My Name in Lights (or print)

Over the fall of 2017 I did my first editing job. My professor, Barb Horvath, had passed along an email from former student and current member of the University of Minnesota’s Technical Communication Advisory Board (TCAB), Jim Hall. Jim was looking for a student to provide copy, proof, and substantive editing for a book he was writing on Information Technology Leadership.

I thought editing a book seemed like a good project. I had skills to offer, and liked the idea of expanding my editing experience. I messaged Jim, we came up with a process for editing and revisions, and then we started in on the book. Over the next few months, we collaborated. Jim would compile his documents, and I would look for errors and areas that could flow better. It worked out really well, and I got a lot out of it.

And now, a few short months after we started, the book Coaching Buttons is available for purchase!

I have to admit it’s kind of weird (and thrilling) to see my name in print. Hopefully this is just the first of many interesting books I am involved with!

Project: Fretless bass guitar

In the late summer of 2016, after a very long layoff from music, I decided to purchase an inexpensive bass guitar. I found someone selling an Ibanez GIO on Craigslist for around $50. I thought that was a reasonable point of entry, so I bought the guitar and also picked up a small Fender amp from Guitar Center.

The Problem

I got the bass-bug, and ended up purchasing two more cheap bass guitars off eBay, with the intention of modifying them at some point. What I initially envisioned was a setup like Mark Sandman‘s bass: Two strings, custom tuned, and played with a slide. I may still end up doing that at some point, however, what I ended up doing first was converting one bass to fretless.

As an aside: If you’re unfamiliar with the band Morphine, I highly recommend looking into them. They are one of my favorite bands of the 1990s due to their unique noir sound.

The Planning

I had made a couple tweaks to this particular bass already. I changed out both the potentiometers from the original 500K Ohm to 250K Ohm ones. Additionally, when I added the tone capacitor, I opted to install a socket so I could experiment with different capacitors. I’ve played with the capacitor values, but haven’t found one that makes a significant difference in treble cutoff.

Attached to the back of the right potentiometer is the socket with a small capacitor installed.

I read up on fretless conversions, scouring the bass player forums for posts by people who had done it. Mostly what I learned was people can’t agree to anything online. So I took the ideas that made the most sense to me and ran with them. In particular, once the frets are removed the fingerboard, there’s a significant loss in structural integrity. (In addition to being rough surface.) So what do you fill the slots with? Putty? Epoxy? Sawdust and carpenter’s glue? Maybe even superglue? Eventually I found the idea I liked best: use slips of polystyrene and superglue them into the fret slots. With this plan in mind I set to work.

The Project

I called the local hobby store to make sure they had 0.020″ polystyrene sheets available (they did) and picked those up. I’d already pried the frets out, so, all that i needed to do was glue the styrene in place, sand and finish the neck, then bolt her back together.
I used a Japanese style pull saw to clean out the fret grooves before gluing the styrene in.

Frets removed, and slots cleaned out. Fingerboard radius gauges on the right.

The process I used to the styrene inserts was to cut strips that were slightly wider than the neck, and about 1/4″ thick. I had WAY more styrene than needed, so conservation of materials didn’t come into play.

Gluing the styrene strips into the grooves.

The whole neck filled with styrene slips. On the 19th and 21st frets, you can see where I filled voids with sawdust and superglue.

Once the glue had set, it was a matter of trimming the styrene down and fairing the fingerboard.

The styrene trimmed down to a sandable level.

To maintain the curvature of the fingerboard, I used a radiused sanding block which matches the fingerboard’s convex shape. After knocking down the rough bits and ensuring the entire length of the board was being sanded, I moved through several grits of sandpaper. Starting with 80 grit, and working my way up to 220.

I believe this was somewhere in the 150 grit range. Starting to feel pretty smooth.

Once the fingerboard was sufficiently smoothed out, I applied three or four coats of wipe-on polyurethane, letting each coat thoroughly cure before sanding with 220 grit paper, and applying another coat. After making a huge dusty mess in my office, I was finally ready to bolt the neck back on, and try it out!

All done, and looking alright.

My completed custom fretless bass.

