. We’re baaaaack!

April 16th, 2014

Eight and half years after leaving Madison for the Twin Cities…and we’re right back where we started.  Boy that was a long road trip!  We will miss the Twin Cities and all of our friends up there dearly, but we’re very excited to be starting a new chapter in Madison, and this time it’s for good!

. How To: Home Security Upgrades

January 28th, 2014

I was the unfortunate victim of a home break-in. Luckily my wife and I were not home at the time. As someone who likes to think they are more security minded than the average person this was hard to stomach. On our garage door in the alley and the side door of our house I had a “Beware of Dog” sign even though we don’t have a dog. I also have dawn-to-dusk flood lights in the back of our house to keep our yard and garage well lit at night (they broke in during the day).

How did “they” do it?

They just threw a flat bar into our side door and threw their weight against it. Maybe they cased us and knew we were typically gone during the day and didn’t actually have a dog or maybe they just rang the doorbell and decided to break in on the spot when nobody answered. In either case, based on what they took and the condition of our house they couldn’t have spent more than five minutes in there. Grab and go. I suspect there were at least two of them because a 50″ TV was one of the stolen items.

What I Learned and Changed

*All of the mentioned items can be purchased at your local big box hardware store.*

Improve Visibility: There’s a wood fence on the side of our house that creates a sort of alleyway. Between this alleyway and the street there was an evergreen. I cut down the evergreen to create some visibility to our side door from the street.

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Upgrade Door Security: I had to tear out the old door and completely replace it since they broke the door and frame up quite a bit when they broke in. If you’ve ever worked with prehung doors you know the typical pine door jamb isn’t all that sturdy. I bought a three foot steel plate that fit the width of the door frame and used my router to mortise out the door jamb. I cut an opening in the plate so the deadbolt could catch it. I used 6″ TimberLok screws to set the door frame. I tossed my old standard storm door and upgraded it to a metal security door. Other items include an enhanced deadbolt catch and doorknob reinforcer. The security door received a dual cylinder deadbolt and standard keyed knob.

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Security Bars: These door bars are temporarily installed from the inside. It’s a great solution if you’re heading out of town and want to secure a garage service door or side/back door to a house.

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Window Coverings: Pretty basic, but after I remodeled our basement I never got around to installing window coverings. Maybe the burglars peaked in and saw my 50″ TV, maybe they didn’t, but given how much vinyl blinds cost it’s totally worth it.

Light Timers: We now have a couple of light timers in our house that go on/off automatically every single day. I’d recommend buying one that can be programmed with a different on/off time for every day of the week.

Security Cameras: Now on to the fun part – security cameras! I’m running x2 Foscam FI8904WS units. They aren’t HD, but the images are fairly decent. They support Wifi or Ethernet although I would recommend using Ethernet if possible as it drastically improves viewing them remotely. They need external power so for some this might be a deal breaker. I’m using a paid service to store the footage rather than keep it onsite. The software support is solid and I can view the cameras via a Windows or iPhone application. They have an IR mode for at night which works fairly well in my setup. I’ve heard of others having issues with these cameras in bright light so I would try to install them under an overhang or soffit if possible. Even though they’re outdoor cameras you probably don’t want them sitting in the elements, anyway. I’ve been running them for almost a year and I’m very happy with them. They have really good uptime and rarely crash or freeze up. So far they’ve been exposed to weather from -25F to 100F.

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camera

. Raspberry Pi, XBMC, and an old TV

January 16th, 2014

I won’t get deep  into the details on what Raspberry Pi or XBMC is; let’s just say the Raspberry Pi is a very small computer and XBMC is a media center OS that runs on the Pi.

I was about to send this old CRT to the electronics graveyard when I realized it would provide for a great setup at work to stream to the TWIT Live feed.  (I work in IT so staying on top of tech news is super important, right?)  It’s kind of a low tech setup considering I’m using composite video, but I have to say it actually looks pretty decent and is perfect for just streaming a news feed like TWIT.

I’m using a small wireless keyboard from Logitech (K400r) with a built-in touch pad which works great.

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Raspberry Pi

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Old 13″ CRT streaming TWIT

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. Bath Crashers Holiday Party Palace – S8E12 – 2013

December 21st, 2013

Our episode has aired.  It was a great experience!  Thanks to everyone who helped to make this happen.

http://www.diynetwork.com/bath-crashers/holiday-party-palace/index.html

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GNEONN2/ref=dv_dp_ep12

I built this…

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…and Bath Crashers built this.

