Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Quarantine

We're now living in lockdown. I'm only allowed to leave the house to buy essentials (as infrequently as possible), to exercise (once per day), and to care for the vulnerable. It's a bit like Christmas day afternoon, and a bit like what I remember of the 1970s:

The streets are very quiet.
I'm already bored of all my toys.
None of my friends are allowed to come round to play.
We're not actually short of food and drink, but none of it is quite what I'd have chosen if the shops were open as normal.
The TV schedule is messed up.
One of the most compelling forms of entertainment is to go out for a walk.
Everybody is drinking more than they should.

Richard "see you back at school" B

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Panic Buyers

Over recent weeks it has become hard to find toilet rolls on the supermarket shelves. Rolls of toilet paper are physically large and very cheap so it only takes a tiny variation in the rate of buying for a supermarket to be stripped bare.

I wish that the invisible hand of the market would have acted more swiftly and more harshly. Imagine all the good things that would have happened if it suddenly cost £20 to buy 4 rolls of Andrex: Demand would have been reduced (Our selfish and easily panicked citizens would still be stocking up but their greed would have been tempered). Supply would become more efficient. If all of a sudden the Co-op could make a cool £50,000 by driving one lorry of loo rolls from a well stocked store to an empty one then it would get spread around the country to where it was needed in no time. Supply would be guaranteed. I would be holding out for the price to fall, but I would know that when I was half way through my last roll I could just walk to the shops and buy some more - at a price. Usage would be more efficient. People would suddenly find they can use less of the stuff when you hit them in the wallet.

Strawman: I can practically hear my NPC readers whining about the poor no longer being able to afford to wipe their bums. Think what they're really saying: That despite all the tools of taxation, national insurance, benefits and rebates they haven't been able to organise matters such that the poor and the elderly can afford basic necessities. The thing to do at this point is not to let them take charge of the national rationing or distribution of toilet rolls, they have already proved themselves incapable.

Strawman2: But if 4 rolls of toilet paper is more expensive than a bottle of whisky, won't the most disadvantaged in society do without it altogether? Maybe, and what business is it of yours to decide whether one of our citizens would prefer a tidy arse or a weekend bender?. You might be paternal, but you're an authoritarian villain all the same.

Richard "Von Mises" B

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Caterham front wheel bearings

One of the service jobs that comes up every 4 years on a Caterham is to repack the wheel bearings with grease. Somehow Caterham forgot to do it for me, so I did it myself. It's not a difficult job, but it needs some odd tools and a little bit of knowledge. Caterham felt so silly that they happily sent me the instructions and the parts that I would need.

The first thing you have to do is put the front of the car up on stands and remove the road wheel. The wheel nuts are 19mm hex and get done up to 74Nm.

The brake caliper comes off next.

The caliper bolt heads are E12 star drive.

They are not stretch bolts, so you are free to reuse them. They get done up to 90Nm ! New caliper bolts come with a dry patch of threadlock on the threads. If that has worn off apply blue threadlock.

As always, don't leave the caliper dangling on the hose. Support it on a precarious pile of tool boxes and bits of wood.

There's a castellated nut and a split pin holding the hub on. The split pin is 3/16 x 2".

The hub nut is a wildly inconvenient 1+5/16AF. If you're anything like me, then your imperial sockets stop going up in 16ths at 1+1/4 but you have a 3/4 Whitworth socket from a jumble sale which is very close to the right size. Laser Tools sell a 1+5/16 single hex impact socket for hub nuts like this.

The hub pulls off the stub axle. The inner bearing races are not secured in any way.

I know this grease must be good because it says "racing" on the tub and they've dyed it red. I believe the standard product for this job is Comma high performance bearing grease.

After you're put the bearings back together and put the hub back on the procedure is to spin the hub to distribute the grease, then 12FtLbs preload on the hub nut, then advance it to the next castellation. Provided that the bearing is neither tight nor sloppy, secure the hub not with a new split pin. I don't have the wherewithal to cut the end off the split pin, so I have folded it back on itself.

