Thursday, July 27th, 2017 at 12:45 pm - - Hang-glide

Before I dampened and broke my brand new computer by keeping it overnight in the tent I was trying some simulations of Kalman filters derived from open source implementations in order to get a handle on the overly complex mathematical formulations of this technology in, say, one dimensional filter data.

It appears that the one dimensional kalman filter is a worthless beast that obscures a simple trivial exponential filter behind it.
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Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 at 10:05 am - - Hang-glide

Sometimes things you’ve always dreamed of happening grab you by pure chance.

beckabefore3

I could have organized this event at great expense in England on some boring ridge soaring ridge, but I got unlucky during a competition, and then got real lucky to do this.

At the start of the day I was mixing it up at cloud-base with all these competition hang-gliders.

beckabefore1

And then 20 minutes later I got found out and scraped down into a wheat field 10kms to the north of take-off.

beckabefore2

Luckily one of the other competition pilots came down near me, and his retrieve driver (who, unlike my retrieve drivers isn’t more often retrieved by the pilot than the correct way round) picked us both up, and I persuaded them to take me up to the top of the hill for one last flight on Monte Cucco at the end of the holiday.

And just then, Becka was about to take off on her tandem flight which we had been rescheduling day after day during the week.

Her tandem flight lasted long enough for me to completely rig my glider, take off, and climb up to them close enough for a wave.

Later, I carried on flying for too long and landed in the field while they were trying to give the prize giving. This was delayed because of me as they needed my tracklog from my crappy flight before they could officially calculate and release the figures.

When I finally showed up I was invited to stand on the winners podium and be humiliated in front of everyone while the contest scorer squirted a water pistol at me.

Becka does not have a photo.

Saturday, July 15th, 2017 at 11:08 am - - Weekends

Becka needed a holiday after the hardship of being near a hang-gliding competition, so we abandoned the car behind the hostel and got a lift to Fossato which had direct trains to Rome Termina for 11 Euros each.

Here’s us waiting on the wrong platform, proving that we don’t know the Italian for: “The platform for the train to Rome has changed.”

romefossato

The very first off-the-street up-the-stairs hotel we walked into put us both up for 100 Euros for two nights. We got lucky. We were both hot and bothered, so I snoozed on the bed while Becka went out and used up some excess energy and sweat for no particularly productive reason.

Then we had a beer and went out for some undiluted touristing.
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Friday, July 14th, 2017 at 2:07 pm - - Kayak Dive

I had a recollection that some people complained bitterly about how bitterly cold they were at some points during the winter. Why didn’t we leave the country and move somewhere hot? they moaned.

Within one minute of rolling up at the campsite in somewhere hot, in Banjole near Pula in Croatia, the complaints about never wanting to be taken somewhere that was too hot began streaming like sweat.

We put on our swimsuits, fins, masks and snorkels and swam round Fratarski Island, because I’d read of afternoon kayaking/snorkeling tours involving caves and fish and stuff like that in this place.

We saw sea cucumbers, squads of fish and rocks in the very clear blue water, and froze ourselves to the bone, especially when swimming down more than two metres past the thermocline.

Then we got out and felt too hot again.

The local dive operator (of which there are many) offered lots of dive sites below 30m, which we thought were too deep for us at our present state of being out of practice. Also, to be honest, we are cheapskates.

On the second day of this outrageous beach holiday hell we cycled to the end of the Kamenjak peninsula and went for to the east of the Safari Bar.

First there is a small cave above the waterline. Then there are some swim throughs under arches among the rocks three metres below the water surface. If you keep going you get to a cliff where people jump in, and just on the other side is a swim-into cave with a few cms of air space at the entrance that ends with a nice long swim through to the outside. We followed a dozen Croatians into here and there was quite a commotion among them when a jellyfish was seen below the water among their thrashing feet.

We got out, walked back, tried doing another snorkel off Cap Kamenjak, which wasn’t half as good and turned up only a few stingrays on the sandy floor that were dead.

We returned for an ice cream and drove onwards to the Soca valley in Slovenia.

But I thought this looked like a good place for some kayak diving. If only someone local actually did it around here. It would be a bit crazy doing it an unusual way in a place that is far away from your home. It’s easier to bend the rules when you are at home because you are at least familiar with them and know how they work. In spite of this, I am told that Croatia is not exotic enough for a diving holiday.

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 at 4:32 pm - - Canyon, Hang-glide

I sneaked in a couple of gorgeous flights in between canyonning adventures with Becka in the last three days.

