Under the Radar

Under the Radar 3: Ergonomics


  welcome back to under the radar a show

  about independent iOS development I am

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started our goal

  for under the radar is for it to be a

  show that covers all of the various

  aspects of what it means to be a

  developer whether that independent or

  working in a corporate job like we want

  to talk a lot about all the various

  things that are important to people who

  are in development jobs and so in our

  first type first episode we talked about

  and it was more business oriented and

  then we talked about selling more coding

  last week this week we're going to take

  a slightly softer topic but our goal is

  to kind of make sure that we're covering

  a lot of things and we're not just

  diving into one thing too much and

  hopefully that makes it a lot more

  interesting and a bit more varied to

  listen to and so this week we're gonna

  talk about making your ideal work

  environment and what that looks like for

  us the experiences we've had in setting

  that up as well as just kind of like

  things that you should be thinking about

  because being a developer is kind of a

  funny job we go to work by sitting you

  know we go into an office whatever that

  looks like we sit down in a chair and we

  push buttons on a keyboard and a mouse

  and sort of at the end of that out comes

  some code and that's that's our

  profession but as a result like the way

  in which we spend our time when we're

  supposed sitting for you know 40 50 60

  hours a week or whatever your particular

  work environment looks like the way in

  which we do that is very important

  because if it doesn't make us the most

  productive we're kind of shooting

  ourselves in the foot

  and along those lines there's also

  things like economics and problems with

  RSI and things that I know myself a

  worried about and had to have had some

  problems with that I wanted to sort of

  dive into but so Marco what is your

  current ideal work environment look like

  so basically I've I've set up my home

  office cuz you know I work only from

  home I don't have I don't have any other

  offices that I go to or work from and

  that's a whole other topic we might be

  able to get through today but we'll

  certainly talk about in the future I

  have a desk that I maybe I didn't quite

  steal it

  i'ma go she ate it as part of my exit

  from tumblr which is an electrically

  raising and lowering desk I love having

  the standing desk because a while ago I

  developed some pretty bad back problems

  I was taking way

  too many road trips and was basically

  spending way too much time in cars over

  over a span of about a year and so I

  eventually developed lower back problems

  I herniated discs and everything so in

  order to avoid that and to to kind of

  fix that I had to make a bunch of

  changes in my life one of which was for

  almost a year I think I exclusively

  stood while working and at first I had

  rigged this up by stacking two six-packs

  stacked with Ikea bookshelves spanning

  across them so it ends up that is about

  the height difference that you can put a

  keyboard and mouse on and then another

  set of those on the back for the monitor

  to kind of make a makeshift standing

  desk from one that is normally a sitting

  desk and then eventually we we decided

  to make it official and get really nice

  electric ones because everyone else in

  the office wanted them to and and it's

  nice people to convert easily back and

  forth between standing and sitting so

  you can do things like stand in the

  morning and then when you're tired in

  the afternoon you can sit for the

  afternoon it's nice to have that kind of

  variety if you have any kind of back

  problem and it's also just like you know

  probably slightly better for you there's

  various studies most of achar

  conflicting and inconclusive like most

  studies but yeah it's probably a good

  thing to mix standing with sitting in

  your day if you can however whatever

  form that takes I also had RSI scares

  earlier so a long time ago I switched

  from regular you know kind of keyboards

  to the split ergonomic keyboard layout

  originally it was the Microsoft natural

  something-something 4000 and I used

  those for a long time it's a great

  keyboard and then a couple years ago now

  or maybe 1 and 1/2 years ago now they

  they released the Microsoft sculpt

  ergonomic keyboard which is kind of an

  update to it and it's another split ergo

  keyboard and I like it a lot I reviewed

  it on my site eyelid Lisa show notes you

  can see all these I've tried other organ

  AMA keyboards as well including the

  Kinesis freestyle - and the Matias our

  GoPro and they're they're both very good

  as well I still prefer the sculpt but

  anyway switching to an Ergo keyboard

  really was one of the biggest things -

  to help me with RSI issues and after

