The one extinguished Alphabet program that I actually miss is iGoogle. It was a dashboard for Google services launched in 2005. For several years, I used a personalized version of it as my homepage. It allowed widgets to be pinned. I had weather summaries in the assorted areas where my family lived: Inderøy, Vancouver, Bergen, San Francisco, Umeå, Essex County and Kamloops, to name a few.  In addition, I had RSS readers from these same areas so that I could keep track of local news. Google eliminated the product in November 2013.  Its so-called replacement, Google+, never filled the same niche.

Yes, I still miss iGoogle. Stored away, I still have copies of some of the graphics. Unfortunately, I lacked the vision of Robert Dall, and neglected to take a screen shot of my iGoogle home page, so it exists only in my mind.

Robert Dall, in his blog of 15 March 2013, wrote, “I made good use of the services offered to me via iGoogle and will be sad to see them go. RSS feeds on the left, weather in the centre. Translators on the right.” (photo: robertdall.com)

I have tried to find alternatives to iGoogle, but have never been happy with the result. Protopage turned out to be mainly a RSS feed, but lacked many of the other components that worked on iGoogle. IgHome turned out to be better, but not actually good enough that I have used it, although I am reconsidering using it.

This post was prompted by an email I received today 30 March 2018, from LastPass, informing me that they will be shutting down Xmarks from 1 May 2018. Xmarks, formerly Foxmarks, was a San Francisco-based company which produced a Firefox add-on. When the service expanded to include other web browsers, the name was changed to Xmarks. The company was founded in 2006 by Mitch Kapor and was acquired by LastPass in December 2010. At the time of the LastPass acquisition, there was also discussion of shutting it down. I used it from about its start in 2006 until March 2017.

Because the same bookmark synchronizing services are now built into Firefox, there is not the same need for Xmarks. Despite this, a product that I used for over ten year will still be missed.

Open Source CAD systems for electronics

Wikipedia lists 17 FOSS (Free & Open Source Software) projects for electronic design automation (EDA): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_EDA_software . Of these only three offer versions for the big three, Windows, Mac OS and Linux operating systems. The two main contenders are Fritzing and KiCad. Both have a slightly different orientation. The third, LibrePCB ( http://librepcb.org/ ) will not be discussed further because it is “… currently under heavy development to bring out first stable releases as soon as possible.”


Fritzing has all the parts needed to work with Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Node MCU’s
(Photo: Fearby.com)

Fritzing is more for amateur/ hobby designers transitioning from prototype experimentation to building more permanent circuits. It was developed at the Interaction Design Lab at the Fachhochschule Potsdam, with version 0.0.4 coming out in 2007. As this is being written in March 2017, the current version is 0.9.3b from June 2016.

My experience with Fritzing is related to its use with the Arduino microcontroller. It provides a system for project documentation, where one can start with a conceptual design (using the schematic view) or simply build a prototype on a breadboard (using the protoboard view). From either of these, a printed circuit board layout can be created (using the PCB view). Among the standard board designs provided are Arduino shields and Raspberry Pi Hats (Hardware attached on top). Fritzing can be regarded as an EDA for non-engineers. PCBs can only consist of up to two layers (top and bottom). However, it does include a customizable design rule checker. Its website allows users to share and discuss their experiences. There is a code view option, which allows one to access, modify and upload code to an Arduino device.

One of the challenges with Fritzing is its Vendor lock-in. Its fabrication service, fab.fritzing.org, forces people into using Aisler, which appears to be a German high-tech startup. Even if the people at Aisler are pleasant enough, and have improved on the PCB builds previously offered, including lower prices and higher quality, the result is still vendor lock-in.


A64-OLinuXino is a single-board computer running Linux & Android. The design based on a 64-bit ARM CPU and includes 1 or 2 GB DDR3 RAM, 4 GB flash memory, microSD card socket, WiFi & BLE4.0, Ethernet, HDMI & audio output. (photo: Olimex)

KiCad is a more mature product, that was originally created in 1992 by Jean-Pierre Charras while working at Instituts universitaires de technologie de Grenoble. Since then KiCad has gained a number of both volunteer and paid contributors. Since 2013, CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) has contributed resources towards KiCad to improve KiCad so that it is equal to commercial EDA tools.

