Visuwords – graphical dictionary and thesaurus

Posted by jerry on December 29th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, New media, Writing

Dictionaries are great, but they are linear in layout, and sometimes you just want words to collide with each other visually in interesting ways. Visuwords ™ uses the Princeton University online dictionary to display terms in graphical relationship with other words forming neural nets. It is a great tool for visualising where words fit in the context of syntactic structures.

You can pull the terms around and follow syntactic links with other words by double clicking on the other words to expand the net – if nothing else, it’s a good procrastination device while you are trying to think of a word while writing!


Woodworking – making a bending iron

Posted by jerry on December 28th, 2008 — Posted in Music, Woodwork

While I successfully used a piece of water pipe and a blow torch for forming the sides of my travel violin, I felt I needed something more reliable for the mandolin. I had read of the possibility of using a heat gun – the sort used to strip paint – to provide a steady heat source, but saw no plans for doing so.

It was time to think it through and find my own solution. And here it is.

luthier's bending iron

Please note that the air needs a place to escape so that the end of the heat gun doesn’t melt. But the solution is a durable one.

luthier's bending iron

The pipe structure comprises an internal plug with a square top – which is held in the vise. Attached is an T-junction connector, with one opening towards the heat gun, the other vertical. To the vertical end is attached a short piece of water pipe using a connector. And that’s it. The heat enters the wider aperture of the T-junction, finds the lower aperture plugged, and diverts up the vertical tube. The vertical tube is narrower than the T-junction, so the tube gets to be heated, while waste air is released out the top – away from the person doing the bending.

luthier's bending iron

On the hot setting (600C) the vertical tube is plenty hot enough to boil water on contact, but because the waste heat can escape, there is no heat buildup to melt the heat gun, and there is no hot blast of air against the body of the operator.

The proof is in this piece of binding which was used to test the bending iron.

luthier's bending iron

Steam bike update

Posted by jerry on December 19th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Steam

Back in October 2007 I wrote about a little-known steam motorcycle built in 1917 by William Taylor, based on an FN. Thanks to some detective work by one of my readers, an article turned up in Model Engineer Vol 1 no 7 about this very motorcycle, which provided some interesting technical details from someone who was evidently very familiar with the bike.

The frame was indeed from a Belgian FN (Fabrique Nationale) – the frame looks like that of the 1914 285cc model which was shaft driven. The FN company began life in 1899 as an arms manufacturer, later turning to bicycles and then motorcycles.

The engine was likely a Wachs as I mentioned in my original blog post. The engine was a single cylinder double acting engine with 2 1/8″; bore and 2 1/2″; stroke, directly coupled to the tailshaft (the bike was originally shaft driven) using a reduction gear of 6 1/2; to 1.

The boiler was 9″ x 12″ comprising 120 1/2″; of seamless copper tube, running a pressure of 500psi. The boiler feedwater was run through two water heaters, producing superheated steam. The burner was kerosene (parafin) fueled and had a simple pilot light. The exhaust was condensed by a surface condensor and the water fed back into the boiler, with any un-condensed steam being exhausted to the air.

The tank slung above the engine and boiler was divided into two, containing fuel and water, with the fuel being delivered to the burner under pressure.

According to the contemporary report, the bike could sustain 25mph, with higher speeds available in short spurts. The bike was heavy for its power and tended to underperform against its internal combustion contemporaries. And the burner did not behave well in high winds. In addition, as the reviewer noted “The rise in steam pressure on a sudden stop did not make one feel at ease in the saddle”!

So the bike was a one-off experiment – and the candidness of the reviewer usefully noted the bike’s shortcomings as well as its virtues.

Thanks to Pavel for the additional information.


Wooden circus stilts – 1.8m

Posted by jerry on December 16th, 2008 — Posted in DIY, Woodwork

This is probably about the tallest you can make them without seriously sacrificing strength or weight – any taller and you really want properly engineered metal or carbon fibre stilts.

This is basically making new legs for old stilts. You can read how I made the original pair here.

Here is the upper strap arrangement with padded shin/knee cup. The screws holding the shin cup go through the webbing for the straps – which are made from high quality seat-belt material.


The boots give the best support and hold for the feet, if the stilts are for one person and you can sacrifice a pair of sneakers or boots – boots are better for ankle protection.


Here is the underside of the foot plate – as you can see the main leg shafts are directly beneath the ball of the foot and quite central so the forces are mainly vertical.


And here is the finished set. The timber is finished with one coat of orange shellac and then wiped over with orange oil to feed the wood and keep out moisture. They are made from straight grained pine with no knots, and are 1.8m tall to the base of the foot plates. The leg timbers are 32mm x 42mm x 1800mm (1.5″x2″x6′)



British steam car – Inspiration – takes its first run

Posted by jerry on December 7th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Steam, Technology

The British steam car challenge – dubbed ‘Inspiration’ – has taken a further step forward with dynamic tests of the car running independently entirely under its own …um… steam. This is a video of one of its first ever runs – a low speed dynamic test to ensure all the components function together to make a drivable car.

In the process the support team is learning new skills, including how to ‘launch’ the car. A team of 6 people is involved. The sequence of operations involved in checking, filling and starting the car requires coordination, timing and teamwork. Each step is a step closer to achieving the ten-year goal of this team to break the world’s speed record for a steam car, last officially set in 1906 at just over 127mph.

This team has displayed remarkable tenacity and overcome enormous financial and engineering difficulties to come up with the turbine-driven car seen above. They hope to establish a new world record next year.