Just give me the wafers

March 13, 2015

Oh alright, I’ll start talking again…

Filed under: Uncategorized — albatros @ 12:46 pm

I shut up for a reason; I realised I was spending too much time talking about what I had been doing and not enough time doing things that I could then talk about. I’ve spent the time since then losing weight, (again), getting fit (again), riding the Pedersen (again), and retiring from the daily grind of 130-mile round-trip commutes. That’s a new one, and it’s taken me a bit of adjustment from having plenty of spare cash to spend on things I hardly ever use to living on a rather small pension.

So what does this mean for all you out there? I was first of all going to title this post “I’m back, and this time it’s impersonal”, only it can’t ever be that, not unless I developed a clever robot to sit here doing the typing for me. Although I am developing robots, they aren’t going to be any cleverer than I am, they’ll be limited to what you can get into an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, two of the things I started buying when I still had the cash from contracting I mentioned in the last paragraph.

In fact, although I gripe about having retired accidentally and still skim the emails each morning to see what laughable opportunities the agencies are offering (Contractor for Windows 8, fantastic opportunity for person with 5+ years experience…), I’m actually discovering that making and playing with the things I have is a lot more fun than online shopping during lunchbreaks. Like model trains, for instance. I’ve always loved the thought of making them out of card, and so I’ve bought a laser-cutter to do all the fiddly stuff that I would normally have sliced a finger or two off whilst wielding the scalpel.

Actually, I didn’t buy a laser cutter, not the large gas-laser devices, I bought a self-assembly kit that uses a modern type of meccano, and built it up myself. Far more satisfying than trying to learn Moshidraw, which seems to arouse a lot of contempt amongst those who review the sub-£1000 laser cutters you’ll find on Amazon. (ebay doesn’t seem to offer the same extensive degree of customer reviews that Amazon does, we’ll come to that later).

In order to start using this MakeBlock XYPlotter I had to first get the software to run it as a pen-plotter, and ran into my first problem: the java-program Gremote would not run on a 32-bit WIndows XP or Windows 7 machine. A quick test on my 64-bit laptop showed it had a 64-bit java supplied. A quick Google found several people all complaining that they couldn’t make the software run on 32-bit machines. There was a noticeable lack of replies to their posts, most of which were on the official support forum. So I got to work and found a solution, and posted an answer on the couple of places where the complaints had appeared.

To me, having a problem that ought to be easy to solve and isn’t yet solved is anathema. But looking round the web showed that either those who solve such problems keep very quiet about them, or else such problems just don’t seem to get solved.

On the subject of problems that ought to be solved, I have sacked Firefox. For months now I’ve put up with it regularly freezing because it’s just found a bit of embedded flash, or crashing and apologising for so doing, then submitting a crash report, and yet update after update has come and gone and no fix. So I politely advised the Firefox team that their experiments had tried my patience once too often and switched to Avant.

I will detail in subsequent posts how I got Gremote to run, and how I also got the Processing sketch up to date, and then added the laser-driving capability to it. For now, if you’ve come here by searching for a fix, just bookmark me.


June 22, 2012

The return of the Stormy Petrel

Filed under: Pedersen bicycles — Tags: , — albatros @ 3:05 pm

When I said “I’m just going out for a short ride, I may be some time”, I didn’t realise it would be almost four years. Well, I’m back.

It would be wonderful if I could tell you what a stupendous trip around the world Albert and I had, but the trips I took were of the usual type, inside a metal bird. Albert has been snug inside home all that time, well, almost all of it. I did ride around Newcastle and Northumberland for a few days in the late summer of 2008. with a JB Weld repair to the saddle tube, but the cycling was marred on the last day by the bottom bracket deciding to work loose just 5 miles from Newcastle, and I had to do some dirty tricks with gaffer tape to avoid ingnominiously pushing home.

The bottom bracket issue is reputed to be a weak spot with the Cheltenham Pedersens, although I have only one person’s word for it, other than myself. They say the threaded tube has a tendency to distort under heavy pedal load and the thread needs to be re-metaled with silver solder and recut. I may have to master fire in order to do that sort of repair, but I am heartened by recent progress learning not to drag my knuckles on the ground when I walk.

