Guest Book

          Home 2015

This website is a log of my hobbies, passions and projects. It will hopefully over time fill up with helpful advice to
encourage, inspire and guide others with similar interests. rab by the way are my initials Robert Andrew Burke

April to July 2015:
It' been quite a while without adding any posts, it seems like everything is getting in the way of carrying out home projects and hobbies, and life being filled with things less noteworthy of recording here. However I still try and keep myself busy and have a few items of note that others might have some interest in.

In the last post I reported on a trailer I have been building, well I managed to finish it for a fraction of the cost of buying a trailer of equivalent size and quality
Completed Trailer

608 Bearing Tutorial

608 Bearing Tutorial
Updated to Blender 2.63+

To make the trailer more useful I have included fittings to allow a canopy frame to be mounted on top of the trailer to secure a tarpaulin canopy. The space inside is larger than the payload space of a Vauxhall Astra van. With the front section removed, tailgate lowered vertically and ladder rack H bars fitted, the trailer will accommodate 8 x 4 boards down the centreline and balanced over the trailer axle.

I have a few building projects planned over the next couple of years and this should be a useful addition for moving equipment and materials without the need to tax and insure another vehicle.

Trailer With top canopy

In the last post I wrote about identifying the old vehicle axle that was on the original donor trailer. After a lot of Google searches I have finally found an image that matches the axle. It turns out to be from an old Reliant Rebel van which was produced at the Tamworth Reliant factory between 1964 and 1974. These old Reliant's are few and far between now and there isn't much call for spare parts, but due to their light weight construction the axles were often used to produce three wheeler trikes. As it has been used on a traler for the past few decades it hasn't had excessive wear, so if anyone is interested in having it, including two wheels and tyres for spares or repair drop me a line via the contact link and we should be able to agree a reasonable price.
Reliant Rebel Van back axle 

Chimney Rebuild
Chimney Rebuild

Late last year I reported on the work to install a wood burning stove, after rebuilding the top of the chimney stack I abandoned the outside work due to inclement weather. As we are now in the midst of summer it presented the ideal opportunity to complete the work on the stack, to re-dress the flashing and repoint the remaining brickwork. As the existing mortar was quite degraded the joints had to be dug out quite deep before refilling with a new strong mortar mix. Hopefully the chimney will now remain maintenance free for the rest of our time at the house.

Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition
Having used linux for almost all my computing work over the last 6 years, an opportunity arose to get a lightweight ultrabook laptop as I travel a lot and carrying a heavyweight laptop around Europe isn't any fun. I settled on the DEL XPS 13 Developer edition which has a great specification for a small form factor laptop.

  • 5th Generation Intel Core™ i5-5200U Processor (3M Cache, up to 2.70 GHz)
  • Ubuntu Linux 14.04 SP1 (now using 15.04)
  • 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display
  • 8GB1 Dual Channel DDR3L at 1600MHz
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Intel(R) HD Graphics 5500
  • 2.8 lbs
Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook
The laptop came pre-loaded with a DELL version of Ubuntu 14.4 that just needed to go through the setup process to finish the installation, unfortunately the setup crashed but fortunately still allowed Ubuntu to load, though only part configured on the next boot. After a couple of updates I was able to make a Dell recovery drive and set to reloading the Dell version of Ubuntu. More problems occurred with the reload going into an endless loop and Ubuntu not booting. Having failed with the DELL software I then tried to install Linux Mint 17.1 which again wouldn't boot. A bit more digging and I discovered the bios had been setup for both UEFI and legacy mode. Resetting the bios to just UEFI mode finally allowed a reloaded Linux mint to boot, and after a couple of updates all seemed to be okay until I tried to use the microphone which didn't work and according to the DELL website needed a couple of kernel patches to get it operational. Even after 6 years plus of using linux that was a step too far and the only options available to me was to either admit defeat and send the laptop back or try the latest Ubuntu version 15.04 which has the newer kernel with all the DEL patches included. Fortunately the Ubuntu 15.04 has done the trick and everything I have tried appears to be working. It is a shame this didn't work out of the box and it is experiences like this can easily put off a less determined person from persevering with Linux. No doubt branding this model a developer edition was done to deter the less experienced user.

Though I am not a fan of the inflexibility of the Unity menu system, I am getting used to it and with a few .desktop hacks have been able to add the latest versions of Xampp and Blender to the menu.

Add Xampp launcher to Ubuntu 15.04 menu
XAMPP is a completely free, easy to install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP, and Perl. It effectively turns your computer into a web server for local development of PHP/MySQL driven websites. The latest version of xampp installer now includes a gui based startup manager that makes starting and stopping the program much easier than writing commands in the terminal. Unfortunately the the setup script doesn't load the manager into the Ubuntu menu. So to achieve this I had to manually create an xampp.desktop file.

Before creating the .desktop file I first needed to be able to launch a password prompt window as Xampp needs to run with root privileges.

To do this gksu needed to be loaded, this was don by running the following command in the terminal.

sudo apt-get install gksu

Then the text editor was launched from the terminal with root privilages using

sudo gedit

Xampp Manager

In the text editor the following text was added and saved to /user/share/applications as xampp.desktop this is where all the programs .desktop files are located on my computer.

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=Open xampp manager
Exec=gksudo /opt/lampp/

From the above file the key entries were:
Xampp Launcher in Unity menu
Name=  is the name that will show under the icon in the unity launcher
Exec=   executes the command, gksudo calls the password prompt and opens the file from /opt/lampp
Icon= is the location of the applications icon which was found at /opt/lampp/htdocs/favicon.ico

Add Blender 2.75a launcher to the Ubuntu 15.04 menu

Unlike Xampp, Blender does not need to be run in root privileges therefore gksu does not need to be used so setup is a little easier.

