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The Evolution of a San Francisco Kitchen 1970 – 1999 – 2017

The Original 1970s Space: A large kitchen with dark oak cabinetry and heavy tile work from the late 1970s in a San Francisco residence built in the 1930s. The room was defined by a “U” shaped work area bounded on one side by a peninsula which doubled as a work space and a side-by-side dining area for two people. While dining at the peninsula one’s back was turned away from any natural light and a view of the beautiful backyard.

The Original Need: The client wanted a lighter, updated look with only a minor reconfiguration of the space which, after many years of use, seemed to work well for him. He asked for a simple “green remodel” aesthetic design with clean lines which would complement the style of the rest of his home.

Before Before

The 1999 Solution: Knowing there was still sufficient perimeter counter space for the client’s needs, InHouse eliminated the peninsula work station and opened up the kitchen to allow for the client’s recently purchased “period” dining table. The table allowed diners to face the backyard while permitting for more than two diners at a time. Equally important, it was perfect for informal entertaining in the kitchen, something that was not possible with the old configuration.

green remodelPhoto K-3: 1999 Kitchen After green remodelPhoto K-4- 1999 Kitchen After

To address the client’s request for a “green” solution, many of the oak cabinets were retained and refinished a lighter color. Simple Shaker single panel doors, some with patterned glass and some solid, replaced the original doors. Drawers were replaced, new knobs and pulls were installed, and pull-out shelves were added in all cabinets for maximum accessibility. Where the former peninsula met the perimeter cabinetry, new cabinets and drawers were built to address the need for general storage, garbage, and recycling. The walls and ceiling were finished in painted beadboard. A stepped crown moulding was added as an accent to all wall cabinets but not to the perimeter walls so that the beadboard could flow seamlessly from wall to ceiling.

A sculptural stainless steel hood, superimposed on a full height stainless steel backsplash, replaced a former cabinet. The hood hovers over a new five burner cooktop and a versatile stainless steel countertop. The countertops in the rest of the kitchen were sheathed in an Italian laminate with a fibrous texture composed of recycled cardboard. The linoleum floor, set in a large checkerboard pattern, was also a “green” solution. Recessed lighting was added over the work and dining spaces. Blown glass pendant lights were hung over the sink and an adjacent work area for both utility and drama. InHouse was responsible for the entire design and execution of the renovation including color consultation, electrical and lighting design.

The 2017 Update: The client asked InHouse to bring the kitchen into the 21st century for a “modest” sum. InHouse reconfigured a few cabinets to accommodate recycling and storage needs while adding new Caesarstone Countertops with a full height bright orange ceramic tile backsplash.  In addition, the update included a new stainless steel sink with an integrated drain board, a new faucet, new pulls and replacement recessed LED lights. The lower cabinets were painted to match a new slate floor while the uppers were cleaned up to reflect the cabinets’ original finish. A repainting of the entire room in a warm white completed the remodel.

Photo K-5A: 2017 Kitchen

Photo K-5B: 2017 Kitchen


Photo K-5C: 2017 Kitchen

Dining Room Home Office and Storage Solution

The Space: A dining room in a large modern home in Portola Valley, California.

Dining Room Before

The Need: The Client, a physician, often works from home. She enjoys working in her light and airy dining room and wanted to continue to do so but she also wanted her new home office to “disappear” when she was not working. The challenge was to create a functional, ergonomic home office that could close up and look “at home” in the dining room. Ample file storage (“that did not look like files”) was requested as well as drawers for misc. items which were needed when entertaining guests.

Photo H64 New Home Office Cabinet Closed

Photo H-64: New Home Office, Cabinet Closed

Photo H65: Office Cabinet Open

Photo H-65: Office Cabinet, Open

Photo H66: Printer Cabinet

Photo H-66: Printer Cabinet

Photo H67: Files Drawers in Cabinet

Photo H-67: Files Drawers in Cabinet


The Solution: InHouse wrapped two walls in rift oak cabinetry. A tall cabinet, which complements the verticality of the 16’ H. angled ceilings, houses the home office. In order to reduce the “mass” of this large cabinet and create additional visual interest, the design plays with the direction of the oak veneer of the cabinet doors. When folded back, these doors reveal an internally lit, completely functional home office with articulating keyboard tray, wire management and data/electrical connectivity. The adjacent lower cabinets wrap around and define the dining area, providing both storage for office equipment and much needed serving space for entertaining family and friends. In addition to the cabinetry design, InHouse provided assistance with the lighting and the selection of colors.

Compact Cherry Desk System For Two

The Space: A very small room a few steps up from the main living level that was wedged between a hallway and the living room. The bulk of the storage space in the room was located in a small cabinet area built in over the stairway ceiling from the adjacent hallway.

The Need: The room was used as a full time home office and needed to be completely revamped to house two workers, a multitude of computers and equipment (the Client’s profession), CDs, books and misc. storage. The Clients wanted a soft, warm contemporary look. All equipment (except for one monitor) was to be out of site with ample room provided in adjacent cabinetry for misc. equipment and wire management. The Clients wanted the space to be “special” yet utilitarian and as inviting as the rest of their home since the new office was easily visible to visitors.

cherry desk systemPhoto H-63: Compact Custom Desk For Two

The Solution: InHouse demolished the existing cabinetry and expanded and rebuilt the closet area to maximize use of the space with a new cherry desk system. On one side shelves were created for CDs and tech books while an adjacent cabinet housed two computers with associated wire management and electrical outlets included. Another cabinet (not pictured) was created to house a printer on a pullout shelf as well provide additional storage, making use of “dead” space located above the adjacent stairway ceiling. Book and CD shelves were added in an existing niche as well. The primary work area was designed as a working “jewel” for two people. The Cherry desk system was made of Cherry wood with a solid, bowed edge detail which sweeps from right to left. The two work areas are bisected by a stepped storage cabinet which provides drawer, file and cabinet space for both workers. Glass shelves cantilever from each side of the upper cabinet and are highlighted by recessed cabinet lights. The whole area is capped by a niche for books. Across the room, a cantilevered bow shaped shelf (not shown) mimics the main work surface and was installed to hold artifacts. InHouse also provided other services including: color consultation, lighting and electrical design and carpeting selection, purchase and installation.

Bungalow Bathroom Remodel

The Space: The only bathroom in a bungalow from the early part of the last century. The unheated room, last renovated in the 1980s, had a newer sink and toilet as well as an old claw foot tub. This called for a bungalow bathroom remodel.

The Need: Aside from retaining the existing sink and toilet, the clients wanted an entirely new updated look. They wanted to replace the claw foot tub with a shower while maximizing storage in this small room. They asked for a design which was sympathetic to the bungalow style of their home.

Before Photo K-6: New Bathroom

The Solution: The existing bathroom was demolished down to the studs. New plumbing, a new window and a wall heater were integrated into the design for the bungalow bathroom remodel. The toilet was relocated a few inches to the right while the claw foot tub was replaced by a shower balanced on each side by storage cabinets with pull out shelves and integrated laundry baskets. The top of each cabinet features a lit display niche while towel racks serve as pulls for the lower cabinet doors.

Before: Original Claw Foot Tub Photo K-7: New Shower Photo K-8: Tile/Beadboard Detail By New Shower

Photo K-9 Interior of Storage Cabinet by Shower

Photo K-10: Make-up Drawer

By the owners’ request, the original sink was retained but the faucets were replaced. New lighting and a new medicine cabinet were installed above the sink and recessed fixtures were added in the ceiling.

The new shower plays a prominent design role. Its frameless glass corners elegantly extend into the bathroom while the two adjacent storage cabinets are recessed to allow the shower further prominence.

