated that Comcast had been trying to email me at my address. Why not email the address where my bill goes? Who knows? I have never read my address and have no intention of doing so now. @comcastwill fixed this and shortly thereafter I received an email from “Sharon” asking me to call her.

I had a few minutes this afternoon before a conference call and rang Sharon from “The Executive Office of Comcast” (their words). She said that Comcast was very sorry and would like to offer me a credit on my account for all the aggravation for taking my Internet connection down due to their own negligence.

Comcast reached deep into their pockets, did some soul searching, and concluded that this hassle caused by my desire to give them more money was worth about…. $6.

I literally laughed. “Why wouldn’t I switch to RCN right now?” In this area, I can pick between TWO cable companies as well as Verizon. She said, “I can credit you up to $20 but that’s all I can do.”

Sure I had short patience left for Comcast, but this was absolutely infuriating. I asked @comcastwill on Twitter, “Why did you guys waste my time for $6?”

Remember, the worst part about this is that it was self-inflicted. I decided to give Comcast more money, they botched it, and then offer me a credit of $6. If I keep this level of service with Comcast for four years, as I have for the last four years, that is $10,560 to Comcast. And I don’t even buy TV from them. Who made the assessment that a $6 credit is appropriate? Who thought to themselves, “If I were in this situation and the vendor offered me SIX DOLLARS–less than the price of a QP with Cheese meal at McDonald’s–I would be satisfied?” Isn’t Comcast supposed to be better than this? Aren’t they the model for customer service on Twitter?

I know sometimes things go wrong. I make my living designing and building technology products for medium and large businesses. Some of my customers pay a small amount of money ($20k) and some pay a lot more. I’ve been embarrassed when customers call with problems. That’s why I didn’t give the tech or Comcast any crap with the issues on the upgrade. But there is a point at which mistakes are no longer mistakes and instead are pure incompetence. What exactly is the process for wiping modems at Comcast? Apparently there isn’t any. Business, especially big business, requires process to ensure proper execution. Business also requires handling the exceptional cases when the vendor drops the ball and has to make it right. I cannot imagine taking a $6 discount to any of my customers.

I want a working Internet connection and I prefer it to be with Comcast. But I also want to be treated with respect. My consulting rate is a little higher than $1 per hour. But why turn this into a credit game? Get creative. Send me a Nordstrom, Amazon, or an Apple gift card. Send me a “Get Well Soon” bouquet for my Internet connection. Or call me, admit that you completely screwed up my upgrade, and have an actual conservation with me about it–find out the whole story before deciding “$6 and if he pukes on it, $20”. Don’t try to slice and dice what my time or Internet connection is worth. Because to me, it’s worth a lot more than anything that Comcast could reasonably offer.

Although this post focuses on the $6, the inhuman hand-off to an admin authorized to go to $20 but completely unaware of what went on really irks me too.

Update March 14, 2012: Someone from the “Comcast Executive office” called me yesterday and we chatted a bit. He said he would try to do a little bit more for me, but was very clear my contract doesn’t require Comcast to do anything. In any event, Comcast credited me an additional $103 + the bonus $20 + $7.11 (vs the $6 calculated above). I am glad the fellow called, apologized, and treated me like a valued customer who merits some respect. It took a while but they got it done.

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Products I Want But Haven’t Found

Posted by mitch on January 09, 2012

Please feel free to “borrow” the ideas below and bring them to market. I will happily beta test!

1. Built-in USB wall charger. (Edit 11-Feb-2012: See my follow-up post.) A 1-gang USB wall charger that installs in a standard electrical box, available in white with a Decora faceplace. I want 6 USB ports and zero outlets. Maybe also a version with 1 outlet and 3 USB ports. I would buy a lot of these, especially if they had a bit of surge suppression in them. I know about the FastMac USB plate and I have 2 or 3 of them sitting in a box, but they are ugly and don’t provide enough ports. I am using a 4-port USB wall charger in the interim. This particular model has a cheaply machined AC plug, so it often falls out of the wall socket, especially in hotels with often-used sockets.

2. Shaun Fynn’s paper tray system (pictured below; sorry for the poor link, but his site is Flash). Apparently this is no longer on the market. What I really love is the under-stated nature of the trays (no walls), the “rubber garden” for holding small items like pens, zero desktop footprint, and the arms for moving the trays around (so they can be pulled forward to retrieve or triage, and pushed back out of the way).

