This week's Boston Macworld Expo has many purposes, but an important one is the opportunity to buy geek goodies.
Adam and I have purchased our share of winners and losers over the years, and - in the interest of helping attendees avoid costly mistakes - I thought I'd share our experiences. We've generally purchased devices that might help prevent and alleviate repetitive stress injuries. Although we are both quite functional at the moment, we've had our share of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
Gotta Hand It to Them -- Adam made our first Expo purchase - a pair of Handeze gloves. Made from a stretchy material, these finger-less gloves claim to provide support, circulation, and massage to wearers' hands and wrists. As Adam reported in TidBITS-199, the gloves turned around his carpal tunnel syndrome and enabled him to meet the deadline for the first edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. Subsequently, my pair made an enormous difference in alleviating my tendonitis. Although new to the computer scene then, Handeze gloves are common now, and the $20 gamble paid off for us. Want your own pair? Check out a Handeze distributor's Web site (where you can find the important sizing information), or use our primary source, TidBITS sponsor APS (the sizing chart is in APS catalogs as well). APS Technologies -- 800/443-4199 -- <email@example.com>
No Wrist for the Weary -- More recently, Adam purchased a Comfort Point, a movable wrist wrest that uses velcro to attach to a mouse or trackball. This device cradles your wrist on a "contour paddle," a padded, curvy platform that can be set to several different positions. The Comfort Point's goal is to help you control the mouse using your arm or fingers, but not your wrist. Although Adam and I still have minor RSI flare ups, neither of us found the device compelling; it cluttered our desks and made moving between the keyboard and mouse difficult. Still, at $20 (show special) it was worth a try, and it still strikes me as a valid concept. Comfort Point -- 310/305-8931 -- 800/429-3746 -- 310/305-8731 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Run for Cover -- Like the character Cat in the Red Dwarf TV show, I'm attracted to shiny things. I couldn't resist spending a mere $5 for a translucent, purple plastic mouse cover. The cover snugs around the top and sides of my mouse and has a hole for the cord. It features raised ribs above the palm rest and little nubs over the mouse button. The ribs and nubs are supposed to increase circulation and afford better mousing precision. I haven't noticed any change in circulation or precision, but I've certainly received $5 worth of enjoyment from the cover. Unfortunately, I've lost the name of the company who sold the cover.
Keyboarding up with the Joneses -- One of my pet peeves is that extended keyboards extend to the right, forcing right-handers to reach an extra few inches to reach the mouse. I'd rather have directional and numeric keys at the left and keep the mouse closer at hand. As such, at Macworld Expo, January 1996, I was looking for a keyboard that would meet this requirement. I found it in a Datadesk TrackBoard keyboard, which had not only cool purple function keys, but also a trackball mounted at its right side, exactly where I thought it should be. I gleefully ordered the keyboard at the show special price, complete with an optional, separate ADB numeric keypad. The keyboard arrived promptly, but soon had to be exchanged - despite extensive troubleshooting, devices on the ADB bus tended to be inoperable after booting up, and - if I did manage to restart with everything working - the trackball tended to get stuck such that the mouse pointer would move in only one direction.
