Week three car repairs

August 8, 2015

Since I took my car to my friends’, there has been a lot of real work (i.e. my job) to deal with, meaning I’ve only had two Saturdays so far. But today was aborted early as there was something clearly wrong. When a new (brake) disc was put on the car, and the bolts tightened up, you could no longer spin the wheel. Subsequent to this, I have checked, and they are the right parts, and fit another car, so why the problem I don’t know. Shims appear to be the only answer.

But I am finding this more and more often, that is parts that just are rubbish – and these are supplied directly from Mercedes-Benz. One brand new (front brake) disk sheered at a flange causing the disc to fall off – at least I got that replaced Free-of-Charge. The metal exposed around the flange was very crystalline. Also the flange was too thin, say compared to the disk I was taking off.

Next week I should have more spare time. Everyone wants the car back on the road asap, which means getting it past the MOT test. Apart from the brakes, there are three other jobs I am aware of, but at least job 1 is under control, job two is possible, job 3 is the one I’m not confident about yet.


The BBC Radio 4 programme The Museum of Curiousity was on again this evening, hosted by John Lloyd, the “Professor of Ignorance at the University of Buckingham“. A real [private] University, not sure if he really holds the post [well, obviously not in one sense, but this is the fifth series, one would have thought if the Uni of Buckingham – not to be confused with Bucks New Uni, whose real (that is, accurate) name of ‘University of High Wycombe’ was rejected by the Privy Council, those snobbish drunks (I would have used another, more derogatory, term but dictionaries disagree to the precise definition, some pushing it over the limit of acceptable these days)] would have objected by now if they didn’t like it. So why did a drunken orgy at the Privy council allow a name so close to that of an existing University, within the same county (look at the name of the county, guys…)

You see why my editors sometimes are found sobbing, heads in their hands, after the penultimate sentence above would have crossed their view. It works. Just. If you think carefully. Note the nested brackets. And yes, my work emails sometimes have two or maybe in one case three brackets in a row to close all the nestings.

Anyway, there are three panelists who are guest donator, who ‘donate’ an item to the museum, and explain why. This evening’s edition included a bubble and ancient writing. There was a moment of interaction between the two proposers here (both are serious academics – about the earliest reference to bubbles in said writing), where the “curator” (the resident comedian) suggested how he hated the way the programme was “dumbing down”. (Obviously it wasn’t) They say next week one of the panelists is Buzz Aldrin – the second man on the Moon.

But a side comment caught my attention, not that I did not believe it, but that it appeared to be perfectly possible. That in the history of photography, more photos have been taken in the last year than in the rest of the history of photography combined.

And what are all these photos of? A large percentage will be of drunk young people at parties of one sort or another. Another percentage will be taken by people like me, now able to photograph at zero cost what used to be expensive, so do so – be it cars, records for work, or whatever. Anther large percentage will be “porn”, either professional or amateur, as can be seen all over the internet these days (I’ve no need to include such a photo of that here).

Oh well, I’m so off topic, I may as well go on about this programme. Clive James donated the North American Aviation’s “Mustang”, built at the behest of the British during World War II, but only came into its own when fitted with the Packard built licensed Rolls Royce Merlin Engine. James argued the Mustang was a war-winner, as it could fly from Britain to Berlin and back, and when Göring saw it in the skies above, he knew the war was over. I’d argue the Merlin engine, that powering the Hurricane, Spitfire, Lancaster bomber [*] and Mustang was the real war winner. That episode of the programme was more remarkable because the researchers made a mistake, and got all the details of a different North American aircraft; but James (off the cuff) had all those details to hand as well, and went on, at length, about that aircraft. It was a bravura performance, one I managed to record.

* Note added later. How could I forget the de Havilland Mosquito, the wooden bomber that could out-fly the fighters, that of Göring’s famous complaint, built in parts in my home town, whose test-pilot was born not 2 miles from where I write this now, and powered by two Merlin engines. As a kid I was once shown a tip of a propeller blade, by some old man, forget why, but he said it was for a Spitfire. I reckon it was really a Mosquito propellor tip, the Spitfire being mentioned as I’d probably heard of it at my then age. But they were making the parts for Mosquitos. The vast majority of Mosquitos had parts from my home town.

A few days ago I needed a program. It was included in a compilation book ‘Numerical Recipes’, and the disk the program was on is ‘Numerical Recipes in C’. (C as in the programming language – other languages were available). I had purchased the disk, needed for the company I was working for at the time, over 20 years ago. Anyway, the disk I used from time to time was unreadable. I soon confirmed it was not the computer’s fault.

