NextDesk Terra Electronic Adjustable Height Desk Review

Since I spend a good chunk of my time hacking on SearchTempest and AutoTempest, and a good chunk of the rest of my time playing Starcraft II and such, I end up at my desk for a large part of the day. I decided it would be a good idea to get an adjustable sit/stand desk so I don’t spend that entire time sitting on my butt.

I did a bunch of research and ended up deciding on the Terra from NextDesks.com. I’ve come across some significant pros and cons regarding both the desk and the buying experience that weren’t mentioned in any of the (relatively few) reviews I found online, so I figured I’d share.

NextDesk Terra

 

First the good. It does what it’s supposed to do. I got the extended version (73″ across) and it’s large, but not at all unwieldy or unattractive. It raises and lowers quite quickly (apparently fastest available), and has three electronic presets. There are a number of color options available, and you can customize things like where you would like the controls to be, cable management options, keyboard tray or no, etc. There is a tiny shudder to the up and down motion, but I certainly wouldn’t worry about anything on the desk shifting. Essentially it does what it’s supposed to do well.

The cons primarily have to do with the buying and assembly experience, but there are a couple to do with the desk itself that I will mention first. The main one is that the height presets have to be held down while the desk is moving to the preset height. This is not the case with their main competitor, the GeekDesk Max. What is particularly irksome about it is that I explicitly asked their salesperson about this before purchasing the desk, because I know some other competitors do have preset buttons that need to be held down. He assured me that their presets do not need to be held, which is simply not true. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and say he just made an incorrect assumption, but since I’m making a rather expensive purchase based on his word, I expect better.

Now, the NextDesk does adjust height quite a bit quicker than the GeekDesk, but when you don’t have to hold the button you can spend the time moving your chair, standing up/sitting down, and getting back to what you were doing while the desk is doing its thing. Since that time is much shorter but essentially wasted with the Terra, it’s essentially a tie as far as which I’d prefer. However, the GeekDesk is almost half the price. (The presets are still useful though. It’s nice to set your heights then not thinking about it, rather than always fiddling with the height trying to find the level that feels right.)

The other thing I’ve found with the desk itself is that a small chunk (perhaps 1/4″ x 1/8″) of the surface coating has apparently flaked off at some point. The solid bamboo surface of this desk is something that’s supposed to set it apart from the competition, so you don’t like to see the finish disintegrating almost immediately. (I have no idea when it came off, but I certainly haven’t dropped anything on the desk or anything like that.)

One other thing to be aware of with the surface too is that its color appears significantly lighter in person than in the color swatches on their website (or even the physical ones they mail out). Obviously the website ones will depend on the calibration of your monitor, but even looking at the swatch they mailed with the desk, my “dark” surface looks much closer to the “medium” color swatch. (Although when I took a picture of the desk with the swatches on it, it looked closer to the “dark” swatch in the picture, which explains why they look that way!) So this certainly isn’t a knock or anything, just something to keep in mind – it will most likely appear lighter in person than you would expect from looking at the swatches.

Finally, the process of buying and then assembling the desk definitely had some stumbling points. The good first though – they shipped the desk very quickly, and it was packaged extremely well. Essentially no chance of damage during transport, and it shipped in two separate boxes (for the top and the frame), which made things a lot easier to manage since it’s obviously large and potentially unwieldy otherwise.

However, even aside from the misinformation about the presets, I found their support to be somewhat underwhelming. To start with, I asked a simple question about shipping costs (I’m in Canada, so it’s cross-border shipping). Several times my emails went days or even weeks with no answer, and eventually I just gave up on the email conversation and resorted to phone calls. (And then I was promised callbacks on specific days which never came, again requiring me to follow up later.) I also asked them where the controls are positioned because I planned to set my working area up to the right side of the desk and wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be in the way. They told me that I can have it wherever I want, but if it’s not specified they put it about 6 inches from the edge. That sounded perfect to me, so I didn’t specify a position when ordering. That was a mistake, as the desk arrived with the controls installed about 18″ from the edge instead (right where my leg wants to be). I drilled some new holes and moved it, but shouldn’t have had to.

