Freesteel Blog » Julian

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 2:51 pm - - Whipping

Page 332 of Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path has the following passage (rewritten for readability):

In the early 1960s I was commissioned by a Japanese patron to design one of my tetrahedronal floating cities for Tokyo Bay.

Floating cities are designed with the most buoyantly stable conformation of deep-see bell-buoys. Their omni-surface-terraced, slope-faced, tetrahedronal structuring is employed to avoid the lethal threat of precipitous falls from sheer high-rise buildings.

The tetrahedron has the most surface with the least volume of all polyhedra. As such it provides the most possible “outside” living. Its sloping external surface is adequate for all its occupants to enjoy their own private, outside, tiered-terracing, garden homes. These are most economically serviced from the common, omni-nearest-possible center of volume of all polyhedra.

In 1966 my Japanese patron died and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development commissioned me to carry out a full design and economic analysis for potential USA use. With my associates I completed the design and study as well as a scaled-down model.

The city of Baltimore was interested in acquiring the first such floating city for anchorage just offshore in Chesapeake Bay. At this time President Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic Party went out of power. President Johnson took the model with him and installed it in his LBJ Texas library. Baltimore’s politicians went out of favour with the Nixon administration, and the whole project languished.

That’s interesting, I thought, and looked for information about it at the LBJ presidential library.

I couldn’t find any record of a model, but I did get this transcript of an oral history interview with, I think, one of the White House staffers.

Liz [Carpenter] (press secretary to the formidable First Lady) and I had a fascinating afternoon. Charlie Haar, assistant secretary of HUD (under RC Weaver), who had some money for grants for new and innovative kinds of things, had given Buckminster Fuller a grant to develop a concept and model of an offshore city, floating habitation. Bucky had done the model in terms of, I think, San Antonio. Am I right? Is that on the coast? No, no, Galveston. That’s on the coast.

Haar was intrigued by it, and he thought we’d be interested in seeing it. So over we went, and there was this great model in the hall. Mr. Fuller and Secretary Haar began explaining how it worked, and Liz looked at it and she looked at it. This was the latest and most advanced, most sophisticated concept of all integrated facilities and services and shops and schools and housing and residences and everything all piled in a great bundle out at sea where it didn’t take any land, et cetera. She said it looked like a filing case, and what kind of people were going to live in a place like that? What was going to become of them if they lived in a place like that? She was shocked with Charles Haar. In fact she was going to turn the Sierra Club loose on him if he ever surfaced this proposal anywhere. People would turn into moles and be stunted if they had to live in a filing cabinet. She thought it violated everything we’d been standing for and working for.

Poor Fuller blinked, and I think that’s one of the best things that ever happened to him. Because he’s the kind of person who’s a demigod among technocrats and innovators, and everyone pays tribute to his genius. But Liz Carpenter sure didn’t. Liz just cut him down. He began talking about the mobilty of people these days and how he lived out of a suitcase and went from hotel room to hotel room. He was always making speeches and consulting here and there, and people really just need a place to bathe and lie down for a while. This kind of facility was designed for the new mobile age. Liz said, “Well, if they don’t stay home, it’s because we haven’t given them anything to stay home for.”

Charlie began getting worried that his august consultant might be offended. Liz was so direct and so irrefutable and so to the point and so insistent that they face up to the more basic question she was asking that Charlie finally sort of pulled her over under one side of the model, and I pulled Fuller over to the other side of the model to keep them away from each other. We temporized as hard as we could, and then we got Liz in an elevator and sent her down. I sort of patted Fuller on the back and said, “Now don’t you worry, and don’t you ever forget anything she said, because you know she’s right. But don’t let it get to you.” Charlie and I rolled our eyes at each other and felt that one had distinctly backfired. I think it shows her extraordinary contribution, and I couldn’t help but be glad that she’d done it.

For a bit of context, this was the era of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project disaster, which was designed by no less than the architect of the World Trade Center buildings. Public housing is hard– especially when public administrators are politically instructed to ruin everything in their power.