An unsightly storage cabinet next to the sink was replaced by a graceful wall-hung bowed front drawer with a glass top. Aside from supporting a towel rack for the adjacent sink, the drawer provides ample space for the client’s makeup and other accessories.

The two entry doors which opened into the bathroom were replaced by pocket doors to open up the previously claustrophobic space. One of the pocket doors has a decorative glass panel to allow light from the bathroom to penetrate into the adjacent bedroom.

Strategically placed outlets allow for additional uses which require power. The walls and ceiling were covered by painted beadboard and the ceramic tile has an “Arts and Crafts” color scheme to complement the style of the home . Working with a General Contractor, InHouse was responsible for the entire design and execution of the renovation including tile and fixture selection, color consultation, electrical and lighting.

Wall Bed and Cabinets of Exotic Woods

The Space: A small secondary space in a two room home office that was used for back-office administrative functions.

The Need: While not sacrificing the utility of the space, the client wanted to turn it into an occasional guest room, showing off the “Zoom-Room” remote controlled wall bed to its maximum advantage. The design solution had to provide ample storage space for files, supplies and bedding. The solution had to complement other recent improvements in the home and was to demonstrate the use of more exotic woods in custom cabinetry work.

The Solution: A wall bed and cabinets of exotic woods was designed by InHouse. A compact and visually stunning solution in Avodire houses a queen size wall bed (activated by remote control), numerous file and storage drawers as well as a wenge cabinet for bedding with a pullout nightstand. An adjacent wall was outfitted with avodire veneer with a rift oak inlay, patterned to complement the book niches in the larger unit to its left. Lighting, electrical and color design services were provided as well.

Photo F-8: Wall Bed Closed


Photo F-9: Remote Controlled Bed Emerging


 Photo F-10: Bed in Open Position



Photo F-11: Multipurpose Storage Cabinet for bedding, files, pull-out nightstand

Contemporary Wall System and Home Office

The Space: A bedroom in a loft containing a bed and makeshift desk area. The room lacked an organized closet and adequate storage for both clothes and files.

The Need: To reorganize the room for a contemporary wall system and home office with adequate space for a computer, general storage, clothes, files and numerous DVDs (the client is in the arts and has numerous footage of his work). The room was not large but had high ceilings. The client did not want the design to look like a library nor did he want large, heavy pieces built in but expressed an interest in a contemporary “tech” look.

The Solution: InHouse designed a “floating” contemporary wall system and home office suspended from iron brackets which span from wall to ceiling. The numerous storage units are of various sizes and depths to accommodate different uses and are placed so that there is a lot of open space between them. The idea was to create an interesting pattern of wall hung storage units; some with doors, some with metal backs, some shallow and some deep in order to create visual “rhythm” on the main wall. White washed Birch cabinetry with brushed steel aluminum accents on drawer and door fronts.

Contemporary Wall UnitPhoto F6: New Wall Unit

The Horizon Desk System

The Space: A Doctor’s Office in a professional building.

The Need: A computer friendly horizon desk system consisting of an executive desk which has the potential to accommodate a desk top computer, as well as a secondary computer work area with a conference table which could also serve as an additional work surface. The client wanted a contemporary, masculine, possibly Asian aesthetic in a darker wood. He also wanted the potential to add onto the system in the future. A system of modular components which could be reconfigured as his office grew was requested. He wanted to house or hide as much of the computer equipment as possible.

Horizon Desk SystemPhoto H-58: Horizon Custom Walnut Desk

The Solution: A modular walnut horizon desk system based on a Japanese “Tansu” motif. The executive desk is configured in an “L” shape with side cabinets (for files and printer storage) stepping down. All cabinetry is free standing and therefore interchangeable and expandable for maximum flexibility. Each cabinet has wire management built in and the secondary computer desk has a rear door to access the CPU compartment. Handles are custom designed to compliment the overall aesthetic. Walnut solids and veneers, medium dark stain.

Horizon Desk SystemPhoto H-59: Horizon Computer Desk
Photo H-60: Horizon Conference/Work Table

Family Room Bar – Kitchen Redesign

Family Room Bar – Kitchen Redesign

The kitchen/family room bar entry was bisected by an unattractive counter. InHouse designed a circular family room bar that softens the entry, directing guests either right towards the kitchen or left into the family room. Incorporated into the bar are shelves for the clients’ cook books. To serve as a focal point when entering the space, a lit arched display niche with glass shelves was added near the redesigned bar area. Cherry stained/finished to match existing kitchen cabinetry. Electrical, cabinetry and sheetrock improvements were all facilitated by InHouse.

Family Room BarBefore
Family Room BarPhoto K-11: New Circular Counter and Bar
Family Room BarPhoto K-12: New Circular Counter and Storage

Combination Wall Bed & Home Office

The Space: A medium sized room in an older single family home currently serving as the husband’s home office/computer workshop. The room had not been updated in at least 20 years and needed a thorough remodel.

The Need: The clients wanted to combine an occasional guest room with a full time home office. The home office cabinetry had to house multiple CPUs and related computer and audio equipment. Since the husband often disassembles and works on his computers onsite there needed to be plenty of counter top space to spread out. Additionally, the cabinetry had to be sufficiently versatile to accommodate the ever-changing needs of newly purchased equipment. Ventilation, wire management and ease of access were paramount. The home office needed to be attractive and provide ample storage so that if guests arrived they could use a new built-in wall bed and feel comfortable in the room. Additionally,  a new closet needed to be integrated into the final design.

The Solution: InHouse provided the clients with several potential layouts for a new built-in closet, home office and wall bed. The chosen design positioned the bed and home office on opposite walls to maximize the available circulation when the bed was opened. The wall bed cabinet was designed to mimic the existing window casings in the room. It was painted the same color as the walls in order to “disappear” and make the room feel larger. “Hidden” storage and a pull-out nightstand are positioned to the left of the bed while the right side of the cabinet has a lit  display niche with shelves below, providing an attractive first impression of the wall bed cabinet as you walk into the room. The birdseye maple home office was built in an “L” shaped configuration that butts up against the new closet.  InHouse also consulted on the lighting and paint color.

Home Office Wall Before

Wall Bed Wall Before

Photo F-20: New Birdseye Maple Home Office

Photo F-21: Receiver compartment with ventilation

Photo F-22: CPU Cabinet 

Photo F-23: Corner Storage Pull-out

Photo F-24: New Wall Bed in closed position

Photo F-25: Wall Bed in open position

Photo F-26: Side of Wall Bed near room entrance


Coming Soon: Furniture that Charges Your Phone

Reprinted from Houzz
By MIKE ELGAN, Houzz contributor from Silicon Valley, CA
August 2013

Wireless charging has been around for a while, and it’s convenient for mobile phone users — you don’t have to actually plug in a phone to charge it. The way it works is that a base station (Furniture that Charges Your Phone) creates an electromagnetic field, which passes through the exterior of the phone and electrifies an internal charger, thus charging the phone. The feature is available as an option sold separately for most of the phone handsets that support it. It’s also possible to buy an external case for some phones, such as the iPhone, which gives it wireless charging capability. Wireless charging for other devices has been around for a long time. If you have an electric toothbrush, for example, it probably charges wirelessly. In the future you’ll never have to consciously charge your phone. Just setting it down on (furniture that charges your phone) a  kitchen table, bedside table, coffee table or desk will charge it, because a wireless charger will be built into every surface you might set your phone on.

