Monday, September 24, 2012

Goats At Work

I didn't grow up in a big city, but I didn't exactly grow up in a small town either. For much of my life I lived in an average-sized city of about 200K residents, but we were close enough to the edge that a 10-minute bike ride from home would put us on a dirt trail in the middle of cornfields.  It was a great place to be, and even now when I go back for a visit it still feels just as much like home as it always did.  After college I lived in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area for five years, and while the conveniences of a big metropolis were nice, I did miss the simplicity and uncomplicated living of my former residence.  Not that it was bad, just different.  Those five years were an incredibly valuable time in my life, and though I didn't always see it at the time, there was a reason the Lord brought us to that part of the country.  Many reasons, in fact.  But now that we live in what would be considered by most definitions a small town, I often have moments when I really appreciate this place.  Moments like this:
I don't know what these goats are doing or why they are here, but as I biked to work this morning and saw them munching on vegetation behind the Hobby Lobby, I thought of how this scene would never take place back in the Twin Cities.  It's things that this that I really like about living here, and even though we have yet to get a Target store it's still a fantastic place to live.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saving My Wrists (Part 2)

For the past seven weeks I have been using a RollerMouse Pro2 at work, and while I am not convinced that such a device is good for everybody I can say that it has been a nice benefit for me--particularly with respect to my wrists.  If you haven't read my initial impressions, you might want to go ahead and do that as that blog post also contains some information as to why I wanted this pointing device in the first place.

• I mentioned in my original impressions that it did not take long for me to get used to the device, and after using it for six weeks I don't even think about how different it is anymore. Using the bar to move the pointer around onscreen is second nature, and I really like that I don't have to move my right hand over to the side of my desk and grab the mouse like I used to. However, when other people are at my computer to view demonstrations or look up information, they often get confused and I have to do the navigation for them.  This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view, but it's not really an issue for me.  I thought I would mention it anyway though.

• It is comfortable...for the most part.  I am still using my old wrist rest (basically a super oblong bean bag) because the wrist rests on the RollseMouse Pro2 don't extend very far down.  I think the manufacturer knows about this too, because they sell an extended wrist rest for about $40. That's a tad expensive if you ask me, and I think the device itself should probably just come with more padding for people's wrists.  Don't get me wrong, though--it is not an uncomfortable setup at all, but when paying $200 for what is basically a glorified mouse, I would have hoped it would come with the extended wrist rest too.  At the end of the day my hands feel much better than they used to, and I guess that's what really matters.

I'm still not sure why this thing extends so far to the right, but maybe it's to accommodate gigantic keyboards.

• It works great for 95% of the tasks I do on a daily basis.  Navigating the internet, answering email, working in Excel, even simple video editing tasks are just fine on this device.  In some ways it is a marked improvement over a regular mouse, since the copy/paste functions are mapped to specific buttons and the double-click button really comes in handy far more than I would have initially thought.  What it does not work well for is anything involving photo editing, which admittedly is not a large portion of my day, but any time I fire up Photoshop or Fireworks I start to long for my trusty ol' Logitech mouse.  I would, however, venture to say that for most people it would be a great addition to their workspace.

• The seven buttons work just fine, but I think there is a bit of form-over-function going on.  The concave layout of the right/double/left click buttons, with the scroll wheel in the middle, looks great on paper and in a catalog but in practice the buttons are a bit awkward and my hands even start to cramp a little.  I'm not sure what would mitigate this, and most of the time it's not really an issue but I thought it would be prudent to mention this here anyway.

So was it worth $200? I dunno.  My first instinct is to say "Probably," but it depends on your situation. I would recommend getting their 30-day trial to judge for yourself, but I suppose only several years of using this kind of device would be the only way to really judge its effectiveness.  If you are a graphic designer or video editor, this is almost certainly not the right pointing device for you.  But if your job involves pretty much anything else, it's worth a shot.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Ignorance, Bliss, and Electrical Tape

I recently went back home for my friend's wedding, and since my wife and son couldn't come with I had to make the trip with only my trusty iPod and Garmin GPS as travel companions. I have made this drive before, and while it's not nearly as enjoyable without the human company, it's not really that bad as long as I can keep my mind occupied. And the best way to do that, in my experience, is to fill my iPod not with music but with podcasts. Specifically This Week in Tech, Mac Break Weekly, Radiolab, Left Right and Center, the Game Informer Podcast, and Focus on the Family's PluggedIn Podcast.  Listening to music, especially songs with which I am already familiar, causes my brain to go numb after a few hours in the car. But listening to people talking, particularly if they are discussing ideas and news, keeps me interested and engaged.  And so I set out on Interstate 35 with enough talking heads (not to mention a bag of salt and vinegar chips, and another bag of Jelly Bellys) to keep me awake for days. But I also had an ace up my sleeve: a modification I made to my car before leaving that, more than anything else I did to prepare for the trip, made all the difference between enjoying the drive and haggardly wondering how much longer until I get there...

It's kind of hard to see in this picture...

Ok, let's try this one instead. (click to view full-size.)
In case the pictures don't make it clear, I took a piece of electrical tape and covered up the clock in my car.

What this did was remove any possibility of me being able to check what time it was.  I knew that I left town around 5pm, but after that everything melded into one continuous journey with no timestamps by which I could gauge my progress.  Normally on a drive like this one the clock is constantly visible right there on the dashboard of my car, telling me what time it is and providing a continual stream of information to my brain about how much longer it is going to be until I reach my destination. Any feelings of ambiguity are tossed aside so that I might be constantly made aware of how long I have been on the road and how much is left to go.  If I cross a state border or go through a town, a quick glance at the clock tells me whether I am making good time or falling behind.

But the thing I realized is that it doesn't matter if I'm making good time or falling behind. As Vash the Stampede would say, "Whatever happens, happens." I'll get to my destination when I get there, and in the meantime covering up the clock in my car helped me sit back and enjoy the ride.

So how did it go?


I took the same route back home as always, but had no idea if I was arriving at the usual landmarks when I normally would. I pulled up to the same Conoco gas station as always, but had no idea what time it was so I didn't worry about whether or not I could take my time.  So instead I just sort of took it easy, and when I was ready to go I hopped back in the car and continued on.  Later I had to use the bathroom, and normally I would question whether a stop would be worth it, given the precious minutes it would add to the drive. But since I had no concept of how long I had been driving, or how long I had left, it didn't really matter.  Twice I pulled over just to take some photos, and once I stopped just to get out, walk around, and stretch for a while.  Not having a sense of time made it impossible for me to gauge my progress, and instead I just got to enjoy the ride. Basically, it allows me to drive with the Spike Spiegel philosophy of "Whatever happens, happens."

I have since left the tape over the clock on my car, and though driving to work isn't the same as driving across three states, it has made a measurable impact on my state of mind while I make the 2.5-mile commute in the afternoon.  I leave when I leave, and arrive when I arrive. And in the meantime there is no clock to tell me if I'm going to be late or not.  In essence, that decision has already been made the instant I set foot into the garage, and by then it's too late to change anything. And if I do happen to be running late, the clock is not taunting me or daring me to run red lights and blow through stop signs.  Thomas Gray proposed the idea that ignorance is bliss, and while I can't say I entirely agree with him, I do know that getting rid of the clock in my has entirely removed one source of potential worry and stress in my life. And it sure is nice.