THE UniDesk™


US Patent Reg. No. 3,826,031, July 27, 2010

A book is on the table next to a wooden shelf.

I, Richard John Stapleton, invented and designed the first model of the Uni-Desk™, originally called the Tesk, the upside-down desk, in 1960 for holding up heavy textbooks for reading that were positioned upside-down over my head in bed when I was pledging Phi Delta Gamma, FIJI, a social fraternity at Texas Tech University, so when my alarm clock woke me up two or three times at night I could do bit of studying for a few minutes, before I reset the alarm clock for the next reading, because I had very little study time during the day because of work, hazing, and harassment inflicted during the day by active brothers, because, according to FIJI sayings and beliefs at the time, pledges had to learn to take orders before they could give them as active brothers. I made my grades that semester when one-half of my pledge brothers did not. 

The US patent drawings and application for this model were drawn, written, rendered, and executed by my son, my only child, Jonathan Walker Stapleton, now a high school physics and earth sciences teacher, and a professional inventor.  He is the inventor of Reptangles™, a toy system with twenty-four pieces of plastic poured and shaped in China that look like turtles that assemble into geometric shapes, puzzles, and symmetrical structures.  The pieces and constructions flip, slide, and turn in what are known as “geometric transformations”, an essential part of our National Math Standards.

Jonathan as a bio-chemistry major at Rice University hatched his Reptangles idea in 1993 while taking an elective art class during the spring semester of his junior year, getting his patent two years later. 

His geometry invention was licensed to, manufactured, packaged, and distributed by the Fat Brain Toy Company, who sold thousands of copies. You can find Reptangles™ by typing Reptangles™ into Google or any Internet browser, or by clicking here,

Every box of Reptangles™ pieces includes an eighteen-page Reptangles Exploration Guide, written and designed by Jonathan, containing 237 informative multi-colored illustrations showing how to play with and assemble the pieces, and interpret the resulting constructions. While the system is called a toy, and will entertain and fuel the imagination and thinking skills of children, it will challenge the conceptual and visual-spatial abilities of any adult. The system requires the use of imagination–the pieces look like turtles–but there is nothing new or fake about the immortal geometric shapes they create.

A benefit derived from playing with and using this toy/system is that it causes users to learn the names of geometric shapes they have never heard of, as it causes them to visualize manipulating objects in spatial dimensions using logical thought.  The twenty-four pieces and learning guide cost about twenty-seven dollars. 

A video demonstrating Reptangles™ was produced and shown by GeorgeStephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America,

For a detailed story about how the Reptangle entrepreneurial venture happened over time, read Case 9, The Toytle Company, page 323, in Business Voyages:  Mental Maps, Scripts, Schemata, and Tools for Discovering and Co-Constructing Your Own Business Worlds, by clicking here.

Back to the UniDesk™

A UniDesk™ will enable a reader to position the height and angle of the desk top to hold books, magazines, newspapers, iPads, Kendals, and laptop computers at the most comfortable position. 

You might think anyone could invent, design, trademark, and patent such an invention, and you would be right.  It’s so simple one might wonder why someone had not thought of it before.

Most likely no one thought of it because few people have strong desires or needs to read heavy books for any length of time.  No one may have patented such an idea because everyone thinking about it thought the idea was too simple to patent.

I made a wooden model of the UniDesk when I was an undergraduate student pledging Phi Gamma Delta at Texas Tech in 1960, back in the days when fraternities still had serious hazing and pledges were not allowed to sleep much by the active members.

You can read upside down lying flat of your back with a UniDesk by adjusting the desk’s legs to extend the desk top over whatever it is you want to lie on, a bed or sofa, after strapping a heavy book to the desk top with belts and running a rubber band around the outside margins of the pages of the strapped-in book.  After loosening the pegs and screws on the legs and adjusting the desk top to the right height and angle, all you have to do is lie down, get under the book, and read.  Unfortunately, you still have to reach up with your arms and hands to take the page on the right side of the book from under its rubber band and turn it over to position it under the rubber band on the left side of the book, after you finish two pages of reading, to keep on reading.

To see more graphically how the UniDesk works, read my case
“Tesk:  The Upside-Down Desk” in Business Voyages.

