Blog 2021

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What we have been doing at Little House (or meetings online)

Previous years blogs are available from the Main Page

2021-02-16 Tuesday

  • Garret spoke of the magnet and Swiss Army knife. The magnet had become crushed within the knife and there were small magnetic bits all over the inside. He's managed to remove much of it, but it's a longtime task.
  • RichardB joined us and heard about his case for a Raspberry Pi 4 incorporating a massive heat sink. This is helpful because he's overclocking the Pi cruelly. It still looks like heroic over-engineering
  • The Pi can be used to emulate 1980's games consoles, using image files from ArcadePunks.
  • IanB said he was making a door knocker sensor that would ring a door bell when triggered. This led to suggestions for operating the door knocker from the bell push, and fibre optic graphics in the 'Welcome' mat. (Who thinks my front door mat would say Welcome? Wrong.)
  • Programming capability for games. Some wish for true vector graphics, others can live without. The arcade consoles used to have a vector monitor. Fond memories of Tank Commander and Asteroids.
  • Space 1999 was a TV series from the 1970's (when 1999 was unbelievably far into the future). They communicated with miniature one-inch TV displays.
  • For some reason this led us to an exchange of Sinclair C5 stories, and that led to a video of a jet-powered kart. Scary!
  • IanM has Win10 on an SSD which can be plugged into any laptop and booted from there.
  • Garret has a Pi 4 with no PSU. Much advice about getting a sufficiently powerful power supply, as them 4s are mighty hungry for electricity.
  • Attendance tonight = 5

2021-02-09 Tuesday

  • IanB spoke about his recently completed roller blind motor, which was now working along with the electric curtains.
  • Garret described a new 3-blade Swiss Army knife which had tools to open tins, remove bottle tops, drill holes, widen out holes and do saw cutting
  • Conversation turned inevitably to covid vaccination and a web site that gave a prediction when your jab would come to you. Garret's complaint was every time he looked at it, it would give a later prediction.
  • There was an excellent series of short talks on Radio4 by Neil McGregor of the British Museum, titled "The History of the World in 100 Objects". When we are released from lockdown, Garret plans to visit the museum once or twice a week to seek out these objects one at a time, and listen to the talk while standing in front of the very thing.
  • Discussion slewed on to how best to get to the museum by bus or tube from Waterloo, then towards refreshment facilities at the V&A, Natural History Museums and so on, especially for members. Why can't the museums offer membership that is common to all of them instead of competing?
  • IanB interrupted and asked for help with a live test of Jitsi-meet software he had installed somewhere in the Cloud. He gave the link, and people went there. No-one could hear or see anyone else, so it was clearly not ready to unleash into the real world -yet.
  • A bit of talk about assembling supercomputers from cloud resources; AI; identifying fakes; Jon's cautionary tale of AI recognising photos of fake goods only if the picture was taken in a warehouse with cardboard boxes in the background; SETI and whatever happened to that project; and on and on
  • Garret had ordered 3 Pi Pico from PiMoroni but they only allowed him to buy one. So he signed up for 6 moths of the magazine with a free Pico on the cover. Once his subscription was processed it started with the following month's mag. They had already run out of the special issue. SO that subscription got cancelled.
  • Discussion about banks giving a better rate of interest if you paid in a minimum sum each month, and a scheme for circulating one wad of money around a series of banks to get the best interest from all of them.
  • Garret made a plea for a plain language computer language and was referred to YACC (Yet Another Compiler Compiler). Only you have to know that computer language to be able to use YACC to compile a plain language language. Garret disappeared down a recursive rabbit-hole.
  • Attendance tonight = 4

