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Saturday, June 25th, 2016 at 8:38 am - - Hang-glide 2 Comments »

I did it! I f***ing did! The mission to fly from the Loser to the Dachstein and back as mentioned in my Skywings article last year.

It was third day lucky. First day was a practice day, which somehow got me to Grimming and back in a four hour flight.

Second day I went for it because of a very good alptherm prediction, and fell out of the sky from 3000m to ground level in Bad Mitterndorf in a matter of minutes by attempting to punch through huge valleys of sink on my Sport2 due to stupidity, ignorance and nothing else. I misjudged the winds and there were no clouds to remind me where the thermals were — ie not in the valley.

On the third day alptherm gave an even crazier thermal forecast, the like of which I’ve never seen for this place.

alptherm2

I wonder what that german writing at the bottom says. Probably nothing important.*

I held back as two topless gliders took off at 12:30 and one of them went down. I knew 1:30pm was my magic time. The alptherm values are in UTC (add 2 hours for local time), so it really only starts cooking on at hour 1pm, before which it feels like there is a pause in activity.

And I went straight up to 3000m where the valleys and mountains are just minor details and threaded my way from cloud to cloud.

The sky gods sent the cunimbs onto massifs beyond all four corners of the flight and while the Dachstein gruppe remained miraculously clear.

Then it was off the the Grimming, arrived from the thermal hotspot to the east but unfortunately below its peak and was too intimidated to do any circling near this blasted mountain.
grimming

Luckily there were paragliders flying here and there to guide me and stop me from wussing out whenever it was feeling too extreme.
dachapproach
Was it a bad idea to go higher? There was a speck of a floppy paraglider up there in front of the cloud. Is it okay to fly over the 3000m peak of the Dachstein? There were two paragliders right down low over it.

How is it possible for something this amazing to continue? Just a set of simple wings on my back in this crazy place. This is an enactment Niven’s third law including commentary, which may predate the invention of hang-gliding:

3) Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having fun.
You will not be stopped! There are things you can’t do because you burn sugar with oxygen, or your bones aren’t strong enough, or you’re a mammal, or human. Funny chemicals may kill you slow or quick, or ruin your brain … or prolong your life. You can’t fly like an eagle, nor yet like Daedalus, but you can fly. You’re the only earthly life-form that can even begin to deal with jet lag. You can cheat. Nature doesn’t care, but don’t get caught.

I got there. There were big anvil clouds to the south darkening the whole horizon. This is the way I am going, across this sea of rock and snow back to Altaussee.
dachpoint

It was like a solid glide for 20 minutes, then a thermal off a corner buttress so I didn’t have to squeak through the Obertraun valley, then another 20 minute straight glide to the Trisslewand that had a huge cloud hat on that worked. There was nothing else between.

fromcampsite2
I decided to come down before anything went wrong and was actually able to phone the cavers sitting in base camp to tell them to look to the sky. They couldn’t hear me, so I texted them instead. Texting while flying is about as dumb as texting while driving, but the air was quite open at 2200m.

campdig
Becka cycled up and helped me carry down from my favourite landing field behind the campsite. I celebrated with a beer. It still gave me a headache. Back to earth. This is now the state of the campsite. The noise is awful.

* Translation: At the moment thunderstorm and precipitation symbols can’t be shown due to technical reasons.

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 at 5:46 am - - Cave

I cried at the state of the campsite in Austria when we arrived this year. It looked like part of the Amazon Rainforest — clearcut and still raining.
clearcut

The plan is to be here for about six weeks, and it’s not looking like a great idea. Only about a quarter of the people have arrived so far, and even the cordoned off area is pretty churned up. I pitched my tent on a gravel patch by hammering in nails to guide the tent pegs.

So, to cheer myself up I did some coding, and wrote stl2png, a program to slice STL files directly into PNG images for use with an SLA printer.

