Tag Archive for desk

Get Handsy

Our school is cutting back on traditional industrial arts programs and pushing more kids into heavier math and science courses, and it bums me out.

Not because math and science aren’t important, mind, but not every kid is looking to go on to college or to become an engineer. Even if that were the case, what good is an engineer who’s never put his hands on a wrench? Would you trust an architect who hasn’t at least framed up a shed?

Adults shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. There’s satisfaction to be had in a lot of this work, and in many cases it can save a few bucks.

The Workspace Tour

Yep, I built this. It’s not a work of art, but it works well and it’s the most comfortable desk I’ve used because it’s custom-made for my height.

“I’m not good with tools” shouldn’t be an excuse. If you grew up with cartoons, you have a pretty good idea how a hammer works. I’m not saying everyone should be able to turn a beautiful table leg on a lathe (I sure can’t), but hanging a shelf on a wall should be an easy job.

I’ve changed the brake pads on one car and on my motorcycle. I happened to have the tools for those jobs, and it wasn’t bad. All it took was a manual, a YouTube video, and the guts to tackle the job. Labor for things like that? Usually around $85.00/hour.

Car oil & filter changes are so cheap these days it’s worth it to go to a mechanic, especially when they top off fluids and perform other simple services and checks at the same time. However, I think it’s a job every car owner should be able to handle in a pinch. Tire rotations are too time consuming to do on my own (and most dealerships do it for free if you buy your tires there), but I’ve put on several spares. Nobody should have to wait for a tow truck for a flat tire.

Tinkering on the motorcycle is fun. Sometimes the narrow spaces in and around the frame and engine are frustrating, but I’ve swapped the battery, installed battery minder leads, changed the oil and filter, changed the brake fluid, and changed the brake pads, all because taking it to a motorcycle mechanic is inconvenient. Soon I’ll be handling the spark plugs and maybe the spark plug wires. The only thing I’ve paid for is tire swaps and a new chain and sprocket install. I just don’t have the proper tools or environment for those, and if I get them wrong, I could be in a world of hurt.

I first learned to get handsy with a water heater. It had a leaky overflow valve, and someone put a scare into me about possibly cross-threading the new valve and having to replace the whole thing, so I called a plumber. He was at the house for less than 15 minutes. The part? About twenty bucks. The total bill? $90.00.

Never again. When the bottom finally rusted out of that water heater, I purchased and installed the replacement myself. We had a misstep with the flux when we sweated the copper pipes, but one conversation with the owner of the hardware store put us in the right direction. Years later, thanks to that experience I was able to help a friend cut an old, broken water softener out of his water line and sweat new pipe in to close the loop.

In our new place, when the thermocouple quit on the water heater (which it did repeatedly until a recall had me replace the whole burner assembly), I replaced it myself. Not difficult at all. Another friend sweated turning the gas on and off when his thermocouple quit, so he paid a plumber. Once again, small job, big bill.

I’m not saying we should take money out of some working stiff’s pocket. We once had plumbers dig up and replace a sewer line to the tune of $4K because it was too big a job. But I’ve replaced toilets and kitchen & bathroom faucets without batting an eye. I’ve helped a friend install a countertop, and I’ve wrestled with a garbage disposal for an hour until I realized the gasket was upside down. These are sometimes annoying jobs, but they are not difficult or highly technical.

In fact, I think a great number of smaller mechanical, plumbing, and electrical jobs are done simply because the car/homeowner doesn’t want to deal with it. Meanwhile, we probably saved hundreds of dollars across all of those jobs, and the sweat equity and satisfaction made them worthwhile.

I paid out to have a furnace installed and several windows & a door replaced because they’re just too big a job. However, I’ll be tackling a laminate floor and building a soffit in the near future. First time for both, but the flooring just snaps together and I’ve helped with a small drywall job, so I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for. Wish me luck.

Now I include my oldest son in all of these jobs, and sometimes his younger brother, depending upon the job. Heck, the boys installed the last two brackets of my desk because I didn’t feel well. I want them to have the confidence to do some of this stuff on their own when they move out, whether or not they have the opportunity to take a shop class in high school.

And ladies, this applies to you, too. My wife may not have had the muscle to break the lug nuts loose on one of those tire swaps, but I’m sure she could have handled any of these other jobs with the same instructions I looked up.

We’re both looking forward to our daughter learning some of this stuff soon. If she ends up having to change a flat tire while out on a date someday, she’ll know she needs to dump his ass, won’t she?

Next time you have a small job around the house or on your vehicle, ask yourself, “Can I handle this myself?” Then dig in and get your hands dirty.

It’s worth it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Where the Magic Happens

I’ve been using my new desk for about a week now, and I’ve managed to keep from burying it under a ton of extra stuff. I’m rather impressed with myself.

The Workspace Tour

Finally a desk I want to spend time at

Even more important, the desk is very comfortable. My last desk was constricting and had a lot of dead space consumed by the towering corner stand for the monitor, but I didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten until I sat down to work at this desk for the first time. Now I can comfortably read my notes or refer to manuscript pages, slide over a few inches to do paperwork, keep all my extra devices within reach, and not have the desk lamp shining in my face, all without giving up valuable work space.

My office is also my workout space. I lift weights four days a week, and my barbell plate tree is peeking in from the left edge of the photo. This desk leaves more room for maneuvering the barbell around, and it’s not as disastrous if I forget to move my chair before unracking the barbell for presses. Beneath the desk, my printer makes a pretty good—if somewhat expensive—stand for my running shoes.

