Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Torque-seal

My motorbike is trying to kill me. The last set of rear brake pads lasted less than a year and the anti-rattle clips are now misshapen. I changed the pads, put the new ones in crooked and destroyed them when I put the brake on. I cut those ones out and put another set in more carefully. The brakes were wonderfully effective and the bike passed its MOT. Within a few days the brake felt awful again and I was horrified to discover that one of the (two) bolts that hold the calliper on was missing. I thought it was so dangerous that I actually came to work in a car one day last week.

Maybe I didn't torque it up correctly, but I don't think that's the explanation. I think something is out of shape and I was tightening it up pad to rotor, not calliper to swing arm. I've got a new bolt and while I'm frightened that the same thing is going to happen I can't be bothered to take a torque wrench to the back of my bike every time I leave the house. That's fine I thought. I've got a little tube of anti-sabotage lacquer, that'll make it obvious if the bolt is working loose. Of course it's so old that it's gone off. So old in fact that the company that makes it hasn't even existed for nearly three years, and all google tells you about it is what products it has been replaced by.

In other news: I was very disappointed that it wasn't international double-entendre day last week. A young buxom woman was getting out of my car while trying to carry two bags of hot food and four large soft drinks all jammed into one of those compressed-cardboard carries that fast-food places give you. "Do you want a hand?" "I might" she said "These are large and a bit wobbly."

Richard "I'll say" B

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Say My Name

You can express a certain amount of sentiment with how you store somebody's name in your phone. Years ago I was hurt to discover that my girlfriend had me in her phone as "Bolingbroke, R" – as though she wasn't even on first name terms with me. There was so much mickey taking that all my friends changed my contact details to the same thing, and I think that some of them are like that to this day.

On another occasion we were out drinking and talking about middle names. One of our friends said that she only had one middle name which was "Just Jane" but that's two names, "no, JUST Jane" Oh is it hyphenated like Mary-Sue? Anyway we've called her "JJ" since then. One of my friends was so drunk that he forgot the conversation and forgot changing her contact details and woke the next morning to discover that she was "deleted" from his phone. He assumed that they'd had such a bad argument that he never wanted to talk to her again. He was rung later that day by someone he had no recollection of but that his phone knew as "JJ".

One of my old school friends (another computer nerd) recently won an Emmy award. While he hasn't become intolerable with his own sense of smug self-satisfaction we do rather fear that he isn't going to let us forget it. We've beaten him to the punch by changing his name in all our phones to "Emmy Award Winning A**m S******d" and we call him that in the third person.

Richard "Outstanding achievement in the field of excellence" B

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Wimp!

To keep my crippling sciatica at bay I walk frequently and have regular massages. I think it might be different for women, but for me it was very difficult to find a good massage. You either end up ringing up a knocking shop, or talking to someone who thinks that you want a knocking shop, or you end up at a new-age hippy healery decorated with dolphins and crystals. In the end I did very well by ringing sports injury practitioners and then explaining that neither was I a sportsman nor was I injured.

The last time I had a massage I was talking (quite proudly) about the 16 mile sponsored walk that I had done. It turned out that my masseuse had also just done a sponsored walk. Over the course of two days she had covered 46 miles over rough terrain and up and down tors. Again this year my achievement seems quite trivial.

Richard "emasculated" B

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Film Review "First Man"

(Contains minor spoilers)

At the weekend I saw the film "First Man" in the cinema and I didn't really like it. It's about Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing. I wasn't transported into the story, in fact I found it so uninvolving that I was able to be annoyed by things like the set dressing and the camera work. A huge amount of the film is shot on shaky "Blair Witch" handheld cameras and most of the frame is often obscured. We get, for example, a tiny view out of a window in a dark cockpit. Fine, perhaps that's to convey the feeling of claustrophobia, but they do the same trick to watch children playing in a swimming pool, most of the lens is obscured by the water and we can only see a ribbon at the top of the screen.

I think the domestic sets were brilliant, but to be fair I've never been in a 60s American living room. I'm a spaceflight enthusiast and this film definitely wasn't made for me. The space capsules and rockets were accurate, but for some strange reason they'd made them all look old, dirty and rusty. The 50 year old ones that I've seen in a museum were cleaner and nicer than the ones in the film that were supposed to have just been built. The flames coming out the back of the first stage of a Saturn V rocket were the wrong colour and the wrong shape at high altitude.

Lots of technical bits of the story that I'd have liked to see were omitted in favour of mawkish emo indulgence. It was made as an emotional story about the man and his family. I'm bad at picking up these things so it seemed boring and straightforward: He was upset when his daughter died, he was nervous and stoic about going to the moon, he was glad to see his wife again afterwards. The climactic scene was about him having to admit to his children that he might not come home from the moon mission. To me this didn't ring true. He was working as a test pilot and his colleagues were dying by the week. I think everyone involved must have come to terms long ago with the fact that me might well come home from work dead.

Richard "Barry Norman" B

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Misery Line

I have a deeply disagreeable personality and an amazing habit of rubbing people up the wrong way. It's a massive social disadvantage but very occasionally it will work in my favour. A few weeks ago I was on a train in a bad mood. I had already driven five hours in a loud and uncomfortable car, there were no seats available, the ticket was expensive and only available at the end of a long queue and (because of industrial action) I had to go from Gatwick to Guildford via Clapham Fucking Junction.

If you've ever met me then this will sound like an unfair complaint, but there was a man on the train with a loud and annoying voice. He spoke as though he was addressing the entire carriage and he was telling a long and self-serving story about a job in a theatre that he didn't take. I very much wanted him to be quiet but I didn't have the nerve to ask him. Instead I did some surprisingly successful passive-aggressive social-engineering. I turned round to face him and started paying close attention to his story. I looked him in the eye, nodded along with his story and said a few mmm's and oh's at appropriate points.

It worked better than I could have hoped. I didn't get shouted at or punched. The annoying man got quieter and quieter and more and more embarrassed until he was whispering his story to his girlfriend and then it eventually petered out leaving me free to seethe in luxurious silence for the rest of my journey.

Richard "Pot, meet Kettle" B

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

How To Run a Country

Nothing funny happened to me over the weekend, so I'm going to have a little look at the politics on the left side of the Atlantic. Some of my readers are ex-pat Brits in the states and a couple of them are actual Americans - Hi guys.

They have a wildly divisive and (in places) un-popular president. I have heard the view that as a reality TV star, self publicist and questionable businessman he's not qualified to be president. This is clearly nonsense. The only qualification needed apart from date and place of birth is to win a no-holds-barred popularity contest in which everyone can vote (your vote only counts if the majority of people in your region agree with you, and the amount that your vote counts depends on the historical population of your region).

President Trump has now nominated a man called Brett Kavanaugh to be a supreme court judge at which point Kavanaugh has been accused of all kinds of unseemly behaviour from his student days. It's clear to me that Kavanaugh isn't qualified to be a supreme court judge because the qualifications include a kangaroo-court of public opinion in which there are no rules of admissibility of evidence and no statute of limitations.

