Friday, October 11, 2013

Rediscovering my Music Collection Via Vinyl

My brother-in-law Ben recently gave me an excellent collection of records. Not owning a player myself, I turned to amazon to see what was available. I found the Electrohome Signature Retro Hi-Fi Stereo System - EANOS700. I like this player a lot because it's allowed me to consolidate and rediscover my music collection. It's a compact unit with built-in speakers that plays Vinyl, CD's, MP3's and Radio. I'm sure vinyl purists would consider this player to be less than ideal, but I like it. The sound is good and it means my collection of music remains usefully intact regardless of format. I made a custom sized stand for it out of some discarded futon wood, and now I'm enjoying classics like Simon & Garunkel, Chicago, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles... on vinyl! 

While listening to Ben's records over the past week I've been soaking up the album art, jacket inserts and such. It's nice to experience each musicians creation this way. I'm also finding it nice to listen to an album in it's entirety, something I seem to have lost complete ability to do since the introduction of MP3s and internet radio. I think for me, absorbing cover art while listening to an album provides a more authentic experience than simply dialing up a playlist on my ipod. These records have reminded me how having a music collection tangibly available in my home can invite conversations about, and appreciation for, the artists who made it. I'm loving it!

Here are a couple pictures of the stand I made. I'm loving having a physical music collection again!

Every time I do a woodworking project I come away with a new piece of knowledge. This project I learned how to use a jointer which was AWESOME for getting the lumber stripped down to a raw surface. Another thing I really liked about using the jointer is that it creates a very straight finished edge. So, after running each board through, I was then able to glue several pieces of wood together for a solid top because their edges lined up much more nicely than they would have if I had just sanded the finish off.  

Here is my set up! I chose to leave the stand unstained for now. I'm kind of liking the unfinished look.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Bike Ride to Iowa City

This past weekend I  decided to make a trip to Iowa City to visit my friend Travis Kraus at The Futon Shop. This time of year gets pretty busy with students on the move so I wanted to lend an extra set of hands and hang out with Travis for a bit. Always up for a challenge, I decided to make the trip on my bicycle. 

Click here for an interactive map.

I left Dubuque Saturday night at about 6:00. My friend Casey lives in Monticello and was nice enough to let me stay at his place that night so I could break up the ride. I rolled into Monticello at about 10:00pm and joined Casey at The Jitney, an amazing little wine bar on Main St. that has craft beers on tap and a great atmosphere. I then got up early Sunday morning, had breakfast at Casey's family's restaurant, Derrell's, and set out on my merry way for Iowa City. I arrived at noon tired, stinky and dehydrated. Needless to say, I was of little help at The Futon Shop that day. After getting a shower at the Iowa City Rec Center, I spent most of the day sleeping on a pile of foam in the basement of the shop. By the end of the day I was feeling good enough to knock out a dorm delivery to a customer named ANDREW PARKER!

Jenny then joined me for dinner in Iowa City with our friends the Witry's. After dinner we visited Jenny's sister Kelly briefly and then drove back to Dubuque with my bike loaded in the back of our car. Below are some pictures of my adventure along with a brief list of things I realized while cycling this 98 mile route.

Things I realized:
1.) Unlike a car that has a gauge indicating when you are getting low on fuel, a person has no such advantage when it comes to dehydration.
2.) It's way scarier to almost hit a rodent while riding a bike than while driving a car.
3.) Google maps has an awesome feature that shows the best route for driving, walking or biking.
4.) This was the furthest distance my own legs have ever carried me in a period of 10 hours. Also, I have a new perspective/respect for what cars allow us to do.
5.) I probably spent as much on food as I would have on gas... wonder what my food mileage was?!?

Leaving Dubuque on Old HW Rd. 

Pulled into Monticello at about 10pm.

Having a Russian Imperial Stout at The Jitney with Casey.

Had an awesome breakfast at Darrell's in Monticello. Thanks again Casey!

A beautiful sunrise along the Emerald Highway just south of Monticello. I fought the wind all the way into Iowa City.

HW 1

I've never been so happy to see the HyVee on Dodge in Iowa City. I had an employee take my picture and then I ate an enchilada!

