Modifying a Treadmill for Tread Desking

To follow up my previous post about my new Tread Desk Setup, here’s how you modify a treadmill to be used as a Tread Desk. This post was originally written by John Ford on an internal Automattic blog, he’s kindly given permission for me to reproduce it here. (PS: Check out John’s awesome current project, Farmstand!)

After lots of searching online for treadmill desks and being overwhelmed by the high prices or the horrible quality I used this post as inspiration. In the post she uses an IKEA Fredrik computer work station (small for $119 or large for $149) and a Confidence Power Plus Motorized Electric Treadmill ($249.99 + Free Shipping).

Instead of buying everything, I started with just the treadmill since I figured $250 was an okay investment to see if I liked it. I wish I had taken more pictures during the disassembly but here’s what I did to rig it up. All I really needed were a couple of different sized screw drivers. Here are the steps:

1. Unpack from box (you may have managed this step on your own).

2. Disconnect the wire that runs from the control panel to the motor. It’s best to remove the motor cover and disconnect it there. I tried to disconnect the wire from inside the control panel but it was glued too tight. (Gary: I found the opposite was true, be prepared to try both methods.) You can see in this picture where the wire runs out of the frame and into the motor case.

Motor guts
The inside is pretty simple. It’s mostly a motor, circuit board, heat sink, and wires.

3. Remove the control panel from the frame. There are a few screws and it comes off easily. After you’ve removed it from the frame, screw the plastic piece back onto the control panel. It makes it stand up perfectly on your desk.

Back of the control panel
That’s the wire that runs from the control panel to the motor area. The back of the control panel makes a perfect stand.
Control panel
Red button is start/stop. Plus and minus for speed. Mode button to switch between distance, speed, time, etc. Red magnetic emergency cut off. It had a string and clip attached but I removed them.

4. You may be able to pull the wire through the frame at this point. I had some trouble so I had to remove the top part of the frame by rolling up the rubbery foam and remove the screws. Then, I could pull the wire attached to the control panel all the way out. I then completely removed the top part of the frame and put it in the closet.

Control panel bar
This is the top part of the frame. Normally the control panel would be attached in the middle.
It’s super light and easy to stand up. This is a view of the treadmill standing up and where the removed part of the frame would normally attach.

5. You could remove all of the metal frame which the inspiration post did. However, I decided to leave half of it attached. The bottom is just a plastic cover and I figured over time it would crack with the pounding. Leaving part of the frame puts the weight onto some large bolts. One note, I would recommend many people get a mat to go under the treadmill. If you step heavily the frame on the side may touch the floor. If you walk on your mid-foot and not crash onto your heel you’ll probably be fine.

Treadmill desk setup
The happy setup.

Some notes from my experience:

  • I absolutely love having a treadmill desk and recommend it to everyone. It’s been even more pleasant than I had hoped.
  • I definitely feel more alert when walking. I can especially tell during that time of day after lunch when you’re ready for a nap.
  • It takes way less space than I thought. This particular treadmill is perfect for this kind of setup.
  • I haven’t purchased the desk since I wanted to see if I liked it first. I just used an old monitor box and the Stanton Uberstand laptop stand that I use with my turntables to raise the laptop to the right height. I don’t recommend it as a permanant solution since the stand moves around a bit when you’re typing a lot. It’s really just meant to hold the laptop up and have you hit keys every so often.
  • Ultimately, an adjustable height desk would be better so you can look directly at an external monitor and the keyboard/mouse can rest at the proper arm height.
  • I started at 1.4 mph but now go 2.0 mph.
  • It was really easy to adjust to moving and typing at that speed.
  • At 2.0 mph I hit about 10,000 steps after 2 hours according to my Fitbit.
  • It definitely makes me thirsty so I drink more water when walking on the treadmill.
  • It automatically cuts off after 30 minutes. Maybe as a safety thing or maybe for the motor to cool down. At first that annoyed me but now I use it as a reminder to take a break, look away from the screen, and get some water. Hitting the start button kicks it right back on again.
  • I almost fell on my face the first handful of times the treadmill stopped. At 1.4 mph it stops right away. At 2.0 mph it slows slightly before stopping. There is a beeping noise when it stops so now my body automatically stops when I hear the beep.
  • Speaking of beep. It’s so horrifically loud that I put a piece of tape over the internal speaker when I had the control panel open. I need to add additional tape or paper to mask it even more. You just take out the screws from the back of the control panel to pull it apart and get to the speaker.
  • The treadmill goes up to 10 mph so you could run really fast but I don’t recommend it. One false step and you’re off the side of the treadmill and upside-down. It’s nice for walking but not wide enough for fast running.
  • I keep my chair nearby and can easily sit at any time.
  • I probably have gone at most 3-4 hours in a day and alternate between walking, standing, and sitting depending on my mood.
  • The most strange thing I’ve found is that for certain tasks I really want to sit down and think them through. As if the motion is too distracting. After I get over that hump I start walking again. I’ve not been able to pinpoint the exact scenario that causes this.
  • I like to walk backwards when I’m thinking.
  • Trying to operate an iPhone while walking can be problematic. When responding to a text message it often activates the Edit button in the top right or presses other areas of the screen. It’s happened numerous times now so I know I’m not crazy (at least not in this case). I’m guessing it has to do with the static electricity build up. I have to ground myself by holding the laptop and then I can type normally.
  • I was dog sitting and got the dog on the treadmill. He was a bit reluctant at first but he needed to work off some energy. I gently coerced him by holding his leash. He got the hang of it after a while. Cesar approves.
  • People may make fun of you as you bob back and forth on video chats.

