Fun With Rectangular Office Technology


Introduction: Fun With Rectangular Office Technology

About: If you read blogs, come vist mine: www.tristramshandy21st. where right now I am posting chapters of my humorous and philosophical nonfiction, "In Search of Tim Severin" among other things.

Many of us are Homo Sapiens Bureaucraticus. We spend nearly a third of our days influenced by nearby office rectangles: desks, clipboards, typing stands. I am driven to think that these forms drive our bodies into unnatural shapes, bend us into the creeping Morlocks that HG Wells prophesized. Then again, perhaps I need a dose of Cultural Relativism....perhaps a nerd scrunched over a keyboard is as noble a sight as a hunter-gatherer scrunched near the fire telling a buddy, "Yeah, that was a big mammoth, but you should've seen the one that I..." In any event, I am convinced that the office rectangle will bear further scrutiny and variation. Let us look again at the desk, typing stand, clipboard, and satchel.

Step 1: The Horror of the Desk, Oh the Horror!

It is the thing invested with all that is bad and powerful in our video art. In films people can be seen sweeping the detritus away from the conveniently large rectangle to lustify a desireable member of one's sexual preference. Or people enter the room and are faced with a meglomaniac across a Gobi Desert of mahogony expanse, and he says (usually it is a he) "Now, that James Bond is in bonds [bruauh-ha-ha-ha!] shall we discuss how to aim our orbital laser to control the destiny of Earth?" or the more fearsome, "I'll expect that report on Wednesday." If your own desk cultivates no similar allusions, then I cannot help you. But surely your desk has gone a bit out of control from time to time. That's good, all is well, no worries! Whose clean desk ever said that the owner was very useful?

As our job descriptions grow ever more inclusive, the desk must be ever more accomodating. Chaos must be reared higher than before, as measured by inches of potential energy. Use the space above. A new idea? No, you know that, I know that. But design it yourself. You know your own needs, your ergonomics, exactly how far you stretch and yawn, how far you cant over in a faint, how many inches you push back paper to make elbow room, what things you need at hand. In this wooden shelf, I accomdated two realities: my life as a teacher demands two shelves, cognitized vertically -- daily class gear on top, supporting materials below on the lower shelf -- all done up in glowing wood to remind me that these office rectangles once began as flowing organic shapes in a world with no straight lines excepting the flights of subatomic particles of low mass.

In the open space below the shelf, you see a semi-vertical rectangluar surface, canted perfectly to take things demanding doing, and frequently used heavy books. When I am bored, I just randomly open the dictionary and read a word and its derivation, and associatively follow chains of meaning until I'm bored again. When students walk in and see the open dictionary, they know I am serious when I tell them to "look up the goddamned word if you don't understand it." The semi-vertical-leaning-stuff-shelf (the hyphen is your best friend) is free in horizontal space to better adjust to momentary ergonomic needs.

Yes, a yet third semi-vertical surface is present, another book-stand from my ancient days. I can't bear to get rid of it despite that it hasn't yet a well-defined function except to collect official memos from which I will be enacting nothing. Perhaps that's the answer?

Step 2: Typing Stand: Different Yet Not Utterly Distracting

Long ago when I was a career technical writer I learned to keep my chin up -- both to endure the the daily indignity of a thankless profession and to reduce neck pain. For me, keeping the computer monitor near my eye level, and keeping my typing stand near that same level, was a great help -- the increased efficiency of the side-to-side glancing has made me at least 0.001 percent more productive than was experienced with lesser ergonomic arrangements.

This typing stand dates itself -- the little lip glued on at the bottom allowed just enough room to keep some 3.5 floppy disks, back when they were pretty cool. I never use these anymore, so now the strange elephantine creatures I carved quickly on a whim can be meditated upon. But I do use the lip to keep two stones: one a precious piece of feldspar from my former driveway that my then-3-year-old boy gave me as a gift, and the other a piece of obsidian that I from time to time try to flake into a projectile point.

"Wade, are you a hypocrite?" you rightly ask. You've noticed the stand is a bit lower than the screen. That's because years later I raised the screen higher on yet another custom wooden 3D rectangle thingie. I'll make a new one soon, with better carvings. What should I carve?

Step 3: Satchel/man-bag/writing Surface/office Survivalist General-purpose Tool

This LL Bean hand-satchel thingie was given to me one Christmas probably to get rid of (a "re-gift" in the jargon of Seinfeld) since it was in addition to a very nice but entirely unrelated gift that was perfectly sufficient in itself. But how could the person know that study of anthropology had instilled in me a fascination with carrying technology? Far more important than the stone projectile point was the bag to carry your rotten carrion meat, nuts, berries, and raw materials. What is the most sophisticated space suit but a very complex carry-all? -- a bag, in other words.

