As far as I can tell, Magic is my oldest hobby and I’ve counted myself as a “magician” on at least some level for over 30 years.
From my early teens until I left Uni I was performing reasonably regularly, first as a birthday party magician and later as a closeup/table hopper. Once I left uni, I stopped performing for two reasons.
Firstly, I bought a copy of “Art of Astonishment” by Paul Harris, and realised I was approaching magic the wrong way. Or if not the “wrong” way, not the way I wanted to approach it. Very few of my effects were as strong as I thought they were (with the exception of my Card Warp handling and a really satisfying watch stopping routine I had), and only one or two of them unleashed anything approaching “astonishment” on my audiences.
I started to throw out material and work on new bits, and I took a break from performing to do so – “for the good of my performance” I kept telling myself.
Then I went and got a full time job that paid well enough that I didn’t need to top it up with money from performing. The incentives to work on the new material evaporated, and working on finger skills took a back seat to reading about magic theory and history.
Over the next decade or so, my interest in performing magic dwindled further and my academic interest in it grew. Eventually other academic interests grew along side it and took over the lion share of my thinking time – but I’ve always kept it bubbling away on a back burner.
In the last few months, a few things have coincided to start me thinking about magic again.
Penn & Teller – Fool Us (and Penns Sunday School)
I’ve always had a lot of time for Penn & Teller. I like their style, I find Penn entertaining and engaging (apart from occasionally when he goes off on a political rant, which coming from a completely different political environment I can’t really relate to) and Teller is a formidable talent. What Teller doesn’t know about magic isn’t worth knowing.
I started listening to the Penns Sunday School podcast about a year ago, and I’ve been enjoying it more than his previous podcasts – mostly because he spends more time talking about magic, juggling, performing in general, his background, people he’s met and experiences he’s had in the entertainment industry etc.
I’ve got enough to say about Fool Us for a post on it’s own – but I’ll just say I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened to TV magic in years.
Season 2 was only aired in the USA, but it’s worth seeking out if you can find it down the back of the internet sofa.
Wow. I’m so glad this blog came back. “Andy Lastname” sees magic in a way I can relate to, and his level of sarcasm and disdain for the majority of magicians really fits well along side mine. I look forward to every post, and he’s really got my enthusiasm for “magical thinking” fired up again, along with really questioning why magicians do things the way we do, even when it doesn’t make sense.
Paul Daniels Magic Show
A very kind chap in Australia posted me a USB stick containing 67 episodes of The Paul Daniels Magic Show. That’s around 50 hours of footage for me to watch. I started watching it mainly for the speciality guest acts (jugglers, acrobats, other magicians) but watching the magic content has proved really interesting as well.
Some of the humour wouldn’t fly these days, some of his handling of the audience members is a little patronising to todays eyes, but there’s an awful lot of gold in there too. I’ll write more about Paul Daniels another time.
The Magicians Podcast
This is the most recent thing I’ve latched on to. http://magicianspodcast.podbean.com – the “gateway drug” for me, was stumbling across a reference to the interview with Paul Daniels. Since then I’ve cherrypicked the names I was most familiar with, and have now decided to go back through and listen to the lot.
It’s far more about magicians than it is about magic, but there’s a lot of really interesting information in there about how professional performing magicians think. Being a Magic Circle podcast, it’s very UK focused – but includes some cracking interviews from some really talented people.
My Niece and Nephew
They’ve both expressed an interest in magic. I’ve been holding off on showing them everything (and drowning any enthusiasm they’ve got) but they’ve both learned a couple of tricks recently.
It’s fun showing them the odd trick.
Where am I at now?
A couple of weeks back, I picked up a pack of cards to give my hands something to do while I waited for computers to do computer things. Various moves started coming back to me, but in the decade and a half or so since I last seriously mucked about with cards I’ve clearly forgotten almost as much as I’ve ever known.