Corian With Wireless Charging » Companies are making new progress toward that goal, and wireless charging tables are showing up in public places. A few Starbucks outlets in Silicon Valley have started integrating wireless charging stations into the tables. McDonald’s is also testing the use of wireless charging in Europe. General Motors, Toyota and Chrysler are planning to offer wireless charging to some 2014 model cars. Multipurpose devices such as lamps and clock radios can do double duty as charging stations too. And a few baby steps toward commercially available home tables and countertops that charge gadgets are in the works. DuPont, for example, plans to embed wireless charging technology into its Corian synthetic granite countertops; gadgets can be charged by simply placing them on the surface. This feature highlights the electromagnetic permeability of Corian, which actual granite doesn’t have. DuPont imagines a world in which kitchen counters, dining room tables, bathroom sink countertops, bedside tables and coffee tables come with an option for wireless charging.

Cegano Smart Table » The Cegano Smart Table integrates wireless charging technology from Qi. It is also able to support up to six HTMI inputs, so everyone can connect to a single display or projector and switch between them via touchpads integrated into the tabletop. The tabletop surface is designed so liquids can’t flow into the built-in electronics.

Tunto LED8 Lamp » The Tunto LED8 table lamp is a stylish LED lamp with a broad, flat base that charges electronics placed upon it. The lamp itself turns on with a touch. A lamp is a great place for wireless charging, because you’re going to plug it into the wall anyway, and lamps tend to exist in places where it’s natural to put your phone down, such as a bedside table or home office desk.

Glowdeck – $100 » Glowdeck is being funded via Kickstarter; it’s a clock radio that wirelessly charges gadgets. The device also pays attention to notifications coming into the phone, and can use sound and light to alert you. You can even use voice control via Siri or Google Now, if you already use those services on your phone. If you’re playing music from your phone, it will play it louder and clearer through the Glowdeck’s speakers. The device will even blink and glow to the beat. The future of wireless charging is here, but just barely. Only a few devices are slowly emerging. The most important thing to check before you buy is that your specific devices are supported.

Mobile Command Centers Replace the Kitchen Desk

Reprinted from Kitchen and Bath Design News
September 1, 2012

Where has the kitchen desk gone? Out of curiosity, I reviewed the 2012 NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Assn.) design competition winners to see if any of the kitchens included a dedicated desk space in the kitchen. None were apparent.

Clearly, we haven’t lost the need to check cookbooks and calendars, to sort and pay bills, or to store the tape, scissors, stamps and other desk-related items. However, we do seem to have changed how and where we do these things. While the occasional client may still desire a dedicated desk in the kitchen, today’s need seems to be a mobile command center.

This month’s column will take a look at the spaces in or near the kitchen where the Mobile Command Centers is having a design impact.


First, we have to acknowledge the changes in how and where we manage the activities associated with a kitchen desk. Technology has so incredibly altered how we collect, organize and store information that it must be recognized as the single greatest factor in the move from the dedicated space to today’s more mobile command center.
Increased numbers of and options in appliances have also forced us to prioritize every inch of available kitchen space, pushing the kitchen desk down the list. The numbers of devices that most of us use to communicate and maintain our lives, all requiring recharging, are also a factor in the changing demands on the desk.

Time shortages mandate that we plan storage of items at the point of use, which often moves mail and charging space nearer the entry. This also influences our desire to conceal the desk area so a task can be left in process without the need to tidy up mid-stream.

Finally, the growing number of offices in the home for both business and household needs is taking some of the burden off of the kitchen desk and relocating at least some of the storage related to it to other areas.


Near the outside entry, the drop zone will decrease demand for kitchen desk space, and it may include the charging station, where phones, pads, PDAs and even laptops can be left charging as one enters the home and picked up again when heading out the door. These can also be moved to whatever work area one wishes to use in the home. The wireless nature of our electronics allows for this type of portability, which means that the dining table or snack bar may become the kitchen desk on a temporary basis when desired.

There are a few of us who still hold out for a paper calendar and note-taking, and current mail/school notices must be stored, usually designed into the telephone space within the kitchen. But, even this seems to be fading, as more and more clients are relying less on the land line and more on synchronized electronic calendars that are kept within reach except when they are charging.

While cooking web sites and blogs are common tools, they have not entirely replaced cookbooks and food magazines, so storage for these items – including a docking station for the electronic device most used – is needed in an area convenient to the kitchen

Bill storage and payment has moved to the home office for many, again requiring less physical space as much of it is done electronically. However, clients who work from home often desire total separation of the business office from the home office, so this must be taken into account when designing this type of area.


So where does this leave the design of desk space in the kitchen? One concept is to provide closed storage at or near the snack bar or dining space, and to be sure the lighting in this area will support desk work so that the space can multitask as a place to do desk-related activities in addition to dining. The addition of a desk lamp can help to define the space if desired, but the lighting plan should include appropriate lighting for tasks that would require the desk lamp be stored away.

Proximity to a window or a view has become more popular for this space since computers have shrunk so much in size and no longer block the view. An important element to include in this plan is the waste receptacle that is always part of a desk area.

Things to Consider when Buying a Monitor

Reprinted from the New York Times
August 22, 2012

Just so you know, when buying a monitor, some marketing genius out there has decided computer monitors aren’t computer monitors anymore. They are “displays.” Raise the curtain and cue the John Williams soundtrack.

Sales gimmickry aside, it is probably accurate to call them displays nowadays. After all, people no longer use them just to visualize what they are typing on their keyboards. They probably also use them to watch movies and television shows, videoconference, edit photos and play video games, not to mention magnify the small screens on their laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Given that consumers are demanding more xfof a display, it might be time to get a new one. The technology has improved remarkably within the last few years, with crisper pictures, faster response times and sleeker, slimmer casing. Moreover, the cost has come down so an exceptional display can be purchased for as little as $200 with higher end, pinch-yourself displays costing about $1,000.

Buying the right monitor depends on what it will be used for and in what location, as well as the acuity of the user’s eyesight and personal taste in terms of saturation of color and contrast.

Because displays are in the eye of the beholder, it doesn’t help to tell you that thinks the Dell UltraSharp U2412M is the best monitor, or that Consumer Reports likes Apple’s 27-inch Cinema Display. Apple, NEC and Dell are often ranked among the highest by product reviewers.

But NEC and Dell still make some models that reviewers consider dogs. And some fault the Apple display for motion blurring and lack of adjustability.

So you really have to make this decision on your own and that means you have to dive into the specs. Don’t glaze over. It’s not really that hard. First, let’s talk about resolution. That is the number of picture elements, or pixels, the manufacturer has crammed into a display. Prevailing wisdom is that more pixels render a sharper picture.

“That’s true but only up to a point,” said Bryan Jones, a retinal neuroscientist and part-time photographer at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.

The separation between pixels on a screen becomes indistinguishable at about 220 pixels per inch, or ppi. “More than that is overkill,” he said, assuming your eyesight is 20/20 and you are sitting a typical 30 inches from the display. If your vision is less than perfect or you tend to sit farther away from your display, perhaps while watching movies or playing video games, pixel density can be less than half that (90 ppi) before you might notice any degradation in picture quality. If the manufacturer’s specs do not include ppi, and they often don’t, has a handy online calculator.

While ppi is an important consideration, Tom Taylor, who is known as Tsquared and is a Major League Gaming champion, said it was not his primary concern when buying a display. He has six displays in the gaming lair he has created at his house and three standbys in a closet.

“Response time is the first thing I look at,” he said, referring to the time it takes for pixels to respond to the electrical impulses that change their color, which, in aggregate, creates a new image. “Gamers’ hand-eye coordination is twitch reflexes, so more than a 2-millisecond response time is a little delayed for us,” he said.

A superfast response time also reduces so-called ghosting or other motion artifacts in video, which is important if your display will be used to screen movies or edit video.

