Monday, March 12th, 2018 at 4:53 pm - - Kayak Dive, Weekends

Earlier I published the bus and train itinerary. Now for some pics.


Friday, March 2nd, 2018 at 4:12 pm - - Kayak Dive, Weekends 1 Comment »

Just done 2 weeks (feels like 2 months) tour round southern Spain, culminating in 4 days of Surfski lessons in Tarifa. The conditions were gentle, which was perfect for people who don’t know how to paddle them properly.

We generally stayed cheaply in hostel dorm rooms (while going touristing) where all the jetsetting youth cluttering up the bunks didn’t seem to believe that there were actually train tracks all the way between where we were and England.

So to prove it, below is a table of our travel itinerary.

I’ll give a special shout-out to which we only found out about on our first day in Madrid when we asked the guy behind the desk in the hostel where was the best place to buy our bus tickets. We very quickly got used to waving our phone with a downloaded PDF of a QR code at the train or bus conductor to be scanned, as well as the excellent wifi on the buses.

Type From To Euros Minutes km kph km/Euro Road-minutes Date Purchased Method
Train Liverpool London 26 139 350 151.08 13.46 280 2018-02-12 2018-01-12 Virgin
Train London Paris 78 144 457 190.42 5.86 366 2018-02-13 2017-11-09 Loco2
Train Paris Barcelona 49 390 1037 159.54 21.16 600 2018-02-13 2017-11-09 Loco2
Train Barcelona Madrid 49.55 165 650 236.36 13.12 360 2018-02-13 2017-11-09 Loco2
Bus Madrid Granada 18.59 300 420 84.00 22.59 260 2018-02-15 2018-02-14 GoEuro
Bus Granada Cordoba 17.29 144 201 83.75 11.63 135 2018-02-17 2018-02-16 GoEuro
Train Cordoba Seville 15.2 45 140 186.67 9.21 100 2018-02-17 2018-02-16 GoEuro
Train Seville Cadiz 16.05 100 122 73.20 7.60 85 2018-02-19 2018-02-18 GoEuro
Bus Cadiz Tarifa 10.2 105 105 60.00 10.29 75 2018-02-19 2018-02-18 GoEuro
Bus Tarifa Gibraltar 4.45 65 42 38.77 9.44 43 2018-02-25 2018-02-24 GoEuro
Bus Gibraltar Malaga 11.7 180 130 43.33 11.11 100 2018-02-25 2018-02-25 Station
Train Malaga Barcelona 59.05 350 996 170.74 16.87 550 2018-02-27 2018-02-18 GoEuro
Train Barcelona Lyon 39 300 639 127.80 16.38 367 2018-02-28 2017-11-09 Loco2
Train Lyon London 78 300 933 186.60 11.96 547 2018-02-28 2017-11-09 Loco2
Train London Liverpool 26 143 350 146.85 13.46 280 2018-03-01 2018-02-11 Virgin

Our losses amounted to several USB cables, one hat, one scarf, my logbook (only started this year), and one blocked ear for Becka from a freezing cold dive out of Tarifa on what is called the boiler wreck, where we were shown a brick from Scotland.

There was also the incident of the large monkey with teeth in Gibraltar that almost stole our passports out of the top of Becka’s backpack but couldn’t unzip the pocket in time before I scared it off. (Actually, it scared me away as I shouted for Becka to bat it off her back.)

We thought thought this had been an amazing no-flight adventure, but then it turned out we got home too late to see the ignite talk by Graham Hughes who claims to have visited every country in the world without flying.

So it’s really nothing to write home about. I hope to get some pictures in due course.

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 at 8:18 pm - - Whipping 1 Comment »

Don’t get me wrong; innovation is an important thing, and it should be undertaken by every person in every organization at every hour of the day. There are reasonable economic theories that say it is one of the important components of productivity. And productivity can be a good thing if it means we get to do more work in less time, and spend our remaining hours doing things that really matter to us. (On the other hand, it’s not such a great deal if we end up working the same amount for the same pay, and all that happens is the boss of the company makes more money.)

Being as Innovation can be important for the public good, the Government thinks there should be more of it, and have funded an organization called InnovateUK staffed by people who have no clue and exactly zero intellectual curiosity as to what innovation is and what are the causes of innovation.

