• DIY PC desk – build log

    Over the course of the past week, I built myself a new PC gaming desk. I sold my old desk before we moved, having anticipated moving to a new state rather than across town. Needless to say, I found myself unable to game with nowhere to set up my PC. Having felt rather handy with all the home improvements I have been doing, I decided a DIY PC desk would be the way to go.

    THE DESIGN

    I started brainstorming and sketching, trying to come up with something unique with an industrial/modern flair. I tried to sketch out some really weird leg shapes and decided nothing would really look the way I wanted AND be a properly supported structure. Eventually, I happened across a post on Reddit (I believe) that lead me to an Imgur album of a desk made using black iron pipe that turned out to be my inspiration. After a little searching online, I decided to aim for a standard dimension desk: 60 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and 30 inches tall. I was in the process of refinishing my laminate countertops using Ardex Feather Finish to give them a concrete look and decided a (faux) concrete desk would be the perfect industrial look. I also decided to suspend the PC shelf with cables for that modern feel.

    HOW TO FAUX-CONCRETE

    Feather Finish

    My girlfriend and I found the idea to do a faux-concrete finish (I call it faux because it is not a traditional poured slab of concrete, though it is technically a concrete product) over our ugly almond-colored laminate countertops in the kitchen after happening across a how-to on the Young House Love blog. I learned a lot from the process and decided to use my leftovers to make my desk.

    The finish is done using Ardex Feather Finish (Henry Feather Finish if you get it at Home Depot) and skim coating the surface a few times. The process is simple, but requires a lot of hard work: mix a small batch and coat, allow to dry, sand, repeat. Feather Finish is fairly easy to work with, though it sets up fast, so you have to work in small batches at a reasonably quick pace (though you don’t have to rush). It creates a very natural light gray concrete finish. If you want it any other color, know that Feather Finish does not accept stain well (it just sits on top and no longer looks like concrete), so it must be mixed in when you prep the concrete. Feather Finish is mixed at roughly 2 parts mix to 1 part water (I usually go a little over 1; maybe 1 1/4 parts), and I eyeball the amount of stain I add (variations between coats helped the overall look, in my opinion).

    I created the desk top by gluing and screwing together a couple pieces of 1/2-inch plywood cut to 60 inches by 30 inches. I also cut my PC and monitor shelves to coat. I did the first two coats of Feather Finish using a wide putty knife (6 inch, I think) for a thicker coat, so I mixed a bit more for these batches; probably around 16 ounces of Feather Finish, 10 ounces of water, and 1-2 ounces of stain (I used a dark slate gray stain). With the first coat, I found it rather difficult to coat the sides cleanly with a putty knife, so I switched to a paint brush for the sides on the second coat.

    DIY computer desk Feather Finish second coat
    Sanding the second coat

    After each of the coats dried, I smoothed out the uneven and rough patches using 120 grit sandpaper on an orbital sander. This creates a lot of fine dust, so a mask is necessary. My goal was not a perfectly smooth finish, as the differences between the highly sanded and lightly sanded portions is part of what makes this look the way it does.

    Faux concrete desk 2nd coat sanded
    2nd coat after sanding
    Feather Finish close-up
    Close-up after sanding with 120 grit

    I mixed the batch for the third coat of Feather Finish using approximately half the quantity of mix, but with a little extra (proportionally) of water to make it a hint thinner. I did this because the third and final coat was meant to be my thin aesthetic coat, and a thinner mix made it a little easier to apply that way. After the third coat, I skipped the 120 grit sandpaper and went straight to the 320 grit for a very smooth to the touch finish. Of course, I went through sheets fast because I didn’t knock down the really rough stuff with a rougher grit first, but I was afraid of sanding through my thin coat. This gave it a nice smooth finish, but left some color variegation from my brush strokes.

