The Office 2.0

livingYes yes , its the time of the year(s) again that the Knights in the Knightcastle get a little uneasy with the colors they painted on the walls , get bored with the arrangement of furniture and get overdosed by all the 'home improvement' programs on the tv. We dash out to the DIY store and go looking for paint. Now I must say I'm blessed with the fact that Nyana has excellent taste in colors. She picks out two shades of gray (that to me are not even different colors) and says.. 'This will go good together. ' As we left the store I remember grumbling and fretting that we did not go for some cappuccino like shades, and turning the room into one big Starbucks.  But when the paint went on .. the result was amazing.The rooms we did so far are the bedroom and the office / small living room upstairs. Now in our bedroom we obviously sleep. (get your brains out of the gutter). But the office / living room is a different matter. This room used to be my office. But because I had room to spare we shoved in an extra couch and a tv so Nyana could hang out while I was behind my beloved workspace. It worked out so well that we spend the most part of the winter upstairs. Nice and cocoon-y. The wife in front of the tube, the resident geek on you-tube.  But the mutter was in the clutter. Soon enough Mr geek thought it was needed to overstock the room with computer books, extra systems, a sound-mixer, microphone, main boards and cables lying around etc. To be honest , it sometimes looked like the lovechild of an overturned dumpster truck and a main board factory. This was neither relaxing nor efficient. Thus : The new office. Or could I say : The office 2.0.

 

office

 

We started out with a ruthless philosophy. This place had to be clutter free. Asides from the absolute essentials this room would have to breath out calm and efficient vibes. In order to achieve a TV-room / loungeroom / workspace we made sure to check some markers.

cables

  • Relaxing colors. Shades of gray replaced the beige and blue on the walls. The colors of the room should reflect calm-and-easy and by far attract any attention to themselves.
  • Furniture : As little as possible. My big office (the biggest one Ikea had) was sized down to its smallest by removing some extentions. Every bit of furniture is color coordinated .. well thats more something of a coincidence since we buy everything at Ikea and it matches nicely.
  • Cables : The lovely misses had an absolute zero tolerance policy for ANY cabling that was exposed to the naked eye. Also : NONE of the cables , power plugs or power supply's was allowed to hit the floor. A downpour of black power cables in front of an exposed office ? No way. Don't get me wrong. The girl is as geeky as can be .. But the place should not look like a fishing trawlers , nets included.
  • No clutter : Books, ornaments and what-have-you's that where otherwise crammed in our cabinets where removed. Just a little plant here, and a model of my  Enterprise NCC 1701 there. (and some nice starship diagrams nicely framed on the wall).Division bell ! : But probably the most important redesign was dividing the OFFICE (where you work) from the Lab / Studio / library part of a geeks room. Now 10 years of research have given us the conclusion that you cannot keep the geek out of the living room. And you cannot keep the clutter out of the geeks setup. So unless you want a TV room / IT-ground-zero.. You have to seperate the working geek , from the tinkering geek.  Our conclusion ? Move the books / spare parts / lab equiptment of the resident geek to the hobby room upstairs. This meant that podcasting- studio setup went upstairs and is now safely out of direct sight.

The results.

 
cablessWhat can I say : The results are great. Allthough  reluctant to give up my 'matrix style' surroundings of screens and keyboards piled up together. i'm honestly impressed by this new approach. My main desk now consists of my Macbook (docked) and one 19'' widescreen display. When in need of dual screen work , i just flip it open and am able to use my isight camera and more. Instead of using speakers and amplifiers I just routed the audio to either my headphones or the internal speakers of the monitor and thus having less clutter around.  Next to this setup resides my Ubuntu machine hooked up to another 19” display. Because the resolution matches up to the resolutions of two other systems I have around the house (my TV computer and my test system) it can run remote desktop sessions to these machines full screen. Its like having them around.. Without having them around.  Next , instead of using yet another computer to run Windows , i've opted to use virtual machine to emulate and run any other system I required. This all works fine on my AMD XP 3200 machine that has enough ram to run a nice little Windows XP either in Vmware  Player or Paralells. So you see : More machines at my fingertips without taking up space.

