Cable Management: My War on the Rat’s Nest

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I recently purchased two QNIX 2710 monitors for my new dual-monitor setup, and while setting that up I realized that I was embarrassed at the rat’s nest of cables I had accumulated behind my desk. It was unsightly and frustrating to work with. I’ve been meaning to do something to get the cables under control but I have been procrastinating. I’ve liked some of the cable management ideas that I’ve come across before, like using rain gutters for cable management or even installing PVC pipe to manage cables.

A couple weeks back, I had a brainstorm while out in the backyard with my dogs after work one day. I got to looking at our fence, most notably the metal fenceposts. There are round brackets that went around the post and were screwed into the two-by-fours that made up the structure of the fence. My brainstorm was to install several of those (less than 10) and run my cables through them. I thought this was such a great idea that I ordered several of the fencepost grip ties from Amazon to try them out. Unfortunately, they wound up being a bit too large; my desk has a keyboard drawer built into it and the ties didn’t fit between the backside of that drawer and the lip around the desk’s surface.

Feeling like I was on the right track, I set out for Home Depot one night after work and aimlessly wandered the aisles looking for an inexpensive piece I could screw to the underside of my desk and run cables through them. I strolled down the electrical and plumbing aisles but nothing jumped out at me. Then I took a look at what was around the fencing aisle and I found something promising right on the aisle’s end-cap. A Chain Link Fence Tension Band, which I presume is used with a nut and bolt to clap the chain link material to the fence posts. The best part of these bands? They were very inexpensive at Home Depot at $.98 each.

These wound up being ideal for what I had cooked up in my head. The shape was exactly right that it’d be easy to run cables through them. And anything that had an end which was too fat to fit through could have its cable pushed through where the band clamps together. I intended to use a wood screw and washer(s) to screw the flat part of the band into the desk, leaving the band un-clamped.

The Plan

  1. Every 9 or 10 inches, one of the Chain Link Fence Tension Bands would be screwed into the bottom of the desk, between the keyboard drawer and the lip on the back of the desk. The tension band would be installed in such a way that it remained “open” for easier access.
  2. A couple of the tension bands would be installed “closed” on the rear leg of the desk to fully hide the cables being routed down to the computer.
  3. I would use some leftover velcro from My Network Cupboard project to line the underside of my desk’s surface, wrap power adapters in the opposite side and then stick them underneath the desk to hide them from view. Those power adapters would then be plugged into …
  4. … a surge protector mounted underneath the desk either to the left side of the desk’s lip or the left side of the keyboard drawer.
  5. Pat would 3D print some brackets like the ones he made for his QNIX 2710 monitors and speakers. Those brackets would be used to clamp the monitor’s power adapters to the monitor mount’s arms. The power cables would be routed down through the monitor mount to a power splitter cable plugged into a 10-foot power extension cord and ultimately into my UPS.
  6. I would NOT resort to using methods that’d interfere with future cabling I had to do. So things like my trusty zip strips, hot glue gun and J.B. Weld were out of the question.

The hardest part of this whole DIY project was getting the chain link tension bands screwed in. This was mostly a logistical problem, and the fact that I’m hopelessly clumsy didn’t help much either. I picked out some pretty short wood screws, but the bands have pretty large holes. To close that hole, I wound up using a couple different-sized washers. So, I was trying to keep two washers on a wood screw, fed through a tension band and then screwed into the underside of my desk all while lying on my back. I even drilled pilot holes in an effort to make it easier, but alas it took quite a few tries and a couple four-letter words to get it right. Had I removed everything from the desk and flipped it over, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

I chose not to add some more chainlink tension bands to the elbow piece and cart that make up the short side of my L-shaped computer desk because those pieces lacked the lip which hides them on my desk. My thought was that the exposed tension bands would ultimately make it look a bit messier than if I neatly routed the cables along the bottom of the media cart.

Originally, I planned on black carpet tacks to hold a few strips of velcro to the underside of my desk. But the degree of difficulty of this also was multiplied by the fact that I was upside down. After a few frustrating attempts resulting in tacks falling on my face or going in at peculiar angles, I decided that I’d just use some of my remaining wood screws to pin it to the underside of the desk. It took me longer to put in two carpet tacks poorly than it did the other dozen or so wood screws. I installed the velcro with the furry side exposed, then cut up some strips and wrapped my power adapters in both directions. At first, I was a bit dubious of whether or not my velcro would hold the bricks. I tested it out just to see how it would work and I was pleasantly surprised to find it took quite a bit of force before I was able pull it down. I’m confident that now they’re up there, they’re going to stay in place until I want them down.

Finally, I affixed a surge protector to the outside of the keyboard drawer on the lefthand side of the desk, just beneath all of the velcro. I tidied this up a bit by wrapping up the excess cable in velcro and sticking both the power bricks and the bundled cables to the underside of the desk. The velcro also worked surprisingly well; had I known that, I would’ve been tempted to completely coat the underside of my desk in velcro first so that I could use it to easily hide things like the power adapters. If Pat not printed two sets of his 3D-printed brackets for me to use, this is exactly how I would have hidden the monitors’ power adapters.

Photos


Rat's Nest #1 Rat's Nest #2 Rat's Nest #3 Underside of my desk Underside of my desk, including keyboard drawer Chain Link Torsion Band Chain Link Torsion Bands Installed #1 Chain Link Torsion Bands Installed #2 Chain Link Torsion Bands with Cable #1 Horizontal and Vertical Chain Link Torsion Bands More Cables being routed through the Bands Power Adapter wrapped in Velcro Velcro screwed to underside of Desk #1 Velcro screwed to underside of Desk #2 Power Adapter mounted underneath desk Power Strip mounted underneath desk Power Adapters and Power Strips being put to use All cables being hidden underneath desk now Cables being routed down desk leg to PC A view of a few of the cables left unmanaged The Final Product


Conclusion

I’m nitpicking a bit, but there are a couple things I wish I could have done better. Firstly, the network jack and the power (my APC Back-UPS RS 800) are located to the right of the desk: on the wall and on the cart attached to my desk. So there’s three power cables (extension cable for monitors, surge protector for accessories and the computer’s power cable) routed to the right of the computer. I bundled the three cables up as nicely as I could and made it look as nice as possible, but it’s not as clean as everything to the left of the computer. I’ll be brainstorming on how I can improve that.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the result. My mess of cables is virtually eliminated. On top of that, it’s been done in such a way that it won’t be difficult to make changes in the future. In past cable management projects, I’ve made the mistake of using things like zip strips to permanently group a clump of cables together. And even though this might look pleasing to the eye, it is also a nightmare to go back later and make a change. All of my cables are organized and/or hidden, but none of them are inaccessible, which is a tremendous benefit.

