Saturday, October 26

Spring Vegetable Garden

After a relatively average winter with near median rain (597 ml so far – 10 ml above the median over the past 18 years), we have had a cool spring with some rain; enough to keep the grass growing although it all has been cut. I began watering in earnest last week, although we have had a few days above 30ºC where I have had to water by hand.

This year after a few years of very bare patches in the lawn (we have a small 100 m2 lawn between the house and pool) I purchased some turf and filled in the bare spots. Spring has been very kind so it has taken off very well – although the dog appears to like the new patches and insists in lying on the new turf!

I purchased punnets of tomatoes in August, and put them into 150 mm pots and grew them in a hot house until they were about 600 mm tall. The capsicums are still in the hot house, but will eventually be transplanted into the hydroponics.

Tomatoes, lettuce and stawberries
Last week I transferred the tomatoes to 10 litre buckets with coarse perlite. The 90 cent buckets had a 20 mm outlet punched into the bottom that allows drainage. Unlike previous years I am trying to grow the tomatoes in buckets that sit above a 70 mm stormwater pipe that collects the leachate and returns it to the nutrient tank. Also unlike previous years, where I sat the tomatoes in a tube of 100 mm wire mesh about 450 mm in diameter and about 1800 mm tall, I intend to train the tomatoes up a cord – more like the commercial growers. I may end up using bamboo rather than cord.

Tomatoes grown to this stage in a hot house before being planted out into perlite

The lettuce shown in the top photo were planted last week, as were the spring onion. I will plant another batch of lettuce in a few weeks time so we have a continuous rotating crop through summer. The strawberries all came from a few plants I threw into the hydroponics last April, except for the two plants in the 70 mm stormwater tube. Last year I tried strawberries in the tube but they nearly all died – probably due to lack of water – so this year I am running the nutrient flow 4 times more often – and hourly on hot days. I hope to grow some cucumber, but the few I brought last week are doing very poorly, and I am not sure why – perhaps the sulphur-mancozeb spray I applied to stop the fungi?

The strawberries are doing very well - especially to the two plants from last year - below. I net them to stop the birds. The rest of the plants are herbs with a few garlic.

Strawberries and herbs

The soil garden still has broccoli, broad beans, but the asparagus has finished. The corn is just shooting, with the zucchini and squash ready to go in the ground. I’m not planting much more, as life is rather hectic at this moment.

Today was spent mostly taking honey - something I have not done for a few years due to the drought. I have two hives at home - one doing very well, and one I brought in from a farm which is not doing so well due to lack of flora in the area. I managed to take 16 kg from 9 frames and a lid full of comb. The honey is light amber and tastes very good – according to all three (adult) children and wife. This will last some time, but honey makes a good present, so we go through it relatively rapidly.

Sunday, July 28

A Revamped Pantry

The Problem

Our kitchen has big cupboards. The largest is nearly three metres high which means I need to stand on a stool that is perched on a chair to reach the second to top shelf, else I need to bring a ladder in from the shed! The height arises from the fact the house has cathedral ceilings for its entire length, and these cupboards are mounted in the centre of the house from floor to ceiling. At the bottom of these cupboards are two cupboards, one that houses the hot water system (one day to move out doors) and the second is the pantry. The pantry was old, and was lined with selves, and although relatively tidy was not an efficient use of space. My wife always wanted the pantry changed – getting rid of the hot water service would be one way.

Pantry doors
Inside the old pantry Doors: these have not changed

We finally decided to do something about it, so after examining countless magazines and brochures and visiting local kitchen show rooms, we settled on a pull-out system. The pantry is 680 mm wide and a little less than 2000 mm high, so we thought two pull out systems running parallel would work. Specifically we had look at the photo shown below:

Hettich pull-out system

Finding a solution

However, when we actually went to the show rooms, it appeared such a large system was not practical. Essentially it requires one to pull in and out one half of the weight of all the objects in the cupboard every time one needs to get something out of the pantry. For items, as shown in the picture, this appears practical, and we might use such a system in a redesign of our laundry, but for the pantry this did not appear to be a good idea. So we were persuaded to use drawers. This presented two difficulties – my wife is short, so having drawers up to the full height of 2000 mm was not practical – one needs to see into the drawer to discover what one wants, and two, objects in the pantry are heavy – we needed heavy duty drawers. On the first point we opted to have drawers up to 1500 mm then have two shelves taking up the top quarter. This is occupied with two first aid boxes (yes two, as both of us are health people and we are well prepared), along with items that are used less frequently.

On the second point we happened upon the German brand Hettich that makes very heavy duty ball-bearing drawer runners capable of taking 30 – 50 kg, depending upon the model. We opted for the Quatro V6 system and InnoTech drawer system both from Hettich. The runners are capable of taking 30 kg (we assume the kids were not going to climb up the drawers – they are supposedly adults, all over 18 yrs!) These drawers are soft-touch so one merely pushes them in, and they slide fully to their rest-position by themselves, using a set of pre-tensioned springs – very clever.

The Hettich shop on Main North Rd Medindie Gardens SA were extremely helpful. Although they are setup to deal with tradespersons, both the sales lady and the technical people treated us extremely professionally and very honestly – telling us what would not work and what would, spending a lot of time showing me how things worked, and how they needed to be constructed. As the pantry was not a standard width, the drawers had to be manufactured – which I opted to do myself. The show room is well set up and well worth a visit.

