Living Below The Line

Last week was The Global Poverty Project’s “Live Below the Line” challenge, asking people to try and live on just £1 a day for all their food and drink (excluding tap water only). After reading a bit about it I thought it sounded like a good challenge so have taken part. There is a serious side to it all, raising awareness of the 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty, and lots of people have been taking up the challenge to raise money. I chose just to do it as a personal challenge and not for sponsorship myself, so please consider going and sponsoring someone or donating to Live Below The Line if you want instead.

Well, I manged to eat three meals a day for all five days, at a total of £4.92 (I don’t normally eat breakfast, but the challenge was for three meals a day). It was a really interesting week, involving spreadsheets, careful planning and lots of trading off of one item for another to make better use of a couple of pence here and there. I’ve been genuinely impressed by just how far a quid can go if used very very carefully.

I’ve used various items from the Basics range at Sainsbury’s and have a much better appreciation of the relative costs of basic foods I normally wouldn’t even think about. Peppers, for example, are ridiculous! Basic root veg (carrots, potatoes etc) were working out about 6.7 pence an item, but peppers and corguettes came in at about 26p each. At a quarter of the daily budget that makes it very hard to squeeze any “fresh” type fruit and veg into the diet. At 12.8p each, bananas were a possibility, but a good mix of fruit and veg is tricky and I would imagine at certain times of year almost impossible.

I tried to be as accurate with the costing as possible, and also as honest. I did buy most of the food especially for the week so I could get the best value brands, but where I was using items I already had (coffee, tea, salt, pepper etc.) I priced them up for the brands I was actually using, rather than a cheaper brand I could have bought, so I could probably have shaved a few extra pence off. I also tried to ensure I didn’t just bulk buy everything to get the lowest price and then let it go to waste, everything I bought could be used up in the week or would last long enough to be used later.

Given I was only doing it for five days my meals were a little limited, and usually pasta or bread based. But living like this for a longer period you could certainly experiment quite a lot and make some pretty amazing dishes, especially judging by some other peoples efforts (See and

Here is my food diary for the week for anyone bored enough to care about the details:

Monday (99.79p)


Poached egg on toast. 15.275 pence.

Ingredients: 1 egg, 1 slice brown bread, butter spread, salt, pepper.


Chicken roll sandwich. 20.3 pence.

Ingredients: 2 slices brown bread, 5 slices chicken roll, butter spread.


Beef pie, potato and carrot, rice and peas. 44.4 pence.

A big dinner, didn’t really need the rice and peas but didn’t think the rest would be enough when I was preparing it. The pie was only 19p, reduced because it was a bit battered, otherwise it would never have been affordable.

Ingredients: Beef pie, 1 potato, 1 carrot, 50g rice, 1/2 tin processed peas, stock cube.


1 cup of tea with milk, 1 ginger biscuit, 1 banana. 19.81 pence.

Tuesday (100.64p)


Toast and jam. 8.75 pence.

Ingredients: 1 slice brown bread, butter spread, 1 tsp. jam.


Chicken roll sandwich. 17.5 pence.

Ingredients: 2 slices brown bread, 4 slices chicken roll, butter spread.


Tomato, potato, parsnip and bacon stew. 53.28 pence.

Way too much parsnip, the flavour overpowered the whole dish, should have used one instead of two.

Ingredients: 1/2 tin of Peeled Tomatoes, 1 potato, 2 parsnips, 80g cooking bacon, 1 tsp. mixed herbs, 1 bread slice, butter spread, black pepper.


1 cup of coffee with milk, 1 cup hot chocolate, 1 ginger biscuits, 1 banana. 25.31 pence.

Wednesday (97.29p)


Toast. 3.15 pence.

Ingredients: 1 slice brown bread, butter spread.


Poached egg on toast, and yoghurt. 23.525 pence.

Ingredients: 1 slice brown bread, 1 egg, butter spread, salt, black pepper, fruit yoghurt.


