Ahoy! Boats, reviews, photography, bikes and an occasional rant

August 12, 2011

Sailrite LSZ-1 Ultrafeed sewing machine long term review

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 13:51


At 22 kilos the LSZ-1 is no lightweight machine but it compensates by being very compact and by having some very good features. It can sew straight stitch or zigzag. It has a walking foot which ensures excellent feeding of the most demanding materials regardless of thickness. This walking foot also ensures very even stitch length. The way to measure stitch length is to measure a few at a time and then divide. As the LSZ-1 can make 6mm stitches, four in a line will be 24mm. The consistency is amazing.

Normally the LSZ-1 is stored in it’s supplied vinyl covered mdf case but it is much too bulky to actually store anywhere on the boat so I replaced the enormous and frankly cheaply made box with a simple and considerably smaller wooden base. (see below). The machine is stored in a soft case with handles. It’s still a fairly bulky bit of kit to find a home for on a small boat but it lives comfortably in the hanging locker on a shelf quite low down.


The ‘soft’ case bag we made for the LSZ-1 now looking a bit tatty after 5 years.

The whole machine is made from metal. there is the odd bit of plastic but only for knobs. Looking at the construction one is led to the conclusion that this machine has evolved. Some of the parts have extra reinforcement welded to them, one suspects because over the years parts have failed consistently and have been modified so that it doesn’t happen again. This is a quite crude approach to an engineering problem but we’re not talking rocket science here. What we learn is that Sailrite have been listening to their customers and have been slowly improving the machine.

One reason why the LSZ-1 is so popular and works so well is because Sailrite supply the machine with a couple of DVDs which explain in great detail how to use, adjust and even maintain your machine. Sailrite are one of those rare companies that actually remember on a daily basis that the only reason they exist at all is because of their customers. Consequently, they could not be more helpful nor more efficient. If you have a particular problem that isn’t covered on the DVD you can call Sailrite and if needs be, they will create a video of your particular issue so that you can understand. Obviously, these videos then go up on their site for others to share.


The wooden support I made for the LSZ-1. It is made from spruce so is very light. The left hand side is completely open to allow access to the bobbin assembly. Takes up considerably less space like this than with the huge and ugly standard base/box.

With the machine so simple, the mechanics so robust and reliable and with Sailrite’s excellent customer service behind it, the LSZ-1 is a very good choice of machine for someone who has out grown the capabilities of a domestic machine. The LSZ-1 is not particularly powerful, or rather it’s 75 watt motor is a bit puny but it has a double belt system which gears down the machine and gives it quite a bit of torque. It can easily sew through Eight layers of Sumbrella fabric. In fact the machine comes with the original test pieces so you can see and admire the amazing quality of the stitches and the incredible thickness of cloth you can sew through. Equally it has no trouble sewing leather, rubber, windows in sprayhoods or almost anything really.

The LSZ-1 is easy to use although it could be easier. For example it would be nice if the thread did not have to be pushed through so many holes. Above the needle there is a hole to put the thread through which could so easily be replaced by a hook removing the need to actually thread it. There is no thread cutter at the back of the machine and I find this a strange and frustrating omission, as to cut the thread you have to use a pair of scissors.

Thread width and length can all be adjusted infinitely and the machine can even sew very fine thread and materials surprisingly well. There are no end to the accessories you can put on the LSZ-1. There is a heavy crank handle that can be fitted so that the machine can be used by hand. It can be left in place and used with the motor to make the machine smoother but it does add more weight. You can buy binding attachments, guides, different feet, lights etc. All in all, there isn’t much that an LSZ-1 can’t deal with given a big enough needle. The LSZ-1 uses 135 x 17 sized needles. They do not have a flat on them and must be carefully positioned in the machine by eye.


This pic shows the even stitching that the LSZ-1 allows.

Where the LSZ-1 falls down is in the details. The basic machine is solid and made to an adequate standard but the bits that attach to it could be massively improved. The worst thing about the machine is the pedal which looks cheap and nasty and has a rough action. In use the pedal seems to be more on/off than variable. We asked Sailrite for another pedal as ours was so bad. They duly sent us one but it was just as bad. In the end I modified a smoother and better quality pedal from an old Singer machine and now the LSZ-1 is very smooth with a nice controllable speed. That said, a friend has one of the original pedals and it seems to work well enough so I guess we were just unlucky.