They simply treat it as a word without meaning or measure, as though it were a prayer to a nonexistent God, or a claim of piety. Is person X more innovative in his job than person Y? Well, let’s see if he has appointed himself Head of the Innovation Department in his company.


Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 at 3:05 pm - - University, Whipping

And so, I got an FOI response to my questions about the University Enterprize Zones.

The problem with all this sort of thing is they’ve not got a single case study of the kind of accelerated high-growth incubated start-up business around which to design their support infra-structure.

And, even if they did have a realistic example to work with, the genesis story behind every successful business is almost always entirely different.

Actually, that’s not true.

The one commonality is that successful business have customers who buy stuff for money. Investment, premises and business advice comes way down the line and is not normally relevant to an inquiry into the foundational existence of the business.

The fact that’s missing here is that the United States developed its wealth of home grown industry by spending its vast bloated military budget on the purchase of yet-to-be-developed high tech products. For example, the CNC machine tool was entirely uneconomical for the first 20 years after their development at MIT with the help of a five year US Air Force investment program. (see detailed blog article).

And these UK government clowns think it’s all about nine-month turn-around accelerators administered by money-focussed technical know-nothings with no vision and no buyers for on-the-edge feasible but not yet developed products.

So, here we go again with another vision-free and customer-free University Enterprise Zone boondoggle that aims to:

  • encourage universities to engage further with business and with LEPs in driving innovation and growth at a local level
  • encourage businesses with innovation potential to engage with universities
  • address the issue that there is little or no appetite in the private sector to invest in buildings on science parks providing office, workshop and laboratory space for small firms (incubator and grow-on space)

I’ve got the application forms for from seven of our leading universities here.

The most important question on the form is:

3.2 What demand is there for the services being proposed and what evidence is there that there is a market failure that needs to be addressed?

Now, let’s do something radical and begin with the definition:

In economics, market failure is a situation in which the allocation of goods and services is not efficient, often leading to a net social welfare loss. Market failures can be viewed as scenarios where individuals’ pursuit of pure self-interest leads to results that are not efficient – that can be improved upon from the societal point of view.

An example of a Market failure is the London Housing Market where private construction is almost all targeted to the top 10% where there is the greatest profit, and totally fails to supply anything for the rest of the people who have to live and work in the city on the wages they receive.

None of these responses contain what I think fits the description of a Market failure.

Birmingham proposed to add a new mezzanine floor in Faraday Wharf, and claimed that “the space for entrepreneurs currently on the Innovation Birmingham Campus is already full… An independent demand and need study [no reference provided] undertaken as part of the business case development for the iCentrum Building identified demand amongst West Midland businesses for science park premises that provide opportunities networking with like-minded businesses and bespoke business support provision.”

Bradford proposed two buildings in the city centre, and explained that “The Digital Exchange has a current occupancy rate of 40% and has struggled to compete in the general managed workspace market.”

Doesn’t sound like a market failure to me.

Manchester listed 16 health agencies associated with their university incubator facilities, and admitted that “although many of these bodies have explicit remits to support industry engagement and wealth creation, there is currently no infrastructure to effectively leverage assets to drive and capture local business creation.”

Their evidence of a “market failure that needs to be addressed” was as follows.

Newcastle was going to build an innovative lightweight fabric and timber structure on its Science Central campus and a two storey hatchery/incubator wing onto its Centre for Innovation and Growth Hub in Durham. They claimed that their unpublished report had found evidence of “new startup companies failing to secure suitable facilities in Newcastle because of a lack of incubator space” and of “new life science companies with established connections to the city being turned away.” Durham university claimed that they are “routinely approached by external businesses seeking space on campus to be close to facilities and research teams, [but] these requests generally have to be declined due to priority allocation of space to core research and the lack of dedicated incubation space.”

Are the rents for high tech firms too high in Newcastle due to property speculators? I’d like to know.

Liverpool included pictures of the sensorless building they were going to build, and gave four clear reasons for the so-called market failures:

  • A disconnect between industry, academic research into sensors and access to facilities for R&D
  • Difficulties in bridging the sensor innovation gap / “valley of death”
  • Skill shortages in the sensor market
  • High cost of prototyping and custom development

I have no idea what any of these have to do with building a brand new building.

