O’Reilly’s Make series of books has made a name for itself with how-to books that present all manner of crazy projects that we are — theoretically — able to build ourselves. With Eccentric Cubicle, they deliver once again. However, as it’s written by Kaden Harris, you get a delightfully eccentric slant as well. Harris is Canadian but doesn’t use the Metric system. He worked as a graphic designer, a sewage treament specialist, and as a scrap yard worker (“My scrap fu is STRONG,” he says on his web site.) Funny and extremely knowledgeable, you find yourself drawn into Harris’s narrative while being continually amused by his banter.
The projects comprise the bulk of the book so I’ll start off with them. Let me just preface by saying that these projects are hard. While beginners will definitely enjoy reading the book, actually building the projects might require a decent quantity of tools and materials, not to mention considerable handiness about the workshop. Allegedly Harris sent out the plans to a number of beta testers but I have the feeling that these daring individuals were no slouches with the drill press.
Here were my three favorites:
Liquid Light Meets the Disko Skull: Think of those gadgets that project trippy light effects, kinda like having a pan of colored oil and water on an overhead projector. Only the projector is stuck inside a PVC segment and pointed at a rotating mirror skull!
Haze-o-Matic 3000: Basically a fog machine, but this one is steampunky and ornate with bellows and tubes everywhere. Way cool.
Hammerhead Live Mechanical Drum Machine: Amazing-looking analog drum machine that bangs on drums and cymbals with wee drumsticks.
The other projects in the book include Active Deskchop (a guillotine!), BallistaMail (a desk-mounted crossbow that shoots mail tubes), Maple Mike (golf ball launcher), DeskBeam Bass (turns your desk into a giant speaker), the Gysin Device (psychadelic spinner that allegedly induces an alpha state in your brain) and iBlow USB Bubble Machine (a quickie bubble maker). Densely packed with information, Eccentric Cubicle supplements the amazing projects with a series of “nano projects” that read as small tutorials. One covers home brewed wood finishes. Another helps you make a retractable electrical cord. This sort of thing can only add value to an otherwise outstanding read.
One quibble: The book is called Eccentric Cubicle but I gotta say the connection to the workplace is a little thin. However, these projects are plenty cool wherever you build them. Anyway, as I’ve often said about DIY books, you can have tons of fun simply reading the book. Harris is an engaging and downright funny writer who is constantly including sassy asides, historical trivia, and jokes. For example, on the bubble machine project, he included 6 large grapefruits and a volleyball net into the parts list, just for yucks. A lot of DIY books are dry and to-the-point. Not this one.
Eccentric Cubicle is an educational and entertaining read, whether or not you want a mail-flinging ballista on your desk.