Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mr McLeod's cunning idler hanger

It's cold. It's very cold. It's so cold that I'm as cold as a person in the shade in the middle of winter and not as hot as a person is in the sun in the middle of summer. English viewers of this blog must needs recall when winter is in the southern hemisphere.

Yesterday I went to Richmond to collect my wife from her hockey game. She was cold. She has been inveigled to play goalkeeper, and these days the goalkeeper in hockey dresses up in a series of mattresses and stands about idly as a sort of human obstacle, but even when attired in clothing several feet thick, she tells me you get cold standing around for thirty-five minutes each half in the middle of winter with nothing to do. (Her team are currently top in the region. She is Dead Proud. But at least three of the team are, or have been, in the national squad so it doesn't count.)

Watching hockey involves standing about and since you do this without mattresses on and since Mr McLeod lives next to the Saxton playing fields, I popped in on him for five minutes and he revealed his new machine.

I hate Mr McLeod intensely. I hate him because a) his machines are masterpieces of design b) his machines are masterpieces of craftsmanship c) he thinks up completely new ideas d) and they *loody well work, too.

The thing about this new one is this. It's a front wheel drive and of course that limits and restricts things that you can do with the front wheel, such as steer. This tends to dismay many designers, incl. me, but Mr McLeod, who doesn't know you can't get a FWD machine to steer, has cunningly put the idler wheel on a universal joint. It's the sneakiest thing I've seen in ages. Dead simple, like all really clever things. It holds the idler wheel, and hence the chain, in tension, but allows enough movement for the wheel to be turned virtually to full lock. I was amazed. Clearances, as ever, are remarkably tight with barely a millimetre anywhere between chain and front brake, but it all seems to work.

Unf. the poor chap has slipped a lumbar disc, so testing has yet to commence, but he has already planned a series of modifications - disc brake etc. - to while away any idle hours that come his way.

Mrs McLeod mentioned that this is his last machine but she caught my eye as she said it and there was a wicked twinkle in her eye. I did not say anything. Master McLeod is four, and a Big Boy Now (he told me so himself) and I have a feeling he will come to express firm views on whether Mr McLeod should forever more desist from building recumbents.


Sunday, June 19, 2011


Have you ever in your life invented anything useful? I have invented three things, all of them vices. Their usefulness is, unfortunately, inversely proportional to their originality.

First, I invented the strip of rubber cut from an inner-tube. Man I'm clever. Actually I nicked this from a bow laminating technique, and how it got there I do not know. Your fourteenth-century Turkish bow laminator did not have rubber inner tubes. Laminating fibreglass to make a leaf-spring - which is what a bow is - is difficult. While the epoxy sets the leaves must be held firmly together with more clamps than anyone possesses. So the bowmakers lash everything to a form with innertube strips and the pressure increases with every lashing. I took to lashing roof racks onto cars with inner-tube, and the lashing is stronger than the steel clamps made for the purpose. Now I lash anything I can think of with inner-tube strips. You get the inner-tubes from your bike shop. Ask and you shall receive, esp. if you have a pair of scissors with you and cut straight through each tube as they watch, because they always suspect you of taking the tubes home and patching them. Bike shops make their profits from inner tubes and cables, and if you deprive them of this income they would have to charge a fortune for their bikes, which they very kindly don't.

Second I invented the horizontal vice. How many times has that been invented elsewhere? - I don't know. - But it suddenly occurred to me that, not having six hands, it would make it easier to grip several things together if gravity wasn't trying to disassemble them while I was doing up the vice. And it jolly works, too.

Third, I invented the free-standing vice so angle-grinder dust wouldn't go all over my lathe bed. This was pre-invented by Ron Hickman who eventually called it the Black and Decker Workmate. Hickman's first was a free-standing bench with a vice on it, and he - and subsequently I - found this tremendously useful. Hickman tried to sell it to Black and Decker but their Board of Directors, all wearing smart grey business suits, dismissed him contemptuously, and a few years later they gratifyingly had to crawl to him on hands and knees, salivating all over the carpet, for permission to produce it.

I did once invent sumpthingk else, sort of another vice I have, a vice with a different sort of meaning, sort of thing, like. It's gloriously illustrated on pages 135 to 138 of a certain book that we never mention. You could use it to remove warts from your middle finger, if you live in Doncaster.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Earthquake 1331

Now I've discovered how to work the Stats button I see there is only ever one pageview, and since I haven't found out how to disable the wretched blog's monitoring of my own vanity viewing, this means it's going to be quite easy to write entries cos I'm the only reader. One's ego is suitably deflated.

Anyway we have bought a car, a 660cc tardis, minute on the outside and like a cathedral inside.

After listening to her valiantly trying to describe it to him, I emailed my wife's brother-in-law, Dr Morrison.

Suzuki Wagon R is what my wife was groping about in her rather limited grasp of the English tongue to tell you. It is a Kei Car, pronounced, presumably by the Japanese, Kay, though given that you as a splendid Australian would pronounce that Kye, this information can only be of limited linguistical assistance. They are a Japanese tax dodge, limited to 660cc motors, 11 feet long, and 1.6 metres wide. - Feet? Metres? - Must have been an American giving the details. - We filled it with petrol to the very, very top, drove 44.8 kilometres, refilled it, and just managed to squeeze 2.03 litres in, so that's 62 and a third miles per gallon. Imperial gallon, not the curious measures used by American gentlemen. The man in the petrol station was disgusted with me for buying so little. (Luckily I had my rifle with me so I shot him.) It looks exactly like a box. Absolutely hideous. When we next c'llect you from the airport, bring a brown paper bag for Maggie to wear because she will be so ashamed. You will enjoy it though because the headroom is vast, sufficient for a short person like me to wear a busby in comfort. If we painted it red we could probably install a mezzanine, paint '186 Harrow and Wealdstone' on the front, and drive round London gathering passengers. Me, I can't *wait* for Peak Oil so that while I sit in misery I can chuckle at all the other people sitting in even greater misery in their Pajero or Land Cruiser.

