Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rock Band: AC/DC

The news today about an AC/DC branded Rock Band standalone game (or retail disc filled with DLC depending on how you look at it) disappoints me. Not so much because it is only going to be available at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, rather then for download like every other new Rock band track released in the past year, I don't really care about that.

Its because I would consider actually buy it, at least for a minute or two.

The pack is ridiculously overpriced, at $40 for a mere 18 songs which have to be bought all or nothing. The going rate is $2 per track purchased individually or a bit less then that when you buy a pack ($20 for 16 Blood Sugar Sex Magic).

But on the other hand the track list includes oodles of (what I imagine) are fun guitar songs. Plus they'd actually be songs where I couldn't possible sound any worse then the real singer.

Hopefully at some point the songs will be available for download bundled in smaller and more reasonably priced collections, or I can pick up the game used, so I can play Moneytalks and not feel guilty about being a sucker.


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Perfectionism

You might be wondering why, exactly, the bookshelves I started at the beginning of August are still not complete. There are many reasons like the fact that I only work on them on the weekends and not even every day each weekend, or the fact that it's a reasonably big project. But the truth of the matter is that any normal person would already be done with them by now. I thought a little story might help cement this:

After spending several hours on Saturday night sanding down every location where I put nail filler, the next afternoon I started back up by wiping down the bookcases with a tack cloth. This was the final preparation for finally staining them. While wiping them down, I realized that I had forgotten to sand the panels making up the back of the cabinets. They are A grade plywood veneer, so reasonably smooth as shipped, but I could feel the bumps as I was wiping them down.

Now in theory, no one will ever be touching the backs of the bookcases. You probably won't even be able to see them once the shelves are loaded up with books. And even if you did move the books and started caressing the backs of the cabinets, once two or three coats of varnish are applied, there is a pretty good chance you wouldn't have any idea that the back had never been sanded.

So I considered, debated with myself, tried to continue with wiping down the rest of the cabinets, but in the end I couldn't do it. I stopped wiping things down and sanded down a part of the cabinet that will be only partially visible, never touched, and covered in multiple coats of smoothing agent. Even though doing that meant that I was going to have to re-wipe everything down afterwards.

I couldn't help it. Because I would have known that that the back wasn't as nice as it could have been. That sort of unreasonable perfectionism is the real reason why I'm two months into the project, and still likely multiple weeks away from completion.

Not that I am in any rush to be done with the project; I enjoy working on it after all. And the standards I hold myself to for projects like this lend themselves to a quality product. But not to getting it done quickly.


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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bookshelf Update #7

DSC_2495Progress continues on my bookshelves, but up until today it wasn't really anything that photographed particularly well.

Last weekend I spent a ridiculous amount of time sanding all 21 shelves by hand. What I was actually doing was sanding the face pieces so that they were flush with the shelves, and since the shelves have only a thin layer of veneer on them, I didn't want to risk sanding through veneer. I probably could have made it work, but it seemed better to be safe, even if that did result in a really tired shoulder. After all that work, I only really had the time to do some testing on stain and nail filler combinations.

This weekend the progress was much more visibly dramatic. I filled all the nail holes in the bookcases and shelves, sanded everything down (again), cleaned it all up, put up wax paper to protect the walls and finally stained everything.

I thought the shelves actually looked pretty good unfinished, but I think the stain looks better. The stain picks up the grain in the wood nicely, and the color turned out plenty dark enough (there was concern it would be too light).

I'm not out of the woods yet on this project, as I still have a projected three coats of varnish to put on. But getting everything stained is a huge step towards actually finishing this thing.

Before staining, with nail holes filled and wall protectors in place.
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After staining.
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Shelf dominoes!
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Echo Chamber

My friend Shawn has a long history of introspective posts on his blog assessing himself, his work, his family, and how they all intertwine.

Lately he's been particularly loquacious about exactly how he thinks and why he gets as upset about things as he does. That sparked some comments, which triggered further posts, and even more discussion.

