My New Stereo

Prepare to be jealous.

Buying audio equipment is a fun, but dangerous game. Not just the prices. Cheap stuff has to be replaced and is a total waste of money (Buying cheaper stuff and compromising in the name of saving a buck is usually a poor person’s game, but that’s another post). Medium range stuff has a better lifespan and quality but often is loaded with features you don’t need, trying to compete with all the many, many other mid-range components out there. You’re paying for those features, even if you never use them ever is how I look at it. And I’d bet most people don’t use 95% of the features their electronics offer. I’ve noticed most females don’t even bother to change the treble and bass on their stock car stereos, in fact. Whatever.

But the high-end stuff, and I’m not just talking about the out-of-this-world dream stuff that only billionaires can listen to and 99.9999% of people will never see, can last forever. Even pretty beaten up, some loudspeakers will still sound fine. That’s why there’s a strong market for used high-end audio equipment like Marantz receivers and Klipsch Heritage speakers, and partially why they cost more: they live longer. That even includes Sony, which costs more and lasts forever, even if it isn’t the highest quality and you may not want it to. “Lifespan” referring to how long the unit operates and “quality” being how well it performs during that time.

I have a giant old-school Sony Trinitron television I’m donating now for example that still works great but we’ve outgrown it. This will be the second giant old Sony TV I’ve given to another home. They’re tanks, and weigh as much. And I also still have an old Sony home theater system with 5 DVD carousel that has proprietary connectors so I can’t split it up, and have nowhere I want to use it. So it gathers dust. And (most) Marantz and (most) Klipsch are examples what I’m calling high-end. It’s all relatively relative, so if that’s junk to your budget, then please bear with me. I’m well-aware of the higher end gear that I wished I could afford out there. A Peachtree Nova300 Amp and SVS PB-16 sub and Klipschorn speakers would be my preference, but I have mouths to feed and heinies to diaper.

So back to business. Somehow I’ve ended up with a 5.1 Energy Encore home theater system with a Sony STR-DE885 A/V processor as my stereo.

The sound is actually great(I’m not claiming audiophile standards, which I’m starting to believe is usually just someone with a lot of disposable income, an oscilloscope, and an attitude), and in fact excessive for my listening area, which happens to be my office as well. Excessive space-wise as well. Most of my large desk is covered in audio equipment. Cable management is a pain too in such a small space. You think it’d be easier, but you have to be creative with placement, and more importantly, how they’re hidden, yet secure. And since I’m using the same cables I used when the system was being used for a home theater system in a giant room years ago, I have miles of dirty cables piled up in corners and under chairs and rugs.

Happily, this system will be returning to service in a way it never dreamt and going in the master bedroom with a new 65 inch curved 4k tv for my wife. I’m planning on mounting the screen on the wall too, which I’m dreading. And I splurged and got a Blu-ray player for her as well. It blows our old DVD players away. And cost $42.00 shipped (I had a $5 Amazon credit). The old Panasonic RV-31 of which we have 2 and I’m donating one, work surprisingly well still and are still forward-compatible and have optical jacks, but no HDMI ports. As nicely as those still work, the new one still blows those away for modern quality and features and for $40+ it’s a no-brainer. (I don’t know why electronics firms still make Blu-ray or especially DVD players; what kind of margins are they getting for these things? You can even still buy VCRs, for about $20 made by Craig, who is obviously low-end and a brand I think I’ve seen sold at Walgreens pharmacy.)

What makes me more excited is that I got everything (well) below retail, and with bonuses, that I hadn’t even planned on, like white glove delivery, a free wall mount, extra warranties, etc… I never pay retail for anything ever, unless it’s an emergency and even then I get discounts from my banks and other creative ways so I still pay less than sticker price, always. It’s become pretty easy with the internet, but some things are far more difficult to find discounts on than others, usually higher-end products where the companies are serious about protecting their margins and their products from counterfeiters. Barbour jackets and Bose junk are examples of that.

OK, so enough blah blah; what’d I get?

I’m finding I’m using my computer as the source nearly all the time these days. Either Pandora Plus(which is worth it for the quality improvement, no ads and being able to FF/RW maneuver around all I want), Archive.org, Youtube (I embarrassingly admit) or from my own library which usually plays via VLC. A lot of streaming in other words, and nothing else really; certainly no turntable, DAT, cassette tape(I still have a working JVC from 1984), reel to reel etc… and I never listen to the radio so no tuner needed either. I either just need an amp/preamp or integrated amp. For space, cost, features needed, quality available, outputs available (many integrated amps, even some Marantz, have no sub output or optical input, and I don’t just mean headphone amps). So the field for amps narrowed quickly. The final contenders: The questionable Sprout and Denon which are both compact amps, and a Teac, which is what I ended up getting. I’ve never owned Teac before but am very familiar with their R2Rs. The Sprout looks like something Radio Shack would have sold with the cheap faux-wood vinyl sticker(that everyone else seems to love), and is either underpowered or overpriced. Your choice. The Denon looks awesome and I nearly bought it. But the wattage difference and double the price of the Teac made me choose the Teac at 100w vs. the Denon and Sprout which had 35w and ~26w, respectively. I know wattage isn’t everything and this is a majorly low-impedance system, but I’m going to be driving some big speakers and those are a big leap from 100watts. The Teac has everything I need and among the least of what I don’t. An equalizer is something I’ll probably end up getting since I can’t imagine everything not needing to be tweaked, and using online EQs isn’t ideal, to me.