KiCad version 4.0.0. was released in December 2015. This was the first version with advanced tools provided by CERN developers. There are five main parts to KiCad: 1) KiCad, the project manager window; 2) Eeschema, the schematics and components editor. This also contains 3) CvPcb, a footprint selector helper that runs from Eeschema. 4) Pcbnew, is a circuit board layout and footprint editor;  5) GerbView, the Gerber file viewer, is an important feature because many other EDA programs do not offer this ability. There are also three utilities, the PL Editor, the page layout editor; the IDF Exporter, that exports an IDFv3 compliant board (.emn) and library (.emp) file for communicating mechanical dimensions to a mechanical CAD package;  and the KiCad Plugin, a new plugin system to handle 3D models. Note: this is not currently available in KiCad 4.

Where to begin

The electronic hobbyist that focuses on Arduino or Raspberry Pi may find it easier to begin with Fritzing. In fact, if they have no objection to paying more for PCBs, they may opt to stay there. It is only if they have a need for PCBs with more than two layers that they need to go over to KiCad.

Others may opt to begin with KiCad, and its components, despite a steeper learning curve.  Documentation is provided in nine different languages, and three different formats (html, pdf and epub): http://kicad-pcb.org/help/documentation Getting Started, provides an essential and concise guide to mastering KiCad. Several text-based as well as video-based tutorials have been prepared by KiCad users. See: http://kicad-pcb.org/help/tutorials/

Over the next few weeks, I will begin learning about KiCad, with A KiCad Quick-Start Tutorial by Windsor Schmidt (~20 m), followed by a video series by Ashley Mills, that shows how to build a board from scratch (12 parts ~300 m). After this I will consider watching further videos by Chris Gammell (7 parts ~150 m).



Revisiting BBS

BBS: The Documentary is an 8-episode documentary about the bulletin board system (BBS) subculture. It was created by computer historian Jason Scott, from July 2001 to December 2004. A DVD of the series were first made available in May 2005, released under the Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike 2.0 and later under 3.0 license.

My intention in mentioning such an old series is not simply nostalgia. Instead, I want it to point to a future, beyond the Internet, where there is a need for small groups of people – family and friends – to keep in contact.

BBS development was first started over forty years ago, during The Great Blizzard of 1978 in Chicago by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess. It was officially launched as CBBS four weeks later, on 1978-02-16.

What happened from the late 1970s until well into the 1990s was that different BBSes attracted different user groups. There were, for example, BBSes that focused on a particular operating system, such as the Amiga. There were others that had a focus on a particular religious orientation. Others had a focus on music.

Then came the internet, and the World Wide Web… and people stopped using BBSes.

Nostalgia, personified with an Amiga 3000 Desktop System, running a 2 line BBS System. (Photo: GNU-FDL 1994 CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Some confusion arises in computer discussions because many people don’t understand the difference between a net and a web (to keep to three letter words). To make it worse, some people use the terms interchangeably. I understand the confusion, because most people don’t have to deal with the physical net at all. A router is plugged in, and in less than five minutes they are connected to the internet, or is it the world wide web?

Nets are physical. Devices connected to a router (in a house, school or other building) form a local area network (LAN). There may be a number of intermediate networks, but at some point this conglomeration of equipment becomes part of a wide area network (WAN). Within a physically distributed organization, such as a school board with many different schools, or a company with many physically separate branch offices, these can be connected together into an intranet, which is a private net. The internet is the ultimate net of nets.

In contrast, a web is an information space, with vast amounts of content, which is identified using a URL (Unique Resource Locator). This content can be accessed (transferred) using facilities of the internet. Information available for access is stored on a web server, which can be located anywhere in the world. Protocols, such as HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) are used to transfer data from a web server to a web browser, and from there to file systems. In today’s world, HTTPS,  a secure (encrypted) HTTP variant is most often used. This said, there are other protocols needed to ensure communication. For example, TCP/IP  (Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol) is used to move packets of information.  There are a large number of protocols that form an internet protocol suite. Most users do not need to know anything about these, because the details are handled by a web browser.