  that switch I no longer have any pain

  almost ever since I don't know ten years

  ago when I made that switch I had

  occasionally tried to switch back to a

  non split keyboard or I've like gone on

  trips where I have to bring a laptop but

  I'm using a laptop keyboard more heavily

  than usual and every time I switch to an

  on split keyboard even for a few days I

  do start getting pain again and so now I

  just know I know about myself but this

  is just something that I will probably

  not be able to ever switch back to full

  time to like the regular layout which of

  course has you know a lot of interesting

  ramifications with things like working

  from iPads and stuff like that but my

  physical layout is standing the standing

  desk most of which I usually am sitting

  at it these days I don't I don't stand

  often anymore

  but sometimes I'll put it up to stance

  but most of the time I'm sitting I'm

  sitting on a Herman Miller and body

  chair get a good chair how many chairs

  do you buy in your life like really well

  if you do my previous method of buying

  them from Staples and they're like 60

  bucks then the number might be pretty

  high but if when you get a good chair

  you tend to keep it for like 10 years at

  least the Herman Miller embody is great

  the Aeron is also very good

  I think the embodies better but you know

  it's up to you go to a fancy chair store

  in try the mountain but yeah that's

  basically it standing desk Herman Miller

  and body chair and split keyboard and

  the Apple Magic Mouse which everybody

  hates yeah yeah I was about to actually

  say it's like I have a very similar

  setup I have the same chair and keyboard

  but mouse wise what I found is actually

  gaming mice are really great for

  development work which is mote is a

  funny thing to say because like they're

  all kinds I mean I think that Mouse I

  have is this thing it's like the the

  Razer DeathAdder 8000 or something like

  me they always have these very scary

  sounding names like it's something

  something terribly terrifying but is it

  full of blue LEDs I had a choice I could

  get a model with or without the LED and

  I opted to get the non LED version just

  you know for for stylistic reasons but

  yes the what I love about a mouse like

  that though is it has incredibly light

  touch on the buttons obviously if you're

  playing some kind of first-person

  shooter and you're you know clean them

  that button lots and lots of times and

  you need a very light trigger it sort of

  like it has a like a feather trigger on

  it which is really is which I found to

  be really nice first is like I've dapple

  like the Apple mice I have a whole like

  closet of them because they

  you know that you get one every time you

  buy an iMac but I've never used one

  because they're just if it feels like

  I'm trying to like I don't know it's

  like hold onto this bulb of this black

  bar of soap or something like it's

  clinching my hand in a really awkward

  way so but otherwise yeah I've a very

  similar setup for you is have a desk

  that I have a desk that I got the I like

  the IKEA standing desk so it has like a

  little the motor thing and it's like the

  IKEA thing there's a couple hundred

  dollars I think it wasn't all that

  expensive I've never used it standing I

  got it

  when I needed a new desk and I was like

  well I'm gonna pay the few extra hundred

  dollars to get a standing mode so that

  if I need to at some point or it becomes

  something that I want to do I can I've

  always found standing to feel a bit

  awkward like I don't know if I just feel

  like I've gotten so used to I sit down

  when I work and like breaking the habit

  of like sitting down and they're

  standing up doesn't feel like working

  you just gotta be a bit weird but I have

  it there just in case of course the

  other amusing thing about my working

  setup that I wanted to mention is the

  thing that I've seen most people who end

  up complaining about problems with

  ergonomics or problems they in my

  experience it's one of two things

  they're using a regular keyboard and

  they need to try using a split keyboard

  or theory their screen is too low down

  because I for some reason I don't really

  know who Apple is designing they're

  their computers for all of their

  computers like most specifically the

  iMac or the cinema displays the stands

  are ridiculously short this the computer

  is only if you just put it on its own

  stand you'd be like four or five inches

  above the table and for every promise

  ever you know for unless you have a very

  strangely proportioned torso that means

  that you're going to be looking down at

  the screen all day and that's terrible

  for you like it's sort of I notice this

  myself whenever I would have to like I'm

  forced to work from a laptop for for

  more than a few hours because typically