I can't relate to his utter disdain for having a job (any job), or the seeming lack of appreciation for the good things he does have. But I do know first hand how hard things are if you have a job you dislike. And if you hate the concept of having a job, that is going to make things tough.

Whether you agree with him or not, reading the series might help you fill up that slow time on a Friday.

A typical post from this year.
Existential Angst
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday
The American Dream
Get Over It

[ Update: I should clarify that I am sincere in feeling that Shawn's posts are interesting and worth reading. Very few people are as open and honest about what they are thinking and how they view their life. ]

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Spectators

My mom let Linzy and I know that a few days ago there was an article in the StarTribune about the Metcalf chessboard dedication that we went to last week. The article also had some pictures of the event, including one that looked out over the board and into the crowd during the live chess game. And there, standing towards the back were Brenden, Allison, Linzy and I. Unfortunately the crappy StarTribune website doesn't have any of the pictures with the online version of the article.

Cause, you know, that Internet thing is just a fad.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rotten Carrots

Earlier this week it was raining when I was going from work to the bus. That allowed me to, for the first time, use the little travel-sized umbrella that Linzy bought me months and months ago. I've actually had it for probably 6-9 months but when I was traveling a lot I would take it out of the laptop bag for trips and then forget to put it back in. Until the first rain storm without it, when I would put it back in, until the next business trip. Rinse, and repeat.

Anyway, so the other day I was proud of the fact that I both had the umbrella and remembered to use it. But as I was putting it back in my bag afterwards I noticed a zip-lock bag of carrots from an old lunch stashed on the very bottom. Occasionally I'll not eat my carrots and then bring them home so that I don't end up with two bags the following day.

The thing about this bag was that it was so old the carrots had started to rot (turning into orange-colored sludge). Which, honestly, I don't know that I've ever seen before. Which made me wonder just how something like that takes to happen, and thus how long I had been carting that bag of carrots back and forth to work. My guess would be a month or more.

Regardless it was gross. Luckily the zip-lock bag was much heartier then the carrots were, and it hadn't leaked at all. It also made me check what else was buried at the bottom of the laptop bag, but the only other random thing was an empty Tide-to-go pen.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Grammar

The other day I had to put together a presentation in a hurry at work, and didn't really proof-read it particularly well (or you might say at all). That shoddy approach to quality assurance resulted in the phrase "Packagable" slipping into the final (and only) draft. My English-major co-worker was nice enough to make sure I was well aware that wasn't a real word.

I'm not quite sure what I was thinking when I tossed in a description like 'packagable', but at least it was in something thrown together. On the other hand I've been thoroughly annoyed with one of the songs on the new Metallica album where the chorus goes over and over "What don't kill you make you more strong".

That was the best they could come up with, after 5 years and who knows how many millions of dollars sunk into a comeback album? Really? Did they listen to it at all?

Apparently I've become a grammar curmudgeon in my old age.


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Brenden's Birthday

IMG_0741On Saturday evening, Linzy and I went to Brenden's birthday party, the seventh annual Brenden's Beer and Bowling Birthday Bash.

It was smaller then the last couple years, but still a good time. We spent a while early in the evening playing some Rock Band 2, which has a pretty party-friendly songlist at least if your party attendees are roughly our age.

After enjoying cake, we went over to Southtown lanes for some bowling. Through the magic of a bundle deal we actually ended up bowling 3 games which was more bowling then I have done in a long, long time. Everyone did pretty well, although there was a noticeable drop-off in the third game as everyone got tired. But we were strong through two games.

I had a good time, and it was fun to spend time with friends.

Chris practicing the improved arm motion system Brenden was selling.
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Brenden striking a pose while Allison dances
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Hand-Dancing!
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Allison insisted she could spin hangers on each finger simultaneously. She can't, I'm sorry to report.
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Linzy, Chris and Andy heckling those of us still bowling in the third game.
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Metcalf Masters Chessboard

IMG_0717On Thursday evening, Linzy, Brenden, Allison and I went over to my former junior high to attend the dedication of the Metcalf Master's giant chessboard. Fred, Brenden and I donated to the project and bought a brick.