Veg and bacon spaghetti with jacket potato. 63.575 pence.

This dinner was huge, and I didn’t need the jacket potato at all. I had a mate over for dinner and made him eat the same with no complaints.

Ingredients: Spaghetti, 1/4 courgette, 1/2 green pepper, 1/2 onion, 100g cooking bacon, 1 tsp. mixed herbs, 1 cove garlic, 1/2 tin of processed peas, 1 potato, butter spread.


1 cup of coffee with milk, 1 ginger biscuit. 7.01 pence.

Thursday (99.56p)


Fruit yoghurt. 8.25 pence.

Ingredients: Fruit yoghurt.


Chicken roll sandwich. 17.5 pence.

Ingredients: 2 slices brown bread, 4 slices chicken roll, butter spread.


Tomato, onion and pepper pasta bake with potato and cheese topping. 48.4 pence.

This looked awesome but was a little lacking in flavour, could have done with some seasoning and maybe something to thicken the sauce. Thankfully very filling though as there was nothing on the side to go with it.

Ingredients: 1/2 tin of peeled tomatoes, 1/2 onion, 50g pasta shapes, 1 potato, 1.5 tsp. grated hard cheese, 1/2 green pepper.


1 cup of coffee with milk, 1 cup of hot chocolate, 1 ginger biscuit, 1 banana. 25.41 pence.

Friday (98.06p)


Bacon, egg and toast. 31.45 pence.

As I had the day off work to do some decorating I thought I’d start the day with a good breakfast, as the previous four days have been very basic breakfasts. A smaller dinner will follow to keep the total day cost down.

Ingredients: 1 egg, 100g cooking bacon, 1 slice of brown bread, butter spread.


Chicken roll sandwich. 17.5 pence.

Ingredients: 2 slices brown bread, 4 slices chicken roll, butter spread.


Baked beans and fried egg on toast. 30.8 pence.

Ingredients: 1/2 tin of baked beans, 2 slices of brown bread, butter spread, 1 egg.


1 cup of coffee with milk, 1 cup of hot chocolate, 1 ginger biscuit, 1 banana. 18.31 pence.


This year I will…

This year I will read more books and work on my projects more.

Back in May 2010 I blogged about the projects I wanted to complete last year. Well, suffice to say I didn’t achieve them all, but I did make some good progress on some, and none on others.

My ball mill is pretty much finished, it just needs some minor adjustments. The weather balloon project didn’t get much further, but I do have most of the equipment (excluding the actual camera yet), so hopefully this will happen around spring/summer time. The iPhone app project didn’t get anywhere, partly because Jay left the place I work, but also because I’m not that organised!

Although not mentioned in that blog post, one of my New Year’s Resolutions last year was to start tackling some of the bigger projects on my house. I don’t normally make any, so that year they were all practical things. That project was meant to be double glazing throughout, followed by a new kitchen/diner, followed by a new lounge this year. It actually turned out to be double glazing and a new lounge (after a small accident with some gloss paint and a carpet), so the kitchen will have to wait. The lounge is largely done, just need to sort out some final decor.

Anyway, this year I plan to be a little less specific with my plans/resolutions, and try to do stuff more rather than achieve certain goals. I think this will work better for me.


I love reading, particularly non-fiction, but I have a terrible habit of starting books and never finishing them. At present my bedside table consists of 8 unfinished books with bookmarks at varying depths throughout them. I also have 13 brand spanking new books that have yet to be opened, some from Christmas, but many from at least a year ago. So I intend to try and finish a book every fortnight or so. I’m not going to be strict as I still want to enjoy them, but an ongoing target should help keep the idea in mind.


As you’ll see from previous posts I also have a horrible habit of starting projects and never finishing them. I tend to procrastinate a lot with them and swap between them every few minutes or hours in my spare time, so nothing ever really gets done. So this year I intend to allocate a day a fortnight to just working on something I’ve been wanting to, and trying to only work on that one thing for that particular day. However, I don’t really count the seemingly endless DIY and decorating in this time, so this might be quite a tricky one to do, but the intention should at least yield some productive days.

