All posts by jamesgleave

Alternative Horoscopes

I decided that I would write a website to channel the thoughts and direction that I receive from a higher place in life and pass on the benefits.

You can find the site here…. Alternative horoscopes

Hopefully this allows people to gain a deeper understanding of how their day may pass and some thing to be mindful of.  They can totally ignore it too but I feel better knowing I am passing on the information that I receive.

Pizza Oven Build – The Bricks and Dome Floor

Hello for the third time.  I am now going to try and explain my pizza oven dome build.  I say try as although I remember it very well I appear to have forgotten to take photo’s of the floor build and the first few layers.  However I shall try and use words and descriptions to describe those bits and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the floor of the oven is very hard.

The first part of building the floor of the dome and the dome itself is what construction I was going to use.  I had researched all types of materials and settled on wanting to use fire bricks.  I’m no builder, as you all know, and therefore I was looking for the simplest way to construct with minimal mess.  I had to roughly pick a size and my pizza oven dome is roughly an oval shape which has a front to back distance of 800mm and left to right diameter of 900mm.  This is purely to maximise my 1200mm x 1200mm plinth and leave room for thickness of bricks (115mm), insulation (30mm) and weatherproof render (20mm).

Once decided on my construction method I had to calculate my quantities and order my materials.  I got a rough idea for the number of bricks required from Forno Bravo who have a set of resources online that are very informative.  For an oven slightly bigger than mine they suggested ~230 brick of dimensions (230x114x64mm), so I decided to buy that many knowing I would need less.  Turns out 200 would have been enough.  For the oven build you make it from half bricks (115x114x64mm) so a lot of time was spent chopping bricks.  You could possibly have this done for you or buy\borrow a brick cutter.  (I’d recommend it if you don’t like hitting your hand with the hammer)

Once I’d decided on brick numbers I thought I would probably need 5 x 20kg of special fire cement.  The fire cement allows you to build the oven and stick the bricks together.  When you put the very last stone in (Keystone) you stress the whole dome against itself but until then it want to fall down and therefore the cement allows you to create the structure.  The cement also blocks a lot of the cracks in your oven.  Again I did over order as used 4 complete tubs.

The total order I placed with Vitcas from their online shop was as follows:

  1. 230x Firebricks (230x114x64mm)
  2. 5x 20kg Vitcas Outdoor Oven Cement
  3. 1x Flue and chimney
  4. 5mx Ceramic Fibre Blanket 25mm-Vitcas Ceramic Insulation (for insulating the dome)
  5. 1x Ceramic Fibre Board 1260 C/50mm-VITCAS Insulating Board (for the floor insulation)

So a few days after ordering the following pallet arrived:

Pallet of Bricks…all 700kg

With all the other items the total weight was about 900kg so unless you have a large van or pickup truck you would not be able to pick your order up using a family car.

 The Floor

The floor was simple to do and involves no cement.

The first thing I did was place the Vitcas 50mm insulating board on top of my plinth.  This board insulates the bricks from concrete and therefore prevents too much of your precious heat leaving the oven.  As the board is easy to cut I used a Stanley Knife to cut to the shape I required.  Once finished the bricks and the whole oven go on top.  It is very strong but don’t drop things on it as it will dent and yield…but once the bricks are laid on it the weight is transferred nicely

Then to lay the floor cover the board in firebricks in the style you wish for your floor.  I personally wanted the herringbone shape. To do this the top of the board must be perfectly clean and you need no other materials, just push the bricks together.  If you have any bricks with knocks save them for the dome, use the most perfect bricks you have for the floor to keep the geometry.  Most of the shape you can do with whole brick but to finish you will need to cut some half bricks to finish your rectangle.

Herringbone Pattern of floor

Also as you all know I like it to be level, I painstakingly picked the bricks so that if you pushed a pizza peel into the front of the oven there would never be a vertical rise in height.  Basically stopping my pizza peel catching as you push it in.  So far I’m glad I did it as my peel never catches.  Basically all your bricks are slightly different heights and you just cycle through them finding the height you need.

And that’s it your floor is done.