When winding bobbins you must disengage the motor and this is done by simply pulling a pin at the crank handle end. The pin in question has a ball bearing in the end which supposedly locks the pin in place in normal sewing mode but it has an alarming tendency to suddenly fly out and fly across the room. This never ceases to shock the user of the machine and amuse onlookers. The system works most of the time and it is indeed simple and maintenance free but could be improved. If one was working on a pontoon and that happened, it’s quite likely that the pin might end up in the sea. Naturally we have a spare for this inevitability!


The swing-out edge binding tool, just one of many accessories that are available for the LSZ-1.

The LSZ-1 has a few metal covers that can be easily removed with just a couple of screws. The cover for the motor belt at the back is poorly made and flimsy and liable to damage but could easily be dispensed with. No doubt they fit this to comply with safety regulations.

Having sorted out the pedal the LSZ-1 has since been excellent. We’ve had it five years and in that time it has done a lot of hard work. It has had to be adjusted a few times and it is oiled frequently. Once it is set up well it is a tireless machine which sews extremely well mainly due to its walking foot design.

Spare parts are always available and you can buy service kits that contain the most commonly required items. It is available in 110V and 230V versions. There is even a straight stitch only version called the LS-1 but I can’t really see why anyone would buy that when for just $200 more you get the Zig Zag option too.

There is another machine on the market which is almost identical except for a few small details. It’s called the Baracuda and can be bought for about half the price of the Sailrite version. One has to wonder why it is so much cheaper. Maybe it does not have the modified parts within that the LSZ-1 has. Certainly the crank wheel is not the same and has a much smaller diameter. This would make the Baracuda faster but less powerful. It doesn’t seem to come with a case, although it does have a very excellent table extension that attaches to the machine. It does not come with the DVDs or such a comprehensive tool kit but $400 cheaper is a powerful argument.  My guess is that it will be an excellent machine, maybe not quite as good as the LSZ-1 but not far off. If you have one, please tell me what you think of it. Biggest draw back that I can see is that is only available in 110V. Reliable, who make this machine have been around for over 50 years.


Pro: A robust and reliable machine with all metal parts. Compact yet heavy. Excellent video help guides for using and adjustment. Superb company with brilliant customer service. Walking foot makes for extremely consistent stitching. Easy to maintain and repair yourself.

Con: Ugly, poorly made and bulky carry case. Weak metal covers and lame pedal. Lacking some basic features.

August 4, 2011

Nikon SP rangefinder T shirt

Filed under: T Shirts,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:34


After the popularity of the Leica M9 T shirt, it seemed only natural that one should be able to celebrate some other classic cameras too. Here is the Nikon SP rangefinder camera.

It is reproduced in actual size and with straps added it really looks like you are wearing one around your neck. If you actually are wearing an SP around your neck then it will look like you have two!

Available only at redbubble.

April 3, 2011

Asus X52F review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 17:38


Well after the rather disappointing experience I had with a Toshiba laptop I am pleased to see that the Asus is rather excellent in most respects. Compared to the Toshiba it is tons better and extremely good value indeed. I bought it from ebuyer who so far have proved to be an excellent company to deal with. They delivered on time and at a great price. I am not linked to this company in any way but it is so rare that a company impresses me with its efficiency and competence that I had to say something!

For the price, this is an excellent computer. For a start the screen is very good with a realistic rendition of colours. It has three USB ports which really must be considered the minimum these days. It has a card reader (SD) and even a HDMI connector and a web cam!

The keyboard still has a separate number pad but I was pleased to see that although it is there, it is not too prominent and because of this, the rest of the keyboard is not too far to the left. This may not sound like much of a big deal but if you use two laptops and one of them does not have a key pad, you might find that you keep pressing the wrong keys. The keyboard is a bit rattly but the key action is good.

The Asus X52F has a few lights on the front that are very helpful to know what is going on. This is something the Toshiba was missing. This computer works well and is quiet using a special 4 speed fan. It came with 4 gig of RAM but can be doubled if needs be. It has a 320 gig Hard drive and a 2 GHz chip which is fast enough for most needs.

It is sturdy and solid yet doesn’t feel excessively heavy. It has a moulded plastic finish that looks up to date and shouldn’t look old before it’s time. Access to the hard drive and RAM chips is excellent and another nice touch is the fact that the cooling fan is easily accessible for cleaning, something that many computer makers deem unnecessary. Battery life is good and everything works as it should.

