Thinking About John Lewis

We lost a giant among men today. I just watched the doc­u­men­tary John Lewis: Good Trou­ble a cou­ple of weeks ago. Though his life took him from rur­al Alaba­ma, Nashville, Atlanta, and the to D.C., he moved the nation for­ward along his jour­ney. This clip from when he won the Nation­al Book Award gives me some sense of the scale of how far he came in his life. 

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Prob­a­bly the best Ama­zon order I ever made

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Let’s all remem­ber the debt we owe Con­gress­man Lewis and more impor­tant­ly, that it isn’t yet paid. Even ‑or, per­haps espe­cial­ly- white folks like me owe him a debt of grat­i­tude. Through his lead­er­ship and non­vi­o­lent protests, he forced us to see Christ in those that do not look exact­ly like us. As this coun­try pulls down mon­u­ments to those whose deeds betrayed the nation’s ideals, let us con­sid­er that stat­ues should instead be erect­ed to those who made the nation greater than the one they were born into. 

Pilot Towing Update

Last year, I added a tow­ing hitch to our Hon­da Pilot in order to haul bikes. How­ev­er, it only made sense to go ahead and add the nec­es­sary wiring for pulling a trail­er (brake lights, turn sig­nals, etc.). So I ordered the OEM kit from HondaPartsGuys.com (great site for Hon­da and Acu­ra own­ers!). Again, it warns that this is not a DIY kind of job in the instruc­tions, but it real­ly is very easy to do. The worst part was that I had to remove the hitch, bolt on the wiring sock­et, and then re-install the hitch. Oth­er­wise, it went off with­out a hitch (no, wait, that’s not right).

I got a 7‑pin to 4‑pin adapter (most U‑Haul or oth­er small trail­ers use the 4‑pin as they don’t have brakes and reverse lights). It also has a handy-dandy light tester in it, so I could ver­i­fy the brakes and turn sig­nals both work. A lot of tight spaces to work in, but kudos to Hon­da for design­ing a very easy to install sys­tem here.

IKEA Truck and Trailer
Our Hon­da Pilot tow­ing a trail­er for the first time… to IKEA!

Update 2020-07-18: We rent­ed a trail­er for our trip to IKEA to get some bath­room cab­i­nets & counters. 

Rolling Workbench Update

I built the “Basic Mobile Work­bench” fol­low­ing Steve Ram­sey’s design about two years ago. Hav­ing a work­bench on wheels ‑along with the a roll-up exten­sion cord in the mid­dle of the garage- real­ly changed the entire way I make any­thing in the garage shop. But I put some pret­ty tiny lit­tle cast­ers on it, and though it rolled ok, I’d always want­ed to improve it. How­ev­er, since I built it at the height of the table saw, there was not way I could raise. Well, with a new table saw (more to come on that soon), I decid­ed now was a good time to put on some big­ger rollers.

I cut off the legs below the cross mem­bers using my late father-in-law’s old rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing saw. That old Crafts­man is crazy pow­er­ful and made short work of it. I also cut some sup­port bases out of 3/4″ con­struc­tion ply­wood to lev­el out those cuts and give the lag screws some­thing meaty to attach to. The over­all effect was to raise the top sur­face about an inch and it rolls bet­ter than ever.

Shop Vac Dust Collection

I built an out-board roller sup­port for my dust col­lec­tion for use with my shop vac. For a cheap project made from scraps, I’m very hap­py with the results.

Rigid shop vac with dust collection
My roller board attached to the shop vac

I’ve used the same Ridgid shop vac for dust col­lec­tion for about 16 years. It con­tin­ues to serve me well, but last year I pur­chased a Dustop­per from Home Depot to use with a 5 gal­lon buck­et in order to col­lect saw dust and oth­er debris. This saves on the fil­ter, as most of the dust gets deposit­ed in the buck­et before it actu­al­ly gets to the shop vac. This also makes emp­ty­ing out the waste a lot easier. 

Well, in the­o­ry, any­way. First of all, there are oth­er cyclonic dust col­lec­tors that are for use with shop vacs that no doubt work a bit bet­ter. This was a cheap (around $25) option and it was low­er pro­file (more on that fur­ther down). But it was a huge pain to drag the entire set­up around the garage! The hoses kept com­ing undone. The buck­et han­dle at one point pulled off the buck­et. I tried zip ties and ratch­et straps, but it just wob­bled around and tipped over on me.