Then of course there was the presets thing, and when I wrote to complain about that after receiving and assembling the desk, I never received a reply. (It’s been about 2 weeks now.) And finally, their instructions are extremely poor. Again this certainly isn’t a reason not to buy the desk, but if you do get one, definitely read through them a couple of times before getting started. There were a couple parts where I had to do some dis-assembly because something that had to be done in an earlier step wasn’t specified until later (or at all). For example, the two legs are interchangeable, but the cables that run out of them to the central control box cannot be adjusted once the legs are attached. So if you don’t pay attention to which way they’re going when you attach the legs, you’ll end up having to take the whole thing back apart to fix it. There were also a couple guess and check steps, like the initialization process: “Press the Down button once or twice, holding it down.” Uhh.. ok. (I pressed it twice, holding it down the second time. That didn’t work though, so I tried pressing it once, holding it down. Still nothing. So I unplugged the desk, plugged it back in, pressed and held once, and it worked. Instructions fail.)

So, if you’re looking for an adjustable-height sit/stand desk, this one IS worth a look. Just be extremely explicit about how you want things set up, and be aware that regardless of what they say, the presets do need to be held down. Personally I would prefer not to support a company that treats customers this way, but there is quite a lack of premium electronic height-adjustable desks out there at the moment. That said, the GeekDesk is certainly worth a look, as might be this NewHeights desk. The main reason I wrote that one off in my research initially was that the presets had to be held down…

Hope that helps! Are any of you using an adjustable desk already? (Or just a standing desk?) What do you figure a company’s response should be after misleading a customer like this (assuming it was a mistake)?

Update – July 2014:
I wanted to update this post, as I just had a really good experience with Priya at NextDesk customer support. I finally decided to see if I could get warranty support for the shuddering issue mentioned in the comments, since it seemed to be getting worse. The response from custom support email was instantaneous this time, and she took me through a set of calibration steps, then when that didn’t help, readily shipped me a new leg along with a return shipping label for the (presumably) defective one. It looks like the company may be maturing, which is great to see. Hopefully this new leg works out!

Update 2 – Septembar 2014
They seem to be trying hard, but so far the first replacement leg they sent me was also damaged, and the second was the wrong color. I also still haven’t received any shipping labels despite asking repeatedly, so I’ve got a growing collection of desk legs littering my office…

We Want Your Input on the New SearchTempest.com Results Page!

Oct. 29th/2012 UPDATE: After a few minor tweaks based on your suggestions, we have pushed these changes to the live site. Please let us know what you think via comment on this post or posting to our Facebook page.

Based on the feedback we have received from you, our lovely users, we have re-done the SearchTempest.com results page! We have made things simpler, easier to use, and more intuitive. You can still do everything you could on the old site, with some new stuff too, it’s just packaged now in a easier to read and understand, and nicer to look at, package.

The new site is not live yet and that’s because we wanted to get your feedback on it so we can make it the best it can be before we make it live. You can start playing around with it at Beta.SearchTempest.com and you can learn more about the changes made below. Have thoughts on what could be improved or just want to tell us how awesome you think it is? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

Changes

  • The first thing you will probably notice is that the “Separate Cities”, “All Cities Together”, and “Direct Results” tabs are gone. Instead, we have settled on two modes: “Combined Results” and “Direct Results”. “Direct Results” looks and acts just like it used to. Since “Separate Cities” and “All Cities Together” provided the same information, just displayed differently (the former sorting results by cities, the latter by individual results), we have put those two in the same mode, which we call “Combined Results”. You can switch between the old “Separate Cities” and “All Cities Together” modes by choosing how you want to sort the results from the “Sort by:” dropdown. Select “Distance”, “State”, or “City Size” to sort by city (“Separate Cities”); choose “Most Recent” or “Best Match” to sort by individual results (“All Cities Together”).
  • You will also notice that we got rid of the upper tabs as well. “Modify Search” can now be called from the “Full Search” button in the search bar and “Display Options” has become the “Preferences” link in the results page.
  • We have generally cleaned up the page to make it less cluttered and easier to take in the information you need and leave out the stuff you don’t.

Date Filter

We have also added a new feature that we have had many requests for, and that is the ability to filter the results by the dates they were posted. You will see a new field with the label “Within the last # days:”. Pretty self-explanatory, but if you put the number 2 in there, you will only get results that are max 2 days old. Pretty awesome, right?

Please check out the new site and let us know how we can make it better for you!

SearchTempest Update

As mentioned in recent posts, craigslist has been making some changes lately that we have had to adapt to. (We have no affiliation with craigslist at all, so we don’t get any warning or help from their end when they change something; we just have to figure it out.)

