April Blogroll: Desk Top Edition

Dear readers:

One of the few things I felt I was certain of when I got my tenure-track job was that I would upgrade my home desk. True, she was the easiest thing to move, comprised of two industrial, cross-hatched legs topped by a black slab of particle board, unattached. Aside from being easy to move and store (and having cost less than $100 all told), it was also romantic. In the early 1980s, my mother had always invested in tablecloths because my parents’ first dinning table was just a door—knob hole and all—balanced on top of two koa tree trunks. (It was only replaced when my grandmother accidentally put a glass through where the knob should have been. The full-sized, immovable dinning set I grew up doing homework on appeared two days later.) My modular, penny-pincher of a desk was a romantic reminder of good starts.

I write to you, dear reader, after six years of MA and PhD work and two years in a job, from this same desk.

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I will freely admit that I was naive to both the housing prices and the fiscal rewards of steady employment. Both have provided peace of mind, a comfortable waistline, and overall wellness, but no new desk. Rather, she’s been retrofitted, overtime, to become a space where I feel clear of clutter and yet have all the practicable tools I need easily at hand. In this month’s blogroll, here are some of the things I’ve used to make my low-rent desk highly effective.

External Monitor

About midway through the dissertation, my back really started letting its presence be known. I needed to be looking straight forward rather than crouched over a desktop. During tone holiday season, another graduate school friend and I went dutch on a 2-for-1 deal on monitors at BestBuy. It meant that we both got 20+ inch, video-game quality screens for less than $80. Shortly thereafter I was gifted with an iPad, so my laptop now rarely travels out of its cradle—meaning it will last longer, too. My back ache was instantly remedied and I could now manage multiple documents onscreen at a font size I could manage.

High-backed and armless

 Having had scoliosis as a young girl (surgically corrected) means, one, I have a rather fussy back and, two, I have an easy answer to opt-out of all those community-building yoga sessions. For me, I love a high-back for support. Arms, however, drive me crazy. We are typing for most of our working hours, so they need not have a place to rest. That, and I am constantly adjusting my sit bones to avoid stiffness. This means popping up one leg in a half-pretzel on the seat under the other leg, which is motion hampered by arms. Ikea solved my problem for both an office chair (LÅNGFJÄLL swivel chair in red, $180) and a reading chair (STRANDMON wing chair in a now-discontinued green, $230). Neither hem me in while providing full-spine support.

Desk pad

This is something I tried out in the last year when the ol’ desk started to show its wear. It isn’t a mouse pad, although it is made of the same material; it is an all-over pad. You can get them in varying sizes, but essentially they are super-sized mouse pads that have a rubber bottom (to prevent slipping) and are machine washable after one too many tea splashes. From No Bad Mondays, at Etsy, you can get them in several lengths depending on your desk and preferences, and in a wide range of patterns ($14 – $35). You can even design and monogram them to your tastes. I’ve gifted a couple of these now, and am drawn to the marble patterns, personally. The biggest benefit is the wide range of mouse movements available when your whole desk is covered.

Bluetooth and cordless

I find the clutter of cords stressful. No zip-ties or color-coded velcro seem to fully hide these tethers to power. As a Mac user, I like the Magic Keyboard (without number extension, $99) and Magic Mouse 2 ($79 ) from Apple.  I’ve had good success with Logitech products for other Bluetooth needs, so I’m sure there are many good options on this front. I’ve never experimented only because both of these have lasted so long. I bought my first keyboard and mouse—both second-hand on Ebay—eight years ago and only had to replace both in the last month. The mouse was truly dying, not connecting with the computer consistently. The keyboard was my own fault, where a trip over the cat had me spilling coffee all over it a few weeks ago. The space bar started producing semi-colons, so I knew it was over.

An added Bluetooth accessory I recommend is the Bose SoundLink Color Speaker ($130). It has great range and can receive input from up to three different devices at once. Mobile and water-proof, I have a lot of friends who keep it in the kitchen. As I run Spotify mainly from my phone, so it is an unobtrusive and crystal-clear tool to get my writing tunes no matter where in the house I am.

Cork Coasters

As this post has suggested, the tea and coffee spills have been getting out of hand lately. In a recent trip to Ikea, I spotted these lipped cork coasters (2 for $1.50) designed to cradle your warm mug or seltzer can. They are brilliant. I leave them everywhere now as stabilizers for those necessary thinking-cap brews. If the mug doesn’t fit, I flip them over and they form a little pedestal that still does the job. I realize some purists swear by no-drinks-at-the-computer, but I haven’t been able to exert so much will power.

If you’ve been following along with the blogrolls the last few months (here, here), you’ll note that this one diverts from the path in not discussing the book proposing process. I’ve been thinking about the ways I reward myself for academic work, especially in the times I push myself through something I’d rather not do, as well as the wider conversation about work rewards. Namely, do you reward yourself with a new desk before finishing the book, or after? I wrote four degrees at this little desk, so there must be something about its affordances and the cognitive ecology it makes available that works for me. Would it actually be a reward to reinvent a system that already works? Or are there more effective set-ups I’m simply not entertaining? Your thoughts, reader, are always welcome.

Happy writing!
Elizabeth

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