The current trend is to add lighting to interior design – using LED or similar systems. We opted for some LED lights which although rather more expensive than expected (good German quality that will outlive me – cheaper Chinese system could perhaps be substituted). These are attached to a detector that switches on a row of lights that ring the inside of the cupboard. Although we thought this was a bit lavish, it has proven very popular – the kids can come into the kitchen at night and open the pantry door turning on 8 watts of light (which are very bright) and this saves turning on the main light (which with cathedral ceilings and glass panels above all doors is visible through- out the house. Also we leave these on for the children should they come home late.

Building the pantry

During this time I took a day out to learn “Sketchup” < > a program to enable drawings to be made of objects. It was terrible frustrating to learn, but once mastered, was incredible helpful, especially for keeping track of measurements – and producing professional drawings that enabled the hardware stores and Hettich to see what I was attempting to do.

The first task was pulling apart the internal structure of the pantry without wrecking the skeleton of the cupboard (it’s a skeleton & plywood structure). This was fairly easy. After this I undercoated and painted the interior and doors with some heavy duty kitchen paint (white).

After ordering the drawer kits (they came from Sydney) – which came with runners, front (single piece of aluminium), sides and rails (see photo below), I purchased the necessary timber (white melamine) for the drawer bottoms, ends and carcass of the cupboard. The latter was necessary as the doors of the pantry were swung on piano hinges on the inside edge – so I had to essentially add a spacer of 32 mm either side to enable the drawers to slide pass the open doors.

Pantry drawer with anti-slip mat

I own a Triton saw bench but not the necessary benches to cut very long pieces – so most of the cutting was done with a circular saw. I tended to use a cross-cut saw for the drawer ends and aluminium sides & rails, the Triton for the drawer bottoms (width 570 mm) with the help of my son, and the long pieces making up the carcass using a hand saw.

Of interest was the pantry was nearly parallel in all directions, losing only ~6 mm from top to bottom with both walls parallel. I initially opted to ensure the error in cutting the drawer bottoms (which was determined by the width of the pantry) was on the large side – however I found Hettich drawers need to be cut either to size (obviously!) or slightly smaller. The instructions were understandable and very exact – to the nearest 0.5 mm which was beyond the accuracy of my skill. But the runners were very robust and able to cope and all the drawers slide smoothly and closed on "touch" as designed. I only had one major hiccup – I cut the top drawer too wide and it was binding as it slid in. So I pulled the drawer apart and re-cut it – it ended up slightly on the small side of ~1mm (so the screw holes would not overlap) but it works with no problems.

The daunting task was putting the drawer runners in – these need to be parallel, level and in-line – ie the front edges of each need to line up vertically and horizontally. So after drawing a lot of lines, trying to use a laser leveller (it was cheap and too inaccurate) I ended up with the lines in the right locations.  Each drawer runner required 24 screws! To enable this, I made a template with the holes pre drilled. I then got the first screw hole right, made sure the template was level, and placed a second screw in the template, thus holding it in place, allowing me to drill the rest of the holes.
Template for drawer runners
The final task was putting in the LED lighting. The lighting came in a single strip with two ends – enabling it to be cut into two. The design of the inner carcass allowed the strip to be placed around the pantry walls immediately adjacent to the drawer runners. This enables light to be thrown into any open drawer. I cut it into two so a gap could be made in the middle top which allowed the door latch and electronic door-open detector to be unhindered by the light strip. The strip came with self-adhesive backing, and it was quite easy to merely push on. Now the rest of the kitchen needs painting!

The finished product with light on!

Finished system

More on Yamba

I took five weeks off in May and spent a few of those on the north coast of New South Wales – mostly in Yamba with friends. Yamba is a fabulous little spot off the main highway and on the mouth of the Clarence River. It is probably over crowded during the summer holidays, but was calm and tranquil during the time my wife and I were there. The water was warm and the weather balmy although it did rain a little in the second week. If you ever visit Yamba – take time to visit Iluka which is a small village on the opposite side of the Clarence River, which you either drive to (approx. 40 km), or catch the small ferry. It has a beautiful beach (one can drive on it) and some beautiful native forests.  Also impressive are the views from the Pacific Hotel in Yamba (18 Pilot Street Yamba) which overlooks the ocean. The dinning room and has a very large expanse of glass allowing 180 degrees of view. We visited both for lunch and dinner – typical pub meals being in-expensive but filling – which we ate as we took in the beautiful views. While in Yamba the weather turn inclement for a day or two during which we manage to watch a couple of water spouts out at sea, and saw a spectacular double rainbow (typically we had left the camera at home as it was raining!) that arched over Yamba beach – it was one of the most brilliant rainbows I have seen, with each band clearly visible.

Yamba Beach (south end)

Friday, May 17

Holidays and Return

The last few weeks my wife and I have been holidaying in the northern coastal region of New South Wales, although we did head inland for a few days; to Armidale and Tamworth. Autumn had truly started in these towns, and much of the autumn leaves had fallen. Not so the coast, especially around Yamba where we spent most of our time with friends. The first week reached 28-29ºC and the water was very warm, much to our surprise. At Byron Bay there were many many people on the beach and the town was packed, as I assume every Sunday is in the warm season.This was suprising as I had come from the cold and dry south. Our second week had rain and the southerly winds cooled both the air and water however it still was not cold on the coast. We went walking every morning, had breakfast that morphed into lunch, after which we read or snoozed. The trip down to Tamworth included a side trip to Nundle, which was initially to visit the woollen mill (the mill was not working unfortunately, although I bought a nice woollen winter jumper), but since we learnt the Great Nundle Dog Races were on, we planned the trip on that day. The weather was perfect, sunny and 28ºC. The event was a community affair at the local school, with every type of dog imaginable present. The dog events were a laugh a minute as some dogs refused to race, other ran off the field and still others ran for their lives to the send of the field. Fun was had by everyone.