Also important for moving as well as still images is contrast ratio, which is the ratio between the display’s blackest black and its whitest white. A contrast ratio of 1,000:1 is respectable — 2,000:1 is stellar. Ignore the misleading “dynamic contrast ratio” manufacturers often promote, which can be millions to one. Display experts agree that it is artificially derived and misleading.

Closely related to contrast ratio is black level. “If you want a better movie or gaming experience, you’re going to want to look for a nice low black level,” said Art Marshall, product manager for professional and medical desktop displays at NEC. “When you’re watching ‘The Lord of Rings’ and what’s supposed to be black around the torch light is gray, it takes away from the effect.”

Manufacturers generally don’t volunteer the black level, but reviews on Web sites like Tom’s Hardware and the German site are only too happy to oblige. The industry says pitch black is zero nits, or candelas per square meter (cd/m2), which is nearly impossible to achieve in a display, so look for something less than 1 cd/m2.

Brightness level determines the maximum intensity of the white opposing the black and is especially important if you will be using the display in a very sunny space like maybe a blindingly bright solarium. In that instance you would want about 350 cd/m2 rather than the more typical 250 cd/m2.

Be aware, though, that brightness degrades over time. “The bulbs backlighting displays begin losing their intensity the moment you turn them on,” said David Hirschorn, director of radiology informatics at Staten Island University Hospital, whose job demands he be picky about his displays. Light emitting diode, or LED, backlights are brighter, he said, and tend to last longer than their compact florescent, or CFL, counterparts and generate less heat.

“I’m done with anything that isn’t LED,” said Vijay Mathews, partner and creative director at Winfield & Company, a digital design and development studio in New York, particularly when LED displays also allow for a wider color gamut, which is the range and intensity of colors a display can produce.

It is commonly expressed as a percentage of NTSC, which is a broad color spectrum standard created by the National Television System Committee. The higher the percentage, the richer the color.

Sometimes manufacturers will indicate a display has an “sRGB” color gamut, which means the display is capable of about 75 percent of NTSC. “AdobeRGB” color gamut allows around 92 percent of NTSC. If the specs indicate a color gamut exceeding 100 percent of NTSC, the colors will go beyond what you see in the real world — excellent for anyone who is into psychedelic animation.

But make sure the display has a decent viewing angle (close to 180 degrees), otherwise colors will tend to shift and degrade if you view the screen off center.

Ergonomics are also important. Adjustable height and tilt is essential for reducing eye, neck and back strain. And being able to rotate the screen for both landscape and portrait views can make it easier to work with oddly shaped or elongated documents like blueprints or spreadsheets. Also consider whether the display has a matte or glossy screen. Glossy screens can emphasize contrast, but can also produce an annoying reflective glare.

“I find high-gloss screens infuriating,” Mr. Mathews at Winfield said. “I don’t want to see my face in my work.”

The last thing to consider is the number and kind of connectivity ports. A couple of USB ports may come in handy, as well as ports for DVI, HDMI or display port cables, that will connect with various devices.

Tim Vehling, vice president for product marketing at Silicon Image, a high-definition content distributor, said, “The way to look at a display is more of a productivity station to plug in other devices — phone, camera, Blu-ray player, camcorder — to see what’s on them on a bigger screen.”

Get Ready for the Smart Coffee Table

Smart Coffee Table with touch screens are reaching the consumer market, with all the power of personal computers and more
Reprinted from
June 2012

Computers started out as discrete objects to be placed on top of furniture — a PC on the desk, a laptop on the dining room table. An iPad on the kitchen counter. But the destiny of computing devices is to be built into our furniture. The desk itself will become a PC. The dining room table will be usable like a laptop. And the kitchen counter will work a lot like an iPad.

In computer science, the concept of computers built into everything is called ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, ambient intelligence or, my favorite label: everyware.

The transition to intelligent furniture will also involve a reconsideration of the hierarchy of furniture. For example, the tables throughout your house exist in a functional ranking system. Today the king of tables, of course, is the dining room table. You spend more money on it than other tables, such as bedroom nightstands, the coffee table, the patio table, the workbench in the garage, the desk in your home office and so on. Its quality, appearance and placement are far more important than that of lesser tables.

When the dust settles on the transition to intelligent furniture, however, it’s likely that the lowly coffee table will usurp the crown and become the most important (and expensive) table in your house. The reason is that the current location and purpose of a coffee table as a table are peripheral to what’s important about your family’s life. But the intelligent coffee table of the future may be the central computing device in your home.

SUR40 Table With Microsoft PixelSense

The ultimate coffee table book is itself a coffee table. Have you ever wondered why coffee table books exist? It’s a pretty strange literary genre, if you think about it. It’s the only category of printed content that’s expressly designed to sit on a specific piece of furniture.

Wikipedia has a nice entry on the coffee table: “A coffee table book is a hardcover book that is intended to sit on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for portability.”

In the relentless drive to turn physical things into virtual ones, the purpose served by the coffee table book will soon be served by the coffee table itself, and for the same reasons. The coffee table as a computer will help you entertain guests and stimulate conversation. It will also control other smart appliances in the house, such as the TV.

The best example of this technology is a product from Samsung called the SUR40 with Microsoft PixelSense. Here’s a nice video that shows off some of the amazing capabilities of PixelSense. Currently, the SUR40 isn’t sold to consumers; it’s sold mostly to bars, casinos and retail stores.

Microsoft has made no secret of its intention to make PixelSense tables available for consumers. It’s probably just waiting for the prices of electronic components to come down far enough so the tables can sell for less than $3,000 or so.

Mozayo M42-Pro Table – $10,000.00

The coffee table as PC. A company called Mozayo sells a coffee table called the M42-Pro. It’s basically a high-end Microsoft Windows PC with a 42-inch high-definition display as the table surface. It also has a touch interface layer, which enables you to use it without a keyboard or mouse.

The Mozayo sits in a wood-grain, dark-stained coffee table. In addition to the touch interface, it comes with a few custom applications. Beyond those customizations, however, it operates very much like today’s PCs, with menus, desktop applications, icons and all the rest.

SUR40 Table

The smart coffee table of the future will be central. The Samsung SUR40 with Microsoft PixelSense does many of the things that tomorrow’s interactive coffee tables will do, but it’s not ready for the consumer market. The Mozayo M42-Pro is ready for the consumer market, but it can’t really do the things that will make future interactive coffee tables compelling.

The next generation of smart coffee tables will look like a combination of the two. (This photo shows one custom variation of the Samsung SUR40, illustrating how people will be drawn to smart coffee tables as a central sources of entertainment and information.)

Imagine a coffee table with a smooth, all-glass surface. When you touch it with your hand, it will come alive. Gestures such as swiping up will bring up various options. While the surface of the table is lit, various objects, such as phones, will be recognized by the table, enabling neat tricks. For example, by placing a smart phone on the table, it not only will know who you are but will enable you to selectively spill out digital pictures and videos onto the table.

Board games will be replaced by smart board pieces. Presenting future Monopoly items (the little dog, the top hat etc.), the table will turn into an interactive Monopoly board. All the Community Chest cards, money and the rest will be served up on the surface of the coffee table.

Draw the letter “K” (for “keyboard”) with your finger, and a keyboard with document will appear on the screen. After writing something, you’ll be able to send it via email, post it on Facebook or do any number of other things with it. Another gesture will bring up a TV remote control function or controls for various lights and other items in the house.

In short, the interactive coffee table of the future will do just about anything you want it to. And it will cost a lot less than today’s $10,000-plus tables.

