Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Driving Test

 When I was preparing for my driving test my brother helped me with my knowledge of the highway code. I remember him asking me the meaning of various road signs. We didn't have flash cards so he would describe the road signs to me and ask me what they meant. To this day I particularly remember two of these questions, the first for the beautiful description of the road sign, the second for how useful the information is.

"Red triangle..."
"it's a hazard I have to be aware of"
"...containing an upside down tuning fork"
"What?... tuning fork?.... End of dual carriageway!"

"Displayed on the back of a car. Outline of a fish."
"I don't know."
"It means the vehicle will be slowly and inexpertly driven."

Richard "Passed 2nd Time" B

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

It's Like Rain...

 It is traditional that when you have a flat tyre in your car, that it be raining, that you're somewhere inconvenient and have somewhere else to be, that you're wearing clean clothes, and that the boot is absolutely full of luggage that has to be piled in the street before you can get to the spare wheel.

Last week I had a flat tyre in my boring estate car. It's a heavy car to jack with the crappy scissor jack, It's only got a space-saver spare tyre and that was half flat, and not one of the miserable bastards who drove past stopped to help.

[raining] it wasn't raining, but there was sand and sheep shit everywhere to spoil my cargo.

[somewhere inconvenient] I was in the middle of Dartmoor.

[have somewhere else to be] I was eager to get home because I had a friend coming round to visit.

[you're wearing clean clothes] I had had a haircut that same afternoon. I really fancy my barber so I always try to look as little like a vagrant as I can when I visit her. I was wearing my best and cleanest combination of casual clothes, but I did have some workshop gloves with me.

[the boot is absolutely full of luggage]. Irony of ironies - I was on my way home from a tyre garage! In the boot I had 4 wheels with tyres fitted and another 2 spare tyres. None of which fitted my estate car.

Richard "Somebody Call Alanis Morisette" B

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Do you know who I am?

 My mother is elderly, forgetful and easily confused. Last week she got a phone call from her friend Margaret to say that her husband had died. This week she got a call from (a different) Margaret to thank her for the bereavement card, but to let her know that her husband was in fact alive and well!

Richard "Wrong Peggy" B

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

It's Dead Jim

 A couple of years ago I killed a deer with a heavy motorbike. It was an accident and it was pretty frightening and upsetting (even more so for the deer than for me) but one of my friends can still find it funny from one particular point of view.

It was dark and raining. I was approaching a roundabout in the left lane of a dual carriageway. In a parking place on the left there were a few cars, parked badly, flashing their hazard lights and there were a people milling around. I didn't know what they were looking at or what they were doing, but I felt the effect of a strong "somebody else's problem" field. I thought "whatever that is I'll give it a wide berth". I changed lanes to the right and then instantly hit the deer which was sitting bloody and crumpled in the road.

My friend likes the story of the person who accidentally hit a deer with their car but didn't kill it, standing distressed in the rain wondering what to do. Along comes a motorbike which swerves towards it, finishes it off and doesn't even stop. When I had regained the balance and control of the bike I had already joined the roundabout and I was swept away by the flow of traffic.

Richard "Venison" B

Monday, 12 April 2021

Easter Eggs

 This Easter I did a lot of technical cooking. Nobody gave me a chocolate egg, but I am being given a lot of hens eggs, so I decided I would like to be able to make an old fashioned egg custard. The temperatures, timings and techniques are quite critical but I'm happy with what I can now produce. Sadly the recipe I'm experimenting with is for Crème Caramel so I also need to be able to make caramel. The caramel is even more sensitive than the custard. You only need to make the slightest mistake and it's too pale, too dark, too runny, stuck in the pan, burned, or crystalized. At the moment I can make a pretty good Crème Suspension of Sugar Precipitate.

Richard "Happy Zombie Jesus Day!" B

Tuesday, 30 March 2021


 I recently completed the UK census form and there were two question missing that I think should have been included. Firstly "Do you like the ewoks?" A much smaller survey suggests that there's a positive correlation between the answer to that question and date of birth. I believe that the line crosses from dislike, through indifference to like some time in the mid 70s.

The other question is "which shop sells the best pasties?".

