Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 at 10:42 am - - Machining

Friday evening I made a visit to the Berlin Fab-Lab open day. They’ve got a heck of a lot of 3D printers in a small space. All kinds colours and materials, from brittle and hard to rubbery plastic. I think they also build their own kits. (I asked them if they’d heard of the Autodesk Spark, and they hadn’t. It’s great to be out in the big wide world!)
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But just as they find in DoESLiverpool, the 2D laser cutter gets the most use, because we can design things in 2D for a fraction of the effort.

The weekend was blighted by a desperately bad headache which was entirely unlike a hang-over that confined me to a dark room. (Hang-overs tend to release at around 8pm the following day for me.)

On Sunday afternoon I started to do some work.

Firstly, I discovered that all my laser scanning data was lost on the Autodesk computer which I gave back last week for disposal, so I can’t work on that software till I get some more, probably by going to Bristol and making the device work again.

Then I discovered that almost all my temperature sequence data was also lost on that same computer — although I do have 6 days of records from some time last September before the cold weather properly set in and we got some actual useful data. Whether I can find it anywhere on an SD card, or I have to collect some data all over again with a new Arduino set-up of my own making will have to wait till I get home.

For convenience, I’m putting the maths of exponential decay curves into a separate blogpost.

Here’s a picture of some not very spooky pumpkins in the local supermarket.
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Also, I spied a poster for the newly opened Happylab Salsburg. Might be one for a drop-in next expo.

Maybe these are like computer clubs were back in the 1970s. It’ll all make sense in hindsight one day.

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 at 3:43 pm - - Machining

I’m casting around for some little long term geometric projects which I could be good at. I’m very bad at the sysops stuff and compilers (which seems to be a breeze for every other hacker in the world). Plotting the geometry which you have calculated is also a drag.

For me, twistcodewiki does it all.

I followed the instructions to compile OpenVoronoi on this very small under-powered linux netbook I have kicking around, and got twistcodewiki to work. Here is me entering a polygon and plotting a voronoi structure from it:

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The code is as follows:
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Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 at 5:13 pm - - Machining 1 Comment »

I seem to have teleported into the Berlin Startup Bootcamp 2014 to see my friends at Housahedron. No doubt the prospect has evolved somewhat in the weeks that they have been on their own.

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Doesn’t matter in the long term. I am still absolutely certain that this will be a consumer product, like a TV or a microwave oven. Every house will have one.

I think I am coming down with my winter cold. Lethargy and crawly skin. The train journey from London was a lot tougher than it should have been. I am now back on my old pre-Autodesk laptop. There was a bit of panick getting the Webgl drivers to work so I could run my essential twistcodewiki system. Then I chatted with Mr. Heeks of HeeksCNC and made an inspection of the state of the art in the Open Source CNC world. It’s waiting for the time when geeks own their own machine tools so they are not only in the hands of professional engineers who don’t like to program.

The whole HeeksCAD UI is in C++ wxWidgets and too complicated for me to compile (especially as I’ve uninstalled the compilers), but it works by writing out a short Python program that it runs in a separate executable which links against area_funcs, libarea and nc (for the post-processor) in ways that rely on the global namespace (ahem).

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Anyways, I’ve just managed to get it to operate in my WebGL system, so the point is proven. Don’t know where it leads, but one of the intentions is to get a computer system that drives a machine tool directly in a tight feedback loop in a similar manner that it would drive a car — ie not by generating all the motions of the steering wheel off-line and simply replaying them from a file. That would be some innovation that I cannot ever see happening in the real world, because the idea is not an incremental change strictly limited to one of the hardened silos in which this field of engineering is strictly divided.

Other projects not touched on yet are my laser scanning software (I’ve lost my sample files), the undemocracy scraper, tunnelx cave surveyor, triangle machine tool kickstarter, and some android phone apps.

Monday, October 6th, 2014 at 4:07 pm - - Machining 5 Comments »

This CEO of Autodesk has taken everything I’ve made in the field of machine tool software in return for some stock options that I cannot cash and a crushing of my spirit. Nevermind the price; I need to get out before I lose my mind.