This was not the original disk, which was a 5.25″ 360k floppy disk – when floppy disks were Real Floppy Disks, and 5.25″ a minaturisation of the 8″ (and no doubt larger before that) but a copy made on a 3.5″ 1.44MB floppy disk – those in the hard plastic covers.

I am pretty damning about those hard cased 3.5″ floppy disks, especially the later ones. I refer to them as ‘write-only’ media. As that joke so often needs explaining, even to computer experts, I sometimes wonder why I bother…and in case… ‘Read only’ means that, the data can be read, but not edited or altered, whereas Read-Write means both reading and editing/altering. Write only is, of course, useless, the point of my joke, but all too often in the past I’d save data to floppy disk, then when I come to need it again (to ‘Read’ it) I find the disk corrupted or otherwise unreadable.

33MHz, oh, 120MB Hard Disk, I forget, state of the art PC {computer} circa 1992, with a 1980s monitor.

So I dug out this really old computer, as it had a working 5.25″ drive. As I got it going after years of somblescence, I thought, ‘Gosh, I remember when this was the new, latest thing, that you didn’t have time to make a cup of tea while it compiled the firmware’; it was that fast…and how slow it felt now. Mind you, the computer I am writing this entry on is 15 years old, and on its third reincarnation. Still the original Hard Disk as well, although there is a second one with rather more storage space.

After various interface sorting out, the display shown here proved to be dead so another one was lashed into service (the one shown has five BNC connectors as the video input, that was outdated when we got it, over 20 years ago), got it all running. Most importantly, I found the original ‘Numerical Recipes in C’ 5.25″ disk – kept in the inside jacket cover of the book. And it was readable (defying my predictions – but then it is a Real Floppy Disk). And it’s now copied and a copy on this hard disk as well. But I have the original, given how precious the authors of ‘Numerical Rec….’ are about copying even ye-olde versions.

The Book, the Disk, and the copy on Write-only media.

However, this is a near-miss example of what is happening every day. Information is being lost. In the good-old days, there would be paper brochures, manuals or whatever, so usually a copy would be at the originator, and if not, one lying around somewhere. All the time (if you are looking for such things), you hear of paper documents turning up – just consider the Radio 4 programme ‘Document’. But these days, information is all electronic, much easier to generate, and just as easily lost. I can think of many internet sites that have disappeared, and as likely as not, there is no copy left. The project to archive the internet seems to have ground to a halt – I’m not surprised, but there are times I really could do with an old copy of a website.

I could no doubt go on for a long time giving examples, and, of course, I cannot provide links because it is exactly my point – these random examples were on the internet, but no more:

The US Antarctic Survey used ‘A frame’ huts for many years. At the end of their life, they were put onto an iceberg to fall into the sea; but the New Zealand Antarctic Survey rescued one and used it for many years as a recreation hut. It eventually burnt down. Pictures that I didn’t copy showed the interior, and it looked really a rather nice place. So much so, given the fact I need another shed on limited space and one that I don’t hit my head on the door as I go in, I’m thinking of designing and making one in homage!

Only 'A frame' hut image I have left... saved from some website years ago...

I have a small length of solder, which is very special (even by this hoarder of solder’s standards); the emf [thermally generated voltage] of the solder is matched to copper, so that there are no thermal emfs generated at solder joints. Essential, or at least used to be, in some applications. Is there any reference to this solder on the internet? Rhetorical question. Certainly not on the website of Multicore Solders, the manufacturer, whose website I refer to as ‘fact-free’.(c.f. the phrase ‘Fat-free’ for diet foods)

To be continued.

Modern technology failing

February 5, 2012

I know I’m not a regular blogger, but was hampered by one of the two events of the week that has caused me a lot of trouble. My computer kept crashing.

This is my ‘new’ computer, which has been in use for less than a year, although I have had it for somewhat longer. This was because due to the computer’s own firmware, I was unable to install linux on it for some time (until a later version of linux had code to overcome the issue).

The ‘new’ computer had started to crash with frequency but irregularity, for no obvious reason, other than possibly the use of a lot of memory at that moment. But nothing obvious I could use as a clue.

The result of this – the forth commissioning of the ‘old’ computer. The first recommissioning (the second commissioning) was done to this, already old and second-hand computer in 2002, when it became the ‘remote’ company computer at parents house when I was looking after my late Father while my Mother was in hospital. My Father had early-stage Alzheimer’s at the time, which is why someone had to be with him all the time, and it fell to me as the unmarried child.

