My standing desk: an Instagram journey

Aug 09 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

This is a story of pain. Back pain. And this is also the story of one brave, determined, and resourceful scientist's quest to alleviate that pain.

One of the many, many things that change when you move from being a post-doc to a TT professor is that you spend WAY more time sitting at your desk. No more running back and forth to the animal facility, standing at the bench pipetting, or pacing around the dark room waiting for westerns to develop. No. You write. You just write and write and write--emails, grants,'s endless, and let me tell you, it is hell on your lumbar area.

Lately, I've found myself thinking is that all I'd really like to be able to do sometimes is stand up for a few minutes and keep working. What I needed was a standing level screen that mirrored my desktop so I could just stand up and sit down as I pleased. I had a vision, and I set out to make that vision a reality. Here's how!

Here's what my office looked like before. It's pretty small, so building a wholly separate standing desk wasn't really an option. And yes, I need more books or something.

What I wanted was a way to have the standing element to my right, on the small side of the L desk. Because my iMac's keyboard and mouse are both bluetooth, it would be easy just to move them when I wanted to work standing up. I looked for some sort of riser for them, and settled on the Billy height extension from IKEA. Now, this is going to be something that varies person-to-person. I'm pretty tall (5'10"), so I needed a decent lift. Before buying something similar, have someone help you measure the distance from where your hands comfortably rest in typing position (while you're standing) to the top of the desk.

It's been a while since I put together a new IKEA product, but the joys of the experience came back quite swiftly.

When it was finished, I flipped it down, so that the back was the top. This gave me the widest possible surface for mouse movement, plus since it's an extension and has no bottom, the back is now open for stashing stuff when I need to tidy up quickly. However, there was just one little problem.

Fucking IKEA and their insistance on not painting all sides of their furniture! I thought it looked a little silly with those two unfinished ends, so I got to work with a brown dry erase marker.

Next up--a kick ass display! The new Apple Thunderbolt Display was not the most thrifty of purchases, and you could certainly get a PC screen and be totally fine. But I am nothing if not cripplingly enslaved to good design/shiny things, plus I have a little money to burn right now, so I splurged.

Now, the new Apple Thunderbolt Display is totally fucking gorgeous, but it is also totally fucking not ready to be released yet because nobody makes anything to help you connect it to stuff. It comes with a ~2ft Thunderbolt cord attached to it which is great if you want to set the display up with your laptop, like, right in front of it, but is useless for setting up a display at any distance beyond that. I tried a couple of 3rd party extensions, but those were MiniDisplay Port, not Thunderbolt, and even though the physical port is the same, the display refused to work. It wants REAL Thunderbolt, or nothing at all! Apple doesn't yet make a male/female Thunderbolt extension, so I had to settle for a male/male 6' Thunderbolt cable, and connect the display to my iMac that way, port to port. Slightly annoying because I lose the 2' extra cable length from the built-in cable, but it just reached.

And voilá! I'm all set up. In fact, I'm standing RIGHT NOW as I type this. My back is so happy.

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