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January 2013
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XPanel: The First Open Source Panel Saw Jig - Part 1

I'm an IT guy, so I'm very familiar with the concept of open source software, and I love the idea. So, here's my contribution to the relatively new open source "hardware" movement.

I've always been interested in woodworking to some extent, so was my father, and so was my grandfather, and up until recently it was my grandfather who had the most extensive home shop, and in his day, was probably the most avid woodworker among us (for the record, neither my father nor my grandfather are still around.)

But during the past year or so I've started getting into woodworking more seriously, and like a lot of new or rediscovering hobbyist woodworkers, I've spent most of my time so far just "setting up shop." I've discovered that one of the most frustrating and difficult things to do in a home shop, is breaking down full 4'x8' sheet stock panels, or large cutoffs of sheet stock, into smaller project pieces.

I've priced the ready made prefabricated panel saws that can be found online, and they're way out of range for most home shops (certainly mine) and I've wrestled with taking on one of the many DIY versions to be found online as well, but even the kits for them are expensive, and the work involved in a version built from scratch with plans is daunting.

The whole time I've been looking around for some sort of panel sawing solution, I've always thought if I had it my way, I'd want something that satisfied what I considered to be several important requirements for hobbyist woodworkers, as follows:

- it must be makeable from inexpensive (i.e. cheap), readily available materials
- it must be quickly assembled and disassembled for storage
- it must not take up much room, whether assembled or stored
- it must go together without permanent fasteners, so as to make it easy to swap out worn pieces (clamps or notches are the preferred methods of fastening for sacrificial pieces)
- pieces that won't ever be cut into, can have permanent fasteners and extensions attached
- occasionally used add-on or attachment pieces, can have permanent fasteners and extensions attached
- it must be functionally flexible and easily modified

So while surfing around one night looking for yet another panel sawing suggestion, I stumbled upon something I thought might be a solution
for my home shop. It was nothing more than just a cheap pair of 2"x4"x8' studs, assembled in an "X" pattern, and fastened together using angled notches in the center edge of each stud. It could be placed on the floor, and it could support even a full 4'x8' sheet of anything for cutting. The idea was to set the blade as high as possible while still cutting through the material, but scoring the supporting X'd 2by's as little as possible.

This idea was good, and it satisfied some of my requirements, but it lacked something to make it a great idea.

Behold what I call the XPanel jig. I refer to it as a jig rather than a panel saw, because it behaves and is used much more as a jig is used. Here are pictures with and without an almost full-size sheet on the jig (ignore the incredible amount of junk around it.)

My addition of the vertical studs on each side has made it so the jig can be placed against a wall, and used similar to the way a "real" panel saw is used, and it all goes together and comes apart quickly, and by way of the angled notches, without the use of permanent fasteners. And the addition of a clamped deck rail makes it so a panel can be loaded onto the jig easily, without adding a permanent part to the jig. Here are pics of the angled notches for the vertical members.


Here's the link to the original "X" jig page again.

I also made three different size circular saw guides, similar to the popular version(s) found on woodworking sites around the internet. Here they are:


Here is the jig with various size sheets, and with the guides in place:


The ultimate advantage of this jig is this... EVERY CUT IS PERFORMED HORIZONTALLY, allowing gravity to do most of the work, and eliminating the need for any sort of counterweight system to support the saw during vertical cuts. Here's a picture of how that's accomplished:


In keeping with the open source concept of this jig, it's flexibility is only limited by your imagination, and my original requirements. I'll be posting pics of some of the compliant "plug-ins" (i.e add-ons and attachments), I've come up with to make the jig even sweeter.

And by all means, if you can think of anything to make the jig even more useful, feel free to comment or ask questions, and of course, I encourage you to make and use the jig and see for yourself how this incredibly simple design just may solve your panel cutting needs at a fraction of the cost of other solutions.


posted at: 12:10am on 23-Jan-2013
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Why Would Microsoft Invest $3 Billion Into Dell?