When I was a child the answer was clearly Ivor Dewdney. It was a difficult an eye opening day in the early noughties when I had to admit that Oggy Oggy was better. It happened so slowly that I never noticed that Ivor Dewdney pasties had got soggy, greasy and insipid, and I would never have changed my allegiance. I was in the city centre having lunch with a girl I had just stated going out with and she went to the "wrong" pasty shop as though it were the most natural thing in the world - and she turned out to be right.

An even worse experience for pasties than choosing the wrong shop is to move away from Plymouth. My oldest friend studied in the East Midlands and told me about his delight (followed by horror) when he found a bakery selling "pasties" which turned out to be shortcrust monstrosities, crimped along the top and containing mince and carrots! He now lives in the South East and while you can buy a pasty there they're neither good, ubiquitous or convenient and they're priced as though they're an exotic luxury from a far-off land.

Richard "maybe it was a cocktail pasty from a giant's buffet" B

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Washer Bottle Slime

 This week I want to talk about an affliction that nobody ever mentions. I don't know if it's because it's so rare or so shameful, but other than myself, I only know a couple of people who have suffered with "washer bottle slime". The windscreen washer jets in your car deteriorate and then eventually fail, and when you find the blockage it's a mass of sludgy slime in the washer bottle.

I first came across this problem in my mum's Ford Fiesta Mk3. The slime was blue/green in colour and we assumed it was caused by an incompatibility between detergent based screenwash and alcohol based winter screenwash. Just recently I had to take the washer bottle out of my Hyundai i40 for the same reason. It was blocked with grey/green slime and I did start to wonder if it was alive. I once bought a Landrover Discovery and one of the conditions of sale was that the washer bottle be disinfected. The screen wash jets produced such an unpleasant smell that there was a serious disincentive to using them.

Richard "screenwash" B

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Fuel hose

 When I watched the Netflix documentary "Black Fish" I was darkly amused to find out just how naughty a disgruntled killer whale can be - it will bite and drown its keepers.

The family lawnmower turned just as malevolent last week when it tried to set me on fire. It leaked a good quantity of petrol onto the bottom of my jeans, but thankfully it didn't manage to set light to it. I barely remember it, but I think the fuel cock was replaced in the 80s. The replacement either came from the chandlers or my dad's stock of parts. Either way it has a bore and a flow rate more suited to an ocean-going vessel and I think it's made of bronze. The spigot is stubby, larger than 5/16 and doesn't have a lead or ring-barbs. The original carburettor had a 5/16 spigot and an integral filter gauze. You could just make the connection with a length of 5/16 fuel hose if you warmed it up and stretched it over the fuel cock. I changed the carburettor last year and the new one has a 6mm spigot pointing in the wrong direction and no filter. Last year I used a length of rubber hose, some elbows and an inline filter from a Chinese dirt bike. This year the hose had got so brittle that it leaked around every joint and spilled a load of petrol onto my trousers.

This lawnmower has become a superstition to me and a labour of love so I have spent a good bit of time, effort and money on the fuel feed system. There's now a short length of 5/16 hose going into a nylon 8mm->6mm reducing elbow, then a length of genuine tygon 1/4 hose, then a low displacement filter with a sintered brass ball mesh, then another length of tygon, then another elbow then tygon into the carb. The whole thing doesn't hold much more than a teaspoon of fuel and it's all bone dry on the outside.

Richard "no smoking" B

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Hyundai i40 washer bottle removal

 The washer bottle is accessed from the RHS front wheel well. You need to jack the car and take the wheel off.

The wheel arch liner liner is held on by expanding plastic clips.You do not need to take the whole liner out. I just took out the clips from the front half and bent it out of the way.

There's a guy who keeps showing up on the forums saying that this job is better tackled from the top by taking the headlight out. Having found the fasteners, I'm pretty sure he's wrong.

 There is 1 large phillips screw and two 10mm hex screws. The front 10mm screw is a twin to the one shown in the photo. You will need a small ratchet to get to it and you will need the patience of a saint to thread it in when you put it all back together.

