Another Win for Charcuterie

This weekend, Danger and I made hot dogs.

From scratch.

I used the recipe straight from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. As usual, the recipe came out perfect with no tweaking. BUY THE BOOK! Seriously, that's, like 7-for-7 on recipes I've tried out of it

All tested and all awesome:

  • Preserved lemons
  • Duck breast prosciutto
  • Ginger-sage breakfast sausage
  • Maple-cured bacon
  • Cured salmon
  • Merguez
  • Hot dogs

My amateur food photography sucks, so here's someone else's picture of some hot dogs. They looked just like this. Swearz.

Photo by Sandor Weisz via CC Search

Photo by Sandor Weisz via CC Search


Our Family Game Builder

My 8 year old son, Danger, thought it would be fun to make a board game. He wants to be a game designer and he loves watching TableTop. A print-and-play Stratego seemed like a fun project.

The Map

Danger was in charge of this. He got some poster board (green, because that's what color a field is) and drew a grid on it. After that, he added the lakes. It came out awesome.  It's in 4 pieces so they stack instead of folding up.


I'm the Map!


The Pieces

Nice mustache!

I was prepared to just do my best drawing the images, but while I was looking for inspiration, I found an awesome collection of Statego SVG files that look exactly like the 1980s version I played.

I printed enough of everything on white card stock with a nice star on the front side. Danger cut everything out, folded it, and glued it up. I used a spreadsheet and a lot of "Print Preview" to get everything lined up for printing.

Let me know if you want the spreadsheet.

A Box

I had a nice box left over from Boccalone (where I got my "Tasty Salted Pig Parts" shirt). It works perfectly. The map fits nicely without rolling and the box has a couple of partitions inside that can hold the pieces.


It came out great. Danger even taught his (5-year-old) little sister to play. She mostly just stumbles into bombs until she finds the flag, but the extra-aggressive strategy combined with her uncanny luck is quite effective. I may post about her prowess at poker later.


He always looks like that when he's winning


Check Out Mrs. Mojo!

Mrs. Mojo built a thing! It's a pin cushion on a fabric band. When she ties it around the sewing machine, she has a pin cushion at the ready. It's nice work.


"My sewing machine and pin cushion keep getting separated" meets every definition of a problem that barely needs solving, and she solved it with aplomb. I don't know how I got so lucky, but I'm glad I did.

Apple Keyboard Power Cable

Power a keyboard with USB instead of batteries

I have an Apple Wireless Keyboard that I love, but it runs on batteries. This little project is how I put a USB wire on it to make it work without batteries. It's still a Bluetooth keyboard, it just runs off of USB power.

The Parts

To complete this, you'll need:

I got all of it for about $16 (not including the keyboard).


1. Drill the metal bits

You'll have to drill holes in the battery cover and the "negative" end of one dummy battery. This was by far the trickiest part.

Make the holes just big enough for your USB cable to pass through with the insulation. I was not confident in my ability to nail this on the first try and I didn't want this to be a permanent conversion, so I bought another battery cover from eBay. If you're really committed, you could drill the one that came with the keyboard.

2. Run the wires

Here's what I'm calling the wires involved:

  • New red: A wire you supply that will connect the Vout pin of the AMS1117 to the positive contact inside the dummy battery.
  • New black: A wire you supply that hooks together the ground of the USB cable, AMS1117, and negative contact inside the dummy battery.
  • USB red: The red wire that's already inside the USB cable. It will supply +5V to the AMS1117
  • USB black: The black wire that's already inside the USB cable. It is the ground for all components.

You'll need to drill holes in one end of each battery so a wire can run between them. Run the new red wire all the way through one of the dummy batteries.

Cut the end off of your USB cable and find all of the wires.

Push the USB wire through the drilled battery cover and negative battery terminal. If you buy the same dummy batteries I did, the ends pop out. That's useful for soldering wires to the metal bits without ruining the plastic bits. You have to solder:

  • The new red wire to:
    • the positive end of a dummy battery and
    • pin 2 of the AMS1117
  • The new black wire to:
    • the negative end of the other dummy battery and
    • the usb black and pin 1 of the AMS1117
    • The usb red to AMS1117 pin 3

Here's the pinout from the chip's data sheet:

When you're finished, it will look kind of like this:

3. Test it

Hook the USB cable up to a power source and make sure you get 3.3V between the positive and negative terminals of your dummy batteries.

4. Glue it

When I was done with soldering, I put a glob of hot glue on the usb wire and pulled it down into the dummy battery so it doesn't move. Then I assembled the batteries and glued the gap between them to keep them stuck together.

The battery cover is not glued to anything. It can spin on the cable. To hook it up, just take the batteries out of your keyboard and put this thing in instead.

