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How China Is Making Tiny Islands Inhabitable With Huge Floating Docks

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The Spratly Islands are basically mounds of sand in the middle of the South China Sea, some of them barely tall enough to reach above the water. But China is hell-bent on making them inhabitable, even drawing up plans for floating energy and water plants. It has nothing to do with the islands themselves and everything to do with the water around it.

The South China Sea is one of the most disputed areas of the world, with China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia all claiming various chunks of it. The sea encompasses valuable shipping routes into Asia and holds vast amounts of untapped oil and gas reserves. You bet China wants a share of that.

But there's a problem for China, which is that the islands it controls are not real islands long inhabited by people. They're more like sandy atolls. That hasn't stopped China though, which come up with creative ways to bolster their islands. They're dumping sand onto reefs to create new islands and building a military base right in the middle of it all.

But to sustain a military base there, you need people, and you need to somehow make these barren islands inhabitable. That's where the floating docks come in. Reporting from the Shiptec China 2014 exhibition, IHS Jane 360 has the details on the floating docks.

Two variants are under development. A base unit consists of a towed multifunctional platform and a bridge. [China Ship Scientific Research Center] said the platform can support the following capabilities: docking for 1,000-tonne ships, maintenance and repair stations for fishing vessels, an electric-power plant, fresh-water storage and supply, desalination of seawater, rainwater collection, and general storage of equipment and supplies.

A second platform variant is based on a semisubmersible vessel that can move under its own power, but not over long distances. The platform can be used for light construction and maintenance of an island, such as heightening sandbanks or removing reefs. CSSRC lists its additional capabilities as temporary living quarters for construction crews, and waste water treatment. The bridge is strong enough to carry a 10-tonne truck.

With floating docks in place, China could potentially settle the small islands much more quickly, giving them a stronger claim to the disputed waters. As China sees it, if life doesn't hand you islands, then you just have to build your own. [IHN Jane's 360 via Popular Science]

Top image: Spratly Islands. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

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IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

Standing desks are not cheap. Or at least, the extremely handy motorized ones aren't. That's why everyone—including this desk-agnostic blogger—freaked out when IKEA announced that it would sell a sit/stand desk powered by electricity for less than $500. Finally, a healthy desk option for the masses. Finally!

But, well, it's… IKEA. The Swedish flat-pack furniture giant is known for forward-thinking design, innovative assembly methods, stores that you could live in, and delicious meatballs of questionable origin. It is not, however, known for quality or durability. This is not a surprise or a problem, necessarily, because IKEA's products are often impossibly cheap, and, well, cheap stuff is cheap. So I went into my experience with the Bekant Sit/Stand desk with a measured amount of skepticism. IKEA did not let me down.

What Is It?

The Bekant Sit/Stand desk is a desk at which you can either sit or stand. Without the motor that elevates the desktop, it would be a totally satisfactory however entirely unremarkable surface on which you could rest your laptop or draw detailed pictures of scarabs (or whatever). But that motor. Boy does it turn a simple solid tabletop into the convertible piece of furniture you never knew you needed.

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

It moves much more than that. In fact, the range of different heights is impressively large.

All that said, this piece of furniture is probably not for very tall people. The maximum height is 48" which is high for a desk but not high enough for someone who's, say, 6' 6". I'm 6' 2", and the most comfortable height for me was just a couple inches below the maximum. A tall drink of water like, say, Shaq could certainly use the desk, but the standing feature wouldn't be as useful.

Who's It For?

Honestly, this thing's for anyone who uses a desk. A second ago, I referred to myself as desk-agnostic, and I meant it. My entire life, I've always thought of desks as a surface for doing work. Some are big. Some are small. Some are cheap. Some are expensive. But a desk is a desk. I also had—shall we say—a negative attitude about the standing desk trend. It's not as bad as the treadmill desk trend, but it strikes me as one of those groupthink things. To me, standing desks are the CrossFit of furniture.

