It’s been a long time …

Wow!  It’s been a long time since my last entry.  Juggling a consulting business and motherhood, while trying not to neglect my husband, has been a little more challenging than I expected.   Now, life is as busy as ever but I will do my best to post regularly.

What’s coming ahead?   As much as I’ve enjoyed the more personal blogging type of entries, I feel like I should set the foundation with basic ergonomic information before we can “play” again.   So over the next few months I’ll give you give you food for thoughts about all the basics of a good computer work station, addressing seating, posture, technique and tools.  Hot topics will also include sitting versus standing, use of mobile devices and the random gadgets.

Stay posted for more!

 

Exceptional Ergonomics Edvance!

The greatest ergonomic advance in email!  Yes, the GMail Team introduced motion controlled email.  Wow!  Check it out for yourself.  Here are a few samples of the most popular email commands and phrases, and watch the introductory video.

 

 

ps. April Fools Day :)

Stroller Lust

When we started shopping for a stroller, I had a serious case of ergonomic lust over the Stokke Xplory stroller.  It’s beautiful and adjustable for both baby and Mom.  I would actually say that it’s the most adjustable stroller for baby comfort on the market.  All the possible adjustments can be intimidating, but luckily they kept it very simple and user friendly.

The seat position can change so that the child can face you or face forward in the more traditional stroller position.  The seat angle is also adjustable for resting or more active positioning.  But my favorite feature is that you can adjust the seat height.  The child sits higher and can better see you (facing you) or explore the world (facing forward) without only seeing people’s knees and dogs.  Best of all, you don’t have to bend down so much to put your child in and out of the seat.  You may have guessed by now that having to bend down with a load (in this case a baby) is one of my pet peeves, especially with a husband with a bad back.

The seat height adjustability is also a big plus when you go out anywhere.  You can leave your child in the seat and adjust the height to fit at a restaurant table, or lower it to your position on a park bench.  I just love this feature.

Since I’m always looking out for the well-being of parents and caregivers, I also love the adjustability of the stroller’s handle bar.  The height and angle options allow you to keep your elbows close to your body and keep the handle bar at elbow level. Such positioning helps you exert maximum force with the least effort while pushing the stroller.  The shape of the handle bar promotes a semi- prone hand position (palm down), which helps to neutralize the forearms and wrists when pushing the stroller.

The wheel design, — larger rear wheels and easy swivel front wheels — makes it really easy to push the stroller over various types of pavement.  And for those of you with long legs, the open base, with its lack of crossbar between the back wheels, leaves plenty of space to walk comfortably without hitting the stroller.

With the company located in Norway, they know about cold weather.  A nice winter accessory package is available to keep the baby warm and the person pushing the stroller, too.  I love the hand muff over the handle bar.  A summer accessory package will also keep your baby cool and the mosquitoes away.

Despite its high cost, I was so in love with this stroller until I realized what needed to be done to get the stroller in and out of the car.  It’s a  12 steps program!  First you remove the footrest, followed by the seat and then the bag which is sitting on the base.  Then with one hand you release the handle bar while pushing it down with the other.  Maintaining both hands on the handle bar, you push with one foot on a pedal to fold the base and the handle bar over.  Meanwhile all your separate stoller parts are spread out on the ground or in your trunk.  To store it more proficiently, everything can be stacked neatly over the base but when it’s time to take the stroller out, the stoller frame will be at the bottom. There goes your efficiency!  Yup!  That was a deal-killer for me.

I still think the Stokke Xplory stroller is a fabulous ergonomic stroller and will work if you can keep it in your garage and just wheel it in and out in your neighborhood with only the occasional car ride.

Our search for the perfect stroller continues.

Baby Gear!

Todd and I are expecting our first child and shopping for baby gear has been overwhelming.  There are so many options for every piece of equipment you might need (and many that you probably don’t need).  Child safety features take priority, of course, but it’s important to look at some of this equipment with an eye on ergonomics, to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too.

When we started shopping for a crib, I was struck by how many have fixed side rails.  It doesn’t make sense!  How are you supposed to put down or pick up a child from the bottom of that crib?!

Little did I know the crib industry has been going through some turmoil (and many recalls)  because drop-down sides have been blamed for the deaths of 32 infants in the last ten years.  Many manufacturers now only produce cribs with stationary sides. Child safety goes first but a crib with fixed sides is asking for back trouble.  They might work well with a newborn because you can keep the mattress at its highest position, limiting the need to bend forward to pick her up. But what happens when your baby gets bigger and somewhat more mobile?  As you move the mattress down to the lower level and have to bend and reach to pick up or lay down your sleeping baby — ouch!