It came with a fairly impressive software bundle although this is not really a selling point for me as I like to remove all Microsoft programs from a computer as soon as I can and use the many free programs that are available for Windows.

The only downside that I have noted so far with this laptop is that you will need 5 DVDs to make your recovery discs. That seems like a lot to me. Also the sound card is not very good quality at all. The sound that comes out is listenable but not great at all. If you are planning on using this computer to listen to music you might well be very disappointed. The built in speakers are very tinny and quiet and there is a very limited range of adjustments that can be made.

Some may not like the fact that the screen does not fold completely flat but stops at about 120 degrees but it opens enough for my needs. For the price, this is an excellent well thought out and engineered laptop. Well recommended.

March 12, 2011

Oil analysis for a longer engine life

Filed under: boats,Motorbikes,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 13:47


This is a first for me. I must be getting old or maybe it’s because I have finally realised the importance of taking care of things properly rather than just trusting to fate. Just changing the oil and filter regularly on a marine diesel engine should be enough to keep it running well for years but how do you really know?

There are very few instruments on a boat. All my Yanmar 3YM20 has is an oil light, charge light and a temperature light. This is all very well but it gives no indication of gradual changes like a regularly studied gauge might so what can we do about it?

This engine is actually a replacement from Yanmar as the original engine was nothing but trouble with repetitive coolant leaks, exploding water pumps but worst of all, a clogged exhaust riser after just three years use! I won’t bore you with the details but it seems that the cast iron exhaust riser Yanmar sell is one that was originally fitted to an 8 hp engine 40 years ago and is ridiculously small inside which is why it clogged up so soon.

Never in twenty years of sailing had I seen a riser clogged that badly that quickly. It just goes to show what can go unnoticed until it becomes so bad that the engine begins to suffer. The worst case scenario of this is that when the exhaust gases cannot escape, some of it makes its way into the engine and then into the oil. Microscopic pieces of carbon act like sandpaper on the bearings and slowly destroy the engine and you won’t even know.

It is incredible that Yanmar still sell this tiny riser and for a shocking price as well! They get around it by telling you to check the riser for clogging every year! I have talked to a lot of marine engineers and they agreed that it could do no harm checking annually but that they had never seen a modern engine clog like that even after a decade.

So rather than risk that happening again I have fitted a much better quality cast bronze riser with a considerably larger diameter and the engine feels better for it. The old engine was always sluggish to pick up revs. So hopefully that will stop the same thing happening again. Of course, I could check the riser for clogging every year (and I might well do that yet) but the easier and possibly more sensible way to keep an eye on it is by checking the oil.

If I regularly get the oil from my engine analysed not only can I keep an eye on this problem but also on wear and a host of other potentially engine damaging issues. By building up a record right from the very first oil change, I will be able to track small changes. A higher rate of fuel in the oil may not be enough to cause problems but seeing the increase could indicate a problem which could be corrected long before it causes expensive damage.

Oil analysis isn’t cheap but compared to a damaged engine because you didn’t do it, it suddenly starts to look like very good value indeed. There are plenty of companies out there willing to take your money and the rate varies considerably.

After some research online I came across Blackstone Labs in Indiana. Their website was simple and easy to navigate and their terminology easy for the layman to follow. They offer a free oil test kit which is an excellent idea. They were quite happy to send it to me here in Europe, even though the postage and cost of the kit must dent their profits.

What sold me, apart from the very reasonable $25 charge for oil analysis was the site’s FAQ. You can learn a lot about a company from their website and what I learned was that this firm has a sense of humour. I will always choose the company with a quirky name or a humorous attitude over more staid and boring ones.

See for yourself. Check out a few of the questions on their FAQ here. Well it amused me so I emailed them and received a prompt and positive reply. A week or so later their oil sample kit turned up.

It contained of a small transparent plastic container about 3” high and about 1.5” wide was placed inside a bigger black plastic container. Both are made with good sealing lids. I know this sounds obvious but oil is a hard liquid to contain well. To further ensure they don’t have to endure the wrath of the post office, the instructions tell you to wrap the smaller container with your sample in it with the special absorbent square of cloth they supply, and put that into a small ziplock (also supplied) then put the whole lot inside the bigger one and pop that in the post. Brilliant.

So I waited and waited. No fault of Blackstone, but of the postal service. It arrived eventually just as I was about to send another sample off to them. It would always be wise not to throw away all your old oil before the lab has received it just in case it goes missing in the post!

