Sunday, 19 May 2019

Lawnmower Preservation

The elderly lawnmower at my mum's house is getting harder and harder to use. Every aspect of the carburettor is worn out and it is always either too lean or too rich. My brother correctly suggested that I should replace it. After a bit of searching I found a cheap Chinese carb that would fit and that was for a 2-stroke engine. 3 weeks and £18 later it had been shipped from Shenzhen and I started fitting it. Other than being smaller and less well made it is virtually identical to the old British made one from the 50's. The layout and operating principle is identical and all the controls are the same. It has to be a direct copy. It's now 2019 and this new carb has a tickler for God's sake. I can't believe that anyone who isn't me, an OAP or a vintage motorcycle enthusiast knows what that is, let alone how or when to use it.

Old

And new.

Surprise surprise! The throttle cable doesn't fit and I had to make a new nipple.



It works after a fashion but it is running very rich. I often have to clean and dry the plug to start it.


It's sooty and oily after I cut the grass.

This is what the main jet looks like and I now have a selection of sizes on order from the scooter racing people.

Now I just need to find out where the local garden machinery dynamometer is...

Richard "trial and error stoichiometry" B



Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Track Day Review: Bedford Autodrome

This week I had my first visit to Bedford Autodrome with Javeline Trackdays and we used the "GT" circuit.

In some ways it's the best circuit I've been to, but it also has serious drawbacks.

It advertises itself as the safest circuit in the UK and I bet it is. It's on a huge flat plane of grassland and there is literally nothing to hit. The track is smooth and wide and has many concrete runoffs. If you do leave the track you just slide safely to a halt on the miles and miles of grass. This means that there's also nothing to see. There are no undulations and no landmarks so it is very easy to become disorientated. It's a long circuit with a lot of corners and I found it difficult to learn. It was probably lunchtime before I was confident about what gear I wanted for each corner before I got there.

You get to do a lot of driving. The circuit is over 4 miles long so they let 40 cars out at a time. Moreover there are so many crossways and access roads that they can often recover a car under yellow flags. (They call this a live-snatch). We didn't have a single red flag the whole time I was there.

Overtaking is easy. There are lots of wide straights so it's easy to let faster cars past.

These last two points mean that you burn a lot of fuel. I've got a frugal naturally aspirated 1600cc engine, I didn't spend that much time on track and I burned about 45l. Fuel is available on site but it's quite pricey.

The cafe is excellent and large - but nowhere near the pit lane.

The problem with Bedford - in my view - is parking. There simply isn't a paddock. There's one car park for trailers and towing vehicles. Another which counts as the assembly area but which is a long way from the track and only just has enough room for all the track cars. There are a few garages on the pitlane and if you have one of those you're laughing. There is barely enough room on the pitlane to park all the track cars so you're not allowed to stake out a spot and leave your tools and spares there. By the end of the day it looked like a refugee camp where everyone had piled bags and toolboxes outside the pit lane cafe or against someone else's garage.

Richard "travel guide" B


Track Day Photos

Last week my track day was cancelled. By way of apology the organiser gave me a free ticket to go to Bedford Autodrome.


This was the view from my hotel room window. I was delighted with it because I could check whether or not my car had been stolen.

A lot of fast cars in a very crowded pit lane. The Suzuki Swift counts as a fast car when it's driven by the guy that teaches racing drivers.

Someone took me for a ride in a Radical. I no longer want a car with aerodynamic downforce. It made me feel slightly sick and I'd never have the nerve to brake that late.

Snell certified sun hat with forward head restraints.

I picked up quite a few insects.

Clean enough to put away. I'll wash it properly when I've got seven or eight hours to spare.

Richard "photojournalist" B

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Supercar Experience

Yesterday I went on a trackday. For various logistical reasons my friend met me there in a small boring hatchback. It made the whole experience thoroughly luxurious. I had my whole passenger footwell and seat for my luggage and I even had room for a change of shoes! We had somewhere dry and secure to put all our gear and effects and I didn't have to spend a load of time lying on the cold tarmac rigging/removing the luggage rack.

The problem with the day, however, was that the circuit had double booked and our track day was cancelled - after we got to the circuit. Instead we walked the perimeter of the circuit, watched the supercar experience day and went to a motor museum (and a McDonalds).

