Monday, 23 June 2008

Wind in the conifers

It was very windy yesterday, and I noticed that some of the conifers in the garden had branches splaying out. So I took my saw to those I could reach. The bonfire pile is now enormous. Less than two weeks before we're boating again (hooray!) Why won't the picture upload? (Edit: pic now uploaded)

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Wildlife at Wroxham

Wroxham Broad a few days ago. Daughter will be coming here to do a geography project on water quality in a couple of weeks.

Creating tonight

It's our performance of Haydn's Creation this evening in Norwich's RC Cathedral. Here we are about to resume the second part of this afternoon's final rehearsal. It's cold in that church! But nervous energy will, I'm sure, keep me warm tonight. I'm a bass and Mrs. Halfie is a soprano. We have three fine soloists, including the tenor Ian Partridge.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Ten top tips for (car) fuel economy

While following a link from a comment on Maffi's blog I came across these tips for reducing petrol consumption. It's American, but includes one or two I hadn't considered before. I like the one about losing weight: I imagined a large American person desperately trying to slim in order to save a few cents on motoring costs!

Oh, the main article begins thus: "With the most expensive unleaded petrol now at $3.00 a gallon..." Yes, that's three DOLLARS (about £1.50), and per GALLON (remember those?)

Step 1:
Find your cheapest station. The difference between the most expensive and the cheapest price per liter can be as much as 5% or more. Some stations change their prices during the day to try to attract new customers at less popular times (some outlets drop their prices after 9 or 10 pm). Check it out! Some stations have a special one day a week (their slowest day). In many cities, radio stations let you know each day where the cheap prices are. You can find websites that claim to find the lowest prices in your area, but often these aren't updated frequently enough.

Step 2:
Pump up your tires. Under-inflated tires create more rolling resistance and so use more fuel. Go to your local gas station and use their pump - it is normally free. Usually, you can find the recommended tire pressures on a plate on you car door. Stay inside this recommendation.

Step 3:
Lose weight. Every extra 50kg (110 lbs) will increase your petrol consumption by an average of 2 percent, according to some British sources. So keep all your golf clubs - or anything else littering your boot - at home. Take out the winter kit when Spring comes. Get rid of the mega tool kit (when was the last time you needed it?) How much winter mud is married to your underbody...get down there and check.

Step 4:
Streamline. Roof racks and bicycle carriers create extra wind resistance and so increase fuel consumption. If you do not need it, take it off.

Step 5:
Turn off the air conditioning. It increases your petrol consumption by as much as 10 percent - so if it is only mildly warm, put the fans on or wind down your window. That said, if you are traveling over 60mph having the window down increases drag which increases your fuel consumption - so air conditioning would be better.

Step 6:
Stick to the limits. The faster you go, the more fuel you use. Driving at 70mph uses up to 9 percent more fuel than at 60mph and up to 15 percent more than at 50mph, according to transport authorities.

Step 7:
Change your oil. Clean oil reduces the wear caused by friction of moving engine parts, helping to improve fuel consumption. You should change the oil in a gasoline car once a year or every 7500 miles. For a diesel engine, it is recommended you change the oil every 6 months or 3000 miles.

Step 8:
Drive smoothly. Acceleration and deceleration are what use the most fuel - so try to slow down gradually at lights, avoid heavy braking and try not to rev too much. Anticipate. Think ahead. Pretend there is an egg between your foot and the gas pedal. Stop-and-go is a killer. Try to drive when the traffic is lighter. Go to work earlier and come home earlier as an example. Avoid rough surfaces. Gravel or heavy dirt surfaces can increase your fuel consumption by up to 30 percent - not to mention the affect on your paintwork. If there is a route involving smooth paved road, even if it is slightly longer, then take that.

Step 9:
Rather obviously... use your car less. Combine short trips - such as buying the paper, dropping off the recycling, or collecting the kids - rather than making multiple short trips.'s amazing who you might meet.

