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You may have noticed me being a little scarce around the comments in the previous note on the Eschatonverse. And that it's been a little while since I blogged. There is a reason: my damned eyeballs.

One of the problems with being a novelist is that the career structure starts late; very few folks have anything substantial to say about the human condition before they hit thirty, and you're still a young writer until you pass 45. (Looking at my desk calendar, that gives me another two weeks or so ...)

About a year ago I noticed some changes to my vision. I've got, ahem, interesting eye issues to start with (myopia, some astigmatism, and different retinal problems in each eye) and for the past 12 months I've been fighting off galloping presbyopia. For the past couple of months it's been getting noticeably worse (I've been swapping reading glasses and distance glasses like crazy, and still having eyestrain-induced headaches) and since last week I've had a set of varifocals on order.

Anyway, this is really eating into my screen (and reading) time at present — the new lenses take a couple of weeks to make and ship — so "Books I will not write: #5" is going to have to wait for a couple of days.

I'm seriously considering a gigantic new monitor as well, but there's limited room on my desk (an odd Scandinavian fold-up writing desk from the 1970s, not a boring office table affair), and I am Not Interested in replacing it.

Meanwhile, if TruFocal lenses weren't so plug-ugly I'd be queuing up for a pair. And you know what? If they start selling them with an XGA or higher resolution built-in head-up display I might go for them anyway.



Rather than a huge monitor on your desk , how about a projector onto the wall above it?


Wouldn't work; you're still thinking of "desk" as "flat, table-like thing". This one is about one and a half metres high, wall-to-wall pigeon holes for correspondence and/or widgets, and two projecting shelves -- one for writing on, and one for storing stuff below it (in this case, the laptop that drives the monitor sitting on the upper shelf). The visible wall above the desk is (a) well above eye level, (b) obstructed by framed prints, in-trays, an angle-poise lamp and a couple of trophies, and (c) opposite a nearly floor-to-ceiling window. And the desk occupies the whole available width of the wall, from corner to doorway.

The other walls ... one is floor-to-ceiling full-width bookcases. One (the narrow one opposite the desk/door wall) is dominated by a large window which needs to be kept clear for (a) the shutters and (b) the filing cabinet (embedded in a niche between bookcase and corner of room), and the remaining long wall is one half floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the rest being occupied by a central heating radiator, the door opening, and a litter tray for a particularly cantankerous elderly cat who refuses to go anywhere else.

Trust me, there is nowhere in this office to point a projector or locate a 27" monitor without major remodelling.


A buddy of mine is projecting his movies on the ceiling. Not suitable for work, to be sure, but it might do for media consumption.

As for the TruFocal gear, I'd say, if you think they'll help, get yourself a pair. This is about your eyesight. You don't go refusing cures on aesthetical grounds - especially when you're most likely to only wear them around the house.

Off-topic tech note: The HTML tags are visible in the RSS feed; is that evolution or intelligent design? Might have something to do with the move to a new server.


I realise this is a bit of a drastic step, but have you ever experimented with screen readers? Not great for writing, but might be easier on the reading.


The HTML was my blooper -- this upgraded MT installation comes with a Rich Text editor, and my hand-typed HTML showed up when I first published the page because I forgot to tell it not to do that.

I'm going to hold off on the horrifyingly expensive TruFocal glasses until I've tried plain old-fashioned expensive varifocals first.


I'm pretty sure screen readers would drive me nuts.


It took me nearly a month to get used to my progressive lenses. After two years I still can't read for long with them — for sustained reading I have a separate pair of reading glasses.

More to the point, I'm going to be getting a set of computer glasses — single-focus lenses for the distance my computer screen is at. (It's a bit too far for the reading glasses, and I'm getting neck strain using the progressives). You might want to consider something similar for extended periods of staring at the screen.


Yeah, screen readers are awful, by design. Succinctly put.

Huge big 1080p TV on a swivelling wall mount?


FWIW, I actually think the TruFocal glasses are kinda awesome-looking and would suit your style nicely.


Charlie - they're you're $%&!^@ eyes. We aren't growing new ones yet. If a big monitor would help, figure out how to make it work, new desk or not. If glasses that make you look like the local Bilderburger conspiracy mimeographer/child molester would help, get them, even if you can't bring yourself to wear them out and about.

Just my two pfinnig.


They're your eyes, so do whatever you want. But my husband has a set of interesting eye problems, too, and realised long ago that aesthetics in glasses were waaaaay down on the list of priorities. Still, bear in mind we're all interested in your eyesight from purely selfish reasons: we want you to keep writing.




Would getting a 3d monitor and setting depth-of-field to infinity be either feasible or helpful?


