Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gerrie Knetemann Classic

Still catching up on blog posts, I've now settled in with a block of stilton, crackers and a pot of honey. Mmm.... not the classic combination of stilton, digestive biscuits and a glass of port but recently I've developed a real taste for honey with cheese. I guess most people know that honey works well with goat's cheese. However, for me a real revelation was tasting a nice mature pecorino with honey blended with truffle oil at my favourite local, Italian wine bar, Wijnbar Divino.

Anyway, I digress. This post is about cycling (a little). So some friends and I decided to enter a team into the Gerrie Knetemann Classic this year. A nice 75km tour around the green heart of Holland. Naturally this meant I needed a new race bike and all the accoutrements, yay :)

So after a bit of research and shopping around I organise a test ride on a Stevens Aspin way out on the other side of the water behind centraal station. Believe it or not, this is the first time I've taken a ferry over the Ij behind the train station (I've lived in Amsterdam for 8 years now!).

And look what's docked at the ferry terminal on the other side!
An old Russian submarine... cool! I think it's been there a while too. It's been tagged by a local artist :)
Underwater art?
Anyway, even though it's raining and it takes some convincing to get the shop to actually let me go out on the bike I make the purchase and get some new cycling gear so i look the part. Just have to pick up the bike the next day from the Haarlemmerstraat shop (couldn't take it right away as I was on my city bike - but i can walk to their other shop).

A little excited, I head up the next morning on foot and see the cutest thing in a shop window on the way.
Awwww :)
So sweet, a cat curled up, asleep on top of a big, fluffy teddy bear... in a shop window!! It's another gloomy, rainy day but it's hard not to smile at the world sometimes. I snapped a few photos for good measure and headed on to the bike shop.

All's good and I have the first proper go on my new ride on the 20km commute to the office. Definitely grinning now. For the rest of the week my commutes constitute training for race day.

I'd love to say that it went perfectly but the route was confusingly marked in some places and due to some wildly differing paces our team got a bit split up. A couple of us, thus, ended up taking a couple of wrong turns. At one point following the 100km course for a few kilometres. At the end we'd cycled 80km of a 75km race, oops!
Just about to start :)
Next up a great trip to the UK...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Catching up! Food fest and an important find on a treasure hunt.

Been a while since I posted anything here so figured it was time I got my finger out. It's been a few months of parties, sporting activities and general out-and-about-ness. I'd love to give a full rundown but I think its best to stick to the stuff that's safe for public consumption ;)

So for this post lets just cover Saturday September 4th. The day of the Haarlemmerstraat Food Festival and the Amsterdam Meetin group treasure hunt. A fine sunny day, I enjoyed a few tasty treats at the food festival in the morning. Some gourmet pizza, some tasty noodles from a Tibetan restaurant's stall and to top off my lunch a nice, light Pina Colada served in a fresh coconut.
Mmm, tasty!
So i'm walking home with my cocktail when I run into a colleague out with his kids - seriously I'm not usually wandering around amsterdam carrying cocktails with umbrellas and I'm sure this can't help with my reputation in the office!

The afternoon was fun too, catching up with amsterdam meetin group for a treasure hunt. Good folks and we came second in the final results - winning me a t-shirt. But for me a highlight was coming across this hotel entrance.
A sensible precaution.
Back in February, I was skiing with friends in Switzerland and staying in a very nice hotel between Gstaad and Saanen, the Alpine Lodge. We had a great stay with great food and wine (most of which we brought with us - but the hotel's cellar was also very good) and the half in-door, half out-door pool was a great way to relax after a day on the slopes. Less of a highlight though was when I walked into a glass partition in their games room, cutting my eyebrow resulting in some profuse bleeding and a quickly developing black eye. I was concerned that I might need to go to the hospital for stitches and headed for reception to seek a second opinion and a first aid kit. On explaining what had happened the first thing I was asked was, "Is the window damaged?"... Huh? No it wasn't! Anyway I shall send this picture to them with a note regarding correct health and safety procedures ;)

By the way I have a friend who works at Hotel V and by all accounts it's a very cool place!

