Dyson DC14

With an impending first home on the horizon, the marriage of interests between all things tech/elec and housey has come about. What could be more iconic an item then than a vacuum cleaner, the home owners equivalent of a Jedi knight’s lightsaber. Not content with buying one, I wanted to build my own so-to-speak.

Dyson is quality, at it’s core is the commercial realisation of heavily designed/re-engineered everyday products. The Dyson DC14 is a much loved long standing model, and unlike most companies, Dyson refuse to integrate deprecation features that mean the unit becomes junk in a couple of years. Not only will the original product last for many years (our family vacuum is a DC14, 11 years old and still going strong), the spares market is huge. Unlike a product which has reached the point of ‘tack-on’ improvements, making the item very difficult to work on (common in all arenas: computing, cars, etc.), the Dyson is designed from the ground up. This might sound like an ethereal pointless concept, but it translates into the very real practicality of a machine that fits together like Duplo Lego bricks.

Along with the excellent availability of parts from the internet (Ebay & Amazon) second hand units can be found in abundance ‘he just said they are great, why people selling em cheap?’ They get sold for various reasons, the most common being that people decide they don’t work well any more or they know something is broken, due to the initial high price, the ‘broken’ item still seems to have some worth. Also there’s a sizeable industry of people buying units and turning them around with varying amounts of work. Enterprising souls will hoover up anything and re-sell jay-cloth wiped units and job-lot anything more problematic to more experienced traders.

When buying a second hand unit to repair as per this blog post, look for the following in order:

  1. Good plastics – the overall body isn’t as easy or cheap to replace, so you want a sound unit, this is the bit hiding between the bin and the cable loop – analogous to a spine.
  2. Decide if you want clutched (all floors) or un-clutched (original). The difference being that the brush bar will always rotate, potentially scratching hard floors, the clutched model is slightly harder to work on, but a better unit. If the listing is unclear, look for the control foot knob as shown in orange on the base of the unit.
  3. Preferably find a unit with a good brush bar housing (the bit with Dyson written on it), it’s the more expensive of the easily replaced items.
  4. Look for rusting and signs of workshop use, it’s a stalwart but not a wet/dry or hard debris machine.
  5. Make sure they’ll post it, a tank or two of petrol negates the exercise, most are collection only. That said, if there’s one local to you bonus!
  6. Don’t worry about filters, attachments (a common non-genuine part being a straight crevice tool, doesn’t fit flush to the body), hoses, brushes, electrical cord, switch as they can be bought easily.

The best (cost/condition) unit I found was £50 + £8 courier. Was looking at spending ~£80 for a new basic model from another manufacturer. The seller on eBay listed the item as cleaned/serviced with cleaned filters… Complete bollocks, the bin came with a free inch of dirt, the cyclone had matted hair and fluff one of the brush-bar rollers wasn’t, the whole thing was unloved and filthy. Starting it up, was ok when upright, awful sound and smell when used for carpet cleaning. The eBay purchase can be seen here (until it’s removed).

dc14_dirty_1

dc14_dirty_2

dc14_dirty_3 dc14_dirty_4

So full strip to clean & check everything, knowledge on how to disassemble the less obvious parts can be found on YouTube. T10 and T15 long-handled drivers are required to remove screws set deep within the body (eBay/Amazon few quid each). If removing the brush-bar, please get a Dyson belt change tool, it costs about £5 and you’ll be happy to pay twice that if you try levering off with a screwdriver (this is pretty dangerous). Success the first time round using a bit of string to manoeuvre the belt, and while no blood or tears, I did level-up patience. Picture taken after starting rebuild, the motor is back in housing and base fixed to spine. The Cyclone is reassembled into the bin along with gasket, cyclone plate and lid separate.

dc14_Rebuild

I’ve not gone into much detail, as the videos found on YouTube are great. In addition to basic cleaning, the plastic responds well to light use of wet&dry paper on any heavily scratched areas and rubbing compound (automotive paint prep, think toothpaste++) for persistent marks. As shown in the final pictures the unit is vastly improved.

dc14_clean

Learn from my mistake: Dyson don’t support the idea of opening the clutch to change belts, so they don’t sell clutch belts. If you see belts for sale, they’re main belts for non-clutched units. As it is, a new genuine Dyson clutch with belts already fitted costs £15, not much more than the belts, so while bonus points can be earned (if you have c-clip pliers, ball-bearings, washers, seals and three hands), it’s just not worth the hassle.

