Only A Model

by J. Ben Deaton

Stand and Deliver

One of the items on my post-PhD to-do list was to transition to standing while working. Everyone has seen the “sitting is the new smoking” articles (e.g. here, here, or here), and while I’m no medical expert, it’s no stretch for me to accept that our bodies aren’t designed to sit 8-10 hours per day.1 I felt like this was a straightforward step in a healthier and more active lifestyle.

I work for an engineering firm, and my workspace is a cubicle. I wasn’t sure how well the standing desk option would go over, but when I noticed several coworkers augmenting their desks in various ways to stand while working, I saw my open door. I decided to take the low-cost, DIY route to test the waters. In this post, I will show you how to convert your cube to a standing desk.


I closely followed the design of the Standesk 2200, a standing desk conversion kit pieced together from random IKEA parts. Instead of building an entirely new desk, it’s an add-on that sits right on top of your regular desk. The name “2200” comes from the price: $22.00. I made a few modifications that pushed the cost up (Standesk 5000?), but I think these were well worth it. A shopping list is below. I’m pleased with the final result:

As you can see, it’s nothing more than a black coffee table with a shelf mounted on the front. One of the reasons I went with this coffee table instead of the recommended side tables is that the coffee table’s lower shelf provides an inconspicuous spot for my laptop docking station and 3D mouse (when not in use). The keyboard shelf is approximately twelve inches wider than the coffee table. This provides a helpful work platform to the left of my keyboard where I can place papers or books.

One concern I had was that the final product wouldn’t feel solid enough, but I was wrong: it feels very sturdy and the monitors exhibit minimal wobble. I was also concerned whether it would look professional enough, but based on the comments I have received from colleagues, it passes the test. Finally, this design doesn’t have a great option for working while sitting if needed — the best I can do is undock my laptop and sit at a different area of my desk.

The Transition

The transition to standing has been surprisingly easy — much smoother than expected. I’m fairly healthy/fit, but I’m not a big exerciser. I haven’t had much trouble standing all day. I don’t feel noticeably more fatigued at night than I did before. I do stretch frequently during the day and try to walk around periodically. I sit to eat lunch. Otherwise, I don’t know why it’s been such a smooth transition. You might be surprised and find out you can stand all day as well. Five weeks in, I hardly notice it or think about it anymore.

This is entirely subjective, but I feel like my alertness and capacity for sustained concentration throughout the day have improved. This could all be in my head, but it makes reasonable sense that standing would keep you more mentally engaged. Friends have reported similar productivity gains.

When it comes to assembling your desk, you need to take some careful measurements to get the keyboard and monitor heights correct. I used the ergonomics graphic in this post as a guide. I did the best I could ahead of time, but this required some trial and error. Even after measuring, when I brought the assembly to my office, I found that the working surfaces were several inches too low. I’m 6’1”, so several furniture risers brought the set-up mostly into compliance, but I still experienced an RSI flare-up in my mouse hand. Nobody tell Edward Tufte, but my copy of Beautiful Evidence was just the right height to solve the RSI problem. It’s been fine ever since.

I found that the floor in my office was too rigid (carpet on concrete slab). I needed an anti-fatigue mat. I didn’t want foot or knee problems to negate the health benefits of standing. After reading a multitude of reviews online, I learned that anti-fatigue mats are a get-what-you-pay-for commodity. Furthermore, a lot of them are marketed as kitchen accessories and are styled accordingly (patterns, etc.). I needed something that wouldn’t draw attention. This led me to the only expensive component in my set-up: the Imprint Cumulus Pro anti-fatigue mat. It is black, plain, has tapered edges which reduce its tripping hazard, and it is awesome. Once I’ve worked here longer, I might add a wobble board to mix things up a bit.

Good shoes are important. I expected the transition to standing to trigger a shoe upgrade, but my feet have been fine. I repeat: my feet do not hurt at all after nine hours of standing. Several years ago when I began teaching, I splurged on a pair of Ecco Berlins. These shoes are incredible. I now travel internationally with only these shoes, and have put them through everything from multi-mile traipsing on cobblestone streets to climbing through castle ruins. I may upgrade to a “barefoot”-style business shoe in the future, but the Ecco’s are more than sufficient for now.

Shopping List

In conclusion…

If you are intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, I highly recommend you give it a try. My set-up is proof that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to test the waters.

