Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Played:2 Won:1 Lost:1

An update in the story of me disagreeing with the man form Caterham about my cooling system fault: He was right. I was wrong. My home made pressure tester wasn't man enough to show the fault and the critical tool turned out to be a mirror on a stick. I'm now having a replacement radiator built at considerable expense.

I have a history of disagreeing with or disregarding conventional wisdom. On one occasion I was at a barbeque ("grill" for my American readers (for my English readers "barbeque" means the anaerobic smoking/baking over geological timescales of cuts of meat that are too heavy to lift)) and somehow found myself doing all the cooking. There were various chunks of meat and vegetables that were supposed to be laced onto skewers and cooked. It struck me as self-evident that the different things needed different cooking times so I put all the mushrooms (for example) onto mushroom-only skewers and all the chicken onto chicken-only skewers, etc. I de-skewered the various (correctly cooked) chunks before they were served.

There was a lot of chat about whether what I had done was stupid or genius, weird or very very weird indeed. My oldest friend was also there and I remember him saying something along the lines of "This is no surprise. Literally everyone in the world knows how to make kebabs on a barbeque. Of course Richard would turn up and think 'I know a better way'."

Richard "new radiator" B

Sunday, 24 February 2019


This is another instalment in the series of me profoundly disagreeing with trained professionals in areas where I have no experience.

At the beginning of the year I got talking to a rowdy bunch of rough blokes at a burger van. I was introduced to the theory (with which I have no reason to disagree) that one of the main differences between married and single men is that married men don't have motorbikes and car parts indoors. Its easy to think that married men are too polite to take oily vehicles into the house but perhaps it's the other way around. Maybe the sort of men who would rebuild an engine on the dining table don't find themselves with the opportunity to propose.

Last weekend the man from Caterham told me that my radiator core was weeping. I can see the coolant residue on the fins but I think it's coming out where the top hose joins the inlet. I work with an ex marine architect and he taught me the groundbreaking theory that water doesn't tend to run uphill. As I can see coolant residue above the core I'm pretty confident that that's not where it's coming out.

He also told me that I can make my own pressure testing rig at home, and he was right.
This is a bicycle inner tube fitted over the inlet and outlet and some old heater hose to support the pressure. It works well up to about 10psi.

I then dropped the whole thing into the bath and looked for bubbles. Don't worry, I washed the worst of the dead flies and the grime off (from the bath) before I started.

It's probably a good thing that I live alone, but I'm now confident that the radiator itself is intact.
Richard "top hose" B

Wednesday, 20 February 2019


Picture this if you can: Me, wearing tartan pyjamas, racing driver shoes and with my moustache elaborately waxed clambering up to the outside of the kitchen window with a bottle of olive oil and a screwdriver in my hand. How did I get into this situation? Like any avoidable disaster it's a tall stack of unfortunate decisions that all seemed right at the time, but that add up badly.

I was visiting my friends in Wimbledon at the weekend and they asked me to bring tools so that I could change a window handle for them. I was introduced to my DIY challenge in the washing-up aftermath of our breakfast and it looked like a very simple job. I hadn't dressed because I was still planning to shower. I had already tamed my moustache because I didn't want to eat too much of it with my breakfast. I realised that I needed to get to the outside of the window to change the handle and the patio was cold so I pulled on the most convenient pair of shoes. They were the ones I had taken off when I arrived at the house and as my car has a very narrow pedal box they were driving shoes. It's a house of millennials so there was no lubricant in stock to free off the sticky latch mechanism so I Improvised with olive oil.

And all of a sudden they're laughing at the spectacle I'm making.

Richard "dashing" B

Tuesday, 12 February 2019


The problems that beset my life seem weirder and rarer than those that normal people have. At the moment, for example, my kitchen floor is covered with molybdenum disulphide.

What's that? Very slippery and seemingly completely waterproof.

Why? Well not on purpose obviously, I put newspaper down, but it gets everywhere.

How? My sportscar has seats that you can slide fore and aft, the squab bears directly on the cockpit floor. Over the year they have picked up grit and marred the floor and the squab. When I was cleaning and proofing the leather I thought it was a good idea to sand the bottom of the squabs flat and lubricate them with "dry moly". It was cold raining and windy outside so I did it in the kitchen and now stepping in there is like stepping onto an ice rink.

Richard "low μ" B

Tuesday, 5 February 2019


For the last couple of weeks I have been living in a cold house with occasional tepid running water. This week I finally had my boiler replaced. As I was standing in my kitchen watching the plumber he asked me what I did for a living. "Computer Programmer". Long awkward silence. "I'm a heating engineer" he said eventually as he drained my heating system and took my boiler off the wall. No Shit!

My house has a combi boiler so as well as heating water for the radiators it heats water for the hot taps on demand.  When you turn on a tap it senses the flow, lights the burner and heats the water that is heading to the tap. My last combi boiler had a preheat function so that heat exchanger was always hot and you got hot water at the taps more quickly. I'm careful with my money, I live alone and I don't use that much hot water so it would infuriate me that the boiler would burn gas every hour or so just to keep the hot water ready. You could turn the preheat function off, but then I would waste a load of (metered) water between turning the tap on and it running hot.

For nearly a decade I have wanted the combi boiler to have an external input that switches between eco and preheat.

My first job was designing consumer electronics and I worked closely with the software engineers on user-interface. I've spent over 20 years as a software engineer and, although I am not one, I have worked with technical authors who had to describe what I have made to the general public. I am spectacularly well placed to be able to read the user manual and the electrical section of the installation manual for a new combi boiler.