Filters as mentioned are readily available and cheap, for £5 a set of pre and post filters are available. Look for a pre-filter, blue one in the top lid, with the yellow plastic housing, because this also has an integral mesh filter. The white pad is the post motor filter it hides in the less accessible lug-clipped housing under the bin.

dc14_rusty_rollbar

The previous owner had left/used the unit in wet conditions, evidenced by a couple of rusted roller pins. The main problem was a rusted spindle and bushes in the brush-bar. Fitted to the unit the brush should roll by the force of your thumb, out of the unit it should freely rotate. As pictured the brush had seized up due to corrosion, fortunately a replacement can be had for £10. The sized bar caused the motor to strain and the clutch to burn out, damaging the belts, if left running for long it would likely have damaged the motor. Though a new motor can be had for around £35, it was nice to avoid the spend. Shown rebuilt with clean carpet post test.

dc14_tested

DC14 + P&P: £58
Tools & spares: £35
Total project cost £93

Could have bought a brand new inferior vacuum complete with 2 year warranty, instead have a tried and tested unit that I fully understand and can repair. Housekeeper rank already at Jedi Knight, and don’t even have a house.

Peugeot 306 Spark Plugs

Due to a feeling of poor performance, skipping a beat and just feeling like it wasn’t firing on all cylinders – actually – thought I’d change the plugs. For some reason it’s one of the things I should have at least looked at, but never bothered with.

At £16 for a set of originals, it’s cheap worthwhile maintenance. The only annoyance is that an extra long spark socket had to be purchased as the two I had from sets were the wrong size, still just a couple of quid extra. Fortunately the HT leads were all in good condition, just a quick clean with a wire brush, some WD-40 and ready to be refitted. In all the job took about 30mins and the car is running much smoother and has more power.

Taking a look at the old plugs is important as it yields useful info about what’s happening in the engine. These plugs, laid out in the order they were removed, show cylinder 3 was suffering from a bad connection to the HT lead. The rusting of the protruding connector likely happened due to water getting behind the HT lead/engine block seal and resultant arcing. Unfortunately the design on the engine block funnels water to cylinder 2 & 3 when the engine is being cleaned. The NGK plugs here are performance, not going by the ‘R’ which might furtively suggest ‘race’ but that there are two electrodes to the side. The standard is one over the top, this alternative configuration can be better for increasing life of the plug by providing more ignition surface. I consider it pointless, as there are other things that’ll kill the spark plugs, and the diagnostic info from checking them is more useful for addressing other issues (oil burning, fuel mixture, etc.).

spark_plugs

Anywhere from £60 to over £100 done at a garage, sorted at home for £16.

Peugeot 306 Air Bag Warning Light

A few weeks ago the airbag light in my trusty 306 decided to stay on after after ignition. Oh no, MOT test due soon!

As of ~2012 the airbag system became a testable item, the internet has plenty of tales of botchers tricking the airbag ECU with resistors over the pre-tensioners or removing the bulb from the dash. This kind of botch job saves you a few quid, but endangers the life of anyone driving your car – and I bet they don’t own up when selling. DVLA likely got wind of this scheme and a couple of years later introduced the clarification that SRS indicators had to be lit when the key is at ignition and go out when the engine is running. This too lead to new fiddling, wire the bulb to the alternator lamp, or connect up a simple timer circuit (chip or capacitor). Again a botch job that’ll see your eyeballs in the foot-well.

