Jan 18

I made this

Late last summer I almost, but not quite impulsively, because that’s as impulsive as I manage to get, decided to build something. I needed a project, which was the larger point, something I could tangibly touch and shape. I also needed the end product, which was more of a secondary benefit of the thing, really.

So I went to the site of some new condominiums that are being built nearby and I found the construction foreman. He looked at me like I was crazy, but he ultimately let me pick through some of his wood pallets. (There are safety considerations to follow.) I took nine of them home:

DIY Desk

Now, I found my project by looking at the work of others, and I talked to one of the guys who inspired the look. He said his took him about 20 hours of work. So I figured a super productive, hard, long weekend would get me close.


I started disassembling the pallets and it took just under an hour per unit. And then I found a faster way, which saved a significant amount of time, but it still wasn’t the best or easiest way. It was tedious, hot and tiring. Eventually, though, I had them all broken down to their many pieces of rugged lumber.

DIY Desk

These pallets had been used to haul in exterior stone and who knows what else at a construction site. Like other pallets there is the possibility that they’d had other jobs before them, too. So they were beaten up pretty good. But I’ve washed them and sawed them and then removed all of the nails from the slats. That step alone took the entirety of my super productive, hard, long weekend.

Now, I’m doing this with nothing more, so far, than a skill saw, a hammer and a pry bar. I just bought a belt sander, which will come into play later. I’d originally considered a hand planer, but I’m ultimately glad I didn’t go that direction. I also needed a table saw and something to clean up the edges. Because look at this stuff:

DIY Desk

This sent me on a fairly interesting search. I found what amounts to a local woodworking and metalworking cooperative. Burl and Ingot is a private club that you can join, but they have an open house on Wednesday nights. The general principle is “Come in, do what you need, then get on with your life.” This was perfect for my needs. I spent three Wednesday nights up there, the first, a six-hour session with a jointer, cleaning up the long sides of the slats, and then two shorter evenings cleaning up the narrow ends and cutting for size on a table saw. They look a bit better now, don’t they?

DIY Desk

Not all of those pieces would make it into the final project, which is a shame in a way, but the whole of the work was just a big exercise in taking things as they come. It really was a “the universe provides” sort of effort, which might be a phrase I’ve probably never uttered before.

This completed the second phase of the project, though. And, as usual, that means you have to move on to the third phase. The third phase was really the first point that had some no-going-back elements to it. So I’d talked with a lot of people and even made some paper models and tried every which way possible to find a flaw in my logic. Because I could not find a flaw, I assumed it must be an important one.

Anyway, I measured everything over and over and then started drilling. Four holes in each slate, at particular distances, both from the ends and from the top. This had to be close to very, accurate, because the lumber was going to line up on half-inch threaded rods, like this:

DIY Desk

You can see a bit of the progress as I built it out from the center:

DIY Desk

Of the nine pallets, all of the slats that survived the removal process made it on to the rods. If anything at this stage I was wishing I’d gotten three or four more pallets for size and selectivity, but its working so far. Here it is with almost all of the pieces on it:

DIY Desk

To add some more size and character, and to just use some of the decent pieces of lumber, I put some two-by-fours on each side. This was the only place I really erred on any of the lumber.

DIY Desk

Late on the last night of phase three I managed to put one of the two-by-fours on backward and didn’t realize it until too late. The piece got wedged in the threaded rods and wouldn’t get all the way home. I forced it on such that I couldn’t get it off after I realized the problem. I had to cut the thing apart to remove it. And that meant putting on a backup piece. But other than that, things are still going well. Here’s all of the lumber assembled:

DIY Desk

Which leads us to no one’s favorite part of a project, the sanding. I bought a belt sander, and it is pretty incredible. I hit the top with an 80-grit belt, and then a 100- and 200-grit belt. You’d hardly know from the tops that this wood had an industrial job in its previous life:

DIY Desk

And then I started exactly no one’s other favorite part of a project, the hand sanding. But this ultimately became meditative. I was working board by board, counting sanding strokes. It became time-intensive.

