Welcome! I am an engineer, programmer, designer, and gentleman. You may be interested in some of my electrical and mechanical projects. Take everything you read here with a grain of salt and remember to wear your safety glasses.

Making a Custom Hardwood Base for a Video Doorbell

Here's a recent project: upgrading my parents' 1980s-vintage intercom to a new video doorbell. It wasn't as easy as you might think, especially as the intercom left behind a huge hole in the wall that needed covering with this nice piece of walnut. That meant learning some new techniques, such as cutting bevels on vertical workpieces on the table saw (similar to how you might make a raised panel cabinet door) and finishing with spray lacquer (a revelation).

Building a Laundry Room Sink Cabinet from Birch Plywood

Kitchen and bathroom cabinets are hard to come by. What is a DIY remodeler to do? This video is what. Watch it and see one way of building and installing your own laundry room utility sink cabinet. A good solution if you can still find the plywood!

Reading in 2020

Having finally updated my reading list for 2020 and completed all the usual analysis, I have to shake my head in disappointment. I only read 20 books, the lowest number since I started compiling these lists in 2016! Where is the huge list of checked-off titles one would expect in a year ten months of which saw I and pretty much everyone else practically forced to abandon our distractions, empty our social calendars, and sit quietly inside getting some work done? I'll tell you what happened: work, by which I mean work other than reading, expands to fill the time available, and it's hard to tell from which direction the expansion will come.

In my case that expansion mostly came from everything involved in improving my home workspaces, setting myself up to work-from-home in a R&D lab of one, building some things I'm mostly pleased with, and getting some videos of those things published. As soon as some level of lockdown arrived (never very severe anyway in my home state of Florida) and the horizon of my free time widened, it was too easy to say yes to those voices, both of others and of other parts of myself, that prefaced their requests with "since you're not busy anymore...." Perhaps I'll spend 2021 saying no instead.

And maybe I'll return to some other pre-quarantine patterns too. I remember that, having failed to read 36 books in 2019 as intended, I had scaled back my ambitions for 2020. Now I know that I failed those goals as well, despite unexpectedly ideal conditions. So this year I'm back to 36. I may miss again. But 2019's 33 books is still a lot better than 20, and if setting a more ambitious goal is responsible for that, I think it's worth doing.

Theme Park at Home: Walt Disney World's EPCOT Floating Planters

After a couple of years of thinking about it, I built a floating planter, similar to the ones at WDW's EPCOT, and set sail with it on the lake my parents live on. Disney was kind enough to provide instructions in a book titled Secrets of Disney's Glorious Gardens, but I departed from this book in some significant ways, for instance, by adding an anchor system that allows us to bring the planter to shore for maintenance. Also, in the video I build a hot-wire cutter to make the styrofoam circles of the planter, a cutter equipped with a motorized rotary stage that turns it into something like a foam lathe.

The Amateur Scientist at Bookwise

Build yourself a cloud chamber from one of the lovely hand-drawn diagrams in The Amateur Scientist.

For years I've been pleased, every now and again, to browse the stacks of local used bookstore Bookwise, one of the sort-of-green spots in Boca Raton's semi-arid intellectual landscape. Despite the resident cat it's never been a very comfortable place to sit and read, maybe because I've always felt there an urgency to go through the place quickly and grab what I can. I never left Bookwise empty-handed, but I never felt there was enough time there.

Pure chance brought Samantha and I to its doors again on a recent Saturday when there really wasn't enough time anymore. We discovered that its owners were closing this location and moving at least some of the stock to their sister store Booksmart (which mostly sells textbooks to FAU students). Everything in the store was 30%–50% off. I asked the woman behind the counter when the last open day was and with the used bookstore's typical splendid disregard for good business practice she answered “maybe today”. I let my urgency run free.

Although I didn't leave with quite the arm-long stack that Sam assembled, I bought some pristine Everyman's Library volumes of de Tocqueville and Jefferson, Gleiser's The Island of Knowledge, and a history of the shipping container (The Box by Marc Levinson) that I'm actually quite excited to read.

But most exciting of all, I picked up C. L. Stong's 1960 collection of his “Amateur Scientist” columns from Scientific American for $1. One dollar! Originals like this one trade hands for more than $200, and as of this writing there's one listed on Amazon for $847! And it may be worth every penny of even those market prices. I badly wanted this book after coming across it in a library in my high school years. My family had a subscription to Scientific American and I used to read the Amateur Scientist particularly and obsessively; even though the 1980s and 1990s were the twilight of the column (which went though a hiatus in the early nineties before ceasing publication altogether in 2001) you could still find there some absolutely bonkers projects.