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

Creating an Improved LEGO Iron Man’s Hall of Armor

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UPDATE: I expanded this design and reported on it here.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I have been sorting my LEGO bricks. This has helped me organize the LEGO pieces that I have, and it has helped me count the quantity that I have in a given type or color brick. This greater knowledge about the bricks in my collection inspired me last night to build a better Iron Man’s Hall of Armor (above) using the “A-frame” plates or “Plate (A) 4M 45°” from 75137 Carbon-Freezing Chamber.

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My original Hall of Armor (above) was a play-oriented set, but it admittedly required care in its handling. It borrowed heavily from the Malibu Mansion and Avengers Tower sets. The curve of the armor display was accomplished with the central pad locked to the base with a 2×4 plate, each adjacent pad was connected to it with a plate hinge and supported beneath by non-locking flat plates, and the ends were connected to the base plate with 1×1 round plates. It worked, but it was fragile and admittedly very busy in its appearance. I thought that I could do better with a different approach focused on using system and Technics pieces, repetition, and strength.

First, I designed the display bad for each Iron Man armor suit. I based it around a 4×6 plate and leftover translucent blue elements from the Avengers Tower set.

I connected the five armor display pads at the top and bottom of each using the Plate (A) 4M 45°. The center pad and the end pads are built up to 1 brick height to accommodate the 3-hole Technic connector brick beneath the center pad. This is where the platform between the armor pads will connect.

The central platform has a 3-hole Technic brick at the narrow end. It connects to the hall of armor arc with three Technic connector bushings. I used 1×1 bricks with outward facing stud all along the front of the display (both ends of the Hall of Armor arc and the central platform). I affixed flat dark grey plates to these to create a contrast with the light grey of the platform surface.

This new design is more for display than playability. It is a much stronger model than my previous one, and it uses LEGO elements in new ways that I had not experimented with on a MOC before. In particular, I was very happy when the central platform perfectly interconnected with the sweep of the Hall of Armor arc. Also, I was able to build a MOC that utilized repetition in the design of the armor display pads, because I had an inventory and organizing system for my LEGO bricks. Had I not sorted my bricks, I don’t think that I would have been able to come up with this design and implement it as quickly as I did.

While you’re looking at the images, can you spot a spy in the model?

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Posted in Lego, Personal, Science Fiction

Sorting LEGO Bricks and Pieces for Larger Building Projects on the Horizon

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One of the important tasks that I had set for myself over the Spring Recess was to sort my LEGO brick collection. For many, many years, I would painstakingly look through my bins of bricks for types and colors of bricks as needed for a given project. While it was fun and relaxing to spend time searching and accumulating the bricks that I sought and discover other useful bricks during this process, it was also excessively time consuming. I have bought and sold enormous LEGO collections, but I have never properly sorted any of them. Now, I have ideas that I would like to attempt to build, but they will require a more thought out and planned approach to building than my previous work. Therefore, I realized that I had to sort my bricks so that I could take stock of what I had and be able to access my brick stock as efficiently as possible. Essentially, I would put in time sorting now to improve my knowledge about what I had, access to that inventory, and efficiency when selecting bricks with which to build.

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Initially, I wanted to use what I had on hand to begin the sorting process. I often recycled shipping boxes for working with LEGO, so I began there.

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My cardboard sorting tray worked well enough to separate bricks and pieces during sorting, but I quickly learned that extracting those bricks and pieces without their intermixing under my makeshift barriers was impossible.

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Thus, I invested in a 44-drawer Akro-Mils storage bin. Manufactured one town over from Kent State University in Akron, Ohio, this drawer system works really well for my novice sorting needs.

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I follow an iterative process for my brick sorting. I have several 12.7 quart Sterilite latch boxes full of LEGO bricks. I pick one box and see what bricks seem to be in greater quantity. I pull out drawers from the Akro-Mils storage bin and being pulling only those types of bricks (focusing on type of brick and collecting all colors of that brick). This reduces the quantity of bricks in this that Sterilite box until it is small enough to dump the remaining bricks into the next Sterilite box. Then, I repeat the process again. However, I focus on different brick types depending on what dominates in a given Sterilite box.