Ultimately, the reason coffee tables will reign supreme is that you’re going to have a large, flat surface in the middle of your living room surrounded by chairs where people will spend a lot of time anyway. It’s the ideal scenario for a massively powerful computer with a big, beautiful touch screen that can conjure up anything you and your family desire.

Ubiquitous computing is coming. You’ll have little computers in many of your appliances and furniture pieces, and a big computer with a big screen right there in your living room. Tomorrow’s smart coffee table will do absolutely anything. You’ll even be able to set your coffee cup on it. (Please use a coaster!)

Will the Flood of New Tablets Spell the End of Personal Computers?

Reprinted from the New York Times
March 5, 2012

The chief executive of Apple, Timothy D. Cook, has a prediction: the day will come when tablet devices like the Apple iPad outsell traditional personal computers. Tablets spell the end of personal computers.

His forecast has backing from a growing number of analysts and veteran technology industry executives, who contend that the torrid growth rates of the iPad, combined with tablet competition from the likes of and Microsoft, make a changing of the guard a question of when, not if.

Tablet sales are likely to get another jolt this week when Apple introduces its newest version of the iPad, which is expected to have a higher-resolution screen. With past iterations of the iPad and iPhone, Apple has made an art of refining the devices with better screens, faster processors and speedier network connections, as well as other bells and whistles — steadily broadening their audiences.

An Apple spokeswoman, Trudy Muller, declined to comment on an event the company is holding Wednesday in San Francisco that is expected to feature the new product.

Any surpassing of personal computers by tablets will be a case of the computer industry’s tail wagging the dog. The iPad, which seemed like a nice side business for Apple when it was introduced in 2010, has become a franchise for the company, accounting for $9.15 billion in revenue in the holiday quarter, or about 20 percent of Apple’s total revenue. The roughly 15 million iPads Apple sold in that period was more than twice the number it sold a year earlier.

In the fall, Amazon introduced the iPad’s first credible competitor in the $199 Kindle Fire. Although Amazon does not release sales figures for the device, some analysts estimate it sold about four million in the holiday quarter. Later this year, tablets from a variety of hardware manufacturers based on Windows 8, a new, touch-screen-friendly operating system from Microsoft, could further propel the market.

“Tablets are on fire, there’s no question about that,” said Brad Silverberg, a venture capitalist in Seattle at Ignition Partners and a former Microsoft executive, who hastened to add that he was speaking mainly of the iPad, which dominates current sales.

Tablets are not there yet. In 2011, PCs outsold tablets almost six to one, estimates Canalys, a technology research company. But that is still a significant change from 2010, the iPad’s first year on the market, when PCs outsold tablets 20 to one, according to Canalys. For the last two years, PC sales were flat, while iPad sales were booming. The Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook gave the market an additional lift over the holidays. Apple is banking on the tablet market. Its iPad brought in nearly 40 percent more revenue during the holidays than Apple’s own computer business, the Macintosh, did.

“From the first day it shipped, we thought — not just me, many of us thought at Apple — that the tablet market would become larger than the PC market, and it was just a matter of the time that it took for that to occur,” Mr. Cook of Apple said recently at a Goldman Sachs investor conference.

Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, estimated that Mr. Cook’s prediction would come true in 2017, but others contend tablets will be on top sooner than that.

For example, in a blog post on Friday, Horace Dediu, an analyst with Asymco in Finland, made a detailed argument that tablet sales would pass traditional PC sales in the fall of 2013. His projections rest heavily on an assumption that Apple will face more serious competition in the tablet market from Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and a wave of other devices based on Google’s Android, an operating system that has been mostly successful in the smartphone market.

Tim Bucher, an entrepreneur who has held senior positions at Apple, Microsoft and Dell, said tablet sales would “absolutely” pass those of PCs, a trend he argued would become even more pronounced as a younger, tablet-savvy generation ages.

“I think the older generation does not pick up on the way of interacting with the new devices,” Mr. Bucher said, contrasting older people with the next generation. “I don’t know how many YouTube videos there are out there showing everyone from babies to animals interacting with iPads.”

Where does that change leave the PC, the lowly machine that defined computing for decades?

At a technology conference in 2010, Steven P. Jobs, then Apple’s chief executive, heralded what he called the post-PC era and compared personal computers to the trucks that prevailed in the automobile industry until society began moving away from its agrarian roots. PCs are “still going to be around and have a lot of value,” said Mr. Jobs, who died in October. “But they’re going to be used by one out of X people.”

Even Mr. Cook in his recent speech said he was not predicting the demise of the PC industry, although he did say the iPad was cannibalizing some computer sales, more Windows PCs than the much smaller market for Macs. One category of PCs where that is especially true is netbooks, the inexpensive notebook computers that have had a steep decline in shipments in the last couple of years. “What the iPad is doing is taking growth away from the PC market that would have gone to a secondary or tertiary device,” said Mr. Dediu. “It’s not so much people are going to drop PCs. They’re going to add this additional device.”

Traditional PCs are not standing still. Boxy desktop computers are an ever-diminishing part of the PC business, while Apple’s MacBook Air and a category of Windows laptops with Intel processors called ultrabooks have reinvented traditional clamshell notebooks as superthin devices that turn on instantly like tablets.

Microsoft’s introduction of Windows 8 promises to shake up computer designs further. Microsoft and its hardware partners have shown laptops with keyboards that can be swiveled around or removed altogether, turning them into tablets.

“The tablet and PC markets are all going to blur,” said Tim Coulling, an analyst at Canalys. “We’re going to see a lot of form-factor innovation. We’ll be asking, What is a tablet and what is a traditional PC?”

In Data Deluge, Multitaskers Go to Multiscreens

Reprinted from the New York Times
February 7, 2012

Workers in the digital era can feel at times as if they are playing a video game, battling the barrage of e-mails and instant messages, juggling documents, Web sites and online calendars. To cope, people have become swift with the mouse, toggling among dozens of overlapping windows on a single monitor.

But there is a growing new tactic for countering the data assault: multiscreens-the addition of a second computer screen. Or a third.

This proliferation of displays is the latest workplace upgrade, and it is responsible for the new look at companies and home offices — they are starting to resemble mission control.

For multiscreen multitaskers, a single monitor can seem as outdated as dial-up Internet. “You go back to one, and you feel slow,” said Jackie Cohen, 42, who uses three 17-inch monitors in her home office in San Francisco, where she edits a blog about Facebook.

Her center screen shows what she is writing or editing, along with e-mail and instant messages; the left and right monitors display news sites, blogs and Twitter feeds, and she keeps 3 to 10 tabs open on each. One monitor recently broke, and she felt hamstrung. “I don’t want to miss seeing something,” Ms. Cohen said.

Her computer seemed to work a bit faster with one monitor fewer, she said. But her brain was a different matter.

“I can handle it,” she added. “I’m sure there are people who can’t.”

Certainly more people are trying. Tech firms sold 179 million monitors worldwide last year and only 130 million desktop computers — meaning “more screens per desk,” said Rhoda Alexander, who heads monitor and tablet research at IHS iSuppli. Monitors are bigger, too. The average monitor sold worldwide is 21 inches, up from 18 inches five years ago, according to iSuppli.

NEC Display a major supplier of monitors, said 30 to 40 percent of the employees of its corporate customers now used more than one monitor, up from 1 percent four years ago.

There are many reasons for the spike in sales: monitors are much cheaper ($200 to $300 for a 24-inch display today compared with $700 five years ago); they are slimmer, too, so desks can accommodate more of them; and there are more communication tools — instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook — that workers have to keep an eye on (or at least feel they should).

