The news of the Eastman Kodak ‘filing for bankrupcy’ to use the American phrase, is being played out as the death of film photography – at least for the everyday user. I’ve not put a link in here on that at present, as most of them listed on Google seem ephemeral. It is certain that most people now have digital cameras. Even I haven’t taken a film photo for at least three years, and I’ve taken far more photos since I had a camera in a mobile phone than I did before. (Sadly, that camera seems to be beginning to fail).

Before all of this, I had decided to digitise my entire photo collection. I purchased a device that takes the negatives, converts them and stores the image on a memory stick with 9MB resolution – the highest I could find (as of the time of writing). I grabbed a set of old negatives, which were of the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) engine Mallard when it ran through my home town in the mid 1980s. Of course I have family ties with the LNER, so it was a special occasion for me. It stopped at the station, I had obtained a platform ticket (remember those?), and took some photos.

Anyway, I lined up the first strip of negatives, pushed it into this image device and had a shock. The small screen showed a familiar shot – that of the plate on the side of the engine about it’s record breaking run, as shown here:

However, in viewfinder, something I’d never seen on the print; reflected in the engine’s paintwork was the face of my late father. I’m unable at present to enhance the picture sufficiently, the best I can on this computer is the following image, which at least looks like a head and open-necked shirt.

Of course, looking back at the first image shown here, there is a shadow that, knowing what I know now, I recognise, but until that moment, I had not a clue. Believe me, in the viewfinder, the reflected image is unambiguous!

So far as I know, the boiler certificate for Mallard has expired, and she currently resides in the National Railway museum at York as a static exhibit. For those who want to see the detail, I’ve separated out that plate:

This engine, with an official speed measuring truck in tow, managed to reach 126mph for just long enough to count as the world record holder. A record that still stands to this day.

This is item one of this topic. One should not be surprised that I take some time to compose some blog entries, for they require a fair bit of research, for all their lack of references. One of the entries that I will make on this topic is already in a fair state of preparation, but I have to scan in images, work on them (sic) to highlight the issues I want to discuss. Another topic will be the lifetime of digital imagery, as opposed to those of negatives.

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.

I never claimed that the Out Bag was unique, but it turns out that the name I gave it is close to a “Bug-out Bag”, which is a very similar idea. For example this Wikipedia page Odd that I had never heard of it before.

I realise that this makes me out to be some kind of survivalist, and – oldfogie here – I suppose that is another point of view of what I’m doing here. But I’ve made use of a lot of what I’m putting in my bag already, in what were not normal circumstances, but certainly what were met day by day. It is to live in the car, so is in addition to what the car will provide (and Mercedes-Benz come with First Aid kits as standard).

There are a number of differences, for example I’m not carrying food – other than as an emergency fix for my blood sugar problem – or water. It is interesting to see that I was thinking along very similar lines, and had even considered the weight issue that is raised in the wiki article, hence the issue 2 bag as in the previous photo. Also, rather unashamedly, there are items there to have a civilised picnic, with food (bread, cheese, pate) purchased locally, which is not what a Bug-out Bag would be for.

Another case in point is getting stranded. The AA/RAC go on about how unprepared motorists are going out in terrible weather, and then get stuck. Partly I blaim the Met Office, who have gone soft with their move to Exeter, and whose terrible forecast last year left me stranded (albeit only yards from my destination), having taken a seriously major detour to get there because the weather had closed in. Turning around was not an option – that way the traffic was already stationary. So, some items here are for when the car breaks down/gets stuck, and the car rescue people cannot reach you quickly – and as a single male, I’m always low down on their list.

Of course in my case it’s not a natural disaster survival system.

This blog page gives an interesting list of items, and while I won’t repeat them all here, I’ll mention some (in bold) with my comments.

AM/FM Radio with batteries or alternate power source
Yes; with spare batteries, wind-up/crank mechanism, and built in LED torch (two actions, although if there was flashing as well that would be good). Also, for good measure, it has a mobile phone charger adaptor, and a compartment to store the cable! It was moderately expensive, though – over £15. I’ve been stuck more than once with a broken-down car with a flat battery, so I know how useful a radio other than the car’s own can be.

