Do I Need A Google Account?

I’ve a fairly new mobile phone and it is no surprise it is powered by Android (the only other choice of OS would have been iOS – between them they have 99% of the market). The phone is great. Android is great….but perhaps a little too great for my liking.

Having used the Maps and enabled location I would later visit somewhere only to be prompted later with questions of “Did I go into X pub” ? “What did I think of Y place”? and “Is Z your place of work”?

This started to overstep my personal boundary of what I was after. So, knowing my Google account was separate to the actual phone, I removed the account to see what I could still do. The answer is actually quite limited. For starters I can still use Google maps to navigate point-to-point, I can still search the www, I can ring and text people.


But the contact names have all been lost – calls are just numbers which makes things awkward. Also the To-Do-List doesn’t work. What does annoy me is that the basic Android does not allow a simple phone-book as standard. Saving contacts prompts me now if I want to save them to my Yahoo account.

A friend said that I should just download a third-party phone-book app. Trouble there is that the PlayStore doesn’t work either without a Google Account. I’ll have to try out the AMazon store or one of the other free app repos.

What I’d really like to do is write my own using Android Studio, add some encryption, add some notes etc. When I manage that I’ll post the results here 🙂


My Short Sci-Fi Story – “Strawberry”

I recently saw a competition to write a short story as part of the SciFi London 2017 Event and although I’m not a writer I thought I’d have a go at it. They received 418 entries, including mine, but alas I didn’t get short listed. Therefore I’m putting my story up here so that others can have a read. The competition set the entrants a title to use, a phrase that had to be incorporated into their story and a maximum word count of 2000 words. Additionally they suggested an optional theme.

I really enjoyed this challenge – spending the Saturday thinking through ideas and Sunday writing the story.



A short story for the Sci-Fi London 2017 48-Hour Flash Fiction Competition

by Rodders

10th April 2017

Required Dialogue:

I love waking up to the sound of hammering on pipes, but doesn’t anyone ?

Optional Theme:

3D printed human body parts are possible – muscle, veins, bone. They don’t HAVE to be ‘conventional’

Day One

The man lying unconscious in the hospital bed had obviously undergone surgery to his head – the left side of his head was shaved and a neat line of stitches was visible under a clear dressing. Apart from a multitude of high tech medical equipment around the head of the bed there was also a large gathering of medical staff; approximately twelve in total.

One of the medical staff pushed a syringe like device against the patient’s neck; the plunger delivered its payload.

As the patient’s eyes opened he looked startled by his surroundings and those faces starring back at him. To the medical staff it was not an uncommon look, especially for those who had worked in Accident and Emergency Departments.

The patient tried to speak but his dry throat only gave a quiet rasp and obviously caused him discomfort. He swallowed to try and wet it before trying again as a whisper. “What is going on?” he asked, frowning and shaking his head slightly.

A doctor with rounded gold rimmed glasses leant forward in a caring way. “Steve, you are safe and well at the Great Theo Hospital in London. You’ve had quite a trip with us although you probably don’t remember much. Just try and relax.”

The doctor looked to his peers who gave reassuring smiles or nods.

“Have I been in an accident? I remember podding to work” Steve said. [People travelled in autonomous pods and the verb podding now replaced the verb driving].

“Steve”. The Doctor said placing his hand on the patients shoulder in a reassuring way, “That was three years ago. You’ve been with us since then. You’ve been quite the friend to all of us with your daily conversations and good humour. Tending the patients’ garden and quite the exemplar at Cooking Club I’ve been told !”.

Steve’s frown returned deeper as he didn’t comprehend what he was being told.

“Three years? Garden? Cooking Club? I don’t remember any of that.” And after a slight pause he added angrily “You’ve lying”.

The Doctor looked to a lady stood nearby who was wearing a smart grey suit. She discretely nodded her head twice.

The Doctor pulled up a chair to Steve’s bedside. “Steve, this is the absolute truth over what happened”.

“I’m Doctor Scott Wylie and am the Senior Neuro-Surgeon here at Great Theo’s. You were in a freak podding accident three years ago…..”

Dr Wylie went on to explain that Steve’s Hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for storing short-term memories, was badly damaged in the podding accident and that since then he couldn’t recall daily events. Everything prior to the accident was stored in the Cortex area of Steve’s brain and worked as normal. As shown, Steve’s old gardening skills and cooking skills could be recalled and utilised. He enjoyed seeing his close friend and family on visits. But the saddest thing was that Steve would not recall those conversations the next day.