Kings of futons.

The other Andrew Parker! He was pretty cool.

So that's my trip. Glad I did it, but not sure if I'll do it again anytime soon. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Commuting Update

It has been about two months since I began using my bicycle as my primary means of transportation. Here is a quick update on how it's been going.

I've encountered a number of exciting challenges as a commuter. Riding in the elements, random repairs, arriving to work sweaty, thieves, negotiating traffic, etc. While these challenges seemed inconvenient at first, I'm now finding that they are simply part of biking. Truth be told, it's actually becoming kind of fun to figure out how to deal with each new challenge as they occur.  

Simply put, I've been connecting with networks of bikers, learning about bicycle maintenance, and finding myself surprised and inspired by how efficient and healthy this mode of transport really is. It has been an extremely freeing feeling to not only power the machine that gets me where I need to be, but to also have an understanding of it's mechanics.

I used some zip-ties to attach a milk crate to my rear wheel rack. It works great for moving all kinds of stuff, Stanley included! It mostly gets used for hauling my lunch pail to and from work.

I got this mirror because I was starting to feel a little vulnerable when cars were passing me. At least now I know they're coming. Installing this turned out to be a pretty involved job. It mounts to my brake lever so I had to completely undo my front brakes and kind of retrofit the housing to get it to work. It was totally worth the effort and I feel pretty pleased with myself for figuring out how to take apart and reassemble my brake lines. Also, notice the little bell to warn people when I'm about to pass them... haha, like that happens very often :)

My family gave me these saddlebags for my birthday! Even more exciting, these saddlebags came all the way from Switchback Cyclery in Toronto!!! Switchback is associated with Sanctuary, a church located in downtown Toronto that is "becoming a welcoming community where people who are poor and excluded are particularly valued". I'm so glad to have these bags and so glad the money used to purchase them went to such a neat venture. I'm finding that saddlebags are really nice to have for making grocery trips. They clip onto the sides of my bike rack and can detach to load and unload!

Here is a basic repair kit I put together. Only thing left to get is a small transportable bike pump. This kit has everything I need to change a tire, perform preventative maintenance, and trouble shoot any issues that may arise. It amazes me how simple bikes really are once you start to look closely at them. In the past month I've learned how to change a tire, grease gears and the chain, adjust brakes, seat, handle bars etc. It feels very rewarding to understand the mechanics of my transportation.   
So that's the update on my commuting for now. As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Patch Job

Monday evening I found Jenny in the kitchen reluctantly considering weather or not to discard her much loved yellow hoodie. Before going much further I really should mention a few things about this hoodie and why Jenny loves it so much. 1.) It's yellow with a fun/unique design, 2.) It's a nice weight of fabric, not too heavy but not too light, and 3.) It zips up and has two pockets in front.

I'm sure anyone who knows Jenny knows the exact hoodie I'm referring to and you are probably just as surprised as I was that she would consider getting rid of it. To credit her judgement, I must admit, it had seen its better days. Both elbows were completely worn through and other tares had begun around the sleeves. I suggested she let me try to fashion some sort of a patch job and she agreed.

So I headed to Joann Fabric and thanks to a very helpful employee, I got everything I needed to resurrect the yellow hoodie. It only took about an hour and Jenny was very please with the results.

I started by putting a piece of cardboard inside the sleeve making sure it was wide enough to stretch out the material slightly. I then ironed the wrinkled and curled fabric flat so it could receive an iron-on adhesive netting for re-enforcement and then an iron-on patch.  

After ironing on the netting and patch, I turned the sleeve inside out and put another patch on the inside to cover the exposed portions of the netting. This helped to re-enforcing the elbow and also made it so the inside of the sleeve would feel soft.

I made the patches using an iron-on adhesive and some fabric.

Here it is all finished. The yellow hoodie lives!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Becoming a Bike Commuter

One of the things I enjoy most about running a small business is meeting, and doing business with, other proprietors. I've found that talking to other business owners keeps me excited about running my own business and motivated to excel in my work. My most recent interaction of such was with Tim and Lisa Ingram, owners of Momentum Bikes in Platteville, WI. Tim & Lisa have made several purchases at Custom Futons and so in turn I recently had Tim tune up an old beater bike of mine because I'm trying to become a commuter.