  I never use a laptop except for like

  when I'm at you know like at a

  conference for a week or watc something

  like that where I have to I have to use

  a laptop but I immediately noticed like

  my shoulders get all tight I'll start to

  get like pain in my neck and all kinds

  of things because you're looking down so

  for me I kind of I don't even know if I

  should say this but I kind of I'm kind

  of a hoarder of Apple packaging

  so every Apple device I've ever bought I

  have the packaging for still but so my

  iMac is stacked on a MacBook Pro box on

  top of that is an iPad box and it's sort

  of late it's about it's sort of put on

  there and I have a strap over it to keep

  it together but I raises it up by maybe

  maybe about six inches or so and for me

  that's perfect sort of like I'm the one

  thing I remember was background was in

  college I had this really this is this

  random like mandatory class that ever

  Elvis off computer science majors had to

  take that was basically like how to not

  end up hurting yourself being a software

  engineer and they were talking about all

  these things about ergonomics and about

  like how you like work life types of

  things but the biggest thing I remember

  they said it's like which we want to

  look if when you set up your work

  environment there should be no tension

  in any part of you like everything

  should be neutral like your elbows

  should be at a nice 90 degree angle your

  shoulders should be relaxed your legs

  should be at a nice 90 degree angle like

  everything nothing should be in tension

  and the only way I've ever been able to

  do that it's to lift my imac up put my

  keyboard at normal at like this is

  actually a nice thing about having a

  standing desk because you can make your

  table height whatever you want so like

  my table height is nice and low and for

  me I found that to work really well yeah

  definitely and that's like this one of

  the worries I have but our industry in

  general but although this problem

  usually kind of solved itself through

  force through RSI and neck and shoulder

  problems is that it seems like the the

  default developer workstation has

  shifted over the last 10 years it used

  to be a desktop computer but now I think

  for almost every working developer that

  I that I've encountered in real life

  they're almost always working on a

  laptop full time it's a 15-inch MacBook

  Pro exactly yeah everyone has that is

  like the workhorse computer it's not

  it's not the new MacBook one it's not

  the MacBook Air it isn't even the 13 the

  most common computer by far that I see

  developers using is the 15-inch MacBook

  Pro Nomad and even if they like web

  developers developers even if they're

  web developers or something else

  it's a 15-inch MacBook Pro almost always

  but the problem is so many developers

  work full-time on a laptop sitting on a

  desk without external stuff just like on

  cup itself and you know if it's somebody

  I know who I wouldn't mind you know

  ribbing a bit I'll a some like you know

  it's a by chance do you have like neck

  and shoulder soreness or problems

  because hunching over a laptop is really

  not good long term as you said like it

  you really should be looking straight

  ahead you should be looking at you

  should be typing on a keyboard that is

  you know by proper ergonomics the

  keyboard needs to be fairly far from the

  screen so it's it's kind of impossible

  to get good at good ergonomics out of a

  laptop if you have a laptop and you're

  working at the same desk every day one

  set up I did the setup I did four years

  when I was working on a laptop was you'd

  have the external keyboard mouse and and

  and monitor and the laptop would be

  propped up on a stand next to it so the

  laptop would be the second monitor the

  the external monitor would be the

  primary and then you'd have the keyboard

  and mouse at so you could you can

  simulate a a really nice desktop by

  using a laptop with external peripherals

  and a stand and if you're gonna work be

  working on a laptop full time that is by

  far the setup I recommend because you

  get double the screen space you don't

  have to deal with the weirdness of the

  laptop working in clamshell mode which

  is never good it's always a hack it's

  always unreliable there's occasionally

  some heat issues there were some melting

  the screen issues no it's really it's

  not it's not reliably good but having

  the side by side on a stand setup is

  great and if you have to work on a

  laptop full-time that is the way to do


  ergonomically and I I wonder about how

  this how this ends up working with like

  if we have a future where we're working

  more on iOS devices

  you know the the smartphone I'm not too

  worried about the ergonomics of

  smartphones but that might also have the

  the kind of like neck looking down issue

  I am a little concerned about what

