Steggy, my first Spore creationA few years ago, I wrote a post detailing my personal gaming history, wherein I also looked ahead to the future at a computer game that was shaping up to be extremely interesting. That game was Spore (you should really go to their site and watch the introductory video). Under development for half a decade, it was finally released a little over a week ago. Of course, I went out and bought it immediately, and have spent way too much time enjoying it recently.

Basically, Spore delivers. From the purely creative elements involved in putting together your very own creatures, vehicles, buildings, or spaceships, to the very strategic ones involved in maintaining a galactic empire in a quest for the Ultimate Answer, to the delight and wonder that spark the imagination upon seeing a coherent, procedurally-generated universe, replete with stars and supernovae and black holes and UFOs and alien creatures and planets and… the list goes on.

I have to admit that there was some initial disappointment with the depth of gameplay at earlier levels (Spore is divided into Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, and Space stages). The first three stages in particular felt too easy, and went by very quickly without much in the way of challenge. Once I hit the Space stage, however, all that changed. It seemed everything I’d learned about using Spore in the earlier stages was now a set of essential skills I needed to use with strategy and alacrity if I was to stay on the board. It took me probably 6 hours to get from the Cell stage to the Space stage, and I’ve spent at least that long in this last stage, without progressing that much closer to the center of the galaxy (which is the goal of Spore). Part of my challenge at the Space stage may be due to choices I made in earlier stages, though – I chose to be a very warlike civilization, which gave me certain benefits, but also made it much more likely that I would be attacked in the Space stage.

Well, there’s much more to say about a game that has innovated so greatly on technical and conceptual levels, but that’s all for now. You should check out the game yourself! It should run on any computer (Windows or Mac) with a decent graphics card. I’ll leave you with a set of creations from my current Spore game. Clearly, only a very special game could allow me to create such cool and unique models! And, if you’re a Spore player yourself, I believe you can download these images and import them directly into Spore to use them in your own games.

Tyraxin, my creature for this game (from planet Teraxius)

The city hall for the Civilization stage on Teraxius

The ground vehicle for the Tyraxin

The Tyraxin air vehicle

My spaceship!

Stand-Up Desk, Part II: Implementation

A few days ago, my dad and I were able to put together the desk. Luckily, we have a small hardware store just 4 blocks away, so we were able to go get materials at the spur of the moment. Said materials turned out to be:

  • (4) cuts of 3/4″ plywood at 11 3/4″ x 21″ (perfectly cut by a store employee)
  • (14) 1 3/4″ wood screws
  • (1) sheet of sandpaper

deskbuilding supplies

To begin, we sanded clean the edges and any ugly stuff on the faces:

Then, we pre-drilled the screw holes so that the later drilling would be easier and more aligned. We used 4 holes per side on the top, and 3 holes per side for the keyboard tray.

And, as we had hoped, it was easy to drill some solid holes in an exact way. Here we are with one side left to go…

And we’re done!

Here’s a shot of me on the inaugural run:

And for good measure, a closeup from the worker’s perspective:

That’s it! Now go build your own!

Stand-up Desk, Part I: Design

Like many computer programmers who spend upwards of 8 hours a day working with a keyboard and mouse, I’ve developed some physical problems as a result (classed as Repetitive Strain Injuries, or RSIs). In recent years these have gotten so serious I’ve been to one physician (mainstream and alternative) after another, looking for insight into the situation. Through that process I’ve gained an awareness of the supreme importance of things like correct posture and taking recovery breaks. I’ve also experimented with every kind of ergonomic device on the market, some of which do help. (Unfortunately, much of this is too little, too late–such is the price I pay for my unsustainable Internet lifestyle).

Well, my most recent epiphany in this process is that we humans were not meant to be sitting creatures. Standing, walking, and reclining are naturally the more ergonomically normal postures for us. And so I (and my dad, whom I recruited to help with the project) decided to try and put together a stand-up desk to use during my 8 hours a day of bondage. I had the further idea that, if it could be dismantled and fit into my 21″ x 11″ x 10″ suitcase, so much the better!

So, after taking measurements of my height and my ergonomically neutral hand and head positions, I put together this model in Google Sketchup:

Standup Desk V1

The idea was to build the frame out of PVC for easy dis- and re-assembly, and to keep the weight down. However, after taking a trip to the hardware store and playing around with various materials, it became clear that (a) the desk would be pretty wobbly unless it were crisscrossed with PVC supports, (b) the massive number of PVC connectors we’d need would fill my suitcase all by themselves, and (c) construction would be very complex and difficult. So, back to the drawing board!

Approaching the idea from a different perspective, that of the question “What’s the simplest possible way to construct a piece within the appropriate ergonomic constraints?”, proved very fruitful. Almost immediately we hit upon the idea of using just 4 pieces of wood to create a satisfactory design. Of course, what we gained in utter simplicity and the sturdiness of wood, we probably lost in overall lightness. Still, surprisingly, after looking at the new design, it appeared that it would be even more likely to fit in my suitcase than the previous version. In addition, it turned out that we could build this new design with 4 pieces of wood that were exactly the same size!

Standup Desk v2

The only other downside to this design is that it requires a table to stand on. Of course, finding a table or desk of the appropriate height (about 30″) shouldn’t ever prove to be too difficult.

So, this is the design we’re taking to Home Depot with which to get materials. All in all, I thought it was an interesting process, in which my natural desires to build a complicated and unworkable design were ultimately won over by something a lot more simple and obvious, which will probably successfully meet my criteria for a desk. Stay tuned: I’ll post another blog with pictures when we attempt to actually turn this into reality!