Standing Desk Converter

I've been thinking a lot about health lately, thanks to Clairvoyant's health challenge. And I've been reading about the health benefits of a standing desk (or maybe not). You can buy standing desk converters like these:

But they start at $75 & they don't look great, so I decided to build one. I prototyped it with stacks of books and came up with a 12" rise for my keyboard and a 20" rise for my laptop on its mStand. The mStand isn't required, but I use it when I'm sitting so it might as well stay. 18" wide is enough to hold a keyboard and trackpad comfortably.

I built it out of some 3/4" cherry ply I had leftover from the desk. I routed the edges so they're rounded and I put a brace at the top of the back to hold everything square.

If I were to build it again, I would change some things:

  • move the legs in about 3/4"
  • have shelves overhang the riser by about 3/4"
  • blend the roundover more carefully into the lower shelf
  • use a wider brace so it's more certainly square

But that stuff is minor. I'm pretty pleased with it.

Leather Headphone Wrap

I'm still happy I tried out 3-D printing by making a headphone wrap, but the device itself leaves a little to be desired. A perfect headphone wrap would be:

  1. Small   shirt pocket size at the biggest
  2. Easy to wrap    or I'll never use it
  3. Easy to unwrap    or I'll curse at it
  4. Secure    it needs to hold the headphones while preventing tangles

My 3-D printed model scores a 3/4. Unwrapping is a pain, so I started looking for alternatives. Instructables user amalkhan has this model, which I like a lot. I also saw a few others that were more like a headphone wallet.

So I'm going to make one out of some scrap leather I have that matches my satchel. It comes down to 6 steps:

1. Make the Pattern

I picked a size that seemed reasonable and cut it out of cardboard to make sure it seemed right. I traced the cardboard on the leather. I want it to be 2 layers like the bag.

2. Cut the Leather

Rough cut leather

This is where I realized that two layers really complicates things:

  • The inner layer has to be shorter
  • The stitches have to be radial; not all parallel through the leather
  • Once you glue it up, it will never really lay flat for you again.

Still, I want the extra weight of 2 layers.

3. Glue and Trim

Put glue on one end of the leather and keep it secure. It's best to wait until it's all set before you continue. I did not do that. Once it's secure, clamp it around a dowel or something and glue it the rest of the way.

After it's all glued up, trim off any over-hanging leather corners to even up the edges.

4. Stitch

All Stitched Up

Another reason I wanted two layers of leather is that I could put cool stitching around the outside of the thing. This is the part that takes the longest; it took me 42 stitches around the whole thing.

5. Add The Snap

To hold it together, I punched in a line 24 snap.

6. Finish the Edges

I started the edges by sanding with 400-grit sandpaper, then I put some glycerin saddle soap on a rag and rubbed it into the edges. It came out looking like this:


That's about it. So far it has stayed in my pocket one day without tangling.

A Slingshot Ammo Catch Box

A while ago, I got a slingshot and started trying to scare the doves away from my pool so they will poop somewhere else. It didn't scare the doves away, but it turns out shooting a slingshot is challenging and fun. It also scares the neighbors less than firearms or air guns.

The Problem: Lost Ammo

I can shoot the same airsoft BBs I shoot at the doves, but bigger ammo is much more satisfying (and results in less hand-slap from the bands). The bigger ammo isn't as cheap as the plastic BBs. At 80¢ each for .38 cal steel balls, it's sort of important that I get to shoot each one at least a few times before it gets lost.

The Catch Box


It's made from the cabinet that used to be my coffee shrine before I built a new one. I just stapled a towel to the ceiling inside it to arrest the shots. It already had a screw that used to hold a power strip in place, so I used that to hang an aluminum can from a wire.

Turns out an aluminum can isn't really a good target for a steel ball flying at a couple hundred feet per second. It gets sort of shredded after a couple of hits. Steel cans work better. They still look destroyed, but they actually hold up pretty well. This one has been hit at least a few dozen times.

It Works!


The box is performing well. It traps about 1/2 of the shots inside. Another 40% can be found on the ground right in front of the trap. The remaining 10% get away and I have to go track them down, but none of them have made it 33 feet back to where I'm standing to hit me in the eye.

Industrial Chic Lamp

I needed a lamp for my new desk, so I built one.

The One I'm Sort Of Copying

Industrial Chick Lamp

My lovely wife found this lamp that she liked the look of. At the time of this post, it was available from Shades of Light for $225.

Looking at it, you can see it's just made of steel pipe parts. It doesn't even look like any are custom cut & threaded. It looks like there may be a union in the middle of the longest pipe, possibly to make shipping and assembly easier, but it doesn't look like anything I couldn't do with a trip to the Orange Store or Blue Store.

I had a few hours to spend on a project on Labor Day, so I gave it a shot.