I’ll publish this and come back for the dome….

Pizza Oven Build – Plinth

Hello again.  So now that I have managed to have a level base I need to crack on with the rest of the plinth.  This for me was another first as I have never really done any brick laying or mortar mixing.  Again I will be relying on my nice level base to help compensate for how my brick laying may turn out.  Turns out if you follow the instructions and keep your patience the large blocks aren’t too bad to lay.

I used large blocks for two reasons:

  1. The blocks are big and strong, if they can support my house and roof then a pizza oven will be fine
  2. The blocks are big so less chance of having wonky brick laying…(less brick laying in general)

Plinth Build – Calculations for ordering all the bits

After doing some simple maths and knowing that the Celcon blocks were 440x215x100mm I realised that some plinth walls with 4 layers of blocks would be ~900mm tall and I wanted my plinth (pizza oven base) to be about 1000mm off the ground.  A few more calculations showed me that 2.5 blocks would give me a wall length of 1100mm.

I decided that there was no benefit to doing tricky corners so planned to do three straight strips of bricks.  ( I really wasn’t looking forward to laying bricks)  In order to add some sort of support and back to the pizza oven plinth I also put a tower of four blocks in between the three mini walls.  I would leave gaps to allow air flow and drainage as I plan to put wood in the spaces and don’t want water pooling under the pizza oven plinth.

The main plinth which would be placed on top of the Celcon blocks would be constructed of my favourite Council pavers. Two 600x600mm and two 600x750mm.  The larger ones would give a little over hang on the front of the plinth.

NOTE:– These concrete slabs are known as “Council Pavers” in the UK as they are used by the local authorities to lay their pavements, they are very thick at 50mm and large at 600mmx750m.  ~53kg each.  Please be careful!  Two persons to lift.

Tools Required:

  • Shovel
  • Builders pad (to mix mortar on)
  • Builders level
  • Trowel
  • Large carpenter saw (To cut Celcon Blocks)
  • Rubber mallet


  • 40 Celcon Blocks 440x215x100mm (2 Spares)
  • 5 Bags of 25kg pre-mixed dry morter (just add water)
  • 2x 600x600x50mm Council Pavers
  • 2x 750x600x50mm Council Pavers
  • Water (via a hose-pipe)

1st Layer of blocks

The brilliant thing about using Celcon blocks is that you can cut them effortlessly in half with a cheap carpenters saw.  I was quite surprised that within 4 strokes you cut through 215mm of block.  I double checked the compressive strength and the blocks are strong but seemed to easy with my new saw.

So each layer of blocks would be 2.5 blocks long.  I cut the half blocks and would move the half block to different positions depending on the layers so that you get good brick overlap.  Here is the first layer

1st layer done…nice and true

2nd Layer of Blocks

Much to my amazement if you follow the instructions on the mortar bags (add water to suit) are very accurate.  Thankfully if you get it too wet you add a bit more mortar, if it’s too dry keep adding water.  One thing that did catch me out is how little water is needed.  However, you quickly realise what is good or bad.  I found 2/3rds of a bag did a layer of blocks.

So after waiting a day I had a go at layer number two.  As I am creating 3 seperate walls I decided that waiting a day for a layer to “go off” was better for structure and my patience.  The weight of the blocks does squeeze the mortar, so if you try and do two layers you have to be quite consistant.  I was determined to keep my level of the plinth as much as possible.

2nd layer of blocks was laid with the half block shifted relative to the previous layers half block.  Remember to be generous with mortar and then tap down with the trowel to get your level.

2nd layer completed, nice and Level

As you can see I am putting a column of blocks inbetween each pair of walls.  The sideways shots look a bit lik an optical illusion but the three wall are not linked in anyway.

NOTE: At all times I checked each wall was level.  I did check the leves between walls and this remained equal as each layer was always made from the same mortar mix.  Therefore no risk of different mortar thicknesses in a layer

2nd Layer completed, slow and steady

3rd and 4th Layer

The third layer was done in the morning and the 4th layer was done in the afternoon.  I decided to push on a bit with the third and fourth layer due to the success of layers one and two.  Now it was successful but will admit I did try to lay one layer on top of the next and my level started to go.  So I removed the premature 4th level.  I’m sure a pro-bricky would have no problems but all my tapping of the fourth layer push out mortar from the 3rd layer…so I started again.