In my ongoing quest for the One True Desk, informed by my need to both write and draw in the same (small) space, I've been looking at variable-height desks and wall-mounted monitors and treadmills and so on and so forth.

Suffice it to say, I haven't figured it out yet.

Still, you might benefit from one of the ideas I've been looking at: to just suspend my giant monitors from the wall or desk or SOMETHING with a heavy-duty monitor arm.

Ergotron seems to make the best mass-market ones, though I'm sure governments spend far more. I've seen the Ergotron LX series, and they're strong enough to support a very large screen indeed.

At the very least, it'd give you another variable to fine-tune in addition to resolution, glasses, chair distance, etc. That said, the biggest benefit is that you could--in theory--have a 24-to-30" monitor with a 200 sq. cm fixed footprint--wherever you chose that footprint to actually be.

Personally, my plan was to anchor it inside shelves, so that my monitor would stick out in front of a wall of books. (This, I am aware, marks me as a Designer: "...does it have to be a desk?")


I used to have fairly good sight, but aging and too much time in front of screens are gradually spoiling it.

What works for me (I use ubuntu linux usually on a 10" netbook most of the time, as I commute a lot): - hardware zoom to read smallish type with less stress (part of compiz stuff, not sure how to set it up on either windows or Mac) - color temperature adjustment to avoid the screen while "burning" my sight on low light (redshift for linux, they tell me f-lux for Windows or Mac)

I use the netbook because I can vary angles and distances continuously as I read or write, which makes for less stress in my back and eyes...

Hope this helps


Charlie- If I understand TruFocals correctly, you must manually change the depth settings every time you change from near to far or vice-versa. I really have problems believing this will be a fun way to live a visually satisfying life.

It took me about 2 months to get comfortable with my progressive lenses (available in about 12 million frame styles) and aside from when I walk down stairs, they have been my best friend for 10 years. Just sayin.


Is there any available floor space in your office? Would a large flat panel TV monitor on a caster based floor stand that could be shifted to gain access to .. whatever was behind it .. work?

I do sympathize with your situation. About 15 years ago I was given an ultimatum when my long use of contact lenses.. and they were state of the art gas permeable .. caught up with me and I was told that I HAD to give them up and wear glasses Or Else.

Happily laser surgery had by then reached the stage of development at which it could safely be shifted from being a high tech and comforting possibility to a reality and I went ahead with the treatment as performed by a top opthalmic surgeon in the local eye infirmary and though I did have to pay for it the arrangement at that time was that the bulk of my payment went to fund research. I've been very pleased with the results and I can still, at nearly 62 years of age read very fine print and have good at a distance and regularly test vision. Mind you I'm not smug about my fighter pilot grade eyesight but am always prepared for the worst.

It does look as if surgical treatment for your problem is entering the realm of safe usage but the ugly and expensive TruFocal glasses do appear to be a good option ..though frankly I just can't see why the design has to be so damn ugly.


Jamie, I've currently got a 20" Apple Cinema Display in portrait orientation in front of my nose. It's jolly nice, it displays well over an A4 page of type at full size -- lots of vertical space, which is important for a writer or reader (as opposed to a gamer or a YouTube monkey) -- and more importantly, has a matte finish so it doesn't reflect sunlight from the window behind me.

If I thought a bigger monitor would help, I'd buy one instantly.


The HTML was my blooper -- this upgraded MT installation comes with a Rich Text editor, and my hand-typed HTML showed up when I first published the page because I forgot to tell it not to do that.

Worse than that - it's had it for a while now, but when we upgraded it kindly ignored our previous preference setting.


Middle age means bifocals and a hernia. Welcome to your checklist


What, are your cats laughing at the TruFocals? Get a pair and leave them in the office.

As Stephen Hawking has shown, you can write multiple best sellers, so long as your eyes work and you have technical backup for the rest. Therefore, having a fully functional visual system should trump every other shiny tech upgrade.

Good luck, and hope the glasses arrive soon.


Dr. Evil solution:

Mount one or more large screen displays from gas-shock controlled swivel arms which are themselves vertically adjustable and on stanchions mounted in the ceiling; e.g. Apple 27"/30" displays on swivel arms mounted to the bottom of some periscopes. The big problem is cord management. I've seen spiraled power cables, though mostly on height adjustable dining room light fixtures. Don't know if there is an equivalent for HDMI or DisplayPort cables.

Extra Evil-Credit: motorize the raising/lowering mechanism.


My Xmas present near the end of 2009 was two new pairrs of eyeglasses, one optimized for writing at the computer, and reading; the other for driving and face-to-face human interaction. So we both worry about vision, though your problems are more acure than mine. It is not feasble to say: "Jorge Luis Borges and John Milton got along just fine." Or that Due to Euler's prolific output, even after he went blind, there are a great number of theorems that are know by the name "Euler's theorem." Or that there have been some great novels that were good novels that were dictated.

