Content Strategy: How Long is This Gonna Take?

It’s the very end of the month (a leap month, no less! I had an extra day!) and I’ve got a cou­ple of projects I want to post about, but they’re still in progress. So, instead of some per­son­al cre­ative or DIY stuff, I want­ed to post about some­thing more work-relat­ed for me. From the very begin­ning of my work as a tech­ni­cal writer, I described my approach to how I see my doc­u­men­ta­tion work being used as fol­lows:

  1. Imme­di­ate: tool tip, pop-ups, hov­er info in your IDE. 
  2. Quick answer: F1 on what a dia­log field val­ues are or a function/method
  3. Long answer: search the docs and poke around until I find my answer
  4. Learn­ing: Inten­tion­al read­ing, in the order pre­sent­ed, if the doc­u­men­ta­tion

Lev­els 0 & 1 both start in soft­ware or code and end there. This has the least and next-to-least inter­rup­tion to your work. The answer is imme­di­ate­ly when you need it or just a click & scroll away.

Lev­el 2 is often back and forth between docs and soft­ware. This inher­ent­ly can feel tedious. Often, this results in not even find­ing what you need (unless you were look­ing for frus­tra­tion). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this is also where a lot of prod­uct help leaves you.

Lev­el 3 is sole­ly in the docs. You’re no longer per­form­ing your pri­ma­ry goal or job func­tion. This was not so com­mon for new employ­ees or employ­ees who just got a new tool in the work­place at one time. It feels like a rare lux­u­ry today, though. Too many work­places pri­or­i­tize keep­ing pro­duc­tive day-to-day over mak­ing their employ­ees pro­duc­tive in the longer term.

So, what’s the point? Lev­el 0 & 1 should be the goals, but they require sig­nif­i­cant more plan­ning and coor­di­na­tion with prod­uct devel­op­ers and UX design­ers. And, if we’re being hon­est, mak­ing Lev­el 2 work effec­tive­ly is going to require some of the same. And if you’re writ­ing man­u­als like any­one has the time for Lev­el 3, you’re shoot­ing your­self in the foot for all of the oth­er cas­es.

First Box Joint Test

So, if you hap­pened to read my post last month on injur­ing myself, you’ll recall I did so because I was hop­ing to make a box joint jig. A box joint, or as it also known: a fin­ger joint, is a series of over­lap­ping “fin­gers” along a joint. This style of join­ery gives lots of glue sur­face area as well as shear strength to a cor­ner joint. It’s com­mon­ly used for the cor­ners of a box, thus the name.

Well, I did man­age to make a first attempt at a jig and made a sin­gle joint test. I was hop­ing to use my stan­dard table saw blade with my sled in lieu of pur­chas­ing a dado stack1. The jig is a bit too loose in the cuts and it’s pos­si­ble my table saw sled is a bit too loose in the miter slots, as well. This com­bined with some cheap­er birch ply­wood (there are lots of voids and a very thin veneer) result­ed in the fin­gers look­ing more like a box­er who’d just fought Mike Tyson.

Some loose and chipped fin­gers

Also, the depth of the cuts were a bit too deep (which is easy to adjust, at least). But glu­ing up the loose joints was a mess.

You can see some of the over­lap here

I had sort of giv­en up on the exper­i­ment as a fail­ure, but I did recent­ly go back and sand the fin­gers down; this time on pur­pose (yeah, I get the humor after last mon­th’s inci­dent). The joint still does­n’t look great but it was­n’t as “gap‑y” as it seemed before cleanup. What’s more, I can attest that even as poor as this one looks, it is incred­i­bly strong. It’s not espe­cial­ly pret­ty, but for some util­i­ty box­es, it would def­i­nite­ly serve it’s pur­pose.

Noth­ing a bit of wood filler and fin­ish could­n’t make look nice

So, this was­n’t a total fail­ure and I did learn a lot from the exer­cise, includ­ing the injury. Which, my fin­gers have com­plete­ly healed back, nails and all. As a result of “baby­ing” the left index fin­ger, I did devel­op ten­donitis in my left elbow (which is real­ly the fore­arm mus­cles and ten­don con­nec­tion). So, that lit­tle inci­dent con­tin­ues to remind me to be safe!

