Good News for Bletchley Park

It was great to hear today that Google are financially backing some of the restoration work taking place at Bletchley Park.

It’s a site with an incredible history and is well worth a trip. Much of the commentary about it online focuses on the World War II code breaking efforts, the works of Alan Turing, or the world’s first programmable computer, Colossus. But there’s much more to the site than that. The very human stories of the people who worked there so many years ago offer a fascinating insight into one of the war’s best kept secrets – and if you’re lucky you might get shown round by one of the guides who actually worked there during those crucial years.

Google’s input is a great step forward. But the thing that will really keep Bletchley Park, and its history, alive is for people to visit it. If you’ve never been, you should definitely add it to your list of things to do. And if you have been, you should add it to your list of things to do again.

An idle thought…

With all the Kinect hacks out there, why hasn’t anyone created a real-time Max Headroom implementation?

Extremely Petty Thieves

We went to the new Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury last night. Despite having seats in the stalls, the throng of people at the bar led us to make our way upstairs to order our interval drinks at the circle bar instead.

The interval arrived and a combination of constrained vomitoria, and excessive politeness as each row waited on the one behind, led to us doing that slow zombie shuffle that is typical of a crowd of people trying to exit an auditorium. By the time we got out into the foyer and made our way upstairs to the circle bar, everyone had already taken their interval drinks from the designated table.

In fact not only had everyone taken their drinks, but some malefactor had taken our interval drinks!

So what had this thief made off with? A refreshing beer? A large glass of wine? An expensive liqueur? No, some damned criminal genius had made off with… two cups of coffee! Really, if you’re going to steal someone’s interval drinks, at least go for the interesting ones.

Our receipt was still in place, next to the sugar bowl and now-empty milk jug, but then we had the fun of trying to get the attention of the bar staff to sort it out while everyone glared at us with the sort of look that suggested violence could erupt – or at least a few fruity words would pass – if it turned out we were pushing in. Luckily the staff heard our (deliberately loud) discussion about what had happened, and everything was sorted with no words, or blows, exchanged.

So, what sort of event had we been to that attracted people who are low enough to steal two coffees from the interval drinks table? Some grungy rock concert? Well, they’re not typically known for their intervals. Some ageing rocker then, whose fans still have a little of the punk spirit, but whose lavatorial urges require an interval? Not even that.

It was a recording of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue“.

It’s a sorry state of affairs when you can’t even trust Radio 4 listeners not to steal your drinks!

Government Reviewing UK Copyright Laws

It seems that there’s another review of UK copyright laws taking place. Let’s hope it leads to some actual legal reform this time. While Apple – and countless others – encourage us to rip our CDs, there’s little understanding in the British public that this is, technically, still an illegal act of copyright infringement.

Legal protection for parody and satire is long overdue, too. My own webcomic is fairly tame as far as parodies go – but the threat of legal action always looms overhead. Yes, it’s unlikely that I’ll get sued for the kind of comics I produce, but the fact remains that I’m on shaky ground, legally speaking. However unlikely it is, the possibility is still there. For the sake of free speech that’s one legal loophole that really does need to be closed.

It’s about time our outdated laws were brought into line with the modern world. But while the average man on the street might see legal ripping of CDs as the most important part of this review, I think that protecting parody and satire will be more beneficial, in the long run. So please, let’s get the reviewing done quickly, and start legislating as soon as possible.

UPDATE: Ars Technica’s coverage of this review – which provided this link to the report itself – it well worth reading.
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Building an Extension, Part XV

[Part I][Part V][Part X] [Part XI] [Part XII] [Part XIII] [Part XIV] [Part XV]

There was nobody on site for the next couple of days, to give the plaster a chance to start drying. Then, on Friday, every trade seemed to turn up at once, and my beverage-making skills were exercised to the extreme. First the builders arrived – two cups of tea – to install several layers of insulation in the floor:

Next the electricians arrived – one tea, one coffee – to fit some outdoor sockets, a junction box for external lighting, and the inside downlighters:

Finally, just in case we were in any danger of being left with some clean cups in the house, the plumbers arrived – two coffees – to put in a pipe for the outside tap, and connect up the external drainage to the main sewage pipes:

Next time: A floor, and some doors…

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Building an Extension, Part XIV

[Part I][Part V][Part X] [Part XI] [Part XII] [Part XIII] [Part XIV] [Part XV]

Finally the time had come to break down the boundaries between the work taking place on the extension, and the inside of the extant house. Before this point we could close the doors on the new work and separate ourselves from the dirt, grime and noise of the building site. But now it was time to begin the task of integrating the new building into the old one – and that meant removing the doors. A couple of dust sheets were hung to keep the worst of the dust from invading the house (though plenty still did), but they did little to abate the ingress of the damp, cold air from the site.

