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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

29Jan/140

My Move Away from the Das Keyboard and Back to the IBM Model M

modelm_4My Das Keyboard experiment was short lived.  I sent it back after a week.  The Das Keyboard was good, don't get me wrong, but it just wasn't good enough.  I was looking for something that would feel to me like an improvement over the venerable IBM Model M, and it just wasn't.  The feel of the Cherry MX Blue keyswitches was good, but not quite the same as the buckling spring Model M keys.  And the click of the Cherry MX Blue keys seemed a little higher pitched.  At $140 the Das Keyboard was too expensive to keep when I could get a refurbished IBM Model M off eBay for half the price.  And so I did.  I got a 1991 IBM Model M (1394540).  The guy who did the refurbish job made it like new, truly impressive.  And with a little "blue cube" USB to PS/2 converter it's working great on my Windows box.  The only thing I had to do was to remap some keys so I could add some of the modern functionality we expect from keyboards, restoring the Windows key, menu key, media control keys, and app launching keys.

Ah, the joys of typing on the IBM Model M.

^ Quinxy

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24Jan/140

My Move to the Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S

metadot-das-keyboard-ultimate-i50-800I'm a mostly self-taught typer.  Years of doing it have meant that I do it respectably quickly and without the need to look down (except for very infrequently used keys, e.g., F7), but the problem with being self taught is that I've never kept my fingers over the home row, and that has meant I do two big things wrong: a) if my keys went off the keyboard, perhaps to reach for the mouse or a drink, my initial resumed keystrokes are highly likely to miss unless I look down and re-orient my fingers, meaning at best I slow down and at worst I make typos, and b) my typing is dominated by my index and middle fingers, leaving my ring and pinkie fingers doing relatively little (the ring fingers jump in occasionally, but aside from the right pinky hitting return the pinkies do almost nothing), and this surely causes a slow down.  So, wanting to finally tackle this problem, wanting to boost speed and reduce typos I decided to take action.  Also, I was having nostalgic pangs for the keyboards from the 1980s, like the much loved and wonderfully clickey-clacky IBM Model M keyboard.  As a result, after a little research I went with the Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S keyboard, with the Cherry MX Blue key switch option.  This keyboard setup is pretty well regarded as the most IBM Model M-like (apparently you can also still buy remakes of the original, but the Das Keyboard seemed a better option for me).  What makes this keyboard "ultimate" is the lack of lettering on the keys, they are all, without exception, black.  No hints as to what key represents what letter, beyond your muscle memory (and normal memory).  I first learned of the keyboard about a decade ago, but dismissed it entirely as some sort of joke, seeing it as a novelty keyboard meant primarily for programmers in an office so that they might brag about their l33t typing skills.  With no one to brag to, and now a buyer, I suspect my initial dismissal was hasty.  I'm now only a day into using this keyboard and my greatest relief thus far is that I'm able to type at more or less my normal rate.  The only significant problem I'm encountering is when I switch from writing prose to coding and need to use the keys farthest away from the center, where my accuracy without looking is poor.  I've been trying to force my fingers into the home row and onto their proper keys, but then all my fingers rebel, the pinkies furious that they are being asked to do work they've never done, and my index and middle finger annoyed they're suddenly almost idle.

We'll see what comes, my old speed was 75 wpm...  here's hoping I get up to 85-90 wpm once my fingers get used to this.

^Q

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17Jan/140

Japanese Soldier Stupidly Fought WWII for 30 Extra Years

Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91.  He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945.  He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone.  He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974.  Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero.  I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor.  If only more people were like that...

But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong.  During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals.  He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc.   He killed them because he chose to reject reality.  Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time.  And so he went on killing innocent people.  But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing?  His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces.  Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that.  The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information.  What information did he collect in 30 years?  What information did he relay in 30 years?  Presumably almost none.  Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it.  And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering.  He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor.  I can't find anything praise worthy in that.

Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland?  Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders?  Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones?  Those sorts of people we do not need.

