Joel Buchsbaum sets his alarm clock for late afternoon sometimes -- even if he isn't napping. It's his foolproof way of remembering appointments. Daily planners? Palm handhelds? They wouldn't work. Buchsbaum is so absorbed in his work, he'd forget to consult such devices. He despises interruptions of any sort. "Try me at 10 tonight," he told Inc. when we called one afternoon and heard the alarm blaring in the background. At 10 p.m. a far less frenzied Buchsbaum explains, "I was expecting a [pro football] team to call me." The alarm had reminded him to get off the Internet so that the call could go through.
Buchsbaum writes for Pro Football Weekly. That is, in the end he writes. In the beginning he compiles and sorts the reams of information that are available about the nation's college-football players. He's a connoisseur of the NFL draft -- the annual April rite in which professional football teams take turns selecting college players. From his fourth-floor apartment, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, the 46-year-old bachelor logs 100-hour weeks researching and penning his draft previews -- yearbooks that contain statistics and scouting reports on more than 600 professional prospects. Pro Football Weekly sells those previews to information-hungry football fans by phone and on the Internet, giving Buchsbaum a cut. The magazine also pays him a salary and runs his player rankings and articles as content in its print edition and on its Web site.
Since 1976, Buchsbaum has read articles, gathered statistics, and watched game tapes, all in an effort to compile information about potential draftees. "I got one of the first VCRs ever made, in the '70s," he recalls. Today he owns five VCRs -- including one prehistoric Betamax machine -- so he can tape several games simultaneously. He watches his homemade game tapes quite a few times because, when it comes to evaluating football talent, "you can't judge just from the live game."
Owning a Betamax in the era of TiVo and ReplayTV -- devices that store programs electronically rather than on tape -- epitomizes Buchsbaum's utterly pragmatic approach to home-office technology. In addition to ignoring TiVo, Buchsbaum eschews E-mail. It's not that he has an aversion to new technology; he swears by the Internet. Rather, his motives are purely functional. Relying only on TiVo would compromise Buchsbaum's desire "to store for posterity" his football footage; the device has yet to be invented that can electronically archive 20 years of football games. E-mail would only give sports journalists and sports-radio hosts another avenue to contact him, which would distract him from his main mission: watching football games and evaluating players.
Sticking with what he knows works, be it high tech or low tech, Buchsbaum still puts in long hours. But his utilitarian work habits ensure that almost all of those hours are productive ones.
Buchsbaum's home office is in his living room, a place he describes as "wall-to-wall shelves stacked with media guides, football books, videotapes." The floor is an obstacle course of tapes and loose-leaf binders. In one crowded corner a computer and printer sit on a table. Buchsbaum uses the computer to scour the Internet daily for player information. He prints out findings on three-hole paper and files them in the binders. When they're not on the floor, the binders are shelved alphabetically by college.
Buchsbaum is proficient in Excel, but he uses the program the way a woodworker uses shellac: "to finish things," he says. While watching game tapes, Buchsbaum finds it easier and faster to make notes on his printouts by hand. Only as the draft nears does he finally take all his notes and create an Excel spreadsheet. He appreciates Excel's ability to sort player capsules by school, position, speed, weight, and height. But data entry is a chore for him. His goal, after all, is not to build an exhaustive database but to gauge the abilities of the preprofessional upper crust. And that means spending as much time as possible watching football. Anything else -- entering data, talking to journalists -- is simply a distraction.
All told, 20 years of game footage are now shelved by date in Buchsbaum's apartment. Even a die-hard fan might wonder if it's possible, after viewing hours of football a day, day after day, for Buchsbaum to get burned out on the stuff. Daily trips to the gym help. He also breaks the monotony by watching Law & Order and NYPD Blue. And sometimes while he's watching his game tapes he listens to '60s music. "I like Peter, Paul, and Mary; Gary Puckett and the Union Gap," he says. "It helps me concentrate better. Keeps me from getting down."
But in the end what keeps him renewed is the game itself, corny as that sounds. Buchsbaum loves being among the first to detect a transcendent athlete. "And each year, it's a whole new group of players," he says. "It's like you're always starting from scratch."
Buchsbaum's SOHO Essentials
- Office: Three televisions: one 28-inch, $400; two 19-inch, $200 each. Three VCRs: a "good one" with mega- features like slow motion, replay, and delay, $550; two others, $100 each. Bookcases galore, filled with three-ring binders and videotapes.
- Networking: None. Paper and pen usually suffice for watching football in the bedroom. (Buchsbaum typically goes through 35 steno pads a year.)
- Telecom: One line for the phone and Internet service, $45 a month.
- Internet: Dial-up service through AOL, $20 a month.
- Outsourcing: Gym membership, $50 a month.
Q+A with Hella Jongerius
Putting More 'Home' into the Home Office
A laptop that doubles as a throw pillow. A soft polyurethane sink that can be pushed out of the way in cramped quarters. A double bed embedded with his-and-hers computers, with pillows that double as speakers. For Dutch designer Hella Jongerius, 38, such whimsical items are not mere fantasy but her vision of what may become SOHO staples.
The soft laptop (encased in gel and covered with rubber, fur, and felt) and the ultra-hooked-up bed were part of a recent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City. Six design teams, including Jongerius's, were commissioned to produce works for the "Workspheres" show, which examined the balance between work and life and the potential of design to revolutionize the work environment. Jongerius recently had a phone conversation from her Rotterdam studio with Inc. Technology contributor Alessandra Bianchi, during which Jongerius shared her ideas on home- office design.
Inc.: Is there one best way to design a home office?
Jongerius: I don't think there's one truth in this, but my truth is that we have to put technology inside furniture. We've heard the term home office for quite some time, but there is still a lot of "office" in the term and less "home." But we can't buy this "home" stuff because the products are always driven by technology. Computers and technology are always in the same materials -- always artificial hard material. There's no tactility. If you look at the home, and you are an interior designer, we all use other materials in the home. And we use colors. That's what I miss in the home-office environment and the products currently made for it. This official style is also the high-tech style. So that's why I make furniture that's more "home."
Inc.: Your bed with built-in monitors comes to mind.
Jongerius: That's a very horizontal way of working, and I don't think you can do it all day long. But there are moments at the beginning and at the end of the day or on the weekend when you can do some jobs from bed. For the rest of the really tough jobs during the day, you need something else, of course. But I can imagine there are some times of the day you can also stay one hour longer in the bed and do some work from there. I'm not saying that we all have to work in bed. But I want to tell the world, "Come on, we can do it different." Working on computers doesn't have to mean sitting at a table with a box on it. You can be more creative.
Inc.: Do you work from home?
Jongerius: Not exclusively. I have a studio, or atelier. At home I have a faster Internet connection than I do at my atelier, because my workshop is more about working with my hands. If I really need to go on the Net and do all of my E-mail, I do it at home. I'm able to concentrate more at home than at the atelier because there are a lot of people working here with me and it's always busy. But I don't believe in working at home 24-7, because you need to see other people and get feedback from them. I do believe that working at home for half of your time is very healthy. I work 30% at home and 70% at the atelier. At home, on the computer, I'm always feeling like I'm not really working. So there is a danger of not realizing how much one works.
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