Richard "Silkolene RG2" B

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Dress Up

A couple of weeks ago my defence against some good natured mickey taking seemingly made me look even more silly than if I'd kept my mouth shut. One of my colleagues likes to make fun of how posh I am. We were talking in the kitchen about what we would wear when we went climbing. I said (honestly) that I literally don't own any clothes for exercising. My colleague said "Come on, I'm sure you have a set of flannels and a boater" and I, thinking I would sound more normal and everyman retorted "NO. I HAVE LINEN SLACKS FOR SAILING". It didn't have the desired effect.

If you've been to business school you've been taught the four things that go into starting a conversation. A polite greeting. State your own name. State your relationship to the person you're addressing. Explain your expectations. For example: Hi. I'm Richard. I ordered a radiator from you guys last week. I just want to check on the delivery date. And, rather perfectly: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Richard "plimsolls" B

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

You'll believe a man can fly

This story is in two parts. The first is for all the people that like me making a fool of myself, the second is for the tiny minority who are actually interested in working on cars.

At the weekend I changed the rear wheel bearings on my sports car and it involved the most ridiculous and painful pratfall. The hub nuts are done up tight, and one of them was slightly seized. I had a friend pressing the brake peddle while I was pulling on a breaker bar. I was straining as hard as I could, lifting with my legs, the tyre was starting to rise up off the ground and the breaker bar had a considerable bend in it. The hub nut gave up not with a creak or a sigh, but with a loud and sudden crack. I couldn’t help but to launch myself out of the garage and half way down the driveway. I landed heavily and painfully on the bar that I was still holding.

One of the bearings was easy to change. The other was not. The hub is on splines on the driveshaft. Behind the hub, the bearings are slipped over the driveshaft, the bearings are pressing into a strong carrier which is bolted to the rear suspension. I pulled the hub off the shaft with my little hub puller (it looks like a child's toy compared with what I had to use on a Renaultsport Clio) but the bearings and their carrier was stuck on the drive shaft. I didn’t panic at this point, I made a thing out of my hub puller and some long coach bolts thinking that it would pull the bearings and the carrier off the drive shaft. I was wrong. I had made a bearing puller, I pulled the bearing out of the carrier and left it on the drive shaft. It was at this point that I was nearly in tears because the car was up on stands, the bearing was destroyed and there was no was of putting the wheel back on, it seemed like I’d never be able to move the car again, or put my motorbike away, or close the garage door. My garage is narrow, but I was just able to get the drive shaft out and take it to the bench (dripping hypoid oil everywhere). With a blowtorch and a coldchisel I managed to get the inner race of the bearing off the drive shaft. Again it went with a bang and the hot bearing landed in the box of timber offcuts, but it didn’t quite set the whole garage on fire.

Richard "Jesus nut" B

Glossary
Breaker bar - long handle
Hub - the bit that the wheel bolts on to
Splines - grooves
Bearing - spinny thing
Inner race - the middle of the spinny thing
Driveshaft - the bit that turns the hub
Coach bolts - long screws
hypoid - thick, smelly
Coldchisel - chisel for metalwork

Monday, 24 February 2020

Bad Workman

We have all heard the phrase "A bad workman blames his tools". In Portuguese they have a phrase with the same meaning, but the words are "A bad dancer blames his trousers". I swear I'd have looked really good up there if it weren't for these damned pantaloons!

I am such a believer in "a bad workman blames his tools" and so critical of my own abilities that it has taken me years to work out that my hacksaw frame is worn out. One of the tension pins is slightly scored so it doesn't pull the blade down firmly on to the platen. The blade wobbles and I blunt it more on one side than the other and end up cutting in circles. I always thought it was my fault.

Better than the Portuguese for "a bad workman..." is the Mandarin symbol for "penguin". Apparently they're a "business goose".

