Sourdough Starter meets… 3D printer!?

This idea is either genius…. or maybe I’ve finally lost my marbles? I’ve been using a “zero discard” method for my Sourdough starter, where you just pile some flour on the starter and leave it in the fridge (for days at a time, without feeding it). Then, when I want to use it, I just add water and leave it for a few hours to ferment. There’s only so many sourdough discard recipes 2 people can eat, and I can’t bear to throw it away, so this “zero discard” method is a good compromise (I am no expert on Sourdough, still experimenting…)

Anyway, it was a cold morning, I’d just taken the glass jar out of the fridge, added cold filtered water and wanted to get this thing moving quickly, so I thought… why not put it on my 3D printer’s heated bed, and set the temperature to something like 20ºC – 30ºC to get the party started!

Glass jars aren’t very thermally conductive, so I set the bed to
30ºC for an hour or so then, when the jar got up to a balmy 24ºC, reduced the bed temperature to 25ºC and left it until doubled in size. It works a treat! Got a nice bubbly, active starter – ready to rumble!

My Warning Stickers have arrived…

AvE does a nice line in warning stickers for machine tools. I was about to order some (probably still will) then realised they were going to take 4 weeks to arrive. In this age of instant gratification, I can’t wait so long… so I cracked open Inkscape and set about making some of my own. They arrived in a few days, and I’m really pleased with the result!

Warning Sticker: Achtung! Nicht Gerfinger Poken

Few things more exciting than opening a pack of fresh stickers! One is on my garden shredder, and another is going on my Lathe…

The minimum order means that I now have 50 of these, so I decided to take a punt by listing them here on Etsy.

Removing a Stuck Shower Plate from the Gaggia Classic

Shower Plate Removal

My shower plate had become badly clogged, with two of the holes pretty much completely blocked. When I tried to remove it, I found it was really badly stuck… I tried soaking in descaling solution, tapping it with a soft faced hammer, levering it from the side with wood (mindful of damaging the shower plate)…. but it wouldn’t budge.

Then I stumbled on a tip in a forum: simply insert a longer screw in the central hole, and tighten this until it pulls the shower plate free! So, I used an M5x20mm socket head cap screw (pictured above) and, with a few turns of an allen key, the plate popped straight off.

I tried cleaning and descaling the shower plate, but it was pretty badly stained. Having neglected my machine so badly, I felt slightly ashamed and decided it deserved an upgrade with a shiny new brass shower plate…

Brass Gaggia Shower Plate

Much better!

More Windows 10 Weirdness

Since upgrading to Windows 10, I’m still having some weird issues… one thing that particularly annoyed me was the long delays when creating and renaming folders. After renaming a folder, Explorer would sometimes take about 10 seconds to respond. The fix for this issue was:

  1. In Windows Explorer, select the View menu.
  2. Click the Options button on the right hand side (not the drop down).
  3. On the General tab, under Privacy, untick both of the “Show recently…” and “Show frequently…” Quick access options as pictured below.

This fixed the slow renaming issue. The weird thing is, I’m pretty sure that I disabled these options before and they seem to have enabled themselves again?!

I’ve also got another really strange problem I can’t understand. Occasionally, I’ll boot into Windows and some of the apps won’t start – they just freeze up or hang on the splash screen. For example: Chrome, Calc, Outlook and nslookup (on the console) freeze and have to be force closed but, weirdly, others like Notepad and Excel just start fine, and ping and tracert both work. Multiple restarts don’t cure it.

Purely by chance, I found a way to fix this by rebooting the PC into Ubuntu Linux (it’s dual boot), shutting Linux down and rebooting into Windows 10. Simply restarting Windows isn’t enough, I have to actually shut down, log into Linux, then restart into Windows 10. I cannot understand how/why this fixes it…

UPDATE: I eventually discovered that holding SHIFT when shutting down Windows 10 makes it do a full shutdown, and a clean restart then cures the problem. This still happens to me occasionally… irritating.

TB6560 Stepper Motor Driver versus GRBL

For a while now I’ve had an old TB6560 Stepper Motor Driver board kicking around, which never really saw much use. I used to drive it from a PC parallel port (remember those?) with a very big, ugly old desktop PC running LinuxCNC. Because of the size, this was pretty inconvenient. Recently, I decided to resurrect it and try to drive it from an Arduino Uno with GRBL. It took some time to find the pinout online, particularly since there are several variants of this board with completely different pinouts, so I decided to make notes here…

This manual appears to correspond to my 3 axis board: (TB6560 3 Axis Manual) and here’s the pinout that I’m currently using successfully:

LPT1 PinLPT1 FunctionArduino PinGRBL Function
1X Step2Step Pulse X-Axis
2Y Enable8Stepper Enable
3Y Direction6Direction Y-Axis
4Z Direction7Direction Z-Axis
5Z Step4Step Pulse Z-Axis
6Z Enable8Stepper Enable
7X Direction5Direction X-Axis
8Y Step3Step Pulse Y-Axis
9Spindle Motor12Spindle Enable
14X Enable8Stepper Enable

This works but these blue TB6560 boards are absolute junk and have numerous well documented design flaws (e.g. skipping steps) which require DIY modifications to fix, so if you are considering buying one… don’t. There are plenty of better options available!

