Missing Out On Dunnocks

Turns out this little fella

is not, in fact, a sparrow.

I’ve been seeing these in our garden for ever but I’ve never known what they are. Which is fine, ignorance is an excusable problem. What does bother me a little bit though is that I’ve never bothered to find out what they are. I’ve just assumed that they’re sparrows, you know either tree sparrows or house sparrows, whichever the one is that doesn’t look like a classic sparrow, or maybe they’re female sparrows or juveniles. I dunno. It doesn’t really matter.

Because they’re just Little Brown Jobs as the professional birders would say. Tediously uninteresting and a little bit too much effort to identify from a distance or with a cursory glance.

And yet when you do slow down enough to spend 2:45 on Wikipedia it turns out you’ve been missing out on something all this time. And with not very much effort you become just a little bit smarter and your world becomes a little bit richer around you.

Pond Refurb

Our pond has always been a bit of a problem when it comes to keeping the water clear. To the point that most of the time we can’t see the fish. And that’s even when we clean the filter every couple of days. To be honest we know what the problem is – the pond isn’t big enough for the fish we’ve got in it and the filter/pump isn’t up to the job. There’s not much we can do about the former, but this is the feak and weeble pumpy thing we’ve been struggling with:

It recently gave up the ghost after an ‘O’ ring leaked and water got into the UV bulb fitting. Rather than replace it with the same model we’ve gone for an upgrade.

Hooj filter that lives outside the pond and is fed by a small pump. You don’t need to take it apart to clean the filters because it has a handle that turns a spinnumy-thing that flaps away at the filter foam inside and you divert the gunky water onto the plants for extra growth factor.

So far it’s been in for a month or so and the water is tip-top. The fish are loving it.

Time Zones and Coding

Having gone through pretty much exactly this process I can tell you that this is the reason why I have less hair than I used to.

Name Plate

A few years ago, one of Kay’s kids gave her a scroll saw cut wooden name tag which she’d displayed in her classroom ever since. Due to the ridiculous nature of our surname it’s a bit long and hence fragile, and it’s broken a couple of times.

I’ve recently had to cut down an old mountain ash that’s been growing in our front garden ever since the house was built. I suspect it got its roots a few inches down and found the awesome clay that everything sits on round here. Suffice to say it did not thrive and its constituent parts have been seasoning for a while in the garage.

I figured it would be nice to use some of it as a mount for Kay’s name plate so I stripped the bark off and generally neatened it up a little with a bit of carving and sanding, and then I shaved off a couple of flats with my hand plane; one for it to sit flat on, and another to mount the wooden name plate. A bit of oil and Bob’s your uncle.

New Workbench

A month or so ago I completed Phase 1 of my epic plan to re-build the man cave (otherwise known as The Hall of Half-built Curiosities). I’ve been using a pretty bog standard Ikea desk since God were a lad and I’d always wanted to custom build something a little better suited to what I needed. So I stripped everything out and dumped it all in a huge pile in the bathroom (which made Kay deliriously happy I can assure you) and started hacking up bits of 2×4 and huge sheets of MDF.

Top tip number one folks: never, ever, buy timber over the interwebs ‘cos they’ll pick the twistiest POS sticks out of the entire stack for you. I’m surprised the ones I got even had the birds and squirrels removed. Every cloud though… I now know how to tune a hand plane and how to use winding sticks to turn Disney princess castle turret handrails into straight, though admittedly somewhat thinner, things. Of course it would have made much more sense to sack ’em off, barbecue some nice steaks and just buy some straight ones but where’s the fun in that?

I wanted the supporting structure to be nice and open with no legs to get in the way. I pretty much managed that but had to put a couple of glued up 4×4 props at either end of the bench. The remainder of the support comes from 2×4 wall plates bolted to the masonry walls with hoooj hammer fixings. In the end, the thing is pretty much bomb-proof and easily takes my weight without any sign of movement; way more solid than I had hoped for.

I’ve covered it using a couple of 8×4 sheets of 18mm MDF which I managed to get pretty much bob on when it came to level and joins. I even jigsawed some curves on the ends to make it nice and purdy. Oh yeah, I cut out some holes for cabling as well. Turns out my poor little Black and Decker does not like three inch hole saws. Some of the magic smoke definitely escaped and I had to leave it outside for while as it had become something of a fire risk.

The next job is to build some under bench storage; probably just simple MDF boxes with doors and casters. After that I’m planning on putting up some French cleats on the walls so I can put up custom and adjustable storage type stuff.