Quick web search reveals a common problem with pugs in the mid/late 90’s, pre-tensioner harness (cable running from under the seat to the air bag ECU) connection directly under seat would become faulty, possibly from objects moving under the seat or arses flexing the connectors (the seats are soft and socket/plug assembly is attached to the springs of the seat. The official fix is to cut the connectors and solder the wires. This should be done as the first remedy and is said to sort 80% of cases. Of course I was in the special 20%. Not content with a bodge job and pressed for time, I performed the airbag ECU change along with squib ring, having tried and tested the seat fix.

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Notes on jobs done
Job: Pre-tensioner harness wiring connection fix
Start by parking the car so you can open the driver door fully. Central lock the car, disconnect the battery. Now go away for at least 10mins, make some tea, prep your tools – whatever, just don’t fiddle with an armed airbag system – this includes the seats, pre-tensioners are basically fireworks attached to the side of the seat, they suck the seat belt socket down which tightens the belt holding you in place and also engages the locking mechanism. Additionally the airbag ECU will know the pre-tensioner has deployed and may decide to blow the bag too! The seats must be removed to get access, simple task with a torx driver, four torx screws hold the two rails of each seat to the floor of the car, start up front where the position is really awkward, then the back which is pretty easy. Disconnect the pre-tensioner cable and harness so the seat can be removed (or just snip the cable near the socket/plug to leave the most cable to reconnect. Solder wires (same colours together) when ready to refit.

Job: Rotary Coupling / Clock Spring / Squib Ring replace
Same deal with battery, ensure it’s been disconnected at least 10min. Remove the steering column shroud, for me three screws underside of shroud. From behind the wheel remove the (torx) two screws holding the airbag into the wheel, carefully pull the bag away from the wheel, a cable connector sits just behind the airbag, remove this pulling gently on the plug body. With the wheels straight ahead, put the wheel in lock and mark the relative position of wheel and dashboard to assist refitting. Using a long-armed wrench (the wheel removing one) loosen the nut but leave it attached (to avoid hitting yourself in the face with the wheel) Tap the centre boss of the steering wheel with a hammer and wiggle the wheel from sides (wherever it’s strongest) in short alternating push pull motions until the wheel can be lifted free of the steering shaft. The rotary coupling sits inside a plastic frame that holds the switching levers, first remove the two torx screws holding the light stalk body to the shaft, slide out by an inch or so to clear the auto-cancelling for the direction indicators. The squib ring has two connectors, the one going to the airbag, the other attached to the shaft is terminated with a socket. So in addition to unplugging, the slightly fiddly task of removing the socket is achieved by sliding a very slim object (blade/sheet metal, etc.) between the socket and the plastic mounting body from underneath, this disengages a plastic latch allowing the socket to be slid down and off. Replacement of new unit is the reverse process, ensure the wheel nut is tightened to the torq specified for your car. Haynes manual is pretty useless in this area, showing images of a hot of the production line phase 1 (mines the later phase 1) a confusing difference.

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Job: Airbag ECU replace
Disconnect battery and wait as previously mentioned. This job looks impressive, but is really pretty easy. The airbag ECU is located at the base of the centre console, for me, just underneath the immobiliser. To get to this requires removal of the centre console, see Haynes manual. The airbag ECU is bolted to the floor and easily removed by lifting the black latch on the plug body then removing the orange plug. It’s good practice to reconnect the three other plugs in the area having sprayed with WD40. The brown socket in the picture where the grey bit is the plug, and two orange sockets sitting on spurs just below the photo hidden by a bit of carpet).

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Friendly garage will charge £50 to try the pre-tensioner soldering fix, same again to replace the rotary connector. Though not quoted, wouldn’t be surprised to hear another £50 for replacing the ECU. So in excess of £150 saved by DIY. Parts which I’d have to locate anyway, or pay the premium, came to about £30.

SCD: Reboot 2014

17th December was my last day of SCD, until 2nd February, over the last 35 days I’ve eaten anything and everything.

