Scott Hanselman

Sit, Stand, Walk, Type - Using a Treadmill Desk

September 25, '13 Comments [46] Posted in Musings
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Treadmill Desk

I've been doing this whole "sitting and thinking for money" thing for over twenty years now. I've written about some of the things that happen to the body after sitting and typing for long periods, and talked about ways we can try to stem the tide, like

Almost ten years ago I blogged about The Programmer's Back, The Programmer's Hands, and worse yet (and most recently) The Programmer's Body.

I'm happy with my desk, but since Being a Remote Worker Sucks I get cabin fever and need to mix it up. Sometimes I sit at my desk, sometimes I stand, sometimes I just escape to a local café. I needed another option.

I noticed that I wasn't getting nearly close enough to the arbitrary goal of 10,000 daily steps per my FitBit. When I travel I walk obsessively, but here in Oregon running and walking in the rain is really no fun. I started running on the treadmill in the last few months while making may way through my NetFlix queue but quickly realized that this is prime-email-deleting-time I'm wasting!

It was finally time to make this Treadmill into a desk. Being the immensely handy fix-it type that I am (not) I promptly tried to cut a piece of wood. It was quite the achievement, let me tell you.

The prototype was fine, just a board laid across the treadmill but it worked. I enlisted my Dad (who is actually Handy) and we iterated. Here's what we came up with. Bonus points to my Dad who is incapable of letting a piece of wood leave his shop without being sanded or property stained.

Treadmill Desk

First, we took the original boards and added small supports to keep it from moving laterally. Then I added foam from the inside of a bike helmet to make the fit even tighter against the side supports.

Treadmill Desk

Then, Dad built a small box with a lip to sit on top of the boards. This brings the laptop (my Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch) up to a height that keeps my hands at exactly a 90 degree angle to the keyboard. This has proven very comfortable - not too low and not too high.

Treadmill Desk

If I want to run full out, I just lift the two pieces up and move the aside. It's also worth noting that I'm still using the safety cord in case I trip or fall off the treadmill. I'm considering actually drilling a 1.5" hole through the middle of the box to thread the cord so if I do take a spill, it won't take the box with me.

I've been doing about 2 miles per hour at a slight incline. I don't like super slow walking (1 mph) as I find it actually requires more thinking than normal walking. So far today I've moseyed about 5 miles on the treadmill desk without really feeling it. I'm not sure I'd want to spend a full day doing this, but it's very comfortable and I think I'll use it for at least an hour or so at a time.

This was super easy to do and I recommend it to anyone who has (or can cheaply get) a treadmill, a few pieces of wood, and a laptop. It was so easy and the benefits are so clearly obvious, I'm actually a little disappointed I didn't do this years ago.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Create a complete System Image Backup with Windows 8.1 and File History

September 24, '13 Comments [42] Posted in Win8
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I feel better when things are backed up. I use the File History feature of Windows 8 to backup files every hour or so. I really encourage folks to use the Computer Backup Rule of Three.

One of the features of Windows 7 that I love is System Image Backup. I used to use 3rd party products to image my system. In Windows 8 (8.0, that is) it's kind of hard to find System Image Backup. While I use File History locally as well as regular cloud backup (using CrashPlan on my Synology) I also like to do a full System Image every month or so.

I've seen a number of tutorials on the web on "how to create a system image backup on windows 8.1" that have folks going to a PowerShell prompt to start a backup. While that's possible, it's certainly not the primary way you want to start typical backup at home.

In Windows 8.1, go to the Start Menu, type "File History" and run it.

image

Now, hit System Image Backup in the lower corner there.

image

You can put an image on DVDs or an external hard drive.

Now, to be clear, should this be your primary backup strategy? No. I've got most things in the cloud or automatically backed up to external drives. If I needed to totally reinstall Windows from scratch, I can get back up and working in about an hour without using a complete System Image. However, I'm comforted by having at least one or two System Image backups. It's nice to have options.