I’m running an optical cable from my computer, which has a 5.1 sound card (which I’ll adjust) and some auditory tweaks I’ve made to the Teac integrated amplifier, with DAC of course. That keeps it simple and small on my desk and has just what I need. The theme of this system is “simplification and quality.” I’m going from a 5.1 system to a 2.1 again. I looked at more expensive, feature-rich options, and really tried to talk myself into a Marantz or Cambridge Audio amp, but they didn’t make sense for one reason or another. Mostly size and features; I already have a giant black box on my desk with a zillion cables and controls that would confuse Elon Musk, so replacing it with exactly the same=no good. I have a feeling I’ll eventually be getting an EQ though because of what I expect the tweaking process to be like using the Teac software. That doesn’t sound like something I’m going to be interested in. EDIT: I’ve looked high and low at EQs and there aren’t any for my purpose; they’re all for PA equipment and autos. So, software it is.

The Teac’s connected to a Klipsch R-112SW which is a Reference series 12-inch sub that I already have hooked up and looks like a giant piece of furniture. It has to be broken in, but it still sounds a lot better than most of my other furniture though. I was wondering what difference a “better” sub would make to a pretty decent, but nowhere nearly as powerful system as the reference series, would be. Bass frequencies are different animals. I didn’t get the 115SW because a 15-inch sub would be totally excessive for my current needs. My wife can now sense the bass frequencies 2 floors away when I have the 112SW turned up a little which I’ll have to be careful of at night. Plus it would have more than doubled my price for the 112SW. With some of the money I saved, I got a Klipsch wireless adapter (WA-2) for the sub so I can put it where it sounds best and has no cables(except the power of course). It’s too nice-looking to have a long cable running out of it and as I mentioned I’m simplifying. There are quite a few wireless sub adapters out there, and even though the WA-2 isn’t the cheapest or best-rated in the world, depending on what site you’re on–it’s 5 of 5 stars and rave reviews on Klipsch.com– it’s custom-made by Klipsch for the 112SW and 115SW models, which I’ve learned is often a valuable feature and renders it the best choice. I never considered wireless satellite or bookshelf speakers because there’s no way I can be convinced there isn’t signal loss and/or other quality compromises that I don’t want to make, even if some high-quality firms are making them now.  Most wireless speakers lack character as well and are boring. Since sub frequencies aren’t directional, I’m not as worried.

Klipsch is a brand I’m loyal to. I heard a pair of Klipschorns when I was a teenager, which is also what we had in our music department in high school, and my roommate in high school had some giant, groovy 1970s Klipsch speakers he yanked from his older brother as well, although I don’t remember the model. Heritage, though for sure, so possibly Cornwalls. Whatever they were, they shamed my bookshelf Advents, which I hated. No mids at all and barely any bass. So I was exposed to some really good audio right after growing up to that point with a furniture-sized console tuner/turntable from the 1960s and a lame transistor AM radio from Radio Shack. My music selection for the longest time was limited to my mother’s old classic and classical records and the terrible pop radio station in town playing terrible pop 1970s and 1980s music. (“Terrible” being redundant.) So hearing what high-quality audio could do was like hearing music for the very first time. Hearing it play music I loved was transformative, especially for someone who came to really enjoy listening to and making music as much as I do. And now I can even choose what I want to hear!

I finally got my hands on a pair of nice (used) Klipsch KG-4 speakers when I was in my 20’s and had them promptly stolen from my house in Atlanta, along with a bunch of other easily pawnable items I had grown fond of.  I used the insurance $ from the Atlanta heist to get the Energy speakers and AV processor that are turning our bedroom into a man-cave for my wife. Energy is a company in Canada that isn’t super well-known but makes some very good equipment despite their obscurity and cheesy name. They’ve certainly become a lot more established since I bought them 20 years ago even though they’re still a pretty small and obscure audio company.

I have a Klipsch Groove Bluetooth speaker for my shop, or kitchen, or backyard, or wherever; it’s super-handy and sounds really good for what it is. I love it, and they’re available for a good deal at World Wide Stereo, which is a great company, if interested. I’ve also had several pairs of Klipsch Promedia 2.1‘s for my computers over the years. They’re the best computer speakers out there in my opinion and have been for years, which is why they’ve been unchanged for so long. The price, too: stuck at $150. Some would say Harmon/Kardon Soundsticks arebetter, but they don’t sound as good to me. They look cooler though; there’s no denying that. (Until you quickly get tired of how cool they look.) The Promedia 2.1s sound great for computer speakers, but aren’t without faults, which Klipsch should have addressed by now. The speaker wire is a joke that comes with them. Klipsch shouldn’t even include wires if this is the best they can do. So you have to special order some decent cables. Also, the power switch is on the back of the sub and is totally inaccessible. The jack for the sub connector is really flimsy too, so watch for people tugging on it. That may sound crazy, but 2 (TWO!) sets of these were ruined by my stepdaughter poking her fingers into the woofer cones. So that was the end of buying those. Also, you can buy just the control pod for them from Klipsch which makes me think it might go out a little too often. I had no problems with mine. What I’m setting up is basically my own extreme version of the Promedia 2.1.

So as you can see, acquiring Klipsch speakers hasn’t been the real problem; keeping them working and in my possession has been the issue. You have to play defense I’ve learned when you have small children and reckless teenagers around. Epoxy those grilles on.

