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Starting a wormery - not as easy as you might think

With a renewed interest in fishing and nowhere to buy any wriggly bait in town, I thought that a wormery might be a good investment. After a bit of research I bought the Original Wormery Composter from Original Organics. It's designed for both indoor and outdoor use and isn't as large as some of the other offerings.

Everything arrived and I set it up according to the instructions. It comes with coir, or coconut fibre rather than soil. This needs to be moistened and personally I felt it looked somewhat unappealing as a home for the worms. But it was what it was. I added some food waste and shredded paper and left the top of the wormery open for a short while as this encourages the worms to burrow to escape the light. This didn't take long and the top wasn't open for long. I subsequently learned that this might have been a mistake.

The instruction was to then leave the worms for a while to settle in, but after a few days I had a peek. There were worms all up the inside of the container and some around the edges of the lid and in the hinge. I didn't cotton on to the fact that some had in fact got past the foam seal that sits between the lid and the top edge of the container.

When I next looked a few days later I couldn't see any worms. I turned over the coir and could only find two or three. I phoned the company and was assured that they were probably there, perhaps in the bottom of the container. However, I looked again about a week later - no worms

wormery lid


At this point I applied some practical logic to the situation and came to the conclusion that the worms had all escaped through small channels where the foam didn't quite meet, as shown in the photo. I recollected that I had seen worms in the hinge area and realised that they must have wriggled through the channel at that end. An email to the company didn't illicit any sympathy, only a statement that the foam normally provides a good seal, not acknowledging the obvious design flaw that I had described.

I had no choice other than to order some more worms while carrying out some modifications to block the escape routes that I had identified. I also checked out some YouTube videos and one explained that when the worms are first introduced they need a good while to acclimatise to their new home. It was recommended that the lid be left open for much longer than I had done previously. If they are not given plenty of time before the lid is closed. Once in the dark they will explore everywhere rather than just settling in their coir matting. That made sense so I followed this advice with my new worms.

It's still early days but so far my worms have remained, or at least a fair number of them, and I haven't spotted any signs of escapees. More importantly they seem active and I hope have started work breaking down the food waste. Only time will tell but it is clear that keeping worms is as much an art as a science!
  

Bike brought back into action!

My bike, bought about 30 years ago, has been at the back of the garage for a few years. With the continuing restrictions because of COVID-19, and the almost total lack of vehicular traffic, I decided to dust it off so to speak. It's a Claude Butler that proudly displays the message 'Hand made in England' on a rear fork. But it weighs a tonne compared with the modern alloy or carbon models.

Unfortunately it needed a bit more than a dust off. In fact as it had been kept under plastic dust wasn't really an issue. What was an issue were the gears. The selectors were clearly not engaging with the selector mechanism so it wasn't possible to effect any gear changes. So I set about exploring the Shimano Exage 400LX system.

Gear selector

When I dismantled the selector for the rear dérailleur the reason was immediately obvious. The original grease had hardened and the small spring that kept the pawl engaged with the selector ratchet was effectively glued in the open position by the old grease. WD 40, gentle brushing and some light 3-in-1 oil got everything working again. But I had released the selector cable to take tension off the selector mechanism and because the end was badly frayed I couldn't get it back through the sheath of the outer.

I ordered a kit with two new Shimano inner cables, a length of new outer sheath and the fittings to put on the ends of the cut outers. And a decent cable cutter, having seen what a mess a pair of pliers made when I cut off the cable end cap from the old cable.

Replacing the cables was easier than I imagined. The design of the selector housing allows the cable to be pushed through and removed, and the new one installed by the reverse procedure. The outers were cut to size to match those removed, although it was necessary to ensure that the ends were 'open' after being squashed somewhat by the cutter. Next came the setting up, or indexing of the dérailleurs.

There is plenty of advice on the internet. I used the instructions from The Cyclist website. The rear dérailleur wasn't too bad to set up. I had to do a bit of fine tuning but it didn't take too long to get to the point where the gears changed and the inner and outer limits of movement were set. Sometimes the change jumped two sprockets but I think this might have been because my selector mechanisms were a bit worn, or perhaps a bit too liberally oiled! I'm not sure whether the light oil that replaced the old grease might have been just a bit too lubricating, causing the pawl to slip over the ratchet. But it was good enough.

