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'Roofing' Your Cubicle? 28

Alex Bischoff asks: "At work, I'm forced to suffer in my cubicle with overhead fluorescent lighting. So, I've given some thought to building a "roof" to block out that light, at which point I could use my own incandescent lighting to light the area (or perhaps an Eclipse Computer Light). Anyhow, at first I was going to just drape a sheet across the top of the cubible walls, and weigh them down somehow. But, after some thought, I'm thinking that might be too low, as the cubicle walls are only about five feet high (so would "stilts" for the sheet work?). So, has anyone built a 'cubicle roof' before? Any ideas on how to go about this?" Maybe a 'cubicle tent' would be more appropriate here? Especially for those cubicle warriors who are unusually tall.
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Building a Cubicle Roof?

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  • by K-Man ( 4117 ) on Monday August 14, 2000 @09:27AM (#859838)
    I've never understood working on a CRT in a darkened area. At best I end up with a whitish rectangle burned into my retinas at the end of the day.

    It seems like most people don't like reflections of lighting fixtures or windows (the architectural kind), or glaring fixtures in the periphery of their vision. The reflection problem is easy to solve by tilting the monitor down slightly. The peripheral vision problem is solved by shielding lights so that they shine downward instead of to the sides. I'm not sure why people buy fixtures that produce a small amount of light downwards, and a huge amount of glare to the side and even upwards, but they do (especially outdoor lights, see www.darksky.org [darksky.org] for examples). My office got partway to a solution by buying fluorescents with side shields, but the shields still allow a lot of light through in the 0-30 degrees-from-horizontal range. A little late-night work with tape or aluminum foil will fix these.

    In any case, the lights directly above a monitor are not much of a problem. Darkening or tenting an entire cubicle just to avoid side glare seems like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It puts the eyes into a highly dilated (i.e. poor depth of field) state, with dark adaptation taking 20-30 minutes to achieve maximum sensitivity. A few seconds of bright light will undue this adaptation. It also means tiny lights like LED's or light leaks will become glare sources themselves.
  • Bagh!! Back in my day we didn't have all of these fancy schmancy cubicles.

    If we were of worth to the company which we worked for, then we were given an office. That's right a real office complete with walls, door, and ceiling. In order to avoid flourescent lights, we would shut of the overhead lights and then use lamps.

    Nowadays, all you touchy feely young start-up kids need to have 'cubicles' and an open working environment. This is an obvious result of too many drugs and too much free-sex in the sixties. I say Bagh!! I'm not bothered by ringing phones and flourescent lights in my office, unless they are mine.

    If you want to fix your lighting problem, young Alex, then I suggest you get a job working for a nice respectable company that uses offices.

  • by bolind ( 33496 ) on Saturday August 12, 2000 @10:18PM (#859840) Homepage
    Just do like Jamie Zawinsky (guy that worked on the first netscape) did: go to your local army surplus store and buy an acre of camouflage netting [jwz.org] to hang over you cubicle...

    What I would probably do is this: You can get some garden tents (some people call them Tennesee tents, but that's probably not the technical term.) that consist of a roof (pointy in a pyramid fashion.) and four legs, about 7' high or so. The sides are open. They're probably 10' x 10' or so, and they're white, so some light would get through. A little sawing, and maybe that woud be your solution, provided that you cubicle fits the measurements.


  • Who, I'm sure, did something similar once upon a time.
  • I haven't roofed a cubicle (and have never had the pleasure of living in one), but JWZ [jwz.org] has [jwz.org]. Remember about fire safety, particularly with the use of incandescent lighting. I'd think that having burning bits of cloth raining from above would be a rather unpleasant experience.
  • Has a partial roof over her cube. It does an adequate job of shading the flouresent lights.

    She has anchored the a sheet to the walls and then has it tented using plastic strips so the center height is about 6 1/'2' high. It covers the back 1/2 of her cube and the computer is completely in the "dark."

  • We had corner pieces of which I "found" an "extra" one, and attached it like any other corner piece, except as high as possible (our cubicles were probably 5 foot, but maybe 6; been a while). It dimmed things very nicely. Was also nice storage on top for my Archie McPhee [mcphee.com] collection. And the 2 foot stuffed duck made for a good landmark.

  • by satch89450 ( 186046 ) on Saturday August 12, 2000 @10:51PM (#859845) Homepage

    Back in my cubicle-inhabiting days, I was forever fighting glare on my screens. So I put theatre gel (color filters) in the fixtures right over my desk to tone down the white glare. Today, you can buy the gel in sleeves that fit right over the bulbs.

    In another situation, a colleague and I removed the tubes from the fixture and used spot lighting in our cubes to achieve the same effect.

