Freesteel Blog » Julian

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

sensorconstruction

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.
bradwellbamland

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:

bamford

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.
bamfordalti

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.
(more…)

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.
(more…)

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.

(more…)