A post from the office of the Unit One Chief Scientist, Proton Bletchley.

What is cogitation?

Let’s begin by looking at the dictionary.

cogitation n. c.1200, “thought, idea, notion,” from Old French cogitacion “thought, consideration, reflection,” from Latin cogitationem (nominative cogitatio), noun of action from past participle stem of cogitare “to think, reflect, consider, turn over in the mind,” apparently from co-agitare, from com- “together” (see co-) + agitare, here in a sense of “to turn over in the mind,” literally “to put in constant motion, drive, impel,” frequentative of agere “to move, drive” (see agitation).” Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

At Unit One, people cogitate. They may even ponder. What they don’t do is philosophize. The reason is not just the difficulty in spelling the word, nor is it the fact that philosophy, along with kayaking and drumming, is the domain of Charles Justice,

What is philosophy?

Again, let’s begin by looking at the dictionary.
Philosophy n. ca.1300, “knowledge, body of knowledge,” from Old French filosofie “philosophy, knowledge” (12c., Modern French philosophie) and directly from Latin philosophia and from Greek philosophia “love of knowledge, pursuit of wisdom; systematic investigation,” from philo- “loving” (see philo- ) + sophia “knowledge, wisdom,” from sophis “wise, learned;” of unknown origin.

Cogitation vs Philosophy

When one philosophizes, there is an expectation that ideas will refer to the works of a whole bunch of old geezers who, through the millenniums, have thought and written about fundamental issues. The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, E3 (2005), defines philosophy as: “A study that attempts to discover the fundamental principles of the sciences, the arts, and the world that the sciences and arts deal with; the word philosophy is from the Greek for “love of wisdom.” Philosophy has many branches that explore principles of specific areas, such as knowledge ( epistemology ), reasoning ( logic ), being in general ( metaphysics ), beauty ( aesthetics ), and human conduct ( ethics ).”
People at Unit One just aren’t (that) disciplined. There is no attempt to discover fundamental principles. People ponder and cogitate simply to make the world a better place.
Mental activity Sport Other hobby
Charles Justice Philosophy Kayaking Drumming
Unit One Cogitation Surfing; Sparking Mechatronics; Robotics

Future Posts

In the future there will be additional blog posts featuring cogitations. Titles will take the form: [subject]: cogitations


If a topic is revisited, the post title will be followed by, E[integer], [date] so that people who follow the blog can receive updates. E stands for edition. It was decided that using V (for version) might be confused with V (for volume). Minor revisions, will not be given an edition number.

From skis to Kickspark Max

The first primitive Scandinavian ski was found in a peat bog in Hoting in Jämtland County in Sweden which dates back to 4500 BP (Before Present) or 2500 BCE (Before Christian or Common Era).

The oldest set of skis is probably the Kalvträsk skis, found in 1924, at Kalvträsk near Skellefteå, Sweden. Two skis measuring 2040 mm by 155 mm and a shovel shaped ski pole was 1560 mm long. Carbon dating indicates that the equipment is 5200 years old. The skis were made from pine that had grown on a slope, causing the wood to become denser than ordinary. Each ski had four holes for the bindings, which corresponds with ancient skis found in Siberia. The ski pole is similar to ski poles used in historic times by the Sami people in northern Scandinavia. The equipment is on exhibition at the Västerbottens Museum in Umeå.

Kalvträskskidan at the Ski Museum in Umeå, Sweden (photo: Moralist)

While skis are useful for exercise by healthy adults, they are not particularly useful for routine winter transport by small children, or adults who have passed middle age. It is here that the kicksled, or spark, offers a more suitable vehicle.

A Kicksled museum is located in Piteå, Sweden, where the vehicle was first developed in the 1860s and 1870s. The museum claims that “The spark is a fantastic transport tool that is in every way in time. It is energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and in many cases shapely fashionable.”–gora/Produkt/?lang=sv&TLp=462944


The first kicksleds had stiff wooden runners and were heavy. In 1909 Erik Timander and Anders Bertas in Orsa, Dalarna County, Sweden designed and produced the first modern kicksled, the Orsasparken, with its two patented spring-steel runners.

The curved end of a runner, on an Orsa kicksled. (photo: AMA master)

The traditional spark is fitted with a chair, which is useful for carrying a passenger, while the “driver” stands behind on one of the runners, and kicks the vehicle forward.