  happens if if we get really into tablets

  as an industry of like working on

  tablets because you use your hands on a

  tablet keyboard the way you would on a

  desktop keeper like on a smartphone

  using your thumbs you're not yeah so

  it's it's a whole different position and

  a smartphone I don't think would be

  fatiguing in the same way because of

  like the way you're holding it in your

  hand seems like a very natural position

  for your hand to be in yeah your fingers

  are fairly neutral exactly on a small

  tablet you're probably the same thing on

  a big tablet you might be doing on so

  typing touch typing style or you might

  be using an external keyboard and that I

  think is gonna have economic challenges

  similar to what laptops have if not a

  little bit worse because everything's a

  little bit more cramped and we don't yet

  know the long-term economic of these

  things you know we've had computers like

  PC style computers we've had those for

  decades to be able to study the

  ergonomics of long-term use and and the

  effects of this use we've had so much

  time to study this and to figure out you

  know good or gonna make practices on

  this and what's good and what's not with

  all these new devices that we have

  they're just too young we just haven't

  had the time yet to figure out like what


  ergonomically if you work on a tablet

  for 10 hours a day for 10 years like we

  just don't know yet and I'm a little

  scared if the industry moves more

  towards these things that actually makes

  it harder to get good ergonomics because

  like the world of desktops and laptops

  and PCs every person can kind of pick

  what works for them and mix and match

  and there's tons of availability of like

  of things you can do

  keyboards you can use mice you can use

  arrangements of the set up kinds of

  setups there's all this variety as we

  move towards these these kind of

  all-in-one integrated devices and iPads

  and phones and everything I feel like

  the the amount of variety possible is

  substantially smaller as we keep moving

  towards everything must be as small and

  thin and light as possible small and

  thin and light are often in conflict

  with good ergonomics which is one of the

  one of the problems Apple has with the

  design of it's probably as you mentioned

  the whole reason the the iMac and Cinema

  Display stand is so short is because it

  looks worse when it's taller like it

  doesn't look as nice and that's why it's

  short to make it look better and

  oftentimes proper ergonomics don't look

  that good it's always as balance it has

  to be struck and and I hope by talking

  about it here I think my main hope is

  that people especially young people for

  whom like it's not too late yet like I

  hope that people really take seriously

  their own ergonomics because the

  problems can accumulate quickly you know

  like I I first had RSI pain after only

  about a year and a half of working

  full-time as a programmer I was like 23

  or something I was very young still and

  it came on immediately like it was it

  was so quick

  I developed my bag problem when I was

  only like 25 you know like this stuff

  can happen when you're young and the

  earlier you catch it the better and the

  earlier you develop good habits the

  better yeah I had a similar experience

  like our very early on in my career I

  discovered that if I typed for if I

  especially if after like a session we're

  like you really get in the zone and like

  you're really working and like you have

  the moat the thing where the days where

  you like you look up and said wow I've

  just been sitting in exactly the same

  position for five hours straight like I

  haven't moved because I've been so

  focused on what it is I'm building which

  is awesome like from a development

  perspective then I'd like get up and

  it's like wow like that like it hurts

  and then you start to have the thoughts

  of this like if I can't type like I

  can't I can't do my job like it's it's a

  kind of one of those scary you'd like

  disability type of things like if I if I

  ever ended up hurting myself like it

  would be like my hands are what I use to

  make my do to do my work like I can't

  there's not really I'm sure that could

  work out ways around it but it's such a

  such a vital thing and like you said

  it's like and what the reason I wanted

  this early on early topic for me is it's

  like it's an important thing like it's

  it's one of the few things that as a

  profession like we just professionally

  you have to take care of yourself with

  because if you lose the ability to type

  or to type without community to type

  comfortably like it's gonna be a pretty

  serious problem and all of these types

  of pain whether it's like wrist wrist

  style paint or or neck and shoulder or

  back pain all of those things come on

  very slowly and then leave very slowly

