Thursday, October 15, 2015

Matching headboard

Regular readers might remember that sometime back I built a bench for the foot of our bed. At the time I mentioned that we had a queen size mattress but were thinking of upgrading to a king size. The issue was that Peg likes a firmer mattress and I like a softer one. I thought about one of those Sleep Number beds where each side is adjustable as to firmness. I priced them, however, and realized that it would be cheaper to buy a car and sleep in there. Then, as luck would have it we were up visiting Abigail in Washington D.C. We stayed in a Marriott hotel and we both liked the bed. I looked for a tag on the mattress. It was a Serta but didn't have a model name or number. Peg looked on the Serta website and they said that if you stayed in a hotel and liked the mattress you could call Serta and order the same model direct from them. So I did.

Now, however, the pressure was on. I had to actaully make the headboard to match the bench that I had been talking about. I had enough cherry left over, and enough caning so I did it, and here are the pictures to show you.

I didn't have any 8/4 cherry so I made the posts by doubling the 4/4. These are the posts with mortices for the lower rail.

I cut one of the two 4/4 pieces shorter than the other giving me a way to overlap the upper rail. Here you can see one of the completed posts with a groove cut for one of the panels. You can also see the three stiles with their tenons and grooves cut.

Here's how I made the panels. I used half inch plywood. I glued the caning to one side and cut rabbets along the edges of the other side to fit into the grooves.

 Here is the lower rail with tenons and groove cut.

And here you can see one of the mortices in the lower rail, cut to accept the tenon on the stile.

Here are most of the pieces, ready to assemble.

And now the posts, lower rail, and stiles are glued together and ready for the panels to be inserted.

As no good deed goes unpunished I imposed on my friend Jim (who helped me with the Historic Spanish Point benches) to help me glue on the top rail. This glue-up was particularly exciting because we had to get the tenons on the three stiles into the three mortices, while at the same time getting the top rail aligned exactlly with the posts all before the glue dried. You can never have too many hands or too many clamps.

Next I cut grooves to fasten the header to the top rail using biscuits. To the uninitiated, buscuits are oval shaped pieces of compressed wood. When glue is applied to the grooves and the biscuit inserted, it swells and that in combination with the glue hold the joint firmly.

Six coats of polyurethane later and it's ready to go.

Ta-Daa. The finished product, matching bench, and hotel mattress.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Benches for Historic Spanish Point

Some of you may recall that a while back I made a model of the HSP (Historic Spanish Point) orange sorter. They wanted to use it for their outreach program to take it to schools, nursing homes, and that kind of thing.

HSP has beautiful grounds that are part of the land that had been owned by Bertha Honore Palmer, the wife of Potter Palmer who built the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. Besides being popular for historical tours and the like, they have facilities for weddings and other such gatherings. They have a small chapel the stained glass windows of which were the inspiration for one of the stained glass lanterns that I blogged about some months back.

Well, in order to better support (no pun intended) the gatherings they host there, HSP asked me to make some benches. I asked, with some trepidation, what they wanted the benches to be like. The reason for my fear dates back 25 years or so. I was going to build a swing set/climbing platform etc. in our back yard for the kids to play on. I thought it would be a good opportunity for them to learn about the design and planning process for such  project. We sat down and collected a bunch of ideas about what things they wanted to include, how many levels, how tall, how many swings and so forth. Then we drew pictures to scale from different angles of how it would look. Finally we built a small model to help work out the construction details. They agreed that that it was just what they wanted.

Then I went to work. It took me a few weeks of weekends but finally it was done. I hung the swings, fastened the ladders and climbing ropes, checked to make sure there were no rough spots or slivers, and then invited the kids out to try it. They came running out and as they got close they stopped dead in their tracks. They said, "Where's the slide?" I asked what slide they were talking about. They said they thought there was going to be a slide. I took them back in the house and we reviewed the list of desired features we had developed at the start of the project -- no slide. I showed them the drawings. Then we looked at the model. I pointed out that there was no slide on either of those. They allowed as how that while that was true it should have been obvious that a structure like this should have a slide.

Fade out 25 years ago, fade in present day. Scarred as I am from that episode I always nervous when someone wants something built but don't have too firm and idea as to what exactly it should be.