Nottingham promised to build an incubator facility into a new 3-storey building situated alongside the iconic Sir Colin Campbell Building. Like a lazy student repeating the terms of reference of her set essay, they wrote: “As the Government’s own reports indicate, there is little or no appetite for the private sector to invest in incubation centres given that the returns do not justify the capital outlay. There is no prospect of a commercial investor taking the risk with out proposed centre, which our financial projections show will deliver an internal rate of return [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]. The proposal is therefore clearly addressing a market failure.

Bristol was going to build a robotics hatchery in the old Hewlett Packard R&D and fabrication site. (This is the same HP company that blew $9billion on an acquisition of a crap UK company with a rip-off salesforce and no technology to speak of. We can ask whether UK Gov views Autonomy as exemplary for conning so much money out of a stupid US Corporation, or as an embarrassment.)

In the “Demand for services” section, the applicants wrote: “Locally the take-up of incubator space has been rapid. Operators SETsquared and the Bath Innovation Centre report high occupancy rates and excess demand — both are actively considering second-phase development.”

Thus, they contradicted the stated claim made in the UEZ proposal, and won funding for their project, along with Liverpool, Nottingham and Bradford.

I’m still meaning to go try out coworking in each of these places if I can find the time.

Monday, January 22nd, 2018 at 6:59 pm - - Weekends

I know this is old tech, but we seem to be reaching peak mapping. Here’s my house from the Cathedral:

And then there’s the World bike hire schemes webpage which has everything.

I think I’m going to retire. It’s all getting so far beyond me.

Friday, January 5th, 2018 at 5:25 pm - - Machining, Whipping 5 Comments »

Most software related to engineering and construction is woefully out of date, time wasting, and under-deployed. New on my list of examples is the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), the de facto standard for designing and retrofitting energy efficient houses.

It comes as a massive multi-tab 7.9Mb unfriendly Excel spreadsheet. An example (rendered into PDF) looks like this.

The purpose of this software to “build up a useful interactive understanding of the design” in terms of materials, wall insulation thicknesses, windows direction facing into the sun, etc. and so forth. The results have been validated to a statistical average (but with up to a factor of 2 error), there’s a huge industry of consultants and training materials around it, and it’s trusted by the experts who seem pretty happy with its format.

The problem is that building it in the Excel platform fundamentally cripples its capability. And by being a paid-for product, not an open source program, they prevent any software developer, who is up to date with the efficient and more modern methods of production, from making improvements. (Instead these software developers end up devoting their time to perfecting a remote control light bulb and writing more lines of code than would ever be found in a Javascript-based port of the PHPP.)

Some background.


Monday, January 1st, 2018 at 3:39 pm - - Kayak Dive 1 Comment »

Grr, the youtube video editor got canned a few months ago. I didn’t notice because I haven’t done anything worthy of videoing and editing for months.

Fortunately, with the power of the record button in vlc and its capability of gluing clips together using these runes:

vlc 1.mp4 2.mp4 3.mp4 --sout "#gather:std{access=file,dst=join.mp4}" --sout-keep

I was able to get the clips trimmed down without wasting too much time.

There were wipe-outs.

Monday, January 1st, 2018 at 10:09 am - - Cave, Kayak Dive

While Becka abandons me for a whole month in Abkhazia including an unbroken 19 day underground camp (not due to surface until January 5), I finally had some Not-CavingTM fun out canoe surfing on Crosby Beach. (I had to sign up to spacebook to find the arrangements.)

I was happy because I was not at Bull Pot Farm, and I totally ignored the New Year celebrations because I was tired and sleepy, though the cathedral bells and the fireworks disturbed me.

Going again now, still with notably sore biceps. Hopefully the waves are a little less harsh. They roll in a little too frequently on that beach.

Friday, December 15th, 2017 at 6:48 pm - - Hang-glide

If I don’t blog it, it hasn’t happened. I have been forgetting this fact.

Yesterday I had a minor breakthrough.

For years I’d been seeing beautiful videos of simulated cloud convection online, but was never able to run them myself in order to look at the data.

