Things I’ve learned, published for the public benefit
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Steelcase Leap review – crooked back update (also, video is hard!)

I have updated my review of the Steelcase Leap office chair with information about the “crooked back” issue, which has been reported by users here and on Reddit. I even recorded a video that demonstrates what the issue is and – I think – pretty conclusively shows that it is caused by a design flaw, not some kind of random manufacturing defect.

Making the video was a surprisingly fun project, even though it did confirm what I already knew about video as a medium: it takes an awful lot of work to say anything with video, especially if you’re aiming for semi-professional quality. Just filming the shots took me two days – finding a decent, uncluttered spot in my apartment, setting up the lighting, experimenting with framing, fighting technical issues with my smartphone cameras, etc. Then there was audio – recorded in small pieces, with multiple takes needed due to my lack of skill as a narrator (for example, I tend to speak in a monotone, which sounds very dull, and when I try to jazz up my speech, I often end up sounding unnatural). Editing the video and audio together – choosing the best video takes, making sure the source videos (from different devices) play well together, deciding which parts of the videos to use, strategically using slowdowns, speedups and still frames, drawing the on-screen graphics, cutting the audio and making sure it corresponds to what’s happening on the screen – all that while learning to use Hitfilm Express – took me a day or two as well. And then I had the idea to add a soundtrack to cover up the noise on the voice track, and instead of using a stock track, I decided to emulate 3Blue1Brown and make my own music for the video. That little side job took another 2-3 days, including 1 day to synchronize the music track with the voice track and the video.

In the time it took me to make a 2-minute video, I could have written several blog posts. At the same time, the work I’ve created is very hard to edit. If I want to correct a post – for example, because I made a mistake or because I’ve come up with a better way to explain something – I can simply rewrite a couple sentences. But I can’t do that with a video – I would have to re-record the audio, likely add more video scenes to show while the new audio is playing, figure out how to make the music track fit the new content (record extra music?), re-edit the whole thing – it’s just way too much work. What’s more, you may not know that YouTube explicitly disallows updating a published video – you have to delete the old video and upload a new one. But if you do that, you lose all the likes and comments, which influence your ranking in YouTube search, so you’d basically have to be an idiot to do it. Video may be easier to absorb for the viewers (at least for most topics), but yeah – it is HARD to work with.

Anyway, as I’ve said, I had a lot of fun working on the video. As an introverted programmer type, I had the most fun writing the soundtrack and editing the video. In another life, I could see myself working as a composer or a film editor. The least fun part was putting my voice out there – I’m just not very comfortable doing that (even though it’s still much easier than putting my face in front of the camera!).

By the way, I’ve uploaded the soundtrack to SoundCloud in case some mom-and-pop candy store wants to reuse it in a promotional video.

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“Account locked out” error when connecting to a Windows network share – possible solution

You try to connect to a computer on your Windows network (using what is now called “Windows File Sharing”). Instead of a login prompt, you are greeted with an error message that reads: “The referenced account is currently locked out and may not be logged on to“.

"Account locked out" error message

This error can only occur if you’ve set an account lockout policy, which locks your account after several failed login attempts (this is recommended by Microsoft). But how could there be a failed login attempt if you were never asked for your user name and password in the first place?

Here’s how. When you connect to a network share, before you get the chance to type in your user name and password, Windows will try to log on with your credentials from your current computer.

Let’s say your local user name is “Clara”. If the target computer also has a “Clara” account, but with a different password, the autologin fails. Furthermore, Windows appears to retry the operation a few times (God knows why) and this may be enough to trip up the account lockout mechanism. (As a quick confirmatory experiment, I just set my account lockout to 5 failed attempts and tried to connect to it – I was locked out after the first failed autologin.)

Of course, a lockout means you’re screwed. You cannot try again with the correct password. Worse, you cannot even log on to the other computer locally. You have to wait whatever the lockout duration is set to – typically something like 15 minutes. On the plus side, you can use the break to do anything you like. I used mine to estimate what yield of a nuclear weapon would be enough to wipe out Redmond, WA.