In 1994, Hannu Vierikko founded Kickbike Worldwide that developed modern  scooters and kicksleds. He claims that these represent Finnish design at its best, by combining unique design with functionality.

“The Kickspark is a new design of a kicksled. Traditional style kicksleds have been in daily use in Scandinavian winter since the beginning of 20th century but for some reason the design has remained the same while other products have been developed a lot. The new, innovative design takes the old winter product to a new level. The Kickspark suits as well for all round use as for sport and fitness. The frame is light and stiff offering excellent control also at high speeds – or for tall riders.

“The handlebar comes with comfortable and warm hd foam grips. You can fold the frame by loosening two bolts or completely disassemble the sled using 6 bolts. This way transportation and storage is quite easy.

“Kicksled can be used anywhere, where you would use skis or ice skates and quite a bit beyond too. For the best ride, choose runners for the surface you plan to ride on. The Kickspark comes standard with steel runners, that can be used in most conditions: ice, snowy and icy roads, paths and trails with a relatively hard snow surface. Those work fine if one can walk on the snowy surface without sinking. The standard runners are made of 5 mm wide and 28 mm tall zinc coated spring steel.

“Snow Runners are plastic skis that support the kicksledder even on snowmobile or cross-country ski trails. Snow runners come in two widths: 36mm and 56mm for softer tracks. Those glide better than steel runners in snowy or cold (-10C/15F or colder) conditions.

“Ice Runners are designed exclusively for kicksledding on ice, similar conditions as skate touring but work better than skates on rough or soft ice surface. Ice Runners glide amazingly well and quietly, yet the grip and control are far better than in the Standard Runners.

“Kicking on snow-free ice with the Ice Runners is a whole new winter sports and outdoors experience. Racers reach speeds of 25-40km/h depending on the distance (100km record being 3:38:50). Long touring on (sunny?) spring ice is something Kickspark riders keep talking about when the ice is gone.

“Even the fastest sled needs a grip under the kicking feet to propel it forward. On snowy surfaces in temperatures well below freezing normal winter boots work fine. On an icy road or lake studded winter boots/ running shoes or crampoons work better. Crampoons are studded (steel studs normally) kicking soles that can be attached to virtually every shoe. The best alternative are spike shoes originally designed for (Finnish) baseball or orienteering equipped with 9-12 mm spikes, some use even golf shoes. Stability/stiffness of the shoe is important.”




Kickspark Max
Kickspark Max

So much for the commercial announcement. With a sales price of about NOK 3 000 (CAD 500) including freight, I won’t be buying a Kickspark Max anytime soon. However, that much money can buy a lot of material to use in the Unit One workshop.

Anyone with a derelict spark they want to get rid of, is invited to take contact.

Electrical Installation: A prerequisite to Technical Innovation?

Norway has become a consumer society. In the first few decades after the second world war, house purchasers were encouraged to put physical labour into house construction. This reduced the total price of a house. Today, this is not happening. People are simply consumers of houses, and have little understanding of how they are actually made.

In this post, I want to look at the consequences of this consumerism, but focus on just one area, electrical installation.

Everywhere electrical material is sold in Norway, one is met with the following or similar warning, in Norwegian:

Although installation materials, such as heating cables, can be purchased by anyone, only registered companies can install the equipment. Stores are required to inform the buyer about this before the purchase is made. It is also not possible to install the equipment yourself, then ask an authorized installer to connect it to the facility in the house. That is a breach of regulations. In addition, there are no serious companies that will take responsibility for a work they do not control.” (from

For many people from other parts of the world, this warning is an affront. Where are the electrical inspectors? Registered electricians are given carte blanche to install electrical materials, but their work remains unsupervised by public officials representing other stakeholders, including house owners. Some electrical inspectors do exist, but they are not public employees. Frequently, they are employees of a major producer of electricity, and they only visit a house every twenty years or so, to ensure that it is in conformity with regulations. When they do come, they have a vested interest in finding mistakes, because they can require a house owner to hire a registered electrician to make changes.

Contrast this with the situation in Canada. Here is a typical sign at a store:

Sign at Home Hardware, Essex, Ontario (photo: Brock McLellan)

There is no discussion as to who is will do the work. In essence, anyone can do it. The requirement is that all work done, has to be inspected. This treats professional electricians and talented amateurs as equals, which in many cases they are. Without inspections, electricians can be tempted to take shortcuts or do shoddy work.