This time around I sprang for a pair of cherry Klipsch Heresy III‘s, which should pair with the R-112SW nicely. The best of both worlds. Old-school Heritage series speakers and New-school Reference series subwoofer living together in actual harmony. A 2.1 setup with an integrated amp and single optical input source. That’s as simple as it gets. And some killer soldered 12 gauge cables from Amazon. I found a local contact that is delivering the Heresy 3’s to my home office white glove, fresh from the Klipsch factory for $500 off and no sales tax. And I live out in the country. Swish! As an aside, what I’d really like is the special edition California walnut Heresys, but they’re the same sound-wise and would be $925 more, even with my newfound Klipsch hookup, which I just couldn’t talk myself into. Even though that was the exact amount I ended up saving by looking under every rock possible when putting this system together.

And I’ll be using the same speaker stands from my first set of Klipsch’s I had which I’ve still been lugging around with me. Full-circle!

An Audiophile After 40 Years

An Audiophile After 40 Years

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Cecelia Living The Dream

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Chef Cecelia prepares her imaginary Easy Mac and ice cream wearing her diaper and toque, which looks a lot like a diaper. Who wants a moose lip omelet? Joking aside, she does cook her own eggs in the real kitchen … Continue reading

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The New MST3k? It Stinks!

I got my hands on a pre-release screening of the new Mystery Science Theater episode 1101, and have been watching the newest shows as time allows on Netflix. I was one of the early backers when they launched their comeback campaign (and raised over $6 million clams) so I’ve been following along closely with the relaunch. I’ve gotten 53 email updates, in fact! Their Kickstarter campaign was, and still is now that rewards are being distributed, exemplary in their communications and follow-through.

New Mst3k Cast

I’m trying to watch these new episodes with an upbeat, open mind, and also view it as if I had never seen it before; was the age I was when I discovered the show which was early 20’s; and all sorts of different perspectives to see who it may be trying to click with. Being somewhat of a marketer and having a graduate degree in marketing strategy, I enjoy doing that. It was changed around significantly from the old classic episodes, and the reasons for those changes were deliberate. So I like to try and figure out why and I’m usually close to the bull’s eye. But I’m having a hard time with this so far. There are interviews and podcasts and media available with Joel Hodgson, the creator, about the directions they chose. I love the show, obviously, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m not sure “confounding” is the direction they realized they chose, however.

I’m updating this post as I watch more of the new episodes. I’m thinking as with the “classic” episodes, some of them have to grow on you after watching them a few times. Some of the ones I thought were the lamest are now among my favorites, like Girls Town and Prince of Space. Some of the later episodes of season 11 do seem a little better. The cast is looser and the jokes are funnier because the timing is better. But I’m really going to have to focus on these to maintain impartiality between the Mike and Joel episodes and the new Jonah ones.

However, my initial impressions are that the new shows are sort of comedically weak and there’s a lot going on that doesn’t seem to have a purpose or exist for any real reason. The wobbling camera when it’s on Patton and Kinga makes me seasick and plead “why?” Perhaps it was explained and I missed it, but what is it adding? As far as the design of anything goes, that isn’t ideal. The cast? It seems bloated and not really funny in a quirky, spontaneous way. Which is what I enjoyed about the first run, and am not seeing it here. Maybe Jonah isn’t writing a lot of his own lines so they don’t pop out like they would for the originator. And all the people. It’s getting crowded around there. Even the weird voodoo band that plays(The “skeleton crew.” Groan.), with the motorcycle helmets and half-bones on their heads and personal flotation devices, formerly known as life jackets, have 7 members. What kind of accident is that band expecting? Does cutting to them serve a purpose? Is it becoming a late-night talk show? Someone just had a big payroll, which is evident by watching the credits. I’ve never seen so many co-producers and writers and editors since watching some of the MST3k movie credits. The cash sure didn’t go towards impressive computer graphics, though.

I can’t figure out what’s with the bone theme. Used to just be the SOL. Kinga, the bucktoothed lizard-faced girl that I can’t believe was the top choice, has them in her hair, and the set’s designed with them too. As if people that have the technology they supposedly have wear animal scraps as clothing accessories and wall-art? I don’t know how they can rag on cheesy graphics when theirs are even worse. The sets and backdrops are a mish-mosh of hot glue projects that are visually confusing a lot of the time, and lazy at others. Poor animation mixed with bad stop-motion, combined with paper mache models, models built from junk, and backdrops of a bunch of rivets. All deliberate, I realize, and part of the show’s character. But…why, and why so much? It wasn’t a lack of resources. Some people may enjoy all that zaniness, but I prefer to focus on the actors and writing rather than figure out what it was I just watched. Maybe like many MST3k episodes, they age well and the more you see them, the better they become.

I don’t know how they can rag on cheesy graphics when theirs are even worse. The sets and backdrops are a mish-mosh of hot glue projects that are visually confusing a lot of the time, and lazy at others. Poor animation mixed with bad stop-motion, combined with paper mache models, models built from junk, and backdrops of a bunch of rivets. All deliberate, I realize, and part of the show’s character. But…why, and why so much? It wasn’t a lack of resources. Some people may enjoy all that zaniness, but I prefer to focus on the actors and writing rather than figure out what it was I just watched. Maybe like many MST3k episodes, they age well and the more you see them, the better they become.

I’m not sure what Patton Oswalt is supposed to bring to the table except maybe his name, whatever a C-level actor’s name is worth these days, which may be some quality action figures with the nerd crowd. I can’t see or hear him as anything but Doug Heffernan’s loser friend Spence on the King of Queens, which isn’t unlike this character not suprisingly. He’s no Lawrence Olivier. His character here also seems inept and clownish but it isn’t funny because he doesn’t demand respect. He’s just a bag of fail. Har-har. He seems to simply accept his lot as a minion-boob, and that’s the depth of his character. I understand the tragedy of losing his wife before shooting, but if it was a distraction, he should have bowed out.