I hadn’t fallen off the wagon, or gone tobogganing down the slippery slope of carbohydrate happiness. The accepted reality of a month in America, would make eating really difficult and remove the fun of experiencing the diversity in fast-food the primary cuisine.

Unhealthy-Carbohydrates

Returning from travels mid January, I didn’t want to go from the XXXL diet to SCD as this would surely feel like starvation. Picked February to restart, the 1st conveniently being a Saturday – cheat day!

December 74.5Kg
January 81.0Kg

Planned for ~4Kg, 6.5 was unexpected. Can’t blame it all on America, on return to England, I was suffering terribly from jet-lag. The sticky plaster for which, multiple cans of energy drink – some days a litre or more. Unabated through January, consumption sits around the 8L mark. Resultant spike and drain of blood sugar levels caused frequent snacking on carbs. To make matters worse lunch was unplanned, going from Chef Michael’s 30p Soup to ~£5 fish & chips, sandwiches, rolls, etc. hurting both my mid-line and bottom line.

Looking back through the posts, I’m the same weight as a year ago. Interestingly this is pretty much all spare tyre (above the waist), not effecting trouser size, it’s also the most unhealthy place to carry fat. Armed with a deliberate focused plan and the knowledge gained throughout 2013, I should get back to pre-Christmas weight much faster – maybe before spring ends.

Off to a good start, didn’t have much on cheat day, today IF (intermediate fasting) until dinner – Cup of Jo and couple glasses of water. The pain starts tomorrow at work, when my brain holds me to ransom for a can of Red Bull.

Holiday: America 2013/14

Three months planning, not nearly enough, for a multi-part holiday in America.  As I write this post, quite a few things outstanding: itinerary not fixed, haven’t done any packing and watching the weather.

This trip consists of three parts, due to the previous Trek America outing leaving the feeling I’d not made full use of the airfare.  Additionally the trek advertised as New York to Los Angeles, is actually New Jersey to Los Angeles, with no time spent in either location!

  1. New York City – 1 week
  2. Trek America Southerner Winter – 3 weeks
  3. Los Angeles – 3 days
A week in NYC really is the minimum to get a decent experience without being insanely rushed.  Trek America tour covers a few miles, so 21 days will still be fast paced. The trek starts on Christmas day heading to Washington D.C., whilst New Year is seen in at New Orleans.
Planned highlights NYC:
  • Stay mid-town Manhattan, 1 block from Times Square.
  • Explore Central Park
  • Visit Aircraft Carrier Intrepid inc. Space Shuttle Enterprise and Submarine Growler
  • Sopranos Tour – See the sights from the TV show
  • Top of the Rock
  • Ice Skating under the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center
  • Ice Skating on the Wollman rink
  • Lots of Eating!
  • Many other tours and activities for experiencing NYC
Planned highlights LA
  • Rent an american sports/muscle car – Chevrolet Camaro!
  • Visit Battleship IOWA
  • Vist the auto-mobile museum round the corner from the Hacienda (missed last visit)
Yet more items off the bucket list, the rusty bucket with a hole in, yet to be posted.
NY’s recent storms & snow not mirroring our too agreeable +7 Celsius seasonal average is cause for concern.  Looks like I’ll get to land to cold but clear skies, Wednesday is esp. important with a visit to Top of the Rock.
Having pulled an all-nighter and still not ready – next task: intersection list and map traces in my Moleskin City Guide.  Then… when everything is packed, time to thing about Christmas presents, exhausted!  Really should fit in one or two episodes of The Sopranos and just in case I get hi-jacked and need to rely on counter-terrorism skillz – at least one episode of 24!
The fun starts this Wednesday at 1am…

Peugeot 306 Turn Signal Relay Clicking Sound

Within the last month my car started making a frantic clicking sound, for a few seconds after a turn signal was cancelled.  This progressed to occasionally clicking for no apparent reason.  This week it’s developed into an almost constant click sound, double or triple the frequency of a normal turning signal feedback.