After that episode, the next few rides threw up an odd mix of issues. If the bottom bracket didn’t come unscrewed, the righthand crank would. I rode around locally carrying almost enough tools to strip and totally rebuild Albert by the roadside, experimenting with different flavours of threadlock compounds. I can report that they all stick to your fingers and clothing and resist most brands of washing-powder, and another part of me says that I shouldn’t be contemplating using them to keep Albert rolling freely.

I took the Biopace off Albert, and fitted a rather cheap Suntour setup I got from ebay with a lovely low top chainring, and it did seem that the tendencies for things to come undone ceased with that change. Perhaps the cyclic alternation of load caused by the eliptical chainwheels was instrumental in working the bottom bracket or righthand crank loose; but I didn’t really get the chance to examine this hypothesis further. A return to old habits of being over-weight and getting up before dawn to drive for nearly 2 hours to work meant I let Albert slip back into a comfortable slumber, but this time, I made sure he was indoors. And I reached 15 stone, and received an official Doctor’s warning.

And so to the present: once again, (for the third time), I have lost a couple of stone, and one of the promises I made to myself when I went back onto the diet of fat and protein, (as much as I liked), with no beer, bread or cheese whatsoever, was that once I dropped below 13 stone I would ride Albert once again. I am, today, 13 stone and 1 solitary pound, and tomorrow I will be taking off the dust from a Pedersen and going round with grease and spray lubricant. I expect that pound to have left the building in about two days.

The other thing I swore a solemn vow to do was to get a pair of 700c rims with hub brakes, dynamo and 8-speed gears. But that may take some time.

I really do think, having yet again had to endure the rather tedious advice to “eat less and exercise more”, and find out in the end that it isn’t how much you eat or exercise but what you eat, that I had better also tell you all about how to lose weight, and while I’m about it, I shall also have to tell myself how to then stay lean. You might as well listen in on the conversations. If you want a preview, read up on Briand-Savarin, William Harvey, and William Banting.

Watch this space…

July 20, 2008


Filed under: Pedersen bicycles — albatros @ 8:28 am

The broken saddletube was not something the local bike shop could mend, or any of the bike shops in Salisbury. None of them build or repair frames, they just assemble bikes from components. The nearest frame-builders said that they would need the bike, dismantled right down to just the frame, and that the replacement tube would cost £100; they couldn’t tell me what it would cost to do the work, and I also had to consider the cost of getting to and from them on two separate journeys..


The Cheltenham Pedersen was built from Reynolds 531 tubing. This is a specialised tubing first produced in the late 1930’s for aircraft production, then was adopted by the bicycle manufacturers, motorcycle manufacturers, and even for the space-frames of the post-war Formula One Grand Prix cars before carbon monocoquestook over. It is no longer kept in stock, but can be made to order.

A peculiarity of 531 tubing is that is cannot be brazed using the usual brass or bronze alloys, but has to be silver-soldered at a much lower temperature. I was quite happy to learn how to silver-solder, but wanted to practice on some tubing first to make sure that I could get strong joints without overheating them tube or creating too sharp a temperature gradient. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any offcuts of 531 tubing on which to practice. I haunted the specialist car repair companies near me, because I knew that the Jaguar E-type used 531 tubing in the front subframe, but nobody had worked on one of them for years, and they just didn’t turn up with front-end damage any more.


I grew tired of riding Albert Ross around with the wooden splint lashed between the two saddle tubes, and decided there was an alternative. Half of the tube, from the bottom bracket to the small bridge tube, was perfectly sound, and I felt that, since there could be little flexing at this point due to the stiffening action of the bridge tube, a butt-joint with an internal sleeve could be feasible. However, the fracture had occurred just above the small bridge tubing, so close to it that I doubted that any butt-brazed repair would be possible, because the heat required to join the two pieces of tube together would soften the already-soldered bridge tube. I could see why the Bristol frame-builders had fitted a complete new tube when they had repaired a similarly-damaged Pedersen. But, there were excellent epoxy adhesives around which required no heat at all.

