Monday, January 31, 2011

My wife's drafting table

Time for another project post.  You heard about my welding last time with my garden arbor.  Today, we talk about the drafting table I am welding for my wife.

For those of you that don't actually weld, there is a list of welding terms here.  You might want to refer to it eventually. :)

My wife took painting 1 and design 1 at the local community college this passed semester.  Now she wants a drafting table she can do her work on, but doesn't want to pay for it.  Since I'm welding now, we decided I should build her one.  Against her better judgment, we went to the local scrap yard for supplies.  (That's another thing I love about welding.  It's hard to find wood that has been sitting out in the weather for months in a dump and still use it.  But metal, for the most part, is just as good now as it was to start with.)  She didn't want to go, because she didn't think we'd find anything that looked good enough.

Of course, once we got there it was like everything had "Sale" signs on it and she went nuts.  We ended up finding some light-weight angle iron.  I honestly think it is too thin for the size of drafting table.  She wants this table 3ft by 5ft.  And with just a square frame of this, it twists very easily.  I'll fill the top with MDF, so that should stiffen it up quite a bit, but when she is raising and lowering the top, the bottom may twist and get wonky.  So I'll probably have to reinforce sections somewhere, but I'll worry about that later.

These are the two pieces I have completed so far.  The bottom is just a rectangular frame with pipes welded on for legs.  The top is the same thing, inverted.

Original Weld Quality
My welds were very ugly at first.  They're strong enough, and I've ground out some of them on the bottom piece to make sure the two pieces of metal have fused properly, but they're still ugly.  My welder sputters and skips, etc.  I think it is probably that I am moving too fast, or otherwise pulling the wire out of the puddle.  At least, that was one of the issues that caused the same symptoms when I was in the welding class.  Click on the image to the right to see a blown-up version, if you can't see what I mean in this one.  The width of the bead is uneven, it's rough in places, etc.

New, better weld quality
But then, something happened.  The first thing I noticed is that I started seeing a lot of porosity in my weld.  I don't have a picture of that, but for those that don't know, it means the weld starts looking like a sponge.  I checked my gas and everything looked right.  I checked my nozzle, and it had a little spatter on it, but not much and taking it off didn't make any difference.  I turned the gas up a bit to see if that would fix it.  It seemed to help a bit, although not much.  I also started seeing a drop of metal form on the end of the wire before it got to the puddle.  At this point, I was trying to weld up the side of my joint, so gravity wasn't pulling the drop into the puddle.  I decided to stand up and stretch and mess around a bit.  I seemed to recall that the wire melting early like that meant that the voltage was too high.  So I lowered the voltage and tried again.  It still did the same thing.  In MIG welding, your voltage controls your arc length.  Basically, how far away from the metal you can be while welding.  Since I had turned the voltage down, I moved a little closer to the joint.

And suddenly, my welds looked completely different.  Now, they are nice and smooth, no stuttering or skipping or anything like that.  Even the sound of the arc was better, going from a crackle to a hiss.  Sure, there are still flaws, but compared to my other welds, it's perfect.

Weld ground out.  Note the pinholes on the left
I ground out one.  I want to tell you that the vertical pass was actually done with the old settings, not the new, but I can't in all honesty.  I think it was, but I'm not sure.  There are pinholes in the vertical pass, but even then, the percentage area is small.  Sure, it will probably fail a bend test or something, but it will still hold, and my wife isn't going to be jumping up and down on this anyway (or she'd better not).  And the horizontal pass is completely fused, with no defects that I can see.  (Oh, and these were not welded vertical and horizontal, they were both welded flat.)