The next commissioning was when the main SCSI computer’s main hard disk died, in about 2008. By that time, SCSI technology and been and gone, so there was nothing available to replace the dud disk, so the by this time already aged computer had another commissioning. It was supposely retired for the third time in March last year.

But it’s been brought back into service due to the failure of the ‘new’ computer (also referred to as the atomic doorstop, which is effectively what it has been for much of its life), and while no data has been lost, the age of this venerable computer means that installing all the relivent back-ups has taken a lot of time (and is still continuing – not ‘on-going’).

The next thing to go was my ‘new’ mobile phone – 15 months old. It has a touch screen, which I found useful for one purpose only – the qwerty keyboard it could produce for writing text messages. Without the working touch-screen, as I found out, the only thing that one could do with the phone was receive a call – and not even pick up voicemail.

So, can you guess, I recommissioned my ‘old’ – previous – mobile phone. This one had died once, prompting the emergency purchase of the ‘new’ one, but with a subsequent firmware upgrade via the internet, it sprang back into life, and was kept mainly as a camera, as its camera had flash. I have discovered that flash is rather a rarity on mobile phones, yet the things I want the camera on the phone for all so often require flash.

I even have an older mobile phone than that – the one I refer to must be at least ten years old now, which I keep in the car. Its great virtue is that it can be operated from standard ‘AA’ batteries, so I keep those in the car as
well. It’s just a pain that a brilliant (in more than on sense of the word) LED torch, that is worn on the forehead, and has already been used for one car repair in the dark – what a godsend it proved – uses ‘AAA’ batteries!

I’ve tagged this entry with ‘dumbing-down’ really on the basis of things not being made now as good as they used to be. This, more generally, has been a major bug-bear of late, but will be the topic of another entry – as will the consequences of this year’s snowbound South of England, which will also be tagged similarly!

The Waitrose chain of supermarkets has, for almost the past two years, put out a weekly newspaper called Waitrose Weekend. Recipes from Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal were very much in evidence to start with, less so now, and other people that you have heard of (not necessarily for food) also write columns. Some pages are pointless for me, for example TV listings, and their giving an review of the omnibus of ‘The Archers’ – almost a week late – was thankfully soon dropped.

Anyway, the paper is free, so I get a copy, as occasionally there is something worthwhile in it. What I did not expect was the following picture. This picture has been scanned from the paper, at high resolution, then shrunk in an attempt to make it at least – I was about to write ‘readable’, you know what I mean, ‘visible’ does not exactly have the same meaning. So apologies for the relatively poor picture.

Illustration from Waitrose Weekend, 5th Jan 2012

What was it that caught my eye? Not the Hellibore, but a series 1 Rotring Tikky pencil (the top impliment on top of the garden plan). Even without the comparison of later models, in this picture the pencil just looks sleek, a precision tool, a detail lost in the later incarnations of this pencil. It has just occurred to me that the metal collar above the taper to the point holder may in part help give this impression, although they are all the one piece of metal. One can also argue that the angle of the taper itself helps give the precision tool impression as well.

Now this must be a stock photo from somewhere, although I could not see any credit for it, partly as it is hard to see how Waitrose would have the staff and the time to put together such photographs, and secondly, where they would get hold of what is now a relatively old, and almost unobtainable pencil, especially when more modern Rotrings (and all other makes) are readily available for a pound or two.

Pocket knives

December 6, 2011

While I have never been a Boy Scout, I do try and uphold their motto “Be Prepared”. Or perhaps in some other wordings of such an attitude to life, such as “Expect the Unexpected” (from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), a wording that has on occasion saved great embarassement or worse.

This is the reason for my Out Bag, and that, so far as I can remember, I have continuously carried a pocket knife since schooldays. I cannot remember what age I was regularly carring one, I assume it was school age at some point (that would not be allowed today). I’ve only lost one – and I certainly believe lost not stolen – at University. I rememeber having it, which room but a day or so later I realised it had gone, and despite quite a search (I was also leaving, so was packing up), never found it. That still irritates.

The other lost knife, another one that irritates, is the two blade Swiss Army knife I purchased for my father. I know when I last saw it, after his death, and it is one of the things that ‘disappeared’ from Mother’s house while she was
there and had carers come in to keep an eye on her.