Walking into Tim's shop is an experience. Long boards, bicycles and other alternate transportation accessories line the walls tempting your attention. Employees help customers and busily work on bikes in an open-to-the-public repair room. Barely visible, through a door opening to the back alley, is another employee grilling lunch for the entire staff. It quickly becomes apparent that this shop isn't just a fun place to be, it's also a fun place to work. The employees seem genuinely excited for the bicycling adventure that awaits each customer who enters the door. Their enthusiasm for biking and the lifestyle it can provide their clients is evident in every conversation that takes place.

Long story short, Tim helped me get my bike (and me) ready for commuting. "It's a lifestyle" he said, and I'm starting to understand what he means by that. The past week I biked to work almost everyday. I've also made trips to the grocery store, restaurants etc... all on my bike! Surprisingly, I've been getting to these places in nearly the same amount of time it would take me to drive and I'm not paying $4 per gallon to do it. I'm discovering how rewarding it can feel to approach the challenge of getting where I need to be without using a car.  

Tim helped me realize a few good things about using an older bike as a commuter. He pointed out that "bolt on" wheels accompanying an older frame help insulate your bike from potential thieves. He also pointed out that commuter bikes get a lot of ware and tare and for that reason it's good to start with one that already has some bumps and bruises. So what exactly did Tim do to my bike? I'll let the pictures and their captions tell the story.

The first thing Tim suggested was to put fenders on my front and back tires. After getting completely soaked this past week on a 12 mile ride into work from Sherril, I must say I am very glad to now have these fenders. I'm finding that riding in the rain is just part of commuting so these fenders were well worth the money. ($50 for the pair)
Tim stressed the importance of staying visible. This head light is detachable so it doubles as a flashlight and has two settings; solid on and flashing. Law requires a headlight to ride at night, taillights are optional. I chose to have a headlight, taillight, and rear reflector. 
The taillight is also detachable and can be mounted in a few places depending on where I feel it will be most effective. It came with a belt-clip that also allows me to put it on my backpack if I want to. It also has different settings for flashing or staying on solid.  
Here is the rear rack and fender. The rack added another $50  but it will allow me to hang saddle bags on both sides AND have a basket or milk crate on top. I should be able to get all my groceries on this rig once I get it decked out the rest of the way. Also, notice the bike lock chain wrapped around the seat pole. 
So this is my commuter bike! I should also mention in addition to these accessories, Tim did a complete tune up; truing the wheels, greasing the chain, checking the breaks etc. Look out Dubuque, here I come!!!
Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Organic Mattresses Explained

Since opening in 2006, I've noticed we are occasionally contacted by out-of-towners who have found my website in search of a "custom size futon". It's really interesting to hear about all of the different reasons people have decided they need a custom size futon mattress. Everything from special made porch swings to window seats, lofts, built in bunks, and a surprising number of pet-owners inquiring about pet beds! This year I finally addressed this demand and created a way for people to order custom size mattresses I can ship anywhere in the US. So far it has been really encouraging to see the results this hard work has produced. I have been selling mattresses to people in Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio etc.

Just for fun, here is a picture of one customer's custom size mattress she ordered for her dog, Cury. She gave me permission to share this picture.

It really is humerus to me how the inherent nature of the futon product lends itself so well to out-of-the-box thinkers. This keeps my work life very interesting. Right when I think I've seen it all, I'll get blindsided by someone who wants something totally bogus like a corn husk futon mattress. Seriously? Corn husks? It just goes to show you there are some interesting people out there and I have a lot of fun talking to them. One time a customer called me and asked,  "You guys got refrigerators?" I said, "Uh sir, this is Custom Futons, we sell futons" he replied, "so no refrigerators then?" After a final re-assurance that I was standing in our showroom and there were indeed no refrigerators to be seen he succumbed to the fact that he was on the phone with a specialty futon store.      