Cell Phone
I normally have one on me. Maybe I’ll carry the old one around – fortunately, it works on AA batteries.

Personal Hygiene Kit (Include soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, [sanitary napkins, diapers,] razor, and other toiletry items)
Toilet paper

Tissues are already there, the others are already under consideration. How small can a kit be made? Hospitality soaps are small, need to find a few small squeezy bottles for toothpaste etc.

50 Feet of Nylon Rope
Pocket Knife
Rolls of Duct Tape
Foldable Shovel
Hatchet or axe
Sewing Kit

Much are in the car or I’m considering being in the car.

For many situations met in England, such as stuck in snowdrifts, it’s hard to see the benefit of leaving the car if you’ve got items to keep warm with you.

Hand & Body Warmers
Gloves and socks (in addition to the change of clothes already listed) are something I had not thought about, and my feet are cold right now!

This page is another interesting source – never thought of a USB memory stick, but why not, and come to think of it, there have been times in the past I’d been glad of some kind of portable memory/disk on me.

Another point. In my case the cash is there in case my wallet is stolen (and I do have an old mobile phone, as mentioned above, that I could keep as well, for the same reason). As I have had my wallet stolen, as well as just simply forgetting it (see last entry), the only scenario I cannot yet sort out is if my keys are stolen as well. Well, I do have a solution for that, but only if I can get back to a certain location first, which is not ideal if I’m out and my car is there, but I’m minus keys.

Then there are a couple of items I’ve not seen listed elsewhere:
Latex or vinyl gloves – a few in a self-sealed plastic bag, as I can get the boxes of 100 – otherwise they are expensive. This can be for working on the car, or dealing with “bio-hazard” with first aid, moving things that have the “yuch” factor, or whatever.
Towel – I already mentioned it, but it is conspicuous by its absence in so many articles. Apart from the hitchhiker’s comment – Frood – this is not for survival, and there are times when a towel – even if it is not soaked in vitamins, have wire threaded into it, reinforced seams or other modifications – is that little touch of comfort in a harsh world. I wasn’t planning on a full blown double-bath size, Marks & Spencers did a “tea towel” that, for some reason, was a perfectly good hand towel, but rather smaller.

But still, got to keep the weight and size down. Some items, more than just the picnic blanket, will have to live outside the bag, and can be detached or added as and when needed, I suppose, outside the core bag.

Perhaps in the light of all of this, I’ll do some more research, in order to come up with an even better one. In the mean time, the bag goes into the car.

The Out Bag

September 18, 2011

There was a cartoon strip in one of the comics in the 1970s that somehow I always had a sneaking fondness for. It was so long ago I cannot remember the character’s name, or indeed which comic, and a search using Google hasn’t brought any enlightenment on this precise topic. Although two Sparky characters did bear some resemblance, maybe I’ve produced a hybrid character.

The character, as I remember it, had endlessly deep pockets, out of which he would pull whatever people were needing for the antic they were about. It was the ideal of ‘just happen to have one with me’ – in the similar way of the ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’.

Anyhow, the relivence of all of this is that I’ve always liked to follow the boy scout’s motto ‘Be Prepared’ – although I was never a scout. So I’ve always had a pocket knife with me, from my schooldays onwards (oh, those were the days). These days, for various reasons, it’s a tiny thing on my key chain, and while a Swiss Army one, it’s got a metal outer (the plastic of the previous one broke as I’m always dropping my keys), although the ergonomics department of Victorinox could do with checking the design – try putting the key ring at the other end, guys! (Wegner’s version does have this, but they are much harder to get hold of).

I’ve also always carried various tools in whichever car I’ve owned. However, the idea of useful items in the car has become rather more formalised as to be all in one bag. In it are all manner of things, in what was at first a rather unconcious attempt to emulate the cartoon character.

