– Ben Martens


Disc Golf Newbies

The new craze in our house is disc golf. I asked for a cheap starter pack of discs for Father’s Day, and all three of us enjoyed it the very first time we went out. There are about half a dozen free courses within a 30 minute drive and the closest one is only 5 minutes away.

I was a bit nervous/embarrassed the first time we went out, but I’ve found the disc golf crowd to be extremely friendly and welcoming. Plus, we quickly learned that lots of people are just out there having family fun and we weren’t as slow or bad as we thought. Course etiquette is very similar to golf so I was able to work on those social norms with Elijah first and then we started learning more about the game.

YouTube is a great resource for learning disc golf and it helped us understand the basic form, the flow of play, special rules, etc. While there are people who are extremely good at the sport, I’ve found it to be very accessible for inexperienced players. You can go out there knowing nothing and have a blast. And while it would take a huge amount of time to master the sport, you can find bits success early on. For example, only about 10 rounds into the sport, we’ve all made a par and I was a few inches off from a hole-in-one. You can pick up a starter set of discs for around $30, and as I mentioned, many of the courses are free. The UDisc app is a great way to find nearby courses and keep score.

It’s fun to discover a new activity where I can compete against myself, play for basically free, and see myself rapidly improve since I went in knowing nothing! If you’re in the area, I’d be happy to share some discs with you and show you what it’s like. At the very least, you get to enjoy walking around in a park for an hour.

Woodworking Instagram Reborn

As mentioned previously, I lost control of my @martenswoodshop Instagram account. Since then, I’ve realized that I really do like having a single place that can easily function as a portfolio of my work. “Oh you build stuff? What do you like to make?” It’s a lot easier when I can just send a simple URL. And it’s also good motivation for me when I look and see how long it has been since my last project post. It makes me want to get out and do more!

So if you’re at all interested in this kind of thing, please follow @martenswoodworks. I reposted some of my projects to that account and I’ll be posting more going forward. I’m wrapping up a project soon that involves 3D carving on the CNC!

Savings and Debt

I think about retirement more than is normal for someone of my age, but saving for retirement is a long-term game. My basic plan has been to save some money, pay off debt, and then save more money. We’ll see how well that works out for me, but it aligns well with Dave Ramsey’s “7 Baby Steps“.

Those basic guidelines are great, but there are so many small choices along the way. What’s a good order to do them in? Then I found a flow chart on reddit and I was in awe! I’m sure there are people with different opinions, but if I have a tough time believing that anyone would go too far off course if they followed this verbatim. You should be able to click into it to see all the details, but if not, check out the linked post above for the original content.

VertiDesk v3 Standing Desk Review

When I used to work from home, I would usually end the day with a sore back. I figured it was because I was used to standing at my desk for part of the day at work and sitting all day was just not working. I had been shopping around for a while but wasn’t willing to pull the trigger… until the pandemic hit. The day we got sent home from work, I immediately placed an order, expecting there to be a shortage of standing desks.

Fast forward to 18 months later and I’m so thankful that I made the purchase! I raise and lower it multiple times throughout the day and couldn’t be happier with this model. I keep saying I’m going to build a nice top for it but I’m still using the cheapo plywood top that I built for it on day one.

My model is the VertiDesk v3 Electric Sit Stand Base. It has a keypad with four programmable heights. The key reasons I chose this one are:

  • It raises up tall enough for me. I’m 6’4″ and a few models on the market wouldn’t quite be tall enough.
  • It has very little wobble when raised up to it’s maximum height. This seems to be a major differentiator in the market. If you find a model that costs less, it’s usually because it has more wobble.

With a standing desk, it’s important to spend time with cable management. My main goal is to keep the CPU on the floor and then have as few cables running down to it as possible. This means having power strips and USB hubs move up and down with the desk. I stuck those on the bottom of the desk and then bought three a sleeve, raceway, and cord holder to help with cable management.

Even with all that, it’s still a rats nest of wires, but it’s enough to be functional and keep the cats from playing with the cords.

Kids’ Music

Caspar-BabyPantsElijah loves music. He especially likes to listen to it in the car and when each song ends, he immediately makes the sign for “more.” Finding kids music that doesn’t make my head explode is a challenge, but we’ve locked onto a couple good singers so far.

  • Caspar Babypants – This is Chris Ballew who is/was the lead singer for Presidents of the United States. He lives in the Seattle area and now spends most of his time writing music for kids. He does lots of small, free shows which Tyla really enjoys attending. One of our favorite albums is his cover of a bunch of Beatles songs that have a fun kids message to them. I love the idea that Elijah and I are both enjoying listening to the same guy as we grow up!
  • Raffi – This is more traditional kids music, but he has a good voice and does a good job with his songs.

What else is out there? What albums do you fire up when your kids want music? I’m especially looking for ones that adults don’t mind!

Little Helper Tower

The ordering period is now complete. Thank you to everyone who placed an order!

  • Platform adjusts securely and easily within seconds to heights of 7”, 11”, 15” and 19”
  • The overall tower is 18″ square and 40″ tall (to the top of the arches.)
  • Edges are rounded and everything is sanded smooth to help keep kids safe as they climb in the tower
  • Built from beautiful unfinished pine boards ready for you to paint and/or polyurethane
  • Sturdy base helps to prevent tip-overs
  • This is a onetime offer! Orders must be placed by 10/31/2014. Payment is required up front.
  • Orders will be filled on a first come, first served basis.
  • Two models are available. For the model with hinges, you can pull the platform out and fold the tower flat for storage. The model without hinges still has the adjustable platform but it cannot be folded flat.
    • Permanent, non-hinged version – $80
    • Fold flat, hinged version – $120
  • To order or ask questions, please send an email to [email protected] or contact Tyla.
  • You will be contacted when your tower is available for pick up at our home in Woodinville. No shipping.

If you want to view the plans to see specific dimensions or even build one yourself, they are available for free online here: Ana White’s Little Helper Tower

Note: Adorable child not included. You must provide your own.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I pay extra, will you stain/paint it for me if I pay you? Sorry, no. Finishing all these would take more time than I’m willing to commit to. You can use them unfinished. It just means that spills might leave a stain.

Can you make a modification to the design if I pay you? Again, sorry, but no. I’m all set up to crank these out according to the existing plans and making changes will add quite a bit of time.

Nail Gun

I’ve wanted an air compressor for a long time, but I just couldn’t justify the cost. Until now. Part of this backyard project is building a fence and while, yes, I could build it without a nailgun, it would move along MUCH faster with one. I also wanted to pick up a little big bigger than average air compressor in hopes of being able to blow out my own irrigation lines (albeit much more slowly than the pros do it.)

To that end, I picked up an 8 gallon air compressor from Lowes. It’s nothing fancy but it should get the job done, at least for the construction part. It remains to be seen how long it will take to blow out my lines with this. After checking rental prices for nail guns from Home Depot, I decided I could get the exact same Hitachi model for about the price of 4-5 days worth of rental. Done! The last piece of the puzzle was a 50 ft retractable air hose.

Put them all together and I’m ready to build a fence! I look forward to picking up a smaller brad nailer for my woodworking too.

Home Improvements For Baby

When I look back at all the things I did around the house before our son was born, I’m amazed at all the free time I had. But there are a few home improvements that stick out and continue to pay benefits. If you’re having a baby and you’re a little bit handy, consider these projects:

  • Dimmer switches: Put one in the nursery so you don’t blind your child or stumble over toys when he’s crying in the middle of the night. If your child is going to spend some time in your bedroom, put one there too. The nursery can be a regular dimmer switch, but for the master bedroom, consider splurging a little on a dimmer switch with a remote control. I think that’s Tyla single favorite project that I’ve ever done. It’s so handy to be able to shut off the lights without getting out of bed or to turn them on a tiny amount in the middle of the night.
  • Tamper resistant outlets: You’ll probably want to buy these at Home Depot or Lowes instead of Amazon, but they will remove the need to cover all your outlets with those plastic plugs. I replaced every single outlet in our house with these, mostly because we had some flaky old outlets, but it’s paying off now.
  • Black out drapes and blinds: I added black out drapes and blinds to the nursery. His windows will catch the sun in the summer when it’s up the latest and you can’t make a nursery too dark. We might even have to add a bit more covering to catch the light.

There’s lots of other things that could go on the list but those are the big three that I recommend. Feel free to comment if you have anything to add to the list!

Finding A Sirius Station With Power Query

We got a 6 month trial of Sirius with our Ford Escape and then extended it for another six months once we finally got a good offer from Sirius. Listening to music without commercials is addicting and they have a lot of good stations to choose from. The one thing they are missing is a feature on their website that lets me tell them the artists I like and then gives me the stations that play those artists the most. But hey, it’s just data right? I should be able to figure this out. I do, after all, work on the team that is producing the premiere (I hope) data experience for Excel: Microsoft Power Query (part of the Office Power BI suite).

The first step was finding a playlist history for all the Sirius stations. A quick Bing search revealed It has a bunch of search parameters and best of all, they are dumped right into the URL so you can easily build your own searches just by modifying the URL.

Next I built a function inside of Power Query that takes an artist name and returns one page of results. I wrote a function on top of that which calls the first function multiple times to collect each page of data. (Unfortunately there’s no way on the website to view the entire result list at once.) The last step was feeding in a list of artists I’m interested in. I grouped the data by radio station and the count of the songs that were played. Voila. I should be listening to channel 31 “The Coffee House” which features singer-songwriters, or as I call it “guy with guitar.”

I wish Sirius offered this feature directly on their website, but it’s really cool that I was able to answer it myself with Power Query in a few minutes between meetings at work.

Orcas Island

While Dad and Mom were out here, we hopped on the ferry at Anacortes for the one hour ride out to Orcas Island. Tyla and I spent a few days there back in March before Elijah was born and thought it would be a fun place to show my parents. We had lunch on the waterfront at The Madrona Bar & Grill (our favorite restaurant on the island), stopped at the Rosario resort to walk through the mansion, and then drove to the top of Mt. Constitution. We had been encased in fog the entire day but the top of the mountain was above the clouds and had a spectacular view!

We intended to catch the 5:20 ferry back to Anacortes, but when we arrived, we learned that the 2:20 ferry had run over a sailboat. The whole schedule was messed up and yada yada yada we were going ot have to wait for FOUR HOURS to get off the island! That’s bad enough but with a three month old kid in the car, we were wondering if we’d survive. Thankfully Elijah was a champ and hardly put up any fuss.

Unfortunately Mom and Dad never got to see the awesome views from the ferry ride so maybe we’ll try another island next time they come out.

Some photos are included below and I also posted a quick Photosynth from the top of Mt. Constitution.