Two weeks ago I’d read on the web about contacts and using a bit of air and un/plugging the stalks, tried this but no cigar.  The advice was, either as mentioned or buy a new stalk assembly – internal sealed unit not serviceable…

Well, telling me the black box contains magic and secrets I can’t possibly fiddle with, it’s an open invitation to pull it apart and level-up my skills.

To anyone looking to do likewise (the reason I post this), be assured most of the steps are stupidly easy.  First up – break something it’s your fault, die by doing something stupid or even clever – your fault not mine.  The starting point for any fiddling/hacking in unknown territory, is to reconcile yourself to the idea you might need to buy a replacement; And that your car might not be roadworthy (no indicators!) until you make good a botched fix.  ‘Should I try this?’  If you’ve got basic car and electronics smarts, you shouldn’t have any problems with this job.

No need to disconnect the battery, but you are fiddling under the steering column shroud, so there is the danger of setting off an airbag, just don’t go yanking or shorting anything!

Ok, so if you want to break out the Haynes manual, it’ll guide you through the process of using a coin to open the cockpit fuse cover, then unscrewing the shroud from the underneath the steering column, followed by lifting the top shroud off.  Now you can put the manual away, it’s not much use.

Peugeot spoil us with ISO sockets and plugs attached to a yoke (frame thingy) around the steering column, it’s really simple to press the side button on the socket and lift the plug free, they are keyed – meaning it’s impossible to re-connect the wrong plug or the wrong orientation.  The turn stalk body has two T10 screws (torx/star bit) holding it in place, remove these and slide the stalk left off the mount, these internal rails in the body make it super easy to refit later.

At this point you can stop reading and refit an eBay/breakers yard replacement in the same way.  Hopefully you’re up for discovering the elves that sit inside the box, waiting for you to signal & phoning the elves in the signal bulbs to turn the light on and off.

The body of the indicator has 6 plastic lugs for a snap-fit assembly, opening is always awkward with these.  Proceed carefully, but some grr is required or you’ll just mash and stress the plastic.  Place a tiny flat-head screwdriver into the clip recess to depress the thick part of the latch, with strong hands just prize the lid off (else use a 2nd flat blade under the lid rim to lever it out).  As the lid is removed be careful not to lose the bit of plastic suspended on posts at the back of the unit by springs, this is the switch mechanism for automatic cancelling of the signal by returning the steering wheel.

The stalk and body can now be separated.  The stalk controls a myriad of functions and so is quite complex in design.  The stalk consists of four collections of switches:

  1. Signalling is handled by the tip of the stalk moving from a central point in either direction where contracts are made within a trough by a rocking-point assembly.  This is the bit we are interested in.
  2. Sidelights/Headlamps(partial/full beam) controlled by a radial switch causing a gear to move a flat switch between several positions (the bit closest the stalk casing), I found assembly was easiest with the switch for headlights dimmed (middle position).
  3. Flash main beam, the stalk causes a small rod to push a button (about middle of the body).
  4. The horn activated by a push button on the end of the stalk, makes a connection in the body, between #2 and #3 using a thin strip of wire functioning as both a spring and connection

Nothing lasts forever, with repeated use, the plastic return position had gradually worn away.  This creates a slightly pronounced dip causing the edges of the rails to be grated by the tip of the turn arm.  Over time these bits of shaved metal suspended in grease built up and compacted enough to form a much weaker electrical contact in the rest position.  Using carburetor cleaner (great for removing everything, wear goggles…) and a rag, clean the track.  Wipe up any gunk and give the unit a moment to evaporate any left over highly flammable cleaner.

Reassembly is straightforward, angle the pivot point of the signal arm (the movement that would control the main beam flash) so the ball part of the arm can be slid into place and the gear teeth engage the switch.  Next press the horn button, if the assembly is correct the strip will contact a metal post (like a Morse key).  The tip should slide easily into position, refit the lid by holding the external part of the arm such that is forces the two parts together, if you didn’t mangle the lid too badly it should click into place.  Return to the instructions of removal for reassembly, then test with the car stationary.