His boss, Kinga, not surprisingly, isn’t funny at all(I don’t think she’s supposed to be. I hope not, as weird as that would be for a comedy, but she’s not), and her parts don’t add much except contrived subplots. And her appearance, as much as I try not to let it distract me, is weird. She needs a good orthodontist. And she’s prominent in the show, for some reason. I’d guess 99% of the people who like the show are males. Even gay ones I know like it. But females think it’s stupid for the very most part. (Not all of course; I even once dated a girl that liked it as much as I do, so there are a few gems out there.) Yet diversity has crept into the show, for no apparent reason other than what seems like part of a simmering exit strategy, which is to grow the brand and sell out, as they joke in the first episode. I don’t believe that’s a joke. And part of gettings ducks in a row to be bought in Hollywood/Silicon Valley these days is making sure you’re PC. Whether you think that’s hypocritical or not is your call.

And other useless or unnecessary things: the robots popping up and flying around for no apparent reason. Gypsy makes a cameo during episodes by her silhouette descending from the ceiling and cracking a riff, then disappearing. And the joke is never funny. She’s just a strange-looking distraction.  Servo, who I simply can’t get used to with a different voice, flies about like a runaway drone. I’m not sure why Servo wasn’t replaced with a whole new robot since the voice, which are the essence of the characters and most of the show relies on (It’s all we listen to for most of the show) was changed. Dubbed over just like one of the Sandy Frank Japanese monster episodes they make fun of.

Hearing other people riffing on these shows isn’t hard to get used to when they do it well. Jonah does a fairly good job but I miss Trace and Bill’s wild voice-acting though. You’ve got to be good to rely on deadpan. And it seems they pulled back on the sarcasm. (No more sashaying through the sarcasm) Sometimes they now miss getting the improvisational feel of the classic shows. At 46:35 in ep. 3, Time Travelers, Jonah stumbles over his line, for example. Or blow the riff, in my opinion, with things like in Reptilicus/1101 they start singing “Little Red Corvette” when a red Porsche 356 comes onto the screen. Fail. They’ve got to know the geeks that watch this show aren’t going to let that slide.

No one can do impressions, which is a shame. They don’t even try. A lot of the riffs are predictable and obvious, which is sort of lame too. I shouldn’t be able to outriff these guys. They seem to have gone with the “quality in quantity” theory because in some cases it seems they’re racing to see how many riffs they can fit in. Then other times, the clock ticks away. The movies chosen are a good selection of genres they typically rag on: 1960’s teen go-go movies, Japanese monster movies, campy sci-fi, monsters, etc… So at least the cheesy movies are cheesy. Even though a lot of the same names appear across the season as far as directors and studios go. That’s probably because of licensing, or lack of restrictive licensing. Like public domain. Although the movies are indeed cheesy, they aren’t funny-on-their-own cheesy, like many of the duds in the old seasons that could stand on their own for ridiculousness.

MST3k has always been a divisive show; people either are big fans, or they think it’s idiotic. That seems to be the case with a lot of things I like. And when Mystery Science Theater 3000 came out the first time a lot of people just scratched their heads. It’s a hard premise to sell in such a small amount of time. And has become more complicated with the new season. If all you saw was the skits or the intentionally terrible set design and effects, I can’t fault you for thinking it’s infantile. But it reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes in that regard. If nothing else, you have to admit there’s a lot of creativity involved. I hope Joel Hodgson is able to maintain the same control over MST3k that Bill Watterson sought to have with Calvin & Hobbes. Netflix has a reputation for allowing a lot of creative freedom, which is good. And probably explains why they’re having so much success with their original shows. Let’s hope Mystery Science Theater finds the same success.

NOTE: The “It stinks!” part of the title of this is a line from Pod People & Time Travelers. it doesn’t really stink. Much. But the first Season One was really rough around the edges, too.

 

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How to Build an Awesome Work Bench

Recently I decided that it was time to build myself a workbench in my garage. As the mechanic, groundskeeper, repairman, and scullery maid, I’m constantly digging through piles of tools and junk. Constantly. It’s a waste of life and can frustrate you on some days. I’ve built a couple of simple benches before, and I’ve built elaborate (NOT fine, although that would be awesome if I had the shop) cabinetry and furniture so it wasn’t going to be a difficult project. I designed and built the weird trash can beside the bench, for example, to keep an old hound dog I once had out of the trash. I also discovered some great tips and learned a few things along the way, as I typically do. That’s partly what makes these types of projects fun. Here’s the debriefing:

I started sketching out some ideas, given the limitations, budget(as inexpensive as possible, but not “cheap”) wants, needs, lessons learned from other benches and so on.

my workbench plans

my workbench plans

I measured out space I had available and spent a LONG time trying to decide between a 6, 7 or 8-foot long bench, and 30-36 inches deep. People think deep benches would be great until they have to reach the back of them and discover their arms aren’t tentacles. I also had the problem of hauling my lumber back, because we don’t have a pickup. Just a couple of soccer-mom SUVs that don’t even have roof racks. So I couldn’t just buy several 12-foot-long boards and a bunch of 4×8 sheets in other words. I had to be frugal with my cargo space. Also, as anyone who works with wood knows, estimating projects is an art that requires some creative mathematical logistics. The goal is to have a little scrap as possible left over. (I cringe when I drive by house construction dumpsters piled high with scrap, although contractors are much better these days with lumber being more costly than when I was little. Every kid in the neighborhood had a half-pipe in their driveway courtesy of the new neighbors.) So there were quite a few considerations. Also, and this is important, I want to be able to disassemble it and move it fairly easily when needed, yet be as solid and heavy as possible. That was a tough one, but I did it. I didn’t want the additional height of casters and didn’t really feel like engineering around that either. Also, the butthead contractor that built this house only put ONE outlet in the garage. That’s insanity. So I also needed to work some electrical magic. The bench needs a lot of outlets. I have an Android tablet and Klipsch Bluetooth speaker going on the bench (for music mostly, but also internet advice when I get stuck on something) that need juice, plus soldering irons, chargers, glue guns, lights, USB, a little fridge, and a bunch of other power-hungry items.

