Cool Office Supplies: Samurai USB Flash Memory Card

At the Saudi Gazette of all places, there is a small article about the ongoing ISOT Office Products Trade Show in Tokyo. Highlighted here are USB Flash Memory cards shaped like Samurai Warriors.

With a lot of video games, movies, and television in Japan focusing more on the Edo period (1603 to 1868 AD), Samurai culture is once again on the rise in Japan.

Of course, when you’re making a samurai-themed USB device, and you’re in Japan, of course it’s going to end up being cute. Call me a sucker for these kind of novelties, but I’d take a teeny cartoon samurai USB stick over a plain ol’ black one any day. Of course, I’m sure the prices are outrageous. For most consumers, the regular kind will probably do just fine.

Article: Everything In Its Place

From the Bend Bulletin comes an article about “Spacial Specialist” Dana Black, who helps clients get their messy lives on track. A particular place of interest for Black? The Home Office. From the article:

Whether you’re using boxes or cabinets that were gathering dust in your garage or buying cheap new plastic tubs, getting organized can help save you money in your home.

“The key is once you’ve set up a system, take the time to show the entire household how to use it,” says Black, who charges $55 per hour for her organizational work. “When I organize a house, I take sticky notes and write what goes in each drawer or cupboard, so the family gets used to it.”

You’ll find that with a clear system of organizational tools, you won’t waste money on buying items you already have stowed elsewhere or buying things that you’ll never use.

Black’s list of go-to gadgets and gear wouldn’t shock anyone (Filing cabinet or drawers with hanging files, drawer organizers, in-box/out-boxes, baskets or desk organizers, plastic storage tubs for extra supplies (also great for your kids’ school supplies), computer program for calendar- and address-book organizing, label-maker), but she puts them together in an innovative way and charges a pretty penny for her services. School yourself on some free tips by reading the article.

Video: The Disappearing Dining Table Office

Always cool to see innovative office tricks making the mainstream news.

The CBS Early Show had a segment today featuring interior designer Kristan Cunningham, who shared some innovative tricks for turning one of the most-seen but least-used areas of your home, the dining room table, into a go-to disappearing home office.

The video is the star of the show here, but some excerpts from the accompanying article set the tone:

  • Fax Machine:
    The multifunction printer/fax/copier/phone ID can be covered with a bottomless basket that is simply lifted off when you need it. It rests on a serving table which can be used to store linens and also office supplies.
  • The Hutch:
    The hutch has part of the glass front covered with frosted contact paper, leaving the top part clear to display dishes and serving ware. Behind the glass door are files, books and all the desk top supplies. The desk supplies are on a tray and blotter and simply lifted out an put on the dining table. Cunningham suggests putting a desk blotter under it to protect the wood.

Click the link and check the video clips for more on this cool project.

How to set up a home office space


The Indianapolis arm of has posted a neat little article that gives a crash course in designing a home office.

In addition to helpful tips like placing your office away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house (avoid the kitchen or bedroom office; these are places you’re meant to be thinking about your home, not your work), there is one section I of course find particularly noteworthy:

Furniture:  Start with the basics, a desk, a small filing cabinet, a book shelf, and a comfortable computer chair, then personalize your space depending on your working needs.  Place the desk in an area where you can see the door.  Also, if you are easily distracted, avoid placing your desk directly in front of a window.

Add items to your office that compliments your work.  A reading corner, with a comfy chair and an end table, a conference or work table and chairs, a credenza, storage/supply cabinet, small table and chairs for your kids, a dog bed, anything that makes your space its own.

None of these tips are necessarily earth-shattering, but it’s nice to see them collected in one place. I think too often people setting up a home office take pieces from the existing house and rearrange them into a place where they feel they can get some work done. The flaw in this is that you feel like you’re “working from home”, and not owning “a home office.” There is, in fact, a difference.

A home office ought to feel like an entirely separate entity from your house itself. Sure, it’s nice that you can go to work in your PJs and slippers, but the fact is: you’re at work when you’re in your office, no matter where it is. Purchase office furniture and office supplies rather than co-opting things from the rest of the house. Make sure it’s comfortable, of course, but make sure it is distinctly “your office.” And as always, when you’re out constructing your perfect workplace-away-from-home, be sure you use a reputable office supplier who can help you meet your needs.