  1. A dado stack is a pair of blades, often with inter­me­di­ate spacer/chippers in between which cut out a wider sec­tion of mate­r­i­al in each pass on a table saw. []

Cicero Footstool

A few years ago when I was con­sid­er­ing get­ting into more “fine” wood­work­ing, there was one project that came to mind: recre­at­ing the foot­stools my grand­fa­ther, Cicero, used to make. He was a handy wood­work­er and built a lot of use­ful projects1 I know we had two or three of these foot­stools around the house grow­ing up. I assume my aunts and cousins may have had some, as well. They’re per­haps not a mas­ter crafts­man project, but let’s not over-esti­mate my abil­i­ties. As my mom put it, though, after about a half cen­tu­ry, they’re still in use!

Foot­stool built by my grand­fa­ther along with my orig­i­nal notes and sketch­es

So in 2016 I sat down to care­ful­ly draw out the pieces. His were all made from 1″ thick sol­id pine, but I fig­ured I’d use 3/4″ ply­wood instead. The legs and sides have a rough­ly 10° slant such that the base tapers up to give a slight lip all around the top footrest. I also decid­ed to add a hand­hold to the top of mine (some oth­ers of his may have this, but the one that sits in our kitchen does not). On my notes and sketch­es, I also doo­dled out a logo that read “Cicero Hand Made Crafts. Est. 2016”. I fig­ured he was the “mak­er” in my fam­i­ly so I’d hon­or that by label­ing made items with his name.

My orig­i­nal Cicero logo sketch

It took me about a year-and-a-half until I actu­al­ly got around to mak­ing my first foot­stool. I batched out the pieces on the table saw for two foot­stools from a 2’x4’ project board of 3/4″ maple ply­wood. Some of the angle cuts using my cut pat­tern result­ed in a col­or mis-match in the wood, but this could prob­a­bly be resolved by buy­ing high­er qual­i­ty ply­wood in the future. The band­saw was used for all curves, includ­ing cut­ting the arch­es in the legs at 10° (so they’re actu­al­ly lev­el when assem­bled). I used the drill press and a 1 5/8″ forstner bit to hog out mate­r­i­al for the han­dle (which I then cleaned up with a series of rasps, files, and sand­pa­per). The disc and belt sander were used to clean up all the edges (with care not to remove any more fin­ger nails). My super-sim­ple router table was used to add a 1/4″ round-over to edges. I then used the ran­dom orbital sander to clean every­thing up.

Cut mate­r­i­al for the first foot­stool

I used made an assem­bly jig for the first piece and used pock­et holes to attach the legs to the top (some­thing my grand­fa­ther did­n’t have but he seemed like a prac­ti­cal enough per­son, he’d have used them if he could have). I attached the side run­ners to the legs with some counter-sunk wood screws (black). I used a light col­or wood filler for any ply gaps (or oth­er blem­ish­es). Final­ly, a gen­er­ous coat of wipe-on polyurethane was applied for a fin­ish.

Jig hold­ing up leg at cor­rect angle and spac­ing for pock­et holes
My daugh­ter help­ing apply fin­ish to the foot­stool for her grand­moth­er
First foot­stool assem­bly — note that I used a lot more round-overs in this build

I assem­bled the first foot­stool as a Christ­mas gift for my old­er broth­er last year and then com­plet­ed the sec­ond foot­stool as a Christ­mas gift for my mom this year. The process for build­ing both pieces was a learn­ing curve, so I did­n’t real­ly take great pho­tos of either build. These are a mix of both projects (which is why the tops look dif­fer­ent). I already have planned out mak­ing some addi­tion­al tem­plates to use with a trim router to help improve the process for future builds. This project is so great because it ends up using almost every pow­er tool I have. But just like every project I try, there is always some­thing new to learn even when I’ve already built the same thing before!