I used my old lathe to turn down a two-inch piece of steel bush so that it was a tight fit inside the two broken ends, chamfered the ends of it so that there could be no chance of sharp-edge fractures where the outer tubes would continue beyond the bush, removed the bottom bracket and stuffed cotton wool into the hole to prevent any stray adhesive dribbling down into the threads, and used JB Weld to glue the piece of tube inside the two halves of the saddle post, keeping them firmly tensioned into the correct alignment. I had to wait at least 24 hours to allow a firm cure, and in fact managed to hold off from rushing over to the workshop when the 25th hour commenced, leaving it 36 hours before I refitted the bottom bracket, cranks and saddle, and went out for a ride.

I have now ridden Albert Ross around the outskirts of Newcastle for three days, up and down the hills around Hadrian’s Wall, and around several of the horribly rough tarmac lanes and dirt Ox-drove roads in Wiltshire, and the repair seems to be holding. As insurance, though, I still have the wooden splint lashed to the rear carrier with enough twine to be able to get home again should the adhesive ever fail. But so far, it looks as though it will indeed live up to the manufacturer’s claims.

June 9, 2008

The Biopace Experiment

Filed under: Pedersen bicycles — Tags: — albatros @ 8:04 am

There was a lot more than just the broken tube wrong with Albert Ross. The pedals were badly worn, one of them even locking up occasionally as I rode along, and from the grating feel of it I knew it would need more than a drop of oil and a little adjustment of the locking nut, but neither pedal would come free. After breaking two spanners I gave up. The thread had worn badly in each crank, and required a generous wrapping of threadtape around the extractor tool before they could be removed. The axle in the bottom bracket ran sloppily, and was impossible to adjust, or even dismantle. I broke two peg spanners trying to undo the adjustable cup on the lefthand side. I was able to undo the fixed cup easily, because it had worked loose several times in the past, and so I was at least able to withdraw the axle and examine the wear on the bearing surfaces.

The bike shop at Gillingham confirmed my suspicions that this was an obsolete part, and I bought a sealed unit made by Stronglight. All I needed to do now was get the removable cup out of the bottom bracket, which was finally accomplished by the brutal method of mig-welding a large nut onto it and then heaving at a socket with a piece of tube as an extension. I fitted the new sealed bottom bracket, put copper-slip onto the tapers, and refitted my Stronglight 99 cranks, complete with worn pedals. I had taken the chance to run heavy axle oil into them while the cranks were off and could be laid on the edge of the bench with the pedals hanging downwards.

It was time for a test ride. Over at Mere was a friend of mine whom I knew could silver-solder, and I thought of showing him the broken tube and asking him about the practicalities of repairing it. I felt certain that the break was too close to another brazing where a short piece of tube joined both saddle tubes together. If my suspicions were correct, the entire lefthand tube would need to be replaced, which is what I had been told was needed when a similar fault was cured in another Pedersen by Argos of Bristol. I rode happily along to Mere, with no more slop or creaking from the bottom bracket, and a tolerable amount of noise from the pedals.

My friend was not at his workshop, and a neighbouring firm thought he was on a short holiday, so I set off back home. As I rode down a sidestreet I glanced at the pedals, and saw that the bottom bracket was coming undone and was working out towards the chainwheels. I tightened it up as best I could and set off again. The grinding from the pedals had come back, and I wondered if it was that which had caused the righthand side of the bottom bracket to come loose. I had only managed half a mile before the bracket was loose again, and this time, I wasn’t able to tighten it up, because the lefthand side was working its way into the bottom bracket shell. Once more, I found myself walking home along the road from Mere, pushing a bicycle.

I could no longer ignore the problem with the pedals, or the worn thread in the righthand side of the bottom bracket shell, but couldn’t afford to have either problem addressed by a professional. So I did what I would have done if this had happened to me during my travels, I went scrounging around the dump. I found an old Raleigh Mirage, painted purple, with a nice looking crankset that didn’t seem to show any signs of wear. The rear dérailleur had snapped close to the parallelogram pivots, and the saddle covering was split at the back, but otherwise it was an excellent bike. I paid £5 for it.

The cranks came off the axle easily enough. I loosened each chainring bolt in turn and put copper-slip on the threads, counted the teeth on the rings, used Loctite to refit the bottom bracket, and fitted the crankset to the bike. The rings were 28-38-48, of which the lower seemed ideal, but I thought the middle and outer rings were higher than I would have liked. I took the bike out for a trial, using a loop of local roads that never went more than a mile from home. After several such circuits, and with no sign of the bottom bracket coming loose, I tried a longer ride, going out to the hills at East Knoyle, still not daring to try the (for me) fated ride to Mere.

