Desktop Shelving Epic Continues: Notched Shelf Added in the Middle

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What began as a simple shelf to raise some of my LEGO sets off the workspace of my desk and rose to incorporate a higher shelf to accommodate more sets that I brought back from my parents’ home is now a three tier Franken-shelf.

It quickly became evident that I needed more shelf space for a few more sets that I had assembled. Also, I noticed that the 16″ space between the lower and upper shelves of the second phase construction was more than necessary. It seemed that 8″ headspace was required for most of my LEGO sets. So, I set about adding a third shelf between the lower and top shelves.

I decided to notch this 1″ x 10″ x 4′ shelf and install it only with deck screws through the upper shelf supports. I measured 46 1/2″ between the two supports and the 1″ x 4″ supports are 3/4″ thick. This is where I made a mistake with my initial cut. My measurements were correct, but during the 5 seconds that it takes for me to talk from my closet (where the desk is) to the living room where I had left my handsaw, my mind misremembered the measurement as 46″ between the supports. This meant that I cut 1/4″ more than needed on each side of the shelf! Luckily, I had a scrap piece of 1″ x 4″ board that I cut 1/4″ fillers from and glued into the notch to fill the missing material.

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The shelf is centered on a line at 8″ between the top of the bottom shelf and the bottom of the top shelf, which is a distance of 16″.

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My deck screws extend through the supports and filler, and enter the shelf securely. They are spaced 1″ inside from either end and the third being in the middle (3/4″ from either end screw).

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The new shelf easily accommodates a number of sets from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who.

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If I had planned out the shelves better than I had, I would have built the entire thing using only wood and deck screws (my previous blog posts explain how I used metal brackets and braces). This would have lowered the cost and it would have had a better craft appearance than horribly kludge-like. Nevertheless, it gets the job done–I can see my sets above and continue building on my clearer workspace below.

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Posted in Lego, Personal, Technology

In Search of a Better Backpack, Review of The North Face Electra

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Despite being labeled for “Women,” I recommend The North Face Electra backpack for anyone needing a compact, EDC bag that can accommodate a 10.5″ tablet. This is my new work bag that carries the things that I need daily without incurring too much added weight.

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In a previous blog post, I wrote praise for the Magnoli Clothiers’ British Mark VII Gas Mask Bag reproduction, because it is a good everyday bag for carrying an iPad mini, notebook, lunch, and thermos. It is still a good bag, but I sold my iPad Mini after I got Apple’s new 10.5″ iPad Pro, which would not fit in the Mark VII without the removal of the supporting material stitched through the center of the bag. As you can see in the photo above, TNF Electra is slightly larger than the Mark VII. The Mark VII has just shy of 6L capacity whereas the TNF Electra has 12L capacity.

I use the TNF Electra to carry the same, essential things as I used the Mark VII to carry, but the difference between the kits is the iPad upgrade from mini to Pro. Above, you can see the various pockets that differentiate the TNF Electra. It has a padded tablet sleeve in the main zippered compartment, the front flap has a Napoleon-style pocket that I use to hold my cellphone, a small zippered compartment in the lower left for change, keys, or another small item, and a slightly larger zippered compartment at the top of the back beneath the grab handle that holds all of my small, regular use items like hand sanitizer, eye drops, pen, pocket knife, etc.

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The TNF Electra weighs the same as a Jansport Superbreak–12 oz. However, the Superbreak has more than double the capacity–25L. The difference between the two packs is that the Electra has a smaller surface area against the back, and it has more substantial padding in the back and around the tablet sleeve. The Superbreak has thin back padding and no laptop/tablet sleeve. The TNF Electra’s zippers are more subtantial YKK brand than what Jansport uses on the current Superbreak packs.

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The TNF Electra features “Women-specific back panel and shoulder straps.” These have worked fine for me, too. The pack rides high on my back, which I prefer to a pack that is lower, because it allows my back to breathe more and remain cool on my long walks to-and-from work.

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The TNF Electra that I have is black heather and burnt coral metallic (it reminds me of Apple’s Rose Gold). Y liked my bag so much that we got her one in dark eggplant purple dark/amaranth purple.

