The e46 sport touring is gone – long live the e46 sport touring

After 12.5 years and 105,000 miles, the black car has departed. Bought in early 2006, it followed two E36 M3s and raised eyebrows at the time. A diesel? An estate car?

330d in Scotland on snow

Fast forward through countless holidays and road trips, with freeze frames of it as one of our wedding cars, using it to move house, bringing our puppy home for the first time, our first child home for the first time, and then our second. 25 laps of the Nordschleife. 20 hour days driving around the country on business. Trips to Rock am Ring, Cairngorms, Cornwall and Snowdonia. It had a magnificent innings and by the end, with two kids and a golden retriever, it made perfect sense.

330d on Nurburgring

The 335d was acquired in 2013 to replace it but that never happened. The 330d remained our go-to car for all day-to-day activities right up until its sale. It was too good, too reliable, always ready. It never once let us down.

Given the 335d failed to depose it, a significant event was clearly going to be required to move the black car on. I had supposed that event would be a plug-in EV – and that is still likely to shuffle the pack at some point – but in the meantime a curve-ball arrived.

This latest chapter actually started in May 2011, when long term BMW E30 S50B32 hero Ian decided to buy a second car. We adventured north and bought an “Imola Rot” 330d built in October 2003. While that build date is just eight months after the black car, this red car benefited from a host of improvements mainly around the engine (more capacity, horsepower and torque), and the gearbox (six speed manual).

Red and black cars together in 2011

That car stayed the night while logistics were sorted, and I wrote a comparison piece at the time.

In the seven years since, Ian proved yet again that he knows how to look after a car. The M3 number plate went in the bin. Dents and rusty bits were resolved. Both interior and exterior were restored to near showroom conditions. Heated seats were retrofitted. The Scandinavian engine pre-heater unit with remote start was fitted. The stereo was sorted. It was well and truly fettled.

When Ian came to move the car on, as I’d long ago said I’d like to have it, he offered and without thinking I said yes. When Ian handed the car over, I plonked it on the front lawn and wondered what I’d do with it. There was no plan at that point.

I realised I wasn’t entirely happy with a car existing on the lawn, so I cleared the garage. That was a significant improvement. Yet, three cars still felt like overkill. The black car still performed a useful function in tackling the school and station runs, moving the dog around and generally dealing with household chores. Yet fundamentally it became clear that Diane would rather be driving the silver car and I’d rather be driving the red car.

Two E46 330ds on the drive in 2018

The more I drove the red car the more I felt myself falling for it. I have two controversial things to say and I may as well spill them now, clearly and in bullet point form. Before you load up the comments section with venom though remember that this is just my opinion, and I’m allowed to be wrong in your view:

  • The red car reminds me of my E30 M3s.
  • The red car is better than an E46 M3.

Yes. You’re fuming now aren’t you?

The first point. I find myself going out to work on the red car in the evening. I find jobs to do. They aren’t chores. While I’ve no where to go, I take it for drives because I want to drive it. That’s how I was with the E30 M3s. It has a great sound system. It’s a hoot to drive. It feels alive, and restless. I need to focus when going quick. The M5, the Impreza and the 335d were all devastatingly fast, but felt refined and almost tame in a way that this car, and the E30 M3s, do not.

The second point. E46 M3s aren’t facelifted. They are expensive to run without being meaningfully faster than this 330d (drag-strip use excluded). They eat fuel, lack torque, and aren’t practical (no touring). They do though have one very real and important advantage: they have a limited slip differential.

So I moved the black car on to fund an LSD for the red car and now it is the best E46 for me. You may prefer the M3. That’s nice for you. The red car is better for me though.

While I received the car in frankly excellent condition there is an initial to-do list:

  • Complete the audio install (well thought out, all parts provided, just another 6×9 sub needed installing).
  • Gear knob worn.
  • Steering wheel worn.
  • No LSD.
  • Front lower grill faded from black to grey.
  • Wheel paint lacquer lifting and peeling.
  • Privacy glass needed to prevent dog and children cooking.
  • Boot liner needed to prevent interior becoming infested with golden retriever hair.

In two short weeks I’ve made excellent progress on that list. I completed the audio installation and I’m now very happy with the way it sounds.

Red car boot with trim removed revealing the installation of two Genesis 6x9 sub woofers

I’ve replaced the gear knob with a brand new, illuminated item.

6 speed illuminated gear knob

I’ve ordered a temporary steering wheel; once that arrives I’ll be able to send off the existing one for refurbishment. The final drive has been refurbished by Bird’s – it now drives very nicely indeed. And I’ve sourced and fitted a boot liner.