Success, I thought, and decided the aching legs was simply due to the higher gears on both middle and upper chainwheel. I then set about searching the web to see what different size chainwheels I could find on ebay. And that was when I discovered that, not only were Shimano Biopace chainwheels almost obsolete, but almost universally despised by posters on the cycling forums.

Biopace, for those readers who aren’t cycling anoraks, were non-circular chainrings. There weren’t obviously oval or elliptical, but when glancing down at the chainrings whilst pedalling along, I had observed the slight in and out motion, perhaps just greater than an eighth of an inch, and had initially assumed that the teeth on the rings had worn unevenly.

I carried on using them, making an improvised repair to the broken saddle tube, and doing another long ride to the railway at Cranmore. I have no complaints, other than the number of teeth on the two top chainwheels. I would have preferred 36-42, which was my old Stronglight setup, but I didn’t get the aching knees that other people have complained about. The only thing I noticed was the need to ease up a little bit more when shifting the chain across them, and that the shift maybe took a little bit longer. I suppose this explains why the racing community never took to them, but I’m not in a hurry and can make allowance for it.

In a way, I also think that the Biopace rings belong on the Pedersen. Both of them were experiments in different thinking. I am going to have to tinker with the positioning of the rings, because I feel certain that the pedalling action of a Pedersen rider is significantly different to that of a diamond-framed rider. The Pedersen rider is more upright, the legs straighter, and the knees not coming as high relative to the chest. I had learned a long time ago that maximum pedalling effort when climbing hills was achieved not by hunching forwards over the handlebars, but by pushing away from the bars and pushing the legs forwards in a determined manner.

Because of the 5-bolt fixing, I can rotate the rings through four other positions from the intended alignment, with a spacing of 72 degrees between them. Now that Albert Ross is usable again, (and last weekend’s 50-mile trip with two stone of baggage has definitely proved it, not least by passing through Mere and beyond twice without incident), I can settle down to the interesting, and probably highly subjective, task of determining the optimum position of the non-round chainwheels .

May 30, 2008


Filed under: Pedersen bicycles — albatros @ 9:18 am

I had been riding happily around with the new tyres and wheels, testing them over the rough and crumpled tarmac surfaces of the Wiltshire lanes. It seemed to me that there was slightly less of a sharp shock on the edges of the deeper potholes, less feeling that the rim itself was striking the stones. Along one stretch of road the tarmac had sagged and rippled as though the earth beneath was alive and had shifted during the night, looking for all the world like the scaly back of an Alligator. As I rode along it, the tarmac dipped sharply left underneath me, and the bike slid down the slope. There was a sharp crack, and I looked down and then behind be, thinking that a bolt had come loose or a pannier frame snapped. I could see nothing, so I stopped and looked around the bike.

I found that the left hand saddle post had snapped just above a short connecting piece that joined it to the right hand tube.

Although I was near enough to home to walk back, pushing the bike, I was seized with the spirit of the old journey. Asking myself “what would I have done if this had happened to me in Scandinavia?”, I instinctively came up with a bodge involving shock cord and a block of wood that happened to be near to hand.

It got me home, although I rode very gingerly and tried not to sit too hard on the saddle. Unfortunately, the Pedersen is such that it is almost impossible to stand on the pedals; when seated and pedaling, you are almost in a standing position, and the upward rising strap prevents you moving further forwards.

I found that the trouble was caused by a much earlier failure which I had similarly bodged with shock cord, a fracture in the plate at the top of the two sliding saddle tubes which connected the springs and the tensioning wire to the sliding tubes. I had lived removed the shock cord when I tried an old sprung Brookes saddle to see if it would be more comfortable than the narrow triangle of leather. The Brookes had held the broken parts together rigidly, and when I had refitted the original saddle I had not re-applied the bindings. The two seat tubes had been able to move independently, and the lurching shock when the bike slid to the left on the rutted tarmac had thrown all my weight onto the left tube, which had moved outwards as far as it could before snapping just above the point where it was still rigidly attached to the other tube.

