May 1 2009

Transformer Desk (Prototype 1a)

by andrew

This desk project has been such an ordeal that I’m tempted to write a book about it all unto itself: how the main design goal was to achieve practical, maximum productivity – to have a place where I could stash my computer, laptop, card reader, external hard drives, firewire for video connections, and so on all connected and ready for getting work done in whatever bite-sized chunks are available throughout the day; how the design constraints included fitting this all into a corner somewhere in such away that it didn’t unduly impose on the living space of our trailer while still being a comfortable and usable work area for programming, photo editing, and video production; how various ideas came and went, multiple trips to the local Lowes (30 minutes away), redesigning it on the fly in my head while shopping when certain parts weren’t available, trying workarounds only to realize they were impossible and finally breaking down and ordering what I should have just ordered online in the first place and then waiting for it to get delivered; and of course how all the little unanticipated implications and challenges cropped up and forced reckonings (usually later than my brain was completely up to the task, but my fingers were still willing to drill and screw things together anyway): the legs that had to be longer than the space that they had to fit inside, the shelf that wouldn’t fit because I didn’t factor in space lost from other pieces, the fact that it fit nice and snug against the wall empty but not so when the computer was mounted and bumping the power strip plug in the outlet, the way one leg initially blocked my sliding shelf from sliding and everything underneath had to be remounted an inch over (and the dern leg still sticks out under the edge a bit)… oh the list could go on.

It was definitely one of those projects that grabs you and doesn’t let go – it was fun and frustrating at the same time. I could have done without a couple of those 3/4am nights. And in the end I think I’m pretty much exactly 83.15% happy with the final outcome. I had to knock some points off for the following annoyances:

  • It really is too high over all. I went with a prefab cabinet with shelves as a starting point since the width and the depth were almost identical to my original design ideas and I thought I could save time and money by getting most of the materials and hardware cheaper that way than buying everything separately and then having to cut stuff up etc . I thought the extra height would translate into extra storage space and that I could compensate by dropping the sliding shelf lower. I was sadly mistaken. Stupid geometry.
  • It is extremely heavy. Every compensation for a particular limitation ended up resulting in more hardware. It added up fast. I need to reinforce the main door hinges with additional support hinges. It certainly adds more overall weight to the trailer. At one point I considered tearing off the main door and all the heavy stuff and just throwing everything in the cabinet and using my lap for part of the desk – after all, it already folds pretty well and I can take it wherever I go. But I think I’ll just take down all the bedroom doors in the trailer and toss those out instead.
  • One leg pokes out a bit from underneath like I mentioned. Arg. Otherwise the shelf wouldn’t slide out.
  • It’s too heavy.
  • The external hard drives aren’t quite as accessible as I’d like them to be if I have to grab one and take it with me somewhere.
  • Did I mention that it’s too heavy?
  • I almost wrecked the legs adding the hinges to make my own expandable leg design since the holes in the hinges were to close to the edge of the wood and I started to split it… grrr. But so far it’s still standing.
  • Oh, and it’s also too heavy.

Other than that, it’s PERFECT. Which is why I’m going to have to completely rebuild it from scratch at some point in the not too distant future. Here I am enjoying the prototype fruits of my labors:

Finally! A Desk!

Everything you see stays in the desk all the time. It all folds up into the corner and looks (from the outside) pretty much like the original ClosetMaid product:

ClosetMaid Cabinet

ClosetMaid Cabinet

And here’s a gallery of the PROCESS and the DETAILS for the uber-curious. [There should be 24 photos there, but I’m having uploading issues on these silly wireless connections. Oh for the days of residential broadband… those days are gone. Anyway, keep checking. There are photos of the transformation stages in there too.]

Renee thinks I should fine-tune the design and start selling them to earn us a fortune. Sure, honey, I’ll just pull a few more weeks per day out of my back pocket and we’ll be in business 🙂 She’s so awesome. You should have tasted crock-pot roast she cooked up tonight, and seen the hard red winter wheat she vacuum sealed, and looked at the logos she drafted, and witnessed the dozen other things she juggled and got done today.

