A television in every back yard, mark I

September 30th, 2010 — Wordman

With football season starting, it’s important to get in some quality outdoor viewing before it gets to cold and nasty, particularly if you just spent way too much to redo your back yard. So…can you see the television stand in this back yard? Can your spouse?

No you can't

No, you can’t, because it isn’t there. You need a sturdy place to mount a TV outside, but one that doesn’t blight the landscape when the TV isn’t in use.

This post details my first attempt at producing such a stand. The idea is to build it out of sturdy piping that slides into anchor holes embedded into the ground. This gives the TV a sturdy base when you want it, but lets you pull the whole thing out and store it in a shed when you don’t, leaving almost no trace. I’m still experimenting with it, but this first attempt works pretty well so far.

Preparation

LayoutMost of the materials for this stand can be found at Lowe’s or Home Depot, and are not hugely expensive. Most of these you will probably need to adapt to your particular needs, but here is what I used:

Even before gathering all of these together, though, you need to think your plan through. If you have a particular place you want the TV outside, before going through the trouble of building this stand, just set the TV up on a table close to where you want it and see how the picture works outside. In particular, does the glare from the sun obscure the picture? If so, you probably want a different spot.

Also, can you get power to where you want the TV? How about a signal (cable, satellite, etc.). Make sure you have all that figured out before you dive too deeply into this project.

Anchors

The PVC pipe should just barely slide around the galvanized piping that you’ll use to make the main frame. The idea is that this PVC will be buried so that the tops just stick out of the ground, anchored in cement. There are probably easier ways to do this, but here is what I did.

Take the J-bend and connect the 12″ PVC pipe to the longer end. Mix up one of the 10 pound buckets of cement. Sink the J-bend as far as it will go into the cement, so that it is totally submerged, but the straight pipe sticks up out of the cement. Look down into the pipe and you should see at least of bit of cement that has oozed into the bottom from the submerged end. This is fine, and should anchor the pipe even better. The idea of using the J-bend here is that it should let the cement grab onto the whole thing better than just a straight pipe would.

Set something to hold the open end of the pipe up as straight as possible while the cement dries. I cut a cross in the lid of the bucket, but boards or something should work fine.

Repeat the process with the other J-bend.

I suppose you could just pour cement directly into the ground instead of using the buckets, but I found the buckets were pretty useful in making the frame, as you could test the fit, move it around, and the buckets were heavy enough to hold the frame up for painting, even without being buried.

Frame

Looking at the picture above, you can see how the galvanized pipes form an “H”, with the 36″ pipe at the center. Since this is precut pipe, it should all screw together easily, and the long pipes make good levers to get it assembled tightly. It may still twist a bit, but don’t worry about that so much now. In case it isn’t obvious, the left side of the picture below shows a close up of the T connections.

Detail

Once assembled, test out the fit of the frame into the anchor buckets. The bottom legs of the “H” should just slide into the PVC pipe sticking out of the cement. Try to avoid jamming the frame all the way in, as it can be hard to get out if you do.

Remove the frame from the anchors and lay it out on the floor. Position the TV mount onto the top section to see how it will fit. One caution here: make sure to position the TV mount such that, when the TV is on it, no part of it collides with the cross bar of the frame’s “H”. I didn’t think about this, and it turned out that the TV’s built-in stand (which lets it stand on its own on a table) wound up at the exact same level as the crossbar, so I have to remove the stand to mount it outside, and put it back on when I bring in the TV. Sort of annoying.

To connect the TV mount to the frame, you’ll need to drill holes into the pipes. The TV mount should give you a lot of choice on running a bold through the mount, then through the pipes. The right side of the picture above shows an example. Drilling the holes is difficult. You’ll need a 3/8″ drill bit capable of penetrating dense metal. I would drill the top holes first, then position the mount again for marking the bottom holes. Once the holes are drilled, leave the mount disconnected.

If your pipes are like mine, they will probably be a bit greasy. Wash them with soap and water, WD40 or whatever to get them clean. After they dry, prime the frame. I put the frame into the anchors to do this, wrapping painters tape around the PVC to keep the primer off of it. Painting it like this allows you to get all sides at the same time. Once the primer is dry, add the textured paint. The picture above shows the texture I used. I also gave a light coat of glossy black to the bolts, nuts and washers that will connect the mount to the frame.

Once everything is dry, connect the mount to the frame with the machine screws. Now you’re ready to take it outside.

Planting

PlantingPut the anchor buckets on the ground approximately where they should go, and slide in the frame. Mark the spots on the ground, then clear everything away and dig some post holes. You want them just deep enough that an inch or so of the PVC pip will stick out of the ground when you are done. As always, beware when you dig in your yard. Is there a gas line or a power cable or something running where you are about to dig? If you don’t know, find out first. This is the part of the job where the wrong chain of events could kill you.

Maneuver the anchors (frame still inside) into the holes. You’ll probably need to fine tune here, adding and removing dirt to get the frame level, or to make the holes slightly wider and so on. The key bit here is to keep the frame slid into the anchors. Doing that should ensure that the frame will line up correctly with the holes and slide out cleanly. Once you are satisfied, the whole assembly should probably be standing on its own in the holes (this is another benefit of making the anchor buckets separately).

At this point, I decided to add some more cement into the holes. You could probably use rocks, or just really good dirt packing instead. After filling in the empty space around the buckets with dirt, I mixed a 20 pound bucket of cement and poured it equally into both holes. Again, I kept the frame inside the anchors the whole time.

When it was dry, I filled the rest up with dirt and covered it in mulch. As planned about an inch of the PVC sticks out. I bought some capping to keep these covered when the frame is not in use. (If you look at the picture at the very start of this post, you can barely make out these caps in the ground.) Getting the frame out of the anchors the first time might be a bit difficult. Best way is with two people, standing on the anchor spots and pulling hard. You may want to try putting the frame in taking it out a few times, just in case.

Mounting

The Peerless mount works using two basic pieces. One is a sort of rail, which is what you connected to the frame. To connect the TV onto this rail, the mount will come with something that screws into the back of the television (usually two bars that run vertically). These can just be left on the TV, even if the TV you use isn’t usually wall mounted (mine isn’t). Connect them according to the instructions that came with the mount. If your TV gives you a choice of mounting positions, connect the pieces as widely apart as possible.

With everything in place outside, test the strength of the frame. Mine is pretty sturdy, barely budging. I’m only using a 36″ television, but I’m fairly certain the stand could handle a larger one, but I haven’t experimented with that yet.

Connect the TV onto the mount. Typically, the parts of the mount slide together loosely, then you tighten some screws up to hold everything solidly. Follow your mount’s instructions.

TV back

Now run the power and signal to the TV. In my case, I can feed both through a window behind the stand, so there are no cords for people to trip on.

Cords

When it is all set up, it looks like this:

No you can't

Conclusions

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how this stand turned out, with only three caveats. First, the mistake I made with the built-in stand hitting the crossbar makes setting up the TV and taking it down again more painful than I was planning. I might move the Peerless mount down slightly. This will leave some ugly holes, but I can live with that.

Second, I don’t have a great solution for holding the cable box yet. It would be nice to attach a shelf in some way to the frame to hold the box. I’ve thought about cutting slots for shelf brackets below the crossbar, and adding a shelf that way, but cutting the precisely into metal is hard. There is probably some type of shelf designed to clamp to piping, but I have yet to find one. If you have a great idea for this, leave a comment below (with links, if possible).

Lastly, the mount might be a bit too high. For something like a party, with people standing and milling around, it works pretty well. For sitting, it is just slightly tall. If the TV was bigger, this might not matter, as it would hang down slightly. I could easily take a hack saw to the legs of the frame, but I’m leaving it as is for now.

If you try building a stand like, let me know how it goes. And tell me what you changed. Cheers.

Cheers

Improving the NFL experience

January 1st, 2007 — Wordman

I love professional American football, but a number of new trends this year have been disturbing my calm since the season started. Now that the regular season is winding down, here are some suggestions on how to improve for next season:

  • The four-man comments before the game, at halftime and after the game is a formula that mostly works, but there is no need whatsoever to fly them all to the game and setup the desk on the field. The only purpose this seems to serve is to make it harder to hear anything anyone is saying, and force the hosts to wail like Olympic swimming commentators.
  • To Bryant Gumbel: learn what the phrase “take over on downs” means before uttering it again. Ask your brother.
  • To Dick Vermeil: please refrain from lending your image to any company for promotional purposes ever again. Also, have some of the beefier members of your team hunt down and kill everyone responsible for your beer commercials.
  • Chris Collinsworth wins for suggesting he get work with Court TV as it is the “only way to cover the Browns”.
  • To the NFL: since you have set up your broadcast rules to force me to watch nothing but the New York Jets, the least you could do is force the CBS network to broadcast the game in hi-def. Buy the cameras if you have to.
  • To CBS Sports: high definition is no longer optional. Catch up.
  • An occasional Thursday game is fun. Every week is overkill.
  • Stop giving a shit about Terrell Owens.
  • To advertisers: When you repeat the same commercial over and over, it makes me actively hate both you and your products. Stop it.
  • To Chevrolet: When you insist on running the same honky-intensive commercial over and over and over containing the phrase “this is our philosophy”, you might not want to put a picture under it depicting someone from a homophobic organization that illegally uses federal funds.
  • To the NFL network: Give up on the idea of the NFL network. Unless you are intentionally trying to destroy the NFL, in which case: soldier on.
  • Light beer in sweaty green bottles is not my girlfriend and, even if it was, I’m pretty sure I would want it to be neither “hot” nor “a freak like you”. I don’t know what either of those mean.