I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him.  Ah well...  So it goes.

^ Q

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4Jan/140

A Happy ACA (Obamacare) Subscriber

The news is filled with people bemoaning the ACA (aka Obamacare).  I am not one of them.  My situation has greatly improved.  I was a single guy, no kids, early forties, paying $650/month for a HIPAA plan with very high copays and $5,000 deductible.  I am now paying $370/month for a platinum plan (10% copay) with $500 deductible.  I couldn't be happier.

I have always been a non-smoker, non-drinker, non-drug user, and reasonably healthy.  But no insurance company would give me an individual healthcare plan, not since I was 25.  I was rejected without explanation by many companies.  Presumably they rejected me based on pre-existing conditions, but my pre-existing conditions were trivial, some mild depression and anxiety, but never hospitalized for that or anything else.  I finally got insurance through work, and was able to transition to an individual HIPAA plan after becoming a consultant.  I could not switch to anything better or cheaper, though, still no company not forced by HIPAA to take me would have me.  And I looked into the "high risk" pool coverage (the only other option) that California offered and was shocked to find it was a) expensive, b) had a long waiting list to get in, c) provided really low and weak coverage.  So, until the ACA rolled out January 1, 2014 I was stuck.

The news reporting of others' experience with ACA plans has me a little confused.  The vast majority of people seem to have had really lousy policies which didn't offer much coverage and they are now complaining that they are forced to buy a more comprehensive policy and thus pay more for it.  I have somewhat limited sympathy for those situations, because I think the reality is that those cheap policies often just wind up shifting the cost to everyone when someone who has one of those policies gets seriously ill, finds their policy doesn't provide adequate coverage, and goes bankrupt or otherwise requires the hospitals and debt agencies to eat the loss when they can't pay their bills.  The people buying those policies may claim that it's the right plan for them, the right price, and that it's just what they need, but I have to believe on a macro scale that's just not born out, that the rest of society takes a financial hit for their stinginess.  If you know that to be false, please correct me.  For the remaining minority of people making the news whose prices have gone up significantly without an increase in coverage, and without any offsetting tax reduction, I do feel very badly, and hope cheaper options become available, or other corrective measures are taken.

If nothing else, I am very glad that the health insurance system was finally forced to move away from the cruel and capricious system of excluding people because of pre-existing conditions, it was a savage system that usually unfairly penalized people who had no hand in their conditions, leaving them to fend for themselves or pay dearly for rotten coverage.  Whatever people may say about the ACA, at least it did away with that...

^ Q

3Jan/140

Why Christians Should Pay for Health Insurance Covered Abortions

I wish that we lived in a world where people could always control what their dollars directly and indirectly funded, but we don't, and Christians only seem to care when it's their money and something they believe is immoral.  Would most Christians support another person's "rights" not to have their income tax fund foreign wars/actions they morally oppose?  The vast majority of Christians would certainly not, and for that reason I cannot support their right to pick and choose their healthcare funding according to their morals.  If they want to broaden the debate, and argue that everyone should be able to refuse to contribute towards things they believe are immoral, then I'll be happy to support their cause.  Until then, we might as well all be stuck in the same boat, until we together pick a course that gets us to a better land.

^ Q

P.S. - Of course beyond issues of morality, there are lots of other purely lifestyle related costs we make others pay for.  If a couple chooses to have 5 children that can incur public schooling costs of $600k (from kindergarten through high school), that burden is disproportionately covered by those who choose to never have any kids or have just one.  As a society we have decided to pool our resources, accepting the many potential inequities, injustices, and betrayals of personal conscience.  We can't have it both ways.

28Dec/130

Note to Self: Clean Out Laptop Vents More Often!

