Tech Life A regular declutter

Fenging up the Shui

When my former boss took the VP of Engineering gig, he brought a pile of personal crap into his office. There was the model airplane, a few of pieces of artwork, and a pile of books. These items were moved into his office and proceeded to sit in the corner in boxes for over a year. He finally decided to hang the airplane from the ceiling one weekend, but up until the day he was laid off, I don’t think the books were unpacked or the artwork was hung.

Each time I’d walk into his office, I’d first think, “I’m working for a guy who can’t take the time to tidy up his office.” I’d then think, “I can’t think in a cluttered office”. I’d finally think, “I’m not sure about working for a cluttered boss.”

Yes, there are times when you’ll wake in my office and there will be clutter, but know this, I know the clutter is there and I’m grinding my teeth about the clutter RIGHT THIS SECOND.

My favorite clutter removal technique is frequent office rearrangements. We’re talking about every year or so. This year’s arrangement was entitled “Fenging up the Shui” and that roughly translates into “The removal of visual noise”.

The Winter 2006 adjustment is still in progress, but the process has already yield some gems.

First off, I’ve rotated my Messy Thinking set-up 45 degrees so my back is now facing my door while the view is, hey, of my view.

primary set-up

Two significant wins here:

  • Calming view of a nature
  • Reduction of random distractions as folks walk by


The moving of my main monitors forced my server set-up to move. Now, I never use the keyboard and mouse on my server box and the screen is generally powered off. As I move it to the new location, I thought, “How can I nuke this the keyboard/mouse clutter, but use the screen real estate on my server box?”

The solution: Synergy. This application allows you to share your local keyboard/mouse with any other Mac/PC/Unix box on your network. I’d used Synergy a few months ago, but quickly grew annoyed with it when I’d move off the right of my current screen and lose my cursor to the machine on the other side of my desk. Huh? Where’d the mouse go?

Synergy allows you to configure the virtual arrangement of your monitors however you like, so in my new Feng Shui set-up, I virtually place my server box BELOW my main monitor which is a place I never go as my Dock is on the left-hand part of the screen. It’s not an obvious set-up, but it’s also not annoying.

dashboardLastly, I needed a use for the new screen. Since the machine would just be sitting there most of the time. I thought one of these RSS screen-savers would be handy except THEY MOVE and grab my attention. I needed something informative, yet not annoying. The answer is simple. I found a set of fab widgets, organized them in a pleasing fashion, and now, I have Dashboard running on this box 24/7.

The final results looks something like this:

the whole deal

Ok, back to work.

8 Responses

  1. This entry reminds me of just how much I’m going to miss my 3 monitor setup when I leave my current job. You wouldn’t happen to know an employer in Vancouver who is as enlightened as yourself when it comes to decent screen realestate do you?

  2. PhillyPhil 18 years ago

    Yeah but dude don’t you think your attitudes about people who prefer cluttered environments really just a prejudice against right-brained thinking??

  3. Hmmm… maybe.

    In my book, clutter for an engineer is never a warning sign. Some of the most interesting and productive engineers have disasters areas for work spaces.

    Management is a different beast. I worry more when I see disaster offices for managers. Part of their job is to represent the organization and, in my book, that never ever means that you wear a tie, but you keep your work space pleasant.

  4. anescient 18 years ago

    I’m with you on the periodic cleaning/rearrangement gig. The combination of refreshing cleanliness and improvement in arrangement is awesome. I got a little of that action going the other day, actually.

    I dig hand-holdable personal crap. I don’t understand having lame shit like model airplanes or art prints from K-Mart around. I like stuff I can pick up and think about or just play with for a while, like, a stepper motor from an old hard disk drive, a sphere of fused optical fibers, or a castle nut from my car. Stuff that’s interesting up close and personal and that constantly reminds of me of important concepts or events.

    If I walk into somebody’s office area thingy, and all I see besides a computer is van Gogh’s Starry Night and a 747, I’ll be unimpressed instantly.

    I hope to work for somebody in the future who’s down with my hauling in an old Zenith and my Super Nintendo so I can rock Super Metroid now and again, if I’m stumped by some problem, or just on a lunch break. That would be the ultimate situation. Probably not realistic.

  5. bradford 18 years ago


    Sure you’re not a Mechanical?

  6. Has Synergy been reliable for you? A few of us were using Synergy at my last client site and found it was a bit problematic. I was using an XP box (ugh) as the primary system and remote-controling a PowerBook.

    A similar setup between XP and FreeBSD using x2vnc was also quirky, but in an entirely predictable, and much less annoying manner.

  7. I used to have little toys on my desk. Picked up the habit two employers ago. It was fascinating to watch people come in, begin talking about an issue, problem or just to shoot the breeze, and invariably (if they stayed more than a minute) pick up one of the objects. Sometimes it seemed like an unconscious urge of which they were entirely unaware: without looking, they’d play with it while paying complete attention to the conversation. Other times they would pick up something, rearrange it and then turn it towards me with a grin and an air of “ta-daa” – or they’d put it back down, mildly embarrassed.

    The coolest people were usually the least self-conscious about it.

    Every so often I’d come in and find something that someone had done with one or more toys while I’d stepped out…some not exactly work-safe, but this was a place where the boundaries of work-safe were a little more elastic than those in most organizations.

    Every so often I’d grab one or another toy and mess with it myself as a way of occupying the monkey brain while I thought about something.

    My current office is tiny and has evil systems furniture which is inflexible and can’t be moved. The layout really gets in the way of having these objects and a place for visitors to reach them. I have fewer people stopping by and just “hanging out,” and I think it’s at least in part due to both the size of the office and the lack of comforts. The previous office had big comfy chairs I, um, located, and I brought in incandescent lighting, turning off the fluorescents.

    I’m going to come in one weekend and just nuke everything, then bring in something simple and clean from Ikea. (Hey, good-looking’s important, but if I’m funding it out of my own pocket, it’s gotta be cheap too.) The Facilities people will probably want to at least severely maim me, but your post made me realize that one way of preventing clutter is to reinvent the space and change the focus. I want my fun back, and it would be great to reduce the possibility of accumulating clutter.

  8. it appears you’ve used the “shower glass ripple” effect to obscure the details in the photo. it looks much nicer than the oft-used Blur, or worse: the hated “Smudge” tool seen in geek screenshots where someone is obscuring their password.