Archive for July, 2008

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TheNovel Turns 1

July 22, 2008

It was one year ago today that I started writing TheNovel (“Alina’s Gambit” as my wife and I have started to call it in recent months).  In that year my wife and I have written over 80,000 words, which by our reckoning puts us past the 2/3 point in the story.

It has definitely been an extremely busy, fast year – not just for TheNovel, but life in general: I started a new job, my wife completed her first year of teaching math (she had been teaching English for the previous nine years), our daughter completed her kindergarten year, and I took on greater responsibility at our church.  The rest of 2008 promises more of the same, and I have another project starting in early 2009 which will consume much of my “free” time.  As a result there is some urgency now to get TheNovel finished and revised (at least once).

Probably the most pleasant surprise in the last year has been my attitude toward the writing.  For the first few months, I really wanted to see progress on TheNovel, and forced myself to sit down and write.  I was interested in the writing, but only so far as it could be used to generate progress.

In the last couple of months, however, I’ve found myself just wanting to write, and TheNovel has provided a convenient outlet.  When it’s my time in the evenings (after the chores are done and my daughter is in bed), I usually have half a dozen or more things that I need to do.  These last couple of months I’ve found myself pushing all of those things off until I have my pages done for the day.  I’ve found that if I don’t get started on this before 9pm, the pages just don’t get done.  If I can start writing about 8:30 or so, I can usually get my pages done by 10pm, and that leaves some time for the other things.

TheNovel has become a priority and one that isn’t a chore anymore.  I think of everything I’ve learned in the last year about writing, that has been my biggest accomplishment.

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Home Office Reorganization – New Layout

July 20, 2008

Now that I had the proverbial blank slate to work with, I could start adding furniture back.  Before I did that, however, I needed to figure out which pieces of furniture would be selected.  I found an ergonomics calculator provided by Ergotron that started with my height and calculated how tall the table should be, the chair, etc..  Once I had those numbers, I started measuring.

I found that the Rubbermaid desks had the right height, and the chair I was using could be adjusted to be at the right height.  That was a good start.  I turned them around to face the majority of the basement, and temporarily set up the lights:

NewLayout

The next step was to figure out where the major computer components would go.  I normally type with a full-size keyboard when at my desk, and I prefer to have my arms resting on the desk.  That meant I needed a fair amount of empty space in front of me.  Additionally, based on the Ergotron calculations, the monitor needed to be at least two feet away from my head.  All of this meant I needed a good amount of depth to the main desk.  I had two options here – the corner piece, or the straight piece.

The corner desk (shown in the picture above on the right) had the depth needed, but I hated the keyboard tray.  It was too squishy and set too far forward to be comfortable.  The straight desk (shown with the darker-gray top) would work better, but I needed to get the monitor far enough away from me to leave room for the keyboard.  I solved the problem by “extending” the desktop using a two-drawer file cabinet placed immediately behind the desk (both are shown in the picture above).  Once I had these pieces in place, I quickly dropped in the major pieces to see how things would work:

CoreComponents

Now I was on a roll.  Unfortunately in my zeal to get things hooked up and tested, I had the beginnings of cable-spaghetti behind the desk.  This would interfere with me getting into the filing cabinet:

Spaghetti

The Rubbermaid desks have a built in tray for cable management, and between that and some zip ties I got the cables up and out of my way.  Since I regularly transported my mouse and external hard drive between my home office and work, I had to be careful not to zip-tie those cables down.  You’d think that would be simple to avoid, but you know, if I don’t consciously tell myself to avoid it, I’d do it and then be grumbling as I cut the ties away and try again:

Less Spaghetti

The desk was moving along nicely.  I had my core setup complete, and it was relatively comfortable.

I didn’t care for the monitor or the keyboard I had on hand.  While I didn’t have the funds to buy a new flat-panel, I could pick up another MS Comfort Curve 2000, the best overall keyboard I have ever used.

I am very finicky about my peripherals, and hunted around for several years looking for a decent keyboard that felt good, was decently priced, and had all of the keys in the RIGHT spots (you know, little things like an inverted-T layout for the arrow keys instead of the stupid diamond layout).  The Comfort Curve isn’t a true “natural” keyboard, but it does have a slight curve to it.  The keys are fairly low-profile, so it feels more like a laptop-keyboard (which I like) and the keypress action is soft and smooth.  I also can’t argue with the price – $20.

