Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Love My Treadmill Desk

I made a treadmill desk for my office and I love it! Those of you I interact with in real life are already aware of this, probably because I have been grabbing most of the people I interact with by their lapels, bringing their faces up close to mine, and making them stare deep into my eyes while I enunciate "I. LOVE. MY. TREADMILL. DESK."

Up until recently, I spent most of my work day slumped my a chair, starting at my computer. I like my job, but I didn't like spending hours in the same position, sitting on my butt. I swear I could feel my butt flattening the longer I sat in that chair. I would often find myself standing up so I could pound on my butt with my fists, trying to get some feeling back into the flesh. I think if I had spent another month or two just sitting, my butt would have flattened to the point where it was shaped like two pancakes. (Please, no syrup references.)

A year or so ago I read an article about a fancy treadmill desk that you could buy and I loved the idea -- but the desk cost $5,000 or so. (In other words, the equivalent of nearly a year of my Nutella purchases.) But then a friend mentioned that he had cobbled a treadmill desk together at a much lower cost, and I was inspired to follow his example.

Here is my beautiful baby:

My treadmill desk!
I stand and walk on the treadmill very slowly (VERY SLOWLY) while while working at my computer. If you're wondering what's under the hippie throw cloth, I stacked up some of the boxes that printer paper comes in, so that I could raise my monitor to the appropriate height. I also stuck a 2005-06 volume of Wisconsin statutes under the monitor to raise it just a little bit further. As you can see, I spared no expense in making the desk ergonomically correct.

I have set the treadmill at its lowest speed, which is 0.6 miles per hour. I work 75% time, and most days I'm at work for 6.5 hours. So I usually walk a maximum of about 3 miles, given that I spend part of the day sitting in meetings and at lunch. Sometimes I throw three sheets to the wind and bump the speed up to 0.7 mph, just to feel the adrenalin rush and the wind in my hair.

[In the summer, I like to do track workouts with some of my co-workers, and the joke is that since I am spending all this time moving at 0.6 mph, I'll be perfectly conditioned to do 25-minute 400 m repeats. JUST A LITTLE RUNNING HUMOR FOR YOU.]

Now that I am walking on a treadmill, I have to change my work habits a little bit. For example, I am less likely to eat in front of the computer while I am working, because I just don't have the coordination necessary to eat, walk, and work at the same time. The one time I did try to eat on the treadmill, I dropped a peanut onto the belt of the treadmill, and it traveled the whole length of the treadmill and then fell off the back. I know there is a five-second rule for food dropped on the floor, but is there a five-feet rule too?

I wish I had an easy way to keep track of how far I walk over a week, over a month, or over a year. But my el cheapo treadmill automatically shuts off every half hour, making it tough to track total mileage. From the treadmill manual, it's clear the manufacturers consider the half-hour a limit a feature, not a bug.

I have wracked my brain to think of why, WHY would a treadmill manufacturer design a treadmill to shut off every half hour, and I can't think of any good reason. Perhaps the engineers put their heads together and thought that there was no possible way on God's green earth that any sane person would want to exercise for longer than 30 minutes. And if someone DID have their heart set on exercising more than half an hour, then by golly it was the responsibility of the treadmill company to put a stop to such a crazy plan. At any rate, since the machine re-sets itself every half hour, there is no easy way to track mileage over  the course of a day without making a very detailed spreadsheet. And since the rest of my work day is largely spent looking at very detailed spreadsheets, I'm okay with not knowing how far I walk in a day.

If you are thinking of making a treadmill desk of your own, you should visit this fantastic site: Treadmill Desk Diary. The author has very useful and detailed instructions on how he made his treadmill desk, with great photos too. I was even able to follow his instructions for how to destroy the tiny speaker on my treadmill's control panel, to avoid annoying my co-workers when the treadmill beeped as it started up.