In the text editor opened with root privelages (see xampp above) the following text was added and saved to /user/share/applications as blender275a.desktop this is where all the programs .desktop files are located on my computer.

Blender Launcher in Unity menu
[Desktop Entry]
Name=Blender 2.75a
GenericName=Blender 2.75a
Comment=Make and edit 3D files
Exec= /home/[YourUserName]/[FileLocation]/blender-2.75a-linux-glibc211-x86_64/blender

From the above file the key entries were:
Change: [YourUserName] for the user name you use on your linux system.
Change: [FileLocation] for the location where the Blender  tar.bz2 file was extracted to. 
Name=  is the name that will show under the icon in the unity launcher, make sure the version number is included if you have more than one Blender version on your machine.
Exec=   executes the command, in this case launches blender from the specified location.
Icon=   is the location within the blender directory that the blender icon is located

A full explanation of all the available options in the .desktop file can be found at:

Blender Update
Though Blender doesn't feature in my work anymore, I am still keeping abreast of the changes that are taking place with the software, which is still developing at a rapid pace. Not using Blender for work is a major limitation in staying up to date with the software and being able to help people by updating on what I have learned. Since my last report on blender development back in April 2014 there have been five new updates to Blender and the software is now at version 2.75a
Blender 2.75a Some of the highlights in the recent upgrades are:

Cycles Renderer
Now supports Fire and smoke rendering and render baking.

Has added the ability to add textured strokes, it has also been incorporated into the Cycles render engine and now includes an svg export facility to export the freestyle lines to inkspot

User Interface
Pie Menus have now been added

January to March 2015:
Having installed a wood burning stove towards the end of last year, I found myself with a need to be able to collect quantities of lumber when it becomes available. It is certainly not cost effective to buy nets of firewood from the local shops, and very little of what we have brought has been suitably seasoned to be classed as fire-wood. So to start this year my first project was to acquire or make a suitable trailer which has turned into quite an enjoyable project.

I started off by winning an ebay auction at a great price for what looked like a sturdy box trailer. It was made out of heavy grade 2 inch angle and had leaf spring
Old Box Trailer
and dampered suspension. However it was obvious the boardes were rotten and the wheels sat inside the trailer compromising the load space.

Typically for me rather than just reboarding the trailer I decided to redesign and rebuild it to make it a lot more functional.

608 Bearing Tutorial

608 Bearing Tutorial
Updated to Blender 2.63+

The trailer box measured 4 foot 6 inches by 6 foot 6 inches and 1 foot 6 inches high, but was compromised by the inner wheel arches. Besides carrying logs I also have a need to carry timber for construction projects and being able to easily transport 8 foot by 4 foot boards was a must, so I decided the box must accommodate at least 4 foot between the wheel arches and also the centre section should be able to extend over the front A frame and out over the tailgate so 8 x 4 sheets can be stowed vertically in the centre of the trailer. The existing framework was totally over engineered with heavy gauge steelwork on non structural parts of the box, so again I decided to completely strip down the trailer and re-weld it using structural steel only where the strength was required and use lighter grades of angle for the non structural part.
Old Trailer Axle - Can you help  identify what car it was off?
The suspension and axle has been based on an old car, possibly from the 1960's, rear axle again much heavier than required for a trailer and restricting the space between the inner wheel arches to only 3 foot. I am quite intrigued to find out what car was used as the donor for the suspension and axle, a trawl of google hasn't yet identified the axle.
Old Axcle (what car is it off?)
Old trailer axle (what car was it off?)
The strip down has gone well and after a significant amount of descaling, cutting up and re-welding I now have a decent trailer frame. It was really rewarding breaking out my old welding set after many years mothballed in the corner of my workshop and discovering that I can still produce good quality slag free structural welds. The new axle is based off Ford Fiesta rear hubs mounted to an axle beam made from 2 inch box section. Retaining the dampened suspension means the trailer shouldn't bounce about like so many commercial trailers do. The project is ongoing and hopefully will be completed in the next few weekends.
Rebuilt Trailer Frame

1903 Collard and Collard Piano repairs

I planned to do a lot of work on restoring the piano over the Christmas break, but unfortunately I came down with probably the worst cold I have had in 30 years and for several weeks didn't have the energy to tackle the many little repairs that will be needed to get the piano back into playable condition.

To be able to repair different parts of the action it is necessary to remove the action from the piano, and on these old piano's it couldn't be simpler. However once you have lifted the action from the piano frame you need something to hold it upright so you have access to both the front and back faces. I manufactured a couple of wooden stands that the bottom dowels of the action frame sit into and are supported by a small block of wood that props up the action frame to stop it toppling over.

Very simple but effective solution.
Piano Action Stand

Removing the piano action 001
Removing the front panel was simply a matter of lifting open the top cover which hinges back on itself, then on the inside face of the front panel there are a couple of turn buckles that  need turning to release the front panel from the piano frame. The front panel could then be lifted away from the piano.
Piano Action Removal 002

Removing the keyboard cover was then simply a matter of lifting it off its location as it sits in place on a small rebate either side of the piano keys using gravity and a couple of locating dowels.

This then completely exposed the action. A further two turn buckles one either side of the action frame held the action in place. Once these were turned to free the action frame, it could be tilted forward and lifted from the piano.

Collard And Collard Piano Action Removal

With the action frame removed the locating dowel hole for the frame can be clearly seen at the side of the keys.

A = Action frame locating dowel hole                                            B = Rebate for the Keyboard Cover
Collard And Collard Action Removal

With the action removed from the piano it can now be propped up on the home made stands giving easy access to work on all the parts that need repairing.
Collard And Collard Piano Action Removed

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