One of the projects I took on during the lockdown months was to build a desk for my son’s room. It use to be that a desk meant some piece of furniture that featured drawers for all your paper files. Now multiple decades into the computer age, we no longer need all those drawers and file cabinets. Today a desk means a simple table and perhaps a riser for monitors. Most desks are just particle board, some metal, and perhaps a glass top in some cases. The problem with inexpensive desks is that they are flimsy and not made to last. On the internet you will find plenty of people who build their own desks. These do-it-yourself projects do not end up being cheap. Even a simple wood top can cost a few hundred dollars and that is before you consider if you will treat and finish the wood yourself. For my son, the cheapest option I found was a very affordable butcher block board from HomeDepot and some simple steel round legs. For some reason, I was able to get the butcher block top delivered to my house, however the table legs, I had to actually drive to the store and pick them up. Both items were not in stock in the store, so you had to order them on the website.
Bare Wood Needs Care
If you decide to get unfinished wood, you will need to treat it somehow. For a butcher block, you can use a conditioner or mineral oil. I ended up using oil-based pre-stain, stain, and finally a polyurethane finish. This was my first experience with a wood staining project and I learned that you need a lot of patience for doing this type of work. Wood needs lots of sanding and it becomes tedious work really quickly. It is also the little things that count in wood furniture. The edges of wood should be rounded and for someone who is not a carpenter, you would never have thought of that. Now when I go to a store and look at furniture, I can’t not notice if the edges are rounded or slightly beveled. The reason to treat wood is that wood dries out and sealing it, staining it, or using some other penetrating oil keeps it looking good. For a new shelf that I wanted to build quickly, I used teak oil on bare wood and was amazed at how smooth the wood came out days later. The smell took a week to go away, but other than that the process was very easy compared to multiple coats of stain.
The one tool that I can’t live without is my Dewalt Drill. For the longest time I had it still in the box and now I can’t stop using it. I used it to for all sorts of projects in the last year. For my son’s desk, I used the drill to drive in 4 screws for each leg mount. Once all the mounts were setup, we moved the butcher block top to the bedroom and attached the legs. The end result was a nice sturdy desk that will last for a long time.
The Home Office Desk
I was planning on making a secondary desk for my home office, but I’ve had some trouble with sitting all day long. Instead I needed a quick solution, so I looked at the options on Monoprice and found a couple of different ones. I settled for this Workstream dual motor frame and a matching 5 foot Workstream Table Top. The 6 foot table top seemed appealing, but when I measure my current table, it was actually less than 5 feet wide and so it would be more work to make a 6 foot table top fit.
Due to inventory, I ordered the frame from Monoprice directly and ordered the table top from Amazon instead. Both arrived in a few days. The frame was heavy and unassembled.
I removed my old desk that I have had since college from my office and once I cleared the floor space, I was ready to assemble the new desk. The frame comes with the necessary hex key tool. You will need your own Phillips screwdriver, and I would recommend your trusty Dewalt Drill with a driver, a measuring tape (I used instead a carpenter’s square). The frame is easy to assemble, just take your time. You will need another pair of hands to help you slide the table top underneath the frame. The predrilled holes in the table top will not line up with the frame. I used one hole only to line up the frame and then measured using the square to line up the legs equally on each side. Using your screwdriver drive in the one screw to the predrilled hole for each leg. You might need some lighting or a flash light if you got the black table top like me. Keeping each leg properly lined up on each side, use your drill to drive the rest of the screws for each leg. It goes without saying, but do not over tighten the screws. To be careful, I only use the drill most of the way, and then use the screw driver to finish tightening.
The rest of the assembly is the wire management. You might consider getting some adhesive Cord Clips – size 3/8″. They are rather expensive, but will help with the cord management. I prefer them to cable ties, because you can easily unclip cables if needed.
At this point, you will need your friend or spouse to help you lift the desk upright and move it to its final resting place. The rest of the setup is putting back all your equipment. The immediate need will be for having longer power cables. I ended up making a narrow shelf to hold my UPS to the right of the desk. A quick trip to Staples for a two outlet extension cord to plug my monitors into, so that raising the desk would not be a problem for my monitors.
Standing or Sitting
The control panel allows for three memorized settings. After two weeks, I’ve setup a standing height and a sitting height. Most mornings, I start with a standing desk and have my same routine of a couple of morning meetings on Teams and responding to multiple emails. In the afternoon, I’ll switch to a sitting desk position and be more in engaged in doing some work in Excel. Generally if I have a meeting where I have to present or that I am hosting, I will choose a sitting position, otherwise I stand for most meetings.