First experiences of Windows 10

I finally conceded to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (Dell Precision M4700 Laptop) and… it’s not terrible, but I’ve had a few issues:

  • CDRW drive vanished. Fortunately restored by downloading drivers from Dell.
  • SD card reader vanished, required new Dell drivers and manually enabling some devices in device manager. I’ve still not got to the bottom of this one: every time I need to use my SD card, I have to open Device Manager and manually enable “Intel(R) 7 Series/C216 Chipset Family PCI Express Root Port 8 – 1E1E”. Still a major annoyance!
  • Takes an inexplicably long time to shut down, with a black screen. However, this seems to have to improved since a recent Windows update.
  • PDF files are associated with Edge by default. Which is odd, given that Edge seems incapable of opening PDF files. Fortunately, it is easy to change the file associations to fix this. Why on earth does it do this?
  • OpenGL quad-buffer frame sequential stereo no longer works properly (NVIDIA Quadro K2000M / 368.86 drivers). Either it displays the left stereo channel only, or works but with terrible performance (1 fps). Workaround: using the “Virtalis applications” profile seems to fix this (but restricts the 3D settings available). Solution: this one finally seems to have been resolved by Windows updates, and currently working OK on 369.09 drivers.
  • OpenGL stereo also causes issues with double images on the lock screen (below), and remnants of the lock screen are visible when returning to the desktop.quad_buffer_lockscreenThere is a temporary workaround: starting a stereo application and exiting it again temporarily fixes the desktop flicker, until the PC is locked again, at which point the problem returns. The only way to fix it otherwise is a reboot. Solution: this now seems resolved on 369.09 drivers.
  • When OpenGL stereo is enabled (on NVIDIA card/driver above), the display brightness increases to maximum, and it is not restored when the stereo application exits. Afterwards, the brightness controls in Windows no longer seem to work. Workaround: using the “Virtalis applications” profile seems to fix this. Solution: this one was eventually resolved by Windows Updates and/or 369.09 drivers.
  • The sound sometimes randomly stops working. Uninstalling and reinstalling audio drivers and fiddling with settings doesn’t seem to fix it. Then mysteriously, just after I’ve given up, it starts working again all by itself… spooky.
  • Windows Explorer often seems to respond really slowly and displays a blank page for a few seconds when initially browsing the local hard drives (which are both SSDs!) Solution: I disabled “Quick access” under: Quick access.. Options… General… Open File Explorer to: “This PC” (instead of “Quick access”). This eliminated the problem.
  • Recently (after an automatic update) every time I log into windows, I can briefly see a progress bar showing two files relating to the touch pad drivers being deleted (!) Still haven’t got to bottom of this issue.

In the interests of balance, some positive things…

  • The “Movies & TV” video player is much smoother at seeking in video.
  • The notification sounds remind me of Zelda / Wind Waker… which is cool.

Fire-o-matic: the home made Fire Machine

This project is firmly in the category of things you should not try making at home, but is great fun nevertheless… it’s a home made “Fire Machine” which launches jets of flames and fireballs when you switch it on:

This is obviously quite dangerous, so I seriously wouldn’t recommend making one of these. You can buy them ready made on eBay (although they are pretty expensive).

Anyway, rather than write up all the details of this project, I’ve taken some photos and videos of the main components instead. This video shows the solenoid valve components and how it was assembled (mostly out of scrap parts):

Here’s another video showing the electrical parts. It’s actually fairly simple, so there’s no real need for a circuit diagram/schematic:

This is where I originally got the inspiration from (Chinese made DMX fire machine):

Gaggia Classic Boiler: step response, lag and temperature drop rate

Partly for my own notes, here are the results of some simple experiments with the Gaggia Classic boiler, to better understand its behaviour. Prior to these tests, the machine started out at ambient temperature of around 21°C. The temperature sensor is the TSIC 306 mounted in the same position as the original brew thermostat. There was no portafilter fitted. The tests were carried out on 240V AC mains in the UK, and this is the original Gaggia Classic with an Aluminium boiler.

This first graph shows the temperature (blue line) in °C versus time in seconds for a step input of heat at full power for 4s. The red line shows the timing of the heat pulse. Note the lag of about 4s before any measurable change in temperature after the element is switched on. In this example, the starting temperature was 21.7°C, the peak temperature was 29.8°C and the temperature rise was 8.1°C.


This second graph shows a step input of heat at full power for 8s. Again, there is a lag of about 3s before the temperature changes. Here the starting temperature was 23.2°C, the peak temperature 39.1°C and the temperature rise was 15.9°C. The original data can be downloaded as a CSV file.


Here’s a longer sequence, showing the first 35 seconds of the boiler heating up from “cold” after the heating elements are first switched on. The heating elements were on for the full duration of the graph below. Again, it takes 4 seconds before the first change in measured temperature. After 12 seconds, the temperature rise becomes almost linear, with a rate of increase of about 1.83°C/s (straight line fit to a linear subset of the data in Excel). The original data can be downloaded as a CSV file.


For the final test, the machine started at about 26.9°C and was driven up to 93°C under PID control then allowed to naturally cool down, to see how fast the temperature drops. Again, the data can be downloaded as a CSV file.


The initial temperature drop from 92.9°C to 90°C takes 29.25s, which is about 1°C every 10 seconds (0.099°C/s), within the small region between 90°C and 93°C where our temperature controller operates.