This is the time to create negative publicity for myself. The teflon was scraped off years ago. Burning your bridges is alive in the hackspace.

Is it inevitable that any large hierarchical organization will deteriorate into a pool of grease and bureaucracy around one exquisite bubble containing the CEO?

Since he possesses the sole discretionary power of patronage and the gift of money, the sapiens do gather round and stare as if at camp fire. No one is permitted to spit.

Well, it depends on the man, on whether he is paranoid about complacency, or dives fully in on the power trip and goes mental:

The first thing that happened when I became CEO was I got much funnier and smarter… I would say there’s a part of it that you can resist and resist and resist, but there is a part of it where there’s a whole organization or a world around you that looks out for you in a weird way.

Still, it must be tough at the top of a creaking ten billion dollar thirty year old software corporation, raking in the multi-millions of dollars that awarded during this post-financial crisis corporate CEO pay bubble era.

Meanwhile, paradigm-shifting software products are popping up left and right out of nowhere within miles of your downtown San Francisco offices, and nothing happens on your patch. The magic has gone. You can pay over the odds for any tech start-up you like, but you’re not fooling anyone. It’s simply retail therapy.
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Friday, October 3rd, 2014 at 11:55 am - - Kayak Dive

Aside from having to get up at five in the morning and Becka not skiving the day to come along on the boat, it was a perfect trip out.

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Liverpool is starting to look a lot like the Esbjerg did the first time I caught the ferry over to Denmark in 2003 and saw spinning wind turbines everywhere.

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What amazing kit — the original gopro camera still hasn’t broken. I record these videos for the same reason I write phone numbers down in a book or keep a trip log: I can’t remember things well enough.

The water was pretty warm at 16degrees. I wore all my layers under the drysuit anyway and barely felt a thing swimming around. It was like a dream. I didn’t take any lobsters, but the others did. The conger eels stayed in the cracks while the tompot blennies came out to play.

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The second dive was on the Calcium where there was one large cod and more starfish than grains of sand.

There was a surprise party in the evening, which I thought was for my birthday, but wasn’t.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 12:28 pm - - Weekends 1 Comment »

I’ve always hated fell walking. It’s character building, good for a family trip out, and uses lots of time. It’s boring. As a kid you’d rather spend the day on the beach building sand castles or learning to windsurf.

Yes, there are so-called wonderful views. But they’re not the point. If they were, then how come the walk doesn’t get cancelled when the hills are in fog? We don’t try to windsurf when there’s no wind.

Admit it, you’re doing it because of tradition and for the pointless exercise. It’s a particularly painful exercise because you’re only using the lower half of your body, pounding it for hour after hour with hardly an interval of rest. At least when you go cycling there are those downhill bits where you cover the ground and your muscles have time to recover.

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The idea of the Lakeland 3000 is to walk all 4 peaks in the Lake District that are over 3000 feet in altitude in 24 hours. This is a stupid idea, but that doesn’t stop people from getting hooked on it, and then inviting Becka and me into the plan. It was the caving conference weekend. The caving conference is always the same each year. One thing lead to another, and I found myself walking towards Keswick town square at 10:30pm on a Friday night after an extremely grumpy day due to a headache and no sleep the night before.
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Friday, September 26th, 2014 at 11:02 am - - Machining 2 Comments »

I have a US passport because my dad is American. I’ve never lived or worked there in my adult life, because I am British, so I didn’t know you had to pay tax on everything, because the Internal Revenue Service does not believe there is such a thing as not belonging to America. They’re an empire. Everywhere else in the world is foreign, so you have to send your money back to the homeland — even if it’s not your home.

If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, the rules for filing income, estate, and gift tax returns and paying estimated tax are generally the same whether you are in the United States or abroad. Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside. [source]

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Sunday, September 21st, 2014 at 3:51 pm - - Adaptive 2 Comments »

Lot’s of stay-down linking work going on. Sometimes I worry it’ll never work. While Becka has been caving, I’ve been working through the weekends in the empty bedrooms of Bull Pot Farm, (occasionally interrupted by horrible hangovers).