The web most people know and love, is one that is traversed by search-engine crawlers. These note what they find, and their results are made available on search-engines like Google and Bing. Frequently, this is given the name World Wide Web. However, it is increasingly being called the Surface Web.

Beneath the surface web, is the deep web. Search-engines are prohibited from accessing numerous servers hosting website data. The adjective sensitive followed by by other adjectives including, but not restricted to, military, government, corporate or personal, and ending with the noun, data, all form part of a larger web, an assemblage of data that potentially can be accessed, if not by everyone, at least by people who have the necessary authorizations, for their small fraction of the deep web.

Within the deep web, is a dark web. Some only see it as pure evil, lawless and unregulated, a place used by criminals to promote illegal weapons and drugs. Others regard it as a haven, using heavily encrypted content so that dissidents, and people persecuted for their believes, sexual orientations, and other disparities with conventions, can communicate with the outside world.

Return to the Past

In the 1980s and beyond, elite, WaReZ or pirate BBSes distributed cracked software and other unlawful content. They co-existed with more family friendly boards that avoided seedier content. This mirrors today’s situation. People haven’t changed, but the technology has.

My interest in the dark web stems from privacy concerns. I do not regard the tracking of anyone’s personal beliefs and activities to be a legitimate right of governments, mega-corporations or anyone else. Before and during World War II, information found in population registers was used by governments in Europe (and elsewhere) to arrest, imprison, torture and kill ordinary people, who had committed no crime, but were regarded as deviant. It is difficult to know how governments in the future will react, but there are signs that everyone should be on guard.

Thus, it is in everyone’s best interest to question their personal use of the internet and, especially, their connectivity to mega-sites, such as Facebook and Google. There are legitimate reasons for accessing the dark web. To do so requires the services of a dark net. There are two approaches in use today: friend-to-friend networks and privacy networks.

A friend-to-friend (or F2F) computer network allows users to make direct connections with people they know. Retroshare is an example of a F2F network. See this [replacing an inoperative old link. ]

Privacy networks require a more advanced approach, and is more appropriate for people with special needs. People interested in the topic may find this 7 minute video of interest. [No they won’t because this video is no longer available. Use the link in the previous paragraph.]

Note: On 2023-11-10, both Retroshare links originally provided were found to be inoperative. These were replaced with a single new link.

Auteur vs Scriptwriting Team

Television drama.

Contemplating those two almost contradictory terms brings numerous pictures into my head. The first is of some American channel executive seeking to maximize advertising income by breaking anything resembling drama into bite sized segments, punctuated with advertisements – not to mention product placements dominating every scene. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of American television is its need for repetition. Reiteration. Encore. Saying the same thing over again, in different ways.

British television is different. Dramatic moments with John Thaw as Endeavour Morse sitting, concentrated and listening to opera; Diana Rigg as Emma Peel standing poised in her jump suit or minidress prepared to defend herself and Patrick Macnee, in his role as John Steed.

Dani Lurle (photo) 2006 John Bates1965 Jean Varon mindress
One of the real stars of the Avengers, a John Bates minidress for Jean Varon Avengerswear collection from 1965. This particular design was for Diana Rigg as Emma Peel (photo: Dani Lurle, 2006, Fashion Museum, Bath)

Entertainment becomes escapism.

Of course, television is dead. Late adapters are the only people still alive who have not discovered this truth. Life cannot be compressed into a single forty minute hour. At least the Swedes know that it takes ten forty-two minute hours (seven full hours) to commit and solve a crime, and to comment on the social factors precipitating it.

In March I have watched Modus (1) and Modus 2. Based on crime novels by Norwegian author, and former justice minister, Anna Holt. The screenplay was written by Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe. It is, of course, this scriptwriting team that has had the most impact on the final product. It is not the director, or the marketing executive. This is why Scandinavian crime drama has been so successful, despite closed captions.

My first exposure to Scandinavian crime was in the early 1970s, reading novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, that featured Martin Beck, the protagonist Swedish homicide detective. Both authors plotted and researched each book together and then wrote alternate chapters. The books are renowned for their extensive character and setting development, planed in detail by the authors.