The Doctor digressed slightly in his efforts to brief Steve on his missing years. He mentioned all the good work that had been undertaken around the globe by research centres of excellence to address various medical conditions. Indeed whist people in the early 21st Century used 3D printers to make plastic items, mechanisms, repair items, novelty food items and finally metallic items including electronics this technology had swiftly moved on. Steve acknowledged he knew that as, before the accident, he liked to read about such advancements in many of the scientific journals and social media feeds. However, whilst the medical research institutes wanted to use such technologies to solve issues afflicting the general population they were always lured by the promise of large funding grants offered by massive consumer corporations.

Initially there were basic 3D printed inorganic body parts such as replacement bone parts that were printed with designs that promoted native body tissues to graft better or custom printed sections for skull repairs.

But it didn’t take long before the work of 3D printed inorganic parts and stem cell research crossed. At this point some research teams started to focus on improving body parts. Matrixes of donor stem cells being 3D printed with selected inorganic impurities to make biological hybrid materials, called Bio-Hybrid-Elements or just BHE. Early research limited these to lab petri dishes and subsequent dissection and analysis. The commercial companies started to push and very soon a range of products started to appear using variations of these BHE parts. Clinical trials started in many hospitals – mainly focussing on repairing damage to body parts caused by trauma or invasive cancer surgery. All these BHE parts had several things in common – they needed time to be grown, they were not rejected by the patient and they were improved over the natural host’s body part.

The range of applications of BHE to organ transplant and reconstructive surgery was vast. Joints that were stronger than bone but which also absorbed more shock, lungs that coped with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, heart valves that could sustain 200+ beats per minute for hours, an artificial liver that broke down environmental pollutants to harmless waste products; to name a few. These BHE replacements relied on one other thing – the damaged part had to be removed prior to replacement. For this reason the brain was one area that still didn’t have BHE parts available.

Work carried out back in the early 21st century by the Riken-MIT Centre for Neural Circuit Generics, and published in Science Magazine on 7th April 2017, shed new light on brain functionality. Specifically how the mechanisms of the Hippocampus and Cortex work in order to give humans short and long term memory. However, the excellent work of Riken-MIT in understanding these mechanisms was subsequently utilised by other corporations in their desire to make money.

Steve was the first person to undergo a Hippocampus replacement – it had been grown during his time at the hospital and he had just been brought around post- surgery. His new Hippocampus wasn’t just a cloned biological part it was a BHE part.

The enhancements available using BHE were not necessary to help Steve but something the research funders has insisted on – after all if it worked on Steve they would make a huge profit from rich people wanting the same. That was because the BHE part contained electronics at a molecular level; homogenous to the cell structure.  The circuitry would iteratively cycle sensory information from the Hippocampus to the longer term Cortex: People had known for a long time that they could remember things better if they went over them a few times; revising for an exam, looking at items on a tray. But people don’t always have time to think something through long enough to get that really good long term memory as other stimuli often come along first. The item then sits in the short term memory and then eventually fades. Steve’s new BHE Hippocampus did the iterative cycling of information to the Cortex automatically. A photographic memory if you like.

Read it, taste it, see it, hear it or touch it….every sensory input would be cycled into the long term memory bank and could be vividly recalled instantly.

Regarding the suited lady: She was the marketing manager for the company that had provided enormous amounts of research funding….and she was eager to see a return.

Day Two

Doctor Wylie walked into the private ward room along with the group of medical staff. Steve looked up from his breakfast tray. “Morning Doctor Wylie.” he said. “Was all that stuff you told me about yesterday actually true or have I just had a horrible dream?”

A small smile grew across the Doctor’s face. “No it was all true” he said. The Doctor was already pleased as he could already see that Steve’s Hippocampus was at least working as it should in a normal person. Over the next days he planned to evaluate how much better it was.

“And my family and friends? Can I see them today ? Have they changed?” Steve spurted out anxiously.

“They are coming in today. We’ll give you plenty of private time …to fill in those missing years…and they are all well and healthy” the Doctor added successively.

“First though we have some tests to run, just to check you are OK and all our work was correct. Do you mind if we do some tests Steve?” asked the Doctor. “My colleagues will just talk to you. Nothing painful I promise.” he added with a reassuring friendly smile.

“OK. And I’ll see my family today. Later today?” he asked.

