It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A little design and fab for the portfolio

I’m focused on contracting right now (and lining up work for March and April if you have anything) and considering a couple of f/t jobs that might open up this Summer.

I’m also doing some design work for my portfolio.   One is a software project for a x-y table interface to help people who need to crank out work and optimize time.  It’s almost feature complete for testing on the Lasersaur project, but I’ll probably redesign/recode every screen at least once before it hits Alpha.  That’s just how new software projects work, write what you think you should write, evaluate, then plan on writing most of it again now that you know what you want.

The other thing I’m doing is furniture and fixtures.   For decades I’ve used toolboxes for storage and it’s not so bad in the shop where I can hang walls of pegboard then store rarely used tools in a toolbox.  But in my studio where there is no room on the walls?  I’ve had a toolbox on my studio bench for 10 years and am constantly trying to find the right wrench or widget.  I made a rotating tool stand on a whim and it’s so damn useful I put it for sale on Etsy and made a demo video:


posted by jet at 11:53  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

standing vs. sitting in the classroom

Interesting article in the NYT on a classroom fitted with standing/sitting/perching desks. One teacher got the idea after seeing children squirm, and now the students are being studied:


Researchers should soon know whether they can confirm those calorie-burning and scholastic benefits. Two studies under way at the University of Minnesota are using data collected from Ms. Brown’s classroom and others in Minnesota and Wisconsin that are using the new desks. The pupils being studied are monitored while using traditional desks as well, and the researchers are looking for differences in physical activity and academic achievement.

“We can’t say for sure that this has an impact on those two things, but we’re hypothesizing that they may,” said Beth A. Lewis of the School of Kinesiology, or movement science, at the University of Minnesota. “I think we’re so used to the traditional classroom it’s taken a while for people to start thinking outside the box. I think it’s just a matter of breaking the mold.”


I think this really great news on a variety of levels. Kids can burn off energy without being labeled disruptive or ADD and they also will have a mindset less accepting of poor ergonomics when they get to college or the workplace.

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posted by jet at 12:26  

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Review: Nomadic Furniture

[EDIT:  James Hennessey points out the book is in print again from Schiffer, ISBN 0764330241.]

An area I get distracted by often is tools for nomadic living. I grew up moving around a fair bit and I’ve spent much of my adult life dragging around a portable office of one sort or another. It used to be a leather Day Runner(tm), notebooks, a Sony Walkman(tm) and random art supplies; these days it’s a laptop, tri-band ham radio, sketchbook, iPod(tm), and random tools for safety and personal care.

What I haven’t thought enough about is the next step up from the overstuffed courier bag, actually taking my entire house and all my possessions from place to place on a regular basis. It’s one thing to move my office from home to cafe every day, but moving all my stuff from town to town on a regular basis? That’s something a bit more complicated, especially given how much crap I (as well as everyone else) tend to own.

Becoming a truly nomadic person seems to boil down to two simple steps:

Step 1: Get rid of all the crap you don’t need or put it in some permanent place. You’re going to need to do this before you get to the next step…

Step 2: Own only those things that are easily transported and that you absolutely need. One thing that most of us absolutely need is a bare minimum of furniture, and that’s where Nomadic Furniture comes into play.

Nomadic Furniture , by designers James Hennessey and Victor Papanek, is by not an exhaustive examination of all nomadic furniture but a basic overview of the fundamental types of furniture that people need and how those living the nomadic lifestyle can travel with the furniture they need.

It’s an interesting read now, as it was written in the 70s during the first big oil crunch. The attitude is dated but at the same time completely relevant in terms of the need to conserve energy, reduce consumption of resources, and follow the general model of reduce, reuse, recycle. (If you’ve read Cradle to Cradle, some of this will seem oddly familiar.)

Hennessey and Papanek don’t just show you pictures of furniture you can buy, rather they show you how you can make most furniture on your own. The diagrams are simple and straightforward and are such that they are easily modified and scaled to meet individual needs. Some of the plans are very much in the style of Danish Modern (or IKEA) while others seem a little quaint by contemporary standards. I doubt the dimensions for LPs and cassettes will be useful for many people making storage shelves in this century.

There are a couple of groups of people that I think would greatly benefit from reading this and photocopying some of the plans. The first group are college students who move on a regular basis and for whom saving every penny possible on furniture is worth a little labor. The second group are the true nomadic types, say hardcore burning man participants or people who travel and camp for weeks at a time. There are some creative sleeping and storage solutions in Nomadic Furniture that I will be trying out before our next trip to the playa.

