Tuesday 28 November 2017

Key Cutting, Shoe Repairs, Engraving.

I'd like to tell you about all the funny or exciting things I did over the weekend, but there aren't any. It was all ironing and filing.

Yet again the key to the back gate at my mum's house has broken. The blanks for the key are no longer manufactured. There isn't a replacement lock available that would fit in the existing gate. The gate is bespoke because of the odd hinge position and it would cost several hundred pounds to have a new one built.

The light in my garage is terrible so I ended up with the work-enemy in the kitchen (where I've got a new LED batten) for the whole weekend. I made the third tooth on the top flag of this key:

All the cutting and forming was done by hand with worn out needle files. Thankfully I do have a very good soldering station and a small personal stock of (now outlawed) tin-lead-silver solder.

Richard "Weller TCP, Screwdriver bit, temperature range 9" B

Tuesday 21 November 2017

The hardest word

There's been a lot of chit-chat in the newspapers and interwebs about apologies. I read a full page editorial by a wittering harpy about our foreign secretary having three different goes at apologising for something. The interesting bit was the idea that a good apology is almost magical and does as much for the giver as the recipient.

It's true. I have been the recipient of an apology that made everything better again. Some years ago a couple of my band mates played a trick on me that I thought was too cruel and too dangerous. I was really hurt, upset, and seriously thinking about leaving the band.

I made my displeasure known (firmly) to the perpetrators and I got two different reactions. The first did a sort of weasel-words half apology where nothing was his fault and it was somehow my problem for being upset. The second apologised. There was nothing magical about the form of words, just that she was sorry, she hadn't intended to upset me, didn't dislike me and did take responsibility.

A full and real apology is completely disarming. You can't carry on arguing with somebody when they've just said they were wrong, and the ball is straight back in your court. You either have to start forgiving them, or you carry on being a dick about it.

Afterwards I never felt as comfortable around the guy who didn't apologise. He was an unreliable attention-whore anyway, and now I have nothing to do with him. Within 48 hours I was at the party with the woman that did apologise. No hard feelings, no awkwardness, and in truth I think my opinion of her went up. I might even have over-reacted about the whole thing anyway.

Richard "I'm Sorry" B

Tuesday 14 November 2017


What's this?

It's an out of focus picture of a toggle from a drawstring bag and a piece of foam rubber glued to a section of expired credit card. The real question is "what's it for?"

It's a removable indicator buzzer mute for the Caterham Seven sports car. The Caterham has a piercing and annoying audible warning on the indicators and it's very common for owners to silence it by sticking tape over the sounder. The problem is that the Caterham doesn't have self-cancelling indicators and that at motorway speeds (and above) the buzzer is only just loud enough to remind you that the indicators are on.

The sounder is a black 12mm cylinder nestling amongst a loom of wires under the scuttle. To find it by feel you'd need the sensitivity of a braille speed reader. To be able to see it you need the flexibility of a circus contortionist – you have to feed yourself headfirst on your back into the footwell. The first time I did this I had my mobile phone in my mouth to be sure I could reach it to call for help.

I have lasso'd the buzzer with a cable tie which hangs down above the driver's knees. You can feed the mute up the cable tie with relative ease and silence the indicators at will.

It's impossible the photograph the mute in situ, but this shows the principle of operation. The end of the pen represents the buzzer.

I'm proud of the design – which used only things that I had around the house, I'm proud of the fact that it works, and I'm unduly proud of the fact that I managed to bond a polythene ball to a credit card. I used 2-part methacrylate adhesive which melts most plastics and then sets rock hard. Of course it doesn't even stick to polythene, but I filed a flat on the ball and then sawed a series of very small dovetails which are full of adhesive.

Richard "McGuyvor" B

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Rocket Park is FREE!

Nasa used to build rockets on the west coast and launch them from Florida, but they put mission control in Houston as a money making exercise for the state of Texas. They’ve done something very similar with the visitors' centre.

When I went to Houston I thought I wanted to go and see Nasa.

The visitors centre is expensive and not that good. They do have some really cool things there (used lunar capsules, space suits, a spare skylab, an elderly jumbo jet that was modified to give piggy-back-rides to space shuttles, JFK's lectern, the ruggedest suitcase the world has known…) but it’s organised to make things difficult to see - possibly on purpose.

The lighting is so terrible that you're either blinded by the glare off the display cases or you're stumbling around in gloom. The signs are misleading. Neither of these for example welcomes you in to the spare skylab.

But one of them is the way in!

Some of the best exhibits are strung up from the ceiling so that you can’t look in them.  A lot of the floor space is given over to soft play, childish demonstrations, dioramas, audio-visual presentations and games.

Nowhere but nowhere does it tell you that you need to book a ticket for the tram to be able to see the best exhibits (until you’ve queued up for the tram). The cynic in me thinks that they want you to spend time and money in their gift shops and restaurants.

The tram tour opens up the best bit of the day. You get shepherded around like so many animals and you get to see the original mission control room, an astronaut training facility, and then eventually the main event.

The best exhibit is the rocket motors, a Mercury rocket, and a Saturn V rocket. They save it until last, but confusingly they are hidden away in a large public park with a free car-park.

My brother and I spent a full day and a fair bit of money going to Nasa-Houston visitors centre, but what we actually wanted to go to was “Rocket Park” next door. It is made deliberately difficult to find, it’s not advertised anywhere and there’s a sentry with a gun, but it is actually public and free! It’s owned and operated by The Smithsonian and once you get there it’s quite brilliant.

If you go to Nasa-Houston my advice is to take a torch, and find the tram tickets first. If you want to see the rockets, find “Rocket Park” and go there instead. Tell the man with the gun that that’s where you’re going and he will cheerfully direct you to the car park.


Richard “Houston we have a problem” B