Overall the Monoprice solution works well. The implementation could be better. The wire management is still a pain when it comes to computers. It would be nice if either the table top came with pre-drilled holes for cables or some other cord management system, such as an attachment underneath to hold wires. You can buy third party solutions at Staples and even Monoprice offers some of their own too. My other leftover issue is that due to the monitors getting bigger, I have to figure something out for my studio monitor speakers which are bookshelf size. I may need to add a shelf to the wall to hold those. For now I will place them underneath with a small riser for them to be off the ground.
The big improvement that is evident is that my home office is clean for the first time in years. My old desk was mostly a cluttered mess of computer parts and paper work.
Sometimes the combination of technology results in a more complex difficulty than one would think. Recently I came across on annoying error message that displayed on my Sony TV from time to time when I was watching a movie. At first I thought it must be my AppleTV that is displaying this. The message was “There is no network connection right now” and after searching Apple’s forums there were people complaining of this same issue, but there did not appear to be a resolution. I then looked at Sony to see if the Google Android 8 software on the TV was to blame. For some reason unknown, Android 8 does not allow you to turn off IPV6 and I thought perhaps that was the issue. I spent some time troubleshooting my firewall and router settings and yet I could still not watch Eternals without this issue coming up.
I then noticed that the error was more common on Disney+ and not on Netflix. Last week, Apple released iOS 15.3 for the AppleTV. Before installing the new update, I deleted the Disney+ app and then rebooted the AppleTV. Next installed the iOS 15.3 update. Once the AppleTV was up and running, I reinstalled the Disney+ app and tried to duplicate the error with Star Wars movies and I could no longer get the annoying message.
In summary, I do not know what the actual cause of the error was. There are various posts stating that if you have your own DNS server on your LAN, that the Disney app does not like that. However, I tried changing this before and the message still appeared. The ease of use of all this software makes troubleshooting more difficult. Android TV 8, Apple iOS, and the Disney+ app all have limited options for turning off or customizing internet options. The combination leads to not really knowing where error messages are actually coming from. I wish Sony would just make a TV that would not come with any Google Android software. I don’t really need such complexity in a TV.
After some additional troubleshooting, I do think the error message was coming from the AppleTV itself. Disconnecting the ethernet cord from both the AppleTV and my switch, then restarting the switch and reconnecting to a different port on the switch seems to have resolved the issue.
Like the character Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, I have a designated spot in my living room. I often do online shopping from my couch and my default device is a MacBook Pro that I have had for a very long time. This is the 2010 model and it still has a working battery since most of its lifetime has been spent plugged in. This MacBook was replaced with a new MacBook Pro 16 last year. Both of these laptops are near and dear to me and represent a significant investment, so I want to protect them and keep them for a long time.
The most immediate danger is to the MacBook Pro that I use in the living room. There is a curious and very needy dog that lives in our house and he considers the living room his domain. In order to protect my Apple laptop from his paws, I decided to try and skin my laptops. Unlike a hard cover, a skin is more like a protective thin layer that you can apply to the top and bottom of your laptop. It won’t overheat your laptop and it is removable in case you want to sell your laptop or go back to its original look. Skins can be applied to all areas of your laptop, but overall the best benefit is to to the top and bottom of your closed laptop. This will protect the outer shell from scratches and may even prevent a dent. Another benefit, is that you can easily wipe off dust, hot sauce, cookie crumbs, and other things you might happen to spill on your closed laptop.
There are multiple websites that specialize in skinning. Almost all of theses skins are made from the same material and they are not exactly cheap. For the MacBook, I visited the forums on Macrumours.com and did a search for skins and found multiple threads on skinning your Apple devices. I tried three different skins, and found that ColorWare to have the better quality product. You may find a cheaper seller.
Once you get the skin, you can watch a couple of youtube videos that show you how to install the skin. You will need a hair dryer if you end up wanting to remove the skin. Lining up the skin perfectly will take some trial and error and you will want to be careful. Stretching the skin can rip it or deform it so that the end result will not look good. One skin I tried ended up ripping, so I do think ColorWare had better results due to it being a slightly better product. If you do purchase skins for the sides or other areas of your laptop, I think there is minimal return for the time that you put in. I would recommend just doing the top and bottom. Removing the skin is very easy to do, just use a hair dryer on low and a plastic tool (plastic credit cards or guitar picks will work as well).
After you have your laptop skin, you can rest assure that your laptop is a bit more protected from curious pets and your own carelessness at times.
