The Office Desk, 2012

The desktop suffered a meltdown in December, which will require at least an entirely new C: drive and all the attendant frippery that goes with resurrecting a desktop computer, and I have decided that for now the best course of action is blow off entirely doing a thing about it until I complete the current project. As a side “benefit” this will cut down on the number of distractions I have since the Mac Air is not exactly a primo gaming machine. That decided, I cleared off the desk of the massively large monitor which usually resides there and shoved it and the desktop into the closet for the time being. Don’t worry, they’ll be back at some point. But for now, this is what the desk looks like. It features the bare essentials, including (of course) Coke Zero.

I’ll note that having a laptop, I don’t actually have to be chained to my desk, and indeed for most of the last month (i.e., since the meltdown), I’ve been wandering about the house, trying out different places to see how I like them. It’s been fun but I think there is something to be said about having a place that really is meant for work, such as, you know, one’s home office. Anyway, we’ll see how long it stays this clean. I give it a couple of weeks.

52 thoughts on “The Office Desk, 2012

  1. Very true about needing a place to work. The theory of working anywhere is fine but I need to be in “work mode” to concentraite and that means being somewhere that my brain considers “the office”.

  2. Leave the monitor out and hook it up to your laptop – having two monitors is one of the easiest productivity enhancements available. Does that hold true for writers as well, or does having a second monitor prove too distracting for you?

  3. Not that you asked my opinion, but I’d strongly recommend using a full size keyboard for your writing rather than the laptop keyboard. I seriously damaged my wrists doing too much writing on laptop keyboards.

  4. I’m curious why you opted not to continue using the larger moniter and full size keyboard/mouse from the desktop?

  5. I’ve done the take-laptop-and-work-all-over-the-house-thing. I ended up right back at my desk. Because that’s where »work« is.

    You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to the coffee table :) .

  6. To answer various questions:

    The microphone is a Yeti Blue, and I use it occasionally when i want to do something involving my voice.

    I don’t need a second monitor because OSX Lion effectively creates second (and third, and however many I need) screens, which I can access by swiping.

    I’m not using a larger keyboard because as it happens the Mac Air keyboard is pretty comfortable for me and also I stop frequently (every fifteen minutes or so) give my wrists a rest. I’m very mindful of the health of my hands.

  7. “I’ll note that having a laptop, I don’t actually have to be chained to my desk…”

    Yes, but you won’t be fooling anyone if you take it to a coffee shop.

  8. What might give you trouble at some point is your neck. I’d invest in some kind of stand, so you have the relief of looking straight instead of down. Of course, this would mean you’d have to get out your other keyboard again.

    At the moment, I’m using a very simple solution, a shelf insert from Ikea (Rationell Variera Series). It’s white, made of metal and has a cut-out pattern (invisible with the laptop on it), which helps with ventilation. Cheap, too (4€ / 6$).
    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60136623/

    Of course, you can get stands way more stylish. The mStand from Rain Design is very solid and nice. I might get it at some point, but I like what I have just fine for now. And since yours is meant to be a temporary arrangement, maybe something like it makes sense for you, too.

    And you could always just use a stack of books. Or a cat! I hear they like it warm, so the hot underside of a laptop would be just perfect. Balancing it might prove a bit tricky, though.

  9. Having an office is one of the things I’m looking forward to if I ever get a place of my own. Right now my writing space is adjunct to my living space, meaning the temptation to turn around and turn on the TV is very much present. Also, I’d love to have a nice big desk I could spread out papers and books on so that they’re handy when I want to refer to them.

    As for keeping the desk clean, I give John a couple days instead of weeks. Not that he’s a messy guy, but empty space just seems to have a need to be filled.

  10. I hardly do anything on my tower anymore. It’s sort of become the de facto backup server. I now do everything on my laptop.

    Though I’m reminded how much I want a Macbook Air every time my thumbs get too close to the Dell’s poorly designed trackpad and sends the mouse zinging off to someplace I don’t want to type.

    Unfortunately, my old laptop died, and I needed to have one, like, the day before it crashed. The current Dell was the best option for 24-hour turnaround. Unfortunately, it’s definitely not a shining example of why I generally buy Dell for my Windows-based hardware.

