Posts filed under “Me, myself, and I”

The desk chair post, part 2

This was my desk chair.

I wrote about it before.

When I wrote about it before, I mentioned my concern that the much sturdier castors I fitted might end up breaking the no-metal-in-particular that cheap desk chairs swivel bases are made from. It broke a few months later.

Rather than fish another desk chair from a skip, I bought an entire swivel base assembly from Amazon for about £80. It turns out that not just the castors, but these entire assemblies are largely interchangeable between desk chairs. This thought had not occurred to me before! So, I did not have to "un-weld" the baseplate from the subframe as I had every previous time a swivel base had exploded on me. Just plop the old base plate and subframe on top of this...

...and my desk chair was fixed again. Simple!!

But, while I'm there...

Previously, I wrote:

I showed a photo of it to someone earlier today and they said "it needs arm rests". It doesn't need arm rests, but the fact someone thinks it needs arm rests means that it isn't the unquestioned best desk chair in the world.

It still did not have arm rests, so this time around I decided it was going to have arm rests. I had a pair of arm rests, salvaged from the previous donor chair.

Let's make some brackets! This time I bought (rather than salvaged) some steel for the purpose, for about £20. I still have some left over.

That turned into some smaller lengths of steel...

...which, via some dubious MIG welding and Jenolite satin black paint, turned into two slightly-wonky but almost presentable brackets for the arm rests.

Easy! (Just kidding, that took forever, because I am not all that good at this.)

As everything was dismantled (so that I could make a means to fix these brackets to the subframe), I figured I would give the subframe a cleanup and a coat of paint. It looked like this, resplendent in its original brown paint and marker pen assembly-guide scribbles from the first time I built it.

This subframe is an adapter plate between the car seat and the desk chair swivel base. It is almost always out of sight, so it didn't matter what it looked like. Still, I would never tidy it up it if I didn't do it now (the proof of this is that it has been unpainted for over a decade). This should have been just a coat of paint, but while I'm there...

...I was never very happy with those unfinished ends, either. They've never bitten me, and I've never seen them so I didn't mind them being ugly, but I always had the thought in my mind that they needed to be capped with something. This was as good a time as any to do it. So, some offcuts, some more dubious MIG welding, and some over-aggressive linishing to make the MIG welding look less dubious...

...and they look a bit better, if you don't really look at them. Which I won't! Because I'm sitting above them.

Still, the subframe that I never see now looks a lot more presentable. And when everything is bolted together...

...it has arm rests! Which was far more effort than it was actually worth, given that it never really needed arm rests. Especially when I came to use it and realised when setting the height for my arm rests I hadn't considered whether that height would allow it to fit under my desk...which meant chopping about 70mm out of the brackets the day after I assembled it all. But still, arm rests! And that, if nobody issues me some other challenge that makes me over-solve another problem that doesn't exist, should make it the unquestioned best desk chair in the world.

The desk chair post

This is my desk chair.

It is a front seat from a 1990 Vauxhall Astra GTE, bolted to a subframe made from steel box section scavenged from some industrial shelving, welded to a swivel-chair base that I found in a skip. I've had some variant of it for over a decade, but I had cause to re-engineer it recently, so I am posting about it now. It's extremely comfortable! It is more supportive than any other chair I have used, including chairs that look like car seats, and including chairs that cost upwards of a grand.

There are two of these in existence! My brother was dismantling an Astra GTE that he purchased for an engine donor (MOT-failure GTEs were not worth much more than scrap weight back then, and that is a memory from the "painful to think about" department, next to the working two-door Range Rover I helped dismantle...). I got the seat for free on the condition that I made the other front seat into a desk chair for him as well. That other chair is still in use by a kid in the family as a gamer chair, and that makes me happy.

It has been rebuilt several times. This is because office swivel chairs are made of no material in particular, especially the cheap kind that gets thrown into a skip when it becomes too ugly to use. Usually this does not matter, because the sitting part of a swivel chair is also made of no material in particular, so the system in its entirety has plenty of flex. The Astra seat has a lot of extra weight, and there is no flex in the over-engineered subframe, so swivel chair bases tend to break.

This is what the subframe looks like.

It's not pretty, but you can't see it when you're sitting on it. If you look closely, you can see where I cut out a reinforcing section in the middle in the latest incarnation. This is in a probably-vain attempt to try and un-engineer a bit more rigidity out of the frame. I might try speed holes next.