“Absolutely” replied the Doctor. “They are coming in at 2pm”

 A man in a red polo shirt introduced himself as Mike. Mike was the senior psychologist and cognitive specialist at Great Theo’s. Mike spoke calmly to Steve. “Steve. You’ve already done really well without knowing it. You have recalled all the events from yesterday which is fantastic news”.

Mike went on to say “Today we have some random sentences than we’d like you to read out aloud. Just the once. The sentences seem quite odd but we’ve written them specifically. They are to test if you can recall specific points” Mike then produced an electronic tablet. “Just say next when you are done” he added handing Steve the tablet.

Steve looked at the screen for a few seconds and then said “Strawberries and Blackberries sound like they should go together, but in reality don’t.” He glanced at Mike with a look that acknowledged the randomness of the sentence. “Next”.

After a few seconds Steve spoke again “I love waking up to the sound of hammering on pipes, but doesn’t anyone ?” he paused again “Next”.

“I felt the warm wind in my face, as would an eagle soaring over a hot Nevada plain. Next”

“The cool Autumnal day carried the unmistakable smell of freshly cut grass intermixed with a faint sweet burning smell from a distant bonfire. Next”

And so the next few hours carried on with random sentences crafted by the psychologist to evaluate their new work.

After a morning slog Steve got a well-deserved period of rest, some lunch and, as promised, his long ‘lost’ family visit from 2pm onwards.

Day Three

Steve was a radiant person after his family reunion, if a little overwhelmed still. The medical team walked in shortly after he had finished breakfast. The tests and evaluation continued at a steady but relaxed pace and focused on testing Steve’s ability to store other sensory triggers such as smells, sights and feelings. Trays of mixed items were brought in and he was asked to memorize them. Boxes were brought into the room into which artificial smells had been sprayed. Steve was asked what he thought they were.

Steve’s progress brought smiles all around the team including Steve. The suited lady was more reserved but a gentle nodding of her head at each success revealed her true satisfaction.

Day Four

At 07:12 the medical-emergency alarm sounded in the post-surgical ward summoning all available staff to help; it had been set off by the duty nurse.

Doctor Wylie entered Steve’s ward room to find him over by the open window, curtains billowing in the wind. Steve was holding a plastic water pitcher in his hand and was slamming it repeatedly against the pipes of the heating system.

“Steve” the Doctor said with a questioning intonation, “What are you doing?”

“I….I don’t know” Steve stuttered in reply. “I thought you might like the sound, just like I do” he added, deadly serious.

Mike, the psychologist, moved around past Doctor Wylie. “Why not sit down and wait for your breakfast?”

“I’ve never liked the combination of Strawberry and Blackberry.” Steve shouted back.

The strange word combination sent a shiver through Mike as he instantly recognized they were part of day two evaluation. “Steve? What are you thinking about right now?” he asked calmly.

“Did you know I can fly” Steve replied chillingly.



Making a 3D Printer (cheaply) – Linear Bearings

This page is to record all my detail and findings on using linear bearings (good or bad).

Using 8mm rod salvaged from old printer/scanner:

This rod measured 7.98mm diameter.Its leading edge was chamfered and it was lightly oiled with a low viscosity oil.

Cheap Ebay LM8UU 8mm bearings.   There was a high level of friction which decreased after working the bearing back and forth. This however grooved the 8mm rod. I raised this with the Ebay seller who instantly offered me a refund and said they would inform their suppliers…top marks to that seller. A few days later whilst inserting the rod for other tests I ended up with some small ball bearings in my hand !

Hot Melt Glue.    I extruded holt melt glue from a gun directly onto the 8mm bar and when it had set I gave it a sharp tap to free it. Initially it seemed to work really well with little friction. However when left standing for an hour or so the friction increased dramatically. After it had stood overnight I couldn’t budge one of the test pieces. I can only assume the glue absorbed some of the oil and swelled. After freeing up the friction dropped back down again.

Glass Fibre and Hot Melt Glue.   Wrapping a small amount of glass fibre plasterers scrim (which is what I had available) around the rod, making sure the self adhesive side faced out, I was then able to add a layer of hot melt glue. This worked well and didn’t appear to ‘swell’ up like the pure hot melt glue bearing did. I also made a test pice by potting the above sleeve into a short length of copper pipe using epoxy resin.

Polyethylene (PE) Sleeve.   I took some from an old milk carton as I know that stuff has a low friction coefficient. I initially tried wrapping a slither tightly around the 8mm bar and adding hot melt glue. This didn’t stay tight and the hot melt glue didn’t adhere to the PE very well. I tried super glue….which didn’t take at all (that’s a good sign).