Moving across my desk, from left to right:

  • Internet stuff and the VoIP phone. Telco-provided routers are cheap-ass garbage. The wireless on this thing dies 3-4 times a week, but I’m too cheap to replace it with a better router. I call the phone The Ratphone: we only keep it around for the Rugrats for emergencies. Far cheaper than a landline we’ll never use.
  • My Lift Big Eat Big lifting straps. These babies have been a life saver the last few months. I messed up my forearm in a judo match and my grip was shot. These let me continue lifting with pulling movements like deadlifts and rows, and as my grip is healing, they allow me to pull more weight so my grip doesn’t become my weakest link.
  • The next silver box is my external backup hard drive. If you have anything of value on your machine, you need one of these. The dead simplicity of Time Machine on the Mac makes backups as simple as plugging it in and forgetting about it. It’s already saved me a ton of time once with a dead hard drive. Between Time Machine, Dropbox and CrashPlan, my data is pretty much disaster-proof.
  • Desk lamp. My overhead light sucks. I’ll replace the fixture someday.
  • Rubz ball. Sounds kinkier than it is. Helps massage out plantar fasciitis. Allegedly.
  • Freedom: Credos from the Road by Sonny Barger. I usually have at least one non-fiction book around. They’re often martial arts-related, but right now it’s motorcycles. This book is a solid read; a good look at freedom by a guy who’s given up a lot of it.
  • The Piccadilly notebook. Not near as solid as a trusty Moleskine, unfortunately, but it gets the job done. And I prefer mechanical pencils, preferably with retractable points that won’t stab me in the leg in a pocket.
  • Android smartphone. My leash and my lifeline.
  • The iMac, my main workhorse. Why a Mac? Because five years on, it still runs like the day I bought it. No fuss, no muss, no crazy maintenance. It just works. I hate Windows, I still like Linux, but I love not having to tinker and tweak all the time.
  • Marv! Throw the switch and he gets laughs off his electrocution.
  • A stack of electronics: MacBook Pro, Samsung Chromebook, and an iPad 2. Not a one belongs to me; they’re primarily for the day job (tech director for a school district). They all come home a lot.
  • A binder from my karate dojo. This one has a lot of notes from a class where we talk about goals and leadership, and a lot of it applies to writing and career goals.
  • My messenger bag. Usually for lugging around a portion of the stack of electronics. Right now it has pens & pencils, ear buds and an iPod nano, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a pencil-edited short story manuscript. Oh, and a giant rubber band for rehabbing my forearm.

My camera is usually around, too, even though I don’t use it near as often as I would like. In contrast, my bookshelves are a lot more cluttered than my desk, and are buried under more than just books and comics.

Workflow is separate from workspace, so I may address that another time. I have several workflows, actually, often depending upon the device and/or the project I’m working with at the moment.

I’m typing this from my second workspace: a small table on my front porch. Laptop and a cigar, though no drink tonight. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen it before. The important thing, of course, is that the work gets done, not where it gets done. All I really need is some kind of keyboard (or, in a pinch, the notebook and pencil) and a quiet spot.

And now that this post is done, I still have some of this cigar left. Off to do some real work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Achievement Unlocked: New Workspace

After fixing two separate sinks with two separate problems this week, I decided to keep on with the handyman routine and build the new home office desk I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

New Floating Desk

Quick shot with the smartphone before I bury the surface with office stuff.

Total cost: about fifty bucks after I return an extra bracket I didn’t need. This is a 6′ x 23 1/4″ bullet-nose shelf from Menards, supported by a trio of commercial shelving braces mounted to the wall studs with cabinetry anchors. I thought I’d need more support toward the front of the desk, but I found braces long enough to do the job. I’ve inadvertently leaned on the edge a couple of times now and it doesn’t budge, so I’m calling it good.

I have a few extra holes around one brace because stud finders are bullshit. Turns out Bob Vila agrees, and I used his advice to measure from an electrical outlet to find the right location. Boom, braced. And it just now occurred to me that I put the stud finder right back in the tool kit it came with, apparently so I can make the same mistake next time. D’oh.

I have to thank my sons for helping me out, particularly the eldest who installed the last few wood screws to anchor the shelf/desk to the braces. We had a light lunch and were starving after the Menards trip, so we hit Taco Bell quick. The Volcano Burrito I ate gave me a huge headache and had me feverish and puking within an hour. We’d have been done a lot faster if I didn’t need breaks to worship at the porcelain altar between measuring, drilling and leveling.

I’m very happy with the result so far. It takes up far less space in my office, I mounted it at a more comfortable height, and it will give me a lot more work surface to play with. I also see now that I need to rethink my wall decorations; everything is up high due to the huge frame of my old corner desk. 

My original vision included a small space to use as a standing desk for occasional work on the iPad or laptop, but that would take up far too much workspace and would require more carpentry work than it’s worth. It also turns out I can buy an Ikea Norbo for $30 and mount it in a separate spot if I really want one. The Norbo wouldn’t match my desk surface, but I’m typically a function-over-form guy. Heck, look at the sand-colored walls and blue carpeting I inherited from the previous homeowner; one year I really will get around to changing all that. I can live with the paint, but there’s also a birdhouse wallpaper border that has to go.

It wasn’t the lazy Sunday I’d originally planned, but I’ll call it a successful Sunday despite Taco Hell. I’m looking forward to putting this thing to the test with some writing sessions over the next few days.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.