Tag Archives: make

Mechanical Desks

While reading about secretary desks, I came across a related type I had never heard of before, the mechanical desk. A fad of the 1700s, these desks featured mechanisms that hid shelves and surfaces when not in use. It’s a real shame that these didn’t make a comeback when computers became widespread. Computer desks were dreadful. While hiding a 21 inch CRT that weight 150 pounds wouldn’t have been easy, the idea hiding materials when they are not needed appeals to me.

A modern interpretation of the mechanical desk is the Crescendo C2 from Stilvoll. I like how it looks like a drafting table, but expands to reveal bins. Of course, the role these bins play could have been solved with a traditional divided drawer. Still, this got me thinking.

I’ve considered getting a desktop computer, yet I don’t know what I would do with it. At work I love my MacPro and its three 24 inch LCDs, and part of me would love to have that setup at home, even if I don’t do much coding at home. If I ever took to telecommuting regularly, I’d need such a setup, including the Steelcase Leap chair, as even a 17 inch laptop just doesn’t quite cut it. Assuming I had desktop computer with multiple displays, I wouldn’t like having the monitors dominating the desk space. Yes, LCDs have a much smaller footprint than CRTs, but they still are visually imposing. Sometimes that’s what you want, but sometimes it’s not. A mechanical desk that could retract the screens would be great. Even better, if the desktop could expand. Perhaps a second pullout spring loaded leaf, kind of the like the Crescendo C2, but with a pushdown panel that has the screens mounted on swivel arms. Fold up the monitors and push them down into a little protected area behind the desk. Hide the tower and assorted wires in pedestal, and put file drawers in the other pedestal. (Personally, I prefer desks with legs rather than pedestals, but such a desk would look weird with big solid front on it.)

This is something I’m going to need to draw out.

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Blind Date Swingers Club

Blind Date Swingers Club is a rotating club event in Berlin, that sounds very cool, and very reproducible. Everyone brings a mix tape (well, CD) of music, along with a note and contact information inside the jewel case. The music is left with the DJ. At the end of the night, everyone takes a CD that someone else made.

I love how this is a really simple idea that encourages the discovery of new people and new music. I’d love for a Bay Area version of this.


Just a reminder, Maker Faire is this weekend at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. 10 am to 8 pm, Saturday. 10 am to 6 pm Sunday. $20 adult, $10 student (with valid id), $5 kids.

Schedule is packed. I’d recommend Trisian Shone, and the Raygun Gothic Spaceship, which just looks amazing.

I doubt I’m going to make it this year. Instead, I’ll be attending the SF Fine Art Fair.

LED Sea Urchins

Evil Mad Scientist combined some LED throwies with sea urchin shells to create these interesting little lights. Throwies show up a lot on Make, probably because they’re brain dead simple, and like everything with LEDs, fun to look at. Wikipedia even lists some throwie derivatives.

I guess this means LEDs are the new candles. They’ve already taken over floaters, but at least the tea lights still have hot air balloons.

Pinball Coffee Table

When I first saw the Pinball coffee table back in 2006, I thought it looked cool (colored lights shining up on people’s faces always brings a warmth to the heart of this scifi geek.), but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine actually having one.

A couple of years ago, I went to Shorty’s in Seattle. This bar has booths where the table has a lit pinball playfield in it, just like the pinball coffee table. (In fact, Shorty’s was the inspiration for the coffee table.) Suddenly, I thought that pinball coffee tables were actually feasible!

I talked to some friends about it, but they’re all against the idea. As Ming put it, “It would look like a kid’s room.” It’s hard to really argue with her, when you see Ed Cheung’s table in the living room.

I’m not criticizing the build, but I guess the idea. (Even though, I still kind of want one. Especially if it remained playable.) It’s a party piece, but not everyday piece. That’s what I’m saying.

Crappy Coffee Table Concluded

So we got a real coffee table of Craigslist for free. It’s nice, much better than this thing. I still went ahead and made the table though. There was no real reason not to, since we can find something to use it for. I give it a C in high school shop. I talked to my dad, and put it together with pocket screws using a Kreg Jig Jr kit. I tried using the right angle clamp, but I never got it to work. Whenever I’d lock it down, it would pull out of the pocket hole just enough to slide down, destroying the flat inner surface so you couldn’t put it back in the same hole. (My dad gets the clamp to work, but I never did.) If I had to do it over again, I would have gotten just a normal corner clamp.

I don’t really like it, but I guess it’s okay for being made out of scraps. I just wish I paid more attention when put the pocket holes in.

It’s heavy, and it’s square. I’ll give it that.

