Friday, June 29, 2018


Trump is still president. He changed the constitution when in power. Jamie Oliver is prime minister in the UK. He and another bunch of celebs won the general election a couple of years ago. Brexit never happened. The government spent billions on it and abandoned it after 10 years of failed negotiations.

I have a fully electric car now. It's good for what it is.  Not much fun to drive, all roads in the UK enforce the speed limit automatically through auto management systems. 60mph is the maximum you can go on a good day. I say on a good day because depending on the weather the limit is reduced.


If it rains it's 40mph.  It doesn't really matter as you don't actually do anything in a car anymore. You tell your personal assistant where you need to be and when you need to get there and they take care of the rest.


When it's time to leave your assistant tells you to get in the car. I don't travel by car much anymore, everyone works at home now. Most former service jobs are taken care of by bots. I'm partly responsible for this being a software engineer. I helped develop the first delivery bot. Amazon pushed the boundary further and got delivery of prime-down to 2 hours. All cities have an amazon warehouse.


Food is manufactured on our 3D printer, endorsed by Jamie Oliver. It's a clever device. Tesco spent a lot of money developing it. It's funny not only can't I speed in my car but I'm prevented from getting fat by my Tesco 3d printer. My personal assistant tracks my health and Tesco adjusts the nutritional value of my meals.


The average life expectancy now is 120 years of age. A good diet and an excellent medical service mean that we are all living much longer. I am "still working", No one retires anymore. The government scrapped the state pension a few years ago.

The big electric companies no longer exist. They missed a trick when Tesla started producing solar roof tiles. Most UK houses are self-sufficient in their power generation. All they need comes from their house roofs. The demand is much lower and houses now run a much safer 5v supply which covers all lights and appliances in the house.


The only exception is car charging points. The supply for this quite high and dangerous at 1200v dc. Car manufacturers had done quite well getting the range to 500 miles and a charge time of 15 minutes, but with the demise of the national grid charge times at home increased to 48 hours. It means most people don't travel far anymore.


With electric cars and hydrogen commercial vehicles big oil didn't run out more than become in less demand. As a result, the price went back up for a short period which pushed the last remaining cars off the road and reduced demand for oil even more. 


Commercial flights are a big problem globally. The solution to green air travel has not been found yet so only short distances can be traveled in the new hydrogen planes. The long haul is a thing of the past. If you want to travel further than former Europe you need to take multiple flights or travel by sea. The USA is all but cut off from the rest of the world with planes not capable of traveling across the Atlantic. Volcanoes in Iceland make a landing there unsafe for the past decade now.

Travel by sea is the only option. This can now take up to 10 days with the return of sailboats. Not the small wooden ones that were pushed along by the wind, rather turbines attached to giant floating platforms. With prevailing wind only in one direction means the turbines face the wind and the maritime electrical generators turn propellers.


International communications have also been affected. Satellites have literally been falling out of the sky. This was planned as part of the normal lifecycle as they gradually move closer to earth and burn up in the atmosphere. The problem has been replacing them. Currently, we have no means to carry a payload into space. Lack of rocket fuel, safety concerns, and funding problems meant that satellites were never replaced. No more sky Tv. In some ways, this may be a blessing.


So yea 2040 is an ok place to be. It's certainly different from the 2020s. We still have blue skies, the grass is still green. Local villages have shops and pubs that have reopened. You can drink and drive again. The local shop has 3D printers. Without the ability or need to travel far I know all my neighbors and see them almost every day. Work-life balance is good. Families stay together in their local community too like in the old days.

Friday, September 15, 2017


So the Megaden is nearing completion.  Standing on stilts, it's made from mainly reclaimed timber. The doors and windows we picked up from gumtree, the main supports are scaffold boards from a local farmer and the walls finished with pallet wood.

We did have to buy some new parts for it including the roof, insulation, waterproof builders membrane, the electrics, and screws and coach bolts, but I think it's still mainly eco-friendly from reclaimed tree hugger materials.

It is a whopping 3.6 meters by 2.4 meters inside.  Outside has a covered deck which is another 3.6 meters by 1.7 meters.


I have to say I have loved every minute of the build. There is something so satisfying working with wood and especially nearly free wood at that. Building something is also brilliant and gives a great sense of achievement.