    Feather Finish final coat
    Final finish with brush strokes

    SealersTo provide a general protection from spills and stains, I gave the desk two coats of 511 Impregnator and one undiluted coat of V-Seal TK6 Nanocoat X-tra Low Gloss. The 511 soaks in and provides resistance to liquid penetration from within, while the TK6 does a bit of that, as well as forming a thin layer to help protect from scratches. For my kitchen counters, I followed the TK6 instructions and did two coats, the first one being slightly diluted. However, this desk is not expected to see the same type of use or risk for acidic stains and such. I also passed on using a wax to protect the sealers like I am using in the kitchen. I applied both of these using a small dense foam roller. I did it in the backyard, so the layer created by the TK6 has little bits of stuff dropped by the trees above stuck in it, but it’s pretty minor and I just consider it character.

    BLACK IRON SKELETON

    I built the “skeleton” of the desk using 3/4 inch black iron pipe. My brother works for a plumbing and HVAC supplier in town, so I was able to get everything for a decent price. It would have cost at least double for me to pick up these supplies at a big-box store. My final parts list for this was:Black Pipe parts laid out

    • Round floor flanges – 16
    • T-fittings – 8
    • Elbows – 4
    • 4-inch pipe – 8
    • 6-inch pipe – 2
    • 8-inch pipe – 2
    • 10-inch pipe – 4
    • 12-inch pipe – 4
    • 24-inch pipe – 4

    Spray-painted pipe

    I spray-painted the pipe a flat black to give them a more even and consistent color. As you can see in the previous image, the floor flanges, t-fittings, and elbows are a lighter color than the pipe. Because I was hurrying a bit, I did not take the time to clean the pipe. Some of it was a bit greasy, and many had tape around the middle to secure part numbers, which left a lot of adhesive. Leaving all this on messed the paint finish up a bit, especially when I started piecing it together before the paint had fully cured, but I decided to go with it…for character. ūüôā

    I figured legs of black pipe would be heavy and unwieldy, so I assembled them in the office where desk was going. Assembling the legs was as simple as screwing it all together, at least once I remembered what my plan was because I seemed to have lost my sketch. I found that I frequently over-tightened the pipe, which made it difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to unscrew slightly when adjustments were needed.

    Black pipe legs assembled
    Black pipe legs assembled (upside-down)

    Black pipe and concrete desk partsOnce the legs were assembled, I brought in the desk top and shelves and placed the desk top top-down so I could set the legs in place. I then measured the leg lengths and screwed/unscrewed as necessary to get them all to roughly the same length. I found at this point that I had over-estimated how much pipe length I would lose when the parts were screwed together, or perhaps I had under-estimated the length of the t-fittings. Either way, the desk height came out to approximately 31 1/2 inches, rather than the 30 I had planned, which is taking a little getting used to, but it is not the end of the world (probably just poor ergonomics).

    Once the legs were positioned, measured and adjusted, and screwed in place, I flipped the desk and mounted the monitor stand on top. I made the monitor stand using the 6-inch pipe, which combined with the extra 1 1/2-inch height of the desk, made for a rather high monitor position. Though these images show the raised monitor stand, my current set-up has the black pipe removed and the shelf sitting directly on the desk for a little 1-inch boost. The 6-inch pipe was poor judgement; I should have only used 2-inch, though screwing on the flanges may have been impossible in that case, so I am still considering my options for the final iteration of the monitor shelf.

    My last step before set-up was to suspend the PC shelf. I attached eye screws to the underside of the desk and the top of the shelf and then looped the wire through and secured with a ferrule. It was a bit of a challenge to get reasonably level, but not too bad. Then, I breathed a satisfied sigh of relief as I stepped back and admired the finished product (“yeah, I know I need to get a good set of wire cutters to trim off that excess,” I said to the judgmental cat).

    DIY black pipe and concrete deskDIY PC deskAnd here it is all set up with my (unintentionally) Iron Man-esque PC case:

    DIY PC Desk - Finished

    So, there you have it: my DIY computer desk! If you have any questions about the process or want more on using Ardex Feather Finish, just let me know in the comments below, or contact me on Twitter.


  • Cutting the Cord – First Impressions of streaming TV

    It has been about a month since we first “cut the cord” and converted to an all-streaming and over the air television home. We have certainly experienced some highs and lows during these first few weeks, and we are learning a lot about what works for us.

    Overall, I have been happy with the experience thus far. However, of the members of my household, I consume the least TV. My girlfriend consumes the most, as she is currently at home with our daughter. This first month has barely lightened her skepticism. I think she is comfortable with what is available to watch via streaming TV and has an easy enough time finding content she likes; her issue is relying on our Internet connection.