But just a month ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned cribs with drop-down sides.  Federal crib standards will take effect in June 2011, stopping the sale, manufacture, resale and distribution of drop-side cribs.  Cribs with drop gates, where the top portion of one side folds down, are the only option to give you better access to your child in the crib without killing your back, but there are not too many on the market yet.  If you’re shopping for a full size crib, you’ll have considerably more choices. But good luck if you’re like us, where space limitations require a mini or compact crib, because those with a drop gate are a rare species.

I’m hoping to see more ergonomic crib options from manufacturers soon, but in the mean time, we’ll opt for safety and get a fixed-side mini crib that will work while our baby is little and hope for better ergonomic choices by the time we’re ready to drop her mattress down to the bottom of that crib.

Whatever you buy, make sure it has been certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Last minute holiday stocking stuffers

If you haven’t finished your Hanukah shopping yet, well, you‘re more than a little late and quite beyond my help.  But if you’re still looking for a stocking stuffer for Christmas, here are a few ergonomically-friendly ideas:

The Envirosax is one of my favorites gifts.  I first received it as a Christmas present and now I give it out frequently.  These bags can be folded to fit in the palm of your hand and stored easily in a purse or briefcase.  They expand nicely and the strap is long enough to let you carry the bag on your shoulder, over your forearm or in your hand.  They are great and they look good!

I fell in love with My Page Up many years ago.  My Page Up is a neat little gizmo to hold paper documents.  Whether at work or home, it allows you to maintain a better posture when referring back to printed documents.  It comes in various colors and styles.  It’s very practical and simply adorable!  To read more about my love affair with My Page Up, check out this post.

If you’re looking for a little present for cooks, ergonomic spice measuring spoons are always great.  They fit into the spice jar and lay flat on the counter without spilling.  And can you really have too many sets of measuring spoons?

I’m also a big fan of the Angled Measuring Cup by Oxo Good Grip, but it depends on the size of your stocking.  The Oxo Angled Measuring Cup allows you to accurately read measurements from the top, no bending, no lifting.  As you fill it with liquid, you know exactly when to stop.   It’s a simple modification to an old tool.  It’s simply brilliant!

For the handyman (or handywoman) in your life, the Karcher Dust Collector is a cool little tool that makes drilling less messy.  It vacuums out the dust as it comes out of the wall when drilling.  It reduces the number of steps to complete your job without making a mess, so there’s more time for eggnog.

Another handy gadget for home improvement projects is any kind of magnetic wrist band.  It’s a time and body saver as you can keep small pieces of hardware within easy reach.  Make sure to purchase one that is big enough to fit your wrist — you don’t want it so tight that it compromises circulation. The wrist band should be worn an inch or so away from your wrist so that it doesn’t interfere with movement.  It’s simple, yet a clever little tool!

It’s been snowing quite a bit around the country and while I don’t suggest you try stuffing a new snow shovel into your stocking, a Backsaver Grip might fit just fine.  The Backsaver Grip, which can be added to any snow shovel (or any other long-handle tool), helps reduce back and shoulder strain when shoveling.  It’s totally worth the price.

Even with all the electronic gadgets we use, an OXO Cord Catch can help reduce the number of times you have to bend down to the floor to retrieve unplugged cords.  This nice little gadget keeps your unplugged cords accessible and right where you need them.  It doesn’t stick to the surface but it’s sturdy enough to stay in place and it’s easy to move around.

Lastly, here’s a way to make every shopping expedition more comfortable: the Yoke Shopper.  It allows you to carry multiple bags at once, with or without using your hands.  Every bag can be transformed into a shoulder bag, which reduces your energy expenditure and frees up your hand for more shopping.

I hope this helps.  Happy shopping and Happy Holidays!

Snake Rake

Winter is almost here and this is my last autumnal post.  The Snake Rake is a strange-looking tool that’s not very user-friendly until you get the hang of it.  But once you do, it feels pretty good and raking is not such a chore.  Well, it still is, but at least you’re more comfortable doing it.

The Snake Rake is made of light-weight aluminum.   Its handle is height-adjustable (58”-64”) and pivots for left or right hand dominance or to switch around for variety sake.  The adjustments are made with the snap of a pin, which is kind of stiff at first and requires two hands to maneuver.

The handle grip is angled, reducing the effort required by your hands, wrists and forearms muscles.  What I found mind-boggling and not so user-friendly is figuring out how to properly grip the handle.  The recommended handling technique is not how I would innately position my hands.  And I’m not alone –everybody I had try the rake had to be instructed on the proper position multiple times.  But when the hands are positioned correctly, the Snake Rake can be considered a good ergonomic rake.

Whether you’re right- or left-handed, the handles should always be facing away from you.  The top hand grabs the handle with the palm up, while as the lower hand grabs the handle with the palm down. This handling technique actually keeps your wrist in a good position, maximizing the grip strength available and reducing strain.