More and bigger screens can convey bragging rights, too. Tech companies use them as recruiting tools, said Chuck Rossi, 45, who uses three monitors (27-inch, 30-inch and a 17-inch laptop) to toggle among dozens of tabs for his engineering job at Facebook, where he checks hundreds of software updates to the site each day before they become public.

“Companies will pitch it” to job candidates, Mr. Rossi said. “They know real estate is important. It shows they are serious about their engineers.”

And the engineers do care about the screens, he said, noting that someone might tell a friend about a new job by adding, “They’re giving me a 30 right off the bat,” which is shorthand for a 30-inch monitor.

The main rationale for a multimonitor setup is that it increases productivity. But that notion is not simple to prove or measure, partly because it depends on the kind of work people do and whether they really need to be constantly looking at multiple data streams. Another theory holds that people have just grown so addicted to juggling that having more monitors simply creates a compulsion to check them.

One study, by the University of Utah, found that productivity among people working on editing tasks was higher with two monitors than with one. The study was financed with about $50,000 by NEC Display, which had hoped to find evidence that companies should buy more monitors to increase productivity. (Other tech companies also promote multiple displays — one Hewlett-Packard ad declares that “two is better than one.”)

The author of the study, James A. Anderson, a professor of communication, said he had not been influenced by NEC’s financing. He said he uses three monitors himself, but also said that it was hard to generalize about whether more monitors are better.

At the very least, Professor Anderson said, more monitors cut down on toggling time among windows on a single screen, which can save about 10 seconds for every five minutes of work. If you have more than one monitor, he said, “You don’t have to toggle back and forth. You can take in everything with the sweep of an eye.”

David E. Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan whose research has found that multitasking can take a serious toll on productivity, said he buys the logic about toggling. But he also warned that productivity can suffer when people keep interrupting their thoughts by scanning multiple screens rather than focusing on one task.

“There is ‘thought-killing’ going on,” Professor Meyer said. “Rome crashed and burned because it got too big. Go past that scale and you’re going to wind up like Rome.”

Matt Alfrey, 39, said he can handle not just two monitors, but six. He is a trader at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Ore., and his wall of monitors is a blur of messages, headlines, charts, graphs and stock tickers that he watches to help predict patterns in the market.

But there are downsides, Mr. Alfrey acknowledged, like the fact that even though he sits at a long table with other traders, he feels isolated by his monitors.

“You’re sitting behind a wall,” he said. On the other side of the table is a colleague who lives in Mr. Alfrey’s neighborhood and who is surrounded by monitors, too. “We joke that I’m more likely to see him in the neighborhood,” he said.

Ian Blaine, 42, chief executive of a video software company in Seattle, counts himself in the more-monitors-are-better camp. He uses two himself and buys two for employees who want them. They tend to use one for programming and the other for communications, and Mr. Blaine said the extra monitor can save time on toggling.

“It’s probably milliseconds, but if you’re in the groove, it throws you off your game,” Mr. Blaine said, then added with a laugh, “Maybe I’m making that up and I’ve been duped into buying monitors because they want to look at the Internet while they’re doing work.”

“But for now,” he said, “I’m buying it.”

Avoiding Common Laptop Problems

Reprinted from the New York Times
September 28, 2011

If you use your laptop on your lap, or leave it plugged in all the time, you may well be cruising for what some experts call Picnic (Problem in Chair Not in Computer) or ID-10t (idiot) errors — computer problems caused by clueless users. Technical support professionals say common laptop problems or errors are responsible for at least half of all computer repairs.

”You’d be surprised how many people unknowingly damage their computers,” said Derek Meister, a technician for the Geek Squad, Best Buy’s repair and on-line support service. A classic mistake, Mr. Meister said, is using a laptop on your lap. Despite the name, a laptop should be operated on a flat and firm surface so that it rests on the four little nubs usually found on the base. A lap desk or even a large enough book will suffice. The point is to allow air to circulate around the machine.

Letting a laptop rest on your thighs — or worse, sink into a cushy comforter — prevents internal heat from radiating outward and can block air intake vents. This causes overheating, a major cause of component failure in computers. Using a laptop on a less-than-flat surface can also put the hard drive at an awkward angle, which can also cause damage.

Speaking of the hard drive, don’t walk around with your laptop while the hard drive is active, because its actuator arm, which skitters over the surface reading or saving data, could bump into the drive’s fragile and finicky magnetic memory material. Many modern laptops have gyroscopes that shut down the hard drive when they sense movement, but that sometimes doesn’t happen fast enough to prevent harm.

“A lot of people close the lid on their laptop and throw it in their case without making sure the hard drive has shut down completely,” said Chris Kramer, director of technical support for Micro Center, a chain of 23 computer and electronics stores that has its headquarters in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.

Mr. Kramer recommends manually putting a laptop in “sleep” or “hibernate” mode before closing the lid, instead of assuming that the hard drive will shut down automatically. Then wait a beat, because computers need a second or two to do the internal housekeeping necessary to obey the command.

Even then, it’s a good idea to listen for the hard drive to stop spinning before moving a laptop. Also look at the computer’s lights to look for an indication that the laptop is dormant. Depending on the brand of computer, the lights may be a green, amber or red, or there could be no light. In Apple computers, it’s a white light pulsating in a rhythm reminiscent of the slow, steady breath of peaceful sleep.

Owners of a computer with a solid-state drive, which is standard in the MacBook Air, don’t have to worry about damage from jostling. But they too, want to make sure their laptops are in sleep mode before zipping them up in carrying cases. Otherwise, the drive could remain engaged and eventually overheat the machine.

Another common user error is leaving a laptop plugged in all the time.

“A lot of people use their laptops as a desktop,” said Kevin Dane, executive director of product quality and reliability for Dell, the computer manufacturer. “Leaving it plugged in all the time diminishes the battery life and degrades its performance.” Batteries, like muscles, atrophy if not exercised. Unplugging your laptop once in a while, say two to three times per week, is enough to keep the battery fit. is the best place for buy Soma online. I have ordered the muscle relaxer from different companies, but all of them were either non-effective or too expensive. offers an ultimate correlation of best quality and competitive cost.

It’s also not a good idea to drain your battery completely and not recharge it for extended periods.

Leaving a battery uncharged for a long time can cause a degradation of its chemicals, said M. Stanley Whittingham, professor of chemistry and materials science at State University of New York at Binghamton. “If you treat batteries nicely by using them and not exposing them to extreme temperatures, they can last forever.”

When transitioning from the grid to battery power, computer manufacturers and repair professionals suggest pulling out the power cord by the end piece, not by the line. Tugging the line can stress both the cord’s wiring and the pinlike contact points within the computer. And, of course, make sure the laptop is unplugged before dashing off with it to the next room or to a meeting.

“I see damaged power plugs all the time,” said Tollie Williams, a computer consultant in Decatur, Ala., who repairs both laptops and desktops. “Users jerk them out tripping over them or stress them by trying to get them to reach a power plug a little too far away or bend them at a hard angle trying to fit computers into tight spaces.”

Sometimes, misuse can cause the power cord to no longer fit snugly in the housing. When the connection is compromised, laptops may take a longer time to charge, if they charge at all.

Dust can also cause problems, though that is a bigger concern for stationary desktops, particularly if they are kept in areas with pets, smokers and carpeting. “I took the case off a Mac Pro recently that my co-worker complained was slowing down and freezing up and found about a half inch of dust inside,” Mr. Williams said.

The problem was that the machine was near a paper shredder. “I guess it was really adding to the dust load in a room,” said Mr. Williams, who removed the dust with a hose attached to a standard vacuum cleaner. “It worked fine after that.”