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But before that we got to make a giant mess inside the house.

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Basement Features: Bar, Kegerator, Four TVs, Separate Men’s/Women’s Stalls (w/urinal), Walk-In Shower, Infinity Tub

. How To: Wire your house with Ethernet (Cat6) and Coaxial (RG6) Cabling

December 5th, 2013

Goal: Set up a rack that can house servers, a patch panel, network switches, and any other desired equipment.  Cat6 Ethernet wiring and RG6 coaxial wiring will be run to each room. If you think about it, installing Ethernet wiring is a relatively simple task.  If you take all of the walls and drywall dust out of the equation it really just amounts to terminating the wire ends with the appropriate jack.  The biggest challenge you will face is figuring out how and where to run your wiring from point to point.  In my case I have a single floor home and decided to install my rack in the basement, feeding the wires up through the floor and into the walls above.  As always, measure twice and cut once.  You don’t want to miss your mark and end up with extra holes in your walls.

Tip: Transferring measurements from one floor to the next can be challenging.  Look for reference points that traverse multiple floors to base your measurements off

Parts List: Here’s the list of what I used minus the networking equipment and tools.  If you don’t have tools for working with data wiring you will need a punch-down tool, wire cutters, and crimpers that work with RG6 and Cat6 wiring.  You’ll be making holes in walls/floors so a drill with a right angle attachment (or just a right angle drill) and drywall saw will come in handy. Prices are from January, 2013.

Monoprice UPC Description      PPU
1040 Cat6 RJ-45 Toolless Keystone – Blue      $1.16
7266 Cat6 Plug Solid W/Insert 50U 100pcs/Bag      $7.74
7253 Cat6 Patch Panel 110 Type 24 Port (568A/B Compatible)      $19.82
6731 Wall Plate for Keystone, 4 Hole – White      $0.38
2114 3FT 24AWG Cat6 550MHz UTP Ethernet Bare Copper Network Cable – Blue      $0.93
6539 Blank Insert For Wall Plate – 10pcs/Pack (White)      $0.65
6542 Keystone Jack – Modular F Type (White)      $0.40
Home Depot UPC Description      PPU
48243994199 500 ft. 23/4-Gauge Category 6 Riser Blue Internet Wire      $79.00
783250890194 OmniConn RG-6 Compression F-Connectors (10-Pack)      $4.99
48243373581 500 ft. RG6 Quad Shield Coaxial Cable      $50.00
100160916 Carlon 1-Gang Low-Voltage Old-Work Bracket      $1.30
Buy.com UPC Description      PPU
208930748 Tripp Lite – 2-Post Open Frame Rack Cabinet – 25U – 19″      $137.99

Steps:  This is really just wash, rinse, and repeat.  I won’t bother getting into how to run the wire since every house will be different.  Setting up each room’s wall plate is basically the same once you get the wires where you need them.  I used my punch-down tool to terminate the Cat6 wires into the patch panel and on the other end the tool-less keystone jacks.  Use a low-voltage (orange) bracket for the wall face plate.  The RG6 gets terminated the same on each end with a compression fitting and will either connect into equipment on your rack or into the wall plate’s F-connector.  I only have a four-way DirecTV splitter so I omitted using a distribution amp or patch panel, although you could certainly do that if you had a lot of connections.

Pictures:

wires

Wires on the floor…

Cat6 stripped and ready for termination.

Cat6 stripped and ready for termination.

Low-voltage bracket for wall plate.

Low-voltage bracket for wall plate.

Wires hanging from the ceiling....

Wires hanging from the ceiling….

Wires with face plate.  Note how I looped the wire through the face plate so they wouldn't slide back down.

Wires with face plate. Note how I looped the wire through the face plate so they wouldn’t slide back down.

rack

Rack with Cat6 and RG6.

. How To: Build an Oak/Wood Bar

May 27th, 2013

This design can accommodate a wet bar setup, kegerator, or just a plain old bar.  I did this in oak although you could use just about any quality hardwood.  Every space is different, but the basics of the design should work in most environments. Follow your local codes on outlet spacing and requirements, plumbing, or any other trade work requiring a permit.

1) Buy (or build) some base cabinets. This is your starting point. Allow space to account for a kegerator, refrigerator, or sink if you want one.

bar trim detailed color

 

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2) Build out a double wide pony stud wall off the back of the base cabinets. Most bar tops are in the 42″ range. You’ll need to account for a 3/4″ plywood base and a 3/4″ oak top so going with around 40-1/2″ on the stud wall is about right.