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Crappy Coffee Table

A couple of months ago Ming and I decided redo the closet in the bedroom, since it was falling apart. We replaced the rod, and was going to replace the bent shelf with a new shelf long shelf, and then add some side shelves. So we went down to Home Depot and bought one of those crappy particle board covered in white melamine. Unfortunately, we had the guy cut the side shelves an inch too narrow, and left the long board way too wide. (Lesson: Always bring a ruler, and know exactly how big you’re talking about.)

While we were able to hack together something to use side shelves, we were left with three unused side shelves and long shelf. Since we need a better coffee table than the one we’re using, we decided to knock together one from the failed closet attempt. I think the only parts I’m going to need is a saw (probably will by a handsaw since this isn’t really worth buying a jig for), and probably a four half inch square by 18 inch long blocks so that I have something to screw into. Maybe, I’ll need another two solid blocks that are 23 inches long for the back as well. Maybe even four more 23.5 inches long to run along the top too.

While I like the idea of building a table, this is going to look so horrible, it’s not even funny. Wood screws right through the sides, chipped melamine, and peeling edge tape. It’s going to pretty embarrassing. So why am I posting about this? I don’t know. I’m stupid I guess.

Well, maybe it won’t look that bad.

Sketch Up Model


Jim Blackhurst’s SmartLED SolarTherm is a minimalist information display. Consisting of an RGB LED, a watch, and an ATTiny25 microcontroller. The chip contains a temperature sensor whose reading is displayed as light pulses. According the comments on Makezine, the internal temperature sensor is +/- 10 C (+/- 18 F), so its not very useful.

SolarTherm is simpar to M27’s Zach DeBord’s pummers. These charge a capacitor from a solar cell, and when the light level drops, the capacitor discharges, and causes an LED to blink.

While as an ambient displays these are visually interesting, especially Zach DeBord’s pummers, these seem to suffer from the main problem with all ambient displays. They trade simplicity for usefulness.

I want the display to be both pretty, but also informative. The display needs to be immediately interrogated. Similar to the how a grandfather clock provides a chime ever 15 minutes to an hour, but also can be viewed in order to learn the exact time. I’m thinking of something like Riedi and Gloor’s Weather Diorama.

Things like Nabaztag or the infinitely more endearing, Michael Kaminsky and Paul Dourish‘s SWEETPEA (aka “The Microsoft Barney Paper”) are more confusing than anything. Even baseball signs aren’t that confusing.

Maybe the best ambient display I’ve seen was simply a string hanging from a DC small motor wired directly into an ethernet cable. As packets would pass, the motor would be powered, causing the string to wiggle. As the network activity increased, so would the vigorousness of the string’s dancing. The great thing about this display is that it’s immediately and intuitively interpretable, while something more complex requires the user to learn some of sign language.


Way back in 2004 when I was still using a multiheaded Linux box as my primary machine, I wrote a command line utility to change the background picture of my desktop. I gave it the catchy name imlibsetroot in the vein of other similar utilities, such as xsetroot and Esetroot. The main difference between my utility and these others was that mine allowed you to set different pictures on each monitor.

I posted it on my .edu account and must have made an announcement on Freshmeat, and figured no one else would ever use it. I mostly forgot about it. The program was pretty much complete, so it just sat there in “maintenance mode.” I used it regularly for a couple of years, added a single trivial enhancement/fix, and soon after that, I stopped using it when I switched to a mac.

I’ve thought about it from time to time. Mostly whenever I’m forced to deal with Apple’s horrible desktop background preference pane. Then today, while engaging in a vanity google, I found this.

Not only was there another user of imlibsetroot, but apparently he was a long time user, and fixed an actual bug, and then started hosting his fixed version himself.


What else could I do? I downloaded his version, patched my version and then emailed him a new copy.

Just in case there’s someone else out there using it and will stumble across this, I’m posting it here, along with original imlibsetroot webpage, but with a link to the newest version.

Enjoy imlibsetroot 1.2!

Update: Wed Mar 31 17:27:02 PDT 2010
I got off my ass and wrote a wrapper script for MacOSX. (I don’t think multihead is supported on MacOSX.) imlibsetroot rides again!


A Xinerama Aware Background Changer

imlibsetroot is pretty much Esetroot, but much more feature rich. This program was originally designed to set backgrounds on individual monitors in a multihead setup. Then composition was added so that it could be used with webcollage, but webcollage has its own program that does pretty much the same thing, so that was pretty much a waste of effort. Alas, I only checked how webcollage actually worked after composition was added.

Anyway, this is what I use to set my background in sawfish.

imlibsetroot requires Imlib2.