What’s in Chuq’s Office (2020 edition)

by Jan 20, 2020

I’ve been meaning to talk about my office ever since I moved into it around two years ago, but as often happens, every time I think about it I’ve decided to do some tweaking. Most recently was the change from using an iMac and a Laptop to buying the Macbook Pro 16″ and getting rid of the other computers, so I’m now back to my preferred configuration: a good moderately powerful laptop docked to a monitor at home, but able to carry my files with me on the road without worrying about syncing data between machines. While I had the syncing problems mostly solved (Adobe Lightroom being the primary exception), living on one machine reduces the work needed to keep what I have in good working condition…

I think I have the setup settled for a while, so now’s a good time to go through how I set up the office and why it’s set up this way.

The home office is a converted bedroom, the smallest room in the house. That said, it’s a nice size, at about 14 feet by 8 feet, with a closet area attached. When I moved in I put in new carpet (a deep blue) and paint (a powder blue), with blue being a favorite and calming color for me.

Near the door is my computer desk, a Jarvis sit/stand motorized desk with a black top. My knees don’t let me do much standing while I work but I still use it at times, and I love the ability to raise it to work on things under it, because the knees can make getting under things and getting back up a bit of a challenge.

Since I’m a remote worker, this is where I am during the working day, so making it usable and comfortable. The Jarvis desk is only for the computer work, I haven’t tried to make it multi-purpose, but when I switched away from the iMac I put the laptop and monitor on raised mounts to make more of the desk surface available. The mounting ideas came from a video by DLSR Video Shooter, and use mounting systems from VIVO. There are two mounting systems here, a fixed one that holds the laptop on one arm and my video lights on another, and a pneumatic arm for the monitor.

The monitor is the BenQ SW2700PT (about $600), which comes with a glare screen and a matte screen finish, and it’s one that professional photographers tend to use because the matte finish reduces glare so you get a more reliable view of the image, and it includes hardware color calibration and a much wider color gamut than most monitors, leading to better color representation. I found the shift from other screens with glossy finishes to the matte one was more noticeable than I expected but I quickly got used to it and really like it.

Since I’m a remote worker that works at home, I spend a few hours a day in video conferences. Since I’m me, audio and video quality matter, and so my setup has been put together to make sure I have good video with quality audio. I could literally run a youtube channel off of this setup, which, some of you may remember, I came close to launching before coming to my senses, but it works quite well for web conferencing as well work I do at times doing screencasting and voiceovers and even the occasional podcast, although that’s fairly rare these days. And I keep thinking about doing occasional videos on photography still….

The camera I use is the venerable Logitech C920, attached to a boom arm. Clamped to that arm is my microphone, a Movo VXR10 designed for use on a DLSR for video. It is effectively a knock off of the Rode Video Micro, but I find it has a little more gain. It lets me use the microphone at a bit more distance than my previous microphone (the Shure Beta 58a) with good quality, and it costs a lot, lot less. I don’t have to worry as much about mic placement with this and I’m happy with the the results. Both are placed lower than the traditional “on top of the monitor/laptop” position, which I think looks better and allows people to see my face and not my bald spot. Behind and above it is a video light, the a 1 x 2 foot flexible LED panel by Neewer, which turns out to be way more than I need, so I have about 2/3s of it flagged — and even on the lowest setting that still a bit too much light. It’s remote controlled, but not switchable by homekit, unfortunately.

The laptop connects into a Caldigit TS3 plus, which manages all of the things hooked up to the computer and generates enough power (87 watts) to keep the 16″ laptop fully charged, even when doing extended CPU/GPU maxing processes like video transcoding. that means I have one single cable to plug and unplug from the laptop, which I like and is really convenient.

Because there are never enough USB ports, I use (and love) the Anker 10 port hubs, which can power up to 60 watts of charging power.

For audio, I currently use the Bose Companion 2 speakers. They sound good, and one thing I really like is that I can connect both my laptop audio and the audio from the monitor I use on the Apple TV, and it will auto-switch between the two sources. Not needing multiple sets of speakers turned out to be a feature I appreciate more than I expected.

On the box of drawers behind the laptop there’s an Akitio Thunder 3 RAID station with two 8TB drives configured as a mirrored raid. This is a thunderbolt 3 system so it gives me maximum speed, hardware RAID (it can also be configured for individual drives, JBOD or striped drive uses) and has a bunch of ports on the back including a second thunderbolt 3 for chaining, a displayport, a gigabit ethernet and two USB 3 ports. This would allow you to use it as a Thunderbolt dock for a lot of uses which might make the need of a separate dock like the CalDigit unnecessary. The downside is it has a fan, which is pretty quiet but I know that’s a problem for many. It can be turned off by a switch on the back, but you run the risk of it overheating so they recommend doing that only for short periods of time.

Attached to that drive are two 1TB Samsung T5 SSD drives. I like this because they’re cheap (1TB down to around $150) and bus powered, so they don’t need power bricks to operate. One of these is my time machine backup drive for the laptop, and the other I use to clone the data partition (via SuperDuper) off the Akitio so that if that drive fails I have a usable backup. Am I a bit paranoid about backups and redundant copies? Yes, yes I am.