This is an example of a generated slice of the two chamber whistle someone has been printing a lot of in DoES.
V29D_Fixed_0003

(The wifi internet for the computer is pretty poor around here in the campsite, and there is no mobile tethering allowed when you are abroad, so I am unlikely to get much blogging done for a while.)

Monday, June 13th, 2016 at 2:14 pm - - Kayak Dive

I haven’t dived near Skomer since 2008 when we arrived just after Bristol University left a day early, having been drenched by the rain. This time we successfully caught them on the last day of their trip and tagged on for a dive on the north face of Tusker Rock in Jack Sound, which is known for having a very short slack window.

tusker1

We paddled out there for the dive at 1:10pm, but the Bristol boats didn’t show up from around the corner till 1:28pm — very late. Everyone blamed everyone else for the faff, and I didn’t feel confident with going in here at this crazy place alone without being really sure we got the place right. (The north flowing current is menacing as it descends down to 50m as it leaves Jack Sound.)

tusker2
Bit blurry, but there’s a dogfish swimming past Becka

tusker3
Rather too soon, we got washed off the rock by the south flowing current and had to come up.

We had an excellent extra dive in the calm waters of Martins Haven where the scallops were stacked like bricks (apparently there’s a fine of £50,000 if you’re caught taking one of them). Lots of lobsters, spider crabs, and nudibranchs. The camera was of course out of battery by then.

Next day we headed for Octopus Reef on Dinas Head, where I’d met Red Dragon Divers on a sea kayaking trip in 2012. This was a chance to tick that one off, although the visibility was very poor from the plankton bloom. Becka found the octopus on the first dive, after we’d fallen off the reef onto gravel and were swimming round in circles at 13m. Spent the night in Parrog (where we’d kayaked from), too flaked out to go to the pub.

Final day had us paddling out of Gwbert by Cardigan to Cardigan Island to try and dive the SS Hereford. Unfortunately, the westerly swell was picking up quite a bit, so the sea was a little crazy out there and not a great place to try a dive on a shallow wreck. So we dropped in round the corner in the sheltered waters that was very much in its pea soup stage of plankton (little green translucent peas of algae everywhere), bothered a few lobsters, dogfish and spider crabs, before paddling onwards to Mwnt visiting all the sea caves in the coast. The carry-out was not as bad as it looks in the photo.
mwnt

Becka left me at the tea shop while she walked back to fetch the car. The lady running it explained that the dolphins can normally be found off the north end of the beach, whenever you see a gannet flying there. She guessed they were driving the fish into a sand-bar, and the gannet was picking the ones off that came to the surface.

We can check it out next time we go down there and have a third attempt to do the Hereford wreck when we are sure the sea state is calm enough to make it worthwhile. Kayak diving wins again.

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 at 12:58 pm - - Hang-glide

This was Sunday (yesterday) on Tailbridge Hill while Becka and friends were attempting some 80 mile massive cycle ride including a race up Great Dun Fell (844m), somewhere square in the middle of that dark grey wall of rain and hail to the north of me.

tailbridge

They didn’t make it. I suspected that something bad could happen in that area on an otherwise sunny day because of the RASP forecasts:
dunfellrasp
They were to the NE of Kirkby Stephen in the blue, and I was to the SW in the place with the nice thermal updrafts. I already knew no one was interested in my weather observations if it could lead to a change of plans, because they’d all been on a futile journey walking up a hill to a flood-prone cave on Saturday when I knew two strong cold fronts were predicted to pass overhead and make everything miserable.

I got into my own spot of hail up at the clouds at 1300m over Mallerstang Edge late in the day, and it was nice witnessing this three-dimensional field of white pixels streaming past.
mallerhail

I don’t have time to edit any video, so here is a video with a bit of hail in a flight last month from Builth Wells.

I had to do a better landing yesterday, because in Yorkshire the field boundaries are made of rocks.

Thursday, April 28th, 2016 at 12:04 am - - Flightlogger, Hang-glide

Well, the hang-gliding has been quite lovely. But the logger appears shot to pieces.
cloud
I still don’t know what I am doing when I get to cloud-base, which is probably why I plummeted out of the sky shortly after this picture was taken.

