Dumping My Butane Soldering Iron for a TS100 (No More Hands of Flame)

Iroda SolderPro 50

I’ve struggled for years with a butane soldering iron (an Iroda SolderPro 50). Its only form of temperature control is a vague slider which changes the amount of gas it squirts. The ambient temperature where I’m working can be anywhere between -5C and 40C. I’ve never had any idea what temperature my iron is operating at, or if problems I have while soldering might be caused by the tip being too hot or cold.

Power up: Blue Fireball!

The SolderPro 50 is filled with butane (lighter gas from a can). Every time I refill it there’s a 50% chance (maybe that’s where the model number comes from) that my hand will be engulfed in a fireball next time I spark it up. I’m not joking, I think there must be a leak somewhere.

Apart from the odd arm-hair I don’t get burned when it happens, it’s just a big blue woof of flame which then persists as a smaller flame which I have to extinguish by shaking the soldering iron… which is hot, getting hotter, on fire and filled with gas. This adds quite an edge to the experience of learning electronics.

It’s been like this for as long as I can remember, I originally put it down to my lack of experience (maybe I’d been overfilling it) but I’m pretty sure I know how to use it by now. The fireballing is just an added feature. Or maybe it’s taken a bash at some point and is damaged – although I don’t remember any specific accidents and there are no visible cracks or anything like that.

I don’t know what’s going on with it, I should have got in touch with Iroda about it when I had my first fireball but as I said I thought it was my fault. I don’t solder frequently – even less back in those days, so it soon became too late to expect any warranty to still be in effect.

I think these are relatively popular tools so I’m sure there are plenty of people out there using them without problems, I’m just giving an honest account of my experience. I feel I’m still worse at soldering than I should be by now so like any bad workman I’m going to (partly) blame my tool.

Anyway… I have an excuse to buy new shiny.


miniware TS100

Today I took delivery of a lush little TS100 soldering iron made by miniware. If you’re into electronics you may be aware of this product as it’s getting a bit of attention.

It’s relatively inexpensive, tiny, the firmware can be upgraded over USB and it has a little OLED screen. All this is less superfluous than it sounds.

Using two buttons on the unit I can set a desired temperature and get a readout on the screen of the current temperature, watching it as it climbs and stabilises. Using a custom firmware (from Ben V. Brown/Ralim – thanks!) I can make the iron go to sleep (going down to a reduced temperature) if it’s not been picked up for 1 minute, then turn off completely after a few more minutes. Sleep time, power-off time, sleep temperature and all kinds of other numbers are completely customisable.

Also importantly for me, the TS100 can run off 12V. I do have a 230V inverter if necessary but I try to avoid using it as some electricity gets wasted in the conversion and as I’m all solar-powered I can’t be wasting electricity. I bought the iron without a power adaptor as I have a couple of plugs that fit it (DC5525) already wired up dangling around the caravan. It heats up more quickly if you let it have 24V but even at 12V it takes less than a minute to heat up. That’s quick enough for me.

I bought the iron with two alternative tips, the TS-K and the TS-BC2, following the advice of YouTube electronics hero and ace-swearing-person Louis Rossmann. They look much more useful than the conical standard tip that would otherwise have come with the TS100.

All I’ve done so far is update the firmware and melt a blob of solder to make sure everything’s working properly – I’m looking forward to making some actual connections with it, I’ve plenty of little jobs on my list so won’t be long!


Things look scary outside but I have no food. I’m going to have to face Aldi… and London Road. But it’s early, surely there won’t be too many ghouls around.

I was right, it’s empty and navigating the aisles is quick and easy. I’m feeling happy until I see there is only one cashier… the moody Italian girl who seems to have developed an irrational hatred towards me and almost definitely wishes me dead. I put on a brave face, knowing the encounter will be short. Then, complications; I need to ask for £2 cashback.

“You do cashback don’t you?”


“Is there a lower limit?”

“Well I don’t have very much cash in the till so no more than maybe £20…”

“No I want a small amount, how small can I go? £2?”

“Sure. I know why you want it… for the bus isn’t it?”

“No, for chillis. There are cheap chillis down the road.”

She smiles knowingly (although I think she’s probably mistaken), gives me the receipt and shuts her till without giving me my £2.

“Can I have my chilli money please?”

“No, I’ll keep it for myself now.” she laughs loudly and dementedly. But eventually does give me the money.