Richard "P-p-p-pick up a b-b-business goose!" B

Monday, 17 February 2020

Nice Butt

This weekend I had to learn all about rainwater collection systems. You might have seen big green water butts standing innocently next to guttering downpipes. What I didn't know is that they're evil, and that they're biding their time until they try to knock your house down. I assumed that the guttering downpipe fed into the butt, and that it then had an overflow that fed into a second butt, or back into the guttering. I was wrong. The "diverter" that you let into the downpipe has a weir in it, and an airtight pipe to the water butt. Water can either flow into the butt, or over the weir and down the rest of the downpipe. There are a couple of reasons why this system is better than mine. The pipe to the downpipe can be small and flexible, if the flow down the downpipe overwhelms the capacity of the flexible hose, then the rest of the water just goes over the weir and down the rest of the downpipe.

It's a great system when everything is new. Now imagine that this water butt (which weighs 160kg when it's full) has been out in the garden for a few years and has been subject to hundreds of hour of UV degradation and dozens of frosts. Either the crappy plastic stand breaks and you don't replace it with something exactly the right height, or the flexible hose perishes. If the butt has been lowered by more than a few mm then the top of the butt is below the weir and all the rainwater flows down the side of the butt. If the flexible hose has perished the same thing happens. You are now collecting all the rain off your whole roof and funnelling it into one corner of your patio to try to undermine the foundations of your house.

I suspect that there's a better system where all the rainfall for an entire town is gathered together. It could be filtered and treated on an industrial scale until it's drinkable and doesn't bread lava and bacteria and then it could be piped back to individual households who use as much or little as they see fit - no matter how much or little rainwater their roof collects... Oh wait...

Richard "mains water" B

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

MOT

Last week my sports car failed its MOT. The fault was "Excessive play in rear suspension linkage. Look I can move this with my hand. This one isn't even done up Richard." I was told to take it home and re-torque all the fasteners in the rear suspension before I re-presented it. The rear suspension on a Caterham like mine is quite interesting and quite simple. There's a strong horizontal tube that has the wheels on it. It doesn't have the differential in it to save weight. The tube is kept in the middle of the car by a triangular A frame that is bolted to the middle of the tube and to the chassis well in front of the wheels. To stop the tube from moving forwards and backwards there are a pair of "radius arms" that are bolted to the ends of the tube, and to the chassis well in front of the wheels (like the swing arm on a motorbike). If I was richer the for/aft position of the tube would be maintained by 3 part Watts linkages giving almost perfect vertical travel.

What was interesting is that only the radius arms had loose fasteners, and it's only the radius arms that you have to take the seats out and get inside the car to work on them. Coincidence? Or something less? I wonder whether Caterham forgot to nip them up when they changed the differential.

Richard "anti-sabotage lacquer" B

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Verb

Last week I witnessed the birth of a wonderful new verb. One of my colleagues had borrowed his girlfriend's car to get to work. When he bought a new car he had to drive his girlfriend's car home and then get his dad to pick him up and take him to his new car so that he could then use that to give his girlfriend a lift home so that eventually she would be re-united with her car and he would be in the same place as his new car. He said "I'm off to towers of Hanoi my new car".  Most of my readers are computer programmers so you're probably already thinking how perfect it is. If you're not familiar with it, the Towers of Hanoi is a little puzzle with three pegs and a stack of different sized disks. You have to move the stack of disks from one peg to another. The rules are that you move one disk at a time, and that you can never put a bigger disk on top of a smaller one.

Computer programmers have almost always studied it because it's a beautiful example of recursion. The recursive solution is:
1) Move all but the biggest disk onto the spare peg. 2) Move the biggest disk to the destination peg. 3) Put the rest of the stack on top of it.
In step 1 and 3 How do you move the "rest of the stack" – you're only allowed to move one disk at a time? Just follow steps 1) 2) and 3)

Yesterday a friend drove from his house to an MOT station so that he could pick ne up there and take me home, leaving my boring car at the MOT station. This morning, after pushing my scooter out of its way I drove my sports car to the MOT station so that I could leave it there and get in my boring car to get to work.

Richard "Bring on the self-driving cars" B

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Day Off

Most people take a day off work to go somewhere nice or to do something special. I took a day off work to spend it it my garage in the middle of winter making brackets that I would rather have bought.