So what's a Megaden?  It's a place the boys and me can hang out, play games, and chill.  It is a hideaway at the end of the garden that is removed from the house.


I had many, many designs in my head before I started, I had it sketched out on paper long before I started. How big would it be? What shape would it be? how would the roof pitch, how does everything join together? How would I get electrics to it? How would I make it water-tight?


I have been collecting materials for years, squirreling away timber around the garden. The doors and windows have been lying under tarpaulins for over a year behind the shed. A length of about 30 meters of armored cable for the electrics has been hanging on my garage wall for about 15 years. It was leftover from a job my Dad did many moons ago.

The main structure sits on 100mm by 100mm by 3m long treated fence posts bolted into fence spikes and hammered into the ground.  I used 8 spikes in total, one in each corner and one more each on the two longer outside runs.


With the spike and posts in place, the scaffold boards were clamped in place front and back, then drilled and secured with M10 coach bolts.  Ratchet straps were used to pull the posts back into the square while the top boards were put into place.


With metal joist hangers I fitted more scaffold boards between the front and back boards to create a floor structure for both the inside and deck area.  These boards are long and heavy and give a sturdy frame really quickly.

I used reclaimed timber to make the deck from old fence boards made from pressure-treated timber. 


For the inside, I put down a waterproof membrane over the joists and laid a layer of 11mm OSB.


The walls were made from CLS timber buttons, that were then clad in 11mm OSB, with a layer of builders membrane and then an outer layer of more fence boards.  Inside got some foil-backed insulation before being framed inside with reclaimed pallet wood.  Pallets are a real pain to dismantle and there are many videos on youTube on how to do it quickly. 


I have never had much success and is a very manual process of splitting the board and hammering out the nails.  I did come up with a simpler way of taking them apart using an old car jack and spinning it up using an impact wrench.  It basically just pushed the pallet boards apart with force rather than hammering.  The boards had the nails removed and then sanded using a belt sander before nailing to the walls.


For the electrics, I ordered a shed/garage consumer unit from eBay. It has 2 RCB circuits on it. One for wall sockets and one for a light circuit. Amazon delivered the cable, sockets (with USB), and lights  (thanks prime). 

The plan was for 3 double sockets mounted in the walls, 2 lights inside, and two lights on the deck.  The boys wanted the PS3 moved into the mega den along with a TV on the wall.  I wanted a mini-fridge.


My dad came down for the weekend to help with the installation. He likes this sort of work, running in cables and connecting things. I have some sort of certificate that I gained at university that I believe qualifies me for electrical installation, but that is a while ago now. I'll need to dig this out and check at some stage.


Starting with the consumer unit I had already pulled the wire armored cable in through the floor and up the cavity in the wall. Black and red and armored core as earth. We did a quick google on connection as the unit arrived with no instructions. It's basically a common neutral and common earth. The live wire goes into a master breaker which supplies the two other breakers for lights and sockets.

With a good day's work done, the electrics were commissioned and working.

We have been living with the Megaden for a few weeks now and it's brilliant.  Thankfully it's dry inside too as we have had a couple of sleepovers in it.  The Old Sofa fits perfectly, and the PS3 has just enough wifi signal from an extender in the house.


One of the nights we camped in it there was a meteor shower and we were up at 2 in the morning with the double doors open and watching the meteors in the sky sitting on the deck in our sleeping bags.  If anything it was worth it for that memory alone.


In all, I would say the Megaden has cost about £500 to build, which I think is quite good as it's a bit more sturdy than a run-of-the-mill summer house and hopefully will last for many years.  I still need to paint it.  I have the paint but need to find the time now.

Friday, September 01, 2017


So I've not posted a blog for a couple of weeks. I have been super busy with other projects.  Poor excuse.  It's actually quite hard to keep up a schedule of once a week.

I did my first post back in September last year and was able to keep up a run of 43 consecutive weeks posting each Friday. 


Then I slipped up a couple of weekends ago and I was gutted.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter but I am the sort of person when I start something it quickly becomes routine and I have to keep it going or I beat myself up about it


I follow a couple of YouTube vloggers who do daily uploads.  Where do they get the time?  I guess they don’t have full-time jobs and kids. YouTube is their job, but still, it must be a big pressure to keep it up every day with thousands of followers eagerly awaiting your daily post.


I will keep going with my weekly blog and if I miss a week it's no big deal.


