Category Archives: Off Topic

person holding blue and clear ballpoint pen

Survey says?

I routinely sign up for focus groups, but just as frequently, they say no.

Until Friday.

A focus group study has said that I can participate!

Yay!

I can’t tell you what it is yet, but they value my opinion! Hooray!

More information to follow, unless I sign an NDA (likely), but be happy for me about this.

Sorry this is such a short post, but there will be more tonight.

Spoiler alert!

I started the Saturday crossword already (Friday), and I hope to have it done tonight.

Woodworking: Step-Up End Table Pair Project (Part 2)

These two oak tables were going to be a challenge. The first challenge was to get to the oak.

Table 1: 1/4-sheet palm sander.

Definitely a rough time.

The main board of the table started out pretty gross. I mean it wasn’t the worst I’ve dealt with, but it was bad. Water damage was the main issue. It looked like a potted plant lived on it, and then either smaller flowers or tea.

After 18 minutes of sanding. I was making some considerable headway.

There was still clearly more to do.

I kept going, and almost 10 minutes later

I think this water stain is the worst I’d dealt with. The prior step-up end table project also had some crazy water stains, but those were manageable. I wasn’t sure what would happen with these.

Let’s switch over to the the other table.

Table 2: Random Orbital Sander

But first a little bit about the sander and the sandpaper.

I had waited for the DeWalt sander to go on sale on Amazon. When it did, I got it. But the sandpaper for a random orbital sander is different from the sandpaper for a 1/4 sheet palm sander.

After some research, I came across the 3M Pro Grade sandpaper that claimed not to clog. Also that it had grit of varying size and sharpness, so rather than 80-grit, there was 80+. I got a variety pack.

It says not for retail sale on the real box, too. I don’t understand. That’s amazon for you.

I expected the random orbital sander to be much more powerful at removing material. And it was.

Water stains not as bad. Could be easy!

Four minutes of progress with the 80+.

Eight minutes in, and I saw stains I hadn’t seen before. Including a familiar big circle! Another potted plant or flowerpot, I imagine.

At the 30-minute mark, the DeWalt random orbital sander with 3M Pro Grade 80+ sandpaper had blown away the DeWalt 1/4-sheet palm sander with 3M regular 60-grit.

And the amazing thing after an hour of use:

How is there no clogging? I’d swapped out the 60-girt numerous times at this point.

The other surprise: It was never oak. I’m working with maple!

I like maple better, anyway.

More next week!

Note: This post is a little lighter on text. I’ve been struggling with WordPress to get captions back on my photos. No luck just yet, but that has eaten up a lot of time. More cool stuff later.

Williams-Sonoma boosts my ego

I went to Williams-Sonoma this week and was very disappointed in what I saw. I went all the way out to Manhattan Beach because for some reason I believed the Manhattan Beach location to be a very large store. But it is a very small store. It’s nothing like the Beverly Hills location was before it closed permanently years ago.

Now, Calah and I had gone to Crate & Barrel to see their stuff as we’re continuing to finalize our registry, but there were some items that were too expensive for too poor quality.

I had expected Williams-Sonoma to be better. And some things were slightly better quality. But all things were higher prices.

There were some wooden salad tongs on clearance for $15 reduced from $25. I would have paid maybe $5?

Then there were things that were worse quality. Like an olivewood salad bowl–a salad bowl priced at $150. For comparison, that is $150 more than the amount of salad I want to eat.

Hmm, if were were to buy it, we might not have money for salad. Oh, wait, this would be for wedding registry, so we would still have money for salad. Damn.

I

The salad bowl was splitting before ever being sold. Right on the shelf. Split.

I asked a clerk what happens with this type of item if it’s purchased off the registry and then cracks after a single use.