This satchel proved very useful because my daily book bag inflates over the week into a bloated evil toad whose maw disgorges a steady stream of reponsibility. Even so, the daily book bag always has room for this mini-bag, which I use as a weekend overnighter briefcase, or a more manageable book bag fit to bring into a coffee shop for an hour or two of pleasant coffe ingestment, reading, and writing....or, in a word, a more psychically manageable carrier. I added this very week (Nov. 15, 2006) two grommets through which is attached a shoulder strap salvaged from an earlier book bag that now holds the anchor for my outrigger. More importantly, I added the incredibly useful clipboard with custom lip. Having stripped the clipboard of its steel spring clip, I riveted board to stachel, and with the lip I now have a comfortable platform for editing pages or resting a heavy book.

If you made the writing surface out of a kevlar and resin material, it could double as a targe or flak protection. Ever since some poor fellow was filled with 15 rounds at the friendly corner store 100 feet from my house, I have pondered that modification. But, no-- you almost never have your book bag handy at the moment of being shot.

When I am accused of being sissy-like with my small satchel, I tell the accuser I use it to carry my bowie knife, chest-hair comb, testosterone test kit, girly magazine, and whiskey. Yet I cannot help but think that the satchel wins the admiration of the occasional metrosexual, and if so, why wouldn't I accept such admiration in a world too often lacking good feeling? --wt



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    No ducks, but I once carved a fantasy creature for a fellow amateur fantasy writer pen pal (now a pro, Jeff Vandermeer) for one of his stories wherein these telepathic creatures designed to hunt down humans have living human heads embedded in the top of their heads, which call out to friends and make them rush out to their doom. It was one of the most frightening science fiction monsters I ever saw, so I carved the beast and sent it to him. Came out pretty well for my first sculpture, I have a photo somewhere...not sure if it is digitized yet.

    By the way, the story is called Balzac's War and is available post print publication on line somewhere I believe.

    Nice instructable. You're far too clever for me to leave a decent comment, but I agree with Hal. Carve Ducks! Anyway, the compliment is just a preface to asking about your beautiful piece of furniture not mentioned in the instructable nor the comments. I assume it's one of three things, a low bench, a chic coffee table, or a foot-rest. It's in the first picture just beyond your foot, and in the last picture holding up your satchel. Please tell us more. And continue posting instructables. Can't wait to see how you elongate chest hair to make it useful for catching fish. Or was it just for "fishing", which doesn't necessarily involve catching anything?

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    Hi -- I'm sorry I missed this. Or, I did reply, but I sent it to a fellow who e-mailed my in box, so Elmundo us probably wondering why I answered a question he did not ask! Oh well. Here is what I sent him, and now you at last... That comes from one of the massive pieces of pine I inherited from my dad, who never ended up building the table he had planned on. From this pine I have built lots of children's toys, but I wanted one massive, almost "medieval" piece of furniture that preserved the outter contours of the original tree (as well as some of the holes from tunneling bugs in my dad's barn from 30 years of seasoning -- it is all that I have left of the beloved old barn!). So I built a coffee table, and used wedges to fasten on the legs, which I like. I made a mistake in measuring, though, so that the holes are 1/8 inch larger than the leg-tenons. How embarrassing. I was too tired to immediately make new legs, so I kept them and used the table. The wedges hold the legs plenty tight, so lazy me has not seen the utter necessity yet of fixing my 5 year old error. The table is very comfortable to put my feet on because (1) it cannot be hurt, it is so massive (I could barricade my door against the barbarians or zombies if I had to), and (2) the round edges have almost a massaging effect on the bottom of the feet. The designs you may see in the pictures are two game boards I carved on a whim. One is a 5 x 5 board for a game I invented during my old 'Dungeons and Dragons' gaming days, called Pictish Chess. A long story. The other game board is a popular board game going back to the middle ages. But I have no one to play the games with except old friends who live way far away (college is like that: you meet your soul mates and then they scatter around the country afterward, and it is hard meeting similar folk divorced from the free thinking world of college).

    Your wit and perspective are certainly a main reason I keep coming back to this site and pass it on to my friends!


    Rather than being banned from further posting, I believe you should be chained to that desk and typing stand and not released until you have posted at least one fresh new thought a day. I love this site becuase I love to make things, but your posting has a dimension beyond a simple recipe, it contains a philosophy and that allows all us readers to take those thoughts and run with them, I love the shelves over the desk, it reminds me of when I did the same years ago when I was studying for my leaving cert (Irish exams, equivalent to what ever college entrance exams you do in your country) I put my bookshelves on my desk, now since I am an apathetic student at best (and a total hypocrite since I now tell my own students on a regular basis that they have to develop consistent study habits!) my bookshelf on my desk was to allow easy reach of the novels or other distractions rather than to facilitate efficient working or organisation. But it makes me think, I am currently wringing my brain out over how to organise my craft room, its a loft conversion so sloping ceilings and low walls, all the reasonable height walls have cupboards, so nowhere to hang shelves so what to do with all the little finniking bitteens of craft do dads. so in a (very long) nutshell keep posting please

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    Thanks. My next related project is a desk for my study -- many more rectangles will be involved as well as vertical space. I may even have an idea or two. ;-) Stay tuned. As for your own issues -- yes, I think a loft sounds great. A loft must be THE under-appreciated architectural improvement of the world. They can be hung, they can be raised, they can be cantilevered, thgey can be split-levels. The Irish traditional rural house sometimes had splendid loft space, as you know yourself, pressed into service as bedrooms, storage, etc. You could solve your space problems and support traditional Irish technological values (updated of course -- all tradition has that element of newness in it, albeit in small increments).

