Monday, 26 September 2011


For the 'Ticket of Leave' lunch in early October (family celebration of 50 years in Australia) we are trying to create a feast in which the ingredients would have been available to the first ticket-of-leave men back around 1810. In addition to the offerings I had already dreamed up, my brother asked for damper. Now I have tasted damper just once, on a camping trip decades ago, where it was made in a proper camp oven.

I hated it.

Nevertheless, I thought I should honour the request, at least to the extent of giving it a go. Despite it being very easy, I managed to get some things wrong, but as you'll see when we get to the end, it didn't make much difference. Preheat your oven to 200 deg. C (Mistake No 1: I forgot to deduct the 15 deg. C that accounts for a fan forced oven). Take 3 cups of self-raising flour and a pinch of salt and combine in a large bowl (Mistake No 2: I used too much salt - it really is just a small pinch). Cube 80g of chilled butter, and rub into the flour mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Now for the yucky bit: add 3/4 of a cup of water and, using a round bladed plastic knife, cut the mixture together. Then finish off with your hands until the mixture is fully brought together. What you have now is slightly salty flour-and-water glue. Quite a bit of the glue will end up on the kitchen taps and in the sink while you attempt to clean your hands. It really is very good glue.

Turn the glue ... sorry, dough ... out onto a floured board, knead for a couple of minutes and then form into an 18cm disc. Stick the dough onto a baking tray, make some cuts in the top and lightly dust with more flour (Mistake No 3: I provided more of a medium flour dusting). Then put it in the oven for 30 minutes.

(Mistake No 4: I put it on the top shelf of my already overheated oven. Middle is a better idea.) (Mistake No 5: I forgot I was baking damper and got engrossed in a book, and left it in there for 35 minutes).

Transfer to a wire rack and allow it to cool slightly, then serve or store. And the result?

Well, it looks the goods - the splits in the top are caused by too long in a too hot oven, but otherwise I'd pass the appearance. Now I don't expect it to be moist inside after all that overcooking, but what does it taste like, eh?

YUCK!!!!!!!! It tastes like floury baked glue. As well as being a bit salty. We are certainly not having Andrew's Special Home Baked Damper at the Ticket of Leave lunch. I shall bake some nice bread using yeast, and authenticity can go out the window. I'll pretend I stole the yeast. Or, for added authenticity, I'll really steal the yeast.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 5

The end of my dithering was a decision to live halfway dangerously (story of my life, come to think about it). I'll put the hard hat over the PCB because it's only held by one screw anyway, but I won't fit the cable tidies until I'm sure everything is working properly.

So, hard hat fitted and all the cables plugged in. The robotic arm itself is complete, now for the hand controller.

First, fit the PCB into its half of the casing and crimp the control wires so they are correctly aligned to the exit port.

Next, fit the contacts for the controller rockers and make sure they are perfectly straight, because the action of the screw is to rotate them and you need a third hand to stop that happening.

Next, drop the rockers into their respective spaces. Each one is labelled on the handle, so in order to make sure you have them right, you have to hold the assembly over your head. Then, having done that, you put this side of the casing down on the workbench, which pushes the rocker handles and they all fall out of position. That's why the casing is supported on things in this image.

Drop the other casing (the one with the PCB) on top and secure with 4 screws. It wanted to jiggle around a bit while I was doing that, but I spoke sternly to it, and it laid off. Invert, and the hand controller is set to go.
Moment of truth: would all of my gearboxes be up to the job? Would anything work?

Yay! Yippee! Hoot! W00t! All of the gearboxes working exactly as specified. Hmmm. Headlamp not working, because stupid here plugged it in the wrong way round. Reverse light cable plug, now it's working. (I always thought light circuits were bidirectional, but clearly this one isn't).

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present Edge, The Robotic Arm:

Hungry for a load. Now to prettify all those cables a little bit.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 4

Today the target is finish the gripper assembly and mount it on the arm, then add whatever other bits are necessary to get to the point of final wiring.

Add some bits to the end of the gripper - pretty terrible photograph really. The bits are the 2 arms with interlocking cogs held in place with shiny tiny screws. Easy peasy.

Serves me right for saying "easy peasy". The next two bits are sandwiched between shoulders in the gripper and the screws have to pass through one shoulder, the end of the part and then bite into the other shoulder. So you need one hand for the screwdriver, one hand for the screw, one for the part and yet another hand to stabilise the gripper while you're doing all this. A clamp might have helped I suppose.

All those bits I just added are now attached to the gripper claws, to which I've attached some squishy pads to aid their grippiness. This task is similar to the last one except that you need 5 hands because all of the bits you are trying to fit together are free to rotate as much as they want. However, they all fitted together quite neatly in the end.

Clearly this robotic arm is a miner, since the head apparently requires a bright yellow hard hat and a light - you can just see the bulb of the LED in front of the hard hat. The hard hat is a push fit, so I think it can be taken off whenever you want - just like a real hard hat, come to think of it.

Attach the gripper to the robotic arm and attach some pistons between the gripper and gearbox M2. Before I attached the pistons the gripper head drooped and the gadget looked so hilariously sad that I couldn't stop laughing as I took the photograph. As a result of which the photo was all blurry and no amount of Photochop could rescue it, so I've had to omit it.