330d with boot liner in place

The car now has 35% transparency privacy glass. Having got so used to it in both cars, I felt really exposed without it!

Imola Red 330d with 35% privacy glass

I have another set of wheels for the car in storage; I’ll probably wait until the spring before fitting them.

I really hope I can keep this 153,000 mile, 15 year old car, in as good a condition as that in which I received it. The silver car seems to have become the family wagon (which is hilarious in itself – turbos whistling etc!), so the red car should stand a chance so long as I can keep it on the black stuff.

330d with gloss black kidney and lower grilles

335d – Rear suspension refresh

For some time now I’ve known that things weren’t okay at the back of the 335d. Even unladen, the car appeared to have been lowered, slightly more so on the left than the right. When unladen, I’d occasionally feel it hit the bump stops, and there was always more post-bump oscillation than I’d associate with a healthy pair of shock absorbers.

I’ve dug around for photo evidence of the car unladen and this is the best I could find. I’ve adjusted the image levels to help make it easier to perceive the detail of the black tyre in the dark wheel arch. It’s fairly clear here that the rear looks lower than the front.

Silver 335d showing rear suspension lower than front

The ride height alone wasn’t a problem for me. Some may even suggest lowering the front in sympathy! Yet the crashing around when laden was a problem, and the crazy oscillation over bumps at speed was frightening at times, so something needed to be done.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gathered some parts from BMW and Euro Car Parts (ECP).

ECP 2x Bilstein Shock Absorber @ £61.74 each (PN 635110585)
ECP 2x Sachs Coil Springs @ £60.44 each (PN 627112290)
ECP 2x Febi Bilstein Top Strut @ £6.39 each (PN 609111050)
BMW 2x Rubber lower shock mount @ £41.90 each (PN B33.52.2.406.287)
BMW 2x Shock top bump stops @ £18.32 each (PN B33.50.6.773.629)

So that’s £377.58. I’ve a couple of regrets here. First, I could have bought the Rubber lower shock mounts from ECP at a lower price had I been more organised. Second, I should have bought BMW’s “Repair kit, support bearing” PN 33.52.2.406.280 which would have included the new top strut mounts, and provided some other new rubbers and plates around the upper mount point.

With all that out of the way, this is what the haul looked like:

335d next to all listed parts laid out on a driveway

Here’s a close up of the parts for one side:

New shock, spring, shock top, top mount, lower mount and bolts

Now I’m not going to do a full how-to here, as there are many great videos already on the web. Here’s a good one about the shocks:

And another for the springs:

Overall, especially with the help of these videos, I found it a civilised job. The first phase inside the car was a great opportunity to give everything a good clean and clear out various compartments.

335d load bay with panels removed to expose top mounts

Old versus new springs and shocks:

335d outgoing spring and shock next to new parts

I took this photo after removing the shock and spring from the left side. There’s no great difference between the springs when not under load, but perhaps the newer one will be stronger under compression. The outgoing shock was obviously knackered: much easier to compress than the new part, and near zero enthusiasm to return to a neutral position.

I’m annoyed I didn’t photograph the shock top bump stop, as it turned out to be very degraded.

New parts on the car – very satisfying indeed!

New shock and spring fitted to 335d

It now sits more level, and is nice and firm, supple and reassuring over bumps. Most pleasing!

Close up of the rear ride height with new shocks and springs fitted.

Side view of whole car on new shocks and springs

As an encore, I changed the car’s oil too. It’s always nice to know that’s been done properly with an old-fashioned sump drain, while the oil is warm, and replaced with proper oil (Castrol Magnatec 5W-30 BMW LL-04). The car has only done 3,000 miles since it was last serviced in September 2017, so this interim change is just there for peace of mind.

335d with bonnet up and two 4l bottles of Castrol Magnatec 5W-30 LL-04

All in all, a very satisfying day.

335d and 330d in front of house

DIY Lean To

This weekend a couple of friends helped construct a new lean-to on the side of the house. We did it entirely from scratch, with a raw materials bill of £99.87.

We decided it would have 3 supports where it would attach to the wall, and have a clear PVC roof. Robin insisted we even plan it on paper.

We made a full size prototype support from some scrap wood.

Then got busy with the real deal. Gregor’s DeWalt saw was magnificent.

 

Assembled on the lawn:

Popped on the house:

And finally, with the roof in place.

I’m really pleased with the result!

