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Three weeks of walking

Three weeks ago I got my sit-stand-walking desk put together (see here for the gory details of how I picked the equipment). In this article I examine my experience. Over all I would say it’s pretty positive. I absolutely can code and walk without serious problem. Typing is actually a genuine joy while walking thanks to iMovR’s Omega keyboard tray. Seriously, it rocks! Mousing is still a bit tricky but it’s honestly not that big of deal. Motion sickness was a bit of a problem early on but I found a way to deal with it. The biggest problem is probably moving my monitors around, the Ergotron arms, especially the one with the iMac, are not fully up to the job. But all things considered the whole setup works and I’m happy.

1 Setting it up

The first components to arrive were the VESA mounts for my iMac and Cinema display. They were pretty disappointing. The instructions didn’t make much sense to me and the hex wrenches in both of my mounting sets didn’t work right. Getting the “switch” to activate that lets you remove the mounting stand was a bit tricky but doable. Connecting the adapter was a bit of a pain because it wasn’t machined to be a super tight fit so it would rotate around it’s axis. But for all of my whining the first bracket took me about 30 minutes to install and the second took me about 15 minutes. So really, no big deal.
Next up were my monitor arms, the Ergotron LX HD and Ergotron LX. The instructions for installing them were easy to follow. My only suggestion is that if you have really heavy monitors then get a friend to help. I did both by myself and it was o.k. but I have to admit to a few dicey moments while putting the monitors on the arms. If you have heavy monitors/computers be prepared to turn the huge hex screw that tightens the spring a lot of times. I think it took several minutes of turning that thing before it was tight enough to handle my iMac properly.
I then had the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 treadmill arrive. There is nothing to assemble. Just plug in the control panel and power and go. The treadmill is about 150 lbs or so and almost all of that weight is in the front where the motor is. I was able to drag it in its box on my own to a bedroom on the ground floor and unpack it. But I had to get help to move the treadmill to my office upstairs. There was no way I could move that thing upstairs on my own.
An issue I ran into immediately is that the treadmill wasn’t sitting on level ground. I had it on a thick exercise mat over carpet. So immediately I noticed that the tread was moving to the side and started making awful noises. Fixing this required me to get out a level and adjust the legs. The whole adjusting process probably didn’t take much more than 20 minutes and after adjusting the legs I haven’t had any further issues with the tread moving out of alignment.
The 72 inch iMovR Omega EVEREST is enormous. There was no way I could move that thing on my own. And I looked at the assembly instructions and just didn’t want to deal with putting it together myself. So I paid a few hundred dollars to have “White Glove” delivery which has the desk delivered fully assembled, put in place upstairs and all waste removed.
One thing I didn’t do during set up that I paid for later is make sure the desk is level, especially front to back. Because I didn’t check the desk started an awful screeching after a few weeks because the legs weren’t properly aligned. In the end I and a friend had to do a bunch of dead lifts in order to adjust the little adjustable pads under the feet to get the desk to finally be properly level. This would have been a lot easier if we had done it before all the equipment was on the desk. Of course I can’t be sure if the imbalance would have shown up without the equipment. But my setup is pretty extreme with almost a hundred pounds of equipment between the iMac, cinema display and two monitor arms. Most people I suspect will have substantially less weight on their desk so I would imagine that checking if the desk is level before putting on equipment should be o.k.

2 Reviewing the component parts

2.1 iMovR Omega EVEREST

2.1.1 How does it look?

It’s a laminated desk. Once you accept that then I think you will find that it’s a very nice laminated desk. The “3D” laminate they use encases the entire desk, top, sides and bottom in one continuously laminated cover. I certainly prefer that to other laminate desks which use separate laminate on the sides and often leave things like the grommet holes “raw” so you are staring at composite or whatever the desk is actually made of. But it is laminate. If someone just looks at the desk for a second they would probably think it was wood but if you look at it for more than a second you realize it’s laminate. The real give away is that the wood grain has this amazing ability to turn 90 degree around edges. Nevertheless it is a good looking desk and I have no aesthetic complaints.

2.1.2 How well do the motors in the legs work?

The motors aren’t going to win any races but they do the job reasonably well. What I like is that their movement is smooth so the desk doesn’t shake itself to pieces as it moves up and down. I can safely put down a full cup of tea and move the desk without worrying about spills. The noise level while moving the desks is very moderate and as long as one doesn’t ride the motor up and down all the time I can’t imagine anyone finding it objectionable.

2.1.3 How are the desk’s controls?

The desk uses the same controls I’ve seen on lots of other height adjustable desks so nothing special there. I actually don’t use the memory feature at all but I do use the display of how high the desk is. I’ve memorized my two favorite heights and I use the numbers to make it easy for me to get to the right position.

