Good news

What a beautiful engine.

Good news in two ways, and one bad note.

The Honda’s battery is OK! I measured it yesterday and it was 3.0V open circuit. That’s too low for a lead acid battery and I thought it was a lost cause.

But I put it on the charger (or rather, I put the charger on it) and it was slightly encouraging in that it showed a steady BULK charging LED, instead of the flashing it usually does if the plates are totally sulfated. So I left it on charge for the past 24hrs and lo and behold, it’s fully charged and working OK. Hallelujah! This is weird because there was no warning that it was going to die. I guess the answer is that I have to be more disciplined in using the charger more often. I only drive this car once or twice a week.

The second bit of good news is that there’s a three years RAC battery warranty. Wow. That’s a big chunk of peace of mind. If I’d realised that with the last battery failure early this year I might have been able to get it replace under warranty. Must keep that in mind.

The bit of bad news is that I went to charge the tyre pump battery in my Aldi jump starter/pump/torch and it showed … nothing. No charging taking place. Gaaaah!

It’s a little plug pack (wall wart) rated at 15V DC 0,5A. I put the meter on it – zero. No output. Kaput. What a pain. OK, I’ve got a box of these things but 15V is unusual. Not sure I’ve got one of those. Anyway, that’s easy fixed.

Now to drive the Honda and start paying more attention to what I think is a power steering low fluid noise. A whine which varies with steering wheel angle effort. My usual method is to ignore it until it bites me, i.e. it fails in some way. Must get off my backside and attend to it.

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Speaking of electronic thingies, a design appeared in Silicon Chip magazine January 2020 issue for a model railway DCC control station. Aha, just what I wanted as commercial units cost $800 – $1,100. As the article says, you can build this unit for far less than that, in the region of $200 (assuming you interface it to your laptop PC).

But I was massively disappointed in the article. It assumes a higher level of knowledge of Arduino microcomputers than I have. Part of the article says, “It is assumed that you are familiar with the Arduino IDE [Integrated Design Environment] to proceed.” Huh? No, I use computers a lot, but I never learnt embedded micros or the C++ language and so on.

As well, the design is just bare printed circuit boards. No box, so control panel, no knobs or switches. Very disappointing! OK for someone of a much younger age, I suppose, but no use to me. So for nearly two years I’ve let it lie and considered spending the $800 or so to buy a commercial one (but I haven’t).

However, one of my former work colleagues came around last weekend and showed me what it all means, how to deal with it. He’s always been red hot on microcomputers, ever since they came into being in the 1980s. He’s a whiz kid. I say kid deliberately, because he looks perpetually young. He’s 10 years younger than me and I remember when he first started at Ch7 at age 18, he looked like a Boy Scout, which he was. He still does, forever young. But he had a massive heart attack a few years ago, and was lucky to survive. Looking young didn’t help him. But he’s OK now, touch wood.

Anyway, his tutelage has inspired me to look at this train controller with new eyes and give it a go. I’ve realised it’s not as difficult as I thought (as is the case with many things). I just need to build up two small printed circuit boards and buy the ready made Arduino micro PC

Duinotech UNO r3 Development Board
An Arduino micro computer.

This is a complete computer on a small board, about 50mm square. That’s the USB connection to your laptop at left, DC power socket at right, all the computer and memory in the long integrated circuit and all the inputs and outputs in those long pin sockets along the edges. Price? $29.95 from Jaycar. Why “Arduino”? It was developed by an Italian guy about 15 years ago and it’s become a very well known and supported system.

I’ve bought two kits of the PCBs and “hard to get bits” from Silicon Chip (total cost $82) so I’ll be building two of these.

Unfortunately, it all has to be controlled from a laptop and there’s a simple software program to do this (free download), but I don’t like that much. I want knobs and buttons and lamps and switches! So my friend is planning to put his mind to designing something. He’s got some model trains himself and so he’s interested. He’s very capable of doing this, he’s very bright. And as I said to him, I reckon there must be others who would want a design like this.

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I pumped the Peugeot tyres up yesterday as well, and although it’s hard to be sure, I think it was the left front again, just down a fraction. Gee, these are very sensitive. So I’ve pumped ’em all up to 2,4Bar this time to allow for a bit of leeway. A bit of over inflation won’t hurt with my small amount of driving.

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A few posts ago I started to talk about my current book, and because I’d forgotten the name I didn’t continue. Well, it’s A Crack in Creation by Dr Jennifer Doudna and Dr Samuel Sternberg. These are the researchers who discovered CRISPR, the gene editing DNA technique.

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It’s all about a sequence of DNA that can be used to precisely cut and rejoin the twisted DNA chain that’s become so familiar as the basis of life. This means that any changes or insertions can be done precisely and easily, whether the DNA is in plant cells, animals and yes, humans.

The implications are tremendous but also frightening. It could be used to cure many human genetic diseases, the best known being Huntington’s Chorea as one example as the DNA location and sequence of the hereditary problem is well known.

But the section I’m reading at the moment is talking about the potential to wipe out entire species or populations of insects or animals by a technique called gene drive. For example, the entire mosquito population of the Earth could be made to die out by changing the genome (DNA) of just one mosquito and letting it loose in the wild. Since mosquitoes are the cause of enormous human suffering (malaria, Ross River virus, chikangunya, and so on, all the mosquito-born viruses) the temptation is there to wipe ’em all out. But we don’t know what the effects would be on the environment as a whole.

Anyway, I’m finding that I’m having to skip forward through the book because although it’s well written and interesting, it’s so technical and jargon-filled that you need to be a biochemist to follow it. I guess if I re-read it, it might make more sense, especially as it has good diagrams to help, but I can’t follow it at the moment. I’ll skip forward and hope it improves, and I’m sure someone with a more biochemistry background would find it fascinating, but I’m finding it heavy going.

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