As soon as I took off, the barometer stopped communicating most of its data.
badbaro
This is the device I lavished so much time on isolating it from the rest of the electrical circuit and arranging for it to bitbash the information back through an interrupt pin.

It could be some timing issue, or whatnot. No way to debug it. Luckily I got myself a Bluefly vario which does the same thing of reading a MS5611 barometer on a tight 50Hz loop and transmitting it back to the main board. In the Bluefly’s case it’s for the purpose of running a Kobo/XCsoar system. I’ve just given up on the one I built as it’s too inferior to simply running XCSoar on the phone where I’ve got colour and more or less know how to use it.

Luckily the Bluefly also sports a GPS and works through a serial port, so I’ve yanked off the Adafruit GPS breakout board and bodged the wires to insert the Bluefly in its place.
bfbodge
Then there was a small matter coding it up using a complex state machine to program the GPS module through the Bluefly pic processor to get it to read at 10 times a second.

But then the BNO055 orientation sensor played up and decides to shutdown at unexplained moments for unexplained periods of time.
badorient
The white vertical lines are 10 minute intervals, and there is a green dot for every successful orientation reading, with y-value proportional to the time since the previous reading, so I’m getting gaps in the data of half an hour in flight.

I’ve produced a reset timer to try and start it off again if no data comes through for 20 seconds.

Anyways, here is one of those nerve-wracking close encounters with the ground during the flight.
(more…)

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 at 11:29 am - - Hang-glide

If you look closely you can see the grin behind the helmet.
DCIM100GOPROG0020178.
There was nothing especially epic about this XC flight from the Long Mynd to Clee Hill, except a masterful get-away from the slope in nil-wind with just one thermal during which I miraculously stayed on top of all the paragliders. Also there was a very low-save.

I took off at about 1:30 during the period when the wind was less than 5mph and sometimes coming from the SW. This trace is off the Long Mynd Gliding Club weather station:
myndwind

No one could explain why there was so little breeze to make reliable ridge soaring possible. Meanwhile, there were champion pilots flying 100s of miles on seven hour flights on that day, which one must try not to feel bad about, when I “only” managed to stay up for an hour and a half.

One thing I did learn for sure is that I utterly depend on the thermal assist of the XCSoar running on my android phone. (That Kobo kit you see in the video is going in the bin.) The magic went away when the phone ran out of batteries; my thermal tracking abilities went out the window from that moment on. So this flight (and hopefully many more, when I sort out an extra power supply brick for the phone) is dedicated to Lines 145 to 202 of XCSoar/src/Renderer/TrailRenderer.cpp which was able to direct my search for lift whenever I lost it. This is the section of the manual describing the critical feature:

xcsnailtrail

A couple more regrets. I didn’t make cloudbase by at least 300m, according to the dew point measurements. And the barometric reader, based on bit-bashing and interrupts, is completely shot to pieces by the overload on the microcontroller from acquiring so many other inputs of data. Only about 1% of the readings are getting through. I’ve got to come up with some other answer, and I don’t have a lot of time in a week when we’ve got some help doing something about the state of the kitchen floor.
kitchenhole

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 at 12:39 pm - - Hang-glide

Thought I’d scan and upload my article about flying in Austria for folks to download:

JGTskywingsLoser.PDF (7Mb)

Individual pages:

JGTskywingsLoser_p1

JGTskywingsLoser_p2

JGTskywingsLoser_p3

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016 at 9:28 am - - Flightlogger, Hang-glide

It happened towards the end of the flight before last when my wings became my own, and I just wasn’t thinking about it any more. I stopped having those intervals where I lose concentration and fall out of the sky because there was no concentration to lose. It was all about the feeling.

teba1
Above the town of Teba watching the cars scooting along the grid of streets like busy beetles in a rotten log

teba2
Low on same rocky hill just after take-off where I struggled to survive for some minutes before I found a bubble of rising air