In all seriousness though, one custom request I have been getting more and more of is for "Natural" or "Organic" mattresses. This has caused me to put a lot of effort into assessing the importance of offering such a product and more importantly pushed me to understand what an organic mattress really is. So I created an FAQ to help my customers better understand organic labeling and explain how mattresses in general, and the mattresses I provide specifically, fall into or out of that labeling. I've found this to be a VERY complicated topic, but with the EPA announcing this year that they will be investigating the health and environmental effects of several flame retardants known to cause cancer and birth defects, complicated or not, it is a topic that deserves attention.

So if you are interested, you can read my Organic Mattress FAQ. It has linked resources and should be helpful in clearing up most questions people might have about organic mattresses. Please read it and take it into consideration the next time you purchase a mattress.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Actual Smart TV

About 2 years ago our ancient TV bit the dust. As I began researching new TVs I became overwhelmed by everything on the market and found myself with a basic conundrum. I wanted to be able to use my TV to watch locally broadcast-ed channels but also wanted to be able to use that same TV to stream shows and movies.

So, I began figuring out the best and cheapest way to connect my TV to the internet. As I thought about this more, I began to realize just how much can be done with a computer and internet connection. E-mail, surfing the web, playing video games, listening to itunes, making phone calls via skype, watching movies (DVD or streaming), watching current TV shows via network websites, listening to the radio, reading news etc. In thinking about this I started to realize that if properly equipped, a PC is capable of consolidating all these technologies into one machine.

Manufactures have been introducing a variety of "smart TVs" over the past few years because people want the same content that's on the web on their TV too. I've found these smart TVs to be frustrating to navigate when it comes to simple things like browsing the web. We've also seen media players like the Roku, Google TV products and Apple TV come onto the scene that are used to connect a standard HDTV to the internet. I've actually been more impressed with these devices than smart TVs because their interfaces and remotes seem to be better designed and more intuitive to use.

One media player I am impressed with is the Vizio Co-Star. If you want to connect your existing TV to the internet as cheaply as possible, I would recommend this product. It's basically a little box that comes with a remote that has a built-in qwerty keyboard and touch pad mouse. It's a good device that lets you use your TV kind of like a computer. It connects to your router via wifi or ether-net chord and to your TV via HDMI input. Note: Most newer flat panel TVs support HDMI, but older boxy TVs don't. Older TVs can be connected to the internet using internet connectable blue-ray players that hook up via composite cables (red, white & yellow). These blue-ray players will allow you to stream Netflix, Pandora etc, but do not have web-browsing capability.

The fact that the Co-Star has a web browser gets us close to what smart TV engineers are trying to accomplish for a lot less (only $99 through Vizio's website). However, I feel media players ultimately fall short of our desired convergence of the PC and TV. A big downfall to any current device that attempts to integrate these technologies, is that none allow us to stream shows via different network sites. So, if you want to hop onto to catch the latest episode of your favorite show, no dice on a smart TV or media player, but it's perfectly fine to do so on your computer. This is so annoying to me. It's like the smart TV and media player manufacturers are dictating what internet content we are able to stream.

That is why I decided to purchase a normal HDTV (so no built-in internet connectivity) and use a regular computer tower to connect it to the web. This lets each technology work as intended, individually and/or together, without glitches or annoying menus. It was cheaper than buying a "Smart TV" and now all of my media is simplified and consolidated into one unit. Bottom-line, it has been an awesome decision. Netflix, Pandora, e-mail, itunes... it's all there, in my living room, easy to use and on a large screen. So it truly is a "Smart TV".

When the computer is on, the TV is just being used as a monitor. I can switch to the computer the same way I would to a DVD player by selecting the input it is plugged into. I'm also still able to access broadcast TV via our rooftop antenna that pulls in over 20 channels for free.

I ordered this wireless keyboard with touch pad mouse so I can control the TV/computer from my recliner the same way I would use a remote control.

