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Sunday, 26 July 2020

Slow filling toilet cistern – unusual cause and fix

If your toilet cistern is taking too long to refill and be ready for the next user (Mine was taking 10 minutes!) you may have found some of the great articles and videos that basically tell you to dismantle the float valve and clean out the blockage. A few others suggest you may have low water pressure but are using a high pressure nozzle. 

Try those approached first and if one of them solves your problem, that’s great and you can stop reading now. 

Another cause can be that the rubber diaphragm in the float valve is the wrong way round.  

Here’s the story…

I actually had two problems with my cistern. As well as being slow to fill, after about 18 hours, it started to overflow very gently. I replaced the rubber diaphragm being careful to put it the same way round as the old one. This fixed the overflow – although adjusting this correctly was difficult because it took tens of hours for the water flow to reduce from extremely low to zero. However, the filling was just as slow as previously. Watching carefully, I noticed that the flow started off pretty feeble and rapidly declined as the cistern filled. Twelve hours later, it was still filling at about one drop per minute.

So I partially dismantled it again and examined the diaphragm and nozzle interaction. As the float went up, the diaphragm quickly made gentle contact with the nozzle but real water-stopping contact needed the float past the top.  This caused the flow to slow down almost immediately but never really stop.

So I put the diaphragm in the other way. 


Now, when the cistern was empty, the diaphragm was quite a long way from the nozzle so water rushed in and the toilet was ready for the next user in 30 seconds. When the cistern was nearly full, the diaphragm and nozzle met and the diaphragm was rock hard so stopping the flow quickly. 

The diaphragm design seems to vary a bit so this video shows to hold and test a diaphragm. First, my thumbs are pressing the soft side and then the hard side. You want the nozzle facing the hard side

It's just possible that none of this article is making sense to you because you've got a different sort of "ball cock" or float valve.. Here's a view of the inside on my cistern...

.. and here's a closer view of the float valve
Some of you will be have at simple small black disc-shaped "washer" which is the same on both sides rather than the larger, more complicated diaphragm. You've got a different sort of float valve and this article doesn't apply - Sorry!


Friday, 15 May 2020

Rejuvenating my old bike

In the 1960s, 70s & 80s, I did a lot of touring cycling in the UK, Ireland and France. Typically 50 hilly miles a day. I put together a nice Mercian frame and decent parts to make an effective touring machine.

As I lived in Cheltenham, which is fairly flat and prone to cycle theft, I also assembled a shopping/commuting machine with just 5 gears, straight handlebars, a basket and a powerful horn. The mudguards didn't match partly to save me buying a new set and also to uglify the machine and make it less likely to catch the eye of a thief.

Recently I moved to Stroud, a town that has hardly any flat roads at all - and neither does much of the surrounding countryside. I brought my old Mercian with me and did some basic maintenance to deal with it being almost entirely unused for 35 years.

As the washer in the pump had perished, I ordered one through Amazon and also 2 inner tubes. Being used to an 18" pump, I was pretty dubious about the 34cm Draper pump but it was very efficient. I discovered that although my tyres were flat, they were airtight and have already ridden over 100 miles on them. They don't look good though...
Even back in the day, my saddle attracted adverse comment
Surely it's very uncomfortable? Not really. Contemporary saddles did have more leather but the excess didn't actually do anything.  Another eccentricity was the gear changers on the ends of the handlebars. 

Made by Campagnolo, so much more convenient than the traditional lever on the downtube. You could fit levers up on the steering column but they tended to get in the way of swinging your leg over or if you upturned the bike for roadside repairs. These control a 5 speed rear block and a double clanger giving me 10 gears from 32" to 108". The lowest gear definitely isn't low enough for the local hills. In years gone by, that 32" took me up just about everything but I often had to stand on the pedals to do it. There was so much torque that I once had the thread under the freewheel block strip when climbing a hill in Ireland.

