Reading Jean (by )

Jean Reading The Shepherds Crown

I took Jean to a midnight book launch - I debated weather it was appropriate as she is still 9 though will be ten by the weekend.

But it was the last discworld novel and I phoned Waterstones to check and she was desperate to be a feegle - Tiffany Aching was introduced to her last year by me. She was desperate for people like herself in books - she fell in love with the discworld.

Terry Pratchett got given a place next to Neil Gaiman and RL Stien as favourite authors. Then he died.

Jean went as Tiffany to World Book Day. Jean loves books, Jean often stays up far later than she should reading and gets twitchy if she doesn't have a book to hand.

She announced the Waterstones smelt of new books and though tired did say today she wished we'd stayed longer at the launch, last night we left when she said she wanted to go - she thought they should have read more of the book out.

As we queued she read the last book of Tiffany, The Shepherds Crown, it is also the last book of Terry. She would like it known that she is not reading the book in the above photo but was just looking through it at this point.

The beehives made bee noises - she was impressed and someone gave her a crotchet feegle - she loves it and fell asleep with it last night. We were in the newspaper and there will be more write ups on this :)

We don't have the sparkly book as Mummy was a cheap skate and got the £10 tickets. I made the right decision in taking her.

Her feegle outfit was cobbled together from a spock outfit and Rincewind had a tricorder. Don't cross the fandoms!

When asked why she was there she replied with "I like books", she is supposed to be asleep now but is reading.

Crochet Feegle

Workshop progress (by )

Setting up my workshop has been a long battle, thanks to the roof leaking (and everything getting covered in slime mold because of the damp, and ivy growing in through the holes in the roof and shedding sticky sap and dead leaves on everything, and a cat getting in there and pooing on the floor...). Things got rusty, everything got grimy, and stuff was moved around willy-nilly to get it out of the water; and then because everything was in the wrong places, stuff couldn't be put away properly, and so things ended up piled wherever they could go. This was quite distressing for me; by nature, I'm a person who makes things, but I've not been able to do anywhere near as much making as I'd like for years, because I didn't have a nice place to work and didn't have easy access to my equipment.

Door with sign

But, now the roof is fixed, and everything's had about a year to dry out. I've had time to continue painting the floor (it's all now covered in paint, but some parts need a second coat); I've cleaned and tidied;0 and thrown away wood and metal that was too rusted to be of any use, and scraped up the remains of cardboard boxes that had dissolved into fungus, and found and removed all the cat turds and scrubbed the floor with disinfectant; thrown away computer parts that were covered in disturbing fungal blooms; and cleaned and tidied the computer desk. I've made racks to store the wood and metal stocks that are still usable, and put down linoleum under the computer desk so the chair can roll around freely (it didn't do too well on the rough concrete) and I have a nice surface to rest my feet on.

I put up a bracket with hooks for my boiler suit and lab coats, by the door, as the place they used to hang now interferes with the material racks:

Protective clothing hanging by the door

I've got the compressor installed under the workbench, rather than kicking around the floor:

Compressor installed under workbench

And my computer desk is all set up nicely; you can't really see it here, but there's a desktop PC, with a nice set of speakers and an amplifier so I can listen to music - or the audio from my wide-band scanner, seen to the right of the monitor, which picks up the FM broadcast band nicely:


What's next? I still need to assemble some shelving, as there's still stacks of flimsy plastic crates holding a lot of stuff. And put a second coat of paint on some bits of the floor (which will be easy to get to when the crates are gone). And I've got a metal garden waste incinerator I was going to turn into a furnace (but which is far too large, and now I've helped somebody else build a furnace that he lets me use), which I need to find a new home for. And I need to find a place to store the festival trolley, which currently kicks around on the workshop floor (getting in the way and offering plenty of shin-scraping opportunity). And I need to finish the meter-and-a-quarter-high heavy steel server chassis standing in the middle of the room (which will be fixed to the wall next to my computer desk when it's finished).