In the past, we allowed you to open results from multiple craigslist cities at once, all on the same page using ‘iframes’. A couple months back, CL added some code to their site to prevent their pages being opened in iframes, so we had to find a new way. As a result we developed two new results modes:

  • Separate Cities – Similar in appearance to our old setup, but inside each city ‘frame’, instead of a results page straight from craigslist, we showed results from a third-party provider called 3taps. 3taps is an ‘exchange data API’, which got craigslist listings from the google cache, so they did not have to actually scrape craigslist.

  • Direct Results – The goal of this mode was to preserve the straight-from-craigslist feature of the frames. Since we could no longer link to craigslist results pages in frames, instead we created an interface whereby they could be conveniently opened in new windows. Essentially we open up a small navigation window on the left, with links to craigslist results that open in a larger window on the right. Since both remain visible at the same time, it lets you conveniently flip through results from multiple cities.

Recently there has been another development. craigslist has apparently instructed google to stop caching their results. (Note, that doesn’t mean their results have been removed from google, just that google doesn’t store copies of entire craigslist pages.) This effectively cuts off 3taps’ source for craigslist data. For us, it meant we needed to find yet another new way to do the Separate Cities mode.

So, what we’re doing now is powering that mode with a Google Custom Search. Basically this allows us to customize a Google search so it only returns results from certain sites. So we take your search at SearchTempest, then send a request to google with your keywords, along with a set of sites to search based on the zip code, distance, and category you entered. Google returns a bunch of results fitting those parameters, which we display for you. When you click on one of the results links, it your browser opens that posting right at craigslist in a new window.

There are a couple downsides to this google-powered approach. The main ones are that it does not support filtering by price or displaying prices in the results, and that you can’t filter by ads with pictures. Also, preview images only work if the ad was created with embedded html images, not the standard craigslist pics. If you need those features, we suggest using the Direct Results mode mentioned above, which should do everything you need!

So in summary, the Separate Cities mode is now powered by Google. It’s probably the most convenient option for most people. If you find yourself missing those price or image filters though, or if you just want to get your results straight from the source, rather than via google, you should give the Direct Results mode a try.

Next thing on our agenda, thanks to user feedback, is simplifying the results page. We’re going to be removing a bunch of tabs, consolidating the Separate Cities and All Cities results modes into one (since they’re both now powered by Google), and just generally making everything a lot more straightforward. Hope to have that ready for you soon!

Code Compression

Was thinking recently about how any good code base tends to go through a continuous cycle of expansion and compression. (This thinking may have been inspired by the recent frantic development work on SearchTempest in the wake of craigslist blocking framing…) The ‘expansion’ part is the standard stuff. Building something new, adding features, even fixing bugs most of the time tends to involve writing more code, causing the code base to expand.

However, if you only expand and never compress, eventually you will inevitably end up with a giant pile of pasta.

It’s critical to occasionally go through your code and simplify. Trace through the logic and figure out how it can be improved. Look at places where procedural stuff could be made object-oriented. Even just strip out legacy crap that isn’t used anymore.

Of course, this can be difficult to justify. There are always higher priorities, and it’s tough to put a bunch of time into a project that, in the best case, has no immediate visible effect. (Especially if you happen to answer to a manager who hasn’t personally done much/any coding.) And that’s the best case. It’s ironic, but this process of cleaning up code can very well introduce new bugs. After all, it may involve making fairly significant structural changes to a code base that is by all appearances working just fine. (And those bugs tend to make people… irate. Don’t do something like this then go away for the weekend.)

So, why do we bother? Here’s a similar issue: why do we bother researching sources of renewable energy? It has always -so far- been cheaper to just stick with fossil fuels. That may well continue to be the case nearly until they run out, since the incremental cost of extracting a barrel of oil does not increase linearly with its scarcity. But if we wait until we run out of oil, or until we destroy our atmosphere burning coal, it’s too late.

Of course, the consequences of ugly code are rather less dramatic, but the analogy holds. If you wait long enough, eventually you will be forced to clean up your spaghetti code because you’ll get to the point where adding one more hack will break the camel’s back. You’ll have a feature to add, or a bug to fix, and it simply won’t be possible to shoehorn it into the existing morass. When that day comes, it is NOT a fun day to contemplate redesigning your whole code base. Especially if the bug you’re trying to fix happens to be a critical one.

