Articles and Tips

Smart Desks to Keep You Moving

Reprinted from the New York Times
By JENNIFER JOLLY
June 2, 2015

You might want to sit down for this. Or stand up. Better yet, do both.

A new batch of so-called smart desks can monitor your movements, track your calories and even nudge you to stand up at various intervals throughout the day without interruption or loss of concentration.

Over the past three years, I have tested nearly a dozen of these desks, from the cheapest, build-it-yourself model for less than $100 to an exquisitely designed luxury desk that offers a Zen-like sit-stand experience for a little more than $4,000. I’ve used desks with smart screens, desks that adjust with the wave of a hand and even desks that include a treadmill (something I could never get used to, but more on that later).

The reason to buy a smart desk is because you, like most Americans, discover you are sitting your life away. Sitting for more than three hours a day can shave our life expectancy by two years — even if we exercise regularly.

One solution is to get up and move several times a day, and that’s where a standing desk comes in. But shop wisely. About 70 percent of people who buy a traditional sit-stand desk don’t move it out of the sitting position after the novelty wears off, typically in a few weeks, according to industry research. I learned that I was far more likely to take advantage of the standing feature if the desk automatically made me do it. (No manual hand crank for me.)

The best sit-stand experience by far was also the most expensive. The Stir Kinetic Desk F1 ($4,190) and the Stir M1 ($2,990) are the work of the former Apple engineer JP Labrosse, who was part of the original iPod team. That pedigree shows. There is a five-inch touch-screen built into the surface, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a thermal sensor on the underside that tracks your activity.

As I tested the M1 one day, the touch-screen display showed five and a half hours of standing, three and a half hours of sitting and 359 calories burned. I exceeded my goal of standing half the time, and was on pace to burn the same number of calories in a week as I would running a marathon.

Based on your settings, the desktop rises about an inch, then settles back down a few times an hour. Stir calls this “Whisperbreath,” a nudge that prompts you to change position without breaking your concentration.

The British-made TableAir ($2,300) and the Kickstarter-funded Autonomous Desk Smart Model (starting at $699) also offer high-end smart desks. To stand at the TableAir, press a button and hold out your arm — the desk automatically rises to the height of your hand. The Autonomous Desk, which begins shipping in July, promises a Siri-like voice-activated personal assistant and connects with other smart devices such as Nest or Philips Hue to turn up the heat or turn off the lights.

A budget-conscious option is the StandStand ($69), a portable wooden structure that turns any desk into a standing desk. The wood frame collapses to the size of a briefcase and can be quickly assembled and placed on the desktop at standing height. A similar product, the StorkStand ($199), attaches to an office chair. Portable models are affordable but not easily adjusted. They’re also easy to ignore.

Some companies offer conversion kits that turn your regular desk into a sit-stand desk. A desk-mounted stand like the iSkelter LIFT (nit currently available), or a desktop model from Varidesk (starting at $275) or Ergotron (starting around $250), sit on your desktop permanently and require manual adjustment as you sit and stand.

The LIFT has a cup holder, and the Ergotron’s mechanical arm accessories hold your gadgets while you work. Function is emphasized over form, and the need to adjust the desk height manually can be a drawback. Ultimately, an on-desk attachment is best suited to those who can’t afford a pricier model or who work in an office where swapping furniture isn’t an option.

Motorized sit-stand desks don’t cost much more than the manual models. Motor noise and weight may vary from model to model, but not enough to change their appeal. IKEA’s Bekant Sit/Stand desk ($489) is a no-frills motorized desk with simple two-button adjustment controls. One look at the unassembled parts and instruction manual sent shivers up my spine. I put it together wrong twice, but once I got it up and running, it went from a sitting desk to a standing desk in seconds.

For a few hundred dollars more, there are the GeekDesk (starting at $749), the NextDesk (starting at $879) or one of the UpDesk Power Series 111 models (starting at $949). These electric sit-stand desks come with a variety of features, like the NextDesk memory controller for height settings and the UpDesk UpWrite’s erasable whiteboard, one of my favorites. The biggest downside of these midpriced desks is that the user has to hold down the up-down button to move from standing or sitting, a minor inconvenience that adds up over days and weeks.

For three months, I also tested the LifeSpan TR1200-DT7 ($1,999), a treadmill desk. I wanted to love it, but didn’t. The desk took up too much space in my home office, and it took me a while to get into the groove of walking slowly enough to concentrate on work. I experienced a feeling of motion sickness when I walked more than three miles an hour and felt woozy when I stepped off the treadmill, as if I’d been on a boat all day.

