ergonomics

Working in the Kitchen

by Joey deVilla on December 14, 2009

01 ms ottawa officeMicrosoft Ottawa’s Kitchen. It has a decent view.

Every Microsoft office has a “touchdown area”, a place filled with cubicles where visiting or mobile workers can work. I avoid these like the plague.

Thanks to all the work I’ve done in cafes or coworking spaces, I prefer to set up in Microsoft’s “kitchen” spaces. The wifi is just as accessible there, but the lighting is natural, the tables are larger. the fridge with all the free Diet Coke is nearby by and it doesn’t feel so boxed in. Unlike cafes, you can leave your stuff at the table when you go for a bathroom break.

So, when I hung out in Microsoft’s Ottawa offices on Friday while waiting for my coworker and travelling buddy Damir to finish his meeting, I eschewed the touchdown cubicle and set up shop in the kitchen. These photos show what my “office” looked like, and believe me, it’s a lot nicer than a veal-fattening pen-like cube.

02 ms ottawa office

A lot of office workers might balk at the idea of working in a kitchen space, but consider this: people have been working in kitchens for millennia. Its centralized  placement in homes and workplaces as well as its layout and design are the product of countless generations doing work that sustains life.

On the other hand, the modern office has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. Its design is based on the concept of employee as interchangeable production unit and the hypothesis that people are naturally lazy and must be coerced into being productive.

Hence in the absence of a workshop-like environment (such as the Hacklab, where I often work), I opt for the kitchen.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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What Passes for Legroom on United Airlines

by Joey deVilla on February 3, 2009

I’m 5’11” (180cm) tall, and here’s what the legroom in United Airlines’ economy class is like once the guy in front of you has reclined his seat. He’d originally reclined his seat all the way, but I was able to talk him into doing it only halfway:

Legroom on United's economy class

As you can see, my knees are touching the seat in front of me. If you’re 6 feet or taller, you’ll probably want to get upgraded to what United calls “Economy Plus”, where you get a little more legroom – about as much as other airlines’ economy class seats.

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Herman Miller’s “Embody” Chair: Aeron++?

by Joey deVilla on November 4, 2008

Gizmodo has a photo gallery of Herman Miller’s follow-up to the popular (and very comfortable) Aeron chair: the Embody chair, which was designed by Aeron co-designer Bill Stumpf. They declare that it’s “The Best Chair We’ve Ever Sat On”:

This is supposed to be an extremely comfy chair. Its backrest is described as “a matrix of pixels creates dynamic seat-and-back surfaces that automatically conform to your every movement and distribute your weight evenly.” The seat is “a series of plastic bands providing suspension, the second is a sheet of coils for support, the third is a system hexagonal rings that shift with your weight and the final layer is a mesh that allows air circulation to keep the sitter cool.”

It’s also supposed to be a “green” chair: made from non-toxic and sustainable materials and 42% recycled content. The entire chair is 95% recyclable.

By now, you’re probably asking “How much?” The answer: $1600.

Gizmodo’s subjective verdict:

…it is the most comfortable chair we’ve ever sat in. You can adjust the amount of recline, the tension of the recline, your seat depth, your back curvature, your armrest positioning and how high the seat is. But you can do this on many other chairs. What makes this one special—and more comfortable—is that the backrest has individual supports. Think of a Simmons mattresses with individual coils; this adjusts and supports whatever contortions you’re putting your spine through in your daily routine of reading Gizmodo.

It looks really nice. It’s a crying shame this chair is outside my budget; I think I’m going to opt for the Steelcase Leap chair, which is also quite comfy, and sells for a good $1000 less.

But wow, I’d love to have an Embody…

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Pair Programming Chairs

by Joey deVilla on August 28, 2008

The development tool company Cenqua have a cute gag ad for a pair programming chair called the “PairOn” — an Aeron built for two:

Cenqua's "PairOn" chair

They list the PairOn’s “key features” as:

  • Fully unit-tested in our ego-free ergonomics lab
  • Essential office furniture for any eXtreme XP Pair (XXPP)
  • Fully adjustable via individual or pair control
  • Can be levered to standup-meeting height
  • 40-hour-week alarm buzzer built in
  • Available in a range of attractive colours

Here’s a pair programming chair that really exists: it’s a set of drawers that doubles as a stool:

TSOT's "Pair Programming" filing cabinate/chair

These are drawer sets mounted on some very good wheels and topped with well-padded upholstery. If you wanted to pair program with someone, you’d simply pull the drawer unit out from under their desk and sit on it. These things were surprisingly comfortable; I’ve spent upwards of two hours sitting on one of these with nary a complaint.

Alas, these aren’t available in stores. They were custom-built for a startup for whom I briefly worked, whose CEOs was more in love with the idea of running a start-up than actually running a start-up. Their last programmer recently ditched them, and I’m hoping to pick up one of these in their bankruptcy sale.

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