I want to make a new welding bench, too - my current one is curved, as (in the wildness of youth) I tried to put far more welds between the top surface and the frame than was needed, causing it to warp. This means it's very hard to make flat things, as they don't lie flat when I'm lining them up to weld. And, as it stands on four rather thin angle-steel legs, on a rough concrete floor, it wobbles, so isn't much use to mount a vice on. Speaking of vices, while clearing up in the workshop, I came across this beast:

Old leg vice

It's a "leg vice"; the long metal leg should be embedded into the ground to steady it. It's a blacksmith's tool, intended to hold something while it's battered with a hammer; thus the exceptionally sturdy construction. If I bolted it to my current bench, then the bench would fall over if I tried to use it in earnest. We found it in the stable where we lived before, which is the ancestral home of one side of my family; I was given it as I thought I could try and get it working, although I was expecting a long task ahead of me to rebuild seized parts. Thankfully, the screw thread was in perfect condition, and penetrating oil and elbow grease got the joint un-seized, and it's now working nicely. It still needs some rust removal to make it more pleasant to touch and to avoid contaminating everything I clamp with rust, but that won't take long.

I costed up materials to make one with a more rigid frame, bolted to the wall at the back and with two legs at the front so that it wouldn't wobble (and, with the wisdom of experience, only stitch-welding it to the frame, as that'll provide more than enough strength without curving it into a bow); making that will cost a little over sixty pounds (plus welding consumables and electricity). The design includes a mounting point for the leg vice, so that it protrudes out into the room (with the top of the vice level with the top of the bench, so it's not in the way of large things going on the bench), and converting the old bench into a shelf under the new bench to provide much-needed handy storage for grinding tools and welding clamps.

However, having just spent a bunch of money on welding gear I'm not going to be in a position to splash out sixty quid on a welding bench for another month or so (let alone buying metal for other metalwork projects needed around the house, such as a set of railings for the front of the house...). Thankfully, we've found a local scrap metal merchant who are willing to let us rummage around for cheap metal! When we get a chance, I'm going to head over there and see if they have any steel plate for the top and box/angle section for the frame and legs... It'll be nice to have a good welding project to focus on with my new TIG welder!

Learning things (by )

I love learning new things. I'm usually struggling to find new things to learn; the last fun bit of computer science I learnt about was Bloom filters, and they didn't hold my attention for long. The last really fun bit of computer science I learnt about would be content-addressed storage, and I'm still having fun with that, but I can't find any more to learn about it. I'm having to make stuff up myself, which is rewarding in its own way, but much harder work.

Of course, this past week I've been learning TIG welding, which has been awesome. It's been a while since a whole new field of things to learn has opened up to me, and it's nice to work on a new class of physical skills. My routine physical learning is my weekly Krav Maga training, but I crave variety. My lust for learning benefits more from intensive two-week courses than an hour a week for years. I'd love to go and take a proper welding course at a college, but I can't spare the time; I have to practice when I can in the evenings and weekends. I'm getting good at horizontal/flat welds, but I'd like to master vertical and overhead (because if I work on anything large, such as the festival trolley, in my cramped workshop, I often can't rotate everything around to be nice and flat). Also, suspecting that the trouble I was hitting with stick welding is at least partly to do with the limitations of my old cheap AC welder, I want to use my new welder's capability to do nicely regulated DC stick welding and see if I can learn to do good stick welds. And I'd like to get some practice in welding aluminium and stainless steel, as I have applications for both of those.

So that's physical skills sorted, for now. Mentally, I've been learning how antennas work. There's no particular reason for this; it's something that's always puzzled me somewhat, but what's triggered the recent interest was a birthday gift from an old friend, of the ARRL handbook, which goes into some detail; and then meeting an interesting guy at a Cheltenham Hackspace Open Evening who turns out to design broadcast transmission antennas for a living, who answered a load of questions left open by the books. I still want to get a better intuitive grasp of the quantities involved - how many volts and amps appear on an antenna feeder line? What field strengths in volts per meter would you expect to find at what distance from an antenna? Does that relate to a corresponding magnetic field strength in tesla?

