Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Ultimate Chair (Part II)...

Today I went out to the store and bought a number of supplies for the Ultimate Chair. As I was driving away I noticed a large'ish package at the front door.

First I went to OfficeMax and picked up a mouse pad and surge protector with a 6 foot extension cable. I figure that is long enough. It has safety plugs which should help reduce overall risk in case of a sudden thunderstorm. On my way to the checkout I helped an elderly'ish lady figure out what button battery went with her key locater device.

Then I wandered over to Best Buy because it was raining and the two stores are right next to each other. While I was there I wandered around. I had no intentions of buying anything but by pure coincidence I wandered into the cordless phones section of the store just as someone was pointing out that a $24.99 phone was $9.99 after rebate. I determined I needed this for two reasons: To be able to handle technical support calls outside and to see if this phone fixed a major issue I always have with automated systems that require "press the # key after entering such-and-such a number". My '*' and '#' keys don't work properly on my super old phone and someone told me that a different phone might work.

It eventually stopped raining and I went on to my third destination: Home Depot. I picked up a sheet of 1/4 inch Plexiglas, a roll of sheet foam rubber, and some contact cement.

Then I went back and picked up the package at the front door and opened it and got started to work. The first step was to figure out the best way to make it comfortable to sit in the chair. Let me take this opportunity to state that "lumbar support" should be stated "we have figured out how to put a rock in your back to make you incredibly uncomfortable - and it isn't optional".

I figured out how to make it comfortable. However, the secret will be left for the next edition of The Ultimate Chair.

This edition introduces you to a product that, amazingly, doesn't exist but really should. A mouse pad for an external mouse for a laptop.

You might say, "Big deal - the mouse pad exists already." Sure, for PC users. Laptop users could buy a gaming mouse pad which is made of 100% plastic, but I'm picky and prefer cloth mouse pads. What if there was a mouse pad that felt exactly like a cloth mouse pad (complete with its squishy goodness) but didn't flop around AND maintained its grip?

People constantly ask me, "Why bother with a mouse at all?" Productivity. Touchpads and trackpoints (or whatever they are called) are incredibly unproductive to use. External mice are far faster and more accurate. Laptop users are supposed to use shortcut keys to be efficient, not their touchpad/trackpoint. I prefer a nice balance that allows me to maximize efficiency. However, to achieve maximum efficiency with an external mouse, I need a flat surface designed for maximum trackability, which means I need a mouse pad with my laptop.

Anyway, I digress. My solution to this problem involved creating multiple layers. The first step was to trace the outline of the mouse pad onto the Plexiglas. I think I messed this up slightly by using a pen, but no harm was done.

The next step was to cut the Plexiglas. I'm not exactly what you would call a "handiman". However, I have the power of Google on my side and I looked up how to cut it before I made my trip to the stores. I did what people suggested and tried out a couple cuts on the excess portions before making the real cut. My first cut was a disaster. I was using a table jigsaw and about 2 inches in, the plastic melted and cooled around the blade. If you've never used a table jigsaw before (uh, this was my second time ever), getting the blade "frozen" 2 inches from the edge of Plexiglas is a very painful experience. I extracted the blade by grabbing a hammer and screwdriver and carefully pounded to minimize the potential impact to my layout.

I reset the jigsaw blade and then sat and thought for a long time. Then I remembered reading something about methods people use to reduce the probability of melting. So I went back and read the tips people had. I settled on using three layers of tape and ice cubes and wished I had one of those really powerful water-driven cutting tools that cut steel like butter. Once the tape job was done, I grabbed the first ice cube and put it up to the blade and started cutting. When I was done, the blade was actually a good 10 degrees below room temperature.

Once the Plexiglas was cut, I sanded the edges down to a nice smooth finish. This was done so I wouldn't cut myself on the "sharp edges". Technically, Plexiglas doesn't cut, but I can attest otherwise. I'm glad I chose the ice cube route - little tiny microfragments of Plexiglas tore up portions of my hands - the water and tape kept the shards localized to the surface of the table - if I had used any other option I could have ended up with nasty particles in my eyes. Yes, I'm an idiot for not wearing protective gear but nothing on Plexiglas that I read said, "If you don't wear protective gear, you're a doofus."

With the Plexiglas cutting and sanding done, I was ready to glue the first two pieces together. I used contact cement. This stuff is incredibly potent and highly intoxicating. Don't even open the bottle unless you have some serious ventilation going. If you have ever used modelling glue, this stuff is 5-7 times as potent. I followed the directions but noticed that it was drying a lot faster than advertised and scrambled to piece the first two layers together.

Then I got out the "sheet of foam rubber". To be honest, it isn't exactly "foam rubber" but it has sufficient gripping properties like the real foam rubber on the bottom of cloth mouse pads. I cut it to the size of the mouse pad using a utility knife. Finally, I attached it to the mousepad/Plexiglas combo using the contact cement.

The result is an incredible mouse pad that I can use on any mostly level surface. The Plexiglas creates a solid layer not unlike a table. The "sheet of foam rubber" on the bottom provides a gripping surface that works on just about everything. So, just to quickly summarize the layers:

- Cloth mouse pad (with foam rubber backing - I prefer 1/4 inch thick)
- Contact cement
- Plexiglas (cut and sanded)
- Contact cement
- Sheet of foam rubber (the thinner this is and the stronger the gripping surface, the better)

Creating the mouse pad is just part of the equation. I took it over to the chair and determined that the mouse would fall off but the pad would stay put. Clearly, the chair has to be modified to support the mouse pad.

A trip to the store is necessary to get the remaining supplies. I knew the external mouse would be tough to do right. The mouse pad has many different uses outside of the chair. For instance, someone could fly somewhere and put a similar mouse pad under the edge of their laptop on the tray and the mouse pad would dangle in the air past the edge of the tray.

If I were to do this over, I would have done two things differently:

1) Put on proper safety equipment (maybe even obtained a gas mask).
2) Used two 1/8 inch layers instead of one 1/4 inch layer. 1/8 inch makes "scoring" and breaking a lot easier than 1/4 inch and I could have saved a lot of time by quickly scoring the Plexiglas and breaking it and only using the jigsaw on the corners.

Total cost so far: $98.69 (USD)
Items so far: 1 "Portable Outdoor Laptop Chair". A cordless phone. A surge protector. A mouse pad. A sheet of Plexiglas. A sheet of rubber-like "grip liner". A bottle of contact cement.

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