A supercar experience day looks like it would be thoroughly disappointing. They do have the use of the conference centre (rather than the cafe) and all the cars are clean and shiny. Your day seems to consist of a load of queuing followed by driving a very expensive car at a snail's pace four times around Castle Combe with an instructor by your side. The activity is so tame that nobody wears crash helmets, there are no marshals on the track, and we saw the farmer drive his tractor to the field in the middle of the circuit while the circuit was live. In the 90s two chicanes were added to Castle Combe to reduce the speeds at the dangerous corners. Yesterday two more were added with traffic cones to make sure that any remaining excitement was drained from the day.

I didn't have a stop watch, but with my wrist watch I timed somebody in an Ariel Atom do a lap at an average speed of just over 50mph! (amateurs are around 80mph, world record 130mph)

Richard "full refund" B

Monday, 29 April 2019

Chinese Tools

It is possible that I have over-reacted. The weather equipment on my car is held on with press-studs and they keep falling off. I've got a little punch to peen them over, but it always goes crooked.
I bought this inferior Chinese arbor press for pocket money. It's trash.. My favourite thing about it is that the bolts proudly say "4.8" on them - this means they're about as stretchy as inferior steel and about as strong as good quality chocolate.

No, I don't own an optical centre-punch, why do you ask?

Spotting.

Boring - like this blog.

Here's the punch in the press.

And here's the hood refurbishment.

Richard "over-engineered" B

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A Rose By Any Other Name

In computer programming it is generally acknowledged that the two hardest problems are cache invalidation, coming up with named for things, and off-by-one errors. It seems that naming is also a challenge when it comes to having children.

I went out with a girl who had the same name as her mum. When she was born she was so poorly that she was expected to die immediately. They wanted to christen her before they cracked her ribcage open and started experimental surgery so they needed a name. In a very stressful and rushed situation her dad had to come up with a name. He just said the name of the first person he saw - his wife.

When I was born my brothers and sister petitioned my mum to have me given a space-aged name. I should have been Hieronymus-Astroflash. I'm glad to say that my father vetoed that and named me himself.

Someone made a mistake registering the birth of a woman I work with. Her middle name should have been Louise, but it was misspelled and her birth certificate said Loise.

I also work with a Dutchman who, frankly, could have made a better job of anglicising his name. To English speakers it sounds like a girl's name and a lot of his telephone conversations start with something like "No that's me. No I'm a bloke. Yeah it's a foreign name."

I know of a boy who, at primary school though his name was pronounced "scene" but it was spelled "Sean". And I've heard exactly the same story of a girl who thought her name was "Why-ve-knee" (Yvonne).

One of my friends has just had a baby daughter and called her Selene. According to his brother he initially thought it was an alternative spelling of Celine. I hope that pronunciation won't last. If you're not sure how to say it, it's from Greek. Think Selenium or Penelope, Persephone, Calliope, Ariadne...

Richard "I'll have to stick to naming functions, variables and parameters" B

Monday, 15 April 2019

Album Cover

At the weekend I went for drinks with a chap whom, as a boy I would bully - I had full authority to do so as a friend of his older brother. He vowed revenge on the both of us for spoiling the end of The Secret of Monkey Island and, after 25 years his brother received his retaliation while I'm still waiting.

We were bemoaning his brother's bewildering success: Moved to America, made a fortune at Microsoft, ran his own business, won an Emmy, beautiful house, married, started a family, etc. None of his employment however was as impressive to us as when, as a teenager, he would fold cardboard boxes for a tomato farm. With the single-minded zeal that only a teenage boy without a girlfriend can muster he turned box folding into a type of martial art (he got paid by the box) and spent every spare hour earning. He was saving up for a new stereo with a CD player and a graphic equalizer, and very nice it was too.

His brother and I then spent a happy few minutes criticising his early CD collection. Too much Madonna, too much U2, the motion picture soundtrack from that weird camp Michael Keaton Batman film for god's sake, seemingly everything that REM committed to perforated aluminium.

There was one album that he owned, that I wanted to make fun of, but I couldn't remember who recorded it. It was self-indulgent adult-orientated-shite, it was for old people when we were still young and energetic, it had a picture of a car on the front, it had something to do with hotels... Google eventually jogged my memory and it was Chris Rea's Auberge. To my shame it has a picture of MY car on the front. Exactly the same car that I have today, same make and model, same colour, same colour grille, same headlamps, same headlamp stanchions, same rollover bar, same stoneguards. Dammit!

Richard "He can pretty much play the guitar" B

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Vroom

Last week I went to Castle Combe for my first track-day of the year. The car, my guest and I all came home in one piece and we had a great time. We both had a "moment" on the track. With one exception my car has benign and well balanced handling characteristics – unless you push it too far and then it will make a concerted effort to kill you. It's foible is lift-off oversteer. You're going fast around a corner and wish to reduce your speed slightly, you instinctively take your foot off the throttle and that loads the rear tyres more heavily, they lose traction and the car drift sideways (or spins if you don’t make a correction).