Recommended Reading

Here's some other blog posts on the topic of backup. Now, take action.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The New Turbo Button - Balancing Power Management and Performance on Windows Servers

September 17, '13 Comments [20] Posted in Musings
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TurboButtonDo you remember the Turbo Button? I actually thought of it is the "be slow button" because we always kept it on Turbo. Why wouldn't you want a fast computer all the time? The Turbo Button was actually an "underclock" button. When it was off, you were setting your 286 or 386 to XT speeds so older DOS games would work at their designed speed.

Power Management, both software and hardware, seems to be the new Turbo Button. My laptops get way faster when I plug it in - like very noticeably faster to the point where I just don't like using them on battery. For typing documents, it's fine, but for development, compiling, running VMs, it's unacceptable to me. I'll end up spending more power to get more performance. 

It's important to remember that Power Management affects servers as well.

Recently Mike Harder, a development manager, noticed that stuff he does every day was taking longer on the "Balanced" power option than the "High Performance" option. He said:

My naïve belief was that “Balanced” is supposed to save power when your machine is idle, but give full power when needed, so the overall perf hit should be small.

Here's a very basic benchmark Mike did:

Hardware/OS
Hardware: HP z420, Intel Xeon E5 1650 @ 3.2GHz, 32GB RAM, SSD
OS: Windows Server 2012 Standard

(in seconds) High Performance Balanced Delta
7-Zip, LZMA, 2 Threads 55 115 109%
7-Zip, LZMA2, 12 Threads 28 49 75%
Build Source Tree, 48 Threads 37 55 49%

This started a fascinating thread on power management and the balance between getting good performance from a system (desktop or laptop or server) and wasting power and heat. Here's the best parts of that internal thread here for all of our education.

Bruce Worthington said:

Depends on the workload.  The full performance of the system is available, but (for example) if the workload is very bursty you will take an initial hit at the beginning of each burst as the power management algorithms determine that more resources need to be brought on line.  Or if it is a low-utilization steady state workload, you will run at a lower CPU frequency throughout.

There is no free lunch, so there is always a tradeoff that is being made.

There is also an excellent thread on this at ServerFault. Jeff Atwood asks:

Our 8-cpu database server has a ton of traffic, but extremely low CPU utilization (just due to the nature of our SQL queries -- lots of them, but really simple queries). It's usually sitting at 10% or less. So I expect it was downclocking even more than the above screenshot. Anyway, when I turned power management to "high performance" I saw my simple SQL query benchmark improve by about 20%, and become very consistent from run to run.

imageThis makes sense to me. The CPU isn't working hard enough for long enough for the power management algorithms to put full power to the CPU. But, if Jeff sets power management to High Performance he's effectively saying "full speed ahead...always."

In the last half-decade power management in servers has become more of an issue. With high power comes heating and cooling as well as power costs. Windows Server 2008's default power is "Balanced."

Bruce again in an excellent explanation with emphasis mine:

I'll try to give a quick perspective below as to why we use Balanced mode as our default and how we arrive at the tunings for that mode.

As of Windows Server 2008, the default setting of the OS was switched from High Performance to Balanced.  Energy efficiency was becoming a larger factor in the real world, and our ability to balance between the oft-opposing poles of Power and Perf was improving.  That being said, there will always be environments where our recommendation is that the power policy should be switched back to High Performance.  Anything super latency sensitive will clearly fall into that bucket, such as banking, stock markets, etc.

OEMs have the flexibility to add custom tunings onto their factory settings if they want to put in the additional effort to find a balance that works better for their specific customers.  System administrators also have that flexibility. But tuning the power/perf knobs in the OS is a very tricky business, not for the faint of heart. 

<snip…>


Some of us on the Windows "power" teams were performance analysts before we become power analysts, so we are very sensitive to the tradeoffs that are being made and don’t like seeing any perf lost at all.  But there is no free lunch to be had, and there are big electric bills being paid (and polar bears falling into the water) that can be helped through sacrificing some level of performance in many environments.