    Mediacom’s cable Internet is not known around here for reliability. I had it in my previous home for many years and frequently fought with my connection, finding it down with no reported outages, or randomly dropping at the worst of times. I have still had that, to some degree. Thankfully, all of the instances, other than a 5-10 minute outage, were fixed with a modem and router reset. It is still a headache I would like to avoid, but not the end of the world. I did find that one reason for this issue may have been my router’s IP lease settings. It was set to one day, and since setting this to the max, I have not had to do daily resets of the Roku to reset the connection.

    One of my biggest concerns when considering cutting the cord was how to watch Game of Thrones when HBO Go required a cable subscription. So, I was quite excited when I learned that HBO Now would be available to iPhone owners and provide access to a web player, which could be streamed via Chromecast. I promptly signed up through my old iPhone 4 after charging it and updating to the latest and greatest iOS to be able to run the HBO Now app (sidenote: I never realized how small the iPhone 4 was until having my Galaxy S5 for awhile). I am thankful the first month has been free because their web player has been horribly broken for me (I’m not the only one). This has been disappointing, because I have yet to watch the first episode as episode three approaches. Thankfully, I learned after subscribing through the Apple app that streaming HBO is also available through Sling TV with on-demand access. I will be setting up that subscription soon.

    To get access to local channels, I purchased a digital antenna called the Muhu Leaf Metro¬†(not an affiliate link because my state sucks).¬†It took a bit of work to get it positioned properly. If I positioned it too close to the TV, only three channels from a distant town came in. If I moved it a little further away, I received another 3-5 channels, including one of the two local stations I was looking for. If I moved it further South into a window, I picked up another 3 channels from a town 20 miles South. However, in all these positions, I was unable to pick up a set of channels broadcast from the station nearest to me. If I move the antenna to the North end of the wall, I was finally able to pick up the channels I was looking for, but lost those from the South. I am fine with that, but it looks terrible having the antenna and cable stretched across my wall. I guess the antenna needed a better line of site for the particular station we were after. We also learned that the wireless signal from the Chromecast scrambles the antenna’s signal, so we cannot use the antenna if the Chromecast is plugged in. Thankfully, HBO Now was the only use we had for the Chromecast so far, and that failed miserably. We’ll just save the Chromecast to use on another TV, if we ever have another one.

    The greatest concern I have encountered to-date has been our Mediacom data cap. I have a 50Mbps down, 5 Mbps up connection, which affords me 350GB of data. I failed to look into how much data the HD settings consume and set my Roku to 1080p from the start. Well, according to Netflix, their high setting (1080HD) uses approximately 3 GB an hour, whereas medium (usually 720) uses 0.7 GB and low uses 0.3 GB. I got an online notice from Mediacom 4 days before the end of my billing cycle that I had used 80% of my allowance. I ended the cycle having used 96.4%, and I may have prevented the overage by switching Netflix to medium setting and the Roku’s overall settings to 720. However, I am not certain how directly the Roku setting impacts the stream from other channels, as channels like Hulu do not have a place to change the stream quality, so I am left to assume they use the settings quality from the Roku. For that matter, Netflix does not have a place to change the quality either; it has to be done by logging in through a browser and changing the playback settings for each profile. I also turned off the ‘automatically play next episode’ function in our Netflix profiles to avoid using tons of data if it did not get turned off at night.

    This means that you must have a significant data allowance to be able to stream everything in the highest quality available to you. How your Internet provider handles your overage will differ by provider and by area. Supposedly, Mediacom will just charge an extra $10 for each new 50GB (ie: 51GB would cost $20) with no disruption of service. I read on /r/cordcutters that some providers just send warning emails and never do anything about it, while others are known to actually throttle service (though some have supposedly gotten in trouble for this) when you go over. I could upgrade to a faster plan with a larger cap, but what I have now is a luxury item in my budget as it is. We will see how the next few months go once I start playing games again. It might be a necessity, as I will use 20% of my allowance when I download GTA V!

