Category: Sci/Tech

Stencil-tagging my phone case (by )

My favourite thing to do with the laser cutter at Cheltenham Hackspace is to cut stencils in thin card.

It's dead easy to knock them together in Inkscape, once you've found a suitable stencil font, and the laser can cut thin card in no time at all.

With that done, it's then trivial to spray-paint my Kitten Technologies logo onto things I own or make, Diresta Style!

My first aluminium welding project: A projector protector (by )

The Scout group I help out with meets in a hall with a projector suspended from the ceiling, and because of that, we're not allowed to play ball games; the projector's pretty exposed, and one whack from a ball would probably finish it.

So, I offered to make a metal "cage" to go around it, and decided that this would be a good project to learn aluminium welding on. Aluminium doesn't corrode, and is light for its strength; light is important for a thing that will be suspended in the air above children.

Welding aluminium is a bit different to welding steel. It's much more conductive of heat, and has a lower melting point; so when you have the bit you're welding hot enough to melt, that molten puddle spreads quickly. You need a lot of heat as it's being rapidly conducted away from the actual weld, but if you linger, the entire thing you're working on will melt... So, the result is that aluminium welds tend to look rather larger and chunkier than welds in steel, and you need to work quickly!

My plan was to make a wireframe cuboid, out of 10mm aluminium square tubing. I made the top and bottom rectangles, then joined them with verticals. So my first welds were the outer corners of the box, and I quickly found that it was all too easy to melt the entire corner into a puddle - but thankfully, I could then just build the weld metal up again and use my belt sander to flatten the result back into a decent corner. So you can't really tell, but the corners are pretty much solid aluminium now...

I finished it, but then spent quite some time worrying how to actually fix it up there. In the end, I made some L-shaped brackets (with a diagonal brace inside the corner). We fixed these to the pillar supporting the projector with hose clamps, and the bottom of the vertical arms rested nicely on the plate at the bottom of the pillar so it can't possibly slide down. The long arms were then drilled, and holes drilled in the corners of the top rectangle of the cage, so they could be joined by M5 bolts. This arrangement gave us some scope to adjust it as we installed it, which was essential as I didn't have exact measurements for the pillar...

Here's the end result:

Projecter cage side Projecter cage front

Projecter cage back Projecter cage wide

The yellowy string stuff is some paracord we added at the last minute, just in case a smaller ball manages to sneak in from the sides.

I grabbed a bit of video of myself and another leader (I was way too nervous to stand up on the wobbly scaffold platform!) figuring out how to attach the thing, but I need a more powerful computer to run Kdenlive so I can properly edit videos into a decent enough state to publish!

Physics has become boring (by )

A common trope in contemporary science fiction is a small team in a lab somewhere (be it academia, industry, or just a hobbyist in a basement) fiddling around and discovering some new science - usually, some way of travelling to other universes or something (and then a whole load of plot unfolds as they accidentally unleash some terrible evil or whatever).

But... that kind of thing just doesn't happen any more. Sure, back in the 1600s, you might sit in a lab and discover electricity; back then, many of the fundamental forces that bind the Universe together were ripe for the discovering. As the centuries passed, the easy stuff was cleaned up bit by bit; in the early twentieth century, relativity and quantum theory cleared up the last mysteries that were easily recreated on a hobbyist budget. There was some fun to be had in nuclear physics, which could be experimented with if you had institutional-level funds to build particle accelerators and atomic piles; but since then, all the really cool peeling-back-the-mysteries physics requires vast financial resources.

What, then, for the nerd in a basement? Not only is exciting physics beyond their grasp, but the escapism of science fiction is dulled by the difficulty of suspending disbelief when our plucky heroes rewire a microwave oven to generate a disruption field that prevents the formation of a super-wormhole to R'lyeh. There's no shortage of fun things that can be built to demonstrate known physics, such as a desktop fusion reactor; but that's just an engineering challenge. There's no new science. Wikipedia's excellent List of unsolved problems in physics is sadly short of things that can be explored from one's bedroom; they're mostly highly theoretical problems, for a start. Perhaps a better-funded amateur could tinker with high-temperature superconductors, but the others on that list seem to either require vast machinery, or just pondering mathematical solutions to problems...