Project: Table riser

The Problem

My good friend Nick is an avid board gamer and enjoys hosting game nights at his house. He had helped fund a Kickstarter for the Duchess gaming table. The setup he envisioned for his house was a bar-height table with stools. Essentially, he needed a way to raise his top of his table about 10 inches, and came to me for advice on how to do that.

The Planning

I thought the most stable solution would be to create a box with a lip that ran along the edges so the table couldn’t slide off. I made a quick sketch of that idea, and started brainstorming for lid ideas. I figured since the riser would be a big box, it should have large access panels for storage. I toyed with using a piano hinge to have doors that opened, though I ended up not going that route.

Table riser


I also made a miniature cardboard mock-up of the plan to show him a 3D representation of the riser.

The Project

On the advice of a friend, I used CutList Plus to help me lay out the cuts for HomeDepot to hit with their panel saw. You enter in the dimensions of the pieces you need for your project, and the application figures out the most effective way to cut it from standard size stock. Really, the riser was such a basic thing, I don’t think was necessary, however, if I had a more complex task I would likely use the software again.Rather than taking home full sheets of MDF for the riser, most lumber / big box hardware stores will have a panel saw and can cut the full 4 by 8 foot panels down. This makes transporting the stock materials much easier. I managed to fit all the sections plus scrap into the back of the Subaru.

I love having an Outback. So handy.

I try to start all my assembly projects by organizing the pieces and test fitting before i get out the nail gun or the glue.

MDF stock and tools ready to start assembly.

It’s difficult to see in the smaller pic here, but I have laid out the pattern for the lids. Straightforward geometry, mostly. I think three inches from the short side, and four or five on the long side. I used an old coffee can to get the radius on the corners. It’s not fancy, but it works.

Guide lines sketched onto the riser top.

View of the inside of the riser. All the table’s weight is going to be at the four corners. The table will rest on the MDF top, which rests on the 2 x 4 support chine. (I’m not sure if you would those chines in non-boat-building woodwork, but that’s what I know them as. Woodworkers: please feel free to correct me.)
The point I was attempting to make before derailing myself with lexical semantics, is this riser is incredibly robust. Note that there is a a couple inch gap between the top of the 2×4 and the top of the sides. This gives the lip inside which the table rests, keeping it in place.

2×4 sections nailed and glued to the sides.

Test fit of the top within the box frame. Not much to add at this stage other than I breathed a large sigh of relief when the top slid into place. I’m not used to building with a high level of precision. Most of the things I work with have a fairly large margin of error, so I was pleasantly surprised when this came together so nicely.

Test fit of all the parts. I think this might work!

Next I needed to remove the access panels. I still hadn’t exactly decided on how to affix them. I knew They would need some kind of support from inside to keep them from falling in. Even with a hinge, the panels are pretty long, which would have a lot of strain. MDF doesn’t handle torque very well. It tends to burst if used as a lever. So I would need to make some kind of lip for the inside.

Circular saw plunge cuts for the straight lines. Jigsaw for the curves.

Access panels cut out.

Because I wanted to make the nicest possible product for my friend, I went and bought a router. I know, I was basically broke at the time, but I might have been eyeing routers anyway and I figured there no time like the present to add one to my collection. I wasn’t sure how the MDF would react to the router, so here’s my first two test cuts. I was interested to see how the corners would turn out. As it happens, they turned out great.

A word of advice though when using any kind of power tool on MDF: It makes and incredible amount of dust. Make sure you’ve got a dust collection system running, or you’ll be hacking up MDF for weeks.

Testing how the MDF and router play together. As it turns out, they play quite nicely.

Sometime around this point of the process, I decided to forego hinges, and instead have the simplicity of a single finger hole in each panel. Less hardware, less alignment, more wiggle room. All good things in my book.

Finger hole for door. Routed with a 1/4 round bit for comfort.

I keep buying clamps, and I never have enough of them. It’s silly. I should start asking for them for xmas gifts. To prevent the panels from falling through, I added in small MDF strips on 2 sides of each access hole. The center two run the entire width of the top, offering stability to the lid in addition to keeping the lids in place.

Clamping the side and door supports in place. One can never have clamps.

Access panel test fit.

I didn’t have any images of the painting, but really, who wants to see that? What’s far more satisfying is seeing the table riser in action! Behold!

The finished product in all its glory.