So 3rd layer was relaid and level checked.  Then 5 hours later I added the fourth layer and it all seemed much more substantial, straight and (you guessed it) level!

TIP: Use brand new bags of pre-mix mortar (or any cement product) as once you open a bag the cement starts to degrade.  Using fresh bags meant I knew that all the strengthening reactions would take place to stick and hold my walls.

4th Layer complete and nice and straight
4th Layer done, brick laying complete

Placing the Plinth on the Blocks

I waited another 24 hours to allow the blocks and mortar to dry and develop some strength before lifting the large concrete pavers into position.

I mixed up a large batch of mortar to place on the top of the blocks and layered it entirely over the blocks.  I did this so that I would tap the concrete pavers into place.  I say tap…but it was pretty aggressive with the rubber mallet if I am honest.

NOTE: Concrete Pavers very heavy, two man lift

Placing the Concrete pavers on the mortar is really quite tricky, you should not attempt this on your own  so that you place it down on the mortar Level.  Once you you get the first paver level, get the second.  I did the rear left corner first and then did the right rear corner.  The second stone I levelled to the first stone.  The 3rd and 4th stones were levelled and levelled to all the other stones.

I know that I have been really keen on the level of the plinth and this is purely due to knowing that the pizza oven dome will be a structure that supports itself.  Therefore having a level base will prevent one side being higher than the other and upsetting the structure.

I wasn’t happy with the front two stones as they dropped too low and therefore I removed them and added additional mortar and replaced the stones.  It took some serious smacking of the rubber mallet to achieve the level but I am very please with the finished plinth.  (and not having to use concrete)

Plinth Done, large stones at front for little bit of extra space
Plinth finished, play snooker on that

So I have a plinth, it is 1200 x1450mm and there is space underneath to store wood.  Did I mention that it was level 🙂  I also have no fear putting 750kg of pizza oven on it.

Next phase is starting to build the oven…

Pizza Oven Build – The Base

So I’ve built a pizza oven, from scratch and thought I would share it with you.  I don’t really know why other than a whim and lifelong desire to eat delicious pizza.  Living in the UK and only occassionally experiencing good pizza I thought I’d sort the problem so that if in doubt I’d just make my own.  This is the first blog of a few showing the build.

If you want hopefully you could construct your own from this.  This is a very substantial build and so far hasn’t blown away….as it weighs nearly 1 metric tonne!

The Pizza Oven Base

To me the key to any build, including a pizza oven, is making sure its all level.  As a pizza oven is basically a pile of bricks resting on one another you want the plinth to be level.  I got a little bit anal about this as I tend to but suffice to say my plinth is possible “too” level but my theory is “whatever you begin with affects what you end up with”.

NOTE:– This took a 3 hours as you have to take up the stone, put it back down and level and level.  It’s a pain but it means the rest of the build doesn’t have to compensate for lack of a level base!

I chose to use 600mmx600mmx50mm pavers to make it the simplest way to a level base without having to pour concrete.  You could do this, but I thought this was simpler and less messy and you can control the level.  It’s also quite cheap and far easier than levelling lots of smaller stones.  Also these stones will take more weight than a pizza oven so no worries there.

NOTE:– These concrete slabs are known as “Council Pavers” in the UK as they are used by the local authorities to lay their pavements, they are very thick at 50mm and large at 600mmx600m.  ~42kg each.  Please be careful!  Two persons to lift.

Tools Required:

  • Spade
  • Builders Level
  • Rubber Mallet (I wore it out just doing this)

Dig a hole

First you must dig your hole and in theory this needs to be as big as the base you need.  I was going for a 1.2m x 1.2m square plinth, based on wanting an oven with an 80-90cm diameter.