The pump will pull out of the bottle if you push the clip up out of the way. You will get wet as all the screenwash drains out of the bottle. There is an electrical connector (not shown) on the bottom of the bottle for the level sensor. I didn't take the pump out of the car because the hoses were old and brittle and I didn't want to damage them. The wiring and the hoses clip to the side of the bottle (on the right of the photo). The wiring also clips to the top of the bottle in 2 places. It took some deft work with as long screwdriver to free it.

The pump has as filter gauze in its inlet. You can prise this out of the pump with a knife or a thin screwdriver.

Richard "Haynes" B

Wednesday, 10 March 2021


 Contains distasteful imagery and bodily functions. You should probably stop reading now.

Last week I had a luxurious night of sleep. I turned the mattress, I made the bed with freshly ironed linen, and I wore brand new pyjamas (button up jacket with a club collar and patch pocket, straight leg trousers with elasticated waist and one button fly).

In the morning I had great difficult in the lavatory. My arse had become impossible to wipe. The paper kept coming back torn or crumpled, there was an unpleasant stickiness, and I was making slow progress on cleanliness. Had I somehow sat in treacle without knowing it? Had a hive of bees moved in to my lower digestive tract and started producing honey up there? Was I going to stand up with the job half done and go and get a mirror on a stick? Give up and step into the shower?

I persevered and eventually discovered that a sticky label about flame retardant quality, presumably from my pyjamas, had got stuck to the crack of my arse.

Richard "now wash your hands" B

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Jigsaw Puzzle

I have been doing a jigsaw puzzle. It's a picture of a nebula in deep space taken by the Hubble space telescope. About a quarter of the pieces are either pitch black or very dark grey. I have had to set up a lighting rig and use magnifiers to help determine if pieces are in the right place. I have also been trying to speed up my progress by using information theory and statistics.

To find a piece that fits as quickly as possible you need to reduce the set of contenders as much as you can. Ordinarily you'd look for something "roughly the right colour" but that didn't help me at all. To start with I divided the pieces into 4 hash buckets: 1 head; 2 heads on an axis; 2 heads on adjacent sides; 3 heads. Interestingly there were no pieces with 0 or 4 heads. I soon noticed that the pieces were wider than they were tall and I divided the hash buckets even further: 1 head on a vertical axis; 1 head on a horizontal axis; 2 heads on the vertical; 2 heads on the horizontal; 2 adjacent heads on an L bend; 2 adjacent heads on a J bend; 3 heads vertical; 3 heads horizontal. In some cases this narrowed down the set of pieces which might fit to a few dozen or a mere handful.

I also noticed that the cleave lines generally alternated whether the heads went left or right (up/down for horizontal cleave lines) and nowhere on the part of the puzzle I had completed were there more than 2 adjacent heads in the same direction. This meant that in could make much better guesses about what shaped piece I was looking for and in some places I knew for sure what all 4 sides would look like even though I only had 2 to work from.

I'm always disappointed and cross when a database says "fuck it, I'll just compare every single combination of rows and see which ones match (it would probably phrase it as ->  Nested Loop  (cost=388.64..105744.98 rows=6645 width=13) (actual time=0.341..27.475 rows=5000 loops=4) ) but in many places in my jigsaw I did resign myself to trying every single piece that was left to see what would fit.

Richard "Cinderella" B

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Oh Captain My Captain

Star Trek Discovery season 3 was mediocre. It was nowhere near as good as its proponents would have me believe and nowhere near as bad as the youtube commenteriat told me. It did ask an interesting question: If you were a Starfleet captain what would you say to give the go-ahead to a bold plan? There have been various iconic examples over the years. "Warp 9 Mr. Sulu", "Engage!" "Make it so".

I don't mind my entertainment breaking the fourth wall. Deadpool turning to camera and narrating is great. In Archer one of the characters "hears" the tense soundtrack and says "don't worry it's not diegetic". In discussing iconic lines for the new captain Discovery sort of damaged and spoiled the wall without daring to actually break it – it was terrible.

I discussed various possibilities that I could use in the captains chair: "Hold on to your hats", "Buckle up", "He we go!". The one that seemed to fit my personality best (proper and slightly ineffectual) was "shall we?" with a palm up hand forward gesture.