Some good news from my CodeClan Cohort 7 this week.  21 out of 21 are now employed in the software development industry. And most in Scotland. The last of us to secure a software developer job was the other week. Woo hoo! Go Us!

Unfortunately, one was not kept on beyond 6-month probation. I'm not sure of the details but it's a real shame and I imagine it is more to do with the company than the graduate. Based on the 100% success rate they should get something else soon.


I happened to be in Edinburgh last week and popped in to see how things were in CodeClan. A few cohorts have passed through since I was last there. It was project week for some so it was busy with students working on their projects. It was great to catch up with the folk and particularly one of my fellow graduates who has gone on to be an instructor there. He never got to leave.

I had been asked previously by CodeClan if they could compile my 16 weeks of blogs while there into a PDF book.


Of course, was my response and they had been working on it with my pictures and all. I got the first look and was amazed to find it has over 80 pages. It should be available via the CodeClan website soon. I'm quite excited to see it go live. I have never actually gone back and read through what I produced last year. Hopefully, the spelling and bad grammar have been fixed. I will add a link here later.


It must be time for the Oil exhibition as I can see the tents erected around the AECC next to my park and ride in the bridge of don on my commute into the city. Will I get a ticket and go? Probably I usually do. But this year will be the first year I am completely removed from the industry.

Friday, July 28, 2017


So I need another project like a hole in the head. But when "The Most Complete Arduino Starter Kit" appears on Amazon prime at more than 50% off, Hey it would be rude not to. I looked at all the accessories and found myself clicking the buy with one click button and less than 24 hrs later it arrived.

Tech Christmas Day... The box was full of all sorts of colored bits.

This is the 3rd Arduino I've bought over a number of years. The first was a simple learn-to program an Arduino kit and came with some basic electronic components.


An Arduino is a solid-state microcomputer with onboard input and output pins exposed. It's basically a circuit board with a controller about the size of a playing card. It's blue, not that it matters. It's like a mini PLC or Programmable Logic Controller. It can sense the outside world with connected sensors and be programmed to do something that can affect that world. So you could connect a light sensor and measure when it gets dark. When it does it can switch on a light. It can be so much cleverer than that though. It can measure how dark it is and can be programmed to adjust how bright the light is.


That was about as far as my projects got with the first one. Although I did make a bubble machine for the boys. It used a servo to dip a bubble eye in a bowl of fairy liquid, raise it up rotate it and a fan would turn on and blow bubbles. It would then lower back into the liquid and repeat. It wrecked the servo eventually as the fairy liquid dripped into its gears of the servo. It was fun when it lasted and the boys enjoyed it.


The second one I bought a few years later was an Arduino Yun (posh model with Wifi) it was bought with a plan to solve my leaving the garage door opener problem. I can't see the door from the house so would forget and go to bed and wake in the morning to the realization that the door had been open all night.

The door is electric so the plan is to add a couple of limit switches and feed them to the Arduino. It would be programmed to tell me past a certain time that the door was still open. It would tell me via wifi and I would be able to press a button and it would close. This project will still happen someday. I've probably had the Yun for 3 years now.


And on to the third Arduino. It's an R3. I have no idea what's this means. I guess it's probably revision 3 but I still have to read the manual. Out of the box, it looked the same, it plugged into my Mac with a USB cable that provided power and the ability to download programs. I skimmed through the 3 pages of windows installation to get to the Mac installation. Which was 1. download the zip. File 2. extract and run the programming package.

So what came in the box besides the Arduino? Lots of things.

  • Sensors: light, temperature, moisture 
  • Outputs: LEDs, led segment display, LCD display, motor, servo
  • Inputs: keypad, infrared remote and sensor board, and an RFID sensor and keyfob.
  • Along with resistors and LEDs, there are lots of potentials.


The manual comes with 100 or so tutorials of things to make.


Why did I buy another Arduino? Here comes the excuse... I would like Jamie (age 9) to get involved and what better way to get some son Dad time with Tech than to build things together.


We have done the first couple of projects and so far so good. Jamie has learned a resistor can change the brightness of an LED... The bigger the resistor the less bright the LED gets.


I'm looking forward to getting into the more complicated projects and hopefully, as I/we will learn more about the Arduino programming language Also hopefully the Yun will be pulled from my desk drawer and be put into action for its original purpose of telling me when I have left the garage door open. Who knows I might get Jamie to build this project.