Experts recommend cleaning out desktop and laptop computers at least once a year (every six months if the machine is in a really dusty environment) by taking them into repair centers for a thorough cleaning or by removing the outer case and using a gentle vacuum, compressed air, tweezers or cotton swabs to remove dust bunnies.

“It should be like cleaning your ears,” said Mr. Meister of Geek Squad. “You don’t want to jam anything in there.”

Never use standard household cleaners on or even near computers. The chemicals — and even the fumes — can seep into crevices and cause corrosion.

Picnic error can happen with software as well. While most people know not to download anything from a suspect source, repair technicians say that people frequently install an antivirus program on new computers when one has been already loaded, usually by the manufacturer.

“So you’ve got two programs trying to do the same task running in the background,” said Mr. Kramer from the Micro Center. “The computer slows down and gets jerky and can even freeze up.”

Finally, most experts advise shutting down computers every few days to clear out the cache and short-term memory, set off routine system maintenance chores, and install and update software that might have been downloaded while the computer was in use.

Moreover, restarting a computer often fixes mysterious glitches. “There’s a reason it’s the first thing they tell you to do when you call technical support,” said Mr. Williams, the consultant in Decatur. “It works.”

Bluetooth Technology in your Home Office

The following is an article from / The Advisor
Reprinted from The San Francisco Chronicle
July 9th 2008

It seems that every new electronic device on the market claims to be Bluetooth enabled. But what exactly is Bluetooth Technology? How can it make your business more efficient? And why is it called Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that uses short-range radio waves to connect devices. It has a relatively limited range, about 30 feet, which limits its use to cable replacement and similar applications. It’s perfect for connecting keyboards to computers, for transferring digital photos from Bluetooth-equipped cameras, and syncing PDAs and other devices to your workstation. You can even wirelessly network printers and other peripheral devices.

But because of the limited range, it’s not a good option for running a computer network.

For now, Wi-Fi is still your best bet for unwired networking. However, Bluetooth is great at what it does; it’s reasonably fast, and uses next to no battery power. These factors add up to a wireless standard tailor-made for many of today’s consumer electronic devices.

Even with the limited distance, manufacturers seem to have no trouble finding innovative applications for Bluetooth. Cell phones, PDAs and even cars offer Bluetooth connections. Courier and delivery services are equipping their delivery drivers with Bluetooth tablets that automatically sync with computers when they return to their delivery trucks, immediately transferring package and signature data.

Bluetooth is even being used to monitor critical infrastructure elements, such as water-pumping stations. Bluetooth’s utility is limited only by manufacturers’ imaginations – and its range.

Bluetooth devices are equipped with tiny chips that transmit and receive data and voice information. These chips communicate with one another over a low radio frequency – 2.4 GHz – on a portion of the radio spectrum known as the industrial, scientific and medical bands. Radio traffic on these bands can be heavy, as they are unlicensed, but Bluetooth uses a technique called frequency-hopping to avoid interference.

Frequency-hopping means the devices are almost always changing the frequencies on which they’re transmitting and receiving. These hops are synchronized between transmitter and receiver, so communication is maintained. Frequency-hopping not only protects the data stream against interference, but also protects it from being intercepted. Because the devices are always switching channels, any eavesdropping devices on a specific channel would intercept only a small fraction of data.

Developers are already working on Bluetooth’s successor. Ultrawideband technology promises to offer personal-area networking (that’s industry-speak for short-distance networking) capability similar to Bluetooth, but much faster and much easier to use. It may even sport improved range – possibly up to 80 feet or so.|

But such is the lifecycle of new technologies; yesterday’s killer app is tomorrow’s quaint museum exhibit. Because of its extremely wide adoption by manufacturers, Bluetooth will certainly be around for a while before it’s superseded by ultrawideband or whatever the next technology is. And for now, Bluetooth is a good way to get rid of those pesky wires.

Networking no-nos

Common mistakes:
Not reaching the entire work space. Wireless signal strength will vary. Expect locations with spotty reception, and have a backup plan for reaching them.

Not changing the default password. Too many system administrators leave the default password in place, an invitation to hackers.

Not knowing how to troubleshoot. Make sure you test the system thoroughly before the installer leaves, and be sure you know what to do if something goes wrong.

Neglecting network security. Don’t even turn on your network until it has been secured.

Why Bluetooth

Harald Blåtand was a 10th-century Danish king credited with uniting the kingdoms in Denmark and Norway. Blåtand, which means “dark hair” or “dark complexion,” also translates loosely to “blue teeth.” The original Bluetooth developers, many of whom were Scandinavian, likened their quest of uniting disparate devices to Blåtand’s unification of disparate countries.

Green Home Office

Power management, consolidating equipment among options
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle
By ILANA DeBARE, Chronicle Staff Writer
June 9, 2008

Dee Harley runs her Pescadero goat farm with a deep environmental ethos. Instead of chemical fertilizers, she relies on goat and chicken droppings. She recycles all the water used on the farm, and grows the edible flowers and herbs for her artisan cheeses without pesticides.

But until recently, Harley had never thought about applying her environmental lens to the company’s computers.

We needed to make a green home office as well.  “A lot of times we would keep the computers on at night,” she recalled. “And our old computers were not energy-efficient. I didn’t even know that Energy Star computers were available. We needed to be educated.”
From goat farms to law firms, America’s 26 million small businesses rely on technology today more than ever before – to the tune of spending a projected $143 billion this year on new software, computers, printers and other office electronics, according to JupiterResearch.

Computers may not be the first thing that comes to mind for small business owners like Harley who are trying to minimize their environmental footprint.

But there are a lot of things businesses can do to green their computers – from the moment of purchase until they’re ready to discard them. And many of these steps are cheaper and easier than in the past.
The federal government gives its Energy Star label to computers, printers and other office equipment that is 85 percent energy-efficient – meaning, it wastes no more than 15 percent of its power through heat.
Servers are not yet included in the Energy Star program. However, you can find a list of servers with energy-efficiency of at least 85 percent through the nonprofit Climate Savers Computing Initiative at

Meanwhile, another computer rating program called EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) takes a broader and more ambitious approach than Energy Star.

EPEAT gives bronze, silver or gold ratings to computers and monitors that meet a variety of environmental criteria such as recycled content, reduction of toxic materials, energy efficiency and recyclability.

Manufacturers currently don’t put an EPEAT label on their products, though, so you’ll need to look up rated models on the EPEAT Web site ( before going shopping.
Screen saver no power saver

Many small-business owners and employees assume their computer is using less power when their screen saver is on. Wrong!

“Your screen saver uses as much power as when the monitor is on – all it does is cover up what’s underneath,” said Terri Reece of Reece Computer Systems, a Half Moon Bay computer consulting firm that works with small businesses.

To genuinely save energy, businesses need to activate their computers’ power-management option, which directs the computer and monitor to enter a low-power sleep mode after being left idle for some minutes.
The energy savings can be dramatic: A typical non-Energy-Star computer would use 741 kilowatt-hours of energy over the course of a year if left on all the time, compared with 123 kilowatt-hours with power management, according to the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

“Just by turning on power management, you’re cutting energy use by up to 90 percent – power management is huge,” said Climate Savers spokeswoman Barbara Grimes.

(To enable power management on a Windows PC, right-click on the desktop, then click on Properties and Screen Saver. Grimes suggests setting the monitor and hard drive to hibernate after 15 minutes, and the whole computer to hibernate after 30 minutes. )

Small-business owners with computer networks can buy power-management software from companies like Verdiem and 1e to control the sleep settings on employees’ computers. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is offering a rebate of $15 per computer on such programs.

Finally, to maximize energy savings, business owners should train their staff to turn computers and other equipment off at night.