I’ve dredged up some old routines, and have started relearning a few bits and bobs. Nothing that’s remotely “performance ready” yet, but I’ve managed to reverse engineer my handling for Twisting The Aces (Dia Vernon)
This was a routine that 20 years ago I could do with my eyes shut. This week, I couldn’t even remember how many cards it needed. All I could remember was that there was an Elmsley Count in there somewhere.
My handling is now back in my short term memory (although I need to rediscover the context and patter I used to put it in, as it’s not an effect which makes logical sense on its own) and hopefully I can ingrain it further by the time I work out how I used to present it.
I must say, I’m really enjoying all this. It’s been a long time since I felt the sense of achievement from learning a new routine.
I took a trip to London yesterday, as part of my ongoing interest in the history of the Speaking Clock. I was there to record the MKII Prototype Speaking Clock which they have on display at the Science Museum.
This was built by the GPO as a protoype for a machine to replace the original GPO speaking clock, although it never went into production in the UK as a replacement for the MKI machine (voiced by Ethel Cain) as that was replaced by a system which used magnetic drums to store the phrases, rather than optical disks.
It did however go into production in Australia, and like the Australian units the one at the Science Museum has the voice of Gordon Gow.
I went equipped with my trusty Tascam DR-40 and every sort of patch lead I could think of (and a few test leads with probes and clips… and an inductive pickup incase we got really stuck).
As luck would have it, we were able to pick up a feed after the preamp and before the amplifier used for the display speakers, so I got as clean a pickup as I could have hoped for.
The original audio is still very noisy, and there’s a high pitched whine:
The noise is to be expected, as it’s an optical disk recording which is now 60 years old and is in a brightly illuminated gallery environment. The high pitched whine is interesting as it’s actually encoded on the disk.
In the original installation, it was filtered out from the audio and run through a detector. If the frequency drifted (or if the signal wasn’t present at all) equipment detected this as a failure of the clock unit and switched to the secondary/standby unit and raised an alarm.
All the equipment to do that was housed in a great big rack full of valves, which the science museum decided wasn’t feasible to keep running as part of a display. The electronics they built to simulate that rack didn’t include the filter so the signal shows up in the output.
It’s pretty easy to sort that out in post though:
Using Audacity I highlighted a small section of the audio which contained only noise, I used the built in frequency analysis tools (Analyze Menu -> Plot Spectrum) to identify a very strong peak at 3127Hz
It was then a simple matter to notch that out using an equalizer
The resulting audio sounds like this:
That’s much cleaner, although my handling is a little rougher than it could have been. I’ll spend more than 5 minutes on it and do it more carefully before I apply the same treatment to all the recordings.
Once I’ve cut out the whine, I’ll run a gentle noise filter over it and start chopping out the phrases used and construct an electronic reproduction.
It’s pretty easy to see where to chop the phrases, as there is a spike introduced by the mechanism that switches playback from one disk to the next.
Even so, with 12 hours announcements, 60 minutes announcements, 5 seconds announcements, the “precicely” and “at the third stroke” that’s quite a lot of files to prep!
Telephones in general:
I’ve got probably half a dozen articles almost-fully-written for the THG magazine, I should finish those off really. Once they’ve been published in print I’ll try and put them up here too – but since one of them was started 5 years ago, don’t hold your breath!
So between all the above, there’s not a huge amount of subject matter left that I’m interested in writing about here.
Rather than neglecting or shutting down this blog though, I think I’m just going to try and find some stuff to write about – stay tuned (but don’t hold your breath)
Well it’s been an interesting month for BOV. There’s a tale of tediousness, and a more satisfying tale of improvements.
It started with its annual MOT, and as BOV is a 15 year old, ex-post office, British built LDV Pilot I was never expecting an easy ride of it. It failed the MOT on a few fairly small items really. A dead light cluster at the back, a worn bush on the front suspension hanger, and uneven wear on the back brakes.
The light cluster was an easy fix, the previous owner had wired it in by twisting wires together, not done a particularly good job of it and the joint had failed. I remade the joint with crimps and got a working light cluster back again. (One point to me I think)
Changing the suspension hanger is where the trouble started.