There are only two problems with Nomadic Furniture that I feel the need to point out. The first is that it’s no longer in print, but used copies are easily found on and The second problem is the nearly unreadable typography. I’ve been a huge fan of hand-illustrated and lettered manuals since my first copy of Muir’s How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot, but the strange typeface used in Nomadic Furniture is too much for me. It’s alien enough that the book is an amazingly difficult read, a distraction from the quite clean and readable illustrations.

Find it used, photocopy what you need, then sell/trade/give it to someone else who would find the information useful.

Cite (if you’re interested in my generating BiBTeX refs in future reviews, please speak up):
Hennessey, James and Papanek, Victor. Nomadic Furniture, Pantheon Books, 1973, 0-394-70228-X

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posted by jet at 18:07  

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design, Galen Cranz

I picked this up at a used bookstore because it was only a couple of bucks and it was something other than another boring picture book of beautiful but uncomfortable furniture that I can’t afford and that nobody will want to sit upon. What I was looking for: an academic discussion of the history of chairs that would teach me the right “design words” to use in class or when talking to designers. What I found: an excellent history of things to sit upon, the social issues around why we sit, and the sorry mess we’ve gotten ourselves into by sitting on chairs for far too many hours a day during the past century or so.

Cranz — a Professor of Architecture at Berkeley — boils down the history of chairs, sitting, and ergonomics in plain terms that can be understood by the lay person. This history helps explain the ergonomic nightmare we live in today and suggestions on ways we can start to improve our situation.

I’ve always been (too?) willing to question elements of the world I live in, however where I sit has never been on my list of things to question. I don’t like sitting in chairs nor sitting up straight; I prefer to lounge, lie down or sit on the floor while reading, watching TV and even when doing metal work or fabrication. While this leads to interesting discussions at home about who is hogging the couch or why there are magazines spread all over the floor, it’s never led to my thinking about why I try so hard to avoid sitting in chairs. My job requires me to sit for extended periods of time (and I have worker’s comp RSI receipts to prove it) but when I’m doing something I want to do, I’m often standing at a workbench, sitting on a stool with rollers or squatting on the floor.

A few years ago I accidentally started studying Japanese wood and metal working techniques while studying Japanese history and modern Japanese design. One of things that surprised me was the number of modern Japanese craftsmen who to this day sit on the floor while doing rather difficult labor. Even an episode of Discovery’s Biker Build-Off showed the Japanese bike firm Zero Engineering working the way Japanese metalworks worked for centuries: sitting on the floor.

As it turns out, sitting in chairs at a workbench or table is the odd way of doing things in the big historical picture. Until the industrial age, plenty of people sat on floors or stood while working. If the average person was (is) lucky enough to have something upon which to sit, it was likely a bed, bench or simple stool without a back to lean against.

Not only did The Chair open my eyes to the “pro-chair” Western bias that we have sold to ourselves and other cultures, it also helped me understand just how much of modern chairs is form and how little is function. I never really understood why the really expensive designer chairs we had at work or the fancy chairs my friends bought were so uncomfortable. The simple fact of the matter is, they’re supposed to look good, not be useful chairs. These chairs were not furniture, they were art. Now there’s nothing wrong with filling your house with expensive art, but expecting your guests to sit on the art and be uncomfortable is another matter entirely.

The act of sitting in a chair, especially for extended periods of our waking hours, is a modern invention and something our bodies were not designed to do. We did not evolve sitting in chairs, they were thrust upon us (or us upon them) over the period of a few short centuries. This is stating the obvious, but the unstated obvious is that our bodies don’t like it one bit. We are suffering many health problems related to chairs and the sedentary lifestyle they encourage: back and neck pains, varicose veins, RSI injuries and so on. Making matters worse is the use of chairs that are picked not for their functionality or long-term effects on the human body, but for their form and cost.

The solutions are simple: stop sitting, sit differently or at least minimize the amount of time spent sitting. Solutions like these are easy to say but not easy to implement in a chair-based culture that is focused on short-term benefits . The average American is probably not used to sitting on a backless chair for hours on end or standing while working at their computer. “Perching”, or making a tripod of your legs and a chair, is also going to take some getting used to for many people. Sitting in chairs has destroyed our muscle tone and posture so much that what should be a simple task — standing or sitting up straight without any sort of support — is difficult for most people. The next time you’re in a “waiting” situation, in a doctor’s room or waiting on take-out at a restaurant, try standing instead of sitting and see how long you last.

