Setting Up My Home Office

I’m realizing that my productivity since I moved has been severely reduced by the setup of my loft here in Irvine compared to the office I had back in Brooklyn. Herewith are some resolutions and plans for fixing that. Suggestions are appreciated.

Loft office with shag carpet and Aeron chair, quite messy

1. Fix the Carpet

The shag carpet everywhere in this apartment is evil. It needs to be ripped up and replaced; or alternately, covered with some very solid, rigid plastic or wood flooring. Shag carpet is not suitable for an office.

I can get a decent 4′ x 8′ board or two at Lowes that should suffice, if I can just figure out how to fit that in my Prius. (I just knew I was going to regret not buying the pickup truck. 🙂 )

2. Turn on the A.C.

The problem with a loft office is that heat rises. The central air conditioning in this place is not very effective. I need to improve it, or keep it running more of the time.

3. Buy a New Chair

My Aeron is just too old and decrepit. It lasted a while, but I need a new one, or something better. This won’t matter though unless I fix the floor first. (See #1.)

I’m willing to consider non-traditional chairs (kneeling chairs, recliners, etc.) but it might need to be in conjunction with a new desk. I’ll only try this if I can really try it out at a store first though.

Desk wise, what I want doesn’t seem to exist (and I’ve looked). I want a fully adjustable desk. I want to be able to independently and easily move the monitors, keyboard, and mouse to exactly where I want them, within a millimeter or two; up and down, backwards and forwards, and possibly tilting them as well. Anything that’s a fixed height is almost certainly not the right height for me, on at least one axis.

On the other hand, the one piece of my current setup that really works adequately is the table I use as a desk. It’s a big board from IKEA on top of some adjustable height legs normally used by musicians. If I can’t find anything better, this will continue to serve.

I should probably also get an extra table for random paperwork, books, disks, and other office flotsam. However, this will be less helpful if I can’t roll my chair over to it.

4. Buy a New Mouse

Done, but the Logitech I bought just isn’t cutting the mustard. The response is too linear. I need to go back to a Microsoft Intellimouse. Nothing else feels right.

5. Buy a KVM

I need to be able to access several systems easily without switching all my cables around. I need at least 2 setups and maybe 4: Mac, Linux, and PC.

The problem is most KVMs are stuck in 1998: VGA displays and PS/2 mice. Does anyone even use those any more? All my systems are DVI and USB. The Belkin Flip might be a start, but is there a 4-port version?

6. Buy an External Hard Drive

Well, really, buy some more. One thing I didn’t expect from the move was that I have now shifted over to my X86 MacBook as my primary system. Aside from some minor Warcraft glitches, it performs as well as my old dual G5 desktop, which I now rarely turn on. However it is lacking the hard drive capacity of the G5. I need to figure out which of my files really don’t need to be with me all the time, and move them onto an external drive.

The tricky part is that a lot of what really needs to move is my media. That is, my iTunes and iPhoto libraries. However I don’t want to move all of it. Some of it needs to stay with me. Is there a way to split these libraries across multiple physical disks? Another large folder that really needs to be split into occasional and essential contents is my Applications folder.

7. Get Virtualization Running

Figure out why Parallels is non-functional.

Or install VMWare.

Or get Bootcamp going.

If I can get all that done, then maybe I’ll finally be able to start doing some real work at home. I would even be willing to pay an ergonomics consultant or interior designer if they could find me a setup I’m comfortable with. But it has to start with replacing this damn shag carpet!

16 Responses to “Setting Up My Home Office”

  1. Alex Blewitt Says:

    You should look into a VESA mount for your monitor(s) and have those mounted from the wall, or at least perched onto the desk. I don’t think expecting a desk to move is realistic, but there are plenty of movable VESA mounts for flat-panel displays. I’d also recommend a desk (if you can find one) with a keyboard that slides out from underneath instead of sitting on the desk – that way, you can have plenty of books, paper, whatever on the desk and it doesn’t matter.

    I’ve got an ancient switch (VGA and PS2) and use it between my PCs all the time. Frankly, there’s not much benefit of DVI over VGA from a resolution perspective; my VGA out on my Mac Mini happily drives my 50″ HD display, for example. It sounds cooler, but doesn’t give that much of an advantage on the whole. I use a cheap 10$ PS2-to-USB conversion for plugging into my machines (not sure I have any with PS2 connectors any more) and it works fine. In fact, it works better than some USB designs because when you switch between USB systems it can appear that the keyboard has been yanked from one machine and plugged into another. If the machine is a sleeping mac, it can wake it – and if you have to cycle through the computers rather than just jumping to one, that can be annoying. The PS2 doesn’t have that – the adapter makes it look like the PS2 is always there. Lo-tech, but as with the VGA connector, lo-tech can be good. When I dock my laptop, I just drive it with the external keyboard and monitor – there’s a slot under the desk for me to put it into.

    I’d also recommend a bunch of shelves in the wall above the desk/monitor – and a bigger desk, too. There’s way too much stuff to fit in on that desk.