From the right side of the Atlantic, the qualifications that you demand of your leaders look a bit odd.

Richard "just saying" B

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Say What?

English is the hardest language to learn. We have homophones (flaw and floor) and homographs (wind-up wind chimes). We have impossible spellings and silent letters (Siobhan Marjoribanks, Knight Pneumatics Ltd, Azalea Rd, Loughborough). We have so many irregular verbs that it's difficult to spot the regular ones (find/found; bind/bound; blind/blinded). We have secret inflections that we only use on special occasions (to whom it may concern, as it were) and then after all that you have to learn the idioms.

An idiom is a colloquial metaphor. We all agree on them and we've all learned them but they are figurative and obscure rather than literal or transparent. Here are a few imaginary places that things can go to. I have no doubt that there are many more and I have deliberately omitted the dirty ones.
Go south / go tits up / go pear shaped / go off the rails - deteriorate
Go round the houses - take a circuitous route
Go off the deep end / go off on one - have an emotional outburst
Go over the top - do something to outrageous extreme
Go underground / go off-grid - hide
Go on a mission - do something urgently
Go mental at - to remonstrate with
Go for a burton - go unexpectedly missing

Richard "Never go Full Retard" B

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Left Hand Down a Bit

My mum isn't very good at parking her car. There's a workbench and a vice at the back of the garage, and the boot-lid of the car has a line of dents across it from where the car has been reversed into the vice handle. Years ago she had a Ford Fiesta (with a line of vice-handle dents across the back) and every month or two she would knock one or other of the wing mirrors off against one of the gateposts. The wing mirrors were fixed on with a system rather like an enormously strong bayonet fitting from a giant lightbulb. My father and I built a fitment tool so that you could stretch the spring with a stirrup while you worked, and every month or two for many years I would refit whichever mirror had been smashed off the car.

About five years ago my mum changed her car to a Fiat Panda. Sure enough, after  a month or two, one of the wing mirrors had been smashed off on the gatepost. I couldn't work out how to fix it and she took it to a local garage. Blind Len at the garage fixed it for free as a favour but it cost £50 in parts. And that's the last time she ever hit the wing mirror on the gatepost!

Richard "they’re not fucking whiskers" B

Friday, 21 September 2018

Did it!

At the weekend I walked from Exeter to Teignmouth to raise money for the charity Bloodwise. Exeter to Starcross (8.5 miles) was a nice walk, it's all flat and the views of the estuary are great. Starcross to Dawlish (4 miles) was a bit boring and I was tired and footsore when I got there. The elective final 3.5 miles to Teignmouth was horrible. It was really hilly and steep and a lot of the coast path and seawall is in poor repair and strewn with rocks. It was slow, tiring, sweaty and painful underfoot.

I did 16 miles, so if anybody was thinking of 50p/mile please donate £8 to Bloodwise.
https://bloodwise.org.uk/donate
For those of you that want me to work for your money, I'm sure you'll be glad to know that my legs are stiff, my feet are blistered and that there's blood under one of my toenails.

Bloodwise really is a great charity. They hardly spend anything on publicity, it all goes on research and patient support and they get nothing from the government. You've probably never heard of them, but they're one of the biggest medical research charities in the country. Since the 60s they have brought the survival rate for childhood leukemia from about 10% to about 90%. One day you might need them. Age or genetic and lifestyle factors seem to have no effect on rates of blood cancers. Essentially this week you have already bought one ticket in a lottery to win Leukemia or Lymphoma you will do the same every week of your life.

Richard "unpleasant stroll" B

Monday, 10 September 2018

Put Your Hand in Your Pocket

One of my good friends has chronic myeloid leukemia. He was helped by the charity Bloodwise and he now supports them. Next weekend I am going on a fund-raising walk with Bloodwise. We start in the middle of Exeter and walk down the river and along the coast. The shortest version of the walk goes about 6.5 miles to Starcross. That's where you get a train home if you're a softie, or you've got your whole family with you, or (as is often the case) you're suffering with a bloodbourne cancer. Officially the route carries on to Dawlish at about 12.5 miles. I fully intend to go that far, however the last time I took part I got a fair amount of criticism for going on what was really nothing more than a pleasant walk and then demanding money for my trouble. If my feet and stamina hold up I'm going to walk to Teignmouth at 16 miles.

There is no official sponsorship form, but if you think it's a good cause, or you think what I am doing is worthwhile, then I ask you to make an informal pledge to donate to the charity. You can do that at https://bloodwise.org.uk/donate and I'm accepting cash donations.
Next week I'll let you know how I got on. At 50p/mile you'd be giving either £6.25 or £8 depending how far I get, some of my friends are giving double that amount!

Richard "pleasant stroll" B

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Frightened!

I went away this weekend, and while I maintained full control of my bowels for the whole time, there were two occasions when it wasn't guaranteed.

We went to Tenby on Saturday night and stayed in a guest house. Tenby is a picturesque seaside town and seemingly the hen night capital of South Wales. I ate a fish pie the size of a briefcase that must have contained half a pint of cream and drank several pints of local real ale. The combination caused my digestion some problems in the middle of the night.

We had been driving at Pembrey circuit. One of the reasons I like it so much is that it feels very safe. There are big grass runoffs, not much Armco, and the two most difficult corners have a straight on lane so that you can chicken-out and give up on turning. I took a lesson in the morning and have started learning the difficult business of using the brake and the steering wheel at the same time. When I get the technique right (which is seldom) I am much faster. On one occasion I made such a good job of Honda Curve that I hit the rev limiter in 4th on the start-finish straight and found myself in 5th approaching the hairpin. Changing 5th to 4th to 3rd to 2nd under heavy braking was too much for me. I don't know what gear I put the car in at about 90mph but I'm confident that it was the wrong one. I spun violently and frighteningly and ended up pointing backwards inches from the crash barrier with the engine stalled. While I was travelling backwards I was looking into the face of the driver who was following very closely behind me. I don't know if he was as scared as me, but he made an excellent job of slowing his car and not hitting me.

The marshals had the yellow flags up before my car had even come to a halt, nobody hit me, and I eventually got the car running and drove back to the paddock.

Richard "trail braking" B

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Identitarians are Winning

A couple of weeks ago the singer Aretha Franklin died. It’s sad news and at my band rehearsal we talked about her songs and her legacy. We listened to a couple of her recordings, and played one of her songs (an easy one).

I was very disappointed by the coverage on the BBC and in the newspaper. Nobody seemed to care about what a great singer she had been, it was all fashionable politics. People talked about her family's place in the civil rights movement, her being a woman, her being black, and even about her weight (which was apparently up and down like a bride's nightie).

If you hear the news that she's dead, and you think "A prominent black has passed away" or "A prominent woman has passed away" or "A prominent body positivity icon has passed away" then you’re the racist/sexist/fattist. I bet you only know her name because of what a fantastically spectacular and hardworking musician she was.