The front dérailleur was, however, much more of a problem. I again followed the relevant instructions from The Cyclist website, but this time I couldn't quite get the dérailleur to change smoothly, or for that matter completely reliably. The mechanism is cruder than at the rear, a guide pushing against the chain, whereas at the rear a cage guides the chain. Changing up to the large sprocket didn't always complete. After much adjusting and re-adjusting I got it to work but a bit unreliably. On reflection, I seem to remember that this dérailleur was alway a bit unreliable even when the bike was newer. It's also a fact that I rarely shift the front, and as I now live in the Fens there is little need for an extreme low gear. So, I decided to select the middle sprocket as for my purposes the rear 7-gear cluster should be more than adequate.

I took it out for a 20 minute spin, with some off road, and within the restricted range of gears that I used things seemed quite smooth.

Using MAMP to develop a PHP site

I built a site for my daughter some time ago and recently I've been developing a registration system using Sitelok by Vibralogix, a sophisticated piece of PHP software with a superb manual and incredible after sales support; something I've needed as I've struggled with the certain aspects of the site development. Mainly it must be said to do with the Paypal interface rather than the basic registration system.

MAMP

I use RapidWeaver and with new and existing web pages now being controlled by PHP it has not been possible to preview them before publishing. As most of what I've done so far is on hidden pages, locked with Sitelok, it hasn't impacted too greatly on the live site. But I had reached the stage of modifying live pages for Sitelok, making live publishing a slightly risky way of checking modifications or additions. So I decided to try MAMP, which comes in two versions, MAMP (free) and MAMP Pro. The free version was adequate for my limited requirements.

I had looked into MAMP some time ago, for a different project, but hadn't managed to use it properly. Lack of knowledge, I would add, rather than any failings with the application. But this time I did my research and watched a couple of videos on YouTube. It still took a bit of trial and error to set things up, but having now done so it's working a treat.

MAMP establishes an Apache server (in my case, an alternative being Nginx) and MySQL on your computer, thus enabling you to view PHP controlled content without publishing to a web-based server. By supporting MySQL databases it enabled me to replicate the Sitelok installation. MAMP creates a local folder in which you can replicate your remote server files. In this folder I first created a folder named RapidWeaver and simply copied the RapidWeaver 8 app into it.

In RapidWeaver I created a new local publishing destination for the project, targeting the folder in the MAMP application. Exporting to this folder copied all the RapidWeaver site files and resources, but not warehoused assets, such as images and videos. Then, using FTP, I added files that were not part of the RapidWeaver project, including the Sitelok files. Finally, using cPanel, I exported a copy of the database associated with Sitelok from the web server, and using phpMyadmin in MAMP, imported it into a similarly named new database in MAMP. I just needed to change the user name and password in the local copy of the Sitelok configuration file to the MAMP defaults.

And amazingly, for me at least, I now have a full working copy of the site viewable in a local environment. So I can modify pages and test them without risking disruption to the live site. An added advantage is that republishing to the local file is far quicker than publishing to the web, speeding up the workflow.

Parallels on SSD & Windows 7 to Windows 10

Windows 10 - Parallels

Introduction

Windows has in the past driven me to distraction and I can honestly say that my computing life improved immeasurably after I migrated to an iMac in 2008. But I kept Windows going for a while, first as a virtual machine in VMFusion, and then in a Bootcamp partition when I acquired a MacBook Pro in 2009. The Windows frustration continued and I shared my feelings back in 2017.

When I upgraded both my iMac and later my MacBook, Windows was jettisoned.