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3) Use 3/4″ oak plywood as a face on the pony wall.

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4) Add more of the oak plywood to the top of the bar and the base cabinets.  My final bar top uses two 1×8 boards so my plywood base is sized accordingly.  Dry fitting is really important here to make sure the bar rail, plywood base, and oak finish boards all are going to line up right.

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5) Add your counter tops of choice.

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6) Add the oak to the top of the bar.  I used two 1×8 oak boards so it’s roughly 14″ deep.  I think this is a pretty good depth, but you could definitely make it deeper if you wanted to.  Just remember that the more overhang you have on the bar top the more support you’ll need.  My design didn’t require corbels, but if you go deeper you might need them.  If you’re making turns like in my design try to keep the wood grain going in the same direction.  In my case I actually didn’t adhered to this fully since it would have required using some really small pieces; I opted to go for structural integrity and I’m probably the only one who notices it, anyway.

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7) Add the bar rail to the front of the bar.  Get ready for sticker shock, especially if you’re using a higher end wood.    (Menard’s has this in oak in the store for about $10 per foot.)  To trim out the backside of the bar top use some 3/4″ outside corner molding.  

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8) Add the stiles (vertical pieces) to the front of the plywood.  I used 1×4 pieces, but go bigger or smaller if you like.  Determining the number of panels will be contingent on how much space you have and how big you want them to be.  Just make sure they’re all the same size, if possible.  If you have corners you’ll probably want to rip a bevel cut on a table saw and fit the two pieces together.  Use decorative 5/8″ quarter round to dress up the panels.

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9) Stain and add three coats of polyurethane.

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10) Toast a job well done with your favorite beverage!

. How To: Splitting HDMI to Four Screens & How To Prevent Damaging HDMI Connectors

May 20th, 2013

I’m sure we’ve all been stuck asking ourselves how to split a single HDMI source to four screens. OK, maybe not, but I actually did find myself in this situation after an addition to our already finished basement. (Previously I was using a 1×2 splitter to my couch TV and bar TV.) After adding in a big bathroom I went up to four total screens. Granted, three of them were in the 22″ range, but needing connectivity nonetheless. Splitting two ways is one thing, but trying to split to four screens had me a little nervous. Since the four screens occupy our primary entertaining space I really wanted to have the ability to display a football game or Bluray to all four screens simultaneously. The end result is that I decided to go with a Sewell 1×4 HDMI 1.4 splitter. Three of the four runs are in the 40-50 foot range. The only issue I have is the occasional pink tint due to a sync error with DirecTV. Manually forcing a resolution change usually fixes it. For the most part I’m pretty happy with how the splitter has worked out. For a variety of reasons I’ve decided to forego using an HDMI in-wall solution. In order to take the torque off the connectors I mounted the splitter to a 1×6 and strapped down the cables to prevent them from moving around.

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. How To: Use your phone to control all of your home theater equipment.

March 27th, 2013

The Griffin Beacon is a nifty little device that communicates with Android/Apple devices (there are two separate versions) via Bluetooth and sends IR signals to a wide range of electronics.  You install the Dijit app on your phone, enter in the manufacturer of the device you want to control, and you’re off to the races.  I was in the process of upgrading my iPhone and had the idea to see if I could use my old phone as a touchscreen universal remote.  For $40 you can get just that with the Beacon.  I also needed the ability to control devices in another room and so far the Bluetooth range works just fine for that.  My wife and I both use iPhones (plus my old one) so we essentially have three devices that can act as remote controls.  The only complaint I have about the Beacon is that it takes four AA batteries and by all accounts depletes them very fast.  I put together an AC adapter for it as soon as I got it so I can’t comment on the battery life.  I have pictures below of how the AC adapter works, but for a detailed overview check out this existing post on how to make one.

http://www.dijitcommunity.com/article/88751/How-to-modify-your-Griffin-Beacon-to-use-an-optional-AC-adapter/

In my case I am using a 6-volt, 300mA adapter and it reports 100% battery.

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Here’s what the interface looks like once you have added your devices.

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Dummy batteries.

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Using the multimeter to make sure the polarity is correct.
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Dummy batteries inserted into the Beacon.

