How to make a magnetic hourglass

I was in Waterstones over Christmas and in their gifty section, they had a magnetic hourglass that looked pretty cool; essentially, a regular hourglass with some sort of ferrous “sand” and a magnetic in the base. However, it was £20, which seemed kind of expensive for something that would just sit on my desk, so I decided to make my own for far less cost.

I went through a few iterations before I found something that worked reasonably well. I initially tried using plastic champagne flutes from poundland (the ones with the detachable bases). I figured I could drill a hole through the stems of two flutes, attached them together and just cap the ends. However, the stems were too thin to get a firm (or straight) join, so I abandoned that plan pretty quickly.

Next (and this is where I started taking pictures), I tried a couple of small jars, separated by a disc with a hole in it. (The disc was just laminated card – nothing special.)
I didn’t really expect this to be a great solution, but I wanted proof that the iron filings I got off eBay and the magnet I got off the fridge would produce the intended effect.

It actually wasn’t a terrible result. The biggest issue was that the join was too wide and flat – I had to overload the hourglass to ensure that enough filings would fall through and there was a lot left in the top bulb. Still, the principle was sound.

My next thought was to use small cones in the join, instead of a flat disc. However, joining them presented similar issues to joining the champagne flutes (not straight, not stable) and I also wasn’t sure that they would bear the weight of the upper bulb.

I then went back to my previous version, but using vessels with much narrower necks. I settled on some plastic bottles for holding bath products (80p each in the supermarket), joined with a much smaller disc. (I just glued the bottles onto the disc one at a time – it’s fairly sturdy.)
This works pretty well – almost all the filings fall through and a quick shake before turning sends the rest down.

To create a base, I simply melted a couple of tea lights into a tealight holder and pressed a fridge magnet into it.

The final result is a neat little craft project, which cost about £4, plus a couple of things that were lying around the house.
Take that Waterstones!

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Bacon? Bac-off!

Just a short post this week, as I have a lot of other stuff on my plate.
A while back, I planned to do a Great British Bacon, where I would try different bacon recipes over a ten week period. Then I got busy and became a vegetarian, so it didn’t happen.
However, I don’t want to entirely waste the planning I put into it, so here are a couple of the things I was intending to make… in case anyone wants to try them and let me know what I’m missing out on.

Bacon and cheese scones:
This was essentially going to be adding crispy bacon pieces into a standard cheese scone recipe. I’m pretty sure that the flavour combination would have worked, plus it would have added pleasing crunchy bits to the scone texture.

Bacon pancakes:
Americans eat bacon with their pancakes, so why not bacon *in* pancakes? I figured that I would make up some thick pancake batter (American pancakes, not English), fry up some bacon bits, collect them into little piles in the frying pan, then add the pancake batter directly to the piles, letting it cook in the bacon fat. Serve with maple syrup… in theory, delicious.

Unnamed halloumi and bacon combination:
Unnamed because I couldn’t come up with a decent pun on “pigs in blankets”. Chunks of halloumi, wrapped in streaky bacon and then cooked in the oven – if I ever find a decent vegetarian bacon that crisps up properly (recommendations welcome), this is the one that I will probably still try at some point.

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Campaign setting – The World’s Most Interesting Fast Food Restaurant

This is a silly idea that suddenly came to me. It is a short roleplaying campaign (I suspect 6-8 sessions before it gets boring) that could be played in most systems, with a bit of adjustment.

Basic concept:
The players are all ordinary people, working in a fast food restaurant, which just happens to be the most interesting fast food restaurant in the world. Each session basically involves them dealing with some problem or situation, while still trying to do their jobs.

System/Character creation:
You could run this in most systems, but you need to strip out anything that doesn’t fit with the characters being regular people. In d20 systems, it’s probably a skill cap of 14 and no magic or anything; in Savage Worlds, edges are out, combat skills are out and characters probably have less skill points than normal; in Cypher System, you’d just keep pools, edge and training… maybe descriptors. The point is that these are genuinely ordinary folk.
However, each player may choose a single “roleplaying-y” skill for their character. This might be bolted on at the end or done during creation, depending on the system and the skill. This is the only opportunity for a character to have any combat ability (and it has to be specific; if the character is a black belt, they have no skill in firearms). Alternatively, it could be something more esoteric; the character is a chemistry major and can cook up also sorts of weird stuff in the kitchen; the character knows a lot of people and can acquire anything, given some time; the character is an absolute charmer and can wrap people around their little finger… obviously, if the character has one of these, they have no combat abilities whatsoever.