Also, and this was important, I want to be able to disassemble it and move it fairly easily when needed, yet be as solid and heavy as possible. That was a tough one, but I did it. I didn’t want the additional height of casters and didn’t really feel like engineering around that either. Also, the butthead contractor that built this house only put ONE outlet in the garage. That’s insanity. So I also needed to work some electrical magic. The bench needs a lot of outlets. I have an old tablet and great-sounding Klipsch Bluetooth speaker going on the bench (for music mostly, but also internet advice when I get stuck on something) that need juice, plus soldering irons, chargers, glue guns, lights, USB, a little fridge, and a bunch of other power-hungry items. My power tools will be plugged into some other outlets I rigged elsewhere.

In the end, I chose a 72-inch by 30-inch bench top. Six feet. That allowed me to buy 3 sheets of 4x8x1 plywood, and all 2x4x8’s but one, which was a 2x4x10. It also left some good space around it in the garage. 8 feet would have been unnecessarily tight and large. The benefits of those 2 extra feet of length wouldn’t have been worth the extra material costs and resulting mathematics because the whole thing would need reconfiguring. If I remember, the 8 8-foot boards were about $3.50 apiece and not the poorest quality that were about $3; not the best that were about $5. Just plain studs. I had the store make the cuts for me which mostly were the same length except for the longest, which was a cut-to-fit diagonal brace which was of course only a little over six feet long. This saved me a lot of time and gave me square cuts and chops and nice clean ripped plywood that would have been tough for me to get in my garage setup, which I was obviously underway renovating. And it allowed me to fit it all in my vehicle. By the time I reached that point and unloaded it in my garage it was like assembling a kit. And here’s a big reason for that: I bought the legs and shelf supports already made.

workbench front

a better shot of the front of the workbench

I discovered these things which were awesome and were a key to the project. They make sure your bench and shelves are flat and square and that it’s already at the right height. It comes with brackets and pre-drilled holes for the wood, and makes it super-easy to build, and they’re very affordable. I built this entire thing myself with no help, except for the guy that cut the boards at Lowe’s. For the legs and shelf brackets, they were about $65 on Amazon, and money very well-spent.

workbench right

workbench right. note the position of the lightswitch

I wanted a pegboard for my tools to go vertical, plus that space would just be wasted otherwise. My tools laying around in piles and in buckets and hidden all over the place was getting to be a bit too much to keep maintaining my sanity. I shouldn’t be spending 5 minutes looking for one socket. And all my sockets and bits and screws and such were rusting away in 20-year-old plastic deli meat containers. Ridiculous. I decided on upgrading this part because these metal powder-coated enameled boards that are heavy-duty should last a lifetime, and have a lifetime warranty to back that up. I’ve come to hate thin MDF pegboard that frays and breaks and pegs have to be jammed into and is crap. These are like what you’d find in a pro shop. They had a premium price too but considering their lifespan and utility I’ll get out of them, they’re a good value. I bought a rack for my many pliers, which I also recommend as well. A really nice, well-made, helpful product that can go onto the pegboard or sit on the bench. I also got some really cool pegs for them to go with the ones that came with them, and since they’re metal, they’re magnetic, which is nice. I have some cool magnets that’ll work well on this board for clipping and hanging things. The metal pegboards are attached to the back of this bench in 2 ways. (They’re made to mount onto a wall and come with the needed hardware.) At the top, they’re screwed into the above-head shelf through pre-drilled holes, and at the bottom, they’re screwed to a 3x1x6 strip of oak I have across the front of the boards along the length at the back of the bench, which also keeps screws and little things from rolling away, and creates a nice little shelf to put little things out of the way.  I oiled it as well when I was oiling all the oak.

I screwed a strip of steel across the bottom shelf to prevent wear and tear from feet and other things sliding around on that corner and keep the splinters at bay since I have a 1 year old toddling around. The center shelf has a 90 degree angled strip of molding that was stock from another project which was already primed and I painted. It keeps things from rolling off as well and is easily removed if wanted. For the bottom 2 shelves, I used sanded 1-inch plywood. Nothing too special but much nicer than particle board. $23 a sheet if I remember which was a little more than I wanted to spend but since the essence of the bench is the bench top, and to make my life easier and not harder, ultimately it was worth it to me.

left side workbench

workbench left

For the rest of the bench, other than the bench and shelf tops, I use some really clean and nice 8-foot pine studs. I was surprised at how clean and knot-free they were compared to what I found at Home Depot not that long ago. Incidentally, I bought my lumber at Lowe’s. For no other reason than their prices were better and their lots of lumber they each had at the time were way different quality. Lowe’s had far better. Their customer service sucked incredibly though, except for the kid that cut my lumber. But that’s another post.