    As for the drive – you can probably buy an after-market drive upgrade for your iBook that will give you most of the space that you need. You can split your iTunes and photo onto a different machine if you want with judicious use of symlinks; but you have to be careful about what you put where (and more importantly, allowing iTunes/iPhoto to find them again). It’s probably easier to upgrade the mac with a bigger internal disk. You can also set up a network share on your PowerMac where you can archive files off to, and then access via /Volumes/Archive …. when you need to from home.

    Alex

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    I’ve never found keyboard trays comfortable. They tend to be flimsy and with limited room to move. They also tend to bang my knees. I’ve never seen one that’s remotely good enough for a mouse. I prefer just to have the whole table at the right height.

    My MacBook already has a 250GB internal disk. I think I could go to 300GB with aftermarket which I would quickly fill up just by installing a few more apps I want to add, but I’d really need to double that to give myself enough breathing room for the next year.

    I definitely do need to add another table. Most of my computers only have DVI out nowadays. I suppose I could try a DVI-VGA adapter. I’m not sure if my monitor has VGA in or not. Hmm, looks like it does.

    The VESA mount is a very good suggestion. Maybe what I want is a workstation where the monitors, keyboard, and mice are all on independently adjustable trays that can be locked into a comfortable position. There’s no real desk surface there, but there does have to be enough space for the mouse on its tray. (I suppose I could try a trackball but I don’t usually prefer it). I wonder if anyone makes something that would serve as that, though they may not market it for computer desks. Perhaps for drafting, musical, or hospital use? (all areas where I’ve found interesting products before.)

  3. Jarno Elovirta Says:

    Not related to tech, but you should consider getting plants or flowers. May not seem much, but they make all the difference.

  4. aha42 Says:

    I like to read what ERH says even do not always agree with him. But that is one mega correct observation: Keyboards trays are pure evil. Sure you do not have to use them, but you are still left with plate of your desk where you keys now rest that are not quite stable… This is a sigh from one who has spent enough time working in Dilbert land where your say of such options are zero…

  5. Asbjørn Ulsberg Says:

    Which Logitech mouse did you try? I’ve got a good experience with the high-ends from Logitech, like G5 or G9. They both have adjustable precision and weight. SteelSeries Ikari Gaming Mouse is also very promising. You need a good mouse pad too by the way. Just using the desk is never good enough. Ever. I can recommend fUnc Surface 1030. Expensive, but it’s worth it. Trust me.

    For KVM I can recommend Synergy. It’s just a cross-platform application running as a daemon on all the computers you want to control (confusingly called “clients”) and a corresponding daemon (called “server”) running on your main computer. The configuration is pretty unintuitive, but the application is free and works flawlessly for me between OS X, Windows and Linux. Try it out.

    Since you want to be able to move your monitors everywhere, mount them on the wall with a standard VESA monitor mount. They come in all shapes and sizes, from hundreds of different vendors. Some air pressured stuff should do the trick for you I guess, although it might become rather expensive. Another option is just to buy a cheap VESA bracket and build something yourself, e.g. wires from the ceiling or whatever. Sounds like it can be a fun project. 😉

    I think your current desk looks good. I personally hate slidable keyboard trays, as I need my elbows rested on the desk in the same vertical position as the keyboard. Speaking of keyboard, I can recommend Logitech Ultra Flat Keyboard which is both cheap and simple. If you don’t fancy laptop-style keyboards, Saitek Eclipse II looks bad, but is truly awesome. SteelSeries 7G is also an interesting option.

    Since you’re already shopping on IKEA, I can recommend their cable salad trays too, which are mounted underneath the desk. Makes the desk and area around it look neater. I would also put the wall space above the monitor to use. Some shelves, perhaps. Move the computer up from the floor, put it on a shelf on the wall for instance? Be creative, the room looks large enough and has lots of potential.

    Whatever floor you go for, buy one of those transparent protecting plastic plates to use underneath your chair so you can roll around without worrying about marking the floor with the terrible wheels they put on these kinds of office chairs (no matter the price).

  6. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Asbjørn,

    Thanks. I have the Logitech MX518. Its feel is quite good. The problem is the response curve isn’t right for me. It’s too linear. I want it even slower when I’m mousing slower and faster when I’m mousing faster. Maybe I’m just used to the Intellimouse, but these days nothing but that feels right to me.

    I’ll check out Synergy.

    I definitely want one of those transparent plastic plates. I have one in my office in Brooklyn, and I should have brought it with me. However they’re damned hard to find, especially in a decent size. What few I’ve found seem way more expensive than the old one I bought on sale from Staples or OfficeMax or one of those superstores on a whim, and that served me well for many years. Anyone have suggestions for where I could buy one? Maybe I’m just not using the right name for it when I google?

  7. Andy Babiec Says:

    I got my desk from http://www.anthro.com/

    It’s on the pricier side, but it fit my needs perfectly.