The encounter cheers me. Maybe Italian girl doesn’t want me dead. How refreshing. She’s just a bit weird/normal. Brilliant! Today’s going to be good.

If only… if only.

At the chilli shop there’s a new man on the till. New man: new regime. I hand over my chillis for weighing,

“These are the £4.99 ones, the little green ones”.

“No. Those are £9.99 a kilo.”

“No they are £4.99, I come here for them all the time.”

“NO. £9.99!”

“No! Ask pre-existing man… I see him every week, he’ll tell you — £4.99. I come here every week for my chilli.” Not any more.

“Then I no longer come here every week not any more either then.”

We glare for a very long time, then wrestle to the floor. He squirts chilli at my eye but I wince heroically, batting away the corrosive juice. An old lady drops her hat in panic, rummages hurriedly in a box and rushes out wearing a banana on her head. She’ll fit well in Brighton — but maybe not on London Road.

“Don’t MAKE me go Other Chilli Shop,” I drool in his ear… but he does. We wish each other a good day, knowing we must never meet again.

Now what? I have all the ingredients for a chilli, except the chilli. Other Chilli Shop it is. But the weather’s so harsh. And Other Chilli Shop is miles away. But I AM A MAN. I stop off back home, coat up, put two Aldi-fake-mini-Snickers into my pockets and Bob Dylan in my ears. I say my farewells to the neighbours (waking up the ones who work a night shift so as they don’t feel left out) and head for the sea.

On the way I see a fellow explorer, rugged and defiant, windcheatered… clearly a man who climbs mountains; waiting for the bus. He stares at the bus, steely, his eyes say “I will conquer your peaks just like the mountains I am generally more at home climbing” (I actually think he does go up to the top deck).

“The winter wind is a-blowin’ strong… my hands a-got no gloves. I wish to my soul that I could see…”

The sea is a beast today. Exotic monsters of the deep are long-strewn, not just on the shingle but right up to the curvy, paved footpath. The usual fishheads and spiky seaweed corpuscles abound, but also new creatures… a strange puffer-fish-looking thing… dozens of broken, spindly crab-fingers as long as my arm. Have I missed the apocalypse? I’d been looking forward to that.

A hundred gulls huddle until my feet rattle the pebbles amongst them, then they all rise and fly into the wind. It’s so strong it blows them right back, leaving them hovering surreally. Burnt meringue froths up from the sea’s surface and lands on my skin. I laugh, almost frolick until a small chunk of my flesh falls away, melted by polluted chemistry.

Wild dogs patrol the paved area, looking for heron or human babies to eat. There are no bare, walking humans, every body is encased in a metal vehicle of some kind. It’s like Mad Max but… cleaner and somehow more boring. These apocalyptic survivors have chosen Vectras and Corsas over steam-punk rocket cars. Eyes in a white van peek over The Sun, outwardly mocking but inwardly fearsome “Why is he out there, walking, today?”. A Yodel delivery driver, looking for an address in Yeovil, tries to run me over.

“Let me die, in my footsteps… before I goooooo down under the ground.”

Bob sings. I sing. The sea shouts over us both, a bit rudely. Finally I see another walker coming towards me, aiming to follow me along the surf. I think he’s heard my song, noted my proximity to the sea and put me on some kind of citizen’s suicide watch.

Preston Street goes uphill and I’m not looking forward to it after a long stomp along the shingle. But I needn’t have worried, the wind gets behind me and pushes me to the top effortlessly. I want to express my gratitude but I don’t know how. A goggle-eyed customer at Other Chilli Shop stands, staring at vegetables, pointing, alone. This makes the trials of the day worthwhile — I love that kind of shit. Also the chillis are only £4 a kilo.

The cashier is happy. A bit too happy actually. I ask her if she’s put on weight — to restore cosmic balance. She seems to appreciate the gesture.

The wind on the way home is so powerful I can’t breathe. I’m thinking I might die when a loud crash distracts me, loud enough to be heard over Dylan’s harmonica — and I have those earbuds that block your ears right up so it must have been very loud. I look down the road to see an RAC van has smashed into another vehicle. I enjoy the irony (no animals were harmed) and wonder if there’s some kind of meta-RAC service which might come to the driver-animal’s aid. I don’t help because I am not a meta-RAC driver and I know nothing about cars and I’m nearly dying because of the wind, remember?

I stick to the curvy paved inland area for the homeward journey. I walk on green marble tiles. I’ve never seen them before, despite having walked this curvy path many times. Strange.

