Freesteel Blog » Weekends
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 11:25 am - Hang-glide
Went down to the Hidden Earth cavers conference in Monmouth last weekend. After causing much mayhem and ranting regarding lasers and scanning (and that was before I had even trawled through Companies House records) I bagged a Sunday flight on Pandy owing to a rare forecast of easterlies and sunshine. I went to bed early while Becka stayed up forcing everyone, including my designated retrieve driver, to finish the Hilde-schnapps in the car-park at 3am. The retrieve driver not surprisingly had a hang-over in the morning and needed some persuading to come along. (“The fresh air will clear your head; you won’t be able to concentrate sitting here through all these boring lectures.”)
The best use for a football field — mass camping at a caving conference.
We got away at 10:30am, drove to the landing field (full of sheep), looked at the smaller landing field to be used when the first was full of sheep (surrounded by tall trees), then drove up. The wind was blowing between 22 and 29mph on the edge of the hill at take-off. That at least kept all the paragliders away. But there weren’t any hang-gliders either. Felt a little concerned about this. It’s always best to have a local at a new site to point out what’s safe and where not to go, otherwise you’re just guessing and taking chances. But nothing can actually go wrong until you’ve taken off, so we walked down to fetch the glider.
Just then, like the cavalry arriving, a car carrying three gliders with their friendly pilots turned up, and everything was great. They showed me their preferred take-off and told me how high you need to get before crossing over to the main ridge. Asked about top landing near the take-off, they said everyone has done it once, and then vowed “never again”. And don’t worry about the sheep if you can’t make the smaller landing field.
Monday, September 23rd, 2013 at 2:27 pm - Cave
I just spent a grey sky weekend down in Bristol investigating the cave surveying technology potential of this Hokuyo UTM-30LX-EW, that I bought with my much diminished pocket money.
I bought this one, as opposed to the slightly cheaper UTM-30LX that most robot research teams go for, because it is IP67 rated, as opposed to IP64. The IP Code says the first 6 means “Dust tight”, and second digit 7 means protected against “Immersion up to 1m” rather than 4, protected against “splashing of water”.
I know what caves are like.
This was the formerly unlisted video of my crash down on the Gyrn in Wales which made me feel quite sorry for myself with my total lack of competence and ability to have a good time with this sport (skip to 2min 30).
Then I went to Austria and life was great, particularly at Greifenburg.
Things weren’t so bad back at Loser either, with a series of take-offs and landings that I loved — all of them.
Back home in Liverpool I wanted to fly some more, but haven’t had the chance. Got offered a dive trip out to Liverpool Bay yesterday, and persuaded Becka to come.
Pretty murky all told, but did the job of dropping us into a thoroughly different universe where we happily swam with the fishes in the dark until the air ran out.
What more could you ask for out of an experience?
Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 at 8:02 pm - Hang-glide
We walked up the Trisselwand one the morning. Even at 8am there was wind blowing around the shoulder where the thermal updrafts can always be found. I walked back down while Becka bribed Tom and Matt with lunch at Appelhaus for going on a longer walk. They both ordered roast gemse, and then it rained properly for the rest of the day.
I was left alone at base camp for a couple of days to work while more caving and detackling was happening at top camp. Due to a meeting in the afternoon I didn’t get off for my cycle tour round Grimming till 4pm.
First I went to the secret lake which cut through between the mountain and the rest of the range that I had discovered from the air.
Then there was a long stretch on a major highway to get to the eastern end of Grimming and round.
I arrived at bast camp at 9pm as it was getting pitch black after five hours at full speed the whole way on just one apple and two pieces of flapjack.
Today I flew for an hour while the others did the Via Ferrata on the Loser.
The clouds were low and I got into their turbulent sunny edge. It felt like the most natural place to be. Then I headed over to the Tristlevan, and the thermal was missing from the usual spot, so off I bombed, passing over base camp on the way. They saw me from there this time.
We’re driving home tomorrow to face the real world. There is some kind of crazy autumn and winter I have in store coming up. I don’t know what it is but I’d so much rather be flying.
Monday, August 19th, 2013 at 4:40 am - Hang-glide
As seen for two seconds over Grundlesee. (Is there another name for it?)
Another very good day. Day before was cancelled due to over the back wind creating an enormous rotor in the valley, according to the locals who said not to fly, because you can always save it for another day. (Did I ever.) It’s good advice to take local advice. They described for me a couple more thermal hot-spots to know about in the different valleys, the kind that haul you up to cloudbase at 3200m and set you on your way. I tested one of them out, and have it in the bag for next year. Cold hands again without gloves. I loved every minute of it.