I recently had a problem where my laptop shut down to protect itself from heat after only a few minutes of playing a game.  I'd played the game quite a bit in recent weeks, so I couldn't figure out why the computer shut down this time.  I installed Core Temp to keep track of just how hot my CPU was getting and sure enough it would instantly jump up to 200-215 F the moment the game started and hover there (max CPU temperature before shutdown is ~221 F).  Not knowing what the temperatures were expected to be playing this game, I didn't know if my situation was highly unusual or totally normal (seemed unusual, but I wasn't sure as the laptop wasn't meant for gaming).  I made a mental note to clean out the CPU and GPU vents on the laptop.  Today I did that and wow, doing the exact same thing the CPU temperatures are now 160 F instead of 210 F, a huge 50 F drop (25% drop)!  I had no idea it could make so much of a difference.  I really must remember to clean out the vents/fans once a month.

^ Q

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2Dec/132

The Unsporting Life of Deer Hunting

hunting-deer-designI understand many of the aspects of what makes hunting appealing. I like guns. I like the outdoors, and experiencing it through hiking and camping. But where I begin to lose my understanding is with the selection of deer as targets. Deer are pretty inoffensive creatures. From my contact with them, in my backyard, on hikes, on roads, at parks, they seem fairly sweet, fairly trusting, and fairly stupid. A few times a year they wander into my back yard and even with me or my dog outside they don't immediately take flight. The only real danger they represent to man is of the jumping in front of the car variety; and while that is a problem, and does take human lives, the deer are as innocent as can be in the matter. So, why pick on deer? Making matters worse is the way in which many people choose to hunt deer.  Today begins deer hunting season where I live and I just read a news article which included interviews from people about their kills and this one woman said, "The deer had just bedded down for a rest, right in front of me, and I got it!"  Umm.... That just seems so unsporting. The deer doesn't have a chance. It's not moving, it's not afraid, it's not on guard, it's just lying down to relax after a hard day of deer-ing, and this woman sees that as the perfect moment to end its life?

I knew a guy who owned a large piece of land on which he ran a hang gliding school during the summer months. Someone approached him one fall to see if the property could be used for hunting. The guy I knew politely declined, saying he didn't think deer hunting was very sporting. The man then revealed that his method of hunting was to use only a large knife, and to leap from a tree to kill the deer. The property owner changed his mind, and gave the other man the go ahead. And apparently the guy was legit and did in fact kill a deer this way. Now, I'm not sure what was involved in that hunt, I imagine some bait was used to get the deer to stray under the tree where the man was. But, still, it seems a hell of a lot better than safely dropping a sleepy buck from fifty feet away with a scope.

I can make some sense of people killing lions, tigers, sharks, (perhaps) bears, creatures that seem to possess some cunning, that require some skill to take, involve some element of personal risk, etc. But killing a friendly, curious, inoffensive deer just does not make much sense to me. And of course when hunters use automated feeders to bait and lure the animals, providing them feed for weeks or months ahead of the hunt to ensure they will be easy, docile, trusting, available prey when the day comes, I completely lose the plot.

I don't get it. Clearly I don't. I must be using the wrong yardstick to try and measure the sporting-ness and enjoyment of deer hunting. Perhaps a more realistic understanding of deer hunting is to see it as a mix of a plinker doing some backyard target shooting and a farmer killing a penned animal. It's not about giving the animal a fair chance, or any chance at all, it's about the conversion of a deer into meat and/or a trophy, with the added enjoyment of firing a gun and relatively easy target shooting. Still, it doesn't sound like fun to me. Even if the deer was animatronic, and any moral questions were suspended, I just can't imagine myself finding much delight in this type of hunting, against what seems relatively easy prey. My only experience of anything close to "hunting" is playing paintball, against witting humans, and for me the enjoyment is the challenge of getting inside the mind of the opponent, trying to do battle with his strategy, and in the skill involved in the shooting, and selecting, tuning the equipment.  If you replaced my human opponents in the paintball park with some deer wearing goggles and face masks I think I'd feel rather embarrassed to take a shot at them, least of all because they were wearing goggles and a mask; it just wouldn't seem sporting.

^ Q

1Dec/130

How is Paul Walker’s (Fast and Furious) death a tragedy*?