This was another successful fix, but still no elves or magic :( oh well, maybe next time.  2nd hand signal stalk (make sure you find the right one) can be acquired for about £20, I’d expect 30min labor charge at a garage, so ~£70 saved, ~£150 @ Peugeot with OEM part.

Korfball

Yet another tick for the bucket-list, which I’ve yet to publish!  On a night out, a friend introduced her Korfball friends, a group of socialites and miscreants, fit-bods and the more casual athletic form.  Pretty much my age, having a good time, players of an obscure sport that sounded either foreign or public school.

Although it’s definitely outside my comfort zone, the appeal of accomplishing several goals in one painful dive into the deep-end was too much to resist.   It’s on my bucket-list, is a fitness activity, potential to make new friends and learn something completely different.

So when the offer to try it out came up, I was ready to kneel down and place head on chopping block.  “Sure I’ll give it a go” I heard myself say, followed up with the confident debonair internal voice reassuring me it fitted perfectly with my plans and it would be a great experience.  I risk sounding mental divulging this, as it’s such a surprise.  Usually I’ll be saying “Hm, ha, maybe another time” whilst the internal dialog runs ‘yeah right mate, your joking, no way in hell you can do that’.

This Thursday I had my first practice session, no idea what to expect I take along an old pair of cotton outdoor shorts, cotton vest and trainers (replete with dust in footwell).  Entering the training room in newbie uniform, I’m filled with excitement that the first task is to run… run around the hall with the added bonus that the person at the back is cycled around to the front frequently, ensuring it’s not possible to be suffering and lagging behind.  Fortunately this wasn’t too big an ask of 75Kg me, 91Kg tub ‘o lard me wouldn’t have completed a lap.

The training session didn’t impress, I really feel that basic skills have to be built up. With any situation the problem needs to be modeled and broken down, each part perfected and pieced together for appreciation / application.  It did however offer a pretty good introduction to the style of the game.  The challenges are numerous and I doubt participation in any sport gives much of benefit aside fitness for Korfball.  The ball is smaller & lighter than a basketball, the goal lacks a backboard forcing a precise high-arc shot.  The initial routine consisted of footwork exercise of running in, catching the ball and making a shot, simply too much to take in.  Add in a line-dancing style demonstration of a pivoting move and I was ready to scream/cry/break-down, fortunately went with comedy bemusement and struggled on.  The session ended with a practice game, I’d just about picked up enough and the group is both friendly and helpful so it wasn’t too painful an experience.  Just had to contend with a few new rules, most interesting were:

  • Reverse court every two? goals
  • Reverse position/activity between defense/attack as above
  • Mark/escape a player of the same sex
  • Pass to a player of the opposite sex

The last two rules get more interesting with gender realignment due to available players “No, I’m a girl” from a 6ft tall guy with beard… overload!  Fortunately I was able to score during the game, unfortunately I was too excited and completely missed the opportunity for cool and relaxed, springing into the air with satisfaction appropriate to Sebastian Vettel after winning a F1 race.

Next time I’ll be wearing wicking clothing and have a water bottle, and remember that there is no expectation of new players other than to join in as best they can.

This is my local group http://www.tauntonsoul.co.uk/index.php

Need lullabies, play Lullabies to Paralyze

Trying to get back, no, trying to start blogging on a consistent basis. But everything has to have a beginning, and although I’m overflowing with ideas that need a place, the task is insurmountable. So I’ll get into the rhythm with something short.

I write this whilst coming down with Bonobo, seriously Spotify should have a night time lockout feature for my electronic, dub, bass playlists. 2AM and bouncing to beats feels great, but tomorrow… blurgh

Casually writing, without the need to focus on what I need for the future, what might sound interesting if anyone stumbles upon the post, is refreshing and easy! It also allows me to shift focus to the music, instead of catching bits between pauses. I love Black Sands but have only just identified the clarinet. This surprised me as I used to p̶l̶a̶y̶ torture myself and anyone in earshot! The clarinet isn’t as sexy as the sax, more a refined somber almost stuck-up tonality, to my ear it’s a lovely sound but feels like it trips over itself awkwardly the restricted throat resulting in an almost whiny voice.