    And I had the same carpet issues with my basement office when I got it finished. They put padding under the industrial carpet which made it difficult to scoot around. The carpet got damaged one day due to a leak and when I replaced it, I excluded the padding. It made the biggest difference.

    I used to use synergy but my neck would hurt switching between 3 monitors (even next to each other). I got a better system now with 2 monitors next to each other and I remote desktop into any other computers. I find KVM switches and all the extra wires to be a hassle.

  8. Tim Says:

    Sounds like you’re looking for something like http://www.amazon.com/Dual-Desk-Mount-Arm-Black/dp/B000GGY8W4/

  9. Adrian Says:

    Backboard + hoop on the bin will up your hit rate and make you feel better about yourself.

  10. Asbjørn Ulsberg Says:

    Elliotte,

    Did you enable accelleration in the mouse drivers? You might need to install Logitech’s driver suite to enable the feature, but when it’s on, the mouse pointer movement should accellerate with the speed of the mouse. I think it works fairly well.

    The floor protecting plates we’ve installed in our home office are Kolon from IKEA. I’d recommend the transparent ones, although the flowered patterned are kind of fun too. 😉

  11. Pat Farrell Says:

    You need commercial rugs in a desk area, they are built for the beating of the chair rollers. Hardwood might be nice.

    I had to have an AC firm add another source outlet in my office. It was just a small bedroom in the house, and two desktops, a printer, a laptop and me overwhelmed it.

    I could never live with such a small desk. I keep lots of stuff on my desk, so I can find it. Then every few months, I have to clear off all the, er, stuff.

    I use belkin KVMs, but depending on the OS and mouse, you may lose all the fancy keys. My MX518 gets stupid when I switch from Linux to Windows and back.

  12. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Pat,

    Agreed on the hardwood. I’m looking into it. There are other desks in the office not shown in the photo, and I may add another. Unfortunately Logitech does not offer any drivers for Mac OS X or Linux for this mouse. Maybe it works better on Windows. 🙁

    Asbjørn,
    I’ll try to drop by IKEA this weekend since I’ll be in the neighborhood anyway. Are those plates hard, rigid plastic? I have a carpet protector now, but it’s not really solid enough.

  13. Rand Says:

    I eliminated KVM usage on my Mac minis by setting them up to use screen sharing. It’s dead simple in Leopard, but still pretty simple in 10.4 Tiger.

    On the machine whose screen you want to share:
    System Preferences > Sharing
    then choose Apple Remote Desktop. Click the Access Privileges… button, and choose your options. To allow sharing to VNC clients, the lower section has a “VNC viewers may control…” checkbox with accompanying password field. Check it, enter a screen-sharing password (not necessarily an account password), then OK to dismiss, and Start to turn screen sharing on.

    On Leopard, just enter screen sharing in Spotlight’s search field. Or google for it.

    VNC is a semi-decent client, and has multi-platform versions. Chicken of the VNC is a Mac version.

    One word of warning: with no USB keyboard plugged in at all, some Macs will enable Bluetooth at boot time and search for devices. Bluetooth will then REMAIN enabled after boot. You can control some of this using the Bluetooth prefs pane.

  14. horst Says:

    Look for UNICLASS KVM Switches. DVI and USB suport – even dual link DVI (= 30″ TFT).

  15. Asbjørn Ulsberg Says:

    Elliotte, the plastic plate is about 5mm thick so it bends easilly. I wouldn’t recommend having it on top of a soft floor, like a carpet, but I guess it would work better than what you have now.

    A little neat thing I forgot about Synergy is that it not only enables sharing of KVM, but the Clip Board as well. Copying something on one computer makes it possible to paste it into a completely different one, independent of operating system. It only works for text, though.

  16. Gaurav Says:

    Synergy … can’t live without it. I have 3 PCs at work with 4 monitors. There is no way I could work without Synergy. Only problem is that its a bit flaky at times and the clipboard sharing doesn’t always work. At the same time there are enough people at my firm with 3-4 machines and 8-9 monitors, they all use Synergy. Just remember to keep the keyboard/mouse of the slave accessible for the times when synergy goes crazy.

    Keyboard trays were created by/for people who use their keyboards no more than 3 minutes in a day.

    After having experimented with desks with moving parts …. I’ve found that simple large flat surfaces are the way to go. Ikea is great for them – just don’t buy chairs from them. Another good alternative is to buy used (real) office furniture – its usually 5 times heavier and sturdier than consumer stuff.
    Get the largest desk you can fit in the room.
    If you are like me and like multiple monitors stay away from monitor mount arms. They move too easily – which means that the monitors easily go out of aligment – and a slight nudge to one of the monitors can ruin your day.

    I have a Logitech G7 wireless mouse (which comes with 2 battery packs – so one charges while you use the other) – but YMMV with macs.

    Invest in a docking station (dunno if they make those for mac notebooks).

    Go easy on climate control – get a fan instead – the planet and your electric bill will thank you. I have the Seville Classic Slimline from Costco but you can find similar ones elsewhere.

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