Inside the Home Hardware store, in Essex, Ontario, there is a display that shows precisely how to wire specific items in a house, including the breaker box:

Electrical wiring display, Home Hardware, Essex, Ontario (photo: Brock McLellan)

Amateurs in Canada are able to take night school courses in electricity. Here is a description of a night school course, open to anyone, at Saint Clair College, in Windsor, Ontario:

“Electricity 200 is for non-electrical tradespersons and related. Emphasis is placed on safety practices. Electrical protection of motors. Basic test equipment, purpose and testing of fuses, overloads and circuit breakers. Basic relationship of voltage, current and resistance. Basic relays and A.C. 3 phase motor control, interpreting basic motor nameplate information. Introductory residential wiring. Introductory diodes and rectifiers.”

The course lasts 12 weeks, one night a week, for three hours, from 19.00 to 22.00.

One of the resources used by many Canadian home owners is: Ray Mullin, Tony Branch, Sandy Gerolimon, Craig Trineer, Bill Todd and Phil Simmons  2015 Electrical Wiring Residential, 7th Canadian edition.


Electrical Wiring Residential E7 Can

Despite having an electrical code that requires the use of professional electricians, Norway has a much higher rate of house fires caused by a failure in the electrical system, than many other countries, including Canada. This is to be expected. Without training and experience, a house owner is unable to understand where electrical problems can arise. Because of the high cost of using professionals, potential problems may be ignored, which puts lives in danger.

As a former teacher of Entrepreneurship, there is one other reason to encourage people to do their own home wiring. Consumers are not good at understanding how products work. With a society of consumers, there will be nobody working in basements and garages to develop new products. Garage culture made America great. Amazon, Apple, Disney, Google, Harley Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus Cars, Maglite, Mattel and even Microsoft all started in garages.

Walt Disney was living at 4651 Kingswell Ave. in Los Angeles, California, when he started his company in a garage owned by his uncle, Robert Disney.

There is a trend in government to encourage coding, but most of the developments in the “Internet of Things” or robotics involve physical computing, a combination of electrical circuits, mechanical components including sensors and actuators as well as code.

It is possible for people to innovate without insight into residential wiring, but being able to wire will provide insights that will help a person to be more innovative.

What is Unit One?

What is Unit One? That is a good question. There are lots of answers, and they can vary from day to day. Here are a few for you to consider.

Answer One. Unit One is whatever you want it to be.

Answer Two. Unit One is a state of mind. It is an imaginary workshop (20th century term) or maker space (21st century term) that encourages cooperation.

Answer Three. Unit One is a real world working space (compromise term) used to construct prototypes of designs to be shared. The designs and prototypes are used to solve real world problems experienced by real, living people.

Answer Four. Unit One is a cooperative association of working spaces where people do whatever they feel they want to do. In some, the focus may be on repair and recycling. In others, it may be the production of entertaining videos to be freely distributed for all to enjoy. Textiles may be the focus of yet more groups. Regardless of what is done, there is an attitude of respect for all participants. In all cases, Unit One offers freely equivalent products to what multi-national corporations want to sell.

Where is Unit One located?

Answer One. At present there is only one location Ginnunga Gap, the primordial void. The Wikipedia article on Ginnungagap refers to Jan de Vries (1977) Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch p. 167 and F. X. Dillmann (1998) “Ginnungagap” in: H. Beck, H. Steuer. & D. Timpe, (Eds.) Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 12, pp. 118 -123 as interpreting Ginnungagap as signifying a “magical (and creative) power-filled space.”  A perfect term for Unit One.

Answer Two. Current location: Vangshylla, Norway. Future locations being considered: Bergen, Norway; Essex, Ontario; Burnaby, Prince Rupert, Kamloops, Quesnel, all in British Columbia.

For more information about assorted varieties of  working spaces see:


Making the Case for a Public Library Makerspace


This post has its origins in a couple of emails sent to real, living people. I have combined and changed them, just slightly, to protect the guilty. Many of the videos are related to DIY (Do It Yourself). As noted in an earlier post, one motto used by Unit One is “Do It Ourselves”, which emphasizes collective action to solve challenges that arise.  