Kitchen Audio

This article details my kitchen audio system which is cobbled together from a bunch of apparatus I’ve acquired over the last 20 years, none of which was intended for this purpose. The resulting sound from a mere 220W has to be heard – and felt – to be believed. Read on for a detailed missive on how the assembly of a bunch of junk from the 90s transforms into a home audio system I’m proud of.

About Our Kitchen

The Kitchen Is The Heart Of The Home. Quite what this means is open to interpretation, but our kitchen diner is where so much of the interaction happens. It’s where we come together at the beginning and end of every day, and crucially it is where we eat, drink and entertain.

Cooking, baking and cocktail making are all significant areas of interest for us. We hope our guests enjoy coming over, whether for a relatively civilised dinner, or one of those epic parties which no one can remember leaving, involving smoke machines and lasers; the parties that leave the floor super sticky and showered in smashed glass. Yes, those.

So whether the girls are spending the afternoon baking, or I’m creating a classic curry for diner; whether we’ve got a couple of friends around for dinner, or it’s a full on cocktail party, there’s one thing our kitchen needs: music.

Music Makes The People Come Together

I believe music is one of life’s key ingredients (curry and oversteer are the others), and I’m fussy about sound production quality, both in the recording and reproduction stages. My work bio states that I “enjoy innovative, welcoming hospitality, and won’t tolerate a nasty sound system”, and in my youth I used to run a little disco company with my friend Ben. Here’s a photo from about 2002 – vintage!

Vintage photo from 2002 with friend Ben and our towering stack of speakers

So given all this background I was never going to be satisfied with an iPhone speaker as the kitchen’s music source. Or an Alexa. Or a Sonos thing. Sound bar blah blah nonsense. No point source of music is going to be okay, and we aren’t going to spend thousands on this either. I don’t think decent audio needs to be that expensive, so let’s go back to basis.

Home Audio Basics

I’m a firm believer in having music fill the room evenly. It should be possible to talk easily over a solid musical base that fills the audio void when there’s no conversation. This cannot be achieved from a point source. Even lower frequencies need to have more than a single source in larger rooms. Mid-high frequencies require a speaker in each corner, and they need to be up high so that bodies and furniture don’t absorb or unevenly reflect the sound.

Our kitchen diner is 3m wide, 7m long, and 2.3m high. It would therefore need a speaker in each corner, and a sub at each end. We don’t want huge speakers on the wall, so standard issue home cinema satellite speakers are a good bet.

Kitchens don’t lend themselves to popping a sub in a corner. I had tried operating with just a sub at the dining room end, and that meant it was either gutless in the kitchen, or overpowering in the dining area. If I ever get a new kitchen I’ll be looking to provision dedicated sub space somewhere, but for now I had to find some way of putting a sub somewhere that wasn’t too intrusive.

It is essential to run two-way. Most subs will filter high frequencies out to avoid weird booming mid range, but small satellite speakers need protection from lower frequencies. Standard home cinema amplifiers will do this.

I wanted to be able to select from two sources: a 3.5mm trailing cable, and the phono link lead from my office. That’s a two way stereo link lead, allowing audio from the office to be piped to the kitchen, and vice-versa. I should also note that geographically the living room is between the kitchen and the office, where there’s a junction in the cables that allows the living room to select between the kitchen and the office as audio sources, in addition to the TV.

In order to get the system sounding as I want it (which isn’t entirely flat), I want a graphic equaliser, parametric filters, and a sonic exciter. I want one power button to turn the whole lot on and off, one volume control, and easy access to the sonic exciter and audio balance levels so I can adjust for different genres and production methods.

Gathering Speaker Materials

About 15 years ago, my friend Paul Cooper gave me his old Sony 5.1 system for use in my old house. From there it went to my office, where after many years of good service the receiver died, leaving me with the satellite speakers and the sub. When I moved in to my current house in 2009, just as a rudimentary quick fix for the summer, my friend Robin and I popped those speakers on the wall and the sub on the floor. It was a crude installation intended to be replaced by Christmas. We shoved a full range signal into them from an old Kenwood amplifier because that would do as a temporary measure. Naturally they are still there, and provide the mid-top for this system.

Diner satellite speakers

So here they are at the dining room end. Yes, we leave those fairy lights up all year round. Yes, that droopy cable has been there for nearly 9 years. One day I might sort that out.
Dining room sub under wine rack

And here’s the sub (Sony SA-WMS225), nestling under the wine rack there. The wine bottles don’t rattle amazingly. The rack is attached to the wall with a screw to keep it in place, but the sub bears the weight of the rack.