The icing on the cake was how inexpensive this was to do. Theoretically, I probably could have done most of this for under $10.00. It helped that I had some odds and ends laying around the house, like the velcro and spare extension cables. But the chainlink tension bands were the most important part of the project and they were also the cheapest. In my experience, most DIY projects don’t usually work out that way.

Furthermore, for projects like this one it’s proving to be invaluable having a friend with a 3D printer and excited about the concept. If you want to come up with your own unique cable management solution, a friend with a 3D printer is indispensable. My suggestion is that you either become one by buying a 3D Printer like Pat did, or make a friend who has a 3D printer!

If you have a cables rat’s nest of your own, I recommend tackling it. Maybe not exactly like how I decided, but in some form or fashion. Do some Googling and get some ideas, then just wander around a hardware store. You’ll be surprised the things you think of! My only warning is to be prepared for a minor hiccup or two; there’s almost certainly going to be a cable that’s just not long enough to follow your neatest route. Take a stab at it, make a list of additional cables that you need, and then clean it up a couple days later when you get those cables.

How about you guys, how do you handle cable management behind your workstations? Please feel free to show off your solutions in the comments below!

My new Dual-Monitor Setup

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Back when I was planning on my computer upgrade at the end of 2012, I was admittedly a bit nervous. I’d decided at the time to switch from a couple 23” displays to a single 27” WQHD monitor. My actual resolution was increasing, but the amount of space it occupied was going to be a bit smaller. Plus, I’d been using dual (or more) monitors for probably close to a decade. My first dual-monitor setup involved two 19” CRTs; those monitors were so big and took up so much of my physical desktop that during all-night gaming sessions I broke out my SPF 70 to prevent a sunburn.

Pat had originally turned me on to the QNIX 27” WQHD monitors in the first place. When it came time for his own upgrade he went all-in and bought two new 27” QNIX 2710 monitors earlier this year. I’d be lying if I said I I wasn’t a little bit jealous. Then, my envy grew a bit when he bought a nice mount. And then I completely boiled over when he overclocked the refresh rate and claimed that it was improving his Team Fortress 2 performance, including crediting it with a particularly infuriating kill of me during a payload game.

Unable to manage my jealousy, I decided to go ahead and follow in Pat’s footsteps and advice.

What I Bought

Pat actually suggested that I buy a bigger mount than what he bought. He found that his dual-monitor mount was barely big enough. In his first edition of the blog, he recommended moving up to a bigger mount to give yourself additional flexibility. However, what we found was that the arms were so long on the quad arm mount that it wasn’t possible to center both monitors. The closest they’d get was between an inch or two apart. Pat went home that night and took his entire mount apart and brought two of the shorter arms over the next day. We wound up swapping two of his shorter arms for two of the longer arms from my mount. The result was two perfect 27-inch dual monitor mounts for each of us.

I think our recommendation would be that you buy one of each mount and swap arms just like we did. But if you don’t have a friend looking to buy two new monitors too, you’re probably better off buying this dual-monitor mount:

Overclocking

Using information I gleaned from this thread on Overclockers.net, I started playing with overclocking the monitors’ refresh rates. What I found was that one monitor easily overclocked to 120hz without any problems. However, the other monitor had problems at 120hz and even at 110hz. I tried swapping the DVI cables between the two monitors, but that didn’t change the results. Ultimately, at 96hz everything displayed quite nicely on both monitors. Like Pat, I fired up Team Fortress 2 and noticed an immediate improvement in playing the game. I didn’t quantify it with any kind of framerate counter but having spent hours playing TF2, the experience was much smoother.

Pictures

Dual QNIX 2710s Mounted on my Desk A closer view of the dual QNIX 2710s Closeup of the Alignment of the mounted monitors. Backside of the monitor mount The monitor's phallus.

Please excuse the mess of cables behind my desk and my computer, I’ve sorely needed some cable management back there. Adding an additional power adapter, power cords, and DVI cable back there has highlighted to me how out of control that tangled mess has become. Buying this additional monitor has inspired me to think about cable management and will be the topic of an upcoming blog in the near future.

Conclusion

More or less, a shining review was a forgone conclusion. My experience with my first QNIX 27” monitor when upgrading my computer in late 2012 was so positive that it was a no-brainer to follow Pat’s lead and buy two monitors. The price-per-performance simply can’t be beat. If I had a much, much wider field of vision, I would’ve considered buying a third monitor to add to it. But I can’t imagine being able to see all of that screen real estate all at once and make use of it. If anything, there is definitely parts of either monitor which I can’t see without turning my head.

About the only thing that I’d consider complaining about is that the leg from the built-in monitor stand is permanently affixed to the casing of the monitor. The only thing that could be removed was the base of that monitor stand. So on each monitor, there’s a bit of a dangling phallus hanging down. It’s nothing that a little rotary tool wouldn’t fix after a few minutes’ worth of work. Either that, or debezeling the entire monitor, which Pat’s in the process of doing to his own monitors. Depending on how that turns out, I may continue playing the copycat.

Perhaps a tri-monitor setup would be more feasible by mounting each of these monitors in portrait rather than landscape. However, with as wide as the monitors are in landscape, you’d probably incur some strain looking up at the monitor in portrait. In the end, having more screen real estate than I can effectively see at once is a great problem to have. Especially when you consider that I didn’t break the bank in order to get all of it.

Ultimately, I can’t foresee upgrading these monitors in the next couple years. Definitely not for 4K monitors and 5K monitors, which are just too expensive to justify at the moment. And even as they fall in price, I expect display manufacturers like the makers of the QNIX 2710 zeroing in on the people in the market for the best bang-for-buck and making something much more affordable, which is almost always the best way to get me to consider spending money on your products.

