It turns out that spending all day in front of a computer is a high-risk activity after all. From mouse and keyboard-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, to chronic eye fatigue, to inactivity-induced heart disease, to a variety of back, neck and shoulder ailments produced from bad posture and hunching over at your desk for nine hours a day, it's a high risk profession.
Now it appears that computer users have another health issue to worry about, with last week's flap over something called "toasted skin syndrome."
Anyone who has ever put a laptop on their actual lap for any length of time will probably have noticed by now that it can get pretty hot - especially if you're rocking a new system with an overclocked i3 or i7 chip that you could fry an egg on. What people don't realize is that prolonged and repeated exposure to heat can cause toasted skin syndrome - a reddish, brown rash, often with white blotches. It's not an actual burn and usually goes away with time, but apparently it can lead to issues like permanent skin darkening and, in rare cases, to skin cancer.
Given the history of laptop batteries exploding, it's always been a good idea to have something substantial between your body and your laptop anyway, but I confess to sometimes sitting on the couch with my laptop on my knees for the sheer convenience.
The good news is that this condition is easy to rectify with a laptop pad, and that pads are extremely cheap.
I would encourage laptop users to buy something designed for a laptop rather than putting your computer on your couch, a pillow or a blanket - laptop intake vents are usually on the bottom, and fabric could block those events and cause your computer to overheat and die. It's also possible that your laptop could scorch or set fire to the fabric if left for too long.
At Ikea (www.ikea.ca) they make two types of Brada laptop supports for couch users - a hard top with a pillow bottom for comfort and another thing that looks like a TV tray. They cost about $20 each.
Logitech (www.logitech.com) makes a series of lapdesks and cooling pads that are a little more expensive, but are designed with things like integrated stereo speakers and heat-shielding materials, ergonomic foam bottoms that can be shaped to fit your laps and sometimes even cooling fans built-in to keep your system from overheating. They generally start at around $40, but can go much, much higher.
You can also buy laptop accessories like pads pretty much anywhere you can buy computers - Future Shop, Best Buy, Tiger Direct, etc. They can usually be found under the "accessories" heading.
Health crisis averted, for less than the price of a pair of pants.
High tech companies still duking it out
These days you have to wonder how much of any gadget price tag is going towards legal fees.
Last week a U.S. judge ruled that Apple owed Mirror Worlds $625 million in damages for violating three of their patents on their iPhone device.
All of the supposed patent infringements are ridiculous and probably speak more to the need to reform patent law than to Apple's own processes - sometimes things are obvious as technology improves, and it is possible that two people working in the industry can have similar ideas while working independently of one another. Mirror Worlds doesn't even exist as a company any more, they just own a handful of patents based on a book published way back in 1992.
A judge has stayed the penalty to give Apple time to prepare its appeal, which they stand a good chance of winning, but in the scheme of things it's really more of the same.
This week Gizmodo (www.gizmodo.com) and the Guardian www.guardian.co.uk) published graphics showing who in the high tech world was suing who in the mobile industry, just one sector in the larger technology and software industry that is rife with suits like the Apple-Mirror Worlds showdown.
In a nutshell, Apple is suing HTC and Nokia; Elan and Nokia are suing Apple; Kodak is suing LG Group, Apple, Sony-Ericsson, Sharp and Samsung; Nokia is suing Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, Apple, Hitachi, LG Group and Motorola.
Motorola just announced a suit against Apple for 18 patent infringements last Thursday, claiming unspecified damages.
Virtually every player in the mobile industry is involved in a suit right now, and many in multiple suits on both sides of the court docket - some with the potential to cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars or shut them down completely.
Just wait to see what happens next week when Microsoft launches its Windows Phone 7 platform. Legal teams are standing by...