belated review of stuff I bought during lockdown

A couple weeks ago, I had to test a printer, and the first text file I found to test-print was this, quazza-purchases.txt:

Mar 27    $ 90      Philips Hue lights
Mar 30    $200      dock (Fastmail paid)

Apr  2    $232      Dual monitor arm

May  7    $ 64      ottoman
May  8    $ 48      bookends
May 11    $ 13      banjo hanger
May 27    $ 16      headphone hanger
May 29    $225      Wall art

Jun  8    $335      Whiteboard
Jun 15    $ 17      magnet-making stuff!
Jun 19    $ 12      Whiteboard erasing cloths

Jul  4    $500      side table
Jul 12    $ 12      furniture feet

Sep  8    $ 36      Label maker

It’s a list of things I bought to improve my work-from-home experience. I don’t know why I kept it, but now that I have it, I can provide a few years of perspective on how those went. Nobody is asking for this, but I’m providing it anyway. If you want more photos than those found in this post, you’re in luck. It turns out that I posted a little Flickr album of some of this decorating. It is just as boring an album as you might expect!

Our last day of work in the office was March 13th, so March 27th was just two weeks into lockdown. That means the Hue lights were pretty early. I didn’t just get these for fun (although I did have fun with them). I got them because I already spent a lot of time on Zoom talking to Australia, and now I was going to spend even more talking to my American coworkers. You can see what a difference it made to my Zoom face in another post about these.

I think these were a decent buy. I was happier with my Zoom calls, and it gave me some code to write for fun, and now I have a few other Hue lights in my house. I put weird colors up at the holidays, or set lights to dim sometimes. Most of the value, though, is in Zoom calls.

Hue lights: ★★★★☆

Around the same time, I ordered that new dock and the monitor arm. These were … fine. The dock is an okay dock, but it was meant to let me have two displays while in clamshell mode on my laptop, and that didn’t work very well. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it worked but all my USB v2 peripherals stopped working. It stank, so I hooked it up to a Raspberry Pi which I never used. Now it’s just an expensive one-display dock.

That means the extra monitor arm also didn’t deliver the value I expected. Eventually, I decided to connect an Apple TV to it, which is sometimes useful. I can put a second desktop on it, or I can just put a movie on it while doing weekend fun work. The down side is that for some reason I’ve never gotten the display’s built-in audio-out to work properly, so I have to use a Bluetooth speaker. That means that weirdly, once in a while, some neighbor is able to pair to it and play noise into my office. Awful.

Dock and monitor arm: ★★★☆☆

May was a month of organizing and making my space nice to sit in day after day. Some of this was decluttering: I got a bunch of books better organized, I got my headphones slung under my desk, and I got my banjo off the floor and onto the wall. I guess this was okay. The bookends let me put all my books in the correct orientation, instead of sideways books holding up vertical books. The banjo hanger made all the people on my Zoom calls think I played banjo. (Usually for only one or two calls, after which they’d say, “Hey, do you play the banjo?” and then I’d say, “No.”) The headphone hanger still gets use, but I don’t love it. The cables dangle in my trash can. I don’t know what I’d like better, but something.

Bookends, hangers: ★★★☆☆

I also bought an ottoman. Just about as soon as I received it, I thought it was going to be the best thing I bought during lockdown. A couple years later, I still think so, at least relative to its price. I started using it for reading. I’d turn my chair away from my desk, put up my feet so I couldn’t turn back to my computer, and just enjoy sitting. I am still doing that, even though I have some other chairs. I keep my cheap but comfy IKEA blanket in it, too. I’ve been thinking about getting an ottoman for work. And maybe one for my balcony. They’re just a good idea.


Ottoman: ★★★★★

And then there’s the art. At the time, my home office was basically a walk-in closet. It wasn’t connected to a bedroom, but it was small and bland, with off-white walls and a window that looked out onto an ugly stucco wall. It felt like putting a little something attractive up on the walls would be a good idea. I went to Society6 and got two canvas prints by local Philly artist Andrew Chalfen. If you look at that page, you can find the Tiled City pieces. One of mine looks like those. The other is much less busy, mostly made up of hexagons. Years later, I still like them and I’m not tired of looking at them.

Hanging art: ★★★★☆

In June came the whiteboard. I really like whiteboarding. I don’t do it every day, but when I realize that I need to use a whiteboard for a problem, it’s a good sign that I’ll save a huge amount of effort by just doing so. At the Fastmail office in Philadelphia, we have really nice whiteboards, and I didn’t want to get a lousy melamine one for home. I splurged and contacted our office furniture vendor. In the end, the $350 was worth it. I’m still using it years later, and it’s still saving me time. Also, sometimes the kid comes in and draws something on it.

When they came to deliver it, they came in a full semi trailer down my one-lane street in Philly. Then the driver needed my help to unload. It was bizarre, but I ended up with a nice whiteboard. It’s “ceramic steel”, whatever that means. It’s magnetic and erases really nicely. The erasing cloths were maybe not a great idea. Paper towels work better, I think.

Steelcase truck

(Note that the truck has a rainbow Steelcase logo. It was delivered in June.)

I also bought “magnet-making stuff”. This was actually some small neodymium magnets and some two-part epoxy. I made some whiteboard magnets by sticking the magnets to some polyhedral dice with epoxy. This was fun, I’d do it again. (It smelled very bad, and I was told that if I ever do it again, I have to do it outside. Okay!)

dice magnets

Whiteboard: ★★★★☆

That whiteboard’s effectiveness was probably hampered by another purchase, which was otherwise pretty good: my sideboard. It’s a nice wood and metal console — Article’s Taiga oak console. It holds a bunch of my cables (in boxes), stationery, some electronics I want to keep easy to find, and sometimes the books I’m reading. It matches my aesthetic and it’s quite convenient. The problem is that both then and now, I have it right under my whiteboard. It’s about a foot deep, so it means I have to stand just a little bit away from the whiteboard, so it’s just a little bit less ergonomic.

In some future dwelling, it may all come together better, but here it’s been slightly imperfect.

Wooden console: ★★★☆☆

Also on the list: feet to go under furniture so it wouldn’t slip. Fine. Beneath discussion, I think. And the label maker… I mean, everybody loves a label maker, right? But what is there to say? I labeled a lot of things, then I put it away, and now I use it a couple times a year. I should’ve bought it earlier in life, but even then, there isn’t so much to say.

But… one more thing!

Earlier, I mentioned that my office had a window onto an ugly wall. Well, I have a photo:

my "view"

Awful. Just awful. Eventually that wall was resurfaced, so it went from dingy, disgusting stucco to merely ugly, typical stucco. It too me far, far too long to do something about this view. I hung some heavy yellow drapes. I’d always had blinds, so their effect on the view was marginal. On the other hand, they gave the bland room a big pop of color that was definitely worth the fifty bucks I spent on the drapes and rod combined.

The whole endeavor did have one lasting bit of value: it made it clear to me that I should spend a little time and money making my home more comfortable even when there is not a global pandemic throwing my day to day life into unheaval. Just this month, I bought a new table and chair for my balcony. Lesson learned.

Written on June 22, 2024