Please learn from my many attempts to get this right because I finally have. If you think about it, this makes total since. Why wait and hope for manufactures to perfect something (a smart TV) that no broadcast or cable company wants them to perfect? The fact is, the more content becomes available via streaming, the more networks are scrambling to find out how they will survive without add revenue and the more cable companies wonder how they will remain relevant. The future of TV is "pay for play" via internet stream. We already have access to thousands of shows and movies through websites like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. Just this past Winter Netflix for the first time ever premiered an original serious "House of Cards". It's available exclusively to Netflix subscribers and not interrupted by a single commercial. And, it was good! Kevin Spacey headed up the lead roll with an equally impressive group of backing actors / actresses. Still think the transition to "pay for play" is a long way off? Consider this, the MLB and NBA have both made their games available via steaming for a monthly price and I can only imagine cable providers are dreading the day the NFL follows suite. It's not a long way off, its happening right now. I don't pay for cable and I still get to watch everything I want when I want because the internet rocks.

Friday, March 29, 2013

This Air Is Free

In 2007 I had my friend Dave Jackman build me a new desktop computer. Dave owns a computer service business in Dubuque called Tech @ Your Door. He does all kinds of computer maintenance and has excellent customer service. The computer he built me in 2007 is still running like a champ and works perfectly for what I use it for. About a year ago I started having random shutdowns and Dave suggested using cans of compressed air to dust the interior of the tower occasionally. Sure enough, this solved the issue. This is one of the things I like about doing business with Dave. He's honest in his advice and service and always explores lower cost alternatives before resorting to replacing a part completely. I now dust out my tower once every four months and have not experienced a random shut down since starting this practice.

So why compressed air and not a vacuum? Apparently a vacuum will create static which can be harmful to electronics. I had been buying cans of compressed air like the one pictured below for about $4 to $5 per can. 

For my computer to get a thorough dusting, it takes about 3 cans. So being the cheapskate I am, I've discovered a way to clean the inside of my computer tower without spending $15 on compressed air. 

I got this "spot spray" container which is normally used for paint thinners and lubricants. It was $30 on Amazon after shipping. Apparently people buy WD40 and paint thinner by the gallon, load it into this container and then pressurize it so it's contents can be sprayed. I had the idea to just pump it full of air and use it for cleaning out my computer. It's working great. It can hold up to 200 psi, but my bike pump can only handle pumping it up to 110. I could take it to a gas station if I really wanted to get the full 200 psi into it, but I've found using the bike pump goes pretty quickly and it only takes a couple fills for a complete cleaning. So I would say my new found dusting method is a success. It's more environmentally friendly and best of all, this air is FREE! Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

This past Winter I saved a few pallets from futon shipments. Normally I toss these on a burn pile in the Spring, but this year I decided to put some time into reclaiming the lumbar and turning it into something useful. The hardest part of the whole process was breaking the pallets down and getting the lumbar cleaned up to the point it could be worked with. I just got done making a wine rack with the lumbar I salvaged from these pallets. Once the wood was clean, it was a lot of fun to work with. It was gratifying to know I was building something with material that was being re-purposed. These pictures tell it all.

At first I underestimated how much work would be involved in braking a pallet down. There are SO many nails and they all have to be pulled to be able to work with the wood.

Once free of nails, I cleaned each board up with my stationary belt sander. As I started working with the wood I discovered there was a fair amount of oak and pine. 

Building the legs.

As the frame of the wine rack started to take shape I couldn't resist building in a couple neat features. This drawer was kind of an impulsive decision, but I think it turned out nicely.

Glass storage! It will fit 6 average sized wine glasses.

Here it is complete. It's just waiting for a clear coat of finish. The bottom shelf was necessary to square the legs. It would have been nice to have a third and fourth row of bottle storage, but the lumbar had to be forced square and the hardy shelf on the bottom was the easiest way to do it. All things considered, I'm happy with how it turned out. Pretty amazing this material would have just ended up in a dump or fire pit. Now it's a wine rack!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Treadmill Follow-up

In honor of it being the first day of Spring tomorrow, I thought I would follow up on the treadmill purchase I made this past Winter. Also, as you may have noticed, above I've added a page about being thrifty. I also updated my music page with downloadable mp3s of my home recorded album, "Mimosa". Please check out these updates and see what you think.