Cursing myself for my negligence, I took the bike across to the stores and used the Mig-welder to repair the broken plate. I couldn’t use it to weld the broken tube together, because the metal from which the bike is made is Reynolds 531, which must not be overheated or subjected to too sharp a thermal gradient, otherwise brittleness occurs at the point where the temperature gradient was greatest. The tube couldn’t even be brazed, it would have to be silver-soldered. By luck, or otherwise, the saddle plate was the only piece of ‘normal’ steel in the bike frame.

Very few bike shops now will do anything more then bolt things together, and very few blacksmiths have ever worked on cycle frames. I discussed the problem and possible repair with a Bristol-based frame builder. They said that they had worked on a Pedersen a few months ago, replacing one of the saddle tubes. Coincidence, I wondered? The cost of the tube, they told me, had been £100. I didn’t ask what the labour had been. I knew I couldn’t even afford the new tube, let alone their skill in fitting it. I was going to have to find the money, or learn to mend it myself, which would mean learning how to silver-solder.

After that sad realisation, I assessed the damage, and the bodged repair, and decided to apply a longer and firmer splint, and take the bike out on the road again. It felt no different, in fact, with the repairs to the seat plate, it felt better.

Mad as it might seem, I continued to ride the bike around like this, since there seemed to be no movement at the fracture.

Even though I had a mountain bike, and rode it to and from the gardening jobs whenever possible, I missed the comfort of the Pedersen, the feeling of almost childish glee as I sailed along, high enough to see over most of the hedges, with no strain at all on my wrists and no hunching of the back.

I dreamt of taking it out again for another all-day ride, up to the railway at Cranmore, or down to the seasise at Swanage. But, reluctantly, I had to admit that I had been very lucky on the last such journey not to have a similar failure.

If only I had paid more attention to it over the previous years when it languished, unused. But I had given in to a Mr Toad moment and bought sports cars to go hill-climbing, then rallying, and like Mr Toad, I was now facing a stern battle to reclaim that which had been mine.

I realised that I could no longer ignore the slop in the bottom bracket, or the grating clicking from the pedals. Part of the extra stresses which had caused the tube to crack could have been coming from there.

April 27, 2008

New wheels for old

Filed under: Pedersen bicycles — albatros @ 5:23 pm

As-built, Albert Ross was fitted with 27″ tyres on Wipac alloy rims. The rear wheel had a standard quick-release hub, with the hand lever replaced by a very nice little allen-key fitting. The front wheel was slightly more unusual, having a Sturmey-Archer Dynohub at the centre. I went through tyres like they were party balloons on the Nordkapp ride, having three rear tyres fail in quick succession with unexpected bead failures, and once I had solved the problem by reducing the tyre pressure in the rear tyres, the remaining tyres simply wore through to the canvas. I found it hard to get English 27 x 1 1/4″ tyres in Sweden and Norway, and was contemplating changing the rims for a more normal continental size, but managed to get back to England and then stopped worrying about the problem.

Readers of my Sopwith-Camel blog will know that last year, I discovered that wheels for 27″ tyres were obsolete. After the Dynohub failed irreparably on the first long-distance ride, I was reduced to scavenging a flimsy 27″ wheel from the neighbouring scrapyard to complete the journey. I knew than that if I was to start using Albert for any further serious cycling I would have to take the plunge into the turbulent waters of tyre and rim sizes.

I had been thinking for a while of fitting large mountain bike tyres so that I could carry luggage and not worry about the exploding sidewall problem, but I soon came up against two problems. The first, not serious but worth considering, was the extra drag that knobbly tyres would create, and the knowledge that simply having such tyres on a bike was no guarantee of actually riding through muddy patches. A few trips on a mountain bike with panniers and luggage convinced me that there was no advantage to be gained from these types of tyres. If I rode into anything vaguely muddy or sticky, I came to a halt and usually ended up with a wet foot. It was safest to dismount and wheel the bike past such obstacles, which is exactly what I would have had to have done with skinny tyres.