Computing   Chris Barnat likes the same types of computers that I do. He is also interested in other aspects of modern technology, so both of his channels are enjoyable. Explaining Computers & Explaining the Future. If you watch enough Chris Barnat videos, you will learn about a “single board computer” called Raspberry Pi. I work with single board computers because I think they are fun, small and functional. They can also be frustrating. If I lacked a computer and didn’t have money to buy a more expensive one, I  would acquire a Banana Pi, Raspberry Pi or Tinker Board. If I had the money I would buy something more expensive, such as a Gigabyte Brix (my current first choice) or Intel NUC.

One of my main areas of interest is control systems, sometimes referred to as home automation, Internet of Things or physical computing. An Arduino combines low cost with ease of use, to make it an entry point for this type of computing.   Almost any computer can be used to program an Arduino board. You will need some electronic components to construct circuits.   1. Introductory Arduino  For further information, visit the Arduino website. To learn about physical computing watch the videos by Jeremy Blum,   2. Advanced Arduino   Sometimes people don’t know where to go to, after they have a basic understanding of the Arduino. In addition to the main website, Volts and Notes is a good source. It specializes in circuits for musical instruments, but also explains why things are done the way they are. Volts and Notes have three (3) videos that will help you make a transition from introductory to advanced user. a. Arduino on a breadboard b. Arduino as ISP c. Arduino on a protoboard – make it permanent.   Computing isn’t the only area where people can learn to be more capable.

Women workers in wood and metal  April Wilkerson. Originally April focused on home improvement through woodworking. Now she has expanded into other areas, such as welding. Dabin Orvar is a Swedish woodworker living in Portland, Oregon. Laura Kampf is a German woman woodworker and metalworker.

Male woodworkers that don’t talk down to people (that much).   Steve Ramsey’s channel, Woodworking for Mere Mortals, is probably the best place to start to learn woodworking. He is from Marin County, north of San Francisco. Worked as a graphic designer, but had woodworking as a hobby. Jeremy Fielding is one of my favourites. Personally, I would prefer him to Steve Ramsey because Jeremy has to work in confined spaces, and is into recycling. Jeremy, can be a little bit “special” for some people, just starting out.   John Heisz is an Ontario builder and woodworker. I like him because he has a lot of goodpractical advice. Here is his Home Improvement channel and his General Woodworking channel.

Advanced woodworking. People to watch after you have mastered the basics. Matthias Wandel is an Ontario woodworker. He likes to make a lot of complex things, including his own equipment, but also has a lot of good advice. Marius Hornberger is a German woodworker who likes to make equipment.

This weblog post was originally written 2017-10-11 and saved at 10:01. It reflects views held at that moment in time, which have changed since then.

A Dedicated Scandophile: Friends

Of all the assorted -philes in the world, the one that describes me best is Scandophile, someone who appreciates the nuances of Scandinavian culture. In this post, I list a number of friends of Scandinavian origin, who I met in New Westminster to the end of 1972.

I tell people that i grew up in a Norwegian ghetto in New Westminster, on the banks of the Fraser River. Before the fishing fleet was relocated across the river to Surrey and Delta, many fishermen of Norwegian origins lived in New Westminster. With the fleet relocation, many moved to larger, but less expensive, houses across the river.

One of my strongest childhood memories is lying on a polar bear rug at the home of Brian Ottosen. He moved across the river to Delta, and it was more difficult to keep up contact. With origins in Sunnmøre in the west of Norway, his father ran a salmon cannery.

I have only to touch my forehead to be reminded of another childhood friend, Ralph Sather. His father was a boat builder, not from the Norwegian coast but from Lunner, near Oslo. Many years ago now, I visited Ralph’s aging mother (who came from Halden), shortly before she died, and had a conversation with her in Norwegian. She spoke a very formal language, very distant from what is spoken today.

Perhaps my closest friend of Norwegian origin was Arnold Bårdsen, a salmon fisherman who refused to eat fish. His parents had come from Harstad. In economically good years he would spend lavishly. He drove a Ford Thunderbird, and owned the largest and loudest high fidelity systems I have ever experienced.

During my junior high school years, one of my best friends was of Icelandic origins, Steve Scheving, older brother of Doug Scheving, who was a good friend of my sister. Steve became a city planner for the city of New Westminster. Steve’s major interest was military history, but a form of history that put great emphasis on numerical values. Doug’s major interest was gold. Both Scheving children were born in Manitoba, but only arrived in New Westminster when I started at junior high.