More recently, issues such as trouser pockets not being so strong as before, the need to carry many more keys with me, needing something to cut finger nails (with growing age, my nails tend to break more easily, and hence need to be trimmed ‘on the go’). So I picked upon the standard ‘vanity’ Swiss Army (Victorinox) type. I use the word ‘vanity’ in that it is for cutting fingernails etc, as the primary function, although it was the Classic SD Mini knife. This knife lasted well, but apart from some design features, below, my tendancy of dropping my keys meant the red plastic sides – ‘scales’ – were breaking.

For a short time after that, I carried a larger Swiss Army knife, but basically it proved to be too big – much though I liked, and used, the extra blades, the corkscrew proved to be the most useful additional part.

Not so common: Victorinox (L) and Wegner 'vanity' knives

So we come to the recent knives. Having had the side plastic – ‘scales’ break, I looked for an alternative, and found a special Victorinox version of their Classic Mini with knurled alox handles. Notibly more expensive even though it had fewer features, it was the metal sides I was interested in. There was also the Wegner equivalent of the Victorinox Classic, which had the larger plastic scales, although in this case profiled for better gripping. I should note both of these knives took some time to find, they certainly were not available in high-street shops whenever I looked.

The knurled alox handle is much slimmer than the standard plastic 'scales'

For various reasons, having the knife on my keyring became a requirement, and here the two knives show their relative merits and problems.

The (in this case orange) knurled alox handles make for a much smaller physical knife, for the same size blade. But the design means that operating the knife means having the rest of the keyring attached half way down the knife – the Wegner knife has it at the other end. Due to its slim design, this particular Victorinox knife does not have the toothpick or tweezers (the Wegner does – and internally mounted, not externally as per the standard Victorinox ‘vanity’ knife with the red plastic scales).

It is interesting to look at what knives were actually issued to the Swiss Army. From the 1960s until recently, they had knurled alox handles. The most recent model has “polymer texturized non-slip inlays incorporated in the nylon grip shells” (from Wiki), but it is designed to be keyring mounted – and the keyring is at the opposite end to the opened knife!

A modern 'Soldatenmesser' Army knife - note the keyring location. (Wiki photo)

So I guess my ideal knife for this purpose would be of the general Victorinox knurled alox design. but with the Wegner keyring location, and even possibly the internally mounted tweezers like the Wegner. But (and here is the dumbing down), why did Victorinox design a knife with the keyring in such a stupid position in the first place?

While I do use the knife for the ‘vanity’ purposes that I alude to, I’ve used it to re-wire a mains plug (actually, that is an illegal act now…), cut paper, wood… But I’m not so popular now as when I had a corkscrew on the knife.

Chain Wrench

September 27, 2011

Chain wrenches, and the related strap wrenches, are used to grip relatively large diameter objects which are otherwise relatively smooth. One common example is a car oil filter, which usually has a diameter of 100mm/4″

Oil filters are usually quite easy to put on, but as they get oily on the outside, quite difficult to remove, and so it was, some 25-odd years ago, I purchased a chain wrench to do the job.

In dismantling an axle, I had need to hold the axle from rotation as I tried to undo some highly-torqued up bolts. All my previous attempts at holding failed, until I considered the chain wrench. It griped. I was able to undo a few bolts. But the terrific forces both cut into the head of the chain wrench, and then one of the links failed.

This was when the trouble began. For modern chain wrenches come in two forms – like my old one in the illustration, where the chain is in a loop, or a length of chain that is hooked on to a handle in two places. Of the first, they no longer have a removable link as mine had (top link in the photo), necessary to get it into location on the axle. And the other type would be easy to get into location, but the handle was far too short (at most only one quarter as long as needed) to apply the force required. Even versions costing over £100 did not appear to have long enough handles, although to be fair, one probably could have put a pipe over the handle of those to get the extra torque on the job.

I found a bike shop that did repair the broken link on the old chain, although not that well, as, apparently, my chain was slightly wider than modern chains. After a few more untightened bolts, another link broke. In a different bike shop I found spare links of the detachable type, but again, a bit too narrow, in this case too narrow to put on the locking part of the link.

In the end, I managed to get all the bolts that would turn undone, even if I had to watch the chain to make sure the unlocked link didn’t detach at the point of maximum applied forces (it did once…’ping’).

I find it of no surprise that an old – Taiwanese – chain wrench could almost do the job, that modern tools could not be made to even present to the job. Yes, the chain wrench is pretty battered by its encounter with the axle, although it could still be used for its original purpose. Ironically, I had to buy a special oil filter tool for the Mercedes because other parts are so close to the oil filter, it’s not possible to get the head of the wrench in position.