Wulf's Webden

The Webden on WordPress

Monday 18 January 2021
by Wulf

Force Restart

The first thing I do most mornings is pick up my iPad and skim over social media and news updates, check the weather forecast and read a news story or two in a bit more detail. Not this morning though – the screen was black, with a small, spinning wheel icon in the middle and the iPad was unresponsive to pressing either the home or the power button.

I was pretty sure that I needed to do a “force restart”. Yes, that does sound a bit “Star Wars” but it is the official nomenclature (here’s the help page I looked up to check) rather than “forced restart”. And, sure enough, that did the job – holding down the home and power buttons until the system changed to the white screen with the Apple logo.

All is now back and running although I’m having to relogin to certain services. I don’t recall having to do this before. I’ll have to see if it becomes a more frequent behaviour! Now, I wonder what is happening in the news….

Sunday 17 January 2021
by Wulf

DIY I Can Handle

Gate with Handle
Gate with Handle

The wonderful thing about building with cheap materials — like the wood from those pallets I have been taking apart this week — is the freedom to develop a design.

Here the task was to create a gate in front of a compost bin so that, when filled up, I make the maximum use of the cubic area by curbing the tendency for a gentle slope to form at the front. I started with five planks to span the gap at the front of the frame and a couple of cut down pieces to hold them together (reused nails, bent round at the back and mainly snapped off). To that, I screwed in a diagonal crossbar, which limits flexing (as one piece tries to expand, shrink or twist, the others hold it in true). I probably only needed a single screw for each plank but, as the wood was quite wet, I decided to use more, spreading the load as it dries and tenses up.

The result was surprisingly hefty. I could have sawed off the extensions at the top but it struck me that I could add another piece and give myself a handle. I think that works quite well. I can fill that side up to the top and, by the time the other bin is approaching full, this side will probably have settled and I can move the gate across. However, I don’t think I would have reached this design without the freedom to build up from cheap materials and experience the nature of each step as it went.

Saturday 16 January 2021
by Wulf


I picked up some more pallets today so had a bit more deconstruction to attend to before turning to putting new things together. I’d done a bit more research on taking pallets apart and I was keen to try out another technique to maximise the yield of clean, unbroken wood.

It turns out that one of the best tools for breaking down a pallet is a second pallet that has already been split up. More strictly, what you need are two or three solid wooden planks so there isn’t necessarily a bootstrapping problem (ie. how do you break apart that first pallet) but, since I finished several yesterday, I had the perfect materials readily on hand. Here is the video I got the idea from:

Pallet breakdown using 2 boards

The trick is all about leverage. By placing two boards in a V terminating underneath the plank you are trying to take out and using the planks on either side to give a pair of fulcrums, you can generate a strong but even force easing the plank up. Sometimes one board is enough but sometimes you need an extra one (creating an extra leverage point to get the ones at the end) but it works pretty well. You still need a clawhammer to remove nails but that is a pleasantly low tool requirement.

I didn’t get the completely split free results promised in the video but the results were still better (quicker and cleaner) than the two I did yesterday, which in turn were much quicker and cleaner than the one I took apart earlier in the week (albeit hampered by the weather keeping me in the shed and preventing me laying them flat). Make a start and learn as you go… which applies to many more things than just breaking up old pallets!

Friday 15 January 2021
by Wulf


I am planning to build some more firewood storage in the garden and I have collected some pallets to use for that: free wood that stands up pretty well to sitting outside. I used pallets for wood storage in Oxford but the depth of a full size pallet isn’t ideal because it is too far to reach to the back and you end up stacking wetter wood in front of the seasoned stuff so, this time round, the plan is to disassemble the pallets, giving me much more freedom in how I design the dimensions of the final store.

So, what you might call ‘depalletising’ — or turning pallets back into a collection of plank — has been my DIY task for the week. Unfortunately, it has also been a pretty wet week, so I’ve spend some time in my shed seeing how far I can get with a reciprocating saw. That works okay but it takes longer than you might think because you have to create a bit of space for the blade to get through the wood to the nails and you also end up with embedded bits of cut-off nail in the planks.

Today I took advantage of dryer weather to finish off the job with a different technique. If you support the wood the nails are hammered into and (using another piece of wood to spread the load) hit the back of the nailed on piece with a hammer, you can generally knock those planks off or at least loosen them enough so that a claw-hammer doesn’t splinter the wood. Not every piece came away cleanly and I also had a quite a few nails that pulled through the plank and then lost their head when pulling, which had to be nailed down. However, I’ve now got a stack of decent lumber and more that just needs some care when reusing it.

