Sustainable Stuff

Friday Afternoon

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Ever felt like you were being watched?

Ah, Friday afternoons. When I have been on contract, this was often a time that I was sat on a train/on a bench in a railway station waiting for a train/in a car on the motorway heading home after a week away from home. I was filled with the anticipation of reaching my destination station/actually getting on a train in the first place/reaching the end of the hundred miles of traffic cones, and the satisfaction of a week, clearly defined, being at an end. The weekend started there. Well, eventually, when the train arrived or the motorway ran out and I found myself on the small back roads that led home.

More recently, I have worked from home (because writing a novel IS working, I tell myself) which means that Friday afternoons don’t have quite the same air of satisfaction to them.

This Friday afternoon, I have that air back: I cleared a raised bed and accidentally harvested some potatoes and a chilli, all under the watchful eyes of Sam.

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Definitely being watched

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Bed cleared, Sam taking the credit

Time for a cup of tea and a ponder about my next pallet project. And before too long it will be the witching hour, and by that I mean 6 o’clock and time to answer the question of which wine to open.

Friday afternoons – don’t you just love ’em?

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Surprise Harvest

oOo

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Categories: gardening, General silliness, Sustainable Stuff | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Scythe o’ the Times

 

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My scythe doing a very bad impression of a guitar

At the end of August, I went a one-day course to learn the noble, ancient and fantastically sensible art of scything. I thought I would give it a go, with no real reason other than to see if I liked it or not (and indeed could actually do it).

Many years ago, I learnt some Tai Chi and I was surprised to discover that scything is very similar in terms of how you shift your weight from one side to the other and allow the momentum of the blade to do most of the work. Once you have the hang of it, scything doesn’t make your joints ache!

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The vegetation is definitely shorter in the bit I attacked, er, scythed

Turns out I did really enjoy scything. So much so, I bought a scything kit at the end of the day. Now, I thought, I can practise at Denmark Farm, helping to maintain the meadows there.

Two months later, I managed to find time to give it a go!

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Honest, there are some windrows in there somewhere…

I manged to scythe an area of approximately 23.75 m2 in just under an hour and a quarter, which included setting the blade angles up initially, and sharpening as I went along.

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Heap o’ grass

People using a strimmer, particularly a petrol-driven one, have to wear ear defenders and usually have an MP3 player too. I did think about listening to some tunes while I scythed but then thought, no, that didn’t feel as if it ought to be part of the experience. So I listened to the swish of the scythe, my (occasional) swearing as I swung the blade incorrectly into the ground, and the glorious sounds of Denmark Farm on an autumn morning with the cries of a kite overhead and the sound of Roesel’s bush-crickets from the field just over the hedge. No mechanical sound, no smell of petrol, no having to stop and remove debris and clumps of wet grass from the blade – bliss!

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Honest, the bit to the left has been cut

My scything teacher told us that a council (it remained unnamed) had trained a number of its land maintenance workers to us a scythe instead of petrol strimmers, for cutting verges by roads. After 6 months, they decided they would train everyone as it was as fast as strimmers, and cheaper. There were also health benefits, mental and physical. How great would it be if every council did that? And, come to think about it, that person who decides to cut their lawn at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning?

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Blade cleaned, everything ready to be packed up, then off for some coffee!

oOo

Categories: gardening, Sustainable Stuff, volunteering, wildlife | Tags: , | 8 Comments

Somebody to Cove

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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!

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All my Coving

oOo

 

Categories: repair, Sustainable Stuff | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

oOo

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

Categories: computers, repair, Sustainable Stuff | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

oOo

Categories: computers, repair, Sustainable Stuff | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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