"Writer Earle Stanley Gardner, who originated and wrote the Perry Mason series of books, dictated a major portion of his material. The story goes to that Gardner originally wrote his stories on a manual typewriter until his fingers bled. Seeking a better method, he turned to dictating the stories into a tape recorder and having secretaries transcribe the material into print. At one time he had nine secretaries transcribing at one time. He was a very prolific writer."

I hope the very best for you.


Charlie -

Sorry if I got a bit vehement. Probably exposing more than a bit of my own personal paranoias. I'm a career geek and stare at monitors probably 10-12 hours a day and am profoundly aware of how my vision has slipped over time. (Winston Smith had rats, I have my eyes.)

I wish your eyes the best, for the obvious reasons, and as someone sort of said earlier, we all want many, many more pages out of you. And I hate trying to listen to podcasts.


Your solution is probably incompatible with the structure of this 187 year old grade one listed building (not to mention the false ceiling in my office, fitted 30-40 years ago and not designed to support the weight of a honking great monitor). Solutions that require me to move house and/or file for planning permission to modify the architecture are sub-optimal.


Trust me, there's nothing like nearly going blind in one eye when you're 24 -- and discovering serious retinopathy in the other eye at the same time -- to make you paranoid about eyesight. That, and the "stare at monitors probably 10-12 hours a day" goes for me, too.


Charlie, you've probably already seen this:

Also, a friend of mine who works on contact lens design stumbled by accident onto a design for multifocal lenses that in trials appear to work pretty much from reading distance to infinity. They're still experimental (and the IP is evil, as usual) and you may not be happy with sticking things in your eyes, but if you're interested let me know offline and I'll put you in touch. No promises, but it might help.


That new Israeli technique sounds really interesting. Alas, though, contact lenses are right out -- I can't stick things in my eyes.


I remember hearing a while back about a cunning trick you can do using laser projectors to project images directly onto the retina. The cunning part is that the beam is sufficiently thin that the lens in the cornea causes it to deflect, not go out of focus, so with care you can project sharp images onto the retina regardless of the state of the lens. I have no idea whether this ever actually proved practical, but as a 12+-hour-a-day computer professional with poor eyesight, I too am interested in a proper solution... at least until proper mind/machine interfaces turn up.

Also, isn't presbyopia an optical condition where one is unable to see bishops?


I've been doing the "staring at monitors 10-12 hours a day" thing for the last 30+ years; it hasn't exactly been good for my eyes, either. Just my own experience, but I started using varifocal lenses more than 10 years ago; each time I change prescription it takes 3 or 4 days to adjust, sometimes as long as a week, but that's all. The adjustment to plastic lenses in my eyes as a result of cataract surgery was more drastic.

I'd recommend the varifocal lenses for other than sedentary use; if you want the Truefocal, get a pair to use in the office, and switch to varifocal when you go out, especially if you're driving. The big advantage of varifocal is the ability to switch focus rapidly, something you need if you're glancing down at the car's dashboard and then looking back at the road. Also very useful for window-shopping on the high street while still being able to look up and see oncoming pedestrians.

One relatively expensive solution for your display would be to get a 27 inch iMac; its footprint, even with the keyboard just below it, will be no deeper than a laptop. That should give you enough screen to do a full page on one side; it might be possible to rotate the iMac to portrait mode in which case you could use a smaller version, though that's not something I've tried.


Have you considered the Barbara Cartland option? Simply relax on a chaise-longe in a smoking jacket with a jug of G and T by your side while dictating to a secretary...


using laser projectors to project images directly onto the retina

Somehow the thought of shining a laser into the eyes makes me cringe.

It'd be interesting to see a steampunk mod of those TruFocal glasses.


I've got the 20" on its side, awaiting the delivery of a VESA stand next Tuesday (I hope) -- the Mac-to-VESA adapter plate is already fitted.

I don't much like the idea of a 27" iMac; I'd still need a laptop for long/serious travel, and riding herd on multiple machines is losing its appeal.

I was thinking about buying an in-house Mac Mini server -- with OSX Server on board -- and a new laptop in 2011, but it's more likely I'll end up with a Time Capsule for backup and some extra shit running on the colo server that hosts this blog. The money saved could then go on a monitor for the laptop (when docked) ... or better still, not go anywhere.

I'm not really a gamer. Unless Apple pulls out all the stops on the Macbook Air refresh, I'm liable to end up with a 13" Macbook Pro (the cheaper 2.4GHz model) to replace the 2yo 15" Macbook Pro (which is a bit too heavy for travel, and has shit battery life compared to the new unibodies). I don't do a lot of creative writing when on the road anyway ...


