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.....

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

March update

Its been a mixed time over the past month or so with other stuff getting in the way of me making things.

The main 'other stuff' has been some medical issues.  Long story short, in January I went to the doc for my annual medical for my racing licence, and while there he suggested a PSA blood test.  Various biopsies and scans later and it is confirmed that I have prostate cancer, not particularly surprising in someone my age, and treatable in a number of ways - the general view is that people die with prostate cancer rather than from it, so this is a Good Thing.

One of the scans also showed some enlarged lymph nodes, so a couple of weeks ago I had surgery to have them removed and taken away for questioning.  We got the preliminary results back yesterday, and more good news - its neither the colon cancer making a return visit, nor is it the prostate, since both of these can be pretty nasty.  Instead, its apparently a non-Hodgkins lymphoma which is described as 'very treatable' by the nurse who called. Treatment seems to be chemo of various sorts, so we're waiting on an appointment with yet another specialist to find out whats in store, but the overall view is that outcomes are generally good, so hooray for that.

So in between hospitals and doctors, what else has been going on?  Not a great deal, but some progress.

The parts for the whizzcopter have been ordered and are expected to be delivered by around the 24th.  I already have the batteries, which turned out to be bigger than advertised, so I've had to remake the battery tray gubbins to make it fit.  The battery charger came with no instructions whatsoever, and a non-intuitive user interface, but fortunately there are loads of videos on YouTube showing how to set it up, and in spite of all the horror stories about exploding LiPo batteries mine charged up without a hitch.

Once the rest of the bits arrive, all I will need to do is to install the flight controller and set it up, get the radio working and we're off.  Except that Sean got his quad running a few days ago and it seems to be a bit of a handful, and there's no reason to believe that mine will be any easier to fly.  Good thing I ordered the spare propellers, methinks.

On the karting front, we had a test run a couple of weekends ago to try out the changes made to the front end to cure the turn-in understeer.  It was pretty cold, so not a great deal of grip, but opening up the front track by 15mm each side seems to have made a considerable difference with a big improvement in the way it turns in to and progresses through the corners.  When we set up the alignment, the camber on the offside was a bit out, probably due to some minor twist in the frame or a bend in the stub axle.  We altered the camber by one notch on that side only to bring it roughly correct according to the lasers, but on the track it was an absolute pig - very heavy to steer, and lots of jacking of the rear wheel on the corners.  We reset it to the neutral position and its much better, astonishing that the smallest possible adjustment made such a difference to the handling.  Hopefully, the next race meeting in May will be warm and dry and we can check it out in anger.  In the meantime, the rear bumper has snapped (a vibration induced fracture, common on these parts), and the battery is showing its age and needs to be replaced.  Time to get the credit card and the welder out.

Which neatly brings me to the next item.  All those who know me agree that my welding skills are legendary - ie, I score maximum points for the amount of weld, but nil point for the quality and appearance. When I was a boy, this style of welding was known as 'bird shit welding' which describes it rather well.   Well, I've had to make a new hinge arrangement for the lift-up hatch in the decking that covers the underground gas tank, and because my old welding mask was broken, I decided to splash out 35 quid on Ebay for one of they new-fangled automatic jobbies. Hoo boy! Its great - easy to use, none of that 'flash the weld and shut your eyes' malarkey, and no more painful arc-eye.  Best of all, because I can use both hands and see what is going on at all times, the welds are much smoother and better in every way.  Obviously I am actually an excellent welder, let down by my poor equipment in the past.

The hinges as a result are a great success.  The old arrangement was a set of biiiig steel hinges, which worked ok for a couple of years and then rusted up solid, with the result that the next time the lid was opened it tore the screws out of the wood.  Not good.  The new arrangement will be marvelled at by archaeologists in future centuries - it has two massive tubular steel brackets which hold 55mm diameter ball bearings, with a 25mm shaft between them, and the whole thing mounted to the frame and lid with 8mm bolts. Thanks to that nice Mr Ebay, the bearings cost around 3 quid each, and the steel tube another fiver or so, so the whole thing came in at under 15 quid.  Not bad.  The down side is that the lid is supported by a pair of gas struts from a 1983 Vauxhall Astra, and one of them has given up the ghost - this is pretty poor, especially as I used the last of my spares to replace the one on the side gate only a couple of months ago, so I'm going to have to find a scrapyard and get some more.

I've also re-started work on the Raspberry Pi stuff.  I've simplified the stream of data coming out of the Arduino box, since the software that was interpreting it seemed to get confused after a while, and I'm in the process of re-writing the PC software to grap the data stream and put it in a file that can then be read by a web page and displayed on the Pi.  However, this unearthed another problem that has me completely banjaxed.

I'm using Visual Basic 6 to do the programming, because I have used this a lot and it just works - I have the VB.net as well, but its hugely more complex and I'm only doing simple stuff for which VB6 is fine.  So, I open up the code for the old version of the software - lets call it version 1 - and hack it about to suit the new data stream, then save it as version 2.  After a few attempts, it becomes clear that version 2 has lost its way and I need to start again, so I close version 2 and open version 1 again.  Except that now version 1 opens with all the new code from version 2, and nothing I can do will change that.  The original version 1 file showns that it hasn't been altered, but I can't get the original code back.  I remember this cropping up in a past encounter, but I never found a way round it, and googling doesn't seem to pop up loads of other punters who have had the same experience, so maybe its something to do with the way I've installed it, or because I'm being more than usually stoopid.  Either way, I'm screwed, and the only way to move forwards is to start a new project from scratch - this might be the best way to go anyway, but I'd like to know why VB won't let me load any older versions of the code - if anyone has the answer, I'd be very interested.

Last, I did some work on the idea of watch boxes, and made a sample to test out the new hinges and ways of holding the watches in place.  Although there seems to be a surprising number of people who collect expensive watches, I'm not sure how many of them are prepared to spend a wedge of folding money on a handsome box to put them in, so I think I will build a new jewellery box with the new hinges and see how that turns out first.  I still need to solve the problem of getting by boxes in front of the customers, still looking at that.

Onwards and upwards.  The next update will have an extensive report on the flying experience of the whizzcopter, and the Pi software should be pretty much finished.