DIY Desk

I spent more than those mythical 20 hours sanding, over-sanding probably. But I ultimately fell in love with the process here and took it as an opportunity to really come to know each individual piece of wood. There was something intimate and personal about it, probably because there are so many different kinds of wood in here, and there’s a lot of personality to them. Some pieces are warped; some are straight as, well, a board. Some have knots; some are showing other signs of distress. Some pieces were reacting to the sanding differently than others. Some pieces are kind of pulpy, so they’ll always feel a bit fibrous. Some, after all of those passes on the belt sander and then methodical hand sanding from 80-grit all the way to 400-grit, feel like glass.

DIY Desk

I was going to stain some of the pieces, but after all that hands-on time I began to enjoy the natural colors too much. But around this point I found a problem. I decided not to even up the bottom edges. I’d sanded them a bit, but I didn’t make them a uniform size. It was a shortcut and that shortcut created the problem.

DIY Desk

The problem is that there is a stability problem. If I had evened up the bottom, my stepfather told me, I could put in a piece or two of angle iron and reinforce the half-inch threaded rods. You would have thought four rods would have done the trick. But I didn’t, so I can’t. My solution was to get some angle iron and attach it in sections, not pictured.

And that led to the final phase, which was the actual finishing. Now, this went on for far too long, because there are some obvious points of no return. Plus, I’m an agonizer. There must be tests, re-tests. There must be mixtures and multiple coatings of tests and discarding of bad runs and then, finally, just getting sick of it and doing it.

So I stained the two-by-fours on the ends:

DIY Desk

And then I had to find a good solution for the finish. Polyurethane can tint some types of lumber. And I didn’t want to have that huge, thick, liquid finish. Finally, and I do mean finally, I found a clear coat, somewhat expensive, that worked really well. I put on about seven coats of this General Finishes product. It has a protective quality, is reputed to be highly durable, and it left the wood looking natural. Here it is, from overhead.

DIY Desk

The last thing to do, then, was to saw off the ends of the threaded rods and put some caps on them. And then, we carried it upstairs.

DIY Desk

So what started as an almost-impulsive decision to make something, something I could see and control and create. Also, I needed a desk, because I’ve previously been using two old printer stands as a desk. No, you couldn’t write on it, for some of the tiny gaps in the slats. Yes, a few of the pieces are warped like that — this was construction pallet lumber, after all. And yes, the desktop is flat. That’s what all the measuring and sanding was about. It’s a typing desk and a reading desk and, maybe, a place to put my mixing board. It is 32 inches deep and about 48 inches wide and it’ll work just fine for that.

The legs? Oh, I bought the legs. IKEA. That solved the second real problem of the project. Which, hey, I managed to finish the thing with only two problems and all of my fingers.

And now I want to build all of the things. I’ve bought a jigsaw! And I’ve made a wine rack and a miniature bench and some cool business card holders. Up next I’m going to make a funky ambient light for my desk and who knows what else.

Hopefully none of them will take as long as this desk did.

Oct 14

There is no candy to mark the season

We discussed press conferences in class today. The students will take part in a faux-press conference on Monday. The director of Public Safety will brief them on an on-campus issue. It all stems from a training exercise the emergency folks on campus and in the surrounding communities do every year.

I don’t miss police media conferences. Police officers and fire department folks and the various hardworking people who are involved in those types of stories don’t give very good quotes. They have plenty of good reasons to be careful with what they say — they don’t know everything yet, they have to protect the investigation and they don’t want to be the biggest part of a story among other things — but that doesn’t help the people working on stories very much.

I found, if you interact with the same public information officers enough you can almost produce the story without them there. You learn their quotes and phrases and know where this answer goes and on and on.

Of course you must ask questions, even the ones where you already know the answer: I can’t discuss the ongoing investigation, the officer patiently answers for the hundred time this year.

Press conferences with lawyers aren’t much more entertaining. The things aren’t meant to be entertaining, of course, but still everyone wants to be amused once in a while. So I told stories today about some of the three-ring circus press conferences of which I’ve taken part. That will not be what you have in class Monday, I said.

Big department meeting at the end of the day. I take minutes. I think I wrote five pages of minutes. The first year I did that I typed seven minutes thinking “Haha! I won’t be asked to do this anymore! MUHAHA!”

And I’ve done it every time since.

They are flying the Union Jack in Sherman Circle on campus. This is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the university’s international studies program in London.