The ceremony was small, and of course low-budget, but I thought it was kind of enjoyable. While the board is meant to symbolize any number of big things, it is also a retirement gift for Mr. Ribnick, a long-time math teacher at Metcalf who has coached the chess team for 25 years. The team has been very successful and has 70-some memebers, which is roughly 1/10 of the school population.

That in itself is pretty impressive if you think about getting that many kids to join a nerdy activity like Chess, but the team has also been extremely successful. So it was nice to see them doing something significant to honor the program.

After the ceremony, we went into the school and took a look at some of the other trophies in the cases, and laughed over the old pictures of everyone from back in junior high. Then we met up with Fred and Robin for dinner nearby, and had a good time there as well. So it ended up being a pretty enjoyable evening.

Our brick. Compromises were required to fit everything onto it, most specifically in the dates. Fred was a member from 91-93, while I was only a member in 92, and we couldn't fit a reference to Brenden being captain either. If you ignore the slight historical inaccuracies, I think it looks nice.
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The solid teak pieces were heavy.
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A selection of the many, many trophies the team has won. I think these were all national championship trophies, and represent only a fraction of the titles the team has won since 1983.
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A picture of the 1992 team, after a second place finish in the state.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gym Class

Linzy and I had dinner with Fred, Robin, Brenden and Allison tonight and at one point we were discussing the activities we did back in junior high gym classes. Back when, apparently, safety wasn't quite as much of a concern.

For example:

  • Running the mile outside in the teacher's parking lot in the winter in Duluth
  • Archery - Hormonal Teenagers with projectile weapons? Clearly a good plan
  • Unsupervised Gymnastics - Brenden tried a flip dismount from the rings and landed on his head
  • Javelin - See archery - I actually watched a kid got hit in the foot with a javelin

I liked archery when I was in school, but even then it seemed amazing that no one got shot.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bad Day

The strangest thing I saw today:

A woman sitting in her car at a stop light sobbing uncontrollably, writing furiously in pen on a piece of paper against her steering wheel.

I have no idea what was going on, but chances are good that you were having a significantly better day then she was.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Uniform

Today at work, one of my co-workers and I were wearing virtually the exact same outfit, down to the shade of grey in the dress shirt and a white t-shirt underneath. This wouldn't have been so bad, except that we both manage complementary groups (i.e. I have the database team, he has the application server team) so we go to virtually all of the same meetings, spend all day talking to mostly the same people, etc. Sort of like The Bobs.

With Linzy's assistance, I've created a dramatic reenactment:



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Monday, September 15, 2008

Phone Update

After not quite two months with my new (to me) Sprint Mogul phone, I thought I would post an update on what I thought about it after the newness wore off. The phone was on my mind because I spent the entire bus ride home doing e-mail on it. Which probably could sum up the review in and of itself.

More seriously, I really do like the phone. I have quibbles with it, but in general I am really glad that I bucked up and bought something with a qwerty keyboard and more features. I am not sure that I use it as much for really detailed writing as I might have thought. That is I haven't written a single real blog post with it, and most of my e-mails top out at a paragraph or two. But on the other hand, I do send quite a bit of e-mail with it, and since these days most of my e-mails for better or worse are things like "Can you take a look at this", or "Looping in ....", that it works out just fine.

As far as typing on the keyboard, it is a very comfortable size and easy to use. My only complaint is that it is still a bit overly sensitive, and so I have to be really careful to look over the e-mail for extra letters and random punctuation. On the good/bad news side of things, the keyboard is nice enough that I can consistently out-type the e-mail client's update speed. So I frequently stop to check for double letters, only to find out it hasn't inputted my last sentence. That's good because it show show easy the keyboard is to use, but bad because well...I'm spending time waiting when I could be spending time correcting my atrocious spelling.