Richard "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." B

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

What's In a Name

My friend's dad has an amazing knack of getting celebrities names wrong, and in so doing making them both funnier and more mundane. For example talk show host and actress Winifred Opry and model/actress Baywatch star Pam Lampton.

My mother's hearing is deteriorating and she has started playing the same trick. At the weekend she told me a story about ex racing driver and motoring personality Tiffin O’Dell.

Richard "Oprah Winfrey, Pamela Anderson, Tiff Needell" B

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Hurry Up

Yesterday I was at a car show in the rain and one of the things we saw was a demonstration by the fire brigade and ambulance service of rescuing a stricken victim from a crashed car.

I enjoyed watching the hydraulic cutters and spreaders, but overall, considering I watched a car have all its glass removed and its roof cut off, it was surprisingly boring. It was done at a slow pace with what seemed an undue emphasis on containing broken glass. Nothing was loud, dangerous or impressive.

Worse, we happened to see what was done to the car before the demonstration. What we learned is that if you're thinking of needing to be cut out of your vehicle you should make sure that all the doors are unlocked and open freely, that all the trim and rubbers are removed from the roof pillars, and that the seatbelts have been cut. You should then allow at least 20 minutes between crashing the car and needing to be in an ambulance because of blood loss.

I work with a chap who had to be cut out of his car when it was crushed by a bus, his legs were mashed into the wreckage and he was lucky to survive. I always thought he was joking but he told me that he asked the fireman to hand him the angle grinder because, even though he was bleeding to death, he could make a quicker and better job with it.

Richard "smoke alarms save lives" B

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Really Useful Boxes

My sports car has a very small luggage space so I built a luggage rack. On my way to a track day it will normally contain 4 plastic boxes:

  1. Service tools and fluids.
  2. Drinks and snacks.
  3. Clothes and toiletries.
  4. Guest luggage allowance – which is worse than Easyjet.

The rack and the boxes look both comical and functional. Once on a heavily congested motorway a Welshman matched my speed, wound down his window and shouted (in his charming accent) "I love your boot!". Some people however have no respect for other people's property and no sympathy for their misfortune.

On Friday, when I was negotiating a high speed roundabout all 4 boxes came off the rack and spread their contents over the carriageway. "Tools and fluids" actually stayed upright with the lid on and people tended to drive around it. The empty box was destroyed by impatient drivers. My clothes mainly got run over, but miraculously the toothpaste tube was unscathed. The snacks and drinks varied between untouched (8 Belgian waffles) and mashed (crisps).

Apparently there's something funny about the sight of a fully grown man in a state of panic charging around a busy roundabout (2 lanes, 4 exits, 40mph limit) gesticulating wildly, trying not to get run down, attempting to stop people from driving over his stuff and picking up scattered items.

Bastards!

Richard "improperly secured load" B

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Email

My friends berate me for only just having changed from using a purpose built sat-nav to a smartphone app.

My mother is much further behind the times but has methods of coping surprisingly well. About fifteen years ago she refused declined to have a computer and an email address, yet last month she sent a framed picture as a wedding gift to Seattle without shipping it across the Atlantic. The picture is of the local church in the middle of the area where my friends and I grew up. She saw it hanging in the local branch of her bank. She's never heard the phrase ".pdf file" but she accosted the bank manager and demanded that he send a "digital version" to my brother in Texas. He wasn't even very surprised to receive the email from the manager of a bank that he doesn't use in  a country where he doesn't live. He dutifully sent the .pdf file to Walgreens to be printed and framed and set the delivery address to the happy couple's house.

It all worked and they're very happy with it.

Richard "This is the modern world" B

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

During the Civil War

At the weekend I bought a new crash helmet. I would tell you all about how and why I bought it but I am extremely self-conscious that I might witter on too long.

When I still lived with my parents one of my friends came over for coffee and politely said to my mum "I see you've got a new crash helmet". "Yes." she said "During the civil war the Radfords were a very powerful family in Plymouth... banking systems... wealth as gold and jewellery... armies need to be paid... wars are expensive... royalist army… parliamentarians... fighting moved to the Southwest... buried the treasure... family were killed... lost for generations... founding of America... Industrial revolution... First world war... Second world war... baby boom... need for new houses... improvement in archeological techniques... metal detectors... discovered the Radford treasure... acquired by the British museum... London... people of Plymouth... loaned to Plymouth museum...”

After an hour we'd got about 350 years through a story of world history and a museum exhibit that my mum had gone to see. This could have been the starting point for her story about her helmet being stolen. We hadn't got a word in edgeways, our coffee cups were long since empty and cold, and we were sitting in polite shellshocked disbelief.

My friend will still sometimes say "During the civil war" as a code for "This story bores me".

Richard "Skip to the end." B

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Bladder

A few weeks ago I was sailing in a Salcombe yawl with my brothers. We were on the water pretty much all day, we only came ashore to drink a few pints and buy pasties in the middle of the day. By the middle of the afternoon a practical matter of seamanship had become pressingly urgent. How do you pee off a Salcombe yawl? The curvature of the hull means that you can't stand anything like close enough to the side to aim over the gunwhales. The stern decks is too wide and there's a mizzen sail in the way. The boat isn't big enough or stable enough to stand on the side deck. My brother managed to half-stand-half-kneel with one foot inside the boat and one knee on the side deck, it just about worked but it was awkward and ungainly. I was told to go into the bailer and then tip it over the side. Initially this seemed luxurious – I could turn by back on the rest of my family and lean against the mast for support. I discovered soon afterwards that the bailer was about 10% smaller than the capacity of the human bladder. "Two bailer" is now a colloquial term for the highest level of urinary urgency.

Richard "stem the flow" B

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Bleeding Brakes!

It was my birthday last week. With characteristic eccentricity my mother didn't just give me a keepsake to mark the occasion. She wanted me to have something that I would genuinely like and realised that she wouldn't know what to buy. Instead she gave me a cheque and the task of both cashing the cheque and buying my own present.

I work nearly full time and the nearest bank that is open on a Saturday is a 15 mile round trip from my house with difficult parking, I wasn't delighted about the "chore" component of my present.

This is what she eventually gave me.

It's, not a hookah pipe, it's not a bong, and it's not some sort of marital aid. It's a manual pressure bleeder for the brake system in a car. Ordinarily you need either a friend, an airline, or a spare tyre. With this system you half fill the vessel with brake fluid and pump it up to 10psi or so. It screws onto the master cylinder reservoir and then you have the whole system under pressure and the fluid being constantly topped up. You can bleed the brakes perfectly without assistance and changing all the fluid in the system becomes the work of minutes. It's just what I've always wanted – for the last few weeks since my friend lent me one.

Richard "billy-no-mates" B

Monday, 2 July 2018

Brakes!