On the other hand, when such a fateful day rolls around, a clean code base can be a truly beautiful thing. A little irony: the best thing about nice clean code is that it makes it really quick and easy to slap on an ugly hack. And when your site’s down and the hysterical emails are rolling in, that ugly hack that gets you running again can be a beautiful thing too.

Or more generally, by periodically cleaning up your code, you make your job a lot easier the rest of the time. Of course, you could try to just ‘do things right the first time’. But even without deadlines (which takes us into imaginary-land), it’s pretty difficult to always keep the entire big picture in mind while solving a specific problem. Of course you should still try to write nice, clean, extensible code whenever possible. Sometimes though, you still have to take a step back.

In the real world, the cleanup of a given module will likely be spurred by some other development, which is okay. For me at least, there’s no motivation to sit down for the express purpose of prettifying code. But when you’ve already dug into something a bit and you start to see avenues for improvement -and you’re not in an absolutely critical time crunch- go for it! (If you’re always in a critical time crunch, you’re doing it wrong. Or someone is.) It’s just like cleaning in real life actually. Ever go to pick up a dirty sock and end up doing all the laundry then cleaning the entire house? Do that with code! (If not, go vacuum something. I bet your partner/roommate/cat will appreciate it.)

Nice clean code is a beautiful thing, but it’s elusive; you can’t aim straight for it. What you can do is write fairly decent code, then occasionally compress it. Channel your inner Superman and squeeze that code coal into a precious diamond. (Ha! Tied those analogies together!)

If it ain’t broke, now’s a great time to fix it!

Performance Improvements

We’ve just finished some pretty major changes behind the scenes to improve performance from the new 3taps-powered ‘Separate Cities’ results. If all goes well, you shouldn’t see any difference… except for a much snappier site. If you do run into any new problems, please feel free to let us know, and we’ll take care of them asap!

Recent Changes

Craigslist Change

Craigslist (with whom we have no affiliation) recently made a change that prevents their pages from being loaded in ‘frames’. Frames are basically sub-windows within another page, like our default results mode at SearchTempest used to use. This caused several other search sites to simply shut down, but we made some changes and are still going strong.

Problems?

If you are having issues, please try the debugging steps in our FAQ. Then read on!

Changes to Separate Cities Mode

First, you will notice there are now three tabs near the top of the results page. The first, ‘Separate Cities’ is basically our default results mode from before, except that we have switched to getting the links to the craigslist results from a service called 3taps. It works essentially the same as before for now, although in the future it will allow us to do some cool new things like filtering by date and consolidating everything into one list rather than windows within windows.

The only issue at the moment is that 3taps didn’t quite have the capacity to handle all our traffic, so things can be a bit sluggish at times, especially between 5-7pm pacific time. They are working hard to ramp up, and this should be dealt with very soon. Also, in order to help with the slowdowns in the short term, currently only results from the past seven days are shown in this mode.

Update: 3taps added some new servers today, so we’re hoping this will be resolved. We may still have to do some tuning, but timeouts should now be seen much less frequently.

New Direct Results Mode

Now, for those of you who liked getting your results straight from craigslist, just more conveniently, we have also rushed to develop a new alternative that will let you keep doing just that! You’ll find it under the ‘Direct Results’ tab on the results page. Since we can no longer use frames, it basically opens a craigslist results window along with a little control window with links to easily flip between cities. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out in such a short time!

And of course, we still have the ‘All Cities Together’ mode, which remains a good option for quick searches across wide areas.

Summary

So basically, craigslist made a change, so we reacted to keep the site (hopefully!) as useful as ever. We are still dealing with that performance issue in the ‘Separate Cities’ results mode, but it should be 100% very soon. For now you might want to try searching outside the peak hours of 5-7 pacific if you find things are running slowly.

We also recommend you give all three results modes a try, using those tabs near the top of the results page: ‘Separate Cities’, ‘All Cities Together’, and ‘Direct Results’. We’ve found that different modes are more convenient for different types of searches, so there’s no right answer for everyone. Fortunately, it’s easy to quickly flip between them!

Feedback

Since we got all this out in such a rush, please do let us know about any difficulties you might be having. We will work to address them ASAP. Even if everything’s working great (and we certainly hope it is!) we want to hear your first impressions, and what you’d like to see in the future!

If you are having problems though, first try out these basic debugging steps. If those don’t work, please do contact us, but please be as specific as possible about what isn’t working. What results mode are you using, what’s the URL of your results page, etc. We need specific info about the problem to try and fix it!