A cou­ple of weeks ago I sketched out a rough idea of sup­port­ing the buck­et dust col­lec­tion with anoth­er cast­er. A lot of oth­er DIY’ers solve this prob­lem by mak­ing a ver­ti­cal­ly stack­ing cart, with the dust col­lec­tion on top. How­ev­er, I store my shop vac under my work bench and I need­ed a low pro­file solu­tion. Also, I felt like I could build a min­i­mal sys­tem here and only need to pur­chase a cast­er. I also pur­chased one of those “cut to your own size” shop vac pow­er tool attach­ments, but it end­ed up not being near­ly rigid enough to make a sol­id connection. 

I used some scrap 3/4″ pine ply­wood (like con­struc­tion grade stuff). I mea­sured out the curve of the shop vac body as well as the buck­et and cut that to fit the profile.

Plywood cut to fit bucket
I used a jig saw to cut out the plywood

I propped it up on some oth­er scraps to check the fit, trim­ming a bit more to fit the curve of the body. I also mea­sured the height from the floor to the bot­tom of the ply­wood (about 4 1/4″).

Sizing up the fit and height
Siz­ing up the fit and height

I cut out some scrap MDF pieces to make a ris­er for the cast­er. The cast­er mea­sures 2 1/4″ tall, so I need­ed about 2″ total. This was two 3/4″ and one 1/2″ thick pieces of MDF, cut down to about 3″ by 3 1/2″. I glued them up and then sand­ed the edges to clean every­thing up a bit. I also sand­ed all the edges of the ply­wood plat­form, think­ing that will reduce shin splin­ters in the future.

I then attached the ris­er to the ply­wood using 1–5/8″ deck­ing screws. I counter-sunk the screw heads on top, just to keep the sur­face flat for the bucket.

A set of counter-sink bits is a good purchase

As I men­tioned, I used one of those rub­ber, cut-to-fit hose attach­ments. The idea here was that I would nest this into the shop vac attach­ment stor­age slot on one of its cast­ers. Then I could screw the attach­ment to the ply­wood. I real­ly should­n’t have both­ered. The soft rub­ber just did­n’t give me any con­fi­dence that the con­nec­tion was sol­id. And the whole plat­form could wob­ble too much side to side. So, I grabbed a cou­ple of gal­va­nized met­al build­ing clips (basi­cal­ly, a small angle with some pre-drilled holes). I mount­ed those on the under­side of the ply­wood and screwed a 5/8″ screw on each side into the shop vac body. This may result in some lost suc­tion, but I can always go back and seal off those screw holes with some sil­i­con if so. So far, though, I can’t tell any difference.

Plat­form attach­ment to shop vac

Last­ly, I took a sec­ond buck­et and just screwed it down to the ply­wood. The dust col­lec­tion buck­et can then nest inside this one. It makes for a very sol­id con­nec­tion that I can pull on, but also allows the dust col­lec­tion buck­et to swiv­el. And, the final test: the entire thing eas­i­ly rolls up under my work bench.

Shop vac with attached dust col­lec­tion fits under my work bench

Of course, I prompt­ly pulled the vac­u­um back out to clean up the garage! It works great. And all for the cost of a 2″ swiv­el cast­er. I did blow about $10 dol­lars on that vac­u­um con­nec­tion piece. I may get a more rigid flange con­nec­tion to replace it, though (Wood­craft has one for about $5). I’m con­sid­er­ing also paint­ing the wood pieces gray and black to match the shop vac, which would be an excuse to take it apart and make that con­nec­tion better. 

Raised Bed for Gardening

We’ve been doing a lot of spruc­ing up in our yard in the past few weeks. Angela has want­ed a raised gar­den bed for a long time and Bob of I Like to Make Stuff has a real­ly great, sim­ple design which he recent­ly built that I liked a lot. I will con­fess that I might have bought a kit if one had been avail­able. The price of the mate­ri­als end­ed up being about the same and it was a fun project.

The raised gar­den bed with some veg­eta­bles planted

The mate­ri­als for this were four 8′ deck­ing boards, a 4′ sec­tion of 2“x2” alu­minum angle, and some deck­ing screws (which I already had). I cut the deck­ing boards into 4′ lengths, two for each side.

Deck­ing boards and alu­minum angle from the big-box hard­ware store

Alu­minum is soft enough to cut with most wood­work­ing blades, so I cut the angle into four 1′ lengths1. I then used the band­saw to cut 1–1/2″ angles to one end of each length. These will act as spikes to hold the bed in place. I used a sim­pler cut than Bob’s, fig­ur­ing it would still stick in the ground well enough. I also used the band­saw and disk sander to round off the cor­ners. I left an inch gap at the top, as well so that the cor­ners would­n’t scrape any knees or shins. 