While I preferred the sit-stand models over the treadmill model, I also learned the hard way that a desk sitter can’t be transformed into a stander overnight. It’s a rookie mistake to stand for hours at a time when you get your first sit-stand desk, and if you overdo it, you may end up like me, slumped in a chair at day’s end nursing sore feet, a strained back and aching joints. Experts recommend that those new to a sit-stand desk start by standing just five to 20 minutes each hour and working up from there.

Ultimately, choosing a standing desk is no different from picking any large furnishing, with budget and space the main considerations. But you should also consider that, as with any piece of furniture, you could have it for life — which may be a little longer now that you are not sitting all day.

Reducing Eye Strain

Essential For Maintaining Productivity – And Good Health
By MARK DUTKA

Recent studies show that Americans are working more hours than ever and it’s putting an increased strain on our bodies. There’s lots of talk about Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and other maladies, however eye strain is frequently looked upon as simply “part of the job.” Yet eye strain from poor office lighting causes headaches, sore/aching eyes, blurred vision and a decrease in productivity. Here are some expert tips for reducing eye strain from InHouse:

  • Correct lighting requires that two types of lighting be present: ambient light which is a combination of natural light, and light that is usually provided by a ceiling fixture, and task lighting which is provided over a single work area for paperwork, etc. These forms of light should both be present simultaneously, and the combination should ideally change according to the task at hand i.e., when working at a monitor, ambient light may be sufficient. When taking notes or reading at your desk, a task light will need to be added.
  • Design your space so that you’ll be sitting with a track or ceiling light slightly behind you. If it is too far back, it may reflect onto your computer screen causing – you guessed it – eye strain.
  • Halogen task lamps are currently popular, however they can occasionally produce harsh shadows and can be a safety issue, as they are hot and potentially harmful when touched. If you choose to use flourescent lighting instead, choose a warm white bulb (rather than cool white) which provides light closest to the more familiar incandescent bulb we commonly buy at the supermarket.
  • Place your monitor so that it is perpendicular to all of your light sources. This will encourage diffusion and softening of light, and will minimize distracting glare on the screen.
  • Instead of a ceiling light, try using soft, diffused uplighting which bounces off the ceiling and bathes the room in subtle, yet ample light. A torchiere floorlamp will accomplish this.
  • Choose a task lamp with a multi-directional head or polarized lens to direct the light so that it won’t bounce off the worksurface and into your eyes or off the page which you are reading. Also, a dimmer switch on the task light allows for increased flexibility.
  • Make sure your task light has an arm long enough to reach your work area, but does not get in your way. An adjustable arm is optimal so that you can light spaces near the lamp as well as further away on the worksurface.
  • Place the center of your computer screen so that it is 4 to 8 inches lower than your eyes.
  • To reduce not only eye, but neck and shoulder strain as well, place your document holder either right next to your screen at the same height, or directly below it, between your monitor and keyboard.
  • Wipe your screen off frequently. Dust on your computer screen can interfere with clarity, causing eye strain.
  • Seat yourself at arm’s length from your screen. If in this position, it is difficult to see the screen clearly, it may be time to visit an eye specialist.

Are You Planning to Have Your Bedroom or Living Room as an Office?

By MARK DUTKA

Sometimes there is no choice but to have to use your bedroom or living room as an office.

Here are 10 tips for making it work

  • Make sure the room has a door, especially if you have children or family members who come and go during the day. This will ensure privacy when concentration is essential, and eliminates embarrassing “house” noises.
  • Choose office furniture that blends well with your existing furnishings, so that the room will retain its residential feel.
  • If you also entertain in the room, consider furnishings that can contain and even hide computers, peripherals and papers. Furniture such as armoires and hutches can be closed up so that the office disappears completely when not in use.
  • Managing multiple wires can be a problem in a room already filled with furnishings. To ensure that they stay out of sight and don’t pose safety hazards to children and others, look for furnishings that have wire management systems built in, or purchase wire management channels or Velcro fasteners and attach them to the underside of the work surface.
  • To avoid power problems, check on the electrical usage and power supply in the space you’re considering for your office. Appliances that use a lot of energy often cannot be plugged into the same outlet as a computer or fax.
  • Check to make sure you have enough outlets for modems/fax, and telephones. Don’t add any until you have decided where these machines will be placed in the room.
  • Plan placement of your computer workstation so that equipment is not in direct sun, and so there will not be glare on or behind your monitor screen. Black out shades installed behind drapes can help. If you have a great view and plan to face it as well as your screen, be aware that outside light will compete with the screen, making it difficult to focus. Avoid placing bright lights behind the screen, as this too, causes eye strain. Bright lights behind you can cause distracting shadows.
  • Avoid purchasing a desk chair simply because it will look great in the room. Your body will thank you and your productivity will increase when you choose a chair that offers optimal lumbar support, adjustable arms, pneumatic height adjustment, and overall flexibility.
  • If you’ll be doing more than working on a computer, make sure you have a task lamp on your desk for paperwork.
    Avoid putting your keyboard on top of your work surface, as this height can strain arms, shoulders and wrists. Purchase an articulating keyboard tray which can accommodate both a keyboard and mouse. These trays not only pull out from under the desk, but can be height and tilt adjusted to your specific body needs.