Movember: 2014

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It’s that time of year again, it’s time for me to humiliate my face. During Movember, men stop shaving their upper lips to draw attention to men’s health issues. This’ll be my third year in a row participating in Movember. Last year, I got more involved by doing some fund raising, and with the help of readers, friends, family and co-workers we managed to make a $500 contribution. If you visit my Movember page and make a contribution, then I’ll match dollar-for-dollar up to $500. I’d really like to double last year’s donation, which seems like a reasonable goal.

Movember

For those of you unfamiliar, here are the rules:

  1. Start off the 1st of the month with a clean shaven face.
  2. For the duration of Movember you must grow and groom a mustache.
  3. Don’t fake it! No beards or goatees allowed.
  4. Use the power of the mustache to create conversations and raise funds for men’s health issues (prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health).
  5. Something about each participant conducting himself as a true gentleman

Because I need as much of an advantage as I can muster, this Saturday morning, the second the clock hits 12:00:00 AM, I’ll be shaving my entire face for the last time. Like in past years, I’ll take a photo every day of my “progress” and share those photos at least weekly. If you want to make a donation, please visit my Movember page and make any size of contribution. At the end of the month, I’ll match up to $500.

If you’re Mo-tivated, go sign up on Movember.com and leave a comment with your own Movember page’s address. I’ll update the blog with everybody’s Movember and we can see if you can put my moustache to shame. Just remember to follow the rules.

Let’s get growing!

Week One

As I mentioned above, I shaved at midnight on November 1st in order to guarantee the maximum amount of growing time during Movember as possible. I like to hope that this will make a difference by the end of the month, but do I actually expect for it to matter? Not really. Please, feel free to have a laugh at my expense but also consider contributing a few bucks on my Movember donation page for the entertainment I’ve provided! I’ve been posting daily updates to my Twitter, Google+ and Facebook pages and I’ve already run out of synonyms to describe the slow rate of growth.

Week Two

Now that week one is in the books, there’s definitely some semblance of a mustache on my upper lip. Hopefully as the month progresses we’ll see some more substantial gains but somehow I’m dubious! However, I did learn one thing; wearing white shirts seems to make the mustache “pop” off the photo a bit better aided by the contrast of a white shirt and my pasty white skin. On the last day of week two, I am pretty impressed with my progress so far.

Week Three

Week three began on a horribly long work day, a late night Friday software-release extended well into the wee hours of Saturday (4AM) and then dominated the beginning of the day. But, as I pouted in front of my keyboard wondering how things had gone so far off track, I noticed something annoying! My protruding lower lip was being tickled and annoyed by my mustache! There wasn’t much joy to be had in this working weekend day, but I was pretty excited that my mustache had grown enough to be an annoyance to more people than just my darling wife! I took a late afternoon shower, put on one of my paint-stained shirts from working in the garage and made my first week three entry in my Movember blog!

Week Four

Week four began with a parking-lot championship celebration for my softball team. I got several “compliments” on my mustache from my teammates’ and their families. Including one impish boy who said that “You look ridiculous!” He pretty much hit that nail square on the head. All things considered, I’m pretty pleased with the progress when comparing day #22’s photograph from 2013 with this year’s day #22 it sure seems like I’m a bit hairier this time around. Much to Julia’s chagrin I’m beginning to consider keeping the mustache for the near future to see if I can finally get this thing across the finish line. And perhaps maybe even grow some other facial hair to keep it company?

Pictures


Day 01 Day 02 Day 03 Day 04 Day 05 Day 06 Day 07 Day 08 Day 09 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14 Day 15 Day 16 Day 17 Day 18 Day 19 Day 20 Day 21 Day 22 Day 23 Day 24 Day 25 Day 26 Thanksgiving (Day 27)

Donations

My friends, co-workers and family who’ve all donated deserve some special thanks for their contributions. Many, many thanks to each of the following folks:

  • Karen Moses, Mom
  • Tuan Pham, co-worker
  • John Robottom, co-worker

Friend’s Movember Pages

Upgrading my Keychain

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I hate my keychain! One of my bigger regrets of growing up into an adult has always been the carrying and keeping track of my keychain. Very recently, we bought a used high-mileage third car so that I could keep miles off my 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which isn’t exactly the most comfortable and reliable of cars to be driving on a daily basis. I’m glad we bought the car, but you know what that meant? A third car key. You know what else I hate about my keychain? It’s essentially useless 99.9% of the time; I haul it around everywhere but I only really need it when I need to unlock something or drive one of my cars. We get very little utility from packing these things around.

Car keys are the worst offenders on your keychain. Almost all newer cars have some sort of remote unlocking device and worse, they have their car key. Car keys are the absolute worst offender, with all the added bulk from plastic around the key’s head to make sure their branding is prominently displayed and to make sure the key sticks out on your keychain. So you know what happens when you have three different cars’ keys on your keychain? Insanity in your pocket! My keychain has grown so large that I actively take it out of my pocket anytime that I sit down: at home, at work, out at my favorite restaurants, anywhere! It’s only a matter of time before I misplace my keys somewhere because of how much I hate to put them in my pocket.

What I’d really, really like is a bunch of locks all tied to the same smart key, and I’d really like that smart key to be hosted on my Nexus 5, which would effectively eliminate any need for me to carry a keychain. I don’t think this is that far off in the future. But unfortunately, right now it’s not really a practical reality.

The past couple months, I’ve been wracking my brain for ways to improve my keychain. Here are a few of my ideas to enhance my keychain:

  • Universal Remote for Cars: Why can I point one remote at numerous electronic devices and control them all, but I can’t do the same for a couple cars from different manufacturers? This doesn’t seem to be possible today based on my e-mails with a few potential vendors.
  • Unique Keychains: Create a unique keychain for each of my cars and then pick the appropriate key depending on the car. I thought this was a pretty practical solution, as I’d only be carrying around the lowest common denominator on my keychain on any given day. I’m a bit tentative about this plan, since it’s doubling or tripling the likelihood that I misplace a keychain.
  • Add key-sized “features” to the keychain: As long as I have to carry a keychain, it should provide benefits outside of a handy storage space for the keys themselves. If additional features like a multi function tool, USB storage, or charging cables could be added to a keychain without dramatically adding to its bulk, it’d be a decent upgrade.

