Saturday, January 28, 2012

Treadmill Desk Plans

I've been promising this for a while. I apologize for the delay, but it's been a hectic month and I wanted to write up instructions that were easy to follow. I also wanted to make sure my desk continued to be sturdy and usable before writing it up. Finally, I'm ready, and this post will detail how I built the treadmill desk I've been blogging and tweeting about for the last month.

I've been using this desk for a little over a month now. Since December 21st to be exact. Despite Christmas (and multiple Christmas parties), New Year's Eve, socializing and drinking after the New York City Tech Talks, and a family vacation, I've still managed to lose 23 pounds, and I've done it just by going to work. To say I'm happy about how this is working out would be an understatement. I still have quite a bit more weight to lose, but it all seems very doable now.

Before you decide to build a desk like mine, there are a few things to consider. First, the reason I built one rather than buying one is because my rig is much heavier than the typical one. I have a Mac Pro with two 27" ACD monitors and a large number of peripherals. If you work with a lighter setup, like a laptop plus monitor, or an iMac, then you might want to consider buying a pre-made treadmill desk. Building the desk won't save you a significant amount of money and it will take a fair bit of your time. Plus, it requires you to already have a number of tools. Plan to spend at least a full day building this. For me, it was closer to three, but that's because I had to experiment a lot to come up with a design that was sturdy enough to make me feel comfortable putting 200+ pounds of expensive kit on it.

A company called LifeSpan makes a treadmill desk that looks sturdy and may be a better option for many of you. It's not cheap, but when you factor in your time, it's probably not much more expensive than buying a treadmill and building a desk according to these plans. I would have bought one if I had been confident I could buy one that would work with my setup.

Also, before committing to a full treadmill desk, you can setup a makeshift desk for considerably less money in order to try it out and make sure it's going to work for you. I didn't have any problem adjusting to walking while working, but building a treadmill desk is a significant investment of time and money, so you might want to make sure it's going to work for you before investing.

Finally, make sure you go slow when you start and that you get good shoes that fit you well. Here's another tip: Definitely consider getting some underwear designed for exercising. Though this isn't really exercise, it is a lot of movement over the course of the day and something like Under Armour instead of regular cotton underwear can save you some definite pain and suffering.

When I first started, I was averaging about 1.3 miles per hour and was spending between three and four hours a day on the treadmill desk, then working from my laptop the rest of the day. I could have handled walking faster, but I kept my speed slow so I could adjust to typing and mousing while walking. The point of the treadmill desk isn't to work up a sweat (though you may if your office is warm), but to be in constant motion. Long and slow is better than fast and short.

I find I tend to increase my speed and/or time each Monday. After taking a day or two of rest, I come back able to walk longer and/or faster. After 5 weeks, I'm now averaging about 2.2 miles per hour for about six hours per day, which equates to about 1500 calories burned per work day. I don't think I'll increase my speed any more, as my ability to mouse precisely seems to degrade when I hit 2.3 or 2.4 miles per hours (I might be able to go a bit higher using the trackpad, though, which seems less impacted). I do plan to keep increasing my time on the treadmill until I'm spending every working hour on it.

So, if you're still with me and still intent on building your own heavy-duty treadmill desk, let's start.

Note that this desk is designed to be used with this treadmill, so if you're planning to use a different model, some adjustments might be needed. This treadmill is designed just for walking, is shorter than most treadmills, and has the speed and other controls on the handle in addition to the console, which is important because the console will be hard to reach while using the desk unless you disassemble it.

Last thing before we begin: I'm providing the information on what I did. It's your responsibility to make sure the desk you build is sturdy enough for your gear and to make sure you're taking necessary safety precautions while building it. While you don't need to be an expert carpenter to build this desk (I'm certainly not), you do need to know how to use a variety of different tools and to use them safely.

