Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

Libertarians and the Smoking Ban

January 27th, 2011 2 comments


Bowling Green (hometown of newly elected Senator Rand Paul) just passed an ordinance to outlaw smoking in public places (there is an exemption for places like tobacco-centric establishments).  The law was passed by a 3-2 vote of the city commission; it had very vocal support from both sides.  I found it a bit odd (out of character may be a better word) that it was brought up by Commissioner Slim Nash who, on other occasions, has expressed many libertarian leanings. [Side note: I am generally a pretty liberal guy, but there are a lot of positions Libertarians take that I strongly support.]

The discussion around this local ordinance got me thinking.

I find it interesting when Libertarians complain about the passage of things like smoking bans.  Isn’t one of the main arguments of libertarianism that laws should be community specific?  I can’t even recall how many times my Libertarian friends have said, "Big government shouldn’t be deciding that, it should be left up to local communities."  The idea is that people can move to communities that share their ideals. Now, it seems to me that things like smoking bans are perfect examples of community based legislation enacted through the will of local communities.  If a business (like the VFW, who strongly opposed the legislation) doesn’t like the law, they are free to move outside city limits and not be covered by the rules.

Maybe I am missing the point, after all, I am not well read on the works of people like Ron Paul or Ayn Rand, but isn’t this a case of Libertarianism in action.  I can understand Libertarians opposing the law while it is up for discussion, but once it passes isn’t it a great example of community based legislation?

For the record, I have mixed feelings on the law, but wanted to post a few thoughts.

Tying a Prusik Knot on the end of a line

November 17th, 2010 No comments

Everyone has those little tricks that make life so much easier.  This little knot is one of those that I always go back to and comes in handy for everything from rock climbing, to hanging a clothes line, to putting up a tent, to tying stuff down.

msapg25-prusik-hitches[Standard way of tying a prusik.  Illustration credit: Western Safety.]

A prusik (prussik, prusic) knot is a friction knot that allows you adjust it along a line, but it remains taunt under a load.  It is often made by taking a loop of knot and passing it through itself.  That is a helpful technique, but at times not feasible.  Often you need to be able to tie a prusik on the end of a line.  That is when you need to be able to tie it in an alternate way.

I used this knot on a kite I recently created.  In trying to illustrate my technique, I looked all over the internet to find instructions, but couldn’t find them so I decided to create a how-to video explaining the process.  Hopefully this is helpful, and you can add it to your own bag of trick.

Do It Yourself Kite Making

November 9th, 2010 1 comment

Last week I was inspired by a few consecutive windy days to go and fly a kite.  Unfortunately, I could not find one at the local stores, so I decided to make one myself.

My first attempt at a homemade kite was entirely self-guided and turned out less than stellar:

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[Mikayla was not impressed.  Note: The power lines in the background were
never a worry since the kite never made it more than 4′ off the ground.

From this try I learned a few things:

  • It is worthwhile to learn from other’s instruction.
  • Good wind does not make up for bad design.
  • Tails on poorly made kites do help… but not enough to matter.
  • The convex side of the kite should face you not the concave side (a kite is not supposed to “grab” the wind, it is suppose to skip off it.)

I swallowed my pride and did some research on the internet on basic kite design.  The most helpful site I found was My Best Kite.  My second attempt at a kite followed the basic instructions for the large diamond dowel kite.  After that attempt proved to be a success, even in light wind, I made a few adjustment and built Kite #3.  Here is how I did it:

Step #1 – Get your plastic

I started with a large strip of black plastic sheeting I had laying around, but you could easily use a large garbage bag and get the same results.  I cut it to roughly 38″ x 38″ to work with the 36″ x 3/16″ dowels I got at my local superstore.

Step #2 – Create your vertical pocket

I used duck tape just for durability.  I am sure a lighter tape would work fine too, but I have had no problems with the great grey miracle.  All I did was take a 4″ section and double it over the top center of the plastic (I had a nice crease that made things easier to line up).  I then folded that down and used two smaller strips to secure it in place.


I then put the dowel rod (technically called a “spar”) in the top pocket and then moved to the bottom. I trimmed the plastic to make it the right height, then created a matching pocket that allowed the dowel to pull tight, but not enough to bow it.


Step #3 – Prep the Horizontal Spar

Find the center of your horizontal spar and mark it.  Then mark your vertical spar 6″ down from the top.  These will form the support for your kite.  There are several ways you can affix them together.  You can attach a tie point (as seen on the website) , you can simply tape them together (that is what I did for Kite #2 and it worked fine) or you can create tunnel pockets on the kite.  For this design I tried the later.

To do it, simply cut a 2-3″ inch strip of duck tape, flip it over, then attach a smaller strip down the middle.  Place that at the 6″ point for the horizontal spar.  Use additional tape if you so desire.




After completing the kite, I decided use a vertical tunnel pocket as well and installed it after the fact a few inches below the horizontal pocket.  It would certainly make sense to do that at this stage as well.  You can see a picture of it down in Step #5

[NOTE: See Update below for tips on improving this process.]

Step #4 – Create the horizontal pockets and bow mechanism

In order for a kite to be stable while it flies, it needs to deflect the wind.  The easiest way to do this is to create a bow in the kite.  For Kite #2 I followed the instructions on the internet and used notches and a toggle.  It worked fine, but took a good bit of time to get right and was not adjustable.  For attempt #3, I decided to try another approach and use a bow line attached to the corner pockets.  I am sure there are multiple ways of doing this but here is a method that worked for me.

Begin by laying out your horizontal pockets just like you did the vertical ones by cutting the plastic so you have a small over lap and doubling up duck tape.  Go ahead and crease it so you know where they will be when they are complete.  Again, you want the spar to be tight, but not already flexing.  Then install a tie off point.  I used some fiber tape that was folded up in the middle.  Then you can secure the pocket like normal.  [Note: You want to keep the loop a bit large so you can slip the spar in under it into the pocket.]


PIC_0095 [Sorry for the blurry pictures, but I think you get the point.]

Step #5 – Secure the Edges

At this point your kite should be coming together.  Go ahead and install both spars.  You should be seeing lines of tension in the shape of a diamond.

The internet instructions have you cut out the kite design first, but I have found it is much easier to make your cuts at this stage of the build.  This way your kite is cut exactly along your points of tension instead of loosely fitting your design.


To secure the edges take a long strip of clear packing tape and affix it from spar pocket to spar pocket.  You will want the tape to run right next to the end of the spars.  You can simply tape over the folded plastic.  Once this is done, all you need to do is cut along the center of the tape.  Do this for all four edges.




Step #6 – Attach your Bow Line

We are now ready to give our kite some shape.  Cut a long piece of cotton twine about 45″.  Thread each end through the tab you created on the corner pocket and tie it with a prusik knot.  This will be your bow line.

A Quick Note about Knots

Knowing various knots sure can help the kite making process.  If you are not familiar with ropes and knots, this may be a bit difficult.  I have found many of the techniques used here can be side stepped with some creative thinking.  For instance, in many cases you can simply tie loops in in your line and attach things together with a paper clip or a fishing snap.  For this whole project I used prusik knots because they are relatively easy, secure and adjustable.  Prusiks are generally tied using a loop of cord that is wrapped through itself (see example here).  If you wish, you can make a prusik from a small loop then tie the end of your cord to the “tail loop.”  However, you can also tie a prusik from a single line and then secure it with a half hitch.  That is what I have done for my kite.  I have recorded a video on how to tie a prusik knot on the end of a line.

The prussic knot will allow you to adjust the tension on the bow line because as a friction knot, you can slide it into place and it will remain there.  Ideally, you want your horizontal spar to bow about 3″ (that is the distance from deepest part of the spar to the bow line.)



Step #7 – Attach the Bridle

From the center of your kite measure 6″ in both directions and mark it on your horizontal spar.  Cut a small hole in the plastic so you can thread some line through.  Cut about 20-24″ of line and thread it through bottom of your kite.  Secure line with several knots (and perhaps a bit of wood glue like I did).  When this line is finished, you should be able to pull it away from the body of the kite and it be about 6″ to the apex.  Adjust your knots and line if you need to.


Measure up 12″ from the bottom of you kite and cut a similar hole.  Attach a 36″ piece of line to the vertical spar.  These three points will form the bridle of your kite.

Now here is where I got fancy.  Instead of just tying the lines together to form a three-line bridle, I decided to incorporate prusik knots into the design so I could adjust things on the fly.  Using a short bit of line, I tied a prusik to the horizontal line and then tied another prusik to the vertical line.  This allowed me shift the focal point of the bridle side to side and forward and back.  This gave me plenty of opportunity to experiment with optimal flying configuration and to adjust for inconsistencies in weight and/or balance.

If you don’t want to get fancy, just tie thing together so the apex of the pyramid from your lines is directly over the horizontal spar (perhaps an inch forward if you want) and about 6″ off the kite body.  Remember to include a way to attach your line.  For my design, I simply added a loop to the end of the long vertical line.


Step #8 – Give it a test flight

At this point, your kite should be complete.  Be careful not to over-tighten the bow line or your spar will break (a fact I have already learned from experience – luckily I was able to replace it in just a few minutes).  I used 17# test fishing line to fly the kite and had no problems at all.  I was able to get it to a height of over 450′ in only a slight breeze.