In college one of my many part-time jobs was working at BestBuy in the Audio department. At that time, that meant selling home audio systems, car audio, and for some reason we also handled the cell phone sales. Believe it or not, one of the top phones we would sell was a bag phone that looked like an actual home phone! Back in the G1 days, cell phones had very limited range and so the bag phone was a good choice for people who wanted a phone for their car or tractor. Anyway, the big takeaway from that job was my addiction to high-end audio. There is just something cool about having massive speakers and a high-end receiver (that only appeals to the male gender). Over time, I would go through several home theater receivers, from Pioneer, Sony, Yamaha, Onkyo, to my personal favorite: Denon. Each had its strengths: the Pioneer was powerful and loud but ended up breaking, the Sony was just okay, the Yamaha was impressive but did not work well with my speakers, Onkyo had a bad HDMI board. Denon always sounded the best to me and my first Denon receiver is in my man cave. It is hooked up to a Raspberry Pi for music streaming.
The latest Denon is setup to drive a 7.2 home theater setup. Most people today do not setup home theater systems anymore. BestBuy does not even have a speaker listening room anymore. Customers usually only want a flat screen TV and maybe a sound bar. Since no one really buys blu-ray movies anymore, high quality audio is something most people don’t even experience. Streaming audio from NetFlix and Disney can’t compare to the lossless audio on a blu-ray 4K disc. For my 7.2 channel setup, the main speakers were the Eosone RSF-1000 towers that I had purchased while working at BestBuy. After multiple decades, one of the towers started to tick. The built-in amp for the subwoofer had blown and so it was time to replace the towers. These giant tower speakers had been responsible for reproducing the incredible sound stages of some of my favorite films: the opening scenes of Matrix Reloaded, the Gandalf vs Balrog battle in The Lord of The Rings, and pretty much every Star Wars movie action scene. Unplugging them and moving them down to the basement for storage was both physically and emotionally tasking.
The center channel speaker is the most utilized speaker in any setup. From all my speakers, my Klipsch center speaker is my newest speaker, so I figured why not match it with some new tower speakers. After some quick looking online, I found some very affordable Klipsch R-28F towers. Since the Eosone towers had built-in subs, I had to also find a subwoofer solution. I eventually ended up getting a pair of Klipsch R-12SW Subwoofers. In all these new additions were all pretty affordable and at first I was impressed with he new sonic clarity and booming bass of my Klipsch setup, but over time, I kept thinking it could still be improved upon. Klipsch speakers have an excellent bass sound to them and this makes them sound immediately loud to me. From years of headphones, my hearing has dropped off in the treble range and so I have trouble hearing the voices in movies at times. This moved me to find a more neutral sounding speaker setup. I should stress that the Klipsch R-28F towers in combination with the two R-12SW subwoofers was a huge improvement. The Eosone built-in subwoofers have always sounded a bit muffled and not as clear. This is why I had to return the Yamaha receiver, as it made the smaller subwoofers on the Eosones sound worse.
The problem with internet shopping is that there are things that you must try out before buying them. Sometimes it is trivial, such as the color of the new iPhone is not visible in any online pictures. You have to see it for yourself and then hold it in your hand to see if it fits. How does the functionality work for you. In the case of speakers, they will sound different to you than they will to me. There is also your environment. How and where you place a speaker matters. This means that if you are making any kind of investment in audio equipment, you really need a test drive. After reviewing some audio sites, I focused on Paradigm speakers. Paradigm is a Canadian based company, located in Toronto. You won’t find their speakers in many online sites; they mostly sell through local dealers and a couple of online sites.
Lucky for me, there was a local dealer that was an hour away and which would allow me an opportunity to listen for myself. My friend and I went on a Friday afternoon for a listening session. When we arrived, I found that they did not have any of the Premier line speakers. They did have their lower end line of speakers. The Premier line is their middle tier of speakers. For the demo, the dealer played some titles on an AppleTV. We watched the opening scene of Thor Ragnarok and a couple of concert titles. A demo through an AppleTV is disappointing because it is not the highest quality audio signal. Instead, it would have been better to use a 4k blu-ray player. However, the AppleTV is what I use most often, and so while it won’t produce the best audio, it is convenient and will be closer to everyday use. I compared the Premier towers to a couple of other brands they had in the store. Of all the speakers we listened to, the Paradigms were exactly what the online reviews concluded: neutral sounding. You could hear sharp and distinct dialogue in the Thor movie and the sound effects were crisp and separate. The other brands resembled the Klipsch or worse, over-pronounced the S sounds in dialogue. Once you notice the over-pronounced S sounds in a movie, you can’t stop listening to them. It ruins the experience. My friend confirmed my observations and agreed that the Paradigms were the best sounding speakers. While we were demoing the lower end series of Paradigms, I figured the Premier line would be a slight improvement, but equally neutral. The decision was pretty easy, if you don’t mind opening your checkbook. I asked the dealer to match the online price of one of the two online sites that carry the Premier series. He agreed to match the price and my new Paradigms would arrive in about a week in the store.