I had a stroke of luck last time this broke a swivel-chair base. The base collapsed, and literally minutes later I saw my neighbour throwing a shitty-looking desk chair into a skip. I'll have some of that, thank you.

I can understand them throwing it out.

This time around, I decided to give the Astra seat a deep clean after reassembling the chair. I did not know how badly it needed one. This little thing is a game changer:

It's a brush attachment for a drill, which you can buy for about £15 on Amazon as part of a set. It demolishes baked-in cat fluff and everything else on a seat that a vacuum cleaner won't touch. I was impressed.

This is what a vacuum cleaner doesn't get out...

Everything mentioned so far, I acquired for free. This time around, I have got some improved castors for it, to replace the usual scratchy-sounding castors that you get on cheap desk chairs.

These have roller bearings, seem to be made of actual metal, and its wheels are made of a material not entirely unlike that of the small bouncy balls we had as kids that could be launched at the floor and which rebounded to the height of a four-storey building. They roll very nicely. They're also a lot stronger than flimsy desk chair castors. This isn't an unqualified good. See also what I wrote about the subframe earlier; they don't flex, which means they transfer forces elsewhere. That might cause the swivel base to break earlier than it would otherwise. We'll see!

You may have noticed that it does not have arm rests. You are not the first. I showed a photo of it to someone earlier today and they said "it needs arm rests". It doesn't need arm rests, but the fact someone thinks it needs arm rests means that it isn't the unquestioned best desk chair in the world. So maybe that is a project for another day...

Assorted things that happened to Lewis

Here are some things that happened in my life recently, none of which really merit their own post.


The Shed passed an MOT.

Who's a good little sheddy-weddy? You are!

It actually failed an MOT, then passed an MOT, after £164.78 of parts and labour from a local garage. It's work I could have done myself, on some theoretical level. If I had resolved to do it myself it'd have ended up in the project queue behind a bunch of other things that want my time, and I would own three cars that don't work.

I don't like spending money, but the invoice showed numbers such as "18.40", which reminded me that buying a shitty Ford for a daily was a really good idea.


I found a remnant of King's Lynn's railway network that I didn't think still existed.

These rails are on the Boal Quay, and haven't been used since 1968. I'd seen what looked like rails on Google Maps' satellite views. I assumed that either it wasn't what it looked like, or that the satellite imagery was out of date. I hadn't cared to visit them in person to see if they are still there, until a couple of weeks ago. They are still there!

I have a web page at my other website on South Lynn's railway remnants. That page has been online for over a decade now! Depending on your definition of the area, this remnant might not actually be in South Lynn. I updated the page with it anyway, hoping Actually Guy (you know the one) won't show up and complain, and while I was there I added a ton of new information, more-or-less re-writing the page in the process.

I took the photo above on my Fuji X100 (the second one). Since I bought that camera, it has been nearly everywhere with me. I have been getting used to its various weirdnesses all over again. So while I was there, I almost completely rewrote the page on my other site about it.

I've been shooting raw (RAF) in the X100, because I can. That means processing them with software, and because I am on Linux, Darktable is the best software out there. I have a webpage about that on my other site too, which was also a decade old, so while I was there I completely rewrote that as well.

One of my many weaknesses is being able to dig some, oft several, layers of "but, while I'm here..." below doing a simple thing. Still, none of that was a bad way to burn a couple of days over Christmas!


My cat is still completely adorable.

She got a new cushion for Christmas. She likes it very much.

OLD AND BUSTED: sleeping on cushion NEW HOTNESS: sitting next to cushion

That is all!

Strange things happen when you put your stuff on Wikimedia Commons

You just saw a photograph of a freight train. It is not very interesting to almost anyone. But maybe a story about it would be!

A few years ago I was at Downham Market station. I don't recall why I was there. It might have been because I was broke at the time and had nothing better to do; most likely I had enough money to pay for a train ticket and doing nothing in particular in Downham was more fun than doing nothing in particular where I was. And I had an Olympus Trip 35 film camera loaded with Ilford XP2 black-and-white film in a pocket. A freight train passed through the station. I thought it was interesting and the light felt nice, and so I took a bad photo of a freight train heading through Downham Market, and later uploaded it to a site called the Wikimedia Commons.

I suspect the kind of person who reads my blog would be the kind of person to know what the Wikimedia Commons is, but I shall explain for those in the cheap seats: it is a website wherein anyone can upload their own stuff on the condition that it can be used by anyone, for absolutely any purpose, with or without modification. This means that your stuff gets used in really fun and unexpected ways. I know photos of mine that are not this freight train have showed up in books from serious academic publishers, scientific papers, and PowerPoint presentations.

