Build Your Own High Top Tables

We recently hosted a backyard party, and we wanted some high top tables for people to be able to mingle around. We looked around online but nothing was as simple as we wanted (we were going to cover them with table clothes so they didn't need to be fancy), and the ones we were able to find at all were pricier than we wanted. So, we did what you do when you want something to exactly match your vision: we built them.

The Materials

  1. Three 1"x4" boards, cut to 40" in length.
  2. Three 3" hinges, with hardware.
  3. One raw round table top, 24" diameter. I found these at Lowes.

The total cost of materials ended up being about $35 per table. The table top was by far the priciest piece, at about $18 each.

The Build

  1. Cut your boards to length (40"), if you haven't already.
  2. Use a square or protractor and mark the exact center of the underside of your table top.
  3. Position your hinges in a triangle around the center mark, with about 1/8" space between the hinges. See the picture below for an example.
  4. Mark the holes on the table top for the hinges with a pencil or pen.
  5. Remove the hinges and drill pilot holes for your screws. Here's a guide for choosing the right size pilot hole. If you skip this step, you will likely crack your table top.
  6. For each board, lay a hinge on the end, making sure that you have the orientation correct. Compare with the photos below if you're unsure.
  7. Mark the holes on the boards for the hinge with a pencil or pen.
  8. Remove the hinges and drill pilot holes for your screws. Here's a guide for choosing the right size pilot hole. If you skip this step, you will likely crack your table leg.
  9. Get out your screws and attach the hinges to the boards first, screwing them down snug but not so tight that you crack the wood or strip the hole. Be sure you have the hinge oriented properly (when attatched to the table top the hinges should swing away from the table freely, see the photos below to compare).
  10. One by one, screw the hinges to the table top, again double checking your orientation. You may need an extra hand to hold up the legs as you finish if you dont have enough space to lay out the legs flat.
  11. Now gather the legs carefully together and flip the table over so that it is upright. Spread out the legs so that they are even with the edge of the table top. Adjust the legs a bit as necessary to create a level table top. You're done! [^1]

The Result

  • The Final Product
  • Top Down View
  • Underside Of The Table
  • The Table Leg

[^1]: We left ours unfinished, but if you plan to use them without tableclothes or leave them outside you should paint or stain them. Also, if you plan to use them on a very smooth surface, you'll need to find some rubber feet or build a strap to prevent the legs from slipping out.

Inexpensive Live Streaming For Your Church

Note: This article is from early 2012 and most of the information is now outdated. For an up-to-date look at this issue checkout the updated article I wrote for Sermons.io.

Last winter (2010-2011), from January through March, our church attendance was down nearly 30%. Between a few vacations and an intense RSV and Flu season the congregation was knocked down pretty hard. Knocked down and out (of the service), but not completely out of participation thanks to our live stream.

We've been livestreaming video of our service since we started 2.5 years ago. When we planted, I couldn't find any helpful information about livestreaming that wasn't aimed at large churches with much larger budgets than we were working with. Looking around recently for some equipment I still couldn't find a good reference. So, here's a bit of a history of what we've done at Grace Church. Hopefully it can be of help!

Getting Started

Diving into livestreaming isn't free, but even the smallest of churches (we started with 30 people) can participate.

To get started you'll need someone dedicated to the task of acquiring equipment, learning how it all works together, and training others to help out.

Equipment

At a minimum you'll need a computer, a camera, possibly a video adapter, an audio feed from your soundboard, an internet connection, and an account with a video streaming service.

Computer

To stream your service you're going to need a computer. The computer takes the video from the camera and encodes it into a format ready for streaming via the streaming service. To be able to encode video at the quality you probably want, you'll need a relatively powerful computer. Look for something with at least an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. If you're already using a computer for projecting words for songs, you might be able to use that computer to do double duty.

We're a portable church, and we use mostly Apple equipment, so we're using a 15" Macbook Pro. Our pastor uses it as his computer during the week.

If you're going to use a firewire video converter like the one below you'll need a computer with a Firewire 400 or 800 input.