It started with a recycle box, mainly carrying car stuff, be it oil, screenwash, high visibility vest, etc. I found a shallowish tray that fitted neatly on top, and in that I put a few things. As I now have a blood sugar problem, sugar snacks/biscuits and small cartons of fruit juice were there, as were ‘wet wipes’, needed after work on the car, an umbrella…and so it grew.

Then the old Saab died, and I got the MB. Being an estate, the box was highly visible. I could stow some car items in with the spare wheel, some items were to hand for the driver in the door pocket (High visibilty vest, waterproof…) but I used a sports bag to house all the rest.

Then, another rationalisation, partly based upon actual use of the first Out Bag, and I got hold of a small rucksack. This of course has proved problematic, in that the ideal size does not exist between small and sufficient, and small is causing some problems.

The Out bag, 'artfully' arranged to show some of the contents...

Indeed, of the items in the previous bag, I have actually used, on various
occasions, and therefore been glad I had with me: High visibility vest (now in car pocket); a change of clothes; a Spork (fork/knife/spoon combination); spare AA batteries; ‘wet wipes’; spare bags of various natures – plastic, other types of foldaway bags as well as a couple of supermarket carriers.

Items that have been added, in a perceved ‘will be useful’ category are a picnic blanket with plastic undersheet (Waitrose freebie); polyester blanket and emergency blanket (metallised mylar sheet); a book; a torch/radio; a mobile phone charger; plate and cup; tailor’s tape (rule).

This must not be confused with items that I carry in the car, such as torch, maps (I don’t believe in Sat Navs, and on the few occasions I’ve had one in the car it’s driven me mad as well as making me jump out of my seat with a sudden disembodied voice), fairly substancial tool kit; first aid kit; something to put on the ground and lay on when working under the car (so not for best, as the picnic blanket would be).

Trying to fit everything into 20l rucksack is, in fact very difficult, especially since a change of clothes is on the list, and the blanket, which is thin, is still bulky in relation to 20 litres. A small amount of cash is in – I once left my wallet behind and filled up with Petrol before I realised, oh, to the rescue was the Out Bag.

In the photo above, items that are visible, albeit just in some cases, are blanket; change of clothes; towel (you’re not a cool frood if you don’t know where your towel is); packaway bag (the cyan with bee motif thing); plate, spork, book, paper tissues; fruit bars, alcohol based handwash. Not visible include cup, radio/torch, tennis ball, the bag containing some cash, emergency mylar blanket, and there are still some things I’d like to somehow fit in. Wet wipes are currently out, as I’ve yet to find a Small number in a bag, as opposed to bulk packs. Also planning on razor/soap/flannel, as I was lacking those when I used the change of clothes.

The picnic blanket will have to go outside, although as it has it’s own carrier, it is easy to hook on.

Why ‘Out bag’? Well, its there when you’re out and about; or if you’re caught out; out of luck (money stolen, for example); there was another one but I cannot remember it now…

On house clearing duty again, with two trips to the local dump/recycle place. Brother has complained that the staff clearly have time on their hands as they go through the rubbish to see it has all been correctly assigned and sorted into paper/cardboard/glass etc. He clearly does not bother with recycle then.

Anyhow on one trip I had some metal, and in the metal dump I spotted something familiar, namely the treadle of a sewing machine. This one was labelled “Singer”, was without the wooden top or the sewing machine itself. There was not even a belt, which I would have gone for as a spare.

But it reinforced my view that these sewing machines, even if they are in working order, such as the one I rescued, have zero value.

It’s the same thing with old cars; some have next to zero value despite being in good condition, yet others in obviously poor shape are worth mind-boggling sums – pre-restoration!

It is the story so many times in clearing Aunt’s house. Something interesting is found. Yet has has next to no monetry value – sometimes things might make a couple of pounds on ebay, but a lot of effort to go through to raise a very small amount of cash overall.

It has become important to clear Aunt’s as fast as possible. Mother definately needs a home place soon, and it will be funded by herself – i.e. first the selling of Aunt’s house. Moreover, its value empty is so much greater than when filled, the value of what is in there being negligable, it is only the search for heirlooms and items of interest that prevent wholescale skippage of the lot.