    In fact, it almost made me trash all the other Dells in the house.

  11. More room for kittehs, yay!

    > I give it a couple of weeks.
    Good to see that 2012 is promoting your optimism. ;^)

  12. @ Chang: I can’t speak for Scalzi, of course but my rural home/office has marginal cell service, so a landline is a nescessary evil. Also, since my home is my workplace, it helps separate work calls from the personal ones.

  13. I envy you your clean desk… had the intent to do the same today, but not the bandwidth. That microphone looks like a great idea. BTW, finished my autographed copy of OMW last night. My 14 year old daughter was quite impressed with personalized autograph, as was I. Thank you.

  14. A couple of weeks? Good grief. My desk stays clean (on the few occasions it gets clean) for, say, one day. Maybe two. (Studio apartment, not a lot of available flat surfaces. Any that appear becomes a stuff magnet instantly.)

  15. Surprising how many people (especially in this day and age) agree about needing a dedicated “work” space to write in.

    Having a laptop has let me branch out as well. Changing where I’m sitting so far has had no impact on what I write or how much I accomplish, but it certainly does keep my neck from getting cramped by being at the exact same angle all day. My three work locations so far are the office desk, the dining room table, and yes, the coffee table.

    I’ve also heard of a few intrepid authors using mobile devices (including tablets) and writing places other than home. Not sure if I’m ready for that step yet.

  16. Very minimalist, I like it. I’m hoping to be able to afford to replace my home office desktop with a Powerbook sometime in the next six months or so, minimalising my own desktop in the process.

  17. @Judith:
    good point, but cast concrete would really throw the Mac Air’s design aesthetic into sharp relief.

    @Christopher:
    Are you kidding? There’s hardly room for a single cat on that little keyboard.

  18. Neat microphone!

    Some of us do still use landlines, so :-P to all the naysayers.

    I have a desktop as my primary computer because this way I get a bigger keyboard and monitor. Laptops only go as high as 17″, my monitor’s a 22″. I look at Scalzi’s laptop and cringe–no way I could write on a keyboard that tiny, or be able to see on a monitor that small. I’m glad laptop-as-primary works so well for so many of you, but until my eyesight improves or my desktop dies, I’ll use my laptop for travel only.

  19. I totally get the having an ‘official’ workspace thing. Being a grad student in CS, I can (for the most part) work anywhere, but I tend to be most productive in my lab. Working from my apartment is nearly impossible as its pretty much my fun and sleeping zone.

  20. Hope your meltdown didn’t result in any loss of data, as happened to me. Care to provide any more details on the “meltdown”? Bad hard drive? Or did you actually let the smoke out of the electronics? (Since electronics work on smoke, once you let it out, they don’t work any more.)

  21. Question: It seems like every other few months your writing about your computer/laptop breaking down on you, how many of the machines a year you go through? What exactly do you do that demands your machines to self sacrifice? Or is it just in my head that your writing of these things.

  22. Then clearly its me could have sworn you wrote something similar this yr. Must just be from 3 yrs ago.

  23. For those that think landline phones are redundant… wait until there’s a disaster + powercut + everyone in the city tries to use their cellphones at once. Cellphone towers operate for a while on batteries but get overwhelmed so calls/texts don’t go through. Can’t get on the internet without power. The only thing that works is a landline phone with a cord (cordless handsets don’t work in a powercut).

  24. Scalzi,

    You have the worst luck with PCs. Come to the dark side, get a MAC. I’ve been a MAC user for over 20 years and have never had a catastrophic crash.

  25. RE: THE LANDLINES THREADJACK I STARTED

    You all make valid points. I guess from living in a “city” such as Portland, ME that they are redundant. I am thinking of getting one again without it being locked into the cable package. But the local phone provider blows, so I’ll take my chances for now with cell services.