I’ve now spent five weeks with this set-up. I have really enjoyed it so far and am feeling great. I plan to write a more comprehensive review after several months or a year passes, so we’ll see how this ongoing experiment pans out. For now, though, I’m excited.

  1. Yes, I read those articles about how standing all day isn’t good for you either.

  2. Affiliate links throughout.


I decided to move my blog to Octopress. I have enjoyed Wordpress and the Standard Theme for many years, and have pointed many friends in that direction.

But recently, I’ve been more and more intrigued by Octopress and the like. I have wanted to dig deeper into git and play around with Amazon web services, both to save money and learn something new.

For the uninitiated, Octopress is a static site generator which is written in Ruby, based on the Jekyll codebase, and closely allied with the git ecosystem. An Octopress blog is basically a folder of text files on your computer. You type some commands, and your blog is generated as a static html site that you can host wherever you want.

After you convert your blog from Wordpress to Octopress, it’s customary to write an excruciatingly detailed post explaining how (by an act of God) you got everything to work. I imagine that it’s straightforward to set up if your line of work means you already have the dependencies installed. I did not.

But the transition went much easier than I expected. The Octopress docs are great, and by constantly breaking it down step by step, I was able to get things up and running over about 6 or 8 hours. Noting that many of the following steps was preceded by 20 minutes of Googling, I:

  • Exported my Wordpress database.
  • Synced existing comments to Disqus in case I wanted to keep them.
  • Installed Octopress.
  • Installed any missing dependencies with Homebrew (highly recommend).
  • Ran exitwp on my Wordpress database.
  • Cleaned up a few errors and copied my posts to the Octopress _source folder.
  • Copied my wp-content/uploads folder into the source directory so I didn’t have to rewrite image links.
  • Modified the deploy file to send to S3 using s3cmd
  • Generated and deployed the site.
  • Created a Cloudfront distribution pointing at my S3 bucket.
  • Created a cname alias at my registrar.

And that was pretty much it. You can find ten blog posts around the Internet detailing how to accomplish every one of those steps, so there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel with more detail.

A static blog is not for everybody, but I really resonate with the philosophy. I found it incredibly liberating to see my blog as a folder of plain text files. Every blog post I’ve ever written right there, a click away from editing in Sublime Text or iA Writer. I also learned a lot in the process and will save quite a bit in hosting costs.

Aside from collapsing the sidebar and tightening up the horizontal dimensions to improve readability, I have decided to keep the default design for now. I plan to redesign it at some point, but I’m content to make this transition in stages.

Moving to Boston


I’m very excited to announce that I’ve accepted a position at a structural engineering consulting firm in Boston. I’ll be working in the engineering mechanics division on structural failures, seismic evaluation of nuclear facilities, and other interesting things. I start at the beginning of April. So there it is: I’m moving to Boston.

Vortex Shedding Around Skyscrapers



The other day I attended a really interesting doctoral defense (congrats Mustafa!) which used computational fluid dynamics to look at vortex shedding from fluid flow around various-shaped objects with prescribed motions. Check out this animated gif to get an idea what I’m talking about.

Vortex shedding is an interesting phenomenon in skyscraper design because, depending on the building’s aerodynamic characteristics, moderate wind can excite torsional modes or cause other serious problems. Nowadays any landmark skyscraper is evaluated in wind tunnels to attempt to detect this effect ahead of time.

It reminded me that a year or so ago I got interested in building a collection of photos showing vortex shedding around skyscrapers. I found two decent ones (shown above) of the John Hancock Center in Chicago, one of my favorite skyscrapers. These photos were really hard to find because most tourists taking photos from the base of a skyscraper don’t tend to tag their photos with “vortex shedding” on Flickr. The next time I’m in a big city on a windy+cloudy day, I’m going to see if I can recreate a photo like these.

Before and After Earthquake Photos


The Atlantic’s InFocus feature does it again with an awesome series of before/after shots of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, separated by 2 years. If you click each image, it fades to the current state.

As someone who works on the seismic resilience of structures, I always find these sorts of things fascinating and motivating. I appreciate and try to internalize every reminder of the gravity of our charge as engineers.

Also, for my engineering professor friends out there, maybe you should show the photo above sometime when you’re teaching about load and resistance factor design and say: “You never know when a yacht might land on top of the building you are designing.”