Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Are we to bomb ISIS in Syria?

There are so many reasons not to do so - every refugee being another one - and so few for it.
As Christians, we are called to search for ways to end violence, not to increase it. It would be a desperately black irony to increase the bombing at the same time as we are building up for the Birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace!
Has anybody asked the Syrians whether they want this intervention? Some recent "vox pop's" on TV seem to suggest (and it can be put no more strongly than that) that they are not in favour. They believe the real problem is Assad, and once he is deposed then they will be in a position to get rid of ISIS... 
We do not have a very good track record in our interventions in the Middle East - ever since (at least) 1918 all western interventions in the region have resulted in greater problems a few years down the line, and there is no reason to suppose this one will be any different.
We also have a very poor record for looking after our service personnel when they return from combat (with the possible exception of their physical health) - whether or not they remain in the forces. If we are to commit the military to combat we need to have far better care for them when they return - if only for the sake of our civilian population, who will have to cope with trained killers with PTSD!
No was is won by air power alone but by ground forces. There seem to be very varied ideas about whether or not there are sufficient ground forces which we are happy to support. Also, look at what happened when we last supported local ground forces in the region - they turned into the Taliban! Can we be sure this will not happen again? 
Removal of ISIS without some process already in place to fill the power vacuum is likely to result in a far worse situation than is currently the case, and in any case can not be done without this being the will of the local population. You only have to look at Afghanistan for confirmation of this. We have NO right to decide who is to govern them.
We also have to bear in mind the strife we will be causing to the non-ISIS civilian population in the region. There are already huge streams of refugees from the country. Adding our bombs to the mix will only make this worse. Every single person who is forced to flee their home is another reason why we should not do this. 
The weapons system we would be using may be smaller with fewer civilians killed than those of other countries, but there still will be such casualties, and I do not believe that adding our planes to the mix will result in a decrease in missions flown by other nations, nor that not adding ours would mean an increase from them. There would also be a greatly increased risk of 'friendly fire' incidents.
If, as Mr Cameron asserts, we are already in the top group of targets for terrorist attacks from them (or people inspired by they) is this not a direct consequence of the fact that we are as deeply involved as we already are? We are bombing them in other countries, and gathering a lot of the intelligence on them within Syria. Does anyone suppose this has gone un-noticed by them?
Yes, they do need to be tackled, but not militarily. It would be far better to do so through diplomacy - and please don't try to tell me that we 'never negotiate with terrorists'. This is exactly what we did to end the Troubles in NI, and is the only way to persuade them to lay down their arms voluntarily. Their (partial) military defeat is likely to inspire more recruits to their cause, whether there or as terrorists around the world. Like a Hydra, if you cut off one head nine more are likely to grow.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Weird clock faults

OK - what is the weirdest fault you have come across?
I have on my bench at the moment something which at first hearing sounds pretty strange... It is a twin fusee bracket clock with (unusually) 1/2-hr rack strike. The only fault was the single blow due at 1.30 which consistently came at 1.36 instead...
When I checked it out the explanation was far simpler than  expected. The 1/2-hr strike is limited to one blow by the rack hook not being lifted far enough to clear the second & subsequent teeth on the rack, but only the short first one. At 1.30 - uniquely for the 1/2-hr strikes - the rack tail also falls into contact with the snail. It turns out that it was hitting the snail on a marginally high spot so the gathering pallet tail was just not clearing the pin on the rack. By 1.36 the snail was back to the correct height and the train was free!
A quick tickle with a file and the problem was solved... and yes, I could also have solved it by moving the hour wheel round one tooth on the motion-work pinion since the hour hand is on a cylindrical collet, but if the snail has been badly formed in the first place I see no argument for not correcting it.