“And the crowd, they gathered one fine morn, At the man whose clothes ‘n’ shoes were torn, There on the sidewalk he did lay, They stopped an’ stared and they went their way… “

Just as I’m about to give up my treacherous journey and live in a bin the wind whips up perfectly and pushes me in the direction of home. I angle my coat as a makeshift sail and assume a kind of semi-crouching position. In this fashion I’m able to make my way home without expending any further energy, as if carried on invisible skates.

“I heard some foot-steps by the front porch door, so I grabbed my shot-gun from the floor. Snuck around the house with a huff and a hiss, saying ‘Hands up, you communist!’ It was the mailman. He punched me out.” I told him I loved him. I see a pretty girl from one of the other flats and, desperate to impress her, try to juggle some tins of tomatoes. But in my haste I forget that I can’t juggle and unfortunately accidentally chip one of her front teeth. She takes it very well indeed.

Fermenting (AKA Micro-Gardening)

I’ve started to learn about fermented foods. At the moment all I do is sauerkraut and sourdough but I can tell it’s something that will be with me for life now so I’m bound to learn more and more.

For those who don’t know: right now there are millions of microscopically-tiny creatures all around you, swimming around in the air, floating up your nose, kicking about on your skin and just generally having a laugh. Fungal spores (‘seeds’ of mould, mushrooms and so on) and bacteria are always around us, they are as essential a part of the ecosystem as plants and animals. Inside our guts they are an important part of our digestive system – if we didn’t have them we’d not be able to digest our food properly and just having the wrong balance of one variety over another is quite likely to cause stomach and digestion problems. It’s like a garden, if you let it get over-run with nettles it’s no fun.

One of the most well known fermented foods is bread. Yeasts (there are lots of different kinds) feed off the carbohydrates in flour and excrete gases (fart, basically) which produces bubbles and makes dough rise. Nowadays bread tends to be made with commercial yeasts but originally (and in the case of sourdough) it was/is made using natural yeasts and bacteria found in the air around us. If you mix flour and water and let it sit, these microorganisms will settle in it and get to munching. With a little control over conditions (mainly temperature) and repeated additions of flour and water, over a few days you’ll end up with a frothy, bubbling, soupy creature called a sourdough starter. You now have a pet which needs to be fed every few days if you want to keep it alive (they can live for a century or more and are often passed down through generations). In return you’ll be able to bake bread, pizza, make pancakes and all other kinds of rising baked goods.

Velcro, Hooks and Rubber Bands

“Yo tech! You don’t have to be high to be cool you know!”

In fact I’m enjoying low-tech solutions more and more nowadays. It tends to be cheap, easy and readily understandable. I like it when I can see how something works.

I bought a big multicoloured bag of rubber bands from a pound shop about a year ago. It was one of the most useful things I’ve ever bought. I’ve used them in all kinds of places I’d never have thought of but the thing is, if you keep them within sight and they’re all lovely colours then they often just suggest themselves when you’re having a problem! Here are some pictures of some usage:

Hooks? I have around 70 hooks (I lost count but it definitely went over 60). In the tiny cramped world of a caravan hooks are just amazing, I have them all over the ceiling, walls and shelving, they let me keep all kinds of items visible (no point in having something if you can’t find it when you need it) and easy to grab. They also allow for things to be moved around from hook to hook (the obvious example is a small lantern which can be hung above wherever you’re sitting.

I love Velcro (“other hook and loop fastening strips are available”). It’s fairly strong and secure, relatively cheap (as long as you shop around) and it makes lush noises. I have found many uses for it…

Lowest Power Lighting

I’m still working on reducing my power demands. Getting all of my ‘leccy from the sun and living at a latitude of about 50 degrees means I often run out of power by evening, especially during the shorter, darker days of winter.

I can handle things like laptops and screens running out, but having no light is harder to deal with. When it gets dark outside at 4:30pm and your indoor lighting goes out a couple of hours later (and it’s cold!) it becomes pretty hard to stay motivated. Also you bump into things a lot.

So I’ve been looking into cheap, simple ways of making sure I always have access to lighting, even when my main leisure batteries (which the solar panels charge each day) run out.

Thankfully, we’re living in the LED era. LEDs are amazingly efficient – the power/brightness balance is really good. Also, the technology is constantly improving and ridiculously cheap. I’ve settled (for now) on a combination which works really well for me.

