The end of 2020

It’s been one hell of a year, one none of us will ever forget. I really hope it will be because of all the wonderful times humanity showed us it’s shining side. The times friends, family and strangers showed compassion and sympathy.

At the end of the year, I’d like to look back at what I did this past year. It’s not as much as the past few years. My blogging was not that much, I wrote a few articles at the start of this year. Then I had a bit of a down period. Not just because of lil’ old Corona, but also because I sold my last house and moved into another one. That took up a considerable amount of my time. I have also switched projects, which was a bit sudden (and stressful). I did come out in a better environment, if I say so myself. I have tried to keep sporting, but it’s been a challenge to motivate myself. Going to a sports club really does wonders for my motivation, but they had to shut down for the time being.

From the bottom of my heart, I hope next year will be gentler, calmer and filled with joyous reunions of friends and loved ones. Because right now, they are in my thoughts (and Zoom calls), but unfortunately not close enough to share a laugh over a drink. Except for my loving and supporting wife, who’s now constantly by my side as we both work from home.

I hope that everybody who reads this has their family, whomever they are, close by. So enjoy the holidays as best as you can and I’ll see you next year. Fit and fresh to get vaccinated and pick life back up where we left it a year ago.

Happy new year, everybody!

My home office – the peripherals

After talking about my new office desk, chair and monitor arm, I wanted to highlight the other tools on my desk.

Disclaimer: I’ve bought all my gear myself with my own, hard earned, money. So no sponsorship here! Which is why I can give you the good and the bad.

Because I like gaming and I love Logitech gear, I’ve got myself the G502 Hero gaming mouse. It’s a great mouse and I can’t decide if I like it more than my MX Master 2S. The G502 is attached to my desk and I use the MX when I take my laptop with me. The MX has a very long battery life and it can easily switch between multiple PC’s, but the G502 is a lot more sensitive and it’s a lot more customisable. For gaming, I love the G502, for coding and day to day use, I prefer the MX.

My keyboard is the Microsoft Comfort Curve 3000, there is already an upgrade: the Wireless Comfort Desktop 5050. I love the ergonomic design, it really is a lot more friendly on my wrists. I don’t think I want to go back to a normal keyboard. The keys type very smoothly. I just wish I could disable the CAPS LOCK KEY BECAUSE… damnit it happened again. That is a complaint irrespective of the type of keyboard; normal keyboards, ergonomic ones, they all still have a CAPS LOCK KEY… damnit. I think the Logitech Ergo K860 has the option to turn it off or remap it. That and it can switch between multiple PC’s like the MX Master 2S mouse.

To improve the video recording during teleconferences, I bought myself a Logitech BRIO webcam. This is a good upgrade from my laptop camera. The image looks more crisp and it recognises me in a flash. From friends I’ve heard that the image over Skype is not great, but I think that might be Skype as Teams, Zoom and Discuss do produce nice video. The audio is good, but I’ve heard that it’s a bit hollow compared to the mic on my headset.

My headset is a Logitech G933 surround sound one. I must say, that surround sound really is awesome. When I play video games, this really comes to life as I can clearly hear which direction the enemies are coming from. It’s comfortable, even when I game for a few hours (too few and far in between). The microphone is really superb as well. It captures a nice, warm sound and filters out background noise effortlessly.

The reason I focused so much on connecting to multiple PC’s earlier is because my laptop and PC share a desk. So I had to find a way to share my keyboard, mouse, headset and webcam between these two devices. Cue in the UGreen 2 In 4 Out USB Sharing Box. This little device allows me to plug in 4 USB devices: headset receiver, keyboard, mouse and webcam. With a single press of the button on top, I can switch to which device they are attached to. My PC streams to my screen on the Display Port input and my laptop connects via HDMI. Now I press the button on top of the UGreen box and I switch the input of the screen and I’m good to go. Unfortunately, I should have taken a bigger UGreen box, because if I want to share additional devices (say a USB microphone) I’ll have to start choosing.

The only thing that is directly plugged into my PC is my Logitech G13 gaming keyboard. I received this as a birthday gift from my wife. I was looking for something like this and I kept doubting. When my birthday rolled around, she presented it to me. I’ve used it for every game I’ve played since. I hope it doesn’t break as I don’t think they still make these. I can’t find a link to it on the Logitech site nor on local PC stores. The only reference I find is on Amazon for way too high a price. After a little fiddle with the key mappings, either to make a special profile for the game or to remap the keyboard config, I play way smoother with this device than any keyboard or gamepad. Best gift ever!