Nick asked if I could put in some holes for running electrical up the leg so people could charge their phones while gaming, and fortunately, I measured accurately. This isn’t like me at all! Look at that fit!

Access hole RIGHT where it needed to be. Hooray for accurate measuring in the planning phase.

Project: Pegboard organizers

The Problem

My workspaces are typically messy. I often say if there’s a horizontal surface, I will fill it with things.

I will clean this up when it’s not 20 below zero in my garage… I promise.

To remedy some of this cluttering habit, I try to get things “up”. I’ll use hooks, pegboards, and what-have-you to get items up and off the horizontal surfaces. Getting items up solves two problems:

  1. Everything is now in front of my field of vision. Nice!
  2. It’s harder to bury things on a vertical plane. It can be done, but not as easily.

So, those are great virtues, but pegboards can still get ugly. Especially considering store-bought solutions rarely fit your needs (or tools). Case in point, I had recently purchased several new tools: screwdrivers, spade drill bits, and chisels. They didn’t fit nicely on the old wire pegboard hooks, so I decided to make my own.

The Planning

I didn’t have to plan at all for this one. A former colleague of mine, Ben Brandt, had a video of some custom pegboard shelves he made. Thank you, Ben for the great idea!

I highly recommend checking out Ben’s videos if you’re interested in woodworking, making in general, or getting insight on how makers approach problems.

The Project

Just as Ben described in his video, I picked up some L-hooks, and used whatever scrap I had laying about. I first made a block to hold the spade bits by organising them by width, and then marking the positions on a chunk of scrap 2×4. I beveled the back edge to allow it to come on and off the board.

L-hooks: Little, silver, different.

Test fitting the bits.

Block cut down to size.

Blurry pic of the bevel and L-hook.

Onto the board you go!

I’m planning to re-do the block holding these bits. I had hoped that a double stacked design would be condense the space they took up laterally. Unfortunately, it makes the rear row difficult to access. As I detest unnecessary hindrances to my tools, a redesign is in the cards for this piece.

My second step was making a organizer for all my screwdrivers. I had several with varying size shafts, so I lined them up by type and used my fancy new spade bits to make an organizer for them. I decided to add the chisels to the end of this section as well. What’s really nice about these organizers is they’re incredibly easy to make, and very inexpensive. If I want to add tools, I can either modify what’s there, or fire up the drill press and make a whole new one in about 10 minutes.

Organizing the screwdriver order.

The finished product.

The final organization piece on my pegboard that’s a DIY job is my wrench board. I may have posted about this before, but figured it belongs in this post as well. Again, I used scrap plywood and nails. I laid out the wrenches while it was horizontal to determine best fit and nail placement, then painted it white and screwed it to the wall.

SAE along the top, metric along the bottom.

My scribble to say what wrench goes where.

As per usual, writing the blog post about a project has given me other ideas for further improvements down the road. I think that means this practice is working as it should.

Project: Mast rack

The Problem

The biggest issue encountered while transporting the Puddle Duck is the mast. It’s just shy of 16 feet long, and while in transit, generally has the sail wrapped around it. In the past, I’d used several ratcheting straps to lash it to the roof rack of the Subaru. However, it never really felt stable up there. If lashed improperly, the mast could come loose and swing free. (Yikes!) On top of that obvious safety concern, there was the less important issue of chafe wear on the sail from strapping it down.

What I needed was a way to keep the mast in a straight line with the car, while minimizing the compression on the sail. What I needed was a specialized rack. I drew my inspiration from various work vehicles, and decided to make something like a pipe or conduit carrier for the Subaru.

The Planning

Initially, I wanted a solid tube that the mast could slide into, with some sort of friction-based locking system to keep it secure. The benefit of a solid tube, rather than two rings is that a solid tube cannot shift diagonally on the crossmembers. (Remember your Pythagoras!) However, since I was a starving college student, I couldn’t afford to spend money on a 10 foot length of 4 inch diameter PVC pipe. So, rings it was…

I ended up buying some aluminum flat stock, a long threaded rod, some nylon lock nuts, and two 4″ PVC couplers.

The Project

So first, I measured the rack crossmembers, and bent the threaded rod to span them. Once i had bent them into square U shapes, I made the brackets from the flat stock by cutting it to length and drilling holes.