The Keychain Cannot be Un-Supersized

As everything else in America, our keychains are super-sized, and unfortunately for me, there’s nothing that can be done about it. I had some hope that I could go to a local locksmith and get a thin, normal-sized key for one or more of our cars. Then at least my keychain would be condensed. Imagine my dismay when after describing my problem to the locksmith, he said “Sure, I can make you thinner keys, but none of them are going to be able to start your cars!” Apparently, each of my cars’ keys contain some sort of microchip in the head of the key or on the key itself as a security feature. The thickness of the keys’ heads (or bows) contains these microchips. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not very micro at all.

If I could have done anything with my keychain, I would’ve condensed it and reduced its size. Going into this blog, that was my primary objective, and unfortunately the car key industry doesn’t have very much regard for our pockets. Perhaps I should start carrying a man purse for carrying around my massive keychain.

The Consolation Keychain(s)

Ultimately, I could not do what I originally sat out to do. I couldn’t find a way to take my current keychain and consolidate it down to an acceptable size. But I thought it’d be possible to still somehow improve my keychains to make carrying one every day tolerable and perhaps a bit more functional. But this just wasn’t going to be possible within a single keychain, so I decided to break up my keys across two different keychains. I wound up using a couple different FreeKey keychains and built two keychains: one for utilitarian everyday use (boring car and work keys), and a second performance keychain for fun weekend use.

Utilitarian Keychain

This is my everyday keychain, the one I haul off to work. Because I have some keys to my desk and office, those keys went on this keychain. As far as car keys go, I wound up putting the two “practical” cars’ keys onto this keychain too. I also wanted to add some additional utility to this keychain, so I searched for products that allowed me to reduce the amount of space taken up by the keychain and also for products which add additional utility to this keychain.

Via Massdrop, I wound up learning of the Keysmart product. This device basically consolidates your normal-sized keys down into a smaller package much like a swiss-army pocketknife consolidates all those blades and tools down one device. Keysmart makes a handy little pocket-knife out of all your keys. The Keysmart itself is not all that bulky, and it’s made of pretty lightweight material. In an ideal world I would’ve been able to consolidate all of my keys down into the Keysmart, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t get any of my car keys down to a regular size. However, there were still four typically sized keys on my keychain, and the Keysmart condensed those down enough to be able to add these next two features to my keychain.

At first, I was a bit nervous about adding to the keychain due to my disdain for added keychain bulk. But I felt I’d shed enough size and weight from the keychain to take advantage of something fun and useful. What I decided to do was to look for the smallest, fastest, and most moderately sized USB drive I could find. I mostly was interested in USB 3.0 drives only. After a bit of searching, I wound up picking the Transcend JetFlash 710 64GB. Up until now, I’d been primarily using my Nexus 5 as my portable storage, which was handy, but it isn’t USB 3.0, it’s not 64 GB, and there are other things I wouldn’t mind being able to store on my phone. The Jetflash 710 is a little bit bigger than the smallest USB drives I could find, but it’s considerably faster, and I felt that was a worthy trade-off.

Update (10/22/14): After picking out my Transcend JetFlash 710 64GB I thought I’d mention a few other USB storage products that I found both during my research and after publishing the blog that I think would work incredibly well on key chain. Each of these comes in a variety of different storage capacities:

The last two compare especially favorably to the Transcend JetFlash that I wound up picking. If either of them lay perfectly flat on both sides then that’s what I’d suggest to anyone interested in adding USB storage to their key chain like I did.

However, the shape of the Jetflash 710 was a bit problematic. Firstly, it wasn’t perfectly flat; the backside of the USB drive was curved upwards ever-so-slightly, resembling the wings you see people put onto their Honda Civics. It had seemed like it’d be pretty flat when I saw it online, which is why I picked it instead of one of its competitors. Additionally, the hole itself wasn’t large enough to fit onto the Keysmart post. And the “wing” was thin enough that I didn’t think I could enlarge it to fit down on the post. I thought briefly about just hooking it onto the same keyring as the Keysmart, but that kind of defeated the purpose of what I was trying to do by adding additional bulk.

My buddy, Pat had a great idea; we’d use his 3D Printer to print something similar to the inside of a USB port on one end and the other end would fit around the post. Pat goes into great detail about the designing of his USB Keychain Connector for Flash Drives in his most recent blog, if you want a copy of your own Pat’s shared it both on GitHub and Thingverse. The object was custom-printed based on what I needed, but I think it’d work pretty well for any similarly shaped USB drive out on the market. You could very easily get this printed and add it to your own keychain, which is what makes 3D printers so darn cool. I decided to go ahead and file the “wing” on the back of the Jetflash 710 so that the flash drive was as flat and thin as possible. It fit nicely and snugly on Pat’s Keychain Connector for USB Flash Drives, and the two of them paired up were installed on the Keysmart.

Additionally, I wanted some sort of bottle opener on my keychain. I found an interesting key tool that acted as sheath around one of your other keys and contained a number of tools, including the all-important bottle opener. The True Utility TU247 KeyTool Multitool Set fit very well on the Keysmart without taking up too much additional room.

Performance Keychain

This is my lightweight, no-nonsense, performance keychain. This inspiration came to me the other day while at a nearby Home Depot. I discovered a Minute Key kiosk where you can make copies of keys on your own. I became curious about seeing it in action, so I went over and was punching some buttons and got very excited to see that I could get a lightweight key made out of aluminum! This weight savings will definitely make my Corvette go faster—not really—and even better, the key is blue, just like my car! On a somewhat more serious note, there’s definitely a noticeable weight difference between your typical key and this lightweight aluminum key.

Because this is also my “fun” keychain, it seemed negligent to not include a bottle opener somehow. I’d been a big fan of the Swiss+Tech ST66676 Utili-Key 6-in-1 Key Ring Multi-Function Tool when I had one years ago. This particular tool didn’t appear like it’d work that well within the KeySmart, but it worked just great next to the car key and house key on my FreeKey keyring. With this tool, I guarantee I’m never without a bottle opener unless I’ve managed to lose my keys, and the various knives and screwdrivers will also come in handy too.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’m still a bit disappointed. I really wanted to add features and reduce the bulkiness of my keychain without having to remove anything. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible when you factor in the realities of today’s car keys and my own requirements. I suppose I need to buy newer, fancier cars if I want to truly solve this keychain problem of mine. I’ll be waiting for a fancy new car to come out with a universal key that can also be programmed to work with other makes and models too. But for some reason, I don’t have a whole lot of hope for this. Perhaps someone will solve this problem in an interesting way I’m not even thinking of at the moment.