I like the TNF Electra, because it holds just what I need, is lightweight and compact, and helps me stay cool on my daily long walks.

While its labeling and colors might signify its use by a specific gender, I think its better to focus on one’s needs than on the social signifiers made into a tool–in this case–a useful bag.

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Posted in Personal, Technology

More LEGO, Another Shelf

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In my previous blog post, I documented a shelf that I built for my low-cost Ikea desk.

Since then, I brought back two checked bags full of LEGO from my parents’ home in Georgia where I had been storing it. I have not put all of these sets together or sorted the loose bricks into bins, but became quite clear after assembling 2/3 of the sets and two additional sets from eBay that I would need at least one more shelf.

To add another shelf, I needed to shore up the existing shelf and build up from it.

Two constraints to the height between the two shelves were the enormity of the Tower of Orthanc (10237) and the height of the room’s ceiling. I settled on a height of 16″ between the two shelves to allow enough room for medium- and small-sized sets on the lower shelf and larger sets (including Saruman’s lair) on the upper shelf.

To add the new shelf, I needed to purchase one 1″x10″x4′ pine board (the shelf), two 1″x4″x4′ pine boards (one of these was cut in half to support the lower, existing shelf and the other was cut into two 16″ long lengths to support the upper, new shelf), two packs of 1 1/2″ braces, and two packs of 2″ brackets (the smaller brackets that I used for the original shelf were sold out at the local Lowes).

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To shore up the lower shelf, I added a 24″ support to the front of the shelf. Originally, there was only one 24″ support at the back of the shelf, which was plenty for the needs of accommodating the few LEGO models originally put there. With the additional weight higher up from the new, upper shelf, I wanted to ensure that the lower shelf on which the upper shelf is built can sustain the weight and any torsion. I affixed each of these new, forward supports with two deck screws (pre-drilled) from the top of the shelf into the stop of the support. At the bottom, they are held in place with braces on the outside against the edge of the desk top.

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The upper shelf has two 16″ supports that affix to the back of the lower shelf. The upper shelf is attached to the supports first with two deck screws (pre-drilled) from the top through the shelf and into the supports. On the outside, they are connected to the lower shelf by a brace on either side. The shelf is strengthened with a brace at the top, too.

On the inside, brackets are used where the support meets the lower shelf’s top and the upper shelf’s bottom. Instead of using the metal braces, I could have used wood braces–such as another 1″x4″x4′ board running underneath the shelf and cut 3/4″ on either end to accommodate the supports. A few deck screws from top and sides would have made the shelves even stronger. I wanted to avoid the shelves catching more light in my dark office than they could, so I opted to use the metal brackets, which should be strong enough for this installation.

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Now that the new shelf is installed, I realize that I need another shelf! Maybe I can fit one in between the lower and upper shelf. As you can see above, I can’t go any higher on the upper shelf or Saruman will go through the roof!

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Posted in Lego, making, Personal

How to Add a Shelf to an Ikea Table Top Desk for About $16, with Thoughts on Making

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I believe that it is important for everyone to make things. Making uses the brain and the body. Making acts on the world. Making is an expression of ourselves. Making can be for ourselves alone or it can be shared with others. Making can be meta, too–making about making (like this blog post). Making in all of its forms is a really big part of what makes us human.

Doing a bit of making today, I built a raised shelf for my IKEA table top desk using pine boards. It began as a thing for myself, and it continues as a thing shared with you here.

I like working with wood. Unfortunately, I don’t get to build things with wood as often as I would like. When I lived in Atlanta, I had space and tools. Here in New York, I have little of the former and few of the latter. Nevertheless, I find small ways to stay in the woodworking game by building things to solve problems such as the state of my work-at-home desk:

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Even with my Intel NUC PC taking very little space on my desk, I felt overrun by my LEGO creations: Hogwarts Castle in the back, Rogue One scenes in the front, and Iron Man’s Hall of Armor to the right.

My LEGOs took the most amount of desk area, so I made it my goal to move them above my workspace onto a new shelf that I would build with materials acquired from the Brooklyn Lowes.