2021-02-02 Tuesday

  • Ian M claimed that some insects are attracted to the smell of WD40. Others were sceptical. A brief search engine search (i.e Google, as if that anyone uses any other, except the one they use when they don't want family members or employers to see their search history) suggested it mostly kills insects and other arthropods. And possibly fish and birds. De-icer for cars effectively kills too, and is cheaper and available from Poundland.
  • Garret had been trying to learn a bit of Python and had found that, a site suggested by the Pi Foundation for running Python code didn't seem able to run his effort but he'd found more reliable. Here is his version of Garret's version of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock!
  • BASIC, BBC Micro, Acorn Archimedes.
  • Leo managed to double himself, then tripled, then quadrupled, moved about the screen and changed colour with the aid of his videocard and bit of OBS (but not mostly the card.)
  • Disposal of old electronic / computer equipment.
  • Vacuum Fluorescent Displays and their bluey-green charm.
  • Jon told us about his having seen old photographs of quite a few Hungarian refrigerated goods coaches in Ham shunting yard. He speculated that it might have been raw ingredients of a dog food factory. Or not.
  • A discussion of the safety training video Forklift Driver Klaus.
  • Fake products of various sorts and the damage they can do.
  • Starship SN9, slightly earlier in the evening, and its almost completely successful flight. It was only the landing that went wrong - rather spectacularly.
  • Railway tanker implosions due to vacuums.
  • School experiments in the days of yore when you could actually do dangerous but fun things, such as imploding tins with vacuum.
  • Ian B arrived having been at our parent organisation's bored meeting but had to leave again right away as it was imperative he deal with an ongoing Ham United Group emergency. We hope this will be dealt with by next week not just for HUG's sake, but also so that we have Ian's invaluable input back and perhaps another report on his moving statue.
  • Attendance tonight = 5

2021-01-26 Tuesday

  • This week the Raspberry Pi Pico was announced. Peter H has one already
  • Discussion on what to do with the Pico
    • emulate a BBC micro?
    • write a game?
  • Garret has successfully changed the battery in his watch
  • This led to stories about Breitling watches, Tag Heuer copies and Jon's 10 euro watch that's accurate as the best of them
  • Jon spoke of a model train part bought from Kidderminster which had been manufactured in quantity but was not the size that the drawing specified. They are going to need a bigger waste bin.
  • Nectar (the loyalty card) have been studying their statistics, and somebody was advised they were the No.1 buyer of choc digestives in their area. So be careful. Every move we make is recorded. And lay off the choc digestives.
  • IanM reckons that the PIC 16F88 is capable of everything that an Arduino can do. This led on to definition of MCU, then to Three Letter Abbreviations (TLA), then to TLA of more than three letters, eTLA (extended Three Letter Abbreviations)
  • Sanity was restored when we moved on to the subject of IP over Avian Carriers, i.e. pigeon-based messaging. They exhibit poor latency, but if the medium is a micro-SD card, the bit rate still exceeds many alternatives.
  • Jon applied for a new or renewed passport before Christmas and received it mid-January. Thought that was not bad going. This led on to some passport stories then some driving licence stories.
  • Same time next week, eh?
  • Attendance tonight = 6