“There’s no cost to all this, but it can mean big savings for the environment and potentially big savings for the business,” said Preston Gralla, editor of
Consolidate equipment

Many offices have separate printers, fax machines, scanners and copiers. But for mom-and-pop businesses and home offices, a single $200 all-in-one printer often can handle all those jobs for less energy and money.
“Instead of four things pulling power, you have one thing that’s Energy-Star rated,” said Reece. “Boom! You see enormous power savings.”

At the same time, making old equipment last longer also saves resources. Sometimes you can avoid buying an entirely new computer by upgrading parts of your old one such as its memory.
The much-ballyhooed paperless office remains a utopian vision, but small-business owners can still do a lot to decrease their paper use.

Large printers can often be set to automatically print on both sides of the page: If buying a printer, ask if it can handle “duplex” printing.

“You can cut your paper use almost in half,” said Susan Kinsella, of Conservatree, an environmental paper consulting firm in San Francisco.

Even old, single-sided printers can be instructed to fit more text on each sheet of paper. (But don’t get carried away, or you’ll need a magnifying glass to read them.)

There’s also an innovative software program called GreenPrint that can decrease the amount of paper that’s wasted in printing Web pages and e-mails.

GreenPrint automatically eliminates “orphan” pages that end up blank except for a few characters or a single line of a url. It also allows users to easily eliminate images from a Web page if they only need to print the text.
GreenPrint is free to individual users, and offers volume discounts to business users at

Recycled paper got a bad rap in the past for jamming printers, but the quality of today’s recycled paper is typically as good as new.

It’s also much more affordable and available than in the past – for sale at large chains like Office Depot as well as small office supply stores such as that specialize in environmentally friendly products.

Look for at least 35 percent post-consumer recycled content, which refers to the portion of the pulp that comes from people’s recycling bins rather than scrap at paper mills. Or if you’re more ambitious, look for 100 percent post-consumer content.

Choosing paper that is labeled as “processed chlorine free” will support manufacturers who are developing cleaner technology, according to Kinsella.

And when buying paper with some virgin content, look for the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council, which indicates that the timber was sustainably harvested.

Other options for recycled printing supplies include toner and ink. But try these out on your printer before making a permanent shift. Some businesses do just fine with remanufactured ink and toner cartridges, but others complain that they clog their printers.

“I’ve seen many more issues with ink than with remanufactured toner,” Reece said.

Recycle old computers

When ready to retire old computer equipment, see if you can arrange a second life for it at a school or nonprofit. Organizations like and can help you find homes for used but viable office equipment.

If they’re too obsolete for reuse, computers can be recycled for parts and materials. But make sure you choose a responsible recycler that dismantles products here in the United States rather than in a foreign country with lax environmental laws.

“What you care about with recycling is what happens downstream,” Reece said. “What does your recycler do with the recycling? Do they sell it to China, where it could end up dumped on a sandy beach?”

Best Buy last week launched a pilot program to recycle old computers for free. Some computer manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard will recycle old hardware for free or for a small fee. You can also find lists of reputable recyclers at sites such as and

In Dee Harley’s case, she turned to Terri Reece to recycle her old computers as part of bringing the farm’s technology operation into the 21st century.

Reece helped Harley Farms buy five new Energy Star computers. She showed Harley and her staff how to use their power-management features. Reece also created a network for the farm’s computers for the first time.

Previously, employees had been sharing documents by printing them out and passing them around. So one unexpected benefit of the new networked system was that Harley Farms cut its paper use from two cases per month to about one-quarter of a case per month.

“We were very, very inefficient, which certainly wasn’t green,” Harley said. “We run our farm very sustainably. But I really didn’t get sustainability when it came to our computers. This has been a huge change.”

Second in a three-part series. Sunday: Bay Area businesses at forefront of environmental trend.
Tuesday: Mom-and-pop restaurants go green.

Read the series at

Resources on the Web

— The Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a coalition of environmental groups and technology companies such as Intel and Google, provides tips on how to save energy, including how to use the power-management setting on your computer at

— You can find information on Energy-Star-rated office equipment and how to improve the energy efficiency of your office at The Energy Star site also offers tips on power management at

— You can find information on EPEAT-rated computers and monitors at

— Conservatree offers advice on choosing environmentally friendly paper, including a chart comparing many brands of recycled paper, at

— Xerox has an online “sustainability calculator” for printers that shows how much energy, greenhouse gas and solid waste can be saved by switching to Energy Star equipment. See

— There are many sites that address the problem of electronic waste and how to find a responsible recycler.

Some are,,, and
Source: Chronicle research

Monitoring the monitors

Different computer monitors use vastly different amounts of electricity. For instance:

Energy Star rated Estimated energy use Energy use per year, if left on 24 hours a day Estimated cost per year*
CRT (cathode ray tube) No 73.4 watts 643.3 kilowatt hours $106.32
LCD (liquid crystal display) No 41.5 watts 363.3 kilowatt hours $60.05
LCD Yes 27.8 watts 243.3 kilowatt hours $40.21
LCD** Yes 27.8 watts (0.9 watts when asleep) 29.6 kilowatt hours $4.89

*Based on PG&E average commercial rate of $0.16528 per kilowatt hour
**Using power-management setting

Source: Climate Savers Computing Initiative; Chronicle research

Tips for Planning a Child’s Workspace

Sunset Ideas for Great Home Offices ©1995 Sunset Publishing

Child’s Workspace

A comfortable, versatile computer workstation can boost your child’s productivity and well-being. Here are some tips for planning a space that will serve as an incentive for the development of good work, play, and study habits:

  • If you want a system that can “grow” as your child grows, consider using a worksurface that is height-adjustable. There are many currently available.
  • Ergonomics is as important for children as it is for adults. Poor posture can form early and lead to physical problems over time. When planning your child’s space, be sure to consider the following: The height and tilt of the computer keyboard. Wrists should rest comfortably in a straight line from forearm to fingers. Proper seating posture: a chair with a slight tilt forward is best, with arms positioned at a right angle (see diagram). To minimize neck and eye strain, position the computer monitor so that the top of the screen is at a slightly downward angle from your child’s eyes. If using an adult’s chair (there are few ergonomically-sensitive chairs for children), make sure the child’s feet rest flat on the floor. If they don’t, a good remedy is a footrest or stool.
  • Managing multiple wires can be a problem in a room already filled with furnishings. To ensure that wires stay out of sight and don’t pose safety hazards to younger children, pets and others, look for furnishings that have wire management systems built in, or purchase wire management channels or velcro fasteners that group the wires and attach to the underside of the work surface.
  • As your child may be doing more than working on a computer, make sure there is a task lamp on the desk to eliminate eye strain.
  • Children like cupboards and drawers for hiding things. Parents will appreciate how these features help to keep the work area free of clutter.
  • A plastic laminate such as Formica or Wilsonart is a smart option for the top of the worksurface as it wipes up easily, and withstands general abuse. Wood on the other hand, can scratch, chip and dent.
  • Aesthetically, you can make a child’s desk as “fun” as you want by choosing interesting colors and shapes for both the worksurface, and for hardware such as knobs. Laminates come in hundreds of colors, and worksurface shapes do not have to be rectilinear. Seating can be upholstered in any “fun” fabric to liven up, and personalize your child’s space.
  • Mobility is a nice option. Put your child’s desksystem on casters (wheels) so that it can be moved around to “redecorate” as your child grows. Make sure casters are “locking” so the system won’t roll around once in place. Freestanding drawers and cupboards can be treated in the same manner.
  • If your child’s workspace will be in his/her bedroom, one option is to begin with bunk-style beds, turning the lower portion into a desk unit while leaving the bed above for sleeping.