Oh no, Teardrop – Massive Attack, oodles of bass coming through my cans and I’m itching to turn up and bask in the aural sunshine of the bass line…

Okay, this isn’t working, must stop and sort out a playlist for pre-bed; Otherwise the next track will be Insomnia – Faithless!

Trek America Westerner 2

The trek was undertaken in June of 2012.  Due in part to a desire to ignore that it had been and gone, I wasn’t ready to finalise the experience by writing this.

Adventure trek holiday, circular trip: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego, finishing after 14 days in LA. http://www.trekamerica.co.uk/tours/w2.html

This was my first holiday and as a single traveller I wanted something that didn’t require too much organizing and gave the safety net of being part of a group.  For this Trek America fits the bill perfectly, with a few clicks you can find and book yourself a seat on any of a wide variety of trips.  The offerings aren’t expensive, a major expense is air travel (though pretty reasonable in its own right), thus the more time you can spend at the destination the better.

Rough guide to costs, as mileage varies all figures rounded appropriately.

  • £1,000 14 day trek joining fee
  • £600 Airfare
  • £400 items bought for the trip, and related misc costs
  • £1,000 Hotels, groups food, meals out, snacks, activities (helicopter ride, Vegas show, etc.), souvenirs.

At around £3k this isn’t an especially cheap holiday, around £200 per day.  This is a comfortable spend without worrying too much about the money, it could be accomplished on a tighter budget at around £2,250 though this would mean having and making do with pretty much everything (I already had a significant amount of kit), and missing out on most of the optional activities.

One of the highlights of the trek is the Grand Canyon, the photo above is from a visit to view the sunset.  The lowering sun accentuates the difference in colours between the lower and upper strata’s, this is the best point to take pictures, when the sun does slip over the horizon the canyon is universally dark.

The photo above is taken from within a helicopter, the use of a circular polarizing filter allows for usable photos that ignore the otherwise large amount of reflected light from the window.  The glass was curved and the helicopter moving around, requiring some quick adjustments and a few compromises.  The flight was with Maverick Helicopters, a professional outfit that operates a friendly and informative tour of the canyon, the experience is very interesting and feels like only a few minutes but was still good value at $220.

We started in the valley, and following the path aptly named ‘Four Mile Trail’, well almost, it’s actually closer to 5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Mile_Trail  We did this in a few hours as a group, you only really appreciate it when looking down, and yes we walked up!  With 1km climb this is rated as 7/10 difficulty.  Before we started the trail, the leader failed to check if people had enough/any water, fortunately when I pressed the point everyone seemed to be carrying at least some.  Group clothing varied, casual to moderately unsuitable.  Fortunately these concerns were reduced by only carrying small day packs for essential gear and the containment of the trail.  Our leader asking for frequent position updates (not with us), when we had little reference that he could correlate (nobody knew either the length of the trail or the height gain), didn’t inspire confidence, and was frankly too amateur for a group leader.  However it’s a man-made path, which requires little to no navigation skill, this was highlight of the tour from a ‘big scenery’ perspective.  I’ve got plenty of fantastic photos, but non of them does is justice.

Vegas as with pretty much everywhere we visited, was spacious, thoughtfully laid out and clean.  It would have been a real challenge to find dog muck, puke or litter.  Vegas is extremely touristy it has something for everyone.  The day is an extremely dry heat, best for very slow walking and lots of indoor activities.  The nights were refreshingly cool, suitable for pool parties, clubbing or taking in a show.  Tickets for shows are readily available, and highly discounted when bought a few hours before a show.  I was fortunate to watch Fantasy at Luxor, a tasteful topless show at a particularly nice hotel for a mere $55.  Another great activity in Vegas was ‘The Gun Store’ an indoor range where you can walk in and fire handguns, rifles and machine guns.  I got to play with a desert eagle, mp5 and sniper rifle; chosen because these are the items I use a lot in computer games.  The .50 desert eagle has a really powerful recoil on a scale I wasn’t prepared for, awesome fun!  Pleased my groupings were good (except the mp5 on full auto).