[PIC OF LED WHITE AND WARM] These little USB LED sticks are very bright and smoothly dimmable via a simple touch-mechanism (‘smooth’ meaning they fade up and down smoothly rather than in steps – so you have a lot of control over exactly how bright they are). They are also available in a ‘warm’ option. One of the not-so-nice things about a lot of LED lamps is that they are often very white, which is quite harsh and uncomfortable especially in the evenings. The warm version provides a much nicer kind of light which feels more like traditional indoor lighting.

These sticks cost about £3 each (at time of writing) on eBay in the UK but by putting up with a long wait and buying them direct from China I was able to get 5 for less than £3 in total – literally pennies apiece. I also bought 5 of the white version – as mentioned above the light isn’t as cosy, but it’s great for painting or any work where colour is important (the yellow/warm light causes a distortion in hue which means if you paint under yellow light at night you’re in for a mildly depressing surprise when you look at your painting in the morning daylight and realise all the colours are wonky).

[PIC OF BATTERY HOLDER] Another silly-cheap item, these battery holders are made for 18650 cells (they look similar to AA batteries but are a bit bigger and can be found inside old laptop batteries). I salvaged 6 of these from a ruined laptop (I fried the motherboard with my slack electrical skills – I’ll save that tale of woe for another time). When inserted into these holders the batteries can be charged via an extremely common micro-usb cable (pretty much all non-Apple phones and tablets use them). The LED stick can then be slotted in the top and BO! – you have yourself a bright, dimmable, warm, cheap, lovely little light.

Stop Saying Van – It’s a Caravan!

sheep run past caravan windowFunny you should say that. In fact the word van is a contraction of caravan.

Caravan once used to refer to a large group of people carrying a lot of baggage and may have its origins in the Sanskrit word karabhah (meaning ‘camel’).

Why listen to me though? A Judge at the Court of Appeal has laid down some education on the matter.

(To be reasonable: van for most people nowadays does generally mean a motorised vehicle.  I tend to use it over caravan mainly because it has fewer syllables – caravan is quite time-consuming. When I use ‘van meaning caravan I always prefix it with the apostrophe to denote the contraction.)

Limiting Data Usage in 2017

## Controlling data usage is becoming something of a dark art

Firstly, it’s something that is less often necessary than it was in the days of dialup. Everybody has fast internet now! Web developers presume everybody is on unmetered broadband and desperately needs to see their carousel of huge JPEGs at no less than 95% quality. App developers feel they must be pumping out updates every couple of weeks just in case the users become too comfortable with their interfaces (OK I’m being facetious, some updates are important of course eg: security fixes). Advertising networks merrily squirt dozens of megabytes of tracking data into your internet boots with every step you take. None of these people have an interest in helping you control your data usage. Is it even possible to enjoy today’s world of connectivity on a limited data connection?

I currently survive on a very limited budget. The trailer I call home might end up anywhere in the country (UK for now). I’m aiming to move away from the grid as much as I can, step-by-step. For these reasons my current connection method is mobile broadband, using a new PAYG SIM every month.

My favoured deal for the past year or so has been the 10GB EE SIMs available on eBay for £7-9 (the price fluctuates by a few pennies each month). For this I get 10GB of data on the EE network for 30 days. EE has a decent network which covers most of the UK with either 4G or 3G. 3G is actually ample for the way I use the internet.

I get a lot of enjoyment from the internet. Be it through reading, listening to audio, interacting on social media or even watching the occasional video, a large proportion of my entertainment makes use of the internet and therefore: data. I’m a geek, I like to write code and have it backed up in a remote git repository. I’m a Linux user and love to experiment with new applications and keep existing apps up-to-date. I’m enjoying all of this usage for around £8/month, with no contract and without sharing a significant amount of personal info with an Internet Service Provider (as I have a brand-new SIM card every month).

I’ve had to make some adjustments to my habits and this post will describe what I’ve done in case it might be helpful for other people with similar needs.


## Use Linux

OK this is not for everybody but I happen to use and love Linux. I’m currently using Microwatt OS which is Ubuntu-based with a focus on being slim and having low power demands (electricity, like data, is a precious and limited resource for me). It comes with the i3 tiling window manager which is fun and efficient.