Hollywood, Bollywood and other film factories throughout the world have no chance of exploiting these virtues. With one and a half to two hours, they cannot develop character in any meaningful way. With the exception of a few rebel directors, like Michael Moore, they seem unable to offer meaningful social criticism. While the first factory location relies increasingly on extensive visual effects extolling violence, the second relies on extensive audio effects extolling love or at least sex, found in what can only be described as musical and choreographic set pieces.

Many of the most prominent directors described as auteurs, have been exposed by the #meToo movement. Hopefully, the narcissistic auteur is finally dead, and a more democratic, team based approach to video production can be pursued.

Fred Schepisi: “Auteur theory just denigrates everyone else’s job.”

Alan Parker: “[Auteur theory was] cooked up by a bunch of Frenchmen with an exercise book and a 16mm camera, perpetuated by the people who write about film, and fed by the insatiable vanities of us directors”.

Andrew Sarris: “Every director has to show his wild visual style in order to establish himself and blaze a trail immediately.”



Unit One: Origins & Frustrations

When I first began writing this blog in 2016, its focus was on the production of guerrilla videos. That is still one of my major interests and goals. The name Unit One was a reference to a smaller video production organization. Many major films employ both a first and a second unit. “The functions of the second unit vary, but typically the first unit films the key face-to-face drama between the principal actors.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_unit

In the 1930s, there were several prominent film organizations, that used unit in their names, including the General Post Office Film Unit, in the United Kingdom, and the National Film Unit in New Zealand. Another source of inspiration was British Transport Films, that existed from 1949 to 1982, making documentary films, included training films, travelogues and industrial films, many about the British railway network. The name, Unit One, also paid homage to the original Unit One, an influential modern art movement that existed from 1933 to 1935 featuring Paul Nash, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Edward Wadsworth and  Herbert Read. It is noted for revitalised British art in the inter-war period. The idea was that this Unit One could (re)vitalise video production in Inderøy.

The concept was that a small production facility using 20 square meters of space, and a spartan crew, could produce videos with a social conscience for assorted groups, including those working under the name Joyous Marmot Creations. At the time, it could also considering making videos at and for inmates at Verdal Prison, as well as for the local Friends of the Earth group in Inderøy. Because of this, I felt it was appropriate to separate the technical facilities from the more artistic ones.

Joyous Marmot Creations was started in 2013.

The main reason neither Joyous Marmot Creations nor Unit One – as a video producer – got off the ground was a lack of dedication, although one serious misunderstanding was a contributing factor. Since I’m not particularly good at taking responsibility for my actions, I’ll ignore the hippopotamus in the river, and comment on a failed equipment investment.

Unfulfilled Promises

The essence of the problem is that Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Microsoft, Apple and Adobe all want to profit from my interest in video. Yet, they are doing nothing to ensure that their products all work seamlessly together to ensure that this happens.

In 2013, I thought I had made a prudent purchase when I bought a Canon XA-10 camcorder. I was aware that it used AVCHD file formats for recording. I was also aware that Sony and Panasonic developed this format, which was introduced in 2006, primarily for high definition consumer camcorders. Note the term used, consumer. Unlike many other camcorders, the XA-10 allowed one to record on removable SD cards. Other cameras used DVDs, mini-DVDs, HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), propitiatory memory cards and non-removable solid state memory.

The advantages of SD cards are their compactness and light weight. They contains no moving parts, their operation is (almost) silent. They allow the camera to be more compact and less prone to mechanical damage.They do not need time to spin-up and initialization. They are immune to variations in magnetic fields. They tolerate a wide range of temperatures, air pressures, humidity and vibrations. They can be backed up easily. They can store a wide variety of media content. A wide variety of devices, including computers, TV sets, Blu-ray players, and media players have built-in card readers and can play AVCHD video directly from a card.

Despite this there are some disadvantages. They are more expensive per minute of recording than some other formats. They are unreliable for long term storage and may wear out. This applies to cards made with MLC technology. Static electricity and high temperatures can pose problems. Data corruption from a bad memory card can result in a loss of clips.