For anyone wondering, that large hole on the left hand side is the kerf from the grinder as I cut the bottom of the angle iron off.  On the bottom frame of the drafting table, I just overlapped the ends of the angle iron, so the sides are lower than the front and back.  On the top part, I decided to put more effort into the fabrication, so on the short pieces, I cut out a notch.  This allowed the end of the longer piece to fit in and be welded in place.  The image to the right is a view of a corner where I haven't welded the outside yet.  I ran out of wire, and haven't installed the new roll yet.  You can see where I cut out the bottom of the angle and fitted the other piece in.  You can also see that I'm barely leaving any gap and haven't beveled the edges at all.  The reason for notching it instead of overlapping it was to give me a flat surface, and I still can get one on the bottom if I grind my welds out.  But if I had thought about it, I could have beveled the edges and only welded from the outside.  That would have left me a flat surface on the inside as well.  But, I'm only using 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch MDF on the inside anyway, so I'll be welding some sort of riser to the inside to get the MDF above the edge.  That means the MDF will be above the inside welds and it won't cause a problem.

So, that's where I stand on the drafting table.  My next steps will be to make brackets to weld on the front corners, drill a hole, and stick a bolt through to form a hinge.  I still haven't decided how to make the desk raise or lower.  I've actually come up with several methods, and they won't be too hard to raise, but it will take two people to lower.  This is because the desk is too large to allow my wife to reach a support mounted in the middle, and it's also too large and flimsy to allow a support on just one side.  I'll keep you updated on what I decide to do, and how it turns out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My rebar garden arbor

Yes, I'm still going over the many projects I consider myself to be actively working on.  Meaning there are plenty of other unfinished projects, but I'm not working on them.  So far we have covered my website, my 3 cafepress shops, my zazzle shop, my deviantART page, and conversion of my old VB6 apps to android.  Today, I am writing about a rebar garden arbor I am welding.

Power Mig® 180c
I took a welding class over this passed summer and learned how to mig weld.  Then I bought a Lincoln Power Mig 180C.  The C means that the voltage is continuously adjustable.  I learned in the mig class that, at least for me, a tiny variation may be the difference between a good weld and a bad weld.  It's easier to play with the voltage to get the machine to work with the way I am welding than to try and adjust my positioning and such to one of the presets on the machine.

Anyway, I finally got the machine and had some projects planned, but I needed something to practice on to get the feel for it again.  During the class, I was welding 2 days a week constantly, but I had been out of the class for a couple of months.  Plus, each machine is different, so I needed to get a feel for this machine anyway.  So I decided to start building a garden arbor.  I decided on rebar because it is flexible and relatively cheap.  The picture at right shows how far along I am so far.  (Yes, I know it sucks.  It's cold and raining here, and I'm not going out in it.  So I just leaned out of the garage and snapped it.)

It doesn't look too bad.  When I'm done, I'll put a coat of that paint stuff that supposed to turn rust into primer, then I'll paint it all with another coat of standard black paint.  I'm going to stick it in the ground, so It's going to rust out eventually anyway.  But maybe the vines I plan on letting grow on it will be holding it in place by then.

You can see the top of the arbor here.  I have now passed the half-way point, but it gets harder from there.  I started out at the bottom, laying in one piece of rebar and welding it on each end, then laying in the next one and welding it on each end, etc.  But one end of those bars was always in the middle of the previous bar.  Now that I have passed the half-way point, I don't have that other bar yet.  As you can see, the piece on the left, coming up from the center at a 45 degree angle, is only anchored on one end and in the middle.  If I'm off on my angles or anything like that, the next bar is going to be even further off.  Eventually, I may not be able to get them to match up with the edges at all.

I could start back over at the bottom of this next side, but then I risk the bars not meeting correctly in the middle.  I should be able to just measure across and make sure that my bars on this side all hit the edges at the same distance from the bottom as the bars on the other side did, but the arbor isn't perfectly even.  I don't have a bending jig or anything like that.  I just bent it by standing on it and pulling up on one end.  So one side isn't bent exactly the same as the other end, and I'm afraid just transferring measurements straight across won't be enough.

Oh well.  There's one thing I like much better about welding vs. woodworking.  Welding to me is like gluing.  You just put the piece in place and then glue it there.  So if I have screwed up, I can take a grinder, cut the bar that is out-of-position off, and then glue it back in place correctly.  No big deal.  The grinder doesn't have a very large kerf, so I only lose a small amount of metal, and if it ends up needing that bit to fit, I can fill in the gap with the weld metal anyway.