As far as taking a crummy hand and turning it into a winning hand, I think I’ve done pretty well. The days I’ve driven the Corvette, I’ve really appreciated not having to carry around that massive wad of keys. And my other keychain is a bit of a Swiss-army knife that has all of my keys on it, a bottle opener, a few screwdrivers, a knife blade not big enough to warrant me a frisk at a TSA checkpoint, and 64GB of speedy USB 3.0 storage, all within a pretty nifty little key organizer.

Perhaps I didn’t quite achieve what I had in mind, but I’m definitely way ahead of where I was with my old, monstrous keychain. Plus, I’ve added quite a bit of utility to both keychains in the forms of multi-tools and USB storage.


My original, bulky,  keychain. 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive with annoying wing Filed the wing off the Flash Drive 3D Model of the USB Keychain Connector Prototypes Closeup of 3D Printed USB Keychain Adapter Closeup of Flash drive on 3D printed  Keychain Adapter My 'performance' keychain, with lightweight key! The Keysmart almost fully assembled My 'utility' keychain

Giveaway

I wound up buying two of the Keysmart devices because I thought I might wind up needing to make two different keychains, and it also didn’t hurt that Massdrop had a pretty good deal for the pair. Because I was able to get everything onto one keychain that I could live with, I figured I’d give away the Keysmart to a lucky reader. Included with the Keysmart is also one of Pat’s Keychain Connectors for USB Flash Drives so that you could easily add a small flash drive to your keychain.

Anybody who is following me on Twitter and retweets the following will enter into a drawing for my extra Keysmart. I’ll update the blog and announce the winner in a couple of weeks!

Garage Makeover: Hot, Sweaty, and Dipped in Latex

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I was standing stoically, enveloped completely by the subjects of my conquests. My muscles ached in the delight of a job well done. What was I up to? Cast as an extra in the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey dressed in a gimp suit? Thankfully for the lens of my digital camera and for the future box office success for E.L. James’s movie, the answer is no.

I’ve reached the point in the Garage Makeover project to start painting. We went to Home Depot one recent weekend; I spent what felt like three hours in the paint aisle picking out supplies, and more importantly, paint colors. Because I’m painting in the garage, which is ocassionally exposed to the elements, I decided to use exterior paint in the garage.

I have decided to paint the ceiling a light grey, the walls white, and then I picked up a quart of darker grey paint to paint the flourescent light fixtures, water heater door and trim, and also the attic door.

Because I scraped the popcorn off the garage ceiling, the ceiling was in need of some preparatory work. Firstly, removing the popcorn revealed all of the drywall screws, some gouges, and a pretty beefy patch. I spent Saturday with some sandpaper and spackle and worked on touching up those blemishes—or so I thought!

For some reason, this Garage Makeover project only captures my attention during the hottest time of the year. Because of this, painting has moved at a crawl. On a regular basis, I’ve been closing the garage door and firing up my garage’s air conditioning unit the night before I wanted to paint and then doing it during mid morning the next day. This has slowed things down pretty considerably, but that shouldn’t be surprising for a project I launched over a year ago.

I did my best to touch up some of the defects in both the ceiling and the walls with a bit of spackle and some sanding. Because the texture had been scraped off the ceiling, I decided it was probably a good idea to put a coat of primer on the drywall on the ceiling. I was tempted to do some sort of texture on the ceiling, but ultimately I decided against it. I decided to use Roll-a-Tex Sand as an additive to the paint for the ceiling.

To be honest, I think I’m going to wind up wishing that I’d used an actual texture for the ceiling. I seemed to have a hard time consistently applying the Roll-a-Tex Sand evenly across the ceiling. If you look closely, you can see some spots which seem much more “sandy” than other spots. I tried a few different methods to change how I was applying it, but I think my lack of experience probably meant I wasn’t being very consistent and I never found the right approach.

All that being said, I think it looks way, way better than the popcorn texture that was up there before. Especially the parts where the popcorn texture was peeling away. Hopefully by using exterior paints, it can stand up to the nature of a garage more durably and last longer than the original popcorn texture.

Before Painting #1 Before Painting #2 Painting Supplies Ceiling Primed #1 Ceiling Primed #2 Ceiling Primed #3 Painted Ceiling #1 - Texture contrast with wall. Painted Ceiling #2 Painted Ceiling #3 Painted Ceiling #4 Painted Ceiling #5 Painted Ceiling #6

Up next? Paint everything else, put the light fixtures back up, move everything from the patio back into the garage, and then I can start working on the “fun” stuff! I’m hoping to be done before Thanksgiving, at the rate I’m moving that might be a bit aggressive.

Plano Balloon Festival 2014

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The City of Plano hosts the Plano Balloon Festival every fall at Oak Point Nature Preserve, which is virtually in our backyard. It’s an entire weekend of hot air balloon activity: glows, shows, fly-in competitions, launches, and more. We went out for the first time in 2013 and had a really great time with my parents when they were here for a visit, such a good time that we felt pretty silly that we’d missed it all the years that we’d lived in Plano, especially the couple years we’ve been in our house.

Parachute Team Demonstration

This year, we went early Saturday evening to catch two events: the RE/MAX parachute team demonstration and then the Balloon Launch. The parachute team’s demonstration was pretty impressive—a propeller plane circled the park a couple times, climbing a bit in elevation, and then popped a trail of smoke. About 5 or 6 guys dropped from that plane nearly directly overhead and came down in a pretty tight spiral. Each of them then landed in the same strip of the park in the corner near the crowds; at most the landing area was around 60 feet wide and 90 feet long. Very impressive!


Parachute Team's Plane above the Park First two Parachutists jump Out Three Parachutists with opened Canopies Three Parachutists headed towards the Park Spiraling Down towards the Ground Spiraling Down towards the Ground Lining up for the final approach! About to circle back and touchdown with his teammates.