The last thing on my desk is the Roost laptop stand. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s the best laptop stand I’ve ever had. I’ve given my wife one a few years ago and it’s a very easy to set up stand. Much better control over the stands than the ones I’ve previously used in corporate settings. It also keeps a much better grip on my laptop.

Hopefully this series helps somebody make a decision while they are looking for a new keyboard or mouse, (standing) desk or ergonomic chair.

My home office – monitor arm

Third blog in a row about my office, this one is about the brand new monitor arm I got. This one took me by surprise as I did not think it would make such an impact on me.

Disclaimer: I’ve bought all my gear myself with my own, hard earned, money. So no sponsorship here! Which is why I can give you the good and the bad.

The last package to arrive is the monitor arm. I took a single one, as I only have one screen, my laptop screen functions as my secondary screen. I have used 2 dedicated screens in the past and this is something I want to go back to. Multiple big screens (27″ and up) are a lot more practical than my small laptop screen.

The monitor arm can be attached as a clamp or drilled through the table. The foot of the support column can be changed so the stand can be attached how you like. The part on the underside is a metal clamp and I could easily see how that would damage my brand new table. I have placed the second foot, which has a rubber sole, between the metal clamp and the underside of the table.

Underneath the table

With the column installed, I can attach the arm at the right height. This part feels a little unstable as I need to clamp it on the column. This did have me worried as I installed the arm, but it has not moved since I set it up.

The clamp on the column

Finding the right height can be a challenge though as the arm can’t easily be moved up or down once it’s been installed. If I loosen it up, I’ll need to adjust the height with the screen attached to it. Which I can assume is tricky and has the risk of the screen falling. That’s why I put it at the same height as my screen was when it was standing on it’s base. That way, I knew it was at a comfortable height.

When I prepared the screen to be attached to the arm, I was slightly worried that the arm would not be able to carry the weight of the screen. This fear proved to be unfounded as the Asus ROG PG279Q is really light and most of the weight is in the foot. The arm can easily hold the screen up and after I tightened the bolt that controls the tilt, it hasn’t budged from the angle I placed it in.

The Asus ROG is a great screen: it has nice colours and a good refresh rate, but I do wish I had taken the 4K version instead of the 2K version. 4K just looks a lot more smooth and is easier on the eyes. Especially when looking a whole day at code, mails and stack overflow. Maybe also a bit for gaming. But mostly for the code.

Attaching the screen to the arm did provide a problem. The mechanism would be super easy to use if the part that holds up the screen would stick out of the back of the screen. If you take a good look, the attachment is sunken into the case of the screen. This part slides over the end of the arm, so it’s really easy to install… normally. With the cool triangular design (that you never see), the sliding mechanism is blocked by the triangular part of the back. I attached the sliding mechanism to the arm and asked my wife to hold up the screen, while I screwed it to the attachment. Luckily, the screen itself is very light, but it was a tense moment anyway.

Screen attached to the arm

The arm can’t easily be adjusted in the height. Tilting and turning the screen side to side is very easy and I notice I use it to show my wife something if she’s standing next to me so she can more easily see what’s on the screen. The screen has a nice viewing angle, but staring directly at a screen instead of at an angle is always more fun.

Cable management is pretty easy although the plastic holders are a bit of squeeze for my HDMI cable. I made sure there is a bit of room on the end so I can turn my screen left and right without pulling on the cables. There is one cable that is not in the cable management, but that’s because my display port cable is not long enough to fit into the cable management holders.

There is one detail that annoys me. When I put the table in the standing position, I notice the screen wobbles if I type or touch the table (put a glass down, for example). When I type more slowly, it doesn’t happen, when I type harder or faster, it wobbles more noticeably. It’s subtle, but I notice it when I write while standing up. I know it’s the vibrations through the table and I can’t do anything about it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Now that my screen floats above my desk, I noticed that I have a lot more table space. The place that the foot of the screen took up is quite large and now it’s available for documents, my phone and keys. Maybe a microphone if I want to upgrade my audio setup. It’s a decent arm and I love the additional space on my desk, but next time I would look for an arm with a more sturdy base so it won’t wobble.

My home office – the chair

Last week, I wrote about the sturdy SmartDesk 2. This week, I review the comfortable new chair I’m sitting on while typing this. Oh, spoiler alert, the chair is living up to it’s expectations.