“You have 30 days to return it,” she said.
“Is that in new condition with the labels still on and everything?”
“Yes.”
“But you see it’s cracked just on the shelf.”
“Yes, but they would consider cracking like this normal wear and tear.”
“That’s weird. This is broken already.”
“Oh, I have the bigger [$200(!)] one, and the cracks are much larger. And that happened very quickly. I just don’t let the salad dressing go so high so it doesn’t get stuck in the cracks because then I wouldn’t be able to clean it out.”
“That doesn’t sound very good.”
“I went to a woodworker who told me to take epoxy and squirt it into the cracks to seal it up. But how am I supposed to get a needle that small?”
“So I guess I won’t be putting this on the registry.”
“That’s your decision, but these bowls crack. That’s part of what they do. Maybe it’s the type of wood they use.”
“Yeah, not putting this on the registry.”
“That one is too small, anyway. The one I have at home is larger. And that one fits enough salad just for me.”
“I mean I guess it would hold more if you could fill it all the way, but since the cracking…”
“I suppose so.”
“I guess I’ll go ahead and put this back.”

So it’s back on the shelf. Cracked. But out there for sale.

Now, I’ve encountered many issues in my woodworking projects, but I’ve not tried to sell broken things for hundreds of dollars. Scruples or something. Annoying.

And not everyone is happy about buying broken things or things that break quickly. They make that known in reviews!

But the reviews don’t start off bad.

Will last a lifetime (*****)
This is a large, beautiful olive wood salad bowl that is made by hand. As such there are minor imperfections which are typical with artisan works and (for me anyway) add to the value of the design. For this however, I would recommend that you go to a WS store so that you can choose the one that suits you—As each one is different. Beautiful piece and highly recommend.

Wow! Sounds amazing! Hey, wait a second!

Seems a little premature to have Will last a lifetime as the title. You know, unless someone is coming to kill him.

Wood putty filler too visible (***)
We recently received the largest of these bowls. I was a little reluctant to spend that much for a bowl but based on the previous review of lasting beauty I went for it. I understand that this is pieces of wood glued together to form the bowl. I didn’t however expect the putty that is used as a filler to be so visible. Especially around the top rim of the bowl. It is a very light color and doesn’t look even. I echo the previous review to go in and look at them before buying. That being said no one wants a bowl they would serve at a party to show this much putty right on top. I’m trying to be balanced with a three star rating. It’s hard to find a large salad bowl. I could live with imperfections inside the bowl. The one I received just doesn’t look finished. We’ll return and see if there is a better one. Too much money for this type of imperfection.

Cracked (*)
“First bowl cracked 3 weeks in. Got a replacement. This bowl also cracked about 1 week in. Have not washed it, have not used it. Save your time and get a different bowl.”

Welp! Looks like that’s not the salad bowl for us!

Woodworking: Step-Up End Table Pair Project (Part 1)

Usually my projects start with the Free Stuff section of craigslist. This one does not. This started with the purchase of a pair of tables–tables that were in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I have never been to New Mexico. I’ve been to regular Mexico, but that’s a different story.

My friend Winston recently moved to Albuquerque, and he looks to see what people post for sale on facebook. He sent me pictures of this pair:

So $50 for the pair plus about as much for shipping. Normally I’m still at $0 when I bring a piece home, but by the time I got these, I was already in more than $100.

I saved a little bit of money on shipping by gifting the legs to Winston. I believe he then threw them away because he and I have a lot of things in common, and not wanting those legs is one of them.

Since this is a pair of tables rather than a single one, I decided to do an experiment to compare tools. In past projects, I’d used my Makita corded 1/4-sheet finishing sander. I then got a cordless DeWalt 1/4-sheet variable speed palm sander, which I decided to use for one of the two tables. For the other, I got a DeWalt random orbital sander. I hadn’t had one of these sanders before, but what better time to learn than to put it head-to-head with the other?

While I worked on these tables in sequence and not in tandem, I will be approaching this series as a comparison of the two processes, as they were extremely different. I made some mistakes, and I learned a lot. I had to modify my setup, get some new tools, and attempt many techniques for the first time. I’m glad I did this project, and, as of the posting of this first installment, the project isn’t finished. By the final post, it will be.

Keep coming back every Tuesday at 10am for new installments.