An interesting thing about the 27" iMac is that you can plug one of the laptops into it, and use it as a monitor.


Yes, and it's only a few hundred quid pricier than a 27" monitor ...

But I don't need an iMac and a laptop, and the headaches of keeping them both synchronised. Thanks to the brain-dead policy of requiring iOS devices to sync with only one iTunes library at a time, I really need a single machine to act as an iHub. And it makes more sense for it to be a portable (with a desktop monitor) than for it to be a full-on desktop.

(The iOS/iTunes sync policy has effectively cost Apple a Macintosh sale here.)


David Given said, "Also, isn't presbyopia an optical condition where one is unable to see bishops?"

And here I thought it was the inability to recognize bishops... But that's another post.


I didn't have any trouble with the other parts of the progressives, but the reading part is at the bottom and I don't read down there. When I do read, I do it for a good length of time, so I have reading glasses for both the recliner and the bed. I have computer glasses here, too. I can afford all those because I used Zenni. I know there are other companies in China, and most of the American glasses are made in China, just sold here.


If those TruFocal glasses came in brass they'd be nicely steampunk. :)


One advantage of the Mac Mini server idea is that it shouldn't be too hard to set up the server to push updates to any other Mac you've got, so keeping multiple machines in synch wouldn't be as much of a headache as if you had to update them manually.


Sorry to hear about your eye problems - I hope your vision gets better. The TruFocals sound like good thing to have around as a spare, especially when your prescription is changing. I think they might even look good on you.

The medium-large portrait orientation monitor was what I was going to suggest, but I see you're already using one, and my backup idea of using an articulated wall-mount spring arm has already been declared impractical, so I can't think of anything better, but I always have less-practical ideas - how about a big fold-away "Brazil"-style Fresnel lens in front of the monitor?


Beethoven blogs and tweets about deafness, were he alive today. But kept creating beauty.

In some ways Charles Stross is akin to Beethoven: taken as a Romantic for his emotionally intense art, analyzing leaders ("Eroica" formerly "Napoleon"), wise in work of Masters from the Past, hard to perform or imitate, and pushing the known forms beyond their limits.


Matthew B. Tepper comments via facebook, with a link to wikipedia about this, which has a photo of the document. So I stand corrected, Ludwig van might not be blogging and tweeting about this. Charles Stross is more Open Source than Beethoven, and I again thank him for being so honest and open about his situation.

The Heiligenstadt Testament is a letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven to his brothers Carl and Johann at Heiligenstadt (today part of Vienna) on 6 October 1802.

It reflects his despair over his increasing deafness and his desire to overcome his physical and emotional ailments in order to complete his artistic destiny. Beethoven kept the document hidden among his private papers for the rest of his life, and probably never showed it to anyone. It was discovered in March 1827, after Beethoven's death, by Anton Schindler and Stephan von Breuning, who had it published the following October.


@ 16:

Charlie- If I understand TruFocals correctly, you must manually change the depth settings every time you change from near to far or vice-versa. I really have problems believing this will be a fun way to live a visually satisfying life.

Well see, that's why there's an optional foot pedal that goes with them . . .


Some sort of floorstand that can support a heavy monitor and doesn't interfere with the desk might be a decent solution.

There are some innovative solutions produced by dual boxing gamers who want to run six monitors at once.

45: 29 "Also, isn't presbyopia an optical condition where one is unable to see bishops?


- I just knew there was a reason why this Church of Scotland boy was rubbish at Chess! ;-) Various - Ok, I've got nothing more helpful for Charlie than "stick at it" and find a good optician that you can work with (and I imagine you've already been trying this for several years).

I'd be very interested (read: I am very nosey) to see a pic of your desk area arrangement.


Okay, you asked ... turns out I have some 22 month old snaps in my archives.

Here's the desk. (Note that the iMac has been replaced by a 20" monitor in portrait orientation.)

Here's the wall to the immediate left of my chair when I'm sitting in front of the desk:

Here's the wall opposite the desk (there's a big sash window behind the shutters; note the filing cabinet wedged between bookcase and far wall: the sofa is cut off below and in front of the filing cabinet):

And there's the back half of the other wall (the wall to the left of the bookcase is covered by a central heating radiator; to the left of the printer there's a cat's litter box, and a doorway):

Note that, if anything, all bookcases are now less full of kipple and more full of books.


Charlie @ 2 And, one presumes, nesting-places for the Felines ..... One of ours has started trying to bounce: onto-desk-onto thin monitor-onto-tower-onto-top-of-tall-built-in cupboard ARRGH! The other (unspeakably cute) one just sits on my left hand, and holds the mouse down!