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Griffin Beacon

 

. Nathan Parker Bush: 1985-2012

January 18th, 2013

It has been three weeks since we got the call.  This has been the worst experience of my life.  I have now lost all of my grandparents, but for lack of a better word those deaths seemed so natural compared to this.  Once you have made it way past the average life expectancy the jig is kind of up.  There is not really anywhere to go once you have made it into your 90s.  To be robbed of someone who was so full of life at 27 years of age is just unspeakable, unthinkable, but here we are and it has happened.  In some ways this has felt like an out of body experience.  Did we really have that funeral?  I feel like I have been watching myself play a character in some horrible nightmare.

In title, Nathan was my brother-in-law.  I never really thought of him that way, though.  He was always just a friend.

I remember when I first met Nathan.  I did not like him very much.  He was still in the throes of post adolescent angst.  Defiant.  Argumentative.  Always giving his parents a hard time.

It was not until his mom hauled all of his stuff up to Madison and said, “You are going!” that I finally noticed a faint glimmer of adulthood in him.  For the first time he finally seemed to get it.

From there on out we had some good times.  I can remember him asking me at his first “real” place in Madison, “How do I grill?”  So I came over, and showed him how to make a pyramid out of charcoal.  Around the same time as this he had to ask his sister, “How do I make eggs?”  (As in scrambled eggs.)  Another Nathan story we often like to tell is the time at the cabin when he was handed a glass of iced tea and he paused, looking at the glass, and then proceeded to say, “What do I stir this with?”  Well, Nathan, most people would choose a spoon, but if you would like to use a fork, knife, or even your finger go right ahead.  Sometimes he would ask silly questions that to the rest of us clearly had a common sense answer.  That was just Nathan.

Cindy and I graduated two years ahead of him and moved to Minneapolis.  I remember Wisconsin was playing the Citadel in football and Cindy could not go because she was taking the GMAT exam (for her MBA) so I went to Madison without her and stayed with Nathan and we went to the game.  I recall him saying that it actually was not that weird hanging out with just me without his sister (which made me feel pretty good).  After graduation he moved to Chicago.  Whether it was in Minneapolis, Chicago, the cabin, or Madison we seemed to find ample opportunities to get together during the course of a year.

The thing I will struggle with the most is the NEVER.  I will NEVER get to be in Nathan’s wedding.  I will NEVER go to another Badger game with him.  I will NEVER paddle around with him on Parker Lake on our way to Mark’s Tavern.  I will NEVER get to argue with him over who is better, the Bears or the Packers (obviously Packers).  There will NEVER be any Bush cousins if Cindy and I have kids.  I know I should not dwell on these things and should hold onto the good memories, but I find it impossible not to think about “what if”.

I do not really know where to go or what to do from here.  Life has to go on somehow, but for those of us close to Nathan it will never be the same.  We will miss you and love you forever, Nathan.

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. Wisconsin introduces Gary Andersen as the new head football coach.

December 21st, 2012

For the most part I tried to stay out of the speculation merry-go-round (OK maybe in print only) because coaching searches are closed door affairs.  Well, the search is over as the Badgers introduced Gary Andersen as the head coach who will succeed Bret Bielema.  I think it is a very good hire and with the roughly $80million in facility upgrades, a team that returns most of its players, and three straight BCS appearances the arrow is definitely pointing up.  It seems pretty clear to me that Coach Alvarez wants to see this program get to a national title game.  He might not come out and say it directly, but he has hinted at it by saying he thought the 2011 team was on the path to New Orleans.  A few plays here, a few plays there; you know the rest.

What Wisconsin gets in Gary Andersen that it did not have in Bret Bielema is someone who should not have to learn on the job about how to be a head coach.  Sure, Wisconsin is a lot different than Utah State, but Andersen will come in with the knowledge of how to run a program and most importantly, how to win.  The fact that he coached under Urban Meyer at Utah is exciting since Wisconsin will need to figure out a way to beat Ohio State if it wants to win more B1G titles.  By all accounts he is a great recruiter and clearly knows how to wring every ounce of productivity out of his players since they came into Camp Randall and only lost by a missed field goal.  His turnaround of the Utah State program was impressive so it will be exciting to see what he can do with Wisconsin’s resources.  It sounds like Ben Strickland is for sure staying and that the OC position is up in the air right now.  Maybe Matt Canada will be convinced to stay?  Time will tell.

As Barry would say, you better go get those season tickets right now because before long you might not be able to.