Monday, 15 June 2015

AGM of the BHI

Before the AGM, on reading the June HJ I had severe misgivings about the election of members to the Board of Directors. It sounded as though the three candidates who had withdrawn had been persuaded to, and I feared this might have been against their true wishes, due to undue pressure being put on them to do so.
This is because,sadly, not enough information was made public in advance.
The facts that were not known - at least to me! - are as follows...
The Hall is in a severe state of dilapidation, and is also contaminated with asbestos fibres, though to re-assure members, these are not an issue so long as they stay undisturbed in certain cellars and crawl-spaces. Since it is a Grade 2* Listed building we are legally obliged to maintain it - we can't just lock it up and go elsewhere, unless we can release ourselves from the responsibility by finding a buyer; and even if we were fortunate enough to do so it would be at a 'fire-sale' price. The repairs will cost several ££m. Clearly we do not have the funds to do this ourselves, and no private philanthropist has volunteered to undertake this!
In absentia said philanthropist, they have applied for Heritage Lottery Funding. If we fail to get funding from them, and can still find no private philanthropist, the Institute will probably be bankrupt within 5 years, so it is vital that this funding is obtained. Initially they were turned down - as are almost all first-time applications - but were encouraged to reapply having reduced some specified risks.
The risks in question were:
a) the scheme was trying to do too much at once - it needed breaking down into phases, with each phase having a separate application for funding
b) the management needed tightening - in particular we needed to reduce the turn-over of directors, and we needed people on the Board who had experience of managing a works project of this scale and also someone who could get control of the finances.
The three who were due to stand down and present themselves for re-election were the Chairman (no-one else was prepared to take on this role), the only member with experience of handling a works project on this scale, and our head of finance! If any of these failed to be re-elected we would almost certainly fail in the HLF application. Since two of them have serially failed to be elected in the past it was a strong possibility that at least one of them would fail in a contest, with disastrous results for the application - and consequently for the BHI. 
Mr Giles explained this individually to all the people standing for election, and I now believe that those who withdrew their candidacy did so entirely voluntarily, without any undue pressure, and that, had they decided they still wanted to stand for election, no further pressure would have been applied. 
We have now ticked the boxes required by the HLF in the new application which is about to be submitted, and have good reason to hope for the fist stage - agreement in principle - to be granted. There then follows a year of putting the detail on the skeleton plan, and a lot of work agreeing on contractors and sorting out exact costings for various aspects. This is the other reason why it was so important to retain the existing Board - we need the continuity. It would be an almost impossible task, even for someone with experience in this field, to do that work starting from scratch without having been involved in the project already.
Provided the HLF are satisfied with the result of that year's work they will then release the funds for the work to start. There is a very strong probability of this as they will have someone on the team, making sure that we do satisfy their requirements! The building can then begin the journey towards being an asset rather than a mill-stone.

As I say, I went to the AGM not knowing most of this, and consequently being minded to raise objections to the three having been persuaded to withdraw. "Surely it is up to the membership to decide who is the right person to be on the board?" and similar sentiments, but having heard the full story I changed my mind and voted for the re-election. 
However, I did so on this occasion because of the exceptional situation we are in, and with the specific caveat that I believe it should not be allowed to become the norm, as it would risk resulting in a self-selecting clique holding on to power, which is not good for any organisation.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


As some of those of you who follow this may know, I took up gliding last year...
I am currently taking a week of holiday in Scotland on a gliding expedition with a group from the Aston Down club at  a gliding centre called Portmoak, where there is a lot of 'ridge' and 'wave' soaring - whereas at the club's home it is almost entirely thermal soaring.
This looked like being a great chance to gain some new skills. I was very hopeful of getting a fair bit of time actually in the air, as most of the group had brought their own gliders, so after checking that they were OK with the local site the instructor would be 'largely at my disposal for the rest of the week'. Well, that was the theory...
Most of us drove up on Saturday, and the club's 2-seater glider (a DG500) was 'rigged' that afternoon - i e taken out of the trailer and the wings and tail-plane fitted to the fuselage.
Day 1(Sunday) was a bit blustery, but most of the group got cleared.
Day 2 the rest of them got cleared and I got my first flight ~ 1½ hrs
Day 3 was VERY strong winds so it was only OK for either quite experienced pilots on their own or less experienced ones with instructors - so again I only got one flight of ~ 1½ hrs
Day 4 was a washout after the very first flights (of which I was not one)
Day 5 (today) is a total washout
Day 6 (Friday) looks hopeful...
Day 7 (Saturday) everything will be being packed up and we drive home.

You really do need to be quite an optimist in this game!  Thank you hurricane Gonzalo... :-(

The one consolation is that it has not cost much - ~ £230 so far for the week in self catering chalets, my part of the week's hire of one of the club's 2-seater gliders & launch fees (but excluding my fuel cost getting to & from here).

Next Friday/Saturday will be spent on a narrow boat so I hope the weather will be a bit better by then!