  these aren't like oh I'm sore for one

  day and then it's normal they could last

  weeks or months and it's over weeks or

  months that the bad habits get built

  and that the problem gets exacerbated

  again they come on slowly and they leave

  slowly so it is important like feeling

  any wrist or neck or back pain is not

  normal like if you feel any of that pain

  after any day

  you're doing something wrong and so

  there's always room for improvement you

  know the more you move around during the

  day you'll help your back how you sit if

  you sit like with good posture if that

  helps a lot how you use or don't use arm

  rests and wrist rests if you have a

  keyboard look it please use a split

  keyboard if you can

  if you can't or refuse to at minimum

  please do not use the feet on the back

  of the keyboard that elevated up because

  that is working against you so hard any

  keyboard you type on should be either

  flat or should actually be what they

  call negative tilted which is that the

  front of it should be higher than the

  back at which no keyboard has that

  option that I know of except natural

  keyboards to do that that is like the

  more comfortable and better for RSI

  angle that a keyboard should be at the

  feet on the back that prop it up that

  all of us used it like in the 90s into

  thousands because we didn't know any

  better if you're typing up words on a

  keyboard that's like that's the back of

  it is higher than the front you're

  actually making your wrist tilt in a

  horrible position that can really

  exacerbate problems and bring on RSI

  faster and and this it's just like this

  kind of basic stuff like this a lot of

  people just don't know this like if you

  just if you have a properly aligned

  keyboard and you have your monitor at

  the correct height and your and your

  desk is at the correct height even if

  you don't have a fancy electric raising

  lowering desk you can probably adjust

  the legs in your desk to different

  heights so most desks have that having

  the proper height of everything just the

  basics of that that is so important and

  it goes so far and for many people

  myself included these minor changes or

  the or caring about these few minor

  areas that's all you need to prevent RSI

  you know and I don't know what my future

  holds but I know I've been able to work

  now full time for what ten years at

  least and I only had our site issues

  that that first year and only until I

  made these changes and now I'm fine so

  really they can have a big difference

  and one thing that's also probably worth

  mentioning is in my experience I haven't

  had a corporate job in a long time but

  whenever I did any time I went to my

  boss and said hey I'm having some RSI

  related things can you like could I get

  a different keyboard could I get a

  different stand for my laptop like every

  time they like fall over themselves big

  carry but for me because from their

  perspective like it sounds like a

  horrible live like workers comp

  liability situation if I write if all of

  a sudden it's like so I was working you

  know doing the doing the job and with

  equipment you provided for me and now

  I'm unable to work like that's that's

  their problem in a pretty serious way

  yeah and this stuff isn't expensive yeah

  and like

  if you're independent it's like I spend

  the money on this like I I remember when

  I was first starting out like buying a

  chair that was like but you know like I

  don't know like an embodied chair is at

  least least a grand yeah there's like

  1300 or something yeah it's like it's an

  expensive thing when you're starting up

  it's like if I don't get a good chair

  like I'm just gonna end up regretting it

  later it's like it's kind of one of

  these things that you have to just sort

  of invest in because you're gonna spend

  so many hours sitting in this chair

  every day yeah and you don't and you

  know we're not saying that you that the

  only good chair is $1300 but when you

  spend good money in this area to get

  something really really good that is a

  good use of money so it's not like

  totally required that you can't get any

  work done until you spend two grand on

  your physical office setup or whatever

  but it is money well spent if you can

  and and stuff like a natural keyboard I

  mean that's like it's a natural

  keyboards like 50 bucks like it's not a

  ton of money compared to a computer so

  that like that kind of stuff changing

  your monitor height can usually be free

  if you can find some Apple boxes that

  haven't been thinned out too much that

  can usually be free you know stuff like

  that it these small changes putting down

  those stupid stands on your on the back

  of your keyboard is also free like most

  of the stuff you can do very easily this

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  show and relay FM alright and I think