After a week and a half of putting me off, the garage finally admitted that they’d been having trouble finding the part. A problem made worse by them having dropped their laptop that week, smashing the screen in the process. So I hopped on the interwebs, dug up the phone numbers of some LDV spares places and rang round them. The first place would only sell me a box of 10 (I only really wanted one), but they did give me the part number which made things easier for the subsequent phone calls. Within about half an hour I had the part on my way to me. (Paul 2, Garage 0 at this point)
List of handy parts suppliers (in case I lose the piece of paper)
So I booked them in to change the bush and replace the drums on the back brakes, which is a pretty standard procedure and I thought there wasn’t much that could go wrong…
After changing the drums, they couldn’t pressurise the brake system. It was beginning to look like the master cylinder had failed (I’m really not sure of cause and effect here) – I didn’t have time to ring round the list of suppliers so instead I handed over the list of phone numbers for them to do so. They told me they’d found a master cylinder and would be fitting it the next day.
Turns out that rather than going through the list of suppliers above they’d found an LDV Pilot in a scrap yard on the other side of Bristol and taken the master cylinder out of that. Fine, I’m not averse to second hand parts, whatever. The next day I asked them how it was going, and they said they’d hit a problem in that the master cylinder they’d got was the wrong type. It only had 3 lines going to the brakes and mine had 5.
Now, I’ve offered them the service manuals for the pilot several times and they’ve always said thanks-but-no-thanks-we’ve-got-all-the-info-we-need. Yet if you look in the service manual it makes it quite clear that earlier Pilots have a different master cylinder, which feeds one line to each front disk and a line which is shared between the back wheels (via a load sensing valve, which adjust braking pressure depending on how loaded the van is) – my Pilot is a later model which has two lines to each front disk, and a 5th line going to the back.
They decided the easiest thing to do at this point was to recondition my master cylinder, and ordered a kit for doing that.
A couple of days wait, and a missed opportunity to go away for the weekend in the van, and I get word that they’ve reconditioned the master cylinder and put it all back together again. As it was now more than 10 days since it failed the MOT it needed a full re-test – so that would be another day.
When I finally got the van back, with an MOT and took it home I noticed they’d managed to sheer off one of the studs holding the drivers side rear wheel on. *sigh* I’m sure it’s fine to drive short distances/low speed with only 4/5 of the bolts holding the back wheel on, but I need to take it on a 300 mile drive down the motorway on Friday of this week.
This garage isn’t getting any of my business again, so I’ve booked it in elsewhere (at the garage I use for my Polo)
I know getting parts for an LDV Pilot isn’t straight forward and most regular spares places (eg GSF) don’t carry them – so I’ve ordered a replacement wheel stud which arrived this morning. It “should” be a simple, straight forward, 30 minute job to change the stud. I’d do it myself, but I don’t really have the space to do it at home.
The last major upgrade to BOVs interior was fitting out the kitchen and getting the gas plumbed in back in 2013. It’s time to upgrade something, and the leisure electrics were next on the list.
Earlier in the year I fitted a solar panel to the roof, in time for BJC. I didn’t blog about it at the time as it was fitted to a pretty tight deadline, and was only really finished the night before loading the van. It works like a champ though, and keeps my leisure battery nicely topped up.
The old switch panel was a little “rustic” and didn’t really fulfil our needs when it comes to USB charging, and the fuse holders were a bit of a nightmare. I could never remember which fuse went with which switch, and they were a little fussy when it comes to making contact with the fuse.
So it’s out with the old, and in with the new!
It took about 3 hours to strip out the old panel, lay out the new parts, make the cutouts and get it all wired up neatly.
The new panel gives us 2x1A USB charging ports, 2x2A USB charging ports, 1x12V Lighter Socket, and I’ve retained the PSU for the LED spot light and speakers. At some point I want to replace the lighting and the speakers with something a little less lashed up, but for now it’s much better than it was.