So that’s my sort of resolutions for this year.

Stupid Website Username Rules

I’m riled! Twice in the last couple of months I’ve signed up to websites who don’t allow your username to look like your real name or email address!

I’m probably signed up to literally hundreds of websites, and I always use the same username, ‘bobtwells’, because, well, it just makes sense. Even for this blog that is my username, the same for Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, email, EVERYTHING!

Then along come ebay, all big and brash and throwing their weight around, who decide I can’t change my registered email address to because it looks a bit like my username, bobtwells. Yes, yes it does, that’s because they’re both for me, I am the user and it’s MY email address, so it makes sense they look kinda similar. But no. Even the tech support guy on their live help chat couldn’t explain the reasons behind the rules, although he did eventually manage to manually override them for me and get it set up how I wanted it.

I expected more sense from such a big player in the web world.

Then today I signed up to My Hammer who wouldn’t allow me my usual username because it contains my surname. Duh. What possible probelem is that?! So now I have a stupid username like bob123 that I’ll never remember and probably end up having to click the forgotten password link every time I use the site and fail to log in first time!

Sort it out ebay and MyHammer. No need. Grrr. Rant over.

Making a Ball Mill – Part 2

Well it’s been a long time since I last mentioned my ball mill. I had a rather unsuccessful first try, and got a bit annoyed with it so didn’t even post anything about it. I’m now well into Ball Mill v2 and so thought I’d update on where I’ve got to. The motor and power supply I posted about earlier are still fine and will be using in my new mill, it’s just the mill itself that has cause some problems.

My first attempt was constructed of a wooden base with two upright panels. I mounted four ball bearing rings into holes in these uprights, with two hollow aluminium tubes running through them as my rollers. One of these was flush with the bearing at both ends, while the other protruded from the other side of the wooden panel, and would be used as the drive shaft.

I really should have planned it a little better but I was being too keen and building it on the fly. Firstly it was very difficult getting the bearings perfectly flush with the wooden upright, which is necessary to get a smooth rotation of the shafts. In the end they proved hard to turn by hand, so the motor was going to have a really hard time. In fact the wooden uprights rocked back and fourth by a millimeter or so as you turned the rollers, showing that everything was far from perfectly aligned.

Next problem was how to drive the rollers, and getting the right speed. I had initially planned to use a belt drive from the motor to the roller, but this proved too difficult without access to any proper bits for this. I tried using a hoover belt, but there was no grip without a proper slotted shaft of the motor and roller. Also speed was an issue, the motor has an internal gearbox which gives a nominal at 180rpm, and I need to spin my ball mill container at about 60-70rpm. Taking into account the roller shaft diameter and the diameter of the container it was going to spin way too slow. Again, I hadn’t really planned this in advance until it was built!

Ball Mill v2So a few weeks back I started on version 2, with a bit more planning this time. The first change was to make it all from metal to make it more sturdy, hopefully have higher precision, and also look a lot cooler too! I started by calculating the diameter of rollers I would need to get the optimal rotation speed, which handily was pretty much exactly 1″, plus 2.5mm that will be some kind of rubber on the rollers or container to give it good grip. I got hold of some solid aluminium bar for this, but into two pieces, and the very handy Stuart Hammond turned down the ends for me and centre drilled one of them for the motor shaft to be connected directly to.

Next was the bearings, this time I wanted them to have some flexibility so that they could align themselves to the rotation of the rollers, even if they weren’t perfectly in line. After looking through lots of options, I settled on some from Simply Bearings which came in adjustable pillow blocks, so the exact positioning had some movement until they were finally bolted down.