The second, more serious problem, was that the caliper brakes on Albert would not reach the smaller diameter rims, even though I could fit a mountain bike wheel into the front forks. And, as if that problem wasn’t enough, I was losing 2cm ground clearance because of the smaller diameter of the tyres. It doesn’t sound much, but I knew how often I had scraped a pedal on the road or rough ground with the old wheels on, and didn’t want to sacrifice a millimeter if I could avoid it.

After some wandering around the web, I managed to get an idea of what rims and tyres might work, and ended up getting 37-622 700x35C rims, 28×1 5/8″ x 1 3/8″ tyres, and 25/32-622/630 tubes. The tubes and tyres fitted the rims happily, the wheels then went comfortably into the frame, and the brake blocks only needed fractional adjustments to work.

I pumped the tyres up to a pressure that felt right, but I didn’t have a gauge with which to check what actual pressures I had achieved. They felt wonderful when ridden, but I know from my Scandinavian experiences that too much pressure in the rear tyre can be catastrophic, and so I shall have to buy another pressure gauge and be a bit more scientific before setting off in earnest again.

The problem now is that I have overlooked the faults in the saddle and the bottom bracket for too long.

Does anybody know of a good frame-builder in the Southwest of England who can work on a Pedersen?

December 7, 2007

Rug Railways Undone

Filed under: Railways — Tags: , , — albatros @ 11:08 pm

Inside the Rug Railway tender

I was going to wait a decent amount of time before dismantling the Rug Railway engine to find out it’s secrets, but a couple of things happened. The big Hantarex monitor my mad mate gave me suddenly started emitting a fusillade of sparks from somewhere around the back of the tube, (that’s a high-voltage part, I believe), so I couldn’t sit and just watch TV; and the box of damaged repairable clockwork trains I bought off ebay arrived. So I cleared up a little more space around the rug, set up a small track, and played some more.

I found that none of the buttons work from stationary except slow forwards or slow reverse. After pressing one of these buttons, none of the other buttons work until after a set time period. I managed to determine that this period finished on the tenth chuff, and so managed to learn how to control the engine a little better for shunting.

The method I finally established is to run the engine forwards so that when it is reversed towards an intended stop point it will travel for at least 10 chuffs. This means making longer engine movements than are ideal, but it is only a toy, after all. If you want realism, go and join a preservation society.

After playing around for a while, I had another idea. I couldn’t alter the length of the minimum on time, (10 chuffs), but if I could slow the engine down, it would travel less distance in the space of 10 chuffs. I had charged up all of my nicads, so the only thing I could think of doing was taking out two of the 6 batteries and replacing them with run-down non-rechargeable batteries. It seemed to work; the sound effects were more muted, the engine seemed to run slower but still emitted some smoke, and I tried to convince myself that it was more controllable when shunting. After a while I realised that the voltage drop had decreased the sensitivity of the receiver diode, and when the range decreased to less than six inches I found myself no longer able to stop the engine.

I got out the screwdriver and the optovisor. The tender body can be detached from the chassis by undoing the 4 crosshead screws at the corners, leaving the screws holding the couplings and wheels alone. The top of the tender then lifts off to the extent that the wires allow, enough for some photographs.


The loudspeaker and on/off switch wires can be seen running to the chassis, and the battery wires are visible. The blue and red wires coming off the middle of the PCB run to the diode receiver. A 4-wire ribbon cable runs to the engine, to power the motor, headlights, and smoke system.


Of these 4, I suspect one is a common return, two are for motor speed (marked M+ and M-), and the remaining wire drives the headlamps. There are plenty of small resistors and transistors scattered around the board.


After undoing the 2 screws securing the CB I carefully flipped it over, expecting to see a microprocessor, or at least a PLA chip, but no, just 3 capacitors and a strange device on a daughter board.


Here’s a better look at that daughterboard, and I’m guessing that’s a chip beneath the black encapsulation dome. With no identification details it’s not going to be possible to look up characteristics in manufacturers tables, so this is going to have to be a black-box exercise, unless anybody reading this blog knows a lot more than I do. From the letters on it, I suspect it to be the Infrared diode receiver chip.

