Machine Design

Guide to goofing off

In the spirit of April Fool's Day, MACHINE DESIGN presents a tongue-in-cheek guide to getting nothing done.

We can't promise it will advance your career, but it might get you noticed.

Send an instant message or e-mail
A survey from America Online Inc. shows that instant messaging (IM) among people at work is up. Twentyseven percent of IM users polled say they use it in the workplace. And nearly twothirds of at-work IM users say they also send occasional instant messages during the workday to check in with family and friends. If your company does not use IM, it can be tricky to use it and not get caught. But if you're careful, you can email your friends while the boss thinks you're working hard. Try it by sending me an e-mail at [email protected] and let me know what you think of this Career Buzz column.

Get your coworkers riled up
Staple papers in the middle of the page. Hum songs like "Mary had a little lamb" until they subconsciously pick it up and start humming too. Start a debate about whether decaf coffee should be in a green or an orange pot. Leave plastic figurines on their desk when they're not looking.

Learn what a blog is and get your own
If you don't have your own blog by now, chances are you don't really know what a blog is. A blog, coined from the phrase "Web log," is basically a journal available on the Web. Blog postings are almost always arranged in chronological order with the most recent additions featured most prominently. They are typically updated daily using software that lets people with little or no technical background update and maintain them.

What's the secret to good blogging? Glenn Harlan Reynolds, editor at suggests "good blogs have a personal voice and rapid response times. In every case, though, what brings success is knowing something other people don't know, and expressing it well."

Here are a few popular blogs:— A Directory of Wonderful Things. One-million-plus monthly readers love the new, the unusual, and all things technology and culture that BoingBoing presents. According to the FArQ page, in 2004, Fark got over 400 million page views. At that rate they predict that in 2005 there will be more people reading Fark than will be alive on the planet. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
forums.machinedesign.comI would be remiss (aka fired) if I didn't mention MACHINE DESIGN editor Ron Khol and his popular and regularly updated blog.

Stretch those sore muscles
Yoga is not just for hippies anymore. Cubicle yoga is a twist on the traditional practice. has simple exercises you can do at your desk. There are three tracks to choose from, including everyday yoga, warm-up stretches, and yoga for people with repetitive stress injuries and carpaltunnel syndrome.

Create your own mission statement
The Dilbert comic strip Web site, has lots of work distractions. One of the best known is the Mission Statement Generator. Click on the tab and the pointy-haired boss creates a vague statement like this one: "We envision to continually revolutionize long-term high-impact benefits and efficiently utilize quality catalysts for change." Visit the site and suggest one of the statements to your boss. You might get promoted.

Set a new record for pop-ins
A study at a large law firm shows the average number of times people are interrupted by noise, visual distractions, and chatty visitors prairiedogging over a cube wall is 16 a day—21 a day including work-related distractions. Sue Weidemann, director of research at workplace consultant Bosti Associates of Buffalo, N.Y., also found it takes 2.9 min to recover concentration after these disruptions, meaning people spend more than an hour a day trying to refocus. And that doesn't even count the time drain of the distraction itself.

Learn how to cook
Have you ever started a recipe only to discover halfway through that the food needs to marinate overnight? Not sure what the phrase "mix until soft peaks form" really means? Michael Chu created a site that brings cooking down to a level engineers can understand. Cookingforengineers.comincludes easy-to-read recipes and lots of pictures. There is also a glossary, a section on kitchen tools, and forums for more discussion.

Queer Eye for the office
Last summer Xerox Corp. and Entrepreneur magazine called on small businesses to enter the "Help! My Office is Obsolete!" contest to find and make over the most outdated office. A panel of judges including Thom Filicia from the hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and executives at Entrepreneur selected the winner, Mad Science of Scottsdale, provider of children's science education programs.

Before the transformation, Mad Science employees spent long hours creating program materials, struggling with slow inkjet printers, outdated computer systems, and a cumbersome office set-up. Xerox consultants came in and identified ways to streamline the company's document-intensive processes. They installed an Ethernet network and added the latest printers, copiers, and content-management systems.

Filicia's design team brought in functional and updated furnishings and storage.

The results of the makeover were featured in the November 2004 issue of Entrepreneur magazine and can be seen online at

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