Thursday, 17 February 2011

At last I can share

Two blog updates in one week.  Incredible, isn't it?  I'll make this one short.

I've been dying to share this with people for a couple of weeks but I couldn't as it's something I made as a gift for a friend.  I have no idea whether she is even aware that I have a blog but I couldn't take the chance that she might read it and spoil the surprise.

I went to visit her last night and handed over her gift and birthday card so now I can show you what I made for her.

I went to visit Bedazzled Beads shop in Blackridge a while ago and saw a lovely set of graduated onyx beads.  As soon as I saw them I thought of my friend's birthday as I know she likes onyx.  When I got home I teamed them up with some 8mm black Swarovski pearls, black and clear Swarovski crystals in different sizes and some silver plated chain.  My friend seemed pleased with it when she opened the box last night so I'm relieved.  I should make something in a similar style for myself as I really liked this once it was made.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

I have a new toy

At last my long awaited mini-kiln has arrived.  Much to my frustration it arrived just in time for me to unpack it and sit it on the dining room table until I got back from a weekend in Oban.  The original kiln that was sent out on 31st December is still missing in action so I'd to wait for a new one to be sent out.  How do you lose a kiln?  I know it's only an ickle kiln, but the box still weighed 10 kilos.

The kiln is manufactured abroad but has been re-engineered for UK & European electrical currents.  Unfortunately it still had a foreign plug on it so first stop on return from Oban was the local Focus DIY shop to buy a UK plug which The Boy fitted for me.  I managed to resist the urge to go & play with it straight away and concentrated on getting unpacked, putting a washing on, etc.  Am I disciplined or what? (What? is the answer I suspect.)

Then Monday arrived.  Again, I had 'stuff' to do so I busied myself with that first, had lunch, then..... dug out the spare granite table mats and arranged them on top of the cooker.  It was the only surefire heat resistant place I could think of for a test run. And here it is, my shiny, new Kitiki mini-kiln:

It's teeny. Less than 25cm (or 9" in old money) square and not much higher than that.  I read the instructions and made sure it was at least 30cms (1 foot) from anything else, including walls and cupboards.  I checked that the room was well ventilated - the draughts coming in under the sink would fix that - and that the temperature in the room stayed below 40 degrees - in my kitchen at this time of year that's a given, in fact it's a blessing if it's above freezing point.

I carefully set the temperature to a random 691 degrees C then switched it on and stepped back so that I was in easy reach of this:

Yes, they recommend you have a fire extinguisher within easy reach as well.  I was surprised to learn that the little round thing in the middle of the door is not in fact a window with heatproof glass but a vent.  This did worry me slightly and made standing next to the fire extinguisher seem like the sensible thing to do.  I noticed as the kiln temperature went above 6oo degrees that I could see the interior glowing red though the little vent.

The actual firing chamber is minute but I'm not planning on firing anything very big so it should be fine.When I phoned the supplier to order it I asked about tongs and heatproof gloves.  I was told that I'd never get a hand in a thick glove inside the chamber and never a truer word was spoken.  Look how little it is:

Notice it was safely switched off and had cooled down before I attempted to open the door. :o)  I left it at temperature for 5 minutes or so before I switched it off and let it cool down and kept checking to see how hot the exterior panels got.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that only the top panel seemed to generate much heat.  Once I've read the instructions for firing silver clay I'll play about test it some more before I decide on where to put it permanently.

I also have some accessories for it:

From left to right we have:
  • A kiln shelf to rest things on as they fire as it's not a good idea to place anything directly on the surface of the firing chamber.
  • A firing blanket.  This can be torn up and used to support things that might end up mishapen if they are fired on a solid kiln shelf, such as rings that aren't a simple, smooth cylinder shape.  It feels quite strange to the touch.  The Boy is freaked out by the feel of cotton wool.  If he misbehaves I can torment him with the blanket. :o)
  • Vermiculite.  This is a kind of granular equivalent of the firing blanket. I'm not sure when you would use a blanket rather than vermiculite and vice versa but I'm sure I'll soon learn.
Now I just need to find the time to read up on silver clay and decide what my first project will be.  I have a few books demonstrating different techniques with suggested projects.  My personal punch is now available at the Edinburgh Assay Office  so I'm ready to rock & roll.  One of The Boy's friends has asked met make him a ring but I think I need a bit of practice before I tackle that.  I also want to experiment with copper and bronze clay.

Are you still awake after all that?  I hope so.  I can't wait to get started actually making things.  I suspect my first projects will be components for pieces of jewellery so I will be making things to make things with. :o)

Watch this space, creativity is about to commence.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

At last I'm a PADI Advanced Open Water diver.

I would like to thank everyone at Aquatron in Glasgow for their help and patience while I was learning all of my skills.  I know I haven't been the easiest student as I'm afraid of water and have had the odd setback.

Sunday 30th January was a big day for me as I had the last two specialities to complete in order to become a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, namely Underwater Navigator and Peak Performance Buoyancy.

