Friday 23 January 2015

Arc welding

I have a problem with plant stakes.  In the springtime I plant my plants, whatever they are, and if I think it necessary, I put stakes in the ground next to them so that I can tie them up when they get bigger, so they don't flop around and fall to the ground.   This technique doesn't work.   Usually, I just forget to tie up the plants, or else I arrive too late and the plant has already flopped earthwards.

What I need is to get out earlier, be more diligent, or better still, use plant supports that surround the plants so they don't have to be tied.  There are commercial ones of these available, but I can't bring myself to pay upwards of two quid for a piece of bent wire, even if it is covered in green plastic to make it look nice.   Especially as I need 40 or so of them.

So I have been looking for alternatives.  I spotted, in a municipal park, a couple of years ago, quite a nice system.  It looked like a students' engineering project, and comprised a horizontal metal grille about a metre across, with a ring in the middle that was slid onto a vertical stake, and clamped to it with a bolt.  I reckon that I can make something similar using the cheapo steel grilles and bars used for reinforcing concrete, as long as I can find a method of joining the grille to a vertical stake.

Hence the arc welding.

I don't know much about arc welding.  All I know is that many years ago, my Dad, who was a teacher at a tech college, had a go at it.  I am guessing that he looked at the calibre of students doing the arc welding course there, and concluded that any fool can be an arc welder.  He came home one day with a huge and heavy welding transformer borrowed from the college, and a bunch of iron rods of different cross-sections, and announced that he was going to make a bed headboard.

The air in the garage was two-colours bright for a while; white from the arc welding, and blue from the swearing.  Over time, the welding transformer disappeared back to the college, the iron went to wherever iron goes to die.  Nothing was said.

On the other hand, how hard can it be?  And I only want plant stakes.

Louis is a French paysan (it translates to "peasant" in English, but has no derrogatory connotations in French; "countryman" might be better) who lives down the road from me, and does his own arc welding.  He promised to show me how it's done if I got the necessary equipment.

As it happend, our local DIY (Leroy Merlin) had a bunch of modern inverter-based welding kits, complete with the eye-protecting screens, on special.  I got one, along with some iron reinforcement material for concrete, to make the plant supports.

The inverter is small and light, easy to carry, and the helmet is electronic: it has an LCD screen that is normally almost clear, but that blanks out to almost opaque in a few milliseconds, in response to welding light.   This makes it a lot easier to use than the old style filters that you can only see anything through when the arc is burning.   It's powered by solar cells, and they suggest you put the helmet in the sun for several minutes before using it.   I took the whole lot round to Loui's place this morning and we had a go at making a plant stake.

Here is a picture of the stake, and also a close-up of the join that needs to be welded.

And here's the finished product.  What a masterpiece!  Can you see the smooth, professional-looking weld?  Nor can I.  And there's a bit where the metal of the square frame is almost burnt away.   But in the end, it's a plant stake - aesthetic appeal is optional.  And I am hoping that by the time I have made 40 of them I will have gained a useful skill.  And some plant stakes.  And a welder.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Yamaha concert

Yamaha make musical instruments, amongst other things.  I played on one of theirs for several years when I was starting to learn the flute, but graduated onto other brands as my playing improved.  This is a common enough story, but probably represents a nightmare for Yamaha marketing people.  Many people perceive their instruments to be great for beginners/intermediate players but not for professionals.  Yamaha do also make top quality instruments played by professionals, but perhaps brand loyalty doesn't work in the same way as it does for, say, motor bikes.

My local flute repair shop is L'Atelier D'Orphée in Le Mans, and I have had my flute repaired and serviced there a few times.  They are a Yamaha dealer.  (The boss, Gérard Klein, is a flute player.)   I'm on their mailing list, and I was surprised a few weeks ago to get their email telling me they had 47 tickets available for a free concert in Paris, transport laid on, sponsored by Yamaha, first come first served.  I was delighted to get a couple of tickets for us both to go.

It was last night.  We bundled onto a coach at Le Mans at 4:30 pm, about 3 hours' drive into the centre of Paris where we were dropped off just outside the Theatre des Champs Elisées.  The concert was given by La Musique des Gardiens de la Paix, i.e. the Paris police harmonie band.  Good they were, too.  They started with Sibelius' Finlandia, and moved onto some lesser-known composers, and featured solo performances on flute, trumpet, and a clarinet duo who were extraordinarily good.  A fabulous concert.  And if Yamaha took the opportunity to point out that certain musicians, including some high-powered international musicians, play on Yamaha instruments, well, who can blame them.