  26. Dual monitor systems are good. In fact, they rock a colicky baby to sleep. ;p
    You may be able to plug the monitor from your dead box into your laptop.
    It varies by laptop plus monitor whether you can, and you can tell by looking at the
    the connectors of your laptop and on your dead desktop’s screen.
    Here, my laptop has a VGA out that my old screen has an input for. Easy Peasy.
    Except.
    The problem is that I can’t get Vista* to output a 1920×1080 signal and so I’ve about
    four inches of black on the left, and a half inch of on the right, a quarter on the top,
    and minus a quarter on the bottom, which gives me a second screen that is better
    than my laptop’s.
    I’ve shut it down because it sometimes goes craaazy, but I use a dual monitor tool
    named DisplayFusion and I plan to consider putting “look for a better one” onto my
    to do list.

    I freaking hate my laptop’s touch pad and would disable it except that such would
    cause problems, and I love my USB mouse


    *It’s Win Vista et al, not the ‘puter: A couple of Linux vers do output 1920×1080
    but they have different and more annoying sets of problems than WV.

  27. I like using a laptop for work, but when I’m at my desk, I plug it into a proper keyboard and a monitor or two. The keyboard is in a proper tray and the monitors are set up on stands at eye level.

    I like my cell but I prefer a landline when one is in reach. It’s more comfortable and sounds better, even when cell reception is perfect.

    I’m writing this on a Nook Color because it was ready at hand, but typing even these few words is a pain. It would probably have been easier to get up and go to a computer.

    Mobile technology is a good thing but why put up with the limitations when working at a fixed location?

  28. I converted to the ‘virtual office’ by dumping the desktop tower for laptop about 18 months ago- and I want to second those here who have already recommend that you keep your full size monitor (at head height!) and keyboard on the desk for ergonomic reasons. Your neck and shoulders will thank you in about 6 months, I promise.

    Knowing nothing about Macs, I can’t tell you if a docking station or a port replicator is available, but if so this is a fast and easy solution for switching between the laptop I/O and desk I/O. Works great for me.

  29. Happy New Year to all! Nice clean desk John. Mine looks good too, but – two weeks! I give it two days, as others have said. Not that it will become meesy in two days, but something else will appear on that desk, and who knows what it will be or where it will come from. Say, that could make a story plot.

    Landline will be necessary, especially for emergency calls, when the increased solar activity we will see results in solar flares, disrupting the satellites and interrupting cell phones and GPS devices, among others. FAA wants to go to a GPS-based system – sure hope they keep the radar as backup.

  30. @ KW Ramsey
    empty space just seems to have a need to be filled.
    My father used to call that Horizontal Surface Syndrome. The speed with which any potentially useful horizontal surface becomes buried in Stuff, and the depth to which it is buried, vary in proportion to the potential usefulness of the horizontal surface.

    @Shawn T: the DisplayFusion monitor management software is DA BOMB. I love it.

  31. I like the minimal design but have to wonder what blew up the desktop.
    Just in general, not trying to pry into privacy. Was it video manipulation,
    too much gaming (I know everyone’s going to jump on me for that),
    the-manuscript-that-ate-the-C-drive, what?

    And hey, don’t knock DSLs, sonny-boy! (Waving mah cane in your direction)

  32. @ Beth vis displayfusion Me it love also.
    And I’m pretty sure that why it sometimes goes craaazy is because of
    an ancient program that I use.
    @ KW Ramsey because Beth pointed your post out to me.
    ‘empty space just seems to have a need to be filled.’ Yup.
    I decided to not fix my screw up about veneer and an aggressive sander
    partly because I figured I’d never see the top of that nightstand ever again
    and, cool? Not cool?
    I haven’t.

  33. @Lauretta
    Probably what blew up the desktop is things happen.

    I’d bet cat hair clogging the fan intakes except that this
    is the start of Really Cold Outside and cats “don’t” shed
    when they are cold.
    Same for rabbits.
    So?
    The dog did it.
    Woof.

  34. Interesting, John! I’m the exact opposite: I *can’t* write in one place for too many weeks in a row, or I start feeling drained and claustrophobic. Sometimes, moving the laptop to a different location in the house helps; it feels refreshing, and the new perspective triggers an extra creative boost. But sometimes, I have to pack up and go write in a bubble in a coffee shop. New surroundings get the creativity flowing…and the coffee doesn’t hurt. ; )

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