Art Construction

Saturday, 23-Jan-1999, about 1:00pm

I stop by the office and take some measurements. The cubes are built out of standard-sized components; Art's area is roughly 11' long (two four-foot sections and one 3-foot section) and 8' wide (see diagram).

[ cube diagram ]

There are two shelving units attached to the walls high enough so that they're about level with the top of the cube wall. These proved useful.

There are neighboring cubes to the east (attached) and north (not quite attached). There are cable conduit risers at the northeast and southwest corners, which can't support much weight but are still pretty solid.

A key feature is that one of the panels that forms the doorway swings outward to a point even with the other (fixed) panel. This wasn't an intentional feature, so it doesn't move easily, but it goes. And when it does, the gap is just slightly narrower than the metal cabinet is wide...

Saturday, about 1:30pm

My dad and I Head over to Home Depot in his Toyota 4Runner to pick up supplies. After hunting around for a while (the Sunnyvale store is a BIG place), we locate some 3/8" particle board that seems to provide the best bang for the buck ($7 for a 4x8 sheet). The Toyota can hold 4' wide sheets, but 6' long would barely make it, so we stand in line and get the sheets cut at 69 inches (half the length of Art's cube).

We pick up the rest of the materials, and are back at my parents' house around 4:00pm. The 1x4 boards are cut down to the height of the cube wall (about 5'8"), formed into a 'T' shape lengthwise, and nailed together. A small piece of scrap lumber is nailed to the top. This piece will form the center support for the ceiling we're going to put over Art's cube.

Saturday, around 4:30pm

I'm back at work, trying to figure out how to connect a microphone in my cube to a speaker in Art's cube, preferrably without running wires. After a few minutes with the Solaris demonstration programs, I find one called "radio". It allows you to broadcast low-quality audio to everybody on a LAN, with fancy features like multicast addressing and multiple stations.

Other than an annoying full-second delay between when I speak and when it plays, it works great. I still need some cables for the speaker (I don't want to to undo the complex setup in my cube) and to connect the output of the CD player with the microphone input, so I head over to Fry's around 5pm.

Before leaving, the expanding brain is placed into a jar full of water.


Sunday, 24-Jan-1999, about 1:30pm

(The order of events is approximate. Some things happened in a different order than is listed here, but it's easier to tell the story as a single thread.)

Dad and I show up at work, carrying a large collection of tools and lumber. The site is surveyed; he's seen my drawings, but hasn't seen the actual location until now. The 4' wide particle board sheets are to run lengthwise north to south, support by the 4' wide cube wall panels on one end and the central support post we built on the other.

The trouble is that the particle board sheets will sag quite a bit if they're unsupported in the middle. We need to prop it up in places other than just on the ends. On the west wall of the cube we place a cable guard borrowed from an empty cube; it only gives us a lip about an inch wide, but that's enough. The northwest panel is thus set; the southwest panel can sit atop the ends of a shelving unit; and the northeast panel sits partly on the east wall of the cube. The southeast panel is going to be lacking support, but it will be lighter than the others because we have to cut much of it away to fit around the file cabinet.

The center post and the northwest panel are installed, and more or less support each other for a brief time. To prevent the whole affair from collapsing in on itself after construction, we tie three lines from the center post to the cube walls. We thought about nailing the particle board sheets to the center post but decided against it, because we didn't want it to be necessary to use hand tools to take it apart again. We settled for duct-taping the panels solidly around the central support.

The southwest panel is then put in place without difficulty. We want to make them hard to remove, so we drill holes in the boards near the outside corners, and push a loop of twine up through them. The twine is looped over a large nail, which prevents the twine from being pulled back through, and the nail is duct-taped over to make it harder to remove. The other end of the twine is secured to the inside of the cube wall. Lacking a good workbench, we drill the holes while the board is in place on top of the cube, holding a wastebasket under it to catch sawdust.

Attaching the twine to the cube wall turns out to be a bit of a challenge. At the joint between cube panels there is a vertical strip with holes in it. The cube furniture is supported by hooks that go into the holes; for example, the work surfaces sit on L-brackets that hook into the wall. The sides of bookshelves work similarly: they hook into the wall, and the shelf is then attached to the sides. Trying to get the twine to go in one hole and out another was a real pain, so we started using the tiny cable ties, and just tied the twine through the cable tie. In most cases there was enough slack in the twine to lift the panels up a couple of inches, which was unfortunate but unavoidable. Stiff metal wire hooked directly into the panel would have been a better choice, since it would have been possible to lock the panel down more securely, and it would have been difficult to cut. It didn't seem worth the effort though, since one panel was going to be a "weak link" anyway, and having three panels held solidly would just call attention to the fourth.

Based on Art's approach to entering the cube when the cabinet was placed in his doorway on Monday, I figure he'll probably try to gain entry by removing the northwest panel. That seems like a good place for a sign. Using "apple red" latex paint, I write "BITE ME, ART" in big letters on the northwest panel. (Because of the height of the cube, and some strategically-placed cardboard boxes, it was nearly impossible to see the writing until you were standing on the work surface of the adjoining cube, and the writing was right in your face.)

Time to block the doorway. Three heavy boxes of laser printer paper (10 reams to a box, for a total of about 40 pounds per box) are pulled in, and the cabinet is wrestled into position. The paper boxes are set against three sides of the cabinet, placed on top of non-slip rubber mats to keep them from being pushed around. To prevent the moveable cube panel from being moved, we tie twine to the panel, wrap it around the cabinet door handle a couple of times, and then tie it off on the cube panel on the other side of the cabinet. It's not so moveable anymore. It's worth mentioning that, from here on out, entrance to and from the cube is accomplished by standing on a chair and sliding over the wall. Not too difficult, but it does wear on you after a while.

The northeast panel is laid in, and it clears the cabinet with an inch to spare. Duct tape is applied to the junctions between boards. I'm a little nervous about this, since it's not too stable, and it would be bad if pulling hard on one board yanked all the rest loose; but because of the way things are (and aren't) supported, it actually makes it a little more stable.

Now comes the challenging part: fitting the southeast panel, which needs to have space for the filing cabinet cut away. For aesthetic reasons, we also want to trim a diagonal corner off so it will match up with the "adjusted" panel. The final particle board sheet is taken to a nearby conference room, where Dad whips out a hand saw that's probably older than I am and goes to work. Most of the sawdust lands on newspaper, but quite a bit doesn't. Lucky for us, the janitors are coming through later tonight, and vacuuming is on their agenda.

After much sawing, the final roof piece is tested for fit. There's still much to do, so it's set aside for the moment. The last piece can't be tied down, because it will be my exit route, but we don't want to call attention to that fact. The other panels have string looped around nails and covered by duct tape, so we tape down a couple of nails near the edge as a disguise.

The final piece of construction is to add the 8-foot 1x2 poles to the northwest and southeast corners of the cube. The goal is to create an effect like barbed wire, but instead of wire with barbs every few feet, we use nylon cord with gummi worms tied around it. The hollow poles extending from the cube to the ceiling -- intended to bring phone and network wiring from the ceiling into the cube without having bundles of wire dangling in space -- on the northeast and southwest corners will work fine for this. The 1x2 poles were installed on the other two corners.

Sunday, about 5:30pm

The construction is complete, but much decorating remains. Dad goes home.

The can of Spam goes into a cardboard box tied with the red ribbon. The sound recording device -- a silly piezoelectric thing that can record about 20 seconds of bad-quality sound -- is attached to the top, with the message, "thank you for playing, here's your consolation prize". The whole collection goes on Art's keyboard tray.

For no very good reason, Art has a couple of stuffed animals in his cube.  One of them is a purple shark.  For no very good reason, I tie nylon cord around its tail, and hang it from the ceiling.