In 1972, I became good friends Clarence (Olaf) Olafsson, who was born in Winnipeg. After serving in the Canadian Army in Europe, at the end of World War 2, he became a language teacher. I met him hosting firesides celebrating the Baha’i Faith, in New Westminster. One project we worked on together was building the Upset, a Sabot dinghy.

I didn’t have any friends of Danish or Finnish origins, but one with Swedish roots, Rick Ericson, whose father owned and operated two laundromats in north Burnaby. I was always surprised how much income these two locations generated. Rick was probably my best friend during my last two years of secondary school. He lived beyond McBride Blvd, first in Sapperton, then in Massey Heights, which was being developed at the time. He studied education at UBC.



Financing Hobbies

I do not expect friends or relatives to (partially) finance my hobbies. The main reason is that I have a good pension, and will be able to afford anything I could possibly need, if not want. Another reason is that I do not want to give up control. If I ask other people to make financial contributions to an activity, then they will want to have a say in those activities.

Not everyone has this attitude. A person, codenamed Q, does not hold this belief. S/he has genealogy as a hobby, and is always wanting to buy assorted certificates (birth, marriage, death). It is probably a great way for provinces, states and countries to make money. If Q wants these certificates that’s fine, but I don’t think it is reasonable for Q to ask me to subsidize her hobby.

Q published a book filled with edited family information, and bound in very nice and expensive hard covers. At $100 a shot, I think this is an excessive amount to pay, especially when Q could reduce production costs to zero by sending it out as a pdf file. That way, I might be able to use copies of the documents and photos directly, without having to scan them. Instead, Q’s pricing policy simply denies me information.

Personally, I am trying to learn from my experience of Q, and make Unit One a free and open space for people to work. There is just one area of difficulty, personal protective equipment (PPE): hearing protection, eye protection, lung protection, helmets, gloves, safety shoes, jackets and trousers.

safety equipment

There will be four sets of most of this protective equipment for guests to use. The difficulty comes with the last three items on the list (safety shoes, jackets and trousers) which have to be a specific size to fit each person. People will be asked to bring with them the protective equipment they have, and will be asked to purchase safety shoes, jackets  and trousers if they lack these.

Those people who want to work regularly after their three occasion guest period has expired, will be asked to acquire their own kit.

To help people who cannot afford their own protective clothing, but have a sincere desire to work at Unit One, a Protective Clothing Fund will be established, that will provide financial assistance to those unable to afford to buy their own protective clothing. I will make a financial contribution to this fund, but also allow other regular workshop users to make contributions.

Personally, I don’t want to know who is receiving this form of assistance (and equally, who isn’t), so I want to distance myself from the funding process. My solution is to outsource the evaluation of aid to former colleagues at Furuskogen/ OKINT, the local provider of prison educational services, where I previously worked.


My Life as a Closet Anglophile

I was a closet Anglophile. I keep my passions secret. Perhaps this is understandable. My adoptive maternal grandparents had emigrated to Canada in 1910/11 from Gateshead, in County Durham. Yet, my grandmother did not reminisce. The tenements of Newcastle and Gateshead were home to tuberculosis, a deadly disease that had already taken the life of one of my aunts in childhood. She had no desire to return to England.

Gateshead 1910
This is the area of Gateshead, across the Tyne River from Newcastle, where my maternal grandparents lived before immigrating to Canada in 1910-11. (photo: A Gibson, 1900)

It was the English children’s author Arthur Ransome, from Leeds, who presented me with a more positive picture of England with his Swallows and Amazons adventures mainly set in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads. My favourite location was in neither of these places, but Hamford Water, Essex, as depicted in Secret Water. My womanly ideal, at least before Emma Peel, was Susan Walker, first mate of the Swallow, or was it Nancy Blackett, captain of the Amazon?

Hamford Essex

The Scottish children’s author James Lennox Kerr, writing as Peter Dawlish, introduced me to Cornwall, in a series of adventure books about an abandoned French crabber, Dauntless, and her crew of English boys. Here, there were real dangers to be faced, both natural and human.

At school, British authors dominated the curriculum. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treaure Island will always be remembered, as will Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, where there are references to St. Fillan’s Spring. St. Fillan is where McLellan takes its name. Those unfamiliar with the work are encouraged to read it in its Classics Illustrated (comic book) version, #75.