Visiting people again

Yesterday I saw my grandpa in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic. I talk to him at least once a week, and that’s something I’ve been doing for years and years. But it’s been a long time since I got to visit him because I didn’t want to risk harming him.

Now, I had kept myself masked and safe. I didn’t engage in risky behaviors. But I didn’t want to find out only when it was too late that I was an asymptomatic case. So why would I even take the risk?

But I’m vaccinated now, and I’ve started to go out and be a person again. That means I am now able to visit my grandpa. Though I’m still wary of getting too, too close because he’s a thousand years old, and even with the effects of the moderna vaccine coursing through my veins, who knows!

During my lunch break today, I headed over there. I called him in advance, which is to say that I parked outside and called him to see if he would have me over. Before I could ask him, he asked me if I wanted to come over. I told him I’d see him shortly.

As a perhaps unnecessary precaution, I wore a mask for the duration.

I’m glad I visited him, and I will do it again. He’s aged throughout the pandemic. I think we all have. But it shows on him. I hope he’ll perk up over time.

Seeing people in person still is strange for me, and I have to break out of the temperament I’ve had throughout the covid era of not letting myself get excited because I feel like the things that are exciting won’t happen. I wasn’t always this way, and I won’t always be this way.

I look forward to the next time I visit my grandpa, and I’m stoked to start seeing others, too.

Upholstery: Calah made cushions! And wrote about them! (Part 4)

HELLO! This is the last installment of my cushion adventure.

Step 4: This week I’m going to show you how I secured these two beautiful cushions to two beautiful chairs that Matt beautifully refinished. You can see that journey here.

I had successfully made two fitted cushions for two chairs at this point. This is how I wanted them to sit on the chairs:

I wanted to use the secondary fabric to secure the cushions because 1) the seconday fabric is super strong and does not stretch, 2) it made sense to use the same fabric that covers the back of the cushions for continuity purposes, and 3) it was a benign color that I felt would blend in and be less visible. You’ll notice that the cushion is a bit wrinkled as I placed it up against the chair? Yeah, that’s expected. The back of the chair is a bit curved, and my cushion is very much not curved, so it’ll wrinkle a bit. I didn’t mind.

So now comes the part where I attach the darned thing. I wanted the method of attachment to be functional, reliable, and look decent. Sounds reasonable, right?

I mocked up how that should look with scratch paper:

Mock-straps to secure the cushion.

The zig zag design was my first idea… but that turned out to be much harder to make each “v” precise, and I got frustrated.

I still went ahead and made the straps out of the secondary fabric because I knew that they were going to be incorporated no matter what. Turns out that I measured them too small and so when it came time to turning these little tubes inside out, I darned near lost my mind (I also lost a chopstick in the process). It was not a pretty scene.

I stabbed myself with a wood chopstick trying to make this work. This is when I realized that the tube is NEVER going to be turned right-side out.

Ok, so now what? My tubes are TINY and impossible to turn inside out to hide the seam. I set out to make the same length tubes (11″) and a new width. I think I just added 0.5″ to the original measurements?

Here are those new and improved tubes!

MUCH BETTER.

I had given up on the zig-zag design for the straps to the cushion so I tried a cross-cross pattern:

I measured and re-measured the spacing between each strap and this is what I ended up with!

Pretty intriguing, right? I kept my annotations on a scratch piece of paper that I slipped between the straps and the chair. Once I was happy with how each strap was placed, I needed to pin them on the cushion.

I put pins on the top edge of the cushion where the straps would line up with the criss-cross pattern. Then, by some miracle, I was able to preserve the spacing and criss-cross pattern after I had pinned the straps to the secondary fabric on the cushion. This step took a while and some creativity (and MANY reattempts).

I almost forgot the strip of secondary fabric where these straps would attach to! In my head I would add a long strip of fabric at the bottom edge of the cushion to house the velcro that would grab onto the tips of the straps when securing to the chair.