In this case my fears were completely unfounded. Kara at HSP had found exactly what she was looking for on the web at

What's more, the website included a dimensioned drawing and, much to my surprise the material costs really were around $15.

Kara brought the HSP truck and she and I went to Lowes and bought all the stuff.

I went into production line mode and cut all the pieces.

Mercifully, my friend Jim from across the street stopped by to see what was going on and volunteered to pitch in. We worked together over a number of days, improving our efficiency with each bench we completed.

Here are the first nine.

And here are the last sixteen. Kara seems pleased with them, and if she's happy, I'm happy. Thanks again to Jim for all his help, and thanks to for a solid design.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Kite pictures with a Raspberry Pi Camera

My brother Jim and his family were down here in Florida and we got it into our heads that it would be fun to take some aerial pictures. Now that I'm retired I'm too cheap to buy a GoPro and a multicopter, and besides those copters are just too annoying.

I cooked up a python program on one of my Raspberry Pi single board computers that would snap a picture once a second. The PiCamera has a resolution of about 5 megapixels.

Then my brother and his two kids figured out a way to rig it to a kite that I had bought when I was living in Singapore.

Here is a picture south along the beach near the apogee of the flight. The kite string is visible on the right.

This is Venice, Florida looking east.

Jim's neighborhood, with his house in the middle distance.

A nice view of the Gulf of Mexico and a few July 4th weekend beachgoers.

Jim and my nephew and myself discussing some crucial landing parameters.

Me and the kite nearly reunited.

My niece and nephew wrestling the kite back into its storage bag.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Stained glass

I'm sorry for not posting for a while. My everyday computer got jumped by Mr. Dead. I've therefore been somewhat discombobulated however all is now sorted out . . . and I am thus recombobulated. Then we had our three daughters and son-in-law down for Easter.

Peg and I took a class in making stained glass. This is what happens when you're retired and so have too much time on your hands. We have this courtyard around the pool at our house. We often eat dinner out there, and entertain as well as use the pool and the outdoor kitchen. We have lights under the eaves but we were looking for something a little more subtle. We put candles on the tables and that led us to the idea of making some lanterns to put the candles in, which led us to the stained glass class. Or at least that's the way I remember it.

Neither Peg nor I go in much for tchotchke, and after looking through the pattern books that seems to be stained glass' stock-in-trade. Thus, I think the lanterns will be our final projects for the moment. I'm glad I now know the techniques, however, so if some huge money-making opportunity opens up in the stained glass arena, I'm ready to take it on.

Here are some pictures of the ones that we made. 

Peg made these using a combination of stained glass and fused glass techniques. Fused glass involves partially melting glass in a kiln to soften the edges and (as the name implies) fuse the pieces together.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Talking Computer Assistant -- Success!

I know it's been a while since I posted anything. It's not that I haven't been working on things, I just haven't been able to get anything finished. Well, something has finally come together.

Back in May of last year I blogged about a project that I had been working on to build a talking assistant that would read my Google Calendar and remind me of events that were coming up. I had it working reasonably well, but as I was about to tell you all about it it stopped working. It seemed to be a change that Google make to its speech-to-text software that caused the problem. I was already kind of sick of working on it, and that was the last straw so I set it aside.

I went back to it recently and it looks like I have it working. As I mentioned last May, I was inspired by and article in Make Magazine Volume 30 by George Tempesta about building a Notification Alert Generator or NAG. As I just mentioned, I wanted to take it further and have it read the information from my Google Calendar. I needed more horsepower so I based it on a Raspberry Pi Linux computer, and I call it the NAGPi.

The first time I come into my office on a given day (it detects my presence with a Passive Infrared Sensor like is used in burglar alarm systems) it asks whether I want to review my calendar. If I don't it goes back to sleep and asks me later. If I do it goes through the reminders from my Google Calendar one at a time and asks me whether I want to keep it or delete it. If I keep it the NagPi will remind me about it again next time.

Below is a video demonstrating the NagPi. There isn't really anything to watch on this device but Blogspot doesn't have a provision for uploading audio files so I did a video just to show you how it works.

Again, I want to thank three people for their ideas and guidance on this project. First, George Tempesta for his article in Make, then Dan Fountain for teaching me to use Google text-to-speech and finally Steven Hickson for his exhaustive work on controlling a Raspberry Pi with one's voice.