Balloon Launch

Once the conditions were right after the parachute team’s demonstration they began to inflate the hot air balloons for a launch. But while they were doing that, a RE/MAX hot air balloon launched from further East out of our view, floated above the park, and a final parachutist jumped from that hot air balloon, repeating his teammates’ landings, which was pretty interesting. Slowly, the balloons filled up and launched to float off towards the sunset. I’m not sure if it was accidental or not, but there was even a collision between a launching hot air balloon and one that was filling. Nobody looked too panicked about it, but it was a little exciting from the ground. The launching hot air balloon all of a sudden hit the gas and climbed straight up into the air while the co-pilot (or navigator) kept pushing on the other hot air balloon. Again, this time around a couple of the novelty hot air balloons didn’t actually launch. I’m not sure if the conditions weren’t right or if they were just helping put on a show for the crowd by filling up, but I sure would’ve liked to see both the pirate and ladybug balloons up in the air with the rest of the field.


Hot Air Balloons preparing for Launch Hot Air Balloons preparing for Launch Hot Air Balloons preparing for Launch Hot Air Balloons preparing for Launch RE/MAX Balloon w/ another Parachutist InTouch Hot Air Balloon Launches A swarm of Hot Air Balloons filling up RE/MAX Parachutist Landing after jumping from Balloon Lady Bug Hot Air Balloon filling up Yellow Rose Hot Air Balloon filling up Lady Bug and Yellow Rose Balloons Yellow Rose Balloon Collides with Lady Bug! Yellow Rose Balloon Launched Several Launched Balloons Another Balloon Launches,  Lady Bug deflates Hot Air Balloon Launched Two Balloons Head off into the Sunset The back of the Pirate Baloon Legacy Texas Bank Balloon Launches Several Airborne Balloons headed West Several Airborne Balloons headed West

Scene-stealing Puppies

And nearly stealing the show were our two Brittanys, Zoe and Crockett. They didn’t get the same round of applause that the parachute team got, or the “oohs!” and “ahhs!” that the hot air balloons got as they filled up and launched. But none of those hot air balloon pilots had tons of people ask them “Aww, what a sweet-looking Hot Air Balloon, can I pet him?” or exclaim “Man, what a couple of well-behaved hot air balloons!” As far as Julia and I are concerned, they were a smash hit!


Zoe eagerly anticipating the Parachute team Crockett keeps a keen eye on a funnel cake Zoe trying to do a frog impersonation Crockett getting some quality time w/ Julia

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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For almost two weeks now I’ve been shivering figuratively in anticipation that one of my friends, family, readers or someone completely random would throw down the ice bucket challenge. Which my Home Depot bucket has been anticipating nearly as much as I have been. Finally said challenge was issued by my dearly beloved sister, Amy this Friday night. Now I get to shiver for real!

Most importantly, I made a donation to the ALS Association and I urge you all to head over there and make a donation regardless if you’ve been challenged yet. Without further ado, I present my fulfillment of Amy’s ALS Ice Bucket challenge:

Video



My Challenges

In keeping with the familial theme inspired by Amy, I’m calling you out cousins! Let’s see your Ice Bucket Challenge donations and hopefully videos in the next 24 hours!

You three have 24 hours! For each of you that complete the challenge and share on Facebook/Twitter, I’ll match your donation! Just message me the details and I’ll make a second donation in your honor!

Indisposable DFW Dog Services

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I have been a pet owner for quite a long time. When I got my first apartment in Texas I was adopted quickly thereafter by a stray tabby cat, Tater. That adoption was followed a year or so later when I gave a kitten who needed a home somewhere to stay and named her Jade. For years, I’d wanted a dog. But living in an apartment, being a full time student and full time worker really deprived me of both the space and time that dogs required.

When my wife and I started discussing shopping for a home, I warned her that a dog might accompany us shortly after moving in. We didn’t exactly agree, though, as she had her heart set on another cat. Thankfully, I am both convincing and persuasive, which lead us to bringing both Crockett and Zoe into our lives, a fantastic decision which has lead to all sorts of scenes like this:


When we first brought Crockett home, we’d read a few books and talked to a bunch of our friends and familie, trying to prepare for what would ensue. That information wound up being invaluably helpful, but some things we figured out on our own. Today I want to write about a couple of local businesses that we’ve come across that have been equal parts of fantastic and helpful: Great Paw Pet Sitters and Man’s Best Friend.

Great Paw Pet Sitters

Great Paw Pet Sitters is exactly what it sounds like, they’re a company whose focus is pet sitting. When Zoe was a puppy, we had different working arrangements than when Crockett had been a puppy. When Crockett was a puppy I had been working close enough that I could let Crockett out occasionally when he couldn’t quite make it all day without needing a bathroom break, and when I wasn’t available our dear friends were more than happy to help out and let Crockett out.

At any rate, we didn’t want to burden our friends and I just couldn’t make a trip home anymore during the weekdays. We decided to temporarily find a pet sitter to take care of our two dogs when we weren’t home. I found the Great Paw Pet Sitters via Angie’s List and gave them a phone call. At the time, I’d considered giving them and a couple of their competitors a trial run and then pick the best of the bunch. Unfortunately for competitors of Great Paw Pet Sitters they never got a chance.

The care we’ve gotten from Great Paw Pet Sitters has been fantastic. We met our pet sitter during an initial consultation and they’ve been taking care of our dogs almost ever since. The business side of scheduling pet sitting and paying of invoices is conveniently handled through the company’s website. The pet sitter visits the house, takes care of the dogs and then later updates the appointment with information about the day’s appointment, including pictures.

At this point, it’s a bit of an extravagance that we continue to use Great Paw Pet Sitters, but we’re okay with trading some of our other extravagances for this one. When our work days are the longest, it’s nice to know that the dogs get a break in the middle of the day. They offer many different kinds of pet-sitting, dog walking and extended pet sitting services.

Man’s Best Friend

One of the things that I’d known when we got a dog was that we were going to need help with obedience training, both to train the puppies, and more importantly to train us. It took me a little bit of time to sort out Crockett. At first, we tried applying what we’d been reading , but we weren’t having much luck. We tried a few one-on-one sessions with a great trainer and decided that we needed a more dedicated approach. When Crockett was about six months old, we decided to seek more help and began researching dog obedience schools in the area. I’d heard the radio commercials for a local company, Man’s Best Friend, and read some complimentary reviews of online.