So, next up is the Gerrie Knetemann Classic cycle race (ok, more of a tour than a race).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

VCR Goldmines!

Ok, so I'm at home sick with some lurgy I picked up in London and may not be thinking all that clearly but I wanted to get started on my next electronics project. At the moment the plan is to build a "most useless machine".

As far as possible I'd like to use recovered parts though. Luckily I'm an accomplished hoarder - I even have difficulty throwing away packaging in case it might be useful.

Now, I've read that old VCRs contain a lot of interesting stuff - in particular motors - and what do you know, I have at least 2 sitting around unused upstairs (who uses VCRs these days? I don't even use DVDs anymore and BlueRay... Pah!).

So here are the little organ donors.
Lookin' Sharp, eh ;)
Don't worry, it's just a routine procedure...
And in case anyone's interested, you might be able to make out model numbers in these pics.

First up is the Panasonic so out comes the screwdriver...
Oh la la, naked!
And there's a tape in it - probably just porn!
Now things are looking interesting - this spinning drum both
 reads and writes magnetic tape - magic!
Ok, so I run into a slight hitch here as something is broken and when I try powering up and ejecting the tape nothing happens. I'll figure that out later but for now I can turn my attention to the Sharp...
More brazen nudity!
I have the Power! (supply)
Skipping forward a bit - how's that for a nice pile of... erm... useful things?
Well, that was pretty easy and i now have all sorts of potential project parts: motors; gears; pulleys; modulators and demodulators; power supply; magnetic read/write thingy... Awesome!

Back to the panasonic then...
Probably the most interesting pieces all come out as 1 unit - will want
 to take a closer look at this before ripping it apart :)
Seems the Panasonic is built in a much more modular fashion and with many fewer screws. In fact, things seem to have been snapped together like a big interlocking puzzle. This makes it a little tougher to dismantle without applying a modicum of force resulting in some small pieces of broken plastic - nothing to be concerned about though.
Hmm, main board doesn't seem to be held in with screws...
... careful and strategic application of brute force does the job!
Nice, another interesting looking power supply :)
So, I've got 2 interesting piles of parts now and I've already had a go at applying power to the Panasonic's eject mechanism - wondering if it can form a part of my "most useless machine" - and the motor still works. So the previously encountered eject issue will likely be inconsequential :)

That's it for now, further updates to follow I'm sure. In the meantime... why are you reading this! Seriously if you got this far we need to talk - I think you may have issues ;)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Polo, canal concerts and a little shopping fun

It's been a busy weekend for me. Sail 2010 was in town but i didn't really see much of that. I saw a few ships when travelling in and out of town - I'm just not sure it's very exciting unless you get to have a go with them. Plus it's very busy and I'm not a big fan of crowds!

So what I actually did on Saturday was book myself in for a polo clinic in Wassennaar. Now, I can't claim to be the greatest horseman in the world. In fact I only started learning to ride last August and hadn't been on a horse since December. Plus all my experience so far has been in an arena, learning dressage. I've decided dressage is quite boring!

That said, I'm not averse to a little danger. I like to ride my bike to work in all weathers - even in blizzards and on snow and ice. One of the reasons I haven't been on a horse this year till now is that I broke my collar bone learning to ski earlier this year - but that's cool now as they put me back together with titanium :)

So when friends suggested that polo possibly wasn't the safest thing for an accident prone chap to do, that really just made me grin and want to do it more.

My main worry was that they would take one look at me and realise what kind of horseman I was and not let me near any of the ponies! However, it did say on the website that no previous riding experience was required (this made me suspicious that we would just be spending 2 hours on a wooden horse but the course summary suggested not).

So it turns out that the polo club is a lot more relaxed than the manege I go to for dressage lessons. An amusing indication was when we were told that it wasn't necessary to have special insurance to play polo as the polo association in the Netherlands had resisted having polo classified as a sport!