Apr 27 2009

Day 16: Family Day

by andrew

You may think this title a little ironic – aren’t we supposed to be on a Family Life adventure or something? Why need a Family Day? Well, yesterday… actually it built up to yesterday, but we’ve seen cracks forming in our children’s behavior pretty much since we got here. It just took one good, epic Walmart session to shake the cracks into chasms and inspire a good bit of frustration in all of us. By the way, I hate shopping at Walmart. I’m not sure what it is, but I almost always come out of there worked up. Maybe it’s all the people, maybe its the fact that Walmart is a pretty good poster child for the materialism that I’d just as soon escape completely, maybe it’s something else. But4 hours is more than I can take, and I can understand how it would demand more than the best behaved child’s capacity. But we had a LOT of decisions to make as we continue the Revolution of Organization in our tiny home, and that takes time.

Putting them to bed, reflecting on some of the disobedience that surfaced (and our own shortcomings as parents who are still learning patience and all that good stuff) we concluded that we needed a Family Day:

  1. YHWH first – give Him the day
  2. Each other second – Love > Respect > Serve each other ALL day
  3. Whatever else happened to work out.

It was a great, full day. I let Renee sleep in because she almost always lets me sleep in (hey – she’s the morning person in the couple), I whipped up some semblance (impostor) version of the homemade granola she spoils us with, we had Scripture Study and prayer, then we hit the chores: Zach did dishes, Reayah cleaned everything off the floor so Bennah could vacuum, I mounted a baby bouncing seat thing in the trailer so that Renee could free her arms up a little more often (this project took a bit of improvisation since RVs typically don’t have the kind of door frames those are designed to take advantage of), Renee got the kids bunk room in order with all the Walmart supplies, then she made Fruit Salad for lunch, then I went rollerblading with Bennah (he was riding Zach’s scooter) down “the lane,” then back in the creek with everyone, then we borrowed a sprinkler for the kids to run around in and invited the friends over…

Speaking of friends… I have a theory about one thing that contributed to the meltdowns (aside from, of course, the normal difficulty of adjusting to such a big life change, which we expected and knew it would throw things off balance for a period of time). We also realized that the kids have spent a LOT of time with their friends here – which has been great. But it isn’t “normal,” and despite the fact that we are now redefining “normal” for us as a family on a daily basis, it is at the very least not good if we aren’t balancing quality family time with quality friend time. We’ve been so busy getting settled and trying to stay on top of all the things that seem like they have to get done that perhaps we were just kicking back to be a family and have fun together as deeply as we should. Perhaps up until today (and I already had a tendency to do this anyway) we were subconsciously treating family time as just one more thing that had to get done during the day so that we could get onto the next chore.

Anyway, the whole point we’re doing this is to learn how to take our own personal expression of Family to a deeper level so that YHWH’s purposes in love for others can pour out of that. Today was certainly a neat milestone on that journey. There were still issues, but we were in a new place of strength to deal with them.

…so after all that (around 4pm) when the older friends got home from school and since it was so hot – all the sprinkler running and creek wading quickly deteriorated into massive water gun battles, pond throwing, and that sort of thing. We collected our children from the fun-tangle for dinner together as a family – one thing that we DO want to guard as “normal” – and feasted outside under the awning on grilled salmon (cooked over a new grill we are trying out that is a gift if we decide we can take it with us) and grilled asparagus (from our family friend here – she cut it from their garden today). After that: family movie time and popcorn in our cool A/C’ed mini-home and then bed time. Overall, a marvelous day together.

And we really needed it too – we are basically down to ONE week before we plan to pull up anchor and get underway again. Hopefully, this has recharged us a bit, as there’s lots to get done yet. I have to finish the desk project that I’ve been working on (wait till you see this thing!), we still have to get our overall weight down (we’re going to jettison the bedroom doors at least – replace them with curtains, ditch the blinds in the kids room – they just kick them all night in their sleep anyway, and anything else we can eliminate), replace the fresh water pump with a quieter model and keep the current one as a backup, make our reservations at campgrounds in Winnipeg and Oregon for the next few months, etc. etc. I could go on and on.

But I actually have to go take care of all that kind of stuff now… Some REALLY cool show-and-tell posts in the pipeline though… just taking longer to finish the projects that will inspire the posts. Renee and I are also trying to get $$$ work done somewhere in this all. This is really a lot of challenging fun!