Assem­bled sec­ond stool before fin­ish applied
Cicero crafted stamp

  1. One of which was a long shelf for my dad’s hi-fi sys­tem; a gift to his new son-in-law. This lat­er became the plat­form which our G.I.Joe USS Flag air­craft car­ri­er play set lived! []

Hard Shop Lesson

I got a hard les­son deliv­ered today while start­ing a project in the garage this after­noon. I’ll lead in with say­ing that I’m ok (and will heal up fine in a week or so); only a bit rat­tled. Let me start with where my head was (and should­n’t have been) that got me here.

I’ve had on my “To Do” list for 2019 to learn how to make box joints. Well, here we are into Decem­ber and I’ve not even tried it. I had want­ed to spend last Sat­ur­day work­ing on it, but I let the week­end get away with me with Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions (which are fine and I was glad to get the time I had with all my fam­i­ly). This evening, I had a Cub Scout event with my son in which I was respon­si­ble for bring some audio and video equip­ment (i.e., our home AV receiv­er, speak­ers, and disc play­er). That end­ed up tak­ing a lot longer than I had antic­i­pat­ed. But I had an hour to spare so I fig­ured I’d at least get a jump start on my box joint jig, know­ing all day Sun­day (tomor­row) is going to be busy with oth­er things.

And it’s entire­ly worth under­scor­ing here: this is all arbi­trary pres­sure I’ve put on myself. Absolute­ly no one else cares if I fig­ure out how to make box joints ever, let alone today or even this year. But I had con­vinced myself that I need­ed to rush through the hour to get the table saw jig set up.

I picked out my back­ing board and was look­ing for a piece of scrap that approx­i­mate­ly the same thick­ness as my table saw blade kerf (sim­ply put, that’s the width of the cut that the table saw makes and is frac­tion­al­ly wider than the blade itself). My ini­tial plas­tic piece for the jig end­ed up a big loose the back­ing board, so I want­ed to quick­ly try a dif­fer­ent approach. Mind you, the piece I’m try­ing to cut is less than a 1/4″ thick. So I fig­ured, why not start with a thin off cut and just sand it down to the nec­es­sary thick­ness?

My pow­er sander is a com­bi­na­tion of a belt sander and 6″ disc sander. The disc of course will put a twist on any object pushed into it, so a firm grip and just being mind­ful of one side lift­ing and the oth­er push­ing down is impor­tant. I grabbed a long thing piece of scrap and tried sand­ing it on the disc, not think­ing about where my hands would go if (when) it slipped out of my grip. I also failed to put on gloves. You cer­tain­ly do not wear gloves with some pow­er tools (any­thing with a cir­cu­lar spin­ning blade), but they are a good idea with a sander.

The same pow­er sander I have. The disc spins counter-clock­wise. I don’t even have any pho­tos of my own of this pow­er tool!

With­in less than a sec­ond of me push­ing the wood into the disc, it knocked it right out of my hand and left me push­ing my fin­gers into the sand­ing disc. Now, in all the pow­er tools I have, if I had to pick one that I was going to injure myself on, it would prob­a­bly be the pow­er sander. Blades, as you can imag­ine, can quick­ly cut into flesh and cause seri­ous injury or death. I can­not imag­ine sus­tain­ing a life-threat­ing injury on a small pow­er sander like mine (though I’m not say­ing it’s impos­si­ble). But at 3600 rpm, 120 grit sand­pa­per can remove skin and nails quite rapid­ly. Cer­tain­ly faster than my reac­tion time. Before I knew it, my unnec­es­sary rush and lack of think­ing about what I was doing caused me to injure my index and mid­dle fin­gers on my left hand. My mid­dle fin­ger got the skin scraped bad­ly but my index nail is about 1/4″ too short now. And boy howdy is that sen­si­tive skin under there!