The band­saw eas­i­ly cut through 1/2″ of aluminum

I worked out a screw pat­tern to attach the cor­ners to the boards. The deck­ing boards had a cou­ple of thin­ner chan­nels on the under­side, so I tried to put the screws into the “meati­er” sec­tions. The cor­ners are over­lap joints, so the screw pat­tern isn’t sym­met­ric on either side of the cor­ner. Once I worked out the pat­tern and “dry” fit a cor­ner sec­tion, I used the drill press to drill a set of holes. I messed up a cou­ple of hole loca­tions but anoth­er dry fit had the pat­tern final­ized. I drilled and coun­ter­sunk 32 holes into the aluminum.

A cou­ple of pieces of wood in the drill press clamp held the angle for drilling

Then it was time for assem­bly, which meant pre-drilling all those holes into the deck­ing. I prob­a­bly did­n’t have to pre-drill them, but as the holes were very close to the board ends, I want­ed to make sure they did­n’t tear out. 

A view of the screw pat­tern and the angled steak end

Angela helped me car­ry the assem­bly into the gar­den where it was time to load up with soil and plants. Ains­ley helped her plant some veg­eta­bles. Some of these were seeds, so it looks more emp­ty than it is.

Ains­ley water­ing down the soil before planting
  1. Bob’s design has longer cor­ner pieces, but he also appar­ent­ly had more alu­minum on hand than I could get. These alu­minum pieces aren’t espe­cial­ly cheap, either. []

Wheelbarrow Repair

Our old wheel­bar­row had been sit­ting long enough that the han­dles had more-or-less turned into mulch. Iron­ic, as mulch is pri­mar­i­ly what we’ve car­ried around the yard in the wheel­bar­row. I had con­sid­ered mak­ing some new han­dles out of pres­sure-treat­ed pine, but replace­ment hard­wood han­dles weren’t ter­ri­bly expen­sive. So I ven­tured out to the big-box hard­ware store to get some (where I was in the vast minor­i­ty by wear­ing a face mask!). 

Rotted Wheelbarrow handle
The han­dles for the wheel­bar­row com­plete­ly rot­ted away at the end

This project would have been just about impos­si­ble if I did­n’t have some Liq­uid Wrench to loosen up the rust­ed nuts. It took about 5 min­utes for it to work into the bolts and almost every­one came right off.

Liquid Wrench
Liq­uid Wrench to the rescue

Once I got the entire wheel­bar­row apart, I traced over the bolt hole loca­tions to the replace­ment han­dles. My assis­tant was there to ensure that all mea­sure­ments were accu­rate and well-sniffed.

Hargie helps with measurements
Hargie helps with measurements

I used the drill press and a 3/8″ forstner bit drill the holes. I have a fair­ly cheap set of Ryobi bits (which pair nice­ly with my trusty Ryobi drill press!). I can def­i­nite­ly see pur­chas­ing a much nicer set of forstner bits as they are fast and clean.

Drill Press
Han­dle bolt holes with the drill press

I did spend a few min­utes clean­ing off some sur­face rust from some met­al parts with a wire brush and some min­er­al spir­its. I hit all of them with a coat of black spray paint to hope­ful­ly reduce some future rust. I did­n’t spend a lot of time and did­n’t even wait for the paint to dry before I re-assem­bled everything.

Wheelbarrow Parts
Dirt and rust on some met­al parts

I re-assem­bled the wheel­bar­row minus a cou­ple of wood­en shim pieces. They had almost lit­er­al­ly turned to dirt at this point and would have been a pain to re-cut. I also need to get some zinc-coat­ed bolts and wash­ers at some point since the exist­ing bolts are now too long with out that shim in place. But it’s a 100% func­tion­ing wheel­bar­row again and looks pret­ty great actu­al­ly, as far as wheel­bar­rows go.

Wheelbarrow Glamour Shot
Looks bet­ter than ever

It believes in itself

It does­n’t take itself too seri­ous­ly but it believes in itself.