Dog doing its thing at Nundle Dog Races - this dog jumped some incredable height over the jump onto the back of a ute parked behind the jump

We also visited to power museum in Tamworth, being the first town with electricity in Australia - well worthwhile visiting. Yamba is a small town on the coast, off the main highway, nearly empty of people in the between seasons.  
Yamba beach looking south west.
Now back home I’m in the garden. At long last we had some good rain – the best since August - >50mm rain, a good opening for winter. The broccoli is doing well and I transplanted another 12 into the garden, so now I have 3 lots of 12, each a fortnight apart. As I had merely sprinkled the broccoli seeds into the hydroponic perlite, I have many more I can plant out. I use soil for broccoli, as I find the troughs used in the hydroponics get too cold in winter. The other gardening matter on the agenda, other than a massive clean-up of dead scrub in the back of our property is to fix the front taps. We only have one in the front of the property (which is 1¼ acres) which is usually tied to a dripper system. Furthermore, my daughter attempted to run it down on the first day she was on her P plates, a few years ago, so it’s rather bent. So I’ve been learning to silver solder copper again – which takes practice, but these days there are many Youtube videos available that can help.

Thursday, April 18

Musings on governing a club or school and the effectiveness of Boards - the Carver Model

Reflections on ‘Policy Governance' – Part 1

How efficient are your Board meetings, whether it is a board of a local sports club, arts association, school or some other association or organisation? Do you spend long hours in discussion over minute details of management or approvals or some other operational issue but never really see any progress in the organisation? Is the strategic plan hidden in some folder? Can your Board really sway the principal or chief coach or art curator and achieve outcomes that the Board's vision has encompassed? Can you define on whose behalf you, as board member, are acting? If it is merely yourself, you may be in breach of the spirit of the law if not the law itself, for most Boards of association are legally acting on behalf specific owners of the association. And that raises the question – can you identify who the moral and legal owners of your organisation are – not your customers – but the owners ? Do you act for them? Can you prove this?

If you answered yes to the first few questions and no the final few your Board is in desperate need of a new governance framework. I have just completed a little over seven years on a school board, many as a deputy chair and finally as a chair. I am not an expert in running boards, but have learnt a lot, especially about Policy Governance ® developed by John Carver. We also had a board that spent many hours of meetings talking about matters we really did not need to speak about and in many cases had no right to speak about – I am not a licenced teacher nor an expert in pedagogy – yet we were telling the principal how to do his job rather than telling him what we wanted as the end result of him doing his job.

As a result of a search and some wise advice and counsel our school (King's Baptist Grammar School) adopted the Carver model or governance framework called Policy Governance®. The method allows the expert in running schools – the Principal sometimes called the Chief Executive Officer (and many schools do use the term CEO or COO rather than principal especially when budgets run into the tens of millions, although this person must be a registered teacher, in this State at least.) What of the role of the Board? The Board stays out of management and provides a concrete, flexible policy framework to determine 1) the End result and 2) the boundaries in which the CEO can operate, 3) including linkages to the Board, and 4) boundaries for the operations of the Board (more later). It is second item that trips a lot of people up, although understanding ENDS often also confuses those taking on the Carver model the first time. The board no longer MANAGES but GOVERNS and they do it though policy. Furthermore the policy can be fairly non-specific, except when there is an issue of interpretation . Carver states the method works “through explicit statements of values, rather than reactively or through event-specific decisions”.

Now this is a very radical difference. One Board attempts to tell the CEO of a widget making organisation on how to make widgets – when no one on the Board actually knows what goes into a widget, although all Board members make thorough use of them. The policy governance Board sets the boundaries for what the widget maker can do to make these widgets (e.g. only materials less than $40/kg can be used) and what the final product or END will be – widgets must be suitable for disable persons older than 65 years and affordable for those on a pension. Note that in this case the Board does not tell the widget maker how to do his job. Also note that the END is very specific, but perhaps not specific enough – you could add “the battery life must exceed 15 hrs. between charging”. It is the CE and his engineers who will need to find the best solution within the cost limitation. In John Carver's philosophy, the most general policy is created first, and more specific ones are added, only to a point where the desired END is achievable or interpretable.

One more thing – the Board never instructs staff – the Board only instructs the CEO with one voice, through policy, who then uses his or her professional management skills in organising the staff to achieve the END. In my school this was specifically written into policy to ensure it did not happen – too much confusion arises if the Board instructs both the CEO and one or more staff members. The converse is also true. Staff do not go to the Board, but rather the CEO for instruction. And for those worried about complaints etc., we had a code of conduct and of course various other laws to ensure fair treatment of staff and method of review.

What does this mean in real life?

