The following is a guest post from my friend Julio Ojeda-Zapata. He is a technology writer for The Saint Paul Pioneer Press (my hometown paper), geek, and all around great guy. You may also know him from his appearances on This Week in Tech.
I think there are many out there who struggle to find the same control over their workplace computing environment as they do their home. For most, there is less choice at work over the tools you are given to use. As someone who works for themselves, I wanted to have someone speak to this quandary and tell their story. Thankfully, Julio was happy to step up to the podium.
My cubicle at work made me uneasy for years, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. This year, it dawned on me what had bothered me for so long — It was my computer stand.
You probably know the kind. It’s an adjustable metal apparatus with dual surfaces, one for a PC and monitor, the other for the keyboard and mouse. The surfaces slide backwards and forwards with a yank or a shove, as well as upwards and downwards via a rubber-sheathed metal crank.
My workplace has dozens of the stands, positioned alongside cubicle desks. My co-workers toil on the stands without complaint. In a bit of an epiphany, though, my long-suppressed hatred for these Rube Goldberg contraptions bubbled to the surface — and I knew I had to be rid of mine.
To grasp why this stand bothered me so much, you need to know how I work in my home office.
I have the simplest of desks, consisting of a sturdy rubberwood table my wife and I picked up at Pier One Imports for a pittance when we were newlyweds. It was our cozy dining-room table for a long time, until we bought something larger and more appropriate for entertaining our friends.
Then it became my workstation. It was too tall for typing, but my wife — who, unlike yours truly, can be trusted with power tools — fixed this by taking inches off the legs and reattaching them.
Thus transformed, the table became a single, broad work surface for a succession of all-in-one Macs, with plenty of room to spare for peripherals and the printouts I fan out when I am writing.
The table is typing and mousing heaven, with an obscenely ample area for my optical rodent to roam unimpeded, and curved edges that cause no irritation to my underarms and wrists during my marathon work sessions.
Commercial computer tables don’t measure up. These range from cheapo OfficeMax versions with ridiculous slide-out keyboard trays, to hyper-expensive variations from the likes of Anthro and Biomorph. Sure, the latter are elegant and ergonomic — even electrically powered, in some higher-end cases, for raising and lowering with push-button ease — but I’m not about to spend hundreds or thousands for such Lexus-like furniture.
My rubberwood desk adheres to the Minimal Mac ideal: It does its duty with absolute simplicity, maximum efficiency, minimal cost, extreme elegance and complete comfort.
My PC stand at work offends me in many so ways. The faux-wood typing surface is barely wide enough for the keyboard, with little extra room for a mouse. Its legs are enamel-painted metallic tubes ending in ugly, jagged-edged openings; the rubber covers intended to camouflage this are always missing. So is that absurd hand crank, forcing me to go in a frantic hunt for a substitute.
A couple of months ago, I reached my breaking point and had the stand banished. I needed no replacement brought in, as it turned out. I already had one: my cubicle’s desk.
This surface was too tall for comfortable computing, but I knew it could be lowered to precisely the right height. I’m sure millions of cubicles around the world have the same flexibility.
With my stand gone and my desk adjusted, I sighed in relief as I rolled my computer chair up to the ultrawide typing station and got busy (on a Mac, of course). This felt just like my rubberwood table back home. All the mechanical complexity was gone; a single, exquisitely positioned work surface remained. I like my job, and this allowed me to like doing it.
My new computer setup, though, made me something of an office oddball. Visitors to my cubicle would become flustered as they sensed something amiss — it took them a second or two to see that the PC stand was gone. No one at my office, to my knowledge, has ever done such a thing.
But I’ll never go back. This is what freedom feels like.
Some of the old timers may remember one of Apple’s most famous ad campaigns – “What’s on your Powerbook?”. In it, celebrities and some regular folk were pictured with their Powerbooks and revealed in text were some of the things they used it for. Even back then, I was highly fascinated by the tools people use and how they use them and this fed that crave quite nicely.