I would love it if you made a treadmill desk, because then we could get together and geek out about how far we had walked that day. (Me: "2.9 miles." You: "3.4 miles!" Me: "Whoa.") And hopefully you would love your treadmill desk as much as I love mine, and then we could recruit two other people and do this:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Picking My March Madness Bracket Even Though I Don't Give a Crap

For purposes of work camaraderie, I wanted to fill out a March Madness bracket even though I don't actually (a) know anything, right? Is that the one with the puck? and (b) care who wins. I don't care at all. I have my hands full juggling work, raising a family, volunteering, staying in shape, and engaging in creative and very smutty daydreams about what would happen if I ever met Jon Stewart. I don't have any left over time to care what a communications major in a city far away can or can't do to a ball. 

Despite all this, I STILL thought it would be fun to fill out a bracket. I mean, Barack Obama does it, right? It's hip.

But how? What criteria should I use to fill out  my bracket, given that I didn't have any inkling about which team would actually win? I solicited advice from my Facebook friends, and they had several suggestions including:
  • use a dartboard
  • pick the school located in a city I'd rather visit
  • pick the school with the fiercer mascot
  • "best hair" (?)
  • go with the school with the uniform color I like best
  • have my kids choose
All good suggestions, but in the end I decided to have my cats choose. Step one: I put cat treats on each matchup, one at a time, as shown below.
Step 1

Step 2: Whichever treat the cat ate first, that was the school I picked to win that matchup.

Crunch, crunch. Kitty is a Kansas fan.

Step 3: Repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. It takes a lot of cat treats to fill out the entire bracket, but fortunately Kitty #2 stepped in at some point to help.

"You picked Duke to lose? I can't believe it!"

And you know what? The cats picked Wisconsin to win it all! I'm serious! This is the first time in their entire life that those cats have shown even an inking of intelligence. The rest of their final four was Oregon, Florida, and Temple.

I submitted the cat treat bracket at work. When our bracket predictions are scored, I will probably come in last among my coworkers. But -- but -- what if I don't? What if I beat somebody using the cat treat bracket?   That would be so awesome! I could rent my cats out as prognosticators. They would be like the next Nate Silver, only the kind of Nate Silver that uses a litter box.

Those of you who have cats probably know what happened after the cats ate all those cat treats. To keep from grossing out those of you with sensitive stomachs, I've posted the picture way down at the bottom of the post. You probably shouldn't scroll down.

Don't worry kitties, this is how I feel about  March Madness too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lavatory Conoisseur

I flew from Albuquerque to Madison last week, and of course I took pictures of the airport bathrooms on the way. I have long had an interest in airport lavatories, originating with the toilets at O'Hare, which have tiny digital displays telling you when the toilet is flushing. I find it fascinating that the airport could be so concerned with letting people know the status of the toilet, and yet apparently not give a shit (get it? we're talking about toilets?) about when the actual airplanes take off and land. I guess O'Hare officials think to themselves, "Yes, passengers are stranded in our airport for hours or possibly days given our blatant mismanagement of the facilities in our care, but at least the digital toilets will be a great comfort to them."

For better or worse, the toilets in the Albuquerque, Minneapolis, and Madison airports were not digitally equipped. Here's a run down of the pluses and minuses of each airports' bathrooms:

Look at this bathroom. Just look at it! It's HUGE. Enormous! This bathroom has a giant wide open space that evokes the wide open spaces of the American west. This is a frontier of a bathroom. I think you could ranch at least a couple hundred cattle in here, to stick with the western theme. The airport probably rents this bathroom out for family reunions and weddings. Both the bride and groom must wear cowboy boots.

Albuquerque ladies' room, almost as big as my entire house

Can you read the sticker on the soap dispenser in the Albuquerque bathroom, pictured below? I wanted to show it to you, because the sticker says "ABQ Sunport." In other words, in Albuquerque they don't actually have an airport, they have a sunport. Isn't that just precious? A SUNPORT. Is that where the sunplanes land? Do people in Albuquerque turn on the sun conditioning when it gets hot? It was raining the day I left; did they quick change all the stickers to read "ABQ Rainport"? If other cities start following this trend, do you think Madison should go with "Cowport" or "Cheeseport"? ("Hippieport" might also work.)