Firstly, you must have a clear vision and mission of the organisation. Without it, you cannot possibly decide upon the end result you want. I would suggest this must be in the foundational document such as the Constitution. Note carefully – Policy Governance does not use the term “strategy” because the entire framework is the strategy, and the END is what is being produced, changed, created for a specific group of people or needs and some defined cost – the END is the result or outcome. The vision therefore needs to articulate who the product or service will be for, what people or need will enjoy the product, benefit or service and the cost.

Secondly the Board needs to understand who their legal and moral owners are – on whose behalf is the Board acting? This is because legally and morally you act on behalf of the owners in instructing the CEO. In my case we did not know who the owners were. The Constitution or founding documents merely indicated that any parent was equivalent to an owner and furthermore, this ceased at death or if an application in writing was made! This posed a problem because after 20 years the body of parents was large, nebulous, generally un-contactable and un-interested (although one of our greatest source of new enrolments is from parents who were once students of the school – a show of confidence in the school, if ever there was). You may well ask why it was written in this way. Like many church schools, this school started with less than 50 students in a church where the parents contributed to the management and governance of the school, putting in both time and resources to get it going. Parents were church members who owned the church and school – when their children grew up, the parents remained owners, because they were in the church. However as the school grew and diversified it had to move outside of the church and become established as an organisation in its own right. The Constitution did not keep up with the reality of the school. We could never get a quorum at an annual general meeting because the ownership body was too large. Furthermore, most parents saw themselves as customers not owners. So we set about changing the Constitution to from an association within the organisation (there are many models for this) who are ‘interested and concerned persons' and who act as the legal and moral owners of the School. It is to these people we seek feedback on policy proposals, ask about where they think the school should be heading, what the elements of the ENDS should be, discuss difficult issues such as funding, generally consult as the ‘ownership' group and seek endorsement for new Board members.

Thirdly, it means you must be able to trust the CEO. The policy governance method cannot be prescriptive, else you would end up with a telephone dictionary sized policy manual, unworkable and impossible to maintain. I had a wonderful relationship with the CEO – he is not your best friend, although he or she may be – but a subservient of the Board, with which the Chair has an employer – employee relation. As a Board you have a legal responsibility to appoint the CEO. Therefore, if you cannot trust your CEO, appoint a new one! How do you determine whether your CEO is any good? Carver states that the achievement of the ENDS is your sole method of determining the achievement of the CEO. More on this later.

Fourthly – you must butt out of management issues. You have no say in management, except by a set of “executive limitations” policy. How the widget is made is NOT YOUR BUSINESS (I will explain in more detail another time because this is not quite true – for instance if you want only “green” energy to be used, then you demand this in policy as an “executive limitation”). How the grade two teacher teaches language is NOT YOUR BUSINESS, ever! You as the Board however, can demand an END that says that you expect all grade two children to be able to meet the 75% percentile compared with “like” schools (there is a cost to this that you will need to consider). You also demand monitoring (which also costs and needs to be funded), through policy, that will indicate whether the method being used achieves the result – but you as a non-teacher do not enter into pedagogical debates.

Therefore, the most important element as representatives of the owners of the organisation is a set of policies that gives the CEO a framework (which are really the outer bounds, not the inner details) in which to work, along with the expected results called ENDS, the nominated people or need this applies to and the cost. For a school the END is in relation to what results/benefits/changes for which people and at what cost. For instance your school may want children prepared for vocational employment, who live in your area at a cost affordable by the 30 percentile of the district. Our school is a Christian school and the Board along with owners determined the END was “ KBGS exists as an R-13 Christian School to provide excellence in education and to create a Christian community where students experience the love of God and have opportunity to respond to Him, at a cost comparable to the geographical area and financial capacity of parents.” Under this high level policy sits seven specific ENDS what articulate the overall mission and vision of the school as set out in the Constitution.

Principal elements of Policy Governance- my observations

Ownership - the Board connects the organisation with the owners. The Board governs - it is not merely an advisor; in fact it proffers little advice but commands the CEO. Owners are not necessarily the stakeholders, or at least not all the stakeholders. In our case most stakeholders saw themselves as customers not owners.

Policies in four groups, with various depths (i.e. some policies have more explicit information, for instance in our case, dealing with media):

  1. Ends policies (can be called anything) - speaks to the organisation through the CEO and is what the owners want in the final product or service etc.
  2. Executive Limitations - speaks to the CEO and sets the bounds in which he or she acts to achieve the Ends.
  3. Governance Process - speaks to the Board and sets the bounds in which the board acts.
  4. Board - CEO linkages - speaks to the Board and CEO and creates the conduit between owner and organisation. 

The Board always speaks with one voice, with a conduit to the CEO via the Chair, and in written policy. Therefore the authority comes from the Board, not a group of individuals acting for themselves.

The ENDs forms the so called strategy, or rather, the substance of the mission of the organisation , although this term need not ever be used. They are (1) the results, changes, or benefits that should come about for (2) specified persons, beneficiaries, needs or some targeted group, and (3) at a defined cost or relative priority for the various benefits or various beneficiaries. Ends statements cannot include every benefit, but must reflect the mission of the organisation.

Executive Limitations: are policies that govern the CEO, written in a proscriptive way such that 1) the means (or processes) are not prescribed and, 2) place boundaries around unacceptable activities or processes, irrespective of their functionality. These are often written as exceptions - the CEO must , and accordingly must not fail to … etc.