Despite having a licenced version of Adobe Premiere Pro 6 provided by my employer on a HP laptop computer running Windows 7, with a 500 GB Samsung EVO Solid State Drive, the program would not edit my files, regardless of what I tried.

Searching the internet for answers, one finds comments like this one from Ease Fab ( https://www.easefab.com/topic-avchd/import-mts-files-to-premiere-pro.html ): “…it not easy to import MTS [an ACVHD file format] to Premiere Pro. Although Adobe claimed that Premiere Pro CS5 and above (Premiere CS6, CC) offer much better native AVCHD support than it predecessor, there are still some video, audio codec problems like the common missing audio tracks when opening and editing AVCHD MTS clips in Premiere Pro. Plus, even the Premiere Pro can ingest your MTS files directly, it takes a long time for rendering.  Fortunately, there is an easy way to fix the issues. The easy workaround is to convert MTS to Premiere Pro supported file formats like MPEG-2, MOV or WMV with a MTS AVCHD Converter.”

In other words Ease Fab’s solution is for me to spend money on a converter, then edit in a sub-optimal format.

Another part of the problem is the processing power required. Compared to HDV format, AVCHD requires two to four times the processing power for real time playback. While being sold as a consumer high-definition format, AVCHD demands professional (read very expensive) equipment, in terms of memory, CPU and graphics cards.

At Leksvik senior secondary school, where I also worked, I had access to a Mac machine, with a licensed version of Final Cut Pro. This machine and software could not edit AVCHD clips directly, but converted them into the Apple Intermediate Codec format, which consumed exorbitant amounts of hard disk space (40GB per hour). The result was also sub-optimal. I also tried using another Apple machine given to me by my daughter. Again, it was not up to the task.


The OpenShot video editor is open-source, available for FreeBSD, Linux, macOS and Windows. Jonathan Thomas started work on the project in 2008. He wanted to provide a stable, free and user friendly video editor. OpenShot supports the AVCHD codec.

Unfortunately, by the time I was about to edit video films in 2013, OpenShot was criticized for its unreliability. Developers said that this came from the instability of the MLT library and GTK Timeline. Since then newer versions of OpenShot use their own library for video processing, making the software more stable (read, reliable). OpenShot uses AppImage for distribution of its Linux versions. This provides a single binary that can be run on most modern Linux distributions.

In 2018, the situation for using AVCHD has vastly improved. Multi-core CPUs and more powerful graphic processors allow AVCHD to be edited on consumer desktop and laptop machines. Unfortunately, this development has happened about five years too late, which brings us back to the Rhinoceros on the Savanna, and my lack of dedication.

Unit One: Woodworking Work Space

Since 2017 my interests have changed direction. I am returning to an interest in woodworking, that I first developed as a young teenager in 1962. While video remains one of my interests, Unit One is no longer involved in video production.



Social Media

English version. Norsk tekst under.
Adapted from a Facebook posting/ Updated 2021-11-11.
I am still actively avoiding Facebook, and making other adjustments to my life to minimize its influence. Today’s suggestion is to ask you to avoid “liking” Facebook posts! For Facebook, your “like” is a tool that can be used to manipulate you.
It is now several months since I made a comment in Facebook, in fact. Previously, I have stated that Facebook is restricting interaction by directing people only to other users who mirror their own values, be they right/ left, up/ down or vanilla/ chocolate. This gives a very false picture of the world.
Now I’d like to go one step further and discourage everyone from liking posts. Every time you like a post, Facebook learns a little more about you, and is in a better position to manipulate you.
At the moment, I am engaged in one-way communication through my blog, currently: brock.mclellan.no.
When this post was written, the blogs were:
brockmclellan.wordpress.com (yup, that’s what you are reading now!)
I am hoping that two-way communication can be effected through Diaspora. For more information about it, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(social_network)
Norwegian version
Jeg fortsatt prøver å unngå Facebook, og gjøre andre tilpasninger i livet mitt for å minimere sin innflytelse. Dagens forslag er å unngå å “like” innlegg på Facebook! For Facebook er “like” et verktøy som kan brukes til å manipulere deg.
Det er nå flere måneder siden jeg kommenterte her, faktisk. Tidligere har jeg uttalt at Facebook begrenser samhandling ved å lede folk bare til andre brukere som speiler sine egne verdier, enten de er høyre/ venstre, opp/ ned eller vanilje/ sjokolade. Dette gir et veldig falskt bilde av verden.
Nå vil jeg gjerne gå et skritt videre og motvirke alle fra å “like” innlegg. Hver gang du liker et innlegg, lærer Facebook litt mer om deg, og er i en bedre stilling til å manipulere deg.
For øyeblikket er jeg engasjert i enveiskommunikasjon gjennom bloggen min: brock.mclellan.no
Når denne post var skrevet,  bloggene var:
Jeg håper at toveiskommunikasjon kan skje gjennom Diaspora. For flere opplysninger om det, se: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(social_network)