While I have read, and enjoyed the works of many other British writers. I will only mention one more, Robert Gibbings. I was particularly fond of his book on the River Wye, Coming Down the Wye (1942), as well as his first river book, Sweet Thames Run Softly (1940). Both of these books are in our personal library. More than the writing, I found Gibbings’ wood engravings especially attractive. At some point after I have finished my apprenticeship as a furniture maker, I will be undertaking a new apprenticeship as a wood engraver. Bibliographical information about Gibbings can be found here:



Throughout the 1950s, my parents would spend a week of their holiday living in fairly primitive conditions in a rented cabin at a fishing camp. They loved it. Most frequently, this was at Dee Lake, not far from Winfield, in the Okanogan. This pattern changed about 1960, when we shared a summer house with the Coombe family for a week, at Blind Bay on Shuswap Lake.

The most important asset of the summer house was its boat, Blitz, an agonizingly slow wooden boat, powered by a 5 hp outboard motor. We would use it to visit Copper Island, in the center of the lake. In addition, I would use it to visit the boat builders, who lived on the other side of Blind Bay. They built Enterprise dinghies from kits, and allowed me to borrow one from time to time.

Tim Sadler and Richard Sault sailing a modern fibreglass E

The first time I sailed was with Robert De Roos and his father on a 12 foot (360 cm) dinghy imported from the Netherlands. This was on Okanogan Lake. At the time they had two sailboats. The other was a Pirat, which was less than 240 cm long. This one event encouraged me to build my own sailing dinghy, a Sabot, that I had made when I was thirteen and fourteen.

The Hillman Minx and other fine cars

I have always liked small, cheap, reliable cars. Even today. Even if cheap and reliable is a contradiction in terms. If I had known just how unreliable the Mazda 5 was going to be, I would have followed my heart and bought a Fiat Panda or a Fiat 500L or a Peugeot 1008 or, most likely, a Citroen Berlingo. Today, I find that an attractive vehicle is one that is practical, but not necessarily the reverse.

One of the first practical vehicles that I appreciated, was a Hillman Husky. A neighbour, Alf Fenton, at 310 Ash Street, New Westminster, owned one and kept it for many years. I cannot recall him owning any other car. My first car, was a Hillman Minx convertible. In contrast to my current opinions, it was definitely not practical. I remember that the canvas roof was not waterproof, and the engine would stop if driven through puddles. One learns from experience.

Hillman Husky Series II
Hillman Husky, one of the first practical vehicles I admired. (photo: redsimon)

While I liked the Hillman, In the 1960s I preferred its more up-market sister brand, Sunbeam. My school mate, Harry Wilson, owned a Rapier coupe (it was also available as a convertible). These cars were part of the Audax range of cars, designed by Raymond Loewy (1893-1986). Loewy also designed some of the most influential Studebaker models, such as the Avanti, and the Greyhouse Scenicruiser bus. I also found the Morris Minor extremely attractive, particularly its Traveller station wagon. My friend, Terry Godfrey, owned one of these.

At times I liked some larger English vehicles, in particular a Landrover 88, a Rover 2000 and a Triumph TR4A. When I look at these cars today, they hold little appeal. A Subaru Forester holds much more appeal than a Landrover. The Rover P5 is much more attractive than a Rover 2000. My preferred British sports car is no longer a Triumph, but a softer lined Sunbeam Alpine, once again designed by Raymond Loewy. I am content not to own any of these vehicles. Any future vehicle will be electric.


Perhaps my favourite television series of alltime is The Avengers. While I have all of the available episodes, I still have not found time to watch them in any quantity. The reason of course, is that television programs that provided entertainment in the 1960s, do not offer the same value in 2017.

How real is the England that I purport to love? Probably as fake as The Avengers. If one examines the episodes carefully, the show is extremely racist. Not a single, non caucasian character appears in any episode. A crime of omission. Yet, in many ways, The Avengers is more Canadian, than English. Sydney Newman (1917-1997), who created both The Avengers and Doctor Who, was born and died in Toronto.Even my womanly ideals have changed. Of the four intelligent, stylish, assertive “Stead” women, Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), Tara King (Linda Thorson), Purdey (Joanna Lumley), I now prefer King-Thorson, born in Toronto, Canada.

Workshop Operational Status

Version 3 (2017-10-05) A Work in Progress

My understanding of David Pye (1914-1993) and his attitude to work and design, is that a project isn’t worth doing if there isn’t risk. Design can only result in failure. Even a “good” design will only make us less unhappy. David was not an optimist.