2.1.4 What about stability?

The desk absolutely does have stability issues. But in practice I don’t run into them much. But the reason I don’t have practical problems is because I have slightly changed how I work, although to be fair, all to the better.
When the desk is all the way down and if I’m really banging away on the keyboard I absolutely will get some sway. If, however, I’m typing “properly”, that is, with my hands hovering over the keyboard and using a firm but not smashing touch then there is no sway. I actually tested even wresting my hands on the wrist pads and typing and it wasn’t much of an issue. But as a result of the sway I now tend to sit upright, rather than slouch and I tend to type more “properly”. So I can’t really complain.
When standing, but not walking, at the desk, sway is an issue. Although the amount of sway depends on which monitor I’m using. When I’m standing the iMac’s monitor arm is extended from the other side of the desk and so tends to sway given even the smallest excuse. Even typing as lightly as possible there will still be a tiny bit of sway. If I focus my typing on the second monitor, whose arm when I’m standing is folded in on itself, then the swaying is less. The amount of sway, even on the iMac is very little. We are literally talking a few millimeters of movement. But I do notice it. Even if I’m typing on the secondary monitor I can see the big iMac monitor moving a bit out of the corner of my eye and it is annoying. The reason this hasn’t been a big deal in practice is that I don’t really type much when standing. Walking? Yes. Standing? Not really. I don’t enjoy typing as I stand for some reason. My guess is that if I regularly typed when I stood and given how tiny the movement is, that I would eventually get used to it. I also suspect that if you have a single light monitor on a shorter arm then the swaying would be less.
When walking I’m sure there is sway but compared to the movement of my head and body as I walk, I don’t notice it at all. I’ll talk more about stability while walking below but the bottom line is that when I’m walking there is no problem with sway. Even with my hands wresting on the wrist pads there is no problem. Again I suspect this is because the movement of my head as I walk far, far out moves anything happening with my monitors.

2.1.5 What about power and cable management?

This is the area where the desk really falls down on the job. There are nothing but two grommet holes and some plastic tabs you can stick to the underside. They do sell power plugs for the grommet holes but I need those holes to deal with cabling. So right now my desk is straight out ugly. There are two power strips on the floor, cables hang everywhere, it’s nasty. I really wish the table came with a power strip built in and a box running along the back where I could easily stick cables in and out. It’s not a huge deal but honestly the desk is nice and having cables all over the place ruins the effect.

2.2 Lifespan TR1200-DT3

2.2.1 How are the controls?

The controls really suck. It’s almost silly how badly they suck. Even easy things like starting the Treadmill after resetting its mileage counter are annoying. You have to hit the ON button but there is no beep to confirm when you have held it long enough to start things up. Instead you have to guess when you have held it long enough, let the button go and see if it starts the “3...2...1” count down. But all I really want from the thing is to start it, set the speed and work. It does that. Yes, the controls suck, but only enough to make me chuckle at how ineptly designed they are, not enough to actually ruin the daily experience of using it.

2.2.2 What about noise?

There are two separate sources of noise. One is the motor. It’s not terribly loud but if I was in an open plan office and had to hear the person next to me use it I suspect their treadmill would have an “accident”. It’s mostly a white noise but it is there.
A separate source of noise is that it can creak depending on how and where on the tread I’m walking that day. I find that by moving around a little bit I can make the creak go away but it is there. If I’m “in the zone” and not noticing the slight creaking I’m sure any coworkers would instantly remind me, probably with a hammer.
Again, it’s not a super noisy treadmill. When I’m working I don’t notice it at all. But I work by myself in my own office. In an open or cubicle area I suspect it would make enemies. But look at the bright side. If your employer has so little consideration for your productivity that they stick you in an open office space then you probably should be looking for a new job, not worrying about someone’s treadmill.

2.2.3 What’s it like walking on it? Any foot issues?

The tread is firm but has a little give. I walk in my socks and I haven’t had any issues with blisters or pain in my feet. But I am keeping an eye on the issue. As I walk for longer and longer periods of time I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t need to use something like water shoes to protect my feet against blisters.

2.2.4 Any other issues?

I have run into the “DC-1” error code. The Intertubes claim that this is due to the treadmill not getting enough power and that it can be fixed by resetting the treadmill. Apparently the power strip I have the treadmill attached to can’t draw quite enough power under all circumstances. But I’ve only had this error code happen twice in three weeks and never during use. In both cases a quick power cycle solved things. If it starts happening a lot then I’ll have to find a higher rated power strip.
If I have a complaint it’s actually how the black plastic casing over the motor is a huge dust magnet. Within a day or two it was covered with dust!

2.2.5 So what’s the bottom line?

But the bottom line is - it works. It’s reasonably quiet. It moves smoothly. I basically can just forget about it and work. It’s meant to be invisible and it does the job well.