Tools List

  • Table saw or circular saw
  • Saber saw, or jigsaw
  • Drill with ¼" bit and 1" bit
  • Phillips head screw bit for drill or electric or manual Phillips head screwdriver
  • Swage tool for ⅛" wire rope crimping sleeves, or alternatively a hammer and anvil or heavy-duty pliers (but a swage tool like this one will make your life easier)
  • Heavy duty cutters capable of cutting ⅛" wire rope
  • Palm router, router (the power tool, not the networking device), or router table with ½" or ¾" rounding bit (optional)
  • Respirator (for sanding and for applying paint, lacquer, and/or polyurethane)
  • Safety goggles or glasses (no, really)
  • Rotary sander, mouse sander, or lots of elbow grease
  • Sawhorse or cinder blocks to put wood on while cutting, sanding, and painting it
  • Level
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • T or L Square

Parts List

  • 8 - equal lengths of 1¼" diameter galvanized steel threaded pipe (20"-24" see pre-build instructions to calculate length)
  • 2 - equal lengths of 1¼" diameter galvanized steel threaded pipe (20")
  • 8 - 1¼" diameter galvanized steel flanges
  • 4 - 1¼" diameter galvanized steel T-couplings
  • 4 - 5" long threaded pipe nipples (1" diameter galvanized steel)
  • 8 - 1" diameter galvanized steel flanges
  • 1 - 10' length (or longer) ⅛" wire rope
  • 48 - ¼" (#20) wood screws (½" long)
  • 6 - crimping sleeves for ⅛" wire rope (actually, get a few extra, they're cheap)
  • 3 - ¼" eye-eye turnbuckles (not eye-hook or hook-hook)
  • 2 - 1¼" thick wood boards, 24" x 48" (if you are getting them custom cut instead of using stock pieces, get one 24" x 48" and the other 18" x 38" instead)
  • Wood stain or paint, shellack, polyurethane - depending on how you want to treat the wood. I went with black gloss paint followed by a coat of shellack, followed by a coat of polyurethane, (optional - even just plain wood will work and I won't be giving detailed instructions on how to paint or polyurethane)

Pre-Build Instructions

Determine the pipe lengths for the 8 equal length threaded pipes. Threaded pipe comes in standard pipe lengths (24" is one of the standards), but most hardware chains (in the US at least) along with most plumbing supply shops will cut pipes to length and thread them. It is important that you get your desk the right height, otherwise it will be uncomfortable. I'm 6'3, and I used 24" lengths, which is comfortable for me, but if it were any higher, it would not be. If I were building it again, I'd probably use 23½" lengths. Unfortunately, because of the treadmill's arms, if you go less than 20" on these supports, you may have problems. If you're short enough that this will be a problem, you may need to look at a different treadmill model. You can accommodate a slightly shorter desk by moving the desk back from the treadmill console a bit, but if you move it back too far, you'll run out of room to walk.

Keep in mind, as you're calculating the lengths, that reducing the pipe length by one inch will reduce the desk height by two inches. If you're unsure about what lengths to use, your best bet is to stand on your treadmill, put your arms out as if you were typing, and measure the distance from the ground (and make sure that position is above the arms of the treadmill).

The completed desk height will be approximately equal to (2 * pipe length) + 6". The flanges, desk surface, and T-coupling contribute to the height and amount to approximately 6" in height.

Threaded pipes don't all screw together to exactly the same point, so the height will vary a small amount, and you may need to adjust the height of some legs by adjusting the flange tightness or using shims to get the desk exactly level.

