Tag Archives: workflow

Introducing the DIY Standing Desk

Last year, political scientist Chris Blattman wrote about his attempt to reduce back pain by working with a standing desk:

That eminent scientific outlet, LifeHacker, informs us that sitting is killing us. My ridiculously good back doctor and the Columbia ergonomics office assured me this is not all hype, and that a standing desk would probably be a good move.

It has been. I enjoy the standing more than I expected. I do not get tired. My back has never been better, though weaknesses with my home desk option do bother it a little. Crucially, I discovered a trick for ensuring my feet never hurt (…).

In his blog post on the issue, he discusses the pros and cons for a number of desks costing between a few hundred and a couple of thousand dollars. But what if you’re looking for a very cheap way to see if a standing desk works for you? After all, back pain can become an issue long before you have tenure the financial means to buy specialized office equipment, and not every employer will be willing to help.

As an inspiration for grad students around the globe, here is the “Do-it-yourself Standing Desk”, as created by my colleagues Patrick, Maurits and Zoe.

The DIY Standing Desk in action… all you need (in addition to the regular desk) is two crates and a surface for mouse and keyboard.

Paper Stacks vs. Android Apps

copy paper
According to Wikimedia, this is what a typical stack of paper looks like… (CC-BY-SA) Jonathan Joseph Bondhus

A couple of weeks ago, I got frustrated by the various stacks of papers in my apartment and on my desk in the office. That’s when I decided to give the “paperless office” a new shot. This post is a progress report on my revival of that early 2000’s buzz word. Apologies for the nerdy technical details …

Discovering & filing

When new information enters my “academic workflow”, it is often in the form of digital journal articles. Avoiding paper is obviously easy in this case: just don’t print that stuff! The same goes for working papers sent to me by email.

But what about books? My solution so far is to scan the relevant sections and then run a simple OCR software (in my case: ABBYY PDF Transformer). This way, I end up with PDFs that allow for full-text search. Archive material? Don’t bother with making hard copies to carry home. Instead, I take pictures with my smartphone, which I can later run through the same PDF routine. From my limited experience, it seems that specialized apps for your phone (to help with contrast and straighten the image) are unnecessary, but ask me again after 1,000 pages…

No matter what files we’re talking about, they all go to my Dropbox folder – but you could of course use any of the many competitors. The crucial things is to have all data synchronized on all devices, so I never need to think about how to access it. For sensitive information and for my Citavi database (which according to the publisher might get corrupted if put directly in a shared folder), I use an encrypted virtual device that is also located in the sync folder. This means that on every computer with Citavi, I also have Truecrypt (For some people, a web-based citation management might be better, and I plan to transition to that eventually).

Reading & annotating

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