Saturday, October 18, 2014

Take a stand against sitting at work

Chronic sitting is a problem; I’ll bet you’re doing it right now. Extended sitting and sedentary lifestyles are taking their toll on our health and lifespan. We sit at our meals, during our commute, all day at the office, only to drop onto the couch after a long day. A CDC studyconcluded that prolonged sitting has been associated with ‘chronic diseases, obesity, metabolic syndrome and premature mortality’. 60 Minutes also covered the sitting epidemic in this compelling video.

The problem with prolonged sitting at work is not your chair; it’s your desk. Most desks are made for sitting so trying to work standing up is difficult and awkward at best. One alternative is getting a ‘rising desk’ that can be elevated manually or electronically from sitting to standing height, but those prices start at $1500 and go up. So the ideal and affordable option is a rising ‘desktop’ that you can raise to standing height and lower for sitting.

The team at Varidesk allowed me to test the Varidesk Pro ($300), a rising desktop, at my home office. It comes fully assembled and I had my existing desk converted in minutes. The unit has a platform that is 36” x 20”, plenty of space for my laptop, second monitor, keyboard and mouse. The adjustable height desktop rises from the desk to a 15” elevated height effortlessly. Varidesk Pro is solid, easy to adjust and fits all my desktop essentials. Standing for 30 minutes at a time at my desk felt better than sitting from the start. I’ve searched for many desktop risers and this is the best I’ve found.
Now that you’ve eliminated the chair, you need to shift the padding from your seat to your feet with a padded floor mat. Standing for an extended period on a hard floor can be tiring as well. Find a comfortable padded floor mat. Varidesk sells one on their website.

Don’t be too aggressive at first with this change; going from sitting all day to standing all day can be tiring if you change all at once. Start with standing one hour a day for a week, and then increase it as you go. Varidesk also has an app for your PC or Mac desktop/laptop computer to help manage this transition by scheduling reminders to stand then sitting breaks.
Get healthy and get up!

Manage your passwords securely online

It seems that everything you do online requires a username and password. Using the same password everywhere is not a secure plan. Believe it or not, the three most common passwords are 12345612345678 and password. Really? You might as well write it on your forehead. Websites have varying rules over your password format which makes remembering them all nearly impossible. Writing all your passwords on paper or storing them in your phone is horribly insecure. So how do you keep your online access super secure but remember all your passwords?

Enter LastPass. This password manager keeps a secure list of all your usernames and passwords in an encrypted “vault” on your computer and automatically enters them when you access them through a master password. It’s very easy to use:

  • Install the LastPass service on your computer, it’s free. Go to and click the Download button. They also have a premium mobile service for your smartphone or tablet for $12/year.
  • Create a strong master password (hence the name, the last password you’ll need).
  • Let LastPass remember all your passwords for all your sites.
LastPass will do an assessment of your passwords that it manages and grades you on whether you’ve reused the same password on multiple sites and how strong your passwords are. This is good, but you’re still at risk because you’re probably still using the same password at most of your websites, simply so you could remember them. Since you don’t have to remember your passwords with LastPass, why not make them crazy complicated! LastPass can create a totally cryptic password for your online accounts that looks something like X4>aeC5485#4b!, which is the kind of secure password you should be using and so much better than 123456 or your dog's name. LastPass remembers them all. You just enter your LastPass master password and it takes care of getting you logged in.

What’s the technology behind all this? I spoke with LastPass CEO, Joe Siegrist. He explained that LastPass keeps all passwords encrypted through 256-bit encryption and other advanced ciphers and iterations and then stores them in your personal vault on your local computer. An encrypted copy of your vault is stored in the LastPass cloud as a back up. In the end, many levels of encryption are used and LastPass never sees your passwords and doesn't store them in their cloud, only a fully encrypted version. His explanation was quite thorough but if you'd like more detail on LastPass password security, follow this link.

By the way, here is a great tip to help assess how secure your account is at any website. If you forget your password and they send you a “reset password” link, that’s good because it means they don’t store your password. They use an algorithm to convert your typed password into a very cryptic key and compare it to the cryptic key they have on file for your account. However it is a one-way street, they can’t re-create a password from their cryptic key, so they have to ask you to reset your password instead of reminding you what it is. This is the way most sites should manage your password protection.

Loyalty card apps declutter your wallet or key ring

It seems every store, restaurant and service has a loyalty card these days. If you sign up for several, your key ring can look like a mess and sometimes has more cards than keys. Or your 'Costanza' wallet is exploding with cards. Time to simplify, less is more.