Build Instructions

  1. Take one of the two wood boards to serve as the desk surface (if using custom cut pieces, this will be the larger piece).
    1. Using the 1" drill bit, drill two holes Using the diagram at the end of this blog post as a guide. These holes will be used for attaching guy wires.
    2. Again, using the diagram at the end of the post as a guide, cut out a 24" x 6" notch at the back (the same side of the desk that you cut the holes for the guy wire) using a jigsaw or sabersaw. This notch will be for the treadmill console panel and to make sure you have enough tread in front of the desk to walk comfortably.
    3. (Optional) Using a router with a ½" or ¾" self-guided rounding bit, bullnose the desk edges to get rid of the sharp edges and corners. This is optional, but it makes the desk look nicer and decreases your chances of a deep forehead gash should you ever stumble while walking. You can, of course, use more decorative edge treatments if you are so inclined, but a simple bullnose looks nice, is less deadly, and won't accumulate dust, crumbs and other detritus of your workday the way some of the more ornate edge treatments will.
    4. Sand the surface and edges of the desk very, very well, starting with a medium grit and working up to a finishing grit. When done, you should be able to run your palm over the entire surface area without feeling any grit or imperfections or getting slivers . A circular or mouse sander will make your life much easier.
    5. Paint or stain the surface to your tastes, making sure to let it dry completely. If you choose to shellack and/or polyurethane, you'll want to let it dry for 48 hours after the final coat before assembling your desk (even if the instructions say you need less time - trust me on this one).
  2. Take the other piece of wood.
    1. If you didn't get the pieces custom cut, cut the second piece down to 18" x 38". This will be the riser for your monitors.
    2. Repeat sub-steps 3, 4, and 5 that you did on the larger piece of wood on this piece of wood (in other words, do the same edge treatment, if any, then sand and paint or stain just like you did with the other piece)
  3. Assemble the legs. The following instructions need to be done twice, one for each pair of legs. From here on, you'll want to assemble the desk where you want it to go. Once assembled, it will be very, very heavy and difficult to move. Please note: pipe threads, especially if you had the pipes custom cut, will potentially be very sharp. Be careful. I learned this the hard way; learn from my mistake and save yourself some pain and blood loss.
    1. Take two of the eight equal length pipes and screw them into opposite sides of a T-coupling. When done, you should have one long, straight piece with a perpendicular opening for another pipe to be attached. Make sure you have tightened them as tightly as you can.
    2. Screw a flange onto each end of the connected pipes. Screw until they're tight, but don't go too tight - you can unscrew the flanges to make minor height adjustments for leveling.
    3. Repeat the previous two step to create a second identical piece
    4. Take one of the two 20" lengths of pipe and screw it into the remaining socket on the T-coupling of one of the pieces you just constructed. You should now have a very big, very heavy "T". Set this aside for a moment.
    5. Attach the other assembled piece to the other end of the 20" pipe to create an even bigger, even heavier "H". Make sure all pipes are tightly screwed in and aligned
    6. You've just completed the supports for one half of the desk
  4. Once the paint, stain, or other treatment on the wood is fully dry (48 hours… really!), take the larger piece of wood and put it top down on the floor so the bottom is facing up. You're going to screw in both leg pairs (the Hs you built out of pipe) into the wood using the flanges and wood scres. You want them just far enough apart for the treadmill to fit between them. Measure the treadmill width to determine the distance. I used the actual treadmill width plus one inch. Once positioned, secure the legs tightly to the bottom of the desk surface using 16 wood screws.
  5. Attach the guy wires
    1. Cut two lengths of wire rope. Take one length, loop it around one rear leg just below the T-coupling (the rear leg is the one on the same side of the wood as the notch and holes) and secure it with a crimping sleeve. Make sure you really crimp hard to make sure the wire rope can't slip out when you tighten the turnbuckles later.
    2. Repeat the last step with the other piece of wire rope on the other rear leg.
    3. Take one turnbuckle and unscrew it as far as you can without it coming apart.
    4. Loop one of the two wire ropes you connected to the legs through the turnbuckle and crimp with a crimping sleeve.
    5. Repeat with the other wire, attaching it to the other end of the turnbuckle and making it as snug as you can. Now, you should have a wire that stretches from one rear leg to the other, but is probably not too tight and may even sag a little.
    6. Tighten the turnbuckle until just barely snug. DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN. This guy wire provides inward lateral support. Until we have balanced it with outward pulling guy wires, tightening can actually harm the stability of the desk and rip out the wood screws securing the leg. Err on the side of under-tightening at this stage.
    7. Repeat the steps above, this time running a wire from the cross support near the rear leg to the hole in the corner of the desk, again, tightening the turnbuckle until just snug.
    8. Repeat the previous step for the other rear leg.
    9. You now have wires pulling both inward and outward, so you can alternate tightening turnbuckles until the wires are good and tight. Don't tighten any turnbuckle more than two full turns without turning the others. Stop when the wires are taught. The inward guy is much stronger than the outward ones because it pulls straight, so once you've got the guys taut, you probably want to match a single turn of the turnbuckle on the inward guy turnbuckle with a turn and a half of the outward.
  6. It's time to stand your desk up. You might want help from a second person while doing this, as the desk will be very heavy, and you don't want to put too much pressure on the legs while lifting. Once the desk is stood up, it's time to check to make sure the desk is sturdy enough for your kit. If all went well, there should be very little lateral play and none forward and back. There will be a small amount of side-to-side play, but it shouldn't wobble, it should move no more than maybe a half inch and should come immediately back to its original position. It should feel sturdy. If not, play with the turnbuckles, or consider adding more guys. An additional set of guys that run from the bottom of the rear legs should give additional stability, though I didn't need to on mine. Make sure to add inward pulling guys only to the rear legs. Adding them to the front legs will interfere with your ability to walk on the treadmill.
  7. Take the four pipe nipples and the eight 1" flanges. Attach a flange to each end of each of the pipe nipples. These will form the supports for the monitor stand.
  8. Position the four supports on the desk. There are two approaches you can take here. The obvious one is to center the supports and monitor riser. If you're not using a Mac Pro, this is probably the best bet. If, however, your setup contains a Mac Pro (or other large tower computers), you're probably going to want to offset the riser to one side or the other. The Mac Pro is 9" wide, so you need at least that much space from one end of the riser to the edge of the desk. I have my Mac Pro on the left, so the riser is off-center to the right leaving a little more than 9" on the right side of the desk. Place the riser on top of the supports and adjust until the configuration works for you, then use the remaining wood screws to screw the riser supports into the desk and the riser. You may need a short screwdriver or a screwdriver with a 90° bend to tighten all of the screws, as the 5" pipes don't leave a lot of room between the two boards.