The structure of thermals has been a long-term mystery to me, and I’ve noticed that some pilots seem to be able to navigate through and climb these invisible things quite reliably, yet are not able to explain how they do it. They are in the dark just as much as I am, yet they have — probably by luck (plus the necessary skill to recognize and lock it in) — struck upon the combinations of responses to inputs and gut senses that just happens to pay off spectacularly.

My gut feelings and responses to inputs don’t always work out so well because my imaginations of the air are probably too logical, incorrect and counter-productive and they require resetting and retraining to break free from their false notions.

So I’ve decided that it has got to help me if I can see what is going on, and not carry on wondering whether thermals are columns or vortex donuts, are surrounded by sinking air or tailwind incoming air, are observably warmer than their surroundings or mere upward kinetic energy.

So this time I tried harder to get to the simulation code when I had the time.

I am now pretty sure that the code for the GPU-resident Atmospheric Large-Eddy Simulation (GALES) is unpublished.

However, I did eventually establish from one of the papers that GALES is based on DALES — the Dutch Atmospheric Large-Eddy Simulation where it said the code was to be found at the broken link Fortunately it does exist at

This divulged a pile of Fortran90 code and a CMake script, and I was able to build it and run it against the cblstrong case example.

This eventually (after heating up my computer’s CPU) dumped out a file called initd03h00mx000y000.001 written by the function modstartup.f90 writerestartfiles with lines like:

write(ifoutput) (((u0 (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)
write(ifoutput)  (((v0 (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)
write(ifoutput)  (((w0    (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)
write(ifoutput) (((thl0 (i,j,k),i=2-ih,i1+ih),j=2-jh,j1+jh),k=1,k1)

By the power of Python I used the module to read the velocity component records like so:

ku = f.read_record(dtype="f8")
kv = f.read_record(dtype="f8")
kw = f.read_record(dtype="f8")

and determine that the number of double-float values in each array record came to 475300. Of course you can immediately tell that this factorizes into 50*70*70, so that the 3-dimensional array of vertical components of air velocity can be stated as:

kkw = numpy.resize(kw, (50,70,70))

Thus this is plotted slice-wise at a constant altitude by:


to make a familiar image of computer generated thermals seen in past papers:

I didn’t stop there, and generated the following video of a melt through from the bottom to the top with black arrows denoting the horizontal wind components:

using the code:

cmdstring = ('ffmpeg','-r', '5','-f','image2pipe','-vcodec', 'png', 
             '-i', 'pipe:', "testA.avi")
p = subprocess.Popen(cmdstring, stdin=subprocess.PIPE)
X, Y = numpy.mgrid[0:70, 0:70]
for ik in range(1,50,1):
    plt.figure(figsize=(11,11), frameon=False)
    Q = plt.quiver(X, Y, kku[ik,:,:], kkv[ik,:,:], color="black", headlength=4, headwidth=2)
    plt.imshow(kkw[ik,:,:], cmap=plt.get_cmap("coolwarm"), vmin=-5, vmax=5, interpolation="bilinear")
    plt.title("zslice %d" % ik)
    plt.savefig(p.stdin, format='png', pad_inches=0.0, bbox_inches='tight')

Boy have I wasted a lot of time on this so far, and I’ve got to do some other things while I catch up on some Basic Lessons on CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics). It can only help to have some background knowledge of the field.

The next step will be to investigate how to program the initial boundary conditions and setup to create a single idealized thermal, which is an evolutionary structure in time and space that a glider like mine might encounter. And while a glider is flying and circling and climbing in it, the thermal is evolving, so your experience can only be expressed as a slice that runs like a diagonal corkscrew through the spacetime continuum fluid in four dimensions.

There’s no way this is ever going to make sense, but if it challenges my intuition to break out into another state where the flight of my wings flows through the air better, then it will have certainly worked for me.

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 2:51 pm - - Whipping

Page 332 of Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path has the following passage (rewritten for readability):

In the early 1960s I was commissioned by a Japanese patron to design one of my tetrahedronal floating cities for Tokyo Bay.

Floating cities are designed with the most buoyantly stable conformation of deep-see bell-buoys. Their omni-surface-terraced, slope-faced, tetrahedronal structuring is employed to avoid the lethal threat of precipitous falls from sheer high-rise buildings.