It might be a bit difficult to tell in that light, but this particular flag has silver in it. Wikipedia explains:

The first rule of heraldic design is the rule of tincture: metal should not be put on metal, nor colour on colour (Humphrey Llwyd, 1568). This means that Or and argent (gold and silver, which are represented by yellow and white) may not be placed on each other; nor may any of the colours (i.e. azure, gules, sable, vert and purpure) be placed on another colour.

I’d always thought the white part had symbolism, but it is a design rule. I learned something after 5 p.m. today!

Sherman Circle, in the main entrance to campus, is named in honor of Samuel S. Sherman, Howard College’s first president, who served from 1842 until 1853. He is perhaps still most locally famous for putting “feet to his prayers.” He rolled a wheelbarrow around Marion, the first location of the university about 81 miles away by car, collecting books for the first library.

(Yes, there is also an American flag flying.)

Up from Sherman Circle is the Centennial Walk. In the middle ground is the popular statue of Mr. Ralph Waldo Beeson, an insurance man who gave Samford millions of dollars over the years. That’s a 1990 newspaper article talking about his posthumous donations and his legendary frugality. He made his money building up Liberty Insurance, a regional fixture, which was founded by Frank Samford, Sr., the university’s namesake.

Anyway, behind the Beeson statue is the Davis Library, and on either side of the quad you’re surrounded by white tents put up ahead of tomorrow’s homecoming festivities:


This is just showing off:


Stopped at the grocery store for soup. Our neighborhood is famous among the gimme-candy set. I can’t imagine why:


I got in around 7:30. We missed the young kids, who are the best part of the Halloween order around here. Right about that time is when the older kids come out. Some of them were lingering in the neighbor’s yard when I got home. I generally want to tell them to go get jobs, buy the candy they want and boo-humbug. Our lights were already out. The candy was gone. The night was done. I’ll be asleep by 10 p.m. for a change.

Mar 12

Catching up

Another beautiful day here, how has your weekend turned out? Hope the weather is lovely, hope you got a dose of this. I hope you don’t mind if we hang on to it for, roughly, ever.

This is the day on the site where I throw a bunch of pictures on here that haven’t otherwise been featured from this week. Sometimes there is context, sometimes there is a theme. Often they are just pictures I thought were worth uploading. Enjoy!

The bird feeder has attracted a couple of sets of cardinals. And now we’ll find out how territorial they are:


Fans at a baseball game. The little one needs a bit of directional practice, but she’ll get there.


They thought it was beach night at the park and so a dozen or so college kids blamed her for talking them into wearing their floral prints. Turns out she was unjustly accused. It was beach night. No one else knew it:


The guy that made our cable and Internet problems all better. For now, at least:


I do a lot of pictures of the cat, so I thought I’d show her off as a watercolor. I was pecking away at something in the library and she was fascinated by the dramatic bird chatter going on just beyond her reach:


You want fries with that? At Publix:


A sliver of the moon. Jupiter and Venus were shining brightly over it, but the photographs didn’t do it justice. Mine never do:


Freshman Daniel Koger threw three perfect innings today against LSU. He had three unearned runs given up behind him, but he had another solid outing today:


Aubie is looking for a series sweep:


But he would not find it. For the third game in a row LSU-Auburn was in doubt until the last pitch, this one. Kody Ortman had the unenviable task of being put in as a pinch hitter. With the tying run on first Auburn took out a guy that was 2-3 on the day and batting in the .330s for a cold player with about half his average. Ortman hit it well, driving the ball crisply into centerfield:


… but the ball was caught, the game was over. LSU avoided being swept by Auburn for the first time since the Reagan administration with the final, 4-3.

Mar 12

These pictures look perfectly composed to me

I think squirrels need Instagram treatments too:


For the record: I do Instagram the old-fashioned way. I shoot through a window screen and lower the shutter speed on the camera to kill the exposure. I’m an old school member of pointless photographs.

I was about to step outside and take this picture in the last of the high evening’s dying light, but the cat snuck out behind me. She sits and watches squirrels and birds all day. Sometimes she gets agitated by this and meeps and peeps at them. We think this is cute. And then we read it is frustration.