So it is with the Unit One workshop. The building may have been designed as a garage, but for more than twenty years it (garden shed excepted) was used for dead storage.  A great deal of effort was put in to transform this storeroom into a functioning workshop. There is more window space, bringing in more light. The walls are insulated, allowing it to be warmer. The walls and ceiling are covered in OSB, keeping the building cleaner. The walls are painted white, brightening the space. Yet, it remains an imperfect structure. Walls are only about two meters high, not even the standard 2.4 meters, or a preferred 3 meters. There are issues with the floor that need to be addressed. Yes, there are lots of other issues. Despite these failures, I am less unhappy with the workshop than I have ever been before with any working space.

There are still a few things that need to be completed before the workshop will be ready for use. Building out dust extraction; supplying compressed air; implementing a command and control system, and a system for health, environment and safety. Yet, the defining moment that will transform a garage storeroom into a workshop is when that space provides a functioning workbench. Functionality is added when it is equipped with at least one vice physically capable of holding a workpiece. When that first piece is attached, the workshop as a system of systems becomes operationalized.

I have been avoiding acquiring a workbench too early, so that other systems could be in place first. As soon as the workbench is in place, the workshop will no longer be in a construction phase, it will be in an operational phase. Construction activities will then no longer be related to building a workshop, but to improving it.

With my background in computer science and operations management, I am more interested in making the workshop, than I am in having the workshop make anything. That is one reason why I don’t mind other people working in the workshop, and would encourage it.

Example: Dust Extraction vs Air Quality Control

One of the upcoming challenges is air quality control. Almost anyone can take a shop vacuum and attach its hose to a planer. That is dust extraction. An air quality control system functions at a completely different level. First, dust extraction has to be provided to every machine. Since the vacuum unit will not have enough power to provide a vacuum simultaneously to all of the machines, there has to be a system to select the one (and it probably will be just one) to be used at any given moment. In practice, this means that there will be a vast network of piping (arcs) that end up at attachment points with blast gates (nodes). These blast gates allow/ prevent that particular node/attachment point to suck up dust. At Unit One, the blast gates will be controlled by micro-processors communicating through a dedicated workshop WIFI network.

Even with a large network of nodes, this will not be enough to ensure a clean working environment. There has to be a workshop air filtration system that circulates the air through filters, removing any remaining dust particles.

At some point chemicals may be used that result in unhealthy organic and non-organic substances entering the workshop. There may be methods to extract these from the air using more filters, but in an imperfect world it may be necessary for workers (and everyone else in the workshop)to use masks with filters to achieve desired results.

Unit One as Micro-factory

The Unit One workshop is designed as a factory prototype, or a micro-factory. Why? Because I want people to achieve a balance between “making” and “thinking about making”. The time a person spends making, limits her from thinking about making, and improving not only the product, but also production process. At some point, it would probably be better for people to devote most of their energies to thinking about making, and let someone like Sawyer do the making.

Sawyer is another cobot that costs USD 25 000 (photo: Retink Robotics)osts USD

Sawyer, and many of his friends, have attitudes that complement those of living people. Sawyer doesn’t mind working 160 hours a week. He is content with 8 hours off, for maintenance. That means he can work 8000 hours a year. Sawyer can do the most boring and repetitive jobs, and he does them without complaint. Of course, It costs money to have Sawyer work. At a price of USD 25 000 (NOK 200 000) (for the base model) he is going to cost NOK 5 an hour, for each of the 40 000 hours he will be able to work in his lifetime. After five years, he is going to end up on the scrapheap – or in the Unit One museum.

If one can’t afford Sawyer, then Eva may be just the assistant one needs. She costs USD 3 000 (NOK 24 000) and will be able to work for less than NOK 1 an hour. Eva’s work capabilities are considerably less than Sawyer’s, which explains the price difference.

Eva, a cooperative robot costing USD 3 000 (photo: Automata)

In short, the workshop is a space for prototype and process development. Afterwards, as risk is eliminated, work is left more and more to Sawyer and friends.


News Flash! CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Precious Dollar has just informed me that I have no budget to hire Sawyer. In fact, there may be no budget to pay Billi or anybody else. I may be working alone, and not getting paid.

Motto & Mission Statements

Motto: Do it Ourselves.

Mission Statement (Articulate, measured version): Providing space, tools and machines to transform individual and collective visions into practical products that make the world a better place.

