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


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


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


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


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