I've also been learning Morse code. This is quite interesting. I thought I'd memorise that table of dots and dashes and that'd be that, but it turns out that this technique tends to maroon people at slow morse speeds, as they mentally record a sequence of dots and dashes then mentally look it up in the table to find the letter. To get fast Morse skills, which tend to tend towards one or two characters per second, you need to learn to recognise the sound - "di di dah" - as a letter directly. So I've been using a combination of the Farnsworth and Koch methods to learn Morse; growing my "vocabulary" a letter at a time, and using an enlarged inter-character spacing. The latter is because I was tending to find that I'd hear a character, and write it down, but while I was writing it another would have been and gone, which was confusing. I want to reduce that inter-character gap, but I might wait until I've learnt the entire alphabet via the Koch method, so I can mentally be writing entire words rather than concentrating on a letter at a time - with a reduced alphabet, Morse training tends to involve writing down random gibberish (so far, I know M, K, R, U, S and O; at least the old Nokia SMS beep now makes sense to me... di-di-dit dah-dah di-di-dit!). Again, I have no particular reason to learn Morse - I learnt it as a child, but then forgot it through not using it, which had always faintly irritated me. I've often wondered about using it as a crude interface to tiny embedded computers, although it'd be frustratingly slow for most uses. The usual reason to learn Morse is to do CW amateur radio; that's an idea I've toyed with in the past, but being able to talk to random people over radio holds little appeal (I can talk to random people over the Internet much more cheaply and easily). However, I'd be interested in getting an amateur radio licence as a mental challenge, or as a means to some other project that requires radio communications capabilities, so I might go for a course if one comes up at a good time. I'd like to be able to operate a radio transmitter in an emergency situation, too.

I love to learn things, but I feel sad about not using the skills I pick up. Ok, I don't want to use my Krav skills - they tend to involve hurting people, and are only useful when already under danger of harm coming to me or people I'm protecting, which is nothing to be happy about. But I practice welding because want to make metal things. But by no means do I only learn things when I have a need for them; I learn stuff because it looks interesting and the opportunity arises, then I try and find applications. I've already been excitedly thinking about how aluminium welding will simplify the construction of one of my old back-burner projects - making a hiking staff out of aluminium tubing, that has a stack of lithium-ion batteries inside it at the base, a computer with a keyer in the middle so I can interact with it, and a high-brightness LED lantern on the top so I can have a variety of illumination options (white all around, white forwards only, red all around, etc). I had been working out complex systems of brackets and bolts to hold it all together, but TIG welding it would be much easier, neater, lighter, and stronger. Now, I had considered having a button that could be used to strobe the lights for Morse emergency signalling - and the logical next step was to include a co-axial semiconductor laser in the top that could shine a bright beam for signalling in Morse (and, at a pinch, be used to light fires; you can get 2W laser modules off the shelf these days, and all those lithium ion batteries are going to be able to source a lot of power...). So perhaps I should get a ham licence, and make the staff in sections joined together with insulators, and make it be a two-meter band dipole antenna (which is one meter long) with a CW transceiver inside, so it can also send and receive Morse by radio? That might be fun, and not much extra hardware as it'll already have a decent ARM microprocessor inside.

For now, though, I'd better focus on finishing off my server chassis (which I'm building my welding skills up towards), and make a new welding bench (mine is curved, and wobbles because the floor is uneven and the legs are too weak), and do some metalwork that's needed around the house... I'd like to do some more focussed Lojban study, too; right now I'm just picking up vocabulary by looking for words for things I don't know yet when I need them, but re-reading the reference grammar to remind myself of bits I rarely use would be good!