Friday, July 14, 2017


So this week I have been involved in some software testing.  And the usual route of an Excel spreadsheet had been employed to manage faults, bugs, or changes.  I hate managing software faults with a spreadsheet.  It normally ends in a mess, with multiple versions, poorly formatted, emailed here there, and everywhere.

To avoid this and not having access to a real software bug tracking tool like fogbugz I quickly set up something in Trello.

Trello brilliant and I have many boards for various jobs on the go at one time.  It is a simple free to use tool for managing simple tasks and workflows.


I set up 6 lists flowing from left to right. New bugs can be added by the team or by the customer. They can be entered directly as a new card or via email by links provided. The email to the board facility is brilliant and it will create a new card automatically.

I hear you say but how can I refer to a card or bug when discussing it with the team. Do I need to refer to the bug name every time? Nope. In google chrome, there is an extension that adds unique card numbers automatically. So in discussions, you can refer to bug #27. The extension also has the benefit of adding a number of cards to a list.  So at a glance, you can see how many bugs are raised or how many are ready for a test.


The bug tracker board can be accessed by anyone who has access to the team.  When connected to the team they can then take control of individual bugs and they can be assigned a bug.  So at a glance, you can see John is working on bug #27, and Tom is testing #32.  When John has completed the fix for bug #27 he can move the bug to the ready for test list and assign the bug to Tom.  When Tom tests the bug and it passes the test Tom can move it to Done.  If it is not fixed he can move it back to in progress and assign it back to John and add a comment why it did not pass the test.

Colors can be added to each bug indicating the criticality of the fault.  So at a glance, you quickly see the red for critical and can concentrate on these first.

Bugs can include attachments, so you can take a screenshot of a fault and quickly add it to the bug to help with the resolution.  You can add multiple items to a bug, so if there are a number of similar faults these can be grouped into one bug and make use of the checklist facility.  Tick them off as they are resolved.


So there you go.  Trello as a bug tracker.  It's not perfect, but I set up ours in under 10 minutes, you can have your whole team collaborating together working through problems or changes.  It's much better than yet another Excel spreadsheet and you can see at a glance visually the status of the bugs.

Friday, July 07, 2017


So I have an affliction to making stuff. I always have some project or other on the go. I get a whacky desire to make something and mull it over for weeks, months, or years before having to start.

If I don’t start I just keep thinking about it and thinking about it! I am either planning, making, fixing, or repurposing something. I have many projects on the go at one time.

I have to say I enjoy the whole process. I see something and think I can make one of those. I don't have much of a desire to buy it but given the chance to build or make it. How can I build that? and then I'm off…

The perfect project is something that takes a long time and has many stages to it. It can evolve and be shaped. I love to spend time subconsciously sketching out in my mind how I can make parts, how I can adapt parts, how I can engineer something. It's those moments when I am waiting or daydreaming I will be engineering something in my head.

Building the boy's Jeep was a perfect example of this. It had lots of parts, it required to research, it needed different types of skills and I had to adapt and repurposing things. The front steering mechanism was a problem I spent ages thinking about. I needed a way of having a 3 axis mount that could swivel in all three directions. Id sketch out diagrams, play with bits of metal, Lie in bed awake thinking how to solve the problem. Inspiration and a final solution came while in the local hardware store. Large eye bolts normally used for gates bolted together in an X-Y-Z orientation were a quick and reasonably cheap and strong solution. Relief, I can stop thinking about that problem.

Both my boys sleep in custom beds I have made. Jamie wanted a high sleeper in the shape of a Campervan, Thomas wanted a Pirate Ship. Both required research, planning, and design. The Campervan was drawn out using a digital projector that beamed the outline of a Campervan onto a giant sheet of MDF that I then traced round with a black Sharpie.

It has working lights and a real sliding door, and a surfboard as a ladder to get to the top bunk.

Thomas's Pirate Ship bed is a similar construction and has an anchor, a ship's wheel, and a bell (last orders at the bar type bell from eBay). The anchor and ship's wheel were cut out on my mini X-carve CNC machine.