Tai­ka Waititi

In the round-table dis­cus­sion slash behind the scenes doc­u­men­tary series, Dis­ney Gallery: The Man­do­lo­ri­an, Tai­ka Wait­i­ti dis­cuss­es direct­ing the sea­son 1 finale. I love this quote as it sum­maries so well the idea of be true and earnest, with­out a fear of ridicule or need for val­i­da­tion. Sim­ply the joy of can be val­i­da­tion enough. It real­ly sum­ma­rizes a lot of Wait­i­ti’s work (at least the parts I’m famil­iar with), like Thor: Rag­narok. But it’s real­ly true of any­thing worth being pas­sion­ate about: your joy of the thing is enough.

Alien Day

For the past few years, each April 26th I have to look up why it’s “Alien Day”. The date is named after the plan­et LV-426, where the xenomorphs are first encoun­tered in the orig­i­nal, 1979 Rid­ley Scott film. Well, I’ve been a fan of the hor­ror-sci­fi fran­chise since I saw the sequel, Aliens. I’ve since watch any film in the series (good and bad) and read a lot of the comics. So, any­way, hap­py Alien Day to my fel­low sci-fi fans.

Aliens
Some comics, graph­ic nov­el col­lec­tions, and my attempt at draw­ing a xenomorph from cir­ca 1996.

D&D in the Age of the Lockdown

I’ve post­ed here before about play­ing Dun­geons & Drag­ons with my kids. We played a few nights togeth­er last Sum­mer, but most of our fam­i­ly game nights in the months since were spent play­ing board games or pok­er. But, as the coro­n­avirus forced us all to stay put far more often than we’d all pre­fer, we need­ed to think of more things to do. For­tu­nate­ly, my friend, Ted, has a son who has got­ten very inter­est­ed in all things D&D as of late. Ted and I had dis­cussed the idea of play­ing table­top games with the kids and I’d always thought it would be inter­est­ing to try a dig­i­tal table­top site.

So, about three weeks ago, we all got togeth­er via speak­er phone1 and on Roll20.net. I end­ed up pur­chas­ing a dig­i­tal pack­age of the same adven­ture my kids had start­ed (they for­tu­nate­ly had­n’t made it too far and you’d be sur­prised at the re-playa­bil­i­ty of an adven­ture with total­ly dif­fer­ent deci­sions). The kids all rolled up char­ac­ters based on what they want­ed to play: a tei­fling fight­er for my daugh­ter, a drag­onborne ranger for my son, and a halfling wiz­ard for Ted’s son. Ted just picked the clas­sic dwar­ven cler­ic out of the pre-gen­er­at­ed char­ac­ters. Don’t wor­ry if half of those words don’t make any sense; just know that this is a fan­ta­sy adven­ture where they’re all play­ing fan­tas­ti­cal races of crea­tures who fight the evil hordes to save a vil­lage and sur­round­ing area.

Roll20 Screenshot of Dads and Kids Game Night
The play­ers fight some orcs in the Roll20 dig­i­tal tabletop

My kids are inter­est­ed in play­ing and seem to be enjoy­ing. Ted’s son is real­ly lov­ing D&D and is even run­ning his own game for some if his friends, which is awe­some! But it’s def­i­nite­ly a great way to be able to do some­thing with anoth­er fam­i­ly while still being togeth­er with the kids. All three of the kids have some inter­est­ing nam­ing schemes for their char­ac­ters, to be sure. We’re gen­er­al­ly keep­ing the ses­sions to about 2–1/2 hours each week. This ends being about two encoun­ters (read: fights with mon­sters) and the gen­er­al deci­sion mak­ing and role play­ing that comes along with the game.

As for being a dun­geon mas­ter, I can’t claim it was ever some­thing I was espe­cial­ly great at, but I’m hav­ing a real­ly good time doing it. I’ve learned a lot about 5th edi­tion D&D as well as the Roll20 plat­form (both are pret­ty great, if you ask me). I like to think I’m get­ting bet­ter as we go, too.

I hope it’s some­thing we can keep going, at least for a few weeks longer. Of course, at this point, it’s not at all clear how much longer coro­n­avirus response shel­ter-in-place orders will be in effect here (or any­where, real­ly). Of course, we could always just play in-per­son with our friends down the street should those ever let up. Imag­ine that, play­ing a pen-and-paper RPG togeth­er at the same table!

  1. My kids and I play togeth­er on PCs in our din­ing room while Ted & son play togeth­er in his home office. Though Roll20 has an audio chat fea­ture, it has ter­ri­ble feed­back in gen­er­al when every­one isn’t on head­phones. So, since we’re just con­nect­ing two house­holds, the speak­er­phone seems to work well enough for us. []