Any Reasonable Interpretation: This aspect of Policy Governance is often the most frightening to Boards. It means you are leaving the interpretation of policy to the CEO and his or her staff, and the Board (if the Board policy has been written by the owners), who will use their professional knowledge and understanding in interpreting these. For hard cases, or where ambiguity existed we delegated this to a subcommittee. (I would suggest Carver policy takes 3-5 years to bed down, with constant refinement. Also I recommend also using “scenarios” or “test cases” to test the policies for interpretability, functionality and workability.)

Governance Process spells out how the Board behaves. A board that cannot follow its own policies is not worthy to be a Board.

Monitoring: The board monitors organizational performance solely through 1) assessment of whether a reasonable interpretation (having the CEO write what the interpretation was helps here) of the Ends and policies, and 2) a reasonable interpretation of the Executive Limitation. The Monitoring IS the CEO's evaluation, i.e. there is no performance review as such because the monitoring reveals all.

Agenda: Since the Board is always forward focused in this model, the Board sets the agenda for the short term - say one year and for the long term - in our case up to six years as it match our financial/building/maintenance cycle. Of course, the agenda is fine-tuned prior to each meeting, but the Board as a whole, which may as in our case included the CEO, carefully prepared a 12 month agenda. This the CEO found helpful, as it set (3 months prior to the New Year) the monitoring agenda. The Agenda is set by the Board, not the CEO. It does not contain review of staff or process activities or endless approvals, but is a proactive discussion of governance. Indeed we reviewed all Board meetings, which included questions as to whether the owners were in purview, whether we deviated into management or process issues or whether the discussions were forward focused and governance orientated. Only a structured agenda, with brief supporting documentation and written expected outcomes for every item avoided falling into old ways!

The Reality - my observations

The Carver Model really worked. It took a lot of effort in learning and implementing it, but the pain was very worthwhile. It also requires constant vigilance, because it is easy to fall back into old ways and meddle with management rather than governance - the Chair must be strong on this point.
In my situation, being a school, outside influences had to be taken into account, such as the school's registration process, Commonwealth requirements and State requirements. However, these can be built into the Executive limitations in a fairly broad statement without compromising governance. Furthermore, we created time-limited Executive limitations for specific projects - i.e. when extraordinary funding was received for a library and sports centre as part of the Commonwealth (Australia) BER program. The executive limitation set out the expected monitoring and various aspects related to value for money and expenditure specific for these projects (in the end it was barely half a page long).

Creating an active ownership group is taking its time, and learning to interact with it is also a work in progress. However, we know who exactly these people are, and they do have a keen interest in the organisation.

The Carver model allows the CEO to get on with his or her job and is not much concerned about the process he or she follows, provided the END's are met. This posed a dilemma in a Christian school, because our philosophy involves the person him or herself, their self-care and spiritual care. That is, the Board took an interest in the CEO (the Principal in my case) as a person. Therefore, we stepped outside of Carver and undertook performance reviews that excluded outcomes but examined these four elements related to these two aspects – spiritual and physical self-care. Having a great principal is what a school wants, but if he or she burns themself out in a few years doing good, then the School may be left in a worse position.

Bee Keeping

I have been keeping bees most of my life – well not quite - from the age of 16 at least. My father was not one for allowing teenagers to be idle, for idleness created mischief. Since my father grew fruit, there was always a worry the flowers would not be pollinated and fruit set. One way to achieve this is to bring bees into the orchards. So he encouraged me to take up bee keeping (I also took up building kayaks with my brothers and a cousin – also a great past time for keeping teenagers out of mischief) . My great uncle (Uncle Carl) was a bee keep as was his family, and we had some bee keepers in the district, so I had a few people to learn from. So from the age of 16 I have always had a few hives – sometimes many more, but over the past few years 1 or 2 – enough to keep the family, relatives and friends in honey. At once stage I was going to expand to 40 or more hives, but interstate employment stopped this as did Ash Wednesday – I lost all but four hives. The timber which I was to build the many supers – bee boxes from - (from our own forest) lay in one of the farm sheds for many years, but was turned into very large book cases when my wife and I purchased our current home 17 years ago.

Frame of bees
Examining frames from a hive in my back-year

Friday, March 29

Fixing a jammed focus lens in a Panasonic Lumix camera

The Issue

The Camera (Panasonic Lumix HDC TZ10) developed a fault displaying the error as shown in the photograph below – “system error (focus)”.  When turned on and off, the lens would not retract, and it showed the error message. What was uncertain was where the problem was – for instance was the problem in the cams of the zoom lens (there are three sets of lens that slide in and out on cams) or was it within the focusing element which focuses the light on the light capture device – a CCD in the case of the Panasonic? It turned out to be grit on drive of the 4th focus lens which jammed it.

I found a service manual for the camera at (assessed 29 March 2013) which made repairing the camera very much easier. Other models might be found on
Dave Baar has a detail description of his ordeal at the link below, for a slightly different  camera - Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 Camera on (accessed 29 March 2013), but well worth the read.

First attempts

Using his and other’s suggestions I tried

1.    Low batteries - a camera may not function properly when batteries a low. Insert a fully charged set to see if things improve.
2.    Full memory card – when a memory card is full, a digital camera may not turn on (not my problem as it could turn).  Download all the photos, back them up and delete them from the memory card.

