Power failure

July 13, 2010

Nowadays we are very reliant on electricity. I don’t feel the need for vast quantities of it, but just a small reliable supply would be nice.

Eleven thousand volt elecricity pole with transformer

Electricity pole

Unfortunately the reliable is not available, we get no choice of how the electricity is supplied, and the monopoly network supplier is not under any pressure to make the supply reliable.

This morning was a good example. Power went off at around 06:00. Not a big deal you might think, everyone is still asleep then. Well I was asleep until neighbour (A)’s alarm sounded.

Alarm bell box fitted on a wall


They have an alarm which sounds when the power fails, which is handy for some I guess. It is nice to know that the battery is working fine and can keep the alarm sounding for an hour or so.

It was not long of course before the power was restored for a short while. This is quickly identified to all in the street because neighbour (B)’s alarm which does not have a battery sounds when power is restored. I am sure that this is a jolly hand feature too. It was not long of course before the power failed again and you guessed it, we were back to the slightly different wail of neighbour (A) again until the battery went flat.

The blackbirds seem to find all this very amusing, because they took the opportunity to adjust their dawn chorus to include both alarms.



It must be really handy for neighbour (A) to know that should the battery go flat the alarm can still be heard for another hour or so until the blackbirds clear off to find some breakfast.

So, apart from being woken up at the crack of dawn with no access to normal methods of entertainment (telly, radio etc.) and no communication methods (telephone, internet) life takes on a rather surreal turn.

I start off by reading the rest of the Radio Times – there is not much on this coming week that anyone needs to worry about. This is followed by reading ‘The Garden’ – not too much to do in the garden in July fortunately, but good news that the worlds smallest water lilly has now been successfully propagated. Fancy having to simulate an African hot spring to make it flower!

Now that is really everything exhausted. Looks like the rain has stopped now, so Mrs. Suzie agreed that we should go out for a walk. That gets rid of a couple of  hours and can be ticked off the exercise budget. I love walking but it is so time consuming for the small return. Swimming can be done a lot quicker!

Out in the road we meet Team EDF in their pick-up trucks.EDF logo

“It is the trees, they are touching the wires and the rain has made the trees wet and shorted out the power”.

So no rain for a couple of months has made the trees nice and insulated, and allowed them to grow through the wires. In a normal world there would be some pressure on EDF to do preventative maintenance with a chain saw and perhaps get them to realise that if they replaced their aerial knitting with something neat and tidy underground we would not have the spectacle of flaming telegraph poles (which is what happened last time it snowed after a dry spell, creosote makes them burn really well when they get going!), dead birds (they sit on a lower wire and bang their heads on an upper one at a different potential) and general unreliability.

So we went for a walk. it is nice to see the flora on the beach. You would think that nothing grows there, but there is sea holly, sea kale, horned poppys,

Horned poppy on the beach

Horned poppy

and three different coloured Valerian as well as some hollyhocks that have escaped from a nearby garden. All nice things we should be able to have in the garden but have not got. Not only do they not need soil – they grow in just sand, but they don’t need any watering either and we live in the driest place in the UK.

Walk over with but still no electricity. A cup of tea is now seriously overdue, so time to move in to the caravan. It is quite a novelty to be boiling the water in a gas kettle, lighting the gas fridge, and then listening to analogue radio while we drink our tea.

Eventually the power is restored and life returns to normal. E-mail, telephone, television and an electric kettle. Strange to just slip seamlessly back into normal life. The postman has been, and my subscription copy of Model Rail is now on the mat, what wonderful timing.

Suzie x


Going digital

June 29, 2010

I have always looked forward to having extra choice on the telly, Channel 4 test cardChannel4 was a welcome breath of fresh air when it came, and the launch of satellite telly a few years later was really good too, and I recall hearing at the time Rupert Murdoch telling us how he would like to make all his programmes available free to air but the film companies would not let him.

Alas government regulation failed and competition was removed from the skies giving Sky the monopoly on satellite, with the inevitable subscription and overcharging that made it not worth the effort to put up a dish and just get Sky News.

Then around the turn of the millenium, another disaster – the telly broke. A quick trip to the shops and there were all these shiny newPhillips CRT televisiondigital tellys. £850 did not appear to be too bad for a very nice telly with built in digital tuner ready for digital switchover when it comes. Lots of warnings from the salesman. “It’s no good you getting a digital telly there is no signal in your area, it won’t work.”

It really is no good whatsoever telling me that. I am a ‘can do’ person. Not enough signal? There are ways round that. It is not like we had any analogue signal anyway, that got turned off in our area with the closure of the 405 line service in 1985!