As the temperature outside plumetted on the way into winter, so the extension sucked more and more heat out of the house. Keeping warm became a constant challenge, until we finally broke down and invested in an electric blanket.

Still, at least the replacement window was providing a much better view of the garden.

The next two days were taken up by plastering.

While the plaster was starting to set there was little work that could be done inside, so the builders turned their attention to some jobs outside. In truth I think it was because the coldness of the house and extension, combined with the extra dampness of drying plaster, made it more comfortable to work outside than in. Whatever the reason, they first added the gutters and drainpipes.

And then replaced the fence panels that they’d had to remove during the earlier stages of construction.

Finally an update on how the garden was looking at the tail end of November.

Next time: Work on the floor begins

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Building an Extension, Part XIII

[Part I][Part V][Part X] [Part XI] [Part XII] [Part XIII] [Part XIV] [Part XV]

The start of week six saw some more work from the electricians. Here you can see a few wires passing through the stud wall above the door to the WC, heading off for the lights in the utility room and the toilet. This picture also shows more clearly the flat section of ceiling at the top of the dining room, as well as batons in place for a similarly flat ceiling in the WC. That one sits a little lower than the ceiling in the dining room in order to conceal an overflow pipe out of the main house that will be re-routed:

The electricians also put in some low voltage cable runs for the underfloor heating. I’m not quite sure what these are for, but I would guess they’re either for control or feedback signals. I’m sure all will become clear when the system is fitted:

Another cable has been routed to the outside wall. Originally the plans called for an outside socket centred below the window, but it got inadvertently overlooked. As the presence of the socket is more important than it’s precise location, I agreed to place it next to the existing wiring, for simplicity:

The replacement window also arrived (see Part X for more details):

And finally the roofers were able to finish their work, adding the filler to the gable end:

Next time: There go the doors

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Building an Extension, Part XII

[Part I][Part V][Part X] [Part XI] [Part XII] [Part XIII] [Part XIV] [Part XV]

Over the previous couple of days the electricians had run cables and fitted boxes to the walls as part of their first fix. In the process they’d positioned an additional four boxes at my request, because it was time for me to take a day off work and join the ranks of the tradesmen on site.

When I first bought the house – and before I’d moved any furniture in – I had taken the time to run network cabling under the floorboards to sockets round the house. I was too lazy to properly chase out the brickwork and re-decorate afterwards, so there are sections of surface-mounted trunking dropping from the ceiling in the corners of the living room, carrying the network to wall-mounted patress boxes. It’s not the most beautiful installation in the world, but it doesn’t look as bad as loose trailing cables, either.

With the extension I had the opportunity to do the job properly. I’d discussed my requirements with the electricians, who both had a reassuringly strong grasp of what I was talking about. They drilled the holes I needed, fixed back-boxes to the walls, and positioned conduit. I would run the cables, and eventually (at the time of the second fix), I’ll terminate them to RJ45 wall sockets in the extension, and to my existing patchbay at the other end.

The extension will have a total of five network points, each with two sockets. One was already in place from the days of the conservatory, so will be re-used. That left eight cables to run back to the kicthen’s built-in larder that serves as my network terminus…

…from there they snake under the kitchen worksurfaces…

…through the kitchen wall and into the extension…

…where they emerge victoriously, before heading off into conduits carrying them under the floor of the WC…

…and out into the rest of the extension (there’s no network socket in the loo!)…

…to the back-boxes sitting ready alongside the boxes for the electrical sockets.

Once I’d finished getting in everyone’s way (it took less than a couple of hours to feed all the cables through to their destinations), the electricians continued running their mains cables to the walls…

…both inside…

…and out…

While the electrical work was taking place, the builders were busy constructing and plasterboarding a flat section at the top of the vaulted ceiling, so that it joins the wall at 90°:

The roofers were also progressing, having added the lead flashing to the join between the tiles and the wall:

As the day drew to a close, however, they had only just filled the gap at the edge of the roof, between the tiles and the wall. The other trades left, one-by-one, as daylight gave way to dusk, and finally to darkness. Still the roofers persisted, illuminated at first by my pocket LED torch, then by the inspection lamp that the builders had left on site, trying to dry the filler with a hot air blower. Finally they conceded defeat and removed the compound, rather than do a half-baked job of it. The following morning, then, the roof was finished apart from that remaining gap:

Next time: The roofers return

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Building an Extension, Part XI

[Part I][Part V][Part X] [Part XI] [Part XII] [Part XIII] [Part XIV] [Part XV]

After the previous post’s foray into the dangers of not specifying your build materials clearly enough, back to some actual building. We’ve got as far as Monday 15th November, the start of the fifth week of the build. Of course, when I say “back to some actual building” it turns out I meant “back to some tidying and clearing up”. Plus a bit of mopping, given the pool of water that had gathered in the extension during our days with no roof.

