The enchanted skip

And lo! did Naich go rummaging in the Cav. skips in search of a bit of metal that would hold his reservoir securely in his chiller box.  Praying to Ceilliau Blewog, the goddess of salvage, he dived head first into the metals skip.  And in her wisdom Ceilliau Blewog did deliver unto his hand the perfect bit of metal, complete with holes already drilled in it.  And there was much rejoicing.  And Naich did praise Ceilliau Blewog and promise to offer up a sacrifice of a small annoying cat on his return home.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a dustbin?

It’s my new bike.  Behold:

My faithless steed
My faithless steed

She is a mixture of Taliban (wheels, front brakes, gears), Jedward (seat, pedals, mudguard, handlebars) and the skip-rescue bike, which I called Black Death.  In order to commemorate the unholy union of 3 shitty bikes, her name is Jelideath.  Let her name ring down through the ages whenever a shit bicycle is mentioned.

Beer Hutch!

Young William and James were the luckiest boys in Cambridge.  Their father, a brilliant inventor, had built them their very own beer hutch! Fun and adventure was never far away, thanks to their thermostatically heated shelter which was large enough to hold a pressure keg and lots of bottles.  Actually, fun and adventure were some considerable distance away, and not getting any closer, thanks to their father not giving it to them and putting his beer in it instead.  They would only have used it to have zany adventures with an ironic twist at the end anyway, and I’d rather drink beer thanks.

But why a beer hutch?  Home brew needs to be stored at the correct temperature, which is less than the inside temperature of a house, but more than the bloody freezing temperature it currently is outside; I don’t want to suck it like a lolly.  An outside cupboard or garage would normally be fine but unfortunately, at some point in its life, our Victorian terraced house had had its outside toilet and coal bunker knocked down and turned into a big kitchen.  With no thought as to how future residents would store their homebrew at the correct temperature – not very forward-thinking, eh?  For a while my beer lived outside, wrapped in a heated underblanket (found in a skip – very few stains on it but a broken switch), with its temperature controlled by a home-made (mainly from scrapped parts) thermostat:

There she is, huddled under her green blanket.  Just above is the control electronics and hanging on the fence is the temperature readout:

10.5 Degrees – just right.

This is all very well and good, but it’s a right pain actually getting the beer out – you have to lift up all the layers to get to the tap and take everything off to give her a puff of CO2.  Also, what do I do when I’ve got 40 bottles of beer as well as the keg?  So I needed a little beer hutch to keep the precious liquid at the optimum temperature.  Luckily, they were chucking out a load of under-bench cupboards from one of the labs at work:

Pretty tatty, but it’s built like a brick shithouse and it just needs a top, door, stronger back, insulation (walls and door are a chopped up Tesco Value duvet with skip-found insulated board top and bottom) and the heater blanket.  A couple of nights later…

Lots of insulation and the heated blanket installed.  What does it look like from the outside?  In a word – tasty.

The sharp-eyed might notice that the door is a) the wrong colour, b) the wrong size, c) hung wonky and d) upside down, but when you are hanging upside down by your feet from the edge of a skip, you can’t be choosy about the colour, type or which side door it is.  It shuts.  It opens.  It fulfills its purpose.

And now my beer is in her lovely new, hand-crafted home.  The end result:

Night night precious beer.


I’ve got a hankering for some network attached storage, but no money, so it’s time for a home-made job. Jen’s laptop is a creaky old AMD K6-2 which isn’t used for anything any more, but it’s powerful enough for a router with NAS, DHCP, DNS and any other TLA I can think of. Plus, it would be handy to have an always-on computer inside the local network for a spot of WOL or as a torrent client that can slurrp stuff off the net while we kip.

The main problem with this scheme is that the hard drive is a paltry 6GB, which isn’t much storage. As luck would have it, a mate of mine recently gave me a 40GB one. Sorted. Now the problem is one of size – the 40GB one is 3.5 inches, but the laptop takes a 2.5 inch one. The easy way to do do this would be to get a USB box for it and plug it into a USB hole in the laptop. Easy, but slow (it’s USB 1) and cowardly. The macho thing to do is connect it as god intended, with a ribbon cable.

Which leads to other problems. The 2.5″ hard drive has a smaller connector than the 3.5″ one and the 2.5″ drive only uses a 5V power supply, whereas the 3.5″ needs a 12V supply too.

Right. First things first. I need a box for the hard drive. Jumping into the skip, I surfaced with a (presumably broken) CD reader. I took it to bits. With the innards removed, it was the perfect size for a hard drive. I made a plate to sit it on from a die-cast box lid and chopped up the plastic so I could almost close up the box.

Next problem is the power supply. I need to get 12 Volts from somewhere. The Laptop’s power supply is 19.5V, which was close enough to knock a few volts off the top with a regulator. While I’m mucking around with regulators, I figured I might as well put one in for the network switch (which I found recently in a box at home) too, to get rid of a wall wart.

As luck would have it I had a couple of regulators in my junk box, so I bolted them firmly down – they will be dissipating a few watts.

To connect it to the lappy, I needed a cable. A quick skip dive later and I had a nice ribbon cable with the right connector one end, but the wrong one the other. As luck would have it, I had a header the right size in my junk box (I bought it by mistake years ago), so I lopped off the connector and soldered it on to the header, with a couple of extra pins wired up for the 5V supply to the drive.

The sheer beauty of my work has to be seen to be believed. So here it is. Behold.

