First Local Meetup for the Southern Tier

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It’s officially a “thing.” 🙂 Tonight was our very first NY Southern Tier WordPress Users/Bloggers Meetup…and IMHO, it was really fun.

Chris (my husband) and I were the meetup organizers and thought maybe one person might show up. While making blogs and websites is totally cool and awesome, we know people are super busy.  But there were SIX who weren’t family 🙂 And five more mentioned they wanted to come but had scheduling conflicts.

So what was it about, and what did we do? We learned about WordPress! There were several writers wanting to get their blogs going. There were some who wanted to document adventures and learn about affiliate marketing, and there were some who wanted to learn more about the community of blogging.

The local meetups and WordCamps I have attended have a lot of WordPress.org users. I was surprised by the fact that everyone who came wanted a WordPress.com site.

While devices were not mandatory (we had public computers to use), everyone brought something. Some came without a computer, using just the app. Quite frankly, I was impressed and not-a-little-geekily-excited by that. Might be because a main part of my job is providing tech support for the WordPress app 🙂

Our many thanks to the local library for letting us use their meeting space. This is a great new adventure. I’m already looking forward to our May 20 meeting.

Becoming a Happiness Engineer

It was just about a year ago when my world was completely rocked. In an ironic quirk of fate, I found my dream job in technology while crashing a website. How (not) cool is that?
Background
snowboardingFor almost 20 years I worked from home as a freelance writer, specializing in children’s media. Then a friend who liked my work-from-home lifestyle encouraged me to learn Python and work for his company. That was great for a while, then the job ended.
What was I to do? As I contemplated re-entering the professional writing world, I began volunteering to help at the local ski resort where my family likes to play — Swain Resort. That turned into a full-time job, which I absolutely loved. I loved interacting with people in customer service, playing with the technology, and taking snowboarding breaks. I was able to work with friends, and my kids and husband worked there, too. Life was pretty good.
There were only a few things missing:

  • I really missed having the freedom to set my own schedule. It was particularly difficult when I wanted to visit my aging mother-in-law while keeping up with my kids at home.
  • I missed working with code.
  • I also hated commuting. The bitter-sweet part of working at a ski resort is the best days at the slopes are the worst on the roads. And I’m a really wussy driver, tbh. I admit it.

Then something really cool happened. I crashed the ski slope’s website. 
Changes
Not gonna lie, it didn’t seem cool at the time. I was in a complete panic as I called up a past consultant for help. He fixed it (I have since come to learn, thanks to some tips at a WordCamp, that I had an extra space in the PHP of a plugin I was editing, and that’s what crashed the site). The incident prompted me to immediately purchase VaultPress.
I hit the site a few times when in the purchasing process. An ad popped up asking if I wanted to be a Happiness Engineer. That title was completely intriguing to me. I thought it was something Disney, and since I’m all about Disney, I clicked it.
What I saw stopped me in my tracks.
I have an eclectic background. I have a degree in elementary education, I ran a licensed Head Start home daycare, I wrote, I coded, I performed unit and integration tests in Python for a business, I worked customer service in a ski resort, I volunteered at a local library–teaching people to use electronic devices… and these all wrapped up in one beautiful package that made me the perfect candidate for the Happiness Engineer position that Automattic was offering. It was better than Disney! I printed the job description to dream about.
I knew it was my dream job, but I felt hesitant to apply. What if I didn’t make it? What if I didn’t know enough about WordPress? Again, just like driving on snowy roads, the wuss side of me came out. I showed the paper to family and friends and said “This is my dream job!” But I didn’t apply…until I saw Darnell’s write-up about his experiences.
It’s okay to apply and fail. The company doesn’t give up on you. That’s what I learned. So it wouldn’t hurt to apply. It wasn’t a one-shot deal. A dream is worth working for, and this was my dream. So I applied at the end of April 2014.
And I didn’t hear back for weeks. I sent a follow-up note near the end of May. And still didn’t hear back. It was okay since I loved my ski resort job. And now I knew I could re-apply regularly. My plan was to keep active in the forums and try again.
In July, while I was working security at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous in a remote part of PA (can you say limited Internet?) I was invited to an interview.
My Dreams Take Shape
After working security all night, I drove into a nearby town to conduct my interview using McDonald’s wi-fi. It went well, and after another interview and a project I began my trial.
That trial was really tough. And that’s an understatement. I only made it through thanks to the support of amazing family and friends. I knew the process of learning would be difficult, but I didn’t brace myself for the emotional impact of it all. The more I interacted with other Automattic workers, and the more I worked with people who wanted my help, the more I fell in love with the position. I was terrified I would be cut off. Even if I had a chance to start again.
One of the biggest lessons I learned in my trial was to pace myself and not over-work. The goal of being a good employee for Automattic is quality over quantity. Unlike the last coding job suggested to me (90 hrs a week), this work environment evaluated me on how I cared for myself and my family and friends while providing help for others at work. It’s all an important balance, and one I now value deeply.