This post published at 2.0 mph (Gary: 2.1 km/h).

Tread Desking: The Next Generation

Some time ago, I was inspired by friend of the blog John Ford to try out tread desking. I’d long enjoyed switching between sitting and standing as the mood took me, so I figured it’d be interesting to throw walking into the mix.

As it turned out, I was an immediate fan! Strolling at a leisurely 2km/h, I could comfortably walk for much of the day, without affecting my ability to work. There was a flaw with my setup, though – in order to fit in with my existing desk, I had to shuffle around my treadmill and my chair every time I changed positions, which quickly became a chore, as you could imagine.

Enter: The GeekDesk. I’d been considering an adjustable desk as a solution to the problem, and after seeing some positive reviews I took the plunge. Due to the excessive shipping cost, they don’t ship the desk top outside of the US, so I had one made by a local woodworker.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t come cheaply. At $250 for the treadmill (modified to remove the bar), $1000 for the GeekDesk (inc. shipping to Australia) and $400 for the desk top, it’s certainly possible to do things cheaper, especially if you already have a full-sized treadmill that you can create a cheap desk to sit on top of. That said, I think of the price as a worthy investment, given how much time I spend in front of the computer – you don’t buy a cheap bed, why would you have a cheap workspace?

It’s the workspace I’ve been after for a long time, so I’m happy!

My Tread Desk

Introducing: Automatic Updater for WordPress

Are you sick of having to wait several seconds for your WordPress site to update? Tired of your plugins not being updated as soon as an update is available? Well, do I have the solution for you! Automatic Updater for WordPress is a light-weight plugin that downloads and installs updates as soon as they become available – keeping your WordPress site up-to-date, secure, and minty fresh!

With the hyperbole out of the way, I do have a few things to note:

  • This plugin really does update your site, without your supervision, at any time, day or night. This is awesome for WordPress Core, but may suck if a bad version of a plugin is released – at the very least, the plugin may be disabled, at worst, your site may be taken offline. Exercise appropriate caution.
  • No backups are taken. You really should be using a good backup system, whether it be one of the multitude of backup plugins, or a backup service like VaultPress.
  • If your site breaks because of this, I’m really sorry. I’d appreciate it if you took your anger and channelled it into writing up a thorough bug report, instead of plotting my demise.

Thanks, and have fun!

Proof of Global Warming

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you irrefutable evidence of global warming.

See this map of the world, created prior to global warming, Greenland and Antarctica are huge!

Now I present this more modern map, both Greenland and Antarctica have melted away to remnants of their former glory.

For the future of Greenland and Antarctica, please, do your part to stop global warming.

An Automattic Adventure

Today I officially begin my role as a TransCoder1 at Automattic. As a TransCoder, I’ll be doing new and exciting things with VideoPress, our video hosting service.

For the last 4 years or so, I’ve been working at MySQL (which was swallowed by Sun, which in turn was consumed by Oracle), based 100% out of my home office. The thread of working as part a distributed company is something I’m very happy to be continuing at Automattic.

What else is cool?

Impact is cool. Automattic is around 100 people, but is one of the top 20 websites in the world, getting millions of visitors a day. Look at that employee:visitor ratio in the table over there. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

Getting things done is cool. The smart people at Automattic2 have done a great job of making continuous deployment scale as they’ve grown, so engineers can rapidly develop, launch and iterate features. There’s nothing quite like launching a new feature, seeing it run millions of times an hour, then tweaking it based on how people are using it.

Working with awesome people is cool. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the folks at Automattic recently, and even meeting a few of them. When work turns from the usual day-to-day, into hanging out with friends and doing interesting things, you know you’re onto something.

The Automattic Creed

I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a company that has a creed, but I like this one.

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

What will happen to my other projects?

PonyEdit development is continuing strongly. We’re working on a bunch of serious performance improvements, expect to see it out soon.

Job Manager is slowly waking up from the long winter of bug-fix releases only. With a little luck, I’ll be able to start making some serious inroads on the next feature release.

I also have some ideas I want to play around with, and now sounds like a good time to see what works. Stayed tuned. 😀

One more thing…

If you want to join in the fun, go and check out our Work With Us page, and apply! You may end up becoming my TransCoding sidekick (we’ll get superhero costumes, and our own theme music).

  1. This title is a terrible geeky pun. Blame Matt.
  2. Do you like how I implied that I’m a smart people now, too?