Cost: $0 (If the computer you own will work, or you can borrow one) - $1199

Video Camera

When we got started we just used a cheap Logitech webcam as our video camera. The quality was low. You could barely see the stage. But it worked! It was better than nothing for the family stuck at home with sick kids.

Today you can buy a Canon Vixia Camcorder for under $300. If you're going to convert your video for uploading later (to a service like vimeo) then you'll want to get an HD camcorder.

The only requirement of your camcorder is that it has live composite or S-Video output. What this means is that the camera will output a low-def video feed at the same time that it is recording.

If you really have no plans to record your video on the camera, you can ditch the live-output requirement, and maybe even pick up an older still camera with video output.

Also keep in mind that if your camera is going to be in the back of a room you'll want a high optical zoom (10x+). You do not care at all about the term "digital zoom". "Digital Zoom" is a hoax. You only care about optical zoom.

Cost: $79-$400+

While you're at it don't forget to get a big memory card so you don't have to deal with running out of space. 64GB SD Cards are getting cheaper every day.

Video Adapter

If you aren't using a basic webcam, then you'll need a way to get the video stream from the camera to the computer. This is where the video adapter comes in. If you have a computer with a firewire port of some kind, then go buy one of these.

Updated: If you have USB3 on the computer, then one of these encoders from black magic would make a great solution. Here's a thunderbolt version if that's what you have to work with.

Cost: $150+

Internet Connection

To stream live you'll need an internet connection. For the best quality you'll need something with at least a 1 Megabit Per Second upload speed. You can get away with a bit slower if you lower the quailty of the video you're uploading.

Being a portable church, we don't have any internet available to us in our building. We're now using a Verizon Jetpack.

Cost: $0 (You already have it)-$60/month

Streaming Service Account

Don't bother looking around. Just go to livestream.com and sign up now. It's free ($350/m if you don't want ads to appear in your stream) and it Just Works. They have native software for both Windows and Mac.

Download the free Procaster software.

Cost: Free

Audio Feed

The last thing you'll need is an audio feed from your soundboard. Talk to your sound operator about what you'll need to get a feed to your computer. Usually you'll just need a simple audio cable and maybe an adapter.

If you don't have a sound board then you'll need somekind of mic setup to get the feed for your stream.

If you're really stuck you could try just pulling in the ambient room audio from a microphone at the computer. This might get you by, but you'll be dealing with some pretty bad audio, and you'll pick up voices of anyone whispering nearby (potentially embarrassing!)

Putting It All Together

So you've spend somewhere between $79 and $3000 getting the equipment you need to be able to livestream your service. What now?

  1. Take the video (and maybe audio depending on how you want to set things up) out of your video camera and feed it into your video converter (and thus into your computer).

  2. Take the audio feed and either feed it into the camcorder (if you're going to record live on the camera) or into the computer doing the streaming.

  3. Fireup the Livestream Procaster software and login to your account. Configure any settings under the preference tabs, then click "Go Live"! You're streaming!

Upgrades

At Grace Church, in the time since we started streaming, we've upgraded equipment and updated workflow, but the basics are all the same, and we still don't have a huge budget.

We upgraded our camera from a webcam to a camcorder + video adapter. We upgraded our tripod recently.

Here are some other options available to you as you upgrade your setup:

  • Get A Better camera
  • Get Multiple cameras
  • Remove the ads from your streaming service
  • Embed the livestream on your website
  • Use the high+mobile quality streaming to give everyone a chance to view your stream wherever they are
  • Promote your stream on Twitter and Facebook

Keep Streaming

This isn't the post for it, but there are a lot of great reasons to keep streaming your services for your congregation. From the sick or elderly to the mothers' cry room, there are members of your church that can't otherwise participate in your Sunday Service. A livestream helps keep them connected and ultimately builds the church. So keep on streaming.

New: All-In-One Solution

If you are looking for a true all-in-one solution, you should checkout the $500 Livestream Broadcaster. You'll still need an internet connection (until Summer of 2013 when the LTE version comes out) to get out of the building, but if you're starting from scratch this may greatly simplify things for you.

Questions?

