Friday, December 29, 2017

Kipp's Dice Tower

Kipp's Dice Tower

Before Kipp left for Texas last week, he sent me the link below and asked if I could build this dice tower for him. I looked at it and thought I might play with the design a bit:

Kipp likes to play D&D (had a fun but futile time trying to explain this game to Hazem the other day) with his nephew and friends on the weekends. I have only played this game once while visiting Kipp, Theron, and Theseus at Theron's lake cottage. I think I won, but they told me I didn't do it the right way. I do remember a TV movie with Tom Hanks about a teenager who gets lost to the darkside playing D&D, so it is probably better I leave the game alone. Anyway, the game is very popular and I was intrigued by the design of the dice tower. The dice are different shapes and I wanted an internal mechanism that would tumble them sideways then propel them forward from the bottom. Here was my sophisticated design:

The hole at the top is where you would drop the dice. The dice then would hit the first baffle and bounce over to the second. Finally, the dice would hit the 45 degree ramp at the bottom, rolling them out the front of the tower. I chose walnut and maple for the tower and it didn't take me too long to construct:

I was pleased with the way it came out. I put my special oil concoction on it and the walnut and maple really looks good. The only problem at this point was that the dice come hurtling out all over the table. I thought about a solution that would catch the dice but also hold the tower horizontally as case. After lots of calculations, errors, and resizing, I came up with the box:

The tower lays over and sits in the walnut/oak box. I routed 45 degree chamfers around the inside of the box to make it easier to pull the tower out. I also made the groves for the oak bottom a bit big so I could pin it in and have sort of a trampoline effect that also produces a cool sound when the dice hit it:

Never one to leave well enough alone, I started to think of a way to distinguish this simple dice tower as one used for D&D. After a failed attempt, I created what I think is a cool turret for the top (Kipp calls it a battlement, and I have to yield to his expertise here):

I had a lot of fun with this project, and I got to use the new bandsaw I purchased the other day. Our generous staff gave me a gift certificate for Home Depot and I picked up some new tools :)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Driftwood Hall Bench

Driftwood Hall Bench

Last week, a faculty member stopped by with a big slab of old pine driftwood. It measured about 36" by 12" by 3" - something you would be hard-pressed to find new these days. He generously offered it to me, but I decided it would be better served in his small cabin near Lake Michigan. We tossed around a few ideas, then decided on some sort of bench or table. Eventually, he thought it would work well as a small bench to be put by the door for folks to take off their boots. I worked out a small sketch, then gave Hazem a call for some metal working help.
The process was a lot of fun. Hazem bought the 1" square tubing from Menards and I cut it into the requisite sizes. While he welded them, I sanded then distressed the slab with chains, pliers, and other assorted objects of mayhem laying around the shop. I sanded and painted the base, then put a coat of tung oil and shellac on the slab. I had to chisel some tenon holes on the bottom of the slab in order to center it on the base, then put it all together. It was a quick project and I learned a bit more about metal working, a goal of mine. 

Hazem welding the square tubing to make the base

The distressed slab before the finish

The finished product :)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Connecting at the Conference

Fun at the National Symposium on Student Retention

Elicitation Model: Digging Into the Notion of Student Engagement

Michael Morsches
Dean, LECR
Moraine Valley Community College

Grant J. Matthews
Dean, Academic Learning Skills
Lane Community College

Abstract: Student engagement can encompass many different levels of interaction. Whether it be between student and instructor, among students themselves, with the actual subject matter, or with the various resources and departments on campus—getting and keeping students engaged is a challenging proposition. Frequently, students say they fear speaking in public, being called upon in class, going to the whiteboard, and being singled out by an instructor. Collectively, these fears could be conceptualized as a wish or need for anonymity. Faculty have cited student actions such as participation, question asking, volunteering, office hour visits, and favorable body language as preferred behaviors. These preferences could be conceptualized as a wish or need for engagement. “East is East and West is West, and never the twain…” (Kipling, 1929, p. 75). This paper will outline the authors' Elicitation Model and theoretical Student Engagement Constructs to explore psychological factors that prohibit engagement. The paper also presents many practical, proven examples of classroom techniques, gestures, and considerations for using the Elicitation Model that can help produce healthy student engagement in all academic spheres of interaction.
Guest Starring
Mariam Aslam
Student Success Research Analyst
University of Toronto

I don't always appreciate professional conferences. This was my fourth trip to the NSSR, and on a whole, I usually enjoy this particular conference. This year was different in many ways though - It was in a new location for me (the Florida Panhandle), we were publishing a refereed paper, I was reuniting with Grant, I had other colleagues from my school presenting a poster session, and I really needed a break from work. Despite these advantages, the conference exceeded my expectations.