Tuesday fared a little better – but only a little. As far as I could tell it was primarily a day of fitting some insulation into the roof space, and not much else:

Wednesday arrived and things started to speed up. Not only did we get the beginnings of the stud walls, but the electricians were also on site to begin their first fix:

Thursday was a particularly busy day with two builders, two electricians and three roofers on site. The kettle’s never been so busy! The stud wall and ceiling received some extra plasterboard, and the roof started to look… well, like a roof:

Still in need of some lead flashing, though:

Next time: I join the workforce for a day

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Building an Extension, Part X

[Part I][Part V] … [Part X] [Part XI] [Part XII] [Part XIII] [Part XIV] [Part XV]

The presence of uPVC French doors instead of the wooden ones I was expecting was a huge disappointment to me. There are various reasons for the mistake – all of which boil down to a lack of communication. Perhaps we didn’t make it clear enough what we wanted when the architect drew up the plans (although the plans don’t actually specify any material, just double-glazed with a minimum thermal efficiency). Perhaps we didn’t make it clear enough when the builder originally quoted. Or during our initial discussions or the earlier stages of the build. But at least part of the blame lies with my meeting with the glazier.

I hadn’t been told that the glazier was coming to measure up. If I had been, I would have been more prepared than I was. Instead I was waiting for my car-share to pick me up for work when he arrived. If I’d known he was coming, I’d have arranged to drive myself in a little later. I still had a few minutes to kill, though, so I made him a cup of tea, checked that my lift hadn’t arrived yet, then took it out to him.

“So, this window here”, he said, pointing to the WC window, “… just a single pane with a fly opener, right?”

“Erm… yes, that sounds okay.” I wasn’t really prepared for questions, but this seemed fairly straightforward.

“And the door here,” by the utility room porch, “which way is it opening?”

I told him. He confirmed with a quick “so hinges on this side, right?” So far, so good.

“And what about this window?” he asked, gesturing at the gaping wound into the dining room. I was thrown.

“Erm… I’m not really sure. What do you recommend?”

He thumbed his chin pensively, took a deep breath, and proceeded. “Well… we could go for a split pane, opener on one side, fly opener on the top. Sound okay to you?”

“Erm… I… err…”

He put his A4 pad in front of me. The page was completely blank apart from the few measurements he’d taken.

“Something like this…” He proceeded to ignore the acres of white space before him, and drew a postage-stamp sized sketch: a rectangle with a couple of chevrons on it, which I guess is glazier-code to indicate what opens where. Conscious of my lift arriving any second, and feeling the pressure to make some sort of on-the-spot decision, I nodded as though his sketch had suddenly cleared the fog in my mind. “Erm… yeah, that’ll be fine,” I said.

“And you’ve got French doors going in here, I suppose”.

“Yes.”

“And the rest of the house is already double-glazed, is it…?” he asked resignedly, clearly disappointed that he’d missed his chance to upsell me on a whole house conversion.

That one question near the end was the sole interaction I had with him about the French doors. I didn’t see him measure the void (which would have sent alarm bells ringing), and neither did he ask me any questions about them. I assumed that his statement had been along the lines of “you’ve got French doors going in here, and they’re nothing to do with me”. Clearly I was wrong.

Apart from the French door fiasco, one other problem began during that meeting: the dining room window. I’d agreed to something, though if I was honest with myself I wasn’t really sure quite what. I kind of had an idea of what I was getting, but when it arrived it seemed to me that there was a whole lot more plastic than I’d anticipated. Ignoring the fact that the garden hardly looks at its best right now, I still would have liked a slightly better view of it than this:

We had to accept the French doors, otherwise the whole build would have been put on hold. If we’d got the doors I was expecting, then perhaps I would have left the window as it was. But the two interfaces between the dining room and the garden were both a disappointment, and if I couldn’t do anything about one of them, I’d bloody well make sure I did something about the other.

So we now have a replacement window on order. A large bottom pane, and a smaller top opener. Unfortunately, as the glazier did actually provide what I’d agreed to originally, we’re liable for the cost of the replacement 🙁

Next time: The first fix begins

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