Anyway things start out with a quick presentation about polo. Karin the club manager gave this (and the rest of the clinic) but from some slides prepared by someone else - I'm not sure she'd seen them before to be honest. The first few were skipped through disinterestedly and can be summarized thusly - polo is posh, you need lots of horses and sometimes elephants, lots of champagne gets drunk at polo matches and polo is posh (I kinda knew this - but it still looks fun so I don't care)

Next were some slides about the 3 or 4 clubs in the Netherlands and the 3 or 4 major polo events (I actually went to the Amsterdam Polo Trophy last year in the Bos - it's free and quite fun and yes a lot of champagne was drunk). 
Amsterdam Polo Trophy, 2009
Then there were some slides about horses and rules and stuff - naturally this went in one ear and out the other as by this point I just wanted to start hitting balls with mallets!

We start out with little tiny mallets practicing stood on the ground - Karin has to remind me that it's not golf and that the ball will be to the side of me when I'm sat on a horse. Still this isn't so tough and we're soon smashing oddly shaped balls all over the place (polo balls are not exactly perfect spheres, they seem to have flattened sides which I don't think can only be explained by having been hit around - i was going to ask about this but forgot). Of course then we have to go wander around to collect the balls as next we will try the same thing with full size mallets while standing on plastic patio chairs!

We practice a few different shots. The mallet is always held in the right hand so there are basically 4 standard strokes - forehand on the right side (goes forward), backhand on the right side (goes backward), forehand on the left side (involves leaning over to the other side and hitting backward) and the backhand on the left side (again leaning around and this time hitting forward). The bigger mallets are much heavier! It quickly becomes apparent that you need to control the momentum - again this is a little like golf and it's necessary to let the mallet follow through in a natural arc as trying to stop it is pretty tough on the old arm. You see experienced players actually swing the mallet through in full circles after making hits to release the energy. So after some practice on these shot types it's time to grab some ponies :)

There are 5 of us there for the clinic but unfortunately only 3 ponies available so we'll have to take turns practicing while mounted. Karin asks who wants to be first and as is natural when volunteers are asked for, no one wants to stick there hand up... well except me :) So when it's noticed that 2 others also have their hard hats on already we have our first 3 volunteers and it's off to the stables.
Phew, I haven't forgotten everything and the pony I get is great (pictured above). She actually listens to me and is not the slightest bit twitchy - I feel bad that I can't remember her name but hey, I'm a guy ;)

Polo ponies are pretty cool, you have to give big signals as they're used to having their riders moving around a lot on top of them. They also get confused if you hold the reins with 2 hands so you have to stick to just the left hand. But once you get going they are very responsive, changing direction and speed very quickly (starting to sound like an auto review!) :)

I'd love to say that I was charging around smashing balls all over the place but the reality is I was mostly walking and trying to line up my shots. There was some trotting and even a little cantering but i'm not sure I actually made contact with the ball except while walking. I Don't have any pictures of myself on the horse so this blurry picture of one of my fellow students will have to do (I really have to work on my photography skills!).
I think she missed :o
This is great fun and i'm soon tired and hand my pony over to someone else to have a go but after a short while I get to have another go myself on a different pony (actually the one pictured above again). Don't remember the name of this one either (it was probably something dutch sounding) but she seems to be a lot more highly strung than the first. She definitely won't stay still as I mount her and once on I obviously pulled a little tightly on the reins as she walks backward into one of the plastic patio chairs. At first I'm not sure what's going on as she's jumping around and feels like she's about to rear up (apparently it looked that way from the ground too). I feel really bad when I realise she has a leg stuck in a chair and is trying to shake it off, not really sure what i can do to help so I just loosen the reins and make sure I don't fall off. Thankfully she clears the chair eventually and doesn't appear to be injured! We have a gentle walk and trot round and I hit very little as the legs and arms are now tired (you have to stand up in the stirrups and lean over to hit the ball which is both tricky and quite hard work after a while).