A bit of a late night.  Coach at 11pm, Le Mans at 1:40, in bed at 2:30.   Some people apparently, came from much farther away.  I'm sure they thought it was worth the trip, too.

Friday 16 January 2015

Freedoms vs rights

I have been reflecting on freedoms, especially that of speech recently. I have come against a bit of a brick wall.  

I'm a libertarian, in that I favour freedom and responsibility over constraints. But my freedoms might well impinge upon your rights. If you consider that you have the right to live until a random accident or nature takes you off, then my right to kill you is curtailed. Generally, the more rights you have, the fewer freedoms I have, and so, if we assume that you and I both have the same rights and freedoms, then the more rights I have, the fewer freedoms I can enjoy.

 States regulate the trade-offs between rights and freedoms by means of laws (and by implication, crimes). Different states balance things differently, which, at fundament, is the difference between states.

 It follows logically from the existence of laws, that free speech must be curtailed: incitement to commit a crime is an attempt to commit a crime by proxy, and must, logically, itself be a crime. Similarly threats. Not threats of the kind "If you don't buy me an ice cream I'll hate you forever", but threats of the kind "I'm going to do something illegal to your detriment" (whether or not the threat is made in an attempt to coerce a certain behaviour from the target) must be a crime.

 Both of the above fall logically straight out of the existence of laws.

There's a third category of restriction of freedom of speech, that is libel and slander, that arise out of a reasonable right of a person not to be harmed by lies created or circulated about them.

Now, we don't seem to have too much trouble with the idea that one can be "free" despite one's day-to-day existence being hedged around with many and complex laws.  Therefore I'm wondering why freedom of speech has to be binary: you can either say whatever you want, or there's no freedom of speech.

 So I'm shouting at Manuel Valls on the telly the other day, when he is explaining to us how freedom of speech for Charlie Hebdo is 100% compatible with jailing people for celebrating the attacks on the newspaper, and then I find myself wondering if he's right.

Given that the existence of the above three types of constraint on free speech are OK, why not others, that arise from different "rights"? .........

The only argument I can come up with (in favour of complete freedom of speech) is that the effect of only allowing people to say whatever the state happens to agree with, is worse than allowing people to say whatever they like.   Which is more of an opinion, rather than a fact.

Friday 9 January 2015

The auction

There was an auction recently, associated, I think, with the bankruptcy of a demolition company.   I quite like auctions, and I like the idea of the possibilty of picking up some useful gear cheaply.   My neighbour Louis, who lives just up the road, alerted me to it, and since we couldn't go together, I went on my own to see what was what.  The first one I've been to in France.

The ladders were great for looking at what's going on in the next bay.

I have been intending to get a jackhammer for some time now.  The rocks in my garden are not small, and some are too heavy for me to lift when I need to move them.  (I have sucesfully managed to roll one into place, but it took a whole afternoon)   Breaking them up with a sledgehammer is hard work and I can't break the biggest ones.

Whilst browsing the January sales in our local DIY shop (Bricoman), I noticed a big (2.2Kwatt) electric jackhammer.   On offer at 215 euros instead of a "normal" price of 520 or so.   I'm always a bit wary of shops claiming to be offering big discounts in the sales, but it looked to be a solid hammer, even if I didn't recognise the brand.   I decided instead to wait until the auction in case there was one there that I could pick up more cheaply.

In the event, the tools on sale at the auction looked a bit sad.  It appeared that the guy running the business would buy a tool, (ab)use it until it broke, then buy another one the same.  The only thing that looked well-cared-for was the shiny Ford 4x4 pickup truck advertising the business.   The tools on sale were of course without guarantee, and it wasn't possible to test them.   None the less, there were a couple of big Makita electric jackhammers there.  Good brand, reliable, and they didn't seem in bad condition.  Probably retail at about 1,000 euros for the smaller one, maybe 1,500 - 2,000 for the bigger one.

Sad tools, shiny car

They went for 200 and 300 euros respectively (+35% sale fee and VAT).  No way.  I can see that for a business, maybe it's worth a punt for a tool you'll want to use every day for years, but not for me.  I went back to the shop to buy the sale item.   At least it would be guaranteed to work (and for two years).   There had been three of them there the day before; I had to take the last remaining display model.  I took that to be a good sign; if they were known to be rubbish they wouldn't have sold.   No manuals, but I can look it up on the internet, which I did.   I also discovered its normal price: 990 euros on ebay, though you can find it for 780 or thereabouts.  Good call.  Here's a picture of it:

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