<snip>

We will continue to provide multiple power policies because one size clearly does not fit all servers.

Another great point made for why have "Balanced"  be the default, from Sean McGrane:

[We're] looking at an industry landscape where servers in data centers are very underutilized, typically somewhere below 20% utilization. By going with balanced mode we saved a lot of energy and cost and improved their carbon footprint more or less for free. There was very strong support from customers to do this.

Virtualization has helped raise the utilization levels and most cloud DCs now operate at higher levels of utilization. However the majority of servers deployed are still running a single workload and that will be the case for a while.

This get to the point of measuring. Are your servers working hard now? Perhaps they'll perform better on High Performance. Are they often idle or at lower levels of utilization? Then Balanced is likely fine and will save power. Test and see.

As with all things in software development, it's a series of trade offs. If you blindly switch your servers' power options to High Performance because you read it on a random blog on the Internet, you're of course missing the point.

Change a variable, then measure.

Consider your workloads, how your workloads cause your CPUs to idle and how hard they work the CPU when pushed. Are you doing single threaded low CPU work, or massively parallel CPU intensive work?

I'm now going to pay more attention to power management profiles when developing, putting machines into production, stress testing and benchmarking. It's nice to have a Turbo Button.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Teaching Kids Electronics, Computers, and Programming Fundamentals with Snap Circuits

September 13, '13 Comments [33] Posted in Daddy | Parenting | Programming
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I'm not particularly interested in my kids being programmers or computer people. I'd rather they be interested in life and totally geeked about something. If that's  computers, fine. If that's ballet, also fine.

That said, I think if they are going to be effective users (If not builders) I think they should have a basic sense of how electronics work.

I bought them a basic set of Snap Circuits, specifically Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100, which is just about US$20 on Amazon.

These are brilliant. Check this picture, as it's worth a thousand words and you'll get its genius immediately.

Snap Circuits SC-100

The 5 year old loves the motor and fan, as well as the speaker and noise makers. The boys have made doorbells, a light-controlled fan, lit-up LEDs and made an AM radio. Here's an Instagram Video of the 5 year old explaining his creation:

The pieces snap onto the grid with little buttons. The pieces are plastic and the wires run through them. They're not extremely resilient, in that they can break, particularly the capacitors, but it's actually nice to be able to see the resistors and other parts exposed through the plastic. It strikes a reasonable balance between being friendly to little hands, being sturdy, and actually working reliably as electronic components.

WP_20130912_18_01_15_Pro

The 5 year old is no prodigy, to be clear, but he's already getting a general sense of electrical movement. He'll say that the resistors "slow down the electricity" and that the capacitors "store it up." He knows positive and negative, and how to use a multimeter to measure voltage. (I recommend a $10 multimeter as well for debugging your projects.) He's starting to look at doorbells and remote controls differently now, which means these little projects have already achieved my goal in just a few weeks. I anticipate they'll play with them for some months, forget about them, and then rediscover Snap Circuits every few years. These toys are great for a 5 or 6 year old, but even a 12 to 14 year old could totally appreciate them. I'm even running through some of the experiments and using the millimeter to remind myself of long-forgotten concepts.

We quickly outgrew the 30 parts in the Snap Circuits Jr. Even though it has 100 projects, I recommend you get the Snap Circuits SC-300 that has 60 parts and 300 projects, or do what we did and just get the Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 that has 80+ parts and 750 projects. I like this one because it includes a computer interface (via your microphone jack, so any old computer will work!) as well as a Solar Panel.

The Snap Circuits SC-750 is a bargain at prices like US$75 if you can find it, especially considering how many tablets, Kindles and iPads some kids have.

WP_20130910_19_23_04_Pro

The next Snap Circuits kids we're considering are either Snap Circuits "Light" that includes LEDs and Fiber Optics, although the 5 year old is pressuring me for the Snap Circuits Robot Rover. It'll likely be the Rover for the holidays around here.