    Joined Instructables so I could comment. I read about future office design several years ago. In the article, recognition was given to the fact that we need the ability to work on several projects at one time. Not in the multitasking way most managers want employees to work, but in the way our minds might move from one project to the next as we do our work. The article described a vertically organized space (electronic, of course), where we could pull projects into focus as ideas occured and move them to the background just as easily. It made me think about ways to suspend paper-based work from a grid. Seeing your shelf-system reminded me about the reading and my ideas. I may have to redesign my workspace to accomodate something like this. Thanks!

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    Vaguely related anecdote: I have a friend who knew Isaac Asimov the SF writer (very prolific writer in general!) many years ago. Asimov had a horizontal system: he had a row of typewriters on a long desk, and a rolling chair. He would type on one novel/book until the ribbon wore out, then roll over to the next typewriter (the next book), and do the same thing, & c. He generally had about 5 books going on at once. Every time I build a desk, it does get a little longer, but I've in no way approached this enviable system!

    right on!! I am totally going to start woodifying/naturalsing my cube. I dont know why I didnt think of this before. cheers.

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    Funny anecdote: the grey desk you see under my office typing stand was a hasty solution when I was briefly hired at Gerber-Coburn Optical as a contract technical writer. They evidently though it was OK to treat a contractor like shit, and set me up at a round conference table, so poorly designed for typing and working in general, that I was soon miserable. I schemed: at home I built a modular computer desk, adapted to the way I had worked for 15 years at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and UConn Engineering (who always gave us great furniture -- give praise where due). I made the stand out of cheap 3/8 plywood and the legs in the form of open rectangular frames (diagonally braced rectangles) made of 1x2s. I knew I was doing something considered 'weird' in the stiff, conservative, unimaginative corporate culture, so I painted the desk the same shade of grey that was in the walls and carpets of the office, then carried the folded-flat table in without much notice. I had pre-drilled the holes, and brought in a small electric screw driver. I assembled the computer desk in 2 minutes, (just like they would do in Mission Impossible if they had to sneak in and build a desk fast!)and slid it under the round table. The computer monitor stayed on the round table, agreeably high, keyboard and other stuff went on my table. Wonderful! People walked by for days without noticing until one day some manager noticed and said , "Hey, you can't bring in your own furniture." I said, "But I did." He went away. I was feeling confident because I had just been told I had the teaching job I still hold, and didn't care much about being fired. I should do an instructable about that desk, now that I think about it. I still have it because my college had crappy computer desks made for typewriters and secretaries in dresses trained to hold their legs close together--all my colleagues are still stuck with them, for years and years! My ugly temp 'secret agent' desk is now over 8 years old, functioning well.

    Love it! How about a picture of your chest hair?

    I wouldn't hesitate if I could tie it into a proper instrcutable, such as, how to twist an emergency fishing line out of your chest-hair ;-) Ouch!

    Please do. Instructables gets better every time someone posts a nomadic/portable furniture entry

    I too love the idea of nomad furniture (and culture: nomad ethnography was once my academic sub-speciality); chests are very nomadic, and thus the antique toolbox in my living room, and the fact that my daily wearables are in a similar sea-chest (post-divorce life teaches the beauty of simplicity). I am debating whether or not to build a couch that has draws underbeath, or at least hinged lids. My futon couch is pretty beat and I never quite liked its design-- too many compromises.

    I must say, this is easily one of my favorite instructables simply because of your colorful captions. you're a wonderful writer! p.s. i have to ask- what's with the soup can?

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    Thanks for the kind words. The soup is my lunch. One of the least good things about me is that I fall in typical bachelor-writer lifestyle and eat way too much out of boxes and cans. But my blood pressure is great so I guess the salt from Mrs. Progresso's cooking is just replacing the salt my body needs in my otherwise low-salt diet?

    I like the desk shelf....a lot. The bottom shelf is genius. If youmade that- Did you get this idea from a commercial product? Awesome. Also I like the Progresso Soup on the shelf. New Jersey!

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    There is a commercial 'heavy book' holder that also spins, sold for holding large dictionaries. But I was probably more likely inspired by medieval manuscript illuminations, showing monks at tilted writing stands. Those monks worked under hard conditions copying over Bibles and Beowulf all day long for years on end, and such, and they had to know what they were doing. Yet when I built myself a titled desk surface at my old technical writing job (where I felt very monkish) I could get comfortable. That has much to do about where you put your elbows, your culturally specific habits of leaning, slouching, etc. (see how cool this can get?). But I found that the desk was modified into a semi-vertical holding surface, my documents go go into a vertical holding pattern, which was useful. I am going to build a desk for my study with another one, of adjustable slant, to hold my largest book, The Dictionary of Old Irish, which seems to be about two feet high in its hyper-sized European cut.