ABQ "Sunport"

In Minneapolis the bathroom was BEAUTIFUL. It was a work of art. I'm not even joking. First, check out this wonderful mural that was on the wall as you enter the bathroom:

Minneapolis airport bathroom mural
I love how the mural depicts the natural beauty of Minnesota from the air. You might not be able to tell his from the picture, but the round mural pieces in the clouds are dinner plates, which makes the whole thing even more adorable.

And the inside of the bathroom is just as great. It looks like this:

Minneapolis airport bathroom stall

My maryjanes on beautiful sparkly bathroom floor in Minneapolis
Remember Larry Craig? He was the virurently anti-gay Senator from Idaho who was arrested for lewd conduct back in 2007, in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis. He publicly declared his innocence (remember the phrase "wide stance?") but plead guilty anyway. I am thinking that there might be an alternate explanation for his behavior. Perhaps he was just so overcome with the beauty of the bathrooms in the Minneapolis airport that he felt the need to share that joy with the other inhabitants of the men's bathroom, in any way he could. Well, it's just a theory.

The rest of the Minneapolis airport, though, is complete crap. Here's a picture from my gate:

MSP airport, gate F 13
The rest of the airport was completely packed, with no place to sit, and people crammed into uncomfortable places. The bathroom was the nicest place in the whole airport. I thought about taking my book back to the lavatory to get some reading in, maybe swing by Starbucks and pick up a latte to sip while I was in there, but then it was time to board.

Goodbye, Minneapolis airport bathroom, my love!

Here is the bathroom in the Madison airport.

Madison airport bathroom

The lavatory in the Madison airport is nothing fancy. It's nice enough in a utilitarian way, but it's not gigantic like the Albuquerque airport (oh excuse me, "sunport") bathroom, and it's not splashy like the Minneapolis airport bathroom. But it works. It's functional. One might even say it's comfortable. In other words, it's home sweet home.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ghost Census

Why is it that they always have conferences in interesting cities and then make you sit INSIDE all day? I am in Albuquerque, and I can tell you that this whole "learning" b.s. that apparently is supposed to accompany a conference is significantly cutting into my sightseeing time. I WANT TO GO SEE MOUNTAINS, DAMMIT.

I also want to see petroglyphs, and there is a state park on the edge of Albuquerque that has hundreds of them. Native Americans made the petroglyphs by picking away the outer, darker layer of rocks, revealing the lighter colored rock underneath. The petroglyphs depict human and animal forms. Basically, petroglyphs were like memes for early Native peoples. I wouldn't be surprised at all if there was a Grumpy Cat petroglyph.

The problem is that my hotel is ten miles from the petroglyphs, and I don't have a car. And also, I was supposed to spend much of today learning about things like the undercount of children age four and under in the 2010 Census. (If you have a free hour or five, I can give you the complete rundown on the undercount. It's actually pretty interesting.) So I didn't actually have a lot of spare time.

But I was determined to see the petroglyphs. So I made a plan. I was going to take a city bus to the side of town that was closest to the petroglyphs, run to the park with the petroglyphs, run back to the bus stop, take the bus back to the hotel, grab a quick shower, and go learn about Census undercounts. Ambitious, yes. But with neon running clothes and a good hat, one can achieve the impossible.

My selfie in a hotel mirror. At least I am not striking a sexy pose.

The bus ride went fine. But when I got off the bus and started running to the petroglyphs, I had to backtrack several times because the roads didn't quite go like the map showed. I blame President Bush. Not sure why, but at this point there aren't going to be too many new opportunities to chalk new evils up to his administration, so I better take advantage while I can.

Most of the way, I found myself running on a sidewalk next to a six lane highway, which was kind of a drag. But I did see hot air balloons, and I took a picture of them, only they didn't show up in the picture, so I guess there were ghosts riding in those balloons.

Finally! I found the trail head. It looked this:

Thank god,the trailhead.

At this point, I looked at my GPS and saw that I had run 6 miles just getting to the petroglyphs. (Cue the ominous music.)