Microsoft may be planning to invest between $1 billion and $3 billion into Dell as part of a leveraged buyout that would take the company private, CNBC reported Tuesday. The report claims that Silver Lake Partners is acting as matchmaker, negotiating an investment between Dell and a special committee representing Dell's shareholders. The Wall Street Journal confirmed CNBC's report, suggesting that any Microsoft investment could be on the order of a couple billion dollars. Microsoft and Silver Lake's relationship dates back to May 2011, the WSJ reported, as the equity group architected the $8.5 billion deal for Skype.(See Secrecy: The Real Reason Taking Dell Private Makes Sense.)Dell has been said to be negotiating a deal that would take the company private, valued at about $23 billion to $24 billion. Under the new ownership, Dell would be owned by founder Michael Dell as well as Evercore Partners and Silver Lake, according to Bloomberg. Mr. Dell himself owns about 15.7% of the company's shares, worth $3.45 billion at today's deflated prices.Dell, of course, made its mark by stripping costs out of the PC supply chain and persuading customers to pay up front for a personal computer that it hadn't even built yet. Over time, however, the trend of PC commoditization it helped establish caught up with the company, and the balance of power in PC manufacturing has swung toward Asian countries with lower labor costs.

So Why Microsoft?

Microsoft, of course, is facing its own pressures, as customers shift away from Windows and to smartphones and tablets. Under this scenario, one analyst explained, Microsoft would essentially be buying a customer base. And with $5 billion in cash on hand at the end of the September quarter, Microsoft could theoretically afford it."Microsoft, with a $3 billion investment, would get a certain amount of control and influence over Dell," wrote Patrick Moorhead, a former corporate fellow with AMD and now principal of his own analyst firm, Moor Insights, in an email. "Dell has pulled back from the PC business as of late and that is not good for Microsoft as its cash cow is Windows. An investment of this size could guarantee a longer term Windows customer."Dell, unfortunately, has never had much luck in either tablets or smartphones. After periodically trying and failing to launch a tablet and phone, the company has always returned to its bread-and-butter product: the PC.It's not hard to believe that Microsoft might also be trying to pursue the sort of deal that brought Motorola under Google's fold. Ironically, Google has done everything but tap into Motorola's manufacturing; the word was that Google bought Motorola for its patent portfolio, and every Nexus device that Google announces without a Motorola logo on it gives more credence to that theory.Today, however, Dell is more than just an expert in cost-cutting; the company has been working hard to beef up its services business. And cost-cutting is a service: in a meeting last week, Tracy Davis, vice president of Dell's data-center solutions group, explained that if customers wanted to build Open Compute servers based on the Common Slot or "Group Hug" board, they should turn to Dell - the only company with the global supply-chain expertise to search out the best deals.

Misery Loves Company

But if the PC really is on the wane, just as desktops eventually gave way to laptops and so on to tablets, then a Microsoft-Dell relationship might by trying to prop up a pair of companies facing the same underlying problems. It's a little hard to believe that a company as large as Dell would go out of business, but to that I would say two words: Creative Technology. More than a decade ago, the company's sound cards were in virtually every PC. Then sound functions became integrated into PC motherboards and processors and the company's music business was steamrolled by the Apple iPod. Today, Creative Labs, its U.S. subsidiary, sells the sort of headphones you can find in the back aisles at Target.Microsoft hasn't commented on any particular investment, and I don't expect it to. But with the company's quarterly earnings call due Thursday, Wall Street analysts will undoubtedly broach the subject, especially if Microsoft has nothing to say before then.Image source: Dell.com.

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Jan-2013
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Earnings Report: Google FTW!

Googles annual sales have eked past $50 billion, thanks to a blow-out fourth quarter with sales far higher than what analysts had been expecting.Googles fourth-quarter revenues were $14.4 billion, well above the $12.4 billion that analysts had been expecting. Sales were up 36% from the fourth quarter of 2011.Earnings also beat expectations, coming in at $10.65 per share versus the $10.52 that Wall Street was expecting.Sales for the full year hit $50.2 billion, up 32% from $37.9 billion last year.

Looking Ahead

To be sure, Google faces some long-term challenges as the world moves to mobile devices, where its more difficult to make money selling ads than on the desktop, where Google built its business.Nevertheless Google CEO Larry Page said in a statement that, In todays multi-screen world we face tremendous opportunities. Its an incredibly exciting time to be at Google.Some observers had become concerned that Google might fall short. A few days ago Googles treasurer warned on the Google investor relations blog that some analysts were not correctly taking into account the sale of Motorolas Home division. Some took the post as an indication of weakness in Googles business.