A couple of weeks later I needed a lift to the garage to drop off a broken down car. With no irony and without remembering the conversation about Star Trek I said "shall we?" to invite my friend to leave the house and unlock his car.

Richard "punch it Chewie" B

Thursday, 18 February 2021


 Last week I had my sports car MOT'd. While my car is a "luxurious" version with a cabin heater and a fan, it can't use that to demist the windscreen (because the windscreen is well in front of the rear edge of the scuttle). On the way to the MOT station it was cold and wet so I used the heated windscreen. It was partially effective but also smelled like an electrical fire. I don't know if the MOT station ran the heated screen - I don't think they need to test it, but when I drove home it was completely ineffective and the car stank of burning plastic.

I ended up fixing one of the electrical circuits straight after my car has passed its MOT. The crimp on a spade connector had developed on ohm or two of resistance and was stealing half the power (and heating effect) from the windscreen.

Richard "after the event" B

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Stop Thief!

 Last week I was accused of theft and then tax fraud. When I serviced my sports car I bought some genuine Ford parts. It was difficult because I'm not a garage, because we're in lockdown and because something went wrong with the payment. I managed to order the parts and pay over the phone and then collect them from outside the depot.

A couple of weeks later the manager of the parts supply place was chasing me relentlessly on the phone, and when I talked to him he accused me (none too politely) of having not paid for the parts. Apparently his banking system had flagged up the purchase as suspicious and he was in trouble. I found my credit card receipt and convinced him that I had actually paid and he eventually found my payment on his system. It turns out that they had only charged me for the parts and had forgotten to add on the VAT. This discovery didn't really fix anything because his accounts still didn't line up and the transaction was still suspicious. It was 100% their fault, but I eventually had to pay the colossal £5.60 discrepancy that had triggered the whole investigation. It was a waste of everyone's time.

Richard "I din do nuffin" B

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Short Squeeze

 Every other video on youtube at the moment seems to be explaining the "short squeeze" or "short covering rally" that's happening to GameStop shares.

Imagine it was last April and I didn't have any loo roll. I could have borrowed 4 rolls from one of my well provisioned friends and promised to give him back 5 rolls in May. As it happens It would have been no problem to buy him his 5 rolls in May. Now imagine someone with a better knowledge of paper goods made the same deal and borrowed 4 rolls in April to give back 5 rolls in May. He could have sold them at the height of the panic for, say, £20 and bought the 5 rolls in May for less than £2. He would keep the £18 difference. This is called short selling.

A load of big hedge funds have large short positions on GameStop. The good weirdos of reddit noticed this and all started buying stock and promising to keep hold of it. When it was time for the hedge funds to give back the stock that they'd borrowed there wasn't any for sale and the price skyrocketed.

There are two misinformed comments that I keep seeing:

Firstly – "They were shorting more than 100% of the stock. It shouldn't be allowed". Nonsense! And if you ever find out how few pound coins there are in bank vaults compared with how many pounds people think they have in their accounts you'll lose your mind. Imagine that Ace Plant Hire rent a mini-digger to Bagshot Garden Machinery for 6 months. Bagshot Garden Machinery rent the mini-digger to Charlie for a long weekend. While it's in Charlie's garden both Bagshot Garden Machinery and Ace Plant Hire are owed a mini-digger but there's only one mini-digger to pay them both back with. It's the exact same situation.

Secondly "Short selling is immoral. It shouldn't be allowed". Nonsense! It allows people with good information to force capital to move to more productive enterprises and pays them for their trouble. If a short seller is right, then they destroy the value locked up in some over-valued enterprise and their assets get redeployed to something better. It means we don't have to wait for the buggy-whip factory to slowly go bust before we can tear it down and put up a factory that makes something people actually want (like electric cars or a smug sense of self-satisfaction). We are all (on aggregate) better off as a result.

Richard "to the moon" B

Tuesday, 2 February 2021


 The human brain is a huge pattern matching machine that also modifies itself. We are adapted to learn and we find ourselves drawn to sources of new information. This means that we can find situations or stories compelling when we don't fully understand what we're experiencing. As a tiny example look at how many stories start in the middle of the action and we don't find out what's really going on until later, or how many catchy songs have difficult to understand words.

I used to drive to guitar lessons on a Saturday morning and I would listen to the radio on the way home. I used to love it if I heard the proposed answers to the "agony aunt" feature without having heard the original problem. "Go round there with a bottle of wine and say you're not sorry". The magic and the mystery disappeared as soon as the presenter reiterated the problem for the late-comers like me.

I now work from home and out of my bedroom/office window I'm watching another soap opera that I don't understand. The people who's house backs on to mine often spend a lot of time staring out of their upstairs window into their back garden. They also sometime throw a bunch of keys from the window to someone in the garden, and they enter or leave the house through the back garden. My best guess is that it's something to do with keeping isolated in lockdown and that part of the household doesn't go downstairs or use the front door, but I can't really work it out.

Richard "I can't wait for the big reveal" B

Wednesday, 20 January 2021


 I recently serviced my sports car. It uses a very particular (and somewhat historic) grade of oil: 5W30 fully synthetic ACEA grade A5/B5. It's not wildly expensive, but it's hard to find. It burns through oil quite quickly if you substitute the more modern and easy to find C3 grade. I thought that I would save future-me some money and some trouble by buying a 20l barrel of the stuff. I tried to decant 5l into an old oil can and failed. The barrel is unwieldy and quite heavy, and it's mouth is large. When I tipped it over I got one large "glug". Most of it missed the funnel, and I got so much on my jeans that it soaked through to the long underwear that I was wearing.

I went out and bough the cheapest and crappiest pump to fit in the top of the barrel, which will be amortised over the next 5 old changes. The next oil change will be easy but I haven't saved myself a penny.

Yes, I should have tried to syphon it out with a clean length of hosepipe. I didn't have anything suitable.

Richard "oily long johns" B

Monday, 11 January 2021

Port Tongs

 My port tongs are finished.

I agree that I could have done a better job on the profile of the handles, but I have no suitable power tools. It was done with a hacksaw and a bastard file. Any further improvements would require hours of filing.

The welding was done quickly and inexpensively by the wonderful Chris Millar and sons Ltd. They said that if I were happy with their work I should recommend them. I do. To help you remember the name I'll leave this here: "Chris Millar - No! - We will not let you go (let him go). Chris Millar - will not let you go (let him go)".

It's hard to test the tongs and practice because each attempt involves a bottle of port that's good enough to have a thick walled neck and a driven cork.

These two videos show my partially successful first test

Richard "Colin Furzehatt" B

Monday, 4 January 2021

Brave New World (TV series review)

 This weekend I re-read "Brave New World" for the second or third time. I had recently watched the TV adaptation and I wanted to see how they compared. I first read the book as a schoolchild and saw it as a science fictions story full off incredible inventions and a different way of life. I read it later as a kind of companion to "1984" - here's one dystopian vision of the future, here's another. This time I think the book is about society, firstly how to control or engineer it, and more importantly about being excluded from it.

I seldom complain that an author expects too much of his reader, but in this case I felt a bit out of my depth. John the savage was taught to read, but the only things he had to read were what his mother could write, her employee handbook, and the complete works of Shakespear. His dialogue borrows heavily from Shakespear quotations, but as I don't know most of them I felt I was missing out. The four words "told by an idiot" did tip me off that he was quoting, but it also made me realise how few of the quotations I was probably spotting.

The TV adaptation did a fantastic job of bringing the world to life. Lenina, the fertilizing room, New London, ubiquitous helicopter travel, everything was better visualised than in my own mind. They made some changes to the world, but I didn’t mind them. The savages were white-trash Americans rather than American Indians. The world controller was a woman. A load of racial stuff had been removed.

Unfortunately the story had been butchered. They had added a load of unnecessary action and adventure to rescuing John the savage from the reservation. They had overcomplicated the riot. Instead of the rather dry discussion about keeping society in order, failed self rule, and sending free-thinkers to islands, they have added a load of pointless and confusing artificial intelligence and simulation theory elements.

My view is that the series was ruined, but that if it was about half as long and had just followed the source material it would have been a masterpiece.

Richard "The anime got ahead of the manga" B