The Snake Rake’s overall design and handling position promote a more upright position while raking, minimizing back, shoulder and neck strain.  Toddy has a bad back so this rake is a keeper.  The only challenge is storage.

Give it a try!

Rakes

I know it’s almost time to talk about snow shovels but we were in Boston just last week and people were still raking leaves, so …

There are a bunch of expandable rakes on the market. Why bother with one? Whether it’s a rake, a broom, a shovel or any other long-handle tool, the length of the handle influences how you use it and, in turn, how you use your body. And, of course, people of significantly different height may be using the same tool.

So what is the recommended handle height for tools like rakes? Generally speaking, the handle should be at chin height, allowing you to get good leverage on the tool and to maintain a straighter posture.  Some rakes, such as The Rumford Gardener™ Telescoping Expandable Rake, have an extendable handle (35”-64”) as well as an expandable rake head. The rake head can contract to 7 “, allowing you to fit in tight areas or perform sturdier raking and shrub work. You can expand the rake head up to 22” to work on the lawn and leaves.

Leaf Loader

Fall is here and it’s my favorite season of the year. I don’t know why, but the air just smells and feels crisper. Living in San Francisco, I terribly miss it especially this week since we’ve been having a heat wave and it feels more like a hot August day.   I miss the colorful trees  and that crisp air — but not so much the raking and picking up of all those leaves.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to enjoy the fall colors — and all the hard work that comes with it — you might be interested in the Leaf Loader.  Gone are the days when you rake leaves into a pile and then have to pick them up to put them into a bag, only to have half of them fall back down on the ground. With the Leaf Loader, which can be either laid flat on the ground or rolled up into a funnel, you can easily rake your leaves right into a garbage can or bag.   This 4-foot wide disk also folds flat for easy storage.

The Leaf Loader significantly reduces your effort and makes this autumnal task much more efficient.

Toasted Skin Syndrome

Just the other night I was looking at this strange blotchiness on my thighs, wondering what it was… only to put it together as I was watching the news yesterday.

Yup, I had spent the day sitting on the couch with a laptop on my lap and ended up with this reddish, mottled skin discoloration on my thighs. It’s a condition better known to scientist and physicians as Erythema ab Igne, or “Toasted Skin Syndrome”.

The condition is nothing new but it was all over the news yesterday after an article was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.   Toasted Skin Syndrome is a disorder caused by prolonged exposure to heat without an actual burn.  In the case of a laptop, the heat originating from the optical drive, the battery, or the ventilation fan can be enough to cause symptoms.  Temperatures may rise as high as 125⁰F, but even lower temperatures in the 109-116⁰F range have been known to cause problems.

Beside the immediate discomfort caused by the heat, Toasted Skin Syndrome is generally harmless and clears up on its own within weeks or months after the exposure to heat is discontinued.  But be aware that prolonged and repeated exposure can lead to permanent skin darkening and, in rare cases, skin cancer.  Men should also consider the effect the heat may have when in such close proximity to the family jewels.

In the ergonomic world, it has long been known that prolonged use of a laptop without external devices, such as a separate keyboard and mouse, is an ergonomic nightmare (more on that topic and solutions in a later post).  But now to add to the bodily insult of this limited tool you have to watch out for the heat hazard too.  So if you must work with the laptop on your lap, you may want to consider protecting your thighs.

Several products on the market may help you to do just that (some ventilated, some not) or you can just use a pillow, cushion or your brief case to protect your lap.

E-Pad Portable Laptop Desk 8

Belkin Cooling Pad (F5L055)

Easy Up Garden Kneeler & Seat

I’m not much of a gardener, never really was, even though I’ve tried.  But I really gave it up last summer after one frustrating attempt to beautify our Tahoe house yard.  I planted beautiful pink echinacea plants and dozens of flower seeds of all kinds.  But one thing I didn’t consider with this gardening project was the wildlife in the area.  Yup!  They all had a good snack.  The deer ate the echinacea and the squirrels and chipmunks dug up the seeds.  I never saw a single flower that summer.  So now we’re going for the natural Sierra look and the yard is covered with pine cones and needles.

If I ever decide to start another gardening project (I’m considering planting tulips bulbs this fall to hopefully enjoy the flowers in the spring), I will need an Easy Up Garden Kneeler & Seat.  It’s not going to take care of the wildlife problem but it sure will make the planting process more comfortable.

The Easy Up Garden Kneeler & Seat is a multi-purpose tool.  It provides you with a nice cushy surface to kneel on when working close to the ground.  The sides are great to help you get up or down.  And if you flip it over, you can use it as a seat, either to admire your fine work or easily work at knee level without bending.  It is a simple but clever product that can make all of you gardeners more comfortable out there.

Happy gardening!