For the top, I used 1-inch sanded oak veneer plywood. In retrospect that wasn’t the best decision, but it’s no big deal because of how I built the bench. The top isn’t secured down by screws; it doesn’t need to be. So I can change out tops easily if and when I want. I considered using 2 or 3 separate pieces as the top but thought the seams would be too much of an annoyance and could see too many problems developing from that. I hope to eventually find a thick solid top to put on there, like an old door, but that’s going to take some doing. I didn’t want to use MDF because of the aforementioned tearing and total hatred of moisture and I just hate the stuff for most projects. It’s frailty, unnecessary weight and short lifespan aren’t worth the marginal cost savings to me. Finding a piece of solid, natural, heavy wood, at retail, would blow my budget. Oak is hard, heavy and durable and nice to look at to boot. The only and main problem is that the sawmills use micron-thin veneers, so I’ll need to be mindful of tossing a transmission up across it. I oiled the top and the small amount of finishing around the bottom above-head shelf with Danish Oil, natural. Tung oil would also work but I’m out. There’s no reason to do any more than that. It’s a workbench. But the oil will condition the wood and help protect it from the slop and spills that are about to be all over it. It’s also cheap, easy to reapply and easy to find.

There’s a diagonal board to support the top which some people seem to feel is optional. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. And considering you can get a board that’ll work for about 3 bucks, if not free if you don’t mind construction-site dumpster-diving, why wouldn’t you? And even if you don’t want to do the math of figuring the diagonal, or using an online calculator or app, you can still just measure it when needed for the proper fit. It just sits atop the leg brackets and doesn’t even need to be secured. The whole thing is nothing but 90-degree cuts and is a basic project, in fact.

I primed and painted the bench to match the rest as best as possible with leftover primer and some red metallic enamel paint I found on sale at Target of all places for $4, which I have a ton left over that I’m excited to use elsewhere. I obviously have a black and red thing going on. Red being my favorite color and black being my next. And just coincidentally, my tools and stuff go perfectly together for the most part. All these drawered containers are already changing my life.

I also installed some cabinet lights above, which are hidden behind a 6-foot oak strip I already had, and put the switch on the right shelf post. I was tempted to use velcro or something other than the screws to just slap the lights up there, but I’m glad I wasn’t lazy. Use the screws, after predrilling. You’ll be glad you did. I plan on covering the wires on the post near the switch once I come up with a good idea for doing that. I secured the wires with some clear little removable clips and the twist ties that came with them. 20 clips did the trick. I ran the wires to the front so they’d be hidden. Initially, I instinctively planned to run them to the back because that’s where the plug is and it seemed natural. But after thinking about it, that made less sense. Just a tip.

For the shelves and shelf brackets, which I had never used before, I learned a few things and didn’t follow directions anyway. I had the guy at Lowe’s cut the plywood I bought for the three main lower bench shelves widthwise first, meaning chopping it short, then ripping it lengthwise afterward. This gave me 3 boards that were exactly the same length and depth, and the exact same length of the workbench, and all perfectly square. So I sandwiched 2 of them for the bottom-top shelf above the bench and just a single 1-inch plywood scrap for the very top shelf, which only has empty containers on it so even if there was a disaster, no one would be brained by putting anvils up there.

A 2-inch thick shelf is pretty sturdy, so I’m confident about it. I’d need to buy 12 more 2x4x6s if I were to build them as intended. I don’t see the benefit in that cost, considering what I’ve got. I put the best-looking face of the oak plywood on the bottom shelf facing the bench. I didn’t oil that part-the underside of the “lower-top” shelf. In retrospect, I wish I had because the oil, again, would have not only conditioned it but also reflected the lights onto the bench well, albeit subtly. But it’s a relatively light color which is why I chose to do that, plus the top will take a beating with stuff being tossed and slip up on it, so it makes sense to use the cheaper plywood for the top of the shelving sandwich. And if anyone’s short enough to see up there, it’s nice looking natural wood.

workbench front again

workbench front

I spent a lot of time planning this out. I wanted to end up with a good bench, which I did, spend as little as possible, which I did(total cost was under $300 total), and not spend months on the project (I built this in a couple of hours, once planned.) Usually the least fun parts, the planning and prep are the most crucial to the end result. They paid dividends in this case for sure, which is why I’m sharing the details.

before-after of workbench

A before/after of my workbench project.

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The Shot Heard Round the World

This Grateful Dead show at the Beat Club in Bremen, West Germany, April 21, 1972, was the show that turned me onto the Grateful Dead around 35 years ago. It’s not even one of their best shows, and Donna was squawking away, but it didn’t matter. 1972 is one of their top years. And a show with Pigpen and Keith is special. Probably my favorite show ever is the Maples Pavilion one at Stanford in April 1972, and has been since I first heard the China Cat/Rider, Sugar Magnolia, Wave the Flag, Wavy Gravy talking politics and so many other awesome bits from that show. That one was a face-melter.

Where and how I grew up in South Carolina, good music wasn’t easy to come by. Said Navin R. Johnson. My mother, fortunately, saved a big box of 45s from the beach house from the 50s and early 60s, and a stack of LPs that dated back to the late 1800’s I think. Seriously. But what was played on the old Victrola was a lot of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Enrico Caruso, and other opera and country and western selections mostly. My father’s musical reach was the hook from Ray Stevens’ “The Streak,” and that was about it. We had a radio of course but with poor reception of crummy stations, who bothered? If you wanted to buy a record or cassette tape, you had the Record Bar at the mall, which sold mostly the same crap that was on the radio, or the seedy cinder-block building on the other part of town that sold classic rock and some good stuff, but was known more for their vast porn selection than their music. So I only went in there when my dad took me.