We had an initial consultation with Man’s Best Friend with Crockett and learned about their training program. Essentially, they board and work with your dog for two weeks, then you have a series of private one-on-one lessons where you work on applying the things your dog learned. They’re kind enough not to say it, but really what happens is they work with your dog and then they work with you one-on-one to train you. We’ve done this training package with both Crockett and Zoe both because of the wonderful results and the great care that the staff of Man’s Best Friend gives to both us and our dogs. Despite both of our dogs “graduating” from their obedience classes, we’re still weekly visitors to their group sessions to reinforce what we’ve learned and mostly because it’s an enjoyable weekend activity that we can include the dogs in.

On top of that, Man’s Best Friend does boarding and doggie day care as part of their business. We’ve boarded both Crockett and Zoe at Man’s Best Friend when we have gone on vacation. If we didn’t have such a nice arrangement exchanging dog-sitting services with my brother, we’d board our dogs with Man’s Best Friend again in a heartbeat.

Conclusion

If you live in the Dallas area and you’re looking for pet sitting, boarding, or training, look no further than Great Paw Pet Sitters for your pet-sitting needs and Man’s Best Friend for your training and boarding needs. I personally can’t recommend either company enough; even where the products/services they offer are expensive, I think you get substantial value for the dollars you spent. And even more importantly, it benefits your little four-legged friends tremendously.

How about you guys? What other similarly indisposable dog-related companies have you used in the Dallas area? What are your favorites and why would you recommend them? Please feel free to use the comments to plug DFW-area businesses that have helped with your pet ownership.

Gizmo Crate Unboxing: July 2014

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My July Gizmo Crate arrived today on August the 4th. Gizmo Crate painted themselves into a corner a bit when their June crate wasn’t delivered until a couple weeks into July. I’ve been a customer since their first crate, so I had been expecting growing pains from Gizmo Crate at some point. Besides, for the most part, I was getting a pretty good deal for what we had paid. But that patience wound up being put further to the test in June by a lless-than-impressive where I was easily able to find the same or similar items much cheaper from Amazon. A little flummoxed, I extended Gizmo Crate the benefit of the doubt.

As July progressed I received an email update from Gizmo Crate which explained a change in their process. Beginning in July we were told that all future crates would not actually ship until the end of the month on the 30th. The shipping date on previous crates had been communicated to us as the 20th of each month.

We would like to inform you that certain changes in the management team of Gizmo Crate have changed. As we have transitioned teams to better serve our members with the utmost in quality products and customer service we apologize if this transition and any previous customer service related issues have caused you an inconvenience now or in the past.

We are happy to announce that we have completely taken over of the wheel and look forward to only making your experience with us top-notch.

Please know that because of this transition and change in personnel (both in the administrative and warehouse team) have caused some delays in July’s Gizmo Crate shipping.

We are on track to be on time every month but wish to inform you that shipping dates for Gizmo Crate from here on forth will be the 30th of every month.

This allows ample time for our vendors to ship product without delays and proper times to package and deliver your packages with priority 2-3 day service.

We appreciate all our members greatly and are truly sorry for the inconveniences you have had to endure with us but we assure you that we are new and are ready to make it up to you.

Customer service is our #1 priority and we are here to assist you with anything you need.

Please know that tracking #’s will be sent on July 30th and Gizmo Crates will be arriving 2-3 days thereafter.

If for any reason you wish to cancel please respond to this email with “CANCEL” and we will gladly take care of it for you.

We will also be postponing renewals so you don’t get charged for August’s Gizmo Crate before you receive July’s :)

We thank you again and appreciate you! We look forward to sending you awesome boxes every month filled with cool goodies.

If there is anything we can do to further assist you please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Gizmo Crate July Gizmo Crate Shipping Update Email

My immediate reaction to this email was not positive. I wasn’t exactly excited. I emailed them back suggesting that they delay a crate by a month, extend everyone’s subscriptions by a month and concentrate on delivering a crate the same month it was supposed to originate from. After receiving this email, I was tempted to cancel my subscription, which was ending in July, but because they assured that billing wouldn’t happen until I’d received the July crate, I figured there wasn’t any harm and that they’d earned the opportunity to evaluate the crate before deciding the status of my subscription. Besides, I’d been promised they’d knock our socks off with July’s crate after the fiasco of June’s crate.

Then the 30th came and went without the tracking numbers. And then so did the 31st. On Friday, August 1st I was excited to wake up and see an email notification from Gizmo Crate on my phone, but this was an email advising me that my subscription had been automatically renewed for the next three months.

Please know that tracking #’s will be sent on July 30th and Gizmo Crates will be arriving 2-3 days thereafter.

Strike One!

We will also be postponing renewals so you don’t get charged for August’s Gizmo Crate before you receive July’s :)

Strike Two!

To their credit, when I contacted the Gizmo Crate support team they immediately refunded my credit card after charging me for my renewal. They even offered a 10% discount on my next subscription as an apology for the inconvenience.

Ultimately, I received my tracking number for July’s crate the evening of August 1st after 10:00 p.m. At that point, I decided that the July Gizmo Crate better completely blow my doors off if they wanted to keep me as a customer. When my wife told me today that the new Gizmo Crate had arrived, I was looking forward to getting home and opening it up to see what’s inside.

Strike Three!

Food Units

July’s food unit is a Bear Naked Nutty Double Chocolate Layered Granola Bar, which pretty much hits the nail on the head; I love granola bars. I probably eat one every couple days. Granola bars inferior to this one are a staple around our house. Much like all the prior food units, the Bear Naked Bar did not survive the writing and proofreading of this blog.

Geek Items

The first geeky item is a dual-port USB power adapter, featuring both a 1.0 Amp port and a 2.1 Amp port. I couldn’t find an exact match on Amazon.com but I did find something pretty similar. I’ve been working on a project in my garage and I’d been using the bluteooth speaker I received in my first Gizmo Crate back in February, but bluetooth drains my phone’s battery faster than I can paint ceilings and walls, which means I need up to two chargers when working in the garage for an extended period of time. I had even been considering searching for a USB AC Adapter that could charge both the speaker as well as my phone at the same time. Even though I had USB AC Adapters coming out the wazoo here at the house, they all had single ports, and it’d take two of them to charge both devices. In this regard, this item was quite fortuitous even if it’s relatively inexpensive.