A few weeks ago I was on a track day at Donnington Park on the GP circuit. Even in my little underpowered car we were approaching the Melbourne Hairpin at around 115mph and needed to scrub off about 90mph before the corner. You find yourself rather busy for two or three seconds: Press the brake firmly with the toes of the right foot; clutch down; gear lever into third; left hand back to the steering wheel; press and release the accelerator with the heel of the right foot; clutch up smoothly; clutch down; gear lever into second; left hand back to the steering wheel; press and release the accelerator; clutch up smoothly. And that's all before you've started thinking about turning the wheel.

During my frantic flailing at the controls I would often make a mistake with the gear lever and either grind the gears or end up in the wrong one. My passenger is a good friend who has devoted nearly 40 years to good natured piss taking. The car is a loud environment and the motion is quite violent, but he was still able to shout things like "Try Second" or "It's a standard H pattern" as I approached the hairpin.

On the same weekend I was lent a fantastic book called "How to Drive a Car" which was rescued during the clearance of my sister's late godmother's house. It was published in 1950 and it's so dated that it has become funny to read, it talks about cripples in invalid tricycles and nursemaids pushing perambulators with their human cargo.

Here are a couple of paragraphs:

"Who has not in the past seen many a suffering motorist going through barrel organ motions at the front of his car in often unsuccessful effort to wake it into life, and possibly in the process receiving a sprained thumb or wrist? Luckily those days are almost gone, for modern self-starting mechanism, electrically operated, is now incorporated that makes it possible for even the frailest feminine hand to start the most powerful engine by merely pressing this knob."
"Many years ago the authors used to advise would-be motorists to thoroughly master double de-clutching with no more complicated equipment than a piano, a flower pot and a walking stick!"


Richard "Learn to Drive" B

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Holiday

I've just come home from a family holiday in South Devon. We stayed in an Airbnb and hired a little sailing boat. The boat was a joy and the house was like a brilliant scavenger hunt. If you looked hard enough you could find almost anything you wanted. Crabbing equipment, camping stove, parasol, tablecloth, spare light bulbs, weighing scales, board games... There were 2 exceptions. We never found the salt and pepper (although we all think that it was in there somewhere and we just hadn't located it) and there were no towels.

The main theme of the holiday was not being dry, despite staying over mid-summer's day during a heatwave. The house is built into the shady side of a hill beside a creek, it doesn't have good ventilation and everything associated with it is slightly damp. We all thought we might catch mildew or mould when we went to sleep. After going and buying a towel my sister-in-law had a bath and the bathroom ended up so steamy and covered in condensation that she was actually unable to get herself dry afterwards.

Some of the roving on our little boat had gone loose and water was constantly weeping inwards – to the extent that the owner had fitted an automatic electric bilge pump and a big battery to keep the thing afloat when it was on the mooring. It worked perfectly and fitted in nicely with the theme of our holiday.



Richard "Poacher's Pocket" B

Monday, 18 June 2018

Book Review

Ignition!


I have just read "Ignition!" by John D. Clark. It's an informal history of liquid rocket propellants and while it's a great read I'd have probably enjoyed it more if I had a degree in chemistry. Some great authors send multiple characters (or generations of characters) through similar trials, or have recurring themes that affect all the characters. (I'm looking at you Hugo, Dumas, Tolstoy, etc.) In Clarke's book  you get something similar, but the characters are hard to relate to and have difficult names like C-stoff, S-stoff, N2O4, Mixed Oxides of Nitrogen, Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid and Unsymmetrical Dimethyl Hydrazine. The recurring themes are eutectics, equilibrium mixtures, toxicity, corrosion, unacceptable freezing points and the tendency to explode unexpectedly.

Asimov writes a gushingly complimentary foreword and compliments Clarke's short stories handsomely. Ignition is also really fun to read, it contains some great stories, and wicked phrases.

I learned most from the chapter on rocket performance and I now have a much better understanding of Specific Impulse. It's normally defined as the thrust of the rocket (in pounds) divided by the rate that the rocket consumes fuel (in pounds per second). It comes out in seconds. I've never been particularly happy that the quality of a rocket motor is measured in time, but I have manage to justify it to myself by thinking that it's sort-of how long a rocket could hover before it runs out of fuel. Clarke shows us that it's a ridiculous measure brought about by the horrific ambiguity of force and mass in American scientific units. If you just apply Newton's Laws, common sense, and basic algebra you can see that all the fuel being consumed is coming out the back of the rocket (or there's something badly wrong with your design) and that the force applied to your rocket is the same force that's accelerating you exhaust stream.

Specific impulse becomes the velocity of the exhaust of a rocket divided by the standard acceleration due to gravity. Clarke correctly points out building a rocket whose sole purpose is to get away from earth and then expressing its exhaust velocity in terms of the gravity of earth is "parochial and extremely silly". He prefers to think of Specific Impulse as a velocity expressed in units of 32 feet (or 9.8m) and while that works well it offends my dimensional analysis sensibilities. I now think of Specific Impulse as the length of time that a stone dropped in a vacuum takes to gain the same velocity as the exhaust stream.

The book is rather dated. It doesn't cover any developments past the late 60s and it amused me when he talked about Boron Nitrate and discussed the theoretical possibility and the early research that suggests it might have a hard cubic form analogous to diamond.

Richard "8 out of 10 would read again" B

Monday, 11 June 2018

Synchronicity

A couple of weekends ago I took my sports car to a track day at Donington Park (GP layout). It's a great track and we had a wonderful day. There was also a couple of very unlikely coincidences (or we're living in the matrix, there was a segmentation violation and my private memory area spilled out into the general simulation).

We were there on a Friday, but the paddock was already filling up with cars that would be racing at the weekend. One of the races was "Mighty Minis" and we had great fun peering at the race-prepared classic minis. One of my more disparaging comments was "I don't think much of their fusebox". A circuit board full of fuse holders was screwed straight onto the shelf above the passenger's knees (if there were a passenger seat) with no cover or protection of any kind. About a minute later when we had walked back to my car, the glue on the back of the velco that holds my luxuriously appointed fusebox cover in place failed. The fusebox cover fell clanging into the passenger footwell. "I don't think much of your fusebox" said my friend.

During that same short walk across the paddock I overheard one of the mini racers say "He'll be here tonight, he's getting a lift up with Paul Inch". I said to my friend that that was someone else coming up from Plymouth. "How do you know he's from Plymouth?" "Paul Inch is an engine builder in Plymouth" "That's just a man's name, I bet there's more than one. He could be from anywhere". The next mini we passed had the bonnet open and a "Paul Inch" sticker was clearly visible on the rocker cover with an 01752 (Plymouth) telephone number.

At the same time, 150 miles away, the postman was delivering a Hillman Imp fanzine to my friend and both the racing cars on the front cover had "Paul Inch" header strips on their windscreens.

Richard "coincidence or something more?" B

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Happy Birthday

This year I have had a couple of delightful things drop through my letterbox. In the middle of April I got a birthday card from one of my friends. It was unexpected because my birthday is in July (his other friend called Richard, who's birthday is in April didn't get a card this year) and it really made me happy.

I've always been interested in rocketry. As a child I tried and failed to make my own rockets, but kept all my fingers. As soon as model rocket motors were available in the U.K. I was using them, and I managed to do the final year project of my computer-science/electronic-engineering degree in association with the space science laboratory.

