Thursday, June 9, 2011

Standing /Sitting Computer Desk - for under $500

standing sitting computer workstation
Standing / Sitting Computer Workstation

For those of us who spend most of the day sitting in front of computer screens, it is only a matter of time before the physical effects start to become evident. Personally, I found sitting in a chair resulted in neck pain and headaches. Likely I was suffering from mild Cervical Posture Syndrome (Kyphosis). Abandoning the chair for an exercise ball helped. My neck pain and headaches went away. However, I still found sitting all day fatiguing and confining.  I had heard about standing desks (somewhere?) but did not know anyone who actually used one or much about them.

Finding the right configuration

After doing a little investigating I initially decided that what I needed was a desk that I could raise up and down so I could sit or stand at whim. I soon found that adjustable desks, sold at stores that specialize in ergonomic equipment, tend to be quite expensive (starting at $1000). It also occurred to me that moving monitors, keyboards, mice and other cabled devices up and down could be problematic, especially considering the ever diminishing lengths of cables provided with computer peripherals. Another concern was the time involved in repeatedly raising and lowering the desk as well as the wear and tear on the raising mechanism.

Standing Desk Hacks

I started to look for more creative solutions and found several people had managed to solve this in different ways. One blog post I found particularly inspirational was - Wide Standing Desk. This post demonstrated how to create a standing desk by combining different components from Ikea. This inspired me look at how I could combine inexpensive office furniture to create a solution that fit into my needs and workspace.

The Treadmill Desk

Something else that intrigued me was a treadmill desk. There are lots of different solutions out there. Treadmill Desk  by Eric J. Wilhelm is particularly instructive blog post that chronicles this. Treadmill manufacturers are now starting to create models designed to be used as treadmill desks (see I am still intrigued by this but decided this was something I might want to look at more closely in future. I still need to investigate how walking would affect my ability to do computer work. I also thought it was important that I am easily able to change from standing to sitting.

My Solution

My final solution was to create a work station that has both standing and sitting desks. This eliminates the need for a mechanism that raises and lowers the desk and allows me to stand or sit without adjusting anything. My solution does however require two monitors, keyboards and mice. The additional cost of these peripherals is still much less than buying an adjustable desk.  It becomes even more affordable if you happen to have an extra set of peripherals lying around.

Assembling the Desk

The key component in my workspace is an Ikea computer workstation called Fredrik. I use this as my standing desk. I really like how this desk is designed. It comes with two narrow shelves and one main workspace shelf. All three of the shelves can be stacked in any order you choose. Put the main workspace shelf on top or in the middle for a standing desk or if you decide standing is not for you, put the main shelf on the bottom to make a sitting desk. The desk comes in two widths. I chose the smaller width (39”) so it would fit in to the limited space I have.

Of course, any standard desk can be used for the sitting desk. To keep things color coordinated and costs down I purchased Ikea Vika Amon and Vika Curry. These constitute a very basic table top and legs and they come in the same colors as the Fredrik workstation. If you want to keep things even more coordinated and do not mind spending a little more, you can get the Frederik desk. An optional add-on that I decided to include is the Ikea keyboard tray Summera.

Adding the Extra Computer Peripherals

I have a Dell desktop computer with a video card that has dual monitor outputs. This was not something I had to add on. I believe most higher-end video cards include dual monitor support. I did have to purchase an additional monitor, keyboard and mouse.


Here is a break-down of the components and associated costs:
Workspace Component
Workspace Total
Extra Computer Components

Computer monitor
Computer Total
Total Cost

The Verdict

So far I have been quite happy with the setup. I tend to stand more than I sit. It is still too early to determine if there are any significant physical effects, but I can say I like being able to stand and feel less confined.
One thing I would do differently is to make sure the monitors, keyboards and mice are identical. I am starting to get use to using two different sets of mice and keyboards but my monitors are different aspect ratios and the video card will only output a single resolution when duplicated. This means that when the video card is set to display duplicate versions on each monitor the higher resolution monitor will be displaying at lower than native resolution. To take advantage of the higher resolution monitor I need to change the monitor set-up to ‘extend display’ mode. It does only take a second to change display modes but if you are changing back and forth between standing and sitting a lot, it can get a little bothersome.