Bad solution:

As you know from the previous post, renaming your account on one of the computers is not a good idea. Not only will it not solve the autologin issue, but it will also add enormous confusion.

Good solution:

Go to the Credential Manager and add the user name and password for the target computer. Now Windows will use these credentials automatically whenever you connect to that machine.

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“User name or password is incorrect” error when connecting to a Windows network share – possible solution

I sometimes have to log on to other computers on a Windows network – usually to access a shared folder or printer – and I’ve experienced enough frustrating problems to give me a minor stress reaction every time I do it. Here’s a recent issue that cost me almost a day of detective work!

Let’s suppose you’re trying to connect to a remote computer, which has a user account named “Jim” with the password “jimbo”. When you type these credentials into the login dialog box, you get an error message: “the user name or password is incorrect“.

"The user name or password is incorrect" error message

The thing is, you are absolutely, positively sure that “jimbo” is the correct password, because you just used it to log in to the other computer two freaking minutes ago. So why isn’t it working?

The pivotal question here is whether “Jim” on the target computer was always Jim or it was renamed to “Jim” at some point.

When you rename your Windows user account from “James” to “Jim”, the OS changes only the display name – deep down, Windows is still using the old name. Your home folder is still C:\Users\James and, to the networking and permissions subsystems, you are still “\\COMPUTERNAME\JAMES”. So when you boot up the computer, the login screen will say “Jim”, but when logging on remotely, “Jim” won’t work – you have to use the old account name!

A good solution:

Write a post-it note saying something like: “JIM@COMPUTERNAME – LOG IN AS JAMES!!!!!!” and stick it to your computer.

An even better solution:

Never, ever rename your Windows account.

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Ordering a Steelcase chair – which options to choose?

It can be hard to get reliable information about the plethora of options you can choose when ordering a Steelcase chair. Therefore, I’ve decided to share what I’ve found out about the pros and cons of each option. Please note that the last time I researched this was in 2018 and that something might have changed since then.

Headrests

For the Leap, I recommend no headrest, because the Leap’s headrest is a poorly designed afterthought. The main shortcoming is that there is no depth adjustment, which means that you cannot move it out of the way when you’re sitting upright. This is a problem, because the headrest not only doesn’t serve any useful need in the upright position, but also restricts the movement of your head. In my case at least, it always led to pains in my neck muscles. On the other hand, in the reclined position, you need the headrest to come forward to support your neck as you fix your gaze on the computer screen. But the Leap’s headrest doesn’t, so you end up looking for a pillow of just the right thickness, which can be quite a challenge. The bottom line is, if you will be spending a lot of time watching movies in the reclined position, you should probably get a different chair. Also, if you’re from America and were planning to get the Platinum frame, the headrest only comes in black, so it won’t match that very well.

On the Please, the headrest is mediocre, but more tolerable than on the Leap. It has no depth adjustability, but is positioned very far back, so at least it doesn’t restrict your head movement in the upright position. In the reclined position, you will still need a pillow. Oh, and the Please’s headrest only comes in black, which would make it esthetically incompatible with the white version of the Please.

The Gesture can be ordered with a more advanced headrest that has depth adjustability. It looks promising, but I don’t have first-hand experience with it – the demo unit I was given did not have the headrest.

Frame

Various models have different frame color options, which you can probably locate just fine in the Steelcase official store, or in the PDF brochures on the Steelcase website. The important thing to remember is that not all frame colors that you see online are available in all regions. For example, the Platinum (light grey plastic) Leap frame, which is shown everywhere in Steelcase’s marketing photos, is not available in Europe. (Imagine my disappointment when I learned this.)

If you’re getting the headrest, make sure that the headrest will match the frame color you’ve chosen. On some chair models, the headrest is only available in black (see above).

Base

The cheapest base (only available in Europe, I think) is black and made of plastic. I have no experience with it, but it may not be a bad choice, because it should hide scratches pretty well. According to one Steelcase salesperson I talked to, their durability is about the same as the more expensive versions (i.e. they won’t break).