Then I tried heating the PE after wrapping around the 8mm bar. This was in varying degrees of success and needs looking at further. The PE melted on some to make a good bond to the layer below. Sometimes on cooling the PE sleeve was too hard to move.

My last attempts were using a sleeve of PE wrapped around and melted using a hot blade (heated in a candle flame). This held the PE slither at the correct tightness to the 8mm bar. I then wrapped around some glass scrim (as that stuff doesn’t stretch) and coated that with some hot melt glue.

This sleeve has low friction and doesn’t have any noticeable play. and other notes to follow.

The rest of my 3D Printer build can be found here


Making a 3D Printer (cheaply) – pt 2

The parts ordered from Ebay kept arriving and the only bits still outstanding are the 8mm steel rod which unfortunately is needed quite early on.

I cut an old sheet of 15mm Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) to make the frame and a large base sheet and used wood glue, screws, clamps and Gripfill to joint it all together. As MDF has very little strength to resist splitting when screws are driven into the sheet side on I made sure all were drilled with a suitable pilot drill. I also used very coarse thread screws – they were plasterboard/drywall screws. I also added some 4″x2″ sawn timber to add weight and stiffness to the frame. To add further stiffness I added some triangular fillets to the back of the frame (as seen below).photo_2017-02-22_15-08-07

I had planned to use simple aluminium angles to hold the 8mm smooth bars at the correct height but soon realised that fixing them directly to the baseboard would give me little allowance for fine adjustments. I realised that the original Prusa i3 with its threaded rod was the way to go…but I didn’t have access to a printer to make the corners. Instead I decided to use some old scrap 25mm box section steel (bit rusty) to make the corners. These looked like this:


I ensured the bottom face was filed perfectly flat. Then I measured from the bottom face to centre punch and drill the holes. As the steel is about 2.5mm thick I drilled each face rather than drill through both faces (as this can cause the drill to wander). The final holes are 10mm diameter to accommodate the 10mm threaded rod. The shorter bars are 250mm and the longer ones are 500mm. I bought the threaded rod from a UK shop called Toolstation

I still need to slot the tops to accept the 8mm smooth bar – which still hasn’t arrived.

The whole frame for the Y-axis, loosely assembled, looks like this:


I’ve also started to look at the print bed – I’ve used a square of 15mm MDF for a start and mounted the 15mm pipe clips on all four corners.

I had a 8mm rod from an old scanner and chamfered the end and lightly oiled it before putting it into one of the LM8UU linear bearings. I was upset to find they didn’t run anything like as smoothly as I would have hope or though they should. After a few passes they became easier to move but I then noticed the rod was getting badly grooved. Searching the internet it would appear this is a common problem – I wish I had bought some bronze bushes instead. Therefore, trying to keep the costs down I tried to improvise a linear bearing. I made one from hot melt glue and it seemed to work fairly well (centre/right below).


I also tried wrapping some glass fibre skrim around the rod and them adding hot melt glue. This also had a lower friction than the LM8UU bearings. Finally I tried potting hot melt glue into a short length of copper pipe. These were accurate and at first appeared to move freely. However after being left for a hour the friction increased vastly and they were difficult to move at first until the friction was broken. I wonder if the hot melt glue absorbs the oil off the rod and expands slightly ?

Also see Part 1 of this build






Making a 3D Printer (cheaply) – pt 1

Aim: to build a 3D printer with my daughter. We don’t currently have one, don’t know anyone with one and have never used one…therefore we might have a few difficulties to overcome but here goes.

I had already heard about the great RepRap movement and straightaway decided to utilise that vast community to ensure our build was cheap and easy. Looking at the RepRap wiki pages we soon decided on the Prusa i3 and looked at how it was built. We particularly like the box frame version as shown in the picture below ( from the RepRap wiki by Bitflusher ) see


This would be a really good start as we have a half used sheet of MDF that needs using up. We scoured Ebay and Amazon for the bits we needed always thinking of alternatives. Our plan is to cobble together a working printer and then print to parts to improve it – a self-improving 3D printer. Parts orders so far are:

  • 8mm steel bar
  • GT2 belts and 2x 12 tooth pulleys (X and Y axes)
  • 10x LM8UU Linear Bearings (for X,Y and Z slides)
  • 2x 624ZZ bearings (for X and Y tensioners)
  • 5x NEMA17 stepper motors
  • 1x RAMPS 1.4 system, Arduino and LCD display
  • 40W/12v ceramic heater (for hot end)
  • Thermistor
  • 1x 1.75 to 0.4mm brass nozzle
  • 1x M6 Pneumatic connector (for hot end)
  • Some 4mm OD and 2mm ID Teflon tubing
  • 1x 16T GT2 pulley
  • 1x 60T GT2 pulley
  • 1x 180mm GT2 belt
  • 1Kg of PLA filament (1.75mm black)

We still need:

  • A decent 12v Power Supply
  • Heated Bed
  • Assorted bolts, nuts, screws, threaded bar

The first few bits have already turned up….