Really pleased so far. It’s not fine carpentry by any means but that’s not what I want. I want something beefy that I can get paint and glue and grease and solder and coffee and sweat and blood and tears and kitten guts on. No. Not kitten guts. I mis-spoke.

Garden Carpet Moth Pays a Visit

Sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the day. Yesterday we were busy doing the usual everyday stuff in the back (picking up dog poo, putting out the rubbish, living the dream) when Ellen goes all Disney Princess and has a little moth land on her finger.

It was one of those common-or-garden small-ish, grey-ish, boring-ish ones that you see all the time. Kind of the moth equivalent of the Little Brown Job. But it occured to me that I should probably find out what it was. Turns out there are a lot of moths that look just like this one but this is, I’m pretty certain, a garden carpet moth. Never heard of it. Which is kinda sad really.

So anyway, when you’re trying to identify moths (and flowers, and trees and birds and pretty much anything) it turns out you need to have at least a little bit of an idea of what you’re talking about. So I ended up hitting up Wikipedia to find out things like “Does the term ‘forewing’ refer to the front part of the wing or the front wing of a pair of wings?” and of course I end up doing the usual Alice down the rabbit hole schtick.

Turns out ‘costa’ is not just everyone’s favourite go-go juice dealer but it’s also the name of the vein that runs nearest the front edge of an insect wing. At least according to the Comstock-Needham naming convention. Who knew? Well, now I do and you do too.

Not enough hours in the day.

False Widow

You know when you look at something and your gut says “Hmm. That’s weird.” Pretty sure this is a false widow spider.

Pretty sure these are not supposed to be in my garage. And I’m damned sure Ellen won’t think they’re supposed to be in the garage.

Book Review – The Works: Anatomy Of A City

Cover Photo
If you can’t walk past a hole in the street without leaning over the edge to see what’s down there, then this book by Kate Ascher will tickle your fancy. It tells the hidden story of New York’s infrastructure covering everything from airports to sewage.

Road Junction Layout Types

It’s light enough to be an easy read without getting too bogged down in the details and it’s well illustrated throughout. Personally I would have preferred a bit more detail on the engineering side of things which I think could have been brought in at the expense of some of the more New York specific historical stuff. Definitely an interesting read though.

Childhood Objects

Well I’m going to borderline cheat here. Does teenage still count as childhood? It does? Cool. I guess like most, I’ve got quite a few well and fondly remembered childhood objects but my stand-out has got to be my touring bicycle. Just like this one.

Dark green Raleigh Royal, super lightweight (for the day at least), super strong and super comfy. Talk about an enabling technology, I pretty much lived on this thing in my teens. I went to a big private school with a wide catchment area so mates, and **far** more importantly, girlfriends, were pretty spread out. My trusty steed let me get there quick smart. See that rack over the back wheel? Hang a pair of panniers and a bag on that, phone my best mate Dave, grab a few tools, some cash, food, pans, stove, kipper and tent and off we disappeared for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. Wherever. We. Wanted. To. Go. Man alive, that thing was liberating. We once went down to Land’s End in Cornwall and then rode the entire length of the UK to John o’ Groats in Scotland.

That’s me on the right, next to my mate Dave, with my Dad and his mate Bryan at the front. We’re all celebrating with a tiny bottle of single malt each.

Build A Computer From Scratch (Kinda Sorta)

I’m currently part way through a fantastic course on hardware design. It’s called Nand2Tetris and walks through building a simulated computer from the very simplest components (individual transistors) right through to a fully functioning computer. There’s a subreddit available if you want to chat with some fellow learners and a TED talk covering the course and some of the educational ideas behind it.

Everything runs in a simulator so there’s no actual hardware to buy or break or futz about with (which you may or may not find attractive) and this means you can focus on the underlying theory and understand what’s going on rather than getting bogged down in implementation details.

Still early days (I’m busy building some of the more complex components from basic logic gates at the moment) but it’s very good so far. No previous experience is required, but if you have none, be prepared to do some fairly serious thinking and maybe a bit of background reading along the way.

Update 2016-03-26:
All done now. I really liked this course. It had great pacing and a really good overall shape that kept my interest all the way through. There was plenty of detail without any tedious busy-work and it covered an awful lot of ground without feeling overwhelming at any point. While this little short course in no way represents the realities and complexities of a real world project it did provide a great insight into what kinds of issues are involved in computer design. The projects all required some thought but built on previous knowledge very well and there was a definite sense of accomplishing something really quite significant for the relatively small amount of effort involved. 10/10 would recommend.