Somebody to Cove


Replacement Front for Darth Vader’s face mask


For me, coving is as necessary as allowing fish to take part in the Tour de France. So, you can imagine my delight when the piece above the fireplace decided that it really wanted to visit the carpet, via the top of the fire. Sadly, the trip was too much for it and it went to pieces. About a million of them. Some of those bits are now decomposing in a raised bed. They can be squash plants in a year or two’s time.

Surprisingly, it turned out that thesnailofhappiness’s Mum had three lengths of coving in her barn. More surprisingly still, she also had a Cove Mitre which I later learnt was a really useful thing and not a piece of headgear for a pope to wear on DIY Sunday, which is probably a festival in some sects. Papa Snail had, apparently, coved (that must be the verb) their previous house and I believe that such coving was not the reason they moved out, so he must’ve been good at it.

It took me a while to figure out how to use the Cove Mitre – actually thesnailofhappiness worked it out while I swore – but cutting the coving was quick and easy. Sticking it up would have been too, if the glue had had the quality you expect of glue, you know, stickiness – but some panel pins held the coving in place while the glue thought about what it should be doing.

Eh voila! Coving up and waiting to be painted. And I thought afterwards how not only did Papa Snail make a snailofhappiness for me to love, but also gave me a Cove Mitre and two and a half metres of coving. That’s quite a debt I owe him!


All my Coving



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Telegraph Road – Why Electric Motors made the Internet Possible (Part 2)


Where the cables emerge in a beach hut



So, your electrical signal has crawled through a thousand miles of cable under the sea, and emerged, breathless, in need of regeneration.

Signals 2

Once you see what was done, you can see that it was genius and, as the best ideas often are, simple. If you know when each bit (here representing a dot or a dash) is going to start, you can then make a reasonable guess as to what the original bit was. Provided there is a quite a big difference between the signal level for a dot and a dash, you should be able to regenerate the signal accurately. Regeneration hinged on knowing exactly when each bit started…

So, what could be used to reliably keep time in new electric Victorian world? A motor, that’s what. Use a clock to produce a pulse of electricity to drive a motor round and then everything could be synchronised, like the steam-powered factories that used belts to drive the machinery – only this was a pulse that drove everything in unison.

The dotted lines represent the pulses that are synchronised across the whole telegraph network, from master clocks at each relay sending/receiving station. The clocks were themselves synchronised to all the others using signals sent at the beginning of the day. There was also a speed adjustment on the interpolator to allow the speed of its motor to be tweaked to ensure absolute precision. Once you were synchronised, it was all straightforward.

  1. You know when the character is supposed to start because your master clock tells you. You wait for half a turn of your motor – this puts you right in the middle of the incoming bit.
  2. You then ask the question – is this signal above or below the reference (plus or minus a few microvolts to allow for noise)?
  3. If it is above, you set a high voltage (usually 100 Volts) on your outgoing cable.
  4. If it is below, you set a low voltage (-100 Volts).
  5. Bingo! One regenerated signal now able to crawl through the next bit of wire.


This was all done using a motor and relays. If you are familiar with Terry Pratchett’s book “Going Postal”, you may recognise a distinct “Clacks” feel to this. The thing is, this was the start of the idea of long-distance near-instant communication being made real. It was also the beginning of the rise of the (electric) machines. Operators, previously required to re-key the messages were now replaced by wires and electrons. And it turns out, wires and electrons were hopeless at sports. On Ascension Island, so few engineers replaced the 30 or so operators, that team games had to be ditched in favour of singles tennis.

A new age was dawning, where the world was becoming connected, where information would be the new empire to conquer. At the heart of this revolution was, at least to begin with, the humble electric motor.


Either the author is really tall or this is a diddy telegraph pole. I’ll let you, dear Reader, decide…



With huge thanks to John and Ravy (sorry to have misspelt your name here!) and, indeed, everyone who helps run the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum.