We set off for Tearooms on Loch Fyne at some ungodly hour in the morning to get there for 9am.  I realised when it was too late to turn back that I'd left my jacket at home. Doh! Thankfully The Boy offered me his as he knows how feeble I can be in the cold.

I was looking forward to Tearooms as it's one of the more civilised dive sites having an actual, honest to goodness toilet on site instead of bushes.  I have no idea what the paying customers of the tea room and garden centre think of all the odd looking folk wandering around in diving gear looking cold. It wasn't too busy on Sunday so I wasn't on the receiving end of any funny looks.

Here we are getting ready to go into the water.  That's me in the middle at the back.

And here we go into the water for dive 1, walking down the smooth, gentle, grassy slope into the water.  No, I don't see a smooth, grassy slope either.  Someone lied to me.  Shame I don't remember who it was.   Tearooms was sold to me on the basis of an easy entry into the water.  Needless to say I'm at the back of the group again picking my carefully way through the rocks.

Dive 1 was underwater navigation.  My big worry here was my eyesight or lack of it when reading and I was going to have to be able to read a compass.  I had a practice on dry land with Allan then we went down to 15 metres for the real thing.

1) navigate a set distance and return to the start using only landmarks and underwater features.  Remarklably I managed this one just fine.  Luck? Probably.

2) Use the compass to navigate to a set point and then use a reciprocal heading (ie, do an about face) to go back to the start.  I've done it on a previous dive and I did it again.  2 down, one to go.

3) Use the compass to navigate in a square and land back at the start position.  This is when I realised that my compass didn't seem to have the same markings as the one Allan showed me with on the surface.  Oops.  Got there though, much to my surprise.

Here's The Boy, in between dives, looking far too cocky:

This is me in between dives looking slightly less than cocky.  The silver thing around my neck is the bottom of my hood which I turn up so it doesn't choke me.  The Boy calls it my bib.

Dive 2 was peak performance buoyancy.  I have to say my buoyancy wearing a dry suit has been a tad unpredictable so far so I could see potential for disaster with this as the whole point is to demonstrate that you are in control throughout the duration of the dive and complete some skills.

1)  Hover a reasonable distance above the bottom and maintain that distance using breathing.  I've done that before, badly, but this time, while it wasn't perfect, it was pretty damned good, for me. :o)

2) Swim through an obstacle without touching the sides.  As I was the only student for this skill there were no hoops set up underwater so I'd to swim through Allan's legs.  Poor man was probably afraid of what my tank might inadvertently collide with.  I don't know who was more surprised that I did actually manage to swim under him without getting close to any delicate parts.

3) Similar to skill 1), hover but while hovering knock a little rock off the top of a big rock using my regulator and without touching the bottom or the rocks with any part of my body.  I expected this to be my downfall but I did it at the second attempt.  Go me!

What was even more impressive in my opinion was that I didn't start panicking because my mask wasn't sealed properly and kept filling up with water.  However, as I emerged from the water at the end of the dive, it became apparent that I have probably been a bit tense at times while I've been diving.  I realised that I had almost bitten right through the mouth piece after only 9 dives. Look:

The rubber grips were hanging on by a tack at both sides.  Ok, so I haven't been as cool as I thought I was.  A stop off at Aquatron was required on the way home to purchase a replacement. :o(

This is me in the car park, sorry changing facitilies at the end of the dives trying to get a heat despite the biting cold wind:
My dive computer claims it was 6 degrees on the surface but the wind certainly made it feel much colder. At least the water was a slightly warmer 8 degrees.  Thanks to Sean for providing the majority of the photos. It's amazing that I didn't recognise myself in a single one the first time I looked through them.  I was probably hoping I looked slightly more attractive in my dry suit. :o)

I wasn't the only one with a new qualification by the end of the day.  While I was sedately doing my skills, The Boy was doing his PADI Rescue Diver skills.  This involves a lot of role play and messing about pretending to either drown / get lost or save a diver from drowning / find a lost diver.  He had a fun day even if he did complain that he needed his jacket back once he was dressed.

What's next?

Next Saturday we have a chamber dive.  That means a trip on a ferry to Millport to use a decompression chamber and simulate a dive to 50 metres.  As an advanced diver I am only allowed to dive to 30 metres.  Even after passing the Deep Diver speciality 40 meters is the limit.  The deeper you dive, the more likely it is you will suffer from nitrogen narcosis (aka the rapture of the deep) so this is an opportunity to simulate a deep dive in a controlled environment and find out how it affects people.  It will be funny to see whose behaviour is the most outrageous.  Let's hope it's not mine.

We also started our under water photography course on Saturday and we have a couple of dives in Loch Long next Sunday to prove we can take decent photos.  The session last night in the swimming pool was fun so hopefully the dives will be fun as well.

Take only photos, leave only bubbles.  That's the theory anyway.  :o)