The Internet browsing is not all that spectacular. Mobile IE is basically a pile of junk, but does beat out Opera Mobile. Which I guess says something about the state of the mobile browsing industry. IE does seem satisfactory for Google Reader, though it does only the WAP version :(, and the couple other sites I visit when out and about.

The most amazing part of the phone is just how bad the actual phone functions can be. The call clarity is terrific, I'm talking about actually trying to call someone. It's surprisingly complicated even given the relatively small contact list I keep in it. It works, but I routinely find myself having to think about what I need to do in order to do something phone related, which is something I honestly never thought about on former phones.

But all in all, being able to get e-mail and calendar updates on the phone are well worth any of the other quibbles, as are Mobile Word, Excel and Acrobat. I'm regularly shocked at the tasks I can pull off on the phone, without needing a real computer and that is a good thing. I fully expect never to own a non-smartphone again.


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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bookshelf Update #6

IMG_0702Construction complete!

Today my Dad and I finished the last construction step of the bookshelves for my guest bedroom, the crown molding. Despite having gotten all but a few pieces of the crown molding cut last weekend, actually putting everything together took quite a while. Like everything on this project, it took longer then I was expecting, as we went back and re-cut a few pieces, and spent a bunch of time making sure everything fit snugly together.

The end result looks really good (in my biased opinion at least), and is basically exactly what I was envisioning when I drew up what passed for the plans on the project.

Despite finishing the construction, there is still quite a bit of work yet to do. I have some tests to run to pick out what color stain will work the best, and which putty will match the best. Once I get that decided, then its a matter of staining the bookscases and all 21 shelves, and then varnishing, and sanding, and varnishing, and sanding, etc.

At the pace I work, coupled with time to let things dry, that's at least several more weekend sessions worth of week. But on the plus side, I am inching ever closer to completion. We might even get one of the cars back in the garage before the snow flies.

Test fitting one of the jut-outs
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The crown molding, partly installed.
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A closer view of two jut-outs.
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Death Magnetic

St. Anger is a horrible, horrible album. That made me very skeptical of Death Magnetic, the new Metallica album as it seemed like clearly their best days were behind them. And their even tolerably listenable days might have been as well.

But Death Magnetic turned out to be not as bad as I was expecting. It is no Master of Puppets, but it is certainly better then St. Anger or Reload.


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Speedy Delivery

Just before Labor Day weekend, I got a rebate check in the mail for purchasing Microsoft Money. A week after I had posted about the trouble with trying to buy a copy of the program and personal finance software in general, they started offering a mail-in rebate through the Microsoft site so I eventually decided just to take the easy way out and stick with what I know works.

Anyways, the surprising thing about getting the rebate check was that I had only purchased the software on August 18th. Then it took a few days before I got around to filling out the forms and mailing everything in. But in a mere two weeks the money was already deposited in my bank account.

That seemed insanely fast for a mail-in rebate, even if they do process a good portion of them in Young America, MN (this was mailed to Texas, but the check came from Young America). Certainly I was expecting to get the check months from now when I had forgotten all about it. Which I had, I guess, but still.

I wonder if that is an indication of the general decrease in the number of mail-in rebates these days compared with three years ago, or if they've just stopped trying to milk 12 weeks of interest out of all that float.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rock Band 2

In a sure sign of how busy I've been lately, I realized tonight that I totally forgot that Rock Band 2 is coming out this Sunday. A mere three days and Uno Hombre will be back in business with 84 new songs to play. That's going to be a lot of really questionable singing, let alone my only slightly less suspect drumming.

I'm excited, even if perhaps Linzy isn't looking forward to listening to me mumble my way through Hungry Like a Wolf or Eye of the Tiger. Lucky for her, I'm already booked with cabinet making work this Sunday.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I Scream, You Scream

Tonight after dinner Linzy and I were out running some minor errands when we decided to stop by the local Dairy Queen for ice cream cones.

Originally we were going to just hit the drive through, but despite the fact that it was nearly 8pm there were six or seven cars in the line. So instead we went inside to order, only to discover that the place was packed.