As soon as they had the sample, they got on the case and I had the results emailed me just a day later.

Here’s what it looks like:


So what do all these numbers mean? Well before I go into that let me explain what goes into a standard oil analysis. Basically the sample I supplied went through 4 processes. The first was a spectral analysis using a special plasma machine. This determines what metals, elements, additives or contaminants are present in the oil. If you want to read a more detailed explanation click here

The next check is the oil’s viscosity. It’s not strictly necessary but many people want to know so it’s part of the standard oil test. Of course if for some reason you had a lot of fuel in the oil, this would show up in a viscosity test. If you would like to learn more, click here

Then the oil will be checked for insolubles, or in other words stuff that won’t mix with the oil. The insolubles are checked as a way of seeing how well the engine’s filtration is working. Again, if you want to learn more, click here

The final test is the flash point. Normal oil will ignite at a certain temperature. If fuel is present in the oil, the sample will ignite at a different temperature warning you that something is wrong. For more about flash points, click here

This is the standard oil analysis. There is a lot more that can be done but the standard test is generally enough to warn of any impending problems. Another important factor with oil analysis are trends. A lot more can be learned about an engine by studying previous results.

For example, if you look at the report above, it shows that there are high levels of silicone. This could be a result of a dirty environment or a poorly operating air filter. But because the engine is new, it is more likely left overs from the casting process or excess sealant from when the engine was built. The next oil analysis should show a drop in silicone levels. The sample also shows high levels of Boron and Molybdenum which are oil additives. Their presence in the oil is perfectly normal.

Without trends to follow, it’s hard to give a precise analysis of the condition of the oil. It will become clearer after a few more tests but we can learn that there is no fuel or antifreeze in the oil. There are practically no insolubles in the oil which indicates efficient filtration and combustion. In other words, my engine is healthy!

Had the exhaust riser been clogging again the test would have shown higher levels of insolubles in the test. If the engine was wearing because of excess carbon in the oil, this would show up as high levels of metals such as lead from the bearings for example. So for a mere $25 I have a much better idea of the health of my engine and the condition of the riser without even getting my hands dirty.

Further more, should I ever have problems with this engine, these oil tests I have had done will confirm any issues and also demonstrate that I changed the oil at the correct intervals and was conscientious enough to go the extra mile and get an oil analysis done on a regular basis.

But the best of it is that should my engine begin to develop problems the oil analysis will give me warning long before it becomes an expensive problem.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you consider that it would cost about £8000 to replace the engine, it makes perfect sense to pay a few dollars a year for the piece of mind that an oil analysis gives.

March 2, 2011

Fiat 126 Bis long term review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 23:39

Screwremover-plug cutter kit-3

Wilf, our trusty (well not that trusty) 126 Bis in Cannes. Leica M9, 21mm Asph

You know how it is, when you don’t need to buy a car, you see them for sale simply everywhere but when you suddenly need one, there’s not one for sale. This is the situation I found myself in about 7 years ago. I didn’t really want to buy a car but I had to get to work somehow.

It was amazing, I couldn’t find anything anywhere. Secondhand cars in France are shockingly expensive, even the crappiest, abused and dented twenty year old Peugeot 205 will cost over 1000 Euros. In the end I even went to the garages, often they have old part ex vehicles they can’t be bothered with that they will sell cheap. Still no luck.

Eventually I found myself at the local Fiat garage and asked if they had anything cheap and cheerful for sale. As it happens, my luck was in, they had a 13 year old Fiat 126 Bis in white. One owner with an unbelievable 4000 kms on the clock!


Wilf as bought by me in 2003 at 13 years old and with only 4000 kms on the clock. Note nasty wheel rims and plastic panels on the doors.

Obviously I doubted this at first, well it’s only natural isn’t it. How can a 13 year old car only have 4000 kms on the clock? But there was the possibility that it was genuine because the garage had known the car all its life and was bought from them in the first place. The guy swore that the mileage was for real. Then there’s the fact that small cars don’t get used as much as bigger ones and often their small high revving engines blow up long before they go around the clock.

The cars condition was very good. It needed a bloody good polish as the paint was flat. The drivers side door had loads of small dents in it where someone must have been opening their door on it for years on end. I could see this little car sitting unloved in the driveway getting bashed all the time. The interior was faded too. It might have done very few miles but it had spent its entire life outdoors. It still had it’s original yellow headlight bulbs which were about as effective at lighting the road at night as a lit fart.