With the new release of Simplenote, I thought it might be fun to list just a few of the notes I have in mine with the hopes that others will share theirs as well. If you do decide to post yours up somewhere, @reply me your name and a link to your list on Twitter and I will update this post with it as my time allows. Sound fun? Great, here we go…
What’s in my Simplenote?
Bits of words and wisdom – Where I keep nice phrases and well written sentences I run across on the Internet.
Yay me! – Where I keep a little list of meaningful accomplishments. I look at this whenever I’m feeling down about myself. It also came in handy for performance reviews back when I had a “real” job.
Home Stats – Any measurements I take around the house I keep in here so that, for instance, I always know how big the dining room is or the cubby holes in my office desk hutch. Things like that.
My wife’s standard order at Chipotle – So I don’t have to call first if I’m picking some up for dinner or lunch.
My personal manifesto – Things I believe in.
OK, your turn. What’s in your Simplenote?
Jack Mottram (who, as usual, displays mad ninja skills)
I have been a dedicated user of Simplenote for quite some time. Almost everything you see here on the site is either synced to it via Notational Velocity or written directly in the iPad or iPhone app.
The new version was just released and it is nothing short of amazing. They have chosen just the right features to add, and the right polish on the UI, while still maintaining what brought its users here in the first place — Simplicity.
Some of the new features that matter to me are the ability to “pin” notes you select to the top of the list, word and character count, full screen mode on the iPad version in landscape orientation, and versioning.
Seriously nice work. If you have not tried it yet, well, I’m rather surprised you have bothered reading this far.
I want to talk about something very important. Something that, I feel, has gone increasingly unnoticed – in fact abandoned in many cases – on the internet today. It’s increasing disappearance is akin to that of an endangered species. It’s so small that, when its population dwindles, people stop noticing. Pretty soon, we will look up one day and it will simply be gone. If we do not take action now, only those of us who remember the early days of the Internet will remember it. Then it will be too late. For this reason, I plan to take drastic action now. What is this rare yet important part of the online ecosystem?
The “via”, as we online writer types call it, is what you see at the bottom of a post giving attribution to the source where you found the link. For instance, take a look at the recent via I gave for this link to Scott Adams’ The Less Feature:
(via Chris Nuccitelli)
Not only did I acknowledge who pointed me to the article. If you click the name, I link directly to the exact place and words he used to point me to it. Obviously, I can’t do that in every case. But where I can, I will.
Here is another example from one of my other websites, The Random Post:
I made it very clear the events that happened that led me to not only the link, but also the fact that I initially saw it and passed it over but then, thanks to a trusted source linking to it, gave it secondary consideration.
Then, there are cases like this:
(via Ben Kogan who, despite my offer, said it was not necessary to link. He was just excited to share it.)
Ben sent me the tip off for the link via email. Therefore, I could not have linked to the exact source. Even though I asked if he wanted me link to his personal site or some other place when I gave him the via, he told me he did not. Guess what? I still need to make it clear why I am not linking to the source.
Attribution and acknowledgement of sourcing are not only the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do, they are the very strands in the thing we call the web. They are what connect it all together. They help to explain how I got here from there and why. They also help you navigate back down that thread and, hopefully, onto other places filled with wonder, curiosity and delight.
Many on the web have become far too relaxed at doing the simplest of vias:
(via Minimal Mac)
I wont call out any specific examples. It really does not matter. What does matter is that I not treat my vias with the same lack of care. Therefore, I feel I must overcompensate for my own transgressions in this area. To make it up not only for the ones I have failed to do, but to make it up for the rest of those who do not. Especially those who fail to link this site in that chain of knowledge, thus potentially robbing their readership of examining the threads herein. Therefore, you will be seeing a lot more hyper-explanatory vias from me. I will not be perfect at them. I will forget and fail. In fact, the iPhone photo from my friend Jorge that I linked earlier failed to receive a proper via. It will go like this:
(via Ian Hines. Despite Jorge being my friend, and I a reader of his photoblog, I failed to see this photo before)
See, one less missing via. Baby steps.