I decided to bolt the motor directly to a base place, with some angle aluminium to give it a sort of face plate for better stability. I figured that this would giver better stability for the motor. The base plate is a 250mm x 500mm x 4mm aluminium plate (also ordered online). I also got some aluminium flat bar of two specific thicknesses that are used as packing plates to bring the centres of the bearings up to the same height of the motor shaft, to try and keep everything on the level.

After accumulating all the pieces of the last few weeks I finally got round to drilling and assembling it all today, with the help of my Dad’s pillar drill and various other bits and pieces. The drilling proved a bit of a nightmare because of the size of the base plate, I couldn’t drill the centre of it as the drill couldn’t reach, so I had to do that one by hand with a power drill. It was incredibly fiddly drilling some the others too, as I drilled the packing bars and base plate at the same time, all clamped together, to give perfectly aligned bolt holes.

Only one small problem, I measured something slightly out, and the motor spindle doesn’t line up with the bearing opposite it! Oops, this means I can’t yet add the main drive shaft until I remove and reposition the motor. I’ll have to turn the bolt holes into longer slots so that the motor can ne moved a few millimeters. This might actually prove beneficial so that I have some adjustment to get the best alignment.

Projects for the year

I’m constantly thinking up ideas for projects I’d like to do but never seem to find any time for them. Or when I do I can’t decide which of them to tinker with so I end up spending flitting between them and achieving nothing. I’m determined to tackle some of the bigger ones this year, as this is the stuff that I truly enjoy. So I thought I’d write a list of them here, so I at least have a sort of To Do list of projects that might help me focus on them a bit more.

Pyro Fountain Tools

DONE. Ok, this one is here just so I know I’ve crossed off at least one! You can find out about these in previous posts on this blog.

26 Degrees of Separation

A photogrpahy experiment that I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time now. It involves taking a picture with a disposable camera then giving it to a friend to do the same, and then they pass it on to someone else and so on. The idea is that hopefully if one of the cameras ever manages to reach person 27 in the chain they will send it back to me. Once developed I should then have a set of 27 photos, starting with me and ending with someone 26 inter-personal connections away from me. These will all be published on the website

This one has been on my list so long that I think  the cameras I bought for it are probably out of date by now and I’ll have to get some more! I really want to do this soon as it could take a long time for any of the cameras to make it back to me, if they ever do that is.

Near-Space Photography

Arduino GPS Tracker

Arduino GPS Tracker

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now after reading about it in the fantastically inspirational, and snappily titled, book “Makers: All Kinds of People Making Amazing Things In Their Backyard, Basement or Garage“. It featured details of two amateur aerospace fans who launched a weather balloon into near-space with a digital camera on board that captured some beautiful images showing the curvature of the earth. What was more impressive was the low budget they had managed to do it on (~$500).

This really captured my imagination and I’m now on a mission to launch my own in a similar style. The real bonus here is that it covers so many of my interests as it involves science, electronics, photography, tracking and programming. I’m making some progress on this already; I’ve been busy playing with a GPS tracking using my Arduino microcontroller and a separate GPS unit, and I’ve just ordered two suitable weather balloons from a company in Belgium. There will be a LOT of work to do for this if it has any chance of success, but the aim is to launch in late summer/autumn of this year.

I’ll write more detail on this one soon.

Social Media iPhone App

Like all good ideas this one came from a lunch time chat down the pub! Me and my mate Jay came up with an idea for a social media name checking service, and decided to build it into an iPhone app, seeing as that is the latest craze!  I will be building the API and other server-side code while Jay builds the iPhone app interface. Still in early stages, but keep an eye out for the launch of

Ball Mill

Yes this is still on my list. I made a good start on this last year with building a 12v power supply, but I then made a prototype ball mill which was far from functional! I didn’t even get round to putting any details on here, although I might do later. I need to rethink my design and make it much simpler. I’ve been looking around on the UKPS forums at other users’ home-made mills and will be taking some inspiration from them. I’m keen to get this one done as it’ll mean I can start some proper experimentation with my own black powder for simple fireworks.