Speaking of fuel costs, please can I ask anyone who does any sort of high mileage to consider having an LPG system fitted to their vehicle? Not only is it about half the price of petrol, it is also far better for the environment...
Yes, it does cost a bit to get it fitted, and the tank takes up a bit of space (generally the spare wheel well), but I reckon with my car's MPG (5.5 m/l on petrol, ~ 4.1 on LPG) and the distance I travel each year (20,000 miles +) it will pay for itself in about 9 months, and there are plenty of places to fill up these days. With a full tank of both petrol and LPG I can go for 650 miles without filling up!

On the work front, I have just completed my first overhaul of a 'Congreve' clock - great fun, especially since the table had not been properly balanced and was not flat, it had the wrong mainspring, and there was no stop-work for the fusee - to name but a few of the faults...

Next up, an 'elephant' version of the swinging mystery clocks. This one starts to trip as the amplitude decays... The pivots are all good, and I have bushed the worn holes. I can't fit a weaker one to prevent it tripping at the reduced amplitude as they don't make one, so hopefully a stronger mainspring will prevent it decaying to this extent!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

relocating a wheel...

I have in the workshop a bracket clock with a badly worn escape wheel pinion. Surprisingly the 3rd wheel teeth do not show the normal step formed when there is this sort of wear in the pinion with which it meshes. It is mounted on a collet at the front, rather than on the pinion head. Although the collet has quite a wide head so there was potential to re-seat the wheel further back by reducing the thickness of the collet head,  I could not do so because it would have fouled on the fusee stop-nib, but and there was room to move it closer to the front plate without it fouling on anything. I decided to do this rather than turning it off the collet, and mounting it on a new one.
However, English & French clock wheel collets tend to be soft-soldered onto the arbor, and this one was no exception - so how do you move one without loosing concentricity? This is my answer...
I have an 8mm watchmakers lathe for which I have a (reasonably) 'true' 3-jaw chuck. The collet body to which it is attached is bored out down the centre. I made up a female centre on a bar of carbon steel which is a fairly tight push fit at the front end, with the rest of the bar reduced slightly so it slides down the collet and draw-bar without too much resistance, and long enough to stick out at the back end of the draw-bar.
To move the wheel I mounted it in the 3-jaw chuck with exposed end of the arbor supported in a female tail-stock and the made-up head-stock centre up against the pivot inside the body of the chuck.
With the lathe running very slowly, I warmed up the collet with a spirit lamp, maintaining a slight pressure on the bar down the centre of the headstock.  Once the arbor stopped rotating because the solder was soft and there was pressure on the ends of the arbor, I eased the tail-stock back slightly, re-clamped it and waited for the arbor to start turning again, all the while maintaining pressure on the head-stock centre.
The collet is now re-positioned with the wheel still concentric with the pivots, and meshing with an undamaged part of the escape pinion.
While the job (including making the head-stock centre) probably didn't take any less time than re-colleting the wheel would have, all parts are still original; and, of course, I now have the head-stock centre so in future this job will be a lot quicker!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

On the move...

Quite a disrupted year so far ...
It started off with a broken collar bone towards the end of January, which put me out of action (in business terms) for about 3 weeks, then I had a solid week of major disruption in the workshop & the flat above it, while the storage heaters were ripped out and a 'wet' heating system was installed along with an air-source heat pump and hot-water tank, and now we are on the move domestically (though the business is staying put)! Not sure how much 'holiday' time I still have available... :-(

My wife (an Anglican priest) has a new appointment so we are moving to Coventry from Stroud - from a house with quite large rooms and a double garage to one with somewhat smaller rooms and no garage, loft or cellar - rather a problem as the garage was stuffed with all sorts of goodies we have to find space for!

The things you find when you move into a 'new' house... I moved a wardrobe from one room into another the other day and found that not only was the wall behind it completely bare plaster (the rest of the room has lining paper over the plaster but this bit was not even papered), it also had a lot of deep holes in the plaster and into the brick-work, some of which had bits of wood slotted in so clearly there was something heavy attached at some point. A lot of 'making good' to be done here.  :-(

It is amazing the number of people/organisations you have to notify when you move house. Everything from the DVLA - 2 separate envelopes, one for the car registration document and a different post-code for the driving license to any charities you make a regular payment to as they want to send you annual returns etc... all financial institutions where you have money (banks, share holdings, building societies), and of course all your friends! Thank goodness most of them can be notified by a single email to multiple addresses... It still took me all morning and part of the afternoon though - and some I have not been able to do as they need proof of the new address - utility bills or bank statements in your name at the new address. Just as well they don't all need this or you would not be able to supply it!