Actor Paul Walker of the Fast and Furious movie franchise and his friend and business partner Roger Rodas died the other day and the world seems to be mourning the loss as a horrific, unexpected, unfair tragedy, but I'm struggling to see it as they do.

Paul Walker and the Fast and Furious franchise celebrated street racing and tuning culture, directly and indirectly encouraging its growth in recent years.  Paul Walker and Roger Rodas were business partners in a tuning, custom car company, which surely supplied sweeter rides to many people who would then drive them at excessive speeds on public roads. People illegally street racing, even if it's only racing against themselves, arrogantly put others lives in serious danger for their own pleasure. Paul Walker and Roger Rodas died in a car meant for racing going (we can safely assume based on the destruction of the car) well above the speed limit on a public road. It is a horrible thing when anyone dies, but I'm struggling to understand how this situation is extraordinarily tragic.  He and the driver made a conscious choice, as they had no doubt many other times before, to put others' lives at risk by driving at excessive speed on a public road.  They rolled the dice, and this time they lost.  It feels more predictable than tragic.

Paul Walker may have been in many respects a wonderful human being, a kind and generous human being, doing more good for the world than bad, but I find it a little disturbing that so many who celebrate him and bemoan the event seem to fail to recognize the cause-and-effect nature of the accident, and how much worse it could have easily been if they had taken others' lives with them.  I don't expect people in their mini Twitter eulogies/etc. to remark about this, necessarily, but in the dozens of news site comments I've read I've not seen a single person seem to make the connection, instead I see people saying things like, "If Paul had been driving I bet this wouldn't have happened, he was a great driver."  and "If they'd been driving XYZ car instead this wouldn't have happened."  Surely a lot of people are missing the point.

Imagine if this had instead been a heroin overdose death of a great actor whose professional life involved making six movies celebrating the wondrous joys of heroin and drug culture and co-owning a company that sold drug paraphernalia.  People would mourn the loss of the actor but not fail to notice the pretty direct cause-and-effect relationship at work in the death.

If you drive recklessly and/or at excessive speeds on public roads you are selfishly risking other people's lives and your own for your own kicks.  You should be jailed until and unless you can abide by the laws and pose a no-more-than-normal risk to others.

^ Q

* I mean "tragedy" in a sense greater than that attached to anyone's death; all deaths being tragic.

16Nov/130

How can anyone not see that universal health care is inevitable?

Ignoring implementation issues and the specific terms of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), I really don't understand how any sensible person can fail to see the logical necessity of having an entire society covered by health care (at least to the level of catastrophic health insurance).  

The simple facts are these:

  • Anyone can become ill.
  • Being ill is expensive, being seriously ill is incomprehensively (life destroyingly) expensive.
  • Many people do not have health insurance.
  • U.S. hospitals are required to provide life-saving health care to people regardless of ability to pay.
  • U.S. hospitals also provide health care with non life-saving conditions who they expect to pay.
  • Until the ACA many people were unable to get insurance or had severely limited policies because of pre-existing conditions (many, if not most, of which were absolutely not a result of poor diet, lifestyle choices).
  • U.S. hospitals cover the cost of non-paying patients by raising costs for paying patients, depressing nurse and doctor pay, and thereby effectively taxing everyone who pays for medical services.
  • People who go bankrupt because of high medical bills cost shift financial burdens to everyone (from unpaid bank/car/school/credit car loans, etc.).
  • Younger people require less health care than older people; but young people (who do not die prematurely) will all to a person become old people.

The system we've had from the eighties until now has been very shoddily constructed.  The concept with any insurance is simple, distribute the risk across the largest pool of relevant people, so that they can all can be protected at a price they can afford.  The issue of what is the relevant pool is certainly up for some discussion.  Those issuing the insurance want to collect enough premiums to cover the risks they are securing (and make a profit), sell as many policies as possible to ensure that their risk is distributed / mitigated and profits maximized, and eliminate as many bad, ongoing risks as possible.  

