Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Oven Pride

I hate household chores at the best of times and one of my least favourite is cleaning the oven. That particular chore has just got even more annoying because of the brand name of the cleaner that was for sale in the Co-op.



In this photo you can also just about see my Joy Division oven gloves (I've got Joy Division oven gloves).

The magic of human memory and the way that a song can get stuck in your head means that now, cleaning the oven has a terribly annoying 80s soundtrack running around in my own head.


Richard "That's what my heart yearns for now" B

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Greener Light Harpoon Gun

The human consciousness is a tricky beast. It makes you feel like you're in charge the whole time whereas in fact most of the time it's making up excuses after the fact. "Why did you put your foot under that?" "I sort of thought I could stop it breaking after I dropped it." (it was fragile china or a heavy television). "How was the drive?" "Errm, I don't really remember getting here". Our picture of ourselves is made up of stories, most of them heavily embellished, but just sometimes you can find yourself doing something or getting somewhere and you can't make up a story for why you're there. "Why did I just come upstairs? I think I wanted to get something, never mind I'll go back down".

I've had a lot of time on my hands and I've been watching a lot of videos on YouTube. If you watch one video on a topic, the stupid algorithm will assume that it's your new obsession and recommend nothing else. I've been down myriad convoluted rabbit holes of information, and even though I have no interest in firearms I've so enjoyed the knowledge and enthusiasm of a couple of American gun-nuts that I've watched a lot of their videos. During a serious review of a collectable light harpoon gun (Yes the one used in "Jaws") the presenter managed to make me laugh with a fairly subtle "Jaws" reference.

"The manual contains no information about boat sizing"


I sent it to my friend, who also laughed, but then he asked me "Why were you watching a review of a harpoon gun?" and I couldn't really answer. I mean I remember enjoying a gun video on that particular channel, and I know that I've been watching several of them to pass the time, but how did I end up watching that first one? No Idea. It might have been something to do with military history? Some of the aeroplane videos I watch talk about their guns, maybe that was it? It probably didn't follow from motorcycle reviews or track day footage.

Richard "This was no boating accident" B

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Curiosity Killed the Cat

One of my colleagues works with artificial intelligence and machine learning. One of the time-series datasets that we've got access to, and that he'd like to make predictions from is about leisure centre bookings. He's been doubly screwed by the corona virus, not only is he locked up at home, but his data has an unexpected cliff edge in it, and all the predictions are meaningless.

My mum's cat did even worse. My mum rescued it from a neglectful junkie at the beginning of 2019 and it has blossomed from a scrawny terrified creature into a well fed, friendly and bossy companion. When all the traffic died down it started crossing the road and exploring the neighbourhood. Last week, on its way home it was hit by a car and killed. I buried it in the garden last week. Digging a hole big and deep enough to give a cat a dignified burial is surprisingly tiring, but it's also very compelling. You can't stop if the hole isn't wide enough for the cardboard box/ coffin, and you daren't stop until it's deep enough that you're absolutely sure that your old friend won't get dug up and eaten by vermin.

When I was in my late teens or early 20s I dug the grave for my favourite cat, and we planted a bay tree in his honour. This latest cat was granted a grave site surprisingly close to the Willy-cat memorial bay tree. I do hope that they aren't fighting over territory in the afterlife.

Richard "sexton" B

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Under Pressure

As I now ride a tiny little lightweight bike with cheap little tyres I was persuaded that I could and should change my own tyres at home. I spent £10.80 on tyre levers, gave it a try and failed.

Yet again my crappy arbour press came in handy, this time as a bead breaker. "I am become useful, the destroyer of seals."


I levered the old tyre off without any problems.


I put the new tyre on without any problems.


I couldn't get enough airflow to seat the beads with my footpump.


The machine at he garage did no better.


I turned another wheel into an receiver, pumped it up to 60psi by foot and connected it to my wheel. Still no luck.


I turned the pressure vessel of my week sprayer into a similar contraption and failed again.


Eventually I had to ask for help, and completely negated the point of the whole exercise.

I could just go and buy a little compressor, but I don't think it would help. You need a huge receiver and high flow rate couplings and hoses. The helpful man at National Tyres said that their compressors are set to 200psi and blow down a hose as thick as your finger.

My spite filled research led me to another technique for mounting a tyre: A small explosion. People are successfully mounting tyres in an emergency by setting light to a ring of brake cleaner or cold-start sprayed into the rim.

Even by my standards this is a bit dangerous and a bit rough. I have been researching nice safe butane explosions and I've built both a butane deliver system and a piezo igniter that will fit through an automotive valve stem.

Here it is successful test of using it to open a shoe box.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

He works his works, I mine.

In the 1980s all music studios forgot how to record the drums. The whole lot was so compressed that there was more feel and expression in the score than the recording, it was so heavily gated that you didn't get any idea what the kit sounded like, and it was all drenched in synthetic reverb.

Decades later (but still decades ago now) I happened to see a documentary about the recording of some charity single from the 80s. There was footage of Phil Collins playing the drums in a live room of the Abbey Road studios. Bizarrely when they showed this footage they played the sound that had been recorded on the condenser mic in the camera (rather than off the master tapes). I found it fascinating because you could actually hear the drums and what I learned is that they were really nice, and that Phil Collins played them beautifully.

I excitedly told this story to my friend who dismissed the whole fascinating business as "So your stunning revelation is that Phil Collins is a good drummer?".

This week the poem "Ulysses" by Tennyson came up. After I had had it explained to me I found it really moving and sad. I went a bit lockdown-emo. It's about getting old, and whether there's more to life than to carry on breathing. I was talking to the same friend about how our tastes are changing and our ability (to drink) is declining as we age. I quoted the last few lines of Ulysses and he was as impressed as I was. We talked about poetry and he said he wished he could write something that had a profound emotional reaction, but he can't.

His stunning revelation is that Tennyson is a good poet.

"We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Richard "lockdown-emo" B

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Pandemic

Even a few years ago, a description of what I did this weekend would have sounded like the beginning of a dystopian sci-fi story. I left the house, as mandated by the government, only for two brief periods of exercise. I interacted with the faces and voices of my friends and colleagues on screens, communicating over a high frequency radio link and a world-spanning digital communication network. In another computer one of my friends set up a physical simulation of a table and a board game with its various cards, pieces, and pawns. A few of us connected to that server and played a game in which you try to save the world from a pandemic.

If I were reading that sci-fi story I would be struck by the absence of a clear villain. In the board game all the players work together against the board, the way the cards were shuffled determines how the game progresses. I would suspect that the author was trying to make some point about simulating the environment that you're currently in, and that the main plot was going to mirror the development of the board game. Either that, or what looked like character development with me seething against whoever the landlord had employed to mend my neighbours fence (they damaged my fence and encroached on to my side of the legal boundary) would turn out to be critical to the main plot. It'll be that property maintenance company trying to take over the world through bio-terrorism! It's barely worth reading the rest of the book now.

Richard "crude simulations all the way down" B