Friday, August 16th, 2013 at 7:15 am - Hang-glide
I was going to do some 5-axis machining theory today, but the sky gods had other ideas. Way back at the start of expo I had this notion that, since you couldn’t expect to do much more than a maximum of three hours of flying in a day, it wasn’t going to disrupt things too much. But the fact is when you actually do fly like this for three hours with your head in the clouds, it’s hard to give a damn. I was flying like a demon today, and now I can’t make myself care about programming.
The Grimming is a crazy gnarly mountain on the south side of the valley as you go east from Bad Aussee which is the gateway to the Schladming valley and the tall side of the Dachstein. And I got above it, which is a dream come true.
There were enough thermals today for numpties to get to do awesome things with a lowish cloudbase at 2700m. Did I say I got to cloudbase? Five times. That’s more than all the times I got there in eight years of hang-gliding pre-1997 before I gave it up in frustration. That’s the power of this new GPS-powered thermal sat-nav. It’s a flight computer that says when you need it to:
“Hey, diptstick, you left the lift over here. Now get back and get into it, and stop fannying around like you think you know where you’re going — which is on the deck if you don’t get a grip right now.”
Flying over Grundlesee lake having finally got away from Loser. Grimming is that dark lump on the horizon I am looking at.
A view of Grimming from the cloud level before I dived for it’s left hand side, and nearly bombed out along its shocking southern face before I found lift all the way past on its right hand end.
This is the GoogleEarth track of that fly-by into the Enns Valley. One of the rules of successful XC flying is you don’t worry about the retrieve drive. While it is a short distance over the mountain range, the road goes the long way round. After getting up, I went back over Grimming to see the top.
It’s difficult to capture just how jagged the face of Grimming is. It’s all crumbly jagged pillars, like a Greek temple in ruins — except their pillars started out as pillars. Here it was solid rock at one time that looks like it was caught in a hailstorm of boulders. It was too easy to imagine screwing up round here and planting myself like a car crash in some inaccessible notch. For weeks the people of the valley would be able to look up in the sky and see this little patch of orange on their mountain, and nobody would ever be able to get it down.
At 3:30pm all the sailplanes around Austria began to converge on to me. I think their airfield was in the valley. There were stumpy ones, and sleek ones with white wings as skinny as helicopter blades. Their pilots were enclosed in comfy perspex bubbles.
Meanwhile, my hands were getting a little cold. I packed a pair of fingerless gloves down my front. When I got them out I realized they were a complete joke. Try putting on a tight pair of gloves while carrying a tea cup and saucer.
When I get home I’m going to make myself a pair of bar mitts. And get a harness that fits. This one is way too short and I hope I can do a lot more of this.
I looked up this area on the paragliding map, which is the finest application mash-up of meaningful, actionable geographic data I have ever seen, and go this orange spot denoting a thermal hot-spot.
The cool thing was I reached it all by myself without knowing about it. I think this was a lot of luck. In fact, the whole route was pretty jammy, according to the locals as they normally hop through the mountain ranges without taking that risky short-cut across the valley.
I got another flight off Loser today. One hour. This time among a gaggle of paraglider students on a partly overcast day.
The day started at 6:30am with a drive to the train station to pick up Tom, the latest back-up caver for the expedition. I brought him back to base camp for breakfast, drove him up the hill at 8:30am and walked him half-way to the cave along the path for someone else to collect him as I walked back to the car park to begin setting up for 11.
It’s all so routine now — even the diagonal run down the ramp to take account of cross wind. Lift was weak, but enough to take me up to 2100m before finally settling in for the long slow altitude decline as I tried and failed to get lift off every ledge and cliff forest on the way down. About five paragliders managed to cling on, so maybe its my lack of concentration that always hits me at the half hour point.
Whatever was going on, I eventually ended up here: across a forest, around a corner and above a lake.
Many years ago a friend of mine got to this place, missed the lake and landed in the very top of the trees. The Altaussee fire brigade had to fish her out.
Luckily, 3 minutes of gliding which burned through 200m of altitude got me 200m above the landing field, so a happy ending. I even landed on my feet. Still, I think it deserves a red mark.
Then a local paraglider friend showed me the path back up to the top of the hill to fetch my car. It was grueling. I’ve not recovered yet, but may have to do it again on the next flyable day as all of the cavers appear to be at top camp and not coming down.