If you have any questions about live streaming feel free to ping me on twitter.

Build Yourself An iPod Shuffle Charger

-- Note: Read all directions before beginning!

First, lay all the parts out on the table, and make sure that you have everything accessible.

Cut your usb cable in half and peel back the insulation so that you have all the wires out.

Strip the ends of the wires on the usb cable. Take the green, white, and black wires and twist them together.

Heat up the soldering iron and get it ready. Remember to always use saftey glasses when soldering!

Solder overview

The first solder you’re going to make is from the 9v battery clip to the voltage regulator. Solder the RED (+) wire to the INPUT on the voltage regulator. Check the back of the box to make sure, but this is usually the left-most pole.

Next, solder the white, black, and green usb twisted wires, AND the ground (-) from the 9v clip to the ground on the voltage regulator. This is probably the middle pole on the voltage regulator.

Finally, solder the (+) RED wire on the USB cable to the OUTPUT of the voltage regulator. This is probably the rightmost pole.

Solder overview

Next, double check your solder connections to make sure they are correct and there is no solder bleed-over.

Connector pinoutNow connect the + probe on your volt meter to pin 1 on the usb connector, and the - (black) probe to the other pins. On each pin the volt meter should read +5v. It is critical that you verify the output voltage for each pin. If you mess this up you could break your Shuffle!

If you are satisfied (and brave), connect the Shuffle to the usb connector. It should blink green, then yellow and green, and finally blink yellow steadily. If it does this, then your charger works. Congratulations! If not, check your solder joints and get your volt meter out again. And pray you didn’t fry your shuffle!

Case being packed

Finally, mount the parts inside the project case. I cut a notch on one end just wide enough for my usb connector, and filled the empty space with foam I had lying around from something I had shipped to myself. There’s no perfect way to do this. Just do what you think works. Heck you don’t have to mount it at all if you don’t want to!

Okay, now grab a beer and watch as your yellow light blinks on-off-on-off-on-off-on-off…

All connected

All connected

How My Wallet Destroyed 4 Hard Drives

(And how yours could too)

Hard disk drives are a marvel of modern technology. With the ability to store the data of millions of books on a single hard drive, we’ve never been able to store more data at a lower price than we are now, and storage capacity is only going up while prices are only going down.

Even more amazing is the sheer complexity at work in a modern drive. The electrical, chemical, mechanical, computer, and magnetic engineering that must take place to develop a drive boggles the mind. A hard disk drive is truly a monument to modern technological achievement, and at only a couple hundred dollars a piece, most people have at least a handful in the various electrical devices around the house. From the TiVo to the family laptop to a camcorder to an iPod, hard drives are in more and more of devices we own.

With access to such cheap and powerful storage, it’s easy to overlook the fragility of modern disk storage — a lesson I learned the hard way.

In April of 2007 I received my first MacBook Pro from Apple. I was upgrading from a Powerbook G4 I had owned for 2 years, which had served me with only a couple of part failures (a bad battery and a hard drive that failed after a year). I took the new laptop home and started copying my data over. After two days I had it all setup. It was working wonderfully.

The Story

About 7 days after I brought it home I was checking my email with the computer on my lap when I heard a loud PING! cry out from behind the case. It certainly didn’t sound like a good noise, and the grinding that followed was even worse. My programs started to lock up and my computer would not restart. Dejected, I took the laptop to the Apple store, where a new hard drive was installed. Two days later I took the laptop back home and spent days reinstalling software. I was partially surprised that there was a failure so soon in the life of the laptop, but hard drives do die, and some die quickly.

Back up and running things were going well until 4 days later when it happened again. I was opening up the laptop when PING! went the computer. The repair kept me computerless for 5 days.

With the second failure I was skeptical that this computer would ever work right, and my doubts were validated when the THIRD drive failed after only another 10 days. Same as the first two, pinging, clicking, and grinding signaled the death of my laptop.

This time the technicians at the Apple store heard my cries and replaced the unit. I walked home with a brand new sealed in box laptop, glad that my hard drive problems were over.

At least for 5 days anyway.