Unlike any other kind of insurance I can think of (e.g., car insurance, homeowner's insurance, life insurance) , a person need do nothing more than exist in order to potentially require others to pay for expenses (medical in this case) on their behalf.  It makes sense to require owners and operators of cars to have car insurance because they have created a situation in which they are very likely to create potentially catastrophic expenses for themselves and others by the use or misuse of a car.  And while pedestrians who do not own/operate a car can and do cause some car accidents, the events are few enough that society has decided to let that risk be absorbed by drivers, not everyone (in other words, if a pedestrian causes a car accident, the car insurance (depending on policy) would help the driver, and separately sue the pedestrian).  But simply being born is all that is required to potentially cost others in society tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  A baby might be born into the world to parents without insurance and immediately require $200k of life saving care, an uninsured 18 year old might require expensive cancer treatments and have no family support.  

I hear people say, "I'm 23 [or perhaps 53], I'm unlikely to get sick, I don't need health insurance.  I'm self-insuring."  But that is just ignorant, they are not self-insuring.  They have no capacity to cover catastrophic costs.  If that 23 (or 53) year old suddenly finds out they have an aggressive cancer that requires tens or hundreds of thousands in treatment, the odds are extremely high that they will not meet their financial obligations and may escape them through bankruptcy.  We all would pay for that person's decision not to have health insurance, through higher medical costs, through higher bank and credit card costs (if they went bankrupt).  

And if we can acknowledge that everyone needs insurance and should have it throughout their life, then the notion that young people are paying rates higher than the benefits they collectively will receive in the short term, in order to subsidize older people's premiums, becomes somewhat moot.  What does it matter?  They could divide up total lifetime health care premiums by the 77.5 years (or so) we're expected to live and charge that amount to everyone, so it is completely consistent from age 1 to age 77.  But it makes more sense to me to charge less when people are younger and have fewer resources, and more when people are older and are more likely to have more resources.  Further, it makes even more sense to adjust the premiums somewhat so that they do not continue to grow insanely high as you get very old, when people have a fixed income; this requires shifting some of those costs to those who are younger.  I fail to see any ideological, moral, logistical problem with this.  

I cannot imagine anyone suggesting we charge an 80 year old a premium based on their actual one-year likelihood to require major medical help, it would cost them far more than they could afford.  Likewise why would we imagine charging a 23 year old only what he's likely to cost medically in the near term?  Insurance only works as a concept if people are in it for the long haul.

I think Obama has made a mess of the current and critical ACA 2014 debut, between the website failures and the grossly misleading statements about people being able to keep their health care (I am one who was notified that I am losing mine), but I can only still conclude it was the right thing to do and we're long overdue for having it.  If the Republicans wanted a different solution they had decades in power under several Bushes and a Reagan in which to implement something, and they did not; I'm not even aware of any serious, sensible solution they've proposed which acknowledges that everyone must have coverage for all their lives if the system is to work.

Am I missing something?

^ Quinxy

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9Nov/130

My Treadmill Desk: Week 1

treadmill_deskLast week I set up a treadmill desk.  I've gained more pounds than I'd like to admit over the last couple of years, trying to eat my way out of unhappiness, combined with a move that placed me far away from the healthier eating-out food options I used to enjoy (and far closer to the sinister ones).

I had years ago heard about people using treadmill desks and had always meant to give it a try.   As I am at my computer 14 hours a day or so the ability to turn some of that time into a workout was very appealing.  For my recent birthday I bought myself a LifeSpan TR 1200i Folding Treadmill with the goal of using it in a treadmill desk setup.  A few companies now make treadmills specifically for use with a desk, some even include the desk, and LifeSpan does in fact make a treadmill for these purposes, the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill (no desk included).  As I compared the features of LifeSpan's desk-flavored treadmill with their regular treadmill I became convinced that I'd be far better off converting their traditional treadmill to desk use.  The non-desk version costs the exact same amount ($999) but includes a number of really powerful features: a) variable incline 0 - 15 degrees), b) pulse rate monitor (in handrails or via chest strap), c) fancier programs (since it uses incline and pulse monitor), and d) it includes running speeds (0.5 - 10 mph, instead of 0.4 - 4 mph). The only feature you seem to lose is some sort of bluetooth ability, which I didn't really investigate.  Otherwise they appear identical in terms of specs.

