07 February 2021

Desk stuff

At the time I write this, I keep a nice home office which I currently cannot use because I am camping out away from home as part of my bubble's pandemic protocol. I just finished setting up a smaller but still fairly elaborate desk at the place where I will be for the next month or two (or, heaven forbid, longer) and snapped a picture of it to share with Facebook friends. Folks were so interested that I have been writing up what all my Desk Stuff is, so I thought it would be fun to transcribe that here. At the time I post this it is still a work in progress.


I suffer the constant temptation to clutter already-cluttered desk with items which are strictly decorative. In this reduced arragnement, I have sweated it down to two items.

I have never met a Hindu programmer who did not keep a representation of Ganesh at their desk. I am not qualified to give puja, but I find that he is patient with western pagans with modest offerings, so I give him a little “jai Ganesh!” or a bit of candy from time to time, and credit him with the smooth running of my computer. If things get really dire fixing something, I light the candle.

The Dymaxion icosahedron globe is a relatively new acquisition. I am a bit of a Buckminster Fuller enthusiast and the map is my favorite of his designs. I’m starting to think I should have gone for the blue/orange version, thoough, because when unfolded the dark blue oceans of the satellite image version I have are hard to distinguish from the magnets which hold the globe together.


The important thing at the end of the desk is an old iPhone, now repurposed just to run the BeFocused app, which is a smart pomodoro timer. I do not really practice the Pomodoro Technique rigorously — though I am working on it — but it does help keep me self-aware about my time and working rhythms. Keeping that in reach and visible and able to make its own independent sounds really helps.

A little organizer holds my favorite fancy bullet journal marking supplies: colored washi tape, sticky tabs, color coding dots, a correction ribbon, and a Postit glue stick. I have been stepping up my BuJo game this year. I do not keep an elaborate journal as many folks do — the simplicity is part of what makes it work for me — part of what makes the BuJo work for me is how it engages my attention through getting to fuss with paper products.

Then I have a little wooden playing card holder. My stationary obsessions extend to a love for index cards, so it is nice to be able to set up a tiny kanban board with them at my desk.


On the left side of the desk, I have my iPad on a stand, a little storage box with some alternate cables and other supplies, and a new acquisition: the big Contour ShuttlePro.

The Shuttle is programmable keypad with a jogwheel, primarily designed for audio and video editing. The driver software is smart enough to recognize which application is selected and to deliver shortcuts appropriate to it to the device, so I can work with one hand on the trackpad and one on the Shuttle. I'm just getting set up with it because for many years I relied on a different (and better) solution the Razer Nostromo, a gamers' programmable left-hand keypad with the same application awareness. Alas, they ended Mac support for the Nostromo and its successors a while back, and the new Mac OS Big Sur killed the controller software, so I had to change platforms.


The inexpensive flat-pack desk I got has open side shelves, so I have a few desktop organizers tucked onto the shelves on the left. I have spare notebooks, extra pens, index cards, sticky notes, a pair of scissors, index cards, stamps, and the like here.


My MacBook Pro recently bricked itself and my decade-old iMac was wheezy, so when Apple announced the new Apple silicon Mac Mini, I upgraded to it ... and thus needed to get a new monitor. Dell has a retina-resolution monitor which is Good Enough and a big step up from the monitor I used to have, and it has one of those Dell stands which makes it easy to switch to portrait format. If I am flush later this year, as I hope, I will spring for an awesome main display and rotate this one to use as a tall adjunct display dedicated to reading, writing, and note-taking. It also acts as a USB hub, which helps with the Mini's port limitations.

This also meant I needed to get a USB webcam, especially in this work-from-home quarantine year, and to my pleasant surprise I could find a camera better than what I can reliably transmit over the internet was inexpensive.


Together with the webcam, upgrading my machine and doing more remote meetings, I also recently needed to break down and get a proper USB mic rather than rely on my headphone mic, so I got a mic that was not too expensive, well-reviewed ... and old-timey-looking. Interlocutors tell me that I do not quite sound Broadcast Awesome, but much better than before.

On the monitor stand I also keep my (now collectors' item) Silicon Valley Tarot deck (which is witty and surprisingly useful for work), eyeglasses, and a fidget cube.


That wacky Keyboardio keyboard arouses the most curiousity, so I have a whole separate post about it.


So the big thing here is a vertical file organizer with a mini-whiteboard which I got dirt cheap from of of my favorite catalogues, American Science & Surplus. It is a glamourless plastic thing, unlike the beautiful glass desk WB from Quartet which I lust after but do not really have a proper use for. The organizer has a slightly depressed tray on top for a couple of WB markers, which is a nice touch, keeping those big WB markers away from my other pens. But the cool part — the thing which makes it an essential part of my arsenal — is how in back there are four thick slots for folders, ascending a bit in back stadium-style. These are my Hot Files for stuff I am working on.

I use a set of durable plastic folders with translucent bodies so I can tell what is inside. I have marked each folder with a letter for indexing elsewhere if I need it, though I am not getting so much mileage out of that as I expected. But it is really useful to me that the tabs of the folders are colored, so I color code yellow/orange/red for ascending urgency of things I need to do, plus green for On My Desk But Currently Cool, and blue for Pending Action From Elsewhere. I keep the folder supply upside-down in the back slot, with matching colored sticky dots on each one so it is easy to pull a new folder of the appropriate color for a new project. The limited space in the slots keeps me from holding too much stuff on my desk.

To the left of the organizer thing I have chargers for my watch and phone, wired phone headphones for when I need them, a book of videoconference signs which I made, and three key desk tools: a good retractable pen, a good eraser, and a cheap little desk knife which comes in very handy.

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