    One month in, and the cord is still cut. I am pretty happy with the streaming experience, but I am sure there is much more to learn and see, so there could always be other unseen headaches. I’ll be sure to update as I learn new things. Feel free to ask questions if you have them.

     


    Live TV. $20 a month. No Cable Company. Sling TV.


  • Attempting to cut the cord – cost and evaluation

    I have for a very long time wanted to “cut the cord” and drop cable/satellite television. I know I am probably a little late to the party, but it has taken quite some time to convince my significant other it would be worth it. She is rather accustomed to the convenience of DVR and the all-in-one programming guide of today’s digital TV systems.

    My reason for wanting to go streaming-only has been largely a matter of principle. I do not like the way TV service providers “reward” loyalty with increased prices. I also figured we could save a few bucks, which is good because TV seems like a lot of money, considering how little I consume it. I figured it would be more of a long-term savings because of the way cable providers increase their price over time, but I found myself a bit surprised when I did my analysis.

    I started by calling my local providers. My primary choices were CenturyLink and Mediacom. CenturyLink severely limited Internet speeds if you use their Prism TV, and I don’t want to mess with a satellite, so they were quickly taken off the table. With Mediacom, I was offered a package that starts at $90 per month and includes 50Mbps Internet and more channels than I need, plus Starz and Encore. I was also informed that, because of the way their packaging works, it would cost more to go without Starz and Encore. This required a 2-year contract, under which the price would increase $10 in year two. Without a contract, the price would increase $20 per year for five years! I also learned that adding HBO would be $18.99 per month (but just for a couple of months for A Game of Thrones) and extra channels for my daughter would be an additional $5 per month ($7 monthly in year two). So, we are looking at $95 per month for year one and $107 for year two ($124 and $137 for GOT months). After year two, I assume I fight for a new two-year contract special price so it doesn’t start going up $20.

    Next, I researched my streaming options. That started by also asking Mediacom (who currently offers the best Internet speed in my area) what it would be to get only Internet. With a two-year contract, it starts at $45/month for 50Mbps (so streams shouldn’t affect my gaming), which goes up to $55/month in year two and caps out at $60 without a contract. I learned that Sling TV was just launched in February and offers channels like AMC that had caused us hesitation. Through that service, one can get ESPN, HGTV, Adult Swim, Disney, and many more high-profile channels for $20/month. The downside is that many of them are livestream-only, so there is still no (easy legal) way to record or watch things like The Walking Dead on-demand without additional cost or waiting for it to come to Netflix in the Fall. For an extra $5 (just like with Mediacom, except it isn’t under contract to go up next year), I could get some extra kid’s channels through Sling. I also planned to get a subscription to Hulu Plus for $8 a month and already had a subscription to Netflix for $9 a month, though that doesn’t really count because I likely would have kept that subscription if I have cable, so it would be a cost either way. I decided we could hold off on Amazon Prime (yeah, I am one of those few people that don’t already have it for the shipping), but that would be another $8 a month, approximately. So, with the services we are using, year one is $45 for internet, $25 for Sling, and $8 for Hulu, or $78 per month. That’s $17 a month less! I was excited to realize we would save money from day 1. Of course, I couldn’t do that without access to decent bandwidth, and I still have a Mediacom bill, but it could be worse. Also, I know from past experience that the addition of Starz and Encore does not really add much value to having cable.

    It still took a bit of convincing because not everything is on-demand, but saving money was good ammo. The biggest issue we had was that with a Roku, we would not have access to HBO Now until July at the earliest. However, I just learned that I should have access to it through the old iPhone I use as an iPod, so there may be hope yet that we can watch GOT as it airs, rather than three months later. Plus, an HBO Now subscription is $14.99 a month, rather than the $18.99 subscription through Mediacom, so there’s more savings.

    Cost-wise, cutting the cord certainly seems to be worth it. We have been so busy lately that we have barely had time to try it out, so I’ll bring you more on our experience as time goes on. However, so far experiences have been positive, and we’ll see where it goes as we get more time with it. Feel free to ask questions or share your experiences below.