All I had to do to convert the non-desk version to one I could use with my desk was remove the vertical portion of the treadmill, which involved removing a few bolts and pulling the console's cable out so I could re-run the cable to the console which I had now mounted on my desk with double sided foam tape.  Easy-peasy.  And I bought the chest strap ($40) so I could get constant heart rate monitoring without needing to hold onto hand rails; originally I was going to remount the hand rails to my desk, but the chest strap is a far more elegant solution.

For the desk I use my much loved Ikea Jerker, a design Ikea never should have retired (anyone who wants one and lives near a major metropolitan area can find one on Craigslist for $75 - 100).  I set up a second Ikea Jerker desk to the left of my treadmill desk with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse so when I want to sit in a normal chair I can just work there (using RDP).  The idea was to virtually force myself to use the treadmill desk as I would do almost anything to avoid using this tiny single monitor and less familiar keyboard when I could be using my three monitor setup with my normal keyboard/mouse, but to permit me a fallback when I needed it.  The other side of that is that I actually would rather walk than stand, I find standing less comfortable, so as long as I'm standing, I'm highly likely to walk.

After the first few days I discovered that my fall back desk with tiny monitor really wasn't such a brilliant idea.  I need to be on my computer 14 or so hours every day and it's just never going to be realistic for me to walk all 14 hours.  And since I was just starting back into an exercise routine and needed time for my body to adjust I'm doing about 2 - 3 hours walking a day, and using that tiny little monitor and unfamiliar keyboard just wasn't cutting it, my productivity plummeted.  I would either work slowly or completely avoid doing things on the computer, suddenly wanting to organize, clean things, etc.  I needed another solution...  and this is when I made my treadmill chair!

SONY DSCYears ago I bought a pair of those fantastic aluminum stools that Crate and Barrel was kind enough to knock off.  I bought it for my MAME arcade machine, which is currently in storage.  It was the perfect height to place on top of the treadmill so that I could use my regular setup without standing.  The problem was, I didn't want to damage the treadmill belt, and it seemed inevitable that distributing my weight down to those four thin aluminum legs was a recipe for disaster.  I'm sure the belt would have been fine for a while, but it certainly would have accelerated its deterioration.  But what material would be safe to use against a treadmill belt, to allow me to distribute the weight better?  Wood?  Metal?  Cardboard?  Shoes!  If there's anything that a treadmill was meant to have on it, it's shoes!  So I ran down to Walmart and bought two pairs of fake converse shoes for $12 a pair and made wooden inserts for the shoes onto which I attached the stool legs (via hot glue gun).  And it works perfectly!

Now I can use my treadmill for walking and whenever I need take a break on my treadmill chair.

I've been using the setup for about a week now and I must say I am encouraged. The first couple of days I walked about 2 hours, then I took a day off because my legs were hurting, and the next couple of days I've been doing about 2.5 - 3 hours a day. One issue has been trying to figure out what the right speed is. For the first few days I was at 1.5 mph, then I bumped it up to about 2.0 to 2.5 mph for the last few days, and am finding the speed I can do relates quite a bit to the work I need to do. Trying to operate a mouse with precision in a graphic design package at 2.5 mph isn't something I can yet do. This is where the incline is particularly nice, and why I'm very happy I got a treadmill with incline. If I need to dial down the speed I can always increase the incline to make sure I'm still getting a good workout. Right now to write this I'm doing 1.8 mph and a 5 degree incline, instead of 2.8 mph and a 0 degree incline. The CDC says you need to be going at least 3 mph for a healthy fast walking exercise, but that is still a little beyond my abilities to do while using my computer.

Only time will tell if this is a lasting solution to my problem of being too sedentary.

^ Quinxy