Saturday, February 25, 2012

Driftwood and Tile Table

I built a kitchen table several years ago and people rave about it so I thought I should post the design and details. This table is large, heavy and a now permanent fixture in our kitchen. You should only make one of these if you don't plan to move it often. It is heavy...but pretty darn cool looking!

This project wasn't difficult, if you try it please comment below with your thoughts on how the design can be improved or post pictures of your table project.


Find some driftwood! I found a large driftwood log that was between 7" - 10" in diameter on a beach on the Saint John River. This is very old wood and I have no idea what type it is. Make sure you dry the wood thoroughly. This might take several weeks or longer depending on how wet the wood is when you find it. My opinion is that the uglier the wood is the more character the table will have.

Trim the legs to the right length. Trim all of the legs to the same length and level them as best as you can. They won't be perfectly level probably but that can be corrected later. Use a reciprocating saw with a long blade, hand saw or chain saw for this task.

 Attach the sqaure leg base to the leg. In order to secure the leg to the table you will need a piece of wood attached to the top of the leg so that you can bolt that to the table. I used left over 3/4" plywood and screwed and glued the piece to the top of the leg. Use long, large screws and good glue or epoxy since the legs will take a lot of stress. I used thickened epoxy and 4 screws per leg.

Cut the table top.  The table size can be whatever you want for your space. We host a lot of dinners so wanted it larger than normal. Cut your 3/4" plywood to the correct size (and adjust other measurements as required if it is different than my size).

Attach Bottom boards. The 1/3" pine board around the outside gives a lot of extra strength to the table. Make sure you attach it with good glue (or epoxy) and plenty of screws so that it is strongly attached.

Attach the legs to the tabletop. Use lag bolts to bolt the legs to the tabletop. Make sure that the head of your bolts are sunk flush with the top of the table. Use bolts so that you can tighten the legs as materials shrink or move.

Attach decorative trim to the table edge. Make sure that the trim is higher than the top of the plywood, the height of your tile, so that the tile will butt against the trim at the same level.

Tile and Grout. I used 12" ceramic floor tile and made the pattern shown. Any tile should be fine. I like the floor tile because it is practically bomb proof. We hardly ever use coasters for our pots or hot dishes, we cut directly on it, etc. (note that there is a chance that the tile will crack if you put hot items on cold tile but we haven't had that issue).

Put felt pads under the legs. This table is heavy and it will scratch your floor. Use felt pads! They will also help keep it from wobbling if your legs aren't perfectly cut (which is harder to do than you think because of the wonky shape of the logs)

Leave me a comment below if you have any questions about this project.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Creating Adventure Race maps with Trimble Outdoors

I have recently finished creating my first race course, and map, for a 5 hour adventure race (Nine Toe Winter Run). When I set out to complete the map I thought it would be reasonably straight forward process. I thought I would simply hike the course, import the GPX into some magical app and, voila, it would spit out a course.

The reality was quite different. I came to discover that there is no magic course building app. There really isn't any app that is well suited for creating Adventure Racing maps at all (if you do know of one, please comment below, I'd love to know about it). I tried several apps by Garmin, Google Maps, GPX Editor and several others with no great amount of success. 

The basic problem to be solved is, combining many different GPX trails (but not necessarily joining them), many checkpoints and presenting them with numbered pins on a detailed topo map.

My final solution ended up relying on (surprisingly) an online map editor available at Trimble Outdoors. Their application isn't perfect (more on that below) but it did get the job done. I came across their application because I use their iPhone app AllSport GPS  to track my own training.

First of all, here is the basic process that I used to create my maps:

  • Capture GPX files
I used a combination of AllSport GPS (on IPhone) and a Garmin handheld GPS. I captured each trail section as a separate GPX file so that I could choose which final trails to include on the route map.
  • Create a new map in TrimbleOutdoors

  • Upload each GPX file into the Trimble map   

The little camera button allows for file uploads, including GPX.