Other ideas tried

1.    Remove the batteries, followed by the memory card. Then install new batteries/freshly charged batteries, and turn on the camera.
2.    Place the camera flat on its back on a table, pointed at the ceiling. Press and hold the shutter button down, and at the same time press the power-on button. The idea is that the camera will try to autofocus while the lens is extending, hopefully seating the lens barrel guide pins in their slots.
3.    Blow compressed air in the gaps around the lens’ barrels with the idea of blowing any sand or grit that may be jamming the lens out of the camera. My camera shop warned me not to do this as they believed this procedure would drive dust further into the camera, however, I did try it with no avail. In my case the grit was on a screw-drive lug that raised or lowered the focus element, which had grease on it – no amount of blowing would have removed it. Don’t use a hair dryer!
4.    Repeatedly tap camera onto some soft padding with the intent of dislodging any particles that may be jamming the lens. Other variations include hitting a side of the camera against the palm of your hand. A lot of people have reported success with this method. Do this with utmost care – for although I found the Panasonic camera was very well constructed, hitting or knocking the camera it could dislodge important components!
5.    Take a still piece of thin strong paper say 2 cm x 8 cm and slide this between the gaps in the lens elements at an angle, with the hope that grid/sand that could be jamming the lens elements can be dislodged. When I tried this I recovered a small amount of dust and hair.
6.    Try forcing the lens – this worked for me, in that the lens closed up, although it automatically extended when I turned it on, and would not close on power-down. I did this my gently twisting and pushing the lens elements into the camera – it closed the lens but did not fix the problem. Apparently more people have reported success with this method than with any of the other methods. HOWEVER, there's obviously some potential for damaging the camera.
7.    Dismantle the camera – which the rest of the blog is about.

Dismantle the camera


You will need a very clean and as dust-free place to pull apart the camera – homes are notoriously full of dust – from skin and hair particles, to traffic derived dust, and soil & organic matter. An office at work may be cleaner else chose a room where the door can be closed for a few hours prior to use and if possible one with a short piled carpet. Homes are usually very very dusty. I have both worked in clean rooms and monitored dust in homes, including my own. The very act of walking on carpet will entrain dust into the air. I used my home office.
Obtain a number of clean containers to place screws, electric cable and camera parts.
You will need a triple zero (OOO) Phillips head screw-drivers. I found 000 difficult to find – in the end a cheap Chinese set provided the necessary tool.
I photographed the exercise – in order to write this blog – but more importantly to tell me where the pieces went. If you can borrow a second camera (I used my-own, the camera I was fixing was my wife’s). I found this useful as although the manual had good diagrams, they did not always provide enough detail, such as how far the ribbon-cable needed to insert into each attachment.

Pulling the camera apart

1.    Begin by removing the battery and memory card out.
2.    The front and back cases can be removed by unscrewing the retaining screws noting that the back has a cable attached to it – use care.

Front cover

Rear cover

3.    Unplug the flex-cables. I found by flipping the rear case around 180º I could access the flex-cable plug. The cable is removed by flipping up the locking tabs on the plug retainer (from the left side in the photo below – arrow) with a fine flat screwdriver and pulling the cable out gently. The cable is wiggled free horizontal to the camera body – do not pull it upward.

4.    Once the flex-cable has been pulled out of its plug the back can be removed totally, exposing the frame-plate assembly.

5.    The frame-plate (silver plate) then can be removed by unscrewing the three silver screws.

 6.    Remove Gyro flex cable, very carefully – it is plugged-in at both ends, on the left of the camera, as pictured above, and in the middle. Flip the locking tabs carefully up, and wiggle the cable free – photo below.

7.    The lens unit can be removed once the two large flex cables are unplugged. Once again the flex cable locking tab is flipped up with a small flat screw-driver and the flex wiggled free. The photo below also shows the two of the three screws that holds the lens unit in place which need to be unscrewed.

8.    The lens unit then can be separated from the camera.
The lens unit consists of the zoom motor unit and the master flange unit.
9.    The zoom motor unit can be separated from the master flange unit by undoing eight (8) screws, which includes a small screw on the side of the unit that holds a flex plug unit for the zoom motor. Note that I did not separate entirely the two units by removing the flex joining them. The zoom motor can be seen on the bottom left of the photo - below, and the lens focus motor on the bottom right (arrow). The right motor drives a screw-drive that lifts a lug, which is attached to the final focus lens (4th lens) - left arrow. The final focus lens (4th lens) focuses the light onto the light collection device – called a charge-coupled device (CCD) – which can be seen in the middle of bottom unit below (arrow).

10.    Inspect the worm drive. In my case the lug would not progress up or down due to grit. I cleaned the drive with an ear-bud soaked in white spirits and hand wound it up and down the entire screw – repeating the procedure until I was certain it was free. I then applied some very light grease obtained from Jaycar Electronics (your hobby shop may have some, as it’s very useful for axels found in model cars and helicopters etc). The manual states that 3-5 mg of grease needs to be applied to the focus motor lug and the two 4th lens frame positioning poles (only one is indicate below) – shown with arrows in the photo below. Be careful that you do not place grease on the lens – I did and it took an hour to clean it off!

