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.

You look different…

I spent the afternoon completely redesigning the website, preparing the space to house my online portfolio. This overhaul served two purposes:

  • The online portfolio is a class project, and I want a good grade.
  • I wanted to adjust the focus of the page towards my professional endeavors.

I’m pretty happy with the results so far. I managed to trim most of the areas that didn’t really belong. No more program source code, or duplicate information in the about/FAQ pages. I still plan to use the blog, but now it will serve as both a personal and professional space.

Completed Projects

It’s been a long while since my last update. I wanted to get a couple snapshots of progress around here. The bathroom remodel was quite an ordeal, but we got it taken care of. My now ex-girlfriend’s father was incredibly helpful and I couldn’t have completed it without his help.



After. Moved toilet, new surround and tub.

After. Moved toilet, new surround and tub.

Replaced the double vanity with a single, and added two cabinets.

Replaced the double vanity with a single, and added two cabinets.

Also, the rocking is done now. Ready to put in a ceiling someday when funds make themselves available again. Thanks to my dear friend Kristen for all her efforts in painting the hell out of both the bathroom and the basement. The edging would have looked terrible under my brush. I’m in your debt, Kiddo.


Rocking it

Last night while writing the blog post, I’d made a list of things I wanted to get done in the next couple days:

  • Replace the sprayer in the kitchen sink.
  • Clean the area in the basement where the new wall is going.
  • Figure out the extra electrical stuff down there.
  • Remove whatever electrical items aren’t needed.
  • Remove old crappy walls.
  • Start putting up rock.

With this to-do list written up on my whiteboard, I knew when I awoke this morning I’d have at course to follow. Once I managed to get a cup of coffee in me I quickly went after the sink. It was so unexciting I didn’t bother taking pictures. Beginning the basement work is a whole different story.

First a couple of mostly before pics:



At this point I’d just taken off the weird wall sconces. The previous owner had a penchant for them. In addition to these two, the downstairs bedroom also had a pair in there. Freakin weird. Anyway, At this point I started fiddling with the circuit breaker trying to kill the power to that wall. I probably should have done that before pulling the sconces, as noted by the mild shock I got. Once the power was off, I began pulling wires. You can see the outlet and switch on the right side of the wall, the switch used to power a pool table light. The pool table and said light are gone, so I’m thinking I’ll eventually rig that back into the laundry room to get more lights back there.

Next, get that wood outa there!




Tearing down that wall wasn’t too difficult. Hauling the nail infested boards up to the garage was. Where I had a mostly organized garage before waking this morning, I now have a lumber pile.

Now that all the wood was off the wall, I was ready to haul some sheetrock downstairs. I had forgotten that the ceilings in the basement are not 8 foot. The ceiling reminded me of this fact when I attempted to place the first panel and ended up hitting the ceiling about a foot from vertical. Damn it. A quick score and snap, and the first panel was in place. I made sure to measure the next pieces before bringing them down. There’s more room to do that in the garage, and it makes them lighter to carry. Bonus!




Tomorrow I’ll be finishing off the half sheets under the stairs. Then time to start mudding. Blort…

Making Jack a dull boy


Today kicked off “Tear Your House Apart” season. The lady and I spent most of the day fighting crowds at the local home supply stores in preparation for a couple of sizable home projects. The smaller of the two projects doesn’t worry me at all: replacing 12 feet of terrible wood paneling in the basement with sheet rock, and then cleaning up the remaining basement walls which will be getting a LONG overdue paint job. No biggie. The other job, I’m a bit terrified of… Remodeling the upstairs bathroom



It needs help. As you can see, it’s poorly laid out and to fix it we’re stripping the whole thing down to the studs. Starting fresh. New everything. To fix the ugly layout, we’re going to be moving around some sewer lines. I have several apprehensions about the things we want to do, but I’ve been assured by the project manager that I’m worrying too much and that it’ll be fine.

Fortunately, both upstairs roommates will be effectively out of the house before we start, so slightly fewer lives will be disrupted. Demolition starts a week after the Messabout, and then it’ll be all work and no play until it’s finished.