Now for the treadmill follow-up. I wanted to avoid running in the cold this past Winter so I found an old cheap treadmill on Craigslist for $50. I'm please to report that I am still using it and it has served me well. I've used it a little more than 30 times so I'm down to about $1.50 per use. That seems like a pretty darn good deal to me!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Combating the February Funk

February tends to be a slow time of the year for our store. Sometimes the entire day will pass and the only person I see is the mailman. Being the extravert that I am, these slow days can really start to bring me down. I've tried extra hard this year to keep myself busy with odds and ends to pass the time and help me feel more productive at the end of the workday. Here are some of the projects I've been tackling in efforts to avoid what my family and I have identified as "Andy's February Funk".

1.) I purchased a used flat screen at a great price for the showroom. I hooked it up to my computer so I can show customers enlarged pictures of products they are considering. It's been very helpful to be able to show someone a picture of the exact item they're thinking about buying in the exact finish they like. Jenny helped me make a DVD that has a slideshow of product pictures on it. We run it on a loop so that pictures of things we don't have space for in the showroom are at least continually in sight. It has been neat to see customer's reactions. The biggest advantage is that people see stuff and ask about it without me having to pull out a catalog. Pulling out catalogs just feels kind of sales-y to me. The TV helps get the conversation started naturally on the customers terms. Both the TV and dresser came with warnings about how death or injury can occur from crushing if a TV falls, so I bolted and chained both to the wall. Turned out nicely, you can't really even see the chains unless you're on the side looking right behind the TV. 

2.) I ordered new product brochures and more business cards.

3.) I've been trying out new fun products. This chair has a slip cover that Velcros securely underneath giving it a clean look. The covering is removable / washable and can be swapped out for another fabric when you're ready to change things up. Pretty neat idea. 

 4.) This is a 4 foot by 4 foot "a-frame" sign I put out on the corner. I have been using a plywood version of this sign, but the paint was starting to fade. This will be a nice replacement and look more professional. Below is a picture of the way it use to look. It's kind of funny, but this sign is seriously some of the best advertising I have ever done.

5.) I finally revamped the website and gave some much needed attention to our social media. Jenny helped me shoot a video where I introduce myself and the store. You can see it on our website by going to "About Futons", or just watch it on our youtube channel. It feels good to finally be giving these things some attention. I have been resisting learning how to use social media for some time, but this February I finally got on board and it has been good for business.

So those are some of the things that have help keep me "funk free" this February. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Repair Or Replace

At Jenny's suggestion I recently repaired a paper towel holder we use in our kitchen. This task had been on the "honey do" list for quite some time and to be honest, I was ignoring it. I believe when it broke my first thought was, eh... just pitch it, a new one can't be more than $10 or $15 bucks. I had had it tucked away neatly in our pantry conveniently out of sight so I didn't have to be reminded of something I was supposed to be fixing. The past few days though I noticed it was making appearances around our kitchen out in the open. Upon re-discovering it I thought to myself, hmmm... that's funny, why haven't we thrown that thing away yet? When I mentioned this to Jenny she said I should fix it and do a blog post about it, hahaha!!! So, anyway, here I am... posting about our now fixed paper towel holder.

It was a simple repair. I don't really know why I was putting it off. Anyway, having this project brought to my attention did also remind me I had promised a friend (Matt and Sarah Witry) to fix their cutting board. Funny enough, similarly to how I had found a convenient little hiding place for the paper towel holder, I also had tucked Matt and Sarah's cutting board neatly out of the way at the shop so I wouldn't think about it. Hmmm, I'm noticing a pattern to my procrastination tactics, out of sight out of mind, right?!? In my defense on this one, Matt did say it wasn't a big deal if I didn't fix it. Anyway, here are pictures of the repair job on the cutting board. 

This repair job was a little more involved than the paper towel holder, but it really wasn't tough. I glued and doweled it to prevent it from breaking in another spot and really the only time consuming part was sanding the dowels down in diameter to fit the holes nice and snug. I must say, I am glad I repaired these items and I'm proud of the job I did on them. We could have just thrown away the paper towel holder and bought a new one, but chances are the new one would have eventually broken too. I'm glad I fixed these things. It feels good to repair something instead of tossing it in the garbage.