The School Holidays Begin (by )

It is that time of year again when there are no school runs and I have no completely free child time - Jean however is almost ten so I can work whilst she is around now. In fact at the moment she is helping me!

So we let Jean plan the first day of the holiday - it was without Mary for most of it as it was a pre-school day and they continue during the holidays.

We constructed a plan based on the sorts of things she wanted to do - namely Home School which she loves and I initially came up with when we were snowed in at The Bakery back in her infant school days.

Home School Monday

We started with an American breakfast - Jean's school had done an Independance Day breakfast but the last term we have kept missing dates and time changing and the such like, probably due to my concussion. Jean was quiet upset about this so we investigated the sorts of things Americans eat for breakfast and decided it was a combo of a Canadian and Full English and set about creating our own probably very wrong breakfast!

Jean's American Breakfast

This of course started with us grubbing up potatoes from the garden - I used the bags we had for moving (from Essex which then got used for lots of things but all had busted zips or handles etc...), to grow potatoes in - I am phasing this out as most of the bags have reached the end of their life, and we now have an allotment!

Grubbing up the tatties

We were after the "new" white potatoes rather than the bigger potatoes and the pink/red potatoes so Jean kept checking with me she'd gotten the right type until I pointed out I was just grubbing up all useful potatoes as I needed to make a casserole with the turnips and beetroot from the allotment anyway.

Jean asking if freshly gubbed up potatoes are big enough

We harvested an entire pot of tatties which Jean then selected the ones we wanted for breakfast - we went with sauteed potatoes rather than the chips we'd seen in some of the breakfasts as we just couldn't cope with the idea of chips for breakfast.

Jean and her colindar full of potatoes

She then scrubbed them and chopped them whilst I started on the rest. Once that was done she mixed up the pancake mix, got plates out and general reminded me what I was doing! She also went to the shop to get three missing ingredients.

We used the flat bed sandwich toaster to cook the pancakes, this was the first time either of us had cooked this thicker type of pancake. It was fun and I put the coffee perculator on for me. Jean poured us juice.

Jean putting the maple syrup on pancakes

She took a stack of ten pancakes so it would look like the photos! And she doesn't normally eat maple syrup but she poured it on. She made up a granola and home made yogurt mix too.

Jean tucking into her American Breakfast

It was a HUGE breakfast - fresh sliced tomato, suateed potatoes, baked beans, 2 rashers bacon, 2 suasages, a fried egg, and 2 slices of toast! She basically ate the bacon and cereal and then nibbled on the pancakes all day. The rest did me and Mary for a meal each. 😀

We then learnt Latin, she did some at a language day at school and come home obsessed. She had a piece of paper she had already made notes on (mainly she observed that the Harry Potter series had used latin for the spells). When I say we learnt Latin, what actually happened was that I found a series on Youtube of which I followed the first lesson and then left her to it, she was on lesson 9 at the end with pages of notes.

I found her on google translate trying to check her own translation before she restated the vid to find out if she was right. Her translation was closer than google translates. I discovered I know random bits of latin - I assume from my Classical Civilization A'level. Later on I corrected Alaric's pronounciation as well coughs.

Then it was time for the first ever Stubby Marathon!

The Stubby Marathon Supplies!

I am still struggling with reading and writing, I am using voice tech or just going really really slowly in short bursts. But it is easier for me to do long hand rather than typing and it is a writing challenge month so I looked around and thought "you know what I have a ream or two of lined paper and lots of pencils that haven't even been sharpened!" - BAM!!!

The idea?

It is a writing marathon that will last at least the summer holidays - me and Jean sit for at least an hour writing trying to wear the lead out in the freshly sharpened pencil. Each day we see who has used their lead the most - we re-sharpen the next day so the points are the same so there is a day to day winner and an over all winner (you can write outside of the allotted time and I can't write for very long at all and have to make coffee in the middle etc...). Jean has written 2 stories and twice as many pages as me so far. I am designing a medal for her :)

This summer is our marathon summer but more on that later.