3. A way to drive 3×30″ displays from a 15″ MacBook Pro. Village Tronic is working on a Thunderbolt enclosure. Hopefully it comes out, doesn’t suck, and will solve this problem. I think SSDs, a Thunderbolt RAID, and something like this might let me stop buying desktop computers.

There’s probably more, but these came to mind this morning.

My Favorite Parts of “Getting Things Done”

Posted by mitch on November 09, 2011

I first read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done in December 2008. Now that I’ve been using pieces of his system for a few years, I can comment on some of my favorite parts:

1. Put manuals in a file cabinet. I used to have stacks of manuals in drawers, corners, shelves, on top of bookcases, and so on. Now I have a few dozen folders in a file cabinet that contain all the manuals for my appliances, computer stuff, electronics, and tools. This has reduced clutter and stress of needing to find manuals. I know some folks have moved to just downloading PDFs from the manufacturer and keeping those organized. I do that for some things, but big purchases like a kitchen appliance, I’ve kept the physical manual.

2. Label all files with a label maker. Allen says that doing this will inspire you to keep your files neat and tidy. And he’s right! I have a lateral file cabinet and two pedestal file drawers in my desk. All of my folders are labeled with a $100 label maker. Allen says buy the cheapest one; I didn’t because I had used both a nice one and a cheap one before and really liked the nice one a lot better. Until I took this approach, I never really used my file cabinets. In fact, I got so much use out of this system that I had to buy the lateral cabinet after I filled my pedestal drawers.

3. Do a regular brain dump where you write down EVERYTHING you need to do. Off the bat this can easily be over 100 things: Empty the trash in the laundry room, sweep the garage, prepare a report for work, pay the water bill, donate clothes, buy a new ceiling fan, and so on. Allen says getting all this stuff out of your head will reduce your stress. I have found he is absolutely right.

I read Allen’s book because I was pushing myself to accomplish more in less time than I had ever done so before and it really helped me get a framework that works. I have forgotten less and accomplished more in the last 3 years than I ever would have imagined myself doing prior to doing it. For $10, this book was well worth the investment.


Mousing Around

Posted by mitch on November 06, 2011
hardware, productivity

A few months ago, my right wrist was bothering me. I had been using the Apple Magic Mouse since it came out on all my computers. But apparently my wrist was tired and I needed to look for alternatives. So I bought a lot of mice of various sorts. After testing them for a few months, here’s what I learned about these mice (from left to right in the picture above):

Microsoft Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000 ($60, Amazon)
This mouse is a “fat” mouse on the left side; it forces your hand at an angle vs the “flat palm down” position of a regular mouse. I was excited about the angle. The tracking and scroll wheel are the same as all other Microsoft mice. If you like other Microsoft mice and you mouse with your right hand, this could be a great mouse for you. However, I have never been a fan of Microsoft scroll wheels, so it wasn’t a good solution for me.

Apple Magic Trackpad ($70, Apple)
I actually bought this when it came out but rarely used it. I still don’t find it comfortable as a solo mouse on my desktop. There are a few things I do love about it—the gestures such as two-finger scroll are all wonderful. I find clicking on it a bit awkward.

Apple Magic Mouse ($70, Apple)
I love this mouse. It has left/right click, it’s relatively lightweight, and enables two-dimensional scrolling. It is “short” and that took some getting used to. I own four Magic Mouses and really enjoy them.

Logictech Wireless Trackball M570 ($50, Amazon)
I didn’t expect to like this but I bought it in the interest of diversity. It is actually quite wonderful. Although it doesn’t put my hand in a substantially different position, the use of the thumb to move the cursor instead of the wrist means my hand is doing different motions.

Razer Abyssus High Precision Optical Gaming Mouse (wired) ($30, Amazon)
I bought this because a friend mentioned she loved her Razer mouse. I love how lightweight the mouse is (note that I have a corded version). It’s very easy to move around and tracks very well. Unfortunately, it’s just a regular mouse and didn’t put my hand into a different position, so I didn’t notice any difference in pain.

Evoluent VerticalMouse 4 (Right Hand) ($90, Amazon)
A colleague had this mouse on his desk and so I thought I’d given it a spin. Initially it feels very strange to use, like coaxing a potato around on your desk. It took me a few days to get the hang of it. In particular, precision movements are very tough initially. My girlfriend took this mouse for a drive and loved it so much she ordered a left-hand version for her office. This mouse comes in two versions, left and right-hand, so you’ll need to know which hand you will mouse with before you order. The scroll wheel is very nice to use on this mouse.

