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


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


And move my LEGO models into their new home.


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!

NASA and the Postmodern

Yesterday, I picked up my Grandpa Gerald’s wedding ring from Kent Jeweler’s after it was resized. In preparation for wearing a ring all the time, which I am not accustomed to, I am wearing my high school class ring.

Why am I doing this? It’s something that I’ve learned from NASA and their preparation for human space exploration. NASA scientists and engineers realize that humans may react in unexpected or unanticipated ways when presented by unexpected experiences. In order to prepare astronauts for space travel, NASA subject astronauts to the sensations of rocket launches, operating equipment under duress, and atmospheric reentry. These simulations were originally copies without an original. They were extrapolations, approximations. So the first Americans in space already had an idea of what it would be like. Likewise, the first astronauts to visit the Moon, said it was just like what they saw in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The real was preceded by the copy, the representation. Thus, NASA, and manned space exploration in general via science fictional representations, are buttressed on the postmodern. Is it possible for someone to experience outer space without the taint of these simulations? I don’t believe that it is necessary for this to happen, but I do contend that we should be aware of these influences on our experience and the way it influences our subjective experience.

Does all of this also mean that our wedding will be postmodern? No. In a mundane way, I am merely acclimating myself to having a ring on my hand, because in the past, wearing a ring distracted me while typing (as it is now, but not to as great an extent as it did when I first began wearing it again).

Mars and Beyond, Thinking Big

My students are watching Walt Disney’s Mars and Beyond in class today. They will write a response to the film over the weekend that will be one element of their second essay assignment–constructing a narrative of our solar system.

As many times as I’ve seen Mars and Beyond, it never ceases to amaze me how big Walt Disney and his hired consultants, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger and Dr. Werner Von Braun, thought about our future exploration of Mars. They weren’t thinking about having a single ship make the first voyage, but instead, a whole armada–six ships–would make the long trip to Mars.

It’s almost over now, so I better run, so I can hoof it to MOU. I hope the technology works as well over there as it did today in SFH (besides the high pitched oscillating sound from the projector).

The Beginnings of a Major Lego Project


For the past couple of weeks, I have considered playing with Legos bricks again. I had a lot of fun assembling the Midi-scale Millennium Falcon, because during that build, I returned to a kind of concentration and elevation from worry that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It is the same kind of joy that I felt when I was much younger and I would assemble my own space themed creations with the numerous sets that I had accumulated as a child.

In the past, I particularly enjoyed building and combining my Castle/Forestmen sets with Classic Space sets. The Forestmen hideouts were fantastic bases for my spacefaring heroes.

I don’t have those old sets any more–thrown away long ago when I was desperately trying to out grow myself. So, how do you figure out where to get back into the game, so to speak, without breaking the bank?

I decided that I should focus my Lego building to something that interests me now, but that I could rely on some Lego-made sets to supplement what I would like to build. After racking my brain for a week, I decided to build a much-scaled-down model of the operations side of Kennedy Space Center. The main objectives are to have the main launch pads, the vehicle assembly building, launch control, and an airstrip.

My project is beginning to come together. I got 6396 International Jetport and 1682 Space Shuttle Set for a very good price on, an auction/seller site exclusively for Lego products. This gives me one of my Space Shuttle orbiters and the airstrip with some ground crew and a control tower. I also won an auction for 6458 Satellite with Astronaut on ebay.

Today, I substantially added to my brick collection in preparation of constructing the vehicle assembly building. I answered a craigslist ad for a person selling Lego bricks by the pound for a very affordable $5/pound (much cheaper than ebay, and without the shipping). Granted, this friendly, retired autoworker lives an hour away from Kent, but I can confidently tell you that the trip was worth the time and fuel. My visit to his house was like going to a Lego museum. He must have had nearly every set from the 1990s including a number of very early sets still in the boxes, unopened. And spare bricks–whoa. I bought 13 pounds of white bricks, and 5 pounds of black, red, and blue bricks, too (see picture above). Also, I picked up 10 extra minifigs from the various space and system lines. He offered me very fair deals on two more Space Shuttles, but I told him that I will have to come back another time to get those. Next time, I will have to ask him if I can photograph his collection, at least in part.

Now the fun begins with building. I will take some time each day to de-stress with my Lego project. It is my hope that I can drag out the project for awhile and get a maximum amount of relaxation from building something tangible with my hands. I would do some work work, but I can’t think of anything that Yufang and I really need built at this time. However, I would jump at the chance to build a hefty set of bookcases for a friend if they supplied the materials!

Kent State Writing and Composition I, Sections 11161 and 11174, Fall 2009

I’ve begun to receive emails from future students in my two sections of Writing and Composition I at Kent State University in Fall 2009.  If you’re in CRN sections 11161 or 11174, please feel free to order your books ahead of time online, or you may purchase them from one of the local bookstores on campus when the Fall semester begins.  You may purchase used copies of the texts for our class, but I would recommend your purchasing a new copy of The DK Handbook, because it includes updated style information and access to online writing tools unavailable to purchasers of the used text.  Also, the Guide for College Writing I & II should be purchased new, because it is updated each year with new materials that you will need in the writing and composition sequence.