Televés DAT75 television aerial against the sky

Televés DAT75 aerial

So get the telly home and not a jot of digital signal, and the analogue was pretty dire too. Not completely unexpected given the inadequate looking aerials on the chimney. A quick bit of internet research gives some indication of where the best digital signal is coming from, and how incredibly weak it is, but I can do.

The biggest aerial I can find with an integrated amplifier gives me 30dB gain, just enough to pull a bit of signal out of a transmitter 48 miles away.

There I am, all up and running and ready for digital switchover – or am I?

When I bought the digital telly there was no time scale put on when we would have proper digital coverage, and no indication that standards would be changing before we would go digital, but why should I worry about that. It is a brand new telly and aerial – it will last for ages.

It was not long before a power cut resulted in the digital tuner not working on the telly,  and taking it back to the shop for repair they of course tell me there is nothing wrong with it. Can’t try it in the shop because they don’t have a suitable aerial! Subsequently find out that the tuner fails if you turn the telly off for a short period (like in a power cut) and the only answer is to leave it turned off for a week or so. Not very satisfactory. Eventually I give up trying to get Comet to honour the guarantee – they think that all they have to do is to take my telly away for a fortnight and tell me there is nothing wrong with it, even when I have demonstrated the fault to their engineer. By now the BBC have updated their interactive service so that it crashes if you press the red button and Phillips are not interested in updating the software to make it work with the BBC, so time to buy a new digital set top box and at least have my telly back.

Sagem ITD602

Sagem ITD602 Freeview receiver

Needless to say this did not function for long before a change known as ‘Split NIT’ rendered it pretty useless, again with no software update available to fix it otherwise good hardware is now junk. And bare in mind that digital switchover is still a few years away.

So another purchase is required to be able to watch the telly. This time a nice Panasonic PVR.

Panasonic DMR EX78 PVR

Panasonic DMR EX78 PVR

Nothing cheap about a Panasonic you might think – apart from the Japanese having virtually no idea about aspect ratio coding and that broadcasters might feel the need to change aspect ratio occasionally to match the programme material!  If you copy a widescreen programme to DVD it encodes it as a 4:3 programme which makes it display incorrectly. If you record a 4:3 programme it takes the aspect ratio of the first bit and encodes the whole programme that way, i.e. the widescreen of the announcer introducing the programme! When 4:3 programmes are shown as widescreen (with black bars at the side) with a protected 4:3 section in the middle, the Panasonic instead of protecting the middle squishes the picture up to be tall and thin. When the weather is on and the protected bit of the picture changes as they show the weather maps the jumping about of the picture has to be seen to be believed. Has the art of testing anything before it goes into production just died a complete death?

So is that the end of the tale? Not quite. You would think that an aerial ought to last long enough, after all some people are still using Jaybeams that were installed in the ’60s for the launch of BBC2. No after nine years of sterling service the integrated amplifier has failed on the aerial.

Televés integrated amplifier showing water damage

Televés integrated amplifier showing water damage

As always it is the highest aerial at the top of the pole that needs attention, requiring the dismantling of the entire array to get to it. Not an expensive part, and it just clips on, but if the Spanish manufacturer had realised that it rains occasionally in more northern parts of Europe and fitted some rubber seals it would probably have lasted a lot longer. in future I will dismantle these and apply a little grease to seal it before fitting.

There is still time to go before switchover, I am sure that something else will go wrong yet – there is still plenty of time.

Suzie x

Electoral reform

May 26, 2010

So we are going to get a referendum on the alternative vote. Will it make any difference? Probably not. I guess that someone could go through the figures and see what would have happened if the votes for the smaller parties had been redistributed to the larger parties.

I suppose that it does have a couple of things going for it, there will be no more tactical voting (if such a thing actually exists) and a vote for a small party will not necessarily be wasted. I suspect that the Liberal Democrats will go a bit quieter on PR when they realise that they will be picking up a good few second choice Labour votes under AV where Labour is increasingly coming third.

Will anyone be brave enough to tackle the real inequalities? Why do the people of the Isle of Wight get to return a single conservative MP, when the same number of voters in the north of Scotland get to return three Liberal Democrats and a Scottish Nationalist to the house of commons. I think it is a little unfair that Scotland gets an extra nine MPs compared to other areas with the same electorate. Correcting that anomaly alone would have made a significant difference to the new government.

Map showing England and wales as Conservative and Scotland as Labour

The UK with fewer MPs

There is also talk of reducing the number of MPs. I guess that logistically that will help if they can all fit into the house of commons at once, but the real advantage will be to see more even representation. Small populations of niche voters will no longer be able to swing the vote and the political map will be much more evenly coloured if adjacent constituencies are merged. Take the Eastern region where if Hemel Hempstead is merged with Luton South, Bedfordshire with Luton North, Norwich South with Central Norfolk, Colchester with Witham, Cambridge with Cambridgeshire South and Norfolk North with Great Yarmouth the colour of the map would represent the majority. We must never forget that democracy is a compromise between everyone having their say and no one.