Jump forward to 2020 and against my better judgement Windows is back. The story of how this came about might be of interest

Samsung SSD

When I updated to MacOS Catalina there were some applications that I didn't want to lose, but weren't compatible with the new OS. I decided to buy Parallels and retain a virtual copy of Mojave. As my new iMac has only a 250GB SSD drive and the Mojave VM occupied around 36GB, it represented quite an overhead. All was well until recently when I did some quite heavy video editing in iMovie, resulting in my Mac freezing. I was caught out because my daughter shared an iCloud folder containing all the individual video clips, this being possible with the advent of Catalina 10.15.4 and iOS 13.4. What I didn't realise was that all the files had been downloaded to the Mac. So much for shared 'cloud' storage. This share, combined with the production of a number of completed videos in iMovie, left me unknowingly with minimal remaining disk space.

After tidying up the video files and moving all the shared clips to an external drive, I re-established safe headroom. But I decided it would be better to move the Mojave VM to an external disk. I experimented with a spare SATA hard drive but it was far too slow to allow a decent user experience in the VM. So I bought a Samsung portable 500GB SSD. This worked fine with the VM, there being little discernable difference from when it was on the Mac's SSD.

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High power Halogen lamp converted to LED

Many moons ago we bought a touch-enabled side light that looked great but was an ongoing source of annoyance.

Lamp

The first problem was the failure of the control electronics. I sourced a replacement component (Thyristor or similar) from China and repaired it. That didn't last long, so next time I bought a complete control module. But that also failed after a while. I subsequently suspected that the signal-over-mains network extender was conflicting with the control electronics, but have no proof of this.

Fed up with ongoing failures I wired out the control and added an inline power switch, thus converting the lamp to a single setting maximum power device.

But the 100W halogen elements also proved to be fairly short lived, besides being extravagantly power hungry in these days of low energy lighting. LED alternatives were available but were either too bulky or received poor reliability reports. So for ages the lamp sat as an ornament in the corner.

As it was always more of a feature than a necessary light source I recently decided to modify it to take a low energy candle bulb. So for a few pounds I bought a metal pendant lamp holder and with a bit of ingenuity installed it in place of the tungsten fitting. It works and although the luminosity is obviously far less than the tungsten fitting, I have reduced the power from 100W to 3.5W. So as a feature in the corner it's no longer racking up energy consumption. I must say that I am quite pleased with the outcome.

Lamp new fitting

Undeletable file in Trash /Bin

A short while ago I was experiencing very slow downloads on my emails in macOS Mail. Following a tip in a forum I moved some system files to a new temporary location, these being automatically recreated by Mail when it was relaunched. The idea was to remove the cached settings. It didn't in fact help and I suspect that it was my email service provider (BT) that was actually the problem.

Once I was sure that Mail was working correctly I deleted the original system files that I had relocated. But when I came to empty the Trash one file remained, generating an error during the delete process. Thus began a long and unsuccessful attempt to get this file out of my Trash.

I found quite a bit of advice on the web, both from Apple itself and various technical web sites. I tried everything: key combinations, Safe Mode; Disk First Aid in Recovery Mode; Terminal commands and the clever idea of moving the file to iCloud and then deleting it on my iPhone after my iMac was powered down. But it just came back. I even moved it to the BT Cloud, which is outside the Apple system, and deleted it there, but it always returned.

Finally I found a web page that explained all. The file, in its orignal location, was:

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/DataVaults

I managed to delete the folders but DataVaults proved to be totally indestructible. The web page linked to another with an explanation of the additional controls that Apple has placed over access to files and folders in macOS Mojave, and of course in Catalina. My problems started when I was running Mojave and persisted after I recently updated to Catalina.

Here is an extract from the article:

DataVaults are folders to which neither the user nor third-party software has any access at all.

The only software which can see and work with their contents are certain Apple-signed products which have a specific entitlement to do so.


The moral, be careful when messing about with system files.


Updated iMac to MacOS Catalina

After much deliberation I today updated from Mojave to Catalina.

The main issue, of course, was the fact that with Catalina Apple discontinued support for 32 bit applications. I had for a while been removing such applications, updating them or finding alternatives. This cost a bit of money along the way. For example, my Adobe Elements 15 (Photoshop & Premier) wasn't guaranteed to be compatible and in the end I broke a long association with this software and went for Pixelmator Pro for photographs and Apple's free iMovie for videos.

