Friday, June 26, 2015

Evolving Desk

I previously wrote about my slightly unusual computer desk setup. I still use the same keyboard/mouse setup: a trackball mouse on the right, a regular mouse on the left (with a sticky note covering the laser so it doesn't move - it's used for scrolling and clicking), and the keyboard in the middle. I don't use the extra bluetooth mouse as much, since I've gotten used to being precise with the trackball mouse. (All the mice are still the same Logitech mice.) The USB extension cord is still there, too.

I have, however, upgraded quite a few other aspects of the desk. I upgraded the keyboard to a "tenkeyless tactile touch" keyboard from EliteKeyboards. It is missing the numeric pad (thus "tenkeyless") and it has special keys -- called tactile keys because they provide more feedback to the user when struck. It really feels so much different than the cheap keyboards people usually use.

The advantages of this keyboard include a smaller size, so I'm reaching less for the mice, and a better typing experience. The only disadvantages are that the keyboard was quite expensive (about $100) and I still need a numeric keypad - just not right on the same keyboard. So I also purchased a keypad that sits on the right side of the monitor table within reaching distance when it's needed.

I own the same monitor as before, but my new employer provided a monitor with a wider screen, so I use that one. It's nice having the wide screen for videos, but most of the time I don't use that much screen real estate. In fact, I have gotten use to keeping application non-maximized so I can see other applications at the same time or hiding in the background.

I built my own standing desk out of the old corner computer desk, which worked great for a while, until I got the new job working from home. At that point, I needed to re-evaluate the space requirements. I needed to be able to sit and write on occasion. I did some research and found an article suggesting a very cheap Ikea standing desk. I didn't have a desk, though (since I ripped it up to make the first standing desk), so I decided to buy a table to place it all on. I ended up getting a table with adjustable A-frame legs. I figured the A-frame would provide greater stability, especially given that I planned on getting a treadmill.

A few final adjustments to the desk: I used a dowel to lift up the front of the keyboard shelf to allow for a more natural resting place for the hands, I put some old textbooks under the monitor to raise it up to the correct height, and I recovered the old keyboard tray for the sitting position. Now the desk is good for sitting and standing at my work computer. The sitting option only has one mouse, mostly because I didn't want to spring for another $100 keyboard. You want the nice keyboard, you have to work for it by standing or walking.

You may have noticed the odd device just below the monitor, with a string coming down from it: It's the control for a treadmill by LifeSpan, along with the safety cord that stops it when pulled. I decided I wasn't working out enough, and I thought it would be great if I could use a treadmill while working. That arrived about 3 months ago, and I had to raise up the desk to accommodate its height. Here's the complete setup:

The work laptop is over on the left side of the table, and when it is flipped open, it can be used while sitting. I usually do this when I'm tired or I have a meeting to attend (standing or walking at the treadmill is too distracting for all parties while on a call). My home computer (the tower behind the laptop) is only connected to the standing desk monitor, so I don't have a choice but to stand at that one. I suppose I could use my old monitor to figure out a sitting situation, but I haven't really needed to sit at my home computer. I have a KVM switch to toggle the computers, and the switch is just under the monitor.

I'm still getting used to standing and/or walking while working, mostly the impact on my body. I have not found it difficult to many tasks while standing or walking. The only exception is, as I mentioned above, phone calls or meetings. Usually I want to take notes, so that's easier while sitting. I'm not used to standing or walking for hours on end, so when I get tired, I sit.

One of my colleagues asked how I was able to walk and work at the same time. It's not too difficult. As proof, here's a short and incredibly dull video of me walking while working:

From Chris's Album

In the video, I did the following tasks, not exactly in this order:
  • Wrote some code
  • Ran a command on the Linux command line
  • Reviewed the output from the above process
  • Reviewed a file of health-care-related records
  • Read some code
  • Thought about it for a bit
  • Figured out why a file had duplicates
  • Wrote an email
  • Drank some water
I was going 2 miles per hour (the treadmill ranges from 0.1 to 4 miles per hour, in 1-tenth of a mile increments). I find it is nice to back up a step while reading or thinking in order to walk more naturally. I would also recommend using a sports bottle. I made the mistake of using an open-topped cup, which could be spilled quite easily on any of the computer components or the treadmill.

I would highly recommend this arrangement and all of these products. The mice from Logitech, keyboard from EliteKeyboards, assorted desk stuff from Ikea, and the treadmill from LifeSpan. It makes for a good way to work and get a bit of exercise.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

KeePass2 and Gmail

It's been a while since I posted, but with a good cause: We just had our second child a few weeks ago!

The other day, Google decided to change Gmail's login screen to be in three parts (two for those without two-step authentication): 1. Username 2. Password 3. Two-Step Authentication. This is annoying because I use KeePass2 with auto-type, and the new pages interfere with the auto-typing mechanism.

Today I decided to solve that issue, and I'm posting it here to share with anyone else who may also have the same problem. Here are the steps:

  1. Open up the Gmail or Google Apps email account you want to change ("Edit/View Entry" on the context menu, or hit Enter when the entry is selected).
  2. Go to the Auto-Type tab.
  3. Select "Override default sequence" option.
  4. The field should initial have (without quotes):


    Replace that with (without quotes):


  5. Test in your favorite browser. Adjust the "{DELAY mmmm}" parameter by replacing "mmmm" with a different numeric value. This is in milliseconds, so a value of 1000 is 1 second.

The "{DELAY 2000}" parameter is the key to fixing the issue. Since there is a new page in between the username and password, we need a delay to let the page load before typing the password.

For more information on the auto-type feature and the parameters that can be used, see the KeePass documentation here:

Don't forget to tag your Gmail account as an OpenSSL account (add "OpenSSL" to the description) while you're at it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Strange SAS Error Message

I spent far too long trying to debug a strange error message in SAS. The solution ended up being aggravatingly simple, but arriving at the solution was not. So I wanted to share the problem and solution. (I discovered this issue using SAS 9.1.3.)

MPRINT(TRANSPOSE): proc datasets nolist;
SYMBOLGEN: Macro variable OUT resolves to lib.table_name
NOTE: Line generated by the invoked macro "TRANSPOSE".
161 modify &OUT; label &NEWVAR = "&NEWLBL"; quit;

MPRINT(TRANSPOSE): modify lib.table_name;
NOTE: Line generated by the macro variable "OUT".
161 lib.table_name
NOTE: Enter RUN; to continue or QUIT; to end the procedure.

SYMBOLGEN: Macro variable NEWVAR resolves to count
SYMBOLGEN: Macro variable NEWLBL resolves to count: prevalence
MPRINT(TRANSPOSE): label count = "count: prevalence";

ERROR 200-322: The symbol is not recognized and will be ignored.
ERROR 22-322: Expecting a name.

NOTE: Statements not processed because of errors noted above.
NOTE: The SAS System stopped processing this step because of errors.
NOTE: SAS set option OBS=0 and will continue to check statements. This may cause NOTE: No observations in data set.
NOTE: PROCEDURE DATASETS used (Total process time):
      real time 0.00 seconds
      cpu time 0.00 seconds

If you start looking where the error statements start and look down, you'll miss the true source of the error.

So for those not familiar with PROC DATASETS, one of the options on the PROC DATASETS statement is the LIBRARY= option. It defaults to WORK. So this PROC DATASETS is looking only in WORK for the dataset lib.table_name. Since "lib." is not a valid part of a table name (and just the table name), it's not parsing it correctly, resulting in an error.

The error seems to cause the SAS code parser to trip and read the rest of the code incorrectly, and it looks like the following step is where the error occurs. However, it's actually the earlier step ("modify &OUT" or the resolved code, "modify lib.table_name").

The lesson is twofold: 1) Don't try to use an output library with the table name (e.g., "lib.table_name") when the LIBRARY= option on PROC DATASETS is not used. 2) Don't write a macro where an output data set can be specified (e.g., OUT=) and use PROC DATASETS without checking whether the user specified an output library. Alternatively, don't use PROC DATASETS. (There are some advantages to PROC DATASETS, so don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!)

I wasted a lot of time on this since I thought the macro could handle any type of input/output specified, but apparently that is not true. The solution for me was to remove the "lib." from the OUT= argument to the macro ("&OUT"). Since PROC DATSETS was looking in work, it found it after I made this "correction".

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Great Quote and Idea

I was browsing through Quora today and found this quote, on the topic of What are the top 10 things that we should be informed about in life?:

"Bear in mind... that your opponent in any debate is not the other person, but ignorance."
– Justin Freeman, Source

What a great quote. It embodies many lessons all in one. Don't focus on the person you're arguing with. In fact, don't argue. Persuade them away from ignorance. Brilliant quote.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How I Reacted to Heartbleed

Recently a bug was revealed in OpenSSL, called Heartbleed. One of the very unfortunate aspects of this bug was the potential for all passwords and cryptographic keys on a server could have been dumped to any hacker who knew about the flaw. As users, we can't control the cryptographic keys; however, we can control our passwords.

I was able to quickly identify my key accounts at risk in order to reset each password. How? With a password management database, KeePass. I also had help from the well-documented Mashable article.

I have all of my passwords stored in a KeePass database. Each account is categorized into groups like Banking, Email, Investments, etc. (see screenshot above). Using the Mashable article, I edited the each description by adding "OpenSSL" for each account that used OpenSSL. I also ran a few online searches to determine the status of other accounts I wasn't sure about.

Once I finished that, I search through the entire database (over 240 passwords!!) for "OpenSSL" to list all the entries together. Starting with my financial accounts in Banking, Investments, and other categories, I changed each password, one-by-one.

It took about an hour, but who out there without a password management database can say they reset all their key accounts so quickly?

Now I'm not going to stop there. I'll be reseting some passwords once a week until I hear this issue is cleared up. (Thus entering "OpenSSL" permanently in each account description.) It's going to take time to re-issue those cryptographic keys and for all the certificate authorities to synchronize. For these important accounts, I don't want to risk losing control.

In the end, if you are a user of web services like me, start using a password management database right now. (I would not use LastPass since it is online. However, according to their documentation, they use forward secrecy, which is currently the best way to do these things and would prevent any true information leak.)

Start by entering your most important accounts and change the passwords to random passwords. Gradually add those you don't use as frequently or are not as important. Then set a schedule for each important password to expire on a regular basis: every 2 months, 6 months, or whatever you think is best for the account. My financial accounts are reset every 3-6 months.

Hopefully webmasters, server admins, cryptographers, and anyone else involved in this ecosystem starts to realize that we have a broken internet. Encryption technologies are failing and need a serious upgrade. In some places, we don't even have encryption, and it's harming trust. It's up to the gatekeepers to keep us safe and to promote trust - we users can only do so much.