2021-01-19 Tuesday

  • IanB was in the Library at Strawberry Hill House, Teddington with the help of OBS software and his green screen
  • This led to discussion of on-screen digital trickery putting people together from different time periods, like Captain James T Kirk turning up in the Star Trek movie Generations, and another appearance when Kirk met the star ship captain in an episode of Deep Space Nine, and of course gatherings of various Doctor Who incarnations
  • Why not cool refrigerated lorries using a compressed air engine to pump the Freon, instead of using a diesel engine?
  • For that matter, aren't there better uses for the waste heat from power stations?
  • Brief discussion on the YouTube video describing a proposal to have public transport supported by lamp-posts, in Paris. It was agreed that turning corners would be impossible.
  • But there is a monorail suspended above a river in Germany (Wuppertal Schwebebahn) in which you get a mild swinging sensation as it travels, according to Jon who has travelled on it. If you were to fall off the platform, you would end up in the river.
  • Jon is about to dive in to the world of the Raspberry Pi, looking for assistance on which operating system to choose, and how to hook up HDMI, mini HDMI and SVGA connections. Peter H gave good advice.
  • PeterH re-demonstrated the Ballister, for Leo's benefit, as Leo had missed last week's event.
  • PeterH regretted that it's getting difficult to source small quantities of paint for modelling.
  • Leo described, with pictures, how there had been water coming through the ceiling at his office. Photos showed half the ceiling torn down, to track the source of the water. There had also been a good deal of water under the raised floor, keeping all the cables and services nicely wet. Lots of work to do, putting all this right.
  • This led Jon to remember an occasion when he was asked to move from his desk to give access to turn off the water. The guy then smashed open the plasterboard with a hammer, and sure enough there was a stopcock hidden in the wall.
  • For no good reason, this led on to discussion of the viaduct collapse at Nine Elms, nicely caught on video as most things are these days.
  • Anybody been watching the Americas Cup race? The technology is so good now, these hydrofoil sailboats can travel at 3 times the speed of the wind. But are useless if there's no wind at all. One race, in no-wind conditions, was shortened from 3 laps to 2 after it had started, in order to stand any chance of it finishing -at all.
  • Leo showed progress he had made on recognising different colour blocks for the next Pi Wars. He seemed to have that reasonably well sorted, subject to good lighting, but hasn't yet got anywhere with the gripper that will lift and stack these coloured blocks. Only 6 weeks to go, Leo!
  • Attendance tonight = 6

2021-01-12 Tuesday

  • PeterH has created a replica Radio Electronic Token Block, which is a radio communications based version of the former 'key' passing procedure used on trains passing through a single track two-directional section. What software people would call a 'semaphore' or 'Mutex'.
  • On request, PeterH demonstrated the Ballister which was clearly able to throw an object across a room.
  • MartinC got his mic working after a week or two of problems. He's built a 48V phantom power supply, and he now knows about 4-pole jack plugs (with TRRS connections). The noise-cancelling gismo acts as a USB headphone drive as well as a microphone interface. Martin didn't say how many stars he would award, but it sounded not far short of 5.
  • MartinC has also got his 3D printer back up and running. He's driving it direct from a computer now instead of relying on an SD card.
  • IanB said he was working on a motor for opening and closing a window blind, but had no work-in-progress to show and tell.
  • IanB spoke about his hobby of challenging parking tickets on technical grounds, and went into a lot of unnecessary detail on his current dispute which has reached an appeal to the London Tribunal.
  • Garret related a parking ticket tale of his own, involving photographic evidence and the regular display of incompetence by the local parking authority. It ran for almost a year, and had a good ending where no money was paid.
  • Someone (sorry I don't remember who but it might have been PeterH) recommended StreamDeck, or was it software that simulated StreamDeck without the cost of the hardware? Anyway, the main thing is that you can put this software on a tablet and get it to generate macro keyboard sequences into a different computer.
  • Jon still has no solution for the (Lenovo) laptop with lost USB/bluetooth. After the reputation of Lenovo was ground into dust, PeterH offered a possible solution using a Raspberry Pi on the same local network. This would employ Internet Connection Sharing, so a mouse on the Pi could send control codes to the errant laptop. Jon will look into it.
  • And that was more or less that.
  • Attendance tonight = 6

2021-01-05 Tuesday

  • Plans for the zombie apocalypse
  • Clipping 9v batteries together
  • Jigsaw
  • Leaves on track
  • Slippery train at Shepperton
  • Whale train in Holland
  • Flask safety testing
  • Worst train crashes
    • Harrow & Wealdstone
    • West Coast Main Line
  • How to remove the LT roundel from an underground station
  • Terry Pratchett
    • The amazing Maurice and his educated rodents
    • Cohen the Barbarian and his silver hoard
    • The last Hero
  • Arecibo collapse
  • Hammersmith Bridge
  • Attendance tonight = 6