One with the code

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Google Maps has arrived! Yawn.

I’m really glad that Apple made their own maps app because the pressure of competition is supposed to be good for consumers. Right? Company executives love to win, designers love to be inspired, engineers love great problems to solve. So the deck is stacked for a great product cycle at Google to trump the heck out of Apple Maps. Right?

Wrong. Google Maps has arrived and it’s a real yawner. It’s design is littered with Android paradigms (which don’t work on Android either) and inconsistencies. It’s a mediocre and amateurish product by any criteria (excluding data set). Pastel grays and off-whites are not design - it’s punting. Inconsistent corner radii is sloppy. The gray transparent bar above the search field is … what is that anyway besides a waste of space? The lack of iPad UI is lazy. The feature set is minimal. The momentum enhanced gestures are about the nicest touch. But really this isn’t as nice as the Maps app on the Nexus 7 and it should be nicer. Where’s layers, and Local? Where’s Offers and Labs?

Apple Maps was a clear leap frog ahead of the original on iOS. It had better tile caching, vector maps, simulated 3D terrain, fly overs and more. It’s a product targeting Google Earth as well as a basic maps app. It brought turn by turn directions on the lock screen. It’s a great design with real simple, intuitive usage.

There’s no doubt that Google is around a $1b ahead with data and 3rd party integration. That’s the only plus I can give Google Maps - more data. Apple’s choice to partner with 3rd tier TomTom is unfortunate but in time perhaps the partnership will produce a top tier data set.

What I expected from the “competition is good for the consumer” world is that Google would leap frog Apple and deliver a great new app. Instead Google once again reminds us that they can’t design and they can’t innovate. They had the world’s attention to deliver a blockbuster mapping app and squandered it.

The Walking Desk

I’ve read the reports (ex: Are You Sitting Down? Why a Stand-Up Desk Might Save Your Life) and since I’ve been sitting for something like 20 years I get worried. I’ve also gotten out of shape and put on weight. So … what to do! I tried a couple different stand up desk arrangements but finding the right keyboard height and monitor height was a problem. I also had a tendency to wander off. Not the most productive set up if I keep seeing something shiny or tasty.

And then I read Jeff LaMarche’s blog post about building a treadmill desk and thought now that’s my style! He’s definitely a maker and used tools I don’t have to build a great looking, custom set up. Great inspiration and I was soon measuring myself and looking at my own design. But alas, I’m a hacker, not a carpenter. So off I went to The Home Depot and to Sears to see what I could whip up.

The treadmill was the easy part - Sears had a ProForm Crosswalk 397 on sale for $459 (Pretty much this is the current model). I wanted something reasonably priced and simple. After a few months of use this has done well.

I was trying all sorts of things to get the monitor height right and I was looking at heavy duty arms clamped to the tread framework when I had a nice insight. Keyboard players (musicians not coders) have the same problem. So I checked out music gear and On-Stage makes an A-frame 3 tier stand ($100) that turns out to be perfect for me. It’s the right height and dimensions to fit right over treadmill and the keyboard arms hold shelves perfectly. The whole thing has great forward/backward stability too - but is a little flexible in the left/right world. Not enough to be concerned about, there’s no way it’s going to tip or collapse, but enough to not want to shake it up or hang onto it like it’s a jungle gym. The best part is that the horizontal bars can be placed at the right height for you. The keyboard and magic pad shelf is perfect - my elbows are bent just a bit more than 90 degrees and I can position them for small adjustments on the fly.

The shelves are all stock from The Home Depot. I didn’t even cut them. The bottom is 12” x 24” and the top 2x 8x48”.

My typical work day now starts off with coffee and an iPad at the kitchen table or on the couch and after a mug or two I move to the treadmill. I’ll work at 2mph for an hour or two at a time and take a break on the couch for a change of scenery. Or take a real walk down the hill to clear my head. I’ve played around with speeds and find that at 2mph I’m steady enough to read and type and it’s fast enough to not be boring. 1mph is a slow stroll and it feels like I work slowly too. Brisk walk equals brisk work! Or so I hope.

I’ve used this setup for a few months now with varying levels of activity. For a bit in the summer the sun was too bright and glare sent me inside or to the desk. I do really like it though. The motion seems to be inspiring and just being active feels so much better. Now when I plop down for a movie I don’t feel so guilty either.

So the whole rig cost about $600 all in all. Much less than the pre-made treadmill desks at Amazon and much less than a Geek Desk too. I love it! Behold! The Walking Desk!