The speaker is connected to the sound output on Art's Sun workstation, and appropriate processes are fired up. The sound isn't wonderful, but it will do.

The "keep out" signs are mounted, one on the back of the cabinet where Art's door should be, the other on the outside of the west cube wall (the stairway, elevator, and most of the rest of the building are that direction).

On the whiteboard inside the cube, I write, "revenge is a dish best served cold". Star Trek claims it as a Klingon saying, but I'm told it's actually Chinese in origin.

When moving people between cubes or buildings, we use reusable cardboard moving boxes that collapse flat nicely. I don't want to tape the boxes together, because the adhesive will pull off much of the cardboard, but it turns out that you can run string down through the center of the box and then close the top and bottom without damaging anything. I run string through 7 boxes, laying each on its side, and anchor the end in an empty metal can that once held a "designer popcorn" holiday gift. (The choice of the can was arbitrary; I selected it because it was available, and because it makes a whole lot of noise when picked up and dropped.)

It takes three rows of tied-together boxes to cover the floor of the cube. I pile more moving boxes on top, and get out of the cube. After a last look around, the fourth panel is moved into place, and given a cursory duct-taping to keep it from moving too far.

Cardboard boxes of various sizes are placed on top of the "roof". These are mostly meant as a reminder of what got Art in hot water in the first place (filling my cube with boxes), but they also serve to conceal gaps in the roof. It's fairly impressive from a distance, since the first impression is that the cube has been filled to overflowing with cardboard boxes.

The nylon cord is wrapped around the four outer poles in two layers, up above the top of the cube. Gummi worms are tied at fairly regular intervals on all sides. Most of the tub of worms is used up, and the remainder gets eaten for dinner.

A label that says "Clarke, Art (Cubus Evictus)" is placed on the jar with the expanding brain. The jar is placed on a chair in front of the cube doorway.

Practical jokes played quietly between individuals can escalate forever, but once you draw an audience, you have to make each successive step a big step. If I'd done this quietly -- though I can't imagine how one can encase an entire cube quietly -- Art could have responded with something of equal or even lesser intensity. With the feud in the public eye, any future actions on his part would have to be equally public and terribly impressive. For that reason, and because something this complex just begs for an audience, I decided to publicize the event.

Near all the entrances to the building, I post signs that read:


Monday Morning Only!

See real-life drama in a way that only Art Clarke's cube can bring you!

1295 Charleston, second floor... follow the signs!

About two dozen hand-written signs that say "Art's Cube <arrow>" are placed strategically throughout the second floor, especially near the elevator and stairs, so that his cube can be reached by following signs.

It's important that anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing feud -- which accounts for perhaps 98% of the people in the building -- will be able to understand what has inspired this bit of construction. I put two signs up on the outside of his cube, where they could be seen easily:

The Crime

On January 19, 1999, Art Clarke did conspire to obstruct access to the cube of a coworker.

The cube was filled with cardboard boxes of assorted sizes and descriptions, and a filing cabinet was placed so as to obstruct the entrance.

The accused, Art Clarke, was heard to speak the following words to the victimized coworker: "you know you can't win".

and, next to it:

The Punishment

At an unspecified time in the morning hours, Art Clarke will arrive at work.

He must, using what limited wits he possesses, attempt to enter his cube and acquire the Holy Consolation Prize.

Upon securing said prize, Art Clarke is to beg the forgiveness of the All-Sniffing One. A nice fresh carrot slice may help here.

(The All-Sniffing One is a silly reference to a small furry rabbit we have at work. I kept trying to find some impressive description, along the lines of The All-Seeing Eye or He Who Walks Between the Rows. Hey, I was tired and it was the best I could come up with.)

Sunday, about 8:45pm

Finished! After a long day, I'm ready to go home. This has taken far longer than I anticipated.