A clue of the personal-social dymanics between the professions is provided in an essay entitled; The Pruitt-Igoe Myth:

Even after the architects had switched to an all high-rise scheme, they faced continued pressure from the Public Housing Administration to keep costs to a bare minimum. In a 1975 study of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s expenditures on Pruitt-Igoe, political scientist Eugene Meehan analyzed the extent to which these budget constraints affected the final design. In addition to the elimination of amenities, such as children’s play areas, landscaping, and ground-floor bathrooms, the cost cutting targeted points of contact between the tenants and the living units. “The quality of the hardware was so poor that doorknobs and locks were broken on initial use. …Windowpanes were blown from inadequate frames by wind pressure. In the kitchens, cabinets were made of the thinnest plywood possible.”

…By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions. By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty in America. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 1:27 pm - - Whipping

I’ve had a bit of a layoff for the autumn due to various issues, but strength seems to be returning. I have just finished reading Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path, which was written well before the internet or the invention of free software.

I wanted to type up an excerpt. But since the writing was so terrible I decided to edit it down extensively so you can read and get the gist more easily.

Chapter 8, Critical Path: Part Two

It was important to adopt a target date so far in the future to avoid making any of the power structures of 1927 feel their interests were threatened by what I was proposing. It was necessary to reach beyond their most forward developed visions so that my concepts would appear to be either a pleasant “pipe dream” or innocuous nonsense.

I was able to do exactly that. The most powerful people I knew found me utterly unaccreditable but “interesting” — and to some “fascinating”. This induced them to invite me to their parties to entertain their guests with my “dreaming out loud”. For this reason their press frequently gave my projects prominent publicity– because they found my concepts popularly entertaining. They published them ever more frequently and prominently, hoping for advertisements-inducing, increased readership.

I will now discuss the probable order of livingry-reoriented realization of the socioeconomic results of our already-accomplished, half-century, critical-path-artifacts development.

Approximately 60% of employed US America are working at tasks that are not producing any life support. Jobs of inspectors-of-inspectors; jobs with insurance companies that induce people to bet that their house is going to be destroyed by fire while the insurance company bets that it isn’t, and so on.

The majority of Americans reach their jobs by automobile, probably averaging four gallons a day– thereby, spending four million real cosmic-physical-Universe dollars of nature’s stored accumulated millions of years mineral wealth without producing any physical Universe life-support– which alone constitutes wealth.

We can ask a computer the question: “Should we carry on as at present, trying to politically create more of these no-wealth producing jobs, or pay everybody a handsome fellowship to stay at home.”

The answer is obvious.

But then wouldn’t all the people staying at home just continually buy all kinds of expensive things? The answer is No. Because these people will want to travel around the world, and they will quickly discover that while you can’t take it with you when you die, you also can’t take it with you around the world. They will each discover for themselves that the greatest luxury is to be able to live unencumbered while able to get any information you want in split seconds and any desirable environmental condition they want in a day.

Assuming that, as a result of technological advances with machines, we can produce adequate life-support for humanity in half the present time, present custom would say we should adopt a four-day, five-hour-per-day work week. But this would result in living in the same spot and clogging up the highways with local weekend to-and-froing. Instead I propose a few years of continuous six-day-per-week, eight-hour-per-day service as in the military or medical internship so that by the age of 38 workers will have completed their service in direct production support of humanity. With their wisdom evolved, they will have more than half their lives left to live. They will be extremely well-informed and free to initiate their own commitments to the improvement of human functioning within the eternally regenerative integrity of Universe.

Along with making it economically feasible to permit a large majority of people to remain at home in country or city, to think fearlessly and unselfishly, we will permit all children to study at home, eliminating the schoolhouse, schoolteachers. school janitors, and school-bus systems, which cost unnecessary trillions of dollars each school year. At home we shall provide each child with a private room, television set, and video-education cassettes as well as world-satellite-inter-relayed computer and controlled video-encyclopedia access. These will make it possible for any child anywhere to obtain lucidly, faithfully, and attractively presented authoritative information on any subject.