Disclaimer: I’ve bought all my gear myself with my own, hard earned, money. So no sponsorship here! Which is why I can give you the good and the bad.

The ErgoChair 2

The two ErgoChair 2 chairs were next to arrive, about one and a half month after ordering them. Before, I had a very comfortable Markus chair from Ikea (not the exact model as I bought mine about 8 years ago). It was a very comfortable chair, but I have to say that the ErgoChair 2 is an upgrade all around.

It started when I assembled the ErgoChair. The instructions are very clear and a lot of thought has gone into the assembly process. In a little over half an hour, I was done with one chair. The star of the show is the superb tool that is supplied. It makes tightening the bolts a breeze. No need to awkwardly grip the little metal tool that is normally supplied, with this tool the bolts are tightened in a flash.

The supplied tool

During assembly, I did make a silly mistake: I put the arm rests on backwards on the first chair. Luckily I saw my mistake as I put the cushion (with the armrests) down. Besides my little derp moment, assembly went as smooth as it could have.

Now that I’ve used the chair for the past 2 months, I can say it’s very pleasant to sit on. Almost everything can be adjusted. From the height of the chair, the headrest and the incline of the back, to the tilt of the cushion and back tilt tension. I’m not sure what that last one does, but it’s impressive. They even have a very good instruction video on what you can adjust and how to do it, because I didn’t even mention all the settings you can tinker with.

There is one minor point: the armrests. Like the rest of the chair, it’s very customisable. I can adjust the height and move the armrest itself horizontally in all directions. Here is my biggest annoyance so far: the armrests just slide around. Most adjustments such as moving the armrest or the headrest up and own, happen in stages. I can feel the clicks and stands as I move them. Not so when horizontally positioning the armrests. This is most distracting when I move my arm from my keyboard to my mouse or the other way. Then the armrest can change positions without intending to do it.

The top of the armrest is made of a soft kind of plastic which is nice to the touch, but some fabric or fake leather with a cushion would have been more comfortable. Especially when sitting in the chair for hours during a workday. I think it’s strange they did not use the same material of the cushion to make the armrest more comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, the armrest is still comfortable and I love the chair. There’s a lot of thought put into this to make it as comfortable as possible. If the good folks at Autonomous add some cushion to the armrest, they’ll have the perfect chair.

Up next week: the monitor arm, again from the good folks over at Autonomous.

My home office – the desk

Since I’ve moved into a new house about a few months ago, I’ve upgraded my office quite a bit. Since writing about your office setup is such a big hit ever since Covid-19, I decided to add mine as well. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but then again, I only recently got all the parts in. So lets start with the standing desk.

Disclaimer: I’ve bought all my gear myself with my own, hard earned, money. So no sponsorship here! Which is why I can give you the good and the bad. I’m going to start with the new desk setup: a standing desk, ergonomic chair and monitor stand, all ordered from Autonomous. I ordered these parts 11th of June 2020.

My standing desk

The first item to arrive is the SmartDesk 2 Premium. Actually, that’s not true, the cable trays arrived after 2 weeks or so, but without the table, they are pretty much useless. Combined with the table though, they are really convenient. The tables arrived about a month after I ordered them.

A SmartDesk arrives in two packages. One is the table top, the other are the legs, the electronic buttons and all the screws. Putting it all together is very easy. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. Except a Philips head screwdriver, all tools are supplied.

Assembly is almost a one man job. It starts with attaching the mechanical legs to an iron frame. Then comes a bit tricky part of attaching the frame to the table top. It’s a bit trial and error to get it aligned with the pre-drilled holes, but it’s not that hard. Then comes the part where I needed help: flipping the table. Because the legs are mechanical, they weigh quite a bit and the large surface of the table makes it unruly to grab. I think I could manage to do this on my own, but it was so much easier when my wife gave me a hand.

The cable trays can very easily be attached when the table is still upside down. I’m very happy that I ordered them as they are a great place to store excess cables, power strips and laptop chargers that don’t need to move every week.

For even more cable management, there are some zip ties with a sticky edge so I can attach the cables from the buttons to the underside of the table without them hanging in the way or taking up space in the cable trays. The only downside is that after about a month, the glue on my wife’s desk gave out. It’s easily fixed with some super glue, but it’s annoying to do after the table is in the upright position.