I like this conference for two main reasons: 1) There is a lot of qualitative data by talented people,  and 2) I am surrounded by hundreds of people genuinely trying to crack some retention riddle with a lot of fire in their bellies. There is always a great deal of nerd energy in the room. And like most valuable conferences, there are  opportunities for young people to present their research and programs. It's not easy to get a paper accepted, but the organizers don't limit participation to the same old group of experts. It is a well run conference by intelligent, nice people.

Grant and I are very passionate about our presentation topic this year - Student Engagement. I believe we both are fairly good at engaging students, and we have really tried to break the construct down to meaningful components in order to present a practical model to elicit good engagement in classrooms. Judging by the feedback we have received, we were successful :)

Grant and I always have a lot of fun together when we go off to conferences. We tease each other and make all sorts of meaningless bets (most of which I won this trip). Grant is very intelligent and is also very personable. Those two attributes, combined with his high sense of integrity, provide for a lot of good, clean fun. This year, we decided to attend the first evening's ice breaker (mainly because the food is usually good), where we met several very interesting people. The two most enduring folks we met were Mariam and Dave - two Canadians who independently ended up at the same table. Mariam is from Toronto and Dave is from Newfoundland. There were a few other folks who drifted in and out, including the very southern Leon, who I am not quite sure was drinking or not - but who I liked immediately. We chatted away for a few hours, finding lots of  personal and professional points of interest. And if Dave hadn't suggested that we get together the next night for dinner, it would have been a vastly different conference and this post wouldn't be written.

Dave is a very energetic and jolly guy. He laughs loudly and sincerely. I was a bit surprised to hear that he was married and that he had a young daughter. He is very witty, and I suppose that gets him into a few scrapes sometimes. I wouldn't have tagged him as a Canuck though - more Irish, though I suppose it could have been the hair.....Dave is one of those people who can bounce back and forth from naive to wry with very little warning. I found myself preparing for the inevitable yet subtle innuendo that was surely around every corner. Dave tried a raw oyster, a hush puppy, and key lime pie for the first times over several meals. Pretty adventurous, I thought, for a Newfoundlander. One thing for sure though, I was totally convinced after a very short time that Dave was a wonderful husband and father. 

Mariam was another story - from Toronto, she was far more cosmopolitan than the rest of us, and maybe quite a bit smarter. A self-confirmed extrovert, she slowly and judiciously doled out little bits and orts about herself over the few days we were all together. She is very tall for a Pakistani woman, and carries an intriguing constellation of east and west sensibilities and orneriness. I smiled as I quickly realized that she was a feminist that I could talk to without a lot of filters. She has a dignified demeanor, but when you strike the right chord, her passion surges to the surface. By the end of the first night, Grant and I decided to invite her to co-present with us a few days later (alas, Dave, who evidently lives on the edge of the world, had to leave the conference on the morning of our workshop). She trusted us and gamely jumped in with both feet. 

I thought our session went very well, and that Mariam was an excellent match to our two different styles. She and Grant modeled everything our paper was about!

It was so energizing to be with several young people (Grant sort of included) who were so passionate, funny, and engaging. They reminded me of several good people we have in our office. Mostly, I appreciated the fact that these folks were out there in the world helping others in so many ways. There are times when I lament my tardy and inconsistent arrival at professionalism, but I am in no way jealous or envious of these young people who are so far ahead of me in their quests to make the world a better place - I am instead hopeful :)

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, indoor

Exploring hush puppies, key lime pie, and other assorted cultural artifacts together.