Children and grown people will be able to get their continuing intellectual education at their home terminals. They will get their social experience and tool-handling education in locally organized neighborhood activities when humans wish to converge.

Those who have attained high scholarly capability assure us that the only real education is self-education. They also say that this self-discipline is often inspired by great teachers who make it apparent that it will be worthwhile to take the trouble. The records of all great self-educated individuals show that they discern intuitively when and what it is they want to learn. Thereafter they arrange to do so by four main strategies. The first is by self-conducted experiments, if they are scientists. The second is by going to living people who have educated themselves from direct experiences. The third is to contact through books those who have discovered and learned but are now dead. Fourth, they sometimes recourse to word-of-mouth information passed from generation to generation by craftsmen-artists.

Fearful of losing their jobs, the tenured professional educators of today and all those earning a living by teaching are relentlessly fighting video. Since they can’t tell the truth about their motives, these tenured pedants rationalize, “What the children need is the personal equation.” What I’ve long observed in the movie world is that millions of human beings fall in love with heroes and heroines knowing only their photographic images cast upon a blank wall. All the “personal equation” can be transmitted with more poignancy by electronics than would ever be feasible in ordinary, personal-contact life.

After beginning to receive their home-research lifetime fellowships and trying the video educational system themselves, professors and researchers won’t protest anymore about loss of the “personal equation” in education.

With complete freedom of choice, much of humanity will begin to discover that it loves to work at tasks of its own choosing — that it loves to discipline itself to demonstrate its competence to others — that it will compete with the many to demonstrate its competence to serve on one of the multitude of production teams. There will be no pay for work. It would be like qualifying for the Olympic team to be allowed to do what you want to do. You would have to prove that you could do the job you wanted to do better than anyone else available to get onto the production teams. Permission to serve on the world’s production teams will be the greatest privilege that humanity can bestow on an individual. There is no joy equal to that of being able to work for all humanity and doing what you’re doing well.

There will be no attempt to block automation to keep human muscle and repetitive-selection jobs operative. There would be continual inspiration to invent more automation. Those who are real craftsmen are good at developing the tools-that-make-tools and love their work will be at the heart of the production teams. There will be no need to earn more because your fellowship will always get you more than you want. You won’t be able to buy any non-consumables– you will only be able to rent. If you are renting more than you can use, the system will call the excess back.

Those who love to teach and have something valuable to teach can discipline themselves to qualify for membership on the subject-scenario-writing teams or on video-cassette or disc production teams. Great scholars will thrive, whatever their fields may be. They will be free to devote their entire time to their labours of love. Vast numbers will discover that they are earnest, capable independent-research scholars. What they have to say, if unique, can become the subject of a video-cassette world-satellite-relayed encyclopedia entry.

Monday, September 18th, 2017 at 7:47 pm - - University 1 Comment »


To celebrate the upcoming move of DoESLiverpool to formerly derelict factory space, I decided to peel open the can of worms embodied by the new construction known as Sensor City — literally 8 minutes walk away.

We have a joke around the hackspace while we’re teaching one another to do epic stuff with different sensors, that they got a grant for £10million and then spent £9.999million of it on the building, leaving not one penny left for sensors.

So, effectively all the money that taxpayers were told was going to go into the goodness of high technology seems to have actually been spent on wages for bricklayers, architects and concrete mixers.

Not that I have anything on the building trade, but the whole purpose of an Industrial Strategy is to overcome the fact short term investment in buildings will always be more profitable and less risky than investment in innovation and technology, and this country seems to be run by morons who don’t know how to invest in Innovation and Technology.

Case in Point: Sensor City.

Somehow millions of pounds of national investment into this very promising emerging technology, due to its sudden cheapness and pervasiveness, got converted into an investment into a crappy building clad from ground to roof with embarrassing printed circuit board-themed glass panels.

