Maxed Out: Of Birthdays and Treadmills

Reading time ( words)

Well, as usual, I'm bouncing off the walls with excitement, because life here in the pleasure dome (my office) is just jam-packed with anticipation, exhilaration, and delight. Ooooh...there are so many things to talk about that I really don’t know where to begin.

Happy Birthday to Yours Truly

Let's start with the fact that yesterday was my birthday, which means I'm now 55 years old, or – as I prefer to think about it, celebrating the 34th anniversary of my 21st birthday (grin).

Yesterday evening, my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) took me, our son, and her parents out to supper at a local Mexican restaurant. The food was incredible as always. We finished with what they describe as a Mexican apple pie.

This is served sizzling on a really hot metal disk. The apple pie is drenched with a bobbling apple and cinnamon sauce, and it's topped with some sort of chocolate-caramel ice cream. The result is indescribably good (tastewise) and indescribably bad (in terms of my current diet, about which more below).

Pulling the Wool Over Your Eyes

Before we proceed further, have you heard about the book Wool by Hugh Howey? If not, then DO NOT DELAY. Bounce over to Amazon immediately and purchase a copy of the Omnibus Edition ($5.99 for the Kindle version or $14.36 for the paperback issue).

If you aren’t a lover of science fiction now, you will be by the time you've finished this book. For myself, I personally think that this is one of the best science fiction books I have read in my life, and that's saying something. Suffice it to say that this book has already had 874 reader reviews on Amazon, with an overall score of 4.9 out of 5.0 stars. I cannot tell you anything about the story itself because I don’t want to give anything away.

All I can say is that you think you know what's going on, then you turn the page and…noooo, it cannot be! So you read a little further and now you are sure you know what's going on, but when you turn the page you are horrified to discover…you get the idea. I'm only halfway through and I cannot wait to see how everything turns out!

Speaking of Science Fiction…

It's not so long ago that the thought of everyday folks like you and me dealing with robots on a daily basis would have fallen firmly into the realm of science fiction. But this day is closer than you might think. Some of these little scamps are still in the research and development stage, such as the Telesar V Telexitstance Robot, which is being created by researchers at Japan’s Keio University.

The Telesar V is really rather clever. It can mimic the body movements of its operator and it can also transmit sensory experience back to the user who can be wearing a virtual reality headset (to see what the robot sees and hear what it hears) and sensor-equipped gloves that allow the operator to feel the shape and temperature of any objects the robot touches or picks up.

Now, something like the Telesar V is still not ready for the real world. However, one robot avatar that is currently being deployed is the VGo from VGo Communications. This stands about four feet tall and doesn’t have any hands or anything too sophisticated. The VGo is equipped with a camera and microphone so that the operator can see and hear what's going on. Similarly, a small display screen and loudspeaker mounted on top of the VGo allow the operator to communicate with the people it "meets."

I don’t know about you, but my initial reaction when I first heard about these robot avatars was "Who really needs them?" However, I've been chatting to a couple of people who use them, and now I am a bit of a convert. One guy I know (who works for VGo Communications) has a VGo at home and another in the office. This guy works from home several days a week. When he's at home, he connects to the VGo in the office if he wants to go "visit" one of his colleagues to discuss something. When he's in the office he connects to the VGo at home when his kids return from school so that he can make sure they are doing their homework.

In fact it turns out VGos have been deployed in all sorts of venues, including hospitals (so doctors can remotely attend consultations with patients) and schools as illustrated above (so kids who are incapacitated or highly allergic can still attend classes and visit with their friends and suchlike).

Stop Being a "Desk Potato"

And so we return to the Mexican apple pie with which we started this column. I recently read a book called Drop Dead Healthy – One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs. This book covers a lot of ground as the author describes two years in which he experiments with just about every form of diet and exercise known.

As Jacobs points out, being healthy isn’t just about losing weight and gaining “6-pack abs” (although that would be nice); it’s also about increasing one’s lifespan, freedom from disease and pain, and achieving a sense of emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

Since I was coming up on my 55th birthday, I decided that it was time to start thinking of the long-term future and to start making some changes. One thing this book spurred me to do was to start dieting, which is why the Mexican apple pie we shared yesterday evening was such a naughty treat.

The other point is that spending eight hours a day working on a computer without taking any form of break or exercise is not doing me any good at all. In fact, Jacobs mentions this in some detail – enough to give me a good scare.

But what's the solution? Well, would you believe that there's something called a treadmill desk? You can make your own or you can buy one. The idea is that you spend at least half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon walking at a leisurely pace (as low as one mile an hour, although a little faster is better) while continuing to work.

Consider the LifeSpan TR1200-DT Treadmill Desk shown here. The desk itself is pretty substantial, with a 46.5" wide x 31" deep work surface. The desktop height can be adjusted from 40" to 56" to support users from 4'10" to 6'8" tall. Meanwhile, the treadmill itself features a spacious 20" x 56" walking surface and a high-torque motor system that is geared up (no pun intended) to run for hour after hour.

Apparently it doesn’t take you long before you are happily working without even being conscious of walking. Some users say that they just use their treadmill desk while answering their e-mail, while others use it for several hours at a time.

You know me; I'm nothing if not enthusiastic. I prefer instant gratification, and I'm armed with a credit card, so I ordered one. It just arrived as illustrated in the picture below.

Now all I need to do is to set it up and start walking. The next time you see me I hope to be a shadow of my former self (a lean, mean shadow with 6-pack abs).

Until next time, have a good one!

Clive (Max) Maxfield is founder/consultant at Maxfield High-Tech Consulting. He is the author and co-author of a number of books, including Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics) and How Computers Do Math featuring the pedagogical and phantasmagorical virtual DIY Calculator. To contact Max, click here.


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