Freesteel Blog » Weekends

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 at 9:43 pm - - Hang-glide

What’s a blog post if it makes any sense the next year? It usually doesn’t when I go back over them to look up an important piece of information, like the date when something happened. I do have a separate logbook for the flying and things like that. Blogs don’t seem to work. Too whimsical and public and I tend to leave out names.

On Wednesday I took the DoESLiverpool intern down to Mach2014 as he is a mechanical engineering student when he’s home in Italy.

Lots of whizzy cutting machines and mechanical gadgets, mixed in with generally unfriendly software companies who deserve to be left for dust when the far more efficient open source methodology finally moves into this sector and the programmers can talk to one other freely and discover how to get things done. The best ideas can never all be inside one company. (You can forget about ideas that are the combinations of many other ideas). It’s just a question of persuading the market to raise X dollars for the programmers to do the work, rather than handing over 100 times X dollars to companies who own the dead capital and mismanage the software development process with their layers of management and high level strategy thinkers who have grown too lazy to do any programming themselves, yet still believe they have something to contribute.

You know the saying: “All politics is local”? Well, I’m beginning to believe that All programming is low-level. You either understand the software, or you don’t. There is no high level structure that you can be involved in without knowing about the code. Take, for example, another branch of engineering. It’s self-evidently ridiculous that you could have anything to say about the shape of the skyline of a petrochemical refinery if you have no idea about what the chemicals are doing, and what needs to be mixed with what. Is it unique to software that people who don’t program want to be in charge of the design? The one thing we do need from managers are specific performance targets to keep us from making excuses. Something like: “If I’ve got a 32 core machine, I want it to run 32 times faster on this example. Is there a theoretical reason why I can’t have that?”

Anyway, the picture on the left is a set of printed titanium parts for a bicycle frame that no one dared ride. The one on the right is of a mini-machine tool with a huge toolchanger system. There are no plans for a toolchanger on our triangular machine. I wonder if we’ll discover that this is a problem.

I spent all Friday at Llangollen for a 12 minute flight down the hill where I only barely cleared the fence into the landing field having taken an extra turn to bleed off height when I was stupid enough to think that I was going to overshoot. Something wrong with my judgement here. The guy I drove down with reckons the half-life for hang-gliding skills must be 6 months. Got a lift back to the top, set up again, then the wind changed, and we watched three paragliders soaring up to the clouds while we were grounded in a light, cold easterly cross-wind. Humph.

Time for something new. A month after seeing kitesurfing on the Wirral on a bike-ride with Francis, Becka and I were having a 4 hour lesson with a surfer dude in the same place near New Brighton.

This would have been last week, but after we’d got up at 6:30am, caught the train to Birkenhead where it broke down, and then cycled at a mad rush to the north coast through the morning rain, we met the man in the van who said there was not enough wind. He gave us a lift back over the water, and got the message that we were keen.

Still, compared to anything else I’ve tried to do, this is very close to instant gratification. We were kite body-dragging through the waves by the end of the fifth hour of the lesson. What a long day.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 at 9:56 am - - Cave

Weather was nasty over the weekend, I’m losing the plot when it comes to programming, and I enjoyed the physical activity I did last weekend, even though the flying was not successful.

I joined Becka and others on a “promising” dig in Gaping Gill beyond Hensler’s endless flat out crawls, and through the “blowhole”.

The dig was a tight wet inlet with pooling water, mud, and not enough room to turn over onto your back from your front. Clearly this had been subject to terminal worm-holing. There were a lot of digging tools to use with which I tried to widen the passage vertically at the front — though I didn’t pass much spoil back into the digging trays during the process. Tom took over after 90 minutes of me hogging the dig until he got too cold due to not wearing enough neoprene. We retreated and warmed ourselves up by chucking a heavy rock back and forth between us until our lower backs hurt. The remaining diggers complained that we’d used up all the air, so they couldn’t do any more. Never a good sign that a dig is heading towards big passages.

I got back-of-the-knees wetsuit rash walking up to the entrance, and we nearly got lost in the fog on the walk down. It was great. After a quiet night at Bull Pot Farm (all members were at the dinner/AGM), I got dumped at Clive’s house for a few hours while Becka went caving. This lead me wasting time on a couple of FOI requests to [1], [2], and flicking through the ACCU magazine to find an article about the First International Conference on Software Archaeology.

