Sunday 21 December 2014

The darkest day of the year

Heavy heart
Tears hidden behind dry eyes
Can I run away and hide?
    run away from my fears,
    run away from my anger,
    run away from myself.

Where can I run to?
If I cross the sea,
    if I soar with the eagle,
    if I bury myself in the depths of despair
    you are there.
Can I run away and hide in your arms of love,
bury my face in your chest - oh Daddy - the dad-embrace I longed for as a child?
And pour out my turmoil to you,
    in the secret place,
    in the quiet place,
    to you who knows the secrets of my heart.
You listen, because you - oh God you are there
    even in the silent, dry tears in the middle of the night
    God with us. 
    God with me.
    God for me.

Even though I walk through the swamp of despair and wallow in sadness
Yet I will go up to the House of God
where my brothers celebrate.
To kick my soul in the seat of its pants to lift itself up,
To remind myself that there is joy in the morning.

There is forgiveness:
    That is why Jesus came to earth - as a baby, then crucified as a man
    that there may be forgiveness on the earth
    that there may be joy in the morning
    that I need not wallow in self-pity any longer
    that I may forgive myself,
    that I may live again in harmony with myself
    that God may forgive me
    that I may live again in harmony with God.

Blessed be the Lord - I tell my heavy heart.
For here - between the arms outstretched across the expanse of the cross - is love, vast as the ocean.
Without this Jesus I am lost.
But with this Jesus - with this loving God -
    there is hope,
    there is forgiveness,
    there is - at last - peace for my heavy heart.

(Sunday, 21 December 2014)    

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Scaffolding around the cake

It's become a bit of a tradition - many years ago, I built some Lego "scaffolding" around my son's birthday cake. This year, he wanted the same thing.

I wasn't content to just have scaffolding, so I built the scaffolding under construction, and their truck as well, complete with boxes for putting their various connectors and bits in. Being a tidy bunch of workers, of course they have a dustbin and some traffic cones.

They also had a go at installing some candles. Unfortunately, when I arrived to take photos, they were on their tea break.

Friday 24 October 2014


A thousand and one tons, metal wheels squeaking on metal rails bending under the weight - freight from the world to the people, people visiting people, tank trains full of fluid cement or oil. The points change, another steel snake slithers slowly over the junction to a destination unknown. The boy in the window watches, wondering, enraptured by the sound, the sight, the smell. Bright colours smeared in the grime of the city. The burning odour of brakes, the morning odour of sweaty gents packed tight into a commuter train, occasionally punctured by strong perfume. Busy people busily reading, tapping their work into their phones so early in the day - and I am one of them but chanced to look up, look out, at the fascinating world around me, and watched like the boy in the window.

21 October 2014 - on the morning commute

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Clock number 1

Now that I have moved into my man-cave, I am able to start working on a number of projects that have been on hold whilst we rebuilt the house. Stuff like rebuilding a computer, sorting out the XBMC media box, and stuff like that. And building cool things out of Lego.

One of the projects that has been ticking over at the back of my mind is to build a clock. A quick internet search shows lots of ideas of building clock faces out of Lego, and some of these are very artistic. A lot of work goes into making some of these designs, and eventually my clock will have an arty face as well.

For the idea in hand, I am not content to use a purchased clock mechanism. The challenge is to build the mechanism as well. For this, Lego Technic is my weapon of choice, but there are a number of challenges:

  • Lego axles are cross-shaped rather than round, and the gears have a cross-shaped hole in the middle so that the gears do not spin on the axle. The challenge is that a clock has two concentric axles for the hour and minute hand - three if you want a second-hand as well. So somewhere in the mechanism, at least one gear must be able to spin freely on the axle.
  • It is considered extremely bad form among Adult Fans of Lego to deliberately damage one's Lego. Therefore the drilling-out of the axle-cross in a gear is not permitted. Having said that, I confess to doing exactly that a number of years ago. 
  • The minute hand rotates sixty times faster than the hour hand. A gear ratio of 60:1 is required between the two concentric axles. Lego gears are available with 8, 16, 24, and 40 teeth (there are a few others too). I leave the maths as an exercise for the reader.
Over the course of an hour in my cave the other evening, with paper, pen, and the calculator on my phone (which is also a form of cheating), I worked out the gear ratios. I know I can look it up online, but that's not so satisfying. Then I ran into another problem: how to make sure that the start and the end of the gearing end up on the same axle. I built and rebuilt the mechanism half a dozen times before I worked that out. Some problems can only be solved by trial and error. And the solution turned out to be quite elegant. The mechanism is seen here.