Attach a platform for the PCB that controls the power delivery to the gearboxes, and realise that the designers have assumed you'll get sick of playing with the gadget long before the batteries lose power, because I am now sealing the batteries into their compartment with bits that are screwed into place.

Here the PCB is fitted and the wires from the main compartment plugged in. The remaining task is to give this part of the assembly a bright yellow hard hat with a hole in the middle, and then plug in all the remaining cables through that hole. At this point I stopped and dithered. It would be easier to plug everything in now and test it on the basis that if something doesn't work I can access all of the connections. However, there's a satisfying sense of completion in fitting the last bit. Dither. Dither. Dither.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Good And Evil

Diogenes asked:

" Evil.

" Is there such a thing? (Lynda La Plante thinks so.)

" If you think evil exists, how do you define it? "

I started my response as a comment to his post and then realised I had no clue how to insert a picture into a blog comment, which I needed to do. So I moved a copy of my response here in order to be able to finish it. I said:

As you say, it's a huge topic and while I have composed a truly beautiful response, this comment box is too small to contain it. :-)

Let's try and make the problem a bit smaller. William Lane Craig (a Christian) divides evil into moral evil (harms perpetrated by an agent) and natural evil (harms resulting from things like earthquakes, for example).

I'm going to say evil is that which is not good in some moral sense. Therefore there is no such thing as natural evil: the world just is. Earthquakes don't get to choose whether they happen or not, therefore they can't be evil.

Then I'm going to say that in order for there to be moral evil there must be morality, and on this planet that is the peculiar province of human beings. I'll withdraw that if a whale contributes to this discussion, but not otherwise.

Then I'm going to say that there must be degrees of good and evil - thinking about how genocide might solve a particular problem is nowhere near as evil as actually going ahead and doing it. We all have evil thoughts occasionally, but very few of us turn those thoughts into actions. So evil must incorporate actions.

Finally I'm going to say that, while we use the same word for both situations, the good-which-is-not-bad is actually different from the good-which-is-not-evil. Bad doesn't lie somewhere on the good-evil continuum, it's at one extreme of the good-bad continuum. If we place the two continua at right angles, we've constructed a coordinate space into which we can now place actions:

I have no doubt that all of my choices are contentious. Don't think Mother Teresa is an appropriate choice for the Good-Good corner? Fine. In your diagram replace her with Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. Don't think Hitler is a good choice for the Bad-Evil corner? Fine. In your diagram insert Attila the Hun or Anders Breivik. And so on.

The two choices for the opposite corners are much more complicated and require posts of their own, but you can see my logic: thalidomide was made and administered with the very best of intentions but the outcome was very bad. While the opposite corner is complicated  too: Hiroshima was good in terms of saving the lives of many combatants but only by obliterating hundreds of thousands of civilians.

So in answer to Diogenes original question "Does evil exist?" I say yes, too right it does, and in answer to the question "How would you define it?" I say, you can't define it well in words, but it's the top right of my little diagram up there.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 3

Obviously it has taken more than 3 days to get to this point - elapsed time is over 2 weeks, but here are the results of the 3rd day of actual construction.

Secure gearboxes M2 and M3 together. So M5 (hidden in the base now) controls rotation; M4 (perched on the base) controls pitch of the rearmost part of the arm; M3 (on the right in this picture) controls pitch of the foremost part of the arm; M2 (on the left) controls pitch of the wrist bit; and M1 (yet to be built) controls the gripper.

Secure the wrist axle to the front, and the assembly is now ready to be fitted to Gearbox M4 to create what you might think of as the shoulder, upper arm, elbow and lower arm (it doesn't pay to take the analogy too far).

Like this. Got wires going everywhere now. Essentially there are now 3 tasks left: assemble and attach the gripper, complete the battery assembly and plug in the wires; and assemble the hand controller and plug it in.
Another 3 construction days, I think. Let's make a start on the gripper.

Aaaaargh! This is Gearbox M1, which controls the gripper. You can't see it in this shot, but it is supposed to be held together with 4 tiny self-tapping screws. Except I could only find 3. Either I've used the missing one somewhere else (unlikely) or I never got it in the first place (also unlikely) or it's run away while I wasn't watching and perhaps joined the missing nut (most likely) - it'll end in tears, I tells ya, a self-tapping screw and machine nut just ain't natural. I toyed with the idea of gluing the gearbox together, but after twisting the assembly as hard as I could, I think it will be OK with 3 screws.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Feel Like A Giggle?

Next Tuesday night at 8:30pm on ABC1: a one-hour special edition of Australian Story featuring Australia's very own wannabe terrorist [dramatic pause] David Hicks [cue canned applause]. Watch David squirm as he explains how, when he was in Afghanistan training with Al Qaeda, he didn't realise it was Al Qaeda [cue mocking laughter]. Listen to David explain how he always objected to the WTC bombings despite going to Afghanistan to train with Banana bin Laden after said bombings [cue loud mocking laughter]. Shudder with David as he relates the fiendish torturing he suffered at the hands of the US military [cue general hilarity].

Should be a hoot. Don't miss it.