2.3 Ergotron LX and LX HD Arms

These are by far the most disappointing part of my setup. The good news is that they have the reach I need so I can set up my monitors properly both for sitting and walking. Equally fortunately, once I turned the hex key enough, the springs on both arms are strong enough to hold their respective monitors in place.
But unfortunately the elbow on both arms don’t move at all well. Especially with the LX HD I have to use a non-trivial amount of force to get the monitor into position. The situation is bad enough that I have taken to only moving the monitors from behind the desk. This allows me to grab both parts of the arm around the elbow and force it to move. As a result moving from sitting to walking and vice versa takes a good three of four minutes of yanking and pulling.
To make matters more complex the arms only have a wire guide on the bottom part of the arm but not on the pole. As a result my cables are constantly getting wrapped around the poles that hold the arms up. I’m going to have to figure out a better arrangement because my cables keep getting physically yanked out of the machine when I move positions.
For all my whining the arms do work. The monitors go where I want them to go and they stay there. But the process is no where near as slick as I would like.
For those reading this do keep in mind that I have an old Apple Cinema Display and an old iMac. They are both seriously heavy. Especially compared to modern all in one machines and monitors. So my guess is that if you have modern light weight monitors then the arms will just work. I think my problem is that while my monitors are absolutely within the advertised weight tolerances of the Ergotron arms I suspect the advertised tolerances may have been a tiny bit overstated.

3 Reviewing the experience of working while walking

3.1 What’s it like to type while walking?

The absolute best part of walking while working is getting to use the keyboard tray on the Omega. It’s brilliant! It really, really works. It’s a pleasure to type on it. I actually look forward to using it every day. I intentionally look for typing heavy work items just to use it. It feels so ridiculously natural to type with the keyboard at an almost 45 degree angle. I use a Microsoft sculpt keyboard and my fingers just fly. Walking doesn’t seem to affect my typing speed at all. I didn’t even really have an adjustment period. It just feels so natural.
Just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating things I took a typing test when sitting and when walking. The results were identical.
But there is a caveat. Because the keyboard is at a steep angle one really can’t see the keys. So I would imagine that someone who isn’t a touch typist isn’t going to have quite as great an experience. They will probably need to keep the keyboard at a shallower angle so they can see the keys. I believe this will mean that the typing experience won’t be as good.
Also note that while I’m a touch typist for letters and numbers it turns out that over the years I’ve gotten lazy because I’m not a touch typist for things like symbol keys, delete key, home key, page up, etc. As a result I’ve had to re-teach my “finger memory” where those keys are because looking down really is an annoyance. In other words, using this desk has actually made me a better typist!

3.1.1 What about mousing?

For mousing I use an Apple Magic Trackpad. Using it while walking is a bit of a pain. The problem is that I have to move my hand relatively far in order to use the mouse. I have to take the hand off the keyboard, raise it up and then move it to the right. I have found that putting the track pad slightly in front of the keyboard seems to work best. But even at the best of times I do have to put a tiny bit of thought into using the mouse. I’ve noticed, for example, that I use the arrow keys a lot more when I’m standing than when I’m sitting. So clearly there is an issue.
The problem is that my whole body is moving while I’m trying to mouse so I have to keep my hand steady on the pad while the rest of my arm moves. And since the mouse is touch sensitive if my fingers shake a bit then that translates to the mouse. It’s not an awful experience but as evidenced by the fact that I subconsciously seem to use the keyboard more than the mouse while walking it is clearly an issue. But in practical terms it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.
What I really wish is that the Omega’s awesome keyboard tray was wide enough to let me put the track pad right by the keyboard. That would make it much easier to use the mouse. And since it’s a track pad it doesn’t matter that it would be at an almost 45 degree angle. But oh well.

3.1.2 What about motion sickness?

The first day I had everything set up I walked for a full hour. I didn’t have any muscle pain nor did I get dizzy. I was a working machine! Then I stopped. Oh boy. That was unpleasant. I had to sit up in bed for over an hour before the nausea went away.
So the next day I dialed it back to just 15 minutes. After 15 minutes I would stop and continue to work while standing still. Only after another 5 or 10 minutes of standing still would I then sit. I found that this generally worked. So I increased by another 5 minutes. I kept increasing until I plateaued around 30 minutes. I spent several days there because I was getting a bit nauseous after finishing walking.
Eventually I realized that rather than just stopping what I needed to do was to have a slow down period. So after I hit my target time I will slowly reduce speed over a one or two minute period. Then I would continue working while standing for a few minutes before going back to sitting. I found that this approach really did the trick and after three weeks I’m up to 65 minutes and still increasing. My goal is to walk for three or four hours a day and based on my experience so far it seems totally doable.

3.1.3 What about desk sway when walking?

Conceptually I understand that there must be a bunch of sway because I see how much sway there is when I’m just standing and typing. But as a practical matter I don’t notice the sway at all while walking. When walking my head is bobbing all over the place. I have actually done video calls while walking and I can see just how much my head and body are moving as I walk. Compared to that movement any movement in the monitors is not noticeable to me. So my subjective experience while typing and walking is that there isn’t any desk sway at all.

3.1.4 How fast can I go on the treadmill and still work?

I started walking at around 1.5 MPH, pretty quickly increased to 1.6 and I’m currently starting to use 1.7. I am only increasing the speed because the slower speeds are starting to not feel comfortable. I don’t confuse walking on the treadmill with exercise. This is about getting me out of my chair, not about substituting for real exercise.

4 Conclusion

I’m out of my chair. I’m walking. It feels great! I am getting work done. The whole thing really does work.

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