It just fits nice and snugly where the hard drive used to go, under the keyboard. The problem now is that the keyboard doesn’t quite fit any more and the mouse isn’t totally accessible. Oh well. Never mind. It’s going to be sitting under the sofa.

Time to fire it up. Fingers crossed, deep breath, push the button and… whir click beep. “Operating system not found”. This is actually quite promising because it’s not saying “Wrong sized hard drive attached badly by a moron”. Going into the BIOS shows that – good lord! – it can see it. Look! Well, it’s such a bad picture that you’ll have to take my word for it.

So, how does it all look with everything screwed down and the cases closed up? Cor! Are you sure that’s been modified?

This is my NAS. Lovely, isn’t it? Does it work? Difficult to tell – I have no network card for it. I have had to buy – yes, buy – two PCMCIA network wibblers from Ebay. £7.14!!!! Of real money! Anyway, hopefully I’ll be chucking Debian at it during the weekend and then the swearing can start in earnest. Keep an ear out, you’ll probably be able to hear me from where you are.

Update: It seems to be working and I’m installing Linux on it as I type this.

Update update: After it’s been on for a while I’m getting errors coming from the hard drive. Either Chez has lobbed me a duffer or my regulator is overheating and shutting down. I suspect it’s the latter, so on Monday, I plan to hit the skip for a nice big heatsink.

Update update update: The 12V line was wibbling around by 4V when the drive started up from its powered-down state. A big-arse (that’s a technical term meaning “large”) heatsink and an electrolytic cap cooled it down a bit and I haven’t had any errors since. Sadly though, last night a friend gave me an 80GB 2.5″ HDD that fits inside the case, so for the moment I’ll not be using my wonderful external HDD.

Screwing in skirting

Tape Measure

With the words “screwing” and “skirting” in the title, this post will no doubt produce some interesting search terms in the logs but sadly, it’s not as exciting as it sounds. I am, of course, referring to the stuff that goes round the bottom of your walls and the best way of attaching said stuff. Don’t worry sir, the next link down will probably about transvestite sex – just hit the “Back” button on your browser. Bye!

Right, those that are left are now either interested in DIY or twisted enough to become sexually excited at the thought of wooden planks. If it’s the latter then I am seriously impressed and I take my hat off to you for developing a truly original perversion. You must spend a lot of time in the B&Q toilets.

Now, I’m not going to cover the nitty gritty of getting your skirting to line up nicely with lovely mitred corners; I can’t even do that myself so there’s no point trying to teach others. Being useless at getting bits of wood to line up is why decorator’s caulk was invented. This is purely about the mechanics of getting it attached to the walls. “No More Nails” I can hear you thinking (no, of course I can’t really), and to some extent you are correct. If you’ve got lovely flat walls and if you’ve got lovely flat wood and if you don’t ever want to take it off again. On the other hand, if you live in a Victorian house there won’t be a flat wall in sight and the plaster will consist of sand and pebbles, bound with dried-out spit. You will probably also find that your skirting is slightly warped or, if you’ve bought it from B&Q or Homebase, bent like a fucking corkscrew. By screwing it into the wall, you can fit the wibbly wobbly line of the walls and unbend the wood as you go. You can also take it off easily, should you want to fit extra sockets, paint neatly under the skirting board line or if you get a sudden urge to dress it up in a negligee and sleep with it, you sick, sick person. So here is my method to get those screws wanged in at exactly the right position and at a phenomenal rate.

You will need:

  • Three cordless drills. Well, you don’t need three but you will be using 2 drill bits and a screwdriver, so the more drills you have the quicker it’ll be because you won’t be swapping bits all the time.
  • Red rawlplugs. Probably red. I’ve found the ones for size 8-10 screws always are.
  • Screws – Size 8, 2″ long. Or longer if you’ve got nasty plaster. Size 10 if you need more force to unbend the wood.
  • A 6mm wood drill bit and a 6mm masonry drill bit. Check the rawlplug to make sure you have the correct masonry drill bit. Use the same wood drill bit size as this one.
  • A hammer (Oh yes!)


  1. Put the skirting on the wall, where you want it fixed.
  2. Drill through the skirting with the wood drill.
  3. Make sure the skirting is in exactly the right place and then drill into the wall with the masonry drill, through the hole you just made in the skirting.
  4. Put the rawlplug into the hole in the skirting. Screw a screw into the rawlplug by a 1/2 a turn or so – just enough to hold it in place.
  5. Tap the screw with the hammer to bosh it and the rawlplug through the skirting and into the wall. There should be about a rawlplug’s length of screw sticking out when the screw/plug combination hits the bottom of the hole.
  6. Screw the screw in.

The depth of hole you drill in the wall depends on the length of your screws, but you can estimate it to start with by holding a screw up to a bit of skirting, seeing how far it sticks out the back and seeing how far up the drill bit you need to go to go that deep.

If you find that the screw stops going in before the board is tight to the wall, and just spins round in a pathetic way (“pathetic” is an accurate description – you wait until it happens to you), your hole might not be deep enough causing the screw to bottom out. That last phrase should get a few more perverts here. Or it could be that you aren’t inserting the rawlplug deep enough into the wall for it to reach anything solid to grip in. Try using a longer screw and drilling further into the wall – until you drill into the brick.

With three drills and a mouthful of screws and rawlplugs, you can get your badly-cut, wrongly sized bits of skirting screwed cock-eyed onto a wall before your wife can say “christ, look at the state of that – why the hell couldn’t we have got in a proper carpenter, you tightwad?” Good luck!