I Made It!

DCIM202GOPROThe dream job. Now mine. Four months later, it’s still kind of a shock. Since my hiring I have been to Utah for a Grand Meetup of all Automattic employees (where I got to go sky-diving as a team bonding experience), I have been to Barcelona to meet my team, been to Saratoga Springs, NY and to Toronto for WordCamps, and I have gotten to meet amazing people from all around the world who are getting their voices heard through WordPress.
I am on the live chat team, so I get to interact with people every day! And I also get to test for bugs in our new app releases, and I get to work with people from all over the world. My office is in my home, and I can visit my mother-in-law whenever I want. Life is so amazingly good.
Automattic understands that happy workers provide quality service. My home is happy, and my work is solid. I look forward to getting up every day to meet more awesome people online and help them solve some issues.
If you love people, code, helping others, or just want to be part of the WordPress team, check out our job openings. We are hiring 🙂

Jeff Meltzer – Ergonomic Office Equipment Consultant

Jeff Meltzer

Jeff MeltzerImagine you could prevent a surgery by changing an office. Imagine you could reduce waste and trim a budget in the same manner. Imagine you can reduce–even eliminate pain and increase a worker’s productivity just by making them more comfortable.

This imaginative world is Jeff Meltzer’s reality. As president of Applied Ergonomics, Meltzer consults with people, helping them set up a unique, ergonomic office fitted to their specific needs.

I was so blown away by the changes my office setup made in my own physiology and work productivity that I asked Meltzer for an interview so he could share some tips and tricks with us all. He graciously agreed.

CP: Can you offer an anecdote about someone whose life was changed after getting a proper office setup?

JM: Over the years I have been able to help a large number of people. Certainly one of the most dramatic impacts was for a man that worked at a law firm and was scheduled for double carpal tunnel surgery and we kept him from needing to go through with it.

CP: What’s one of the most common mistakes you find when consulting with people in regards to ergonomics?

JM: The most common mistake I see being made is that people are assigned a workstation that has already been set up by the previous occupant and they don’t even think about whether it will work well for them. And so they work for months or even years without being comfortable.

Ergonomics is very often just about asking the right questions and paying attention to your own body. It’s about self-awareness and making the connection between your immediate work environment and the strains on your body.

CP: What would you recommend for people who are building up the perfect office on a limited budget? 

JM: Good ergonomics on a limited budget can be a challenge. Cheap seating is usually a mistake in every way. It doesn’t give good support generally and the life expectancy of a cheap chair is a year or two while that of a quality chair is 7 to 12 years. So it turns out to be a better value and a better product that directly impacts your health, not to mention better for the environment, to reach for a higher quality chair.

When choosing a desk, it’s best to avoid a desk with a pencil drawer or apron because they can impact your shoulder posture. If you already have an office setup and are living with chronic pain, pay attention to those postures and movements that make it worse and then figure out what product you are interacting with that impacts this. A piecemeal approach to ergonomics can still be very beneficial if it is targeted correctly.

CP: Which piece of office equipment (in your opinion) is most worthy of investing in initially when someone is on a limited budget?

JM: I’m not sure that there is one universal item above others. One that we don’t even sell but is critical is a headset for those who are on the phone and computing as trying to cradle the handset with your head is really bad for your neck.