So that was my introduction to polo and I enjoyed it a great deal - I just wish it wasn't so pricey. The 2 hour clinic (which actually lasted a little longer I think) was €150 which I think is roughly 3 times the price of dressage lessons but then maybe 3 times the fun too :)

What else then. Well after such a nice afternoon there was a pleasant evening back in Amsterdam. As well as Sail 2010 the Grachtenfestival has been going on all week culminating in a concert on the Prinsengracht outside the Pullitzer hotel. Debussey, some opera and a pianist playing on a temporary stage floating in the canal surrounded by Amsterdammers in their boats and many others crowded on the bridges and the sides of the canal.
There's a canal under there somewhere
As I mentioned earlier, I'm not a big fan of crowds but it's nice to watch for an hour or so before my friend and I nip down the road for a few glasses of wine at Vyne. I enjoyed some very nice Puilly Fume and some Meersault while still able to hear most of the concert in the background. Life is good and it turns into a late night after another friend joins us :)

Monday now (Sunday was a blow out as I developed a chest infection that I think I caught visiting the London office Thursday and Friday) and I needed to visit the supermarket (still suffering and home from work). So remembering my shopping list fun here's what I dropped off - paying homage to the double rainbow meme.
Albert Heijn, Elandsgracht, 23rd August 2010, 1500

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bristlebots - They Live!!

I've been having more fun today. After the previous failure I've been determined to get my bristlebots up and running. So I bought a new power supply to help me establish whether the pager motors were working or not.
Magic electric box with lights and numbers!!
Turns out the motors are fine and drawing 0.05A at 3V - perfect! So why don't they work in my bots?? After a little more testing I realise that when I apply power to the copper leads I soldered on I get nothing, hmm...

Admittedly I'm not an experienced solderer(?) but really what could I have done wrong. So I test the copper wire itself. Huh, did I miss the memo that copper no longer conducts electricity? Because the wire I have doesn't! More research is needed and it turns out that when you buy copper wire it is coated with non-conductive enamel (argh!! something to do with using it to coil round stuff so it doesn't short I think - but seriously, this is annoying). So out comes the craft knife to scrape all the enamel off.
Special, non-conducting copper - WTF!
After treatment of the wire I retest with batteries and motors and... woohoo, the motors spin up!! Now to put the bots back together.
New wires and ready for batteries...
So now I have working bristlebots... sort of. At first they're not very stable and when they do stay upright they tend to just spin around in circles. The stability issues can probably be attributed to the length of the toothbrush bristles and all the weight on top so out come the scissors. Trimming toothbrush bristles is not as easy as you might think when you want to keep the bristly surface flat - maybe I should have used a smaller pair of scissors, like nail scissors perhaps. Anyway trimming helps a lot so here's a before and after video of the results - although, obviously there's still a lot of room for improvement :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mmm, date & walnut loaf...

Ok, so I like to make cake sometimes - this is because I also like to eat cake!

Recently, I was invited to a party at a friend's home (and a very nice party too with good folks, good food and good beverages) and as everyone knows you can't turn up to these things empty handed. Of course beer and/or wine were options and I actually did take a few choice beers along (although it may have turned out that they were more to my personal taste as the dutch guys are quite happy with their Heineken staple rather than some hoppy American golden ale) but there was no way i would be feeding everyone there with beer and I knew there would be lots floating around anyway.

So, of course, the natural thing to do is bake a cake :)
Mmmm, barely lasted long enough to get a photo :)
And here's one of my favourites. Date and walnut loaf as per a recipe I got my mother to dictate to me over the phone. At the time I thought this was a recipe mum used to make when i was a kid. Turns out that it wasn't but it's great anyway and enough people have now asked me for the recipe to warrant my posting it here.

Here's what you need.

  • 8 oz chopped dates
  • 4 oz caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 oz margarine (cut into small cubes)
  • 6 fluid oz boiling water
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 oz chopped walnuts
  • 8 oz self raising flour
And here's what you do.
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Farenheit
  2. Grease a 2 lb loaf tin and line the bottom with baking paper
  3. Add the dates, sugar, salt, bicarbonate of soda and margarine to a large mixing bowl
  4. Boil the water and pour over the mixture
  5. Mix well to melt the margarine
  6. Allow mixture to cool
  7. Add the egg, walnuts and flour to the mixture
  8. Mix to a smooth batter (no need to use a mixer, a few turns with a spatula will do the job very quickly)
  9. Pour into the greased and lined tin
  10. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 1 1/4 hours until firm
  11. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes
Once turned out and cooled, store in an airtight container and over time it will get more moist and delicious (although, admittedly, it doesn't last more than a few days with me). I like to eat mine in slices spread with butter :)


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stupid shopping game!

