1.) What is your name and where in the WWW (Whole Wide World) do you live?
Melvin: My name is Melvin and I live in a small semi-rural community in North Carolina. I was born, and received all my pre-baccalaureate education, in Singapore. I went to college in Tempe, Arizona, moved to Florida to begin my career, and eventually ended up here in North Carolina.
2.) What do you do for a living, what pays the bills? And what is the thing you do when you are not doing the thing that pays the bills?
Melvin: I am an aerospace engineer and work as a senior test engineer for aircraft tires. I work full-time, from 8 to 5, which leaves me nights and weekends to pursue my other interests and hobbies, fortunately.
When I am not at work, I enjoy movies, music, reading, astronomy, working on my Volvos, photography, radio-controlled (RC) cars and chasing the latest consumer electronics. But my first love has always been computers and anything computer related.
I was always fascinated by computers, but it was my freshman year in college when I suddenly developed an almost fanatical obsession with them. The media in the early 1990’s was saturated with “CGI-enhanced” offerings featuring realistic computer renderings and special effects, which fed my desire to learn more about what these amazing machines could do. I bought my first computer, a Macintosh IIci with a Motorola 68030 processor in October of 1992 for college work, but secretly wished that I could use this machine to crunch numbers like a CRAY supercomputer, or perhaps churn out a CGI-laden Hollywood blockbuster hit or two. At one point I had even considered building my own Beowulf cluster.
3.) How much of what you do, personally or professionally, gets done at the work space featured?
Melvin: I do absolutely no professional work in this workspace; it is strictly a playroom for the geek in me.
This home office was designed specifically to be the “mission control center” of my house, a room where I could consolidate all my computing hardware into one organized space. Some people build a workshop in the garage, a high-end home theater or a gourmet kitchen - I have a server room. Ethernet jacks in the house terminate directly into this room, not to a patch panel inside a closet, like most others. With this room, the rest of my home can remain computer free. Two servers are constantly powered on to provide services for the network. They are hot and noisy, so it is nice to be able to isolate them from the rest of my living spaces.
4.) Typically, what time of the day do you normally find yourself at this desk, and for how long? Night owl, early bird?
Melvin: I am usually in this room at least two hours every weeknight and almost all day on weekends if I have no other pressing commitments. This room gets the most use out of all the rooms in my house.
5.) How much of what gets done at your desk is for work, how much is it to scratch your own creative itch?
Melvin: I consider everything I do in this room to be for pleasure, and “work” only to maintain the systems. I really enjoy spending time in this room as it was created with my unique requirements in mind. The little “work” I do comprises mainly of applying system updates and data housekeeping. This is the room that I actually come to relax in.
I do not consider myself creative or do any creative work here. My systems are merely instruments to keep my digital life organized, not as vehicles for creative endeavors. I do, on occasion make a home movie or two, but that hardly qualifies.
6.) What are the essentials that can be found on your desk more times than not? How about those items just out of reach or out of sight? If it’s not on top of your desk what are the things you most often grab out of a top draw or cabinet?
Melvin: My iPhone, a beverage and handwritten notes containing assorted information. Occasional items are stored away in receptacles on my shelves.
I have a drawer full of 80pin LVD drives which I have acquired over the years as spares for the IBM Netfinity (they are becoming increasingly rare) and several drawers full of computer parts. I find writing electronic notes to myself on the computer quite unnatural, so I use a archaic system … post-it notes. I have four holders full of pens and a stack of post-it notes on the first shelf and within reach when I need to jot something down. Then use the Lexan panel on the side of a computer as a post-it wall.
Items out of sight but in the room…
- A Macintosh Powerbook G4 (1st generation Titanium 500MHz, 2001 vintage) running Debian Linux with a fairly recent solid state hard drive upgrade.
- A HP Netbook Mini 1000 running Ubuntu Linux
- iPad WiFi 64GB
- PowerPC 9600 with OS9.1
- PowerPC 8600 with OS9.1
- Yosemite B&W G3 with Debian Linux
- MDD dual 1GHz G4 with Ubuntu Linux
- Yikes 450MHz G4 with OSX
- HP Laserjet 2300 with wireless print server
- 20” Apple Cinema Display
- Three Tamiya radio controlled car displayed on bookcase.
- Sony PSP
- TrendNet 16-port switch
- Apple Airport Extreme
- 6 APC Backup UPS’s
7.) What beverage/food/snack can one usually find at your desk, and why?
Melvin: I keep a cup of water or juice nearby. I get thirsty quite a lot.
8.) Do you have any reasoning or anecdotes that lend some insight into why your desk is setup the way it is, or the thinking behind certain item(s)? How about the things around your desks? Decoration, wall art, figurines, statues, etc? Any particular reason behind those?
Melvin: My setup is what I categorize as “utilitarian”. Contemporary décor is beautiful, but difficult to implement properly in a small room with so much computer hardware. The room has to remain functional but yet retain a hint of the contemporary spirit. Cable management is another problem as cable clutter is unavoidable. The conundrum of where to place all the computer displays, CPU enclosures and battery backups but yet keeping it visually appealing had me looking at other people’s workspaces on Flickr for inspiration.
I wanted a very long bench but found this modular desk and printer stand better suited to the smaller dimensions of this room. The vanity panel served another purpose, to keep all the unsightly cables off the floor and out of sight. Even cable runs from one end of the desk to the other can easily be hidden, but yet remain fully accessible.
I bought 6 shelves with concealed mounting brackets (IKEA - LACK series) to add visual interest and storage to the bare walls. LED spots could then be secured to the top shelves to illuminate the dim workspace underneath. These new lights also highlight a few whimsical items on the shelves and serve as facial lighting during my Skype video conferencing sessions at night.