 

And then there is the matter of the home server / media TV machine.

http://static.flickr.com/57/254610991_919af0e7d5.jpg?v=1159416879Instead of having a big ass tv in our little office/loungeroom we use a mac mini with a 19” screen and a TV tunercard. This whole setup (along with the main router) is compactly crammed into the little TV cabinet that we use. Having all that gear installed in that little space and just one cable leaving the setup makes up for serenity and no clutter whatsoever. To be on the safe side I did mount a smokedetector INSIDE the cabinet. Since the server keeps running at night, I want to be sure we are alerted should anything go wrong. This is a tip I give to all of you geeks who have machines running at night. Smokedetectors are cheap so , mount them over your “beyond midnight” machines.Epilogue.Allthough I did not expect it … the results are quite fab. Keeping the clutter out of the room has given us a very relaxing inviting room to be in. The screens are still the main focalpoints of attention, but due to the lack of crap around them, it works out just great.  My main desk is this minimalistic fortress occupied only by 2 screens and two sets of keyboards. I thought this was going to bugg me. No extra stuff to twiddle and fiddle with seamed cumbersome. No pheripherals piled up around the setup was something to get used to . But imagine my surprise when I actually found out that I was much more focussed on my systems and could work in a concentraded manner. Also the lack of phisical devices makes one use the virtual possibilities of ones computer more. Less craptime = more screentime. The wife is very happy with all this having a couch strategicly posted in the middle of the room , facing the tv. I can look over her shoulder and peer along to the mainstream mayhem withouth having to leave my chair.  All in all .. its a match in heaven.

 

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Its not what you add .. its what you leave out . Practical pointers in simplicty.

Does your office look like a Borg hive ? 

 One of the biggest challenges in the daily life of a cyber-citizen must be .. Simplicity. Simplicity in using technology , simplicity in integrating technology , simplicity in hardware and software .. and most importantly : Simplicity in thought.
Just think of the classic example. Somewhere along the way it happened. Your ever so tidy laptop bag seams to have been impregnated by the lords of chaos them selves. What started out as a slim shiny Dell laptop-bag has now become an atrocity. Like a grotesque pregnant elephant its innards have now swollen up with meters of cables , extra floppy drives, cd’s, extension cords , paper, books and so forth. As you watch the heaving husk that , due to being terribly overweight, drags your left shoulder to the ground and makes you look like Quasimodo, you think .. Where did it all start ?
But when you look at the mess that is your office , you see a reoccurring pattern, Your office, once setup with the help of your girlfriend to be a place of fen shue , now has the characteristics of a Borg cube after a high speed collision with a scrap barge. Cables , monitors, paper , books, post it notes.. keyboards overlapping keyboards, mouse-cables in suffocating deadlocks, flashing hubs and switches.. and loads of empty coffee-cups.
The big drawback of being on the edge of real an cyberspace is that you learn a lot of new things everyday. There is so much to see, to find out, to try , to test, to use .. Everyday something comes along that takes your fancy and you add it to the list .. stick it in your bag , add it to your start menu. And pretty soon you have an immense collection of tools and toys that by no means contribute to your effectivity.

 Techno-Reset.

What i regularly do is a ‘technological reset” where I look at all the things I have and think about ways to work more effective. For example : My 4 old test computers that served as my loyal test-battery (and drove my fiancé AND our electrical bill up the walls) have now been replaced by 4 virtual machines running on one computer, My entire collection of Windows versions have been scaled down to fit on one single dvd. My overweight software collection bag has been reduced to one portable USB hard drive and so on. Its very important to find the balance between keeping up with what is new , and being overwhelmed by hardware, software, information and more. The challenge is to analise what you have , and try to distill it into a workable simple concept. This means letting some things go , or combining tools, hardware or work-methods, but this is the only way to let technology work for you .. instead of the other way around. Take for example my current podcasting setup. It started out with one computer and a microphone , but due to the demands of my podcast, has grown into : A microphone stand , A microphone, A pop screen , headphones, a Mixer , My Macbook for show-notes and skype conversations , a second computer to play music or background tracks (using a USB DJ console) and finally a Linux system to record everything on.  I must say its very versatile BUT also very complex. I am momentarily contemplating how to simplify the whole project. This will not only get me a cleaner office , it must also give me a cleaner way to do my thing : thus simplifying technology.  The “how to record skype conversation” issue has been solved as I found this little gem for my macbook  and as a replacement (or quite probably an “addition” to my studio setup I was looking at the Samson C01u microphone with a table stand .  Together with my Macbook it will give me a portable high quality studio, that can be put away at a moments notice. Using Garageband and open source software like Audacity this wil greatly simplify my podcast production.

So you see my friends, Living with technology is not about what you add .. but what you leave out in order to be as effective as possible. This will help you in working faster, thinking clearer, have more time to think and respond to creative challenges. Downloading tool after tool , installing pc after pc is easy , its looking THROUGH the technology in order to see how you can destil it, simplify it .. and tune it into your way of life. 

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