Now my pallets are ex-pallets, I now need to finish creating the space where they are going to go (unfortunately that involved moving a couple of compost heaps, so more exercise that I’d like!) and then I can get on with building the wood store.

Thursday 14 January 2021
by Wulf

Food, Skewered

No, not kebabs but this week’s school meals scandal. With many children who routinely get free meals at school now being kept at home, provision has been made to maintain the supply of food. For some, school dinner is the most nutritious meal they can rely on each weekday. The contract went to a supplier with links to the Tories and it turned out that very little of the per capita spend was going on food and what was provided was substandard, as illustrated in a picture that was widely shared earlier in the week.

I was disappointed not to see the media making more of the exchange between Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament. You can watch it online (cued to just after 12 minutes in, when the topic arises). Starmer asks if Johnson would be “… happy with his kids living on that?”. Johnson responds, “… no-one in this house is happy with the disgraceful images that we’ve seen…” and claims that the company in question has been forced to apologise. So far, fifteen all?

Starmer then reads from a current Department of Education guideline, which stipulates what should be in the food packages according to the Government: exactly the paucity that created shocked responses in the original photo. The Prime Minister is demonstrated to be at very least out of touch with his cabinet and unable to get properly briefed. Johnson’s response is aggression and bluster. First he accuses Starmer of hypocrisy (warranting a rebuke from the Speaker of the House). He tries to hold back on personal invective but the rest of his response amounts to little more than ‘well, just remember it was us who started the free school meals scheme’. A decade into Conservative-led government, this is pretty thin; more so when I checked back and determined that the meals seem to have started in 2014, led by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition then in power.

Starmer’s performance demonstrates his years of legal experience: well-briefed and using evidence like a razor to expose hypocrisy. Johnson? Very much the opposite and surely this skewering deserves wider comment?

Wednesday 13 January 2021
by Wulf

Works… with some work

I help with the Toddlers’ group at church and, after a recent online catch up, one of the team emailed me some files with lyrics for songs we are going to use this term. However, it turned out that they were .wps files, an extension I vaguely recall from years ago when I used to have a copy of Microsoft Works (vaguely because it might have been a couple of decades ago – Works stopped being sold in 2009 although it is clearly still working in places!).

I do have a current version of Microsoft Word on my Mac but that didn’t help (would the version on my Windows box have done any better? I didn’t try that avenue). The best Apple could do was open them with TextEdit, which showed a lot of junk at the top and bottom (probably information about page formatting and the like) but did expose a plain text version of the lyrics. I also also opened them in MacVim but the text wasn’t immediately apparent until I copied and pasted from TextEdit and saw that, even via the clipboard, every single letter was prefixed with a ^@ code. That made it very difficult to read but a solution was beginning to suggest itself.

In the end the process was:

  1. Open the file in TextEdit and copy and paste the text into Vim
  2. Run a global search and replace to get rid of the extraneous characters (^@ is entered by holding Ctrl-Shift-2 — plain old @ is Shift-2 on a Mac — not by manually typing the caret symbol): %s/^@//g
  3. Tidying up other special characters – for example, there were some apostrophes, which called for %s/^Y /'/g
  4. Saving the result

Geek skills FTW! I now have the lyrics I need as a set of plain text files which will work anywhere.

Tuesday 12 January 2021
by Wulf

So quiet you can hear…

Recording at church can be challenging. When I’m filming a service we have some warm bodies to soak up some of the natural reverb but we also have the heating system running. Between the hot air blowers and the ceiling mounted fans (driving heat back into the room) that generates an unhelpfully high noise floor. I’d thought some of the audibility issues in the musicians area were due to instruments being too loud in what is, in effect, a fairly small, open-fronted box but, with a lot more recording experience in the space under my belt, I think this is at least exacerbated by that background noise.

Of course, we’re keeping congregations out of the church at the moment; the need to limit potential virus transmission and the rules imposed at the start of the year mean we can’t congregate so we’re back to an online only set up. Not everyone can easily record at home though so I was back in the church this morning to capture the service leader and the preacher. No heating and no fans so it was wonderfully quiet and I think I can live with the reverb.

It is hard to be satisfied though. With the noise floor now pretty low, it means that external noises, like traffic outside and – at the end of the prayers – a passing plane make it far from an ideal studio. I also determined that, since the fans were off, they aren’t the cause of the interference we get on the MP3 recorder hooked into the sound desk. Ah, well. At least it was a half-way decent result and I’m gradually learning more about the acoustics and electronics in the room.