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Telegraph Road – Why Electric Motors made the Internet Possible (Part 1)


Ravy patiently explaining how an interpolator works

One of the things I wanted to do on my return to Cornwall this year (it seems you can’t be banned from the county for dipping a Cornish pasty in a bottle of sauvignon so I was able to go back) was to revisit the Telegraph Museum at Porthcurno and talk with the volunteers who maintain the old telegraphic equipment. Many are ex-telegraph engineers themselves so know a thing or a hundred about telegraphs.


John patiently explaining to me how a line balancer works

Imagine: it’s a bit before 1870 and, being a wealthy Victorian, you decide to connect the new-fangled telegraph-whatchamacallit to the rest of the world (or The Empire as it was known then). You find a nice quiet cove and haul the first cable, going all the way to Portugal, onto the sand. Well, OK, YOU don’t personally because you have people to do that sort of thing.

And it all worked very well, with Morse code messages being sent back and forth from America, India and, of course, Portugal. Problem was that the signal, having crawled along thousands of miles of underwater cable, was feeling a bit washed out by the time it reached anywhere, so relay stations were built along the routes, which is why Britain and other Western European countries became very interested in those tiny Caribbean islands – it wasn’t just they fancied sunny holidays at the Empire’s expense. Messages would arrive, tired and a bit worse for wear, then be retyped (re-keyed in Morse parlance) onto the next bit of cable and so on. Lots of people were needed which was fine because there were a lot of people who fancied a holiday at the expense of the Empire.


More patient explaining

Of course, if there was one thing Victorians were in love with, it was the idea of automation. If there were two things, then the other would have been sunny holidays at the expense… oh, you know the score. So, the idea of REGENERATION was born, long before Doctor Who made it a handy way of changing the actor at the end of a series.

The issue was, as with great comedy, that of timing. How could you synchronise and also understand an exhausted signal from thousand of miles away? It needed some kind of clock and rejuvenating in some way.

And that involved a motor. And another blog post…


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A Scanner, not very Darkly


Spot the difference. Actually, don’t bother…

Once upon a time, at a Denmark Farm far, far away from Denmark, there was a printer. A Samsung CLX-6260ND printer to be precise. It would spend its days merrily printing out stuff and scanning stuff until it started merrily printing stuff but positively refusing to scan anything. For some computers, it didn’t even print grumpily let alone merrily.

After a brief communication with the Samsung not-very-much-Helpline, it turned out that the “Scanner Locked” message really meant “Buy a new printer because the cost of replacing the scanner unit is more than the cost of a new printer”.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the Author cannot abide such profligate waste. However, because scanning is really handy to be able to do, a new identical printer was bought so that all the spare toner cartridges wouldn’t go to waste.

About two weeks after the new printer arrived, there was a lightning storm. A bolt of lightning actually hit the office at Denmark Farm and destroyed:

  1. A new wireless router
  2. A Barclaycard credit card machine
  3. Er, the new printer

So, a new,new printer was acquired, the same as the last one (for the same toner-related reason). This meant one thing – I could be Dr. Frankenstein and create one whole working printer/scanner from the wreckage. It was as if I had arranged the lightning (which I  didn’t). I assumed the scanner unit had survived the lightning because… well, it’s only a motor and a light bulb essentially. Here goes:


Remove the sides


An almost naked printer

I had downloaded a service manual from somewhere and it was incredibly useful as it meant I only removed things I needed to (oh, and some skin from my thumb which was unnecessary to the whole procedure but hey! It wouldn’t be DIY without a little blood, now would it?). Just to be really 21st century and flash, I used my otherwise fairly useless tablet to display the manual, saving the need for printing, which seemed quite appropriate under the circumstances.