At no point as the design passed through the hands of the great and the good of University Vice-Chancellors, Professors, Civil Servants and other well-dressed highly-paid smart people, did a single one of them probably think:

“Hey, that’s a nice piece of art. But has any one of us seen a machine that can cut real Printed Circuit Boards of the kind that can carry electronics? Maybe we should buy one for about the cost of one of these glass panels so that companies in region can get their prototypes as rapidly as those innovators in China where all such services are on their doorstep?”

The turn-around time to getting your prototypes produced and tested in the form of circuitboards that can carry surface-mounted sensors seriously drives up costs and harms innovation. In China their innovators get turn-around times measured in hours, so you can get circuits made and debugged quickly and take chances. On the other hand, it is super-slow and expensive if you need to get things right first time (they never are) and it takes up to 4 weeks to get each prototype built.

Just think. They could have easily called a meeting back in 2014 between all the companies and startups in the area and simply asked: what are your PCB design needs for carrying sensors, and which machine do you think should we get to help you out?

A plan for sourcing the relevant machinery could have been outlined and assessed, always ensuring that it was going to be available out of hours at a cost-effective level (ie practically free) for learning and training and growing the expertise among the community to do it productively.

But no, they decided on the basis of no sense whatsoever that the one thing we were missing for turning this area into a hub for sensor technology was 2500m^2 of bank-account draining swanky office space.

How did we get here?

Well, contrary to my initial guess, the bollocks was right there from the start with the government press release of 13 December 2013, £15 million boost for local business growth at universities, where the Prime Minister said:

Our world-leading universities have historically been at the heart of innovation but we need to give them the tools to be even better at cultivating the seeds of growth as well as knowledge.

University Enterprise Zones will unlock the potential of so many students who will be able to move into affordable business space and start to build their own business straight after their degree.

I want to see University Enterprise Zones help create the next Yahoo or the next Microsoft – bringing jobs and prosperity to both the local and wider economy and helping us succeed in the global race.

Interesting choice of examples to pull out of one’s arse.

Microsoft got its big break in 1981 when they closed the deal to supply the operating system for the new IBM PC — an operating system which they did not have. But the company was originally founded in 1976 in New Mexico to be near their first customer Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. They moved from there to their current home in Washington state in 1979 owing to the difficulty of hiring top programming talent in the middle of the desert.

No mention was made of the attractiveness of the office space, which I’m sure was fine in Albuquerque.

In more recent decades, Microsoft has booked very high profits hocking their shite products and services to the UK government for billions of pounds. If that kind of money had been spent procuring superior services based on open source software over the last 20 years, we’d have a much more robust and vibrant high tech industry today.

Also, we can go look at the history of Yahoo! (links to a book called the “Chief Yahoos of Yahoo”) and how that company came into existance at the dawn of the internet when nobody in the world yet knew that the one thing that was fundamentally most important to the internet was a search engine:

By November 1994 an amazing 170,000 people a day were using Yahoo!… Yang and Filo could not expand their company without money. They still had to find someone who would be willing to invest in their new company.

And so it goes from luck, happenstance, and general communication in the community activity to serendipidy.

They found an investor in the same way that they found themselves owning a business — by doing something else. In this case, it happened during the search for a host for Yahoo!. Yang and Filo ran into Randy Adams, who operates the Internet Shopping Network. In early 1995 he was also just getting his business started. Adams introduced Yang and Filo to Mike Moritz who was the head of an investment company called Sequoia Capital.

Moritz and the other members of Sequoia Capital instantly liked the idea of Yahoo!. As Moritz jokes about it, “It was a suicide impulse on our part” because any new Internet company was a risky investment. Most of them failed within a year.

Does this sound like the attitude of any capital investors in the UK? Also, he knew about the tech and the business, not like some know-nothing flock of bean-counters.

But Moritz was used to taking risks and backing computer companies. He had already helped out Apple Computer and the software company Oracle, both of which became highly successful businesses. After meeting with Yang and Filo and liking what he had seen and heard, Moritz agreed to give the two young men a million dollars in exchange for a part interest in the new company. He also sent his business people to help Yang and Filo fend off the sudden swarm of would-be buyers.