Basically, I look for aspects of the work or workstation that create tendencies toward reaching, twisting and slouching and try to mitigate them. One of the best tools for this is to replace the mouse with either a RollerMouse or Mousetrapper, which moves the cursor control to in front of the keyboard. This alone cuts down on most of the awkward reaching that is associated with computing.

Some of the other less considered but still important tools to consider are footrests for those working at a standard desk and are not tall enough to easily reach the surface, keyboard trays for the same purpose but also more generally to allow one to work essentially in their lap, document holders, monitor arms and task lights. Of course, sit/stand desks which have finally gone more mainstream in the US, can be a tremendous benefit.

CP: What would be your dream office setup for your clients if price were not a factor?

JM: A dream office is quite a question. I suppose it depends on what your job is, how many different tasks one does. If you are solely interacting with the computer all day, then I would want the freedom to work at a Focal Upright Sphere part of the time and a sit/stand desk with a Hag Capisco or the new Aeris 3D chair. Of course I would have a monitor array. And being an aesthete, it has to be beautiful.

Tips and Thoughts

I want to reiterate that becoming attuned to making the connection between how your body feels and the environment you are interacting with really is key.

First, you want to notice how you are sitting. Are you slouched, leaning over your desk, reclined or comfortably upright? You may need a new chair.

Are you reaching for the mouse or keyboard, with your arms extended or are your elbows comfortably at your side with your forearms gently forward and perhaps sloped a little downward? You may benefit from a keyboard tray with a mouse surface that is adjustable and can come up over the keyboard, or perhaps a RollerMouse or Mousetrapper.

Are your feet supported on the floor? Do you feel pressure on the underside of your thighs extending close to your knees? You may benefit from a footrest, which is good for your circulation as well as your lower back.

Are you getting sore legs and ankles from standing? You may benefit from a standing support mat.

Are you straining to read the screen? You may benefit from a larger monitor, or a monitor arm that can safely bring the screen closer.

Do you feel pressure in your forearm or wrist when you bend you wrist in any direction? Depending on which types of bends or rotation bother you, you may benefit from a pronated mouse or a split keyboard.

How Meltzer Became an Ergonomic Specialist – in His Own Words

I have always been ahead of my times, and my current occupation is another example of that. I began studying nutrition and ecology, and doing yoga and meditation, in high school and college in the 1970’s. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in Business, planning on going into my family’s retail business. After college though, I decided not to do this and had a variety of careers before I started this company, Applied Ergonomics.

My innate talents tend toward design and marketing, as well as finance, and after college I became a Market Maker on the CBOE (Chicago Board of Options Exchange) relatively early in its existence. I stayed there for five years, after which I went into residential rehabbing but had bad timing as interest rates were prohibitively high. Soon thereafter, I joined a company that was pioneering ergonomics and stayed with them for five years. Again, I was way ahead of the trend, and was able to interact with and learn from the real pioneers of the industry, both medical doctors and ergonomists.

I chose to open my own company but wanted to expand into the furniture business instead of being narrowly focused on ergonomics. I aligned with a forward thinking manufacturer and had pretty instant success. The contract furniture business has been a great fit for me because it calls on all my talents and interests from design to construction, from understanding client’s business work flow and culture to using my business education in running my own company.

Having the grounding that I do in ergonomics allows us to design better spaces for clients when working on large projects. I have continued to do individual ergonomics consulting throughout the last 25 years because it is incredibly gratifying to make a direct contribution to the quality of my clients’ lives. What sets my consulting apart from that of an OT (Occupational Therapist) is that I use specific products prescriptively as I know product intimately so I am able to recommend specific items to accomplish the result I want for the individual. I am also vendor agnostic and pull from manufacturers across the industry.

Follow Up

Thank you, Jeff Meltzer, for taking the time to answer these questions. I am very thankful to you and to Automattic, Inc. for my incredible office setup. I look forward to many years of pain-free work in this lovely, ergonomic environment.