Digging the hole for the Base and leveling…sort of

Try to get as level as possible with the soil stamp it down hard.  Then I used a thick layer of sand to give OK drainage and also allow a bit more levelling.  I used two bags of sand which is 50kg of sharp sand.  (see next pic)

Laying first stone – (Stones are 600mm x 600mm Concrete pavers 50mm thickness)


Two stones done…looks so easy in the pictures

Compact the sand as much as possible and throw the first stone down in the top left corner.  Get this stone perfectly level using a masons level as your guide.  I lifted the stone many times and moved the sand a little.  Then when it was close to level I used very deliberate hits of a rubber hammer to get the bubble absolutely perfect between the black lines on the level.

2nd stone needs to set down at exactly the same height as the first stone and then lots of rubber mallet hammering to level   This one is a bit trickier as the stone has to be level and it also has to be level to the previous stone.

3rd and 4th Stones

4 hours work…its more level than a billiard table

So in keeping with the theme, the leveling of the 3rd and 4th stones involves placing it down, checking it’s height relative to the first and second stones and then shifting sand and lots of hammering of rubber mallet to get level.

Repeat again for the fourth stone…!  Don’t be surprised if you have to pick up the stones and move sand around.

Tip:- If it looks like its going to be down in a corner, don’t try to keep hitting mallet, face facts and lift stone and redistribute the sand.

Level Base

I know you’re thinking it might seem excessive to get it this level and it probably is but I never had to worry about anything being level after this.  As you are stacking bricks later, level is good!

Level Base
Checked a few days later after heavy rain and still level

Ok so Plinth is done.  Have a break, have a beer and I’ll build the plinth in the next post

Filter Basket on Gaggia Classic

About a month ago I updated my OPV setting on my Gaggia Classic based on the information that I had come across online.  My espresso’s appear to have improved because of this, although I am still a tiny bit scheptical.

The thing that initially kicked things off was my initial frustrations when first getting the Gaggia Classic, something wasn’t ringing true and my coffee would not improve no matter waht I did to the grind, tamp, coffee.  Then I read about the fact that the basket itself may be the problem.  So I looked in the portafilter and checked the basket.

The basket appeared to have many holes and looked pretty normal to me.  In my haste I thought there was nothing to worry about.  Then I read in another post that there is a single hole in the POD portafilters and it’s visible from the underside.  So I removed the basket from the portafilter and “Hey Presto”

So my machine was supplied with ONLY POD compatible baskets.  They make an espresso but not a very good one and  it explains why not much was changing when I altered the grind and never had any discernable change in shot pull times.  Basically everything has to come through the tiny hole and the plastic bit ends up being a throttle so that the high pressure fluid from the hole does not spray up your walls.  (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME IF YOU LIKE YOUR KITCHEN, CHILDREN, EYES…ETC You can test this buy removing the plastic plug and leaving the POD compatible basket in.  When you run the machine you will have coffee going everywhere)

So online to CoffeeHit and new basket arrives, quite a difference

I put my new basket into the portafilter and then ground some of my coffee.  I then switched on and the coffee gushed out of my portafilter with no crema and was the most awful espresso ever.  Not all bad though as now the coffee is the restriction in the basket (I think) rather than the little hole in the POD compatible basket.

So redial the grinder to a finer grind and try again, shot pull is still fast but there is the first noticeable change since having the machine.  Espresso is still bloody awful but there was a hint of crema and the pull took 10 seconds.  After a bit of fun and some dialling in the pour started to get closer to the 25 second mark and real crema emulsion is flowing from the portafilter.

So, in summary, the change of the basket has made a hell of a difference and I can now taste my espresso and get a really good pour.  I didn’t realise that you truly can have floral notes, hints of caramel, blackcurrent flavours all mixed in with the brown coffee liquid.  I think regulating the OPV has helped but the biggest difference has been using the machine as intended with the correct basket.  Why Gaggia supply them like this I will never know as it is impossible to make an espresso with the POD baskets.  Maybe Gaggia know better and there is a knack but I can’t find it and my coffee taste like never before now the machine is like it was originally designed.

Hope this is of use to some of you.