The guy was asking a shocking 1800 Euros for the car which at the time seemed a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a 13 year old Polish 126 but then I hadn’t found anything else and it was very low mileage and only one owner. Also it had been Ziebarted from new so had absolutely no rust on it. And anyway it was a 126, it seemed like fate. I had bought my partner one years ago for 50 quid. ‘Sterling’ was a good little car while it lasted. We got 15,000 miles out of it for £50. Motoring doesn’t come much cheaper than this!

So we bought it. It has a WF in the number plate so we called him Wilf. It seems to suit him. Fiat 126s are nothing new to me. My first car was a green 126 my dad bought me for £80. I loved that car but it didn’t last long. Constant wheel spins and handbrake turns soon killed it. I soon lost first gear and then discovered that I could wheelspin in reverse so then soon after I lost reverse gear. No big deal as it was so small and light it was easy enough to get out and push it backwards.

Pulling away in second gear soon burned out the clutch and then when being towed home by a mate I thought it would be a laugh to slam the brakes on and try and stop him. All it achieved was to pull the whole front of the car off. How we laughed.


How cute is this? Steel wheels which filled the arches. Just enough chrome and a simple unadorned body. This early model doesn’t even have opening rear windows. Later models open an inch or two. A design classic.

Since then I have had any number of Fiat 126s. In fact I am solely responsible for Quik Fit exhausts refusing to have anything to do with them. I would buy an exhaust and a week later it would snap at the manifold so I’d go back for a new one. They soon got sick of that! The reason why they broke so often was certainly due to the fact that I caned the shit out of the poor little things. I often managed 90mph (140kph) going down steep hills with the wind behind me. The speedo only goes to 80 and I often saw the needle way beyond that.

Stopping a 126 from speeds like that is impossible without cooking the brakes. The only way was to let gravity and friction do it. Suffice to say I had a few arse clenching moments trying to stop. Then in a moment of madness I fitted a 60 hp Suzuki Whizz Kid engine to one, mainly because my mate Shaun said I could never do it. Well I did it. It was rough and ready but hysterical fun and frankly lethal with it’s original skinny tyres, poor suspension and brakes.

Fiat 126s may not be fast but they can surprise on corners. Often I would catch people up and they could never get far away from me much to their surprise and annoyance. You don’t use the brakes much when you drive a 126. You learn to anticipate and think ahead. I think everyone should be made to drive a 126 for a few months before being allowed another car.


Wilf looking very small at les Gorges de Verdon. Leica Digilux 2

Anyway, back to Wilf. He is the Bis, the very latest version of the 126. It has a hatchback and that is the most obvious difference between the old 126 and the Bis. Under the skin the engine is completely different and lies on its side rather than bolt upright. It still has two cylinders but now has a tarmac ripping 27 horse power. It’s quite nippy off the line but could never be described as fast. If you thrash it you can easily keep up with the fastest moving of traffic.

The 126 works surprisingly well on rough terrain and snow. It will get to places that a lot of cars can’t. Steep inclines are no problem unless the engine is cold. Once we suffered an embarrassing 5 minutes when we couldn’t get up a slope and out of a car park. The solution, if rather unorthodox was to go out backwards!

It’s not as economical as you might think. We regularly get about 50 mpg (or about 20 km/lr and sometimes more depending on how many hills we can turn the engine off on and coast down. Even with the engine off we still catch people up on the bends!

Screwremover-plug cutter kit

Wilf as he is today. 20 years old an despite a few faults is basically very sound and has passed his Control Technique every time with nothing needing doing!! Leica M9 21mm Asph.

Wilf has been surprisingly reliable except for a couple of issues. The first was when the timing chain snapped at only 25k kms Luckily the engine was only ticking over at the time so it didn’t do any harm. 30 Euros later and we were sent a new chain and sprockets to fit. It was a relatively easy job and since then has been fine.

The 126 Bis is prone to head gasket problems and Wilf was no exception. Luckily gaskets are not expensive. In fact most parts are cheap. The head had to be skimmed to flatten it. Later gaskets are better so once replaced is unlikely to cause further problems. That happened at 30k kms. Since then he’s gone wrong about every 5000kms on average.