Unfortunately, after a few weeks, the new keyboard acted up just as the old one had. Given that the fourth edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh had taken over my life, the second keyboard spent six months lying on the floor, next to the first keyboard that I'd never sent back. Feeling negligent, I contacted Datadesk again. They were nice about the six month delay, and promised to try again. I returned the first two keyboards; they sent a third. The third arrived promptly, I hooked it up, and started typing. It worked okay, but triggered my tendonitis. Discouraged, I disconnected it. Someday, I'll try it again. In the meantime, our extended Macintosh family has many members, and the keyboard is ensconced on the Power Mac 7100 that runs our search engine. Datadesk -- 206/842-5480 -- 206/842-9219 (fax)
Smaller than a Bread Box -- The Nada-Chair is a cloth contraption that rolls up into a small bundle but expands into a wearable chair. Adam bought it for me, thinking it might ease some lower back strain that I'd been experiencing. Unfortunately, I found the straps for attaching it so cumbersome that I ended up not using it. The chair worked fine for sitting, but when I stood up, I had to remove the Nada-Chair or walk around dangling limply drooping cloth straps. Perhaps if we attended more outdoor sports events or concerts, I'd try it again. I should note that TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg owns a Nada-Chair and thinks it's worth the work to get in and out of it. Nada-Concepts -- 800/722-2587 -- 612/644-4466 -- 612/644-4488 (fax) -- <email@example.com>
Bagging a Deal -- Adam's most recent purchase was a large PowerBook bag from Tenba with optional backpack-style straps. Adam knew he wanted a bag big enough to hold a PowerBook, as well as our QuickTake camera, plus a snarl of cables and power adapters. He thought the back pack straps would be handy for mad dashes through airports, and he was absolutely correct. The bag has been a great success. Tenba -- 212/966-1013 -- 212/334-0841 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bigger than a Bread Box -- Last summer, I decided to put aside my totally unrealistic expectation that most furniture should cost less than $100. It was time to buy an expensive, super-ergonomic desk chair. Because my feet often get tired at Macworld Expo, I figured I could combine resting my feet with chair shopping, and maybe track down a chair at the Expo.
I found the ZACKBACK International booth, and later purchased a ZACKBACK posture chair, in a dreamy "Seashore" color. This $700 to $800 chair supports the thoracic portion of the back (just below the shoulders) and the sacral portion (at hip level), not the customary lumbar area. I was attracted to the ZACKBACK because I've always scooted lumbar supports as far down as they go, into the sacral region, because they feel more comfortable that way.
In supporting the sacral and thoracic back regions, the ZACKBACK positions you in what its creator, physical therapist Dennis Zacharkow, thinks is the best sitting posture - straight and open, so body fluids circulate and nerves remain unpinched. When my chair arrived, it required some easily accomplished assembly, and then had to be adjusted. The adjustments were simple, but required a helper since I couldn't simultaneously sit in the chair and adjust it. Once the chair was adjusted, it fit me just right, but Adam, who is much taller, finds it almost impossible to sit in.
I experienced a whiplash injury several years ago, and one thing I especially like about the chair is the way it puts my neck into a comfortable position. The chair hasn't cured my whiplash or caused all RSI problems to disappear, but I can sit in it comfortably for longer than I could in any previous desk chair, and definitely longer than I should. ZACKBACK International -- 800/748-8464 -- 507/252-9293 -- 507/252-5150 (fax) -- <email@example.com>
Plan and Wait -- Given the upbeat flow of Macworld Expo and the consumer feeding frenzy it engenders, attendees can easily blow out their budgets (one year, Apple had a denim jacket to die for, which I nearly succumbed to). Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, I recommend the two-tiered approach of plan and wait.
First, make a spending plan. Attend the show with a firm handle on how much money you want to spend. (My first show was right after college, and my budget was a big fat zero.) Consider which products might be best purchased or seriously examined at the show and which will be easier to purchase through a different venue. If self-analysis reveals that you and your money tend to be easily separated, consider leaving your checkbook and credit cards behind when you actually attend the show. Most specials are available for a few days after the show, and many deals are also offered by way of flyers with mail-in forms.
When evaluating a product for purchase at the show, plan carefully. Consider how you'll use the product in your everyday life. For instance, the Nada-Chair would have been fine if I sat still all day, but it didn't work well for moving around frequently. With software, issues like compatibility and RAM requirements are worth exploring before you purchase. Don't get sucked into the glamor of a product (like, say, a book about Java) and forget to consider whether you have time to use it.
After the planning is over, it's time to wait. Wait until the end of the day to buy anything larger than a CD-ROM. Waiting means you have time to reconsider impulse buys, and you won't have to drag your purchase around all day. Many vendors at the show are happy to ship your purchases for you, saving the trouble of schlepping them home. Waiting until the final day of the show may turn up even cheaper prices. Better yet, and especially if you've already spent much of your budgeted Expo funds, wait until after the show. I'm not saying you should pass up special, now-or-never offers, but if there's no rush to buy, then wait. Waiting gives you more time to evaluate purchases on a rational basis or even provide time for that oh-so-necessary bug fix update.