Here’s the checkin changes of a beast of a file.
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It’s like building a dry stone wall: I can’t remember any of what I’ve done; I only know what move is next. It’s an incremental procedure. New problem cases crop up, and you go away, have a cup of tea and come up with a solution, and keep repeating in the hope you don’t run out of ideas before it gets fixed.

The basic steps of the algorithm are as follows:
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Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 at 2:28 pm - - Kayak Dive

We went away for some kayak diving in Pembrokeshire over the weekend. I wanted to dive on the north coast from St David’s, but the north wind had picked up, so we directed ourselves to the south coast and going out of Solva after camping on Friday night in a layby to the east of Felindre Farchog on the A487 that had bogs. A useful discovery after drawing a blank going down some of the single-track back roads near there at one in the morning.

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There’s not much to report on the diving. No amazing sights. Not a conger eel, or dolphin, or trigger fish, or even a spider crab. It was mostly kelp, gravel, silt, and a few pollacks. Everything had gone away for the winter even though the water was as warm as it is at any time of the year. The energy for life comes from the sunlight, not from heat. The cliffs were empty of birds who had abandoned their ledges that they had spent the spring and summer painting white with guano.

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Solva harbour is pretty dry most of the time. After waiting 5 hours for the tide to rise, we dragged our boats out when it was at this level.

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Becka is unimpressed by this strap coming loose on to which she had tied her canoe for this dive on the south side of Green Scar. There were gusts of wind on all sides of the island, even on this seaward side which was supposed to be sheltered. We did a shallow short dive, then got back on the boats and paddled into the wind to get back to the coast. There had been a slight concern we weren’t going to make it after going off-shore like this, but there wasn’t a problem.

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We camped at Cairfai Farm, the low-carbon tents-only campsite south of St David’s on the coast, having left our kayaks on the beach so that we only had to carry the empty tanks up the steps to change them at the car.

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My old set of electronic charts are broken, but after looking at a chart of Ramsey Sound on the wall of a pub I spotted a wreck in Porthlysgi Bay which I could look up accurately on the internet, which meant we could dive the wreck of the St George the next day.

I don’t know anything about it, except there were a lot of tall bits of metal which Becka had to thread the kayak anchor line around.

After this, the options were to either drift round on the current into Ramsey Sound, or go back along the coast for a final dive off the east side of Porth Clais where there was a deep section of sea bed close in shore, according to the charts (about 13m).

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Being chickens, we opted for the latter. I’d also told the coast guard we’d be off the water by 6pm, so there wasn’t much time left. I always inform them now after getting call-outs due to walkers who see us fall in the water and start thrashing around trying to get our kit on before appearing to drown.

It was a long drive home via the chip shop in Fishguard. I still need to come back and do that north coast again when it’s in shelter.

Friday, September 5th, 2014 at 12:56 pm - - Hang-glide

I got a lot of other more important things I should be blogging about, but what the heck. This is a quick one and I want to relive it. I got out yesterday for a flight on Whernside and persuaded a caver to carry up my harness for me and make sure there wasn’t a crash on take-off because, as usual, I was pretty much alone again.

A paraglider did walk up just as I was ready to take-off. Unfortunately he didn’t join me in the air for very long after he launched half-way down the face of the hill to avoid the wind-speed.

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This is the fifth time I’ve carried my glider up this hill. It’s doesn’t feel very far now.

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Classic British method of rigging with the glider flat on the ground.

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The air was very murky, but actually blowing on the hill properly for a change. I got up high 400-500m above take off three times.

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This is about 8 minutes later after I lost my altitude and was now below the ridge again. I don’t have enough experience to tell whether this was my fault through incompetence, or whether it was unavoidable. That’s one reason to have other people in the air.

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I had to pack up early, and flew straight out from the ridge against the wind to land just the other side of Low Sleights Road by Ribblehead, which was not bad going. I cannot get over just how barren and bleak this landscape is.

Is it all because of the sheep, because otherwise it would be a total forest — as it is inside any enclosure?