Mission Statement (Mash up vision): Mashing dreams, ideas, designs (half baked or even burnt from excessive cooking), large quantities of  skills at different levels of mastery, and even a little brute strength, with a bunch of raw materials of different qualities and quantities, machines and other tools, resulting in products that slowly, even begrudgingly, emerge for the benefit of individuals and the community.

Taking Machine Alley as an example, how does Unit One go from idea (some would say dream, or even illusion) to physical reality, in its selection of machines? The mission statement provokes more questions than it answers. Which machines and tools are going to be used? Which materials? Which processes?

Research: To begin with, we had some informal ideas of what was needed. We knew that some people of the community were wanting to work with traditional products, and decided that wood would be a good place to start. So we read up on the tools that a woodworking shop needed. We came up with a list that included a lot of hand tools, some hand electric tools, and some stationary machines.

Analyse: Once the list of stationary machines was complete, they were analysed. Would they physically fit into the area available? Were they durable? Were they suitable for amateurs to use?

Decide: At this stage, a short list emerges of the most appropriate products. These are then ranked according to perceived suitability.

Source: Once the product has been decided upon, it is necessary to find a suitable vendor. Here one wants to check the reliability of the company, and its ability to handle deviant situations, such as parcels going astray. (Deviant, here, is used as a strictly professional, mathematical concept.)

Order: At this stage a product, a price, a vendor, and a shipping method are selected, and an agreement is made to acquire a specific product.

Purchase: This involves the agreement to transfer of funds to the vendor, including the conditions that have to be met before payment is made.

Receive: This involves the arrival of the product at Unit One.

Pay: For some, this is the hardest part of the whole process, and represents the time when money is removed from one’s own bank account and transferred to someone else’s.

Install: Prepare a machine so that it can be used for production processes.

Test: Investigate performance parameters of a machine, and measure how close these come to achieving these goals. If necessary, measures may have to be put in place to compensate for any deviation from expected results.

Commission: Once the testing phase is complete, a machine is commissioned. Its operational status becomes “active”, which involves two operational situations. It is either “on duty”, allowing it to be operated, or it is “off duty” allowing it to be maintained or repaired.

Maintain: This involves periodic, preventative care for a machine; a “wellness” program for the mechanical components of a workshop.

Repair: This is an unplanned situation, where a machine is unable to operate, and has to have parts and/or labour applied so that it will be able to operate again.

Operate: The day by day running of a machine.

At some point, new technological developments or, more likely, the inability to source spares, will make further use of a machine untenable. The machine will then have reached its end of life.

Decommission: A formal decision to remove a machine from active duty. In some cases a machine may be sold, or given an alternative use. In other cases, it will be dismantled

Dismantle: Separating a machine into components, some of which may be recycled.

Dispose: The physical removal of a machine from the workshop.

Note: This post is a work in progress. It will be periodically revised and given a new version number.

Location, Directions & Royal Warrants

Some days I am overwhelmed by the response to this blog. So many questions! One of the more frequently asked questions is, “Where is Cliff Cottage?”

Cliff Cottage, along with Unit One, is physically located in uptown Ginnunga Gap. The uptown is situated about 300 meters away from downtown Ginnunga Gap, which is the location of a former ferry quay, as shown in the photo below.

Downtown Guninga Gap
Downtown Ginnunga Gap (photo: Alasdair McLellan)

Some people have difficulties with directions. One person lacks a functional understanding of left and right. Another has an inability to orientate himself in a grid using north, east, south and west. Because the buildings are not oriented along a conventional grid framework, the walls of the house and workshop have become proxies for conventional directions, and will soon have “street signs” posted, so everyone can check. Here are the proxy directions: Nifl (which points to the land of ice) where the workshop doors are placed; Carmel (which points to a beloved mountain in Israel)  which hosts Machine Alley; Muspel (which points to the land of fire) is the wall adjoining the Annex; and Atlantis, which has a (highly theoretical) view over the Atlantic ocean, but overlooks the main workbench.

In much the same way that some British firms hold royal warrants allowing them to print on their offices, factories and even product packages something like, “By Appointment to Her Wellness …., suppliers of toilet paper and other fine sanitary products,” Unit One humbly writes, “By Appointment to the Citizens of Ginnunga Gap, Unit One suppliers of space, tools and machines to transform individual and collective visions into practical products that make the world a better place.”

Visiting British, Norwegian or other royalty will be treated with the same respect that we treat all members of the Greater Ginnunga Gap community.