But guess what. Trendy things are sometimes trendy for a good reason. Now that I've spent a couple of weeks with one, I am inclined to believe that the standing desk is one of those things. Sit/stand desks, as opposed to standing-only desks, are even better. IKEA's Bekant Sit/Stand desk is perfect for someone who wants to enjoy the proven health benefits of a standing desk, while also maintaining the option of sitting in a chair like our forefathers did—all without breaking the bank. In other words, this desk is for everyone.


IKEA furniture is famous for its utilitarian simplicity, and the Bekant Sit/Stand does not disappoint in that regard. It's almost identical to the standard Bekant desk which is a simple particleboard desktop with a stain-resistant veneer and a handy cable management net hidden underneath the surface. The only real difference is the motorized frame, controlled with a small push-button interface tucked under the right side of the desktop. This comes equipped with a safety, in case you ever want to disable the motor.

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

This handy net contains any and all cables you might need to keep them out of the way.

The Bekant desk also makes an effort to keep your cables out of the way. Depending on the location of your power source, this may or may not work. My outlet was placed right in the middle of the desk, so I ended up kicking the cables quite a bit which is annoying but not the end of the world. I probably could've done a better job tucking them in, but since I constantly had to pull my laptop charger out to move to a different part of the apartment, I got a little bit lazy.

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

See how they dangle?

All things considered, it's a pretty nice-looking piece of furniture. It's no Herman Miller Aria desk in terms of elegance or eye-catching design, but the basic design and sturdy construction do the job just fine. The Bekant desk has that office feel. (I'm not sure how else to describe it.) The cable management net is almost completely concealed. The up/down button module could be a little less ugly, but again, it does the job just fine.

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

For the record it took four pillows to get to the right height. You get the idea, though.

The motors, by the way, are built into the legs and entirely out of view. They also makes very pleasing whirring sound when the surface goes up and down, but it's not loud enough to be disruptive. Also, the speed seems just about right. It goes from bottom to top in a little under 20 seconds, but most of your adjustments will be small and last only a moment.

If you're someone who puts lots of heavy stuff on your desk, you should be wary. I put two heavy boxes of books on the surface and could definitely hear the motors strain a little bit. It's supposed to work with a load as heavy as 154 pounds, but I'd imagine the long-term integrity of the motors could be comprised if you've got even 100 pounds of stuff on your desk. But seriously, who keeps 100 pounds of stuff on their desk?

Oh and one more thing: this is a big desk. Let me rephrase that: If you live in a cozy, New York City apartment this is a very big desk. I had to rearrange my bedroom to accommodate it. It's helpful, however, that the tabletop goes down almost all the way to coffee table-height, so it feels less intrusive. (The low mode is also good for pillow-sitting, if that's your thing.) All that said, a large surface area means you have a lot of surface to work with—duh. The desk could easily double as a dinner table, and in fact, I think I might just do that.

Using It

This is the fun part. Like I said before, I've always been a bit of a Negative Nancy when it comes to expensive standing desks. That's not to say I don't work standing up from time-to-time! My IKEA Hopen dresser—you can see it in the background of the photos—is almost the perfect height for me to use it as a standing desk. But I never really do that because my toes hit the bottom of the dresser, and I don't know, I just feel weird working on top of my dresser.

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

I'm a bit of a minimalist so I didn't end up using most of the desktop.

The up/down action changes everything. What I like best about the Bekant Sit/Stand desk is how quick and easy it is to make adjustments to the height. This seems embarrassingly obvious, but it's actually thrilling to work on a surface that is at the perfect height for whatever posture you're in, sitting or standing.

Quick note about ergonomics: be nice to your body. I just used my aging MacBook Pro when working and found myself slouching quite a bit. But since I do not want to become a hunchback, I plan on elevating my laptop to eye-level and using an external keyboard and mouse. Obviously, the need to make a desk more ergonomically friendly exists for any desk, but don't expect this magical, motorized IKEA creation to magically fix your bad posture.

Oh, and assembly is a breeze. I did not assemble the desk—although I wish that I had in retrospect. A couple of very nice fellows that IKEA hired to deliver the desk did, because that was the plan for press who were reviewing the desk. (I think IKEA was just trying to be nice.) The process only took about 15 minutes. Basically, you have to bolt the tabletop to the motorized legs and plug it in.