Yes, it is possible for one member of the business community to recognize the havoc wreaked by that element of society and actually take steps to shield new entrepreneurs from its destructive impulses.

But finally we reach the relevant paragraph of this story:

Now that Yang and Filo had decided not to sell, they faced practical issues: Yahoo! might have a Web site, but now it needed a physical office as well. Yang and Filo decided on an office in Santa Clara, California, not too far from Netscape’s office in Mountain View, and started looking for employees.

So you see, kids, business location is driven by (a) the proximal location of the customer, and (b) the availability of the hirable staff.

It’s never anything to do with the “(un)affordable business space”.

It wasn’t two steps from the Prime Minister’s statement to reach this sanity check.

I could go on, but to wrap things up for the today. I have to mention the important University enterprise zones pilot: evaluation document, which explains:

Universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships come together to create a University Enterprise Zone. The UEZ itself is a partnership between actors in a specific territory. It is accompanied by: (i) funding to build office space to house start-up businesses (incubator space); and (ii) support from UKTI to create an investment proposition.

In the context of the Witty Review of universities and growth, the purpose of the policy is to get universities more involved in economic growth. A logic model is presented in the next Chapter.

The universities and LEPs have to work together in delivering this UEZ. This is meant to encourage universities to get more involved with the LEP and economic growth. The aims of the policy are: (i) increased university-business engagement; and (ii)
increased cooperation between universities and LEPs.

…which leads deeper into the rabbit hole to the so-called Witty Review of July 2013, chaired by Sir Andrew Witty, long-time CEO of the monopoly drug-supplier GlaxoSmithKline which has pled guilty in 2012 to lying about the safety of its products while bribing doctors to proscribe them. People must have died for their bottom line.

Andrew Witty, the firm’s chief executive, said procedures for compliance, marketing and selling had been changed at GSK’s US unit.

“We have learnt from the mistakes that were made,” Mr Witty said. “When necessary, we have removed employees who have engaged in misconduct.”(bbc)

So, the just the right sort of guy to conduct a review into “how universities can drive growth in their areas and for the benefit of the wider UK and to disseminate knowledge and best practice,” and to build on the Wilson review of Business-university collaboration of February 2012.

I can find nothing of interest in the Witty Review, aside from some really laughable recommendations, like:

Recommendation 5. Universities should put in place a single point of entry for SMEs that ‘triages’ their needs and directs them to the relevant part of the university. This point of entry should also look to drive up SME demand and engagement, and work with external partners across the locality, as well as within the university. University business schools should be incentivised to prioritise working directly with local businesses on workable solutions to practical problems.

Goddamnit! Do you know the kind of people who wind up at the desk of this “single point of entry”? What the hell is this? You can’t mail-order a package of innovation from the Amazon website: “I’d like an idea for setting up a billion dollar company please.”

That will be £15million, and we will spend all of it on a carbuncle of concrete and steel.

And don’t get me started on those University business schools. If I was teaching in a University business school, then Section 1 of Lecture 1 of Module 1 would be: “Let us now download and review the business plans for this University for the last ten years, for which you, the students, are considered the customers, and examine them in light of what we can see around us in the context of our hopes and dreams.”

Why do they have zero curiosity in any actual local businesses as it is?

It’s not a hard concept.

Many local businesses would be happy to open their books to be scrutinized and fixed up, just as I am happy to open my mouth at the University dental hospital where they need real teeth to practice their skills on. Business schools are the unabbreviation of BS.

Universities could arrange for their professors to go out into the community and give lectures about what they’re doing on a weekly basis. Maybe hold an open themed Unconference on their site every six months.

You have got to get the contacts flowing between the technologists who are working on the actual tech on matters that seem trivial, not set up some kind of dragon’s den scheme between their so-called leaders who do not have a clue.