In the next post I’ll start putting up some of the secondary tools like my whiteboards and so on.

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Home Office Reorganization – Digging Out

July 9, 2008

I decided that the first thing I need to do was completely clean out the corner so I would have the room to start fresh.  As I started to do that, I had a pleasant flashback to the first time I implemented the “Getting Things Done” process that David Allen expounds.  I came in one Saturday when it would be quiet, took everyone off of my desk and began to put the pieces back one by one until everything was in its new correct place, or it had been throw out.  Today would be no different.

I decided that before I started with the disassembly I would carve out a small “notes” area – a place where I could keep notes of my progress, and put a few tools (like a measuring tape).

Next, I pulled out the three computers that have been slated for the recycling center for a while, and moved them to my work room.  (I set a reminder in my calendar to actually take them to the recycling center so that they would be out of the house for good.)  I also found a more permanent home for the several boxes of financial records.  These two steps moved the big “easy” stuff out of my way, and actually created a nice path for me to move even more stuff out.

I then swept around the desks and tables that made up my old office, and systematically sorted or removed everything.  I ended up keeping a series of piles on the floor with notes nearby like “To File”, “To Investigate”, “Knick-Knacks”, and so on.  Anything that really belonged elsewhere was shipped to elsewhere.  What was left was for me to reorganize.

EmptyLeft     EmptyRight

Once I had taken some measurements (which I’ll cover in the next post), the last step was to move the desks and tables out of the corner so I could start over.

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Home Office Reorganization – Introduction

July 6, 2008

While I have rarely actually worked from home (meaning my day job), the corner of our basement that had been my office was put to great use in the evenings and weekends the first year we were in this house.  However, over the last year I had begun to use it less and less frequently, opting to set my laptop up at the dining room table on the main floor to take advantage of the spring and fall breezes and the summer sun.

A new project that will be starting in January demanded that I give up the corner of the dining room table, and return to my subterranean retreat for work-at-home.  That meant some changes were in order – changes that I’ve been contemplating for the last couple of weeks.  Since I was on vacation this past week, I felt the time was right to tackle this project.  Here is what I started with:

BeginningLeft        BeginningRight

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve seen offices that started out in FAR worse shape than this, but the point is that it wasn’t functional anymore.  All of the desktop surfaces were covered in stuff that didn’t need to be there, and the desk arrangement put me facing the corner which I’ve grown to dislike working in cube-ville.

I started by looking at some similar projects documented by some other bloggers: Scott Hanselman, Jenny Crusie, and Ryan Bliss (I have not found a publicly accessible link for this page, so you will need a subscription to DigitalBlasphemy.com to see this one; the main inspiration I took from this was that Ryan’s main desk doesn’t butt up against a wall like mine does in the above pictures).

I also made a decision that I would keep this as close to a $0 project as I possibly could.  I felt I had enough furniture to do what I wanted, I just needed to clean it up and organize it differently.

The next four posts will describe how I went about this, the decisions I made, and the things I couldn’t get to for one reason or another.  I’ve been able to break in the new arrangement with some work on “Alina’s Gambit”, as well as some blog posts (like this one), and so far I’m very happy with how the new office is working out.

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The Dangers of a Well-Read First Grader

July 5, 2008

My wife, my nearly-6-year-old daughter, and I were having dinner with my brother and his fiancĂ©.  When the meal was wrapping up, my wife asked my daughter to take her plate, cup, and silverware into the kitchen to be cleaned.  Now, this is a well-established rule in our house – we all police our own dishes after a meal, but sometimes my daughter is sometimes given to a little “push back”.  Normally the push back is phrased something along the lines of “Aw, come on.  I don’t wanna clean up my plate.” (insert whine here)

This particular dinner, however, she managed to come up with a new way to phrase her complaint.

“Come on Mom.  You need to show a little compassion!”

After the adults picked themselves off the floor, and the riotous laughter died down, my daughter reluctantly carried her dishes into the kitchen.