    If your objection is to the color instead of the flickering, there are special tubes that are available under a number of trade names. Look for a specification that the tube has a color temperature of around 5000 degrees K, and a spectrum that mimics a sunny day at 2 PM. Use a neutral gel if the tubes give out too much light.

    In my home office, I have a fixture that uses T-8 tubes instead of the more standard T-12, so I have to use what I can find for tubes. A couple of gels (#813) I had lying around from a theatre job cuts the light down to something bearable, and also cuts some blue out so that I get better contrast from my 19" monitor.

    Just make sure you can do the entire bullpen...

  • The real problem isn't the overhead lights, it's the horrid spectrum put out by standard fluorescents.

    The real solution isn't blocking these tubes and using an incandescent bulb on your desk (which masks the "too-blue" light with "too-red" light), it's replacing the overhead tubes with full-spectrum bulbs. These tubes are bit more expensive than the el-cheapo bulbs preferred by facility managers, but I'm sure you can convince the HR department that it is well worth the trouble. ;-)

    The situation then comes down to one of the following:

    1) Your company agrees to replace all standard tubes with full-spectrum tubes.

    2) Your company doesn't agree to this, but allows everyone in your area to chip in some money ($10-20 per?) to replace the bulbs at your cost.

    3) Your coworkers are cheap and you replace the bulbs closest to you -- and within days the rest of your coworkers will chip in to replace *their* lights.

    An additional point when dealing with HR drones: at *every* shop I've worked in (over 15+ years) with sufficient natural lighting, the overhead lights were off. It drove people from other departments up the wall, but it was a universal, unspoken consensus among the developers.

    On reflection, I decided it's probably a reaction to the fact that we spend so much of our time staring at computer screens -- and 99+% of all TVs and monitors are "blue" because it makes them look brighter. (If you have a better monitor, check your "color" setting and try the standard or lower "temperature" settings.) This is why a room lit only by a TV looks "bluish" from outside.

    It should go without saying that someone staring at a bluish monitor in a room lit by bluish fluorescent tubes is going to be annoyed. But natural lighting and/or full spectrum bulbs will keep the overall spectrum closer to normal.

    (Finally, a personal confession. I installed fluourescent fixtures in both kitchen and bathroom... both with full spectrum bulbs, naturally. I *love* them, and I find their light far more natural than incandescent lighting.)
  • Drape a sheet over yourself and the computer. Cut a little hole in the sheet for the snorkel.
  • by dstone ( 191334 ) on Sunday August 13, 2000 @09:53AM (#859848) Homepage
    This reminds me of a programmer dude at Electronic Arts (Canada). He extended the height of his cube walls and added a roof, all out of sheets of that "corrugated plastic" stuff. Not sure what the material is called, but it's really lightweight, cheap, easy to cut, and looks like corrugated cardboard, only it's smooth plastic.

    The company was also cool enough to allow the flourescent lights to be turned completely off on many floors where the programmers and artists worked. Task lighting was the name of the game. Looked odd, kinda dungeon like, but very nice on the eyes. I had the pleasure of an outside window cube on several occasions, and almost always kept the blinds drawn, too. Geez, we had an aversion to light in that place!

    Anyway, between no overhead lights and the additional fortressing, this guy's cube became known as The Cave (among other things). Naturally, it was on the tour circuit for visitors. (Reinforces that eccentric, hard-working programmer stereotype.)

    Anyway, the company moved into nice, new Architecturally Correct premises after a few years and I left around the same time, so I'm not sure what became of the cave.

    The dude was always a little pale looking, but mother of god, could he write code...
  • Except, of course, real sunlight makes viewing a laptop screen (even a TFT screen) almost impossible. Better to go find a nice, dark closet.
  • 1. Pictures! I would love to see some of the more creative cube creations out there....

    2. OSHA. If you're in the U.S., check out the OSHA standards for lighting, or threaten to call them. Most companies will do pretty much anything to avoid an OSHA or EPA audit.
  • by scotpurl ( 28825 ) on Sunday August 13, 2000 @04:36AM (#859851)
    Try grabbing one of those patio umbrellas. Nice, variety of colors, comes apart quickly for moving/cleaning day/management objections. It's also less permanent and less imposing than most other solutions. The key here is getting buy-in from your boss.

    You might also try finding an optometrist who understands that, while most people don't see the 60Hz flicker, some of us do. (Somewhere around 75Hz is where I stop seeing flicker from monitors.) Lie that you're getting headaches from the overhead flicker, and produce the note from your doctor.