[Home made kite in action.]

Overall this design is relatively straight forward and allows for variations and minor flaws.  It does not require much wind and is easy to modify if needed.  It is also very cheap and can be completed in less than an hour.  I l look forward to tweaking things a bit more to see what I can come up with.


I recently made these kites with some friends and I figured out a little trick.  Rather than doing a single tunnel pocket for the horizontal spar, I did two offset by 6″ from center.  This not only provided more stability and made it easier to see the center marks, but it also allowed me to tie the harness around the tunnel pocket instead of around the spar itself.  This means if you ever break a spar, it is easier to replace because you just slide it out and the harness remains.  I also added a second tunnel pocket 12″ up from the bottom the vertical spar and used this as an attach point for the harness.

I also modified the tensioner for the bow (horizontal) spar.  Instead of only taping to the inside, I wrapped the packing tape all the way around the corner for a more secure hold.  I also used a single large loop between the tie offs and used a single prusik knot with a tail.  This maintains the balance, and only requires a single adjustment.

10 Things to do before Swaziland

August 23rd, 2010 5 comments

With our move to Swaziland probably only 10 months away, Beth and I have been talking through how we should spend our remaining time stateside.  Here is a list of 10 things I want to accomplish before we leave.  If you can help me out with any of them, please give me a shout.

  1. Learn to weld – Let’s start with an easy one.  I wouldn’t consider myself a handy man, but I am willing to try and figure stuff out.  This is one skill I don’t have and would love to pick up just in case the need ever presents itself.
  2. Improve my siSwati – I learned more siSwati in the 10 days we were in the country than I did in the months before trying to teach myself.  That being said, I have yet to cross beyond the typical greetings and pleasantries.  I would love to be able to have a basic conversation before arriving in the country nest summer.
  3. Take a course on AIDS – Swaziland is a beautiful country, but it holds several dubious titles.  It has the highest AIDS rate at nearly 40%!  It also has the highest death rate and fastest declining life expectancy.  Every issue in Swaziland is impacted by the AIDS epidemic (from employment to poverty to orphan care).  I want to take the time to familiarize myself with the disease, its treatment, and its impact on society.
  4. Brush up on my Southern African history – Swaziland has a rich history.  It was largely able to avoid the strife caused by colonialism that negatively affected so much of Southern Africa.  However, much of the current climate in the area is still impacted by this chapter of history.  I want to know more about the Boers and English and tribal conflicts that shaped the area.
  5. Learn to drive a split shift – Another seemingly random skill set I would like to acquire.  I have no desire to drive a large truck, but I want to be able to do it if the need ever arises. 
  6. Become competent in PHP development – Several months ago, a good friend of mine and I began (re)teaching ourselves HTML and CSS.  I know just enough to get myself into trouble.  I would like to build on this skill set by adding PHP development so I can design websites and databases for the organizations I will work with and also as a possible secondary income stream.
  7. Sell / Give away / Downsize our stuff – We have been in this process for several years now, but still have so far to go.  I still have books to get rid of, a house to sell and plenty of household items to deal with. Most of our stuff is not going with us nor will it be saved.
  8. Visit with friends and family – This past weekend I had my 10 year reunion and also visited with college friends at a wedding.  It reminded me how many people I want to see before we leave.  If you are in the area, please take the time to give me a ring and I will treat you to a meal or coffee.
  9. Travel – This is obviously related to the prior.  I foresee many mini-road trips in the near future to visit people, but also I want to explore our own country a bit more before we leave.  I have been fortunate enough travel through most of the country, but Beth has not.  I want to be intentional about visiting places, especially in the American West.
  10.   Have a game plan for the next 10 years – This move to Swaziland has been over two years in the planning.  Beth and I have slowly, but deliberately made decisions about our future and have been willing to change them as needed.  Now that things are beginning to solidify, we need to be thinking about where we want to be in the next decade or longer.  This means working through things like expanding our family, saving for college, setting long term goals, etc.  I don’t expect to have it all figured out, but I want us to be intentional about the direction we are moving. (That is actually the key idea behind the title of my blog.)

Work Around the Garage

March 30th, 2010 No comments

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I wouldn’t consider myself to be especially handy.  I can change my own oil, and know how to run a few power tools.  But, these are not indications of how handy I am, but rather point out just how cheap I am.  I refuse to take my car to the shop if it something I think I can figure out on my own (and after 10+ hours, with plenty of busted knuckles, I either get it figured out, or I have screwed it up so bad that I have no choice but to take it in).

