Freesteel Blog » 2016 » June

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.


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.

Luckily there were paragliders flying here and there to guide me and stop me from wussing out whenever it was feeling too extreme.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

(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.)

Friday, June 17th, 2016 at 1:48 pm - - Machining 1 Comment »

What was that horrible noise coming out of the closet at DoESLiverpool for about three days?

I was attempting to machine down one of these hold-down clamps so it could fit the 70mm wide type 2 vice I’d bought recently.

My earlier attempts to clamp the vice down on two points failed when the bolts rattled loose and the whole thing started being dragged back and forth across the table by the milling cutter. I decided was going to require at least four points of attachment to work, and these neat little clamps looked just the right shape — except for the problem of being slightly too tall.

(That current configuration in the picture was an idea Andy came up with at the last minute when trying to solve this problem.)

Andy had tried to skim them down on his lathe and told me that the metal was too hard. But I was determined to prove that anything could be done if you took little enough cuts. In this case it was steps of 0.1mm per layer and 0.5mm across

At 8000rpm there were sparks. These didn’t happen at 6000rpm. I was running with a 5mm 2fluke flat bottomed tiain-coated carbide tool. Furthermore, the conventional milling sounded marginally less nasty than the climb milling passes. I’m surprised nothing broke, though I don’t have the experience to tell whether a tool has worn out or not.

The result was pretty crap. Instead of performing some clean cutting, it seems like some of the metal was simply bashed flat and pushed out to form a lip around the face.
I didn’t know that metal would have the propensity to produce this result when undergoing milling.

It’s not a factor accounted for any software I’ve heard of.

I’ve written many algorithms that detect the horizontal flat faces of a part and create toolpaths to skim them out, but no one has ever requested a subsequent pass just below each open edge to clean off the burr left over.

Sadly, there won’t be any more machining for at least six weeks as I’ll be in a rainy campsite in Austria waiting for the chance to fly. At least this will give me lots of time to try and write some useful code when I’m not washing pans or carrying rope and other provisions for the cavers.

Friday, June 17th, 2016 at 12:03 pm - - Whipping

I went to the International Festival for Business down at the Liverpool docks to see a presentation on the funding competition for 3D printing by InnovateUK yesterday.

I was quickly trapped in a dark room full of suits as the Government man painstakingly powerpointed his way through the process by which they were going to hand over several millions of pounds to the sorts of respectable businessmen who ultimately don’t give a damn if the technology can be made to work productively or not, because the underlying purpose of their job titles is to extract financial profits for themselves as the primary objective.

That is the very definition of a respectable businessman these days. It’s not ever defined as someone with the character to manage and inspire the teams of technologists who would have the capability to deliver the technology, or a preparedness to use finance in the service of these ends rather than as an excuse to impose inefficient and ineffective research and development methods onto any program they control.

Back in the old days when the Government wanted some new technology developed, like nuclear weapons, space travel or machine tools, people sought out and spoke to the engineers who were ultimately going to have to do the job, and then designed programs around the necessity of organizing these engineers to get it done as efficiently as possible.

If their one idea is that people like me have to be subserviently employed under a contract to deliver closed source software for the know-nothing suits they’ve deliberately empowered to curate this technology by virtue of proving them the grants, then it’s going to be a disappointment.

I walked out to the main hall where FW de Klerk was being introduced prior to his speech.


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.


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.)

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

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.

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.