I think we then mixed things up a bit by having our outside time and snack before we started on our hour of art. This was basically us working our way through various kits Jean's had for birthdays etc... WHY OH WHY are the instructions in kids craft kits so dire? I mean they really are bad and I think most people think it's the kids just not getting it but it really isn't - it's the instructions :/

trying to work out the instructions to craft kits

It took me most of the hour and a very bad keyring, to remember some basic stuff that I could do before the concussion and have been doing since before I was Jean's age :( This hour was frustrating for both of us but we decided to see it too the end and not jump kits and she at least made a lovely bracelet though with improvisation and not the technique that the kit was designed for!

Jean's shoe lace bracelet

She then played outside on the trampoline whilst I rested my brain, she then set herself up with her maths - these are GCSE level maths but with the questions in accessible easy comprehension which were ones my mum had for teaching those who had failed or not sat GCSE's the first time round. Some of them my mum had made herself and some were from packs provided by the college - the course was cut leaving my mum with all the teaching stuff and no one to teach :(

Then Al and Mary came home and we wizzed off to pick up some garden fairy lights which the girls put together whilst Daddy made dinner - they are bees and ladybirds and hopefully there will be a blog post on what we've done with the garden soon!

Jean and Mary putting together the bee and ladybird garden lights

Mary went to bed and then Jean and Alaric played with the electronic kits and only got shouted at once by me for making the radio they'd just built too loud (issue was they couldn't work out how to control the sound level - or so they say!).

Jean doing electronics with Alaric

We forgot to practice the recorder which Jean was going to attempt at 9:30 but I banned!!!

So I think that was an epic start to the holidays - since I started writing this blog post she has been writing schedules and naming each day - this was Home School Monday. But we have also had:

Tidying Tuesday, Wet Wednesday, Friend Thursday and today which was going to be Allotment Friday but then got turned into Cinema Friday has actually been named Freedom Friday as she decided to go home with her friend for a sleep over instead and pointed out that me and Al (Who has a day off of work) do not have either kid with us today.

TIG Welding: The First Day (by )

Today, I took the day off work to take my new TIG welder for a spin.

I started by getting some pure argon shielding gas; prices for this stuff vary widely (10 litres full of gas at 200 bar for £35 plus £15 shipping, or the same for £77.90 including shipping?), but I managed to get a 9 litre cylinder filled for £25 at Target Tools and Supplies in Gloucester. They don't seem to have a web site, but they're here.

With that installed, everything worked fine:

My welding setup

I didn't have to find out how wonderful R-Tech's customer service are, because the thing arrived in full working order and was easy to set up and use :-) I ran a few test beads across some scrap steel, and it worked pretty much as I remembered from my TIG course all those years ago, so I set to doing something useful.

First job was to fix up the dodgy welds holding the new steering gear onto the welding trolley. I ground down the two lumpy lines of poor stick welding on either side of the join I actually wanted to weld together (it had bridged in a couple of spots, which was holding it together, but it was far from ideal), and set to it with the TIG. The result was hardly beautiful, as I didn't weld it completely flat so it was a bit irregular to start with, but with no fuss at all I was able to make it bridge the gap. I'm finding TIG much easier to control than stick - I can see what I'm doing far better, so I know where I'm welding, and because it's not constantly depositing metal, if the weld pool hasn't formed where I want it to, I can move it and make sure both sides are melting together before I start putting in filler! As I was welding a 3mm thick flat bar to a 2mm-wall 25mm square tube, getting both sides to melt together wasn't an obvious operation of just applying heat to the middle, so being able to manipulate the arc was a great bonus here.