The books are (by author, title, and ISBN):

  1. Wysocki/Lunch The DK Handbook 0558164102
  2. Kent Writing Prog. Guide for College Writing I & II 978-0-7380-3511-6
  3. Robinson, Kim Stanley Red Mars 978-0553560732 Spectra
  4. Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey 978-0451457998 Tor

I am currently recreating the syllabus for our class, so I will post it when it is available.  In the meantime, it suffices to say that our class will have a theme of “space exploration and your future,” and it will involve intensive online writing exercises that culminate in a final portfolio of your revised major essays in the class.

I look forward to seeing you all in class!

College Writing, Space Exploration Theme, Take Two

I just completed my second semester teaching college writing I at Kent State University, and I’ve learned a few more things about teaching and how to organize my class (for my past postings on college writing click here).  

In Fall 2008, I taught my first college writing class at KSU with the theme, “Space Exploration and Your Future.”  In that singular class, I employed a variety of materials to augment and provide prompts for student discussion and writing.  The primary sources included Walt Disney’s Mars and Beyond, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.  

Based on the feedback that I received from my students at the beginning of the school year, I didn’t retain Sagan’s book for the Spring semester, because many students had difficulty engaging that particular science popularization.  It bears noting that I didn’t drop that text, because I thought it was too difficult for my students; instead, I dropped it, because I felt my student’s lack of engagement with the text created a roadblock to the more important goal in the class, which is to develop their professional writing skills.  In the place of Pale Blue Dot, I included Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, because it serves as a model of “good writing” and its “right stuff” thesis provided material for in-class exercises and one of the major essays in the Spring semester classes.  

In addition to The Right Stuff book, I provided time for viewing the film version by Philip Kaufman, and the film version of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.  My reasoning behind this was that students in my Fall class had trouble imagining or visualizing the things that we read in Clarke’s 2001. Again, I didn’t want the reading to become an impediment, so I thought augmenting the text with video might bridge my students’ understanding of the texts and provide for useful discussions and writing prompts.  

Now that I’ve finishing reading my students’ final portfolios, which I was happy with overall, I learned a few things about what my students thought of the major (and some of the minor) assignments based on each students’ reflective essay.  Overwhelmingly, my students reported problems with watching Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  They seemed to enjoy the novel much more than the film.  During class, we discussed this disconnection between the two media, and the consensus seemed to be that the film is too theoretical, too abstract, and lacking the concrete details and explanations found in the novel.  I believe that I will cut the film from my class in the Fall based on this feedback, and I will find other ways to help students engage the novel, which may include documentaries, guided research, and in-class discussion/lecture.  

The other thing that I learned was that the film version of The Right Stuff was probably unnecessary, too.  It did provide an opportunity to discuss the differences of using different media to present a thesis or idea, but I don’t know if I want to devote that much time to the film in the future.  I have not definitively decided if I will keep Kaufman’s film, but I do think that its use was more successful in the class than Kubrick’s 2001.

Other feedback that I received from my students included their gaining benefits from reading their work in class, which provided them with confidence in their work, prompted them to work harder on those assignments, and hearing what others had to say and how they said it.  I first did this in my Fall semester class, and I plan on doing more of this in my two Fall 2009 semester classes.  I received mixed responses to peer review from my students this semester.  I believe that the problem with peer review was two fold–I am still working toward a better way to demonstrate and inculcate peer review skills, and students didn’t always receive the kind of feedback that they desired.  I’ve spoken with some folks in the department about this, and I got some good ideas from Pam Takayoshi and others at the Blogging Brown Bag series that I will employ in the future (e.g., having groups meet individually with me for a peer review modeling session).

A final idea that I have for my Fall 2009 classes is that I will move the entire class online.  All handouts and course materials (besides assigned books) will be online.  I almost fully implemented this with these two classes.  The other aspect of the class will be handled through blogging.  I will have my students do their journals, daily writing exercises, and major papers all on individual blogs that I will guide them through configuring at the beginning of the semester.  This semester I gave my students written letters for feedback, so carrying things a step further my going online for their assignments will only complement my reader responses.  Additionally, I will have to walk between two buildings about ten minutes apart on campus with only that much time between my two classes, so I feel that moving the writing online will simplify my access to my students’ work, and prevent the loss of any materials that I may have lug through the wintery weather.  

I’m looking forward to revising my syllabus over the Summer so that I can provide an improved experience for my future students.

ICFA 2009, Science Fiction, Space/Time, and Postmodernity Panel

Surprisingly, I woke up in time this morning to visit Starbucks for coffee and a piece of lemon loaf, return to my room for a shower, and arrive just in time for the 8:30am panel on SF, Space/Time, and Postmodernity.  David M. Higgins moderated the panel, which included Veronica Hollinger, DeWitt Douglas Kilgore, Megan Bygness, Neil Easterbrook, and Patricia Melzer.