Ovenless Cooking

Store cupboard basics

  • tinned toms
  • flour
  • garlic
  • onion
  • olive oil
  • stock cubes
  • sea salt
  • pepper (bagged)
  • cumin
  • seeds
  • coriander seeds
  • turmeric
  • paprika
  • demerara sugar
  • dried milk
  • birds eye chilli dried
  • frozen green beans
  • frozen peas
  • oregano dried
  • thyme dried
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • pasta
  • lentils

chilli(with rice, with home-made naan, with roast potatoes)
mince/gravy (with roasties, with boiled)
cottage pie (using chilli mix or using mince/gravy mix)
veg curry (potato, carrot, squash, sweet potato, root veg basically, can chuck green in later)

white fish sandwich in home-made bread


Tin-Pot Explorer

Thick undergrowthI just walked a walk that has instantly entered my All Time Top 10 Insane Walks. Read on at your own risk.

I’ve mentioned the long boggy walk on the track through the fields to Asda before. Perilous in the darker seasons with its deep thick sinking-mud, the thin track is flanked left and right by reens: agricultural drainage channels full of a green murky juice. 4-5 ft deep, you’d have trouble drowning in one but trying would lack fun. It’s been weeks since I last walked the track. I’ve fallen into an optimised routine of bus trips into Newport for its Lidl, Asian jaggery-stockist and English-hating, prison-tattooed ’80s wrestlers (who woman all the tills).

Round my way if it’s not raining the sun’s roasting like a pizza oven. Good weather for gardeners. I expected the track to have grown over since my last walk. I underestimated it.


Ten minutes in, the nettles are up to my chest. The edges of the reens are murked by huge, strange, B-movie plants. The track has gone. The sun cooks my head. Knotted, uneven ground already has me stumbling. I feel slightly sick and a small panic tells me to turn back. But this is my only way to get food — otherwise I’ll be without for 4 days until my gas gets refilled and I can cook again (the cupboard contains only food which requires cooking). And the effort I’ve put into coming this far will have been wasted.

Menacing nettlesAnother 10 minutes in. Shit. I’m in a full ocean of stinging nettles and monstrous thistles. The shortest are 5 feet high, the tallest easily 7. I tell no lie these things loom high over me. Surrounded by dark foliage I can’t see to get my bearings. The only option is to remove my rucksack and use it as a lumpy snowplough, push onward, try to carve out the old path from memory. Nettles whip me with each step until my bare arms are entirely smothered in sting. They go up my shirt and sting my belly. They can’t get through my jeans.. but the thistles can; hot, sadistic tickles creep all over my shins and thighs, sometimes my chest. They claw for my face but I weave. Long grass and brambles grab at my ankles, try to topple me into the unforgiving depths of this sea of hurt where I’ll be lost forever. I carry no flares, nobody knows I’m gone. There will be no rescue mission.

For a full 20 minutes the nettles and thistles continue, me a sinking breadstick in some green, diabolic soup. At any point I might go into a hidden reen. I’m hot and tired but there’s no place to rest, I try stopping but the stinging plants immediately fan inwards. Bees threaten, angry that I’ve shoved their workspaces aside. Unseen ancient amphibians make bizarre sounds, heard to me as laughter.

After 40 minutes I exit this wilderness, alive. But now the hardened road of civilisation rattles my bones, my knees tender from an old, unhealed injury. Every step twangs my ligament like the violent punch of a doctor’s toffee hammer. My reflexes are fine, Doc — but hurty.

Deep vegetationThe return fight through the foliage is even worse. By now I’m exhausted… overheated. Sweat flushes my eyes with salt until I’m half-blind… overseasoned. My knees want to crumple. I want to crumple; once, the brambles get me and I do. I lump to the ground, folding, tendons snapping. I want to stay down here. Eventually, nature always wins.

But not today.

Finally, the home straight. As I inch towards shade and water, maths messes with me. The infinite divisibility of a line. Every step brings me closer while at the same time the remaining distance somehow increases. As I turn the final corner, powered by will alone, I meet the mother farmer. This is a great woman, but oh my can she talk. A sentence from her can be as long as one of my Facebook posts. We talk of the track. Of the railway line. Of cows pinning farmers to fences, bulls goring farmers to death. I stoop, grimace, rub my knees. There’s a bad bull at the farm yonder. He’ll have someone, only a matter of time. I angle my feet away to indicate I need to leave. I love to chat but this is a matter of urgency. I become light-headed. My vision whitens and I tap out, leaving her mid-sentence:

“I’m so sorry. I have to go and sit down”.