DXT Precision Mouse ($100, only available from Kinesis)
This mouse is similar to the Evoluent, except it feels more like holding a pencil in your hand. The mouse is small, super lightweight and “reversible” for either left or right hand use. The buttons feel good and tracking is excellent. The only negative is that the scroll wheel is a disaster. My hands really can’t use the scroll wheel at all on this mouse. I think this is my favorite mouse, scrolling issues aside.

Adesso Glidepoint (in the background in the above picture)
I actually bought this mouse years ago. It was good for its time and has two-dimensional scrolling by moving your finger on the edges of the pad. However, the Apple Trackpad is the winner in this category now. I wouldn’t buy this now, but tossed it into this lineup for comparison. My biggest issue with this trackpad at the time was that it’s not heavy enough and it would end up sliding around on the desk. Trackpads should stay put.

So what did I end up doing?
Because none of the mouses were perfect, I have ended up using 4 mice most of the time: The DXT Precision Mouse and the Logitech Thumb Trackball I use with my right hand and switch back and forth between them throughout the day. I found it more convenient to buy a large mousepad (about 14″ x 18″!) to avoid running out of room as I switch which mouse is closest to the keyboard. With my left hand I switch back and forth between the Apple Trackpad and Magic Mouse. This lets me keep the nice scrolling features of those mice handy and offer a bit of relief to my right arm. Sometimes I will use one of the other mice for a little bit to get my arm into a different position. Although I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice, my belief is that the key to “RSI” is the “R” (repetitive). Putting my hands in different positions should reduce the “R”. Either way, the pain is gone.

If you’re looking for a better mouse solution, I’d definitely give the DXT a shot although the scrolling situation for large hands isn’t very good. If you have the room and budget for a secondary scrolling solution, that might be an ideal combination.

(“Mousing Around” was the name of the mousing tutorial that came with the Macintosh in 1984 to teach folks how to use the mouse. I loved that program.)

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Herman Miller Embody vs Herman Miller Aeron

Posted by mitch on September 29, 2011

A few months ago, I bought a Herman Miller Embody chair. I’ve had the chair for about 10 weeks now and sat in it for about 5 of those weeks.

Cosmetically, I love the Embody. I love the colors, the texture of the “Balance” fabric, the shape. Functionally, it’s easier to lean back in the Embody than the Aeron, the seat pan depth is adjustable (great if your legs (thighs) are long), and the arm width is adjustable in a way that is far superior to the Aeron. However, the back support of the Embody is just strange and I can’t seem to get used to it. The lower back area has no padded support–it’s like sitting up against a plastic booth at a fast food joint. I also haven’t been able to get the back support to fit the shape of my back very well.

My complaint about the Aeron is that the front of the seat pan rises up a little too much. This is a common complaint from many folks and my solution was to sit with my heels on the casters, thus bracing my body to the chair and elevating my thighs a bit more to relieve the pressure from the seat pan. I always felt a bit strange doing this, but the Aeron supports my back very well and made it worthwhile.

The big advantage the Aeron has over the Embody is the thermal coolness. The mesh of the Aeron is wider gauge than that of the Embody, so the Aeron breathes more. Literally, the Aeron is a very cool chair to sit in. The Embody Balance mesh is breathable like the Aeron, but the mesh is finer and doesn’t breathe as much. There were some days in August that I noticed the heat trapped in the chair.

The Embody doesn’t fit my body as well as the Aeron (or I don’t have it adjusted properly). I plan to keep using the Embody and see if I can get the back adjustment right, but if I can’t pull that off shortly, I’m going to sell it. I don’t regret buying the chair–there’s just no way to know if a chair will fit you without using it for a while. No amount of in-store demo or using it for just one week can reveal the longer term issues. Don’t read this post and be scared off from trying the Embody yourself–your body is probably different from mine. The Embody is a high quality piece of engineering, as is the Aeron.

Update 15-Nov-2011: I spent a few weeks not sitting in the Embody and switched back to the Aeron. Then I sat in the Embody for one day. The sad conclusion is that I am selling the Embody. I absolutely love the arm rests and the seat pan and the look of the Embody, but the Embody doesn’t fit my back properly. I plan to try the Steelcase Leap WorkLounge next… Don’t let this post discourage you from trying or buying the Embody, though. If it fits your body, you will absolutely love it. And who can say whether a chair fits without sitting in it for extended periods?

More pictures here.

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