11.    Reassemble in reverse order. Before doing so, using a magnifying class, make sure you have left no lint or dust on the lens elements or the light capture device (CCD), both bottom and topside. It’s very hard to see dust on the 4th lens element, but using a desk light and slowly tilting the lens while looking across it, one can capture whether there is any small dust particles. I used a very fine artist brush to remove dust particles.
12.    Ensure the flex is pushed firmly back into the plugs and the locking tags are pushed flush with the plug-unit. On my second try I did not do this well, and the camera did not work!
13.    The screws are very tiny and the threads can be easily stripped. Apply enough pressure that the parts are pressed together and the screw is not loose. You may strip the thread if too much pressure is applied.

All the best! It took me three goes to get it right. The first I left lint on the CCD, the second I did not push one of the flexes into its plug correctly, and the third – the camera has been used for two months now with no issue at all.

Sunday, March 17

The purpose of Research - the H5N1 controversy (Quote from the Lancet)

“When asked about the purpose of medical research most people would hopefully reply: to advance knowledge for the good of society; to improve the health of people worldwide; or to find better ways to treat and prevent disease. The reality is different. The research environment, with its different players, is now much less conducive to thinking about such noble goals. Funders have often adopted long-drawn-out bureaucratic processes for their grant giving, and yet rarely ask for a systematic assessment of the need for the proposed research. Full costing is often demanded at first submission with enormous waste of time and resources.
Funders operate within political frameworks that emphasise short-term successes and outcomes. Decisions are dependent on opaque peers' and experts' assessments within each field and take many months. Pharmaceutical companies and industry-sponsored research seek a maximum profitable return on their investment. And academic institutions, which are more and more expected to operate like businesses, think about the economic benefit and the commercial potential of research, or about their performance in a research assessment exercise (measured largely by the surrogate of publications). Research has become an enterprise, an economic engine for nations, a necessary step on the way to economic growth. But surely the purpose of research is more than that.”[1]

And this is true, although some may argue that research must be for some tangible benefit, although at the most basic level, how research results will be applied in a beneficial manner is not often understood until the results are known. The discovery of the electron did not appear to have immediate benefit, yet it has changed the course of history - our understanding of chemistry is built upon understanding electrons and their relationship with the nucleus.

That harm to society of new  methods, techniques or insights developed during research should be weighed against the benefit is an argument used by some, which I believe is superfluous, and one that presupposes that knowledge should be censured. It is not possible to ensure knowledge will not be used for harm; and if we merely censure knowledge because there is a risk of harm, our knowledge will never move forward. Chemistry would have remainded hidden because chemicals have been used to kill millions – yet it has given us the modern society we enjoy today.


Bad behaviour and moving people towards the good?

“Nudging” the public to get them to change their extraordinary bad behaviour – the UK is apparently moving from nudge to nag: “use every contact with patients and the public to help them maintain and improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing”.

Saturday, March 2

The End of Summer

Just spent the last few days cleaning up my garden after a very dry summer, although we did not have any major heatwaves. The BOM says we had a hot summer, but on the whole I found it rather mild - no endless nights above 30 °C, although we did have a few very very hot days (I was in Port Pirie for day of 48 °C). For SA: February 2013 was 0.9 °C above the long-term average, the warmest February for the state since 2009.In comparison, February 2012 was 0.9 °C below average.
The tomatoes are still bearing and the strawberries are putting out lots of runners (in the hydroponics). However, something large is eating both the tomatoes and capsicum - perhaps a possum as the animal ate one half of a capsicum - very neatly!  I put some broccoli seeds into perlite in the hydroponics, so hopefully they will be ready to plant out in mid-Autumn (I'm a wee bit late). Also very late I removed the heads of the Agapanthus, which did suffer during the >40 °C days, with the outer leaves burning. I also got carried away and pruned the Hydrangeas - all in pots, some inherited last year. One had a lot of dead wood which required drastic pruning. I need to mow the lawn, and remove the sweat corn plants, as they are well and truly finished, but its cooler inside!

Thursday, February 28

Love in Practice

I found the following video very inspiring – What is Love < accessed 28 February 2013 >. It tells of the love of a man for his wife, based on how Christ loved the Church – indeed how Jesus Christ loves you. When one gets married, for better or for worse, I dare say that few think about what the “for worse” could ever mean, or the implications of “in sickness” – perhaps a day off with the flu, but never the need to care for your partner-for-life, who can no longer recognise you, and who will never get better. I have met Bill and Glad. Bill is a wonderful Bible teacher, with years of experience from missionary work in many countries. I once spent a weekend listening to the implications of the writings of Amos (a book of the Bible) on my life, although I cannot remember much now. However, what did strike me, and I do remember today, is that Bill had read the book more than 40 times in order to prepare for the weekend (it could have been an Easter long week end). It was a salient reminder to me how little I knew of my Bible and how little regard I give it.

Houseboat Trip

We have just returned from five days on a houseboat on the Murray River (with Church friends) - the cliffs, as shown here, are beautiful especially in the evening and in the early morning (my wife, an avid photographer, took the photograph shown here). The weather ranged from very hot >37'C through to raining (the first in 6 months) - and the water was a wonderful 24'C - ideal for swimming.

Tuesday, February 19

Diclofenac and other NSAIDs are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular events in some patients

Highlighted in Medscape:

“The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac , a drug that is frequently used for the treatment of pain and inflammation caused by arthritis, is associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular complications and should be removed from essential-medicines lists (EML), according to a new review [1].” The study showed that diclofenac increases risk of an cardiovascular event occurring by 38% - 63% (absolute 95 th percentile range across all studies -15% to 199%).