I am a bit of a petrol head and one of the big projects I wanted to do was build my own car (I mentioned this in previous posts). My first attempt was to dismantle my mum's mini clubman estate when it was parked up after terminally failing its MOT. I didn’t get very far. I was only 12 and had a limited budget and tools. Years later I set about researching and choosing something new I could build, I had the maker's itch that needed to be scratched. It was a long project that took 4 years to build and get on the road. I took my time and enjoyed all the detailed parts of the build. Again I loved all the little projects and spent lots of time daydreaming solutions along the way.

This year is no exception. I started collecting materials to make a “Mega Den" for the boys... A sheltered hangout In the garden that we can escape to, we can draw, play games and pretend we are on holiday all while still in the garden at home. It needed to be bigger than the fort (another scrap wood project I made a few years ago).

I found some windows free from gumtree, some old doors also from gumtree, and they sat under a tarpaulin for over a year as I planned out in my head how I could use them. A chance discussion with a farmer saw me collecting 12 scaffold boards and I had enough to get started.

I have spent a few happy weeks and evenings sawing, hammering, and drilling to get to the stage of something resembling a "summerhouse" no MegaDen in the back of the garden. Roofing materials arrive next week and it will be fully watertight and ready for action.

Electrics arrived this week (thanks to amazon prime) and a length of armored cable that I have squirreled away in the garage for over 10 years will see power running up under the grass for lights and sockets.

A couple of weeks should see it finished and that will be another project completed, and I can stop thinking about it.

There is more in the pipeline…

I have to build another Jeep. I have all the parts. The boys are bigger now and starting to outgrow the first one. I want to make something all metal and try to use the full 900W capacity of the motor's power in this one. (The jeep currently is only using a third of that)
I need to build a double computer desk for the boys. They will have a workstation and storage each for homework and schools projects

I have Arduino Yun bought with the sole purpose of warning when the garage door has been left open and it's dark. I can’t see the door from the house unless I go outside. It has an electric opener and the plan for it to email me to tell me it is open and from my phone, I'll be able to close it. It will involve some wiring and some code but I have planned out in my head what it needs to do. I am tempted to also connect the Arduino to a Speaker and have it play the thunderbirds theme via WAV file when the door is opened. But that might annoy my neighbors

So yea, I have the maker's itch and the only way to stop it is to keep on making.

I think of projects as good therapy, and if you remember that 80's kid's TV program "Why Don't You"...

p.s. top marks if anyone knows the next line?

Friday, June 30, 2017


So a little over 4 years ago I finally got my finger out to apply to be a Chartered Engineer.

Years of procrastination and false starts the application form, the process and the thought of an interview had me stalled. I had the necessary qualification, I had plenty of experience and I was a member of the IET,

I just lacked the personal motivation to get my finger out. I was "comfortable" in my job I didn't need to be chartered. It would be nice but not a must-have.

The biggest blocker was compiling my experience in chronological order on the application form. I had been working for 20 years so remembering and cramming it all into a few pages was daunting.

The shove I needed was when I looked to move up a grade at work. My "boss" blocked me with a job description. Basically, a badly written list of must-haves to perform the upgrade in position. Lots of airy-fairy statements plucked out of thin air that the person must meet to perform the job. I was doing the job already but had to prove it.

So I set about formulating a case that showed and was backed with evidence of my experience that I could meet the must-haves. I spent a few weeks with a text document open on the side of my desktop, quickly adding experience when I remembered..., reliving my past 20 years.

The document grew and grew and gradually I had recounted all the projects I had worked on. I had ticked off all the job requirements (must-haves) and provided real evidence of how I met them.

I polished it a bit adding in real must-haves the job holder should have and forwarded it to my "boss" and was moved up a grade. The bonus was I now had a full career review down on paper (or digitally). The dreaded application form for chartered engineer would be easy now.

I sought out 2 sponsors as a reference, added all my details, did some more polishing to my career history, and sent it off and waited...

I was invited for an interview shortly after. A time and date were set for me to be at a hotel in Altens to be "grilled".

I had a few weeks to prep for my interview. The format would be for me to present for 15 minutes and then answer questions for an hour.

The application pack I had downloaded from the IET website had a guide to what was expected in the presentation and what the interview would cover.

I prepared a pack of 5 slides covering projects (maximum allowed) I have worked on and ticked off all the skills I needed to have. I then printed 3 packs with my slides, my application, training evidence, work evidence, and my CV and presented them neatly in a clear plastic folder.