The wind winder broke. That was fun fitting a new one! Both headlights went black when the chrome came off their insides. The fuel pump died and the fuel pipes are such crappy quality that they needed replacing. Wilf’s latest problem is the breaking of the rear shock absorber mount. This is a bit annoying as it means the removal of the rear swinging arm.

He’s a crappy car really. My other half gets quite upset when I say that but it’s true. He’s noisy and uncomfortable, has hardly any suspension. Perhaps this was no big deal back in the 70s when he was designed but these days with speed ramps he is really bloody awful. That said, he is a lot of fun and generally gets us from A to B without costing too much or using too much fuel.

He has his faults, like the wipers that won’t switch off when it’s damp. There is a way to stop them though and that is to turn off the ignition just as the wipers are parking! I’ve got it down to a fine art! The head lining fell down years ago. It sounds very tinny without it.

I’m being harsh. The 126 is a laugh. It’s fun to drive, like a little go cart. You can park them in the tinyest spot. Just the other day I took a place that had a mere 8” either end and got in easily. A passing motorist stopped and clapped his approval. Little kids point and smile. In St Tropez it gets as many looks as the latest Merc or Porsche. We are very fond of him. I have never owned a car this long in my life.

He is mildly customised. He has 12” alloy wheels instead of the original 13” steels. To my mind he looked stupid on 13” rims. Luckily I knew a fellow 126 owner who needed some cash and he sold me his VERY rare alloys. All 5 of them. Look carefully and you can see that the wheel hubs are nothing more than sprayed jam jar lids! They fit perfectly.


One of the first things to do was get some decent alloys on him. These are 12” which look much better proportioned. Perhaps they used bigger wheels to make the car higher to pass regulations? Jam jar wheel hubs yet to be fitted!

I fitted wheel spacers to bring the tyres out a bit. I believe for looks, a car’s tyres ought to be as near level to the arches as possible. I also took off the nasty plastic door covers/protectors. Plastic bumpers is bad enough but with all that plastic it was awful. If I had the money I’d love to replace the plastic bumpers with chrome ones. The first 126 was the best looking, no doubt about it. The earliest ones are now over 35 years old!

The Bis is still very much a 126 but it has luxuries, like water cooling and a key to start the engine (early 126s had a pull lever between the seats!). It even has a two speed fan, rear wash wipe AND a heated rear window. Surprisingly, apart from the aforementioned issue with the intermittent intermittent setting of the wipers and the ever glowing water level light, all the electrics still work.


Wilf with a Woodenwidget folding dinghy and sail on the roof rack. The dinghy will actually fit inside the car! Leica Digilux 2

He’s quite surprisingly practical, with the seats down at the rear you can stuff an amazing amount of stuff into him. The front seat comes out in a few seconds to gain extra space. The boot at the front is only big enough for a few tools, a set of jump leads and a tow rope. Wilf has a roof rack and that allows some very big loads to be carried. He has even carried a 10 metre long mast on his roof before now.


He’s nearly 20 years old himself now. For all his faults I must say he has been a faithful friend. I try not to abuse him but he’s a Fiat and almost begs out to be thrashed and thrown around the corners. I just can’t help myself! He now has 40,000 kms on him. Still very low mileage for a 20 year old car.

Prices are rising. With Fiat 500s going for silly money, the 126 is the next obvious investment. Just the other day I saw a 126 Bis for sale for 6500 Euros!!! That’s not to say it will sell for that but it does show that others have already seen this car as the next excellent investment. As small cars become ever more popular the prices of these cars can only rise. Many have rotted away by now, but those that have been cared for have stood the test of time.

You can get any part for your 126 and most parts are very cheap compared to many other cars. The sensible thing to do if you have one is to buy up a few others while prices are low. In the UK £500 will buy you a perfectly usable 126 Bis and if it’s not on the road it could go for peanuts. If you have space to store a few spare cars, you could keep one going for decades!


Wilf at lake de St Croix, at les Gorges de Verdon. Leica Digilux 2 with 23mm lens adapter.

February 21, 2011

Toshiba C650 1CP laptop review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 17:18


Oh dear. What a disaster. I know it wasn’t expensive but that’s no excuse to make something so awful. My previous laptop was a Toshiba and that was very well made and reliable so I stayed loyal to Toshiba in the misguided belief that their newer computers would retain all that I liked about Toshiba. Sadly I was to be disappointed.

First, the good stuff. It booted fast and worked quite well as a computer (when it wasn’t crashing that is). Battery life was good. That’s about it actually.

