Fluidstance’s The Level: Crucial or Overrated?

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.

Prelude

I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course, I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized the packaging containing The Level had been stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!

I’ve been using it for the past few months few years. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet/garage/ attic.

It Is All About Me

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.
Fluidstance’s The Level (Natural Maple), available for $289.

Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.

I have a number and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.

Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The Presentation

Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.

Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (I suppose to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc.). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).

Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they aren’t just saying a popular slogan to gain customers. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.

I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.

The Quality

The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.

You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a  few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it (several years ago!).

Does It Work?

We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.

I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experience significant flare-ups in my chronic pain if I remain in any one position too long.1In the past the pain would get bad after as little as ten or fifteen minutes. Doing extended work while seated could be debilitating. Thankfully these days it isn’t nearly as severe. It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.

Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.2I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.

These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.3Sometimes this still occurs, but I find myself going through cyclical patterns where sometimes I can stand exclusively for multiple days and other times I just want to sit (not because of pain, more my legs feel tired.

The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.

Found Out the Hard Way

When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t meant to be an aerobic experience, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet4Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.5Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.

Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion  – use carpet!

Price

The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices. More recently they’ve released The Plane Cloud which comes at $189 but even this isn’t a spur of the moment purchase.

Is It Worth the Price?

As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:

  1. Why would I buy this product? Is it because it is new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
  2. How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is spectacular advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
  3. Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
  4. Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?

What About Inexpensive Competitor Products?

If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:

  1. What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
  2. What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
  3. What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?

Use the Middle of the Road Approach

Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying multiple over time. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will soon need replacement or repairs.

For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hour each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!

2019 Update

I’m still using the Fluidstance most days, sometimes for the entire day, sometimes swapping back and forth between sitting and standing every few hours and I still love it. The only change I’d love to see at some point is an (optional) increased angle to require more effort balancing and increase movement overall. Using it for a few years I’ve mastered my balance at the current Level angle but would love to up the ante a bit to keep my body moving/working throughout the day.

Conclusion

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much6Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor. but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.

The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?

Spotify: Free, Unlimited, Streaming Music.

Spotify Logo
Spotify Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been using Spotify for a number of months now and I really like it. I’ve used a number of services over the years to listen to music –
Pandora, Napster (once it became legitimate), and Grooveshark…now I mainly use Spotify.

Spotify has a tremendously large library of music available – somewhere in the ballpark of 15 million tracks I believe. It includes most popular artists as well as many small, independent artists. You can’t always find the latest releases – but overall, I find 95% of the music I’m looking for on Spotify.

I love how Spotify integrates into Facebook so that others can know what I’m listening to (if you want to share that info.), allows third party developers to create unique apps to extend Spotify’s built-in functionality, the quick and easy sharing of songs with others, and the relatively sporadic ads in the free version.

Go get it now, its free. What do you have to lose?

That said, I do have a few “ideas” for how Spotify could enhance its service. Namely:

  1. I’m unaware of any way in which one can “favorite” an artist. This is easy to do with individual tracks, but oftentimes I don’t want to say, “hey, I love every track on this album” – I really want to say, “hey, I love this artist…so I’ll like pretty much by ’em.”
  2. I’d love the ability to tag songs rather than just assigning them to categories. This would create a flexible base around which I could query Spotify to find songs for the specific topic I’m thinking of. In my case, I use songs to facilitate discussions – in church, in youth ministry, etc. Sometimes I’m looking for that song I can’t remember about death, love, God, anxiety, or whatever – being able to tag songs specifically would be awesome.
  3. I’d like a counter on each song. How many times have I listened to this song? Sometimes I favorite songs and I love them – but I don’t want to listen to them again right now…its likely that if I haven’t listened to it more than a few times, I’d like to hear it again. By giving a counter I could easily decide which of my favorite songs to listen to…hmmm, that also makes me think it might be nice to have a “last played” column.
  4. The last feature is an important one. I love music discovery – but I also have my stream integrated with Facebook and I want whatever songs appear in my list to be “safe” songs. I don’t use most discovery services at this juncture (other than Pandora) b/c too often one ends up with an “unsafe” song with explicit language. This is an unpleasant surprise in a work environment and for those who might be following your stream on Facebook. I know for many this may not be a concern, but it is for me, and I think it would be fairly easy to exclude explicit songs from being included in music discovery (this could be an option, rather than forcing it on everyone).

VPSLand – Windows/Linux VPS Hosting Review.

I run a number of hobby sites – like this one. But unlike this one, many of my older hobby sites run on Windows. I’ve been using WebSecureStores (a shared host) and am fairly happy with them – but they seem to have stopped all activity on the feature enhancement front – going even so far as not to update their websites in the last year or two or add support for the .NET Framework 3.0 or 3.5. These are big no-no’s and make we wonder, “Is this company still alive? Will my servers suddenly disappear one day?” So I’ve been looking for a new home. Before WebSecureStores I used WebStrikeSolutions – and they were awesome – but I left them because they didn’t include MSSQL in their default packages – and still don’t. Most recently I tried DiscountASP.NET where I am still hosting FreeWargamer – but they also don’t offer MSSQL without an additional cost ($10/mo. per database – if it was just $10/mo, I’d be fine – but I have several smaller databases, and no I don’t want to combine them all into one big database).

Before leaving Collages.net I was working a lot with different virtualization technologies – and I love them – and believe they are the way of the future. So I researched various VPS providers over at WebHostingTalk. I finally decided on VPSLand, despite some bad reviews, because of their AMAZING prices. On 7/26/08 I purchased a Windows-EZ Value or Busines plan from them (I don’t recall which). In any case, at the minimum I received 1280 MB RAM 400 GB Bandwidth, and so on – running Windows Server 2003 64-bit. AWESOME!