Picture

I was in the car while my guest was driving around Tower corner. It became apparent that we were going too fast and were heading off the track rather than around the corner. He lifted off and the car started to drift dangerously sideways. It felt like an age (probably less than half a second) before he remembered what to do, put his foot back on the gas and made a slow and untidy exit from the corner.

My moment simply involved entering Bobbies chicane too fast. Instead of running into the tyre wall on the second apex I pressed the middle pedal (too) firmly and slowed to a crawl in a straight line amid a cloud of tyre smoke and noise.

One of the joys of the track day is looking around the paddock at all the different vehicles, like bird watching or train spotting. You normally see a shower of MX5's, Lotus Elises and Renault Sport hatchbacks, Monday was no different. You also normally see an obscure single seater that spends the whole day in the paddock up on ramps with a laptop hanging out of the engine cover - Sadly I didn't see one of those but there were two really interesting vehicles:

An unrestored 1976 Porsche 911 racecar. It was beautiful, tiny, and showing its age. The owner said it was worth about £250,000 and would be worth a significant sum once it was road-legal and tidied up. I admired his nerve in taking it on a track with inexperienced drivers like me to give it a shakedown.

An old articulated lorry. I've seen those before, but this one had an amazing system of gantries and contained six race prepared MX5's, an enormous amount of spare parts and tools, and a small workshop.

Richard "It's normally a Radical" B

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

It Wasn't Me

There are two forms of excuse which seem ubiquitous: "We didn't expect that to happen" and "It was somebody else's fault". My favourite examples are "There were complex socio-economic factors at work and nobody could have predicted every outcome" and "Some older boys made us do it." It turns out that there's one more universal excuse.

When I was in Texas we went to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Von Hindenburg in a little venue. They were the support band and we only had to make a little donation to see them. They were great. After they finished we carried on drinking and didn't leave. We expected to be thrown out, or to be asked to pay the full admission price to see the headline act (An 80's themed covers band called Molly and the Ringwalds). When we were discussing whether we had been grandfathered in, and what was going to happed both my brother and his daughter told me that all we had to say was "We're in the mellophone section."

My niece studied at LSU in Baton Rouge and would regularly watch the college football team. On game days the campus buildings are closed to the public (thousands of drunk football fans) but my brother and my niece were able to get past the security and into the music department (where they had no right to be) with those five words. "We're in the mellophone section"

Richard "Go Tigers" B

Monday, 25 March 2019

Milling

My father often used to say "There's nothing like the right tool for the job, and this is nothing like the right tool for the job."

One of my projects over the weekend was to make a bit of hardware for a drum kit. The top upright on the cymbal stands is a 12mm round bar. The rack-mount tambourine is designed to fit on a hexagonal bar. I had to manufacture the adapter.

What I wanted was a hex collet block, and a small milling machine with a vice dead square on the table. What I actually had has a vice, some files, and a ruler.




If you take a vernier gauge to what I produced it's embarrassingly inaccurate, but it looks good enough, and it works.

Richard "tool" B

Defence

I've just come back from a week visiting family in Texas. I was struck by (amongst many other things) how fragile human memory is.

My brother picked me up from the airport in a car identical in every way to the one he had last time, except for the colour of the paint. It was of course the same car and it's never been resprayed except in my flawed recollection.

After drinks, for our entertainment, my brother and his wife would sometimes two-step lovingly around the kitchen or demonstrate self-defence scenarios. My sister-in-law has recently taken a self defence class, and while I believe the class was taught sober, the techniques were demonstrated drunk. One morning she complained that she had bent her finger in her sleep. "Do you think" I asked "maybe it was when you hit him in the face?" Both of their faces lit up with the recollection of an event that had slipped their minds. During a self defence demo a downwards angled blow landed not on his chest and shoulder, but across his ear, cheek and jaw.

I played the part of the mugger while my sister-in-law was using the oven as an imaginary ATM. I thought that I had control of my victim for several seconds, I had hold of both of her wrists and had an arm tightly about her waist. She escaped my grip so effectively and lunged for me so fiercely that I couldn't help but swear and flinch away.

Richard "assailant" B

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

Weepy

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

Nightware

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

Slippery

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

Boiler

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

Quotable

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

Thankyougoodnight

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