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With those bricks (and plates) that I have more than will fit in the drawers of the Akro-Mils bin, I repurpose the empty Sterilite boxes for those larger quantities. For example, one Sterilite box is only 1×1 or larger bricks, and another is only plates 1×3 or larger. I will use another Sterilite for slopes, another for arches, etc. With my system, I am focusing on type of brick instead of colors, because I can’t afford to purchase enough Akro-Mils bins to separate by type and color.

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Posted in Lego, Personal

Building City Tech’s New Academic Building at 285 Jay Street With LEGO

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Over the past few days, I build a small scale model of the new City Tech academic building at 285 Jay Street. Still under construction, this model highlights its eventual glass-covered transparency (see this PDF for additional renderings of the building’s completed construction) with the model’s approximately 160 clear 1×2 bricks:

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My Serious Change Through Play collaborator Patrick Corbett original gave me the idea to build a model of the new building after we made our first grant-funded LEGO brick purchase. Here is what that first, simple model looked like:

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With only a few LEGO and Duplo bricks, I was able to capture the glass structure, upper floors overhang, and intersecting curve of the auditorium. Eventually, we incorporated this model into the Serious Change Through Play branding logo. While I like this smaller model, I wanted to build one that was larger and captured more detail without breaking the bank.

To begin my larger design and assess what extra LEGO pieces that I would need beyond those that I already own, I copied LEGO brick/plate design grids (see Duckingham Design’s grids, which are terrific) into Microsoft Windows’ Paint and drew in a rough sketch of each side’s elevation:

After these initial designs, I knew that I had most of what I would need to build the base and solid-color aspects. However, I didn’t have any of the clear bricks. Luckily, I saw a bin full of clear 1×2 bricks at the Flatiron LEGO store a week ago, so I returned there to purchase those and spare bricks that I thought might be useful during the build:

After disassembling all of the bricks in the pick-a-brick container (NB: if you purchase a pick-a-brick container from the LEGO store, you should assemble all of the bricks in order to maximize how many bricks can fit and minimize wasted empty space), I used plates and bricks to construct a 20×20 stud base with a height of 1 brick and two plates (one plate level on top and one plate level on bottom):

Next, I began the fun part of the build, which I like to think about as similar to the writing process–brainstorm, draft, and revise. While I had my elevations to work from, I thought of specific ways to put the bricks together that represented the building better and served to make a stronger model. For example, using overlapping joints and interlocking corners in the upper stories look good and make the model sturdier.

The intersecting auditorium provided some of the best challenges during this build, because it has an interesting curve that is like the forward leading edge of an airplane wing. This required a lot of digging through my boxes of bricks to find pieces that conveyed this as best as possible at this scale and appear close to the colors in the building design documents:

You might have noticed a white, silver, and blue structure in the rear of the building. I felt that I would be remiss if I neglected to include the spirit of the building that used to be at 285 Jay Street–City Tech’s previous auditorium with its Klitgord mosaic (see page 8 of City Tech Connections vol. 6 no. 2 here for more information, or speak to Dr. Mary Nilles, who taught me about the history of the mosaics). The original Klitgord mosaics, crafted by Nathiel Choate and Joseph von Tury in 1962 for the auditorium building, look like this (photo by William Avery Hudson):

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Photo by William Avery Hudson.

Using the microscale of my model, I wanted to capture the color scheme and figures despite the terrible resolution of the medium at this scale. Nevertheless, I figured that I could convey that there are six human figures and a color scheme of white, silver, and blue. Therefore, I built this model of the mosaic–perhaps the preserved mosaic will have a home in the new building?

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Posted in City Tech, Lego, making, Personal
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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