Then there are powder-coated aluminum bases. The problem with those is that if the paint chips off (and it probably will sooner or later), they can look unsightly.

The most expensive option is polished aluminum. The extra cost over the cheapest base is between €40 and €100 ex VAT (depending on the chair model). It’s what you would expect polished aluminum to be – looks nice, but you can basically scratch it just by looking at it. If you’re in the habit of resting your feet on the base, you will definitely scratch it – even if you’re just wearing socks. I’ve heard it’s possible to polish it with the sort of tools an auto body shop would use, and then it looks like new again. For me, the biggest advantage of polished aluminum is that you can see it better in the dark. I really don’t like to stub my toe while walking by my chair at night.

Casters (wheels)

If your chair will be used on a carpet, choose the standard hard casters; if it will be used on a bare floor, choose the soft rubbery ones. If you plan on using the chair on different surfaces, note that the hard casters still work on hard floors, they’re just a bit more prone to skidding when you move around.

Make sure the correct casters are entered on your order form. It’s very easy for you or the salesperson to pick the wrong option, because the hard casters are suited for soft surfaces and the soft casters are for hard surfaces.

Fabric

Steelcase uses different fabric suppliers in different regions. There is only a little overlap between the European and the American fabric catalog.

In the Americas, the most popular choice is probably “Cogent: Connect” (polyester), and other than that, I don’t have a lot of information to share.

In Europe, most people seem to go for “Atlantic” (polyester), which is very similar to “Cogent: Connect” – however do note that the color palette is different. Other popular choices are Fame and Steelcut Trio. Fame (New Zealand wool) costs about €30 extra. At ~€80 extra, Steelcut Trio (thick wool) is a more premium choice and has very nice texture patterns, but feels rough to the touch. Generally, wool fabrics have more friction, so if you have any reason to suspect that you are prone to slipping forward in your chair (personally, I’ve never experienced it), they may be a better choice.

I should emphasize that all Steelcase fabrics are of very high quality and even the cheapest ones (Buzz, Atlantic) work fine and are durable – by that I mean “will easily last several years of heavy use”. Personally, I picked Fame because it was the only fabric that came in the light grey color I wanted.

There’s no need to worry about how “cool” the various woven fabrics feel. Some people (including some Steelcase reps) will claim that thin fabrics offer better cooling, but in my testing, I haven’t found that to be the case. Even putting extra layers of fabric on the chair has no meaningful effect on how warm the seat feels after 15 minutes of sitting. The reason is that you are sitting on several inches of foam – an excellent thermal insulator. Whether you add 1 milimeter or 2 milimeters of fabric on top of it makes no difference. This rule may not apply to less breathable materials like leather.

In case you’re curious about the Steelcase chairs pictured in my reviews, the Amia uses Buzz (polyester). The Leap uses Fame (the greenish demo unit is “absinthe” and my own unit is “grey”). The Please uses Fame (a daring combination of “grey” and “scarlet”). The Think uses Steelcut Trio (“orange”).

Here’s a European Steelcase fabric sampler that I found useful.

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How to help your immune system fight the Covid-19 coronavirus (and other viruses)

Yes, I know “Covid-19” is the name of the disease, not the virus, but it’s easier to say than “SARS-CoV-2”.

Over the past 10 days, I’ve been addicted to the MedCram channel on YouTube, on which Dr. Roger Seheult (internist and pulmonologist, name is pronounced “SHOE-uhlt”) presents clear explanations of interesting research related to Covid-19. One of the most actionable things I have learned from his terrific videos is that there are some science-based things you can do to strengthen your immune defenses against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the overall media frenzy, I don’t see a lot of people talking about them, so I’ve decided to compile a list for the benefit of my readers, with some additional tidbits of information and links to scientific sources.

Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night

In one of his videos, Dr. Seheult talks about a study in which a group of subjects was restricted to 4 hours of sleep for 6 nights. On the fourth night, they were given an influenza vaccine (which looks like a virus to the immune system). After the six short nights, they slept normally for 7 nights. Then the researchers measured how many antibodies their bodies had produced. It turned out that the average antibody levels were less than half of those in the control group (which had no sleep restrictions).

This result seems to indicate that if you don’t sleep well, you will have a delayed response to a viral infection. This means that the virus will be able to replicate and spread all over your lungs, liver and other organs, killing your cells by the billion. When that happens, your body will normally turn up your immune response to 11, but by then the damage may be too severe or you can die from the intense immune reaction itself.

Another, larger study cited in the video had patients report their sleep duration for 14 days. Then the researchers attempted to infect them with a rhinovirus, which is one the viruses that cause the common cold, by putting the virus into their noses. The results showed that those subjects who had slept, on average, less than 7 hours a night, were 3 times as likely to develop a cold than those who slept more than 7 hours.

Get enough vitamin D

In this video, Dr. Seheult discusses a large meta-analysis based on multiple randomized controlled trials (ranging from 2 weeks to 12 months in duration). This analysis found that vitamin D3 supplementation reduced the risk of respiratory infection. However, it is important to note that lower doses (< 20μg / day) cut the risk by 20%, intermediate doses (20–50 μg / day) only by 10%, and doses over 50 μg / day had basically no effect.

If you live in the North, at the end of winter your vitamin D levels will likely be at their lowest, so make sure you take vitamin D3 (it’s more efficient than D2) and that you don’t overdo it. The cheapest source of vitamin D3 I’ve found is cod liver oil. I take a teaspoon every other day. Consult the label on the bottle to work out what dosage corresponds to less than 20μg / day.

Get enough zinc

There is some evidence that zinc supplementation can shorten the duration of the common cold. In vitro studies (reported in this video) show that if you put zinc ions inside human cells, that inhibits the replication of RNA viruses, including the SARS coronavirus (a close relative of the 2019 coronavirus).

This doesn’t mean that you should pop zinc tablets like tic-tacs – ingesting more zinc will not necessarily increase the concentration of zinc inside your cells. However, if you are deficient in zinc, your cells will probably also have little zinc in them. So it’s probably a good idea to make sure you are not deficient. I’m currently taking something close to 50% of the recommended daily allowance (8 mg / day for women, 11 mg / day for men). Note that zinc sulfate or chelated zinc are better absorbed than zinc oxide.

Quercetin (long shot)

I’d like to state up front that this one has by far the weakest evidence behind it, but since Dr. Seheult mentioned it, I thought I would include it. Quercetin is a plant polyphenol found in foods such as capers, dill, red onions, kale, and some berries. There is in vitro evidence that quercetin can act as a zinc ionophore, which is a fancy way to say that it brings zinc into cells. Note the “in vitro”: it works in isolated cells in a Petri dish, but nobody has tested what happens to quercetin in a living person’s blood. The liver and kidneys might remove it, or it might not end up in your cells for a thousand reasons. If in vitro results simply translated into in vivo results, we would have cured cancer a thousand times over.

To lend the whole quercetin idea a little more support, I found an additional study, in which mice were given large doses of quercetin and then exposed to the Ebola virus (an RNA virus like SARS-CoV-2). Quercetin dramatically improved the survival of infected mice. However, it can’t be stressed enough that treatments which work in mice very often don’t work in humans. (In the words of Dr Peter Hotez: Mice lie.)

(Paragraph added 20.03.2020) Indeed, in a randomized trial in which subjects received 500 mg or 1000 mg of quercetin per day over 12 weeks, there was no significant improvement in susceptibility to respiratory infections. The only subgroup which showed a statistically significant difference (8.1 vs 5.6 sick days over 12 weeks) was people over 40 who rated themselves as physically fit and received the larger 1000 mg dose. The authors speculate that this is due to the way quercetin is metabolized in the liver. So, quercetin does not look like a miracle supplement, but perhaps worth a try if you are fit and over 40.

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