Don’t Fence Me In!

Sorry kiddos, but we built you a cage. But not just any cage! A room sized playpen with an entire wall designed to help you pull yourself up to standing and allow you to practice walking!

So, what really has happened is this: We moved to a new home earlier this month. We now have a formal dining room for which we have no furniture. With a young family under our roof, we do not intend to buy a dining room set until our kids are much, much, much older. In the meantime, we’re going to use the dining room as a play area for the boys. Linus & Keelan, currently 10 months old, need some boundaries. As we had a missing 4th wall, I decided to build a fence to separate the dining room from the living room.

Our design constraints and my results

  • $$$ – Do not spend more than $200. Once I return the can of stain that I did not need, my total should be approximately $135.00. I constructed the fence using #2 Pine & birch dowels, all from the local big box lumber yard. Hardware, sanding paper & glue came from my neighborhood hardware store.
  • Child safe – The fence should meet or exceed guidelines of no gaps greater than 4″. The fence should also have a non-toxic finish as our little guys will use the ballisters as much for teething as for climbing. I standardized on 3″ spacing on all of the ballisters and floor-to-rail height; small enough to keep baby noggins from passing through, but large enough not to pinch pudgy baby thighs between the rails. I found a really nice “Salad Bowl Finish” from Rockler Woodworking. It’s food-safe when cured, so I think it’s as good as we’re going to get for a satin natural wood color finish.
  • Aesthetics. All of the store bought baby gates I’ve found are fugly! Plus, in order to cross the chasm of 11 feet, we would have had to buy some monstrous accordion fence. No Thanks!. I chose to build it myself, creating a solid wood railing that spans the entire length of the opening between our living room and the play area.
  • Temporary & easy to disassemble – When the fence comes down in two years, make it easy to return the dining room to its original state. To do this, I used a simple eye-bolt to eye-bolt hinge to attach the railing to the wall. It’s a simple matter of undoing four bolts to remove the fence when we need to. When we’re ready to return the room to its original state, I will have just 4 small (1/4″) holes to patch and paint… that’s assuming I don’t have any other kid-sized holes in the wall to patch at the same time. I plan to reuse the fence as well! While large, it should fit nicely in the garage rafters where I plan to use it store our camping gear.


All in, it took me a day and a half to build and glue it up. I spent another two days putting on 3 coats of food-safe finish.

Things I might change next time

  • I built the rails very beefy (1.5″ x 3″) in order to keep the fence from sagging across its 11′ span. If I did it again, I would probably drop it to 1.5 x 2.5″ to make it look a little more slight.
  • The eye-bolts and hardware on the ends are shinier than I anticipated and draw the eye to the corners. I may paint them to try to get them to blend in.

Weather Station Installed


Tonight, I completed the installation of a weather station at home. One of the reasons why I got into amateur radio a couple of years ago was to experiment with packet radio (APRS) and to set up a WX node on one or more public weather networks. Tonight, I’m on the Citizen’s Weather Observer Program (CWOP) and Weather Underground. I’m hoping my wife will warm to the idea of having the sensor array on the back fence. Her initial comment was:

“Now all the folks walking on the trail [behind our home] will know who’s house is the geekiest.”

My thoughts exactly!


Station Info: KJ6APE-10

Weather Underground:

LOL Shield & Arduino

LED Reader boards, scoreboards, and scrolling marquees have always been an interest for me. So I jumped at the opportunity to make one that’s about the size of a belt buckle. That’s, most likely, what this project will ultimately become. But for now I’ll be using it as a marketing piece for our Hackerspace, Ace Monster Toys. Look for me at the Bay Area Maker Faire in May. I’ll be the one with a pith helmet with a scrolling message on it.

This video shows it scrolling a pre-recorded message. However, I’ve also modified it so that it can handle all alphnumeric characters, upper and lower case, as well as punctuation. It will accept new input from the serial USB cable when connected to a 9600 baud serial terminal. Next step is to create an IRC bot and hook it up the #AceMonsterToys IRC Channel.

It’s Pinewood Derby Season!

Pinewood Derby 2011

I’m not going to say who’s car is who’s. I’m actually quite proud of how much effort my son put into his vehicle. Here’s to hoping we have a chance at both speed and aesthetics!

[Update 3/26/11: Added photos]
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The SEAN3000 raffle drum!

2011-02-21 Finished Product

Each year Grace Cooperative Preschool hosts a pancake breakfast with copious prizes raffled off. We have the fortunate problem of having sold too many raffle tickets to comfortably fit into the raffle drum that we normally rent. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to build a new one!

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T1 A/B Switch – Arduino Rocks!

The Problem

TAG T1 AB Switch

In our organization, we have an Asterisk based phone system. Because we are a 24X7 365 operation, and because our business must react quickly to customer demands, we actually have a completely redundant Asterisk system idling in standby mode. When we have to transfer over to the redundant system most of the operation takes only seconds, with one exception. Some of our inbound and outbound call traffic is carried over old school, plain ol’ telephone service (POTS) via physical T1 data circuits. In order to move these T1 circuits to the failover server, one of our engineers had to physically move the patch cables from one server to another.

Our engineers have tried a number of failover options, including converting the T1s into VoIP traffic so we could just change the packet routing when we needed to swing the calls to the failover system. However, the hardware and the software we’ve found, so far, does not meet our quality of service needs.

Continue reading “T1 A/B Switch – Arduino Rocks!”

Collapsible Work Tables

Multi-function, collapsable work tables

No matter what I’m working on, there never seems to be enough layout space. And, since I’m quite limited on space, I thought I’d build a couple of short, boxy tables that are both sturdy and easy to collapse. I designed these to be the same height as my table saw so that they can act as run-off tables. They are also small enough (largest collapsed piece is 24″ x 48″) that I can can put them in the back seat of my VW and take them on the road.