Guess What? That's it. Position the treadmill if you haven't already, and you're ready to go.

Here's the desk diagram showing the placement of the console notch and the two holes for guy wires.
Desk Surface Diagram

Here's a better view of the "H" legs and guy wires. Please excuse the mess. I can't currently get behind the treadmill desk to clean it, and haven't had the gumption to relocate it yet.
Photo 3

Here's a picture of the desk and riser. Notice how my riser is off-center to make room for the Mac Pro:
Photo 2

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Just… wow. Those are crazy numbers any way you cut it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iBooks Author EULA

I've been debating whether to post about the iBooks Author EULA or not. In general, I've been trying to avoid hotly debated and controversial subjects here for the simple fact that those discussions tend to eat up a lot of time and often aren't very productive. My opinion on iBooks Author and iBooks 2 is fairly close to some other authors I know. Because this is something that's near and dear to my heart, however, I figure it's worth a few words. And with me, a few words is usually more than a few.

There's been a lot of foofooraw since the iBooks 2 announcement last week. There's been all sorts of stories, tweets, and blog posts about how Apple is going to "steal your work" if you use iBooks Author. There's also been the all-too-familiar refrains of just how evil Apple is. It all seems vaguely familiar. Almost like… almost like we've been here before, what with all the people gnashing their teeth, rending their clothes, and complaining to the heavens about how evil Apple is because of the developer agreement app store guidelines iBooks 2 EULA.

There's also been a lot of complaints about the fact that Apple is using a proprietary format rather than using and extending ePub 3.

None of this bothers me terribly. Oh, it's not that there aren't things I would want different if I were King of the World, but the reality is that deciding whether to use iBooks Author is just another business decision for me. Emotional outcries and hyperbole are all well and good, but they don't change the parameters of the decision. Business decisions inherently involve risk, and the risk here is at a level that I'm perfectly comfortable with.

Before I explain why, though, I want to put up front that I'm not a lawyer. Well, that's not technically true, but I'm not a practicing lawyer and I'm not YOUR lawyer, so don't take anything I say as legal advice. I'm just explaining why I'm not concerned. If you have concerns, you should take those concerns to your lawyer before making up your mind.


