Monday, 25 January 2016


What do you do with all the bits left over after you have stripped down a number of dud hard disks to get the magnets out of them? Make a sculpture of course.

This is made from three read write head arms and a set of the ball races they swivel on.  The engineering inside these machines is really something and seems a waste to just chuck it when the drive has failed. 
The magnets are very powerful and you find two in each hard drive. 

Two magnets removed from the disk drive

They make good tool holders in a metal cabinet or glued onto a wooden one.  They will hold quite heavy tools in place.
They are useful for a number of other things.  Glued to a  stick, you can get that dropped screw out from under the cupboard where it rolled.  Also young grandchildren find them fun things to have.  However, they are very strong and you need to make sure your skin does not get caught between two magnets or you could get a blood blister. They are quite fragile, being a ceramic/ferrite material and they snap easily but then you have two smaller magnets.

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Haunting of Willow Lodge

A true story
Long long ago when the world was yet young and you had to think in terms of pounds shillings and pence and have enough points* to go shopping, when I was still at school, my parents owned and ran a small garage in a village not too far from London. They made a living of sorts, repairing cars and selling the odd second hand car. The garage was on a plot of land which had a large workshop used as the garage, a forge my uncle ran as the local blacksmith and a small house which, two hundred years or so before, had been a pub. The house was called Willow Lodge and was in a serious state of decay when we acquired it and before we could move in, the local council ruled that it was not fit for human habitation so it had to be demolished and rebuilt.
The back of the original Willow Lodge
Quite the opposite of how ancient houses are dealt with now, but that was long ago in a different age, when rationing was still around and everyone had to carry identity cards.
* Points or coupons were issued in rationing books and you tore out the right number when shopping for food. Everything had a price and how many points it took from your ration book. Once you ran out of points, you starved, so people were very sparing when using them.

The old house was duly demolished, plans were drawn up for its replacement, and work started on the new house. After a year of living in temporary accommodation, namely a caravan behind the garage workshop, my sister, mum, dad and me all moved in. It was great, all new and smelling of fresh paint and new plaster and for the first time I had a bedroom of my own.

The new House

We had not been there long before we started to notice odd noises and occasionally doors would open by themselves. My father jokingly suggested that the place was haunted by the old pub staff and we soon got used to the idea of Nellie the barmaid roaming around the house, whilst knowing in our rational minds, it was just our new house settling into its foundations. We lived with Nellie for a couple of years when it started to become a bit more scary.
One night, we were all woken by the most blood curdling scream you have ever heard and I discovered what they meant by the phrase ‘hair raising fear’, it was that kind of scream.  Both my sister and I ran from our bedrooms into our parents' bedroom where mum and dad were also looking rather disturbed.  My poor father was persuaded to go and investigate and he went down stairs armed with a poker, something every household had before central heating, and nervously searched the ground floor for signs of bloody murder.
After a tour of the whole house, he returned upstairs to report nothing unusual where I and my sister spent the rest of the night in our parents' bedroom and eventually got some fitful sleep.

Discussing it over the next few days, my sister suggested it was a vengeful ghost who not only resented us destroying the old Willow Lodge, but my parents had renamed the new house The Willows to add insult to injury and I half believed it could be true.
Incidentally, my parents never altered the deeds when the house was rebuilt and so after we moved away from there, the name has reverted to Willow Lodge and has remained the official name.

Several weeks went by without any signs or sounds of a vengeful ghost, other than the occasional creak or door opening, and we more or less forgot about it. Forgot about it until it happened again.

Once again we were all woken from our sleep by the most horrible sound you could imagine, a long drawn out gurgling scream and once more, white faced and apprehensive, we gathered in our parents' bedroom, smoothing down our upstanding hair.  Poor dad again had to scour the house for headless corpses or whatever. Again he found nothing, no corpses, ghostly apparitions, ectoplasm or even a mysterious splash of blood, so once more we tried to forget and went about our lives as normal. After all, there are only so many nights you can spend hiding under the covers hoping it will not get you before morning and pretty soon you forget.

Several months went by before a recurrence of the sound.

In our new, but seemingly haunted house, the kitchen was large enough for a table to be in the centre of the room and we usually ate there rather than in the slightly grander dining room, which was left for when we had family over, or were entertaining. One evening, we were all sat around the kitchen table eating our evening meal, when the scream happened again, but this time it was here in the room with us all. Electrified by the awful sound, the rest of my family took a few seconds to notice that I was laughing.

A while before we had needed to live in the caravan, our old faithful dog Pip had died and, as parents have done throughout history, told us children we were never never going to have another dog. This was fortunate, as it turned out, because when the house was condemned and the family had to be crammed into a caravan whilst our new house was being built, looking after a dog would have been an unwanted complication.

