Sunday, August 07, 2011

On Your Feet!

Don't take it sitting down!

Inspired by Anna's post on IKEA Hackers, I decided to make myself a reasonably economical standing desk. Not, perhaps, as economical as Anna's, but still a heck of a lot more affordable than most of the options out there. The Anna in the IKEA hacker post is not to be confused with my own ten-year-old Anna, who is, don't get me wrong, brilliant and creative, but has not yet to my knowledge invented an item of furniture of any kind. Give her time, for crissakes, she's only ten. Sheesh.

I used my existing desk as a base, though I'll probably replace it with another Vika Amon 23.5" x 45" tabletop ($19.99) and four of IKEA's $3.50 table legs. It'll look a little more uniform, and anyway, my old desk is a cracked and peeling piece of crap.

So the thinking here is that I spend most of my waking time sitting at the computer, which is a polite way of saying that I spend most of my waking time sitting on my ass. I've read a few articles about what a bad idea this is, and it only makes sense, doesn't it? Standing at the new desk, I tend not to stand still; I shift my weight from foot to foot, idly lift a knee to stretch one leg behind me, march in place, dance around a little bit, in a fidgety way. It's about four hours a day - quite a bit more on weekends (this is my home workstation) which was spent in almost total inactivity, now spent in light activity.

So here's what I used to make my desk:

1 - cheap ass cracking peeling piece of crap old desk - $0.00, tax included
1 - Vika Amon 23.5" x 45" tabletop in black finish - $19.99 plus tax
1 - 4-pack 8" Capita legs - $14.00 plus tax
1 - Ekby Jarpen shelf - $9.99 plus tax
2 - Ekby Tore brackets - $5.00 each, $10.00 plus tax

Note that the shelf and brackets do not include screws, which is kind of weird for IKEA, who usually provide not only the hardware required, but many of the actual tools needed for assembly. Fortunately, I have a pathological inability ever to throw away anything that looks as if it might possibly be useful in the future, with the result that I was quickly able to get my hands on the screws needed to assemble my shelf without ever leaving my house (again - IKEA is in Round Rock, or possibly Houston). There's a lesson in that somewhere, but it probably isn't a very good one.

So that's $54 to convert my desk from sitting to standing. Once I add another Vika Amon tabletop and the Curry legs, the total will ratchet up to a whopping $88. Not really too shabby!

I did also spring an additional $30 for a barstool at Wal-Mart (I'm sorry, I realize that I've just contaminated this post beyond all hope of usefulness to anyone) so that Anna (my ten-year-old, not Anna from IKEA Hackers) could still use the computer. She's short, I'm sorry to say, but she's doing her best to amend that fault as fast as she can, eating all her vegetables, etc.

And speaking of height differential, here are a few notes on the finished size of the standing desk. The keyboard/mousing surface is 38" high, which works perfectly for me at 5'5" tall. If you need a lower desk, the Capita legs are also available in 4" and 6" heights, for a slightly lower price. If you need a taller desk, you can buy bed risers/bed lifts, which can add another 4-8" to the length of the legs, for around ten bucks.

A couple of additional notes:

1. I live about one mile from the Congress Avenue bridge, and I have never witnessed the famous bat emergence, which takes place every evening at some unspecified time determined only by the caprice of a million winged rodents. Or not. Maybe they're not hungry. However, in two trips to IKEA last week, one to scope out available materials and one actually to make the purchase, I TWICE saw a colony of bats emerge from underneath I-35 in long, smoky coils. Beautiful! A coworker of mine, who lives in Round Rock, said, "Oh yeah, we call those the 'white-trash' bats. They don't even go south for the winter." And apparently, they are not too proud to show themselves to passing motorists, while hordes of spectators along the Congress Avenue bridge, or even on bat-watching riverboat cruises, every single evening from March through October, may well go home disappointed. Fucking hipster bats.

2. My feet are KILLING me, especially the heels. From what I read online, this is perfectly normal and nothing to be alarmed about. Once my feet and I come to an understanding about who is responsible for standing and who is responsible for being stood upon, I plan to convert my desk at work as well. This would necessarily mean no more wearing high heels to the office (sigh).