*If you would like to have a copy of our paper and related handouts, please email me

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Little DNA

This board is in our department break room. We had our college photographer print several pictures from my trip to the Congo and one picture of Carmela's trip to Tanzania. He put them on canvases, but they turned out sort of small. We originally just put them on the wall, but they were swallowed up by the large space. I took some of the leftover hickory floorboards from Kipp's house and used the scraps from Patricia's door to trim it out. I like these pictures - at 1 o'clock, is the picture of the bunk bed the camp carpenter and I designed for one of the blind students and his four children. At 4 o'clock is the Pelagie Tree. Pelagie was the very efficient and friendly administrative contact I had in Zongo who helped me with all my needs. I named this tree after her, and her curves, and the drivers had a lot of fun teasing her about it. At 6 o'clock, there is a picture of one of the town children peaking in on a lesson I was giving. At 8 o'clock, there is a picture of Carmela ascending part-way up Mt. Kilimanjaro while on a study/service trip to Tanzania. At 10 o'clock, there is a picture of Christine, Benjamin, and one of Juliet's daughters who the B260 staff donated dress materials for. At the center, there is a picture of me working with the Girl's Empowerment Group at the carpenter's shop. They were making the furniture for their new English Club space. It's nice having these various memories and artifacts nearby :)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Kipp's HiFi Makeover

Kipp bought an old HiFi cabinet a few months ago and we have been steadily refitting it. We took out the old stereo, turntable, and speakers, then reworked the interior to hold larger components and modified, smaller speakers. I think it turned out very well after a few minor design challenges:

Here is the original unit

This is the center of the unit, the two sides were filled with large speaker we would replace

Starting to gut the unit

Patrick cut out the new hinged lid for the turntable

Making cleats for the new shelf to hold the turntable

The new turntable space

Cutting through the top to make the new lid

The new speakers are much smaller, allowing us to put shelves above them on either side

Kipp's first stab at upholstering the speaker panels - too much white showing through

A quick coat of black paint cures everything

The new receiver was far too large to sit in the center space, so we built this angled cradle for the receiver

The receiver cradle and new space for the turntable

Chiseling out the slots for the hinges

Treated myself to a new set of nice chisels - well worth the expense!

The finished product with the new lid on the right

The turntable was a tight fit, but it worked out well

The receiver sits nicely at an angle and there is room for LPs on the side

It's 1965 again!

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Nice Evening

Tonight, I attended our annual employee recognition dinner. It is a great event where faculty and staff from every area of the college are recognized. This year, Kipp, Aaron, and Jeff were part of a larger interdepartmental team that won the Innovation of the Year award. It is called the COM 101 Bridge program, and it allows students to bypass one of their developmental English courses and enter directly into a credited course. Kipp and Jeff were part of a small team that attended a conference in Baltimore several years ago where they created their version of the program. They worked hand in hand with the COM faculty to develop the supplemental instruction necessary to bridge the students' skill gaps.To date, more than 300 students have participated and they are succeeding at a much higher rate than those students who test directly into the COM 101 course. Aaron was the first of our developmental faculty to teach one of the credited courses, and the collaboration is helping us align our respective curricula. It really has been a stellar program from the beginning.
I was also very happy to see many of our staff and faculty receive recognition for their years of service to the college. Those with ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five years were honored. It humbles me to think of all the quiet and great work so many do for our students. It really is a great way to finish off a school year :)

Aaron, Kipp, Rose, Jeff, and Samson 

I like this picture! Evidently, from this angle I look taller and a bit thinner

We all got certificates that symbolize a great deal of teamwork. I couldn't be prouder of this team

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Door That Keeps On Giving

Last fall, one of our IEL instructors approached me and asked if I could make a sliding barn door for her loft in downtown Chicago. After a little research, I agreed. She found a restoration outlet that sold her the reclaimed barn wood and brought it to school. Being that I am still shopless, I worked on the door at Kipp's and Tony's garages. The design of the door was simple, but milling the wood was tricky as there were still a lot of very old and rusty nails everywhere. I managed not to nick my planer blades and got them to reasonably uniform thickness (I do love working with "rustic" projects as imperfections are part of the deal, whether I made them or not). I attached the cross boards to a piece of 1/2 in plywood then attached the outside trim. Finally, I placed a nice, clean piece of 1/4 inch plywood over the back so she can paint or stain the back. Tony helped me deliver the door to her loft and we are just waiting for pictures after she finishes it and her handyman hangs it on a rail. I think it looks great as it is.