My IKEA table top measures 47 3/16″ wide  and 23 1/2″ deep. I wanted my new shelf to be high enough to clear my HP 22″ LCD monitor and tabletop lamp. I figured 24″ height would be enough clearance. Also, I wanted it to be deep enough to hold my LEGO models but not deep enough that it excessively shaded my desk or posed a problem for my forehead. So, I figured 10″ depth for the shelf was good enough.

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At Lowes, I purchased a 1″ x 10″ x 48″ pine board (to make the shelf supports), 1″ x 10″ x 48″ pine board (to serve as the shelf), 4-pack brackets (to support the shelf against the supports and the supports against the IKEA table top), and 4-pack braces (to affix the shelf’s supports to the IKEA table top). The total cost for these materials was about $16. Also, I used four deck screws that I had on-hand.

A note about selecting the shelf: If you’re doing this on the cheap like me, your selection of wood can serve in your favor. What I mean by this is that instead of building a shelf with some kind of support underneath it to prevent warping due to the weight of what you place on it over time, you can select a warped board and use the warp in your favor. To do this, find a board that is not overly warped but has some warp in its breadth. When building your shelf, have the warp pointing upward. Of course, running a support under the shelf and affixed to the shelf support on either side will strengthen the shelf to hold more weight, but with a light duty shelf like I am building, I chose to save the material and money.

The 1″ x 10″ x 48″ pine board was actually 47 15/16″ long, which meant that it would overhang my desk by 12/16″, so I split the difference and marked the shelf supports 6/16″ or 3/8″ from either end of the shelf. Also, instead of centering the shelf supports, I placed them at the rear of the desk and the rear of the shelf. Again, this is a light duty installation, so I didn’t think this would become unstable with how I planned to use it.

Next, I cut the shelf supports out of the 1″ x 4″ x 48″ pine board. Surprisingly, it was 47 15/16″ long, which is closer than 48″ than I expected. To cut it in half as accurately as possible, I took my miter box saw width into consideration with planning my cut. As you can see below, I wrote on the board which side to cut on to offset the board’s odd measurement.

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The next step was affixing the supports to the shelf using deck screws that I already had on hand. Of course, pine is soft wood, but there is still the possibility of splitting it, so I pre-drilled four holes in the shelf (two on either end for each support) and two holes in the top of each shelf support. Before drilling, I drew a box on the shelf bottom for each support’s location. I halved this lengthwise and then marked 1″ from either end for my drill/screw locations. I did the same for the ends of each support board so that the holes would line up when I drove in the screws.

The final step of completing the shelf and shelf supports assembly before installing it on the IKEA table top involved installing two metal brackets to prevent shelf sway. These came with tiny philips-head screws, so I took a risk and did not pre-drill holes for these.

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Finally, I installed the shelf assembly on top of the IKEA table top using four braces and two brackets. Each shelf support received two braces on the outside, and one bracket on the inside, centered. Again, I did not pre-drill holes in the IKEA table top or the pine board. I figured that the IKEA table top has a honeycomb structure inside with only parts of it being reinforced for the table legs and frame. I hoped that there would be enough material for the screws to dig into, and it seems to have been the case. However, I had to up the RPMs on my cordless drill to get the screws started and through the laminate covering the IKEA table top.

With the construction phase completed, I was able to begin enjoying my new shelf resting above my desk.

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And move my LEGO models into their new home.

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The making, of course, didn’t end there. In parallel, Y and I took pictures of my building progress. Then, I began writing this blog post and embedding the photos to share with others (another form of making). Maybe now, you will go make something of your own!

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Posted in making, Pedagogy, Personal

Magnoli Clothiers’ British Mark VII Satchel Review, an Excellent Everyday Carry EDC Bag Inspired by Indiana Jones

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A bag is a form of technology that helps us move our things from place to place so that we can get our daily work done. Every bag has affordances and constraints. Unfortunately, I find myself running up against what I see as unbalanced trade-offs in these affordances and constraints for my particular circumstances.

I don’t begrudge a tool’s constraints. In fact, these constraints can be quite liberating. For example, Thomas Lux, my former poetry professor at Georgia Tech, would purposefully give his students specific constraints for a week’s assignment: there can be only so many words, there can be only so many lines, there must be the color green, etc. He explained that these constraints open up possibilities that would not have existed had he not instructed us to create a new work of poetry based around these constraints. Put another way, while affordances are the explicitly designed ways and interfaces for using a technology, constraints can open up new, unforseen possibilities along the lines of William Gibson’s important observation: “the street finds its own use for things.”

