Chris Coulston, head of the Computer Science and Software Engineering department at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, has a broad range of technical interests, including embedded systems, computer graphics algorithms, and sensor design.
Since 2005, he has submitted five articles for publication in Circuit Cellar, on projects and topics ranging from DIY motion-controlled gaming to a design for a “smart” jewelry pendant utilizing RGB LEDs.
We asked him to share photos and a description of the workspace in his Erie, PA, home. His office desk (see Photo 1) has something of an alter ego. When need and invention arise, he reconfigures it into an “embedded workstation.”
When working on my projects, my embedded workstation contains only the essential equipment that I need to complete my project (see Photo 2). What it lacks in quantity I’ve tried to make up for in quality instrumentation; a Tektronix TDS 3012B oscilloscope, a Fluke 87-V digital multimeter, and a Weller WS40 soldering iron. While my workstation lacks a function generator and power supply, most of my projects are digital and have modest power requirements.
Coulston says his workspace must function as a “typical office desk” 80 percent of the time and electronics station 20 percent of the time.
It must do this while maintaining some semblance of being presentable—my wife shares a desk in the same space. The foundation of my workstation is a recycled desk with a heavy plywood backing on which I attached shelving. Being a bit clumsy, I’ve tried to screw down anything that could be knocked over—speakers, lights, bulletin board, power strip, cable modem, and routers.
The head of a university department has different needs in a workspace than does an electronics designer. So how does Coulston make his single office desk suffice for both his professional and personal interests? It’s definitely not a messy solution.
My role as department chair and professor means that I spend a lot time grading, writing, and planning. For this work, there is no substitute for uncluttered square footage—getting all the equipment off the working surface. However, when it’s time to play with the circuits, I need to easily reconfigure this space.
I have found organization to be key to successfully realize this goal. Common parts are organized in a parts case, parts for each project are put in their own bag, the active project is stored in the top draw, frequently used tools, jumper wires, and DMM are stored in the next draw. All other equipment is stored in a nearby closet.
I’ve looked at some of the professional-looking workspaces in Circuit Cellar and must admit that I am a bit jealous. However, when it comes to operating under the constraints of a busy professional life, I have found that my reconfigurable space is a practical compromise.
To learn more about Coulston and his technical interests, check out our Member Profile posted earlier this year.