Again, it’s noth­ing seri­ous. I was able to turn off the machine and imme­di­ate­ly go treat it myself. My fin­gers are sore but the nail should grow back. Hon­est­ly, it’s the les­son I need­ed to learn. Pow­er tools are not any­thing to be in a rush around. Every action with one requires com­plete focus and atten­tion. I need to always think about how the tool could injure me based on the action the tool makes. Giv­en that I was also using my band saw and table saw today (which, I do take less for grant­ed, to be fair to myself), I’m for­tu­nate that this is the injury I end­ed up with.

As my kids join me in the shop more, I’ve had to teach them lessons about safe­ty. I’ve even had to warn my son about touch­ing that very sand­ing disc until it comes to a com­plete stop (he thought he should stop it spin­ning one day after I’d killed the pow­er). I even recent­ly watched James Hamil­ton’s (aka, Stumpy Nubs) video on injur­ing him­self with an angle grinder and remarked on the need to pay atten­tion when I’m work­ing. I firm­ly believe that the num­ber one most impor­tant piece of safe­ty equip­ment is your brain. Too bad I failed to put that and my gloves on this after­noon. I’ll do my best to take that les­son to heart from now on.

Ah, Rats (Pedals)!

The Pro Co Rat is a, if not the, clas­sic dis­tor­tion gui­tar effect1. It’s still around though “vin­tage” effects can go for hun­dreds of dol­lars. There are many vari­ants and, like any clas­sic gui­tar effect, there are many clones. It’s also one of those ped­als that many of the mods and clones have improved upon the orig­i­nal.

Aion Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion Kit

I got a com­plete ped­al kit from Aion effects — the Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion. I have built one of their effects using just a PCB before, and the instruc­tions are top-notch. The kit was equal­ly well done, with qual­i­ty com­po­nents. The Helios is basi­cal­ly a Rat clone that uses an OP07 chip (instead of the hard to find LM308N and most folks who seem to know say they sound the same, any­way). The Helios also includes a cou­ple of very com­mon mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the Rat: an addi­tion­al “sweep” con­trol and a clip­ping diode selec­tion. The for­mer adds an addi­tion­al EQ con­trol to the ped­al where as the lat­ter adds the abil­i­ty to select dif­fer­ent clip­ping diodes that decide the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the dis­tor­tion.

Com­po­nents for the Rat ped­al laid out

I’m not sure if I’ve real­ly men­tioned this in any posts of effects build­ing, but I pre­fer to tape down all of the com­po­nents for each build onto paper along each of their descrip­tions. This is sort of anal­o­gous to “knolling” a LEGO kit, I sup­pose (though tap­ing them down makes the com­po­nents eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy lat­er!).

Aion footswitch board and red resistors
Aion footswitch board and red resis­tors

As I men­tioned, the Aion kit comes with what all seem to be high qual­i­ty com­po­nents. I have to admit, the all red resis­tors had me con­fused. They were clear­ly labeled with text as to each val­ue (which is much bet­ter than try­ing to read col­or bands!). They appear to be 1/4W 1% met­al film resis­tors with a coat­ing and print­ed val­ue is all.

Rat pots and switch­es

The kit comes with lit­er­al­ly every­thing you need, includ­ing pot iso­la­tion cov­ers. The fit-up of the top-mount audio and pow­er jacks is very pre­cise, so I did have to re-work the sol­der joints on one of the jacks. But the result­ing fin­ish of the enclo­sure is that much nicer.

Rat ped­al ready to assem­ble

The wiring in the ped­al is done using head­ers and small rib­bon cables. If you real­ly hate off-board wiring (I don’t mind it so much), this is real­ly nice. Here you can see the cus­tom dress­ing nut used over the stomp switch (there’s a sim­i­lar cus­tom nut for the clip­ping switch!), which gives the ped­al a very high-end made feel.