On the 8th July, while staying at Tramoniti di Sotto we did the canyons Torrent La Foce and Rio Carlo Gasparini in the morning (the latter of which is not in Si Flower’s book and should be), followed by Becka driving me up and leaving me behind on top of the hill above Meduno (Italy).

As usual, very few of the photos were any use. This is from La Foce.

And this is from Gasparini, selected based on a tip-off from 4lander.it website listed in a canyoning leaflet.

The canyon ends by joining the much larger Torrente Arzino where you bob along in the swiftly flowing blue-green crystal clear water until the climbing out point. Magical.

This is my BWG (boring white glider, which describes the top surface) on behind the Meduno takeoff. As I explained to Becka, I would be consumed by jealousy if I saw one of these and didn’t have one of my own.

And here it is being boring and white in the bottom landing field with no bent aluminium. For once I timed the flare perfectly and landed on my feet like a pro. Boy was I grinning.

meduno

The next day (9th July) we did Torrente Cosa, which passes through the property of the showcave Grotte di Pradis (see the walkways in the background). The canyoneer’s advice is to write a note in Italian saying what you are doing and hand it in at the showcave so they don’t get annoyed at people unexpectedly traipsing through, but the man in the ticket booth didn’t really know what to make of it and waved us away.

Cosa had one scary bit where I abseiled into a cauldron of water in a dark cavey section and couldn’t easily fight past the swirling current while dangling on the rope.

Then we had a late lunch before the long drive to Camp Gabrje near Tolmin.

The next day we cycled over for a quick tour of the relatively underwhelming and costly Tolmin Gorges before I caught the taxi up to the top of the Kobala takeoff.

tolmintop

The lift looked weak. For a while there was a wall of paragliders directly in front of takeoff and none getting higher. Then I saw two birds circling behind them, waited for a gap, and then thermalled directly up to cloudbase.

I lost it all crossing over to the next ridge to the West where I soared ineffectively for the rest of the afternoon not daring to venture into the mountains behind. I’d never been here before and hadn’t looked at a map. The wings felt totally natural on me. I’ve really grown to like them.

tolminlanding

And for a second time in a row, I landed on my feet with no bent aluminium.

Then I had a 45 minute walk back to the campsite in the sweltering humid heat to pack up the tent, fetch the car, drive back to the landing field, pick up my glider, and then go on a chase after Becka who was busy road-cycling to the Italian border via Bovec.

I’ve made a habit of having to retrieve my retrieve driver.

Now we are at Expo base camp in Austria where Becka is going to do a lot of caving and I am going to make myself bored until I start doing the chores that I have been putting off until now. Which includes writing up my logbook, blogging and looking at forgotten flight data.

Sunday, June 25th, 2017 at 8:16 pm - - Hang-glide

It’s been the fourth day of hang-gliding in a row and the first of the competition. My god today was something. The comp is at Monte Cucco, and the drill is you drive up the hill and get set a task in the form of a series of GPS coordinates with cylinder radii around them, and your job is to race from one to another and tag each one. Your track log verifies your score.

This is quite different from free flying, because you are forced to go to places you wouldn’t naturally go to if you were following the air — and get back from them.

Here is what the course looked like against the terrain map:

flightmap

This leaves out all the forests, cliffs, canyons, sprawling suburbs at the base of the mountains and power lines. The beginning of the journey was absolutely terrifying because any escape routes to lower ground were into wind and unlandable. You had to learn to trust the ridge lift.

I didn’t trust it, and instead spent the first 30 minutes wheeling around these scary wind turbines on take off unable to find a satisfactory way on.

windmills

Then the clouds really began suck and I raced back north to the second turn-point. The third point was the landing field. There was such an uprushing of air in the valley I could not get down. Well I did eventually, by pulling all sorts of stunts (tight circles) that are the exact opposite of efficient gliding. Then, when I gave it a rest for too long, the air sucked me right back up again.

Hang-gliding is a sport for turning long pieces of aluminium into short pieces of aluminium. That happened yesterday when I broke an upright. I have no more spares. Today I got away with skinning my knees (I’m wearing trousers from now on). Clearly I do not deserve to fly this higher performance glider (a Wills Wing U2) since landing is the compulsory part of every flight.

It’s 9pm now. I’m finding I don’t really give a damn about anything else, eg reading and answering emails, or thinking about work. It’s too hot here even if I wasn’t flying.

Bed time.

Monday, June 19th, 2017 at 2:17 pm - - Whipping

Quick pre-holiday blogpost when I should be packing. A couple of things in the past few days.