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Of the bags that I do own, I’ve unstitched a lot of the fluff on my small Timbuk2 messenger, and I’ve unriveted and cut the unnecessary branding and features of my STM Aero 13 backpack. I’ve made them more usable for me, but I come to realize that I didn’t like how large they are for everyday use. Certainly, if I’m going to the store for groceries, a larger bag is better (my stock Jansport Super Break II is usually deployed for these missions), but I’m thinking about the gear that I carry everyday.

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So, my bag problem came to be one about just the needed size for the things that I carry everyday. I should explain that these are the things that I carry to and from work. This is about a 2 mile round trip walk. This makes weight and comfort a prime consideration. Also, as I think is true for many instructors, if a large enough bag is available, I tended to bring a lot of work home with me in the form of books and stacks of papers. However, my interaction with this material often was simply via osmosis instead of material-in-hand engagement. I would carry things home with an intention of using the materials and then returning them to campus later, but this often didn’t happen. Life gets in the way (or simply exhaustion–probably from lugging 10 pounds of student work a mile down Court Street), and the books and papers would be returned via a return trip to be used ultimately on campus. Thus, I wanted an EDC bag that would obviate the possiblity of using it for carrying these kinds of materials. Also, I thought that this change might turn me to using my tech gear in a new way–digitizing and scanning only the most important and pressing work to carry home on a device or upload to the cloud.

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As you’re probably familiar with, the character Indiana Jones made famous the anachronistic British Mk VII gas mask bag (the bag did not yet exist during the period of the first three Indy films). When I was a kid, my cousin Amie and her folks gave me one of my most precious gifts–a Dukes of Hazard shoulder bag. I wore it everywhere and it always contained my most essential kit–toys, candy, and a leather whip. Yes, I fancied this bag as my Indy bag. When its strap broke, I tied my best knot to keep on adventuring with it. Looking through old photos like the one above when I received it, I was reminded about how much I liked its size and simplicity.

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In my searches, a name kept popping up: Magnoli Clothiers. It is an outfit based in New Zealand that specializes in making clothing and prop reproductions from film and television (and other bespoke tailoring services, too). Many folks online–especially in forums discussing Indiana Jones–recommended their reproduction of Indy’s bag called the British Mk VII Satchel. I figured that its low cost justified trying it out. Also, I liked that it didn’t include a shoulder strap. Magnoli Clothiers offers an add-on leather strap, which would make the Mk VII satchel match Indy’s customized look (the original Mk VII bag has a built-in canvas shoulder strap). For me, however, I decided to get a 55″ Rothco General Purpose Nylon Strap. It is adjustable and has metal hooks on either end to mate with the customized metal rings on either side of Magnoli Clothiers’ Mk VII satchel.

The British Mk VII satchel measures about 11″ x 11″ x 3″. It has a number of compartments. The front-most pocket holds an Apple iPad Mini 4 with Smart Cover and a Muji A5 notebook. The large middle compartment is open at the bottom, but there is a divider making the left side slightly larger than the right. I put my 16 oz. Zojirushi thermos on the right and my lunch/supper fixings (usually MREs) on the left. Rolling about in the bottom of this compartment, I leave my pens, pencils, pocket knife, flashlight, eye drops, and Advil. In the back of the back against your body are two small pockets–my phone goes into one of these and my business cards in the other. Sewn between these pockets is a small pouch that holds a 1 oz. hand sanitizer bottle perfectly.

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Over the past two weeks, I’ve been having great success with the British Mk VII satchel. Its affordances (It carries my essential things to and from work) and its constraints (Its smaller volume made me change my workflow to be honest with my carry-home workload and essentially carry less to and from work) have worked out very positively for me. I’m curious about how it will hold up in the long term, but its already received bumps and brushes on the street, train, and campus without any appreciable wear. If you are looking for a small bag for essentials, drink, food, and personal electronics, I highly recommend the British Mk VII satchel.