Make no mistake, the iBooks 2 EULA is poorly written and vague. The mere fact that people are up in arms is testament to that fact. And if the ambiguity that is there bothers you, don't use it. There are plenty of tools for creating eBooks, so if you think the risk of Apple "stealing" your work is too high, using another tool solves the problem.

There are several reasons why I'm perfectly comfortable with  the risk involved. In no particular order, those reasons are:
  • It's simply not in Apple's long-term interest to take ownership of authors' books and Apple can almost always be relied upon to do what's in their own long-term best interest. Getting 30% of every iBook sale means they are motivated to keep authors happy. More than that, though, they need authors to want to write for this new platform in order to establish it as the dominant interactive next-generation eBook platform. Stealing books won't get them to that goal. Suing authors who publish non-interactive versions of their content for other platforms like the Kindle or ePub won't either.
  • Although the wording is certainly vague enough that you could argue more than one interpretation, the capitalization of "Work" in the EULA (meaning it has a specific contractual meaning) combined with the verbiage, "Work you create with this software" implies that the intent is to restrict only the application-specific output. In other words, the most likely intent as I read it is to cover the proprietary file format used for the new features not supported by other existing eBook platforms.
  • Even if that weren't the intent, from a purely evidentiary point of view, the other file formats that iBooks Author exports to are open, standard formats and it would be difficult for Apple to prove a particular non-interactive work was "generated" with iBooks Author even if they really did want to try and "steal our books". A PDF generated from iBooks Author would be nearly impossible to distinguish from one generated using Pages by simply copying and pasting the content from iBooks Author .
  • The EULA contains the following phrase: Title and intellectual property rights in and to any content displayed by or accessed through the Apple Software belongs to the respective content owner. Basically, it explicitly states that the ownership of any content you create outside of the app and import into it is completely unaffected by any "book stealing" clause, even if such a thing existed. This seems to counter the notion that Apple is trying steal our intellectual property in the first place because unless the words and images were created directly in iBooks (as opposed to being imported from Pages, Word, Photoshop, etc.), Apple would have no claim to the content anyway. Their claim would be limited to the way the content is formatted. Again, from an evidentiary standpoint, it would be incredibly hard for Apple to prove you created the content in iBooks.
  • The deal we're getting with iBooks Author isn't all that different from the deal we get when using Xcode as iOS developers, and the language of the agreements aren't all that different from each other either, and that's worked out pretty well so far.
  • And last, but not least, the kicker: Let's say, for giggles, that "book stealing" was Apple's intent, and such an intent was found to be both legal and the actual intent of the contract, and Apple decided to exercise those rights to steal my books. You know what? Even with all that, it's still a hell of a lot better deal than I've ever gotten from a traditional publisher. Apple is offering 70% of the sale price to me. The most favorable contract I've ever gotten from a publisher starts at 12% of the net price the publisher gets from the distributor, wholesaler, or retailer (which is half or less of the retail price). That percentage does slowly escalate up to 20% if I sell a ton of books, but if I publish a new edition of an existing book, the escalators go back down to 12% and I have to start all over. To put this in more concrete terms, if I were to sell a book in the iBooks Store for $9.99, I would get $6.99 per book sold, which is about four times what I get when one of my current $39.99 books sells, and I'd get that money months sooner. Oh, and guess what? I don't own those books published through a traditional publisher, either. My publisher can even have someone else update the book and can continue to use my name to promote it, even if I don't like the revisions or think the update sucks.
You can go on about what Apple "might do" or "could do", but the fact is that contracts aren't magic. If Apple wanted to screw me, there's no doubt they could, with or without this language. They've got a disproportionate amount of power in this contractual relationship because they have the audience and the platform, and they also have a ton of money and lots of really, really good lawyers. If they came after me, the merits of the case would matter little because I couldn't afford to defend myself against them, anyway. That's a risk, sure, but based on my past dealings with Apple, them trying to use the legal system to screw me seems a very remote possibility, and I'm willing to accept that risk. The language of the contract does almost nothing to change the amount of risk here for me. It's little more than a red herring as far as I'm concerned.

ePub 3 vs. iBooks 2

Many people have suggested that Apple should have used the existing ePub 3 standard and worked with the standards body to extend it in whatever ways Apple needed it extended. Instead, they decided to create a proprietary file format using the older ePub 2 specification as a starting point. It is important to note, however, that Apple is not advertising this new format as being ePub; we only know it's based on ePub 2 because people have reverse engineered the generated .ibooks files.