I felt bad about that once, for about 25 minutes, and then I remembered how often she wakes me up in the middle of the night, just to show off how good of a “hunter” she is that she found and retrieved one of her toys. I stopped feeling bad about it after that.

Anyway, I was stepping outside, Allie sneaked out around me. You’d think with that much time staring at the wildlife she’d consider going out to play with them. “Pickup hoops, anyone?” Or at least chase them. But no. This cat just goes outside and rolls around in the dirt.

Our cat thinks she’s a dog.

Baseball night. Auburn, fresh off winning a road series against 12th ranked Mississippi, was hosting South Alabama for the Tuesday contest. Determined not to look ahead to this weekend’s homestand against 12th ranked LSU, the Tigers put John Luke Jacobs on the mound.

He pitched shutout baseball for eight innings, allowing only three hits and two walks. He struck out 11:


A five run fifth inning cracked it open for Auburn and the Tigers rolled to a 7-0 victory. (Jacobs, as the Tuesday starter, leads the team in strikeouts, and leads Auburn’s starters in hits, runs and home runs allowed, opponent batting average, ERA.)

By this point, unfortunately, I’ve noticed a suddenly less-than-good feeling for the evening. So this is abbreviated, but I’m going to go try and sleep off this general feeling of mild blah.

Mar 12

“We must be caught up.”

This guy was outside this morning:


In the afternoon I rode my little bicycle, turning the wheels around and around for what little I’m worth. I did an out-and-back, just down the long, hilly road from my neighborhood, out of town, past a handful of deputy sheriffs, through the neighboring town and than through two unincorporated communities. When I got to the point that was the farthest I’ve been on this particular road I felt great and pressed on.

And if the pros romanticize riding the cobblestones of Europe I invite them to enjoy the neglected country roads of this part of the world.

I road on a stretch that was little more than beaten shale until it turned into a still-smelling-of-tar new blacktop. It wasn’t much better, despite being brand new. Finally I had to turn around, riding over new asphalt covered in the red clay that means I’d traveled through at least three different soil regions.

On the way home I landed a sponsor, of sorts. I stopped at one of the crossroads gas stations to enjoy the shade and the last little bit of water. The guy working the till was sitting on a bench outside and invited me in to top off from the sink. So, Alice Faye’s Grocery, you guys are the best. And for the water refill and two handfuls of ice, I’ll mention you a lot. Also, I’ll stop back by, when I’m not in lycra, and buy a few things.

By the time I got home I’d managed 50 miles. And only the last few were uncomfortable. For the first 44 or so I felt as good as I ever have on the bike. I even set a personal best average speed over the course of the ride. It is still slow. I am not a very good cyclist.

At home the cable was out. A technician was due between 5-7 p.m. While we waited a contractor for the cable company showed up to bury the line the tech left in our yard on Saturday. He was scheduled for April but, as he said, “We must be caught up.”

This was a man of dirt and grass and heavy machinery. He has a dispatcher who tells him where to go, and that is enough. You have to admire the man’s work. Instead of a bright orange cable sprawled across the property there is now only a narrow cut line where he had to get under the grass. If you didn’t look hard you might not even see it.

As he worked the other guy showed up. And he was mystified.

These problems have persisted since we moved in. We go through a few months of mild problems, and then a long series of very persistent outages. When that happens we have experiences like this, three guys out in three days.

Oh they mean well, and they try hard. There are a few constants in the many visits. Most of them have something unflattering to say about the cable company they work for. They can never figure out the problem. They mostly just undo what the last guy did.

The guy that came out Saturday was little different. He told us the spectrum of numbers our streaming data should be at, and then told us the negative number we were at, which brought about the new cable stretched across the lawn. That worked until today.

The guy today yanked out an amplifier module one of his colleagues installed last year. It isn’t needed anymore, he said, because of the new, and newly buried, cable.

Why this wasn’t a problem for two days he couldn’t say. He couldn’t say a lot, really. He spent much of his time confused about the problem, which can’t be great for his morale. Here’s the customer, here’s the problem, here are your springtime allergens and your cat allergies.

“What is the deal with this?”

It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, granted. But he got everything working in time. The cable got buried, everything is working as it should again. I had turkey for dinner. Life is good.

Also, we had this visitor today: