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The evolution of my budget standing desk

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The evolution of my budget standing desk

It took me over two years to recognize that I needed a standing desk.

When I started working here at The Verge, one of the first tech toys I got to play with was a desk that you could raise and lower to a standing or sitting position. It was the first time I’d actually tried one, and until then, I had always been a little skeptical about the idea of standing desks. How could you do your work while you’re standing there shifting from foot to foot?

However, I soon lost my skepticism. I found that spending some time on my feet kept me from getting restless and helped keep me alert in the later hours of the afternoon. I not only got used to it but also truly liked having it.

Then, of course, came the pandemic. And I was back in my home office.

At first, at least for me, it wasn’t a big deal. I had spent several years working from the small second bedroom in our house; I could do it again. But slowly, I realized that I had become used to having that standing desk available. I missed it.

I briefly considered purchasing a new desk for the office. But the one that several people at The Verge recommended, the Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk, usually runs around $600 or so, and I had other expenses to deal with. Also, those desks tend to be rather large, and my office is already overcrowded with shelves, filing cabinets, and a variety of miscellaneous furniture and tech that would take several months to go through. Finally, I like my little wooden desk — it has family history — and I didn’t want to either discard it or condemn it to a lonely storage existence. So I began to see if I could come up with a kludge that would give me what amounted to a standing desk.

Here’s what I’ve tried, what didn’t work, and what eventually did.

A pile of books

A laptop sitting on books

My first attempt: sitting my laptop on a pile of books.

For the most part, I work just using my laptop; it’s not hooked into a larger monitor or a keyboard. My first thought was to simply have available a pile of large books that I could move on or off the desk as I needed them.

I piled up several of my larger books and put my laptop on top of them. At first, I thought I’d resolved the issue; the books were large enough to hold the laptop reasonably steady. But the pile of books was also, well, heavy, and every time I wanted to stand and work, I had to move them — which may have been a good upper body exercise but wasn’t exactly an encouragement to switch from sitting at my desk. And since I have my phone on a stand next to my laptop and do tend to refer to it occasionally, it was an inconvenience to have to stare down from the pile of books to where it sat on my desk.

So the pile of books didn’t work.

A bookcase shelf

Laptop sitting on a metal shelf

The shelf was the perfect height to type on — but it still wasn’t a comfortable space.

One inspiration for creating a do-it-yourself standing desk came from Verge co-worker Kaitlin Hatton, who, back in April of 2020, converted a bookcase into a standing desk. I thought that was a really nice idea, and although I don’t have the nifty Target bookcase that she had used, I do have a rather ugly but very serviceable metal shelving unit that stands near my desk and usually holds a printer, a load of old hard drives, a bag of unused greeting cards, a bunch of out-of-date laptops that I haven’t yet been able to get around to recycling, and a variety of other odds and ends that have accumulated over the years.

So I cleared off a shelf, moved the trash and recycling baskets that were on the floor next to it, and gave it a try as a standing desk.

This was a better experience than my pile of books. There was plenty of space on the shelf for my phone and a notebook and pen (in case I needed to take any notes). It was the perfect height for me to stand and type. And since it was an open bookcase, I could even arrange for a separate cable to plug my notebook in.

However, it was not very convenient to have to move my notebook / phone / other materials back and forth from the shelf to the desk. To really work for me, I would have had to move the entire six-foot-high shelf so that it was next to my desk, and the current setup of my office didn’t really allow for that.

And I had no idea what to do with the things I’d cleared off that shelf to make a workspace. (Although anyone looking at the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated would justifiably wonder if having to get rid of a lot of what was there might not be a good thing.)

So while this was a possibility, it wasn’t an ideal solution. I was going to have to bite the bullet and either buy a new desk or find another alternative.

Standing desk converter

Laptop on desk converter on desk.

I couldn’t sit and type at this height.

I finally decided to try a standing desk converter. There are a variety of these devices out there; they basically sit on top of your current desk and create an additional work surface that can be raised or lowered.

These devices vary widely, from extremely simple ones that will raise to a single height to surfaces that can be manually moved up and down to your desired height and motorized converters that just need the push of a button.

I weighed my needs, the size of my desk, and my budget; scoured the internet for reviews; and settled on a manual desk converter from a company called Vivo that uses a side handle to move the surface up or down. Like all the converters I found (except the simplest ones), it added about four inches to the height of the desk at its lowest level, but it also had a keyboard tray that would hang to the level of the desk. I didn’t need the keyboard tray (because I currently don’t use a separate keyboard), but the tray was a separate piece that could be added or removed as needed. So I ordered the Vivo.

When it came, the desk converter worked like a charm. Since I wasn’t going to bother with the keyboard tray, I simply attached four rubber feet to the four corners of the converter’s support, cleared my desk, and put it on top. The handle at the top let me smoothly raise the surface to exactly the right height, and while I needed to push down slightly to lower it, it worked exactly as I needed it to. Except for one thing.

I had wondered whether the four extra inches that the converter (at its lowest) added to the height of my desk might make it difficult to use when I was seated. Unfortunately, I was right — I had trouble using my laptop in a seated position. And at a weight of about 20 or so pounds, I wasn’t going to be moving the Vivo on and off the desktop every time I needed it.

I began to wonder whether there was any real answer short of investing in a new desk.

Desk converter plus TV table

Luckily, I found a solution.

I happen to have an old TV table that, for the last couple of years, has been just holding books and an out-of-date, no-longer-used monitor and whose surface is a few inches lower than that of my desk. I removed the monitor, replaced it with the desk converter, and moved the table so it was positioned at a right angle to my desk. (You can see the results in the top photo in this article.)

Success! Now, whenever I want to spend some time standing rather than sitting, I just shift my computer over to the Vivo on the TV table, adjust the height (if I need to), and work away. I want to sit again? Just move my laptop back to the desk. I can even adjust the Vivo so that the laptop camera is a better height for Zoom sessions.

It’s probable that this arrangement could change — I may decide to get a display and keyboard and rearrange the workspace to accommodate them — but for now, I can sit or stand while I work with comfort and confidence.

Photography by Barbara Krasnoff / The Verge

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Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are getting a built-in VPN at no extra cost

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Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are getting a built-in VPN at no extra cost
Google Pixel 7 Pro hands on front Snow



(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Users of the Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro devices will be able to secure their data without the need to pay for an additional Android VPN after the company said it would be including its Google One VPN service at no extra cost. 

The move will make the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro the first smartphones to include a free VPN connection. 

The offer is restricted to just some countries, though – and what’s more, some data won’t be secured inside the VPN tunnel.  

Peace of mind when you connect online ✨Later this year, #Pixel7 and 7 Pro will be the only phones with a VPN by Google One—at no extra cost.¹#MadeByGoogle¹See image for more info pic.twitter.com/P7lzyoMdekOctober 6, 2022

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Google Pixel 7 VPN

Despite the aforementioned limits, the big tech giant assures that the VPN software won’t associate users’ app and browsing data with users’ accounts. 

Google One VPN typically costs around $10 per month as part of the company’s Premium One plan, which also comes with a 2TB of cloud storage on top. 

This decision is the latest move to bring Google’s mobile data security to the next level. Not too long ago, the company made Google One VPN available also for iOS devices, and also introduced the option of having an always-on VPN across its latest smartphones. 

Google promises that its secure VPN software will shield your phone against hackers on unsecure networks, like public Wi-Fi. It will also hide your IP address so that third parties won’t be able to track your location.

Shorter for virtual private network, a VPN is exactly the tool you want to shield your sensitive data as it masks your real location and encrypts all your data in transit. Beside privacy, it can allow you to bypass geo-restrictions and other online blocks. 

Chiara is a multimedia journalist, with a special eye for latest trends and issues in cybersecurity. She is a Staff Writer at Future with a focus on VPNs. She mainly writes news and features about data privacy, online censorship and digital rights for TechRadar, Tom’s Guide and T3. With a passion for digital storytelling in all its forms, she also loves photography, video making and podcasting. Originally from Milan in Italy, she is now based in Bristol, UK, since 2018.

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The Steam Deck dock is finally here and will ship faster than you think

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The Steam Deck dock is finally here and will ship faster than you think
a steam deck placed in a steam deck dock



(Image credit: Valve)

After months of waiting and delays, Valve has finally announced that the Steam Deck dock is available for purchase on its official site.

Not only that but, according to Valve, the dock will ship out in an incredibly fast one to two weeks, which pairs with the fact that the Steam Deck itself is now shipping with no wait time (not to mention that it’s incredibly easy to set up). The port selection is pretty solid as well, with the dock featuring three USB-A 3.1 gen 1 ports, one Ethernet port, a DisplayPort 1.4, and an HDMI 2.0 port. And for its power supply, it uses a USB-C passthrough delivery.

A Steam Deck dock will run you $90 (around £81 / AU$140), which is a bit steeper than most third-party options on the market right now. But for those waiting it out for an official product until now, price most likely will not be an issue.

Is it worth buying? 

Considering that even Steam Decks themselves are shipping without a queue and that the dock has such a quick turnaround to delivery, it seems that the supply chain issues that had been gripping Valve are loosening considerably.

However, the deck itself is far from perfect. Because of the fact that it uses USB-C for the display port, a third-party USB-C dock that uses its own power supply and video out will output the display of the official dock. 

And as mentioned before, the price of the official Steam Deck dock is steeper than many third-party options on the market, meaning that those who are on a budget might pass this product up in favor of a lower-priced one.

There are also some bugs that Valve is working on fixing at this time, including one involving compatibility with LG displays. According to the FAQ, if the “Docking Station is connected via HDMI, sleep/wake can result in visual noise.”

It might be worth waiting for Valve to work out the kinks of its dock before investing in one. And while you’re waiting, research other options that might better suit your needs.

Allisa has been freelancing at TechRadar for nine months before joining as a Computing Staff Writer. She mainly covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, and does reviews and featured articles for the site. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.

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Why doesn’t Bash’s `set -e` do what I expected?

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Why doesn’t set -e (or set -o errexit, or trap ERR) do what I expected?

set -e was an attempt to add “automatic error detection” to the shell. Its goal was to cause the shell to abort any time an error occurred, so you don’t have to put || exit 1 after each important command. This does not work well in practice.

The goal of automatic error detection is a noble one, but it requires the ability to tell when an error actually occurred. In modern high-level languages, most tasks are performed by using the language’s builtin commands or features. The language knows whether (for example) you tried to divide by zero, or open a file that you can’t open, and so on. It can take action based on this knowledge.

But in the shell, most of the tasks you actually care about are done by external programs. The shell can’t tell whether an external program encountered something that it considers an error — and even if it could, it wouldn’t know whether the error is an important one, worthy of aborting the entire program, or whether it should carry on.

The only information conveyed to the shell by the external program is an exit status — by convention, 0 for success, and non-zero for “some kind of error”. The developers of the original Bourne shell decided that they would create a feature that would allow the shell to check the exit status of every command that it runs, and abort if one of them returns non-zero. Thus, set -e was born.

But many commands return non-zero even when there wasn’t an error. For example,

if [ -d /foo ]; then ...; else ...; fi

If the directory doesn’t exist, the [ command returns non-zero. Clearly we don’t want to abort when that happens — our script wants to handle that in the else part. So the shell implementors made a bunch of special rules, like “commands that are part of an if test are immune”, and “commands in a pipeline, other than the last one, are immune”.

These rules are extremely convoluted, and they still fail to catch even some remarkably simple cases. Even worse, the rules change from one Bash version to another, as Bash attempts to track the extremely slippery POSIX definition of this “feature”. When a SubShell is involved, it gets worse still — the behavior changes depending on whether Bash is invoked in POSIX mode. Another wiki has a page that covers this in more detail. Be sure to check the caveats.

A reference comparing behavior across various historical shells also exists.

