Reinventing the Workspace


I’ve been sneaking away from my actual desk to do work at every and any opportunity this past year. My office has been feeling cluttered, cramped, and… not a space I’ve wanted to be in. Some of that is natural, I think, the usual desire to vary the space in which I’m working. I like to escape to a coffee house, for example, and find the hum of random noise in which to work, and grab a good beverage or snack to accompany the task at hand. Even with the noise, the distractions seem fewer most of the time than when I’m working at home.

But outside escapes also tend to work better for certain kinds of tasks, and with summer’s arrival I’m ready to reclaim my office. And I’ve also decided it’s time for a make-over of my home workspace too.

This year I’m trying a significant experiment: a standing desk setup. I’ve had friends endorse these, and have mostly nodded at the mention of standing desks but kept a distance. This past year, though, I’ve been finding myself with increasing back and shoulder problems. I’ve also seen a plethora of reminders that sedentary professions are unhealthy (e.g., here and here, for starters.) So I’m giving the standing desk a go.

I’m starting it with an inexpensive Ikea hack to see if I like the arrangement first, before investing in something more permanent. I created a standing desk following mods of this model, all for something in the range of about $25-30. I also added a cushioned floormat to help my legs and back, which seemed essential. These go for anywhere from $35-100, good and lasting ones probably about $50-60 and up. I have a monitor on top with a keyboard, and my laptop, peripherals, speakers, scanner, etc. all rigged with a universal docking station.

Also got the rest of the desk in an “L” shape for other kinds of work. My plan is to keep both options open — sitting and standing — and leave it so I can alternate easily. Stand a few hours, mostly for email and lighter tasks, sit for the heavier work of translation or hard-core writing. I’m finding already that this also help separate out distractions: email tasks and the inevitable surfing the ‘net seem further separated, both in time and on separate monitors & spaces. So perhaps this will have multiple payoffs in terms of both health and productivity.
We’ll see how it pans out… In the meantime, here’s an image of my setup. I’ve used plastic cables at the moment (rather than bolts and washers, etc.) to fasten the shelf arms to the desk. I did this in order to keep the height settings flexible for the moment, in case I need to make adjustments (yes, waiting for potential aches and pains, as the old gal I am.) The cables are doing an excellent job of holding things tight, though, which is good to see.

Top image: my favorite spot to escape from work, years ago in Taipei… Image by M.G. Chang, who spent a good deal of time there himself.

Digital Scholars Institute

Photo of skier who is cornice jumping, black and white READ MORE

Now that the snow days have concluded (fingers crossed), I’m joining a group of colleagues in kicking off a collaborative project at the University of Mary Washington titled “DSI” or “Digital Scholars Institute” (any relation to “CSI” purely coincidental…) Working with Mary Kayler, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation at UMW, and Jim Groom, director of our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, who together initiated the project, along with my excellent colleague Elizabeth Lewis, we’ve organized two pilot cohorts that began meeting just this week.

The focus is also two-fold at the start, though I’m sure the conversation will develop in more diverse directions. Participants are all veterans of last year’s “Domain of One’s Own” project in which faculty on our campus explored their own digital scholarship and identities through domain creation as part of a university initiative. Now, this semester, we’re building on that experience through a bi-weekly conversation in which participants in small cohorts will be sharing individual projects in digital scholarship for close feedback.

At the same time, we’ll also be engaged in a broader, “meta” conversation about digital scholarship itself. What are the standards by which our diverse fields define it — or are beginning to define it? How does digital scholarship relate to, differ from, or overlap with supposedly more “traditional” forms? How is digital scholarship influencing our work in the classroom and in curricular development? These questions are just starting points, and the conversation will be evolving as the semester continues. I’m very much looking forward to digging into the details…

Image: Skier making a cornice jump near Edith Creek, southeast slope of Mt. Rainier. Photographer: Dwight Watson. N.D. Property of MSCUA, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, PH Coll 165. Link: http://content.lib.washington.edu/u?/watson,33.


Spring Cinema Course


Yes, I’m prepping for fall. But I’m also already thinking about a second go at my cinema course next spring, along with fellow traveller Jim Groom, who recently blogged about our foray into GIFs with that class.

For films, I’m seriously thinking of dropping Jia Zhangke’s “The World” this time around, along with previously screened “Chungking Express,” and going with a Wong Kar-wai double feature of “In the Mood for Love” (2000) and “Happy Together” (1997). The films are in some ways more challenging (some might say more opaque, while some might offer another kind of critique), and the first one — “In the Mood” — is usually one I use in my Gender course. I may use it in both courses, or trade it out in the Gender course for Ang Lee’s “Wedding Banquet.”

But in any case, both films are gorgeous to watch, and both focused not only on Hong Kong, but also on inter- and trans-national themes (“Happy Together,” for one, is set in Argentina), as well as issues of gender, sexuality, memory, violence, and time. I’m working up a reading list to accompany them. Suggestions welcome, as always…


Archiving a Tumblr

B+W image of wrestlers READ MORE

So, the Gulou / Drum Tower site is officially a success (though there are diverse definitions of that word, to be sure.) It’s officially a public success. And yet, that’s happening at the exact same time that Tumblr is being sold, for a great sum of money, to Yahoo.

It’s been an interesting sale to watch so far. Matt Mullenweg, founder and developer of the blogging site WordPress, offered some immediate thoughts at his own site on May 19th, including rough numbers showing a significant spike in the number of imports that were happening as folks moved their material from Tumblr to WordPress. As Mullenweg noted, “normally we import 400-600 posts an hour from Tumblr, last hour it was over 72,000.” For folks who are interested, there’s also a very good discussion of numbers, the sale, and the implications in the comment thread.

Archiving my material from Tumblr has been my plan all along (I’m a historian after all), but Tumblr’s sale has lit a fire–small, but timely–for me.  I have, however, been slightly intimidated by the process, which was seeming, especially amid finals grading, likely to mean wrestling with technical stuff. Caffeine needed.

I jumped in today though and it’s been relatively easy so far. My first step was to use the Tumblr Importer plugin to pull all 387 posts from my Tumblr site over to the new page I’ve set up, using WordPress, on my own domain. Now, no matter what happens in the future with Tumblr, I’ve got the archive set on a domain that’s all my own.

The next step was to setup FeedWordPress and use it to pull in posts via my RSS feed for the Gulou tumblr page. Done. Haven’t tested it with a fresh post, but will report back if things get more complicated.

There is one hitch still to figure out regarding images. The photos did transfer amid the import, but they’re all of a small, thumbnail size that’s only big upon a click. Wonder if there’s a way to resize all, quickly. Doubt it, but then I’m a pessimist.

Image 1: Wrestler, McCreadie (taken for Leichart Stadium), 4 January 1937. Photographer: Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, available via Flickr Commons


Links for “Sichuan 2008, Fukushima 3/11, and Sino-Japanese Relations” (4/5 Symposium)


“A Construction Engineer’s Thoughts on the Sichuan Earthquake” blog post by “Book Blade” – link [accessed 31 March 2013]

Nanking Massacre Project – Special Collections, Yale Divinity School Library – http://www.library.yale.edu/div/Nanking/

Ai Weiwei on Twitter (Chinese): @aiww    (English): @aiwwenglish

Who’s Afraid of Ai WeiWei” — Frontline documentary (PBS)

Fan Xiao, “Did the Zipingpu Dam Trigger China’s 2008 Earthquake: The Scientific Case,” Probe International. (.pdf)