Modifying Gaggia Classic OPV to 9 Bar

This week I decided that, to pass the time, I would modify my Gaggia Classic in pursuit of the “God Shot”.  Now by all means I will be years from my “God Shot” as I barely understand the variation in beans, freshness, grind, the requirements of temperature and all manner of tamping skills.  However, I know that my machine has been delivered ready for POD compatibility and the Internet more or less commands me to reset the OPV (Over Pressure Valve).

Previously I have discovered that my Gaggia Classic came delivered with baskets which are specific to using POD’s.  This in itself set me back a few months as because I have never had a Coffee machine before I did not realise that there was anything wrong with these baskets.  When researching why my shots were so poor I came across a description of how the Portafilter basket should look and realised that I should have many holes in the bottom of my basket not just 1 and a plastic frother.

So I ordered a new basket from coffeehit this was promptly delivered and I put this in machine.  My shots changed instantly and although far from perfect the taste changed instantly.  They also flowed very fast even on the finest grind of my Gaggia MDF.  (I will post something about this issue, here)

Walk-through of Modification to Gaggia Classic

(CAUTION All of the things that I describe in this walk-through are of my own doing and will have invalidated any warranty I have with Gaggia, I am fully aware of the risks and Hazards.  If you decide to try to replicate any of the described modifications you do so at your own risk and I cannot take any responsibility for your actions or any injuries, damage and any other outcome due to you performing the modifications and the risks you expose yourself to (Electricity, Water, High Temperature Metal))

  1. Hopefully no one is reading this without knowing that this is purely an experiment and my Gaggia Classic is now an engineering toy.
  2. Ensure that the Gaggia Classic is disconnected from the Electricity supply and that the Machine is has been allowed to cool for 1 hour. (Machine gets to over 100 Degrees Celsius and can cause severe burning to skin.  Ideally only attempt after leaving machine off for several hours)
  3. Remove the lid to the Gaggia Classic by removing the two Philips Screws on the top
  4. Remove the Earth wire from the cover whilst lifting the cover away from the Main unit

    (Optical illusion here due to Stainless Steel, but remove clip by depressing the “tang” and pulling on the crimp)
  5. Locate the Over Pressure Valve (OPV), centre of the unit with rubber tube, for return, leaving through the top and high pressure line from pump entering from the left through red Bung (as viewed from rear of Gaggia Classic)
  6. Remove the Overflow tube from the top of the OPV, do not try to touch any other tube.
  7. Using 17mm socket or 17mm Spanner, carefully remove the the OPV cover by unscrewing Anti-clockwise (CAUTION: The 17mm head is made from soft metal and using a spanner may lead to damage to the Nut head)
  8. Here is the OPV with the Adjustable 5mm Hex pressure control visible, there will be water present
  9. Insert the 5mm Hex key and turn the Anticlockwise 270 degrees.  (This was a setting initially found after trawling the forums, some further tinkering can be done if this initial setting is not enough)
  10. Now perform the actions in reverse to put the Gaggia Classic back together, remembering to connect the overflow tube onto the OPV
  11. Reconnect the Earth lead to the cover and replace the cover onto the Gaggia Classic
  12. Test the machine by reconnecting the Electrical supply and trying to pull a shot

Observations / Comments

  1.  I have performed the modification on the commonly posted 270 Degree’s anti-clockwise technique.  I have not used a pressure gauge.
  2. However, I have tested using the flow technique.  This involves putting the overflow from the OPV into an empty glass and measuring the amount of flow over 30 seconds with the Portafilter blanked (i.e. blocked)  To block the portafilter, either get a special portafilter or press the steam button which actuates the 3 way valve and perform the same function.  This is not perfect, because each valve and pump combination will have differing overflow volumes.  You are looking for ~125ml in 30 seconds.
  3. When I got close to these values I then tested the espresso by pulling a shot and checking it’s formation and flow.


The modification has made a phenomenal difference to the taste of my espresso shots and I have been getting far better flavour and consistency.  Also my pour is taking around 25 seconds rather than 15 before.