Yesterday was the Milton Keynes Myseum Phone & Post Office Vehicles Day. I had been hoping to pile my telephone exchange into the back of BOV and take it up there to display along side Ians HES2 and HES4 systems, like we did this time last year for the NVCF.
Unfortunately, BOV isn’t on the road at the moment. Long story, but it failed it’s MOT about a month ago, and it’s taking longer than anticipated to get it back on the road. I’m hoping to get it back this week, but if not I’ll have to start trying to book a “plan B” for Bungay at the end of May.
Instead, I got to wander around the post office vans and motor bikes which were on show (scattered haphazardly around this post!) taking photos, chat to THG members etc. but most importantly entertain myself dialling through the museums excellent collection of phone exchanges! I improved on my previous record, and managed to get through all 4 working automatic exchanges, and one of the manual boards.
My longest route was starting from the phone in the mobile UAX 12 trailer, dial: 9596100 then ask the operator for Rotherham 762200. Pleasingly, that takes you through the automatic exchanges almost in age order.
95 takes you out of the UAX12 and into the MNDX trailer, 96 then takes you from the MNDX into the UAX13 in the main hall. For some reason at this point you get dial tone from the UAX13, and can dial 100 to take you to the “operator” manual board. The operator can then dial 9 to access Rotherham (the crossbar exchange) and then 762200 to ring the phone in front of it.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to dial into and then out of the UAX12 or the crossbar, so until I work that out they need to be at the start or end of the call. Adding the CBS 2 manual board should be possible, but it involves the cooperation of a willing operator (social engineering required!)
Apart from playing with phones, I spent a lot of time eating cake, being confused by the new sandwich multiple choice exam, and talked to a chap who collects and sells models of post office vehicles.
Unfortunately no one seems to make a model of the post office issue LDV Pilot minibus, so I can’t have a model BOV to go on my mantle piece. I’ll just have to keep working on getting a full sized one back on the drive.
For the last couple of months, my trusty VW Polo has been stalling when I change down a gear as I’m slowing down, or when I’m braking at slow speed or going round a corner.
It’s done this before, and I took it to a garage who couldn’t find the fault. Not entirely surprising as it’s not possible to make it do it on the driveway/ramp it only exhibits the fault when driving.
I did a lot of digging on the internet at the time, and amongst the various suggestions I saw someone say “Yeah, mine did that all the time. It turned out to be the air intake valve on top of the carburettor being a bit gungy and sticking closed if you take your foot off the accelerator too quickly”
That seemed to broadly speaking fit the situations where I was having trouble – so I took the air filter off and cleaned the intake valve. Dead easy, about a 10 minute job.
So, this time round, I knew what the likely cause was, and 2 or 3 months ago I set about taking the air filter off. I hit a snag. The heads of the screws holding the air filter on were rusted to the point that they were just rounding out as I tried to unscrew them.
I had a look around on the internet for some replacement screws, they’re not that easy to find, and bugger off am I paying almost £15 for a new set!
So about 2 months ago I managed to make it to a breakers yard and pick up a complete set of air filter screws for £1 (and a headlamp for a tenner which I still need to get around to fitting… one thing at a time eh!)
This morning on my way to the gym I stalled 12 times. I’d had enough, so tonight I got out my dremmel, ground some slots in the heads of the old screws, worked them out with a flatblade and took my airfilter off.
On the left, you can see the intake valve (closed at the top, open at the bottom) and you can see it’s pretty filthy! On the right, you can see it after I’ve cleaned it with some carb cleaner and an old rag.
After reassembling it all (with the new screws!) I drove it round the block and didn’t stall once. Win!
Back in April, I came across this video in which Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) shows off his Sortimo storage system.
Inspired by the video, I decided I’d had enough of electronic components rattling around unsorted in bags and shoeboxes of various sizes, and started looking into Sortimo. My word that’s an expensive storage system! OK, I get it, it’s marvelous and I *love* that iot’s modular, and that you can buy whatever combination of containers you like, and they sell a lovely cabinet to keep it all in…
As you can see in the video, Adam has 30 of the Sortimo trays and to get them in the UK they’re £50 each! That’s £1500 worth of storage boxes, without buying a rack to put them in… Ouch!