This laptop looks cheap in it’s patterned plastic attire. That is because it is. There is no LED to see when the hard drive is busy, you just have to trust it is working. The on off switch is temperamental and sometimes wouldn’t allow the computer to boot up at all. Constant hard pressing usually did the trick.

The worst fault is it’s propensity to crash. The Blue Screen of Death is something you had better get used to if you’re using this computer. Sometimes just putting in a USB memory stick or an SD card is enough to set it off. It really hates my wireless adapter.

The screen, although bright is an awful colour and very tiring to look at for some reason. I tried to adjust it but nothing I did made much difference. The reds are RED, it’s just hideous. The screen also lacks detail. At first you think it’s not bad but then looking at pictures with dark areas you can see clumps of pixelated areas which look like JPG artefacts but are not. Looking at the same image on another screen reveals plenty of detail and no clumping or artefacts at all. Nasty.

This laptop is flimsy. The screen broke when the lid was opened and flexed slightly. So now it is useless. The mouse is horrible and most often just doesn’t work. You move your fingers over the pad but the cursor doesn’t move. It’s really frustrating. No amount of adjustment could stop this happening. Incidentally, I have never before had this problem on any laptop so it’s not me giving out heebie Jeebie vibes.

The position of the track pad is not good. The whole thing is too far to the left, I suppose so that the number pad could be placed on the right. Personally I found the number pad completely unnecessary and totally annoying but that is not really the fault of the computer. I suppose people want a number pad these days even if it means squishing up the rest of the keyboard to fit it in.

The right hand side of the track pad has a built in scrolling device but because the track pad is so badly positioned I found myself operating it all the time by accident. There was no option to turn it off.

There are only two USB ports which is simply not enough and the volume control is operated by the use of the function and F keys which is annoying if the room is dark and the volume needs turning down quickly.

The biggest surprise was when I went to complain to Toshiba. Their website had broken links which made it impossible to contact customer support. So instead I emailed every one of the email addresses on the site I could find and eventually someone wrote to me. They told me that they had nothing to do with problems with their computers, I had to speak to the shop where I bought it.

This is ridiculous. For a start, what if I was in another country and the shop I bought it from did not have a shop in the country I was in? Worse is that I don’t see how Toshiba can ever hope to improve their products if they are not seeing the problems of their customers. Worst of all though is that it is a complete cop out. I will never buy anything from a manufacturer who won’t stand by their product. Quite clearly Toshiba are not interested in their customers or what they have to say. All they want is your money.

On their site, you can read their big words about social and corporate responsibility but it’s clearly just nonsense. Anyone who can make such a cheap and nasty computer cannot claim to be offering something sustainable. It is made to be used briefly and thrown away. I got 4 months out of mine. Not really very good for the planet. I have had to buy another computer to replace it. Not very sustainable is it?

Committed to People, Committed to the future. Toshiba

That is what it proudly claims on its site but their refusal to take responsibility for its products makes a farce of their first statement and the fact that they even sell such a cheap, nasty and flimsy computer in the first place makes a mockery of their second statement. You can learn a lot by trying to contact a company’s customer service. I learned that Toshiba don’t stand by their products and are not interested in my comments about their products either. I won’t be buying from them again.

January 23, 2011

A nice cup of tea

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 18:06


Tea. The British cure all. Been in a car crash? Cup of tea. Just been burgled? Cup of tea. Almost every UK sitcom will include this ritual at some point. The good old ‘cuppa’. Personally I prefer coffee but being English I am genetically programmed to be able to make a ‘lovely cup of tea’.

On top of this natural ability to make our national beverage I have had a lot of practice. My other half drinks only tea and every morning for the last decade and a half I have made her a cup. That makes over 5000 cups alone but I also make her many other cups during the day so there is no doubt that I have made tens of thousands of cups of tea in my life. You could say that I am an Authori-tea. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist).

The French are amazing with wine. I once bought a bottle for a friend who had found me some work. It was wrapped up in brown paper but the shape was still defined. I popped it on my mates desk and he said, ‘Thanks, I love a Bordeaux’. He could tell from the shape of the bottle where the wine came from. On the other hand, they know nothing about tea so it is a great pleasure to share one’s knowledge and have a bit of fun at their expense at the same time.