The Adobe suite never felt completely at home on the Mac whereas Pixelmator is truly a Mac app as of course is iMovie. My limited use of Pixelmator has so far proved successful although, of course, I have needed to adapt to the different interface. I'm still to see how I get on with iMovie.

Some apps I had rarely used, so they went. The difficult ones were those that I needed but were unlikely ever to be upgraded to 64 bit by the developers. For example, our Withings weighing scales link to the internet and if you ever need to reconfigure the wifi connection there is a Pairing Wizard. It's very rudimentary and will almost certainly never appear as 64 bit since the latest scales don't need it. There's also my Game Golf transfer app, which may in time benefit from an upgrade to 64 bit. And I have the 'Le Petit Robert' French dictionary, which is now available in 64 bit form but at an unacceptable price. At the moment Audacity isn't Catalina compatible although I'm sure that a 64 bit version will eventually be released. And finally there was MacX Video Converter Pro, which again has a new version available but at a price.

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MacOS Time Machine on encrypted external HDD

I've upgraded my ten-year-old MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air. The old one will go to my wife's niece as it still performs well, especially after I replaced the battery and installed an SSD to speed things up a bit. She had taken a shine to it so my upgrade makes two people happy. For my part, the difference in OS between my iMac (Mojave) and the MacBook (El Capitan) was starting to present issues, such as incompatibility between versions of Pages, Numbers etc.

Having somewhat laboriously cleaned the old MacBook of my data so that I didn't lose certain software, such as the old but still serviceable Office 2011, I ended up with a much cleaner computer that I believe will be perfect for her. It's amazing how many personal identifiers exist within the software but I'm sure that I've removed most of them as well, of course, as signing out of all the Apple services.

Note Encrypt backups check box

Next came the the job of backing up my new MacBook to the external HDD that I use for a Time Machine. I encrypted it when it was first formatted and when I tried to delete the old backup I was informed that I didn't have the necessary permissions. I therefore erased the disk and again reformatted as encrypted. Time Machine asked if I wanted to use the disk and at this point I made a mistake. It asked if I wanted the data encrypted. Because I had already encrypted the disk I didn't choose this option. When it then asked for the disk password I wasn't paying attention and entered it. Unfortunately this started a decryption process that after three hours hadn't hardly registered on the progress bar.

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Le Robert Correcteur - time to look elsewhere

A few years ago I bought the Le Robert Correcteur. It is a spelling and grammar checker for French, something that is incredibly useful if one has the intention of writing in French. It's a grammatically complex language and even Le Robert doesn't spot all one's mistakes. But it at least weeds out most of them and will often flag a sentence that it believes to be badly constructed even though it can't pinpoint the precise reason.

It wasn't cheap and came with three licences. I used one on my iMac and one on my MacBook Pro. A while ago I rebuilt the MacBook with an SSD disk and restored from Time Machine. Most things worked but Le Correcteur was having none of it. The licence protection was obviously recognised that something had changed as a result of the upgrade. So I had to use my third and final licence. I've now upgraded to a 2018 MacBook Air. And guess what, I can't even get Le Correcteur to load let alone try to enter a licence key. All attempts to find help on deregistering the app on the old MacBook have failed.

I certainly wasn't going to fork out for another three licences so I decided to consider alternatives. I have used Bon Patron before, a web-based spelling and grammar checker that performs arguably as well as Le Correcteur. I tested a sample piece in both and in fact Bon Patron did slightly better in that case. Although both missed a fairly glaring conjugation error, which might have been because of the way I structured the sentence. Perhaps it wasn't French enough! The only downside to Bon Patron is that is web-based, so without a connection you can't use it. But with almost universal connectivity these days this is perhaps not a major issue.

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Back to fishing & golf

After a very fallow period I've managed a few fishing trips lately and I've also managed to get back to some golf, my long-suffering back having eased somewhat over the last month or so.

So, if you're interested, check out the fishing and golf diaries.

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