Firstly, I tried to help out in a small way on the LibDem campaign to hold the Parliamentary seat of Southport. In spite of hundreds of hours of canvassing (mostly knocking on doors of people their database said were supporters) their being demoted to third from first place came as a complete surprise on the night. It seems no one, including me, had thought to look up the polling estimates that looked like this:

yousouth

I put a lot of the failure down to the assumptions embedded into their expensive Obama-campaign based software ngpvan where its fundamental error is expressed in its selling pitch at minute 0:38 thus:

Campaign tech 101:
The Key to a Successful Campaign depends on ONE THING:
Your Supporters

No no no no NO!!!

The key to a successful business may depend on one thing: your customers.

But the key to a successful campaign within our could-not-be-more-shitty first past the post electoral system depends on one thing:

That no one else gets more votes than you!

The massive canvassing and leafletting effort may have added a few hundred votes onto the outcome, which would have made a difference had it been close. But afterwards it is important therefore to subtract those votes back off the final tally when estimating next time how far you have to go to win it. Unfortunately, this control variable is usually forgotten from the equation.

If we had a decent proportional representation electoral system, then maybe your own supporters would matter equally, and the national party would run some kind of franchise system around the country where they gave us a target of how many votes we were expected to get given the local circumstances. In the same way that a Mercedes dealer in Kent should have a higher sales target than one in West Wales.

Speaking of which, I then went to the vote count in Liverpool, where it was quite depressing to watch as the Green Party vote dropped by 80% and tens of thousands of votes were piled on to the majorities of our wretched pack of Merseyside Labour MPs who have spent the last two years fighting against Corbyn and all of his popular policies by the Corbyn surge.

As an example, take my own warmongering MP Louise Ellman, who is head of the Transport Select Committee which produced a report as recently as February 2017

Riverside MP Louise Ellman has said the Government’s management of the railways is “not fit for purpose.”

The chairman of the transport select committee said passengers and the general public are running out of patience with rail companies thanks to poor performances, rising fares, overcrowding and late-running services – and has now called for an independent review.

Her committee reported: “The current model fails to deliver for passengers, to drive industry efficiencies, promote competition, reduce the taxpayer subsidy or transfer financial risk to the private sector.”

Yet when pressed by the news presenter on the radio at the time, she flat out refused to consider renationalization as an option whatsoever, even though this is now on the Corbyn Labour Party Manifesto and most members of the public approves of it.

These New Labour ideological capitalist clowns had 13 years to fully renationalize the railways when they were in government. After a series of huge train crashes caused by cost cutting and maladministration of the engineering and then a total bankruptcy, they took ownership of the tracks — only because they couldn’t find any other company whom they could bribe to own it. On the other hand, the railway franchises keep being bunged back into the private sector over and over again at great expense, when they could easily be rolled back into the public sector and managed efficiently as the contracts lapse. But allowing this as an option proves that it could have been done 10 years ago, and that they are complete dimwits — which they totally are. Rather than get with the program, they far prefer to waste our time, spend our money and lose elections that admit that it’s possible for this policy to change.

Meanwhile in the Microshaft Word Department

I came up with a nifty idea to scrape the comments tagged into a Word document and output them formatted in an excel spreadsheet.

While looking around for the tech to do this (OMG Powershell is shite) I discovered this gem:

3 effective methods to extract comments from a word document

Each of the three methods takes about 12 steps and generally you wind up with the content in some XPS file in a format you don’t want where you have to do as much cut-and-pasting as if you did it to each of the comments individually.

The article ends with this fine summary:

File Loss Happens All the Time
To sum up, in this article, we discussed 3 methods to extract comments. Yet two of them involves saving file in other formats. This operation definitely increases the risk of damaging files. So when it happens, you need to recover Word doc with a specialized tool.

You can’t believe how anyone puts up with this. Mind-boggling. It’s like watching treatment for blood loss with leeches.

Then I went to Tailbridge on Saturday when it was too sunny and flew around for 3 hours along a short 500m of ridge not getting more than 150m off the deck until I got sick.

pic2

pic3

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 at 3:28 pm - - Flightlogger

I don’t know why I refrained from looking into hacking the XCSoar flight software that I have on the phone that’s bolted to the stick to which I’ve hot-glued my temperature and orientation sensor technology.

It is now the ugliest piece of electronic junk in flight today.

sensorset

But the fact that the Air-Where project seemed to have done something amazing in the last year with Lora networks and an ESP8266 to display all your flying buddies onto the same flight map as the airspace without my noticing indicated that I had some catching up to do.

Even working full time on this I can’t remotely keep up with the tech.