Getting about four hours of sleep per day pledging, I affixed the desk (what I called a Tesk in those days) over my dorm room bed and most nights I would set my alarm clock for two or so hours later after going to bed.  I would then read until I fell asleep.  When the alarm woke me up I would immediately reset the alarm for two or so hours later, and read until I fell asleep again.  After the alarm woke me up the second time I would then immediately set the alarm again for thirty or so minutes later, hopefully leaving me enough time to make it to an eight o’clock class after the alarm woke me up again, if I went to sleep again.  I made my grades the first time as a pledge whereas about half my pledge class did not, which was not a trivial thing in those days, since you had to go through another whole semester of pledging, or drop out, if you did not have passing grades the first time around.  One determined brother went through pledgeship three times before he finally became an active member.

I developed a desire for something to hold up heavy books the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school during which I lay in bed in a body cast three months recuperating from a spinal fusion operation. Unfortunately I had not had this upside-down desk reading idea before the summer in the body cast happened.

For whatever it’s worth, you can strap a laptop computer to a UniDesk today and read and type upside-down.

To read in a serious way you have to structure your time in such a way as to set aside time to read for some length of time per sitting or lying, certainly for more than a few seconds or minutes at a stretch like most people do reading stuff on the Internet.

I am convinced most people would read more frequently and longer at a stretch if they did not have to hold, support, and position their reading materials with their hands and arms, including escapist reading such as romance novels, murder mysteries, westerns, sports pages, and most religious material, as well as heavy books, using a UniDesk, as if watching TV.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge there is no desk on the market today that will perform all the functions of a UniDesk. I have had five UniDesks made of oak wood by Harold Warstler, a master woodwoker and craftsman, who lives near Franklin, North Carolina, for about $350 each. Debbye and I use three of them in our Stapleton Learning Company offices, one in our home near Statesboro, and the other one in our log cabin near Franklin, North Carolina, which has no Internet or TV distractions.

I did a national search in 2011 using an Internet information service for manufacturers of desks similar to the UniDesk, searching for a manufacturer who would manufacture the UniDesk in larger quantities and ship them to customers for me as an independent contractor, also offering to license the rights to the UniDesk for a royalty.

I had no takers. The consensus among the respondents was there was no way they could manufacture the desk at a price that would sell in the US at a profit. One of the respondents pointed out, even if it did sell at a profit, some low wage manufacturer overseas using sweat shop labor would produce a knock off model that would sell in the US, infringing my US patent, at a price much lower than the price it could be sold for produced by US labor.

So I gave up on the idea.

As a last resort, if you are a serious reader tired of holding up heavy books and other reading materials, especially if you would like to read in bed on your back without having to hold up books, to reduce your discomfort, let me know via and I will snail snail mail you a xerox copy of the UniDesk patent drawings, which are detailed enough to enable a local woodworker to custom make you a UniDesk™.

The UniDesk™ can also be made using telescoping tubular steel, which I used for the first model in 1963, and there are probably still some small metalworking shops in the US that would make you a custom model using tubular steel or some other metal.


Following is a passage from another book I wrote and published in 2016, Born to Learn: A Transactional Analysis of Human Learning, page 232:

The Three Adult Questions–What is the problem? What are the alternatives? What do you recommend?

“A relevant question is, “Why do most people not learn as much as they might?” Heeding my advice in this book answering this question, here is my subjective answer, answering the Three Adult Questions–What is the problem? What are the Alternatives? What do you Recommend?. The problem of most humans not learning as much as they might is caused by subjectively not-OK parents, teachers, neighborhoods, communities, schools, religions, businesses, corporations, governments and cultures that script people to be less OK, functional, knowledgeable and rational than they would have been had they been taught and influenced in OK ways. What are the alternatives? The fundamental alternatives are business as usual or change. What do you recommend? I recommend that all teachers, especially parents, attempting to teach, train or educate humans, especially children, use a classroom de-Gamer and a circle classroom layout at least some of the time in their educational activities and discussions–to cathect all ego states and encourage I’m OK–You’re OK, Adult–Adult transactions–while answering and discussing the Three Adult Questions: What is the problem? What are the alternatives? What do you recommend?”