Spoon!

August 22nd, 2006 — Wordman

Having long lamented the shocking lack of DVD availablity of the animated Tick series, I’m pleased to say the wait is over. It’s almost as if the DVD has been waiting in the asylum…

Thanks to JL for pointing this out to me.

I’m going to tell you something…

December 11th, 2005 — Wordman

After the 50th time listening to Paul Maguire tell me that he is going to tell me something right before telling me something, I thought I should come up with a Sunday Night Football drinking game. As with so much on the net, it’s been done.

I’d also add a rule that you must sip anytime Berman uses a “cute” nickname for a player. Also, drink anytime the camera focuses on a cheerleader. Chug if she isn’t a blonde caucasian.

Four letters, starts with a C

November 16th, 2005 — Wordman

I’m certainly not the only one to notice that a good portion of the media has been having a tough time using the word “Muslim” lately. It used to be that you’d hear the media use the phrase “Islamic fundamentalist”, but this seems like it has given way to the unqualified “terrorist” or the even more abstract “terrorism”, where only the act of, say, a car bombing is important, not the fact that it might have some sort of religious motivation.

I suppose the reason for this is that much of the media wants to avoid looking like they are tarnishing an entire faith it calling attention to a “bad element’s” connection to it. I can understand, and even sympathize, with this desire. After all, in its more peaceful forms, Islam is no dumber or dangerous than any other religion. I think, however, that the media are going about it all wrong and have a suggestion to help them out, first made four years ago in a drunken rant I wrote a few days prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. At the time, the suggestion was made as a strategy the government should adopt. I’m now thinking that I had the right idea but the wrong target back then.

The idea is fairly simple. Media outlets should start calling any Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group what it is: a cult. This instantly separates these groups from the types of Muslims the media is anxious to avoid offending. Plus, a “cult” is a physical group with a finite number of members and, therefore, is significantly easier to defeat than an abstract concept like “terrorism”.

I encourage everyone reading this to start using the c-word in reference to these fanatics.

Foreclosing the fourth estate

September 6th, 2005 — Wordman

Imagine the local network news casters are telling you that a storm is coming. This might require imagining yourself as someone who still watches the local news, which may be a stretch, but bear with me. Can you picture your local news people? The male anchor with good teeth and hair and the hot, yet professional, woman of indeterminate ethnicity joke with each other, then put on their “grim face” as they talk about the “Storm of the Century”. Custom made graphics woosh in each time they cut to another story about it. The Wacky Weatherman gesticulates wildly in front of a superimposed map, showing a spiral storm cloud off the coast. Reporters out in the street stand in the rain and warn of heavy winds and describe the storm as the coming apocalypse. The news offers a brief snippet of the governor calling the storm “the real deal” and that “as of right now”, your area “is definitely the target for this hurricane” and suggests you might want to think about going to higher ground, and take “small quantities of food for three to four days”. The local news shows shots of people leaving and interviews of people staying. They assure you that they’ll be there covering it all, so stay tuned.

Do you leave?

I wonder how many people in Louisiana and Mississippi looked at the dire warnings on the news and decided to stay because the local news always makes dire warnings about even insignificant weather. If this happened to even one person who got killed, it’s yet another indication (if you needed one) of the media’s collossal failure to fulfill their basic purpose. As John Stewart observes:

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy. It serves to inform the voting public on matters relevant to its well-being. Why they stopped doing that is a mystery.

I’m breaking my own rules by bitching about this without a solution to suggest, but I’m at a loss on how to fix this. Do we just stop watching until they shape up? I’ve been trying that for years and it doesn’t seem to be working. If anything, reducing the number of viewers used to thinking for themselves just makes it worse. Do we just beg them to stop? The blogosphere is starting to marginalize the press in some ways, but this is a mixed blessing, as most blogs check facts more loosely than television and most follow no editorial standard at all. Maybe the point of the blogosphere is really that of fact checker for mainstream media. It’s proving that it does that job really well. Will this turn the media back into something trustworthy? Was it ever trustworthy?

Looking back at how the press covered Katrina before it hit has been enlightening, and I recommend it. You can see a map showing predictions of flooding scenarios, for example. You can see the director of the National Hurricane Center describing the coming Katrina as “really scary” and “a worse-case scenario”. (I’d be curious to see how local TV covered that.) You can see New Orleans main newspaper’s June 2002 story about New Orleans washing away if hit by a big hurricane. You can see Bush follow three paragraphs about Katrina, in which he urges people to seek safe ground, with a dozen about Iraq. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but it’s good to see how the world looked before something bad happened, to see if you could recognize the signs of it if it happened again.

Flooding in Valhalla

June 30th, 2005 — Wordman

I don’t really have a good story for this, but the title is so brilliant, I had to share it. It would be a great name for a book. Plus, it was overheard from a source I almost never watch: local news. Evidently there was a lot of rain north of Manhattan today.