And by packed, I mean there were 33 people packed into the place (including Linzy and I). Due to the lateness, the store had closed their lower seating area, but were hurriedly re-opening it to accommodate the unexpected rush of patrons.

We did manage to find a place to sit and enjoy our cones, but it was pretty amazing to see over 30 people at Dairy Queen at 8pm. Especially considering it was 40 degrees out when I woke up this morning. I guess everyone had the same thought "One last ice cream cone before Fall kicks in".

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Bookshelf Update #5

IMG_0672This weekend not much visible progress was made on the bookshelves. My Dad and I only worked on them on Saturday, and while we made some progress it didn't really result in anything that was particularly photogenic.

We made some oak pieces to go behind the lower face frame and below the main ledge which, by design, is not visible except if you are laying on the floor. Since the wall is less then straight, it involved rather lengthy cuts by hand with a sabre saw, and while not my best work will serve its purpose just fine. Then we moved on to cutting all of the quarter-inch strips for the fronts of the shelves. That was painfully laborious process as cutting strips that thin is fairly slow and error-prone, as is cutting each one to a precise length by hand.

Once the strips were cut we spent the afternoon working on the crown molding. After an hour or so of panic after none of the cuts were coming out correctly (using the wrong side of the saw blade), and spending time making drying harnesses that probably won't be used and a cutting sled that also wasn't used, we eventually hit our stride and got about two-thirds of the pieces cut.

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But then before anything could be put together, we discovered we didn't have the perfect length nails so nothing was put up, so the end result was:

We finished a board you can't see.
We cut strips for shelves but didn't put them on.
We cut about 15 random pieces of crown molding but didn't put any of it together.

Thus, the "productive, but not photogenic" comment.

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On Sunday after the Bike Classic I did spend an hour or two sanding and putting the strips on the shelves. That work was done completely unsupervised, so in a few weeks when Bookshelf Update #27 is all about me redoing the shelf facings, you'll know why.

Still I think we are making good progress. At this point we're planning to finish the crown molding next weekend, which should mark then end of the actual woodwork. Then it will be on to sanding, staining, and varnishing everything. So quite a bit of work remaining, but the end is drawing nearer.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

St. Paul Classic Bike Tour 2008

IMG_0684Today my Dad, Brenden, Allison and I rode in the St. Paul Classic Bike Tour. It was a good time, and a nice way to spend some time with friends.

It was my fourth trip to the bike classic (2005, 2006, 2007) and everyone else's second ride. We rode the 30-mile route as usual, and took a pace that was comfortable for everyone.

The weather was pretty typical of past rides, pretty cold. It wasn't the most miserable weather (that would be 2006) but I was pretty cold (shivering) for nearly all of the ride. That was my own fault for gambling around 7am that the sun would come out and wearing shorts and only one shirt, but it would have been nice to have been a bit warmer.

A week or so ago they sent out an e-mail saying that they were still accepting registrations for the ride. That made me suspicious that they were having trouble drawing the normal level of participants. Whether it was fewer registrations, a better pace then previous years, or just perception the ride didn't feel as crowded as it did last year. That isn't to say it seemed poorly attended, it was just at a pleasant level where there were plenty of people but the route didn't seem like you were always riding in a pack and having to fight through huge lines to get food.

Overall I had a great time, and enjoyed being able to spend time with my friends.

Brenden, Allison and I in the Lake Como bandshell.
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Dad and I
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Battlestar Galactica Boardgame

DSC_2478Today when I got home from work, Linzy had a present sitting on the kitchen table: A Battlestar Galactica boardgame. From 1978.

Now, I had been telling her about the new Battlestar Galactica boardgame that is out (and/or coming out soon). But I didn't know there was an original game from the series back when Starbuck was still a man.

Linzy knew full well that I wasn't really interested in the old game, but since it was for sale at a garage sale she picked it up for me anyways. Unfortunately, according to the ratings on boardgamegeek it might not have been worth even those two dollars.