Going back to the heat pump (which is basically a large fridge in reverse), it comes with the added incentives (over & above the reduced cost of operation and reduced CO2 into the atmosphere) that A) I no longer need gas cylinders for the hot water geyser - and expensive way of supplying hot water - and B) there is a Government pay-out for renewable heat generation. Running the pump to produce hot water consumes less electricity than would be used to heat the water directly so for 1 unit used you get the equivalent of ~ 3.7 unit's-worth of heating. The extra 2.7 units qualify for the subsidy. They work out how much heat the house looses per day on the basis of the construction, insulation levels and wall/roof area (assuming a room temperature of 21°), and the amount of hot water you are expected to use; and calculate how many units you will therefore use in total, subtract the units used to run the pump to produce this amount of heat and pay you for the remainder... It should pay for itself within about 7 years I think, and the Barn is now really cosy.

Now I have to work out the most efficient way of using the pump - do I program it to heat the place up to more than the required temperature using night-rate power (at half the price) and use the fact that the walls are 2 foot thick as a heat-source for the rest of the day (so the pump hardly works on the day-rate power) or do I rely on generating enough power from the PV array to run it during the day, saving on the amount of power I buy in even at the night rate because I don't need the boosted temperature to start with??? - I think probably one during the winter and the other in summer! - I have a meter showing whether the PV array is generating more (or less) power than I am using and by how much much, so if it goes above a certain level I can turn up the heat for free - and I'm still getting paid for generating the electricity in the first place! (cue a smug grin...)

Having it fitted did also mean I had the most massive spring clean ever which I guess was not a bad thing!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


Have you ever noticed how jobs often come in batches? - A collection of longcase clocks may be followed by a bunch of carriage clocks, then maybe some French drum movements, - but for some reason they often do come in clumps...
Well, I had just completed a collection of drum movements and was working on the next bunch - several fusee bracket clocks when I broke my collar-bone! I think they will have to go onto the back burner for a while when I get back to work, and be replaced by the next batch which happen to be barometers... no 'heavy' work involved in these. :-)

On the subject of injuries, this is one I can seriously recommend avoiding if at all possible. It is not so much the pain (in my case this does not seem to have been a big issue after the first few days) so much as the incapacitation involved. I have worked perfectly happily while on crutches with a leg in plaster, but not being allowed to use one of your hands is very limiting! The biggest problem is likely to be preventing myself from overdoing it before the shoulder is properly mended...

On a different note (I use the word advisedly!) I was recently contacted by someone who said I needed a 'Performing Rights' license if I was to play any music in the workshop despite being a sole trader. While I am all in favour of musicians being able to earn a living wage, the music I (very occasionally) play is all stuff I have bought or been given, so I do not believe I should have to pay a license to play it to myself! I was very wary when I realised what organisation they were from as I had heard that they were intransigent and took no notice of the individual situation. The individual I spoke to seemed to justify this reputation, and they sent me an invoice. However, I rang them on receipt of the invoice, and reiterated that I did not feel it was appropriate as I only ever play music to myself, turning it off when a customer was with me; and this time they did listen and agreed to cancel the invoice - so they are not all bad!

An interesting little job came in the other day - an 8-day 'strut clock'. Not so unusual you might think, but this one had no apparent means of setting the hands. On the back was a captive winding bow screwed onto the winding arbor - and nothing else. There was no rocker-bar button to press, no bezel-setting mechanism, no unused hole in the back cover - nothing....
Nothing that is, until you took the movement out of the case when you could see that the previous 'repairer' clearly did not know what (s)he was doing at all! The winding arbor was supposed to be able to be pulled outwards (like a watch winding stem) and then the wheel would engage the hand-set wheels, but that twit (whoever it was) had deliberately fitted a brass bush on the arbor under the top plate preventing it from being pulled into this position.. - there are even a pair of V-groves on the arbor with a detent acting in them to locate it in each position and even that was not enough to stop the imbecile!

Another, similarly idiotic, person had replaced the date-ring on a 3-train bracket clock I have currently in for attention - but had set it up so that the tip of the tooth on the inside of the ring was in the middle of the time winding hole - so that whenever you tried to wind the clock it nudged the date ring round so the date was no longer central in the hole - and often often far enough for the indexing nib to butt onto the top of the next tooth and stop the clock... so that replacement date ring has now had to be replaced again (after adjusting the nib so that it left the teeth either side of the winding hole!).
Why do these people do it???