Another problem facing a change in how we sit is the relationship between employer and employee. Some of these solutions — which would require spending as much on an employee’s chair as you do on their computer if you expect them to sit for several hours a day — are not going to go over well with the business community. I’ve done facilities management consulting a few times, and it’s amazing how much a company will spend on a computer that will be replaced in a year and how little they will spend on a chair and desk they expect to last for a decade. Spending $300 on an office chair when there’s one available for $250 requires extensive justification, while buying everyone a new PC every year for $1000 is obviously a good decision. Complicating matters, many employers will not let employees bring their own chairs to use at work, so an employee who’d rather perch or stand can’t even pay for it out of their own pocket.

Unlike many books I’ve read in the past few years, The Chair has made a quick and positive difference in my every day life. I sold my Aeron and have a Hag Capisco (designed for “perching” not “sitting”) on order. I bought a cheap-but-comfortable task chair in the meanwhile, ripped the arms off and sit forward on the seat with my feet elevated enough to take the weight off of my thighs. In the few months I’ve been working with better posture, I’ve noticed that I can stand for longer periods of time, that I don’t have achy legs after working all day and that my infrequent migraines and frequent neck-aches have all but disappeared.

I think the best possible thing I can say about Cranz’s The Chair is that it’s one of the few books I’ve ever bought extra copies of to give to co-workers and friends.

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TeX Dorkery:

Address = {500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110},
Author = {CRANZ, Galen},
Edition = {Softcover},
Isbn = {0-393-31955-5pbk},
Keywords = {chair design},
Publisher = {W. W. Norton},
Title = {The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design},
Url = {},
Year = {2000}}

posted by jet at 23:34  

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Furniture 2

I’m finally finished with my first indoor furniture project.

“But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one.” — Howard Waldrop

Some Things I Believe

The Dependency Tree of Great Works

  1. To create Great Works, you must think bigger than life.
  2. To think bigger than life, you must not just ignore, but actively refute the fundamental laws of time and space.
  3. To refute the laws of time and space, you must be aggressively ignorant, delusional on a grand scale, or dangerously schizophrenic. Pick the one that gets you laid.
  4. Stop screwing around getting laid and get back to work.

If you only try what you know can be done, you’ll never do anything new or different. Everything you do will just be a copy of someone else’s work, and who wants to be a copycat?

Time and cost estimates for first generation products are lies. “I’ve never done anything like that before, but I can do it in two weeks and for $10,000.” 6 weeks and $100,000 later you’re finished and it’s still not what they wanted

You won’t finish an original design in the amount of time you thought you would. Mentally prepare yourself now to cut something out or move the deadline. If it’s for Burning Man, you’ll cut the design by half and still be finishing it on the playa.

Now I can tell you this story.

I signed up for an introductory furniture making class at The Crucible and needed a project. I started out wanting to make a simple entertainment center. (Well, I actually started out wanting to make a throne, but it was suggested by someone who has a say in these sorts of things that perhaps I should make something a bit more practical that we actually need.) We looked around the house for something I could make and finally admitted that while it was functional, our Ikea Tubeholden entertainment center simply didn’t match our collection of Mission and Gothic furniture.

Make a simple entertainment center out of tube steel and wood that reflects our existing furniture? “No problem!”

Well, there were some problems. Rather than tell a long, drawn-out story, I’ll summarize a few of the screwups and setbacks.

What you draw isn’t what you build, the model is what you build

What you draw is an abstract representation of what you want to end up with. Somewhere between the drawing and the making reality throws a big wrench in the works. In my particular case, the two big wrenches were “too many small pieces that need to be welded together” and “where do you think the other side of a bolt goes, dumbass?” The lesson learned here is do multiple refinements of drawings, then make a model. I didn’t make a model because “it’s so simple I don’t need a model.” It doesn’t matter if it’s two popsicle sticks glued to a coathanger, make the damn model.

Don’t try to learn a new tool and do a new thing with the tool at the same time

I started laying out the strap hinges in Illustrator even though I’d never used it before because “I need to learn Illustrator”. Two hours later I went to find my french curves and a pad of drawing paper. After drawing out something I liked, I scanned it and imported it into Illustrator to clean up, resize and print out as a template. (This would probably have been a good project for Vectorworks, and I’m decent in Vectorworks, but I was frustrated with computers in general and knew I could do it right on paper.) Lesson learned: don’t learn new tools if you’re doing something you’ve never done before. Learn new tools doing something you’ve already done. (I know this from metalworking, why I don’t apply it to computers is beyond me.)

Don’t believe the hype (or the label, or anything else you didn’t confirm yourself)

A 1×4 is not 1″ x 4″. The paint will not cure as quickly as the label said it would. The depth gauge on the drill is probably busted. It will require more than two coats of stain. Your garage is not a “dust-free environment”.

Ok, so enough of that

Here’s what a class at The Crucible, $500 in raw materials, and an additional few weekends in the garage led to:

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posted by jet at 13:14  
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