YouTube U

As a Canadian immigrating to Norway, I have a basic understanding of how other immigrants have to adapt to their new environment. Yet, as an English-speaking North-American I lack insights into many of the problems that people from developing countries, speaking non-European languages, and writing with non-Latin alphabets, have to cope with.

While I can’t do much to help local immigrants learn to speak or write Norwegian, despite these being important tools that allow for a better integration into the community, I can encourage immigrants to acquire skills in areas that will enhance their ability to obtain work, or start their own businesses. These are:

  1. Health, Environment and Safety, with an emphasis on workplace safety, human factors and ergonomics.
  2. Mechatronics, with an emphasis on basic electronics and programming.
  3. Entrepreneurship, with an emphasis on disruptive innovation.

Laura Knight 1943 Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring
Laura Knight 1943 Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring Ruby is not using eye or hearing protection, and her hair net does not keep all her hair in place.

YouTube is a great place for learning new skills. Unfortunately, there is no certification available with their videos to state that health, environmental and safety practices conform with best practices. For example, a large number of woodworking videos involve people working with inadequate hearing and eye protection.

So, the first piece of advice is to gain a basic understanding of workplace safety, human factors and ergonomics before one learns about other skill sets. A good place to begin is with Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_factors_and_ergonomics

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, also has valuable insights: https://osha.europa.eu/

Despite the following video being made in 2015, and despite my mixed feeling about Volkswagen, this short video shows the direction ergonomics is heading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05ChaWGJ0-A

The second piece of advice is that mechatronics is an area with considerable growth potential. Because it is so complex, it is difficult to know where to start. Here my advice is to learn elementary electronics and programming with an Arduino. As a teacher, I actively used Jeremy Blum’s Arduino videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA567CE235D39FA84Mechatronics

The third piece of advice requires people to relate to disruptive innovation. This is explained in Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. It is also explained in numerous YouTube videos, including this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUAtIQDllo8



Workshop Tools: Electric Plane

A plane is a tool for shaping and smoothing wood. In the pre-industrial period hand planes were used to flatten, reduce the thickness of, and dress (smooth) rough lumber. Most of this work is now done by electric planers (aka thicknessers). Special types of planes were also used to cut joints or mouldings. A typical example is the rabbet plane. Today, a router or shaper is used for this work, although – increasingly – specialized tools are used.

In a workshop, the most important use of a plane was to integrate surfaces on workpieces. It is here that the electric plane has taken over, although it is unsuited for many delicate jobs that must still be entrusted a manual plane.

An electric plane is a portable machine that uses rotating knives to smooth a surface. The main reason for using an electric plane is to save time, “In  1918 an air-powered handheld planing tool was developed to reduce shipbuilding labor during World War I. The air-driven cutter spun at 8000 to 15000 rpm and allowed one man to do the planing work of up to fifteen men who used manual tools.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plane_(tool) referencing Planing Ship Timbers with Little Machines, Popular Science monthly, December 1918, page 68, Scanned by Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=EikDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA68

Meec Electric Plane

Yesterday, was the first time that I have used an electric plane. It is considerably heavier than the manual jack plane that I am used to. While not absolutely necessary, its operation feels better using two hands. It was used to trim MDF board so the same dimensions as the frame underneath. This is not a task that I would even contemplate with a manual plane. One could argue that an electric plane is not essential for this task. An alternative approach would be to use a router with a flush trimming bit. The challenge, in Norway, is that it is impossible to get 50 mm bits. So, in reality there is no alternative to an electric plane.