Your characters all work in a fast food joint. It could be any sort of fast food – I’m picturing burgers personally, but pizza, sushi, whatever… The restaurant should be large enough that there is room for interesting things to happen, but not so large that your players are only a tiny part of the work force – your adventures should ideally take place on the graveyard shift or when the restaurant is short staffed, so that your players are the majority of the employees on site, with only a couple of interesting NPC employees to assist them.
Flesh out the restaurant a little, so that you know what areas it has. Is there one of those windows, so you can see into the kitchen? Is the office at the back or is there an upstairs? Does the restaurant have a basement? However, don’t map every inch of the restaurant, as you want some flexibility during play.

Each games session should cover one shift – any players who can’t make a session are simply not working that day. Every shift, something goes wrong in the restaurant:
The FBI are using it for a sting operation, but they’re short staffed themselves, so some of the characters will need to wear wires.
Two mafia dons have brought their grandchildren in for a treat and mustn’t be allowed to see each other.
Some criminals, fleeing the police, choose your restaurant to hole up and take hostages.
The owner of the company is visiting the restaurant for a surprise inspection, but he’s a bit of a recluse, so no one knows what he looks like… or even if he is definitely a he.
Some guys are filming a documentary about the Indian burial ground underneath the parking lot (this could be a campaign finale, explaining why the restaurant is such a weirdness magnet).

The players have to figure out how to resolve the situation (or just survive it), while still broadly operating as a restaurant (because they need their jobs). This should never be played as a serious campaign, but you’ll still need to agree where you are on a sliding scale of realism; you could play it that the characters need to obey the law, keep the restaurant intact, etc.. or you could play a much more slapstick version where the restaurant is pretty much destroyed at the end of every session, but happily gets rebuilt before the next shift.

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Plans for 2018

Here is a selection of miscellaneous plans I have for the coming year.

Write more
Every week, I intend to write… something. It may be a blog post (for this or one of my other blogs), but it may also be something for Dawn, something for work, or even…

Ten Little Stick Men
I’m part way through writing a children’s book, though it will be entirely unsuitable for anyone under the age of ten… twelve, maybe…
I’ll post it up when it’s done, as it’s unlikely to ever see publication (for reasons that will be apparent if you read it).

Magnetic hour glass
I saw one of these in Waterstones – ferrous “sand” and a magnet in the base, so that it produces a cool little sculpture as it falls. However, I wasn’t about to pay £20 for something I figured I could make myself for about £3. I’ll post my success or failure once I’ve made some progress on it.

Python Pandas
I’ve been enjoying learning Python over the last year, but if I want to translate it into anything remotely connected to my work, I need to start using it for data analysis and such like. I’ve heard good things about Pandas, but I’m open to other suggestions.

Deadlands Cypher System conversion
I’ve just about talked my Thursday group around to giving this a try, so there’s going to be a big push in the first part of this year to get the details ironed out. Expect a post at some point, with at least an overview of the basic conversion principles.

I have made two batches of mead over the last 18 months or so… I’m going to try and find something else I can brew with largely the same equipment. Alternatively, if I can find enough sloes, I may just make a few litres of sloe gin… because who doesn’t need that?

The usual
Naturally, I’m going to read more, eat less, exercise more, use my phone less and make absolutely no change to the number of countries I invade this year… I actually think I judged that about right in 2017.

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Great British Bake-On

Like millions of others, I am mourning the loss of Great Britsh Bake-Off to Channel 4. I’ll probably watch the first episode out of curiosity, when it finally rolls round, but I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near as good as the BBC series.
Anyway, in order to fill the void, I have decided that this year I will hold my own Great British Bake-On… more specifically, for those of you who have failed to notice the obvious pun, a Great British Bacon.
For ten weeks, starting from mid-August, I am going to try different recipes involving bacon. I am hoping that I can cover some classics and some more experimental dishes (I’ve always felt that cheese scones could be improved).
Why am I announcing this now? Well, I’m always up for a challenge, so if anyone would like to suggest some themed weeks for me to try and come up with a recipe for, please add ideas in the comments.

