Freesteel Blog » 2017 » May

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 at 6:11 pm - - Flightlogger, Hang-glide

First, here’s a picture of me and my cheezy grin high up in wave over Wether Fell with about a dozen other gliders last Sunday


I was able to generate my incomplete Tephigram as before to illustrate the warm dry air encountered way up there.


Unfortunately, the fancy Python tephigram software released by the MetOffice doesn’t work for me as it’s designed to plot graphs that go ten times higher in the atmosphere.

Tephigram is short for “Temperature” and “Entropy/phi” plot and was invented in 1915. I don’t understand all of it yet. But this science goes back a long way.


Thursday, May 18th, 2017 at 4:25 pm - - Flightlogger

We’ve had fun in the past updating the software on the Sonoff S20 mains adapter plug which has a relay switch and an ESP8266 with enough power to run MicroPython and connect to your WiFi, but I realized that we had to go further.

Not only is the software on these mains plugs inevitably out of date for your latest networked IOT needs, requiring you to immediately replace itin order to make it do clever things, but the microcontroller itself won’t be any good. What if you want to use a Raspberrypi, an Arduino or an ESP32?


So I got Tom to design a cheap componentwise mains switch with four wires: Ground, 5V power (good for most microcontrollers), Switch-Pin (to throw the relay, which works with 3V), and Current Flow (an analog pin).

Don’t worry about the voltage, I said. We know what the voltage is, on a cycle between 0 and 240V which we can sample and add up.

Turns out it’s not quite so simple.


The ACS712 current sensor reads 2.5V with zero current and goes towards 0V and 5V depending on the direction and magnitude of flow.

I tried it with the fan and the desk lamp.


Fortunately we have an oscilloscope in the hackspace.

At first I didn’t think it was working, but then it turned out that these devices don’t draw much current. You can see the shallow A/C signal.

You get a proper big sine wave when you plug in the kettle.

And then you get lots of spare hot water and brew yourself a cup of tea.

I found an electric drill on the proxxon mini mill


And its trace involved these little humps in either direction.


It’s almost as if it’s only bothering to draw current when the mains power goes above 150V.

Here is the trace from the computer power supply and the LCD monitor.


This seems to pick up current only when it goes below 20V on the return to zero part of the cycle, like it trims off just the tail of the A/C cycle and blocks the rest of the flow. I guess if it was in a 110V power supply it would take a bigger chunk of it.

So that shows I was completely wrong. We need to know the voltage, or at least have an interrupt pin the fires when it crosses the zero threshold, wherein we can recreate the cycle using a sine wave.

Annoyingly an ESP8266 has only one analog input pin, so we’d need an additional analog to digital converter, but the interrupt pin idea, or one that is up or down above a certain voltage would do the job at the minimum.

It does mean we can form an interesting signature of each of your devices.

Most electronic devices with switch mode transformers are going to have a fairly consistent pattern of chopping out the waveforms (I wonder what the consequences of this are on the grid), but something more complex like the washing machine will have heating, pumps and spin cycles which ought to be distinguishable.

We can put the whole thing into a single package with a modern ESP8266 microcontroller with its 4Mbs of flash memory to keep records in order to find out what’s going on. Smart meters should mean you don’t need to write anything down.

Just plug it in, say what it is, and it will build up a table of what it is. Even saying what things are is a pain, so put a disposable RFID onto your appliances and wave the smart socket at it before you plug it in. This product does all the thinking for you and builds up a dashboard of your energy consumption portfolio rather like your pension investment plan — except in this case the numbers are real and you can do something about them. It’s not some fictional investments that are going to be stripped from you at the next engineered crisis in order to cover up for the fact that the whole system is bankrupt.

I mean, goddamnit, why is it easier to find out the stock trading price of General Motors Series Z shares in Chicago than the total electricity use of my washing machine on a full cycle? What kind of a misplaced set of priorities do we have here. Let’s get this thing working.

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017 at 2:40 pm - - Flightlogger

My theory is that airspeed is related to kinetic energy. Like a person walking up and down a train, the airmass provides the reservoir of momentum and energy so that it all adds up.

The balance of kinetic energy when walking in a train has always bothered me. If the train is moving at a velocity v then your body’s kinetic energy is m*v^2/2 while seated in the train. If you walk in the towards the front of the train at walking speed w your kinetic energy will be m*(v+w)^2/2 and if you walk towards the back of the train your energy will be m*(v-w)^2/2. That means the difference in kinetic energy going forwards is m*v*w + m*w^2/2 and going back is -m*v*w + m*w^2/2.

The m*w^2/2 is your kinetic energy from walking on a stationary ground. But how do we account for the +-m*v*w?

Well, it turns out that if the train has mass M then, by the conservation of momentum, when you start walking up the train at velocity w the train must slow down by a factor of w*m/M where M is the mass of the train. This tiny tiny decrease in the train’s velocity releases kinetic energy of about w*m/M*M*v, which accounts for that factor. (I’m ignoring lower order terms that take account of the fact that your forward velocity is not actually v+w because you need to subtract off for the slightly slower train.)

Air is not the same as a train — an enormous solid object to which one can directly transmit kinetic energy and momentum — but we’ll treat it as such until I can think of it in a better way to handle it.

To illustrate the difference, here’s my top landing at Camlo Hill which transmitted a good deal of momentum via a dent in the ground.



Monday, May 8th, 2017 at 6:49 pm - - Flightlogger, Hang-glide

I’m getting tired of having “learning experiences” when I really want more “fun experiences”. But in the meantime, here goes.

On 2017-04-29 I was at the hang-gliding competition on Camlo hill in Wales, where I didn’t take any thermals over the back — like the folks who knew what they were doing — and I landed back on the top with nil points and little satisfaction.

For this learning experience, I downloaded the tracklog of one of the guys who did make it and snipped out the first 12kms of flight, like so:


Direction of flight north is to the right (start of flight bottom left near (0,0)), the coordinates are in metres.

Having convinced myself I can extract the SRTM3 terrain, this is the graph of the flight altitude from the hill for those 12km against the terrain altitude:


Or you can plot the actual height above ground by subtracting the two:


This looks like he was circling with a pretty consistent height of 350m as the air mass was carried up and down over the terrain, in a “bubble” of rising air.

Except there is no way this could be a bubble, because even if the bubble extended all the way to the ground 350m below, it would have certainly been been expended in less than 6 minutes at a rate of 1 metre per second to support an efficiently flying glider.

After 25 minutes of existence, we can rule out that it has anything to do with any packets of warmed air which may have risen from the ground 12kms to the south.

“Ah,” the usual response goes, “the glider was flying in a chain of thermic bubbles along the track of the flight, each one rising up just in time to pick up from where the last left off.”

This explanation is bogus. I don’t seem to pick up thermic bubbles that easily along my track, while the pilot that stayed with the thermal reported a continuously existing atmospheric formation which strengthened and subsided, but was always there.

I also don’t buy the idea that this structure is somehow kicking off thermic bubbles on the ground 350m below at least five minutes downwind of its track in time to reach his altitude.

No, this must be a self-contained, self-sustaining convection structure that may have been initiated by a thermic bubble, but which has clearly morphed into something altogether different.