Shopping for rubbish

Posted on February 29th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

One thing that I’ve always been happy to do is go through other people’s rubbish. Simply, it seems to me – and has always seemed to me – that if you can get something for nothing because it is being thrown away, and that item is of use, it’s a win for you.

So right from the time I first got mobile as a kid on a bicycle, I’ve been happy going through bins and scouring the dump. In fact, I well remember early Sunday morning jaunts through the industrial suburbs near where I lived. The trips weren’t random; nope, I’d use the Yellow Pages to find the factories likely to be throwing away the items I was after, consult the street directory to locate the premises, draw up a map, and then head out to find my treasures. And very often come home with just what I wanted.

All pretty logical for a 13 year old.

One local factory made furniture and each week in their skip were five or so 1 metre-square pieces of plywood. They all had an odd keyhole-shaped cut-out in one corner but apart from that, they were completely pristine. So every Sunday I went and collected them, bringing them home on the pushbike. Another factory made insulation, and for no apparent reason discarded batt after batt of fibreglass. Another threw away copper tube, and another often had reasonable sized sheets of glass. Since my interest at that time was solar energy, it wasn’t a great step to construct my own plate-type solar water heaters, low temperature food warmers, and so on.

Thinking back, all I had to actually pay for was a few cans of matt black spray paint and some woodscrews…

Logging temps

Posted on February 15th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Those of you who have read the series (starts at Using Oscilloscopes on Cars, Part 1 ) will be aware that we’ve recently been exploring the use of digital scopes with cars. As we said in those stories, if you’re doing any modification work that involves input and output signals, the only real way to see what you’re doing is with a scope. Putting my money where my mouth is, I recently bought a digital handheld scope – a Fluke 123 Scopemeter. I got it secondhand but in as-new condition – it’s a product that I have spent nearly two years trying to find at the right price…

In addition to its abilities to display waveforms, it can also be used as a paperless chart recorder. That is, it can plot by means of a line graph the level of a signal over time. Both the time and level parameters auto-scaled, so it doesn’t really matter if you’re logging something for 10 seconds – or 3 days. You can’t download the actual logged numbers from the meter but you can dump the graph itself to a PC. So the logging function of the Scopemeter isn’t as good as you’d get with an adaptor working into a PC, but because of its speed of set-up and ease of use, it’s more likely to be used in everyday measurements.

When you don’t have a workshop manual and the car’s very complex…

Posted on February 1st, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Took on a big job the other day. Well, it was big for me. As I have discussed in another column (Driving Emotion), my partner recently bought a 1985 BMW 735i – and I was saddled with the job of fixing the things that didn’t work. Things like the electric seats (which I have covered in a dedicated story), the trip computer and the climate control.

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