Next, I cut off some 10mm square tube to weld onto the chassis so as to stop the steering arm from swinging too far from side to side. Originally, it was possible to steer too far, causing one of the front wheels to jam underneath the front of the main body of the trolley, which is no fun; these two stops put a stop to that! However, this was my first experience of welding something that's not horizontal and easily accessible. It was a real squeeze getting to the place they had to be welded, so I kept finding my torch hand or the hand feeding the wire in snagging on things. When attaching one of the stops, I lost track of where the filler wire was while welding; it had caught on something and was being pushed aside of where I was pointing it, outside the area I could see. While I faffed with this, I left the torch pointing at one place for too long and melted the end of one of the stops off! It wasn't a bit that does anything, so I'll probably grind it off and do the same on the other one to make them match again, but still, it wasn't great...

Also, when welding in awkward positions, I couldn't see the arc so well and kept poking the tungsten electrode into the weld pool. This meant re-grinding it, which wasn't ideal as it contains traces of thorium (a radioisotope), and you don't want too much thorium dust getting into your lungs. I decided to practice a bit with the torch in awkward positions on a bit of scrap, and got the tungsten stuck again, and decided not to re-grind it - I nipped out to a nearby welding supply shop and picked up some E3 tungstens, which aren't radioactive. With one of those ground and installed, I set to a little project: making myself a monitor stand for the office (my monitor currently sits on a stack of books).

I started with flat welds to put the top together, which went fine:

The bed of the monitor stand

Then welded some tubes onto the bottom to make legs:

The monitor stand

This was a lot harder. I've not got the correct angle and electrode stick-out yet, so was struggling to see the weld pool, and ended up dipping the tungsten in the metal a lot. Also, heat rises, so I was having to work to get the flat bit I was welding to to melt and form a pool, while the tube sticking up from it was happy to melt and then flop down, making a nice arch. I think I can fix this with better torch positioning - I need to experiment more!

As well as working on my torch holding, I think I also need to pick up some thicker filler rod - I've got a kilogram of 1mm mild steel rod, and 1mm rod seems to just disappear; I struggled to feed it in fast enough and it kept balling up. I think I had the right amperage for the metal (I was using 70 amps on 3mm thick steel with a 1.6mm tungsten), given the penetration and the rate at which the weld pool formed, so I think my rod's just too thin.

Also, I need to figure out which sized ceramic to use. I set the torch up with the smallest one (which has "5" printed on the side; I have a "6" and a "7" as well), assuming that it's best to start small and move up, but during the post-flow stage I'm seeing the surface of the weld pool rippling quite violently, and when it solidifies, it has a correspondingly ripply surface texture. I'm running the gas regulator at 8 litres/minute, an I've been recommended to go from 8 to 12 for most jobs, so I don't think the gas flow rate is too high; I suspect that the narrow ceramic is forcing the gas into a tight stream so it runs faster and blows the weld pool around.

Now, when we got a compressor, we decided to name it Compressita Wurst in recognition of the recent Eurovision Song Contest winner. Continuing this tradition, the TIG welder is, of course, called Tigger, meaning that my old stick welder is therefore now called Pooh. If I get a plasma cutter, I'll call it Piglet.

I'm delighted with my welder, and look forward to improving my technique! I've a few new projects in mind - fixing up our barbeques with new legs, welding stainless steel grilles for them, and making myself a better welding bench (I can shorten the legs on my current one and make it into a shelf underneath the new one); but my most urgent project is going to be finishing off the new server chassis!

My only complaint with the R-Tech TIG161 welder is that the power switch is all the way around at the back; to turn it on and off, I have to crouch down to reach under the shelf to the back of the thing. Do other people have a handy switch on the socket it plugs into? Or do they not shove it on a shelf? I don't know.

Ok, one other complaint. The hose that connects the gas regulator to the welder (that looks white in the picture of my welding setup), when it arrived, smelt disgusting. It actually smelt like excrement. Not precisely like excrement - it was clearly the smell of some volatiles outgassing out of new synthetic materials - but that's the closest smell that came to mind. At least this was only apparent when I had my face near it while fiddling with the hose fittings to connect it up, and the smell has subsided after a day's usage. Thank God. That's the smelliest pipe I've ever encountered.

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