The fact that photos of mine were used in PowerPoint presentations might make me worry whether my putting photos out there for anyone to use might have a net-negative impact on the world. But because of the "everyone can use this without needing to ask first" nature of the Commons, and bloggers needing photos they can use for decoration, various blogging services have invented ways for authors to find photos from the Commons to use in their posts. Which means my photos have been used in about a trillion blog posts! And probably a trillion more blog posts which I will never see.

Back to that photo of a freight train. This was one of hundreds I chucked onto the Commons over the years. I thought someone else might find it interesting, some time in the future. Or it could just sit there and do nothing but take up 1.81 megabytes of disk space! Which it did, for years. Then, someone wrote a short murder-mystery set at Downham Market station.



An Australian author called Liam Saville thought that photo was the right photo as the intro pic for his work. You must go and read the story. I loved it, and as a local I appreciate that he did a bunch of very small details very correctly. All of that while hanging upside-down! (This is how Australia works. I don't know how they do it.)

But (Arlo Guthrie voice) that's not what I came to talk about today. Some time later, I had cause to visit Downham Market again, and in particular, to use the bogs at Downham Market station. And while I was in there, I noticed the walls being covered in giant prints of various trains, and in particular noticed that one of the cubicles was covered in a black-and-white photo of a Class 66 locomotive passing through Downham Market...

...and it took me more than a moment to realise I was looking at my own photo covering an entire wall of a bog at the same station I photographed it 10 years before. I think that takes the "unexpected use of my photos" crown.

There's not a moral to the story here, because life is messy and stories with a moral are rarely true stories. Instead, I'll just say that free culture is beautiful, both for the people who choose to contribute their work and for all the people that use it. The folks doing a makeover of a station found the right picture to use to cover an entire wall of a bog. An Australian author found the right picture for his short story for free, without needing to ask me first.

In a different world, wherein I was protective about whatever privileges copyright law gives me, this would have been a boring snapshot of a train that nobody would have seen, rather than a boring photo of a train that probably thousands have, which now has has its own life outside of my control. And that, makes me happy. :)

Self-archaeology and the Internet Movie Car Database

This was my mum's Mercedes 220. It was glorious.

She bought LRO 468L for £500 in either 1989 or 1990, because back then it was merely an old car (though cars aged much quicker 30 years ago). It was beautiful, silent, luxurious, and very wafty. I loved it, and everyone else did. She sold it a few months later for slightly more than she paid for it, because it needed welding work on the floorpan. A very young Me did not talk to her for a day after that.

It was last MOT'ed in 1990, so we can probably conclude it does not exist anymore (or, to avoid offending those of you who believe in the laws of thermodynamics, exists in an entirely different form). A W114 or W115 is still on my bucket list of cars to own. It might even be the next project I build, if my next project starts before the prices of these go through the roof.

Fast-forward just a few years. Recently, someone pointed out that if you search for a registration plate on Google Images, there's a good chance that it will find a photo of that car, because Google indexes any text it finds within an image, and may notice the text on the numberplate. Like ANPR, but for everything.

It worked on my car. Among others, it found a photo taken at the late Rockingham Motor Speedway, which my brother (the previous owner) took in 2007 back when "camera phone" still meant "thing with a dialpad", and posted on a forum in 2008.

It worked when I entered the registration of this Mercedes, too. I know the registration off by heart, because my memory is weird. I remember a Windows 95 product key that I last used in anger in 1997, and the registration of my mum's car from 31 years ago, and sometimes draw a blank when I have to enter my PIN into a cash machine.

The first result was the picture you saw at the top of this article. I uploaded that photo to Wikimedia Commons over 15 years ago, and things often spread to weird and unexpected places when you do that. (I'll tell you the story about the wall art in the bogs at Downham Market station some other time...)

The second and third images were the offspring of obsessive categorisation at scale. I would hope any petrolhead would know about the Internet Movie Car Database, wherein a (presumably vast) number of very dedicated people are aiming to identify every car in every film & television program. If your car appeared in the background of, e.g., an episode of The Bill in December 1984, then there's a good chance someone has captured and categorised it.

Well how about that!

But wait: It's brown! Or at least looks brown. Did it get a respray before my mum owned it? Or did a worn 80s VHS tape not reproduce the glorious red that it was? I won't ever know the answer to that, and I am okay with that.