While I was working on this project, I found a design for a condiment/beer caddy that I really liked. I made the first out of walnut, but then decided to make an industrial influenced caddy for Kipp. I used scraps from the door an some hardware from Home Depot. Funky but cool (not referring to Kipp btw).

A few weeks ago, Carmela, Meg, and Nina went to and Adult Ed conference in southern Illinois. While there, they stopped into a craft shop and noticed a crayon holder made from a block of wood. I guess they liked it, because Carmela came back and asked me if I could build one for Nina's kids. By coincidence, I had some left over wood from the door project that was perfect. I cut it down and laminated two pieces to make a three 3.5 by 3.5 blanks. The wood was really chewed up (100+ years on an old barn will do that) and I knew they would look neat for people that like that kind of stuff. Tony helped me drill two inch holes in the blanks then I spent four or five days sanding them and applying polyurethane. I bought some crayons and brought the three holders in the other day.

Carmela gets the smaller version as Kiera is her only grandchild to date

Hortencia, who sometimes has to stop and count how many kids she has, gets the most rustic version. Tony chose it.

Nina gets the other larger one for her three kids.

I have a few more ideas for these small craft project for the near future. Stay tuned :)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cool Caddy

My Condiment/Beer Caddy

I came across the plans for this backyard barbecue accessory on a woodworking website. It is a clever idea with some fun woodworking challenges. After a long perusal of dozens of different woods, I choose walnut for my prototype. With a little Tung Oil, it really came alive. I made a bunch of mistakes that I will avoid in the future, but it still looks good enough to give to a friend. To sweeten the gesture, I filled it up with many of my favorite Caribbean sauces and a bottle of Ting. I prefer it as a condiment caddy, though I cannot swear it won't find other utility. I think I will make several of these for friends this summer :)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Kipp's Hipster Mid-Century Modern Console/Bookcase

Kipp and Rose bought a house a few months ago that was built and embellished somewhat eccentrically by a man who loved wood and mid-century (1950's) decor. After we put in a few hickory hardwood floors in the upstairs bedrooms, we decided to tackle a mid-century console/bookcase that he had found in a book. The floors proved to be challenging but they turned out great:

While we were doing the upstairs floors, they had a professional crew come in and install oak flooring in the living and dining rooms. Now it was time for the new piece of furniture. Even though the design of the console was very simplistic, there were some difficult parts to the process. The basic case is made from cherry plywood and the trick there was getting all four 45 degree corners to line up. We edge banded the plywood and tried out a few new techniques to add wooden fasteners to the case. The base is made of solid cherry with pocket screws connecting the runners and legs. Finally, we used my favorite formula for a stain - 3 parts tung oil, one part boiled linseed oil, and a few splashes of denatured alcohol. It really darkened the cherry nicely and it will continue to darken with age. We finished it with a few coats of wipe on polyurethane and some furniture wax. 

I have become a vagabond woodworker - having no real shop, I squat in the garages and basements of friends. Here we are working in Kipp's garage on his console and Patricia's sliding barn door.

Kipp is ironing here; anyway, he is attaching the edge banding to the sides of the plywood with a heat-activated veneer.

The edge banding is slightly wider than the plywood so we trimmed some of it with a flush trimming router bit. I did revert back to my favorite block plane to do the rest of it.

The case built with the dividers installed and the first coat of oil.

The base is a bit unusual, as the Scandinavian design called for it to be smaller than the case.

The finished console/bookcase attached and sitting pretty on top of the new oak floor in the dining room. 

Rose was ready and had it adorned in no time at all. I have to admit, even though it is kind of hipster doofusish, it looks really nice.

Kipp's next project is to gut and restore a mid-century stereo console he bought last week. I will probably help him with the internal woodworking bits. For me, I hope to get the last bit of wood to finish the sliding barn door, then move on to something new :)