Left: the loose cables – Right: the fixed cables
Drag to see more of the pictures

Attaching the power cable for the legs and cables for the buttons is just plug and play. They look like pc power cable plugs, so they only attach one way. The console has up and down buttons, 4 numeric buttons (1 through 4) and an M button. After plugging in the table for the first time, I have to press the up and down button at the same time to reset the height. If there is ever a problem, this is how the table resets. Setting the table at the right height, is very easy. I just press the up and down buttons until it has the right height.

Programming the height is a bit strange and I did have to look it up. I first tried to press the number for a few seconds, but that did nothing. The correct way is to press the M button for several seconds until the height on the display starts blinking. Then I press the number I want to program. So I set the table at sitting height, pressed the M button until the display starts blinking and then pressed 1. Now button 1 is set to my sitting height. I did the same, but for standing height, for button 2. Now that these 2 heights have been programmed, it’s a breeze to operate.

The materials of the table are sturdy and have a high quality feel to it. I think this table will serve me well in the years to come. There are a lot of small, really nice touches. The two that stand out for me are the two holes drilled into the table for cable management and rounded edges that are really comfortable when resting my arms.

Next week I’ll write about my thoughts on the ergonomic chair that I ordered.

Scammers used my email as a spam address

On the 7th of November 2019, I received an email from AliExpress that told me that I created an account with them. Seeing as I didn’t do this, at first I thought it was a scam. My email address contains a dot between my first and last name and that was missing. So I did what I do with all spam, I ignored it.

A few weeks later, on November 25th, I received a notification that I had a shopping cart with items in it. I decided to go to the AliExpress website and do a password reset on “my” account. Surprisingly, I had not received spam and a few moments later, I was the proud owner of an AliExpress account.

The first thing I did was check out my shopping cart. I did not take a precise inventory at the time, I just deleted the few items that were in it. It did prompt me to look into my already purchased items. There was a range of strange choices from plastic apples for table decoration to knockoff Disney dolls. The one thing they all had in common was that they cost under 20 euros, thus skipping most customs controls. So the buyers evade sales tax, limit checks on the knockoff goods and get a higher chance the goods will get delivered.

When I looked at the account details, I saw a fake name with Bonny as the first name and a bogus shipping address in France. It was entered half a dozen times, so I concluded I was dealing with a master criminal that knew how to efficiently navigate the site.

I looked the address up on Google Maps and it turned out to be a corn field. I’ve always wondered how they deliver to such places. The delivery guy shows up in a truck with the stuff in the back and then what? Is there a shady guy with a nondescript white van ready to take the goods? I guess I’ll never know.

Back to the order history. All in all, there were 28 items bought on “my” account. When I saw that, I blamed AliExpress for not verifying the account before accepting orders. I received a welcome mail, but I never had to verify that my account is controlled by me. So there are probably countless unverified accounts that are used by scammers to buy counterfeit goods. That means that AliExpress is profiting from, what are in my opinion, fraudsters.

Until I checked the orders more closely. Apparently 20 out of the 28 orders haven’t been paid yet. That means that over 70% of the orders haven’t been paid 18 days after they were shipped. Somehow, I doubt that they will ever be paid, even if I did not take back the account. Which means that both AliExpress and the third party sellers are missing out on revenue.

All this scammer needs to do is create another fake account and buy as much goods as he can before the account is suspended. They can keep doing this as long as accounts are not verified as there is a treasure trove of emails out there for anybody who knows where to look. And it’s not exactly hard to find even if you don’t know where to look.

So I don’t know why AliExpress is not verifying accounts. It’s costing them money. It’s costing their subcontractors money. It’s costing European countries taxes. They are basically enabling scammers. The only thing they’d need to do to stop these thieves, is verify an account before that account can be used to buy goods.

At no point was my email compromised. They just used my email address to sign up. Thanks to a combination of a password manager (shameless plug for 1Password) and a strong second factor (shameless plug for YubiKey security keys), scammers will be hard pressed to get into my most valuable accounts. For full transparancy, I’m not sponsored by either vendor, I bought these products myself. I’m a big fan of them.

And as a last item, just to be thorough: I did not report this to the police. I do not feel that the information I have to share will make a compelling case against anybody. So instead of adding more white noise to the pile of noise the police already has to deal with, I’m going to ignore this.

What I do want to shine a light on, is that we cannot let scammers just use our emails for their fake accounts. So if I receive an email that I created an account somewhere, especially online shops, will get a closer look to see if it’s an actual welcome mail or a scam in itself.