The Three Adult Questions apply to anything that might have been experienced or read. Why and how to use a circle classroom layout and a classroom de-Gamer is a major focus of Born to Learn. All adults and children teach others something sometime. Parents, managers, and others naturally teach children and adults in rooms laid out in various ways. The most common layout is the row and column layout with the teacher standing up talking in front using a Parent ego state, as supposed learners sit and listen in their Adapted Child ego states, and hopefully stay awake.

Read BORN TO LEARN to fully understand the significance and importance of classroom layouts, teaching methods, and testing methods used by teachers. The row and column layout is the most authoritarian layout. If you want to teach people how to memorize what you say and follow orders this is the best layout. A circle layout with a Classroom De-Gamer™ in the center of the circle is the most democratic layout. If you want teach people how to think and communicate the circle layout with a Classroom De-Gamer™ is by far the best layout to use.

How to Read

I learned how to read eating Campbell alphabet vegetable soup.  I remember seeing strange shapes of noodles mixed in my soup at age three or four, and asking my mother “what is that?”  She would tell me such and such was an “A”, such and such was a “B”, such and such was a “C”,  and so on. 

My father would read funny books to me, what are now called comic books, about super heroes such as Superman, Batman, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.

By the time I went to school at age five I had pretty much learned how to read.  I remember reading “See Spot run” and similar statements about Dick and Jane in the first grade, and thinking “so what?”

Not much it turned out.  But somehow Dick and Jane and Spot in first grade looking at picture books caused most kids to learn how to read.

The Advantages of Reading and the Disadvantages of Not Reading

According to Wikipedia at, currently “over 60% of adults in the US prison system read at or below the fourth grade level. 85% of US juvenile inmates are functionally illiterate. 43% of adults at the lowest level of literacy lived below the poverty line, as opposed to 4% of those with the highest levels of literacy.”

According to Live Science at, 14 percent of US adults can’t read at all.

Abraham Lincoln became president of the US with less than three years in school, but in some ways he was a lazy son. Although he chopped down trees and split them into rails with an axe to make fences to corral cows, obeying Kentucky law at the time, working as a slave on his father’s farm in the wilderness of Kentucky until he reached age eighteen, the age of child slavery liberation, he was brave enough and audacious enough to sometimes in broad daylight sneak back to their log cabin to read. Frederick Douglas, born a real slave in the South, became a US senator and author with almost no schooling, after having taught himself to read. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb with about six years of schooling.

Therefore it seems one’s reading is, among other things, a function of genetic predispositions and early influences that cause one to want to read.

Back in Abraham Lincoln’s time children were considered the property of their parents until they turned eighteen, at which time Honest Abe promptly left home, so he would have more time to read heavy law books and other reading material, rather than spend his time felling trees and splitting them into rails, and laboring at other farm tasks, on his father’s farm.

Yes, some USian pioneer farmers, planters, and ranchers wanted to breed as many white children of their own as they could, so they could make slaves of sorts out of them. In some ways white children could be cheaper to breed and acquire than African slaves, and lots of white farmers and ranchers could not afford African slaves. There was always lots of hard physical work to be done on farms, plantations, and ranches carved from land recently stolen from Indians.

I graduated from funny books in grade school to magazines such as Outdoor Life and Sports Afield in junior high and then to sports pages in newspapers in high school. I read the Bible some during my high school years, and I read books on anthropology during study hall in high school. I would check out some Hardy Boys books in the local town library now and then, and books by Jack London. I also did some surreptitious reading starting around age twelve in certain illicit magazines circulating among my friends, mainly just looking at pictures of buxom females in them.

Sad to say, I did almost no reading for my classes in grade, junior, and high school. I had only three courses in public school in which the teacher allowed or required any discussion of assigned reading in class. Two of these courses were in English and plane geometry, taught in high school by one of my football and basketball coaches, Jerry Helmer, by far the best teacher I had in public school, and one was a physics course taught by Dr. Jim Mallard, who had a PhD in physics, who came to our high school my senior year to set up an experimental science program. I won a Gold Medal at a Regional Science Fair at Texas Tech for my science project I constructed under his supervision in his physics course, “A Simple Means of Producing and Measuring Electricity.” I made A’s in all three of them, the only A’s I made in high school. Dr. Mallard said I might have won Grand Champion of the science fair had I been there to defend my paper. I was not there because I had to be at a college at that time trying out for a basketball scholarship, which I won.
When I told Dr. Mallard I had decided to major in economics in college he was obviously disappointed. He simply said, “No science?” I did not think I was smart enough to major in science, taking only two required courses in botany and zoology. Based on those two courses however and my score on an aptitude test required for all entering freshmen at Hardin-Simmons University, where I won the basketball scholarship, I was selected along with a few other students to take a battery of tests to determine if we had aptitude for science. I refused to take them. I did not want to show my ignorance. I majored in economics because it was easy for me and most students thought it was hard.