Servers and seldom used workstations are grouped to the left while frequently used computers are made more accessible by positioning them closer to the center of the desk.
I have kept the walls stark white and prefer to use furniture and artwork to accent my spaces. It was almost too tempting to choose black, stainless steel and glass for this room, which I find too pedestrian. I prefer warmer colors and rich earth tones which will contrast nicely with the cold steel cases and black plastic.
9.) How much of what you do, or aspire to do, influences your desk setup, tangibly and intangibly.
Melvin: I like to multitask so it helps if I can comfortably reach several workstations from my chair. I also do not discard obsolete computer hardware but appropriate them for other purposes. All of the older Macintoshes in the room have Linux installed and kept as spare servers for my network. They were my main workstations at some point in the distant past.
I am an engineer, so I have probably seen quite a few impressive labs and control rooms over the years. I must have said to myself at one time or another, “Wow, I want a room like that when I grow up!” I may have subconsciously modeled this room after the control room in Jurassic Park too.
10.) Are you a Mac or are you a PC? What machine(s) are setup and used at your desk? If you are a little bit of both tell us why. How about any other tech gear that can be found at your desk or in your home?
Melvin: I am both a Mac and a PC, and a Linux user on both of these platforms. Each OS has distinct advantages over the other. I have an iMac with OSX, a home-built PC running Ubuntu 64-bit Linux, another home-built WinXP gaming PC, a Macintosh G4 server with OSX, a IBM with WinXP and two IBM RAID servers with Ubuntu Linux.
When friends visit for the first time, the first tech gear that catches their eye as they step into the house are a pair of Magnepans. They are 4-feet tall, 1-inch thin, magnetic-planar speakers. The other tech gadgetry worthy of mention are my Bang & Olufsen stereo hanging on my bedroom wall, a Roland digital piano and an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
11.) What’s the one piece of gear you could not live without?
Melvin: I cannot live without my iPhone 4. I keep track of my personal finances and the maintenance schedule for both my cars on it.
12.) What piece of gear cannot be found on your desk, but you wish it could be?
Melvin: I have a Thermaltake Level 10 enclosure in storage. There simply isn’t enough room for this large computer tower.
13.) Software; what do you use more often than not. What helps you get the job done? And what do you not use, but hope one day to incorporate in your workflow?
Melvin: The software that I use most often, embarrassingly is, iTunes. It runs continuously all day, everyday on my aging dual G4 server. This is because I have two Soundbridges and an Apple TV that relies on iTunes to stream music from. I eagerly await the day when a Linux port becomes available.
14.) If you could change one thing about your desk, or the room it is currently in, what would that be?
Melvin: I would add more registers for air conditioning. The computers can overwhelm the HVAC system in the summer months.
15.) Workspace Breakdown;
Think of as many things as possible that comprise the setup of your office or workspace, anything from the paint color on the walls to the floor mat your chair rolls on, and list them out. Who makes your desk, how about the cabinet next to your desk, your lamp, the overhead light fixture? Anything and everything you can see in the pictures shown, give as much color and background on these items as time and memory permits.
- IBM Netfinity 5600 – Hardware RAID5, six hot-swappable 80pin SCSI3 LVD drives. Three hot-swappable power supplies, dual processor PIII at 800MHz. Used as a backup for the server below. Ubuntu Linux version 10.04, server edition.
- IBM Intellistation Z-Pro – Hardware RAID5, six 68pin SCSI3 LVD drives, dual processor PIII 933MHz. Network storage for the netbooks. Ubuntu Linux version 10.04, server edition.
- IBM xSeries205 – WinXP. Used for unpacking zip archives and running windows executables. Unfortunately we live in a Windows centric world. My Sony Blu-ray player’s firmware updates come as .exe files. Volvo diagnostic programs are also windows only.
- Thermaltake XaserII – Non-networked. Home-built WinXP gaming machine.
- Macintosh G4 (Digital Audio) – Network file server and iTunes music server for two Rokulabs Soundbridges and an AppleTV.
- RaidMax Smilodon – Home-built 64-bit Ubuntu box. Used to surf the internet and online banking. This unit is used exclusively when online security is paramount.
- iMac 20” – Digital content storage/creation (ebooks, music, videos and photos). Also desktop companion to my iPad and iPhone. Necessary when iOS firmware updates become available. Personal data management with email, contacts and calendar applications. Video conferencing platform with Skype.
- Yamaha 2-way bass reflex speakers. Poly cone woofer and aluminum dome tweeter.
- Oregon Scientific MSN SPOT-enabled weather station. Model WMS801. Receives weather data through radio station antennas.
- The Station Agent movie poster, autographed by the director.
- Sundry AppleTV, iPad and iPod packages.
- My engineering and MBA degrees above the iMac
- JBL Control SB-1 passive subwoofer
- Onkyo R-805X integrated amplifier and C-707CHX 3 CD changer
- Argonath statuettes from the LOTR DVD special edition
- Lacie external firewire hard drive. Time machine backup drive.
- Two IBM Thinkvision 17” displays.
- Two Samsung 19” widescreen displays
- Apple cinema 17” cinema display.
- Apple BT keyboard, Magic Mouse and Trackpad.
If you would like to learn more about Melvin Chua, his workspace, or his work, you can find him by clicking the links below;
If you have any questions or comments about this, or any other featured setup, or you would like to have your own setup featured here on SetupsandSpaces.com feel free to email me at FValletutti@me.com.