The immediate difference between newer tower speakers and the older Eosone towers is the weight. The Klipsch were much lighter and the Paradigms seem even lighter. The bottom of the speakers come with either spikes for carpet floors or flat knobs if you do not have bare floors. Unlike the Klipsch, the Paradigms would work with banana plug speaker wires. I bought new wires from Amazon that have the banana plug ends. A few minutes to hookup and then it was time to try out the new speakers with some music. Using some CDs instead of blu-ray movies to hear what the Paradigms could do, is the best way to calibrate your speakers and to burn them in. I tried a few different selections.
I started with the best song of all time to use for figuring out how loud to set your subwoofers: Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. The song features one of the best bass lines and gives you a consistent base line. Once you adjust your subwoofer levels to where you can hear the bass and listen to Jackson’s vocals at the same time, you know you have hit the sweet spot. You can do sound calibration with a physical meter or with your receiver’s setup mic, but I find that these calibrations are close they still don’t match your listening preferences.
The next selection was a collection of Rush: Red Sector A, Subdivisions, 2112, you can go deeper, but I default to these most often. Here I am looking for clarity of all the instruments, the drums, guitar, and bass. It may be that the subwoofers will need to be lowered a bit. Finally, I went back and tried some newer music. For this Dua Lipa’s Levitating is one of my favorite songs. Music made in the last few years is balanced for headphones and not tower speakers. This makes it sound different when you play it in your living room. At this point, Dua Lipa sounded good to me without any more adjustments.
It was time to see how the AppleTV and blu-ray player performed with Paradigms driving the main 2 channels of the 7.2 setup. The obvious choice for a movie was Thor Ragnarok, since that is what the original demo in the store was. The opening scene and final battle scene were what I watched first. The 4K blu-ray was of course better than the AppleTV and was immediately impressive. The difference that the Paradigms added was the neutral clarity, higher treble sounds were evident. Listening position was a bit wider as well. You did not need to be in the center or right in front of the speaker. It was possible to sit just to the left or right of the each speaker. I think I am going to work on moving the Klipsch subwoofers a bit back, but other than that the physical location of the speakers was good. Now that I had the volumes right, it was time to sit back and do some binge watching. My friend had recommended The Expanse series on Amazon. I don’t watch Amazon shows very much, so I was not aware of this series. The sci-fi series was an excellent show to start with. The Paradigms made for a great listening experience and I ended up watching the entire series.
The next upgrade will be replacing the center channel speaker with Paradigm to match the towers. Unfortunately the width of the Paradigm center channel will not work with my current media stand. I’ll have to build a new media stand. Until then, I will stay with the current setup. A combination of Paradigm towers and Klipsch center channel and subwoofers.
Last month I walked into my home office and heard the buzzing of a UPS. After switching it out with another smaller UPS, I wiped off the dust and found the model number on the bottom to be: BE550G. These older UPS models are no longer even supported by APC anymore. After doing a search online, I found BatteryPlus.com had a replacement battery and they have a store nearby. I ordered the Duracell Ultra 12V 9AH High Rate AGM SLA Battery with F2 Terminals [SLAHR12-9FR] and then picked it up the same day. After letting the battery charge overnight, I had to hook the UPS up to my Windows machine to set the Battery Date using the PowerChute software. For some reason this is not possible on other operating systems and open source software that I could find. Once I had this done, I moved the UPS over to my pfSense firewall and connected it directly to one of the USB ports on the firewall.
There are a couple of different packages for pfSense that you can install. pfSense is FreeBSD based, so you can install the software natively or use the pfSense packages to install. Once you configure the setup, the packages offer dashboard widgets that you can add to the pfSense dashboard. Here is what each one looks like.
Developed for only APC UPS units, apcusd features a better looking widget.
Network UPS Tools
Known as the NUT package, this open source software has a more simplistic dashboard, however Network UPS Tools supports more devices and has extensive features for UPS units directly connected or on the network.
Setting up either package requires reading the setup documentation online. I was able to run both packages for a direct USB connected device.
For apcupsd set UPS Cable and UPS Type to “USB” and leave the Device field blank. If you are using NUT, set the UPS Type to Local USB and driver to usbhid.
Overall I am glad that I could salvage the UPS and keep it in service. This keeps perfectly good equipment working and prevents waste. The plus, is that my firewall and internet connection will run a bit longer and not reset during a power spike.