Free $100 Google Adwords coupon does not add up

If you opened a Google Apps account recently you might have received an email from Google Adwords offering you a $100 free coupon for Adwords. the email states:

". . . Our team of specialists is waiting for your call and is ready to help get started. We can even create your first campaign for you - for free.

No strings attached: You can end or change your campaign again at anytime, if you are not satisfied. . ."

From my experience, the 'No strings attached' part did not hold true. I was required to use the coupon towards a campaign that was created by a Goolge sales rep. The bidding prices and daily budget were more than I would have liked. Also, I was required to pay a $20 activation fee on top of a $10 activation fee that was automatically deducted from the $100 coupon. Ultimately the $100 coupon was only worth about $70. The $10 activation fee is in the small print but there is no mention of any additional fees. When I asked to have the extra activation fee removed, the Google sales rep told me: "This is how advertising works. You have to start paying at some point".

Friday, February 4, 2011

ASPNix Website Hosting Review

If you are like me then you are always on the lookout for a good affordable website host. Unfortunately, unbiased reviews of hosting services are hard to find so I thought it might be worth relating my experiences as a customer of ASPNix for anyone who might be thinking about using them. I have been a customer for about 4 years and have subscribed to a few different plans.


If you are looking for Windows hosting with current technologies then ASPNix might look like an attractive option. They are quick to implement the latest technologies. They will often be 1 or 2 versions more current than most other hosts. Their accounts are quite affordable and include a good range of features.


No matter who you host with, at some point you will need to contact support to resolve an issue. If you were attracted to the features they offer you should read on before making any decisions about signing up. My experiences with support can only be described as dismal.

Support options

On their website they advertise 24/7 support. This is definitely not the case.

Chat Support

Chat support is available some of the time. I often go to their website to find chat is offline. If you do manage to access chat you will find chat personnel (I think there is only one) are polite but not able to provide help with technical issues. They will not open support tickets for you either. Typically with chat support you will end up having to go to the support section of the website and submit your support request via email. So chat support  is usually a waste of time.

Telephone Support

They list support telephone numbers on their site. But no one ever answers or responds to messages left on their answering machine. One time all our websites and the ASPNix website went down in the middle of the day for several hours. I tried to contact support via telephone numerous times as well as email with no response. I assumed they had gone out of business and was frantically searching for another hosting provider when finally the websites came back online.

Email Support

Email support is often the only option. Support response is slow. Usually several days. Often support tickets are abandoned. I recently had an experience where my support request was discarded because I was not sending it from the correct email address. I was not the billing contact on the account so I sent the request to sales using an email address that was registered as an administrator for the account. Instead of taking the time to look into my support request the rep promptly rejected my request. This went on for several days until I finally successfully submitted the request using another hosting account I have with them.

Customer Service

This is where things get ugly.

Recently the Helm control panel used on a reseller account I have with them stopped functioning. Specifically, I get error pages whenever I try to create any new sub account. This is a serious fault because I am no longer able to create accounts or add domains names. Basically the account is useless. This has gone on for several weeks. Here is a quote from an email I received from them:

"... As of about 3 weeks ago our control panel experienced an issue which we are working to resolve. As for the refund, as stated in our TOS sales are final after 30 days, and that we assume and take no responsibility for buggy / errornous software..."

Apparently they think it is OK to charge for the use of the Helm software but take no responsibility for its functionality.

It's a bit like a car rental company charging for the rental of a car and then saying you are not entitled to a refund when you discover the car will not start.


Website server uptime is usually over 99% according to the monitoring service I use. However email server uptime is usually bellow 95%. I am often unable to retrieve messages from the mail servers via pop3. I would not recommend using them for email hosting.


ASPNix offers affordable Windows hosting but has very poor support and customer service. There have been too many incidents where accounts have not worked properly and I have been unable to get adequate support.

So I am still looking for that perfect host. Does anyone have any unbiased suggestions?