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Provides a good introduction to improvisational fabrication and tips for experienced Makers.

Book Review: Eccentric Cubicle by Kaden Harris

Kaden Harris is a Maker. He can take bits and pieces of scrap and build the Eiffel Tower. Well, not quite, but he can make something useful out of them, which is more than you can say about the Eiffel Tower. "I grew my skill set from trial and error, libraries, the Net, and from relentlessly picking the brains of anyone with useful knowledge to share," he writes. "I do not hesitate to RTFM." (Eccentric Cubicle, p. vi)

Not only does he make things, he also does it with an eye for art and form, never leaving wood unfinished or metal unpolished, unless they're supposed to look that way. If you take a look at the gallery on his website, Eccentric Genius, you'll be presented with all sorts of contraptions and gadgets that would make a steampunk fan drool while opening their wallet.

Recently, the publishers of MAKE magazine unleashed a book written by Harris that is sure to inspire the office cubicle dwelling Makers. Eccentric Cubicle takes Harris' skills and experience with improvisational fabrication and presents several projects designed with the space and function of an office cubicle in mind.  In addition to the main projects, Harris provides a few sidebar items that will enhance the project at hand and give the reader skills that can be applied elsewhere.

Harris writes in an easy, conversational style that is probably similar to the way he speaks. Occasionally this disrupts the flow, but after a while, I found myself falling into the rhythm and paying more attention to the information than the way it was being presented.

photo of Kaden Harris by Lenore EdmanAt this point, I should note that I am not a Maker in any sense; my junior high school shop class was the last time I used many of the tools Harris considers to be essential for fabrication. However, I am now an office cubicle dweller, and reading the book was a pleasant escape into a fantasy world where I could actually make a ballistic launcher to deliver inter-office messages, among other things.

Yes, that's right. One of the projects is a "BallistaMail." Other projects in the book include a desktop guillotine, a desktop fretless bass, and a USB-powered bubble machine. Harris notes, "I'd like to point out that we need another DIY Ambient Orb project like we need a new hole drilled in our skulls (which is not to say that there isn't a time and a place for recreational trepanning, but that, of course, is another book altogether)." (ibid., p. viii) These are usable items, not just some pretty fluff that serves no purpose, although I'm not sure if I have ever found myself needing a fretless bass while tweaking spreadsheets and reading my email.

My one complaint about the book design is that some of the photographs look like they were taken in a dimly lit room with a basic digital camera. The area around the focus of the flash is often washed out in white, while the outer areas of the photo are too dark to make out the details. Perhaps this was done to give the book a more DIY feel, but personally I would have preferred better detail in the photos, particularly those with tools and equipment I've never seen nor used before.

If you're already comfortable with soldering metal, turning wood, and playing with electrical wiring, then this book will point you in the direction of some fun gadgets and gizmos to make. If you're a neophyte like me, this book may inspire you to explore your tool drawer and look at scraps in an entirely different way.

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