International Mens Day (by )

Alaric and sick kitten snuggles

It is International Mens Day today - this popped up in my memories on Facebook - Alaric curled up with kitten Lithium after her op. Alaric as he says is not shy about his emotions like most male people but he does still have extreme self reliance which causes him much misery and is part of the bundle that makes men more likely to commit suicide - my friends that have killed themselves to escape the dark places have so far all been men - here is the tribute song/poem that I made for them:

And also Al's write up of the miscarriage from the father point of view. Something which often gets over looked.

And guys - if you are in that dark place please please seek help - I know it's the hardest thing to do.

Seasons (by )

I realised something whilst watching all the online banta and bitchin about Halloween verses Christmas. For me there is no real distinction as such, Halloween at the beginning of the darker, scarier but also conversely cosy and safe part of the year.

I see the festivities as flows and markers within the seasonal procession but they are the beginnings not the ends. I think most people see the fixed Western calendar dates as the ends of the festivities. Both me and Alaric see them as beginnings or markers and that is all. I think that is also how my Grandparents and that saw them as there was a steady ramp up and down to Christmas/Easter etc....

And from them I have also come to the conclusion that there is kind of only two seasons for me as well - Summer and Winter - Spring and Autumn are the transition periods. Autumn is the ramp up to Winter but though I used Winter as the name for the season in the darker part of the year I do not believe that the bit normally labeled autumn is less important it is more - that for me they blend and merge and are in essence one.

Looking at fiction produced for Children I find myself thinking that others feel the same - the groupings are always Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter. Maybe this is because I think like a child?

For me "winter cosy" or the making of the safe place or creating the home nest, begins with Harvest - my seasons also do not entirely match our months. Harvest is a nebulous term as food can be pretty much gathered all year round if you know where to look but some times are easier than others and for many things there is a deadline for harvest i.e. before the bad frosts begin. Nature being nature and physics being physics the precise times for these alter ever year. There are variations within years, the Earth's orbit round the sun changes, climate fluctuations, sunspot activities and volcanic eruptions on other bits of our glob all affect it. But roughly speaking it is the end of September or beginning of October.

This is Harvest Festival time it is when I am still foraging but the fruits are getting less abundant and I'm winding down things like the tomato and squash plants. Now begins baking and making time snugged in my home. It is jam, wine - preserves time, I start planning in my head what sort of presents we will give at Christmas. I start to itch for long long walks in the low golden sunshine that bounces off of trees and clouds and seems to be a remembrance of the harsher summer light.

Of course this is also the time when I start to suffer from season light issues - but the thing is with that... it is only an issue with how our society is structured - it actually means I'm kind of more in tune with how things are - I am adapting to the changing light levels and getting ready for the northern reaches semi hibernation.

I start knitting and watching films with the girls, more board games are played, if our fire place was installed properly we'd light fires. We snuggle under blankets as Harvest melts seamlessly into Halloween with vegetables grown and picked (or selected) are strung up or carved into faces to keep the souls and spirits whipping around loose at this quarter turn of our globe away, marking our homes as safe spaces. I light a candle to remember those no longer with us - I think it is a Jewish thing not sure - my Welsh grandmother used to do it.

When I was a kid the nights from Halloween to Bonfire night were filled with listening to ghostly stories around a lit pumpkin until fireworks night sparklers were dumped into the beginning to moulder flesh.

Bone Fire Night contained the mission of checking for hedgehogs in the prepared fires to be - they were normally constructed from someones old wardrobe and a couple of pallets no one wanted anymore. When my dad worked at the timber yard along with a few of our other neighbours lots of wood was found along with scavenge from the local out crop of trees - our "wood". Everyone would bring a few fireworks and we'd go behind the houses, eating burgers and sausages cooked on peoples BBQs not yet packed away from the summer. Sometimes apples and potatoes were cooked in the fire embers for a later meal whilst we toasted marshmallows and drank hot chocolate. In some ways it was the beginning of the dark part of the year but also the transition and halloween/bonfire week would be the last major use of the outdoor spaces for gathering and eating as the cold began to strike.