You can comment here, check out the forum thread, or even just fire me an email. Thanks!

 

Browser Debugging

To the web developers: ever get an obscure error in one browser, so run the code in a different browser to see if it’s more helpful? Try it next time you get a head-scratcher. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just now Firefox was giving me “NetworkError 596”. To which I said, “Oh, of course!” ๐Ÿ™„ So I fired up Chrome, and it gave a much more helpful console message, helping me realize that I was accidentally trying to make a cross-domain JSON request instead of JSONp. Oops.

Anyway, I’ve found this technique handy for a bunch of things. Sometimes Firebug’s message is better. Even IE sometimes gives the most verbose errors. Just depends on what obscure problem you’ve run into!

Scavenger Hunt Update: craigslist is being changed to eBay

I know you’re all excited with our Scavenger Hunt coming up in a couple days. Initially the idea was that you guys would search for craigslist ads for the hunt, but after a letter from craigslist’s lawyers, we’ll be switching the hunt to eBay. You can still use SearchTempest to hunt for ads, but you can just go straight to eBay as well.

One of the benefits of doing the hunt on eBay is, since eBay archives ads forever, a screenshot of the ad will no longer be needed, just a link to the ad! That makes things a lot easier for all of us.

Other than those small changes, everything will be going ahead as scheduled. You can check out the revised Scavenger Hunt page and make sure to follow our Facebook for the category being posted at noon, PST, on May 1st!

$500 in prizes with SearchTempest Scavenger Hunts!

We’ve all found some weird things using SearchTempest. Over on Facebook, we’ve heard about people finding llamas, universal dentures, a case of rubber nipples… there’s a lot of weird stuff out there. But there’s also a ton of really cool stuff on there too! And that got us thinking…

Could we do a scavenger hunt for cool stuff using SearchTempest? Short answer: Of course we can.

On May 1st, we’re going to post on Facebook the category for our first ever SEARCHTEMPEST SCAVENGER HUNT! And of course there will be prizes, even if you’re just a voter.

Basically, we’ll post a category for the hunt, like “The coolest _____” or “The weirdest _____”. Then when you guys find something on eBay* that fits in that category, you’ll post it to Facebook and everyone votes for their favorites! There will be three different prizes given out:

First Prize of $250 goes to the person who posts the ad that gets the most likes. If you want, we’ll also put your name and link in the sidebar of the SearchTempest results page for a month!

Honorable Mention of $150 goes to the person who posts the best ad, as judged by the impeccable taste of the Tempest staff.

Bonus Prize of $100 goes to a random “liker” on the post we choose for Honorable Mention, since agreeing with us clearly deserves a reward. Just don’t go spamming all the posts in hopes of winning. Picking everything isn’t good taste. Keep it to the ones you actually like, if you want to win this prize.

Check out our Scavenger Hunt page for more on the rules and how to make a submission.

We’ll be hosting these regularly, and the prizes will vary with each draw.

The topic of our first Scavenger Hunt will be released at noon, PST, May 1st, and submissions will be accepted until midnight, May 21st. Even though you have three weeks to get your submission in, remember: all listings must be posted to eBay BEFORE the start of the competition, so it’s best to start searching early. Also, the longer your submission is up there, the longer it has to get votes!

And that’s it! Stay tuned to our Facebook and Scavenger Hunt page for more info.

Tell your friends, and happy searching!

*Note: this is a hunt for eBay ads – which SearchTempest also searches – not craigslist as you might expect.

Now you can save your searches in AutoTempest!

If you’ve been using SearchTempest for a while, you’re probably familiar with its My Searches feature. It automatically saves your recent searches so you can access them later without having to fill out the entire search form again. It also lets you tag your searches as favorites, so those searches will be saved forever (or at least until you don’t want them anymore). It’s handy if you run the same search pretty frequently, or if you are jumping back and forth between searches.

If this is the first you’re hearing about this feature, then you should totally try it out. You can access it by clicking that little yellow star just above the search button on the SearchTempest home page.

Why am I bringing this up? Because we just brought that same feature over to AutoTempest, that’s why. You can find it in the navigation bar at the far right. So now your favorite used car search just got that much more awesome.

Eventually, we’d like to add to both SearchTempest and AutoTempest the ability to login to those sites and save your searches so you can access them from a different computer too. Keep an eye out for that in the not so distant future!

If youโ€™re new to AutoTempest and would like to know about it, keep reading after the jump.
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