Dr Morrison failed to respond so I mentioned the purchase to Mr Knight, who did reply:

Hurrah, you have a Suzuki Vagina.
At my last job I worked with an Indian bloke who drove one of these 'toasters'. Somebody asked him one day what it was called and in a thick Indian accent he replied a Suzuki 'Vagin Uh'. Excuse me, every body swore he said Vagina. He has been in NZ for a long time and is a lovely bloke but still has trouble with W's and R's. -
That's pretty good fuel consumption btw. - In other news we had an exciting 5.5 yesterday morning; we had at least 5 seconds warning as we both heard it coming. We had time to look at each other and ask "Is that a truck or an earthquake" then listen some more before it hit. We had shite weather this weekend, I hardly rode at all. That is all.

It looks, as Mr Knight has mentioned, like an electric toaster but:

Yea! we shall all (esp the children) call it a Vagin Uh henceforth. - I spotted your 5.5. I thought, 'That'll liven up their morning.' - You didn't have shite weather this weekend, because we had it all and there wouldn't have been enough left for you. We are still having it, too. They specially arranged it for the bank holiday. We did, however, manage a little tandem ride but I am finding all upright bikes give me sores on my sit-bones, so the long-talked-of recumbent tandem has to conjure itself into being. I also *need* to build a wet-weather-recumbent to cope with the trauma of exercise for when my wife chooses not to accompany me.

What neither of us knew was that my possession of a new microcar was not going to dominate our immediate conversations, because at lunchtime today I had a perky note to the effect that Christchurch had just had another 5.5:

I see you're having an eventful lunchtime according to eqnews.

Mr Knight was almost at once at his keyboard -

Yes, I was very scared. I may have to go and change my troosers. We had a mild foreshock and then a big *ucking 5.5 that *everybody* is saying was closer to a 6.0 and then lots of aftershocks of the aftershock that Geonet aren't bothering to report.
I was in an electronics store on Colombo street near the centre of town and *everything* ended up on the floor. It was like in one of those videos of an earthquake in a shop.
- Oh *uck, I've just come back into the office after another massive aftershock that seemed to go on forever. Sirens everywhere, dust etc. I saw a concrete building opposite flex and move relative to its neighbour. The traffic is now horrendous and I chose today to take the motorbike in rather than cycle. I'll have a look to see what it was. Geonet haven't posted it yet but the quake drum trace is much bigger than the previous 5.5 Still having big aftershocks, here's another one...

Well of course it turned out to be a 6, so all the news channels switched onto overdrive and the earthquake minister flew down to hold everybody's hand. On the phone, Mr Knight told me that the aftershocks were more-or-less continuous, and all the interested nerds - which is me, given that I'm now the sole reader - can rush to the website to watch the seismic drum recorder. As before there's been lots of liquifaction, and the drains, all newly repaired, have bubbled up to the surface once more. Until someone mentions it, you don't realise that an air-filled drain underground, during an earthquake, is like a balloon in water, and as soon as the soil behaves like a liquid, the drains all float to the top.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Popular Mechanics

It was raining hard 'smorning so we took ourselves to Nelson where they celebrate Queen's Birthday Weekend with a second-hand book fair at Founders' Park.

Hurray! I bought an entire set of Popular Mechanics do-it-yourself Encyclopedia for ten dollars.

However often I looked the second-hand bookshops only ever had volumes 1, 2 and 3. Any number of times I've come across A-B. Luckily this contained the useful Rolling Patio Bar, which I've always wanted to make. 'Sure to lend a touch of elegance to your next patio party, this handsome beverage center is made almost entirely of ¾-in. plywood.' I had lusted over the throwaway bar for a one-night stand to 'add a touch of color to your next party and provide you with an inexpensive, practical way to serve guests.' Unf. I should have needed seven cartons and a large piece of checkered oilcloth, and lacking checkered oilcloth I was stumped. The instructions told me that the 'morning after the party, you can carry the entire construction into a storage area until your next party. Or, if you prefer, you can simply burn it or throw it away.' (I love being given these options. They certainly address the difficult problem of whether or not to leave the *ucking ghastly thing right in the middle of the room for the next three months.)

Volume 3 gave seven variations on a basic cart - 'You won't have to wear a lampshade to be the hit of your next party. All you have to do is wait for the right moment and then roll out your host cart. And the whistles are your cue to remark in an offhand fashion, "oh, I made it last week." ' - Very easily pleased, Americans of 1968. - The men would have wanted 'to know how you did it, and the ladies will be trying to find a way of motivating their husbands into performing the same miracle.'

But in this find I've solved the mystery of why nothing beyond Volume 3 ever appears in the junk shops. Tucked into one of the volumes was a letter from K Horspool, General Manager at Grolier Enterprises (NZ) Ltd. The very next month, I read, I'd have been sent the remaining 13 volumes in one shipment, for which I would have had the privilege of continuing to pay monthly while having use of the complete set. I suspect your New Zealand amateur handyman balked at the prospect of paying for another thirteen volumes on how to impress his dinner-party guests with home-made mobile kitchen appliances, and suspended his subscription accordingly.

Anyway, I now have the complete set, and if she's lucky, I shall 'give your wife a break. Here are two work centers to make her housework easier.' Imagine the delight on her face as she kneels down in front of her End cabinet and finds 'a handy place to store detergents and bleach'.

I'll let you know if we're divorced by next week.