Story time

Consider this allegory, originally posted to bug-bash:

Once upon a time, a man with a dirty lab coat and long, uncombed hair
showed up at the town police station, demanding to see the chief of
police.  "I've done it!" he exclaimed.  "I've built the perfect
criminal-catching robot!"

The police chief was skeptical, but decided that it might be worth
the time to see what the man had invented.  Also, he secretly thought,
it might be a somewhat unwise move to completely alienate the mad
scientist and his army of hunter robots.

So, the man explained to the police chief how his invention could tell
the difference between a criminal and law-abiding citizen using a
series of heuristics.  "It's especially good at spotting recently
escaped prisoners!" he said.  "Guaranteed non-lethal restraints!"

Frowning and increasingly skeptical, the police chief nevertheless
allowed the man to demonstrate one robot for a week.  They decided that
the robot should patrol around the jail.  Sure enough, there was a
jailbreak a few days later, and an inmate digging up through the
ground outside of the prison facility was grabbed by the robot and
carried back inside the prison.

The surprised police chief allowed the robot to patrol a wider area.
The next day, the chief received an angry call from the zookeeper.
It seems the robot had cut through the bars of one of the animal cages,
grabbed the animal, and delivered it to the prison.

The chief confronted the robot's inventor, who asked what animal it
was.  "A zebra," replied the police chief.  The man slapped his head and
exclaimed, "Curses!  It was fooled by the black and white stripes!
I shall have to recalibrate!"  And so the man set about rewriting the
robot's code.  Black and white stripes would indicate an escaped
inmate UNLESS the inmate had more than two legs.  Then it should be
left alone.

The robot was redeployed with the updated code, and seemed to be
operating well enough for a few days.  Then on Saturday, a mob of
children in soccer clothing, followed by their parents, descended
on the police station.  After the chaos subsided, the chief was told
that the robot had absconded with the referee right in the middle of
a soccer game.

Scowling, the chief reported this to the scientist, who performed a
second calibration.  Black and white stripes would indicate an escaped
inmate UNLESS the inmate had more than two legs OR had a whistle on
a necklace.

Despite the second calibration, the police chief declared that the robot
would no longer be allowed to operate in his town.  However, the news
of the robot had spread, and requests from many larger cities were
pouring in.  The inventor made dozens more robots, and shipped them off
to eager police stations around the nation.  Every time a robot grabbed
something that wasn't an escaped inmate, the scientist was consulted,
and the robot was recalibrated.

Unfortunately, the inventor was just one man, and he didn't have the
time or the resources to recalibrate EVERY robot whenever one of them
went awry.  The robot in Shangri-La was recalibrated not to grab a
grave-digger working on a cold winter night while wearing a ski mask,
and the robot in Xanadu was recalibrated not to capture a black and
white television set that showed a movie about a prison break, and so
on.  But the robot in Xanadu would still grab grave-diggers with ski
masks (which it turns out was not common due to Xanadu's warmer climate),
and the robot in Shangri-La was still a menace to old televisions (of
which there were very few, the people of Shangri-La being on the average
more wealthy than those of Xanadu).

So, after a few years, there were different revisions of the
criminal-catching robot in most of the major cities.  In some places,
a clever criminal could avoid capture by wearing a whistle on a string
around the neck.  In others, one would be well-advised not to wear orange
clothing in certain rural areas, no matter how close to the Harvest
Festival it was, unless one also wore the traditional black triangular
eye-paint of the Pumpkin King.

Many people thought, "This is lunacy!"  But others thought the robots
did more good than harm, all things considered, and so in some places
the robots are used, while in other places they are shunned.

The end.

Exercises

Or, “so you think set -e is OK, huh?”

Exercise 1: why doesn’t this example print anything?

   1 
   2 set -e
   3 i=0
   4 let i++
   5 echo "i is $i"

Exercise 2: why does this one sometimes appear to work? In which versions of bash does it work, and in which versions does it fail?

   1 
   2 set -e
   3 i=0
   4 ((i++))
   5 echo "i is $i"

Exercise 3: why aren’t these two scripts identical?