When we go to visit a French person, they always offer tea because they know that the Brits drink tea but it is inevitably Liptons. Now we take our own T bags and make them a proper cup. They always love it and ask how it’s done. The first thing we tell them is that Liptons is sold to the French because no one else will drink it. No Britain would buy Liptons unless he was desperate. We tell them that Liptons is simply a collection of all the dust and crumbs from the tea making process that is swept up and bagged then sold to the French. It’s not true of course. Or at least I don’t think it is but it makes for a good story.

The first rule in making a decent cup of tea is using a decent brand. Of course there are plenty of brands of tea available in the UK and many of them are very good. But if you like Earl Grey tea (flavoured with bergamot) then only Twinings will do.


So here it is. Simply put, how to make a decent cup of tea.

A mug is best for tea. If you use a cup, you may find the tea is too strong. One tea bag makes a perfect mug of tea in most cases.

Place a tea bag in the empty mug.

As soon as the kettle boils pour on the water and fill up the mug.

Lift the bag up and down in the mug a few times to make sure it is properly wet then leave the bag alone for a couple of minutes. (if you like strong tea leave it longer, weak tea, remove the bag sooner. 2 minutes will make an average strength mug)

After a couple of minutes, lift the tea bag out and squeeze it dry using before throwing it on the compost heap or in the bin. (I use the tea bag wrapper and fold it around the bag so that I do not burn my fingers)

Now add a splash of milk. What is a splash? This depends on how you like your tea but it’s not much, less than 5%. You are aiming for a nice light brown colour (see pic above). Better to add some milk and if it’s not enough then you can add more rather than making a cup that is too milky. If you do there is no way to restore the balance so throw it away and start again.

That’s it. You can add sugar too if you want it. It seems so simple doesn’t it? If you follow these instructions you will consistently make a great cup of tea. The most important thing is to pour the water onto the tea bag, not fill up a cup with water and put the bag in and NEVER add milk until the end.

If you want to make a pot of tea, then it is slightly different to a Mug but the same basic principals apply. You might make a pot of tea if there are a few people or you like more than one cup. Personally I prefer a tea bag in a mug. Tea brews the longer you leave it so your second cup from a pot can be much stronger. Some people like this.

Warm the pot using boiling water from the kettle. Pour some water in and swill it about. Leave it for a minute and then pour it away.

You can use loose tea or tea bags, the end result is the same. One teaspoon of loose tea is about the same as one tea bag.

Add one bag per person plus one for the pot. So for two people, add three bags (or spoons). The reason for the extra bag is to allow for the greater volume that a pot has over cups.

Boil the kettle and pour the water into the pot. Stir the bags or tea with a spoon and put the lid on the pot and a tea cosy if you want to keep it hot longer. Leave it for a few minutes to brew before pouring.

Now, previously I mentioned that you NEVER put the milk in before the tea, but in fact that was just when you are making a mug of tea with a tea bag. When the tea is made in a pot you can add the milk before or after. There are many who insist that the milk should go in first. Personally I can’t see that it makes any difference.

Technically, it seems to make sense to pour the tea from the pot into an empty cup or mug, then add sugar if you want it. The sugar will melt more thoroughly in hot tea. If you add the sugar after the milk has been added the tea will be cooler and the sugar won’t melt so well.

So if it was me I would do it like this:

Pour the tea into an empty cup (it does not need to be warmed)

Then add sugar if you want

Then add a dash of milk


If you do add the milk first or the sugar after you won’t be committing a social faux pas but I believe you’ll get a better cup of tea if you do it my way.

So there you have it. Enjoy.

May 8, 2010

coming up soon…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — admin @ 10:01


Leica M9, 21mm f2.8 Asph, ISO 160 f16 @ 250 sec. Beach at St Tropez

Ahoy all, firstly a big thank you to those who have said such nice things about the posts on this blog and secondly I wanted to let you know that there are lots more posts coming up. My goal is to post at least once a week.

Here’s what’s coming in the next couple of months:

Everything you wanted to know about boating but were afraid to ask.

Brompton folding bicycle review.

Removing old paint with pasta.

Bridgestone BT 016 tyre review.

The biscuit toss.

Honda 400/4 from Cornwall to St Tropez.

Across the pond on a rock star’s boat

That should keep you busy for a while. These are scheduled posts but there are many many more in the pipeline. I hope there will be a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. Please do subscribe to our RSS feed to stay updated.

Thanks for taking the time to visit and thanks for your comments too!


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