Interior designer likes uplifting office spaces

Found this interesting blurb over at the ArgusLeader. In it, Marcia Young, a commercial interior designer, talks about office design and what it means to have a well-designed workplace. When asked about some essentials that should be included in any office design, she had this to say:

The workplace is constantly changing, and one way to easily adapt is by designing with modularity in mind. This allows the customer to change the configuration with minimal cost and downtime. Other key essentials are good task lighting and ergonomic accessories, such as keyboard trays and storage solutions that fit the needs of the user.

Makes sense to me. The main reason I find this article interesting is that I personally had no idea there was such a thing as a commercial interior designer. I can certainly see the need for such an occupation; most of the offices I have worked in seem very much slapped together on a whim, cramming the furniture and items they already had into whatever space they could wrangle up.

Young also says that the trend seems to be going more toward open-plan design, with a tendency to shy away from the traditional “cubicle farm”. They want something that promotes collaboration while still offering some privacy. This means lower heights on cube panels, more modularity, and so on. Again, I find myself in agreement, and wonder why so many businesses lack the wherewithal to make these kinds of decisions on their own.

Still, if it means more work for Marcia Young, I’m all for it. Adding to the list of things I didn’t know existed, she’s a National Council for Interior Design Qualification Certified Designer. Quite a mouthful, but it’s great that there’s someone out there making sure standards are upheld in the design arena. Check out the NCIDQ here.

Working from Home: What to Ask Your Broadband Provider has an interesting piece from David Heyes, COO of TFM Networks, about some of the less-often-considered aspects of working from home. Namely: is it as simple as plugging your employees into a broadband connection and letting them go?

In the article, Heyes covers five key points you may not have thought of, and that your broadband provider might not like you to think of. Since these points imply something a little more involved than the plug-and-play aspect of working from home that a lot of companies (that want to sell you a “business broadband package”), it’s important to take a look before you dive in:

1. Service: What happens if the broadband connection fails?
2. Performance: What about speed, bandwidth and prioritizing key applications over your network?
3. Security: How important is this to you, including data protection?
4. Health & Safety: What are the regulations for home workers?
5. Maintenance and Procurement: Who provides the home office supplies and equipment?

All in all, the article is a decent breakdown of letting employees work from home. I personally had never considered, for example, how a from-home employee would still be covered by a business’s insurance plan, and how they might have to conduct site visits to make sure someone’s home office was up to spec.

Basically, this is an interesting read for anyone looking to pitch the idea of working from home, or any employers looking to expand into that area. As much as we’d like it to be as simple as throwing together a desk, a chair, a filing cabinet, some computers and a broadband connection, the reality is a little more complicated.

Home Office Ideas: The “Command Center”

Over at, there’s another interesting take on the home office that I find quite interesting. Rather than a separate room for a home office, they recommend the “command center” be a small, dedicated space somewhere in the home where the “family manager” can handle the countless tasks, responsibilities and decisions that need to be made every day. From the article:

Basic equipment for the best home office or command center should include a laptop or desktop computer, printer, scanner, copier, fax machine and telephone. It’s OK if you don’t have a computer. The most important thing is to have a designated place (other than the kitchen counter/coffee table/dinning room table) to take care of the day-to-day activities.

The article goes on to say that by using some simple office supplies such as a plastic storage box for supplies, a Rolodex and/or cork board for organizing information, and baskets and boxes for storing documents, you can create a small, dedicated hub for all your home office (or just home-business; even if you don’t work from your house, just being there can accumulate a lot of paperwork these days.)

This article is interesting to me because it flies in the face of a lot of other home-office planners that say the best way to conduct business from home is to have a private, shut-away space that is “office” without being too much “home.” This approach instead has your command center seated as an island in the sea of daily life; a place where anyone can stop off to replenish supplies, coordinate tasks, and generally make sense of day-to-day home management.

It’s an interesting concept, and I imagine it would work much better for some people than trying to wall off their home office from the rest of the house.

Do you have a home office plan or tips that have worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments.

Question: Can I use any ink I want in my printer?

Short answer? Yes you can.

A lot of manufacturers try to bully you into buying official, name-brand ink from them at exorbitant prices by claiming that you will be voiding your warranty or have to pay more for maintenance if you use anything other than their ink. Well, it was recently brought to my attention that not only is this claim ridiculous, it’s also illegal.

Under the Warranty Improvement Act, United States Code Annotated, Title 15 Commerce and Trade, Chapter 50: Consumer Product Warranties 15, Section 2302:

(c) No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the tears of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection may be waived by the commission if:

  1. The warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and
  2. The Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest.

So basically, unless the manufacturer can claim (and prove) that using a third-party product, like printer ink or toner, is doing some kind of harm to the device, than anything else they say about it is forfeit. And guess what? No one has yet come forward with that kind of proof.

Not only does this mean you can use any ink or refill kit you want without fear of your warranty being voided, but the company can also not threaten to remove or discontinue support, break a lease, or basically do anything else about it, either:

The Supreme Court (IBM vs. The United States) held that IBM could not threaten customers with termination of their data processing equipment leases just because they did not use supplies manufactured by IBM. Such practice constituted a “tying agreement” and was found to be to violation of the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Law.

So there you have it. Buy whatever ink you want, to your heart’s content (though remember, buy from your friendly neighborhood online store, not those other guys). This goes for computer parts, replacement parts, and just about anything you might need to buy. You learn something new every day!


Article: Porsche Consulting Debuts the “Lean Office”

In an interesting article from The Financial, they talk about Porsche Consulting (yes, that Porsche), who have developed an innovative strategy for, of all things, dealing with office management and workflow. Using design tricks they learned from the automotive assembly line, they’ve come up with some interesting solutions:

In order to make their office “lean” the consultants turned to the same methods that they also use for external customers in order to optimize their own workflows. The Porsche Consulting employees first analyzed the amount of time they spend walking around the office, the capacity of meeting rooms and the use of individual workstations. Then the optimization process began.

So, several small instead of a few large meeting rooms were set up. This arrangement allows work groups to implement their respective projects faster because the waiting times for available meeting rooms have been reduced and it is easier to call meetings on short notice. Through modular shelving systems and lockers with an integrated post box, work-related walking distances have been shortened and space saved. Just as on the Porsche production line the availability of office materials is controlled by a “just-in-time” system. This ensures that the most important office tools are available at all times at each workstation.

It’s one of those articles that makes you want to slap your forehead and say “duh.” Why has it taken so long for us to realize this? More meeting rooms means less wait time. Modular, mix-and-match furniture means the office can be quickly reconfigured to optimize workspace and flow. Simple concepts, elegantly implemented. I guess there’s a reason this is coming from Porsche.

Article: Organize More Efficiently By Staying Put

My favorite go-to blog for organizing and streamlining my life, Lifehacker, has a great article up right now about organizing your space.

While the article is geared toward general organizing, I find the tips within to be pretty much in line with my own philosophy about cleaning up my home office.

Basically, the article (which quotes from another favorite organization blog, Apartment Therapy), says the main trick to making sure you do the job you set out to do is to stay in the room you’re doing it in:

When you’re in the sorting process (the crucial first step) of organizing a specific room, STAY in the room for the organizing session. (Prepare for the session by having trash bags on hand for trash, recycling, donations.) Invariably you’ll find objects that actually do have a home in another room or on another floor. Most of our clients, if left to their own devices, are inclined to leave the room immediately every time they come across an object like this to return it to its home. And in the process, it’s REALLY easy to get distracted and to not return to organizing.

I find this to be immensely true. I’ve never had a huge house to fan out and get lost in, but even during apartment living I’ve found that the second I leave the room I’m tidying, I lost the motivation to re-enter it. Seems like the farther you get from the job at hand, the easier it is to not go back. Solve the problem by staying put.

The best office redesign I’ve ever had came when I purchased some plastic organizers of the bucket and bin variety, set up some new shelves, and sat down in the office and went to town. Remember, you have to make a mess to clean one, sometimes, so don’t be afraid to tear your office down before re-building it. Just don’t walk away after step 1 and never come back for step 2.