   1 
   2 set -e
   3 test -d nosuchdir && echo no dir
   4 echo survived
   1 
   2 set -e
   3 f() { test -d nosuchdir && echo no dir; }
   4 f
   5 echo survived

Exercise 4: why aren’t these two scripts identical?

   1 set -e
   2 f() { test -d nosuchdir && echo no dir; }
   3 f
   4 echo survived
   1 set -e
   2 f() { if test -d nosuchdir; then echo no dir; fi; }
   3 f
   4 echo survived

Exercise 5: under what conditions will this fail?

   1 set -e
   2 read -r foo < configfile

(Answers)

But wait, there’s more!

Even if you use expr(1) (which we do not recommend — use arithmetic expressions instead), you still run into the same problem:

   1 set -e
   2 foo=$(expr 1 - 1)
   3 
   4 echo survived

Subshells from command substitution unset set -e, however (unless inherit_errexit is set with Bash 4.4):

   1 set -e
   2 foo=$(expr 1 - 1; true)
   3 
   4 echo survived

Note that set -e is not unset for commands that are run asynchronously, for example with process substitution:

   1 set -e
   2 mapfile foo < <(true; echo foo)
   3 echo ${foo[-1]} 
   4 mapfile foo < <(false; echo foo)
   5 echo ${foo[-1]} 

Another pitfall associated with set -e occurs when you use commands that look like assignments but aren’t, such as export, declare, typeset or local.

   1 set -e
   2 f() { local var=$(somecommand that fails); }
   3 f    
   4 
   5 g() { local var; var=$(somecommand that fails); }
   6 g    

In function f, the exit status of somecommand is discarded. It won’t trigger the set -e because the exit status of local masks it (the assignment to the variable succeeds, so local returns status 0). In function g, the set -e is triggered because it uses a real assignment which returns the exit status of somecommand.

A particularly dangerous pitfall with set -e is combining functions with conditionals. The following snippets will not behave the same way:

   1 set -e
   2 f() { false; echo "This won't run, right?"; }
   3 f
   4 echo survived
   1 set -e
   2 f() { false; echo "This won't run, right?"; }
   3 if f; then  
   4     echo survived
   5 fi

As soon as a function is used as a conditional (in a list or with a conditional test or loop) set -e stops being applied within the function. This may not only cause code to unexpectedly start executing in the function but also change its return status!

Using Process substitution, the exit code is also discarded as it is not visible from the main script:

   1 set -e
   2 cat <(somecommand that fails)
   3 echo survived

Using a pipe makes no difference, as only the rightmost process is considered:

   1 set -e
   2 somecommand that fails | cat -
   3 echo survived

set -o pipefail is a workaround by returning the exit code of the first failed process:

   1 set -e -o pipefail
   2 failcmd1 | failcmd2 | cat -
   3 
   4 echo survived

though with pipefail in effect, code like this will sometimes cause an error, depending on whether the output of somecmd exceeds the size of the pipe buffer or not:

   1 set -e -o pipefail
   2 somecmd | head -n1
   3 
   4 echo survived

So-called strict mode

In the mid 2010s, some people decided that the combination of set -e, set -u and set -o pipefail should be used by default in all new shell scripts. They call this unofficial bash strict mode, and they claim that it “makes many classes of subtle bugs impossible” and that if you follow this policy, you will “spend much less time debugging, and also avoid having unexpected complications in production”.

As we’ve already seen in the exercises above, these claims are dubious at best. The behavior of set -e is quite unpredictable. If you choose to use it, you will have to be hyper-aware of all the false positives that can cause it to trigger, and work around them by “marking” every line that’s allowed to fail with something like ||true.

Conclusions

GreyCat‘s personal recommendation is simple: don’t use set -e. Add your own error checking instead.

rking’s personal recommendation is to go ahead and use set -e, but beware of possible gotchas. It has useful semantics, so to exclude it from the toolbox is to give into FUD.

geirha’s personal recommendation is to handle errors properly and not rely on the unreliable set -e.

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