Anyway, hopefully I'll finish this sometime soon.  Since it is just for my enjoyment, not my wife's it goes on the back burner when her project's come around.  For that matter, it goes on the back burner when my more important projects come around as well.  I started out using the flux-core wire that came with the machine.  When that ran out, I bought a gas bottle off of craig's list and switched to mig.  When I did, I had to build a welding cart.  One day maybe I'll post about that.  I recently went to the Big Texas Toy Run as well.  I needed a cargo-rack for my motorcycle to carry toys on, so that took priority over the arbor as well.

In my next post, I'll write about the drafting table I am welding up for my wife, so check back soon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Conversion of my VB6 apps to Android

(Update: This is more of a "what am I up to" post. It has gotten a lot of traffic from people wanting to actually know how to do a conversion, though, so I have started a new series walking you through converting a VB6 app to android.  Click here for the first in the series.)

Continuing the series on my various projects, today I write about  my efforts to convert my VB6 apps to Android.

Since I first started programming 20+ years ago, I have always used Microsoft languages and products.  I've never liked their business practices, but I was kinda stuck.  Recently, I decided to get un-stuck.

My windows XP desktop finally succumbed to one of the fake virus scanner malware apps.  My wife's computer gets hit all the time, because she refuses to listen to me about her computer security, but I had managed to keep mine clean.  Since I had to reformat anyway (I had cleaned it off, but there were niggling little hints that something may still be around), I decided to dual-boot into Ubuntu Linux and try it out.

Well, the first thing that means to me is that all of the hundreds of apps I've created over the years in VB6 will no longer work.  Sure, I can install wine, or I can use the dual-boot to boot into windows when I need to use them, but I don't want to.  If I'm going to kick the microsoft habit, I need to do it as completely as possible.  So I wanted to learn a new language or something so that maybe one day I could actually get a job not programming in microsoft.  So the next decision was what language to convert them into.  One coworker suggested python, but a quick google search didn't reveal any commercial quality apps written in python.  Sure, several of them are using python as a scripting engine, but they themselves are written in something else.  Then I thought about android.  I was originally thinking java or c++ anyway, but anything I write for linux isn't going to get a very good market penetration.  Android, however, is kinda separate from the computer environment, so a user who swears by microsoft on his PC may still have an android phone.  And mobile apps are fairly hot.

So, I've decided to go that route.  Luckilly, most of them are just cheese apps, because I don't actually have an android phone, so everything I do is in the emulator.  If I ever need to run these apps for anything useful, I'll have to load the emulator to do it.  Also, it's not really a conversion.  There's no converter from VB6 to java that I know of, much less VB6 to android.  So I'm really completely rewriting the apps, making all new useability decisions and such for the android version.  So far, I've done one and gotten stuck on the second.

The first one I did was an old Magic 8-Ball app I wrote.  Definitely cheezy, and I don't even remember why I wrote it in the first place.  But, it was also fairly easy to convert.  You can download it here if you want.  (It's called "Mystical Pool Ball" because I didn't know if "Magic 8-Ball" was trademarked or anything.)

The second app is called Ambiance.  It uses various wave files (converted to ogg for the mobile version) to create a soundscape.  For instance, in the windows version, I have a "Day by the River" ambiance set up.  You have a babbling brook and various birds and insects.  I also have an "Approaching Night Storm" one.  You have all of the standard night sounds, plus the occasional crack of thunder.  I used to have one that was called "Rainy Night", but then I realized one time while listening to it that you don't hear that many insects and such during a downpour.  It still sounded pretty cool, though.

My problem is that I haven't figured out how to package the sounds yet.  I can put them in the resources in the package, but then they can't be changed.  So I'm looking at putting them on a web page somewhere and allowing download.  But that means that the first install won't have any sounds at all.  So I'll have to figure out some way to make it download the apps when it installs the first time.  Of course, the app itself isn't all that large.  So maybe I'll just make a completely new package for each soundscape and go with that route.