Public school teachers and university professors rarely require and grade discussion of assigned reading in class because there is no verifiable proof what grade a student deserves, whether A, B, C, D or F. Grading class discussion of assigned reading has to be subjective, based on the judgement of the teacher regarding the relative merits of students’ contributions.

Not requiring and grading class discussion of assigned reading is deleterious and detrimental since it causes students to be poor readers and communicators because of lack of practice and rewards for reading. 

Not requiring and grading discussion of assigned reading also causes teachers to be poor teachers, since students learn less than they should. 

Not requiring and grading class discussion of assigned reading in class causes students to be graded primarily on how well they can or will memorize answers for so-called “objective” true-false, multiple-choice, or short answer questions, using their Adaped Child ego states, rather than being primarily graded on their relative comprehension of complex issues, situations, and cases, using their Adult and Free Child ego states, and their relative ability to communicate with people regarding serious issues, situations, and problems–abilities and skills sorely lacking today in our so-called democratic political process in the US. 

Not requiring and grading assigned reading in class in schools dumbs down the learning process, causing teachers to spend most of their time spoon-feeding students answers for tests, all that counts, commonly called teaching to the test, making class time boring, stiff, authoritarian, and routine, turning off most students, stifling, sometimes eliminating, creative, original, and critical thinking and communicating among students in class.

Teachers not requiring students to discuss assigned reading in class and grading them on their performance in class gets to the core of problems in education.  All people have to defend themselves from hostile forces in society to survive.  Teachers can’t be too demanding or students will complain to parents and administrators and they might get fired.  If administrators get too many complaints about teachers they might get fired.  If teachers allow a situation in their classes in which some students can demonstrate they are obviously more prepared and more able than others this can cause hostile forces to arise, since less responsible and abled students are exposed, possibly causing hostile forces to arise for students, teachers, administrators, and parents.  People may assume parents are derelict, for not requiring their children to do homework, possibly causing parents to be exposed to hostile forces in the community. 

Who is to blame? And what should be done about the problem? The general solution is to control classroom time in such a way as to make sure differences in student achievement and performance as readers, thinkers, decision-makers, and communicators are not obvious to all students in the class, by keeping students quiet in the class as a whole, with “firm” discipline being applied by the teacher, whose job it is to consume about eighty percent of the class air time, doing almost all the talking, forcing students to obediently and passively sit and listen, and pay attention, having been taken off the hook, not being held responsible for reading assigned reading and discussing books and other materials in class using a responsible Adult ego state. Among other things this scripted process rewards childish behavior and prolongs childhood in deleterious ways, even into college and university courses, causing students to discount reality and their abilities to read and understand what is printed in books and in all media on their own, figure out responsible and effective responses to real problems and opportunities, and think and behave in effective, efficient, ethical ways.

Read my book Born to Learn:  A Transactional Analysis of Human Learning about problems ego states, transactions, scripts, and Games cause in the educational process, and what to do about them.

Interestingly, football and basketball coaches generally do not have to worry about hostile forces arising when their players’ abilities and performances are exposed on their fields and courts, since everyone wants their school teams to win playing against competing schools; and most players and parents do not seem to mind if their children have to sit on the bench while the most able and prepared players are cheered on the field or court, receiving most of the strokes and glory.  Most coaches have little or no fear of hostile reactions from parents for requiring their players to perform responsibly using their Adult ego states dealing with serious problems and challenges on their courts and fields. 

Rather than have their players take it easy as they (coaches) do all the work on the field or court most coaches require serious work and even some suffering from their players in practices and games.  You’ll never catch a coach doing push-ups or running windsprints with his players. 