A Lot To Like

But Google has much to feel good about these days. Its Android operating system now holds 75% share in smartphones, versus 15% for Apple. Android is also catching up in tablets.Google appears to be surviving the legal assault that Apple launched against Android back in 2010. And it recently managed to sidestep an investigation brought by the Federal Trade Commission by settling without making any huge concessions.As Page pointed out in comments during the analyst call, Google's apps like Maps, Gmail and others have become among the most popular on Apple's platform. The new version of Maps, he said, was downloaded 10 million times in its first 48 hours on the Apple App Store.In the past year Google has put a new emphasis on design, and "we've made real progress making more beautiful and intuitive products," Page said.  Image courtesy of Reuters.

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Jan-2013
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Like Intel, AMD Earnings Bit By Windows 8 Launch

Quarterly earnings reports from the two major chipmakers seem to indicate an unusual trough, rather than a peak, at about the time Microsoft launched Windows 8.For the fourth quarter of 2012, AMD reported a loss of $473 million on revenue of $1.16 billion, with revenue off by about a third compared to a year ago, with losses widening from $177 million. Last week, Intel reported net income of $11.0 billion on revenue of $53.3 billion for the same quarter, with profits falling 15% and revenue down just over 1%.Both companies reported that PC sales were off more than they had expected; Intels PC Client Group revenue fell 1.5% sequentially and 6% year-over-year, to $8.5 billion. AMD chief financial officer Devinder Kumar reported that CPU revenue dropped by 13%, as computer makers took a cautious approach to selling Windows 8 PCs. Graphics revenue dropped 9%, also tied to PC sales.Intel, widely viewed as the dominant microprocessor provider from both a sales and a strategic perspective, rode out the storm. Yes, the company said that holiday PCs sales weren't as strong as originally expected at the beginning of the year, but that overall sales were nevertheless strong. Intel expects first-quarter sales to drop 6%, in line with normal seasonal declines."We think that there was an inventory drain and a worldwide supply chain for PCs in the fourth quarter," chief executive Paul Otellini said. "Our channel checks would suggest that a lot of older generation Windows 7 PCs were burned off in the quarter."

"Choppy" Outlook

Otellini didn't talk much about the expected outlook for 2013. AMD chief executive Rory Read, however, did. And what he said wasn't all that heartening."From my perspective, as I look at the PC market, that markets going to continue to be choppy in 2013, particularly in the first half," Read told investors Tuesday. "Remember when you go back to Q1 last year, there was a lot of concern about the flood, how it affected Thailand and the hard disk [market], and the... supply chain was quite resilient. The numbers were quite strong out of Q1. We think there will be continued chop and pressure in the first half of 2013. This markets a bit dynamic right now."We do think that Win8 is a very important event in the industry," Read added. "And I think that impact, or effect, will build over the course of the year. We expect the second half to be stronger than the first half from my perspective. As I look at the overall year, weaker in the first half, stronger in the second half, [overall] flat to slightly down. Thats our view of it."

AMD's Stuggles

AMD is struggling, no question about it. Any quarter where a company is forced to mention the minimum amount of cash it needs to maintain operations, as AMD did ($700 million, versus the $1.2 billion AMD actually has on hand) is not a quarter brimming with health and optimism. But AMD has positioned itself as a company executing some strategic changes, including investing heavily in the enterprise and its SeaMicro dense server business. Still, AMD did some things right, actually managing to increase the selling prices of its products in a brutally competitive market. Revenue fell only because the amount of chips it sold fell as the PC market slowed down. Banking heavily on its "Trinity" APU, which combines CPU and graphics, would normally be a smart move."The downturn in the overall PC market hurt both Intel and AMD but appears to have hurt AMD more," said Patrick Moorhead, a former AMD corporate fellow and now principal analyst at Moor Insights. "Servers are the bigger issue as it drives so much profit, but unfortunately AMD didnt drive a lot of market share or profit dollars. Trinity was a good part but given [manufacturer] conservatism of not loading up for inventory during the holiday season, AMD felt the effects."So: unexpectedly low PC sales before and through the Windows 8 launch, plus a somewhat normal, seasonally slow first half of 2013. With a bit of a Windows 8 hangover, to boot. Will the market revive in the second half of the year? We'll find out.As we wait for Microsoft's earnings on Thursday, AMD and Intel have filled in some key data points. The overall story still seems unchanged, however: Expect Microsoft to report a slow start for Windows 8.Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Jan-2013
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