About time people started talking about software archaeology. It’s evidence of the dereliction of responsibility that the executives running our large moneyed software companies whose wealth depends on the functioning of decades old piles of buried and very crappy code are not properly funding this field of study, and leaving it up to a small number of visionary amateurs to do what little they can, while the executives cash out their share-options for yachts and corporate take-overs. I see no process within the corporate power structures that would result in those who control the money becoming aware of where the actual needs for investment lie. If it was seen that corporations devolved certain budgets to be disbursed by internal committees staffed by people who understood the challenges and were in a position that they did not need to get things signed off by senior officers who didn’t understand the challenges, maybe something positive would come out of it. After all, the public sphere exists as a system of quasi-autonomous organizations with their own budgets to get on with matters that central government are not always politically happy with, but which need to get done, so why is it not a viable option to consider such formal systems of operation within corporations?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 at 8:26 pm - - Hang-glide

Not cool! How did I end up holding my glider this way up in a bog at the foot of Whernside on Sunday?


Monday, March 31st, 2014 at 8:21 am - - Kayak Dive

Not quite such successful conditions as when we dived under LLandudno Pier the first time. This time we were attempting to take a couple of strangers who wanted to get into kayak diving on the first available day with reasonable conditions since September last year. (It’s not been a good year for weather.)

There was a brisk easterly wind, and the waves were stirred up. It was somewhat bouncy under the pier. Even this far from the shore the water was still the consistency of weak tea (with milk). But I got the anchor in. Then, just as we were in the water with waves crashing past our ears, three guys in safety gear and orange jump suits stuck their heads out from above, and shouted. “Hey, what are you doing? You’ve not got permission. This is private property.”

They began shinnying down through the barnacle and mussel encrusted iron work.

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 at 10:25 pm - - Hang-glide

Today is Saturday and I’ve stayed home to work while Becka went off caving and having fun.

I’ve got absolutely no useful work done. I spent the morning fussing over my photos on various external drives and went to town to print a batch of them. Then I swapped them around with the photos in the frames on the walls, having decided that such changes would bring some variety over the years in addition to seeing the paint progressively peel from the plaster as the walls dampen. Then I swept out the garage after piling all the knackered gear onto the shelves. And finally I pondered over the fact that google appears to have just put my whole 3D scanning project completely out of business. Why bother trying to do anything?

I need some fun. Last week my favourite radio show ThisIsHell aired an interview with someone who had written an article What’s the point if we can’t have fun.

I know what fun is. It involves being in Austria with a hang-glider. And, unlike work, if someone else has already done it, it does not imply that my time spent doing it is consequently wasted. Put into that perspective, I’m doing people a favour by not getting any work done. However, I now have a headache and I’m very annoyed.

The two places I want to go back to as soon as possible for hang-gliding are Greifenberg and Loser.

Here are the webcam images for both places today:

greifenbergwebcam loserwebcam

Here’s the alptherm view:

Not very promising really. But I want to get into the habit of looking at it so I can think about picking my days for booking the ferry, driving straight out there, and getting it done when there is an adequate weather window.

Let’s check the record for when flights at these places early in the year:


I got some waiting to do. And I had better get some work done in the meantime. Not going to happen tonight, though.

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 at 8:33 pm - - Canyon

Spotted the new(ish) Liverpool Wakepark on the docks when I cycled passed it on the weekend while taking a break from endless, endless coding every day.

So we booked a ride on a fine grey February afternoon.

The place (called “Industry.1″) is dude central, and appropriately disorganized and friendly. Downstairs from the changing rooms numerous fire service bods were practicing how to rescue each other with tow lines from the static salt water. Looked a bit dull, but they can’t justify wakeboarding on working time. If this flooding goes on much longer, they’d do better to get their training at one of those artificial whitewater courses where they’d get washed off their feet and they added tree branches into the flow. See that river: that’s your high street.

I took my caving wetsuit, still muddy from the last time I used it in July. This finally got it clean.

And we’re off. It’s probably exactly the same as water-skiing, except without the power boat, the mess and the noise. I never had rich enough friends to do that.

Becka seemed to enjoy it a heck of lot more than snowboarding. Or canyoning.

We both got standing and going in a straight line before our time was up.

Not bad for something that’s literally a quarter of a mile away from home. How lucky is that?

Now, back to work. This ain’t the summer yet.

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 at 5:26 pm - - Weekends

Well, it was a plan. Xmas is a drag, what with either having to go away on holiday or spend days overeating with the family feeling inadequate because you didn’t bring any presents. My thoughts of a flying holiday in Lanzarote had been deemed impractical, and Becka’s plans for a week XC skiing with friends in Norway looked equally difficult due to the lack of passenger ferries.

Before and after 3 days of walking in the over Xmas

I’d had this walk in Wales on my mind for ages. Let’s do it, I said.

“But the weather will be crap.”

Exactly. It’s only a walk, and we wouldn’t be wasting good weather on something that doesn’t depend on good weather. In fact the worse it is, the more adventurous it will be. It’s only Wales. It’s not like the Pacific Crest Trail. How bad can it be?