The Deal

I'm doing this because I feel like doing a project. If I can build a lamp my wife likes as much as the one on the web site, we'll keep it. If my silly project turns out looking cheap & crappy or if she just has her heart set on another one, I'll abandon mine in the alley and buy her whatever lamp she likes.

Finding Parts

I decided to use a pendant light that's designed to hang from its cord, because I don't actually know what kind of hardware converts from plumbing to lamp fixtures. If it hangs on its own wire, I can sort of cheat and just run the wire through the pipe.

I was hoping to have something that comes out looking like this one from Restoration Hardware, but made out of pipe like the first one.

I went to my local Orange Store and picked out  a vintage-looking pendant lamp. It's made for mounting to a box in the ceiling, so (as with all good projects), I'll have to start by cutting up a perfectly good product.

The rest was just parts.

Parts List

Building It

Take the perfectly good pendant lamp and pull the cord out from the ceiling mounting fixture. This will leave you with a lamp & wire, but no housing to hang it from anything.

To make the head assembly, thread the pipe fittings over the wire in this order:

  1. 90° elbow
  2. 8" nipple
  3. 45° elbow
  4. 8" nipple
  5. 45° elbow

Screw everything together, being careful not to twist the wires on the inside as you do so. Now is a good time to check the height. I wanted mine hanging 3-4" below the pipe. Adjust the lamp until you have just enough exposed wire to hang right.

Cut the receptacle end off of the extension cord (that's 2 perfectly good things we've ruined so far!) and fish it through the tee fitting. The wire should make a 90° turn inside the tee. Next, feed the wire through the 6' pipe. This was tricky for me because the stranded extension cord wire wasn't rigid enough to push through all 6 feet. I had to tie a screw to a string and send the string through first. After that, I could use the string to pull the wire back.

Tee Fitting

Don't attach the tee, the 6' pipe, or the head assembly yet.

Split the wires on both the lamp and the extension cord. Thread heat-shrink tubing over the wire. I always forget that part. Figure out which side is the common wire  and hook the wire going to the wider prong on the extension cord to the white wire on the lamp cord. Strip a lot of the wire (like 1") and twist them together. Solder it up. This is going to live forever inside a pipe where you'll never be able to inspect it again. It's important that you get a good mechanical and electrical connection between these wires. I put heat shrink over each wire and a bigger one around the whole connection. Shrink the heat shrink.

Test the lamp at this point. If it's not working, cut your work out of the middle of the wire and start over.

Attach the 6' pipe to the 45° elbow of the head assembly. Try not to twist the wire as you go.

Attach the tee to the other end of the 6' pipe. Again, try to keep the wire from twisting as you do this (it's a bit tricky and a few turns over 6' of wire will be fine, but don't let it get kinked).

Attach the flange to the base using wood screws. Insert the close nipple into the tee fitting and have someone hold the lamp so you can screw the base on.

You're done!

I was going to paint it a cool hammered bronze color, but the galvanized came out looking pretty good, so I'm just going to leave it.

The Cost

It took me 2 trips to the Orange Store (I built the lamp too short the 1st time; the 6 foot height is much better).

I spent about $150 on parts, including the pipes I didn't use and the paint that we decided not to apply.  The whole thing came together in about 3 hours.

The Verdict

We can keep it! It doesn't look as cool as the $600 Restoration Hardware lamp, but it looks pretty good and it lights up the desk just like a lamp should.

Solving A Dove Problem

We made a small design mistake when we were installing our spa. It has a knife-edge border between the spa and the pool. It's like the Riviera for neighborhood doves, who like to dip stale bread in our water and poop on the tile.


1st Solution: Scary Fake Owl

Naturally, I wanted to prevent doves pooping in my pool. So I got this scary fake owl.

It didn't even work a little bit. If the doves noticed it all, it just helped them relax and move their bowels more freely.

2nd Solution: Scary Real Dog

When we were having some plumbing work done inside and outside our house at the same time, I parked a 90 pound dog inside the pool fence. I figured she would scare the doves away for at least a little while.

It didn't even work a little bit. She slept calmly in the shade and the doves seemed glad for the company.

3rd solution: A Slingshot


I went on eBay and bought a "hunting slingshot." The slingshot is plenty powerful to destroy a dove, but there are 2 problems with that: 1) a missed shot would probably break a pool tile and 2) cleaning up dove carcasses is not much better than cleaning up dove poop.

So I got really light-weight ammo: Airsoft BBs weigh in at a fifth of a gram and they can't really do much damage. I also have some practice ammo. They're also lightweight and mostly harmless, but they bounce really far when they hit a hard surface.

This actually worked well. You don't even have to hit a dove. If a fast-moving projectile hits anywhere near one of them, they all fly off in a rush.