Here’s some of the stuff I learned in the last couple of days.

It’s hard to believe, but there’s enough vol libre hacker capacity in Europe to squander it on two completely independent open source flight computer projects, XCSoar and LK8000 which got forked acrimoniously from one another back in 2009.

And merrily they have been implementing the same things as each other over and again (see below).

I’ve downloaded and built both systems from source, following the Make instructions. (I’m terrible at OS stuff like Make; the code is in C++ and if I do anything it’ll have to be blind and without a debugger.)

The XCSoar code seems marginally more hackable at the moment, but I should check I can deploy the Android version. (Getting all this C++ stuff to run on a Java phone environment with a bunch of different sensors is an amazing achievement.) Most people go with Kobos, but I can’t cope with the lack of colour and it looks like it’s got even more difficult Operating System problems I don’t have time to learn about.

The architecture of XCSoar is given as follows:

xcsoardataflow

The key therefore is the NMEA data stream, which the XCSoar program can point to as one of its inputs.

So, in the case of Air-Where, they’ve used an ESP8266 to connect to a Kobo or Notepad computer as a standard wifi hotspot (like I’ve been doing with my other ESP8266 projects) and somehow obtaining a stream of data composed of NMEA statements through a port called /dev/ttymxc0.

The most common source of NMEA is the GPS unit, like so:

$GPRMC,164742.682,A,5324.1915,N,00257.8000,W,10.96,098.82,190115,,,A*4e

I did not know this was part of an extended language, but it turns out there’s an air collision avoidance FLARM protocol in NMEA form as well.

According to the manual:

$PFLAA,0,-1234,1234,220,2,DD8F12,180,-4.5,30,-1.4,1*

is read as:

There is a glider in the south-east direction, 1.7km away (1.2km south, 1.2km east), 220m higher flying on south track with a ground speed of 30m/s in a slight left turn with 4.5°/s turning rate, sinking with 1.4m/s. Its ID is a static FLARM-ID “DD8F12″. There is no danger.

The final number before the * is <AcftType> and it is chosen from the following real list:

0=unknown; 1=glider/motor-glider; 2=tow/tug plane; 3=helicopter/rotorcraft; 4=parachute; 5=drop plane for parachutes; 6=hang-glider (hard); 7=para-glider (soft); 8=powered aircraft; 9=jet aircraft; 10=flying saucer (UFO); 11=balloon; 12=airship; 13=unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV); 15=static object

Well, it’s good to know that if you want a softer bump you should go for the paraglider rather than the crunchier hang-glider.

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Monday, June 5th, 2017 at 11:52 am - - Hang-glide

Some friendly competition in Derbyshire between hangies and paragliders on Saturday meant I got to witness the scale, organization and infrastructure of the paragliders — which included following me on xcrt.aero and being at the nearest road before I’d even had time to pick myself off the ground.

Then I was in the car for an hour as they drove madly up and down the M1 taking wrong turnings in an effort to collect three other paragliders strewn in the area.

Motto: write the logbook on the day and edit the video as quick as possible without wasting too much time.

My flight datalogger failed to record anything, so I can’t see if my thermal detector collected any signals.

Not that I had any spare brain capacity. For two hours I was continually trying to visualize and feel the structure of the air convection wafts while making constant adjustments to my circling.

I’m also learning how to stay in very weak air where you are gradually losing height — but at a slower rate than if you were on a desperate glide to nowhere — which moves you forward in time for something else to develop. It’s like skipping a turn in a card game.

Here’s a screen-grab of the livetrack24 view of my flight, which receives updates from an app running on your mobile phone.

livetrack

This is not to be confused with the latest AirWhere technology thing, also done by the paragliders recently which create an ad-hoc Lorawan network among themselves that displays their distance and climb rates of your neighbours on the network.

A small amount of additional calculation and they’ll be able to circle the ones who are in thermals you should fly to and join. This helps people haven’t learnt how to judge distances, times and glide angles.

I just cannot keep up with the tech.

Here’s some plots that I did salvage the data.

flightterrain

flightterrainside

Friday, June 2nd, 2017 at 3:32 pm - - Hang-glide

This is the follow-on of my Loser Plateau article of last year in Skywings magazine.

4 page PDF version

I should find something new to write about next time. Now that I am flying my BWG (Boring White Glider), which is a more advanced U2 I got second hand off Tim who no longer needs it because he’s got a whole hang-glider factory. Helen the bright orange HSMWorks glider is a Sport2, and I’m not ready to let go of her yet.

swp1

swp2

swp3

swp4