Tag Archives: Life

Office Upgrades

My office, like the British empire and confidence that my country won’t be led by a major nutjob this time next year, lay in ruins. All my life I’ve been pondering the paradox of creating a much bigger domestic mess in the interests of improving one’s living conditions. This is why vacuuming is widely considered to be a mug’s game. You gotta move the furniture, then you uncover socks that need to be taken to the laundry hamper, and you’ve probably dislodged some weird colony of fluff that gets kicked up to the windows. As I say: it’s a mug’s game.

(Nonetheless, I try to get that taken care of before the situation becomes so dire that when I tell guests “Take off your shoes before walking into the living room,” I’m trying to protect their nice shoes, not my carpet..)

But my focus has been on my office. As a nerd, I naturally associate “upgrades” with “beefier CPU with more cores; more memory; faster storage drives; new network services. It occurred to me recently that it’s been ages since I addressed productivity bottlenecks that are rather more basic in nature.

And so, at this point in the project, I’ve:

  • Finally replaced a beloved old wireless Logitech with my first premium mechanical keyboard in ages. I went all-out (-ish) on a WASD CODE.
  • Lowered the height of my writing desk so that my hands are at a more comfy level.
  • Finally replaced a not entirely beloved, but not exactly disliked, old Samsung monitor with a new Dell U2415.
  • Put the aforementioned screen on an Ergotron monitor arm.

An immediate effect of these first three upgrades is that I’ve stopped abusing the privilege of using a notebook as a primary PC. As soon as I got the keyboard — like, a month before the other two — I stopped even wanting to write on the sofa or in bed. The nice new screen, and the ability to position it wherever I like, has made the more disciplined arena of my office my preferred place to work.

I’ve also:

  • Replaced the freaking huge halogen video light I use in my podcasts with an LED panel with equivalent output. The light itself is only about the size of a Quaker Oats box. But it’s diffused by a big softbox that rather dominated the office and was also so bulky that it was a pain to keep moving it around. So now, there’s no elephant in the room, so to speak.
  • Pulled down the rather pretty vinyl backdrop. It was starting to sag a little (it’s technically a printed sign, not a backdrop) and it made it impossible to open up the curtains in front of the Lovely Big Window. I came up with a new idea for a podcast background that I easily move out of the way when I’m not recording.

Still to do:

  • Replace my (good God) twenty year old office chair and the four year old (when purchased) school chair (I think it was made in the 80s) with a proper, ergonomic one.
  • Move my two separate desks into one unified workspace.

Oh, and: lots more sweeping and cleaning, now that I’m moving furniture around and I have access to previously uncleanable parts of the floor.

All of this demonstrates two important lessons about home offices. First, that no plan survives contact with reality. The last time I changed the layout of the office, I imagined that I’d like to have a Podcasting Area and a Writing Area. It didn’t take long before the office’s center of gravity wound up at Broadcast Central. And not for any particular reason, either. This is why architects of public spaces lay down grass after the buildings have been completed and then, months later, lay paved paths along any ground that people have worn down into bare soil.

And secondly: you just can’t get any work done in a place that you don’t want to be. The idea of the rootless, vagabond creator making his or her Art wherever they are and wherever they’ve had a pad and pencil is romantic and it’s how I’d like to be remembered. In truth, creativity is a muscle that response to regular exercise and discipline. I can only speak for myself: that stuff is hard to achieve and maintain unless there’s a place I’m supposed to be, and when I’m there, I’m supposed to be working.

Productivity is a pillowcase full of jelly: easy to grab, hard to hold on to.

Buzz Aldrin LIFE Gallery & The Real Astronauts of Canaveral County

You know, walking on the surface of the moon, there really is nothing more irrelevant than having a watch telling you the time in Houston.

Buzz Aldrin, via Buzz Aldrin Talks to LIFE – Photo Gallery – LIFE.

A great collection of Apollo 11 photos, annotated by lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin.

It’s interesting how Aldrin has become the most visible and recognizable spokesperson for the Apollo alumni. Plenty of those guys are still around and they’re not exactly recluses; just last week, I caught an episode of “History Detectives” where the historian paid a visit to Apollo 12 LMP Alan Bean in his art studio.

But Aldrin is the one astronaut who’s made himself Available with a capital “A.”

Hmm. A half-formed joke in my head has quickly turned into an actual idea: wouldn’t you tune in to watch a 6-episode documentary-style reality show about someone who once walked on the moon?

These guys lead interesting lives. If they weren’t already driven, focused, goal-oriented people, they wouldn’t have made it into the astronaut program. Their post-lunar-golfing careers tend to point that out. I’m interested in their usual circuits of speaking gigs and advisory boards. I’m also interested to know how many years passed by before they began to think of their lunar expeditions in much the same way as someone in a (literally) mundane line of work might regard a big business trip they took a long time ago.

Or does that ever happen? I really want to see these astronauts’ living rooms. I want to see a scene where they’re flipping channels in their living rooms, and then set the remote down on a glass display box. To them, it’s a handy surface next to the couch. If a visitor asks a stammering, awestruck question, the answer would be “Oh, yeah, that’s one of the gloves I wore during the extravehicular parts of my Moon mission. Sorry it’s so filthy. That’s why Judy made me put it in that box…once you get lunar regolith on a sofa slipcover, you just have to throw it out.”

I like the idea because I’m fascinated by a simple question: after you’ve seen the Earth as a dot on the horizon of another planet…I mean, how do you follow that up? Alan Bean went on to command a Skylab mission and stayed on at NASA as an administrator. But then there came the day when he dropped the stick and picked up a paintbrush, feeling a higher passion to document the space program through art.

But I admit that I also have a lowbrow interest in seeing what happens when, say, a clerk at Starbucks is rude to Charlie Duke. How would he respond?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t happen to see the sign,” he might amiably say, indicating a placard reading “This Line For Starbucks Cardholders Only,” which was mostly obscured by unsold CDs.

“But to answer your question: yes, I can read. Here, I’ll prove it: ‘Breakfast sandwiches are not served after 11 AM’. See? Yes, indeed, reading is just one of the many, many physical and mental tests I had to pass before NASA selected me for their fifth class of astronauts in 1966. And no wonder: they made me read lots of things in my years of preparation for, and even during, the more than twenty hours I spent walking on the surface of the Moon.”

The clerk hands him his change without saying anything.

“And because you apparently don’t even have the courtesy to apologize for having been so rude to a senior citizen, I will now also point out that when I was about your age, I had already qualified to fly supersonic fighter planes.”