  the last sort of topic along an idea our

  ideal work environment it seemed like we

  couldn't brave sort of wade into this

  topic without at least barely slightly

  touching on the things that we listened

  to while we code because I think one of

  the most universal things about

  programmers is if you go into an office

  if you if you're trying to find where

  the development team is it's always the

  group of people just aniline wearing

  headphones that there's something about

  developers that we just love to listen

  to things and I know you're a bit of

  your headphone tastes are quite refined

  but I was just curious what do you

  normally listen to and how does that go

  for you when you're working you're

  developing I mean to me it's it's all

  about isolation right and and that's why

  developers wear headphones while they're

  working most of the time if they're

  working in an office because you need

  quiet you need isolation so you can

  concentrate and private officers are

  probably way better for this I don't

  know I've never worked in one but the

  the open-plan which is where I think

  most developers funding I was working

  these days is so hard to get any work

  done if you don't have some kind of

  isolating headphones with music playing

  so I think working in silence is

  probably better if you could actually

  get silence but in the absence of that

  option when you're working in an

  open-plan the best thing you can do is

  first of all if you can if you can help

  it find a seat or a desk that doesn't

  face the door so that when as people

  come in and out you aren't constantly

  visually distracted but yes also then

  when you're listening to you know put

  headphones on block out the sound and

  put on something and I don't really care

  what it is what what helps the most is

  if you if you put on music that you

  don't have to really think about for a

  while so like shuffle is bad because if

  you're shuffling through your whole

  music library you're gonna have these

  constant jarring transitions between

  songs and there's gonna be some songs

  that come on that you don't want to hear

  right now you're gonna have to skip them

  and all that is distracting what I like

  to do is put on something that it's

  gonna play straight through no shuffle

  long shows or long albums they're going

  to play straight through that I already

  know so I'm not gonna have to think

  about it and that won't be distracting

  and it will provide a nice constant

  level of noise not something super quiet

  that will not be as good as blocking out

  at blocking at the sound and for me that

  is fish lots and lots of fish for many

  reasons that talked about a lot in other

  places so I'm not gonna go too far into

  it here first of all just like it but

  second of all fish provides these these

  live show sales that every concert they

  do you can buy it as a live show it's

  nice because it's it's just different

  enough each time that it doesn't feel

  like you're listening to the same album

  on repeat but it's the same enough that

  they're still the same songs generally

  that you know so it's the same enough

  that it isn't super distracting and

  their long shows you can you know you

  can buy hours and hours and hours of

  fish shows every year that you know new

  ones every year that come out so it

  provides what I want which is that that

  kind of straight through playback of

  something that I can just jump in hit

  play and then not think about it for the

  next three hours as I work and it's just

  it's there it's consistent it's nice

  it's I like it I enjoy it it's

  motivating for me and it really serves

  to help me to keep focused yeah I think

  I am similar like you know I like the

  isolation I like kind of something to

  keep my mind it's almost like I want to

  activate and have a certain part of my

  brain active that isn't my development

  part but it keeps it busy so I'm not

  thinking about it for me I listen to

  cheesy pop music like as cheesy as can

  be like tea like like as that's what I

  love and I don't know why I think like

  the pepperiness of it is is really

  helpful to me

  but you just gotta find something

  that'll keep your brain engaged in what

  it's doing without being distracted by

  other things and you just find it you

  put it on and then yeah it's like what

  does it say you plug in and off you go

  exactly and because you know we work in

  these long bursts

  you know programmers tend to work in

  these big chunks of time or you know

  some people call it being in the zone

  whatever whatever you call it this is

  generally how almost every program works

  that I've ever heard of or talked to and

  so like you can't you can't be in a

  constantly interrupted environment you

  can't be like in an open environment

  where everyone's asking your questions

  every five minutes or you have to get up

  constantly go do something or II have to

  keep going in and out of meetings all

  day it's very hard to get good

  programming worked on in that kind of

  environment so anything you can do to

  keep yourself in the zone keep yourself

  focused usually is worth it good closed

  headphones I'll put a link in the show

  notes to my favorite closed pair which

  is only like 150 bucks

  the audio technica ath m50x and it's you

  know good clothes headphones with good

  music that you like that you don't have

  to think much about that can last for a

  long time at moderate volume please

  don't blow your ears out because that's

  another thing that does not grow back

  over time so please keep it at moderate

  volume just enough to block out the

  world not enough to blast your ears out

  yeah highly recommended alright I think

  that's it for today's show thank you so

  much for the warm reception you've given

  us so far recommend us in overcast and

  otherwise we'll see you again next week

  see you