I also added a couple of pics of my Tiger, the kit car I built. I felt like a software engineer I wanted to be able to show I also have electrical and mechanical hands-on skills too.

A few weeks later, I donned my suit and tie and headed for my interview. Confident I had prepared well it was time to be a shining example of a potential chartered engineer.

I met with a panel of 3 interviewers. The IET guide said there would be 2! Oh well the more the merrier.

We introduced each other and I sat at one side of the table and they at the other. I did my presentation and quickly talked through all my slides.

The next part I was dreading, what if I couldn't answer the questions? What if I wasn't qualified? It didn't matter. What happened as a good conversation about my experience. One interviewer was leading the conversation and another was checking off where I met the skills required as I gave my answers.

The main point I had to quickly adapt to was to say I rather than we. Working as a team for so long I am accustomed to saying 'we' rather than 'I'd, which caught me out a couple of times. I had said we had created some procedure and had to correct myself and said I, one interviewer said are you sure, while the other chipped in with the front page of the procedure showing my name on the front cover as the author. Thankfully I had put a copy In the interview pack.

The rest is a bit of a blur but an enjoyable blur. It was a great opportunity to talk about what you have been doing for the last 20 years.

In the end, the interviewers came across the pictures of my Tiger and probably had just as many questions about it and how I had built it, an easy subject to talk about without any prep.

So that was it, it was about 1hr 45min when we finished, and I left confident I had done my best. My interviewers couldn't give me any indication of whether I had passed or failed. I would be contacted in due course.

6 weeks later I received an email. My application must have been good, my presentation and interview must have been good. I was invited to join the engineering council as a chartered engineer.

Go me! Why didn't I do that a long time ago? With a bit of effort and lots of preparation, the whole process is very straightforward and not as daunting as first thought.

So if you are thinking of becoming chartered get a copy of the application pack, review in detail what skills you need. If you fall short get those skills and then apply. Give me a shout if you need any more info on getting chartered. I would be happy to Help.

Friday, June 23, 2017


So I'd consider myself part of the team now at Aberdeen City Council. I've managed to get into the swing of how things work,

I have lots of new friends and colleagues, and I am really getting into the hot desking. I get to sit at a different desk each day and get to sit with different people most days. Although the folk I work with directly in the Team generally sit in the same area.

I have had a few days working from home and it's good. Probably the easiest login from home I have ever had or used yet. No hassle, no dongle, no phone app, and no code to remember.

Some days I find myself sitting next to the Queen of Tech or princess Leia of ACC leading the rebel army on the war on embracing technology from the dark lords (you will know who you are). I get to hear all the great tech initiatives that are going on in Aberdeen and the City Council. We met by coincidence just before I started at ACC when she was giving a talk at the Business Gateway Hub in Bridge of Don as part of the Elevator program.

A couple of interesting tech projects I heard about this week is Smart Benches and City Lab.

Smart Benches

ACC has commissioned a couple of Smart Benches for Aberdeen City. They are solar-powered smartphone recharging centers in the form of a park bench. So if you are low or run out of charge you can pop by one of the benches, take a load off and recharge your phone. This is a great concept and it will be good to see how they work and are used when installed. I do have concerns about a USB point exposed to the elements but I'm sure that has been thought of.

City Lab

The other initiative is City Lab, which is run jointly between The University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon’s University, and ACC. It brings together students, ACC staff, and partner organizations for one term to design and build sustainable projects for the city.

ACC has identified areas where new projects would help the city and community. Students get to be creative by brainstorming and developing their ideas. I wish I could have had access to something like this when I studied at RGU.

Some of the projects going through this scheme are smart tiles that generate electricity by people walking on them to power traffic lights, smart school busses with teaching capacity, and smart signage.

This week I also got a sneaky peek at the new ACC website design.

I can't say too much but help came from a design agency called Screen Media. It was great being able to work with these guys and get an insight into the whole web design process.

A lot of thought goes into layout, colors, and accessibility. I was well impressed with the draft and excited to be involved with the process so far. It also goes to show there is a lot more to good web design than code and a bit of CSS. I will keep you posted when it goes live.

The pics this week are not mine (I wish) I found them on display at the Brewdog next door to Marischal College. They are part of an Aberdeen Star Wars Exhibition. Thought they were cool, and as ever I forgot to note who the artist is. I like them though.

Thanks for reading...