  • Unintended Hiatus

    I have been a little distant from the site and from YouTube lately. I must apologize for this unintended hiatus. You see, I have been rather busy in “real life” with buying a new house, selling the old one, moving, renovating, etc. Unfortunately, the projects we wanted to complete to prepare our new house are taking more time then we optimistically expected. While I focus on getting this house ready I have been neglecting hobbies and such. I don’t like it, but it’s necessary. In the end, it will be really nice to have everything done and make this feel like home. It is a really exciting time in a really exciting process, but boy does it take awhile!

    The projects are many: we are painting nearly every room in the house, expanding the master bedroom closet to be a walk-in, enlarging the doors to the smaller bedroom closets, resurfacing kitchen countertops, and many other minor things like cleaning. All of this is getting done just a couple hours at a time after work, which is why it is taking so long. However, it is getting close and hopefully I can have my PC set up soon and get back to relaxing.

    When I get back in action, I will be¬†finishing up that Civilization Beyond Earth let’s play. I am also going¬†back and forth on buying Battlefield Hardline. I keep reading a lot of mixed reviews on the game. With the way this house is going, it might be closer to the release of GTA V on PC before I am ready to play, and I imagine that would take too much of my time to worry about Battlefield. Feel free to convince me otherwise, however. I also have a lot of indie titles I’m wanting to pick up and play.

    There are also some other exciting things coming with this new house for us. We are getting a faster Internet, which means I was able to drop cable and go all streaming. I am excited to get the TV and Roku set up so we can get that going. I want so hoping to start the hobby of gardening so we can grow a few vegetables, & I have a workbench in the garage where maybe I can tinker with PC cases. Possibly most important (for the content of this site, anyway) is that I will be building my PC desk in the coming weeks. I will be sure to upload some pics of the process and the finished product. I am hoping to make it one-of-a-kind, though it won’t be too “out-there”.

    So if you’ve been missing my YouTube content I’ll be back soon. In¬†the meantime, comment here, join me on twitter, join me on the Dawnbreaker Gaming forums,¬†etc. Whatever you do, just keep having fun.


  • Keep Playing and Have Fun

    “Keep playing and have fun.” – This, or a variant of it (sometimes just, “have fun”) is how I typically end my YouTube videos. No, it is not meant to be a tag line, per se, though I guess you could argue it works like that, being my own personal oft overused phrase. What it is meant to be is a reminder to keep at it, and have fun doing so. It is meant, on the surface, to be just as it sounds: keep playing games, and have fun doing so. However, it has some much deeper meanings behind it as well.

    In high school, I played basketball and golf. I was not particularly good either, I just happened to attend a small rural school where the population was small enough that there was little competition to get on the team. I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) playing. However, the adults around me and my peers all took sports very seriously, so I followed that example. I would get aggressively competitive, angry at referees, and downtrodden by my mistakes. Much of my focus was on doing well and winning. This was especially evident in golf, where you are primarily playing against the design of the course and your own personal nature. If you focus on your mistakes, you tend to tense up and play even worse. At this point, it is no longer fun.

    Although I attended a university only 30 miles from my parents and high school, it was enough distance to get away from various influences that inspired and maintained my way of thinking. It took some time, but I started to realize, especially from solo golf outings, that I had better experiences if I would just keep playing and have fun. Focusing on the fun mean I not only enjoyed the experience more, but on average I played better as well. It took some practice to let the bad moments wash away and center my mind on the good moments. I still find myself getting wrapped up in a bit of frustration from time-to-time, especially if I am playing with others and feel compelled to impress or be overly competitive.

    The Anxious Gamers recently posted a video by NoZoupForYou¬†Gaming titled “Hunt the Good Stuff“, which I recommend you check out. In it, Zoup talks about the Resiliency training he is involved in as part of the US Armed Forces, and an exercise within it to take a moment each day and focus on the good things that happened. “Hunt the good stuff” and “have fun” have much the same intent: a change in mindset to focus on the good of our day and the fun of our activities, even if for only a little while, with the hope that it helps eventually to make us feel better overall and to keep playing.

    I challenge you to try it the next time you jump in to Battlefield 4, play a round of golf, or whatever activity you might choose, and focus on the fun and why you do it in the first place. Find the fun or make it fun. You might just find you enjoy it a bit more.