Since about 1991 I have been trying to read a particular book about the development of rocket fuels. It's no longer in print and I have never seen a second hand copy for sale in real life. Since the rise of internet shopping I sometimes look for it, but it's too expensive. A tattered paperback is nearly £100 and a nice one or a hardback can be several hundred pounds.

Last week there was a pristine copy of this book on my doormat in an Amazon package. No receipt, no explanation, no clue who paid for it. As best as I can tell I haven't made an expensive mistake with "one-click-ordering" and I haven't got drunk and bought my sober-self a generous gift.

To my mysterious benefactor: Thank you very much, I'm delighted with the book, I have no idea how you can have known how much I wanted it.

If the valuable-and-hard-to-come-by-book-fairy reads my blog, let me say this: Milliken and Milliken "Race Car Vehicle Dynamics" ISBN 1560915269

Richard "Thank you" B

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Trigger Warning

I always worry about murders and violent crimes that have more than one perpetrator. How does anybody invite somebody to join them without fearing that they’ll just ring the police instead? "What do you fancy doing tonight?" "Oh I was going to beat a prostitute to death, want to come with?" It's hard enough to find out whether your closest friends would condone very minor law breaking, yet I find myself in a tiny underground that does something that is completely unacceptable to the public at large. You'd probably call it "Un-PC Chicken".

I grew up in a golden age of language when "spastic" "homo" and "joey" were workable and useful insults. Since then the education establishment, the media and all public discourse has been filled with talk of inclusivity, tolerance, egalitarianism, individuality, antiracism, antisexism, and the horrors of offence-taking. To put it another way, I have barely read, heard, or seen anything that doesn't strongly imply that I'm just a stone's throw away from being a violent, sexist, racist monster.

The game, which contains no malice and is played in private, just involves using proscribed words and idioms, generally as a source of comedy. Most of it would probably be illegal if I wrote it down here. As a mild example I was recently on a flight to Spain with one of my co-conspirators. We were flown by a lady captain and that was the first thing we told the chap who picked us up. "Was she able to park it up at the stand?" he asked. Not because he thinks women are any worse at parking cars and aeroplanes than men, but because we've all been told so many times that they aren't.

A few weeks ago I though Un-PC Chicken was going a bit far, but I had misunderstood what was being said. I was in the kitchen, my friend was watching TV in the lounge. "My god look at his hair, he looks like a monkey". "That actually is a bit racist". "No. A Monkee" "eh?" "Davey Jones, Mickey Dolenz, The Monkees".

Richard "PC" B

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Bandwidth

Apparently I am sometimes an entertaining storyteller, but usually I'm precise and concise in my speech. A couple of weeks ago I was at a wedding in Spain, but the bride and groom and most of the guests were from Seattle. I knew some of them from the many times that I've visited Seattle (there was a girl involved). One of the guests had been primed to ask me about all my previous visits and had been told to expect "a wonderful romantic story full of tension and texture and local colour". He was disappointed when he got talking to me, asked me about it, and I told him "Yeah, so I used to date a shop assistant from Fremont".

When I got home my mum asked me all about the wedding and apparently "a white dress" wasn't a detailed enough answer to the question "what did the bride wear?"

Richard "quite the raconteur" B

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Wedding

At the weekend I have to give a short speech at a wedding so I have been talking about speeches at weddings. One of my friends was embarrassed by her cousin's lesbian wedding because there were readings with childish and poorly disguised sexual overtones. One of my friends got married on Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you) to make it easier to remember his wedding anniversary. His best man's speech was brilliant - funny, personal, mildly insulting, and all tied together with a really positive message. I'm still not sure if it contained the best camouflaged dirty joke I've ever heard or if I've just got a dirty mind. The best man talked about how much time the groom spent playing "Football Manager" on his computer, he'd played so many seasons that his computer was simulating the premier league in the year 2083. The best man said, therefor, he was very pleased when the groom met his bride because he could spend less time alone, locked in his bedroom with his laptop.

My "invitation" to speak included the exact length of the speech, a whole range of topics that I'm not allowed to cover, what the general message should be, and how the speech should end. I believe I can give a speech that they'll like, but I was sorely tempted to write a more traditional speech and then bleep out (or mumble) the vast majority of it.

Richard "This time I won't wrestle the bride to the floor" B

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Man from Delmonte

I'm going to a wedding in Spain in a couple of weeks, so one of the little jobs I did this weekend was to try on my summer suit. Men of my age who don't wear suits in their job generally have a handful of them in their wardrobe ready for occasions like this. We often don't wear them for years at a time. I've been caught out by a suit that no longer fits me – I'm sure the suit got thinner rather than I got fatter. My friend was completely let down by his beautiful, all wool, designer suit in the infamous "Moth Balls" incident. When it came out of storage the suit had been severely eaten by moths, but only in the trousers, and only around the plums – we don't know what attracted them to that area.

A few people actually tried to work out all my eponymous nouns from a few weeks ago. Here are the answers:

Abigail's Party - An old Mike Leigh play on the BBC that everybody in the country saw but me.
Archimedes' Principle - Physical law about buoyancy
Avogadro's Number – The number of atoms in 12g of Carbon12.
Buffon's Needle - A difficult bit of maths about the probability of a dropped needle across a gap in a planked floor.
Chesterton's Fence - A principle in policy-making about not tearing things down until you understand why they were put up.
Sword of Damocles - Imminent and ever-present peril
Dekker's Algorithm - First proven solution to the mutual exclusion problem.
Drake's Equation - Seems to show that the galaxy should be overrun with intelligent life
Duff's Device - A truly devious hack in C used in loop-unrolling. From back when we didn't have optimising compilers.
Sieve of Eratosthenes - Ancient way of finding prime numbers
Euler's Line - Complicated bit of geometry to do with the centres(!) of a triangle.
Faraday's Constant - Something to do with how much charge an electron has.
Fermi's Paradox - Just about the same thing as Drake's Equation.
Frankenstein's Monster - Famous fictional monster.
Grey Friar's Bobby - Famously faithful dog.
Halley's Comet - Comet identified by Edmund Halley.
Pillars of Hercules - Mountains either side of the entrance to the Mediterranean.
Hobson’s Choice - No choice at all.
Hubbert's Peak - Something about the productivity of oil fields and us all being doomed. Doomed I tell you!
John Brown’s Body - Song. https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/fzhbe/could_someone_please_explain_the_funny_in_this/
Kundt's Dust Tube - Funny sounding physics experiment about standing waves in air.
Lord Clyde's Shovel - The freedom to keep some of your money away from the taxman.
Lord Kelvin's Thunderstorm - Baffling demonstration of static electricity.
Lou Gehrig's Disease - motor neurone disease.
Marley's Ghost - The first visitation in A Christmas Carol
Maxwell's Demon - Thought experiment to make the second law of thermodynamics even more confusing.
Michelangelo's David - An old sculpture.
Murphy's Law - Adage that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Newton's Cradle - 80s executive desk toy that demonstrates conservation of momentum.
Occam's Razor - Lazy philosophical heuristic.
Orion's Belt - Three stars
Pascal's Wager - "Proof" that it's worth believing in God.
Pavlov's Dog - The original discoverer of classical conditioning.
Pythagoras' Theorem - To do with the length of sides of right angle triangles.
Russell's Teapot - Thought experiment to make arguing about god even more tiresome. https://xkcd.com/1866/
Schrodinger's Cat - Thought experiment to make quantum theory even more baffling.
Shanks' Pony - Walking
Simpson's Rule - Approximation of the area under a curve.
Epitaph of Stevinus - To do with forces on inclined planes.
Ship of Theseus - Trigger's Broom for the upper classes.
Trigger's Broom - A 20 year-old broom that's had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