Soon after we moved into the house, some friends turned up with the most unfairly attractive puppy. They were people who bred thoroughbreds where this litter was an accident, a cross between a beagle and a King Charles spaniel, and they looked adorable. Net result was we suddenly had a small dog, who became my constant companion when I was home from school.
The breeders had named the puppy Polyanthus, since they were in the habit of naming thoroughbreds with complicated names. This litter were all named after flowers and they had shortened this one’s name to Polly. Ignoring the fact that it was a he and despite Polly not being usual for a  male of any species, by the time we were given him, he already answered to his name.  So we were lumbered with a male dog named Polly.

After a few days, someone sang polly wally doodle part of the old song and hearing this, it was suggested we call him Wally since it rhymed with Polly. He did not seem to be able to tell the difference between Polly and Wally and so the new name stuck and he was henceforth known as Wally.

On the evening of the terrible scream in the kitchen, my chair happened to face Wally’s bed and he was obviously bored with waiting for his turn at some food and was yawning very noisily. He had stretched, and opening his mouth wide, throwing his head back he was making a horrible gurgling high pitched sound as he yawned. It was the sound that had woken us up and terrified us for several months and it was just a noisy yawn. We had never heard a dog make such a blood curdling noise, so we had missed the obvious cause. Funnily enough, I do not recall him ever doing it again after that.

Monday, 4 January 2016

2016 already and no Buck Rodgers suit or personal helicopter yet

Time sure does gallop by these days and last year was something of a fast forward.   It has been a great year, particularly for an astronomy Geek, with lots of events.  Marred only slightly by a recurrence of the dreaded kidney stone and the news that I am diabetic and must stop eating nice things.  Despite these setbacks it has whizzed by at a rate of knots which seem to be accelerating with each passing year.
So here are some of the highlights summarised.

In March there was a solar eclipse visible from our latitudes and we were able to watch the sun being covered by the moon's shadow.

In May we visited an owl sanctuary and got to hold owls

In June we explored South Dakota and visited the endless seeming badlands.  I am so glad we had good roads and a car rather than making this journey in a covered wagon as the early settlers must have done.

Whilst in SD we visited Mount Rushmore, ticking one more item off my bucket list

July was a busy month, the New Horizons spacecraft, after a nine year journey, made a successful flyby of Pluto changing our view from this -

- to this

Also in July we visited the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford

Finally in July, I part exchanged my old car for a VW, only to find out that VW had been cooking the books on diesel engines for a few years and you could not be sure anything they told you about your car until you had tried it out yourself - for a few hundred road miles.  It seems petrol engines were not innacurate and my car's stats seem to match the stated ones given by VW.

Whilst on the subject of dishonesty, each month, our food products reduce in size whilst keeping the same size packet.  They must think we are all stupid and will not notice.  Maybe a small price hike would be more honest than just ripping us off by small increments and keeping the price the same.  How long before we get an empty packet for our money?

In August we went to see my sister and nephew and whilst there visited Woodbridge

During 2015 the Dawn spacecraft, having left Vesta, moved into orbit around Ceres giving the best views of this dwarf planet ever obtained.

In November Paris was attacked and everyone went paranoid for a while.

 I am surprised that no one seemed to point out that these people are terrible cowards and outside their own territories never make any tactical attacks, but pick on unarmed civillians knowing they will not be in any danger until the police arrive.  Then rather than face the music for their callous actions, most often, they will commit suicide or force the police to shoot them and so avoid punishment.  The interesting thing about these attacks, something that has been with us since way, way back, is that it never works.  No one ever learns from history and so they keep turning up, Anarchists, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Free Welsh, the IRA and these latest people.  We are not cowed by their terrorist action, we have seen it all before and in fact become more determined not to accede to whatever demands they make.

In September we got up in the small hours to watch the moon turn red during a total eclipse.

Then just in time for Christmas no end of people were flooded out, reminding me of the time my house was flooded way back in 1977.  This is a photo I took that day. My house is just about where the lorry is.  Having suffered the awful problems of just a slight flood, my heart goes out to those peple still cleaning up or living in tempory accomodation whilst their uninhabitable home is slowly returned to normal.  I hope that the new year does not bring them further floods and they can get back to normal as soon as possible.
Soon it was Christmas and we were lucky enough not to be flooded out and had a good Christmas with the family.  Then seemingly suddenly it was 2016 and we were heading back home.
Not the best journey I have had.  The bulk of the journey was three hours of heavy rain on the motorway, fourtunately with no massive holdups, which was something of a miracle.  
So a happy New Year to everyone.