Clearly I can’t compete with that, so I needed to go cheaper.
My requirements are more modest than Mr Savage (I don’t think I need 30 trays… yet!) but I do want a consistent storage system, with modular compartments, and a clear lid which keeps everything in – and preferably from a named manufacturer so when I extend it in the future I can buy stuff that matches and just extend the system.
After a lot of shopping around, I found these storage boxes by Stanley. They’re a much more modest £14 each from ebay, and conceptually they’re pretty similar (although the tubs aren’t colour coded, and you don’t seem to be able to buy quite the same variety of sizes) but I bought 5 of them anyway “to get me started”.
I spent a very happy couple of evenings going through boxes and sorting things into them, really satisfying work! However, they just hung around in the workshop in a pile. If I wanted something from the third box down I had to find somewhere to put the top two so I could get to the one I wanted.
It was a long way from “First Order Retrievability” (Adams idea that nothing need be moved out of the way to get to anything else.)
Today, I fixed that, for a grand total of £3 (plus some time and effort)
Exquisite cabinetry it’s not, but it’s reasonably neat and tidy, it’s functional and it has space for 11 of the stanley storage boxes (so I’m just going to have to buy another 6!)
A £3 bit of MDF from the offcuts bin at B&Q for the sides/top
A piece of hardboard I had lying around (which I think I pulled out of a skip behind Ikea about 15 years ago) for the back
The packing material a whiteboard was delivered to work in (the wooden runners)
Wood glue, screws, etc. Because who hasn’t got those just around the house?
Adding that up, the total cost of the shelving system was £3. Cost so far of the sorting boxes, £70. Cost of remaining sorting boxes, £84. All in – £157 worth of component storage.
OK, so it’s a third of the capacity of Adams solution, but it’s an order of magnitude cheaper with exactly the same concept.
Now that I’ve got a woodburner, I need somewhere to keep my firewood. It needs to be big, and it needs to be ventilated. It also needs to be cheap (as wood stores can run to about £200, which is about 2 winters worth of fuel)
So I scrounged myself a load of pallets (a mixture of sizes, it seems to be trickier than I thought to get a decent quantity of identical pallets), bought some breezeblocks and started building.
First step was to pick a site, and clear it. There was a compost bin on this site, which had to be dug out first.
Once the site was roughly level, I sunk some breezeblocks into the ground and leveled them. This should give me a sturdy base, but more importantly it’ll raise the pallets I’m using for the base up off the ground a bit, which should slow down the speed they rot at.
Next step was to lay the two base pallets, and nail them together with some nice big 6″ nails. It might not look it in this picture, but they are level, and bloody heavy too so they’re not going anywhere!
With the base down, a pallet was nailed upright to make a side. This side doesn’t have to be all that neat as it’s mostly hidden by the fence, so I used the least attractive of the remaining pallets.
I had two near identical pallets left, which fit nicely along the back edge. They’re nailed to each other, and to the base, and to the side panel. Nice and solid.
This slightly smaller pallet makes a nice divider down the middle of the log store. This should make it easier to load, but more importantly means I can pack one side with seasoned wood, and the other with (cheaper) unseasoned wood. Then in 12 months time when I’ve burnt the seasoned wood, I can buy some more unseasoned and swap the sides round.
Lastly I cut down a larger pallet, knocked out the chipboard spacers it used to leave me with a nice neat side panel. That’s it, all done!
Total expenditure so far: £13.50 (£10 for the breezeblocks, £3.50 worth of nails)
All I’ve got to do now is find something to make the roof out of – so if anyone has any leads on a scrap bit of shuttering ply or blockboard (in the Bristol area obviously) let me know. As the back pallets are higher than the sides, it should slope nicely and shed the water off.
Once it’s got a lid I can fill it with firewood – which is the expensive bit!