How to avoid eye strain and neck pain while using a computer

"More people are showing up at eye appointments complaining of headaches, fatigue, blurred vision and neck pain—all symptoms of computer-vision syndrome (CVS), which affects some 90% of the people who spent three hours or more at day at a computer, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Healthy."

The above quote comes from a Wall Street Journal article published yesterday. If this is true, the only reason the percentage is so high is because people don't know the simple steps to avoid these symptoms. Here are a few things I do to make sure I never have to leave my computer...unless I really want to.

Adjust Monitor Brightness
I think the single largest reason why people have trouble sitting in front of a computer screen for an extended period of time is because their screen is too bright. Most monitors are set to be way too bright by default. Try turning the brightness all the way down. It will make your eyes think you're looking at a piece of paper rather than staring into a flashlight. (Make sure you adjust your brightness and not your contrast.)

Ambient Light
I like to keep my office pretty dark, but it's important the ambient light in the room doesn't contrast too greatly with the physical world. For example, if my monitor is bright and my room is dark, it's going to hurt my eyes because of the stark contrast. This is why your parents always used to tell you to watch TV with a light on (at least my parents did). But an environment that's too bright isn't great either. When I used to sit in a cube all day, I had the florescents above me ripped out. Distancing yourself from ambient light in a close proximity is a good idea.

Monitor Height
A lot of times, neck pain is caused from leaning down to look at a computer screen (this happens a lot when working on a laptop). Whenever possible, make sure your monitor is at your eye level. I would suggest that if you're looking straight out from your chair, at least 1/3 of your monitor should be above your eye level. I used to set my monitors on books. Now I use actual monitor stands that get my monitors off my desk by about 4 inches. Avoiding looking down will help reduce neck strain.

Back Support & Sitting Position
I never work in front of a computer without a pillow behind my lower back. Even actual back supports from office supply stores don't work well. I recommend an actual pillow. It helps keep the upper body back and upright. It also helps keep my head back to where I sometimes rest it on the back of my chair. This reinforces the last idea to keep your head looking straight on rather than bending forward and looking down.

Even Multiple Monitors Help!
This isn't for everybody, but...I work in front of an array of 3 or 4 very large monitors. I think doing so actually helps keep my eyes fresh and my neck from hurting, because I have to physically turn my head to the left and right to see all my screens. This keeps me from focusing in a single, small area for too long at any given time, and it also reminds me to blink when I turn my head.

These suggestions definitely aren't scientific - they're just a few bits of common sense that I've realized over my time using computers. Hope this helps keep you pain-free!

Hulu's most blatant user experience mistake

I've been using Hulu for almost three years now, and it's been exciting to watch it develop into a near-mainstream solution for watching TV online. I'm a subscriber of Hulu Plus, and while it has its own issues (missing past episodes of shows, too many ads in a paid product, etc), it's still the easiest way to catch HD TV shows online.

However, there is a glaring UX mistake on the Queue page where users can stack up future videos to watch. I'm surprised no one at Hulu has caught this and fixed it yet.

The problem: When hovering over a show thumbnail on the queue page, a play icon appears, but clicking on the play button/thumbnail takes the user to the show's index page, rather than the video page.

Over time, it has become an accepted standard that a play icon indicates that something will start playing when the icon is clicked. In this case, the play icon doesn't actually play a video. Instead to play a video, the user has to click on the video title. (Everywhere else on the site, clicking on a play button starts playing a video.)

I can't count the number of times I have mindlessly clicked on the thumbnail/play button, expecting the video to start playing. If I were consciously thinking about where I am clicking, I would know not to click on the thumbnail. But too many times, I don't actually think about what I'm doing. I see a play button and I click on it - it's just a habit that has been formed over years of clicking play buttons, and I have been conditioned over time to expect a specific action to take place.

You might say I'm nit-picking, and this whole blog is over nothing important at all. And you wouldn't be wrong. But it's stuff like this that defines a great user experience. A great user experience is one that takes into account the mindless users like myself and gets me where I want to go, the first time.

What NOT to say when replying to a freelance job posting

From time to time, I post freelance job listings on various online job boards when I have projects I don't have time for, or just don't want to do. I never cease to be amazed by some of the contents of the emails I receive.

SO, as a benefit to people who respond to these online job ads (especially design/digital work ads), here are some things NOT to do/say that might help increase the likeliness you get a reply.