The second item included in the box was a bit comical, a pair of 8-bit sunglasses which I thought were a pretty clever novelty item. Unfortunately, they’re not very comfortable since all those 8-bit blocks’ corners dug into the bridge of my nose, qnd they’re pretty cheaply made. I can’t imagine wearing these for any kind of duration. They’re good for a chuckle, but not a whole lot more.

The third item was a screen protector for the iPad 2 / 3 / 4. I tried my hardest to look one up on Amazon.com, but the closest I could get was a 3-pack of iPad 2 / 3 / 4 screen protectors. Unfortunately, aside from my iPad Air, all of our tablets are Android. Furthermore, considering the industry’s use of materials like Gorilla Glass, I’ve always thought the whole “screen protector” suite of products to be unnecessary and maybe a bit of a scam.

Ultimately, the fate of this month’s Gizmo Crate wound up in the hands of the fourth item; a pair of STREET by 50 Cent Wired In-Ear Headphones by SMS Audio, which I found to be a rather surprising selection, e specially considering the fact that I’d already received a pair in March’s Gizmo Crate! I was really shocked that I was only six months in and receiving the same item for a second time, especially when you considered what a disaster the prior month’s crate had been due to its poor selection and considerably late arrival.


Bear Naked Granola Bar Dual Port USB Adapter 8-bit Sunglasses iPad 2 / 3 / 4 Screen Protector SMS Earbuds

Conclusion

There’s no question that the value of the July crate is equal to or greater than the cost of the Gizmo Crate, and in that regard, I think it’s a good deal. I think the USB AC Adapter and the 8-bit Sunglasses will not be getting much use from the majority of people because most geeks are going to be knee-deep in USB AC Adapters and few of us geeks would find the shades comfortable enough for everyday use. The iPad screen protector is probably useful, but it’s too product-specific. Lastly, the earbuds are an excellent value, just like they were when we got them back in March.

It’s been a rough go of it for the Gizmo Crate the past couple months. They’ve managed to make deadlines and then subsequently miss them on a frequent basis. They’ve promised they accounted for those delays by making sure nobody’s subscription will renew before they get a chance to evaluate the month’s crate, but those renewals are still happening. They’d already had a disappointing pattern of delivering items which overlap the function of items from the prior months’ crates. And finally, they’ve shipped the same item as they’d already shipped a few months earlier. Considering that this happened in probably what was one of the most important months in Gizmo Crate’s history, you don’t get a very positive impression of what’s to come next month.

It’s been a fun six months, but after the last two I’ve decided to go ahead and cancel my subscription. What about you guys? Are you sticking with Gizmo Crate? What kinds of items would you rather see in upcoming months?

Garage Makeover: Back from the Abyss

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Just as I feared, it’s been quite a while since I’ve made any headway on my Garage Makeover project. I started back in March of 2013, with very ambitious plans and little to no regard for the upcoming summer. Unsurprisingly the summer was hot, hot enough to completely sap my interest in the project. As the summer dragged on, I came up with a plan to address the heat in my garage. But I continued to lack the motivation to see the Garage Makeover to its completion. Making matters worse, all of the budget I would’ve spent on this project wound up being diverted into having the nearly forty-year-old windows around the entire house replaced. Nevertheless, the garage makeover project is now an obstacle for my arcade cabinet project. Having this many projects stuck in neutral is a bit annoying, so over Independence Day weekend, I went out and assessed the garage’s status.

Sadly, in the last few months my garage has gotten quite messy! We’ve begun accumulating stuff, and the result of that accumulation is now in the garage. Part of my original motivation for addressing the garage was my anticipation of exactly this kind of accumulation. I feel pretty smug in being able to predict the future, but a bit foolish that I didn’t do anything with that advance knowledge. In addition to this accretive gain in goods, there’s an additional car I’d like to fit into the garage next to my 2002 Corvette Z06. Originally, the only vehicle that was going to be in the garage on a regular basis was going to be the Corvette, so I need to account for this somehow.

Rethinking the Plan

My original hope was to temporarily move stuff out of the garage onto our covered patio, build shelving, and then move the stuff back into the garage as I completed that part of the project. Now that we’ve gained so much additional stuff, I’m going to have to rethink that approach. Rather than build that shelving, I will buy some shelving ahead of time and assemble it out on my patio. There’s still some storage I’d like to build myself, but the basic shelving will be purchased rather than built.

Objectives

  • Build, assemble and install a few sets of basic shelving
  • Repair, texture, and paint the ceiling
  • Paint the garage walls
  • Build a decent workbench
  • Build some storage for yard tools and sports equipment that wind up eating space up in the garage

Wishlist

  • Air Conditioning (completed last year)
  • A garage refrigerator/freezer for storage of frosty beverages (among other things)
  • Extend the house’s wireless network into the garage to better cover the backyard.

Action Resumes

I wound up ordering five sets of shelving from Amazon which arrived last week. On Thursday night, we set the shelves up on the patio and this weekend I started evaluating the state of the garage. I wound up moving things out that had gathered a bunch of dust from the scraping of the popcorn ceiling and sprayed them off with a hose in the backyard. Everything else was slowly moved from the garage onto the shelving temporarily set up on the patio. The shelving on the patio was covered with some tarps to give the illusion of protection from the elements. Hopefully, the contents won’t get too bothered in the event of a rainstorm.

Before
 
After
 

The next step is going to be patching, preparing, and retexturing the ceiling with something other than the abominable popcorn, after which I plan to fill some imperfections in the walls and then paint them also. Once all that work is completed, I can move everything back into the garage from the patio. The shelving will go along one of the two sides of the garage and possibly get anchored to the wall to keep them stable. After that, I’d like to make the majority of the adjacent wall into pegboard storage for all of my miscellaneous yard tools and sports equipment. Finally, we’re going to build a decent workbench to locate somewhere not too far away from the tools and the air conditioning!

Messy left side of the garage Messy right side of the garage Messy garage Before shot of the patio. Before shot of the patio. The patio begins to get filled up Midway through the clean up,  left side Midway through the clean up,  center Stuff which needed rinsing in the yard Shelves full, covered in tarps on the patio Cleaned garage, left side. Cleaned garage, right side. Cleaned garage,  ready for next step