  • Correct the trails
I found that most of the routes that I imported had stray points that created extra pieces on trails that don't really exist. Each of these had to be individually corrected. This is the most tedious part of the process in Trimble.

First, select the trail in the right hand list of trails. You, unfortunately, can't just click on the trail in the map. Once you have selected the right trail name you will be able to mouse-over the trail and it will give you a little square that you can click on to edit an individual point.

I found the easiest way to remove large sections of tracks (for example, if you had overlapping tracks) is to first "Split Track" and then to delete the newly created section. This is, by far, the most tedious part of the map editing process. Hopefully they will improve this.

  • Name your points 
When you go to print your map, you have the option of choosing to display your checkpoint names, if you name them properly, they will print nicely on the map.

  • Save and print your map 
Ideally you can now print your map with the "Print MyTopo" feature. This would allow you to have a nice waterproof map delivered to your house. 

Unfortunately I had issues getting the map to display properly when I went to buy it. After several attempts with their support (and long wait times) I gave up. 
[Note to Trimble: That was a lost sale that could have been avoided]

Instead, I had to print the maps myself. I found that the map labeling wasn't working properly when I did the printing from the site. So instead, I did a print preview using the MyTopo printing feature, did a screen capture using  Screenpresso and added the checkpoint names manually.

I printed my maps on Rite-in-the-Rain waterproof paper.

Things that should be improved in the Trimble Outdoors map program:
  1. The map editor should have an option for importing existing routes that are in the database. I had to export GPX files from the Trimble app and then turn around and re-import them into the race map. 
  2. Make it easier to select tracks. When there are a large number of tracks on a map it is difficult to figure out which one is which.
  3. Make it easier to delete multiple track points at once.
  4. Make the MyTopo print integration work!
  5. Enable version control. People make mistakes, let them save versions so they can correct mistakes easier.
  6. Allow track coloring

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tassimo - A bad idea made worse

A few years ago we switched our office coffee maker from a regular drip coffee maker (with fresh ground beans) to a Keurig machine. I tend to lean towards the tree hugging side of values so I had some issues with this new machine. The Keurig is wasteful. However, everyone in the office loves the thing so I accepted it.

Fast forward two years. Christmas of 2012. I, and I'm sure millions of others, found a Tassimo machine under the Christmas tree. Specifically I received a Bosch T20.

Now, I admit that the Bosch machine is a sexy bit of technology. It is a sleek design and it is easy to use. However, that is where the good story ends. My experience with the Tassimo system has not been great.

First let's talk waste. While the Keurig is a fairly wasteful system, the Tassimo takes this to an exceptional level. With the Keurig I can get a full cup of coffee out of a single K cup. The Tassimo makes a half cup of coffee and it often, depending on the flavor choice, takes two of their T DISKs for the half cup. As shown in my post picture, two make coffee for a couple of friends it creates a mountain of T DISKs.

Neither the Tassimo T DISKs or Keurig cups are recyclable, re-usable or compostable. Millions of these things are being used daily (I'd love to know the number) and non of them are recyclable. The best you can hope to do is pry off the aluminum covers and compost the grounds. (I've tried this and it is a pain)

Next, let's talk cost. I used to buy bags of unground coffee beans. If you buy a good brand, it will cost you around $10 for enough beans to last a week or two. These T DISKs are brutally expensive. Depending on the flavor you can pay between $0.50 and $2 per cup. We've found that COSTCO gives the best deal on them but it still is crazy expensive compared to beans.

Last, let's talk flavor. I've had reasonably good success with the Keurig coffees. They are consistently mediocre and occasionally pretty good. Despite the hyped technology of the Tassimo, the results have been overall pretty poor. I think the best example of that is the hot chocolate. My daughter wouldn't drink her Cadbury hot chocolate from the Tassimo. If a little girl won't drink hot chocolate it has to be bad. She is usually very happy drinking the cheapest No Name brand stuff, yet this $2 monstrosity went down the drain.

We have 4 boxes of T DISKs left in our cupboard. When those are gone our Tassimo machine is going in the closet. Back to the bean we go.