Note: All examples below are from responses I received today.
  1. I don't want to know that you have 10 years experience in HTML and 8 years experience in PHP. Large corporations might want to see these big numbers in a resume, but I can guarantee you that 99% of people posting freelance jobs online don't care.
  2. Don't start an email with "Dear sir or madam", "Human Resources", "Hiring Manager" or "To whom it may concern". Save this for a printed letter that you send to your cell phone company to dispute your bill. It's far too general for an email and an instant red flag. Use something like "Hey", "Hello", or "Hi there".
  3. Don't send anything but your best work. In an email I received today, an applicant informed me that he is working on a new portfolio that is "more up to date". Why do I need to know this? If you don't think you can sell me on what you sent me, don't try to upsell yourself by saying you have better work out there. Just update your portfolio before you email me!
  4. Send me a LINK to your portfolio. If you refer me to "website.com" and it doesn't have a hyperlink, don't count on my copy/pasting the url into my browser.  I should be able to click on your link in my email!
  5. Don't send me a 5 paragraph essay. The most effective emails are short and to the point - 3 lines. Sell me on yourself by showing me how great you are, not by telling me.
  6. DO NOT link me to a zip file in your email. And don't attach a zip either (or any other sort of attachment, for that matter). The best emails can be read in under 5 seconds before clicking out to a link to check out work. I'm not going to dedicate the time to open a zip file if I'm not already familiar with your caliber of work.
  7. Don't link me to my original post. Chances are, if the subject of your email relates to my post, I'm going to remember posting it. Adding a link to my posting in an email only tells me that you're replying to so many posts that you want to keep them all straight and add in a link for your reference.
  8. I don't want to hear from a company. I want to hear from YOU! If you approach me as a representative for a "design firm" with a team of designers, I'll probably delete your email. Unless my post specifically asks for a team with a bunch of overhead or a request for an RFP, I'm most likely looking for one person to come in a tackle a project. Oh, and don't have your personal assistant email me, either. That just tells me you're paying cheap, offshore labor to spam as many people as possible.
  9. Use proper grammar and not SMS lingo. This is from an email I received: "kindly find my grafix work at [link] and let me know if its wat u r looking for. thx." Just, no.
  10. Remember where I posted my ad. If I posted an ad on Authentic Jobs, don't contact me "regarding the post on Craigslist." Stuff like this tells me you copy/pasted your form letter and probably didn't read my ad.
  11. If my post is in English, don't send me your portfolio in another language. 'Nuff said.

I hope I don't sound harsh or critical with these points. But you have to understand that, not only are the people posting these listings probably extremely busy, but they also receive hundreds of these types of emails in a very short amount of time. To get a response, you've really got to stand out. Hopefully these tips will help you get the kind of response that you deserve.

Wordpress vs. Thesis Theme

I don't use Wordpress. I also never used the Thesis Theme when I did use Wordpress. Despite the fact that you can do some pretty cool stuff with Wordpress and the Thesis Theme together, I don't know how to do so and I've always been overwhelmed by the thought of trying to figure it all out. Regardless, I have some thoughts about this whole Wordpress vs. Thesis Theme debate that's going on right now.

Yesterday, Matt Mullenweg of Wordpress and Chris Pearson (creator of the Thesis Theme) clashed as to whether or not Thesis should be required to use the GPL, a license that is used to license free software. Wordpress "requires" that everyone who develops for the Wordpress ecosystem release their work under the GPL, and Pearson doesn't think Wordpress has the right to dictate the terms under which he releases his software. You can listen to the full debate here. Pearson does not currently use the GPL to license his software, because it would allow people to freely distribute his work that he's built a business around selling.

While Pearson did himself no favors in the debate by declaring himself as one of the three most important people in the history of the development of Wordpress, and comparing the issue to a law that made it "illegal to get a blow job in Georgia" by explaining it was unenforceable, I have to say that I completely agree with his position against Wordpress forcing 3rd party developers to release Wordpress shiz under the GPL.

It is ridiculous for Wordpress to attempt enforcing a rule that states everyone who develops for their platform has to abide by a specific software license, especially when the license requires the software to be given away for free. The question of legality is where the debate lies.

The Thesis Theme is software written on top of Wordpress, software that fits on top like a Lego piece, and as such, is not actually part of Wordpress. As a completely separate entity, Wordpress should claim dominion over 3rd party plugins.

In place of Pearson's blow job analogy, I submit my own. Let's relate this to the physical world. Imagine Apple creating a rule that states no company is allowed to make a red iPhone case unless they give it away for free. Sure, some companies might be okay with giving red cases away for free, thinking that plenty of people might come for a free red case but end up purchasing a different color case instead. But Apple would have no right to prevent anyone from selling a red case. Can you imagine Apple's case standing up in court? Neither can I.

Despite Mullenweg's best interest to keep Wordpress and all related software free for the benefit of users, it's irrational to try to force everybody to release their software under the GPL. The reason Pearson wrote software for Wordpress was so that he could make money. He shoudn't be faulted, or stopped, for doing that. The fact that Mullenweg is trying to control how Pearson releases his software is insane. It's not up to him, and it's not up to Wordpress.

As for me, I'll stick with Posterous. There are no such bogus restrictions here. Sachin and Garry know full well that any BS like that would totally disincentivize people from developing for their platform, and besides that, people have the full right to make money off of their own software, regardless of what it's built on or how it fits into another piece of software.

Ultimately, the free market should decide what stays and what goes. If people don't want to pay to use Thesis Theme, they can choose to find a theme elsewhere. There are plenty. It's as simple as that.