Threaded rod and aluminum bracket

Threaded rod, bracket, and coupler drilled.

I neglected to account for the inner ring of the coupler, and how it would affect the threaded rod once tightened down. It would act as a fulcrum, and cause undue stress where the rod bends. To remedy that, I filed and sawed down the inner ring. Also, lest you think my metal bending skills are perfect, I made sure to capture an image of a failed bend. Oops.

Nearly finished couplers, threaded rods, brackets. Failed bracket for honesty’s sake.

Once everything was affixed to the rack, I slid the mast/sail into position. With the friction provided by the cover, the mast/sail likely would stay put even at freeway speeds without any additional support. In practice, I still use a single ratchet strap (not pictured) to give just enough downward pressure to keep it from wiggling loose.

Mast in the hoops. Ready for a trip to the lake.

At some point, I would still prefer to have a full length tube that spans the two rack crossmembers. While this system is holding and feels stable, I would have better peace of mind with a more robust system in place.

Big changes, little updates

Since my last post, I’ve finished my degree at the University of Minnesota. I may not have taken the shortest path, but I learned so much about what I wanted in life along the way. As has been my pattern, I’ve been completely wrapped up in school projects and neglected blog updates. In an attempt to atone for that, I’ll be making several small posts over the next couple weeks, most of which will focus on projects I’ve worked on since last summer and didn’t have time to document.

In professional news, I recently completed editing Jim Hall’s book on IT leadership called Coaching Buttons. This was my first editing job, and I think it went well. Certainly the feedback I received from the author gave me confidence in my editing prowess going forward. Coaching Buttons should be available by Q2 2018. I’ll update with a link once it’s live.

Speaking of going forward, I have two projects coming up:

First, I accepted a short-term technical writing position at Daikin Applied, where I’ll be creating “cut sheets” for their sales and marketing teams. I’m very excited about this project, as it entails a different style of writing from other work I’ve done so far. And I highly value anything that expands my experience in the field.

The other project is a usability / document review for Skykit. One thing I learned while working on Coaching Buttons, is that I rather enjoy editing and document review. Especially when it comes to substantive and copy editing. I find smoothing the awkward phrasing and flow in writing a fun and interesting challenge. What I find odd is how difficult it is to do this to one’s own work.

That’s all for this post. Belated project posts to follow!

Summer break = Senior project

Last night I began my senior capstone project: a style sheet for For those not in the know, a style sheet is an editing tool used to create consistency in style, punctuation, abbreviations, units of measurement, and formatting.

I already have a rough plan in my head which would be better if I placed it in digital form, and this seems a good place to do so.

  1. Make an alphabet grid for unique words
  2. Add sections for capitalization, dates, numbers, etc.
  3. Determine which style Style Guide I’m using
  4. Determine which dictionary I’m using
  5. Define text layout
  6. Define font styles (this should be in the CSS already)
  7. Define visual layout principles

Once all those items are sorted out, I can begin reviewing the blog and filling in the style sheet. To complete the project, I’ll write up a short paper in which I explain my editing choices for organization, format (both text and overall), and the chosen terms in my grid.

Piece of cake, right?

The Visual Rhetoric of Frozen Pizza


In a business as competitive as the packaged food industry, a fair amount of money must be put into attracting, or persuading customers to purchase your brand. While there are several means of doing this, there is none so persistent as having well designed labels. So while there is certainly a genre style to frozen pizza boxes, I aim to compare and analyze how various companies differently use color, images, and typography to attract customers. Continue reading

Winter cleaning

I have submitted my last essay for the term. (Thanks for your editing assistance, Kiddo.) With that submission the semester draws to a close. Time for me to dig into the projects that get pushed to the side while school is session. Perhaps some music while I get down to the task of cleaning my office.

One down, two to go

By this time next week I will have finished my first semester as a technical writing major. I have but two more semesters in this long college run, and I’ll be happy to be done. I have to admit I made a mistake by not taking Dr. Heinsohn’s advice years ago, when she boggled at me when I told her I was a Comp Sci major, and she said I belonged in the liberal arts. I finally feel like I’m at home with this major. After years of trying to make myself love programming and heavy mathematics I have landed where I’ve always belonged.