    The real issue here is putting non-dimmable ballasts with cool-white bulbs into an office environment. (The architect should have known better, but most American architecture tends to be wrong about most things.) If you could dim, or turn off your overhead fixtures, the company would save money on replacing bulbs, electricity, your increased morale, and your increased output.
  • Ever since I can remember my geek friends and I were blocking out the sun with pizza boxes. I realize there is glare, but we did it even when there was none. It was a cave, and more so when we moved into the basement. To this day I like it dark, but with enough light to see the keys. (After 10 years, I still can't touch type =))

    On an almost related subject, I find sex by lone monitor light is better then in front of the fireplace case nothing gets burned =)

    Or maybe since geeks are the brightest people on the planet, maybe they look to offset thier brightness with dark... just look at the pengiun. Black and white. =)
  • It often is easy to get half of the bulbs disconnected right over your own cubicle -- if you can't do it then it's usually trivial to request that the maintenance staff do it (they usually are who replace bulbs and often will put a note in the fixture reminding themselves not to reconnect them). This way there's still plenty of light for safety and non-reading tasks. Then a work light can warm up the area light.

    The other problem is that the screen often has reflections of lights which are one or two cubicles over; dimming those lights does not eliminate the reflection. Sometimes it can be blocked by putting a plant, set of books, or some other acceptable over-cubicle-height barrier. If that's not enough then it might be necessary to block it some other way. Some places hang opaque or translucent plastic panels from the ceiling grid where needed. Other buildings use fixtures which direct the light down instead of using the common plastic diffusers that splatter the light to the side.

  • I'd imagine you could build something cool out of PVC. It's cheap and easy to work with. Then just cover it with some fabric using snaps or maybe velcro.
  • Forget the roof. Just overpower the flourescents with halogen floodlights. You won't even notice the wimpy flicker-poles up there anymore. Of course, you will need a very bright monitor, some sunglasses, sunscreen and large portable air conditioner unit.
  • http://www.lighttrader.com/rosco.htm [lighttrader.com]

    They have colored RoscoLux sheets in 20"x24" cuts. They also have some other color correction stuff. I recommend R3202 - Full Blue (CTB). We used it in our dorm room on our overhead fluorescent fixtures.

  • Go down to the staff room/coffee room/whatever and steal the cushions off all the chairs.

    Then go back to your cubicle and layer them till you get the desired effect. You could also pile them up by the cubicle entrance and point a toy gun out when ever anyone approaches (especially your boss).

    ; )

  • In fact, color TFT does fine in plain sunlight, so long as you remove the backlight & backing (so that the LCD panel is transparent, when turned off).

    If I recall correctly, these old grayscale screens didn't have backlights (similar to a digital watch). The backlight is never as strong as direct sunlight, and thus a laptop that requires the backlight cannot be seen in plain daylight.

    It seems like some entrepreneur would make a laptop with a removable backlight and back. I seem to remember one company doing such a thing about 8 years ago so that the laptop could be used with an overhead transparency machine. It never sold very well, though.
  • Covering the top of your cubical is likely to be a fire hazard, since it would block not only the light from the overhead flourescents, but any water from overhead sprinkler systems (mandatory in most commercial, and some residential, buildings in the U.S.) Rather than violate the firecode by building impormptu structures, I have found that simply removing some of the flourescent bulbs from the fixtures yeilds a very pleasing light level, without an increased risk of fire.

    The only problem I have encountered when deactivating lighting fixtures is when my cube-neighbors and I don't agree on the proper light level. A little friendly and reasonable discussion, however, usually goes a long way toward solving and disputes (especially since you can often deactivate just the lights directly over your own cube without affecting the lighing in neighboring cubes overmuch).

  • 99+% of all TVs and monitors are "blue" because it makes them look brighter.

    So that makes Windows the brightest OS of all, doesn't it?


  • What, am I the only one who can remember old Dilbert? Wally knows how to do this, you've just got to find a coworker who either won't notice a missing wall, won't care about a missing wall, or won't argue with you about a missing wall...
  • The company I work for uses rather excessive flourescent lighting. If an employee doesn't liek it, he must get a doctor's note, bring it in, and wait about a month for someone to put darkening sleeves over the lights.

    So I dealt with it the easy way. I stood up on my desk and unscrewed the bulbs. Nobody ever bothers to screw them back in, because they were obviously taken out on purpose.

    The downside is that it will eventually destroy the circuits around the fixtures (For some reason it screws stuff up it the lights are powered with no or dead bulbs, and individual lights cannot be powered off.) but since I don't want them on any way, I don't really give a damn.

    If someone at your company won't allow this, do it anyway, and tell them if they don't like it to either order darkening sleeves or fire you. Chances are that they will order the sleeves, and if they fire you over it, you shouldn't be working for such assholes anyway.
  • Today, you can buy the gel in sleeves that fit right over the bulbs.

    Yea That's what I need. My eyes hurt after being in the white-blue light from a flurescent. Got any idea where I could order them from?
  • one of our wonderful staff came over and told me it was a fire hazard and that i had to take it down. good luck
  • Have you tried the "ten" approach where you place a tent, sans floor, over your cubicle?

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken