Cabling my workshop (by )

As a child, I read a novel called Triplanetary, which featured a character called Gray Roger. Roger was the evil master of a space-born flying citadel, and usually sat in an office, at a massive control desk. Through this desk, he controlled the massive machinery driving the citadel and its tremendous weapons.

This image (and many others like it) meant a lot to me; for as long as I remember, I have wanted a Secret Lair with Control Panels.

When we bought our house, one of the big selling points for me was a small building at the end of the garden, which I turned into my workshop. The far end has my computer desk and my electronics desk, and the end by the doors is a messy area for metalworking.

However, the years since have been blighted by problems with the roof leaking, which has damaged furniture and tools, and caused horrible mold to grow on everything. Last summer, with the help of a friend, I properly felted the roof, which seems to have solved the leaking. There is still work to be done cleaning the interior and re-painting stained floors, but the inside has now dried out.

However, even aside from the roof problems, I had no Internet connection to the workshop. Wifi couldn't reach from the house, and wouldn't be sufficient for my needs. So even with the place drying out, I've not had a place I can sit and work with a computer at home; everything was done with laptop on lap on the sofa, or sat at the kitchen table, or similar - hardly comfortable, while I have a proper desk and office chair sitting out there!

So I have long wanted to run Ethernet cables down to the workshop, and haven't had a chance to organise it while I'm focused on trying to fix the roof.

But the colocation deal I use to host my Internet server is coming to an end, and rather than moving to a new one, I'm going to run the server from home. We have reliable, low latency, high-speed fibre broadband from Andrews and Arnold, and a server hosted at home will be one I can attend to for maintenance, upgrades and emergencies; having the current one based in London is somewhat inconvenient!

As there's nowhere good in the house to keep servers, they need to go in the workshop - so I now have a deadline to get Ethernet out there. And over the past few weekends, I have done just that, with much help from Jean (a lot of cabling work cannot be done single-handed; long bits of trunking need to be held up at both ends before being stuck down, and pulling cable through conduit requires somebody pulling at one end while somebody else feeds the cable in carefully at the other).

We had to use no less than three different cabling techniques, as the cables pass through several different regions.

It all starts in the cupboard under the stairs, where the PPPoE termination of the fibre broadband from the phone network is. I've since mounted the patch panel onto the wall and tidied up the cabling, but here's how it looked earlier:

Cupboard under the stairs

The cables go through the wall (which was once the external wall of the house before it was extended, so required drilling with a massive diamond core drill) into the library, where I've put a neat white box over the hole:

Library trunking

The trunking goes off to the kitchen wall. The hole through that wall is smaller, so can be hidden behind the trunking at the left. In the kitchen I used smaller trunking that can't cover the hole, so another white box covers the hole on this side:

Kitchen trunking

Across the garden, we had to switch from trunking to waterproof conduit, all sealed together with funky glue, and access boxes with waterproof gaskets:

Garden conduit

Then inside the workshop, I used suspended cable trays. I love suspended cable trays - I can just lay extra cables up there whenever I need, which is of course a great feature for a Lair full of Controls:

Workshop cable trays

Finally, the cables come down from the tray system into the comms cabinet:

Workshop comms cabinet

Last night, I tested all four cables with a cable tester, and all pairs are OK. I've put the desktop PC I built (but never got to use) in the workshop and hooked it up to one of them, and it's working fine at Ethernet frequencies, too!

Having a desktop machine is a great boon, even if I'm sat in the house on my laptop - I bought a cheap, light, laptop with a view to using it as a remote terminal to the much beefier desktop machine where possible.

And, of course, no Lair is complete without a way of disposing of enemies. Having had enough of water around the place already, I opted against the traditional shark pits, and instead went for a cage full of dinosaurs instead.

Cage full of dinosaurs

And so now, I can sit in my bed with my laptop, and make the computer do things in the cold, dark, workshop at the end of the garden. Muhahah.

Finishing Projects (by )

Ok so sometimes we have problems finishing projects, sometimes we have problems starting the projects we've got the bits for/need to be done. This has been a combo of things including house moves, sickness, changes of work or work regimes and of course the dreaded ADHD.

So to combat this I used to set myself weekly and mounthly goals but it had kind of stopped working so it was time to find a new way. And that way was a Finish Projects Month - I had done these before for writing and drawings but normally they focus on one or two main projects and what we wanted was something to get our A into G on all the small almost finished stuff.

Well my aim was to end up with one finished project a day, Al's was to mainly get the niggling DIY stuff sorted.

We failed but as always with these challenges it is not really a fail. So Alaric has done much metal work and drilling. Preparing our house for structured cabling and server housing in the workshop. These count as two projects that are now much much further a head than they would have been and they need doing URGENTLY. To make our lives easier with DIY he made a contraption so that he could carry part of the compressor into the house but leave the noisy bit in the workshop. That is one FINISHED PROJECT.

So:

1) Compressor mount and pipe carrier = FINISHED

2) Server case = getting there

3) Structured cabling = getting there

Jean now has a bit of trunking for her room and is very excited about the whole process. We also had to sort out craft areas and workshop etc... to make this work well.

4) Attic organised and craft's sorted = FINISHED (though still boxes of paper work to go through)

5) Workshop = one end SORTED

Then there was some paper work/bank bits which we will count as

6)

7)

On top of that we now have a nice rodent proof feed storage box for the chickens which needs to be put in place but is in the garden. This will allow me to sort out the shed and to shore it up a bit more so we can get a bit more life out of it :/ We also dealt with the flooring in the chicken run, which is now all nice though next time I need to dig down further and put gravel in but we are getting there with it!

8) Fed Bin = GOT

9) Chicken Run Flooring = SORTED

We also uped the exercise stuff, so Alaric is doing his runs and though I am not running I will be as soon as we can get me some shoes and me and Jeany are going climbing together once a week.

10) Climbing and running = OWNED!

Writing wise I've been being a bit lame and only managed to finish one flash fiction - which I remember coming up with the concept for in 2007 in Costa's in Cheltenham during the whole flood debacle. I'd typed the intro of it onto Magenta Monster in 2010 combining it with a story starter I'd picked up off of twitter - which had sparked the idea back to life :/ It is at least now finished!

11) Story The Tragedy of Love = FINISHED!!!

Oh and this prompted a bit of a blog clean up/updating session.

12) Blog sorting = SORTED

I made the girls dig out all their library books and we took them back and did all the niggly bits of shopping for the house (ie not just food).

13) Household admin/maintain = GOOD (never ever gets completely sorted EVER)

This then leads on to crafts and the like - so basically I was like arg!!! I have a crate of half finished kids craft project and like 3 of me craft project - this needs to be sorted NOW!!!

For a start there was the sock I had attempted for Al - it has it's problems but it is a nice sock, but fits Jean, has wholes in it and more importantly there is just one of it as I started in in what 2013? And did most of it and it had just been sitting there almost finished for the whole of last year - attic became a no go zone with building works a happening. Basically I've forgotten what I did so there is little hope of knitting another. But it is finished and now a base for something else - Jeany wants to turn it into a new purse/wallet for Alaric.

14) Al's Sock = Done by awaiting full incarnation

Having taken up crotchet and attempting to desperately learn the different stitches at the beginning of the year, I had ended up with lots of half finished squares - I now have 15 finished squares (still need to thread the ends away). They will either be flannels or squares for blankets depending on how square and what size they have come up!).

15) 15 crotchet squares = almost done

I'd sorted out all the knitting and sewing into project bundles and found I had some random pieces that I had no clue about. Fortunately whilst I was finishing off something else I remembered what one of them was, found the pattern, found my place in the pattern once more and finished it off - sadly it is only one side of a duck but I will be knitting the other half shortly - I needed the white wool to finish knitting Mary's Elsa dolly. This was supposed to be her main Christmas present :/ I still need to make some shoes and she needs sewing up and stuffing but I think she is getting there!

16) Duck toy = so not done yet but progress made!

17) Elsa Dolly = all knitted but sewing up, stuffing, hair and face needed

Alaric managed to finish two creeper faces on stuff I'd knitted ages ago.

18) Creeper faces = half done

However I have been creating more work for him in this area - I finally sewed together and stuffed the baby creeper plushy that I knitted for Jean ages ago - it was another stuck due to roof fix project! I should have gone with instinct and used foam except I hate foam so it has wadding in.

19) Baby Creeper sans face = OWNED!!!!

I wanted to finish Mary's fairy outfit that I have crotchet in giant chunky wool but it took me all month to get to the shop to pick up the last ball I need to finish the second shoe!

20) Fairy outfit = not done but materials got

And though I started them during the month there are also crotchet Easter Eggs - six of them 2 giants and 4 little ones. Jean wants more but as that is for the weekend I think she maybe whistling!

21) Giant Crotchet Easter Eggs = DONE

22) Mini Crotchet Easter Eggs = Done

There are also the epic Easter Egg Spoons we made at the weekend and the planter/seed markers.

23) Ester Egg Garden Ornament Spoons = FINISHED

24) Painted knife seed markers = FINISHED

And one dug over bed and allotment tidying (I have many other beds to dig), I also potted up half the seeds I want to grow in pots and fixed the sumps on the wormeries which I'd needed to do for a while.

25) Wormery sorting = DONE

26) Allotment = BEGUN!!!

27) Seeds = STARTED

Within this there was stuff like plant pots that had been painted by me as a teen and never used and grass heads that had been made and never used etc... so it was a job well done I think.

We also had Mother's Day Cake making with the girls which I'm counting as a finished project :)

28) Mushroom butterfly cake = BAKED and EATEN

And that leads on nicely to the girls... Jean has made bead eggs, finished off lots of the exercise books she has and been colouring in the felt pictures she had. Mary has been painting plant pots and making books, bits that had been pulled down/never gone up yet in their room have been sorted and THE GREAT CLOTHS SORT and some buying of the new happened. They finished Easter mobiles and we've put up the chinese lanterns that Jean had half made before the flood and have been sitting at the bottom of a crate ever since. We also did crayon rubbings and eater cards for their egg hunt.

29) Bead Eggs = FINISHED

30) Mary's Easter book about Elsa a.k.a birthday pressy for Al = ALmost there

31) Easter Mobiles = FINISHED (except that there is a chick missing but hopefully it will turn up at some point!)

There is still plenty left for them to do as there are half coloured in Easter bags and papier mache eggs and so on and obviously some of this is new kits they got for the Easter Hols. Of course Jean did the huge candle make which over lapped the beginning of this month and was quiet frankly EPIC!!!

32) Easter kids projects = in progress

33) Candle Making = DONE, FINISHED, EPIC NOOODLES!!!!

Alaric also set up opportunistic SMTP encryption for the server cluster, and renewed our self-signed SSL certs - which is for email stuff so I am hoping my email will once again be usable which it hasn't been :/

34) Emails = sorted (hopefully)

I also finished sewing together 2 bags knitted out of fluffy and in one case sparkly wool. One of these I started BEFORE I started going out with Alaric and it was supposed to be a shoulder wrap but I couldn't knit so it was lumpy and bumpy and I ran out of wool and tried to use the same type but different colours and... it works much better as a bag and can now (finally) be sent to the person it is for!

35) Fluffy rainbow record bag = COMPLETED

36) Purple fluffy purse/bag = COMPLETED

Oh and I finished Alaric's new scarf which I did on day one and Alaric has proudly been wearing it for most of the month :)

37) Accidental West Ham Scarf = HAMMERED

Ok so maybe that isn't so much of a fail as I had thought! And I now know exactly how many project there are which always helps :)

I also drew a portrait of Sir Terry Pratchett and think I now have most of my note books sorted.

38) Drawing of Terry Pratchett = sadly done

Within March I also organised and ran workshops on: mothers day card making, kids comedy night including slapstick and improv, Easter egg hunts including life sized Alaric Bunny - for which I had to make a tail!

Plus a writing meet.

39) Giant Bunny Tail = OWNED

And I almost forgot that Jeany made soaps! And asked for and earnt herself £10 worth of more soap making supplies (the original kit being from a couple of birthdays ago).

40) Jean's Soaps = LOVELY

Eeep! There's more! At the beginning of March it was Downes Syndrome Awareness Day and Mary's pre-school had an event celebrating one of the little ones with them and requested an odd sock day. So I made a mooky - a sock monster like I used to make with nan and uncle (for those of you who met me after I was married Benny was Downes and died a couple of months after our wedding), it seemed appropriate to me, though I've had to explain to several people who were concerned that I was making an "odd monster" for the awareness day. Basically I made a cuddle toy for Mary out of odd socks.

41) Mooky for Moo the Mooky = DONEDID

Ooo also we settled in the new chickens :)

42) Chickens!!!! = settled and laying

So what of this coming month April?

I'm doing two writing challenges - one is Camp Nanowrimo which is linked to the novel writing madness I do in November. Script Frenzy is no more so I am doing it for Camp but always I am working on my comic books which are based in my Punk Universe. But also in general I will be catching up on all things comic related stuff including the pending blog posts and stuff about the Wiggly Pets, but obviously main focus is getting the 100 page script written.

The second is NaPoWriMo which is a Poem a Day writing challenge and will be the thrid one for this year - I tend to go with the "I am going to spend 30 hrs on poetry this month" approach which as I am running workshops at the wonderful Poetry Festival as well, should not be a hard one to complete :)

Better get one with some of the work I suppose!

Oh, UKIP… (by )

This came up on Twitter:

But Glenn Tingle quickly shut down his account, so the world could no longer see what his interests are.

Thankfully, I'd nabbed a screenshot:

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.

Tangling it All: Make, Bake, Create (by )

Chillies on the window sill close up

It's March and as I am not a hardy gardener, March is the beginning of my growing year. Which means that we have been along to the allotment and I've (yes me!!!) dug a bed over and harvested a load of leeks and so on but mainly I've been potting seeds up and transferring things into bigger pots with the two girls.

Jean and Mary potting up

They both love this - but Mary most of all - I took over the dinning table for three days and she spent hours each day filling plant pots for me :)

Mary taking care that she gets the soil in the plant pot Really? Mummy you want me to play with the mud? Mary in dispair over gardening Mary looking into the plant pot Mary filling the pots with compost

She also loves watering them all, as does Jean so I have to be careful not to end up with little "floods". Mary also thinks that watering can is a musical instrument - she is not wrong and I am glad I don't use it for any fertalisers or anything!

(photo)

This weekend was heavy on the garden stuff - I sorted out the chicken run so that we could use the old flooring as stuff to dig into the allotment. This is quiet heavy work and I also have to sort out the wormeries and see how much compost I have ready to go in them. The answer was several bucket loads! I also had to fix two of the sumps which is a bit ick as they are by nescesity under all the liquid that settles at the bottom of the wormeries. This stuff is basically liquid plant food which is why I collect it and my tones of tomatoes last year proves that it works!

Chillies on the window sill

And though I now have new funky plant pots on the window sill in the dining area I also have various pots that have been painted either by me or the girls. This for me is an interesting cross over of the craft and the gardening. I even have two that I painted back when I was a Ranger (top section of Guiding).

Space invaders plant pot

Painted plant pot Squid Side Painted plant pot jelly fish side Painted plant pot Turtle side

That was not the only craft cross over either - I'm having a finishing projects month and though not a project that was already started - I have had this idea for ages (years) so we went ahead and did it :)

Knife herb markers

We made plant or seed markers out of knives by dipping them into metal paint we have left over from Alaric making his ladder. We also did some spoons to make Easter Eggs for plant pots decorations and the garden.

Knife markers in place

Alaric and Jean set up a drying rack by using an old kitchen tidy and a length of metal and clamps. Clingfilm was placed beneath to catch drips.

Alaric and Jean setting up the drying rack

He then showed Jean how to dip the spoons.

Jean being shown how to coat the spoons in metal paint

She then had a go and was very careful and patient.

Jean dipping the spoons in the metal paint

She did all the spoons and knives and Mary helped Daddy find the right size dog clips to pin them all up to the drying rack.

Jean carefully painting the spoons

The paint is supposed to be touch dry in an hour but it was on quiet thickly so we left it over night.

Painted Spoons drying

The next day we took sharpies and took to decorating the spoons as easter eggs and the knives as seed markers (ok so I did all the knives but we all did the eggs including Alaric and Mary).

Decorated spoons drying

I'm not sure how well this will work and this first lot are going out without varnish, the sharpie pics we did on the chair at the allotment have faded but that maybe due to the under laying paint flaking - we will see - it's an EXPERIMENT!!!! mwhahahahahahahaha

Jean decorating the spoons with Sharpies

Jean spent ages on decorating her ones.

Painted knife seed markers

I am very very happy with the seed markers :)

Close up of painted seed markers made of knives

Infact we are going to have to do a couple more batches as I have a lot more stuff planned for the growing!

Close up 2 of painted knife seed markers

I coloured the inside of my Easter Egg spoon with a chick - Mary decided she had to do one too and demanded the colours "ellow, norange and black" and then with a stroke of genius announced that the back of her chick needed to be fluffy yellow as it was already crick crack hatched!