Thus athletes in general are several orders of magnitude tougher, more energetic, more accomplished, more responsible, and more Adult-like on courts and fields than students are in classes, having been dumbed down into Adapted Child positions.  

Read my book Born to Learn: A Transactional Analysis of Human Learning to see how I used a Classroom De-Gamer™ and subjective grading of assigned reading and discussion in all my courses and classes for thirty-five years to solve the pernicious problem of teachers not grading students on how well they discuss assigned reading in class. 

Discussing assigned reading in my classes counted for eighty percent of the final course grade.  Students also did most of the talking in my classes, probably consuming eighty percent of the class air time.  Most of the time I just sat there and watched and listened.  On the other hand, if no student in the day’s discussion told the class what I considered good answers for the problems and opportunities in the case I would tell them what I thought was a good answer.  If no student in the class corrected what I considered really bad answers or ideas told by fellow students I would.  On the other hand, some days I said almost nothing in class, depending on how well prepared the students were and how well they did their jobs. If I thought students in the class had told good answers in the class discussion why should I deprive them of job satisfaction by trying to top them? I can tell you after thirty-five years of case method discussion teaching students can remember good answers told by fellow students in class as well or better than they can remember good answers told by a teacher. 

Students lost a whole letter grade from their course grade if the Classroom De-Gamer™ randomly caught them unprepared when they came to class, thus insuring most of them had read the assigned reading every day.

According to survey data in Born to Learn and Business Voyages my case method students in general studied more for class, learned more, and were more successful in the real world than students taking the same courses in which teachers did all the work in class using the telling method, the row and column classroom layout, and standardized tests.  I reprinted several refereed professional articles and cases in Business Voyages substantiating this assertion using data generated by several surveys, one of them being a longitudinal study of former students who had used what they had been taught for at least five years after graduating, some having used it fifteen years.  

The best way to read for serious comprehension is to look over the material to be read, whether a case, article, essay, textbook chapter, whole book, or whatever, three times, once quickly to see what is involved, to estimate how long it will take, how difficult the material is, and so on; then read it word for word fairly fast; and then, perhaps the next day after the material has soaked in a bit and you have had time to think about it consciously and subconsciously, go back and read it again attempting to understand the finer and more difficult parts of the reading; and then lastly, ideally, discuss the material you have read with others–friends, classmates, family members, club members, etc.–who read the same material that you read, relying on others to explain any part of the reading you could not understand on your own, and helping others understand parts of the material you understood, but they did not. In some cases you might need a teacher who has read the material several or many times teaching the material and the course for years to explain the hardest or most complicated parts. But that will rarely happen in a well-functioning discussion course.

I am convinced learners can and will learn more and better using this process than they can and will when teachers use the lecture or telling method, essentially telling students what will be on the tests by what they emphasize in their lectures and telling sessions with body language and other signals and messages.  I explain this in more detail in Born to Learn in the chapter on teaching methods. 

Unfortunately on-line computer courses, programs, and schools generally require an extreme form of the fill in the blank method, filling in blanks on computer screens for answers to tests.  Such approaches are fortunate in the sense some people are able to learn something and get credentials and degrees they would not otherwise be able to do because of time, place, and financial constraints.  Such approaches are unfortunate and ineffective in the sense they do not entail face-to-face learning and discussion.  They do not give students practice communicating about real problems, opportunities, and intellectual ideas in social groups, so as to develop leadership and citizenship skills. 

The predominant teaching methods are the lecture or telling method and the fill in the blank method, in which students simply find right (dogmatic or doctrinaire) answers to fill in blanks for questions in workbooks, assignment sheets, and computer programs.  The seminar method is often used in college courses, especially in graduate schools.  The case method is sometimes used in business schools and predominately in law schools.  I used almost nothing but the case method in my face-to-face business school courses in entrepreneurship, operations management, organizational behavior, and business policy. 

Most people today do not read much in or out of school.  Some people say people have been entertained to death, an intellectual death, by school teachers, preachers, and mainstream media.  They are so consumed with memorizing dogma, doctrine, and techniques for tests, activities, and rituals in school, at work, in church, and on the Internet they do not have time to comprehensively read books for significant periods of time or comprehend whole systems in the real world through face-to-face communication with others.  Not understanding their worlds as a whole they thus become vulnerable prey for manipulation and exploitation by demagogues in business, religion, and politics.