The petroglyphs were great. You'll just have to take my word on that. I only have two pictures of them because I had to turn off my phone to save the battery, in case I needed that last bit of juice to call a cab after I got bit by a snake. ("Hello, Yellow Cab? Can you pick me up at the entrance to Petroglyph State Park? Oh, and bring a tourniquet.")

I don't know what that tall shadow is on the right in the photo above. My guess would be that it is another ghost. Ghosts were also undercounted in the 2010 Census, in case you were wondering.

Somewhat to my surprise, I made it back to the hotel just fine. I had a great run and saw an amazing piece of natural history. The only downside is that I ran a lot further than I had been intending to. Oh well. I'll just say my miles got undercounted in the Census too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Got A Plan

These days I am spending a great deal of time complaining about snow. I know, I know, I live in Wisconsin, what should I expect? But these days the thought of moving to the Deep South, which normally I would never consider, sounds positively alluring. I'm practicing denouncing Barack Obama as a secret Muslim, so that if I actually DO move down there, I'll fit right in.

Because of all this snow, we do a lot of shoveling, which is surprisingly hard work. And that is where my plan comes in. It goes like this: Shoveling is hard work, physically. Americans love exercise videos. So how about an exercise video based on shoveling! A truly popular exercise video usually has some sort of numbers in the title, like PDX 90, so I would call my program WINTER 6210 (where six to ten is the number of inches of snow you should shovel to get the best results).

Here's the outline of my new exercise program.

First, put on a heavy coat. And if you can, turn down the heat in your exercise room to about 18 degrees. This will help simulate the shoveling experience of somehow being roasting when you are wearing your coat yet freezing when you take your coat off.
Coat on, socks mismatched, demon cat glaring behind me.

Now, take your shovel. The special WINTER 6210 shovel is an optional add-on to the exercise video, and sells for $52. Considering I will be getting the shovels from Fleet Farm for $12, they will be big profit drivers for me.

Here's the shovel. Get ready to sweat! Cat status: still demonic.

Squat slightly and thrust the shovel away from your body. Does this action feel awkward? Does it feel like something that could seriously damage your back if you performed it repeatedly? Then you're doing it right.

The awkward squat. That's how you do it.

Now raise the shovel over your left shoulder, assuming you are right handed. If you're left handed, you should probably just forget the whole thing and go back inside and have a beer.
The over-your-shoulder fling.

Now, let's pretend that you live in Florida and are giving the WINTER 6210 workout a try. Right now you are saying, "Yes, this is a great workout, but what if I want to make it HARDER? What if I want to simulate the physical effect of slinging wet, heavy snow that sticks to the shovel and won't budge unless you really heave it?"

I'm so glad you asked. To replicate the effect of shoveling that dense snow that weighs about a pound per square inch, I suggest adding weights to your WINTER 6210 shovel. These weights are available for $7.99 each from the WINTER 6210 website, and they look like this:

Reduced-sodium weights

Duct tape them to the shovel, and you are set to exercise!
A weighted shovel.

Shovel away! Do the WINTER 6210 workout and you will be fabulous shape in no time. And if you need it, I have the contact information for a great chiropractor.

Monday, March 4, 2013

More, More, More Snow!

It snows a lot here in Wisconsin, and we spend a lot of time thinking about snow. We think about how many inches of snow we are going to get, whether the snow is going to muck up traffic, and whether there will be enough snow to go skiing. I made the chart below to illustrate the major categories of what we think about here in Wisconsin, and as you can see, snow is the biggest category. (Just a footnote: the "cheese" category includes actual edible cheese made from milk as well as the cheese-shaped foam hats.)

We also spend a heck of a lot of time shoveling the stuff. Hours and hours we spend scraping snow off our driveways and sidewalks. I'm not counting people who have snowblowers. I think snowblowers are incredibly useless and serve only to annoy others with their ear-deafening whine, unless of course the snowblower belongs to a neighbor who comes over to clear my walk, in which case I consider it a contraption that must have been invented by an angel.

Here's my point: Shoveling is hard work. And we do A LOT of it. So we should make some money off it, right? I have a plan. (But it's going to have to wait until the next post.)