At the kitchen end I managed to source a sub (Yamaha SW-P13D) just slim enough to pop up above the cabinets. It is more obvious than I’d like, but fundamentally it is out of the way.

Kitchen speakers

So that’s the speaker situation. Two active 50W subs each loaded with a 6.5″ driver, and four 25 year old satellite speakers that will enjoy 30W apiece.

The Amplifier

I’ve already listed my criteria for the amplifier, and I don’t know if anything exists that would satisfy everything there. I did however have a Kenwood KR-A5010 I found on eBay a couple of years ago for about £30, so that would have to do.

These older amplifiers have a brilliant feature that they usually refer to as a Tape Loop. There’s a pre-amplified phono output after the input selector, and also a return. This means I can use the main input selectors (CD for 3.5mm trailing lead, and Tape for the input from the office), and that will be pre-amplified and then fed out through all my signal processing, and back into the amplifier.

So I can use its input switches, and its amplifier stage for the mid-top speakers; my signal processing will remove the bass component of this audio. It also has a switched and fused power output, which I’ve converted to be a trailing C13 IEC. None of this was earthed from the factory so I replaced the input lead and added an earth to the switched output.

It is nearly perfect, but because it doesn’t naturally filter bass frequencies from its speaker output, and because it does not have a sub-woofer output, it is necessary to use a dedicated active crossover and, sadly, it isn’t possible to use the amplifier’s volume control for the whole system. Indeed the volume control shouldn’t be touched, as it effectively controls the bass to mid/top volume difference.

This isn’t as bad as first seems though, as the nature of the sources means that a phone is probably controlling the master volume; either directly if the phone is the music source, or indirectly as phones will remote control the computers in the office if they are the source. The crossover presents volume controls offering +/- 12dB which is a useful alternative.

So the Kenwood nestles on top of the kitchen cupboards, like so.
Kenwood KR-A5010 and Behringer Ultracurve

Signal Processing

There are only three signal processing items in the loop. I’d have added some compressor limiters but, for reasons I cannot fathom, my kitchen was not designed with a built in 6U 19″ rack for signal processing. What were they thinking?

The first stop in the loop is a Behringer Ultra-Curve Pro DSP 8024. These are available for about £50 on eBay at the moment. It comes with 6 parametric filters, plus the standard 31 band graphic equaliser. Once set up the settings can be stored in memory, and so I’ve tucked it up out of the way on top of the cupboard. It also has a very useful RTA with microphone input, which I’ll cover later.

There are better sounding digital graphic equalisers, but there are worse too. I’d avoid the similar Pro DSP 8000 model, as it only has a 20-bit DAC which is noticable at times. I have one of those in the garage and it’s alright, but I’d recommend grabbing an 8024 if you can.

The second stop in the signal processing loop is a Behringer SX3040 sonic exciter. These are actually currently available new for about £84. If you can find one, I’d recommend a Behringer Dualfex II instead. I’ve got one in my office and it sounds really good, so I chose to leave it there. They are expensive though as they are quite rare now, so it is probably more economically viable to buy an SX3040 new.

If you aren’t familiar with the benefits of a sonic exciter, get yourself a good set of headphones or a proper sound system, and settle down to this informative video.

At one point in that video he lowers the bass tune control to the minimum so the unit is only boosting really low bass, which is exactly how I use mine. It gives kick drums real presence, and means the system really feels in charge of the room.

Signal processing above microwave

 

The final stop on the signal processing loop is a Behringer Super X CX2300 active crossover. It takes a stereo signal and splits out the bass from the mid/top in each channel. I’ve chosen to crossover at 120Hz. This saves the satellite speakers from a huge amount of bass energy, allowing them to focus on what they’re good at. There’s a current version of the Super X which is available new for about £75.

The bass outputs from the Super X go directly to each sub, and the mid/high outputs return back to the Kenwood’s Tape Loop return.

 

kitchen processing

 

As you can see above, I’ve nestled the sonic exciter and crossover above the microwave. This gives me a good amount of control at a useful level. I had to make a bunch of cables up to fit down the side of the cupboard there, including sending a power cable down so that the Kenwood’s power switch operates the lot.

 

Tuning the System

As mentioned, the UltraCurve has a really useful Real Time Analyser (RTA) with pink noise generator and microphone input. This means you can wedge a microphone in your kitchen roll holder, add a typical amount of sonic excitement, and see the result on-screen.

Kitchen with microphone in place

The resulting curve with the exciter engaged, but no graphic equaliser.

rta display

This was interesting. I clearly couldn’t trust my microphone at the extremes of the frequency range, but it did show a significant dip at 400Hz to 800Hz which explained a lack of mid-range. I used the parametric filters and equaliser to put this back in, and to shave the peaks in the 1kHz to 5kHz range. Then added some sparkle at the top, suppressed that 80Hz spike, and gave a good dollop of shove in my favourite 40Hz to 50Hz range down the bottom.

The result quite deliberately isn’t flat, but it is what I wanted. Lots of grunt down the bottom, without any booming from kick drums, and some lovely sparkle right at the top. That emphasis on the range gives the system significant presence that sets it apart from humdrum, more ordinary noise-making machines.

I’ve left a slight dip in the mid-range for social etiquette reasons – I don’t want people to struggle to communicate over my music. By leaving the mid-range just a couple of db below natural, it makes chatting much easier over background noise. The brain doesn’t notice so much musical content missing because the spectral enhancer adds in associated harmonics further up the range.


The result of all this is, yes, a little bit of clutter in the kitchen. Most people would consider it overkill. I’ve a passion for music, and a passion for being in the kitchen; so for me this is entirely sensible. To reduce clutter the Ultra-Curve and Super X could be combined into a single unit with a BSS Mini-Drive or similar, and that would add compression-limiting too. I’ve got one I could have used, but it doesn’t have such easy to access volume controls, and it doesn’t look as nice at the Behringer gear IMO.

So now the house has a bit of a party piece: a sound system in the kitchen diner that’s great for unobtrusive background music, but is also capable of flapping your trousers and rattling the glasses and bottles on shelves while maintaining excellent acoustic clarity.

Naan, Paratha, Roti, Chapati

What’s the difference between all these Indian breads then? I’m forever looking this up. Turns out that it’s difficult to build a consensus, so a quick search for the same query a month later might return a different answer.

So I wanted to make my own guide here, with pictures to follow as I take them. Definitely open to constructive comments and guidance on this piece!

Rotis and chapatis are commonly (but not always) considered to be the same, with geographical region being more important than any actual difference. That said, I gather oil is more likely to be involved in southern India. I’ve done my best to produce a definition here regardless.

Roti

Roti feels like the most basic, so a good place to start. It is unleavened bread, which means it does not contain any raising agents. It should be made from wholemeal flower, and is always made from wheat flower. A disc of this dough is rolled flat, and cooked in a dry pan.

Chapati

Similar to roti. Wholemeal flour seems to be more of a requirement here. There’s a tendency to cook in a pan that is lightly greased, whereas a roti is always dry. Chapati should be flattened by hand, and is sometimes folded once or twice to give it two or four layers.

Paratha

A paratha is made from a number of layers of flower, and is well oiled with ghee, giving it substantially more flavour than roti and chapati.

Naan

Naan is leavened bread, so it is made from dough that contains yeast, and probably some dairy such as milk or yogurt. Naan should be cooked in a tandoor. This makes it notably thicker and perhaps fluffier than the other breads listed here. Naan is usually served brushed with butter or ghee.

Mining bitcoin like it’s 2016

Let’s start this piece by making it absolutely clear that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not a cryptographer, a banker, or computer hardware expert. A couple of things have recently piqued my interest in BitCoin: the financial impact following the UK referendum on EU membership, and a Product Tank talk I attended yesterday evening centred on “FinTech” (financial technology).

Why I care about Bitcoin

My highlight of that Product Tank talk was given by Lars Krüger, Head of Product at Blockchain. Blockchain’s tagline is “Be your own bank”, and they provide a handy smartphone app which allows you to manage your Bitcoin wallet. A bank account where the currency is Bitcoin. Bitcoin is like other currencies except not run by a central bank… and here is where every article on the subject just falls apart because there’s too much to explain all at once. You could read the Wikipedia article on it, but that’s fairly terse. Or you could just try and catch up by osmosis, which I imagine is how most people cope.

There is certainly a discussion to be had around “why currency is simply trust”. There’s a lot of talk about Quantitative Easing, negative interest rates and basic incomes. I’m finding all this very fascinating and there’s much to discuss surrounding all that, but let’s try and steer this back towards Bitcoin mining.

Following the UK referendum on EU membership, the British pound is now worth a lot less than it was compared with the US Dollar. Living completely inside either the Pound or Dollar ecosystems that doesn’t mean much (ignoring external market influences beyond the scope of this article) but outside of either of those systems it means a lot. If I had bought £10,000 worth of USD on the 22nd June, and sold them on the 27th June, I’d have made over £1,250.

In order to spread risk then, it makes sense to hold funds in a variety of currencies. While I could buy US Dollars or Indian Rupees, Bitcoin holds a lot more interest, and one reason is that I had heard it is possible to mine them. That’s the concept of putting your computer to work and being rewarded in Bitcoin. Not having to buy them, but instead putting assets to work behind the scenes to build a residual income. Sounds fantastic.

So again I stress I’m no economist, but I can grasp that the value of the currency we exchange today is no longer based on anything other than trust, and it’s that trust and confidence in comparative currency values that influences comparative currency values. I’m happy that it is okay to allow new money to be created so long as it is done at such a rate as to not undermine confidence in the value of a currency.

Finally I get to the point of this section. To mine Bitcoins you need electricity and beefy computers. I have solar panels and some handy computer gear lying around. How hard can this be?

Making it difficult

If we could all print sheets of £20 notes at a material cost of a few pence, cut them up with scissors and have them accepted as legal tender, the economy would fall apart. There’d be no trust. £20 today would be worth less tomorrow. So it can’t be easy to mine a Bitcoin. If I was awarded a Bitcoin for simply clicking a button in a computer application, Bitcoins would be worthless.

But Bitcoins are far from worthless. Today (28th July 2016) a Bitcoin is worth £501.60. It needs to be difficult to earn even a fraction of a Bitcoin. And it is. Very hard. Pointlessly hard.

Briefly, in order to mine a Bitcoin a computer must perform millions of millions of mathematical computations. That takes time, electricity, and the hardware costs money. In order for Bitcoin mining to be worthwhile, it needs to be possible to make a higher value in Bitcoin than your hardware and electricity expenditure.

Again with a solar energy surplus, some good computers and with a single Bitcoin being worth £200 more now than it was at the turn of the calendar year, I thought I was in a strong place to start. No. Not at all.

Measuring your mining speed

Mining a single Bitcoin all by yourself is basically impossible. I was told that yesterday, and 24 hours later I believe it. The alternative is joining a shared pool of miners, who all work together and divvy out the rewards in proportion to the effort put in. When I describe the economics of that, the concept of solo mining being pointless should clarify itself.

My main desktop PC has a quad core i7 with hyper-threading (exposing 8 virtual cores) running at 3.7GHz. It’s a few years old but it certainly does the job. I never have to wait for the CPU. It turns out that if I dedicate all 8 of those cores to Bitcoin mining, I can achieve a speed of about 2 million hashes a second. A hash is a mathematical calculation. Look up the details if you care and want to know more.

Anyway, 2 million per second sounds like a lot. I had heard that actually a graphics card is rather better at this hashing business than a CPU. It sounded strange, but it’s got something to do with polygon rendering in 3D video. Anyway it’s true, and as luck would have it I love to have loads of monitors hanging off my PC, so I’ve got an AMD Radeon R7 200 something or other and it can do about 175 million hashes a second. That’s right! It’s getting on for 90 times faster than my CPU!

And here’s the best bit. For reasons that are rather dull I’ve got two machines of similar specification, and when it is sunny, easily enough solar energy to run both of them. So I should be able to purr along at 350 million hashes a second for free. This was going to be easy money.

Reality

Typically a mining pool will pay out when you’ve earned 0.1 Bitcoin. Remember that’s about £50. So I’d need to earn around £50 before I’d see any return. At 350 Mh/s (Mega (million) hashes per second), do you know how long that would take?

Really though, what’s your guess? Maybe that would take an absolute maximum of a kilowatt to run and a kWh would cost you 15p if you didn’t have the benefit of solar panels. It would therefore take 333 hours (nearly half a month) before it cost £50 in power, so clearly one needs to earn 0.1 Bitcoin in less time than that.

What was your guess then? The answer is, that running constantly at 350Mh/s, it would take over 1,500 years to earn 0.1 Bitcoin. Now I’m renowned for a lack of patience, but I suspect most people wouldn’t wait that long.

How can it work, then?

I was surprised that my GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) was 90 times better than my CPU at this business. It turns out it is possible to buy apparatus designed for Bitcoin mining. “Antminer” is a common choice – a brand that has a evolutionary series of products purely with Bitcoin mining in mind.

I looked into this. Here’s a table comparing my two existing PCs and various Antminer products.

Rig Power consumption (watts) Gh/s (giga-hashes per second) Power cost to earn £50 Hardware cost at today’s prices Time taken to earn £50
2 PCs 900 0.35 £1,773,900 £0 1,500 years
Antminer S1 360 180 £1,380 £18 3 years
Antminer S3 366 400 £631 £65 1 year 4 months
Antminer S7 1,200 4,700 £176 £350 41 days
Antminer S9 1,375 14,000 (!) £68 £2,400 14 days

Maybe my figures are based on some less than accurate estimates. Still, unless I’ve got something very wrong here, this is bonkers. None of them make any sense based on a typical UK electricity tariff of 15 pence per kilowatt hour.

Even if they could be entirely funded by solar energy and we ignore the capital outlay on that solar rig, the S7 would take 6.5 years to break even, and the S9 nearly 2 years.

In conclusion then, if you have infinite free power (you’ll probably need A/C too), you can steal the custom hardware, and you can afford to wait forever for a return, Bitcoin mining might be worthwhile. Otherwise it isn’t.

Small speaker system for sale

Continuing my general clear-out, it’s time to sell my last speakers. I used to run a sound system, and what’s for sale now was the “small” rig, or as a DJ monitor rig at larger events. It’s a bit home-brew, so I’m not expecting to get much for it, but the components are high quality and it sounds good.

n1-stacked-portrait

The bass units

The bass units are 12″ ATC drivers that were originally specified for Hill Audio M4s. The boxes have good casters, sturdy grilles, wooden skids and can be stacked as shown above to make a neat little bass reinforcement unit. The drivers are 12Ω and wired in parallel, making each cabinet 6Ω.

They have two 4 pole Speakon connectors on recessed back plates, and the drivers are wired between the A terminals. The B terminals on both connectors are looped together. I usually drive these boxes either with one channel of a Crest Audio (CA) CA9 per box, or in parallel combined onto a single CA12 channel.

n1-poles-portrait

The mid-top units

The mid-top units can be pole mounted as shown above. They comprise of a Motorola Piezo and a Beyma 10″ G-200 on a passive cross over. The Beyma is an astonishingly accomplished driver, which means these little tops can be used as full range cabinets. These mid-top units present an 8Ω load.

These mid-tops also have two 4 pole Speakon connectors on recessed back plates, and the drivers are wired to the B terminals. I usually drive these boxes with a CA6.

How powerful is it

Well, technically I suppose the tops are 200W RMS each and the bins about 600W each. A CA6 on the tops can deliver 400W to each top, and a CA9 around 800W to each bin. You could probably call it a 2K system if you wanted to think about it like that.

What’s it like to use?

The rig is fairly manageable – I can pick up and stack or load the bass units by myself. It’ll all fit inside an estate car. The casters on the bins make it all easy enough to trundle around.

How much do you want?

It’s very hard to value these things. £450?

Where is it?

At my house in Woking, Surrey.

Are you selling amps / signal processing too?

I’ll probably look to sell some amps and signal processing once the speakers are sold, but shifting the speakers is my priority as I want the space.

Martin Roboscan Pro 518s For Sale

I’m selling my Roboscans!

After many years of careful ownership – really – I’m selling up my main scan rig. They’ve not seen any gigs in the last couple of years and various changes in my lifestyle mean that they are unlikely to, so here they are for sale.

12x Martin Roboscan Pro 518s for sale

There are 12 in all, and 2 large, wheeled flight cases with lots of handles, good casters, caster brakes etc.

I’m happy to sell Roboscans separately, but the whole lot has to go so the more you buy, the better the deal. I’m looking for £69 a scan, or £350 for six with a flight-case. Or £600 for all 12 with both flight cases. There’s also a big plastic tub full of spare parts that I’ll chuck in when the final unit sells.

All mirrors are in good condition with no cracks. All units have working bulbs, and come with a mains lead. They do not come with DMX leads or controllers. All motor functions work: pan/tilt, colour wheel, gobo wheel, rotating gobos and effects wheel.

The last time I used these, everything worked on all of them. The units are of course old and used and their condition reflects this. They are sold as seen, with no returns, but I’ll be happy to go through and test them with you when you come to collect them.

The scans are in Woking, Surrey. Interested? Mail me at neil@mukerji.co.uk

Vegetarian Lasagne

Recently I’ve been cutting back on my meat consumption for welfare reasons – mine and the animals concerned. I’ve managed to put together some vegetarian and pescetarian alternatives that in some cases have genuinely been preferable to meat based dishes. Annoyingly I haven’t documented them. This evening I made a vegetarian lasagne which I would say is on par with the usual beef and pork version, so I’m documenting the recipe for future use.

