Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to put your 'puter on a pole

My house is very small. I used to have a normal house in Atlanta. Actually it was a big house, over 3000 sq ft. But there was a bad recession in 2003, maybe you missed it if you weren't in high tech, but it hit high tech cities like Atlanta and San Jose bad. I was in a pretty bad fix. Then one day I was watching the Food Network on TV. Paula Deen was cooking fried chicken for President Jimmy Carter in his home town. She asked him, "You are a highly successful and famous man. You could live anywhere in the world. Why do you live in PLAINS, GEORGIA?!"

"Because that's where my land is," said Jimmy Carter.

Well slap me hard and call me Nelly! It's so simple! Why didn't I think of that?!

I hate my hometown. I mean, I loathe it. I was so happy when I left there to go to Georgia Tech when I was 17. It was the first time I ever met people (not relatives) that had things in common with me. It never occurred to me in the whole 20 years I lived in Atlanta to go back there. But that's where my land is. Jimmy Carter knows. It was the SOCIETY I didn't like there. I liked the land. That's where my land is.

So that's the beginning of how I came to live in a tiny house. I've been compared to Thoreau, that whole Walden Pond thing. Yeah, well his house was 15'x10', or 150 sq ft with no bathroom. If you don't count my bathroom my house is 12'x12', only 144 sq ft. And Thoreau only lived in his house for 2 years. He doesn't impress me.

I've looked at the plans for his house. I bet it was uncomfortable as hell. Drafty! My experiment is not just how to live without society, it's how to live WELL without society. I already beat Thoreau's 2 years on Walden Pond by living in my little house for 5 years before I went to Austin for a year. But now I'm back and it could be for good this time.

One of the difficulties of little house life is finding a place to work on the computer. When I first lived here I just had my laptop and it didn't work that great. My counter is too narrow. So I got a 20" iMac. It has a smaller footprint than a laptop. But while I was in Austin I got one of the new Mac minis. It has the new Thunderbolt interface. So I sold my regular Apple LCD Display in Austin and ordered one of the new Thunderbolt displays to be sent here. But good lord, that thing is huge. I can't just shove it to the end of the counter when I want to eat here. I need some mechanical advantage. I consulted my friend the professional home theater installer and he assured me that my idea to hang the whole outfit from the ceiling was valid. I got to doing my research and finally worked out a combination of institutional TV mounts and high end desk mounts. I ordered all the parts on Amazon (See Bill of Materials at the end). I finally got all of them Monday afternoon. I immediately started putting it together.

The ceiling is really the floor of my loft, which is the platform for my mattress. I already had a pair of bookshelf speakers mounted up there. I decided it was ridiculous to try to run the signal all the way to my giant amp under the ladder so I ordered a little amp too. I put my giant amp in my mini-warehouse with the rest of my home theater and put my printer down there instead. Now I have room for more food in my cupboard, which is where the printer used to live.

I propped the mattress up with a stool so I could start drilling holes from the bottom to mark where I wanted stuff to go. Then I went up in the loft and drilled a big ol' hole in the floor/ceiling. After I got that cleaned up enough to keep working I ran the wires to see how that was all going to work out.
Monitor power cord.

Mini power cord
DC power for the amp
Looking good! But I haven't plugged them in yet.
I put a UPS at the end of the bed to power all these goodies. Yes, that's another Mac mini and 27" TV in the loft at the foot of the bed. I like computers. Shut up.
OK, damn. That's plenty long enough for the mini, but the monitor is going to need a LOT more slack than that. I need an extension cord. I have to go look in the shed.
That nice tan-colored flat cord would work but I'm hesitant to disturb the ecosystem that has developed around it.
This orange outdoor rated one has a lot less spider webs on it. It only took me ten minutes to clean the bird and spider dookie off it enough to take it in the house. Two words -- baking soda.
OK, now we're in business. Cord reaches all the way to the counter.
But that cute round end Apple puts on their cords won't fit through the hole in the pipe.
No problem. Just go the other way.
So here it is screwed to the ceiling. The ceiling mount didn't come with any mounting screws or anything. I used Woodmate sheet metal screws. These are the same things I used to screw my roof to the wood purlins. They have a nice rubber gasket on them that squished all the way up in that oversized hole in the part and made it fit nice and snug. I painted them black later with some touch up paint that came with the aluminum table on my front porch. Next I mounted the articulating arm to the bottom of the pole but didn't take a picture.
Next step was to get the new monitor out and see how the VESA mount adapter works. It comes with a little plastic card you slide into the joint of the base and it unlatches it so you can get to the row of Torx head screws that hold it on the internal pivot. I am delighted to know how that works. I followed the clear instructions on how to make the swap.

The mounting point on the articulating arm has slots on top instead of holes so you can put the screws in the monitor and just drop it on and it will hold it there while you put the other screws in the holes and tighten them. Yeah, but it's still little ol' me lifting a 27 pound monitor above shoulder height while trying to see where the screws and slots are. I'm still feeling that 4 days later.

I got it on there though! I was so excited to see how it moved right where I wanted it plus out of the WAY! That's the old iMac on the other side of the counter. I could actually get another arm and mount the iMac on that same pole. But that's just ridiculous.