Ideas so far are:

  1. to use a large piece of MDF sheet as a base for the 3D printer, to use wooded blocks as risers to take the two Y axis smooth rods.
  2. to finely sand to a polish the cheap, mild steel rods. Ensuring they are chamfered and oiled prior to inserting into the linear bearings.
  3. 15mm plastic pipe clips are ideal for holding the linear bearings.photo_2017-02-18_16-46-02.jpg
  4. can’t get the geared cogs built for the extruder….so will try to use some more GT2 pulleys to creat the precision and torque required.
  5. using the ready-made RAMPS is far easier and cheaper than designing, etching PCB, building and programming up my own.
  6. going to try to make most of the hot end from scratch.
  7. going to make the extruder from scratch using scrap metal/wood and making our own hobbed bolt as required. Plan to case harden it.

Every part for the Prusa i3 can be bought but doing so will likley add lots to the overall cost.

Will keep taking photos of construction and posting here should anyone like to also make their first 3D printer as cheaply as possible.

 Please also see my other progress blogs for this project by clicking here

Update On 2016 Starburst Lights

Happy New Year.

Adhering to my ‘low cost’ approach I ended up wiring the lights with a mismatch of old electrical cable and 8-core alarm cable, terminal blocks and insulating tape. All units were run using 5v from several linear regulators (7805).

I’d put my lights up early and had about two weeks before Christmas. It was around the two week time that, after some foggy and cold weather, I noticed a single, end of line pixel was remaining illuminated. I could turn the mains supply to the regulators off easily and that cleared the fault only for it to come back minutes or hours later. Finally the fault cleared completely which was strange. With the units secured into the tree with Jubilee Clips I just lived with the fault rather than get the ladder out, fiddle with them and make the fault worse.

A few days between Christmas and the New Year another star developed a faulty pixel, but this was nearer the start of its run of 10x pixels and took most of that leg out. Again I could turn the power off and back on and often it reset properly.

A few days after new year I climbed up, marked the offending positions with red tape and then took all the units down, dried them off indoors and tested again. They all work fine. I then removed some of the silicone to inspect the joins but they too look OK still.

One of the faulty units was a version where I painted all bare connections prior to the silicone sealant 2nd coat. The other was the initial black silicone/clear silicone version. I can only assume for both that water/moisture ingress caused the fault. Flexing the wire doesn’t replicate the fault so it likely wasn’t a dry joint.

The Best Bits

Having a family stop at the end of my garden one evening to say their children really liked the lights.

When up the ladder taking them down a lady slowed her car down, wound the window down and told me how much she/they had enjoyed looking at them each night.

For Next Year:

  • Add extra weather protection – perhaps a clear tubing over the top.
  • Actually spend some money on the power supplies and distribution cables/connectors.
  • Make some more units – 3+1 wasn’t enough !
  • And although I liked the unmanaged approach of self-contained units I missed being able to change what they did once they were up and running. Therefore next year I may change them into DMX512 controlled lighting. Coupled with the fantastic Vixen 3 software I could so a similar starburst, synchronise the stars, change the colours to match etc. To this end I’m already looking at testing out some RS485 comms chips from Texas instruments.


Christmas Fireworks

I’ve done it, I’ve actually managed to make three of those new Starburst units. They run the same code but with an additional line in each compile of the assembly to run the random number generator again.stars_tree

I’ve posted a video on Youtube here which shows the three starbursts, along with last year’s star effect (and the fact I can’t operate/edit a camera very well ! )

I hope you enjoy it.

I’m trying to make some other more basic stars to add extra colour/effect. These will be using RGB strip LED and illuminate as one single star.

I refined my build technique as they progressed and found black gloss paint was a good way to seal around the WS2812 LED PCB dies prior to mounting with clear silicone sealant…..but only the next month will prove how well that has worked.