 Another Campag part is the pedals - they cost me £19 when ordinary parts were about £1.50 in Halfords. (I remember the price because £19 was a lot and a friend had a pedal disintegrate and I was shocked at how cheap the replacement we bought in Hereford was) My toe-clips and straps would appear to be totally obsolete these days 
Another eccentricity is the dual brake levers - actually "lazy levers" were quite popular at the time. They work really well and give you access to braking from several different handlebar positions.
Another anachronism is the bottle dynamo supplying front and rear lights - with tungsten filament bulbs. Nowadays, I guess it's LEDs and rechargeable batteries.

It's adequate for taking my legally allowed exercise during these CONVID-19 days but rather than a renovation, I think I'm going to use the experience to inform my purchase of a modern machine with disk brakes, indexed gears and maybe a little suspension.

Power to the JBL Link 10

A couple of months ago I bought a JBL Link 10 "smart speaker". It worked fine with a couple of niggles:

  • Every few days, it would mute itself. You could tell it was still alive by the way the lights flashed for the appropriated length of time when you asked Google something. A full power cycle was needed to get it to speak again
  • If I unplugged it to use it as a "radio" in the bathroom, it shut down after 15-30 minutes
I finally got a clue when it it was providing the sound for a YouTube video over Bluetooth and it muted itself while I was "watching". This coincided with the sound of my central heating system shutting down for the night. 

So I suspected a power surge issue. Looking at the back of the speaker, I noticed that the battery indicator had just one flashing light rather than the 5 available. Now, JBL don't supply a mains charger, but they do supply a micro-USB cable which I didn't have a convenient socket for. What I did have was a Nokia charger for one of their small dumb phones that had the correct connector so I used that and it worked. Sort of.  There wasn't enough power to ever raise the charge above one flashing LED.

Next, I replaced the Nokia charger with a USB lead to a 10,000maH power brick and left it overnight. In the morning, the power brick was flat and the JBL charge indicator was at three flashing LEDs.  Encouraged by this I connected a mains-powered source of USB and within an hour, the JBL was fully charged.

The speaker still self-mutes occasionally but it's only about once a month now.  So the moral of the story is that the JBL Link 10 is quite "thirsty".  Check the power connection you give it - it's best to chose one that has a track record for charging larger devices quickly.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Boris Walking: A Practical Guide

At the time of writing, it is still legal to take exercise in the form of going for a walk. To check the current rules in more detail, see here. Here's some suggestions about doing it in a safe and pleasant way.

To keep at least 2m away from other people (as you should), then you probably want less crowded places. So, if you're used to getting out into the great outdoors, think about the places you've been before. Are they often crowded? Is there a large car park, nice cafe, public toilets, etc? Give these places a miss. If there's hardly ever anyone around your favourite place, that could be a better choice.

With places you don't know, you're probably best off with places you've never heard of before.  If a place is famous (EG: The Pennine Way), don't go there. Some of the unknown places have great scenery and if they don't, at least they're empty of people and therefore safer.

Another good trick is to go for a walk at a quiet time. It's recently been established that you can drive to get to a walking place as long as you spend more time walking than driving. If you live in a populated area, driving a few miles out into the countryside could be both safer and legal. The main challenge may be finding somewhere to park that's safe and not full of other people.

To help you find places to go, look at Bing Maps and select "Ordnance Survey"

You should get something like this


This map has loads of clues for Boris Walking. The green dotted lines are public rights of way on foot but they're not all equal - for example:

The green dotted line with a diamond is a way-marked long-distance path - the Wysis Way. Although they're easy to follow, they may be well known and thus  crowded so perhaps better to avoid them


Here's some more ordinary footpaths but you'll notice than the East-West path has black lines down each side. This indicates a hedge, fence or wall so these paths are very narrow making it difficult to pass other people without getting close. If you can't easily avoid them, here's some tactics for risk reduction

  • Before entering a narrow section, look along the path to see if there's anyone coming the other way. If there is, consider waiting for them to get clear.
  • Wear bright clothing so that other people can see you coming from a distance and may wait for you to get clear
  • Once you start walking a narrow path, keep going if you possibly can. If you stop for a rest, you become a blockage for others
  • If you need to stop, try to do it at a junction (as in the middle of the example above) It's easier to pull off out of the way of other people there.
Although it's called "social distancing" you don't have to be unsociable. I've found that it's quite possible to initiate and continue a conversation from 4-5m away. So I quite often cross a lane to put distance between me and an oncoming walker, but I say "Good Afternoon!" too.

