Things I’ve learned, published for the public benefit
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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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Review of the Steelcase Leap (v2) chair

Steelcase Leap chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

If you’re looking for a high-quality office chair, and you haven’t heard of the Steelcase Leap, you haven’t done your homework. It is Steelcase’s best-known chair and their biggest sales hit. If you were to make a chart of all-time best-selling high-end chairs, the Leap would almost certainly occupy a (distant) second place after Herman Miller’s Aeron, that mainstay of Silicon Valley startups. The Leap has certainly stood the test of time, having been in production since 1999 (albeit with some changes).

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Review of the Steelcase Amia chair

Photo of the Steelcase Amia chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

In early 2017, after spending hundreds of hours testing high-end ergonomic chairs, I found myself in a dilemma. I had narrowed down the choice to two chairs – the Leap and the Please from Steelcase – but for the life of me, couldn’t decide between them. Compared with the Leap, the Please offered the option of a usable (if awkward) headrest, but had uncomfortable armrests. The Leap’s armrests were just perfect, but the optional headrest was so bad that I would never buy it, and the backrest was excessively sticky, which meant that changing the position would sometimes take too much work. Since both chairs are thickly padded with foam, I also had a crazy idea to buy a second chair – a mesh-backed Steelcase Think – to save myself from overheating during hot Polish summers. Yeah, I know – as if one high-end chair wasn’t expensive enough…

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Does listening to a 40 Hz tone “clean up” the brain in Alzheimer’s patients?

In 2012, I made a Web-based tone generator with the goal of helping tinnitus patients determine the frequency of their tinnitus to better target therapy. Since then, I have heard from people using my generator to teach physics, practice violin, drive away carpenter bees, tune DIY speakers, analyze room acoustics, calibrate vintage synthesizers, cause mischief in class with frequencies the teacher can’t hear, and even open a portal to Sedona, AZ. Far be it from me to take away from all these worthwhile applications, but last week, I got a message from Dennis Tuffin (of Devon, England), describing a new use for my generator which may very well trump everything else:

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