I’m using very fresh beans, 1 week since roasting, and still have the MDF set to the lowest setting, this has surprised me, however if I don’t I get horrid espresso.  (I get the feeling this is where my next research should be focussed)

This did take numerous tweaks of the OPV valve and I think I ended up nearly 400 degree’s anti-clockwise of the factory setting point.  Each valve will be different due to the pump, valve combinations.

I have been very poor in my measuring of pressure and I know that I may well not be getting 9 Bar.  Therefore I will have to modify my portafilter and measure the pressure at the Brew Head to find anymore improvements.

Overall it’s been a fun experience and my espresso has improved.  Within a few more years I may get good at it.


Installing a NAS for the home

Netgear RND2110 ReadyNAS Duo v2 2-Bay 1TB (1x 1TB) NAS Drive

So a family member has been asking where and how they can store all there thousands of images so that the whole family can view them in any room.  Now I am by no means a network expert or an IT guru, but I do enjoy the world of IT and networking and trying to use technology to provide the solutions that are adequate for the people asking.

So, in this case the desires were:

  • Ability to store and view images in a common place,
  • Store home videos and view over network,
  • Have a common repository for music,
  • Relatively Quiet,
  • Minimal Maintenance,
  • Enough capacity and some built in backup,
  • Cheap but off the shelf, so value for money

After an amount of research and delectation I decided that the best option for this was going to be the Netgear RND2110 ReadyNAS Duo v2 which from ebuyer was under £200 with 1TB included.  However, what made it even better value was a second 1TB drive included at no additional cost.  A web form was filled in and a drive was sent directly to the same address as the NAS Drive.

In summary the device is:

  • Marvell 1.6Ghz CPU
  • 2 Serial ATA channels
  • Compatible with SATA and SATA II HDD
  • Hot-swappable trays
  • 10/100/1000 Ethernet
  • 1 USB 2.0 port
  • 3 USB 3.0 ports
  • Embedded 64 MB flash memory for OS
  • Supports Windows, Mac, Linux/UNIX Clients
  • Setup wizard and easy browser-based interface
  • NETGEAR Auto-Expandable X-RAID



The installation was very simple.

  1. The extra terabyte was simple fixed into its cage and installed into the machine before I even booted the machine.
  2. Connected the Gigabit Ethernet port to the Netgear Switch which distributes the network.
  3. Plugged the RND2110 power socket into mains supply and pushed power switch to start
  4. Followed instructions delivered with the RND2110 to login via RAIDiater web-based software.
  5. Set NAS name and administritive password.
  6. DONE….  (The RND2110 then booted and automatically formatted the 2nd disk drive in the background)

Straightaway the drive was visible on the Home network and services, such as the DLNA media streaming server, were already running and I was able to see the NAS drive on the PS3 and also the uPNP compatible mobile phones on the wireless network.  Also the drive could be mapped to a windows machine using the admin password.


A few things to mention are:

  1. This NAS is only to be used as a home server for a family to share all of their media, therefore no specific logins were created.
  2. The need for security is relatively low as the home network is protected by a system which allows no inbound traffic and uses a dynamic IP.  All the users on the home network are able to look at the content so creating further shares for media was not required.  (All networks are breakable but with all the Firewalls up and the Router allowing no inbound traffic this is the normal for a home network)
  3. I don’t know how much of a difference is makes but I allocated a static internal network IP address for the NAS drive so that it is easy to find and service if required.  Also it makes it easier if any of the internal clients require an IP address for the servers.


The only problem I had was displaying the video on the PS3 but this appeared to be more of a router issue.  Once reset and the static IP assigned the performance enhanced.  (There was a recommendation to alter the MTU from 1500 to 1436 but this didn’t make any noticeable difference)

I think the Video streaming is seriously impacted by having a relatively cheap router being used as a switch and also connection using wireless.  The maximum speed is wired 100MBPS and then most items connect using 54G Wifi, so it’s all rather slow.  A gigabit switch and wired connections would improve the perf0rmance no end I’m sure.

So far it all works and my family member is happy with the solution and the fact they just copy and paste what they want where.