These pictures are of me adding those two strips:

Now, maybe you’re already ahead of me on this… did you wonder how the heck I was going to sew all of these things onto the cushion? Well once everything was neatly in place, pinned to the cushion itself, it was only THEN that I realized I still needed to SEW things down!

Great. *slow clap*

Ok don’t panic…

… this is me thinking…

With a flash of brilliance I decided to sew my straps all onto a second-secondary fabric panel and then just hand stitch that panel onto the cushion. Smooth finish, sufficiently secured straps with the sewing machine, and that’s that. Here’s what that looked like:

I prefer this finished clean look.

Let’s check to see that I haven’t messed this up too badly:

Wait. Where’s the criss-cross? What am I missing here? Why is there that icky situation where the straps are not flat against the top of the chair??

My guess is that somewhere between the point at which I meticulously measured out the spacing and placement of my straps against the scratch paper and the moment when I moved the straps onto the second-secondary fabric panel, things went awry.

Here’s what it looks like from the front.

I mean, I did do a pretty kick-ass job on THIS measurement… so… there’s that…

I decided that I was ok with the parallel design instead of the criss-cross. *sigh* Honestly, I didn’t want to do the whole thing all over again, especially after I hand stitched that secondary panel down.

Seeing how things went to heck on the first cushion, I intentionally spaced the straps on the second cushion so that they WERE lined up to be parallel. That looked like this:

Yeah… that’s pretty… different…

BUT no puckering! Just nice and flat. I didn’t want to go back and fix the first one. Maybe one day, when I’m REALLY bored I will. For now, it works.

LAST STEP: VELCROOOO

Pro tip: Don’t sew with the velcro that has adhesive on the back. It’s impossible to get any needle through (even on a powerful sewing machine). Plus, things get all gunky-sticky and messy. Get yourself some non-adesive velcro and be done with it.

And now, for the final reveal…

OOOHHHHH BOOYYYYY

And it’s comfortable too!

Thank you for adventuring with me through this experience! Stay tuned for Matt’s weekly woodworking blog every Tuesday at 10 am. You can also check out his entertaining daily Spelling Bee blog here.

My essay for the $1000 to watch home improvement shows

I wrote in my Spelling Bee post on Thursday that I was pretty certain I didn’t win the contest to get paid $1000 to watch home improvement shows. I wrote this as my submission essay on April 11, 2021.

“You like home improvement, home improvement shows, and you like to write!” said my fiancee this morning as we drove around to scout out possible outdoor venues. “When we get home, write to them,” she insisted. So here I am, hammering away at my computer, in the living room of our 1+1, much-postponed wedding finally on the horizon.

In most aspects of my life, I like to take things that are distressed and make them shine. I do that in my professional life as an accountant who specializes in bringing startups from something cobbled together (think: Tarek El-Moussa saying, “This whole place has been trashed–and there’s no way this add-on is permitted.”) to being something investors care about (think: the end of every episode of every show in this list). In my personal life, I like to scope the free stuff section on craigslist and take pieces of furniture that look pretty grim (think: every kitchen that’s way too narrow and doesn’t have an island) and turn it into something usable (the end of every episode). I even document my progress in weekly installments on my ThatShipHasSunk blog.

After our wedding this summer, my fiancee and I will be looking to get out of this place where the kitchen drawers are much too tall and vertical blinds fall off when someone sneezes and where I have to stop in the middle of writing this to pull out the staple gun to fix an unsupported chipboard drawer bottom (sure, fixing stuff is fun, but having to do so because knives are falling into a cabinet isn’t). The shows we watch give us insight into what we can do and what we might want to do in a place of our own. We each like to cook and bake, so the kitchen ideas from all the shows give us inspiration on how to have a functioning kitchen where we can work in tandem. Also advice on how to structure our bedroom so that we can have the storage we want while keeping our shins free from bruises is never unappreciated.

“A website is offering $1,000 for someone to binge-watch home improvement shows,” I read to my fiancee as we took the turns of Mulholland Drive in her Nissan Versa, and I continued the CNN article my dad sent to me. “Really, do it.” As though I needed all the convincing.