I have a couple of different options for this:

a. Go to the doctor's office. Get a note that says I need a standing desk. Wait around in the waiting room (on my ass, incidentally) for an indefinite amount of time, and fork over a $20 copay. Work pays for whatever the actual desk costs, probably a lot.

b. Go to IKEA. Buy the super-cheap white VIKA Amon tabletop, 4 Capita legs, and an Ekby shelf and brackets. Total cost: about $40.

For the time being, I'm about ready to offer sexual favors in exchange for a good foot rub. Or I could get a pedicure at River Salon and Spa for $20, which is probably a better deal, because it includes getting my toenails done.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Stick With "Workplace: Mission Zero" and Nobody Gets Hurt

As I was walking out of the building where our safety meeting was held this morning, I caught my high heel on a water hose snaking across the landscaping, and nearly tripped and fell. Driving out of the parking lot a few seconds later, I saw my former boss doing the same thing.

Safety, they keep telling us, comes first. Then they prove incontrovertibly otherwise by their official actions. Yet it is not malice that does this, or shoddy work practices, or cutting corners. It just seems to me that reality keeps rearing its undeniable head and making a neat mess of all the plans, policies, programs, and lofty intentions we keep implementing to deny it.

However, I don't mean this bitterly. Our senior management is deeply serious about the issue of workplace safety, to the point where they happily spend a full day with us in an overcooled classroom, participating with joyless loyalty in roundtables, telling tear-jerking stories, trying to discover... what? Why does the workplace, despite the brightly-colored ideals of unrestrained capitalism, fail to conform to the brightly-colored ideals of a workplace Utopia?

They are genuinely sincere. And we want to be safe... right? I mean, every employee, on a personal level, values his or her own personal ability to go home at the end of the day and do whatever he or she does best - be it hug the kids or go out on a massive happy-hour-instigated bender - to at least the point at which he or she would not, by any means, find it a matter of indifference to determine whether said employee might just as well be wiped out by a stray cement mixer.

Are you with me? (As one of our facilitators kept saying this morning.)

Well, we went through exercises and brainstorming, and determined (over the protests of one of our participants, who I'm sorry to report I thought was not nearly as bright as she should have been) that the most important element in incentivizing* employees to implement safety initiatives was to give them ownership.**

So, while accountability is important, said most of us in our group, the most important element is to personalize and internalize the concept of safety, to where the reason people look out for it is because they want to and believe in it, not because you'll get in trouble if someone gets hurt. Right?

But one woman in my group had a lot of trouble with this concept, and kept arguing it. "I'm sorry, you guys, I'm just not getting it," she said. "You have to have accountability. Why are you all arguing with this? It's got to be the top priority!" Others tried to explain the carrot vs. stick concept to her, all with varying degrees of failure; then time was up, and we submitted our inconclusive results with the rest.

More troubling to me, really, was the beginning of the day's exercises. This is a government agency I work for, and the initiatives we implement today ought to be not merely for the good of employees, but for the general public. So I was deeply troubled when an official representative of the meeting organizer stood up and began our day with an official prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the success of our endeavors today.

Yahweh, Ashtoreth, fickle Fate, lucky chance, or whoever assist us, please, in the preservation of human and animal lives to their full and healthy span. But ordering a roomful of employees, of whatever religion or lack thereof, to bow their heads and participate in a sacred convocation in the name of a particular deity whom many do not observe, upset me a lot. Keeping everyone I work with, including the public, is sacred to me. But invoking a prayer as an opening ceremony which excludes many of us from the get-go is a very bad, bad thing indeed, and I hope to get this addressed by the appropriate, responsible parties.

I've been away for umpteen months, so you shouldn't expect this to be funny. However, if it's any consolation, I'd like to point out that at least we didn't have to watch "Highway to Certain Death," largely concerned with the individual employee's responsibility for avoiding the blind spot of a cement mixer, today or at any threatened point in the immediate future.

Peace, blessings, and workplace safety to all.

*You will never be able to pay enough to earn what it actually cost me, on a personal level, to get me to use that word... never.
**This also once meant something.

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