I still have to hook it up to the computer though. I got a little shelf that mounts on the pole. It's intended for DVD players for ceiling mounted TVs, but it's big enough for all my stuff.
I finally got it all done for the night and tested it out in Portrait mode. In case I want to feel like I'm at the airport? This monitor is too big for that.

The next morning when I was ready to mess around with my new computer some more I got a call from the glass company that they had my new window. Remember my fogged glass picture from a few weeks ago? Well I had somebody come look at it. They quoted me a price for a 1" air gap, low-e insulated window not that much different from what I just spent for all the components to hang a computer from the ceiling so I figured it was fair and ordered it. It only took them a few days to get it and then they gave me all of 20 minutes notice that they were on their way. I scrambled to move all loose objects that might be in the way. I still haven't put back all the stuff I piled in the bathtub. Man this house is small.

So here's the gross old window. I was very glad I made the loft ladder removable or we'd have never gotten that out and the new one in. I was struggling to remember the details of how I installed it in the first place. I was nervous about the sliding glass doors for windows.
I liked the house at this stage. But I was not sure how to do a rough opening for a sliding glass door turned plate glass window. I put off installing those.
I did all the other windows and a complete outdoor shower before I figured out how to put in that window. That Tyvek was working so well.
Look how pretty Tyvek windows are at night. This is the north side just before I moved in.
Here it is after I got that first repurposed sliding glass door in the opening. I had to have help with it because it was so heavy. My boyfriend came from Atlanta and helped me lift it up there. I moved in when the house was like this. It was November. I imagine this is what Thoreau's house was like. Fuck that. It was cold as hell. And there were a lot of wasps living up around the underside of the roof. Before they got aggressive in the spring I had the whole thing sealed up with spray foam. Thoreau would have never left Walden Pond if he'd had access to icynene insulation.

But my nostalgia is beside the point. I now have a window that cost more than all my other windows and doors put together. I need to devise an experiment to see if there is a measurable improvement in performance.
Price included installation! It didn't include redoing all the trim on the inside. It took me 5 more hours after they left to finish this job, plus another hour the next day to get the blinds cleaned and put back. I wiped every slat and rubbed off each fly speck with baking soda. (Did you know "fly speck" is housewife code for "spider shit"? Well, actually flies leave their own spots of shit, too, but because spiders hang out in the same spot for so long it really builds up. I clean it off my house exterior regularly because the smell of it attracts more flies.)
So here it is today, new window, computer on a pole, and overcast so I can take pictures and make a video to show how it works. I'm pretty pleased with it. I have to tweak the equalizer on iTunes a lot to get the audio to not be distorted in the high end, but that's not bad for a $35 amp (on sale) and $55 speakers from Parts Express. The LED on that amp is insanely bright. It lights up my whole kitchen at night. I now have my path to the bathroom fully illuminated with LEDs on devices. I have my Apple Time Capsule wall mounted in the bathroom so the green power LED shines right in the toilet. So this kind of seems right for my idiom.

Here's some finished project closeups. The underside of the loft is only 6'8" high so I can actually reach the back of the mini to pull out a camera memory card while seated. 

I tested this HP 6mp laser printer with the new mini running Lion yesterday. I'll be damned if it didn't just work! I am floored by this. I bought this printer new in about 1997, before USB was even invented. I think I paid as much for it as my Subzero refrigerator. It works with Mac OS7 and everything since. When I got my first USB powerbook I bought an $80 Belkin cable with a parallel connector on one end and a USB connector on the other. There was a setting in the old OS to pick the kind of connection you had, parallel, etc., and I was surprised as hell back then that it worked. I'm still surprised it works every time I get a new computer. At least seven different computers and every Apple OS works with this printer. You turn on the printer, connect to a USB port, boot up the computer, it sees the printer, and prints to it! It made an HP automatically. I searched the finder for HP 6mp to find it. I set the driver to the generic HP PCL driver and then ran Apple Software Updates. It automatically retrieved new Lion drivers from HP! I selected the HP Laserjet 6mp driver and now I think I've got the best I can get. I am still pretty staunchly paperless. I did without a printer at all in Austin for over a year. But as a hermit I might need to print out labels with bar codes so the UPS man can just pick up whatever I decide to sell on eBay. It can live under the ladder until I need it. I have no intention of ever buying another printer again, ever.

I made a video to show the range of motion of my new set-up.

Bill of Materials:
Ceiling Plate, Chief Mfg. CMA102, Quantity 2 (I put one on the bottom too because I thought it looked better than a pole ending in threads.)
Fixed Extension Column, 36", Chief Mfg. CMS036
Pole Mount Accessory Shelf, Chief Mfg. PAC102B
Dual Arm H/A Pole Mount, Chief Mfg. KPG110B

Thunderbolt Display
2.5 GHz Mac mini

DTA-1 audio amp

I got the speakers and mounting brackets years ago. I don't see the same kind of mounting brackets anymore. The speakers are similar to these.
MTX Monitor 5i bookshelf speakers


  1. A very nice job!

    But if you find it necessary to pick the Apple from the highest branch of the tree, tempt not ye any male visitors with the forbidden fruit, lest ye both be cast out of the Garden of Beachton (umm, Swamp of Beachton?), and sent forth to Eden (located an easy 30 minutes from beautiful downtown Savannah!)