The two Hairy Overlords are around 15 years old. And one of them has arthritis. They have difficulty bouncing onto the sofa, never mind the tops of the bookcases.

(This is probably a good thing for my sanity.)


Thanks for the pics. Some months ago somewhere (BoingBoing?) there was a link to an photo essay on SF writers workspaces - yours seems to be much more cluttered and mundane - I like that.

Nice to see that even professional SF writers a. don't have enough shelf space for putting all the books, b. use the "stack it, if space is limited" method, c. live with cable spaghetti and d. use cheap but functionaly Swedish products like the Bekvem stool.


and I thought most offices were bad!

Charlie it looks like you're really trying to make life hard for yourself, I'd go mental with such a teensy space dedicated to my life's work.

While thats a cool desk I'd say it's really inadequate for doing a lot of work on a computer. Why not use it elsewhere in the house for another purpose and get yourself something with a bit more workspace? Three 20-22" monitor in prttrait orientation is what you need.

Really, you deserve better than this.


My vision is fairly bad, 20/300 in one eye, 20/700 in the other plus astigmatism. Progressive lenses work well for me as a general purpose pair, but I use a single focus prescription at the computer.

What I've found is that I wear the first pair when I'm outside and the second when I'm indoors. This results in less eyestrain indoors. In previous pairs I've made the indoor pair progressive as well, which is really useful; somehow I missed it last time.

I poked things in my eyes for over 20 years (hard contacts). I went in for the first appointment to do Lasik surgery and halfway through realized I was terrified, complete surprise. My understanding of Lasik is that it only corrects for one distance--if you have trouble focusing over the full range, you still will but with a shift in the sweet spot. You'll still need glasses.



re: laser eye surgery

I know many senior physicists in the field of laser theory due to family connections, and though many wear glasses, none of them consider laser eye surgery to be an acceptable option at this stage in the technology. I'm not saying it's unsafe, just that I've noticed that those who know most about the field stay well away.

Dictation - that makes me think of Charlie sitting pool-side. "Front and Centre!" "Okay. 500 pages, the Elephant Man was Jack The Ripper. Told from the pov of Springheel Jack. Type it up and send it to Tor"...


Laser physicist, or laser physician? Because the laser physicist I know wouldn't assume he knows about eye surgery.


I'm slightly younger than you, looking at a screen for less time per day, but 18 months into using varifocals and on my second pair already. I'm making sure that the website I work on are Accessible with an A, because I want to be using the internet in 20 years time. I also curse software companies that don't pay attention to the "large fonts" setting in Windows. I don't know if it's different in the Apple universe.


Robin, the room's 16 feet long and 10 feet wide. It only looks small because there are 18 feet (by width) of floor-to-ceiling bookcases in it.

The sofa is as much my workspace as the desk -- at least, when it's not occupied by cats it's occupied by self plus (laptop or iPad or book).

Also, you seem to be assuming there's a lot of room elsewhere in the house. Hint: this is the UK, where floor space prices are roughly comparable to Japan. I don't have a spare quarter million (pounds, not dollars) to spend on somewhere substantially bigger and I'm not prepared to move beyond walking distance of the centre of a capital city.


And the hypothetical "big hoose" would mean moving from the New (or maybe Old) Town out to someplace like, say, Murrayfield (and hence further from bank, post office and shops) too?


Physics. But very serious physics, including the principal of Imperial College, two former presidents of the Optical Society of America, someone who I think is the head of Livermore, the head of physics at Rochester NY, a bunch of Poles who now work in Oxford... all major players in laser theory.

I'd guess that if anybody knows the score they do.

Note: but I'm not claiming I know the score - I'm a bit of a bum, never finished my degree, let alone a doctorate, either by producing original research or by learning how to mend monkeys...


Yes, exactly.

I've got a big, airy New Town flat -- which in American terms seems to mean "average sized 3 bed apartment", but in UK terms is "sprawling and spacious". I live in the middle of a world heritage site in a capital city, with great local amenities. I like being here.

Unfortunately the next step up in this part of the world would be a town house, which would cost £0.5-1.1M (because there's a yawning chasm in the market between "decent new town flat" and "town house" -- most of the latter seem to have been bought by law firms and turned into prestige offices).


Indeed. If anyone's in any doubt about this, I don't actually live in Edinburgh, but could tell from what he's said roughly where Charlie lives, and most of Scotland has a vague idea of Edinburgh property prices.

There's the sort of flat he's presently in, "little boxes made of ticky tacky" that all look just the same and are miles from anywhere interesting or useful (shopping development, railway station airport) for the same sort of money, big houses (usefully more square footage, probably another bedroom and/or public room) a mile or so from shops etc, and then there's "New Town" town houses, and if any of those could be bought for living in rather than for running your lawyer/architects/estate agency (British for realtor) out of would cost upwards of £1000000-00 (one million pounds).