Friday, June 16, 2017


So it's been a super busy week and my usual write my blog on the bus time did not pan out. I keep meeting interesting people. What I have written this week I did a while ago. I am a bit of a hoarder and like things with sentimental value. Anyway here are my 10 favorite things. Note this does not include friends and family, I should maybe title it my 10 favorite inanimate objects...

One - Grampa's hip flask

I'm glad I found this. After my grandpa died years ago his car lay abandoned outside my parent's house. They asked me to clean it ready to sell. In the driver's door pocket I found his hip flask. Well bashed, worn and shiny it still had his favourite tipple in it. My mum said why don't you keep it. Now it lives pride of place on a shelf in my study. Still with my Grampa’s whisky in it. Johnny walker black label.

Two - Lego

I am a massive Lego fan. I grew up with Lego. Starting with blocks then Lego city and moving on to technical Lego when I grew older. I have two young boys and we have a lot of Lego in the house. A lot! It's a brilliant and timeless educational toy. I love sitting on the floor with my boys watching them create cars. Some have many different sized wheels with no hope of steering in reality. They have lasers and guns sticking out at odd angles. We have several big boxes around the house ready for creative minds. I have a few select constructions that took a bit longer to build that also live pride of place in my study.

Three - mini socket set

I love my tools, and this little red socket set is one of my favourites. It came free with a classic car magazine subscription many years ago. It is a good quality one made by Teng Tolls. It's a great size and has 13mm and 10mm sockets, hex bits, universal joint and extension bar. I built my own car a few years ago so I guess I could say I have enough tools to build a car.

Four - hot wheels cars

These little 1/64 scale cars are almost a currency in our house. "I'm going shopping anyone coming?... "can we have a hot wheels car dad?" Tesco trips involve sifting through the hot wheels display looking for rare finds. 90% of them end up in a big play box and have a hard life, chipped and crashed. The 10% I rescue and give them a Concours life. It's the ones I recognise from my childhood. This little mk1 escort is possibly the rarest one. Found in Tesco for 99p and currently trading on eBay for 10 times that. It was mint in the box till the boys got hold of it.

Five - Mac book Pro

This is a computer without actually being a computer. I was fed up last year with firing up a windows PC and waiting, and then waiting for updates and waiting for virus checks... so being a massive iPhone and iPad fan I made the jump and splashed out on a desktop mac and loved it. Then when I went to CodeClan they gave me a Mac Book Pro which I cosseted for 4 months till they asked for it back. It wasn't mine, it was on loan. Lost without it I splashed out again. Mine is 2016 with a graphite grey solid-state disk. It gets opened starts immediately and I can work. No waiting.

Six - Coos head

Jamie made this coos head (with a little help) and I just think it's brilliant. He made it from scraps of wood in the shed all his own design. He pulled the bits from the scrap bin and glued them together. A few bits were cut to length and sanded and given a rub with finishing wax. We have made and sold quite a few of these as part of Udny Designs. Ours and the first hangs pride of place in our dining room.

Seven - Spring picture

This is more artistic flair from Jamie. We went to a parent-child art competition at his primary school. You were given lots of materials, paints glue and an hour to make a spring-themed picture. Bright colours and of course a Tractor (Jamie is tractor daft) We had a busy hour cutting and sticking, laughing and joking. In a frantic rush up to the buzzer, we had made this picture. Jamie and his classmates all voted for their favourite picture by placing a tidily wink on their favourite. Cheers, and clapping Jamie was rewarded with first place and an Easter egg. Chuffed to bits the picture lived in the house and Jamie proudly showed it off before disappearing. Several months later it reappeared professionally framed as a gift for my birthday from my wife. Well chuffed it now hangs in our hall. It is framed brilliantly including hanging some of the worms (pipe cleaners) which had been dug up by the tractors plough (fallen off)

Eight - coffee table

We had to move house because of this table. Inspired by a restaurant in Florida where the tables were wood framed with maritime maps under glass as the surface, I decided to make my own and use a local OS map. I joined an evening woodwork class at Ellon academy bought some materials and set to work making my table.