I started with some fruit and veg: celery, carrots, red and green peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Lasagne - veg raw

I peeled and trimmed the green pepper, garlic, onion, celery and carrots and popped that lot along with the tomatoes into the blender.

Lasagne - veg in blender

Mash that up, chop the mushrooms and pop into a big pot with a load of olive oil.

Lasagne - veg in pot

Then the Quorn. Yes, Quorn. Some Quorn stuff is pretty vile in my opinion, but the “meat free mince” is actually pretty good. I find I need to add more oil than when cooking with meat, and I do cheat by adding a little beef stock from Oxo cubes, but of course you could replace that with vegetable stock if you’re more strict about that sort of thing.

Lasagne - Quorn

Fry all that in the pot too. Add the red pepper, chopped. Then add the beef (or vegetable) stock, and finally the passata. I’ve used 600g of mince, 2 stock cubes and a kilogram of passata.

Lasagna - stock and passata

Add some Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, sugar, salt, pepper and tabasco until it tastes really very interesting.

Lasagne - grunt

That’ll be the (meat free) ragù sorted. Leave it simmering on the hob.

Lasagne - ragu

Next, blanch the lasagne sheets. You probably want enough for three layers.

Lasagne - blanch

Now to make the cheese sauce. For this you’ll need butter, milk, nutmeg, plain white flour and grated mature cheddar. Start by melting the butter with the milk and nutmeg on the hob, then very slowly adding the flour while whisking continually. Once it starts to thicken, start adding the grated cheese until you get a nice thick consistency.

Lasagne - cheese sauce

Once you’ve got that, add the ragù, layer with lasagne sheets, white sauce, and repeat.

Lasagne - layers

On the top layer of white sauce, sprinkle some grated cheese. I used cheddar and mozzarella.

Lasagne - ready to cook

Bake that for about 40 mins on mark 5.

Lasagne - cooked

I served it up with garlic bread, salad and wine. Tasty!

Lasagne - served!

 

Notes about a fantastic chilli-con-carne

I just made a fantastic chilli-con-carne. So often I just bung food together and sometimes it turns out well, other times not so well. Then I forget what made it work. Not this time!

Quantity

This recipe makes enough chilli to feed about eight people sensibly, or stuff six people. I made enough rice for three people initially and froze the rest of the chilli.

Tools

I used a medium sized wok, a big casserole pot, and a medium pan for the rice. A decent blender is a must unless you want to spend an awful long time chopping.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams fat 15% beef mince
  • 3 rashers unsmoked bacon
  • Some chorizo (chouriço)
  • 2 large onions, peeled
  • Half a bulb of garlic, peeled
  • Mushrooms
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 3 bell peppers (capsicum), chopped
  • 2 green chillies whole (chop them or add more if you like it hot)
  • Loads of jalapeño peppers
  • Sunflower or oil olive
  • Spices: nutmeg, cumin, all-spice, garlic pepper
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • Cheddar, grated
  • Soured cream / crème fraîche
  • Ketchup
  • Sweet chilli sauce
  • Beef stock cube
  • Brown Basmati rice – a pint glass full does about 5 people
  • Leafy salad
  • Baby plum tomatoes

Method

  • Wash the rice. Leave to soak in cold water in the rice pan.
  • Bung the oil and spices into the wok. Warm on a low heat.
  • Bung the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and a few mushrooms into the blender. Blend!
  • Turn up the heat and dump the contents of the blender into the wok.

Things should now look something like this:

chilli phase 1

Now transfer that to the casserole pot, and get some oil warm ready to seal the meat. Chop some mushroom, the bacon and chorizo, and get meaty!

chilli - phase 2

Once that’s done, transfer the mince and chopped meat and mushroom to the casserole pot. If necessary refresh the oil in the wok, and then soften the bell peppers, some more chopped mushroom and the chillies in there.

chilli - phase 3

After 5 or so minutes of that, transfer the contents of the wok to the casserole pot, and wash up the wok. Add the beef stock, the kidney beans, then the chopped tomatoes to the casserole pot. Add the jalapeño peppers. I might even put a whole jar (drained) in.

At this point add as much ketchup and sweet chilli sauce as you need. The bacon and chorizo have probably made it salty enough already. The ketchup will add thickness, salt and sweetness. The sweet chilli sauce will of course add sweetness and a little spicy tang.

Once you are done here you can hold the dish in this condition for as long as you like. When you are ready to proceed, cook the rice and serve with the cheese, salad and crème fraîche. And wine, of course!

chilli - final

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