Personal appeal to the #nytspellingbee / #hivemind community: Please stop posting Queen Bee scores!

Blacking out the scores is so easy!

I understand the desire to brag about getting to Queen Bee. I get it exceedingly rarely, so I know it’s a major accomplishment. Promote your accomplishments for sure!

The issue I have is that I happen upon the scores that yield the Queen Bee badge. I don’t want to know those scores. I don’t want hints. I don’t want solutions without agreeing to get them. I see the spoilers, and I don’t feel like I’ve agreed to seeing that.

Now, posting stuff has been a journey for me. When I started off, nobody cared what I had to write. And appropriately so. I didn’t even realize that it was an issue for me to have as the featured image of a blog post that day’s NYT Crossword grid.

But then people started to read what I write.

And someone reached out in horror that I’d post the solution in a non-hidden way. I, too, was horrified that I’d ruined others’ enjoyment of solving the crossword and forever changed what I use as the featured image.

When I post screenshots from my phone, I block out the score and the words I’ve gotten.

I schedule my blog to post at 11:58pm so I don’t interfere with anyone’s fun for that day.

Today it really got me when I saw that there were lots of posts with the Queen Bee final scores. Some within an hour of midnight. If that weren’t enough, one that was posted only about an hour after the puzzle was released had the final score both in the screenshot and the tweet text.

I know that a solution is to delete twitter/not use twitter. Some might advise not to follow people who post scores early in the day.

I am not going to stay off twitter because that’s not a reasonable solution.

And I don’t have to follow the people who post their scores to see them. I see those tweets accidentally when people like the tweets or reply to them. So I’m stuck.

I like being part of the #hivemind community. I really do. I like that we have a thing to solve every day, and I like the camaraderie. I enjoy having something to write about to daily, too.

I’m not saying don’t brag about Queen Bee. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t post screenshots of the Queen Bee badge. My feeling is what I wrote at the beginning of this: Promote your accomplishments for sure!

My request is that people not post the word count and score.

I used to try to solve for Queen Bee, but knowing what it takes to get there takes part of the fun away from me.

I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

I’m not going to reply to all those tweets with this request. This will serve as my appeal to the community to be considerate of those of us who don’t want hints.

Maybe twitter should have a spoiler feature like on reddit. Then it would be easy for all.

Thanks for reading this, and happy solving!

-Matt

Upholstery: Calah made cushions! And wrote about them! (Part 3)

If you recall from last week, I had successfully made the cushion cover. It was just lacking the thing that makes a cushion a cushion… the foam. So, that’s what I’ll be talking about today!

Step 3: Somehow put the foam into the cover I just made. Sounds pretty simple… right?… anyone?… hello out there?

My plan was to use the sewing machine as much as possible to secure those seams before I had to hand-stitch anything because I knew that whatever the machine did, it would be 10,000,000 times stronger than whatever my two hands could do… and especially since the cushions will face a future life of constant sitting, leaning, shearing, and other inevitable forces, I wanted them to have the best chance of surviving at LEAST 10 individual buttocks interactions before I had to fix them/replace them. So that’s what you will see in the first picture below. I kept the two ends open for hand stitching, thinking that those areas would experience the least amount of stress (Is that factual? I haven’t the slightest clue. But it sounds good, right? If you do actually know the answer, comment below and set me straight.). As we speak, they are still intact and holding their own! Time will tell, but I have a good feeling about their longevity.

Cushion-tube right-side out and ready to stuff! That’s my arm wearing the tube like a sleeve to help facilitate the foam-shoving activity.
Just a few adjustments here and there, but the foam is pretty much where I want it to be.
Do you see that wrinkling there in the corner? I don’t like it.