Is a constituency of 150,000 voters too big? I don’t think so. The savings in having fewer MPs will enable the purchase of a couple of helicopters for those with the trickier constituencies, I can’t see that Charles kennedy would be complaining about that.

Charles Kennedy MP banging his head on tghe door of a Helicopter as he gets out.

Charles Kennedy better get used to getting in and out of his Helicopter

Suzie x

The economy at last

May 6, 2010

So at last the Prime Minister candidates have mentioned the ‘E’ word.

Mr. Brown who has damaged the economy so badly that it is worse than Greece where there is rioting in the streets says that he knows what he is doing with the economy and will carry on as usual. As a former chancellor with a reputation as a bully we know it is all his own work and there will be no scope for any chancellor to make amends under Brown’s rule.

Mr. Cameron says the economy is a priority that needs sorting out.

At least someone appears to be aware of the real world and knows what he is talking about.

Suzie x

A hair dryer tip

May 1, 2010
Clairol twelve hundred hair dryer with five metre cable and green plug

Clairol 1200 hair dryer with long cable

Hair drying for those of us lucky enough to have our own hair, and those of us especially lucky like me to have enough for Suzie as well as Bob, can be a serious business.

I received the Clairol 1200 as a gift in the ’80s, huge power like 1.2KW at the time was unheard of for a hair dryer, it was awsome. Perhaps it is a bit tame by today’s standards when you can get a 2KW monster from Argos for a fiver – but it has endured and is still in regular use.

The biggest shortcoming of most hair dryers is the length of the cord. My head is very rarely within two metres of a socket, unless I am sorting out the wiring behind the telly. A long time a go Mrs. Suzie decided that she wanted an extension lead for the hair dryer.

“What is wrong with this one?” I asked picking up the four metre extension that was useful for most applications.

“It’s too long.” was the inevitable response.

Don’t ask for an explanation, there will never be one.

Mrs Suzie held the dryer where she wanted to use it, waved it around a bit, and I measured the distance from the plug to the wall socket. I duly constructed a new extension lead two metres long.

It may surprise you to find that a two metre extension lead can be so incredibly useful. Hardly a day went by without the special extension lead being used for something other than hair drying and was therefore unavailable.

“Why do I have to use an extension lead, can’t I have a longer lead on it?”

There followed plan ‘B’. So now, as  you see illustrated, the Clairol 1200 as well as it’s coordinated green ’80s plug, has a five metre cable.

Oh yes, the tip. If your hair dryer has a long cable, it is quite liable to get a bit twisted with all the rolling up and unrolling that goes on. the trick to avoiding this is when packing it away fold the cable in half so that the plug and dryer are in the same place, and then roll up the cable double. When you get it out, because the cable is double, there will be equal amounts of twist both ways that will cancel out.

Suzie x

Which Party for The Economy

April 28, 2010

Am I missing something or are all the partys pretty much ignoring telling us how they are going to sort out the economy. There is a bit about the short term and how much cutting there will be, but no substance, and nothing about what will be done to actually achieve growth.

Mr Brown, who has driven the ecomomy into the biggest hole ever, has told us that he is the man for the job. No doubt he feels that breaking the monopoly rules so that profitable Lloyds became unprofitable and he could nationalise it was a good move, rather like what he did to Railtrack, and will bode well for the future.

Graph showing that incresing tax rates reduces government income

Laffer curve shows that lower tax rate makes for bigger revenues

We are even seeing talk of tax cutting, Shock! Horror! Why don’t the Conservatives capitalise on their consistent track record while in Government of reducing tax rates = improved economy = bigger tax take. This is the only way the economy will survive. Say it! Don’t be ashamed Mr. Cameron.

Suzie x

French Impressionist Photography

April 26, 2010
A barn and irrigation viewed through heat haze

Summer is here I think

April winds and May showers bring forth June flowers. I think that proverb used to be a bit different, but the first rain of April fell on Sunday 25th.

I was trying to take a picture of the recently constructed off-shore wind farm that is now visible from the end of the garden, but the heat haze spoiled the view a bit. I took this picture on Saturday showing the parched ground, the irrigation that is now required, and the heat haze has made a nice effect of the picture.

Suzie x

What’s so good about democracy

April 15, 2010

Ballot paper

The hustings are under way, we have had three manifestos that say nothing, and now we have the indignity of the party leaders grinning at us for an hour and a half as they say nothing.

gordon brown with Tony Blair

With that we have had people being encouraged to vote. What is the point when the average (and below average) person has little idea what they are voting for.