I had listened to Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor and the usual South Carolina fare that all my friends listened to, but I also listened to a lot of those old 45s of my mother’s. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were two artists whose hits I listened to a lot. All sorts of obscure hits from those decades were in that stack, and a lot of them were fun for a kid to listen to, like “Splish Splash,” etc…but I got a good feeling for the dawn of rock and roll and pre-rock. The Beatles totally saved humanity from some seriously terrible music. Paul Anka? Seriously?

And then one day, in the early 1980’s, I saw the cut of “One More Saturday Night” from this show (@30:20 in the video below). I saw it once, my jaw hit the ground, and that was it. Which made sense since VCRs were still a new technology and what you watched was whatever was on one of the 3 stations. But few things have hit me as resolutely as that did. Like Jehovah’s favorite choir. Seeing these guys play such energetic, raw rock and roll and the colorful wild hippie set and such intense and competent musicianship, and I was sold. (You have to think, this was the 1980’s and synth and bubblegum crap music was everywhere. Seeing guys actually playing instruments like that live and sounding so unique and awesome was amazing!) And musically it was familiar. A big influence on Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing is obviously Chuck Berry which you can hear in One More Saturday Night and his cover of Johnny B. Goode. I still love watching and listening to it, even though musically it’s not their finest version. That’s easy to say though when you have over 10,000 shows under your belt.

And before I get a bunch of emails telling me the Grateful Dead are terrible, I realize this is my opinion and they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Their time signatures are non-standard, which a lot of people don’t like, and the nontraditional arrangements are too much for some people as well. Or maybe it’s just Donna, or whatever, but save your time and breath; I know it. I’ve heard it before a time or two. Thankfully, we don’t all have to appreciate each others’ music. I mean Slim Whitman was great and all…

I’ve also heard so many of their shows so many times now, I find I can pick out more and more unique information just by listening to them, like a sommelier can tell you about a bottle of wine by taking a sip.


Spanish lady comes to me, she lays on me this rose…

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Spring Cleaning in the Autumn of our Lives

My wife and kids are away for Spring Break, as they tend to do each year. My wife’s a teacher, and my youngest is 1-1/2, so their schedules are flexible. They go to Alabama to see family while I stay behind and take care of the aging dog, get some sleep, listen to the Grateful Dead very loudly, and usually clean the house really, really well. This year is no exception, and maybe one for the records for projects. I’ve already replaced the air/fuel sensors in the old Toyota and they’ve been gone less than a day.

Our garage was out of control with “things” and what has been passing as my “workshop” has been a bunch of old bent, rusty metal storage shelves.  Considering the setup I once had that was an enviable, organized and roomy workstation, it becomes frustrating to have to look for a socket or a certain pair of pliers or set of screws/nuts/washers for 15 minutes, sorting through “organized piles” and a bunch of plastic sandwich meat containers. It has become a waste of time/life, annoying, not good for my tools, which I have a lot of and some nice ones I try to maintain, is an eyesore, and so on. So I spent tonight cleaning up the garage in preparation for a serious reorganization.

Along the way, I had to decide what to do with a lot of junk that I realized I’ve been lugging around for nearly 30 years in some cases, and even longer in others. Things I’ve kept for sentimental reasons; because I thought I could make or repair or do something with the item later, and never have; used to use the thing and stopped, but never disposed of it (like a lawnmower and dryer that really need to go); but things that I acquired somehow, and almost subconsciously have been carrying them around with me, very carefully, for many, many years. Decades.

For most people that wouldn’t be much of a big deal. But during the time I’ve accumulated this crap, I’ve lived, and moved among, 7 states. That’s a lot of back and forth and boxes and tape and sore backs. I’ve probably now lived in 20 different houses and crummy apartments. I know I once lived in 11 places in a 10-year span, which was a true nightmare. That’s a lot of packing, unpacking, carefully choosing where to put this stuff in my new place, and then doing it all over again without ever stopping to think of why I’m hauling all this stuff around. Also during that time I’ve had things that mean a lot to me broken, stolen, or just abruptly removed from my life somehow. Every time I’ve moved, something valuable has been broken no matter how careful everyone is. And we used to have 2 cats, now down to one because the male was so terrible, which destroyed a loooong list of my once-nice things. So I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of meaningful things in my life, so maybe it’s natural as we get older to not mind parting with material possessions as much. Just a theory.

Upcoming project next week: build an appropriate work bench and reorganize the garage to be useful, clean and navigable. I’m using these as a foundation. The reviews were flattering to say the least. And it is a great idea. Just add 2x4s and benchtops/shelves. I’ll be going for the deluxe model, however. It’s going to be pimp-tight as they say, and I’ll post photos upon completion. Here’s a taste of what I’m starting with. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as it really is, but as you can see it’s just piles of rusty tools:

tools and shelves and rust and unorganization

I’ve spent 2 days de-rustifying my tools, which were ruined during a stint of mine in Montgomery Alabama, when I had to use a front porch to store my things underneath. Basically just sitting outside in the dirt and elements. I had nowhere else to put them because of the size and layout of the house and no garage or shed. So at least 50% of my things I’ve collected over the years were ruined; wood, metal, power tools, drill bits, machinery, etc… I’m salvaging the rest using soap and water to clean them all and break the surface tension, then a chemical bath, which I’ve gotten in all my cuts on my hands. Who needs gloves when handling acid? But that should help to not have to replace every single thing at least. Tip: Dust and dirt attract moisture, so keeping tools and wood dust-free in your shop is important. Putting silica packs in your toolboxes will help, or using an old-school wooden toolbox to keep them dry. Not only are quality tools expensive, but they’re a pain to obtain a lot of the time, so save yourself some time and money and maintain them.