Unfortunately, I had not had previous experience with Parallels/SWSoft’s Virtuozzo and have since decided I absolutely hate it. I had a number of issues over a period of a few weeks, but knew a few where Virtuozzo’s fault and the rest I decided to give VPSLand the benefit of the doubt on. For those who aren’t familiar with Virtuozzo, it works differently from most virtualization technologies. Rather than completely isolating the virtual OS instance it shares the instance across all slices. The practical result of this is that you can’t make modifications to the Windows core (e.g. apply Windows Updates). Call this the network engineer in me – but when I get a VPS I want full control to upgrade/patch/install/replace however I see fit.

Next step – research alternative VPS solutions. It seems a majority of VPS providers utilize either Virtuozzo or its open source companion, so it took me a while to find ones supporting Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V, or VMWare’s ESX. In the end I decided to stay with VPSLand and use their Xen VPS.

Double the price. I purchased one of VPSLand’s WindowsXL-1024 Xen VPS plans. It included 1024 MB of RAM and 1000 GB bandwidth. Not bad, certainly a step up – though I would have taken less bandwidth and less HD space in exchange for a lower price. No matter, I’m now paying $79.99/mo. Well, for over double the price I expect some good service and a good system. Now lets follow the timeline:

  • Sept. 3rd, 2008 – Order places for Xen VPS around 3 P.M. EST.
  • Sept. 4th, 2008 – Account information received around 7:50 P.M. EST.
  • Sept. 4th, 2008 – At 10:22 P.M. EST I submit a ticket reporting that while I can connect to the VPS I cannot ping out to any remote server (e.g. Google, Yahoo).
  • Sept. 5th, 2008 – At 4:27 A.M. EST I receive a ticket reporting that this issue has been resolved. The support tech. informs me not to apply Windows Updates, that they take care of this on their VPS.
  • Sept. 5th, 2008 – At 11:09 A.M. EST I send a response asking why I can’t make Windows Updates since this is a Xen VPS not a Virtuozzo VPS. Also asking for an explanation on what caused the technical issue with my VPS.
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 9:52 A.M. EST I receive a response from a different technician that yes, the first technician was incorrect and I can install patches and then a cryptic answer to my question about the cause/resolution of the issue in the first place (something about restarting a network service on my VPS – strange since I rebooted the entire server multiple times).
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 12:35 P.M. EST I submit a new ticket. I’ve just noticed that my VPS is down – entirely. No ability to visit the sites, no ability to RDC into the server. No ability to access the web based control panel. This is a complete service outage.
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 2:41 P.M. EST I receive a response to my ticket – over two hours later. They are “escalating” my ticket to the “reboot queue.” Two hours and they are just now recycling the server?
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 3:47 P.M. EST I write again on the same ticket, “I am still down. The server came up briefly according to a pinging service but went back down again shortly thereafter. Please give me a status update.”
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 11:10 P.M. EST I wrote again on the same ticket, “I would love to get an occasional update – say once every two hours or so to let me know what is happening. Right now it kind of feels like you guys just gave up on fixing my VPS. This has been a horrible starting experience with VPSLand. Please inform me of the status – I am still down – nearly twelve hours after initially reporting this outage. How can I even place a minor website on a server that is going to be this unstable? And where support does not respond?”
  • Sept. 7th, 2008 – At 3:37 P.M. EST as I write this post my VPS is still down, I have received no further communication from VPSLand and it has been well over 24 hours since my VPS went down.
  • UPDATE: Sept. 7th, 2008 – I submit a new ticket in a desperate attempt for attention. Title is, “SERVER DOWN FOR 24+ HOURS!”
  • UPDATE: Sept. 7th, 2008 – At 9:23 P.M. EST receive a response to my original ticket that this issue is being escalated to their senior admins (after well-over 24 hours straight downtime) and that they will give me status updates.
  • UPDATE: Sept. 8th, 2008 – At 12:01 A.M. EST receive a note informing me VPS has been restored, also that they are giving me a credit for one month free service and apologize for the delay. Issue report is a failed drive (this is why one uses RAID – at least 1, perhaps 5 or 6).

At this juncture I feel the neglect is simply insane. “VPSLAND.com’s Virtual Private Servers are perfect for Businesses or Individuals looking for an affordable dedicated server alternative with full Root/Administrator privileges.” I’m running hobby sites folks – and this isn’t working for me?

So here are my thoughts at this juncture:

  1. Talk to Us. People are very understanding when they know that there is a problem and that a company is working to resolve this problem. My problem is I don’t know if anyone is even working on this problem. Sure, the ticket is open – but is anyone home?
  2. Better SLA. I should have looked at their SLA more closely. While they offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee their SLA more carefully defines this. If you have less than 99.9% in a single month they compensate at 100% if it is 89.9% or below – that’s an astonishing 72+/- hours in a single month (yes, that was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor). The SLA should look like: Below 98% 100% credit plus a 100% refund (e.g. you pay me).
  3. How Ya Gonna Change? Why does it take hours to get a reply to a ticket? Why is there no phone number to call in emergencies? Do you need to hire more techs.? Do so. Jump the prices to do so? Okay. But this is unbelievable. Automatic migrations? Manual migrations? A must!

Maybe something at this point will change…and if it does I will inform you. But at this juncture – my personal opinion is – don’t ever EVER ever utilize VPSLand for anything (yah, grandma, not even your hobby site on knitting!).

Anyone out there have a good Windows VPS service (not using Virtuozzo) that wants a new client? I’m good PR if you treat me well (and bad if you don’t).

P.S. I’m softer on companies that haven’t been in business for a long time (e.g. startups). I know the difficulties experienced, but VPSLand or its antecedent have been running since 1994.