The tetrahedron has the most surface with the least volume of all polyhedra. As such it provides the most possible “outside” living. Its sloping external surface is adequate for all its occupants to enjoy their own private, outside, tiered-terracing, garden homes. These are most economically serviced from the common, omni-nearest-possible center of volume of all polyhedra.

In 1966 my Japanese patron died and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development commissioned me to carry out a full design and economic analysis for potential USA use. With my associates I completed the design and study as well as a scaled-down model.

The city of Baltimore was interested in acquiring the first such floating city for anchorage just offshore in Chesapeake Bay. At this time President Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic Party went out of power. President Johnson took the model with him and installed it in his LBJ Texas library. Baltimore’s politicians went out of favour with the Nixon administration, and the whole project languished.

That’s interesting, I thought, and looked for information about it at the LBJ presidential library.

I couldn’t find any record of a model, but I did get this transcript of an oral history interview with, I think, one of the White House staffers.

Liz [Carpenter] (press secretary to the formidable First Lady) and I had a fascinating afternoon. Charlie Haar, assistant secretary of HUD (under RC Weaver), who had some money for grants for new and innovative kinds of things, had given Buckminster Fuller a grant to develop a concept and model of an offshore city, floating habitation. Bucky had done the model in terms of, I think, San Antonio. Am I right? Is that on the coast? No, no, Galveston. That’s on the coast.

Haar was intrigued by it, and he thought we’d be interested in seeing it. So over we went, and there was this great model in the hall. Mr. Fuller and Secretary Haar began explaining how it worked, and Liz looked at it and she looked at it. This was the latest and most advanced, most sophisticated concept of all integrated facilities and services and shops and schools and housing and residences and everything all piled in a great bundle out at sea where it didn’t take any land, et cetera. She said it looked like a filing case, and what kind of people were going to live in a place like that? What was going to become of them if they lived in a place like that? She was shocked with Charles Haar. In fact she was going to turn the Sierra Club loose on him if he ever surfaced this proposal anywhere. People would turn into moles and be stunted if they had to live in a filing cabinet. She thought it violated everything we’d been standing for and working for.

Poor Fuller blinked, and I think that’s one of the best things that ever happened to him. Because he’s the kind of person who’s a demigod among technocrats and innovators, and everyone pays tribute to his genius. But Liz Carpenter sure didn’t. Liz just cut him down. He began talking about the mobilty of people these days and how he lived out of a suitcase and went from hotel room to hotel room. He was always making speeches and consulting here and there, and people really just need a place to bathe and lie down for a while. This kind of facility was designed for the new mobile age. Liz said, “Well, if they don’t stay home, it’s because we haven’t given them anything to stay home for.”

Charlie began getting worried that his august consultant might be offended. Liz was so direct and so irrefutable and so to the point and so insistent that they face up to the more basic question she was asking that Charlie finally sort of pulled her over under one side of the model, and I pulled Fuller over to the other side of the model to keep them away from each other. We temporized as hard as we could, and then we got Liz in an elevator and sent her down. I sort of patted Fuller on the back and said, “Now don’t you worry, and don’t you ever forget anything she said, because you know she’s right. But don’t let it get to you.” Charlie and I rolled our eyes at each other and felt that one had distinctly backfired. I think it shows her extraordinary contribution, and I couldn’t help but be glad that she’d done it.

For a bit of context, this was the era of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project disaster, which was designed by no less than the architect of the World Trade Center buildings. Public housing is hard– especially when public administrators are politically instructed to ruin everything in their power.

A clue of the personal-social dymanics between the professions is provided in an essay entitled; The Pruitt-Igoe Myth:

Even after the architects had switched to an all high-rise scheme, they faced continued pressure from the Public Housing Administration to keep costs to a bare minimum. In a 1975 study of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s expenditures on Pruitt-Igoe, political scientist Eugene Meehan analyzed the extent to which these budget constraints affected the final design. In addition to the elimination of amenities, such as children’s play areas, landscaping, and ground-floor bathrooms, the cost cutting targeted points of contact between the tenants and the living units. “The quality of the hardware was so poor that doorknobs and locks were broken on initial use. …Windowpanes were blown from inadequate frames by wind pressure. In the kitchens, cabinets were made of the thinnest plywood possible.”

…By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions. By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty in America. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.