I was delighted to read that my new combi boiler has an electrical input to control the preheat function, and display modes to show you what state it is in. I asked the plumber about fitting an external timeswitch to control preheat and he said "it doesn't work like that." I showed him the page in the manual and he insisted "it doesn’t work like that" I showed him the page in the electrical interface manual and he said "That's just because it's the same circuit board as the system (non-combi) boiler."

As soon as he left I tool the boiler apart and ran some dangerous tests connecting live mains to the various inputs. I was right, he was wrong, and I now have timer controlled hot water preheat. Woohoo!

Richard "This is my manor" B

Thursday, 31 January 2019

I Can't Get Down

Nothing funny or interesting happened to me this week, but I did hear a great story. I had read about a woman who got stuck in a tree while trying to rescue her cat (which was stuck in the same tree). Apparently our fire brigade is so stretched and so risk-averse that they won't get cats out of trees anymore but they will rescue cat owners.

My mum's friend spent a good amount of time in Sweden and told us about a challenge that their fire brigade often face. Elk like apples and will search out the trees or break into orchards. A hungry elk can also clamber up an apple tree in search of food! Moreover the windfall apples are often starting to ferment and the elk have a low tolerance for alcohol. One of the courses that the Swedish fire brigade run for their recruits is how to rescue a drunken elk out of a tree.  Judging by the amount of elk meat that gets served the woman telling the story did wonder if the elk are "rescued" with a captive-bolt gun and a hacksaw.

Richard "call the elk brigade" B

Monday, 28 January 2019

Supply and Demand

If it weren't for double standards I wouldn't have any standards.

In most economic matters I'm very pro free market and competition. Let the consumers decide how they wish to prioritise their desires and let the invisible hand balance supply and demand. I find it trivially easy to understand how rent controls destroy accommodation in a city. When the tickets for a concert sell out in a single day and then turn up on ebay at twice the price it strikes me that the tickets were too few or too cheap and that the touts are doing a valuable service. I'd rather pay an entry fee to walk on Dartmoor than fund all of the national parks through my taxes and I think parking should be paid for by the hour and roads by the mile.

But god damn isn't it unfair when rich people have taken a liking to something you want and pushed the prices out of your reach!

It's the time of year that I'm planning and booking track days. I have a friend in the South East whom I like to drive with (I trust him with my life, my car, and to a lesser extent my expensive tyres and friction materials) and he can easily put me. The nearest circuit to his house is Thruxton but I don't like it (too fast, too frightening, nowhere to overtake, doesn't suit my underpowered car). I searched outwards in a spiral from where he lives and found the perfect track day. It's less than an hour away, it's a lovely circuit, it's a full day, open pit lane and novices allowed. The problem is it's at Brands Hatch and because of its name and its proximity to London its full of millionaires and their supercars and I can't afford to go.

Travelodge in Bedford here we come!

Richard "Rand" B

Thursday, 17 January 2019


Quotation marks (and quotation fingers) have a few different meanings. They demarcate the part of the speech which is attributed to someone else, they add emphasis and they sometimes show that the quoted section is wrong, euphemistic, imaginative, almost like a sarcasm mark. Like saying my blog is "popular".

In the run up to Christmas I got a card from my cleaner. The inside of the card was printed with the message With Best Wishes. When she signed it she also added double quotes around With Best Wishes so it looked rather like she didn't really wish me the best. My friends and I laughed about it and added lots of sarcastic quotation marks to our own Christmas cards.

The thing is that my cleaner quit last week. Maybe she hates me and she meant exactly what she wrote in my Christmas card.

Richard "Labour Relations" B

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Flat Floor

I once visited the Boeing factory in Washington and there were a couple of things that I would have liked to see, but didn't. Instead of a giant pitched roof, the factory has a flat roof and a snowplough lives up there. They've also, apparently, got a bit of floor large enough to build a jumbo jet on that is flat and level to a few thousandths of an inch.

I used to be confused about measuring the suspension geometry of my car. When I do it at my mum's house I get good results and the numbers make sense. When I do it at home nothing adds up. One of my brothers once had to take an airliner apart and put it back together and have it come out exactly the same shape. He explained to me that it can't be done unless you are taking measurements from a floor which is flat and level. He didn't have a flat floor to work from but rather brilliantly made bits of one using dozens of scissor jacks, steel plates, and a laser level. I believe his crew were encouraged not to move them or kick them over while the job was in progress. I've got the same problem - my garage floor isn't flat.

If I were working for a racing team there would be an area of floor in the workshop that was known to be flat and level. In fact "flat floor" has now become a verb, you can have your car flat-floored, it doesn't mean that the floor is made flat, like "chiselled" it means that the tool is applied to the car - before the corner weights and geometry is adjusted. Cheapskates can't be choosers, and the car only touches the floor in four spots, so I have shimmed it up with cheep vinyl flooring tiles.

 In the racing team they would also have turntables or slip-plates to put the car on so that you can steer and adjust the wheels without putting any force on anything, my slip plates are made with more of the vinyl tiles - good side to good side with grease in between.

 They work better than I could have hoped.

Richard "Whitworth Three Plates Method" B

Wednesday, 2 January 2019


The Saturday before Christmas I was running sound for my friend’s Oasis tribute band on their very last show.

It was well attended, drunken and exceptionally rough. The first fight broke out six bars into the first song and spilled onto the stage. The rhythm guitarist, who is normally very placid, was so annoyed at having to catch a falling speaker cabinet and having a drunken stranger lying all over his pedals that he kicked him off the stage with enough force to also tear the feet from one of my wedge monitors. Later the singer got a mic pushed into his teeth and I got beer spilled into my (valuable) mixing desk. I spent the whole time shoving the crowd and their drinks away from my station to the point that I ended the night with bloody knuckles.

Richard "As a practical matter - are we playing 'Stone Henge' tonight?" B