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Posted in Personal, Technology

Updated and Expanded LEGO Iron Man’s Hall of Armor

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While continuing to sort my LEGO brick collection, I discovered four more Plate (A) 4M 45° pieces. With these special elements in-hand, I updated and expanded my LEGO Iron Man’s Hall of Armor, which I wrote about previously here.

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I used a similar repetition for each armor suit pod, but I added one stud roof tiles (Roof Tile 1X1X2/3, Abs) at the base of each vertical transparent blue wall on either side of an armor suit.

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Armors from left to right: Mark III (Iron Man film), Mark VI (Avengers), and Mark XVII “Heartbreaker” (Iron Man 3)

To complete the model, I needed Iron Man’s armor with the triangular arc reactor window from the first Avengers movie (Mark VI armor). I ordered the 30167 polybag on ebay from a seller in Brooklyn (interestingly, it takes longer for mail to arrive from within my city borough than it does from California or even Germany at standard postal rates!).

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Armors from left to right: Mark XVII “Heartbreaker” (Iron Man 3), Mark XLII (Iron Man 3), and Mark XLIII (Avengers: Age of Ultron).

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Armors from left to right: Mark XLIII (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Mark XLV (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Mark XLVI (Captain America: Civil War).

I needed to redesign the base, so I opted to give it a symmetrical support underneath and and a stairway entrance in the southward position. It connects to the circular armor pod assembly with Technics connector pegs and bricks under the northward armor pod. While the center platform makes a tight and neat fit to the upper three pods, its plate studs do not line up with the side or bottom pods (there is a slight gap of about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch).

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It is a sturdy model that can be lifted from any point. Due to its limited interior space and the size of my adult hands, it is difficult to remove and replace the Iron Man armor in each pod.

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My next idea for the set is to elevate it by about its current height and create a crank-driven lift in the central platform for Tony Stark’s grand entrance. This will take some more planning and time. I’m sure that Ant Man will be watching my progress.

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Posted in Lego, Personal, Science Fiction

Everyday Carry (EDC) LEGO with Tiny Sets, Minifigures, and Muji’s Portable Case

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Usually when folks talk about Everyday Carry (EDC), they are referring to preparedness, emergency readiness, and SHTF. It can also mean the kit that one carries on his or her person everyday for whatever reason. I would like to expand EDC to include LEGO.

For me, and I suspect many others, LEGO is a source of imagination, thought, expression, and stress relief. Why not carry a selection of LEGO bricks, pieces, and minifigures with you for any eventuality–thinking through a problem, filling spare time, demonstrating an idea to others, or sharing fun with a friend.

Muji’s Portable Case (64 x 52 x 20 mm) is a very good size for an essentials-only LEGO kit that can fit in a shirt pocket, pouch, or bag (shown above). The Portable Case easily holds two LEGO minifigures, a minifigure with bricks, or bricks alone. I have included photos of sample kits that I built to use with the Portable Case as a LEGO EDC: an off-road vehicle with obstacles, an aeronautics set, an Iron Man set, and a The Last Starfighter set with a Gunstar and Kodan Deck Fighter.

Off-Road Vehicle

Aeronautics Set (with control tower, two rockets, and airplane)

Iron Man Set (with attacking robot and blasted wall)

The Last Starfighter Set (with Gunstar, Kodan Deck Fighter, and asteroids)

Of course, these are only a few of the infinite possibilities for building your own LEGO EDC. An Altoids tin would serve a similarly good purpose to hold a small selection of LEGO bricks, elements, and minifigures for building on the go. I imagine that children (and not just AFOLs) would dig something like this, too.

I picked the Muju Portable Case due to its size and sturdy construction, but Muji has other size cases that would work well if you need to carry additional LEGO in your daily kit.

EDC LEGO kits should be something that bring joy to the work of imagination and building. Carry what you need, and keep your kit fresh for the cognitive and imaginative work at hand. Also, we can spread the joy that comes from this mind-work with our hands to others with customized kits tailored to friends or coworkers’ needs.

If you build your own LEGO EDC, let me know on Twitter!

 

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Posted in Lego, Personal, Science Fiction
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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