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 at 2:56 pm - - Cave

Short note on the previous weekend. There was a meeting at Andy Eavis’s house under the Humber Bridge following their great cave chamber laser scanning projects in China over the summer. Somehow I got invited, probably because I say I can able to do things with CADCAM software, and such forth.

We cycled from Brough behind the BAe factory where they make the Hawk “Trainer” jets. Funny how there’s so many “Trainer” jets being exported. What a laugh. Doesn’t do any harm. They’re not “weapons”. Like those “replica” hand-guns with a complete set of working parts. Or a presidential candidate who says that he smoked, but did not inhale. Far too few people laugh at these official lies to stop them sticking.

Andy is the current president of the International Union of Speleology, an off-shoot of the International Congress of Speology, the 16th of which I went to in Brno this summer in the Czech Republic. It’s a fantastic bureaucracy, worthy of Kafka, where Andy is named as the coordinator of the Long, Deep and Large Caves Commission, among about a hundred other commissions.

Of course, none of the commissions is in charge of new technology that would be game-changing for cave surveying. Nor do they have anyone who is particularly interested in cave survey software (at the Congress, we had to have our meeting in a cafe round the back). If I was in charge I’d establish a Commission on the Relevance of Commissions and do some long-overdue weeding.

Anyways, we got to see some of the point clouds being rendered by the experts using the open source Cloud Compare software. As standard practice, the point cloud was thinned to make it renderable.

Someone there need to produce a video of a flythrough and wanted to use all the points, and didn’t know how as the expensive software they used crashed when it received more than 10 million points. What crappy software engineering. I worked with him on a work-around.

I haven’t had time yet to download and install Autodesk ReCap to see if it is up to the job. Probably not. We’re getting hit with trillions of laser scanner points now, and no one with a budget is taking it seriously in the software world yet. (I do, but I don’t have a budget, do I?)

Quite coincidentally, someone sent this youtube video about a company called Euclideon claiming to be able render unlimited point clouds at a reasonable frame-rate using just the CPU. It’s a great little video. I’ve watched all of it twice.

There’s been a lot of controversy around the claim, which is not surprising for something that’s been worked on for seven years without releasing a product.

I think I may have worked out what’s going on here, after a long sleepless night. If I have it right, the technique does not allow you to zoom; you can only move nearer or further from the view.

I don’t need any more distractions. Maybe I’ll toy with an implementation once we do start getting our own cave scans to play with.

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 at 1:58 pm - - Kayak Dive 1 Comment »

There was a brief window of weather this week which was enough for three divers to get out on Cosmo’s boat on Thursday: Becka, me and someone much more competent than us with a rebreather from Ormskirk.

Although the sea was very calm, the visibility didn’t look good at an inshore site, so we moved off to the Wreck of the Counsellor in deeper water, and dived that.

It was black as midnight down there with barely 0.75m working visibility, so we came up pretty swiftly. Don’t waste risk; only do something dangerous if you’re getting something out of it.

My second tank was only a 10Litre, because my 12Litre was completely empty when I fetched it from the garage. Maybe something leaked. Fortunately this was meant to be a shallower dive, on the Wreck of the Speke, which, I was told, is on its side half buried in the sediment so you can go into its hold along the sea bed.

The anchor must have landed square in front of this opening, because we blundered away from it for quite some distance before we hit the wreck — from the inside!

Not good. According to the video footage, we were lost for 3 minutes, which is a very long time. While we got away with it, our margin for error was down to the width of a prawn’s antenna, because all it would take is a regulator snagged from your mouth by a bit of twisted metal or a exploding o-ring, and then we’d be toast.

There was a dredger at work on the channel, which might have accounted for the visibility.

Back in the harbour all the little boats piled into the lock following the usual delay waiting for tide to rise high enough to be over the sill. Everyone else had been out in the estuary fishing for cod. Becka challenged me to a game of “spot the female”. Not a single one among them. What is it about fishing and women?

Anyhow, that was enough excitement for one week.

Monday, October 28th, 2013 at 10:53 am - - Kayak Dive, Weekends

So that was the usual HSMWorks Denmark run over with. We’d stayed for a week from Thursday to Thursday, across the weekend when not much was going on as there used to be because people now have lives to go to. We got one meal out (manager not allowed to come because he can’t self-authorize), but otherwise had to fend for ourselves.

I played two games of Underwater Rugby with the Amager club which damn near killed me. The first session was on the Thursday we arrived and I almost threw-up during the pre-game training.

I can hold my breath, or I can swim around frantically, but I can’t do both. When it’s time to breath and you are at the bottom of a three metre pool it’s bad. You don’t get that problem with underwater hockey, where the game is more to do with being in the right position and flicking the puck from place to place. I gave up trying to keep up.