The Witty Review praises several university incubator spaces, but doesn’t recommend them. For that, we look to the Wilson Review for:

Recommendation Universities, UKTI, local authorities and LEPs should work together with other relevant organisations (such as the UK Science Park Association) to develop coherent routes for the international promotion of available space and development opportunities in university-linked science and innovation parks. Further, the government, in conjunction with the LEPs, should examin the benefits of using local authority enterprise zone type measures such as simplified planning or local taxation to support university-linked science and innovation parks.

The basis for this recommendation was the following quote:

“Terman came up with the great idea that did more than anything to cause the tech industry to grow up here.” — Steve Jobs

[Steve Jobs was referring to the Dean of Engineering at Stanford University, Frederick Terman, who in 1951 created a 700 acre industrial park on university land for private companies that could commercialise the ideas of his students, now called the Stanford Research Park.]

Indeed, we forget that 1951 was during the height of the Cold War when Uncle Sam was buying huge amounts of aerospace and micro-electronics technology, which then underwent a period of revolutionary innovation.

It’s the customers that count, and the staff in the form of new graduates who didn’t have to move very far to get there> It was California.

For example, if you wanted the half billion quid engineering firm James Fisher and Sons plc to up sticks and move from Barrow-in-Furness to Liverpool, then you’d commission the nuclear submarines here rather than in Barrow. Nothing to do with the office space, is it?

Not all government purchases have to be military. For example, the UK and Local Governments have spent billions over budget procuring IT debacles in the last two decades, nearly all of it to large firms who based it on crappy Microsoft technology. That was a golden opportunity wasted which has not been acknowledged in any business innovation review I have ever read.

Can it be this bad?

Am I making this up?

Well, I couldn’t making up the story in 2007 of ULivE, company set up to commercialise research from Liverpool University laboratories which they attempted to float on the stock market at the value of £70million and might have questionably been capitalizing itself on the basis of the revenue stream known as “research funding grants”. It was wound up in 2011 with no lessons learned because it has been airbrushed from history.

Well, this time these know-nothing incurious bean-counters have created a building, which is not going to be so easy to hide under the carpet when the whole daft plan falls to pieces, on account of having no idea what innovations looks like even were it hit them like a cow. Microsoft and Yahoo!, said the Prime Minister. I mean, what is this about?

Final word goes to Professor Wilson who warned in his review:

I add a caution to the issue of measurement, especially in the context of the inevitable league tables that will follow… Measuring what exists will focus universities upon the activities being measured; it has a strong potential to inhibit innovation, not drive it.

Monday, August 28th, 2017 at 4:44 pm - - Hang-glide

Not been getting very many things to conclusion recently. Sitting around in campsites waiting for people to finish caving. Sitting at home waiting for people to come home from caving. Things have been in stasis. And my flying has been somewhat less than epic.

I have been breaking quite a few less bits of glider lately, which is a surprise given the sort of place I chose to park it yesterday.

I came round the tree behind the nose of the glider and landed up the slope that I didn’t know was going to be there when I chose this field. If I had aimed any further along the field I’d have gone over the hump and then I don’t know what I’d do on the downslope except crash into a hedge.

It was a close enough landing that I was able to walk back to the top of the hill in an hour and a half. Here is the track drawn over the terrain:


And this is the altitude trace where I managed to circle for a time less than 200m above the ground in air that was rising not quite fast enough to keep me from going down.

These diagrams were made in an ipython notebook.

Flying in weak air is a new capability. After the debacle of my previous XC flight on a day when somebody else flew 200kms from Long Mynd to Cambridge, I went back to school and watched some videos which explained how I had to set up my vario so that it makes sounds when it is going down as well as going up, so that I can tell the difference at different rates of going down without having to glance at the number.

I’m also trying to learn now to work OpenFoam, as well as learn some Aerodynamics. And now I’ve got to read a dissertaion on bicycles which involved sensors and a kinematic model of a bike on a treadmill, as this represents ten years of research in the area beyond where I am at with my glider sensors.

This is actual aggregating technical progress, not the latest forgettable choss on spacebook. I just cannot keep up!

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.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 at 10:05 am - - Hang-glide

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


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.


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


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.”


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.

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 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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.