It is clear that long term use of some NSAIDS is associated with increased risk of coronary events, especially those with previous myocardial infarction. I don't think at this stage the report needs to be acted upon by withdrawing from sale all diclofenac, but rather, a much better targeting of its use is required, with better appreciation for its potential interaction with those with cardiovascular disease. Like America, diclofenac is not the most commonly used NSAID here. The Australian Statistics on Medicines 2010 report < > (accessed 18 February 2013). It (and other drugs) also affect the kidney and can cause significant renal impairment (e.g. Lobox, K.K. Drug combinations and impaired renal function – the ‘triple whammy' Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2005 February; 59(2): 239–243. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2004.02188.x)

To put this into perspective, paracetamol (not combined with anything else) is the seventh most commonly used drug in Australia amounting to 28.172 defined daily dose (DDD) units (each daily dose is equivalent to 6 tablets of 500 mg each) per thousand population per day. In 2010 there were approximately 3.302 DDD/1000/day for diclofenac (The DDD is 2 tablets of 50 mg per day) and for naproxen 3.567 DDD/1000/day (two tables of 250 mg per day), noting that since some of these products can be purchased without a prescription the statistics are gained from survey data which always require some caution when applying to comparisons.

The DDD is a WHO definition based on the assumed average dose per day of the drug in an adult.

McGettigan P, Henry D. Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that elevate cardiovascular risk: An examination of sales and essential medicine lists in low-, middle-, and high-income countries. PLoS Med 2013; DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001388

Saturday, February 16

Building a shade house from poly-pipe

I grow many of my vegetable using hydroponics, and have done so for more than 25 years. However, the summer heat is too much for tomatoes and many other vegetables, so I usually drape 50% white shade cloth over them This is not very satisfactory, so at the end of 2012 I set about constructing a shade-house. What I wanted was a simple and cheap structure that would enable shade cloth to be hung over the vegetables, but allow it to be removed in winter. Searching the web gave some ideas, and with a bit of experimentation I arrived at a structure, which is functional but not yet completed.
The hydroponics is laid out in a rectangle about 7.5 metres by 1.5 metres, which consists of a number of long containers – troughs, and large diameter pipes cut in half or 90mm storm-water pipe filled with perlite.

I purchased 50 metres of 50 mm agricultural green “poly pipe”, which comes in large 100 m rolls. The irrigation shop was very happy to cut 50 metres of his large roll. This cost $183. I did try 25 mm poly pipe but it was not strong enough to maintain the shape I wanted – rounded hoops about 3 metres high.


To keep the poly pipe hoops in the ground I used 1800 mm fence “star” iron- droppers which cost $6.14 each. Don’t get these from your local garden shop, they will charge almost double; I went to a steel outlet that sold farm and fencing steel. They sold the droppers in packs of 10.

I made seven hoops from pieces of poly pipe each with a length of 7100 mm. The base for each is 2200 mm wide, so the height turned out to be approximately 2900 mm which was adequate to pass over the top of the tomatoes. This is easy to work out.If the base is 2200 mm wide, the circle part of hoop will have a height of 1100 mm (i.e. the radius) and the total length will be pi x 1100 mm (remembering it’s only a half circle). Hence we have:

Length of top    3450 mm (pi x 1100 mm)
Sides            (7100 – 3450) ÷ 2 = 1825 mm
Total length    of pipe 7100 mm
Total height    1100 + 1825 = 2925 mm


Inserting iron droppers
I placed the iron-droppers 1300 mm apart along each side of the area and 2200 mm from each other, across the structure, forming a nice rectangle. One could use closer gaps or ones that were wider, although I don’t think that gaps greater than 1500 – 2000 mm would be useful.

Poly-pipe hoop The iron-droppers were hammered in about 400 mm which was easy since the soil is mainly clay with few rocks – although it is very hard in summer. To bend the poly-pipe without kinking it I laid it out in the sun over lunch. This made it very easy to bend into a nice curve – which was slid over the iron-droppers. (As a teenager, I grew up on a farm and my father’s pet hate was kinked poly-pipe, as it often split, and certainly produced a narrowing that slowed the water flow. This taught me how to handle poly-pipe, which can have a mind of its own!).

All poly-pipe hoops

Since the pipe fitted very nicely over the iron-droppers, it was easy to adjust the height as the area sloped away on the northern end. I simply slid the pipe a little way up the iron droppers, and with a self-tapping screw held it in place.

Saddle tie To tie the poly-pipes together one could use a range of materials. I chose 25mm polyvinyl chloride (PVC) water pipe which I painted green. These were held onto the poly-pipe with 25mm saddles, screwed in with 10g x 25mm self-tappers.

I intend to tie the hoops together with five lengths of PVC pipe. I thought I might need internal braces, but with the 50% shade cloth under 75 km winds (we get severe winds in summer here), the structure has not moved an inch.

PVC pipe struts

Shade house The shade-house is still not completely finished. I had a piece of 50% white shade cloth, which I had from seasons, which I just draped over the plants, but it is not long enough. This means one end of the shade-house is covered well with white cloth and about 2m with a heterogeneous collection of green. Sometime in the future I will purchase sufficient to cover the remainder.

The (nearly) finished structure

The Beginning

This is the very beginning, therefore I am still learning how to manage blogger. Therefore, much more will come in the future.