Also back there is my Nintendo Switch in a dock, and my Apple TV. They both connect to an LG 27″ 4K monitor via an Univivi HDMI switch. The LG is a really nice monitor, and is one of the few true 4K monitors available at < 40" in size, and given where I needed it mounted on my wall, was the only 4K monitor that would work for my needs. Under the BenQ monitor is a black mesh monitor stand, which exists only for the drawers so I can organize stuff on the desk. I have, in fact, removed the bottom drawer and I use that space to hide the various power bricks from view.

To the right of the desk is another box of drawers, and on top of that is an HP Officejet Pro 8720 printer, which I bought because Wirecutter suggested it, and it’s been fine and forgettable, which is about all I can ask of an office printer these days. Also attached is a Brother label printer, mostly because my handwriting sucks and I know that.

I will discuss the software I use in another post, coming soonish.

Office Furniture

When I designed the office, I wanted a workspace dedicated to the computer, based around the Jarvis desk and which I’ve described above. I also wanted a project space, and I knew I needed desk space for the stuff that has to live on a desk, so I created a galley-style seating area with the Jarvis against a wall, and an L-shaped desk opposite it, with the main desk area I try to keep clear for project work, and the other part of the L intended for holding all of the stuff that has to live on a desk. I ended up picking up a Zinus Dominic desk off Amazon. It’s fairly small, inexpensive (about $140) and solid and stable. It’s worked great for what I need.

I”m also a bit of a clutter-phobe, so I wanted lots of drawers to stick things in. Winsome makes the Halifax line, which are plain black boxes of drawers in various sizes. I have two seven drawer boxes and two five drawer boxes. The five drawers fit fine under my Zinus desk, but that gives me 24 drawers to file away and organize stuff and keep the clutter mostly at bay. At about $100 per set of drawers, these have been a nice addition, plus they add a few spots of table space to the office; one holds the HP printer, another holds my Epson photo printer, one is the one with the disk drive and switch on it acting as the “keep this stuff off the computer desk” place, and the fourth is hiding under the Zinus desk.

On the opposite wall from the computer desk behind the Zinus are my bookcases. I use these for — gasp — books, and also for exposed storage of things like my camera gear, so it’s available when I want it without it hiding away in a bag. I also have an “IT” shelf, which holds my Mac Mini (used primarily for Plex), the Eero wifi router for this part of the house, and a gigabit ethernet switch to connect to various things in the room. While the Eero WIFI has been fine, since they were bought by Amazon I’ve worried about data privacy (note: Amazon has done nothing to earn this worry. Yet), so one of my plans for 2020 is to replace the house Wifi with a new setup, once I decide on a replacement. I’m looking to see who comes out with a good Wifi-6 capable mesh system that is not Amazon/Google/Facebook. If only Apple had one…..

Also behind the Zinus desk is a second chair for visitors and cats. Mostly, these days, cats.

The closet has been repurposed to storage, again in a mostly successful attempt to manage clutter. I built it out using the AmazonBasic wire mesh storage cubes, and the space was just about perfect for a 4×3 grid of these, which only ran about $75. It turns out that two of the Sterilite 15 quart storage boxes fit great in one of those cubes, so one row is filled with a set of those holding various things. Those are great boxes for long-term storage, with solid latches and translucent plastic so you can see what’s in them, and they are large enough to hold a reasonable amount of stuff without being so large they waste a lot of empty space. I use them extensively here in the office as well as in the garage to hold on to things and keep them protected and out of the way.

The office has been completely turned over to homekit to drive the lighting, which is awesome, except when it randomly breaks, which fortunately, isn’t too often these days. Most of the lighting in the room (and actually, in much of the house) is Tiffany-style stained glass, which I love. Almost all of it I bought via Amazon over time, and you can see all of the diverse options by searching for Tiffany Lighting. Without making specific recommendations (find the designs you like, then find a manufacturer for those designs) I’ll note I’ve been quite happy with the quality of fixtures I’ve gotten from both *Chloe* and *Amora* and both are generally reasonably priced.

To support my studio photography in here, I’ve added a Neewer C-Stand. At the time I did it I wondered if I was insane stuffing something like that in the office, but it allows me to set up and breakdown the studio for macro or product photography in about 15 minutes, vs about an hour or more in my original setup. It has two arms on it, one for the ring list you see in the photo, and one that I attach backgrounds to, and it’s turned out to be quite flexible and fast, which means I’m a lot more likely to actually use it. I’ll go into more details on my studio setup in another piece, again, um, *soonish*.

On the Walls

That pretty much sums up the functional pieces here in the office. I have gotten questions at times from people who’ve seen what I’ve got on the walls and up on the shelves for display, so I thought I’d also show those off and explain why they’re there.