I seriously can't believe how much I liked working at the desk when it was at standing height. Even with the back injury I got from rowing in college, I tended to average about four hours per standing session. Thanks to the expansive desktop I found myself moving around a lot more than I would while sitting on my ass, and this even made the time pass a little more gracefully.

Once my feet started to hurt from standing, I'd sit, and that felt great, too. I was actually incredibly surprised that I didn't really think about sitting at all during my four-hour-long standing sessions. It's more comfortable than you think! If my posture was good, I could adjust the desk to the perfect ergonomic position. If I was feeling slouchy, I could slouch the desk down a couple inches. (My comment above about ergonomics still apply, however.)

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

This is me lowering the desk. The buttons are located in a pretty handy spot.

Aside from how much fun it was standing up and smashing laptop keys for hours at a time, I was also surprised by the quality of the desk. It feels rock solid, especially compared to my dirt cheap Arlik swivel chair. The motor works better than I expected, and the desk just glides up and down when you're adjusting it. Finally, the surface seems like it would look new for years, and if something happens to the desk, IKEA's likely got you covered with a 10-year limited warranty. They probably don't got you if you sit on the desk, however. Again, the load capacity is 154 pounds, so this desk is not for sitting—unless of course you weigh less than 154 pounds.

No Like

This is a big desk. It's entirely possible that IKEA is planning to offer sit/stand options for its smaller, more city-friendly desks, but for now, you're pretty much screwed if you're trying to squeeze this thing into a small room with other furniture. There's also no way to add a shorter desktop due to a support beam that connects the two legs. The control is also fastened to the tabletop, so that annoying. Then again, if you do the dinner table trick, the tabletop will fit six people, snugly. And you can even adjust the height for a standing dinner!

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

The pin works kind of like those things on treadmills. Meanwhile, the buttons are pretty much flush with the surface of the device so they're kind of hard to feel. But only sort of.

The only other gripe I can think of are those ugly buttons. Not only are they ugly, they're also a little bit finicky. They're barely buttons, really. They're more like little bubbles, not unlike the buttons you find on shitty stereo remotes. When you're adjusting the desk, moving your finger even slightly to one side or the other will disengage the button, and the desk will stop moving. You get the hang of it, though. It's just a bummer that IKEA did so much great work building a beautiful desk and then skimped on the gadgety bit. Then again, IKEA's never been into gadgets.

Should I Buy It?

Yes. Ok, let me dial that back. If you're in the market for a motorized sit/stand desk and you don't want to spend a lot of money, this is an excellent option. You can buy a fancier sit/stand desk that will do things like learn about the way you work and automatically adjust itself, but I don't really believe that justifies the high price. The price tags on many of the competing desks are north of $1,000, and even the "most affordable, automatic sit-to-stand desk" Kickstarter project is expected to retail for $600. The Bekant Sit/Stand Desk starts at $490.

I'll admit it. That $490 price tag is a sturdy mark-up from the non-sit/stand Bekant desk which costs just $190. But the versatility that a magical moving desktop affords is more wonderful than I ever expected. I'd pay the premium, and if you've been thinking about giving this standing desk trend a try, you should too.

Note: IKEA tells me there is currently product delay on the BEKANT sit/stand desk. Please note that this delay only affects the sit/stand desk and does not affect the rest of the new IKEA BEKANT series of professional desk/tables. I'll update this post as soon as they give me a release date

IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Review: I Can't Believe How Much I Like This

This is what I look like when I am blogging. Believe it or not it is a very exciting activity.

IKEA Bekant Sit/Stand Desk Specs

• Desktop materials: Particleboard, Ash veneer, Stain, Clear acrylic lacquer, Foil, Clear acrylic lacquer, ABS plastic

• Underframe materials: Steel, aluminum, polyester powdercoating

• Dimensions: 63" x 31.5" / Height ranges from 22" to 48"

• Max. Load: 154 lb

• Price: $490-$1,200

• Warranty: 10 years

Photos by Nick Stango