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14 Things a Professional Organizer Says You Must Have in Your Home Office

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Whether you work from home full-time or use your home office to catch up on nights and weekends, having a clean, orderly place to get down to business is key to actually getting stuff done. We spoke with Erika Salloux, a professional organizer and the founder of Living Harmony, about the items you need in your home office to maximize your productivity and minimize clutter.

1. DESK

Stop trying to get work done from the couch: Typing away with your laptop on your lap not only makes it difficult to focus, it puts strain on your back and neck. “A really good desk is really important and it should be the right size for the space that you’re in,” Salloux says. And she recommends skipping the huge desks with tons of built-in drawers, dividers, and file cabinets—all of those can be purchased separately to best suit your needs. “Just a simple, table-top desk, and you can add whatever you want to it,” she says.

Buy It: Amazon

2. DESK CHAIR

When it comes to chairs, go armless, Salloux recommends. “When you have arms on a chair, people don’t sit up straight; they lean on the arm. Then they’re leaning forward and they’re doing their body a major disservice,” she says. Also, for the most ergonomically friendly choice, pick a chair with an adjustable height—not one that belongs at a dining room table.

Buy It: Amazon

3. PAPER TRAYS

In order to keep clutter at bay, Salloux says you need to stay on top of your paper. She recommends using what she calls the FAT system—each time you find yourself holding a piece of paper (a piece of mail, an invoice, a report, etc.) decide whether you should file it, act on it, or toss it. Use desk trays to store papers you need to act on. “I recommend ones that stack on top of each other and that open the longer way, like the landscape way. The way where the paper goes deeper in,” Salloux says.

She recommends four trays: one for business-related papers, one for anything personal (your kid’s permission slip, a wedding invite you need to respond to), one for bills, and one for “pending” items—things you’ve acted on and are awaiting a response.

Buy It: Amazon

4. FILE CABINET

“People think we’ve gone paperless in this society but we really haven’t. That’s just a myth,” Salloux says. So you’re going to need a file cabinet to hold everything. Salloux cautions you to buy a full-extension cabinet. “Just the other day I was working with a client who had a really nice file cabinet. But when I pulled [out the drawer], you couldn’t see all the files in the back,” Salloux says. “Every time we opened it she would forget that she had more files back there.”

Buy It: Amazon

5. HANGING FILE FOLDERS

Salloux swears by Smead FasTab hanging file folders, which have the tab built right in for easy labeling.

Buy It: Amazon

6. PAPER SHREDDER

For the T portion of Salloux’s FAT system—toss—you need a quality paper shredder. “Use a cross shredder not a strip shredder,” she says, and “shred right away” so papers don’t pile up.

Buy It: Amazon

7. RECYCLE BIN

No need to put less sensitive paper trash through the shredder, but you do need a good-size recycle bin. Don’t get a small little trash can, Salloux says, “but a really big, nice basket that you could put the rest of the recycling in that you don’t have to empty out every day.”

Buy It: Amazon

8. SUPPLY ORGANIZER

“The other thing that I also see that people don’t have in their office that they really need is some sort of supply organizer that’s within arm’s reach,” Salloux says. “Something where they put all their things like their stickies, their tape, their paperclips, stapler, scissors.” You can waste valuable time rooting through your desk for a paperclip or sprinting to the kitchen for a pair of scissors, so keep everything you need close at hand in one neat spot.

Buy It: Amazon

9. COMPUTER

Having a computer to do your work is a given, but Salloux notes that you should work from one computer. “It sounds like a no-brainer, but I oftentimes am hired by people who have three computers, or they [hold onto] an old computer that has the old data on it that they’re not using,” she says. “I recommend that people get down to one computer where all their documents are backed up and stored. That way, you know where your documents are and you’re not like, “Oh, wait, that old document is on the other computer or on the other backup drive.”

Buy It: Amazon

10. BACKUP HARD DRIVE

Anyone who has ever lost a report the night before a big presentation or their whole album of vacation photos knows how important it is to back up your files. But here’s a friendly reminder that a backup hard drive is a necessity. “In addition to a hard backup drive that lives in your office you should have a cloud backup as well,” Salloux says.

Buy It: Amazon

11. EXTRA SET OF CABLES

We’d never heard this piece of organizing advice before and now can’t believe we’ve lived without it: Keep a second power cord and any other cables you need for your computer in a bag or case next to your desk. “You don’t want to have to unplug all your cords, go under your desk and pull them all out, every time you go on a business trip or go somewhere to work,” Salloux says.

If you work primarily in an office but bring a laptop home to work frequently, keep one set of cords at work and one at home.

Buy It: Cords will vary by computer, but we found a cute felt case on Amazon

12. WIRELESS PRINTER

Salloux tells us printing should be easy—so why add the extra step of having to plug your computer into the printer every time you need to?

Buy It: Amazon

13. NOTEBOOK OR NOTEPAD

Salloux is a fan of making lists in order to help stay focused. “I think that it helps people stick to the most important tasks as opposed to the easy stuff,” she says. There’s no one right way to create a to-do list (here are seven ways experts recommend), but Salloux says it’s best to find a system that keeps you accountable for tasks that are important but not particularly urgent. “That quadrant is one that we a lot of times have trouble with,” she says.

Buy It: Amazon

14. SUPPLIES

Your home office doesn’t have a supply closet you can raid, so don’t forget to stock up on all the fun little supplies! Salloux says they’re just as important as the others. “It sounds crazy, but it’s really super important to have the right tools at hand,” she says. “Those things like stickies and having tape—those items can be super helpful in an office so you’re not looking for them every time you need them somewhere else. That’s super essential.”

Buy It: Sticky Notes; Tape; Ruler; Stapler; Staple Remover; Pens; Scissors; Memo Pad; Paper Clips

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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