At the moment I have not had to sharpen the plane knives, although using them on MDF will require them to be sharpened soon.

I have no complaints with the Meec plane. It is solidly built but heavy, weighing 3 kg, despite an aluminum base plate. It offers 900 W of power, with a knife width of 82 mm, allowing it to cut from 0 to 2.5 mm in depth. It operating speed is 16 000 rpm. Unlike many other electric planes, this uses 3 double-edged knives. This means that the knives are reversible. The plane is equipped with a dust port that can be connected to the shop dust extraction system. It came with a parallel guide and a depth guide, as well as a dust bag and an extra drive belt. It cost NOK 600 (USD 78).

In comparison, a Bosch PHO 2000 electric plane has 680 W of power, the same knife width (82 mm), but a maximum cutting depth of 2.0 mm. It weighs 2.4 kg. The Bosch operates at a higher speed, 19 500 rpm. It provides only 2 knives, but they are easier to remove. At NOK 1 200, it costs twice the price of the Meec.





Like health personnel, such as doctors and nurses, and chaplains, teachers are not employed directly by Norwegian prisons. Instead prisons are assigned qualified upper secondary school teachers, employed by and supplied by the relevant county. In other words, prison administrators have no say in who does the teaching, nor in what is taught. However, they do have a say in who can be taught.

This separation ensures that we, as teachers, are not compromised by being part of a prison chain of command. In practical terms, this means that while prison guards, administrators, kitchen and cleaning staff, have keys to open gates so they can drive into the prison, we professionals have to ask permission, every day, to enter or leave the prison. Our status is somewhere between that of inmates and prison staff.

I always enjoyed prison teaching. Yes, we spend more time than the average teacher drinking coffee, and there is a need for a form for gallows humour that comes with the job. We also have greater freedom to innovate. We are not only engaged in transferring skills and knowledge, but in encouraging a change in attitude. For example, many inmates engage in risky activities, reckless driving comes to mind. Sometimes, that risk affects them directly, but often it involves an innocent third party. One inmate with HIV, for example, was jailed for two years because he  had unprotected sex with a series of women, who were unaware of his HIV status.

I spent a lot of time teaching inmates the fundamentals of ergonomics. It was one way to bring a discussion of risk into lessons. On one level, I wanted inmates to understand how society assesses risk, on another level I wanted them to reflect on their own risky behaviour, not by talking about a particular situation, but in more general terms.

Here are my lecture notes on risk, that I used for several years when teaching ergonomics.

Risk is the combination of probability and severity.

Living involves risk. At every turn something may happen that transforms the living you into a non-living you, or a healthy you into an incapacitated you, a damaged you or a worn (out) you.

Every day, you have to manage risk.

A risk is acceptable if it is understood and tolerated, usually because implementing an effective countermeasure is too expensive or difficult compared to expected losses.

A scenario is a pathway of events leading to failure.

A scenario has a probability between 1 and 0.

It is assigned a classification, based on the worst case severity of the end condition.

A system may have many potential failure scenarios.

Preliminary risk levels can be provided in a hazard analysis.

The validation, more precise prediction (verification) and acceptance of risk is determined in a risk assessment (analysis).

The main goal of both is to control or eliminate risk.

Managing risk involves six stages:

  1. Initiate an action plan
  2. Classify work activities
  3. Identify hazards
  4. Determine risk
  5. Evaluate associated risks
  6. Control risks

Action plan


Slightly harmful


Extremely harmful

Highly unlikely












Risk Level

Action & Timescal


No action required and no documentary records kept.


No additional controls are required. Consideration may be given to a more cost-effective solution or improvement that imposes no additional cost burden. Monitoring is required to ensure that the controls are maintained.


Efforts must be made to reduce the risk, but the costs of prevention should b e carefully measured and limited. Risk reduction measures should be implemented within a defined time period.