I have no relationship with Snap Circuits, I bought these kits on my own and am reviewing them because they are awesome. If I could invest in Elenco Electronics, I would. The links here are Amazon affiliate links. If you use them, I can buy more Snap Circuits! ;)


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Trying a Nokia Lumia 1020 - A Camera with a Phone Inside

September 10, '13 Comments [50] Posted in Reviews | WinPhone
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My current Lumia 1010 tile layoutI've had an iPhone since the iPhone 3G. My main personal phone is an iPhone 4S. I'm always checking out new phones, however, most recently the Blackberry Z10. The last time I tried a Windows Phone was a Lumia 800, where I made a list of apps I would need before I would ever consider switching from iPhone. I also checked out one of the first Windows Phones in 2010.

My family is a mixed one, with two iPads, my wife's Lumia 920 phone, my iPhone 4S, the kids' iPod touches, a Surface RT, an Xbox and a PS3. I'm also spending a month testing a Samsung Galaxy S4.

However, last week a buddy loaned me a yellow Nokia Lumia 1020 running Windows Phone 8. A good friend recently switched to the 1020 solely for the camera. Let me repeat that. He has been #teamiphone since the beginning but he decided the camera was good enough to switch. That got my attention as my 4S camera kinda sucks. It's fine for Instagram but not for capturing two growing kids.

I swapped the SIM card from my iPhone and customized the crap out of my home screen. I can't stand defaults. Live Tiles really are the star of the Windows Phone.

I'll do a full review when I've spent time with this phone, but I can talk about the camera now. Insane.

Full sized images are 7712x4352 and about 10 megs. The deal, it seems, isn't that you necessarily want to  keep the 34 megapixel images, but rather that you can zoom and crop them and still see thing clearly. Phrased differently, rather than an optical zoom, you take a super super high res image then digitally zoom. It's amazing. You can zoom in on a license plate from 100 feet away.

Here's an example (I've blurred these people as I don't know them).

A picture at a cafe

Now, zooming in on the red car, digitally.

Zoomed way in on a license plate

That's just a silly example. A more significant one is taking a picture of a group, then wanting to crop a shot of just some of the people and having it NOT looking like a crappy crop. These kind of operations are trivial.

If you want to download the full 10 megabyte version of this image, I put it up on Azure Storage here and if you like, zoom around it on Zoom.It.

Here's the original file, copied straight off the Lumia 1020 via a USB Cable.

Lego Jabba

Let's zoom in - only by cropping.

Jabba's buddy close up

Seriously, I could do this all day.

LEGO Hobbit

And then cropping.

LEGO Hobbit close up

I also tried the Camera Grip for the Lumia 1020. It's an extended battery, grip and a button that makes the phone act more like a camera. You get the whole half-button press to focus" then "full press to snap" behavior. This also speeds up the shutter actuation feel to instantaneous, since the half-squeeze starts the focus. The continued full press is instant. It really feels like a Point and Shoot.

Disclaimer/Disclosure: I do work for Microsoft, in the Azure division. However, I am not my job. I review lots of tech and gadgets and I stand on my record of impartiality. I use what I like. This review (and future and past) is my own, and done on my own, outside of work. No one reviews or edits these. Misspellings and errors are mine.

The Nokia Lumia 1012 Camera Grip

I'll keep trying it out and explore the actual phone features, but I am deeply impressed with the camera. In order to consider switching though (and I assume you'd feel the same way) I would need:

  • 95% of the apps (or equivalents) that I use in an average week.
  • Reliable Bluetooth phone and audio in the cars my wife and I have
    • Streaming audio works fine in my Prius. Having some trouble with the phone, but working on it.
  • Good battery life
    • It's OK, but the camera flash definitely hurts the battery if you spend all day taking pics.
  • Support for Google Mail and Calendar (personal) and Outlook (work)
    • Check.

More review and details to come as I explore. Your thoughts?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.