It was packing away the remnants of summer time.

The first painful to be outside and true winter event was/is less than a week later - Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday when we would march and sing and lay wreaths and think on war and the horrors within and the making of heros and the breaking of their families hearts. Blood red drops of flowers and later white contrasts mingled and mixed. I used to collect the remnants of poppies with conquers that lay strewn on the ground, one was strung to play multitudes of tournaments, the others were used to repair and create new flowers as the forgotten mutilated remnants of flowers hurt too much - it was as if people forgot what it was all about as soon as the service had finished.

Mists and fogs and frosts, sometimes together, would swallow up our little out crop of London - this still happens here in the Cotswolds too though there are more frosts and the fogs and mists are in patches depending on the ground layout.

Being part of various Choirs and Sunday School meant that most of November was spent in prep for Christmas and now as a workshop leader and crafter this is still very much true and so the seasons slide seamlessly.

Frost makes the air taste of tin and smell of electric sparks, I would make stories up about Jack Frost and how he made all the patterns as I walked to school, I'd tell of the ice dragon who lived under the railway bridge and prove it's existence by the plumes of breath that arose from us in the chill.

Sometimes I got into trouble for scaring my brother and little cousins but that was more with my Mad March Hare at Easter.

Gloves would be sown on strings and hats labeled. We'd feed the goats at the top of our road our playtime crisps so that their breath would warm our fingers.

For a few years which seemed like every year it snowed and settled but that was generally after Christmas Day.

Christmas involved ADVENT and NATIVITY and stories and songs and making things, making so many things and also at my school the Christmas play my favourite being a Chinese story about dragons in the moon and sun.

Glitter covered everything and lights lit up the dark night and candle processions filled the streets and one of my favourites - Santa on a sleigh would come round collecting for children's charities, you'd get a sweet weather you dropped a coin or not, I was often too shy to go up to Father Christmas so a Carole Singer would have to rescue me and give me my sweet.

We'd learn about why we put apples on trees and eat lots of food - the festivities meant visiting family and friends and staying inside with them whilst the world was dark and miserable outside.

There would be Christmas Bazaars and Fetes and Rainham Village would turn into a Christmas Village complete with stag men and a rag-a-tag men dancing and fake snow drifting across the streets. We would have to help at the sausage sizzle. They did a similar thing in May for the Summer but that involved a Maypole and no baskets of fruit.

Later on whilst working on the campsite I discovered the joy of catching the silver dawns often gently tinted of new year mornings, of seeing the trees silhouetted against the weak but trying sun, watching it burn off the mist and reveal subtle rainbows in the dew drops. The barren woods are not that barren and little birds and scurrying animals would say hello. When we lived at The Mill deer would come at dawn to drink, breaking ice in the streams shallow edges.

My uncle would do insane races in water on New Years Day after his epic parties with streamers being set off at mid night and New York and Auld Lang Eye sung badly. Often the parties greeted the dawn with all ages in attendance and left over curry for breakfast.

Christmas for me will always continue to twelve night but it doesn't really end there... there would be little bits of the story still unfolding through January until the beginning of February. Especially as I have a January birthday and we'd have some decorations left for my celebration (yes I'm aware some people consider this bad luck). But then the wise men didn't finish their journey until well after my birthday and they still count as Christmas!

And then for me the change over occurs February 14th with Valentines Day - flowers are peeking, the birds are beginning to change places again. It is transition time to the Lighter Part of the year where I crave the outdoors and make my family live in tents and eat BBQ food and sit in gardens and dig allotments. Feb. is when I start potting seeds up to germinate on the window sills. For me it is the beginning of Spring-Summer I know that for most people it is not.

So that is my seasonal divide - how do others view the changes of seasons?

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