One hopefully unscathed scanner unit


Various cables to be released from their captivity

I had set aside a whole day to do this but, remarkably, it took just 3 hours and very little swearing. There was only one screw left but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. It helped that I could essentially ‘practice’ the de(con)struction and reconstruction on one printer. Surprisingly, after not very long I was fitting the scanner unit onto the old otherwise working printer until I ended up with this:


The Gestalt Entity that is the old/new printer/scanner

All done! So – what to do with the bits from the old, I mean new, well, newer printer? Not sure as some of them (probably random bits of the electronics) will be fried. Perhaps I’ll create an art installation. Turner prize anyone?


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Everything Put Together Falls Apart…then gets put together again 2


Where we left off last time… open topped house

The story so far: a wooden chicken house was bought and housed some chickens before it became so infested with red mites that it was replaced with a recycled plastic house that became infested with chickens. The old wooden house was taken apart but not really disposed of, apart from the roof and hinged lid, that were. Some chickens died leaving two who hadn’t. Cue rebuilding of old wooden chicken house to temporarily act as a holiday chalet for new chickens that have been bought to replace the dead ones.

With me so far? Of course you are…

The things we now need are a roof for the house bit and a hinged lid for the nest boxes. We also need another leg – seriously, I’m not being smutty or anything. Without the run to stabilise it, the house might fall over onto the nest boxes if said boxes were full of heavy chickens, as could be possible.

So, what materials to use? My immediate thought was “pallets!” but then that and “chocolate!” and “wine!” form an awful lot of my immediate thoughts:

Observation: We need a new table.

Thought: Pallets!

Observation: I’m going to need some inspiration.

Thought: Chocolate!

Observation: I’ve run out of chocolate and we needed a new table two hours ago.

Thought: Wine!

However, that aside, there was actually something better suited to make a roof and a hinged lid. The remnants of our old compost bin includes two hinged lids and some wooden planks that formed the sides. The rotten stuff was burnt but the OK stuff was put to one side, you’ve guessed it, “in case it is useful”.


One hinged lid complete with wildlife and hinges

I constructed the roof of the house first from four of the planks. I reused the screws that had once held the original roof on, and everything fitted on OK. The only issue was that the wall with all the slats (the “Worst. Accordion. Ever.” wall) wasn’t secure – a screw that had held it in place had rusted through at some point. I had to use a new one for that, a long one so that it was properly fixed.

The planks had handy plastic runners on each short edge. So handy, I removed them. They may prove useful one day, like so many things do.


Handy Runners and screws

Then I clad – well, you know, covered – the roof with a piece of plastic from the side of the old greenhouse. I had to get jiggy to cut it though:


Note the lack of blood. The overhang IS deliberate, honest.

To make the lid, I only had to remove one half of the existing hinged lid, cut one side so that it could slot into the existing gap for the lid, and attach that bit of the hinge to the back of the house. Unfortunately, the slats on the back wall are pretty thin, so I had to screw the hinge through those into a couple of blocks of wood I scavenged from the unused piece of the lid. Because I had put the main roof on, I had to hold the blocks in somewhat blindly. One out of two of them is reasonably straight. Not bad for me.


Hinged lid in place with plastic cover and latch.

I used the off-cut of the plastic from the main roof to cover over the cracks in the hinged lid. I cannot tell you how amazed I was when it all fitted and worked!

I built a leg from a compost bin plank and a thick piece of wood left by the Limery builders. It is screwed to the underside of the nest boxes:


Actually, it’s a Formula 1 wing for McLaren

… and constructed a new ramp out of another compost bin plank and some familiar-looking plastic doo-dahs. I had to use new screws to attach these because I didn’t have any old ones that were short. Honest.


See? A lesson to always keep everything, “just in case”.


A smug-looking Author with all his fingers present.*

Time to lie down on a pallet with a bar of chocolate and a bottle of wine. Bliss…


* I want to thank nerdinthebrain because I guessed her 10-digit number in April and was awarded a gift voucher for from where I bought the T-shirt I am wearing here. In case anyone is wondering, the T-shirt depicts the Periodic Table entry for the element of surprise.

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