Richard "I forgot Death's Door" B

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Padded and Underwired

Back in the old days of mobile phones with T9 predictive text dictionaries I had a Sony-Ericsson that would let you read the list of word that had been automatically added to the dictionary (from your text messages). It was a terrifying and illuminating insight into my character. Other than place names every single entry was a swear word or the model number of a microphone.

Since then I have developed a disproportionate interest in driving, and bought both a fast car and a smartphone. It might be rather passé to laugh at autocorrect these days, but the predictive text on my phone has a bewildering and inappropriate quirk. The keyboard seems to know all about my interest in cars. It knows words like Snetterton and Caterham. When I say "Castle" it says "Combe", when I say "Mallory" it says "Park", when I say "brake" it says "calliper" when I say "gear" it says "box" (and when the crowd say Bo Selecta!) yet it resolutely refuses to believe that the word "car" might follow "sports". Worse it always guesses "bra" so I have offered to pick my sister up in my sports bra and asked my neighbour to wait a few minutes while I get my sports bra out of my garage.

Richard "D112" B

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Gordon is a Moron

This weekend I have been driving to and From Newton Abbot on an unnecessary mission of mercy. On Saturday (not for the first time) I found a distressed hedgehog in my garden. It was out in daylight, unresponsive, and not curled into a ball. After talking to the hedgehog hospital in Newton Abbot I agreed to drive it up there and I decided that its name was Gordon.



My innuendo-meter went off the scale when I arrived at the hedgehog hospital. The receptionist said "Let's have a look at it then… My God it's enormous!" Gordon is a 1.2kg monster and there was some concern that I had actually disturbed a pregnant female.

On Sunday I got the news that I was waiting for (but sadly not delivered in a Brian Blessed voice). GORDON'S ALIVE! He is male, and is uninjured. He'd been fighting and his genitals were swollen so he'd also been fucking - excessively. When I discovered him he was simply exhausted. He'd shagged himself half to death, he treated the hospital as a trip to a rejuvenating day-spa and was furious about being put back into a box and driven back to Plymouth. I re-released him in my garden around dusk and didn't get a single word of thanks.

Richard "Even the vermin had a better Friday night than I did" B

Monday, 16 April 2018

Old Friend

For a brief period as a schoolchild I had a desirable and high-status friend from another school. He had a Nintendo Entertainment System and an attractive older sister but crucially he also had a full size high quality pool table in his bedroom. His parents were strict and taciturn. We barely saw them and never spoke to them although we often heard his mother shouting – generally the same four words.

If we were too noisy, or if his younger brother went downstairs complaining of ill-treatment then his mother would shout "CHRIS. FRIENDS GO HOME." We would immediately be ushered silently from the house - not allowed to return until the next day. If our infraction was particularly grave – maybe his brother was in tears or we had ignored our expulsion – then his mother would shout "CHRIS. FRIENDS GO HOME FOR A WEEK."

The last time I met him we had been particularly noisy and troublesome and his mother shouted "CHRIS. FRIENDS GO HOME FOR GOOD"

Richard "A=Jump, B=Rush" B

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Quiz

A surprising number of nouns have had their ownership taken by a proper name. For example there are apples, and then there is Adam's Apple. These are the ones that I could think of. Can you match them up?


NamesNouns
AbigailAlgorithm
ArchimedesBelt
AvogadroBobby
Buffon/CleopatraBody
ChestertonBroom
DamoclesCat
DekkerChoice
DrakeComet
DuffConstant
EratosthenesCradle
EulerDavid
FaradayDemon
FermiDevice
FrankensteinDisease
Grey FriarDog
HalleyEpitaph (of)
HerculesEquation
HobsonFence
HubbertGhost
John BrownLaw
KundtLine
Lord ClydeMonster
Lord KelvinNeedle
Lou GehrigNumber
MarleyParadox
MaxwellParty
MichelangeloPeak
MurphyPillars (of)
NewtonPony
OccamPrinciple
OrionRazor
PascalRule
PavlovShip (of)
PythagorasShovel
RussellSieve (of)
SchrodingerSword (of)
ShanksTeapot
SimpsonTheorem
StevinusThunderstorm
Theseus(Dust) Tube
TriggerWager

Interestingly the broom and the ship refer to exactly the same idea.

Richard "I was never invited to Maxwell's Party" B

Monday, 26 March 2018

Roadie

Last weekend I drove one of my friends to and from a gig and I carried and set up all his gear. He can barely walk and can't drive or carry anything since he had an operation to cure a nasty case of housemaid's knee (presumably caused by the sheer amount of time he's spent kneeling down sucking cocks and nothing to do with the time that I ran the corner of a heavy flightcase into his knee).

I was returning the favour that I was done in the 90s when I was discharged from hospital following an even more painful and personal operation. However on that occasion my friends chose to drive me home over nearly every speedbump in Plymouth and they negotiated them violently to make me squirm. Yes I still hold a grudge these more than 20 years later.

Richard "a gentleman puts down a pillow" B

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Dangerous Dog

My window cleaner likes my beard. He called round at the weekend to get paid and it's the first time I've seen him since I haven't been able to shave. The conversation quickly moved from my beard to my finger injury and it turns out that he is also nursing a nasty injury to his middle finger. His was even more cruel and unlikely than mine. He was bitten by a dog which was locked inside one of his customer's houses while he himself was outside the house. The window cleaner pushed a bill through the letterbox and was bitten (on the tiny portion of finger that protruded inside the letterbox) by a bad tempered terrier that was lying in wait.

Richard "jaws and letterboxes of outragous fortune" B

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Colloquial Metaphor

You learn words and phrases, forget where you learned them from, and then sometimes when you use them they turn out to be wrong. My mum deliberately taught me a nursery rhyme wrongly because her version is funnier: "See a penny, pick it up, then all day you'll have a penny". I used to know a woman whos (hippyish) parents had used an inappropriately adult word for her private parts and she got into trouble at school for swearing when she was trying to discuss something intimate.

The English language contains loads of idioms that we all blindly use as though they still make sense: "Flash in the pan", "Keep your powder dry", "Go off half-cocked", "Hoist by your own petard"... I discovered last week, to my surprise, that the phrase "Beaten like a red-headed stepchild" is neither in common use nor suitable for work.