But I'll still probably give it a try, just to see how it plays. Plus it is amusing in its relative barebones flavor, with a few cardboard pieces, a couple dozen cards (of which there are only four varieties) and one plastic Cylon raider.

The complete contents of the box.
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The cards are amusing, unfortunately there are only three types of cards in the 'command' deck.
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The Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raider (the tie-fighter-looking thing in the foreground)
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The box advertises itself as 'the game based on the dazzling new series on ABC'. Should be amusing to try out. Best stop by for a test play soon before I get too much practicing in.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Goodbye Summer

This year the transition from summer to fall has been rather abrupt. It seems like the timer ran out on summer on Labor Day and since then it's been relatively cold, windy, and generally fall-like.

Tonight that was readily apparent when I mowed the lawn for two reasons:

  • I wore jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt and didn't regret the extra layers one bit.
  • The sun set before I finished the backyard.

On the plus side, I got the entertainment of watching the sunset and the entire sky go shades of pink as I went back and forth across the backyard. And I was comfy in my choice of apparel despite the wind.

But it was sort of depressing to realize that summer is indeed over.


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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Rest of the Weekend

Labor Day BBQ-6Thanks to the long weekend, we were able to fit in lots of activities other then just working on bookshelves.

On Saturday, we had Gerard, Mike, Dan & Kelli, Anita and the Phillips' over for dinner as Dan and Kelli were in town for the weekend. Dan and Nikki left pretty quickly after dinner, but everyone else stayed for a long while and it was good fun catching up with them and laughing over silly things we used to do. We were also able to get the most use out of the deck this summer, as the weather was terrific all night.

On Sunday Linzy and I went over to Paul and Laura's for dinner and had a great time hanging out with them and the kids. It was hot in the house, so after dinner we spent quite a while hanging out in the backyard playing with Evan. After he went to bed, we played a game of Ticket to Ride: Europe, that Linzy and I had picked up just for the occasion (after having talked about getting it for months).

TTR:E was fun, if slightly more complicated then regular Ticket to Ride. That complexity is probably good relative to the longevity of the game, but makes it slightly less 'beginner friendly'. As does the fact that all the towns are spelled in their native languages, making finding and pronouncing them sort of difficult. Still it was a lot of fun and everyone had a good time.

I also squeezed in a bike ride, some house cleaning, and of course watching a Battlestar Galactica episode. It was a full weekend, but definitely fun.


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Monday, September 01, 2008

Bookshelf Update #4

DSC_2466Another weekend, more time spent working on bookshelves for our guest bedroom. Dad and I worked on the project two out of the three days this weekend and made some pretty significant progress.

Sunday morning was spent getting the cabinets we had finished assembling last week up and in place on the ledge. That was a somewhat slow process as everything had to be shimmed, spaced, leveled, adjusted, and then adjusted some more. Eventually we started working on cutting face frame to make it start to look like a built-in bookcase rather then a collection of independent boxes.

Then today was spent completely on face frame, cutting it, sanding it, attaching it to itself, to the cabinets, etc. In the end, we got nearly all of the face frame completed (just one piece on the underside of the ledge remains). It definitely felt good to start seeing the design come together.

The bookcases shimmed in place. Amusingly we ended up spending a while cutting bigger shims out 3/16" oak panels after having trouble getting the regular shims to fit correctly and provide enough support.
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Drilling pocket holes for attaching the face frame together.
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Adding a roundover to the bottom of the lower horizontal face frame, to make it more pleasing to the touch.
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See the nice soft curve on the upper left corner?
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Practicing for cutting in the biscuits.
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Dad, measuring to make sure the vertical supports were going to end up in exactly the correct place while assembling the face frame.
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Attaching that face frame to the bookcases.
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The plan coming together (see here). Soon we'll be able to start on the crown molding.
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Incidentally the remaining piece of face frame (other then for the front shelves) is of minor debate as it is underneath the overhang of the bookshelves and completely behind the bottom face frame. So the only way to see it is by laying on the floor and looking under the cabinets. But it will be made, because otherwise the job wouldn't be finished.


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