On the front (in the lower part of the picture to the left) is a dark grey part , known as a "differential ". This part is found in many of the Technic vehicle sets, and your car has one too. I use it here, because it has round axle-holes. The dark grey bit itself is driven by the small 8-tooth gear to its right. The axle through the middle is driven from the back of the mechanism (top of the picture).

So here I present, with a simple face to support the whole thing, version 1 of my Lego clock. There is no drive system yet - you have to turn the minute hand manually. But the hour hand rotates at exactly the right speed when you do so. My son called it a Saturday alarm clock - you can set it for exactly the time you want, and it will make absolutely no sound at that time on a Saturday, thus allowing you to have a lie-in. so practical.

If I have nothing else to do on Saturday after my lie-in, I might start work on the drive mechanism. Episode 2 of this saga will follow in a few months' time. If you can't wait for me to build mine, have a look at what others have done.

Thursday 11 September 2014


This week I am in Aberdeen on business. It's a fascinating place: the adverts at the airport (for pipeline inspection equipment and offshore safety training, rather than shampoo and jewelry) leave you in no doubt that this is Oil City.  There is money here: plenty of new cars on the clean streets, attractive shopping malls (which reminded me of malls in Dubai, Malaysia and London) and granite bridges between granite buildings. When you see bridges from one building to another, that's a sure sign of money.

My hotel overlooks the docks. Numerous buildings are marked with the logo of the Shore Porters Society - the world's oldest transport company - advertising its presence here since 1498. The ferry to Orkney and Shetland with its Viking logo is just over the water, and there is a truck on the docks lining up cattle wagons ready to be loaded on board. Elsewhere , the supply vessels from the offshore platforms are here to load up - giant sea trucks that carry everything except people out to the rigs in the North Sea. A constantly changing steel landscape, chugging with diesel engines night and day, bright colours clashing with the grey of the Granite City. Thank Ibis for double glazing.

This is an interesting week to be in Scotland. In a few days' time, the nation will vote about separating from the Union of the United Kingdom.  Anyone who is resident in Scotland can vote. 12% of the population of Scotland are not Scottish, which means half a million people from around the world can vote on the future of a country they know little about, yet 750,000 Scots living in England have no say, and nor do soldiers on tour of duty, nor millions of others worldwide with Scottish blood. I'm not allowed to vote. But my brother, who is of English descent (and was born in Switzerland), can vote because he lives in Edinburgh. I don't understand how that's appropriate for independence.

I also don't understand why so many people are pro-independence . I understand the laudable ideal of independence, but it must be tempered with practicality. Nobody knows what currency will be used, what language they will use ("English" being taught in Scottish schools?),  whether Scotland will be permitted entry into the EU (and how long it will take), whether the border with England will be open or policed. That uncertainty is making the international finance markets uneasy - already, billions of pounds sterling  has been moved out of Scotland, and the London stock market has slumped because of the uncertainty. Even six months ago, the papers were talking about the financial prospects of independence.

I guess it's easy for me - I'm not Scottish, so I don't understand what Scots feel about being part of the Union. Catalonia, the Flemish, Orcadiansand other people-groups around the world probably have a much better idea of what independence means. They must be watching Scotland like hawks for a precedent that will allow them to pursue their own independence.  If they do, then the break-up of the EU may well follow - ironic really, because the Independence campaign seems to rely on Scotland rapidly being integrated into the EU to survive. I can't help thinking that the Scottish First Minister has shot himself, and the country he loves, in the foot.