Bobbing for Kernels

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Extreme Tool Building

Posted by kernelbob on June 26, 2008

I don’t know how it happened.  I’d like to blame inebriation but I’ve been sober most of the time.  Voices in my head?  Global warming?  The Bush administration?  Yeah, that’ll work.  This is all Karl Rove’s fault.  Isn’t everything?

It’s a truism that programmers can and do make their own tools as needed. And I need a new desk.  The old one got moved to my office downtown, so I don’t have one at home anymore.

I’d been thinking about it for a while.  I wanted something both functional and beautiful.  I spent a while looking at various surface materials: metal, woods, glass, and various engineered materials (alkemi makes some delicious surfaces with aluminum shavings).  Then an article in Fine Homebuilding mentioned concrete.

Concrete can be dyed or stained to many colors.  It can be rough or smooth, stonelike or industrial.  It can be marbled or polished like granite.

So I mentioned concrete to Jacque.  Jacque is a friend, a carpenter and an artist.  She said she’d love to try some concrete.  So we started The Concrete Desk Project.    Jacque drew a really amazing design involving four interpenetrating shapes.  It only has a single straight line in it, in front of the keyboard (because I insisted that my wrists need it).  We intend to make two of the shapes of concrete and the other two of wood.

Meanwhile, we’ve been making concrete samples to learn what shapes and colors we can make.  Jacque made three molds, 18″ square at different depths.  We’ve made four samples so far.  They have to cure for two weeks before we can stain them, so we really don’t know what they’ll look like.  We’re also planning to grind the surface off and expose some of the aggregate underneath.  And then sealing the concrete will change the appearance and texture yet again.

We also picked up some scrap paneling and cut out a full size mockup of the new desk’s shape.  That was a great idea for several reasons.  First, it lets me finally visualize how the desk will look in the office.  Second, I’ve actually been sitting at the mockup (supported by a bookcase, a table, and a stool) for a week now, testing its usability.  Third, we learned we need to adjust some of the dimensions and move the cabling cutouts.

Some things are not designed yet.  The desk will need legs.  It will need a different arrangement for wiring to the monitors and speakers.  It will need cable trays underneath.  The office needs lighting, both task and ambient.  The office needs new carpet and paint, both of which depend on the desk’s final color.

So that’s the desk project.  It’s going to be a lot of work, and it still carries a lot of risk.  Will we learn how to make a good color?  Will we be able to get it up the stairs?  Will it be strong enough?

If there were no challenge, what would be the point?

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