Now, I'll be honest. In a perfect world, I'd prefer to see Apple using an open standard here. But, there isn't an existing open standard that does what Apple wanted to do, and working with a standards body to revise existing standards to meet their needs for a yet-to-be-released piece of software would have tipped their hand about the software they were developing. People would have known exactly what Apple was working on from the things they were requesting of the standards body, which would have given competitors an advantage and could have hurt Apple's negotiations with publishers. Apple's culture is steeped in secrecy, and many would argue that this secrecy has been a contributing factor to their repeated successes over the last decade. Anybody who follows the company and understands the way they work knows exactly why they made the choice that they did here. Was it the best choice for Apple? Only time will tell, but there are obvious reasons why they would think it might be.

It's also important to note that iBooks Author is completely and totally free. But really, nothing is free. TANSTAAFL. Developing both a platform to do what iBooks 2 can do and developing a tool to create content for that platform was not a trivial task and Apple almost certainly devoted a lot of resources to getting it done and to getting existing publishers on board. Apple doesn't write software to be nice, they write software to make money. In this case, they're not making money directly, but make no mistake, it was written to make Apple money. The fact that they are not letting people use this free product to compete with them, or to create works for competing platforms should surprise no one. We, as users, authors, and publishers might desire such a tool and might have all sorts of reasons why such a tool would be an awesome thing for us. But so what? I'd like a pink unicorn that farts money. That doesn't mean I should expect somebody else to find one and give it to me for free.

Embrace, Extend, Extinguish

Lastly, several people on Twitter have pointed out that Apple's move here seems frighteningly similar to what Microsoft did throughout the nineties with their infamous "embrace, extend, extinguish" campaign. There's definitely some uncomfortable similarities, but I'm not quite ready to put this in the same camp… yet.

First, iBooks is not the dominant eBook platform, so any suggestion of a monopoly would be silly. Amazon sells far more Kindle books than Apple sells iBooks, and there are other eBook platforms, including Barnes & Noble's Nook, Kobo, and Sony's eReader to name just a few of many. The very idea of embrace, extend, extinguish requires monopoly-like control of a market to be effective, which Apple doesn't remotely have here (yet). There's also been no evidence (yet) of an attempt to "extinguish" the open ePub standard, or to brand the proprietary extended version as the standard. iBooks still supports ePub, and until Apple moves to change that, we're missing the most important and deadly of the three Es, without which there's really no harm, no foul.

The Bottom Line

To quote the narrator in Peter Pan, "all of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." Many developers railed against the "unfair" restrictions of the iOS developer agreement, the inability to sell apps outside the App Store, and the review process. I'm sure there will be similar teeth-gnashing the next time Apple creates a new market or platform, or revises any of the agreements related to any of the existing ones.

And certainly, there have been bumps in the road, some of which are still around. But overall, iOS has proved to be a great platform for developers to be on. The number of iOS devices in the world now numbers in the hundreds of millions, and many of the owners of those devices have shown a willingness to pay for content, including apps, movies, and books. It's not the gold rush the mass media thought it was four years ago, but it has been fertile grounds providing a great many people with a living, including me.

It's not a perfect place, but personally, there's no other place I'd rather be. The fact that I can now do both of the things I do professionally (write apps and write books) on those same fertile grounds, excites me. The fact that I can do things while writing my books that simply weren't possible before excites me even more.

Absolutely, things could change in the future, but I'll worry about the future in the future if I need to. For now, I'm happy here and thrilled about the possibilities that iBooks 2 and iBooks Author represent.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blog Files

As my inbox can well attest this morning, the web server that hosted most of my blog files is gone. I moved all the blog files over to Github, but forgot to post about the new repository.

Unfortunately, I just don't have time to go back and update all the old links, but every bit of code that I've posted that's now missing, can be found at GitHub.

Old code repository at GitHub.

Sorry for the inconvenience.