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Mike Leahy's Diary

Day 6: Accurate Weighing Balance - First Day of Filming

Last night Mikey B and I had a sauna and chilled out in the spa bath instead of going to the local bar. Consequently I am out of bed by 7.15 without my characteristic ‘Rough Science headache'. Jack Frost has been here big time and the ground is white. It is still fairly dark, and with very little light pollution from the small town of Franz Josef the stars are brilliant, even in the dawn sky. Inland I can see the snow-covered mountains glowing as the sun still skulks under the eastern horizon. It is a beautiful morning and I know that the first ‘task' of the day would be a helicopter ride.

Helicopter trip to the old sawmillmountains and lake
What a way to start filming. After a brief safety talk (which for once made sense) I pile into a helicopter with Kate, Kathy and camera man Derek. Kathy wants to sit by the window but as I am a whole lot bigger I would have hid her from the camera, so I was put there. I sit in a trance as we weave between peaks and fly low over the Glacier. In the distance I see a thin wisp of` smoke coming from the chimney of a scruffy looking hut. It is our destination - an old sawmill built years ago on a thin ribbon of flat land between the mountains and the sea. We circle a couple of times so that Kate could film a ‘piece to camera' and introduction before we land. It is about the most enjoyable flight I've ever experienced. Good start!

the sawmillWhen I look around the sawmill I am in heaven (almost). The main building and outhouses are full of weird machines, clapped out cars, motorbikes and home made ‘Mad Max' vehicles. Cool! Judging by the graffiti the place has been home to petrol heads for generations. It is now a little cold, but very sunny. We have a warm tearoom heated by a wood-burning stove, plenty of tea and a comfy old sofa. I look out of the window. What a view. We even have a clapped out old pushbike – soon fix that.

The Challenges
OK, so to work. Ellen and Mikey get to pan for gold - cool as long as the weather holds. J is asked to build a metal detector from old radios and I have to weigh any gold that the gold panners find. Surely that's got to be dead easy.

Scales Design
I quickly knock up a hangman type contraption so that we can suspend a set of scales like those on the Old Bailey. Kathy constructs wire baskets in which saucers could be suspended. These are hung under each end of a thick piece of gas welding wire. I soon give up on the idea because they fall apart if they become unbalanced and there isn't really enough work for two people.

Kathy and scalesAs there is a razor blade in the kit that we were given I guess that we are supposed to use it. The razor blade will make a very accurate fulcrum with next to no friction, so I make a set of very accurate scales which are based on the traditional ‘kitchen scales' type design. In order to help weigh very light weights I calibrate the arms in 5 cm increments. This means that if a 1g reference weight is placed 5 cm from the fulcrum it would be balanced by 0.1g of gold placed 50 cm away from the fulcrum on the other side of the scales. In theory I thought that we could measure weights down to about one fortieth of a gram, which should be good enough even if Mikey and Ellen have a hard time at the river. A problem I have to overcome is cancelling out the effect of any container that the gold is weighed in, but it is a minor problem which I leave until later. A more pressing problem is finding a reference weight.

We were given a 500g bag of sugar in the kit, but this is far too big to use as a weight unless Mikey and Ellen are very lucky. Dividing the sugar will be difficult because we could lose some, so I fill a cardboard tube and measure how much room 500g sugar takes up. As it happens the length of tube filled is exactly a metre. Therefore a 1 cm length of tube contains 5g sugar. This is a bit rough and ready, and leaves room for massive errors, so I decide to take a 5 cm length (25 grams) and place it in a smaller diameter tube so that I can get an accurate 1g weight. I don't have time on day one, so leave it until day two.

Night Filmingeating evening meal
During Rough Science III we are to be filmed in the evening as we eat a meal prepared by our charismatic and very skilled chef, Ricky. We are supposed to ignore the camera and behave naturally, which to a bunch of media tarts such as ourselves should be dead easy, but the over-acting is PAINFUL.

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Photo: Mike Leahy
Metal Detector Interactive