Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back in Business

I've officially re-launched an old online store of mine. Back in college I created and sold a do-it-yourself electronics kit. It was a small niche product for hobbyists who like to modify their computer case. For those of you who are curious about the finer details, you can check out the site at

Since closing up shop in 2005 some things have changed which are making my life as a small store operator better.

PayPal has always had an easy to use "Add To Cart" button system. Now they can track your inventory as well. I only have a limited number of kits to sell, and I can set up my PayPal account to keep track of what's been sold and how many are left, and prevent me from selling when I run out. However I did learn a lesson on shipping pricing on PayPal. I hand't planned on doing international shipping at first, so I didn't set up a pricing scheme for international. To PayPal, apparently this means that international shipping is FREE. One of my first orders was from Canada and they got free shipping. So my oversight was their gain... but now I have some international pricing set up for next time.

The US Postal service's Click & Ship program is new to me as well. Back in the day I used to have to pack up all my shipments and wait in line at the Post Office to ship out my stuff. All I needed now was a digital postal scale. I found a nice non-USPS brand scale on eBay. This time around, I just weigh my package, print out postage, schedule a pickup, and it's done. Very nice. I can also order priority mail boxes delivered for free through the USPS, which is a great convenience. One thing I did stumble on was that my favorite PDF viewer, Foxit, is not compatible with the USPS click & ship program. The images they put on the postage label (barcodes, postmark, etc) do not display on the document when viewed or printed through Foxit. I had to switch to a computer with the standard Adobe Acrobat PDF viewer for this to work.

Pay attention to international shipping. It took me awhile to get it all straightened out, but there are VERY specific boxes I have to use in order to get the cheaper rates. A bit of a learning curve, but really not too bad now.

So far so good... I emailed my past customers about the new store and ended up selling a couple units. Now I just have to find some ways to promote the site.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Big Two-Eight

Happy Birthday to me!

It was a good weekend full of family & friends, cake, 3 days of babies, and finished off with my 28th birthday. I like to joke that I'm getting old, but I'm in good health, good spirits, and good company. So, another year doesn't make much difference to me right now. I'm good with it. My brother-in-law warned me about the 28th year of life since he's already lived through much of his. Apparently I'll have 3 kids by the time I turn 29, based on the fact that he has 3 kids now. I'm not so sure that will happen, but how can I argue with his evidence?

Friday we got together with Beth's family for dinner and got to see my new niece & nephew in the hospital. They've been in the hospital about a month now since their 10-week early birth. They're out of their incubator and have moved on to open "cribs." To top it off, we got to hold them for the first time, which was nice after several weeks of seeing them in their incubators. We chowed down on some Cold Stone ice cream cake and I opened some nice gifts.

Saturday was a nice day to sleep in, go to the gym, and get some painting done on the new cabinet. Saturday evening we went to visit our friends Kevin & Ellie and their new baby. We brought some dinner and hung out and had a good time. Their little guy was born premature as well, but he's doing quite well and lookin' good. Our friend Jean surprised me with some birthday cake too (and managed to load it up with 28 candles). Thanks Jean!

Since Sunday's schedule was looking a little tight, I decided to stay up to make some late night cheesecake. I enjoy making cool deserts, including the occasional cheesecake. I decided to make my own birthday cake... Turtle Cheesecake from, yum! I've done some different ones, but this one sounded good. They have some good cheesecake tips for those of you who are curious. The only thing I changed from the directions was baking it in a water bath, and keeping it in the oven for an extra hour after turning off the heat. This helps the cake cook more evenly and prevents cracking, and it gave me a chance to catch up on some taped episodes of MythBusters in the middle of the night.

Sunday we got ready for my birthday party with the family, and I got some more painting done on the cabinet. The family arrived and while it was a bit chaotic, I had fun with all my nieces & nephews. We enjoyed some excellent chili & cornbread, played in the basement, and got some more good birthday loot. After the house cleared out and we cleaned up, it was nice evening, the end of a good birthday and a good weekend.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The TV Cabinet Takes Shape...

What started as three 4' by 8' sheets of plywood and some assorted lengths of solid maple is starting to look like a real piece of furniture.

Wednesday night Dad and I picked up the supplies so we could start right away on Sunday morning.

8 am we started ripping down plywood and laying out the cabinet. Add some nails, glue, and biscuit joints and we started to have shelves. With help of a drill jig we also made plenty of holes for shelf pins for the adjustable shelves. Thanks to Dad, I think it came together much nicer (and faster) than if I had done it myself. It's nice to be able to work with someone who's built cabinets for years, with a complete arsenal of tools and in a heated garage in the middle of winter.

By 6pm we had everything done except the doors (which will get done later) and had it loaded up in the truck to go to our house. Now it's sitting in our laundry room ready for some paint. While it's a shame to cover up such a nice wood grain, since everything else in our family room is white we'll be painting the new cabinet to match.

I have to say I learned quite a bit, and I'm proud to see my design come to life. Now I just have to paint it and set it up in our basement. Expect another update and pictures when it's done.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Foray Into Furniture Design

Since moving into our house, we've wanted a better TV cabinet for our family room. For the time being we're actually using one I built in junior high wood shop. While I'm rather proud of the piece, it doesn't exactly suit our family room nor the way we want to use it. The TV it holds now is bigger than what used to sit on it, and its placement in the room isn't exactly normal.

Because of the size & shape of our family room, the best place for our TV cabinet is somewhat in the middle of the room, leaving the back of the TV visible to half of the room. With the back of the cabinet exposed, we wanted to accomplish two things: conceal the unsightly cables and keep them away from little hands, and create some storage space accessible from the back of the cabinet.

Enter Google Sketchup. This free program from Google has been a useful tool for some of my other small projects, and provided a fun way to design our cabinet. The design shown here is the basic concept. I plan to include some doors on the front, and a panel to conceal the wires on the back.

While I've managed to stock my garage with enough tools to get by on small projects, I haven't really built anything large since our current TV cabinet. This is where it comes in handy to have a Dad with years of experience building cabinetry and a high quality table saw in his garage. At this point with the design laid out, Dad and I will be getting together to buy some materials and start building this thing! Let's hope it all goes well.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quick & Easy Foot Switch

So this all started with a floor lamp we bought from IKEA, with a handy foot switch built into the cord. The convenience of just stepping on a foot switch to turn on a lamp is really quite nice, and I've found more opportunities to do this elsewhere in the house.

During one of my many trips to Home Depot, I stumbled on the exact same foot switch I had seen on the IKEA lamp, in the lighting section, hidden in with the lamp parts. For just under $6.00 I had the foot switch, and for another $1.00 I had an extension cord to wire it into. Simply cut one strand of the two-wire extension cord and strip the ends back about half an inch. After twisting the ends, the exposed wire inserts into the switch. Once this is complete, press the wires into place and re-assemble the switch.

This worked particularly well for my office. I have a couple lamps on my desk, and turning them both on would be a bit difficult the way the switches hang off the back of the desk. So, I plugged both lamps into the end of the modified extension cord, and I can turn them both on and off by stepping on the foot switch under my desk.

So... not the most difficult house project, but a very nice convenience.