The cars we knew in our youth are, or will be, almost all lost to time and entropy; only a very few are lucky enough to be recommissioned or restored. But this Mercedes was lucky to have its few seconds of fame on the small screen, and was immortalised, to some very tiny extent and entirely accidentally, by some extraordinarily committed people on the Internet. That's more than most cars will get, and that, is good enough for me.

And that, is the end of that

What my credit card looks like, as of a few days ago:

Current balance: £0.36

I won't even tell you what it was a year or so ago. All I will say is that the interest payments alone at one point were pushing £250 a month, which is a non-trivial amount of money for anyone that isn't Scrooge McDuck swimming in piles of cash.

This is absolutely not some woe-is-me story, because obviously, I was a fucking idiot who made some very poor financial decisions (see also: cash furnace of a car) and I don't blame anyone but myself.

Still. Not to get too personal here, but all of my late teens and my 20s were spent not so much in a bad financial position as in no financial position at all. I got my shit together far too late, and when one does get one's shit together one starts getting credit card offers.

When you are feeling financially stable for the first time in your life, those offers look all too tempting because woohoo, I can have even more money right now and I can build my credit score and such! And of course you will pay back the whole amount at the end of the month, right? Until you start thinking that just for this month you will make that small minimum payment instead, and then they start upping your credit limit (mine increased twentyfold from when I started)...and if you do that enough times you end up with a substantial portion of your income being dead weight.

So it goes. I was an idiot! But I also learned in the last few months that even when I'm throwing a substantial amount of my income into paying off the capital on that credit card, that I can still be quite comfortable and even have a little money left at the end of the month, if I behave frugally. Which is to say, if Mazda Amy doesn't throw any new and hilariously expensive curveballs at me I might have some hope of building some savings and shit or I might forget what I just said and buy lots of car parts.

Whatever happens there: it's over, and I am much happier for it.

In which I get a little boost to my faith in humanity

Today, I lost my wallet. This has a happy ending...

After topping up Mazda Amy with oil this afternoon (she's basically a Diesel at this point, in that she burns nearly as much oil as she does petrol), I went to the shop for supplies and then went for a hoon on the backroads (and by the way, that never stops being fun). When I got home, I realised I did not have my wallet anymore.

It's easy to make me anxious (possibly moreso than most people), and losing my wallet with my money-equivalent cards and my driving license was enough to trigger something not far off my worst episodes. Not so much that I could not function at all or not be able to drive as in the very worst of my episodes, but...

So I backtracked to the shop, and asked if anyone had handed in a wallet. Nobody had. I went home. Checked every inch of my car. Checked every inch of the car again. Emptied absolutely everything, tools and glovebox contents included, out of the car and checked every inch again.

No dice. Then I remembered that I realised a short while after I drove off from the shop earlier that I had not shut my passenger door properly, and pulled over to open it and shut it again. So I backtracked there to see if my wallet was there just in case I had put my wallet in the passenger door card and it had fallen out while I was loading supplies into the passenger side. Not there either. I went back to the shop and gave them my number in case anyone handed in a wallet; something I had not thought to do earlier.

Panic really set in here. In retrospect I know it was a totally manageable situation: it would require a few phone calls to cancel my cards, and going online and ordering a new driver's license card and some other stuff. But still, full panic, which I dealt with by doing another inch-by-inch search of my car and at this point I am shitting myself.

And while I was doing that last panicked search, as if that would reveal something a complete emptying of the car would not...a well-worn BMW E92 with all the seats full of family rolls into my driveway. And as it comes to a halt...the driver holds my wallet out the window. There's social distancing and all, a norm I'm not comfortable with because I wanted to hug the shit out of him and propriety these days requires that I not even give him a handshake, but it is what it is.

I asked him for a PayPal address or something I could use to send my thanks. He refused, but he did tell me the way I probably lost my wallet, which was that after loading stuff into the front passenger seat of the car I likely left my wallet on the top of my car then drove off and it went somewhere. Well, that's happened before and all I nearly lost were some onions, and maybe I need to establish a ritual for checking the roof of my car just as I have a ritual for checking exactly three times that my front door is locked when I leave...but that's another thing.

I did offer again after he explained how he got hold of my wallet to send him some money via whatever means he liked; whatever amount I sent him would have been a tiny price to pay compared to the amount of financial damage someone less decent with my credit & debit cards & my de-facto identity card could have done. But nope. Refused.

I was reminded today that there are decent, honest people out there who do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks, BMW E92 guy. You is good people.