2nd Problem: Doves are quite stupid

It turns out you can hit doves with airsoft bbs over and over and over again, and they keep coming back. They just land on a power line above the alley and wait a minute. Then they all descend on the pool again.

I deem this problem unsolvable.


My son has been in his school chess club since preschool. He loves playing it. I’m not very good at it (he’s 6 and can beat me sometimes), but there’s one thing I’ve always loved: big garden chess boards that you walk around on top of to move big chess pieces. So I decided to build one.

The Design

I decided to build the pieces out of flat stock because it’s easy to get, affordable, and I know how to work it. I decided on a hinged base so they would fold and lay flat.

Aside: I discovered during this project. It's awesome!

My son helped me design the pieces. He drew what he thought they should look like on Post-It notes and I sketched them on big butcher paper to make templates. The King is three feet tall. The Pawns are 2 feet tall and everything else is somewhere in between. It only takes 6 templates to make all 32 pieces, so that went pretty quick.

Then we traced the templates on to 1x8” pine. I bought 6’ pre-cut boards of select grade stuff and put 2 tall pieces or 3 pawns on a board.


This part takes a while. You have to carefully cut 32 pieces out of 8” boards with a jigsaw or bandsaw. I bet if I had a bandsaw, I could cut out a stack of 2-4 pieces at a time. I don’t have a bandsaw. I bet if I transferred the templates to a piece of hardboard first, I could have cut them using a straight-cutting router bit with a guide bearing. I didn’t do that. I cut all 16 pawns the hard way.

Then I sanded everything and routed the edges so they’re rounded over. It makes the pieces feel nice in the hand.


My son picked the colors. He said the white side should match the rocks in our back yard and the black side should match the pool fence. He got his design skills from his mom. We put drop-cloths in the yard and put 1 coat of primer followed by 2 coats of paint on both sides of all 64 pieces (including bases). This was a good family part of the project: no power tools or loud noises, just a lot of painting.

That's a philips-head screw he's holding. I'm not actually drilling a hole in my son's hand.


This was another good family part of the project. Each piece needed a hinge attaching the base to the figure. Then each base needed an angle bracket and each figure needed a threaded insert. When you stand the piece up, a thumb screw goes through the bracket and into the insert.

The Board

The base of each piece is 9¼” wide. I went with 12” pavers to be the black squares on my board. The white squares are just the same gravel as the rest of the yard. It didn’t look quite right until I added the border of bricks all the way around. It makes it look like the white squares along the edges are part of a chess board, not encroaching yard.


Dude. It’s strangely satisfying to walk around on top of a chess board, stepping between the pieces, looking at the game from different angles. Then you pick up a rook and walk it 6 feet. It’s really fun even if you’re not good at chess.


All together, this set took about 10 weekends of work (not totally full, just... a lot of work), but I'm glad I did it.

Cherry Tower Desk

Sometimes I make the joke that I build stuff because there’s stiff competition: my wife made two people. I’m just trying to keep up. We need a new desk. My wife really liked Ana White’s Parson Tower Deskand she bought me a Kreg Jig (she’s the best!). I liked the construction technique, but the dimensions were a little off for us. I also tweaked the materials.

I found great 30” cherry wood turning blanks at Woodworker's Source. They're 2” x 2” square and surfaced on all 4 sides. They are a little pricey (especially since I needed like 16 of them for this project), but I don't have a planer or jointer at home, so I needed something already surfaced for a nice clean fit. They also had a gorgeous sheet of ¾” cherry plywood to make the shelves.

I'm particularly proud of this little feature: I added a cable tray underneath the back edge of the desk and I got a Big power strip that stays in there. Everything is plugged in to the strip, so there’s just one power cord coming off the back corner of the desk. The back still looks like this:

nest of snakes

But the front looks like this:

Nice & pretty

My wife found a stainless desktop at Ikea. I think its name is SANFRID. Put it all together and add several coats of Maloof oil/poly blend, and you get a desk!

Finished Desk

I still don’t feel like this evens things up. My wife made two people. All I made was a desk.

Coffee Shrine

There are few things in life to which I am more devoted than coffee. For me, the proper way to show devotion is maniacal control over as much of the coffee production process as I can muster.  And that means a coffee roaster. And a coffee roaster has to live outdoors so the smoke doesn't kill your family or pets.

We had this really useful little (little!) counter outside our kitchen window. I put a half-screen on the window, so we can use it as a pass-through from the kitchen to the back yard. I want to make that into a huge counter over spacious cabinets.

I assembled and leveled the cabinets on adjustable feet to keep them off the ground. I added a power strip inside so I could leave everything plugged in. Then I put plywood and backer board over the whole thing, rented a tile saw and tiled it with 20” ceramic tile and a fetching bull-nose around the edge.

I think this shows an appropriate level of devotion.