Richard "it's OK they’ve got no soul" B

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Your Mother Cooks Socks in Hell

My friend's hoover has been possessed by the spirit of an angry goose.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9f7wodJj04

Richard "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the hoover" B

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Garage Door Opener

The garage door at my mum's house is a couple of years older than I am and I don't know which of us is in better shape. It's huge and enormously sturdy, it was made by Westland Engineers Ltd (that's right, military helicopters and garage doors) and it seems to be designed to withstand an armed siege. I don't know what it weighs but it's all two men can do to lift it and move it a few paces. I drilled a pair of 8mm holes through one of the stringers and it took 10 minutes and left me with a large bruise on my shoulder from where I was pushing the drill. The swarf comes off in tiny hard sharp hot flakes and the drill bit is now blunt.

In the late 70s and early 80s the door was much taller than me so the procedure to open it was to unlock it and pull the handle and the bottom edge while a friend stood on the bathroom stool and thumped the top left hand corner – where it would usually bind.

The first golden age of garage door opening was from about '85 to '95 when I was tall and strong enough to operate it by myself and the mechanism was in a reasonable state of repair.

In the late 90s my father and I hired a yacht-rigging supplier who manufactured replacements for the wire ropes, thimbles and pulleys that joined the heavy door to the 8 springs that support its weight. It was an excellent refurbishment, but the original springs were irreplaceable and starting to weaken.

By 2012 more than one of the original springs was rusted through and the door was inoperable. With the help of a carpenter I re-hung the door on more traditional support gear with horizontal rails, lever arms and a pair of enormously stiff springs.

My mother is now in her 80s and the door has got too heavy for her so this weekend I fitted a large electrical opener to it. The procedure for opening the door is now to find the car-keys and push the button on the fob. So begins the second golden age of garage door opening.

Richard "433MHz" B

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

See It. Say It. Sort It.

There's a ginger and grey creature living on my face. Since I injured my finger I haven't been able to shave so I have grown an unimpressive and patchy beard. Until this weekend I haven't been too self-conscious about it. On Saturday I spent nearly four hours on public transport travelling from Farnham to The ExCeL and back. Every ten minutes there was an announcement saying "If something doesn't look right tell a member of staff or text the British Transport Police and we will sort it – See it. Say it. Sort it." Every ten minutes the guy I was travelling with would make a joke about my beard not looking right, threaten to tell the driver about my beard, make a joke about the elite B.T.P razor squad, or at least look quizzically at my face.

Richard "whiskers" B

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Gypsy jazz guitar bridge repair

This weekend I did some moderately accurate woodwork while wearing a thick glove (to protect my finger injury)

This is what I was brought. One bridge is worn and damaged and made of inferior timber. The other is of good quality, the right length, width and radius, but far too low.

Cutting a plank of stock from the damaged bridge:

Stock: I love this picture, the newspaper, the marking gauge, the plane and the curly wood shavings make it look like my bench is clean, I know what I'm doing, and that I can sharpen and set up a plane really accurately. None of those is quite true.

Gluing:

This is what I made: Notice also the salt and pepper mills and the wine glass and bottle - it was extremely sociable woodwork.

This is where you can stick it:

Richard "Luthier" B

Monday, 5 February 2018

Broken Down Ninja

I'm paranoid about privacy on the internet and I'm not that interested in using computers in my free time so my only presence in social media is this blog. I'm not on Twitter, Facebook (except perhaps a parody account my friends used to run to annoy me), Instagram, Whatsapp, or whatever people use to communicate these days.

It was a surprise therefor to receive a Facebook friend request at the weekend. I don't know how friend requests work if you're signed up to Facebook, but mine was a polite phonecall - from a chap I've met once in my entire life and whose surname I don't even know.

Earlier that day I had stopped to help a stricken motorcyclist. He was both lost and having engine trouble. He was an ex RAF gunner who was friendly and in surprisingly good spirits considering the day he was having. He had just bought the bike and was on his way from Plymouth to Oxford! It was a well-worn Kawasaki Ninja, it would start and run and rev freely, but it was absolutely gutless and wouldn't go above about 40mph. I've owned two motorcycles in the Kawasaki "Z" series so I thought I might be able to fix any obvious faults. I took him and the bike home, fiddled about with it and sent them out for a test run. An hour later I got a text that said that he had just stopped on his journey and the bike was running well. A few hours after that I got a very grateful phone call from the chap. Apparently the weather was "Fucking Baltic" once he had left Devon but he had got some safely.

So what was wrong with the bike? I still don't really know. There seemed to be something fishy about the fuel tap when I took the tank off, but perhaps that was my lack of familiarity with it (I was expecting it to be a vacuum operated auto, but it didn't seem to be.) There was a breather hose missing between the carbs and the airbox, but I can't believe that that had such a dramatic effect on performance. The fuel filter was absolutely filthy (I rinsed it out and put it back). After all my fiddling about the tickover had changed considerably and we had to wind up the idle speed.

I actually forgot that bikes of that age had a manual choke and my best theory is that the choke was getting stuck on and that I accidentally freed it off when I was looking at the airbox.

Richard "AA" B

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

One, Two, a One Two Three Four

I've recently been educated about three numbering systems that make more sense than I ever knew.

Lots of Ferraris have a number as part of their name and it does actually mean something. It's the capacity of each cylinder in cc's. So a 250-GTO is a car where each cylinder is 250cc. It's a 12 cylinder car (you're just expected to know that) so it's got a 3 litre engine.

In America the exit (junction) numbers on the interstates are monotonic but they are large and non-contiguous. It turns out that they're the number of miles from the start of the road. It's a brilliant system, they never put up distance signs, but every time you go past an exit you know how far it is until your exit. You can estimate distances quite accurately by just glancing at a road map. (Pass me my driving dividers).

The numbers of "A" and "B" roads in the UK also make more sense than I ever imagined. The country is divided into 6 sectors by 6 one-digit "A" roads which all go to London. They are the A1, A2, A3, A4, A5 and A6. Less important roads have 2 digits and then 3 digits. The first digit is the sector number. The roads are numbered by going round the whole country clockwise. You might be tempted to ask which end of the road gets the number. Does the A38 go from Cornwall to Nottinghamshire or Nottinghamshire to Cornwall. Clearly it's the former because all roads run clockwise around London and you leave London on your starboard side if you drive North on the A38.

I'm delighted to note that near where I live the A379 is south of the A38 and the A386 is generally north of it.

Richard "In and out of Wandsworth with the numbers on their names" B

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Infirm

Two weeks ago I smashed up one of the fingers of my left hand. It's all bandaged up and I have to keep it clean dry and protected. It makes everything I want do impossible or wildly inconvenient. I think the technical term might be "a ball ache".

I ask you dear reader what have you achieved with your life? Created a multi-million pound company? Produced beautiful children? Healed the sick? Served your country? Higher degrees? Fame? Musical prowess? Happiness? Survived a hurricane on a tall ship? Drilled a hole deeper than Everest?

