BOFH: Oh go on. Strap me to your Hell Desk, PFY
Special tables with special chairs for special people
Episode 10 "So what do you think?" the Boss asks. "You've had more experience than me at this."
"Hypochondria?" I say "Yes, I suppose you're right."
"There's nothing hypochondriac about repetitive strain injuries!" the Boss snaps.
"You mean OOS," the PFY counters. "And of course there is. Have you ever noticed how over-represented serial whiners are in the workplace illness stats?"
"Well we can't afford to ignore it," the Boss chips back.
"We can't afford to indulge it!" I counter. "And WHY is it an IT expense?"
"It's an IT expense because it comes from using a computer. And the computer rests on a desk designed for a computer."
"Let me tell you about MY experience of 'designed for a computer'." I seethe. "Back in the day we used a standard issue flat desk with a three drawer module down the side. Wooden top, one size fits all, with a variable number of Yellow Pages for monitor height adjustment.
"Then we had the big RSI scare so all that furniture went in the skip and we changed to something similar with adjusting wheels and clips to change the table and monitor height. Hugely expensive.
"Then we got rid of those because of Feng shui or something and got those light weight desks on wheels which did exactly the same thing but were of much poorer construction and which would bow in the middle under the weight of a 20" CRT. Then we got rid of them because they didn't have an adjustment for keyboard height separate from desk height.
"Then we got rid of them because the movable keyboard platform wasn't big enough for a mouse and wasn't deep enough for a keyboard wrist pad. NOW, we have a desk which is remarkably like the office desk of old, except that the three drawer unit is on wheels."
"Yes, but research shows tha..."
"Research shows whatever the furniture vendor wants to pay for research on. So a standing up desk may or may not be conducive to health - but we've already seen that people tend to use the adjustable desks for about a month before fixing them in a single position and never adjusting them again. You could achieve more for back pain reduction by telling the custard guts in stores to stop eating a deep fried chicken for breakfast!"
"People don't use adjustable desks because they're so hard to adjust!" the Boss blurts "Which is why we want to look at the electrically adjustable work desks. They have settings!"
"You know I've been working on an adjustable desk at home." the PFY proffers.
Which is news to me.
"You mean working on designing one, or working on a desk that is adjustable?"
"Both," the PFY says. "I based my design around old battery drill motors and threaded rod along with a few heavy duty servos I pulled out of an old printer. It has a USB interface to my desktop and can adjust the table, monitor and keyboard height, along with table, monitor and keyboard tilt. I run a schedule on my desktop which continuously adjusts the height and tilt over the course of a day.
"I even have a wireless battery-powered chair so that the chair is linked to the height of the table. See, one of the issues with standing or sitting desks is the threat of blood clot from inactivity, but by micro-adjusting the heights over the course of a day someone can be sitting and yet get full leg extension and lumbar vertebrae movement."
"Wouldn't you get seasick?" the Boss asks.
"We're talking millimetres a minute - you'd be hard pressed to notice the micro adjustments. But by continuously adjusting height and angle you avoid 'stagnation illnesses'."
"And you've been doing this in your own time?"
"Of course!" the PFY says. "If I did it during work time the company would want a slice of my intellectual property once I start marketing them."
"You're going to market them?"
"ABSOLUTELY! The market for an infinitely adjustable workstation which can be tailored to the logged-in user is huge!"
"So you can remember each user's settings?!" the Boss gasps.
"It can and does. So a 6-footer logs in and it sets the workstation environment to that person's tailored settings. When they logout the workstation and chair slips back to the default settings. The first time someone uses the desk we set up the initial heights as well as the micro-adjustment speeds and limits. Changing them is as simple as opening a desktop app."
It could be my imagination but the PFY's nose appears to be taking on quite the brown tinge...
"And we could try it here?" the Boss asks.
"No." the PFY responds. "Like I said, intellectual property, and all that."
"But surely you need guinea pigs?"
"But it would be a perfect place to test the unit - we have so many different types of people here."
"And a perfect place for someone to see my technology and duplicate it." the PFY counters.
"We could do a non-disclosure thingy."
"And just use my technology free of charge?!" the PFY asks.
"Well I'm sure we could come to some small financial agreement."
"It would need to be better than small."
Half an hour later and some legalese from the company's legal consultant and the PFY has agreed to trial his unit. Apparently there's a groundswell of lazy people out there who are lining up to trial adjustable work desks and the Boss is very keen to be the man to bring this technology to the masses. As such, he wants to be the poster-boy of the e-desk revolution. The PFY, meantime, wastes no time in ingratiating himself into the Boss's good books with a personal setup session...
"How's it going, Benedict?" I ask when the PFY returns.
"Fantastic!" the PFY says. "The Boss is so chuffed with my design he's going to give me an initial order of 10 units to be installed around the building!"
"Hello?" I ask, noting the Boss' extension number on the caller ID.
"Mmmm mmmmmfff mm mmm mmm," he says.
"What's that?" I ask. "You're trapped in your desk?"
"What did you say? You were tidying your keyboard and mouse cables when the keyboard raised itself and trapped your hands?" I ask.
The PFY is starting to look a bit concerned...
"And you had to dial this number with your nose?" I ask.
"And then the monitor level lowered and trapped your head?!" I ask.
"AND THEN THE MONITOR TILT KICKED IN AND DROPPED THE 25 INCH CRT - WHICH THE PFY PUT ONTO THE LEDGE TO DEMONSTRATE HOW MUCH WEIGHT IT COULD HANDLE - ONTO YOUR HEAD?"
"Oh, that hasn't happened yet," I say.
"Oh, he's rung off," I say to the PFY. "Nice USB interface, that. So easy to work from a remote desktop session. Not looking good for those desk orders. Hope you didn't order a bunch of materials or anything."
This probably means war.