If you’d like more information on planning and furnishing your home office, contact InHouse, the specialists in home office furniture and custom design.

Ergo-Unfriendly Home Offices Can Hurt

First, Buy a Good Chair; It Could Cost
Hundreds, but May Keep Doctor Away

By ALBERT R. KARR
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In far too many cases, unfriendly home offices are a body ache waiting to happen.
A cast-off chair with bad support paired with a computer mouse placed on the desk can take a physical toll over time. Yet plenty of home offices are makeshift.
Experts in ergonomics — techniques for adapting the work environment to the human body — say that anybody spending long hours at the home computer should follow the same rules advised for any office building filled with desk workers: Get the right equipment and use it properly.
“The effects of poor posture are really insidious. They happen over long periods of time, and you may not notice them for months,” says Robert DeSiervo, director of professional affairs for the American Society of Safety Engineers, a workplace- safety and -health group.

Constant use of ergonomically deficient equipment, or improper use of good gear, can produce carpal tunnel syndrome, a disorder of the hand; back pain; spine and neck problems; aching shoulders; sore elbows; eyestrain; and other problems.

Inadequate, unfriendly home offices are becoming a bigger issue, as the number of people working from home grows, whether because of telecommuting or entrepreneurial urges. According to a survey for the International Telework Association and Council issued early in September, telecommuters number 23.5 million, double the total six years ago, and self-employed home workers number 23.4 million, up from 18.3 million in 1997.
Achieving proper ergonomics at home is also complicated by the fact that more than one person may use the same computer. You don’t want to visit carpal tunnel or other disorders on your spouse or your children, either. So make sure the space works for everybody who needs it.

Buying a good ergonomic chair is the first and most important step in creating or improving your home office ergonomically. A good chair can often work well with a less-than-perfect desk. Paying several hundred dollars for the right chair is worth the money in comfort alone and could save you money in medical bills later.

“People who make their living sitting on their butts need to spend money on a good adjustable chair,” says Carter Kerk, associate professor of industrial engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines, who also heads the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

If you are a telecommuter, your employer ought to see the value in providing you with proper gear.
The chair, preferably with a sturdy, five-legged base and casters that roll easily, should be adjustable in several ways. You should be able to adjust for height to ensure that your line of vision is about even with the top of the computer-monitor screen to two inches above it. Armrests should be adjustable, to keep your forearms horizontal while using the keyboard, and your elbows should be kept close to your torso.
Adjust the chair also so that your feet are comfortably on the floor (or on a footrest, if you are short). The backrest, lumbar support and seat pan should be independently adjustable, so that you can sometimes recline slightly, 10 to 15 degrees, to match the natural curve of the spine, rather than always sitting upright or — even worse — hunched forward. Make sure good support is provided for your lumbar region, or lower back.

Your thighs should be parallel to the floor or slope slightly away from your hips, if you can do that and still keep your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
Overall, the goal is maintaining a neutral posture, one that feels comfortable and minimizes strain on your body’s muscles, nerves, tendons and blood system.
Using equipment correctly is crucial, too. You can undo the benefits of the best ergonomics with incorrect behavior, such as hunching forward, cradling your phone on your shoulder or reaching too far away to type or dial.

“You want to do as much as possible within your shoulder-to-shoulder range, without having to reach,” adds Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
If you have a laptop, use it sparingly. A laptop by design violates ergonomic precepts — it requires incorrect posture to use the keyboard and monitor together, because they are too close and too low. It is best to use a separate keyboard or monitor, or both, with the laptop at the office or at home, and when you cannot do that on the road, at least support your laptop and your arms with a pillow or seat cushion, if possible.