One of the less stand activities was Keough ditch hot springs, off the beaten path we (finally) found a quiet oasis of hot puddly goodness to a sound track of high voltage power lines.  In England, that’s a quiet fizzle, but in America everything is bigger and better (they should have gone with Tesla) – sounds like a bug zapper on turbo.  Like everywhere in California, the area was unspoilt by trash, keeping it special for your exploration.

Reading this post back, it’s clear I’ve only mentioned a few of the highlights of the 14 day trek, there really would be too much to write about.  For the faults, the trek was amazing and an experience I’d love to repeat.  The group dynamic worked well and was mostly hassle free, it’s a great way to meet like minded people and my only regret is that I’d failed to convert more of them to long term friends.  Everywhere I visited was very clean, free of crime and not even intimidating.  The weather was fantastic and the people friendly.  Before the trip I was agonising over tipping, but it’s really quite simple and, the quality of service exceeds our own begrudging politeness.  Even though it was two weeks, too many places were visited and so a massive amount of time was spent driving.  As a previous governor of California said – I’ll be back.

Stamp Collecting – Pre-soak Sorting

Attempting to check each stamp 1 by 1 would take an incredibly long time, it’s highly inefficient and quite difficult to focus on many rules at once. But pattern matching and repetition of a few rules can be processed reasonably quickly. With differing results it’s clear that a process is required. Several stamps are held at a time, splitting the primary assessment between sight and touch makes it far easier to complete without overlap (rubbing head & patting tummy). The primary goal assessment is completed very quickly, the 2nd and third goals are then complimentary and with a calm clear mind the task is completed with reasonable speed (I’ve not actually timed it). The process works by making the question easier to answer and reducing fatigue from pushing the brain to failure by constantly changing questions and possible answers. I’m observant of detail anyway, but still find significant improvements in the handling time the more relaxed I am.

Primary Goal

  1. Paper colour separate all coloured papers, very pale blue/yellow are fine, as is natural colour of cardboard but otherwise not.
    They will be processed similarly but avoids risk of damaging other stamps, esp. metallic and red paper. Beware that that the inside of an envelope is often not coloured, so don’t assume from one side that the stamp living on the other will be mounted to plain paper, esp. red.
  2. Padded envelope plastic backing requires longer soaking and size likely to weigh down other stamps.
  3. Plastic mounted on plastic, a stamp can often be removed by gently stressing and peeling back the plastic at an acute angle.

Secondary Goal

  1. Suspected uncancelled if unsure place in this pile, as it’s far easier to identify cancelled stamps with evidence from the surrounding paper.
  2. Border/Gutter stamps with border attached (requires more care to soak).
  3. Multiple stamps joined by perforation (requires more care to soak).

Tertiary Goal

  1. Stamps obviously not mounted (such as the glue having dried out and fallen away from the paper).
  2. Damaged stamps (separate but don’t assess, torn, stained, heavy scratching, angry Biro cancellation).

Results of 1st pass

Top-right clockwise: thick backing, waste paper, damaged, uncancelled, normal handling ready for soaking, special interest (items to check immediately, postmarks, etc.), coloured paper.

Try really hard to focus on the goal of the sort and not be overly distracted. Discipline will lead to quicker completion, accurate filtering and allows for important distractions.

Uncancelled stamps are stamps that have been applied ready for postage, but have either been salvaged before the service is used or after, when the stamp is not cancelled. Estimate £30 of uncancelled stamps. Note that identification & collection of uncancelled stamps is a purely a hobby activity, pricing these stamps at current values is an aspect of the collection. Attempting to rip-off Royal Mail by using fraudulently acquired postage stamps is illegal

Uncancelled Stamps