Once I adjusted the foam to be exaclty lined up with the corners and edges, I folded the two open edges and began to hand stitch them closed. It was here where I learned the value of thimbles. I had never used them before, though, I was aware of their existence. I had to hand stitching the thick bulk of secondary and fancy fabrics all rolled up on the ends of the cushion. This can get to be pretty tough to push through with just your bare fingers. And even though there was a decent amount of swelling at my J&J injection site (I’m like the Hulk now, but just in one arm because J&J is a one shot deal so I list), my rippling bicep didn’t stand a chance. Trust me, get yourself a thimble… your fingers will thank you.

The wrinkling you saw in the previous photo bothered me a lot. All of my other corners were smooth and lovely, but that one darned corner would just not do. Honestly, I am not 100% certain where I went wrong, but I suspect that I didn’t fold and close the ends as nicely as I could have when I was hand stitching.

My first cushion’s carcass.

Just to be sure, I performed a cesarian on the cushion, freed the foam from the wrinkled case, and made a brand new cover that fit JUST RIGHT.

BEHOLD:

Pretty darned cool, right? I thought so too.

And here are both cushions!

That wrinkling in the bottom cushion’s lower right-hand corner was resolved with a slight adjustment to the placement of the foam inside.

And then to see if I actually made something worthwhile…

Wait for it…
Boom.

I placed the cushion against the back of the chair to see how it looked, and man… it looked pretty sweet. At that point, I was pretty darned pleased that what I had envisoned in my head ACTUALLY looked like what I had made in reality. That doesn’t happen often for me. So after my victory lap around our one bedroom apartment, I started to brainstorm ideas on how to make my beautiful (and comfy) cushions stay put on the chair.

Join me next week for part 4!

Lessons learned: Thimbles are very helpful, and needles are still pretty sharp.

Sad Panda/Open Eye -OR- The University of San Francisco Cites My Blog (Part 2)

So there it was. That’s why I was Sad Panda.

Sad panda: This webpage is not useful–it is a random person’s self-published post.

I was crushed. I had been so proud to be cited. But then I learned I was cited as… sad panda.

That feeling was ephemeral.

It was quickly replaced by: Holy shit! They needed a sad panda and chose me! They’re getting people to read me.

But I reread my post, and I didn’t really like being Sad Panda. It didn’t seem just.

“This webpage is not useful–it is a random person’s self-published post.

Self-published post? I’m with you. Not useful? I disagree.

Now, long-time readers of this blog are well aware that my writing mainly is about the Spelling Bee and about woodworking projects. There are a lot of crossword posts, too, but I don’t do them as regularly as I used to due to increased demands on my time.

But there are many posts on here that are about real issues. One series is about the Trump-era change to add a fee to asylum seekers. I don’t think that it has changed under Biden, but I hope that it will.

Another topic is Prop 22.

I hadn’t read the post since around the time it was published in August of last year, and when I reread it, it was better than I’d remembered. It started from an email I’d received from Lyft that seemed sketchy. And I remembered a lesson my folks taught me from an early age about being educated by a salesperson: The salesperson is interested in making a sale, so it’s important to think critically about the the content of the pitch and that it’s OK not to buy right then.

So I broke down the sales pitch nature of the Lyft email and how absurd it was. I also shared independent research I’d done to satisfy my own curiosity. I’m biased, but of all the stuff I’ve written, that one was a good post!

The alternatives to Sad Panda were either too reliable or too conspiracy theory-ey.

I reached out to the University of San Francisco librarian who seemed to be in charge of the program to see how she even found me. She claimed to have found me on google. I don’t even know how I rated at such a high level on google.

But I expressed how at first I didn’t think it was fair to confine the classifications to those four because it prohibited the combination of self-published and helpful but that then I realized that it was a group projects thing that would require a conversation about which category to choose.

So it’s good that there are so few categories. And it’s great that mine isn’t clearly in one category.

While my post really must be Sad Panda if restricted to these options, it should be in the conversation for Open Eye. It should be far from Poison and nowhere close to Mola Ram.

Mola Ram from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

All in all, my dad was proud that he saw my sister’s employer (Los Angeles Times) on the second tab and my blog on the third. Both his children represented in an assignment from a school none of us has attended.


Happy birthday to Darren!