I thought that I would like to be able to change the windscreen on my Caterham to a little aeroscreen. The car is low powered and it runs out of go on the straights. The windscreen is large and flat and stands almost upright. I believe changing to the aeroscreen should give me another 10mph top speed.

Getting to the fasteners on the windscreen stanchions involves taking a lot of the interior apart so I don't want to be doing that at a track day. I bought a pair of brackets that should provide captive nuts for the windscreen stanchions, but they didn't fit. I cut them up and fiddled about with some box section and some polyurethane adhesive and made these. They do fit accurately but they took me hours to produce.


This is the aeroscreen (it's still got the protective film on), a motorcycle mirror and a bracket that I made to join them together.


One of the questions that you never get asked in a social situation is "do you own a press brake?" although I wish you did. In my case the answer is "I don't know, does this count?". This is a very hard extension bar, my aluminium bracket, and a bit of soft wood in a very large vice.


Richard "I wish I'd never started" B

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Gap

This week I share with you an old favourite family story. I don't know exactly when this happened but you can make a fair guess from the vehicles involved. My older brother had bent one of the half shafts on his Ford Capri and was fixing it in a hurry. He got a replacement from a scrapyard in Devonport. He got to and from the scrapyard as a pillion on his friend's Z750, on the way back he had the half shaft in his lap sticking out each side of the bike. They came back through the city centre and were very very nearly involved in a nasty accident. The rider went to cut between two queues of cars at high speed. While the gap was big enough for the bike it wasn't big enough for the half shaft of a Ford Capri. It became clear to my brother that the rider had forgotten about his passenger's cargo and that he was just about to be stuck off the back of the bike and probably have his pelvis shattered in the process. He let go with both hands and JUST managed to get the long, heavy, cumbersome shaft upright before they shot between the cars. Like some kind of incompetent post-apocalyptic knight with his rusty scrapyard lance.

Richard "retro" B

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

C125

This weekend I changed motorbike from a Yamaha TMAX (XP500) to a Honda Super Cub (C125). Obviously it's much smaller and slower, but I'm really pleased with it so far.

The clutch is automatic and the gearbox is upside down. I think you'd describe it as "One down, three down". It also has a Pacman door so that you can go round the back from 4th straight to neutral. As I've come from an automatic bike with a CVT I keep forgetting to put it into gear before I try to pull away. All my other motorbikes had the gearbox the right way up, so I quite often force it into the wrong gear during acceleration.

My least favourite change is the front brake. On the TMAX I had twin 4-pot callipers with high performance friction material and a 120mm front tyre. You could stand the bike on its nose with the pressure of two fingers and it felt like you could ruche up the tarmac in front of you if you wanted. It's not quite the same on the Super Cub. The mirrors are too close together and I've had to put one of them on an ugly extender. I also no longer get nodded at by bikers.

The fuel economy is absolutely outstanding, and the servicing costs should be low. It's fun to ride and it looks cute. The funniest features are an automatic clutch (so that delivery men have their left hand free to cold their cargo) and a heel pad on the gear lever (so that businessmen don't scuff up their smart shoes).

Richard "roll the power on gradually" B

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

New Decade

I know it's ridiculous to believe in good omens or to put meaning in random events, but I'm really hopeful about the 2020s.

You always try your best to make the best cup of tea that you can, you use the same ingredients, utensils, techniques and temperatures time and time again, but sometimes the tea is delicious, sometimes insipid, and usually mediocre. I have a friend who marks every cup of tea he is served out of ten. I believe that discretionary bonus points have sometimes been awarded, either for serving the tea with a chocolate biscuit or once for serving it topless.

I marked it myself, but the first cup of tea that I made this decade was a 9! It honestly was that close to Plato's perfect form for a cup of tea.

The first engagement in the culture war of 2020 (that I'm aware of) had a wonderfully positive and empathetic message. It was criticism of a mean spirited web comic about schadenfreude. The character New Guy was written as the butt of the joke, but because he had to question taking pleasure in other people's misfortune the author had accidentally created a very positive and caring character. All the edits, memes and criticisms are promoting empathy, friendship and fair treatment. https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/new-guy

Richard "What Would New Guy Do?" B