Step 10:
Get rid of the family tank. Fuel costs are on the rise and the time has come to really think about why you have a car. It is an appliance. Get the smallest and most fuel-efficient car you can find that works for your family numbers. If you can't control your ego, paint fire strips down the side.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

LED lights update

I'm continuing my quest for the best way to convert the Poundland LED Camping Lights for nominal 12V operation as encountered on a boat. As my test voltage source I'm using a small lead-acid 12V battery from a burglar alarm control unit. I'm keeping it charged up with a 5W solar panel which I bought from Maplin a few years ago. I found that 3.5V across the LEDs gave sufficient light output and should prolong their life (the unmodified unit connects 6V of batteries across them: the actual voltage of even brand new batteries drops to 4.5V as soon as it's switched on, owing to the whopping current drain and the internal resistance of the batteries).

So I modified a unit to give three sets of eight LEDs wired in series-parallel (very conveniently the units each have 24 LEDs) such that applying 10.5V would put 3.5V across each LED. Now for the power supply. Here I described my experiments with an LM317T voltage regulator. I adjusted the resistors to give the required 10.5V output and connected everything to the 12V battery. It worked fine, except for when the battery's voltage started dropping. In fact, even at 12V, the regulator output barely managed 10.5V: by the time the battery had dropped to 10.35V the regulator was giving only 8.79V. Not good regulation!

The 10.5V regulator would work fine with fully charged, and charging, batteries, but the lights would start getting dim quite soon after stopping the engine. No, I'm going to have to regulate to a lower voltage, one which would have enough "headroom" to cope with slightly discharged batteries (and with the length of cable, potentially 120 feet there and back in a narrowboat). Shame really, as a higher voltage means a lower current for the same power; and less heat generated in the voltage regulator.

I know I've gone into far too much detail, but maybe someone out there appreciates it!

Tomorrow morning, then, modify another unit for two sets of 12 LEDs in series-parallel, and wire up a regulator to give 7V. One thing: I'm intending that the voltage regulator will be in the LED unit, so the supply will be the standard (unregulated) feed from the battery bank.

Time for bed.

Sunset over south Norfolk

The weather was actually quite pleasant a few days ago. The sunset was particularly striking.

It took a few goes fiddling with the camera's settings before I got close to what it really looked like. The colours were even deeper than this shows.

Boating next month!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Summer cruising plans

Our summer hols, or some of them, will be spent aboard Willow which we have procured for a couple of weeks. It was only when I searched the web for the marina where it's moored that I realised that it was actually ON the River Weaver. I had originally thought that it was on the T&M near Anderton, but no, it's an hour or so upstream in Northwich. Now, do we take advantage of this to explore the river further as we haven't yet been upstream of Northwich? Or do we hack down to the boat lift and get the next possible passage? And do we book? (is it still a fiver?) or do we turn up and hope for the best? (is an unbooked passage still free?)

I wonder how the owner is getting on with fitting the cooker.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The other thing I saw...

... was the wartime hospital of the 95th Bombardment Group, Horham. You can't go far in this part of the world without coming across an old airfield: the OS map reveals just how many there are. The sign says that the hospital here is being restored as a museum.

Just half a mile from the garage, and I didn't know it was there until yesterday.

Another 27 miles under pedal power

The car has been fixed (it was the water pump, as I had suspected) so I cycled back to deepest north Suffolk to retrieve it. Just as on a boat, you see far more than when driving. I retraced almost the same route as on Friday, but saw two things which I'd missed before: the memorial to Saint Edmund, with its wrong apostrophe set in stone, in the middle of a field of oilseed rape; and a wartime hospital.

I had to brush past the wet oilseed rape to get to the memorial...

... but it was worth it...

... if only to wince at the apostrophe (ouch!)

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Extra boating in the summer!

Yippee! We're off boating again on our summer hols. Only just sorted it. I spotted a small ad in the staff newspaper, phoned up, checked with Jan ... and booked.

We'll be heading north from Anderton in Willow, a three-year-old 40' cruiser-style narrowboat which the owner is fitting out himself. I guess he needs a bit of extra cash to help him continue the fitout, as at the moment there's no cooker, table or chairs! He has promised to have a cooker installed by the time we take it out, though, and might have put in a sofa-bed too. We're not too bothered: we'll take a folding table and folding chairs and have lots of SPACE. Will take airbeds for our daughter and her boyfriend whom we intend to meet at Southport.