  1. Install the app on your iPhone or Android phone (start by clicking the links above from you phone).
  2. Register an account (it’s free).
  3. Start capturing and storing your loyalty cards with the phone’s camera. The app will walk you through the process. It’s very easy.
  4. That’s it. You now have all that clutter out of your wallet, purse or key ring and organized on your phone.
You can allow these apps to alert you to special offers and coupons before you go shopping (or turn that feature off if it annoys you). Even cooler, by using your phone’s location services, the apps know where the nearest stores are and they will appear first in your card list anytime you open the app, making it easy to find the card you need instead of fumbling at the cash register. Your cards are backed up in the cloud so that if you lose your phone or get a new one, your cards are not lost. You simply log-in to the app on your new phone and the cards all come back.
There are other great features for you here. For each store you can:
  • share your card with family members to maximize your loyalty points accumulation,
  • write shopping lists, reminders and notes,
  • connect with the store from your phone by email, customer service, their website, their Facebook page or your personal store account, and
  • map all the nearest store locations
I think you will be delighted with either app. I’ve been using CardStar for years. It is one of my favorite apps because it helps me simplify and declutter my life.

TSA PreCheck - Moving quickly through airport security

You’ve seen the signs at airport security 'TSA Pre √ Enter Here'. You see the smiling faces on the people in short lines there. What is it? TSA Pre √ is a breath of sanity in the insane world of air travel. Your laptop and liquids stays in your bag, and your shoes stay on your feet. How do you get in on this? Two methods: Random (free) and Always (fee).

The TSA and most US airlines invite frequent flyers to opt in. The more you fly, the more likely you’ll be selected on your boarding pass for Pre √. It’s a bit random though and you can’t request it or count on it for a particular trip.

If you want Pre √ every time you fly possible, you first need to apply at the TSA Pre √ website ($85 fee). The application involves a background check, proof of citizenship/immigration, and a quick in-person interview at the airport where they record your fingerprints. On approval you’ll get your own Known Traveler Number (KTN) which you then add to each of your airline profiles and voila!, you get Pre √ on your printed or electronic boarding pass at participating airports. You’re now a 'trusted traveler'!

If you want to take it a step further, skip the TSA web site and go to the US Customs and Border Protection website to get a Global Entry account. Global Entry gets you a KTN and plus expedited processing through Immigration & Customs when entering the US from another country. You can sometimes bypass hundreds of people in the arrivals hall. The application process is about the same but costs $100 instead. One trip will make you glad you spent the extra $15. You may also want one for your spouse/partner; nothing spells ‘dog house’ more than you waiting on the other side of security while he/she stands in a long line. If you travel to Canada frequently and want to expedite your entry there, add a service called Nexus to your Global Entry card for $50, though that involves another interview in Canada which can be tricky to schedule.

But don’t screw up. If you violate any Customs or Immigration laws, your trusted traveler status will be revoked, along with everyone in your household and the Feds will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. After all, you were trusted and given special privileges. So tell your cigar-loving friend that you can’t get him any Cubans on your next trip to Mexico.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Feet per character

As I type at 37,000 feet on my flight home, I was contemplating how far apart the characters are as we fly (there’s not a lot to do up here on a 5 ½ hour flight).  In other words, how far apart are the characters I'm typing right now at our current speed?  Time for some math.

Plane speed = 584 mph = 856 feet per second
Typing speed = ~40 words per minute = ~240 characters per minute = 4 characters per second.

Therefore 856 fps / 4 cps = 214 feet per character.

So each character I'm typing here would be 214 feet apart if they were to fall to the ground as I type them right now.  The previous sentence would be stretched out 24,466 feet or over 4 ½ miles.  Everything you’ve just read would span 28 miles!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Men's Modern Shaving

There's not a lot for me to do while I'm shaving; it doesn't take that much concentration.  So I was thinking today how absolutely easy it is to do.  It's really an simple process that seems more like I'm just scraping shaving cream off my face.  The razor glides almost effortlessly.  The razor has 5 blades (yes, I'm a Gillette Fusion guy) so the risk of cutting is almost gone.

There are some mechanics at work in the new blade technology.  If you use a certain amount of pressure (force) on a single blade against your skin, all the pressure is applied to the single blade edge.  However, with a 5-blade razor, that forces is spread across all 5 blade edges, reducing the risk of cuts.

I think back to watching my grandfather shave when i was a very little.  He had a small brass "safety" razor, as it was called, with a single blade.  If he caught his face the wrong way with that one blade, it was painful and messy, the shave was interrupted and wherever you cut was sore all day.  The photo in the inset is his safety razor on top of my modern Fusion, 50 years apart).

So if you don't get too wrapped up in the physics of grabbing, stretching and cutting the whiskers on your face, the blades do their work and you're basically back to scraping shaving cream off your face.

My next outing is to go "old school" and get a straight-edge barber shave, complete with hot towels and steam.  Coming soon I hope.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Optimist vs. the Pessimist

No matter what they did or thought, it was going to rain.

The Pessimist spent the day worrying that it was going to rain, and when it would rain, how long and how hard, and that it was their bad luck, and then lamented afterwards that the day was a loss.

The Optimist enjoyed the entire day and only for the 30 minutes or so their day or their plans were interrupted, not ruined.  Perhaps they even enjoyed the rain break.

One wasted the entire day focused on a brief event, the other experienced the same rain event but it was only a brief time in a otherwise great day.  That's the difference between them.  No matter what, it was going to rain.