The few comments here about dictation have me (slightly) perturbed.

Oz author John Birmingham had a similar 'workspace' blog discussion in September of 09. Major difference in this case was a broken wrist vs. eyesight as a detriment to a professional writer bound to a keyboard and monitor for many hours. This happened during editing of his most recent novel, of course.

Birmo eventually found decent Mac friendly dictation software, but commented on the difference in the words that exit his mouth rather than his fingers. (

Over the last year it has been noted that he now has a different style in his work when dictated rather than typed, and he has noted that a simple idea can come out slightly differently in each medium.

I'd be more than a little sad to see anything untoward get between our gracious host's brain and the printed page. I don't really have any decent ideas, other than a roster for us all to stand by the desk and hold a 27" cinema display in place.

I am prepared to do my part to ensure that these signature Strossian sentences stay safe from sinister software speech synthesis.


Just make a custom stand and place it behind your desk like i did


My eyeballs! They're melting!


Nice EvE rig you have.

Dual screens are "common" these days, but triple?


I have the same eyeball constraints. Found the bifocals really problematic because the ideal focal length is at such a small range of lens and below the midline, my neck hurt terribly at the end of the day from holding my head up in an unnatural position to see through the lower part of the glasses. Single vision computer glasses are MUCH better for me. As to the presbyopia, get used to it -- it's a occupational hazzard.

I finished Trade of Queens this weekend. I guess we're not finished, eh? Too many plot lines unanswered. Still wish you'd put some of the original plot outline elements in.


A lot of multiboxers use a dual computer rig with two screens on one PC and broadcasting software to share the mouse and keyboard so that you get what amounts to a really big desktop.

It really makes a difference.

Charlie I have seen you previous comments re your living space so I wasn't assuming you had plenty of space. I've lived in London most of my adult life and floorspace is at a premium there too.

Everyone has their own priorities - I need space to put down documents, laptops, screens, cups of tea, and still need to be able wave my arms around without knocking anything over so a 10x18 room lined with shelves would make me feel pretty squashed.


There's plenty of room in my office; it's the equivalent of four or five cubicles in Dilbertland, plus storage. However, I didn't photograph it with a wide-angle lens, which sets the standard we're used to evaluating rooms by (because all estate agents and hotels use 'em to make their accommodation look bigger).

If I want more space in the room, all I have to do (hah!) is (a) dispose of the futon in the next room along (library/guest bedroom), (b) move the small sofa out of my office and (c) replace the sofa with something more compact -- a reclining armchair perhaps, or a futon. (It's "small" only insofar as it seats two people -- it's actually quite deep, and nearly doubles as a spare bed.)


Beware that rapid vision changes are a symptom of diabetes, which is easy to diagnose and treat. You may already know whether you have diabetes, so this may not be immediately useful information.

(This would have more utility as a personal email than as a forum post, but I don't know how to send you personal email. I won't take offense if you discard this post during moderation.)


I do not have diabetes. Trust me on this. (I'm aware of the symptoms, too.)


Charlie! Your office is larger than our bedroom! I doubt I have much useful to say about optimal spatial organization and furniture placement, save for this: our printers rest on filing cabinets and shelves behind the monitors on the desk. They're not inaccessible to maintenance (paper, toner, ink) and just about as available for use, but they're hidden from view and not on the floor. OTOH, we divorced desky things from where the computer rests. The computer is an appliance that is built into a really big, really minimal table, with a keyboard rest.

Looking at the desk - it can't take a VESA clamp - a stand (which you chose) is definitely a better way to go.

Oh, this conversation was about the care and feeding of eyeballs - I have nothing useful to add aside from private remonstrations about the cost of replacement lenses, and periodic musings about the possible acquisition of wire spectacles.


The photos of your office certainly answer my question .." Is there any available floor space in your office? "

And there I was thinking that the only problem might be a cat bed or two.


I've been told Contacts can be better for some visual problems & that you get used to them. But I share your aversion to them. In school playing (American) Football my glasses would sometimes get my nose bloody. I was quite a Spectacle.:) You may be amused by SFBC selling a combo of Saturn's Children & "Midnight Never Come" an Elizabethan Political Fairy Fantasy! How they go together I don't know, maybe it's inspired cross-marketing?


New type of glasses that may be of interest to you:

It involves engraving the surface of a standard lens with a grid of 25 near-circular structures each 2 millimetres across and containing two concentric rings. The engraved rings are just a few hundred micrometres wide and a micrometre deep. "The exact number and size of the sets will change from one lens to another," depending on its size and shape, says Zalevsky.