One worry is that you'll catch the virus  from a stile or gate that's been touched by an infected person. It could happen so I have a set of 5 washable gloves that I rotate between walks. I got a set of 3 fabric gloves from Wilko for £1.25


Friday, 27 March 2020

The NHS Volunteer Army - Challenge for the RVS

A few days ago, the NHS and the Prime Minister put out a call for 250,000 volunteers to "help  up to 1.5 million people who have been asked to shield themselves from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions" There's been an enormous response, they've got twice as many volunteers as they asked for and at a guess, 3-4 times as many as they hoped for.

The job of organising everything has been given to Royal Voluntary Service which older readers will remember as the WRVS. This is probably a good choice as with their background in providing "Meals On Wheels" there's a lot about the current mission that they should thoroughly understand.

It's noteworthy that one of the roles they want  volunteers for is to make phone calls to people isolated by COVID-19, a role that can be open to just about everyone - including those whose health or disability precludes rushing around delivering food.

Perhaps the most significant challenge will be coping with the huge level of volunteer response. The demand for the various services may be quite low to start with and while that might sound like a good thing, keeping volunteers "sensibly busy" is a keystone of  good volunteer management. If volunteers are given too little opportunity to actually contribute, they can become disillusioned with the mission, the RVS and volunteering in general. The answer is for RVS to be supremely well organised to use these volunteers well - I wish then luck!

PS: The volunteering sign up page is here 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Viral Walking

I'm not 70 but the official advice is for me to act like I am. Normally (as regular readers will know) I do a lot of dancing but in the current circumstances, I intend to slightly expand my other form of exercise - walking. This is usually solitary anyway, I'm a bit of a random explorer. and if I'm careful about "social distance", I can keep physically and mentally fit enough to give me the best chance of coming through the crisis without endangering anyone else.

So my first walk a couple of days ago was over the lower slopes of Wickridge Hill near Stroud. The first challenge was the approach of an unruly child on a scooter complete with parent. Fortunately the road was wide enough that I could just cross over. Next, I met two greyhounds leading humans. Everybody moved to their side of the road so that was fine.

On to narrow wooded steep path. The first thing I did was pause, squint up the path and listen to detect anyone else coming the other way. That was OK but there was a handrail on the steeper bits so out with some gloves. These also came in useful down at Beeches Green where I needed to push the button on the pedestrian crossing.

Yesterday, I went to Toadsmoor. I'd occasionally used the busy narrow "main" road with alternating directional traffic lights that leads from the A419 up through Eastcombe but had long noted the area to the west that the map showed to be full of contours, lakes and woods.  The few people I met kept their distance so although I didn't bring back any new experiences or insights, there are pictures ...
Garden wall in Eastcombe
Kitlye
Toadsmoor valley

A curious structure that makes it look like the sheep have acquired a hatstand?



Toadsmoor "pond"



Saturday, 21 March 2020

The view from COVID-19


Down at the Virulent Arms, the viruses are gathered for Saturday evening drinks when in walks COVID-19. There’s a sudden hush, broken only by a sarcastic cough from the Chief Virus.

“What have you been doing lately young virus?”  She asks,

“Quite a lot!” says COVID-19, “I started in China, moved on to Italy, tomorrow, the World! I’m having a great time spreading everywhere!”

“I hear you’ve been killing a lot of humans?”

COVID-19 looked a little embarrassed. “Well, yes, I know that’s not a good idea because I don’t spread from a dead body  but despite that, I’m spreading really fast so it doesn’t matter!

The Chief Virus sighed. “Changing the subject completely, have you seen your Uncle Smallpox lately?”

“No, I heard he’d got stuck in a vault somewhere and isn’t in the wild anymore?”

“And why did the humans do that to him?”

“Well, he killed a lot of them and some bloke called Jenner invented vaccination and they ganged up and … Oh dear!”

“Exactly you silly little chump!” shouted the Chief Virus, “Now put down that drink and go out and mutate into something harmless before those pesky humans get so annoyed they come after all of us with some super-duper generic anti-viral!“