I can tell you as a writer and publisher of books very few people want to read anything I write, and I know this is true for most writers and publishers.  People act as if they think they are doing you a favor to read one of your books, especially a heavy serious book, such as Business Voyages, containing 756 pages, or something like Immanuel Kant’s A Critique of Pure Reason, David Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature, or Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Prototractatus.  I had a graduate assistant check these books out from the Georgia Southern Library for me in my name.  He had to find Wittgenstein’s book through the Intercollegiate Library Loan system, since few copies were ever published, much less read.  I read these books and used and cited them in Business Voyages.  All were physically and intellectually heavy and were held to the right height and angle by a UniDesk™.

Following are passages from Business Voyages regarding Ludwig Wittgenstein and his heavy book Prototractatus:

Page 606. “In my desultory reading of recent years probably the most original truth-seeking writer I have run across is Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher, who wrote Prototractatus (1971). Prototractatus, originally called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, originally published in Leipsig, Germany in 1921 by Verlag Enesma, is without doubt the most unusual book I have read.

“Ludwig Wittgenstein grew up in a wealthy Austrian industrial family, the youngest of eight children. He never married. He inherited a fortune but gave it away because the money contaminated his friendships. He was proficient in music, mathematics, science, mechanical engineering, aeronautical research, and architecture, but he became a philosopher. He taught mathematics in an Austrian public school and philosophy at Cambridge in England, and he worked in a hospital as an orderly. He spent two years designing, drawing, and supervising the construction of a mansion for a sister using her inherited money that she did not give away. He also served as a military officer in World War I. He studied philosophy with Bertrand Russell at Cambridge, and, according to Russell, Wittgenstein was the most brilliant protégé he ever had, who quickly surpassed anything Russell had to teach.”

Page 607.  “The Prototractatus copy I read was published by Cornell University Press in 1971 and included three versions of Wittgenstein’s manuscript, one in German and one in English set in type, and an original copy in German in Wittgenstein’s handwriting. The English and German typeset versions say the same thing on opposite pages throughout the book. This alone may make Prototractatus the most unusual book in history. The book contains 200 pages of propositions, or propositions about propositions, typeset in both English and German, not counting the photocopied copy in Wittgenstein’s handwritten script.

“Proposition 1 is “The world is all that is the case,” and Proposition 7 is “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

Prototractatus contains probably some 700-900 propositions, numbered between 1 and 7, using decimal points. There are no indented paragraphs or chapters in the book. According to Wittgenstein (1971, p. 41), “All the good propositions of my other manuscripts are fitted in among the propositions in this book. The numbers indicate the order of the propositions and their importance. Thus 5.04101 follows 5.041 and is followed by 5.0411, which is a more important proposition than 5.04101.”

“Most of the propositions are one sentence long and there is double-spacing between the propositions.

“Wittgenstein in Prototractatus attempted to explain how one might know something about the real world, although he probably would have generally agreed with postmodern constructivists that no one can fully understand the real world globally and the degree to which one does understand the real world depends on what one has experienced, which can never be more than a part of the whole. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, had something to say about what one could know about the world, however relatively little or much one might have experienced the world.

“Wittgenstein said in Prototractatus that one knows about the world by sensing objects that exist in the world and knowing facts and propositions about objects in the world so as to understand states of affairs in the world so as to develop pictures in the mind of what is going on in the world.”

“Everything that happens happens by accident,” is my favorite proposition in Protractatus.  I forget what number it was. 

Ludwig Wittgenstein is possibly the greatest philosopher of all time.

I had several students tell me through the years my course was the only course they had had in which they read a “whole” book. 

Most people have little or no desire to read heavy serious books because they feel and think their content is uninteresting and not worth the time and effort, or they think they cannot understand them.  They think such books are too much trouble to check out at libraries, and are too expensive to buy.  Another reason people do not like to read heavy books is that they are hard to hold and position to catch the light to see the print, causing discomfort in the hands and arms. 

Most learners think all they need are good teachers whose job it is to tell them right answers for immediate so-callled “objective” problems and tests, saving them the time and trouble of reading for themselves, especially whole heavy books.