The rings shift the phase of the light waves passing through the lens, leading to patterns of both constructive and destructive interference. Using a computer model to calculate how changes in the diameter and position of the rings alter the pattern, Zalevsky came up with a design that creates a channel of constructive interference perpendicular to the lens through each of the 25 structures. Within these channels, light from both near and distant objects is in perfect focus.


While I'm waiting for the Fuller Memorandum to arrive via UPS, I'll toss in my 2 cents worth on Lasik...

Had incredibly bad vision (20/400 20/700) before I had Lasik surgery, after Lasik surgery (20/20 20/30)- no glasses!, about 3 years after Lasik surgery my vision began to go again, and I'm back in glasses (20/50 20/60) but at least they are not the coke bottle lenses I wore when I was younger.

Aside #1: The pictures of the amount of books you have reminds me of how my rooms used to look. All my books are now boxed awaiting my completion of a reading room in the basement. The wife gets ticked off if I have bookshelves against every bare space of wall in the house.

Aside #2: Came across this gem entitled "How to cut carbon emissions" produced by a UK firm...

Don't let your kids watch this, as it does contain violent scenes of people blowing up.


Apparently the TruFocals design requires circular lenses. There's an alternate approach based on liquid crystal diffraction patterns, it switches between two fixed focus settings but should work with any lens shape. The prototype presumably wasn't going for stylishness though: . Does anyone know if that's available in an actual product?

Everybody, we need to buy more of Charlie's books. Check out this home studio:


Anyone promoting or talking about Lasik surgery should be very aware of one fact that nobody's mentioned so far.

If such surgery is performed on one or both of your eyes, the eyes involved will then be NOT treatable for cataracts via lens replacement surgery given the current state of the art. And if you live long enough you WILL develop cataracts.

Incidentally, I'd recommend elective lens replacement -- when done by a good surgeon -- ahead of Lasik. I've run into old USAF pilots who've done that, are really happy with it, and who may get the lenses replaced every few years when they feel it's appropriate. For most folks, however, it can be hard to get this done via either the standard US medical schemes or the National Health.

Mark Pontin


@ Kyle P - no doubt you've seen Terry Pratchett's six-monitor setup.


Your secretary (used for computers) is bigger than mine (used for meds).


I would second the suggestion of finding a suitable display mount/arm, there're a lot of models these days, just find one that fits your setup. My workspace layout is actually similar to yours, except I got an office desk which can mount one display arm with a 27'' on it and two display poles. I got another 19'' mounted on the bookshelf to the left for watching tv.

For reading, how about audiobooks? These days I would only read a novel if it has audio version. Also use Workrave to force periodical rest may help.


Mark @78:



Nope that's the first I've seen it, but it looks nifty. I'm using 2 22" screens and a 19" on one box that supports SLI so no kvm or synergy unless i have my laptop setup next to the desk. I'm in an apartment and cant drill into the wall so i built that stand because the amount of desk space taken by the desk stands left no room. I am looking at replacing the 19" with a 30" and turning the 2 22" screens 90°, EVE takes a lot of space at times and I can't get spanning to work.


I can definitely relate to both your eyesight and your workspace problems. I have the seemingly inevitable presbyopia of a fifty something person as well as some long range focus problems. I went from bifocals which I hated to progrssives that were possibly even worse to my current set-up in which I choose to juggle four different pairs of glasses. One pair for driving, tuned exactly to cope with the long range and still enable me to read the speedometer. One for reading, at the correction and focal length for a book held in my hands. One for computer work, tuned again at the right focal length and degree of correction for my fairly ergonomic setup. The last pair are prescription sunglasses for those brief few weeks of summer we get up here. My computer set-up is remarkably similiar to yours with the same space limitations and almost as many books, albeit with less cats. I use a PC not a Mac and have two Samsung 22" monitors side-by-side in portrait mode which is a bit of a squeeze but works well for what I do. I can't make my space any better so I got my optician to make my vision work for my space. So far I'm very happy with the results.


Broken link Kyle, shame I would have liked to see that.


A pity the pair of small monitors on a spectacle frame don't come in sufficient resolution yet.

Or would virtuality appal?


@ Bored optometrist and occasional # 82

If I'm wrong about Lasik surgery being not easily compatible with cataract lens replacement surgery, the situation has changed since 2008 when four different eye surgeons -- at two different institutions, of which one was UC Berkeley -- advised me this was so.

Here's what happened to me. I experienced an early cataract (I was in my forties) that totally destroyed usable vision in my right eye (yes, I'd stared at monitor sceens for 20 hours daily) because that cataract was centrally placed. And so I had the lens replaced in that eye.

Simultaneously, since I was getting my vision fixed up, I figured I'd ask about Lasik for my left eye. All four doctors I talked to said that this was a terrible idea. They all told me that a cataract was likely to develop in my other eye over time. (Indeed, it turned out that it already had begun to do so, though in this case it's not centrally placed and probably won't bother me for a decade or three.)

Lasik surgery is a procedure that permanently changes the cornea's shape. In other words, it's a scar that alters the whole eyeball's shape. The four doctors I had all insisted that such an alteration in the eye's shape will make fitting a new lens into my left eye -- and keeping it there -- difficult when the time comes.

Yes, I'm aware of recent products, like the ReStor lenses -- -- for which the company claims that patients who've previously had Lasik surgery MAY be "acceptable candidates for ReSTOR® implantation as long as their eyes are in good health. After a thorough examination and consultation, your surgeon will be able to better advise you if you qualify for the ReSTOR ® implant."

Sorry, but it's my vision and other folks can be the early adopters in this case. Also, things turned out really well for me: I'm in my fifties and I can see better at a distance than most people in their teens with my right eye, while with my (myopic) left I can read without glasses.


Three screens and only one EVE client?

Granted, I have two screens and mostly run only one - IRC, Vent, OOCalc and Firefox go on the other one...


I'm sure one of us could reskin your blog so that it has nice big readable text. Supposedly serif typefaces are easier to read for body text. And solid black on pure white may or may not be the best configuration for your eyes.


"Grade One Listed Building"

Four very scary words, indeed, sir. There probably is a way to create a trussed frame inside your office that might support a folding/hinged mechanism (think traditional attic step ladders) that can take a VESA mount or swivel arm, but that almost certainly means having scoot all the furniture away from the walls about five to ten inches to fit the frame in. Leo Laporte of This Week in Tech ( did something like this in his office/studio because it is in a historically sensitive house. (It may be almost a hundred years old, which is impressive, at least to the average American.)


Perhaps a VESA mount attached to a length of 25~30mm steel tube, clamped in a bicycle repair stand would give you some more options for monitor placement? Hope thenew glasses work out for you.


Ah yes, the eyes. This Friday I was the lucky recipient of:

in my right eye. Bloody hurts. Turns out I won the genetic lottery and it part of the layer pealed of by itself. Doc said to scape it off and I get to stuff my right eye with antibiotic for a week. Four times a day. Also it hurt like hell for the next day.

At OP. post: Given how my productivity plummeted with my right eye taking a dump on me and my left eye complaining about the extra work load, you have my symphaty.


I suspect this won't work. I'm short-sighted, and there is no way I could focus on anything that close to my eyes. Given Charlie's condition, it would be an even bigger problem.

I can imagine ways round it with various lenses and mirrors to create the actual image at a usable distance, but we are now talking about something elaborate, heavy, and probably cantankerous wrt adjustments. Not something one would want to wear for long periods while hard at work.

J Homes


(It may be almost a hundred years old, which is impressive, at least to the average American.)

This one sees in its bicentennial in another decade plus change. None of the doorways are true rectangles (as opposed to some form or another of parallelogram or trapezoid), all the floors are bowed towards the centre ... but in those days (pre-Queen Victoria) they believed in over-engineering buildings: we've got foot-thick stone walls and six inch thick oak joists.

So it may be old enough to be entirely non-Euclidian, but it's not very fragile.


John Birmingham: funny. He Died With a Falafel In His Hand is a minor classic.

My office space: a laptop on the dinner table, haunted by zombies - like so.


"So it may be old enough to be entirely non-Euclidian..."

[cue weird music]

Enter H. P. Lovecraft...


As you say, scary words indeed. Which poses another problem wrt the false ceiling. Depending on whether or not the false ceiling pre-dates the listing, it may be a "required element of the fabric", or possibly an "unauthorised modification to the fabric".

I'm entirely serious here; I know of one G2 listed building that has faux-leaded "diamond pattern" uPVC windows and is required to keep them because they were there when it was listed, and at least 2 others which have their interiors whitewashed and are required to leave/keep them that way for the same reason.


Luckily they only listed the exterior. We're not supposed to mess with the interior walls or change the function of any rooms, but as the lowered ceiling dates to 1970 or thereabouts I could probably get consent to remove it very easily (just pitch the application in terms of restoring the room to its original condition).

My main grumble is that the Georgian sash windows, though lovely, are really bad at keeping the heat in. These days it's possible to get cellular double glazing units that slot in to replace the panes of glass in the sash frames, but those are only approved for grade II or III listed buildings at present. Luckily wooden shutters are part of the original spec, and curtains aren't a problem, but last winter got a wee bit chilly ...



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 3, 2010 11:57 AM.

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