David Cameron

David Cameron

Vast areas of Britain are disenfranchised because none of the parties likely to win have any interest in them. Why should any party have a policy on rural areas when all parties know that a Conservative candidate will be returned because there is no effective right wing opposition (and no left wing support). Why should any party care about the people of Norfolk. What does it matter that infrastructure is so bad that no industry will go there, What does it matter that transport choice for most is private car or walk – they can walk if their cars are taxed off the road. For the few with access to public transport what does it matter that capacity is so limited that punitive train fares have to be applied to limit the numbers travelling, and the money taken not to improve capacity but to subsidise a government supporting constituency elsewhere.

Norwich to London train

We have even seen the spectacle of the government blatantly shunning the South-west by specifically taxing cider out of spite because it is not drunk in quantity anywhere that Labour is likely to win a seat, except perhaps by a few inner city children in bus shelters who are too young to vote.

Small terraced house in hampstead

What is the point of taxing a house move for someone who lives in Hampstead at £50 000.00 just because they own their own house? This is just spite. How can it be possible to justify taxing someone five years average net income just because they don’t live in a rented house and want to move! It is spiteful and vindictive behaviour, not in the least bit civilised.

Interior of the house of lords with lords sitting

The way democracy has worked in the UK is because it has been checked by the lords. A party may have got to power by having the widest grin, but to change the law they would have to get assent from the lords. The big benefit the lords bring is that they are not democratically accountable, they do not have to enter a grinning competition and be popular, they – like you and me – can take a look at what is before them and apply common sense. It is the lords that represent the ordinary person, not the commons. The commons is made up of people who are there just because they are popular. They should be there because they have popular policies, but the media has ensured that celebrity is important and not policy. There is no need to tell the truth to get into the commons, the voters do not know when a candidate is telling the truth. The lords  was (not any more) made up of those that are hereditary lords (people with as much interest as you or I to see the country safe and prosper), those that are there because of their job (retired judges, bishops, prime ministers) who’s experience can be valuable in making judgement, and those that have been appointed because of their outstanding achievements.

If you have given the choice offered to you some thought, on polling day go into the booth and make your choice. If you have not been offered a reasonable choice, and the deposit system means there are fewer candidates than there should be, don’t be bullied into voting. Nothing says more about what you think of the political system, or upsets the grinners more, than voters staying at home.

Suzie x

My Wollemi Pine is Intersex

April 13, 2010
Wollemi Pine

Wollemi Pine with its first cones

My Wollemi Pine is quite exciting as it is a very new discovery, thought extinct until discovered just over a decade ago. Since it has not been cultivated for very long there are not many large specimens about and very little is known about its habit in cultivation, so it is a learning experience for all of us who have one.

From the first winter when it produced cute little wax balls to protect the ends of its branches (sorry I don’t have a picture and can’t find one on the web – doh!) to now when it has produced its first cones has been a non stop voyage of discovery. Even trying to find out why it makes different coloured needles each year has been a challenge, I think it is hungry and needs a lot of fertiliser to keep it green.

It is known that like its closest relative the Monkey Puzzle tree, some are male, some are female, and others like mine are both.

Male cone

Male cone on Wollemi Pine

Female cone

Female cone on Wollemi Pine

Now I just need to find out if it is self fertile and I can get some seeds. I have no idea where the nearest one is, it will just have to get along with my Monkey Puzzle!

Small Monkey Puzzle tree

Monkey Puzzle tree (small!)

Another relative is the Norfolk island pine, but it is far too cold to grow one of those north of the Scilly Isles and my greenhouse is not big enough

Not the only geek in the village

March 4, 2010

Seeing this thread at UK Angels brought back some nostalgic memories. From the olden days of the 1970s when owning a computer was a dream through to having a Commodore Pet at school which I got to borrow for the summer holidays (only posh schools had a Research Machines – not mine), then to owning a Spectrum until I got my hands on an XT clone with the wonder of a hard disk.

Then there were the others. The broken Dragon32 that I never managed to fix, The Newbrain AD with it’s integrated 16 character union jack vacuum flourescent display and two RS232 ports which could be run on batteries which is still around somewhere.

The coming of the PC really made the early computers redundant as a tool since interoperability is key. There is no fun in reinventing the wheel for a niche machine when the PC can already do it.

Bring on the embedded system. Lots of fun in developing systems that can enhance the functionality of otherwise simple objects at minimal cost because they only contain a couple of chips – not the big computer of old.

First it was the Intel 8051 series. Lovely little processors but not quite little enough for every application.

Now we have PICs so that I can put a computer in pretty much anything – and even the awesome SX processors for those little applications that need an embedded RISC processor running at 150 MIPS! Processing power that would not dare be dreamed of a few years ago.

Parallax SX28 processor

Suzie x