What the circuit board has to implement is

  • Distribute the 6 volt battery supply to the receiver diode and chip.
  • On power-on, initialise and make a bell clang noise.
  • Wait for a signal from the receiver diode and process it.
  • If the current state is stopped, ignore any command unless it is slow forward or slow reverse, when it activates, and starts a timer.
  • If the current state is not-stopped and the timer has not completed, ignore the command.
  • If the current state is not-stopped and the timer has completed, try to obey the command, which will be one of
    • Stop : always obey
    • Whistle : toggle whistle state or switch from other sound to whistle
    • Bell : toggle bell state or switch from other sound to bell
    • rail clatter : toggle rail clatter state or switch from other sound to rail clatter
    • Slow-forward : only obey if the current state is Fast-forward
    • Slow-reverse : only obey if the current state is Fast-reverse
    • Fast-forward : only obey if the current state is Slow forward
    • Fast-reverse : only obey if the current state is Slow reverse

I have to assume that the chip also decodes the signal received from the diode.

So that leaves me wondering if one of those 3 capacitors is part of an R-C circuit implementing the minimum on time. Assuming it starts in a discharged state, it will take a certain amount of time to charge to a voltage level, which it will then maintain until grounded. Any thoughts out there?

I did a bit of searching on the web and found out that the set is distributed by a company in Hong Kong but manufactured in China, but I don’t see this as being immediately helpful. But who knows, I might have Chinese readers one day.

The set, by the way, is a Royal Express 8104. Looking round the Golden Bright distributors website, I found they did 6 different sets. As far as I could tell from the small photos, the engine and wagons are the same in all sets, the track and accessories vary. So the next question is, where can I get some more points for it?

December 6, 2007


Filed under: Railways — Tags: , — albatros @ 6:40 am


Rug-railways pre-date my attempts at serious model railway layouts, and I wish I had never tried to make the transition from just playing train to becoming a would-be modeler. There is no stress with a rug-railway. You lay it out as quickly as possible, and then take it up at the end of the session. If you don’t really like the track layout you’re not stuck with it, you just don’t lay it out that way again. There’s no need to fiddle around with a soldering iron trying to find out where the poor connection is that is stopping your train from running, because rug-railways are clockwork, steam, on-board battery powered, or even just push-along. There’s no need to try and position point motors or uncoupling ramps so that they work correctly, because you just reach down and do the job directly using the big hand from the sky.

My rug-railways from years ago were clockwork powered, and after setting up the track, my first job was to calibrate the engines we were going to use. I would work out how many turns of the key were needed for each engine to run a set distance so that it would coast to a halt when it reached the destination station. These stations were usually terminii. I didn’t go in for round and round layouts and solitary sessions, my rug-railways were a group activity. We would each have a station, three or four of us, depending on how many were around at the time, and we would make up trains and send them to each other. Once the train arrived the wagons were put into sidings at the station, and then we would negotiate amongst each other for who wanted what. One brother would ask for a cattle truck and some coal wagons, my sister wanted a passenger train with at least one first class carriage, sometimes I would decide I wanted to exchange engines with someone else, or perhaps we would send the breakdown special out to wait in a different station for a while.

When I started to grow up I gave up all that, and I suppose it wasn’t just my fault, my sister discovered new interests, another brother began to teach himself guitar, and I became obsessed with visual realism, and with electric controls. I really wish I hadn’t; life became an endless round of track-cleaning, locomotive wheel-cleaning, dead frog electrification, and baseboard thumping. All to try and make that obstinate engine run forwards or backwards reliably to pretend it was shunting the yard.

Partly by coincidence, I have just resumed playing on the floor. I was wandering around the local Focus DIY store, and passed a largish box with a model railway inside. I looked through the cellophane to try and see what scale it was. It looked like 7mm to the foot, gauge O, as I always call it, (incorrectly), but there was nothing on the packet to confirm that. It was battery-operated and infra red controlled, with lights, sounds and smoke. I came back the next day, having done enough gardening work to have the spare cash, and took a box home with me. I found 8 nicad batteries, set all the track up on the carpet, and started playing.

The new trainset is one of the best rug-railway systems I have seen in a long while. You get enough track and points in the box to make up an interesting variety of layouts in a small space, and it runs beautifully, even on the varying surface of a Chinese rug. It is robust enough to not be bothered by a cat on the line, and runs as well going backwards as going forwards. I haven’t yet managed to derail any of the trucks when pushing them around reverse curves or over points. And the models themselves are quite realistic, not the cartoon-style Wild-West engines festooned with cowcatchers and clanging bells that formed the role-models for most toy trains.