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Business card advent calendar – midyear update

Ok, so I’m almost halfway through the year, slightly over halfway to advent, and slightly less than halfway through my advent calendar. However, I’ve found my rhythm, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be all done by the time the first of December arrives.

First update… I abandoned the idea of making little scenes in each cube. This was for two reasons; a lack of time and a lack of scenes. I could probably have found the time by abandoning some other projects, but I simply couldn’t come up with twenty four distinct moments in the Christmas story, without resorting to unnecessary details (the wise men pack for their trip, the shepherds argue over which sheep to give Jesus, etc…)
Fortunately, the cube structure is really quite strong, so I think it will support daily chocolates without too much difficulty.

Now, onto progress pictures…
Here you can see how the cubes structure is coming together:

These show how the cladding will look:

I cut the cards for the cladding myself, so I could get some Christmassy colours. This wasn’t too much of a pain… if you were looking to make one of these calendars on the cheap, you could cut all your cards yourself, though there are substantially more cards needed for the cubes than the cladding.

Anyway, expect a final update towards the end of the year, when I’ll show the full calendar, as well as the numbers for the front.

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Bullet Journalling – a two journal variation

[Note: This post assumes you have a rough idea what Bullet Journalling involves. If not, just Google the term and you’ll find lots of great info to get you started… then come back here, obviously. :-)]

I’ve always been a list maker – things to do, things to read, etc… I used to make heavy use of Evernote for organising my lists, but I often found that it was a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, particularly when it came to my to-do list. About three months ago, I came across bullet journalling and thought I’d try it as an alternative, to see if having a physical journal would help keep me slightly more focused. Overall it has been a big success, but I have found two issues that don’t quite work for me.

1) Carrying the journal around is not always convenient
It’s not a massive journal (A5, 250 pages, hardback), but it’s definitely not pocket sized. Most of the time, this is not a major issue, as I have my rucksack with me, so it can live in there. However, if I’m just popping out quickly or I’m going somewhere that the rucksack is inconvenient, then I’m forced to leave my journal behind. This very much defeats the point of the journal – it’s there so that I can jot down tasks or consult my calendar in the moment and not have to remember things until I get home.

2) I capture a lot of stuff that doesn’t become obsolete at the end of a year
I have very much embraced the idea of using my journal for everything – birthday lists, ideas for roleplaying campaigns, useful UNIX commands I’ve come across, books/games that have been recommended to me, etc… Although some of these may be done with by the time my journal is full, many of them will remain relevant for a considerable length of time after that. I don’t want to start a new year/journal and still have to carry the old journal around with me; I also don’t want to have to copy over 12 months of accumulated notes into a new journal each time.

With these two points in mind, I have adapted the bullet journalling principle into a two journal variation. The first journal is a small A6 one, that will generally be able to fit in my pocket. This journal just contains my future log, monthly calendars and daily journals. The second journal is A5, like my original one, though with half the number of pages. This journal contains everything else that I need – lists, ideas, commands, birthdays, etc…
Generally, I still have both with me; the big one in my rucksack and the small one in my jacket or pocket. However, if I don’t have my rucksack, I can manage with just the small one for short periods of time. The disadvantage of the small journal is that I’ll probably only get about six months out of it, but that’s not a major issue, as the only thing that will be copied to the next one is the remaining months on the future log. The larger journal will probably take much longer than a year to fill, as it won’t have any of the daily entries; when it does finally get finished, I can keep it alongside the subsequent one, as I will still be actively referring to it.

If you’re going to use this two journal approach, you should probably either start it pretty much from the beginning or wait until your current journal finishes. I had to copy over a couple of months’ worth of lists and ideas when I made the shift and I really wouldn’t want to copy any more than that.

This solution looks like it will work out fine for me, but if anyone else has their own solutions to the issues above, I’d be interested to hear in the comments.

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