Easter Chick spoon garden ornaments

Well I was impressed - I was equally impressed by Jean's sheep and tree :)

Insides of the spoons

I love these Easter Egg Spoons :)

Easter Egg Spoon garden ornaments

I don't think you can tell which one of us did which egg to be honest :)

Close up of Easter Spoons

The only issue is that you can't let them touch each other or various plastics as they stick.

Close up 2 of Easter Spoons

Mary is most pleased with her flower pot :)

Easter Spoon pot decorations

And it is great fun to mix the crafts in with the gardening, things like bird scariers and wind chimes are fun to make and practical too. But this weekend kind of had the cake and the icing and the eating :) For a start CHICKENS that lay stoopid numbers of eggs which always equals cake but second...

Dairy, Gluten, Soy, meat free curry made with home grown veg

I grubbed up some potatoes that I've been growing in the big bags we used to move with three years ago. This is the third year of potatoes in the garden. They are lovely new tatties so small and firm and Alaric being the whizz that was whipped them up into a gorgous curry that was dairy, gluten and soya free and found naan breads I could eat too! There were even star anises in the top :)

Purple Chillie

And this? This is my purple chilli :)

Purple Chillie close up

I basically grew the chilli plants from seed all the way through the winter and autumn and I had chillies in Feb! And as promised by the packet they are all different colours :)

I am so excited about this, I have never managed them from seed before!

Basically this weekend we managed to do gardening, craft and cooking and the boundaries between them were blurred and in truth there was DIY too which crossed over very nicely too :)

p.s. we also took Jean to two different sporting clubs and a sleep over.

Time to get fit (by )

Sarah's been putting a lot of work into losing weight lately, but apart from the fitness stuff I do in Krav Maga classes most weeks, I've not really paid much attention to my own health. However, my work have a fancy new medical insurance benefit thing, which has two features of relevance: One is that they pay for us to be poked and prodded and weighed and so on to establish our basic health parameters, and the other is that they encourage us to do exercise and eat well through a complex system of points-based incentives.

This has a two-pronged effect: It's told me that my body mass index (23.4) is in the healthy range (18.5-25), but a bit close to the top end; and my blood pressure (124/75) should be under (120/80). Thankfully, both of these can be improved by doing more cardiovascular exercise; and with the complex system of points-based incentives, this is GAMIFIED. Combined that with discounts on interesting fitness tracker gadgets, and feeling that nagging awkward feeling of watching Sarah work really hard on her weight loss while I slumped on the sofa with my laptop, and it started to become inevitable that I was going to start doing more exercise.

So, I got a discounted Polar RC3 GPS. This is a watch with a GPS and some smarts in it, which communicates via radio with a heart rate monitor worn on a strap. By logging heart rate data it can measure my exertion in an activity, and if that activity involves moving around (running or cycling, for instance) it can combine that with speed and gradient information from the GPS to work out what effort I was expending. This data is uploaded via a USB cable to a Web service that Polar run (alas, I have to depend on them keeping the thing up and bothering to securely store all my data, although there does seem to be an option to download it in a documented file format; but if the site goes down, I'll be having to reverse-engineer their USB protocol to continue to get data from my watch).

The fun is in the analysis, however. Their software has a model of human metabolism that works out how much strain I'm putting on my system, how many calories I've used, how many calories of fat I've burnt, and an efficiency factor they call "running index". It'll gather data across exercise sessions and work out trends and all sorts of fun stuff, including a "training load" graph that tracks an exponentially decaying cumulative average of the strain I undergo; horizontal bands on the chart indicate cumulative load levels where I should be taking things easy for a few days.

It also has an ability to suggest training schedules, which can be uploaded into the watch, and will then guide me - giving me a target heart rate to aim for for a given time period, then moving up to a higher pace, than down again, for instance.

So I've set myself the target of doing at least one - and ideally three or four - runs a week, where I spend at least half an hour above seventy percent of my estimated maximum heart rate. Here's one I did earlier. You can even see what I did on a little map, including my cool-down period at the end!

The data from this thing feeds into the health insurance provider, too, which then drives their points-based incentive system. This has an unexpected benefit; although I'm quite enamored of earning points on principle, some of the benefits are things that Sarah and the kids enjoy (free cinema tickets once a week, Starbucks or iTunes credit, etc). That makes an incentive for them to send me out on runs; given how busy our life is, that's surprisingly useful!

Other than meeting my weight and blood pressure goals, and generally increasing the number of armed assailants I can disable at Krav before I start to get sweaty, I'd quite like to do a marathon or something one day.

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