Allowing for the time to vacuum the carpet, it took me 10 minutes to set up the layout shown in the heading picture. I let it run round for a few minutes while I mastered the controls, and then began to play properly.

Since there are three trucks it is possible to set a shunting challenge, such as completely reverse the order of the trucks.


The only problem I encountered was after the original batteries ran down and I replaced them with fully charged high-capacity nicads. The problem now was that the engine was running faster, and I hadn’t realised that there was a minimum on time. After pressing the button to make it start moving forwards or backwards, there seems to be a delay before it will then recognise and act upon a stop command. Shunting in the short sidings I had laid out suddenly became a succession of disasters.

I’m fighting my instincts, which tell me to get the screwdrivers out, dismantle the engine, and fit some sort of voltage-drop device into the battery leads. I feel I ought to wait a few weeks before beginning the butchery. For the moment, I’ll just make longer sidings to allow for the 9 chuffs before it can be stopped.

June 9, 2007

And so we have names for things…

Filed under: Pedersen bicycles — Tags: , — albatros @ 9:43 pm

Albert Ross, or Albatros, a Stormy Petrel.

Albert Ross is a bicycle, a Cheltenham Pedersen dating from March 1986. It was bought direct from the factory as a frame and forks, and fitted out with wheels, gears, handlebars, brakes and panniers for a long-distance ride.

Albert and rider left England in April 1986 to visit the lands of the midnight sun, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. For six months they lived outdoors by the roadside, in woods and forests and abandoned huts, blown by the winds, washed by the rain, and baked by the sun.

Albert Ross at the Nordkapp

They reached the Nordkapp, the most northerly point of land in Norway, and indeed Europe, at the end of June 1986. Then, they had to get home again. Norway was not an easy place for a bicycle, and the winds that haunted them made it even less hospitable. They sojourned in Hell for a fortnight, endured the tail end of Hurricane Charlie in Flakk Fjord, and after the long-awaited money had arrived, rode south and headed back to the lands where it gets dark at night and winds last only a day or so.

Albert Ross at Marnhull

In late September 1986, Albert returned to England, and the mass of panniers were taken off. For the next 20 years, Albert was firstly ridden around London, Poole, Bracknell, and Woodley, before coming to Wiltshire and languishing quietly, inside away from the wind and the rain, outside under a cover, then outside without a cover, and finally in a stores together with a collection of motor cars and old computers.

In May 2007, after a fit of remorse, and a strong reminder from the wind, the rider started to refurbish Albert. This blog is about Albert then and now. It is also about the wind that always blows in your face, won’t leave your papers alone, and searches you out through the chinks and crannies as you try to hide from it. Once the wind knows who you are you can never quite escape from it.

Chaos theory says that a butterfly beating its wings in Africa can cause a hurricane across the Atlantic. Chaos theory is about the individual, about a multitude of individuals. The appealing thing about chaos theory is that it allows room for the individual to be a part of the planet, to actually affect things. A second theory, that of order, says that only large comglomerations and corporations can affect the world, they are almighty, and should be worshipped; more importantly, you should buy their products and invest in them.

Albert Ross the Cheltenham Pedersen is a hand-built bicycle, made by a small company who existed for only a few months. When Albert and I came back to England the company was no more. Other Pedersen bicycles were also being built in Denmark, and a web search will show you that one such company is still in existence, building Pedersens.

As I found out this weekend Problems come in threes, some of Albert’s equipment is obsolete. The wheels, for example, the most fundamental accessory on any bicycle, are of a size no longer stocked in a typical cycle shop. This might not seem too much of a problem, since a well-built wheel can last as long as the bicycle, but the tyres that fit onto those wheels need replacing every now and then, and 21 years ago it proved to be hard to find 27″ tyres in Norway and Sweden. How much more difficult is it likely to be today?

And so Albert is due for his first refurnishment; new rims, of the popular 700c range, which will allow for stronger and more comfortable tyres to be fitted. The potholed and poorly maintained lanes around where I live are not pleasant when felt through the narrow section of a 27 by 1 1/4 inch tyre.

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