Ok not really a game - just stupid. In fact not sure how long I will keep this one up - seemed like a much better idea when I first thought of it, but here goes.

I'm reading the weekly B3ta newsletter and come across this link


Hmm, seemed like an odd thing to do. Pick up discarded shopping lists post them online and comment on them. But also quite amusing :)

And it gave me an idea. From now on whenever I go shopping i will deliberately leave my shopping lists in the basket when I drop it off. But it won't be a real shopping list... I shall add items to it that when read may cause confusion and with any luck chuckles. Basically I want to mess with people like the guy posting found shopping lists. I have also considered making socio-political statements or even making scary lists. I'm still toying with the idea of dropping off a bomb makers shopping list - but honestly, I don't want scary government types knocking on my door.

So first list then. Admittedly this was a rush job as I just got back from the pub and had 15 minutes to get to the supermarket but here it is.
Albert Heijn, Westermarkt; August 4th 2010, 10pm
Then today I dropped off another. This time inspired by the following graphic showing what BP could have bought with all the money they lost due to their recent oil leak issue.

Albert Heijn, Elandsgracht; August 7th 2010, 12:30pm
Well, let's see where this goes...

Tiny (definitely not epic) fail

So i promised some details on my electronics projects and here it is - This is going to be a short one though as it is quite annoying.

I wanted to make some bristle bots - tremendously simple little things with only about 4 components, could hardly call it electronics really. Here's the original instructional video (skip towards the end to see the bot in action).

So off i go to buy toothbrushes, double sided foam tape, copper wire and batteries. I carefully extract 2 pager motors from old phones (really, i did it carefully and the phones went back together again, honest) and grab my soldering iron. Put everything together and excitedly connect the battery...


No fun at all!!

I still don't know why they don't work. I grabbed my multimeter and everything seems ok (although I admit i don't really know what i'm doing with a multimeter).

Anyway I now have 2 dead bristlebots but I am determined to bring life to them!! Until then here's a picture.
Awww, how cute - and boy and girl bots too. Shame they're DEAD!!
To be continued...

Duct tape suit

A friend of mine had an "Anything But Clothes" party recently to celebrate a birthday and her moving on from Amsterdam to pastures new (I'd like to say right now; good luck to her and thanks for a great party!). This posed a problem for me as fancy dress has not exactly been my thing up to now, but through age, or what have you, I am becoming more open minded about these things. Maybe the turning point was wearing lederhosen at last year's Oktoberfest in Munich (an outfit that made a reprise at this year's Carnivale).

Anyway, I had to think of something to wear. Togas and bin bag outfits were presented as options but really this seemed hardly enough effort for such an occasion and I really wanted to come up with something more challenging and/or original.

Some conversations with friends later it was mentioned that duct tape suits were all the rage at american prom nights these days (still original though here in the Netherlands I think).
This is not me or my suit by the way!!
Fantastic idea, not only can i make an awesome costume but I get to play with duct tape (and as it turns out, lumber and powertools too)!

Now, it seems that multi coloured duct tape is not so easy to get hold of here in the Netherlands, so whatever I made would be limited to black and silver. After some deliberation, and for reasons best not gone into here, the choice was made to go for a stripey prison suit - how hard can that be, it's not as if prison tailoring is up to Saville Row standards :)

So a little research later (very little as it turns out) I come across this guide: http://www.ehow.com/how_5221730_make-duct-tape-suit.html

Naturally, I ignore the bit about getting measured and acquiring a pattern (I'll deal with those problems later) and skip right to the section on making duct tape fabric.