On the wall behind my computer desk are three photos. From left to right, it’s a signed print by Michael Frye, a signed print by William Neill, and a print from Ansel Adams. All three photos are compositions taken in Yosemite National Park, which should not be surprising to you, is a very important location to me. I took a workshop from Michael in 2014 and would like to take another one some day; Neill is another famous Yosemite photographer who’s work I’ve studied because it’s something I’ve been trying to learn how to integrate into my own photography, and spending a day or two with him in Yosemite is on my short list of things to figure out how to make happen when I can. And if I could take a workshop with Ansel, I would, but I’m a bit late to the game for that, but he (with Galen Rowell being the another) was a huge early influence on me. On my list for 2020 is to add a print from Art Wolfe. I’d also add one from Rowell, but with their Mountain Light Gallery closed, getting a legitimate one where the money flows back to the estate is problematic.

To my right is the one image of my own in my office, a 40 inch canvas of a gorgeous elk from my 2014 Yellowstone trip. He set up shop along the road near Artist’s Point and spent a few days reveling in the traffic chaos he created, but it gave us an opportunity for some good photography while the rangers tried desperately to keep other tourists from getting run over by tour buses. He’s been up on the wall long enough, I soon need to choose a new photo and replace him with something new to stare at and see the flaws in.

I’m one of those people who believes what folks put up on display opens a window into themselves for others to interpret; I fully admit I consciously think about what stories I want my shelves to tell when I decide what to put up. Here is what I’ve curated on the top of my bookcases because it both gives me enjoyment to stare at when I’m avoiding working, and because I think it helps explain a bit who I am to others.

I used to be a much more serious collector of plush toys, especially teddy bears, than I am today. At some point I started to simplify my life, and so I reduced my bear collection through giveaways and donations. I still have a core set of bears that I expect to keep the rest of my life, but it’s not exactly the 25 feet of bears I used to have.

Here there are three plush toys. The white bear is Barfy. I had him custom made, and he was my seat partner at many Sharks (and for that one glorious year, the San Francisco Spiders), much to the amusement (mostly) of the referees on the ice. I will say most NHL referees have a good sense of humor. The occasional one that didn’t, we had even more fun with.

The plaid bear is one I bought the weekend I flew out to Purdue University and met Laurie for the first time, when she was still in school and I was headed to Alabama on a business trip. It has lived with me ever since, and Laurie joined us a few months later when she graduated.

The dragon was a gift from a college girlfriend, the one, in fact, that annointed me with the nickname chuqui-with-a-q, which kinda stuck with me a lot longer than she did, although we stayed friends long after we stopped being a couple.

The macintosh is an original 128K Mac. I obtained it in 2019 from some friends who found it in someone’s closet as they were cleaning the house out after he passed away, and they gave it to me because they knew I’d appreciate it. At some point I want to find the right place to donate it where it’ll get taken care of, but until then, given how important Apple’s been to my life, it shares my office and I take great pride in having it.

The gargoyle — actually a grotesque, since building gargoryles would have a water spout — is a 14th century tuscan reproduction, and it lived with me at Apple for over a decade, being the easy way for someone to find my office. I kept it in my office mostly because it amused me, and because nobody else had one. Which amused me.

The mask, one of many I own, is by Tim Lafontaine, a member of the Cree tribe who moved to Vancouver and took up carving in the Northwest styles, primarily Kwakwaka’. It was the first mask I bought when I started collecting first nations art of the northwest tribes, and represents the Raven. The small carving below it is Argillite, a stone primarily used by the Haida for their carvings and historically based on the Island of Haida Gwaii.

In the center section, front and center, is a bowl carved as a loon, by artist Erroll Ashley. Ashley is another Cree carving in the Northwest Kwagiulth style. Behind it is a small totem pole for which my artist information has gone missing (sorry, artist); it represents a thunderbird on top of a bear. The two loons to the right are tourist trinkets and are there because, well.. I’m a birder and I love loons.

The bear is a Steiff Winnie the Pooh from the mid 1980s. I hesitate to guess what it might be worth if I ever looked. There’s a surprising amount of Disney and Pooh stuff around this place, but this is one of the best bears in my collection. To the right is Jimminy Cricket, a plush I bought when I was working at Disneyland back in the 1970s.

On the wall, the mask on the right is by Kwakiulth artist Andy Bruce, representing the Thunderbird spirit, or the act of transformation of a person into the Thunderbird. To the left of that is a Haida-style bear, at artist Pat Gamble.

Finally, on the left section, a number of random things including a broken arrow through the head I used to use in staff meetings, and my newest art purchase, a gorgeous Coast Salish bear etched glass piece by Joe Wilson I picked up last summer in victoria (more about that here). There’s also a small Inuit Inukshuk (Inuit stone carving being another thing Laurie and I collect), and an antique clock, which was my grandfather’s.

And that covers the fun stuff in the office, although if you look below in that last picture, you’ll see a shelf stuffed overfull with books — they’re all birding references…..

I do plan on talking more about the art I’ve collected down the road. One of the projects I have planned for 2020 is to take new photos of them both for this web site and for insurance…