When I get something working, I'll stick the app here on google docs.  I'll probably put all of the apps I make out there until I run out of the 1gig space.  Eventually, they'll probably go out on the android marketplace.  I don't really expect to make a profit, so I don't feel like shelling out the $25.00 for registration yet.  But at least it's better than the $99.00 that apple and microsoft want for their app stores.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My deviantART page

In the last post, I wrote about my shops at cafepress (1,2,3) and zazzle.  Today, I write about deviantART.

My deviantART page is, and will probably be my primary photo site for a while.  Over the years, I've put a lot of time into making my website work, getting creative with ways to show the users the quality of the prints they will get, etc.  All of that custom work takes a lot of time and trouble.  On top of that, I've never made any money off of the site, so I am only paying for shared hosting, not a dedicated server.  With shared hosting, my memory allotment is smaller than most of the images I upload.  It means that when I was doing image manipulation (watermarking, generating thumbnails, etc) a performance monitor of some sort on the server would kill my process.  Normally, my processing was fast enough to finish before it was killed, so the files still saved, but it killed sessions and everything.  So I would upload one picture, then have to log back in to upload the next one, etc.  So I ended up having to write a .net client app to handle image processing before the actual upload, which is just clunky and one more piece of code I have to maintain.

I'm tired of it.  So I'm going to be uploading to deviantART instead.  Most likely, it means I won't be controlling my prints as well.  For instance, my image processing controlled placement and size of my signature logo depending on the print size.  The signature was always 4 inches across on prints, unless the print was so small that that would make it more than 1/3 of the image width.  I won't have that control on deviantART without uploading 15 versions of the same image.  But, I won't have to write all of the code to handle the uploads, page views, comments, zooms, etc. either.

Also, deviantART has an existing community.  As I think I've said before, I've never gotten into the social networking thing, but it is there.  So I'm going to start submitting my photos and other art out to existing groups on deviantArt.  I should get decent criticism, hopefully, and be able to improve.  And I'll be building up a fan base at the same time (again, hopefully).

On the SEO side, all of my posts to deviantART link back to the website, cafepress, this blog, etc.  As I create more sites (ie, Facebook, Twitter, etc).  I'll be adding those links as well.   This is supposed to help improve your page ranking with google, so it should get me more external hits, if I can ever figure out what keywords I actually want people to be able to use to find my stuff.

I'll probably still keep the website around, but I don't know how often, if at all, I will update it.  But if I ever get a decent fan base and manage to quit my day job, I'll need a professional site.  I won't be writing it myself, though.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My CafePress/Zazzle Shops

Well, I hope your new year went well.  I had (or should have had, since this post was written in advance and released on a schedule) a good game of DND  on the first.  I may write about that in a later post.

Anyway, this is the second post in my series about my various projects.  Today, I will be writing about the second project on my list, my CafePress shops.

I started a long time ago so I could offer products besides prints for my photos, such as custom stamps or mugs.  I never sold any of my photo items off of it, and frankly forgot I had it for a long time.  Years later I had another idea.  Or more accurately, finally found an acceptable execution for an old idea.  I had been thinking for a long time (several years) about the "girls-gone-wild" phenomena and trying to come up with some bumper sticker that could be placed in the more mainstream environment of suburbia.  When I first started thinking about it, my children were young.  So I had been trying to think of something that would be obvious to women old enough to respond, but wouldn't be something that mothers would have to shield their young children's eyes from.  I finally came up with the phrase, "Earn Your Beads", with a simple picture of a camera surrounded by Mardi-Gras beads.  I created shirts and bumper stickers and added them to the HFCSPhotography shop.  I even managed to somehow sell a bumper sticker the day after I created them (and only got $0.50 from CafePress for it) and I still don't know how.