Case in point: I broke the steering arm on my riding lawn mower, which effectively meant my wheels were falling off and I could only change directions by kicking the tires while they were moving.  Did I take it to the shop to get fixed?  No.  Did I get someone to weld me a new support arm? No.  Instead, I decided to fashion a replacement out a 2×4, metal brackets, cut washers and .some furniture sliders.

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After a few adjustment, it works like a charm.  Now lets just see if I can get it to last through the summer.

Suspended Shelving and Fold-down Workbench

My most recent project has involved building some shelving and a work bench in the garage.  I needed to be able to get our outdoor gear out of the way, store my tools and have a workbench to complete projects on (the top of the deep freeze just wasn’t cutting it anymore.)

The first piece I completed was the suspended shelving.  I knew I wanted to build it out of plywood and 2x4s (for easy of construction and cost) and I did not want to have massive supports jutting out.  So I came up with a design that utilizes 2×4 cleats screwed to the studs and then a 3/8" threaded rod supporting one corner

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I started by marking the height I wanted the shelf and then screwing in two perpendicular 2x4s.  For my garage, it made sense to hang the shelf 48" from the ceiling.  [NOTE: I should have attached the shorter cleat first to maximize the number of studs it could screw in to.]

I then constructed the shelf itself.  I screwed 2x4s along two sides of 1/4" (2′ x 8′) plywood.  [NOTE: Be sure to leave room for the cleats you previously installed.  I forgot to do this on the short side and had to notch the cleat.]  With someone’s help, hoist the shelf up onto the cleats.  One or two strategic screws should hold it in place while you complete the project.  I waited to install the final screws until I had the rod installed to help support the weight.

Next I installed a 90 degree bracket to help hold things together and to spread the weight distribution.  By drilling a hole through the apex and using a large washer, I was able to provide a good support for the connecting rod.

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I passed the threaded rod through this support and secured it with a large washer and two bolts.  I left roughly six inches below the bolts in case I needed to adjust things.  The rod then passed through the drywall in the ceiling where it was secured to a 2×4 passing over multiple joists.

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Besides being less obtrusive, the main advantage to using a threaded rod to support the shelf is that you can adjust it after installation.  Once the rod was secured on both ends, I was able to use the bolts to ensure everything was perfectly level.  I then cut off the excess bolt.

The only thing remaining to complete the project was to include supports.  I added 3 by tapering a 2×4 down to 1.5" and securing from the top.  These were then affixed to the cleat.  [NOTE: If I had planned ahead, I could have attached these to the cleat before I installed it and it would have resulted in a much more stable design.]

Once I had the suspended shelving complete (and the resulting clutter out of the way), I could turn my attention to building a work bench.  One thing I had to consider was the depth of my garage.  Because things can get cramped, I wanted to be able to have get the workbench out of the way if I needed to.  I decided on a two part design with a permanent section and a folding section.  I built the surface out of the other half of the plywood from the shelving project.

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The permanent section was relatively straightforward.  I built a one-legged frame out of 2×4’s and then attached it to the studs in the wall.  I used brackets to attach the support to the leg.  I then screwed the work surface onto the frame (there is a center support to help distribute weight that is built into the frame).

The drop-down section took a bit more thinking.  I began by attaching a 2×4 cleat flush with the permanent section of the workbench.  Then, along the furthest-most stud, I attached a perpendicular 2×4 to anchor a hinged support.

I built the drop down section out of the remaining plywood with a 2×4 frame.  This time I did not use center supports because the whole section is not designed to support a lot of weight.

I used heavy duty door hinges to support the whole apparatus.  I notched the support cleat as well as the work surface so that it could remain flush with the other work bench. 

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The hardest part was trying to align the hinges when attaching the workbench to the wall.  To do this, I attached a 2×2 on the permanent section to help support things then held the fold away bench against the cleat while trying to get it level.  I had someone else go under the bench and mark where the bottom of the hinges were.  I then took a spare hinge and used it as a guide to pre-dill the holes.  From there it was relatively easy to screw the hinges into place. 

The hinges were strong enough to support the workbench temporarily, but I needed to build something more sturdy.  For that, I used the same style hinges and fashioned a simple support out of 2x4s that secured into place with a basic latch.

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When not it use, the support and table top can fold flat against the wall.  I used another latch to secure it in the up position.

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The whole project took about $60 in materials and 10 hours in labor.  I probably could have done it much less time if my miter saw had been working and I had thought through my final design a bit more.

If I value my time at even minimum wage, I doubt I saved much.  But, just like with the home made diaper sprayer we installed, there is just something rewarding about completing a project on your own.