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Vectr WordPress Vector Editor Plugin

This is a WordPress plugin for editing and creating vectors right within the WordPress post page I’m trying out and it seems pretty powerful, if it works as imagined. And so far it’s delivering. It’s a vector editor that I can pull up right in my posts/pages. They have a desktop app available for OS/PC/Linux, as well as a browser-based editor, and this plugin, and by looking at their roadmap seem to really be on the ball. The editor seems to have most everything you need. It’s no-frills for sure, but I’m comparing it to Adobe Illustrator, which I consider the standard for vector illustration and graphics. I haven’t checked out the SVG capabilities yet, but for a free vector editor it’s fast and full featured. And easy to use.

Some limitations I’ve hit: no way to align objects on the page easily, and no way to edit gradients. If I want to make a linear gradient that’s -96 degrees, I have to come up with a tricky solution.  I have a feeling these are basic features that the people at Vectr are working on though. I’m sure they know what people use. Also a bug I’ve found is it sometimes posts the extra images WordPress generates when you upload an image. By default, when you upload a photo, you immediately get weighed down with 3 other copies, so it’s a great idea to optimize your images as much as possible.

EDIT: I was contacted by the astute folks at Vectr who set me straight on gradients and a few other things(I’ll elaborate as time allows, which isn’t right now). Here’s a video explaining how to work with gradients in Vectr:

Incidentally, that is John Paul Jones in the featured photo. He hasn’t slowed down one bit since those days and can play any instrument in the galaxy.

 

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How to Get Amazon Prime for Free, Plus Other Cool Stuff

How to get Amazon Prime for Free

All you need is patience, to spend at least $580 a year on Amazon.com, and decent credit. And before you click away after seeing me mention the word “credit,” bear with me. This is how to put a card to work for you properly.

This is simply an explanation of how I just managed to get it for free. You'll have to make some personal decisions, but to me this is a no-brainer. Free! (Well, about 10 minutes of your time)   

I’m already a member of Amazon Prime, which we get our money's worth out of in many ways: cloud storage, videos, music, discounts, 2 day shipping and all the rest. It's a great deal if you're a consumer. You can even have a free trial if you aren't sure it's for you.

It costs $99 a year. Order a few large items and you recoup that easily in shipping costs. But it offers many more benefits as well. Obviously I don't need to sell you on Amazon Prime, since you're here trying to get it.

Also, when you get the Amazon card, you get $70 credit in your account, which knocks that cost down to $29 already. I'm not here to sell you on getting a credit card either, per se. I hate credit cards, normally. It's just a step in a pretty smart plan. If you have credit issues, maybe this might not be the best idea. You'll have to decide. This is what I did.

Apply for the Amazon card, which along with the aforementioned $70 credit, you get 5% off Amazon purchases. That can add up, fast. And 3% at gas stations, restaurants, and some other places you probably visit. And 1% on everything else. And it offers some great travel perks, unlike most cards that give you skymiles that expire in 3 months. Check out the list of benefits; they're pretty good, and useful.

That card, after approved, becomes the default payment method for your Amazon Prime account automatically. Perfect. Then I set up for my balance to be automatically paid in full each billing cycle through my bank's website. Easy enough. 

So even though I'm technically using the card, it's just like using my checking account, with the money passing through the Amazon account briefly. I don't intend to carry a balance because the interest rate is WAY too high. I would advise you to avoid that as well. Note: You can call Chase, who manages the Amazon card, and negotiate a better rate, especially after using it for about a year or so, to build up a history of “paid in fulls” with them. That’s a good practice anyway with credit cards. You should be able to negotiate a much better rate if you pay your bills. If you like to carry balances, again, this is probably not the card for that, and it blows the whole plan I'm outlining here. The idea is to get Amazon Prime for free plus all the benefits of the Amazon card automatically and free. And build up some credit while you're at it. 

With the 5% you get back on your purchases, you only need to spend $580 in one year to make up that remaining $29. Or 3% on gas, food, etc… Should be pretty easy. That isn't going to be any problem for our household. Free Amazon Prime FTW, baby!

free money

Free $

 

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Revenge of the Toddler

“Like perfectly meshed gears, all my plans slip exactly into place!”

DIE, PUNY MORTALS!

Small in stature, big in malice.

This child has Stewie-like tendencies.

Cecelia at the controls of her Doomsday machine.

A photo posted by Michael Musgrove (@isightphotos) on

Victory is hers!

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Book

Back when Bootstrap was Twitter Bootstrap and it had been downloaded a grand total of about 5,000 times, I wrote and published a book on how to develop using the Twitter Bootstrap framework. I sold a few copies and learned about using Bootstrap pretty well. Well enough to write around a 200-page book on it, at least.
 
Time went on and Twitter Bootstrap became Bootstrap and Mark Otto left Twitter, and took his framework with him and rebranded. I think he works at Github these days, but he and his partner still update and work on it a lot.
 
After a while, my book became slightly outdated, and keeping a sizeable technical book up to date wasn’t a priority. So I posted it on my old website, michaelmusgrove.com, for free. Which a popular move on my part. Then like a dummy, I took the whole site down.
Long, boring story short: I’m re-posting the Bootstrap Book here. I’m going to go back through and try to clean up what’s outdated and it should be a pretty good resource for people that are beginners through intermediate. It has a TON of great Bootstrap resources too, for the advanced crowd.
People send me things to include all the time, which I think is awesome and welcome it. If you’d like to contribute, just send me a message.
Here it is in .pdf form, unedited since final draft:
I’ll be updating & uploading as quickly as possible beyond this.
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