My second shop was for my daughter.  She says she wants to be a manga artist when she grows up, and she's doing a good job of it so far.  (Although we keep trying to get her to practice realistic drawing, but we can't seem to convince her that it will improve her manga.)  She draws constantly, which isn't that uncommon I suppose.  I drew constantly when I was growing up.  But she actually practices and learns instead of just doodling.  She finds other peoples drawings online and such and learns how to draw like they do.  And then she incorporates that knowledge into her own work and sometimes posts it up on deviantART (here).

Anyway, she drew a blue bunny that her friends liked.  They wanted it on t-shirts (she sometimes draws or paints her own shirts) and she decided she wanted to put it on cafepress to let her friends buy them.  A normal (free) CafePress shop can't have more than one of the same product.  Which means that if you already have a basic t-shirt with one image on it, you can't create another basic t-shirt with a different image.  I had already started creating my "Earn Your Beads" gear in the HFCSPhotography shop, so I had to create the shop for her t-shirt.

The third store was opened because the name of the first store sucked.  Over the years of giving people the address of my website, I found that HFCSPhotography is a very bad name for a website or url of any kind.  It doesn't have any meaning to people and has too many letters that people misunderstand when you say them (or at least when I say them).  For instance, people tend to confuse F with S.  So I was looking for a new name anyway.  And, I needed to separate the "Earn Your Beads" items from my photography stuff.  When I originally created the "Earn Your Beads" t-shirts and bumper stickers, I was doing test searches to make sure they showed up in the cafepress marketplace.  I found a lot of different Mardi-Gras shirts, and several were variations on the phrase "bead whore".  I had seen this before, but what I realized was that I had never seen the other side of that coin: Bead Pimp.  I realized that that was basically what I was working on supporting, so I created my third shop,  I moved all of the t-shirts into there.  If I have time, I'm going to try to market them to mard-gras venues this year, and may even go to a couple myself to try and sell them.

Now, in the long run, I don't think I'll have that many products at CafePress.  I have created a couple of IPad cases out there that aren't available on Zazzle.  I'll leave those types of things on CafePress.  But everything that has a product on Zazzle as well, I'll probably move there.

Click show if you want to see my soap box about why:

Cafepress has really screwed over their shopkeepers.  What they have done is decided that if anyone finds your product through a search on the main site, CafePress will set the price, and you only get 10% commission.  So, for instance, take a simple bumper sticker (which I actually did sell).  The base price is something like $3.49.  I can set the markup at any price above that in my shop and I get the extra.  So I can set the markup to $2.00, the customer will pay $5.49, and I'll get the $2.00 markup.  But that ONLY works from your own shop now.  Meaning only if someone goes to and purchases my product from that page.  If someone goes out to the cafepress main site and searches for "Earn Your Beads", they should find the bumper sticker there.  The first thing they see is that CafePress set the price to only $5.00, not the $5.49 that I specified.  On top of that, I only get 10% of the selling price.  So I don't even get the $1.21 over base, I only get $0.50.

So the only way a shopkeeper can really run their shop now is to mark everything so that it isn't listed in the marketplace at all and run their own site outside of CafePress to drive traffic to the shop.  It cancels out the primary reason I am starting to concentrate on CafePress and Zazzle in the first place; that I don't have time to run my own site anymore.  Even if a shopkeeper does get most of their traffic direct to their store anyway, they still are almost forced to lower their prices to those that CafePress dictates in the marketplace.  Because if they don't, any smart shopper is going to go out to the main site and search for the product there instead, where they can get it cheaper.  The shopkeepers are now in direct competition with the CafePress main site, instead of being partners of the site.

Anyway, time to get off of my soap box.

I still haven't done the math related to the deviantART products vs CafePress/Zazzle products.  It looks like deviantART has a fixed commission schedule instead of allowing the artist to set the markup (I have recently heard that that may not be the case with the premium membership).  If this schedule coincides with what I want to charge, then I'll leave products on deviantART.  Otherwise, I'll put them out on Zazzle or CafePress.  Even that math, though, will take some work, as I really have no idea what my work is actually worth.