Dream Office – Working Pain Free

IMG_20141023_194445912 2Relieving pain is all about listening to your body. I guess part of me knew that. But I didn’t know what to do with the signals my body was telling me. With my current job with Automattic, Inc., I was offered a consultation with ergonomic consultant Jeff Meltzer, president of Applied Ergonomics, who blew my mind.
Today I’m going to tell you how he helped me set up my office, and tomorrow I’m going to highlight him in an interview wherein he shares some tips that will most likely benefit you 🙂
After an hour-and-a-half Skype interview during which Meltzer assessed me as well as my living space, Meltzer suggested a certain office setup, and it was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I haven’t worked this pain-free in years! And it’s all thanks to his questions and recommendations.
Questions and Answers
The first issue he addressed was my health history.  I have played the piano since I was quite young, becoming a piano major for a short time in college. Then I spent nearly two decades as a professional writer. This (and a bout of Lyme disease) left me with arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis. My fingers tended to lock when I worked a mouse too much.
Next he asked about my work habits and took a lot of measurements (which my husband helped me with). Most of my day, I work standing up. Eventually, I like to sit, though. I’m also short (5′ 2″) and a wee bit clutzy (yes, I have fallen off my exercise-ball chair in the past). Here’s what I ended up with:
My Office – (click the name of the piece of equipment to see what I have specifically)
IMG_20141017_164322947_HDR (1)Desk – I got the birch top, 60″ wide. This is a real treat since I stand most of the day. When I’m tired, I press some buttons, and it electrically adjusts to a lower position so I can sit. I put it back up at the end of the day so I’m ready to stand again in the morning. The pic up top has it in a standing position. Here it is lowered.
Chair – My beautiful HĂ…G Capisco – stylish and comfortable. Made for sitting in forwards or backwards so it’s fun, too!
Mouse – This is a life saver for me. Thanks to the HandShoe Wireless Mouse my fingers no longer lock. It’s designed to fully support the hand at a 30 degree pronation to minimize pinching and gripping of the mouse, as well as fly-away positioning of the thumb.  Due to the large platform shape my entire hand rests on the mouse, encouraging relaxation–just as their website says. It took me a day to get used to my sting-ray mouse, but my fingers dance in thanks every day now.
Tablik – The iPad holder – I wrote a detailed article about this on my blog.
Foot matting – According to Meltzer, this helps my circulation and my back. All I know is that pre-mat I could stand and work for about 3-4 hrs. without back pain. Now I average 6-7 hrs.
Tomorrow’s post highlights Meltzer’s tips and tricks for setting up your own office, even when on a tight budget. Until then…listen to your body and feel the pain melt away.

Themes, Art and Cyber Monday

Blogging 101

Life in our household is getting a bit competitive. In a fun way.

I’ve been the writer for the past 20 years, and yet my husband is putting me to shame on the blogging front. He’s the artist who hasn’t touched a computer seriously in decades. But now, he’s discovering that it’s kind of fun to write about his art. What inspired this? WordPress.

As he gets going on his art blog, he has inspired me to play with my own design and to update more. I love the look of my blog now. Getting to play with premium themes is a fun past-time for me. The great thing is that the Black Friday through Cyber Monday deal for WordPress.com includes a year or Premium themes with a Premium upgrade.

So here’s to a fun, creative year as Chris and I spend some of our leisure time playing with words and design.

The Tablik – Simple and Effective

I recently got a new office setup. It’s really a dream, and I’ll write about it someday, but for today I’m just going to rave about my Tablik™.

This super-simple device has turned into the handiest little tool. I put a puck (which came with it) on the back of my iPad, and it easily snaps into place. Sometimes I use the iPad as a unique display while I work. Other times, I set it up as an extra monitor. When I need to go somewhere, I just grab it and go.

My Tablik

Pros:

  • It’s super simple to set up.
  • It’s really easy to use.
  • It allows me to pull a screen closer for easier reading or further away for extra room–whatever I want at the moment.
  • It gives me a lot of freedom and choice in my daily usage.

Cons:

  • One has to add pucks to each device intended for use.
  • The puck makes it difficult to fit the iPad into a regular case

Fortunately for me, I have a very innovative husband. He took the $7 cover I got from Ebay and used snippers and some velcro to make it work with my puck. All is good now–problem solved. See?

Tablik