If you need to learn hang-glide, there’s a English school down here called Lejair where you could get it all done in two weeks (instead of the average two years of weekends back in England) because the weather is better and they use tow trucks with gliders tethered above a trailer so you can learn how to fly it without having to run up and down the hill and learn how to steer in short difficult bursts. (If you have to ask why you need to learn hang-gliding, then you don’t need to.)

birdscage
We were woken by all this nice birdsound. Then we spotted that it was from three tiny birdcages in the courtyard below and it seemed so cruel. Why can’t they use little speakers tuned to a radio channel that broadcasts live birdsound?

Got to go now. We’ve not had an off-day where I can devote 10 straight hours to coding the datalogger analysis or write any of it up. I have two interesting results to report. One being the delay on the GPS, and the second being the clean mathematical relationship between the turning circle and bank angle as measure.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 at 11:19 am - - Kayak Dive

I really have been neglecting to blog. I’m going to bang out a few quick posts on this the day before my holiday.

Saturday 12 March involved a grumpy day paddling around Hilbre Island with a rather fuzzy camera.

This is the stone wall on the northwest corner of the island at high water:

The professor on the water had just gone on a 10 day trip to Japan to use up an academic travel budget, and at the same time busted a chunk out of the dwindling global carbon budget [podcast here]. You don’t want to see what the bailiffs do when they collect on an unpaid carbon debt. They’ll take your food.

I’ve been speculating about a specialization of my Question from Hell proposal where visiting professors who have just flown to give a lecture get routinely asked about their carbon budget (which they could have avoided by teleconferencing) as the first audience question from a young student. It will be rude and ungrateful to ask such questions of a visiting guest, and will embarrass everybody. The excuses are lame.

The top excuse will be: “We don’t have the equipment”.

If that one gets a lot of laughter, the second excuse will be: “Meeting in person makes a big difference”. To which I’d like to respond: “Where’s the research?”

There isn’t any.

I’d love to set up a controlled experiment where the person who doesn’t do the 10 day trip to Japan gets to take a 24 hour bus ride to a hotel opposite a Japanese takeaway in Dundee via Plymouth and is locked-in with the internet where his only communications portal for the next 120 hours is a telepresence robot parked in the corner of the lab in Japan. He is free to rove the corridors if he’s being ignored. Maybe one of the brighter students would take pity on the robot and take it home overnight for late night chat with bottle of sake, or even for a night tour round the city on a motorbike. I hear these VR goggles and hi-def cameras are pretty good these days.

The time duration exposure, the portability, and the lessening of inhibitions could easily mean that human bonds and interaction could be much enhanced compared to proceeding to these places as a meat embodiment that smells and needs to go to the toilet occasionally.

If this Questioning takes off I am expecting that university administrators, who can be blindingly stupid, commit to ban such questions, as you cannot ban something like this without actually telling people what it is you are banning.

PS. Cory Doctorow was burning up the planet ten years ago.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 at 9:59 am - - Hang-glide

Work interrupted by a couple of mid-week trips, first to Long Mynd:

Then to Llangollen, where I didn’t fly so well and spent the entire time getting buzzed by this huge dual hang-glider that seemed always able to keep up with me.
llanfeb
That’s why you’re supposed to learn a lot by flying with really good pilots so you can see exactly why you’re not anything special at any time.

And anyway, the data logger was bust with a loose wire on the I2C connection. I should have enough data from the Long Mynd flight that I ought to be doing stuff with this morning. Instead I’ll probably work on the serial connection to the orientation sensor or do some on-line shopping for other electronic gadgets whose data streams I record and ignore.

Record and ignore

Remember the rule: the further removed in time and place is the data, the lower its value. While some data becomes relevant when it gets old, it’s as rare as antique furniture. You can count on the crap rotting in your garage not being within that category. The conclusion is if you don’t find an application for the data now, you’re not going to find it later on.