Veronica, who I last spoke with last year as I was preparing for my fourteen hour drive back from the Science Fiction Research Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, devoted her opening statement to the growing crisis of representation in SF signaled by the unknowability of the future following the technologically transformative singularity or what some call the “spike” or the “rapture of the nerds.”  If, as some writers, critics, technologists, engineers, and scientists imply, the singularity takes place, then the world following the asymptotic leap will result in a radical change to human history that makes logical extrapolation (the hallmark of many SF definitions) impossible.  We will encounter what Vernor Vinge calls “the unknowable soon,” and any imaginative thought about what that future might be like is devoid of an understanding of how complete the change the singularity will constitute.  It is this point that I think may be the only knowable element of the singularity event.  

Dewitt, who made this his first ICFA visit, discussed the political potential of postmodern decenteredness, and how that decenteredness may be more desirable than modern positivist assumptions about progressive metanarratives.  He pointed toward political hope in a lack of center, because an unbounded world with no privileged center means that we need not be apprehensive of the past or future in constructing a better world.  Additionally, he said that we are bounded by space/time in the sense of our movements within the world and by the fact of our birth and death.  Furthermore, we believe that we know the end of the universe with mathematics and cosmological theory.  However, the real interesting and complicated bit was when he brought in Fred Hoyle’s steady state theory of the universe to discuss postmodernity.  During the q&a, he noted that the relationship between physical theory (i.e., relativity and total decentering) and the social world is problematic for talking about the social and political.  

Neil, who recently won SFRA’s Clareson Award (check), shared some thoughts on Mark Curie’s About Time, which concerns the concept of time embedded in narrative (something that might be useful for A.P.’s paper on time in fantasyland).  The three key concepts that he mentioned were David Harvey’s idea of space/time compression in the postmodern world, postmodern style and “accelerated recontextualization,” and “archive fever,” or the frenzied archiving of contemporary social life–the anticipating the future and storing it in the past.  It is the last concept that Neil found most interesting, because it is something that we see all around us with the way people (myself included) continually document the present for preservation in the past, or as Derrida wrote about it Archive Fever (which is actually about Freud), “domesticating topologies of the future.” 

Patricia, who I joined along with a bunch of other great folks for lunch the other day, talked about the queering of time and mentioned works including Edelman’s No Future and Halberstam’s A Queer Time and Place.  The important question here is how can we resist heteronormativity’s structuring of the future?  She asked, “can SF offer anything to queer time, or should we all go to the bathhouse?”  No one in the audience could come up with an example of SF that properly engaged queer time.  The closest that I could imagine while sitting there was Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” because the male pilot chooses to kill the young girl (the image of the child in Edelman’s work).  However, the pilot does this to save the lives of colonists (I don’t have a copy of the story with me now–were these miners or colonists?  Are the genders of the people on the planet mentioned?  An all male group would skew how this is interpreted).  The consensus was that we should all go to the bathhouse.

Megan wanted to engage the audience with a discussion of time in contemporary television–namely, Lost.  Unfortunately, very few audience members regularly watch that program.  She did mention the double narrative streams (on the island vs. flashback), and the time consumed in ancillary texts (logs, puzzles with hidden maps, etc.) meant to allow one to better understand the show on television.

Toward the end of the panel, I asked Veronica about her thoughts on Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity University (SU), which provoked some comments from the entire panel regarding the relationship between capital, technological innovation, and the singularity.  I’ve been interested in the impetus for SU, because I noticed in the online pre-application and follow-up application there is an emphasis on “leadership.”  I wonder if their idea of the singularity is one that can be controlled by capital and the market–leaders of industry or innovation, perhaps.  Or, it may be their belief that leaders may take us to the threshold and then what–take us through, push us over, or throw us off?  If the singularity is a profound and incomprehensible shift in the world and humanity’s place in the world, I’m not necessarily sure that I want the kinds of “leaders” that may be enlisted for SU.  Time, of course, will tell.

College Writing and Space Exploration Theme

As many of you know, this is my first year teaching college writing at Kent State University, and it’s already been an enlightening experience.  I chose space exploration as the course theme (after a suggestion by Brian Huot and protracted consideration on my part and a mad scramble for resources before classes began), because I can use this theme to bridge science fiction with the real world.  

I’ve already had my students write about Walt Disney’s short film, “Mars and Beyond.”  Soon, they will read Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and then move on to Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.  Through their viewings and readings, I’m having them write extensively to develop their writing skills.  Also, I’ve taken steps to connect their career goals and hobbies with the rewards of space exploration through personal email exchanges, which I hope to incorporate into later assignments.  I’d say, so far, so good, and much thanks to everyone who offered me teaching advice and assistance!

If you’re interested, you may read my course syllabus here, and my first assignment handout to accompany the Disney film here.