Keep in mind that just because something is labeled “ergonomic” doesn’t make it useful. It may not be ergonomic at all, or it may suit only certain users; a prime feature of ergonomic furniture and devices is adjustability. Curved desks require more reaching, because they limit your ability to swivel the chair. Keyboards, mouses and staplers designed for large or small hands are good for some people, not for others. Keyboards split down the middle, with each half rotated outward at the “ZXCVB” base of the keyboard may work well for broad-shouldered users, but poorly for smaller or hunt-and-peck typists.
And if you are really serious about getting things right, try a consultation with a certified professional ergonomist, or C.P.E.

Beyond the home-office chair, these are some basics for buying and using computer-related equipment:

DESKS

A height-adjustable desk, usually about 26 to 30 inches above the floor and easily fittable with the right keyboard and mouse tray, is ideal, but you may have to use the desk or other work surface that is available in your home workroom. Using an adjustable chair and fitting your other computer-related gear to the desk then becomes imperative.

KEYBOARDS

Place the keyboard at a height and distance that keeps your elbows comfortably by your sides. The keyboard should be flat, or tilted slightly downward away from you, to help you keep your lower arms, wrists and hands in a straight line. Your hands should be essentially flat, with no twisting of wrists to the side, upward or downward. A keyboard tray fitted to the underside of the desk top is useful. Don’t rest your palms on the keyboard rest pad while typing — do that only between typing stints — and the rest pad should be padded, but not spongy. Don’t rest your wrists on the pads, or on any hard or sharp edges, because that puts pressure on the wrist’s medial nerve. Your thighs should be comfortably clear of the bottom of the keyboard tray.

MOUSE

Use one that is large enough so that your hand fits comfortably over it, with a mouse tray fitted to the side of the keyboard, to avoid constant reaching to use it. Don’t leave your hand on the mouse when you aren’t using it. If you are right-handed and begin to have discomfort in your right hand, switch the mouse to the left side of the keyboard and use it left-handed, and vice versa. Some ergonomics experts reduce mousing by using function keys instead, whenever possible.

MONITORS

Position the monitor at arm’s length — somewhere in the range of 18 to 30 inches — with the top of the view screen even with your line of vision, or slightly below it, to avoid straining your neck when you turn your head to look upward.
“What you don’t want to be is a bobble head,” says Lawrence Schulze, an associate professor of ergonomics; at the University of Houston, who is also director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s worker-safety and ergonomics program. If you wear bifocal glasses, the monitor may have to be still lower, to prevent turning your head upward. Or you may need to buy trifocals or computer glasses, so you can work from the right distance and keep the monitor at a proper height. A flat monitor held by a movable arm is easily placed in the right position.
Copyholders should be as close to the monitor as possible, so you don’t have to keep twisting your neck back and forth.

LIGHTING

Reduce harmful glare by tilting the monitor slightly toward you, and, if possible, by placing it at a right angle to the window, rather than in front of it. Keeping the blinds closed is another option. Overhead light shouldn’t end up bouncing off walls, contributing to glare on the screen. Use an antiglare screen filter when needed.

And reduce strain on your body and eyestrain by looking away from the screen and blinking, and changing body positions from time to time, taking frequent “micro” breaks (one or two minutes, resting your hands and eyes), and 15-minute breaks every hour or two, doing stretch exercises, getting up and walking around or doing some other chore.

Copyright 2003 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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
By MARY JO PETERSON
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.

LIFESTYLE & USE FACTORS

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.

DESIGN CONCEPTS

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.

DESK REPLACEMENTS

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
By KATE MURPHY
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 Wirecutter.com 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, ThirdCulture.com 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 PRAD.de 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 www.houzz.com
by MIKE ELGAN
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
By NICK WINGFIELD
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 Amazon.com 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
By MATT RICHTEL
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
By KATE MURPHY
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.

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 AllBusiness.com / 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 www.climatesaverscomputing.org.

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 ( www.epeat.net) 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 GreenerComputing.com.
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 www.printgreener.com.

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 www.thegreenoffice.com 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 www.ireuse.com and www.techsoup.org 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 www.erecycle.org and www.computertakeback.com.

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 www.sfgate.com.

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 www.climatesaverscomputing.org.

— You can find information on Energy-Star-rated office equipment and how to improve the energy efficiency of your office at www.energystar.gov/smallbiz. The Energy Star site also offers tips on power management at links.sfgate.com/ZDQW.

— You can find information on EPEAT-rated computers and monitors at www.epeat.net.

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

— 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 links.sfgate.com/ZDQW.

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

Some are www.computertakeback.com, www.erecycle.org, www.ban.org, and links.sfgate.com/ZDQW.
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

By MARK DUTKA
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.