I say that's nothing. At the end of last week I UNBUTTONED A CARDIGAN USING BOTH HANDS!

I can't shave so I'm growing an unimpressive beard. I can't tie shoelaces so I've bought slip-ons. I can't start a zip so everything has buttons or goes on over my head. I can't ride a motorbike so my commute is twice-daily psychological torture. I can't wash-up, hang out laundry or eat anything that needs to be cut up. I can wash myself but I have to tape my hand into a waterproof bag, elbow my way into the bath and then use a brush on a long handle. I sleep cuddling a pillow (to keep the hand elevated, not for emotional support) and its months until I'll play the guitar again.

The most upsetting part is quite unexpected. The beautiful bossy woman in my band has been mickey taking and teasing me almost non-stop for many years. Since I injured myself she has been kind and supportive and it turns out that I hate it. It makes me feel more crippled and useless than any of the things I can't do for myself.

Richard "no infection, no bleeding" B

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Contact!

Welcome to the early noughties:

At the beginning of this year I bought my very first smartphone. Until now I have been relying on a waterproof ruggedized candybar phone with actual buttons and a battery that lasts a fortnight. The old phone was so dated that my friends call it "Edison's prototype" – Before you say that Edison didn't invent the telephone, he was instrumental in developing the exchanges and the microphones that made them practical.

The old and the new phone were so different in age and technology that I had to spend a morning manually transferring all my contacts. My friends and aquaintances seem to fall into four groups. The largest group was "People I don't remember, or have no expectation of ever speaking to again" followed by "People I often deal with". There was a smaller group of "People I might accidentally lose contact with" I found myself checking, double checking and triple checking those phone numbers. The top of the pile was "people who's numbers I know by heart - like a nursey rhyme".

Other than that there was one person with an awkward to type name – how do you type an "o" with a tilde above it? And a friend, long since dead, whose number I had never deleted as a mark of respect.

Richard "Android" B

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Shear

I like to think that I'm eloquent and not clumsy, but this weekend made me doubt myself. I smashed up one of my fingers and I couldn't accurately explain the nature of the injury to any of the nurses, doctors, or the surgeon that I saw.

The forces that you can put on a solid object are Tension, Compression, Bending, Torsion, and Shear. Our word for the day is shear.

I was working on a car, it was up on stands and the wheel was spinning (it wasn't in gear). It's a high performance car with large brakes and the gap between the wheel and the caliper is 3mm or less. I fed one finger through the spokes of the wheel which wound it round until the finger hit the brake caliper. The fixed caliper and the moving wheel nearly sheared off the last half of the last joint of my finger. In fact I'll be keeping the whole thing.

"Was it a crushing injury?"
"Not really it was in shear"
...
"So it bent backwards, I'll put 'hyperextension'"
"Not really, that bit went backwards, that bit went forwards, it didn't bend very much"

"Do you know how scissors work?"
"Is that a type of jack?"

The bit of the story that I'm most proud of is that we unjacked the car, torqued up the wheelnuts and tested the new brakes on the way to the Minor Injury Unit.

Sadly it wasn't a minor injury and I had to have surgery the next day. In 6 weeks the bone should be knit back together, in 12 I should have some semblance of a nail and be able to start learning the guitar all over again.

Richard "Ouch" B

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Star Wars

Spoiler Alert - If you don't want to know about how stupid The Last Jedi is, stop reading

Having been brought up on Star-trek and other make believe space adventure TV shows and films, it's easy for me to understand and accept the simple rules that overcome the complexities of physics:

1. There is gravity when you are in the ship
2. Shields will deflect any weapon
3. The energy source for propulsion is essentially infinite
4. Travel at light speed is possible

In fact Stanley Kubrick was even bold enough to try and explain how gravity could be possible with a large rotating space ship that flung it's occupants to the outside wall. So when I was introduced to the world of the original Star Wars I was glad to see all these rules applied, and my understanding of movie physics was intact.

Anyone can throw rocks at technical faults in movies but that misses the point. We all know that when the star ship Enterprise take a direct hit from a Klingon photon torpedo and the crew are thrown around the bridge, it's just William Shatner and his fellow actors staggering around a sound stage in Hollywood, but we are happy to join in the illusion and enjoy the drama.

So, I was very disappointed to find that large parts of the latest Star Wars film "The Last Jedi" not only have ignored the real laws of physics but they have thrown out 40 years of movie physics too. We are expected to believe that an attempt to destroy a First Order dreadnought must be conducted by bombers that literally look like lumbering WWII era B17's with the wings cut off (complete with glass canopies and belly turrets) and as they inch into position they are systematically cut down by enemy fighters. Then in the most absurd piece of nonsense the bomb bay doors open and rows of what appear to be conventional explosives "drop" onto the target below. There is no up or down in space, there is no gravity once the object has left the ship. Even using movie physics, it's just ridiculous, where are the phased array pulsed energy projectile weapons? what about a Tetryon cannon? Why can this attack not be conducted remotely? Even North Korea can assembly an intercontinental ballistic missile.

I could easily moan on about the fact that everything explodes like its full of old fashioned aviation gasoline in an oxygen atmosphere, or that this the first time ever that an intergalactic space ship has run out of fuel, or that there is no reason to spend 2 days assembling a mini-death star to punch a tiny hole in a 2ft thick concrete wall but obviously I would be missing the point. Clearly this is all just a lame plot device to try and create a tense nail bitter.

As a movie it fails miserably - if you want the real thing just watch 633 Squadron or The Dam Busters

Doug "Y'cannae change the laws of physics Jim" B.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Taskmaster

There's a tv programme I like called Taskmaster where celebrities (of varying levels of practicality) try to perform odd little challenges as quickly as possible using things that can be found around the house. For example: consume an egg; carry a lit candle from the bedroom to the shed past a fan and a sprinkler; empty a bath without pulling the plug.

On new year's eve I didn't go out celebrating, instead I went to be early with a sore throat, but before that I got to play a challenge that might have appeared on the tv programme. I live in a terraced house with badly designed gutters. We had a lot of rain and one my gutters blocked and started to overflow. I don't have a window that overlooks the gutter, and the objects that I can find around the house don't include a three section ladder, but they do include an IP68 certified endoscope.

I made reasonable progress in clearing the gutter by leaning out of the bedroom window holding above my head alternately a trowel on the end of a broom handle and a shaving mirror. I somehow attracted my neighbours attention while I was doing this (I think it was the barrage of swearing and clanging) when I dropped the trowel out of the window.

The correct solution turned out to be to fix her hose to the broom handle and operate it from my window while she observed from her dorma window and shouted Chuckle Brothers type instructions to me. To you. To me. Hold it there.

The funniest bit was getting her hose from her patio to my bedroom window. It's done in 4 stages: Throw it over the fence; throw it over the shed; throw it over the washing line; hook it inside with the broom.

Richard "Happy New Year" B