It's big! OS maps are big. I built the frame and legs, mortise and tenon joints and all and glued them together. The top was actually so big it wouldn't fit in the car so I had to walk it home. We lived in a one-bedroom semi in Ellon at the time with a table for a mansion. It lived for a year or so under the bed while we looked for a bigger house. It has now been in active service in our living room in Udny. Scuffed, scraped, wine glass stains and 9 years of kids it's looking well used but still looks great. The map is long gone and now replaced by hundreds of little Instagram photos scattered below the glass. I can't see it being replaced any time soon apart from maybe updating the pictures.

Nine - Tiger

I built my Tiger 9 years ago. It took me 4 years to complete. I have had it for 13 years. Wow! Most people these days only keep their cars for 3 years. Well, I spent years dreaming of building my own car (since I was little) so I saved up my pennies and ordered a kit. I use the term kit here loosely as what I bought was a hodgepodge of the basic parts, Frame, body and some new and used parts. Unlike the more expensive Caterham or Westfield you get every nut and bolt and a comprehensive build manual. Mine had a manual but it was not comprehensive. I had a brilliant 4 years pottering away in the garage at my own pace, chipping away at the build small project after small project. I have blood sweat and tears in this car so it will continue to be tucked up in the garage for years to come. Getting out only in the dry and when the weather is good.

Ten - Note pad and pen

I carry a notepad and pen with me most days. Electronic ways of keeping notes are ok but you can't beat a pen and paper. I think in pictures so I like to jot down notes and add diagrams. My current notepad is a Moleskine lined which has been modified with duct tape to have a pen on the spine. The pen I carry is a simple 4 colour Bic ballpoint. Having multiple colours in one pen is genius and is better for diagrams and underlining.

Friday, June 09, 2017


So this week I met someone on the bus. I have met her before and this time we started chatting. She is a chemistry teacher in a high school.

I liked the idea of learning chemistry when I went to secondary school. It sounded exciting, mixing and burning things.

I was however completely put off by my chemistry teacher. "Dr. Pockets", he wore a tweed jacket and a black gown. He wasn't very good but worst of all would come up behind you and poke you in the sides with two fingers. I didn't like that or him so I completely switched off from chemistry and dropped it as soon as I could. Perhaps that is why I became an engineer.

Anyway, my new friend the chemistry teacher was telling me about what she did her Ph.D. in.

I may get some of the terms wrong but she was researching making mirrors by dissolving silver in a solution. This would form a thin atom-thick layer of silver that she would bounce lasers off. (How cool!)

She described how her lab would be dark as she set up a beam that was split and would go on different paths. One beam would take a longer path than the other to reach a detector and the difference in time would be measured along with their intensity. It would give interesting facts about the mirror, some of the light would be lost or absorbed.

The standard practice was to use silver and she pondered what would happen if you were to use gold? So she mixed up a solution of gold to find out. Under an electron microscope, the gold behaved differently. No longer an atom-thick layer or sheet of silver, the gold had formed into atom chains. Like tiny little snakes or wires. Bizarre! She didn't do anything with these wires and just put them down as a cool anomaly.

Moving on a few years, what she had created were gold nanowires. I've googled it and it's a real thing. Gold conducts electricity and the nanowires made from it can also conduct electricity.

At the moment they are being used in medical procedures. They are grown much like a snowflake, in an additive process building out from an electrode spike.

To give them some scale and put them into perspective they are 1,000 times smaller than human hair. That's tiny. Smaller than human cells.

In my googling I also came across the cost and if I were to buy some gold nanowires. I wasn't expecting them to be cheap but a handful (literal) of wires 30nm wide by 6000nm long delivered in a 10ml tub is £384.50. (June 2017)

I guess the bulk of the cost is in the manufacture rather than the raw material. They make gold more expensive than gold!

I have been pondering where else gold nanowires could be used, more googling found them used in flexible solar panels and batteries. Being so thin lots of them can give a larger surface area.

I still can't fathom the scale and how you manipulate things so small.

I always remember a story my dad told me. I think it was pre-war, and the Germans in a show of engineering skill took a sewing needle and drilled a hole down its center, and sent it to the British. The British, not to be outdone took a cast of the hole in the needle and drilled a hole down its center, and sent it back to the Germans. Many facts here may also be wrong but it was a good story about something tiny, and as a kid, I could imagine the tiny drills doing the job.

So that's my new friend the chemistry teacher. Have to say much better than 'Dr. Pockets' and I actually learned something interesting.

Thanks for reading, and remember gold nanowires, you heard it first here.