Where the moderate risk is associated with extremely harmful consequences, further assessment may be necessary to establish more precisely the likelihood of harm as a basis for determining the need for improved control measures.


Work must not be started or continued until the risk has been reduced. Considerable resources may have to be allocated to reduce the risk. Where the risk involves a work in progress, urgent action must be taken to allow work to resume.


Work must not be started or continued until the risk has been reduced. If risk reduction is not possible, then no work can be performed.

A hazard is a potential to cause harm, including death, ill health and injury, damage to property, plant, products or the environment, production losses or increased liabilities, conditions that either exists or doesn’t exist (probability is 1 or 0, respectively). It may exist alone, in combination with other hazards forming events, that become functional failures or mishaps.A hazard analysis is a first step risk assessment process. Its purpose is to identify different type of hazards.

Hazard identification

  • Comparative methods, such as checklists.
  • Mathematical methods, such as deviation analysis.
  • Failure logic, such as fault trees.

Hazard checklist

  • Slippery or uneven ground/surfaces.
  • Inadequate guard rails or hand rails on stairs;
  • Person slips/falls on the level.
  • Person falls from heights.
  • Tool, material, etc.,falls from heights.
  • Inadequate room dimensions.
  • Manual lifting/handling of tools, materials, etc.
  • Plant and machinery hazards from assembly, commissioning, operation, maintenance, modification, repair and dismantling.
  • Transportation hazards involving vehicles as well as walking.
  • Fire and explosion hazards.
  • Violence.
  • Inhaled substances.
  • Eye damage from substances or activities.
  • Skin damage from substances that come into contact with, or absorption through, skin.
  • Damage caused by ingesting substances.
  • Damage caused by harmful energies, including electricity, radiation, noise and vibration.
  • Work-related upper limb disorders resulting from frequently repeated tasks.
  • Inappropriate environments in terms of temperature and humidity.
  • Inappropriate lighting levels.

Qualitative or Subjective Risk Assessment invokes judgement, without benefit of specialist skills or complicated techniques.
Quantitative or Probabilistic Risk Assessment (QRA or PRA) requires calculations of two components of risk (R): the magnitude of the potential loss (L), and the probability (p) that the loss will occur.

Workshop Tools: Hammer Drill

On 24 June 1996, I purchased a Black & Decker electric drill. Tools at the time were much more expensive than today. This drill cost over NOK 1 000 (USD 200). Until now, I have been happy with that purchase, and the drill works well even after more than 20 years of use. My wife fondly remembers using this drill to screw in all of the boards on the sun deck. Today, this faithful tool was transferred from the workshop to assume new, and less demanding, duties in the house.

Black & Decker Hammer Drill from 1996. It cost over NOK 1 000 (USD 200).

The main problem with this drill is not its colour, or its age. It is its lack of power. With only 450 W it is unable to do the work required of a drill in the workshop. Constructing work benches, I have to connect 48 x 96 mm boards with almost 100 each of 5.0 x 90 mm screws, and 6.0 x 160 mm screws. Both types are self-tapping production screws. The B&D was unable to drive the screws in without pilot holes. Even then, it would stop, refusing to move forward, so that an old man could demonstrate his strength driving the screws home, by hand.

On Wednesday, 7 March 2018, a replacement drill was purchased. It is a Meec Red 000 110 hammer drill. It cost NOK 600 (USD 77). It provides 1 150 W of power. Two other differences are: 1) a keyed chuck, and 2) two gears. Otherwise, both are functionally very similar.

Meec Red Hammer Drill, new in 2018. It cost NOK 600 (USD 77).

The advantages of using this hammer drill were immediately apparent. First, compared to a key-less chuck, a keyed chuck is able to hold drill bits more securely, and it is easier to release them again. Second, rather than attaching masking tape onto a drill bit, it provides a depth gauge attachment. Third, it comes with a grip, so that both hands can be used to hold onto the tool. A related disadvantage is that this new drill is considerably heavier, so there is a greater need for a grip.

This drill was able to take advantage of the self-tapping screws, and was able to power them completely in. There was no need for any pilot holes. In general, this drill seems to be capable of providing the power a portable workshop drill needs.