Yay, powertools! First thing to do is construct a large wooden frame on which to layout the duct tape. So off to the wood shop i go to get some 120cm lengths of 2x4 (or the dutch equivalent there of), a new vice and some screws :)
Constructing a frame
As you can see I lack a workshop so the kitchen table has to do. Unfortunately it turns out that my cheap ass drill has kind of worn out (battery won't hold a charge for long) so after one corner I have to switch to making pilot holes and fixing the screws by hand - hard work, boo!! But soon it's done.
Completed frame
Now I need some duct tape. Like I said only black and silver available to me here so I get 4 rolls of each (turns out I only needed just over 2 of each but it doesn't hurt to have extra duct tape lying around).

So, next up taping strips of the duct tape across the frame. To make the stripes I laid down 2 lines of silver and then 2 lines of black, etc. Importantly, I start overlapping the end of the frame a good inch and each line overlaps the last by about half an inch.
Tape, tape and more tape
Once i have completely covered one side of the frame it's time to flip it over and lay tape across the back to complete the fabric as 2 layers of duct tape. Beware! Sticky sides of duct tape stick together very fast and are not easy to reposition (nigh on impossible in fact). My instructions suggested that i did not need to overlap the frame with this second side - this may be true but ignore that advice. I found it easiest to start high up on the frame and get my tape aligned correctly before getting to the sticky surface - I did however take the advice about cutting my lengths of duct tape for this side before laying them down. This I did by cutting lengths that were just more than the complete width of the frame (thus providing the necessary overrun to start off the sticky stuff).
Double siding!
Eventually i'm finished with this (took a lot longer than building the frame) and I can cut the piece free and start again - I am going to need at least 2 pieces.
Completed piece
2 completed pieces!
At this point I made a major design decision. After doing some measuring against some old jeans and checking weather reports I decided that the best option would be to make short trousers and a short sleeved jacket - I did not want to make a 3rd piece of fabric!! (seriously my back was starting to hurt).

Time to make some shorts and a jacket. As I said earlier, I eschewed the option of getting measured properly and getting a real pattern. Instead I grabbed an old pair of shorts, folded one piece of fabric into 4 and cut out the front and back pieces for my prison shorts.
Makeshift pattern
Cut out bits of shorts (don't let the perspective fool you, they are identical)
Now to stick the shorts together using what else but duct tape - I used the black duct tape for all the sticking together and so ended up using quite a bit more of the black by the time I'd finished.
Yay, shorts - but how do I get in them?
I need a fly for my shorts so I can get in and out of them! Luckily I also bought some sticky backed velcro when I was shopping for hardware :) So out come the scissors to make a fly et voila...
Velcro for the win!
You may also note that I stuck on an extra belt type bit of duct tape fabric with more velcro to keep the shorts on tighter (this probably has a name in tailoring circles but i don't know what it is).

Now for the jacket. A t-shirt provided the template for this (you see no measuring required when you use your own clothes as templates). Again the second piece of fabric was folded in 4 and back and front sections were cut out without sleeves.
Back and front jacket sections
More black duct tape to stick these together.
Not quite right :s

Again we need a way to get into this thing - and that head hole looks way too small! Out come the scissors and velcro again. Another piece of fabric is stuck on to provide something to overlap the velcro.
Ooh, starting to look like a jacket
Now the sleeves, again the t-shirt is used as a pattern and black tape used to stick them on.
Not quite done yet. The neck still needs to be cut out a bit and really pockets would be useful. On top of this I need a prisoner number and of course a matching hat!!
Complete suit but where's the number?!
Oh there it is - sticky label and letter stencil to the rescue
So that's it - ready to party! And what do you know I win first prize too (as well as being called a show off :)

But seriously apart from the work (around 10 or 12 hours altogether) there is suffering involved - duct tape is not breathable!

And here's a bonus photo from the night...
In action via blackberry
Now, as I write this the Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade is seriously kicking off on the canal outside so I think I may just have to go and bear witness to some other folk's insanity :)

Happy gay day!

(no i'm not wearing this again today as some had suggested)