Archive for the ‘Home Improvement’ Category

Network Jack: first attic project

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Three home improvement posts in a row – been thinking about the house and designing our lifestyle quite a bit lately. For a while we’d been living with a network cable strung over the ceiling, but it  was unsightly and a horrid cable management failure, so this week was the time to fix it and add a new network jack next to the built-in desk there.

Here’s the setup in its most visible state – not shown is the difficulty of actually climbing up into the attic and drilling the hole in the cross-brace beam so that I would have a spot to pull the network cable up. Somehow I had the impression that this beam would be a 2×4, but there was a second beam underneath it – this took a good 30 minutes of drilling and moving sawdust to punch a 1-inch diameter hole through the entire width. To make matters worse, my first attempt was in the wrong spot and I had to move over 18 inches and do it all over again after we realized that.

The mounting box is a nifty contraption that uses plastic flaps which catch the drywall when you screw them in, so that you don’t have to nail it sideways into a stud. Much easier install when you have an existing finished piece of drywall to work with. If you look closely you can see that I chickened out and used the easy male-to-male RJ45 connectors on the back of the plate, instead of splicing out the copper wires and punching them down. I’ve done that once before (similar project in the old house), and that was enough for me.

The connection on the other side is to one of the cool things about the house – a mini network cabinet in the upstairs closet. We aren’t using the breadboard thing, but it’s a perfect spot for a router that previously connected to four different ethernet outlets around the upstairs, and now hooks up to five. I tried to use the side-mounted tube to pull in my new cables, but could not find any possible access without completely taking out the drywall in the room opposite it. Not worth it for a closet that no one ever sees – I’ll have to put some adhesive to block up the tiny amount of vertical hole that’s free around the cables.

Success – 1Gbps link! As for whether this is worth it compared to wireless – while WiFi covers most use cases, this is our machine where we do all the photo importing and manipulation, and our photos live in a mounted directory on the NAS instead of local storage. Very tough on the bandwidth to do all the photo copying, rotating, and sorting over WiFi; this has worked out much better. Plus, excuses to tackle a home improvement project are always welcome. The sense of accomplishment alone is worth it!

One Kludge at a Time

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Yesterday I discovered to my surprise that the gate at the top of the stairs was falling out of the wall! I’m not sure why I let the instruction manual talk me into using only drywall anchors for something that heavy. They failed after just six months of normal use, even without a kid hanging their weight on the gate as far as I know.

So during nap time yesterday I decided to try a quick reinforcement hack of screwing the gate into studs instead, via a board on the wall. It doesn’t look great, but I found some reasonable pieces of laminate that sort of match the surrounding wood tones. Not bad for an hour of improvising! I like that it’s a good example of how the character of old houses is built up from urgent need and compromise, one little step at a time.

Home Facade Sketch

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

On the way back from our evening walk today I snapped a photo and decided to do a little design mockup. We’ve been thinking about what direction we want to go with the front of our house to modernize it; this is a hodgepodge of many of our ideas so far.



After (my ‘artist’ rendering)

We are mostly looking for a way to add some contrast and get away from the drab gray/white/gray/black theme that’s going on right now. First priority is replacing the front door I think. We’ve seen a lot of doors we really like around friends’ homes and parade tours lately, and that seems like a good step that we can fit nicely into the overall plan.

I was trying out SketchBookExpress for this mockup, and pretty happy with it overall. For a free drawing app, it has the key features: layers, basic brush tools, and an eyedropper. Its cost about matches my level of graphic design skill, I think!

Fridge-Mounted Shopping List

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Last weekend I added a new angle to a project I’ve been working on for a while: easy shopping list functionality for the family. Previously I had created the AJAX web app that we use on our smartphones, and we had been entering new items on the phones as well.

To take this to the next level, I decided to repurpose my old Nook Color (it’s pretty much unusable for much of anything now) and make it a dedicated shopping-list-entry device.

Neodymium magnets superglued to the back of the nook. The soft, rubbery surface made the superglue bond amazingly well - there's no way I could pull these magnets off.

I could have used a pre-built fridge mount, but it didn’t seem worth the cost and I wanted to include at least a little bit of DIY. Fortunately, these little 0.3″ magnets worked well. I was a little surprised that I needed so many given the amazing apparent strength of these little guys. I guess sideways force (from gravity) is not their strong suit. With six of them glued on, it stays up even with the door opening and closing and use of the device.

Fortunately CyanogenMod has a custom override setting that can prevent the Android device from ever locking the screen if it’s plugged in to a power source, so no special tweaking was needed for that part.

Here’s the device in action:

Built-in shopping list. Run out of something? Just type it in after you close the fridge door. Automatically synced to our smartphones through the web app.

And here’s the list:

Close-up of shopping list

So far it’s worked well in the week since it’s been up and we’ve given it a couple test runs. I just need to come up with a more permanent cable management solution for the power cord – maybe some kind of magnetic clip to make it nice and straight.

Basement Storage

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It’s been half a year since I posted, but I have three excuses: new house, new job, and new baby in the span of three months. It’s been busy to say the least!

For now I’ll start with the house: we moved out to the suburbs/country outside Madison to get some more space to grow. It’s a 96-year old farmhouse that is in very good shape for its age but also has a lot of options for projects. Hence a new “Home Improvement” category for the blog.

One of my first projects is building some open shelving for a storage room in our basement. We don’t have very much shelving for large items, so we have some stuff lying around in the basement and garage that sorely needs a home. We’re hoping this room can be a great spot to store all kinds of larger household supplies.

Here’s what the room looked like when we moved in: 1970’s cabinets and cheap carpet. It was an incredibly inefficient use of space that was ok for lots of little items, but had zero ability to store anything the size of a rubbermaid container or larger.

Original attempt at 'storage'

So, we started off by taking out all of those original cabinets and pulling up the carpet. Then I painted the walls a gray-blue (for some reason, just about every new paint we pick out at the store ends up being this gray-blue color).

Same angle, with all those cabinets and carpet ripped out, and the walls painted

Now I’m in the process of building the shelf frames. We need 8 in total: two for the far short wall, and two stacks of three each for the long wall.

Frame building in progress

I’m using a circular saw with a new carbide-tipped blade, a great drill my parents got me, and various other tools. I’m enjoying the irony coincidence of each tool being a different bright color, like a set of tinker toys (the circular saw blade, not really visible above, is an obnoxious red). The materials at this point are 2x4s and 3″ decking screws – plywood and heavy-duty bolts to come later.

Here are a couple of the mistakes I’ve made so far:

Drill bit snapped off on top (the small hole), and the bottom screw split the board

I had intended to drill holes before putting in the screws, as you can see by the snapped-off drill bit on top. But then since it snapped off, I figured maybe I could get away without it, and the bottom screw there is the result. I think it is still more or less strong enough to be usable in the frame, just have to make sure the shelf’s weight isn’t pulling directly against that fracture.

And here’s the finished product, the first shelf frame.

First shelf built, not too many mistakes...

If you look close you can also see the scrapes on the wall that I made while trying to fit it in place, before eventually concluding that it was just too wide. I need to leave more like a half-inch of clearance lengthwise to be able to get the shelf in the short end of the room. I’ll use this frame for the longer wall instead.

Just 7 more shelves to go! Then it’s attaching the plywood surfaces, bolting them into the wall, and bolting on the front vertical supports.