About Me

I've been taking things to bits, and making things ever since I can remember, starting with dismantling knackered alarm clocks and watches and helping my dad fix the car. Now I have a well-equipped workshop and have aquired lots of new skills, so I can make better stuff. When they first appeared, I became involved with personal computers, and these and developments in electronics have increased the scope of the things that I can do. Just recently retired, so O yes, now I can make all sorts of stuff.....

Friday, 22 June 2012

Miscellaneous ramblings

Been a while since I posted an update, so this is a quick summary of some of the things I've been doing lately.

First up is the new dragon, made from strips of thin copper foil cut with scissors and my wife's pinking shears (shhh! don't tell her!), with each piece glued and/or soldered to a framework made from copper wire coiled round a series of formers to give the different parts of the body.  I don't have any pictures of the work in progress, but this is the finished article in the final location in the garden:-

The present shiny tarty colour will darken to a purple-ish brown with exposure to the weather.  For those interested, his name is Brian, and his job is to scare away the bad spirits who may happen to wander past.

The second interesting thing I've been doing is trying the latest version of Ubuntu Linux. Over several years, I have made strenuous efforts to get linux working sensibly as an alternative to Windows, and every past attempt has been a disaster. 

I really would like to see any version of linux succeed as a viable alternative for mainstream users - Windows just keeps getting bigger and more complex, and Microscrote's obsession with security is becoming ridiculous - so every six months or so I download a couple of different versions and try it out. The one I have grown to like best, mainly for its user interface, has been Ubuntu: however, all of the past versions just would not work reliably with my network - even though other flavours of linux and good ol' Windows all run fine.  Also, I play a lot of music, and all of the media players that I tried would play anything except MP3s, which is what all of my music is.

Then there's my other long-standing gripe against linux, which is that if you want to plug anything in to the box, or find out why the network won't run, or install some software that you got from anywhere else, you have no option but to jump into the command line.  Back when I started in computers in around 1978, this was normal, but the world has moved on a fair bit and we are all used to just plugging in a web cam, or a USB stick, or some such, and it just works. The linux command line is even less user-friendly than the old MS-DOS was back in the day, and questions to various linux forums are generally greeted with incomprehensible comments like " .. you can just use Woodchip using the /fek switch.." while further enquiry seems to invariably result in  torrents of abuse.  Not helpful

My latest attempt uses Ubuntu v12.04.  The news is that: a) it installed and worked without a hitch on my four year old Clereon based Shuttle machine; b) it found and used my network with zero drama, and c) best of all, it seems happy to find and use all the devices I've plugged into it without complaint, and with no reason for me to tackle the command line.  After playing with it for a while, I decided that I didn't much like the latest Ubuntu user interface, so I downloaded KDE instead (again, an easy install), which is much better IMO.  Strangely, KDE doesn't come with a printer module, so you have to find one on the web and download and install it manually - a small bit of command line here to do this, but just type in the words and hit return and it loads and works.  (I later found that there is a version of Ubuntu called Kubuntu, which gives you the same end result as I have, although the downloaded version that I have won't boot the machine from the CD, it just sits there looking at you pretty much for ever)

I'm still playing with it, but I have yet to find anything that doesn't work, or requires a Master's degree in guru to be able to make it work.  At last, this may be the way for me to ditch the Windows bloat and security paranoia - I'm going to set it up on the music machine in the garage (yes, in the garage, I like to entertain the neighbours with a bit of rock an' roll when I'm working out there) and try it for a while on that.

Next item concerns weight.  As a result of my regular fitness training, the old body has slimmed down a bit and I have lost a couple of kilos, generally a Good Thing.  However, this means that I am now under the minimum weight for my kart racing class, and I need to add some more weight to the kart.  I had some scrap bits of lead sheet in the garage, and decided to try melting them into slabs.

My initial plan was to make a mould from damp sand - the same way that iron has been cast for a few centuries - but reading up on the web suggested that this would be a Bad Idea.  Commercial sand is a complex mixture of sand, clay and other stuff designed to both give a smooth surface to the casting and allow the moisture to escape, and  I quickly realised that my original idea of making a dent in some wet sand and chucking molten lead into it was a non-starter - lead at around 600 degrees C turns water instantly to steam, and if it can't escape it causes bubbles in the lead which burst, splattering molten lead all around.

What I did find out was that you can cast lead into a wooden mould.  The wood chars from the heat, but the metal is not hot enough to set it on fire, and the charring on the surface prevents the wood from burning any further.  Also, the lead contracts slightly as it cools, making it easy to get it out of the mould.  Off to the workshop to make a flat open-topped box out of some scrap MDF, which has a smooth surface finish and is easy to work. The dimensions were calculated to give a slab that would weigh roughly 1.5 kilos and was around 15cm long

I then weighed around a kilo of the scrap lead and cut it into strips with some old scissors and put them into an old saucepan over a camping stove. First put on my face mask (lead fumes are generally bad for you), lit the gas blowlamp and played that into the pan, and the lead melted really quickly, developing a thick scum on the surface which I dragged to one side and scooped out with a flat wooden paddle (a scrap bit of apple wood).  I poured the lead carefully into the mould and left it to cool for around ten minutes, then turned the mould over and smacked it hard on the floor a couple of times until the slab fell out.

It worked so well that I did the same thing again, then drilled holes in both slabs to use for mounting on the kart.

The slabs are smooth and professional looking, and the only damage to the mould is the surface charring and a lingering smell of burning fish.  The saucepan won't be much good for making porridge any more, but that's a small price to pay :-)

The last item is a bit of irony.  I have serviced my own cars ever since god was a boy, and always get a hard time from dealers when coming to sell them because the routine servicing - despite being complete - has not been carried out by a main dealer.  I changed my Civic Type R last autumn and replaced it with the same model with a lot less miles and a couple of years younger, and the new car came with a splendid full Honda dealer service history.

I did a service on the car last week, and discovered that at the last service Mr Honda had replaced the oil filter with some cheap and nasty aftermarket crap; the washer on the sump plug had been used several times, and the air filter looked as if it was the original one fitted in the factory back in 2005.  Based on this, there's no reason to expect that the oil was anything other than cheap cooking oil, or that any of the other service checks had been done properly either.

I'll carry on doing my own servicing, thanks.  At least I know the work has all been done, the correct parts and decent quality fluids have been used, and - most important - I won't have to pay heavily for the pleasure.