That’s when it happened for the FOURTH time, on a completely new computer. I was surfing the web on a Saturday when I heard the ping of death. My heart stopped and I wondered if I was cursed.

When I took the laptop in they interrogated me for a while and eventually I left with a third brand new laptop (thank you Apple). As I was walking out of the store one of the questions a tech asked me rang again in my mind: ‘Did you expose the laptop to any strange magnetic fields?’ Of course my answer was ‘No.’ I couldn’t think of one. But then as I was leaving it occurred to me that my money clip wallet, which sits in my front pocket, does have a magnet. ‘But surely the laptop is shielded enough that couldn’t matter, could it?’ I wondered.

As I pondered more and more it seemed plausible. Every failure followed a session using the notebook on my lap. And as I read up on hard drive operation it seemed evident that if you could get a magnetic field to reach into the drive, you could definitely destroy it.

That’s when I realized that we had to do an experiment. What we discovered is terrifying: modern hard drives are much more fragile than we often consider, and exposure to even weak magnetic fields from close range could render a working drive absolutely useless.

The Experiment

While it was suggested to me to purchase a notebook hard drive, expose it to a magnetic field, and see if we could break it, then return it to the store of purchase, I thought that a bit risky, unethical, and potentially pricey. Instead, I opted to do some simple testing under the premise that if we can get a magnetic field into the drive operating area, then we can conclude that it is plausible that said magnetic field could ruin the drive. In other words, if the magnet can affect the drive at all, consider the drive dead.

Enter my old Hitachi 2.5′ notebook drive. It failed after one year of service, and I opened it up to see how it looked inside. Since the drive was already dead, it seemed like the best test subject.

Here is the plan:
1. Place iron filings onto disk surface.
2. Expose disk to magnets from varying distances.
3. Look for fluctuations in filings when exposed to fields.

First, we get some filings (filed from a piece of steel lying around) and dump them onto the drive. Now, we get out the money clip. First we’ll test with the magnet that I think might have killed my computers, then we’ll test with other sources if that yields no results.

The first test is startling. Not only does the field easily penetrate the bottom of the drive, it’s incredibly strong at the point of the top of the platter.

Moving the magnet away continues to yield disturbing results. We were able to make the pieces dance from a range of upwards of 5cm away!

And lest anyone ask, the top of the case has no obvious shielding properties.

Test Video

So What?

In plain english, any moderate magnetic field, from a speaker to a fridge magnet, could potentially disrupt the magnetic field of a hard drive, rendering it unreadable. Keeping all magnets of any kind far away from drives is vital.

The Conclusion

Hard disk drives are remarkable pieces of electronics. They incorporate a variety of technologies to store the valuable information that we create each day. But for all their amazing qualities, we find them to be startlingly fragile. If ever you were looking for evidence to reinforce the need to spread data around as you back it up, look no further than the above.

As for my laptops, most likely the money clip’s magnet interfered with the operation of my hard drives (all four of them), causing the destructive effects that I witnessed. While perhaps not perfectly confirmed, this myth is definitely plausible.

Appendix: Obvious Questions

Since undoubtedly someone will ask these questions, or argue that this test is unreasonable, here are my thoughts on the most likely rebuttals.

1. You didn’t prove the drive would actually die. You just moved metal filings.

True. But if a magnetic field can get into the platter region it can interfere with the fields already in place, and since both movement and data storage/retrieval rely on magnetic actuation, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the drive would be damaged in some way.

2. You didn’t take the laptop case into account.

Also true. However, in the case of my powerbook, the aluminum case provides little to zero effective shielding. The hard drive is located on the bottom of the case, in the front left corner. The effective distance in a real world scenario would be approximately 1cm. We were able to move filings at least 5cm away from the magnet.

3. Not all laptops have the drive in a similar location.

Also true. And that does matter. Had the drives been on the other side of the case they probably never would have been affected by the magnet in my pocket. But since the magnet could easily penetrate an entire plastic case from bottom to top, no modern unshielded laptop seems secure.

Additional Information

Flickr Photo Set
The Flickr set with all the photos taken for the experiment.