Rat ped­al guts and signed bot­tom cov­er
Rat ped­al guts shot after final assem­bly

I do have a few com­plaints about the kit, though. First is that the PCB just refused to lay flat on the selec­tor switch and pots. I could have fid­dled with it more, but it seemed like things just did­n’t want to line up. Even though Aion states the 3PDT footswitch is a pre­mi­um switch, with longer life, I’m not a fan of the feel of it (I guess I’m just so used to either a relay or the Tai­wan blue switch!). Last­ly, and this is some­thing I absolute­ly plan to change on this ped­al: the LED is insane­ly bright! I mean, it hurts to look at and is actu­al­ly dis­tract­ing, even when you’re not look­ing direct­ly at the ped­al! I’m going to swap out the LED resis­tor to dim it down. A lot!

Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion Kit Com­plete

But these are great kits and this is an amaz­ing ped­al for less than $75 (on sale, reg­u­lar­ly $82). The assem­bly took me about 2 hours or so (that includes tak­ing a few min­utes to put my son to bed). Of course, your mileage may vary. Some of their ped­als are sold ful­ly assem­bled on Reverb or you can also reach out to a builder to see about pric­ing an assem­bled ped­al. Even at that price, it’s a good deal! With the clip­ping options, it can cov­er ground from almost a trans­par­ent boost all the way to a medi­um gain dis­tor­tion ped­al (I mean, it’s no Boss Met­al Zone…). It’s hon­est­ly cheap­er than you could pur­chase a used Rat ped­al and mod it, and already mod­ded Rat ped­als go for much more.

Now, none of this mat­ters if it does­n’t sound good, of course. Once again, I’ve man­aged to build a ped­al and write a blog post with­out both­er­ing to record any audio. Part of that is because I don’t yet have a mic and I’m not pleased with the cab­i­net sim­u­la­tor on my amp head. But most­ly, it’s because I’m lazy and not real­ly a great gui­tar play­er! I’ll try to get some audio post­ed soon, though.

  1. Now, when I say “dis­tor­tion effect”, I’m not refer­ring to fuzz ped­als or dis­tort­ed ampli­fiers, I real­ly do just mean dis­tor­tion effects ped­als. Hen­drix nev­er played one of these! []

Creating Music (Notation) Together

My wife, Angela, stud­ied music for the first cou­ple of years at col­lege. She plays the flute and still per­forms a few times a year (most­ly at our church). How­ev­er, in all the years we’ve been togeth­er, we’ve nev­er actu­al­ly played any music togeth­er. In fact, we haven’t real­ly cre­at­ed many projects togeth­er (aside from two kids and numer­ous DIY house projects, of course).

Well, a cou­ple of weeks ago Angela was asked to play a short piece of her choos­ing at a Wednes­day night church event. She decid­ed it would be fun to have out daugh­ter and anoth­er young per­son from church, both of whom also play flute, to play a wood­wind trio. Angela picked one of her favorite hymns and asked me to tran­scribe it using Mus­eScore. Oth­er than help­ing the kids search that site for some piano sheet music, I did­n’t have much expe­ri­ence with it or the desk­top appli­ca­tion.

After a few min­utes, I had the piano tre­ble clef tran­scribed in a file. I dupli­cate that part into two copies. Then came the fun part. Using the arrow keys to start re-arrang­ing the piece. When I told it what instru­ment would be used for each part (in this case, a flute trio), it hand­i­ly would col­or code notes that were get­ting out­side the range of that instru­ment. Now, I don’t actu­al­ly play the flute and aside from that note range and the knowl­edge that a flute can’t real­ly play one than more note at a time, I con­sid­ered this a first pass. Angela then went through the piece and indi­cat­ed what notes need adjust­ing (a lot of them). She also bor­rowed from the bass clef and added in some flour­ish­es of her own lik­ing. The play­back isn’t per­fect (you’d nev­er think you were list­ing to any­thing oth­er than syn­the­sized instru­ments) but it’s very help­ful in arrang­ing. What’s more, Angela and I got to work on some­thing cre­ative togeth­er!

The three of them played the piece last night at the can­dle­light ser­vice. I though it sound­ed great but as I end­ed up as the litur­gist, I did­n’t get to record them per­form­ing. But, you can at least see and hear the piece here:

Today We All Are Called to Be Dis­ci­ples Flute Trio by amdy­er

Truth.

Truth.