Sunday, 21 December 2008

A feature of the night...

It's been a long time coming, but we're finally there... the shortest day. My long nights of howling at the moon are nearly over. From here on, those long summer days can only get closer. Horray!
As you can see the photos have a nocturnal theme. The second photo is a bit dark, but click on it and it'll get all big and be much clearer to see (the wonders of electrickery). The bright 'star' on the left is Jupiter which is really easy to spot at the moment. Just right of centre is Venus. They are most obvious just as it gets dark. I can see them even from my patch of light polluted ether, so those of you in the darker areas should get spectacular view...

Friday, 5 December 2008

X-small Xmas...

'Grow your own Christmas tree', that's what the box said. It seemed like a brilliant idea. On special offer for only 50 pence in the January 2008 sales... Bargain! Complete with its own little terracotta pot and compost, what could go wrong?
Within a fortnight there was already a tiny spike of growth, and it wasn't even February yet. There was still 11 months of growing time before Christmas. I spent the wet summer carefully nurturing the little chap. Warding away any potential threat from snails or mischievous cats. After a years growth and Christmas looming, this was the result...

... I'd hoped for.
Unfortunately, this is the reality. Where am I going to get lights small enough to fit this?! I wouldn't say that I'm disappointed, but I'm thinking it very loudly! Still, it's going to make the presents look HUGE...

Friday, 14 November 2008

Got to get out or I'll go bonkers!....

I go a bit 'stir crazy' this time of year. Short days and precious little sunlight even then. The English autumn and winter is like living in a damp cave.....
The weather forecast announced "no rain all day!" It seems it's been wet everyday for weeks now, so I was determined to make the most of it. The grubby bike desperately needs a wash... it'll have to wait.
I don't know why I've got the old faithful GPS attached to the handlebars because I know the area like the back of my hand.
After a few miles of traversing the heaths and woods it was definitely time for coffee and sandwiches... any excuse to loll around in one of my many hammocks!
The hideously wet summer has at least left an autumn legacy of bronzed trees contrasting with the still lush grass.
I love to watch the goods trains thunder under the bridges. As kids we used to put coins on the track and collect them after they had been squished into sausage shapes by the mighty weight of the locomotives.
The shadows lengthened as I looked out across the fields from a hilltop.
The days are very short now, but at least the sun departs with a warm glow.
The horses were enjoying the warm day and were playing 'silly buggers' with the exasperated lady trying to get them to the stables for the night.
They are building yet another taller TV transmitter, 30 meters taller than the one next to it that had a near miss with a passenger jet only last year!
I couldn't figure out what all these men were trying to do at first. It turns out they were attempting to plug a giant cable into the bottom of the transmitter, and I thought the ariel in the back of my TV was fiddly!...
With my tummy rumbling yet again, I headed for home. The local cats were waiting for me, wondering where I'd been all day, and why hadn't I been playing with them on such a pleasant day.
The evening drew to a close with a fantastic sunset. "Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky in morning, global warming!"...

Just click on the pictures for a larger image...

Friday, 31 October 2008

The 7 Factoid Challenge...

I was tagged to do a meme by Lavender. I really struggled with this one, I guess facts don't come naturally to me. So here are my 7 factoids...

1.) I once saw a UFO.
2.) I'm bilingual. I speak English, and 'loud' English for when I'm abroad.


3.) I once lost several fingers in a vicious Porcupine attack at a zoo while in Denmark. Luckily they regenerated, and now you would never know anything had happened. It is a little known factoid that fingers are able to do this.
4.) I was once a beardy, weirdy road protester who lived in the trees.
5.) I really, really hate wearing shoes. Only bad things happen when you are wearing shoes... going out to places you don't want to be, funerals, and office work.
6.) I was once handed a 3 month jail sentence. I bet you can't guess what for!!!!...
7.) I was once bitten by a bat. His name was Boris and he didn't mean any harm. I've since become a 'creature of the night'.

I now have to elect 7 more victims to do the '7 Factoid Challenge' as I've renamed it. It seems that most of my fellow bloggers have already done this one, but I challenge...
Floderten, Elisa (I know you've already done it, but I reckon you're good for another 7), Candace, Patti, Lesley, Max the Cat... in fact, everyone! (but never feel obligated...)

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The 'mark of Zorro'...

I was impatient. I wanted to take some more ariel photos and video using the helicopter but the weather just wouldn't play ball. Sure, it was sunny, but it was also windy. Heavily laden helicopters and wind don't mix well. An unexpected gust lifted the little machine into an uncontrollable 'death roll' which proceeded to come straight at me. I tried to step aside, wasn't quick enough and found myself branded with the 'mark of Zorro' by the whirring rotors...OOoow! I would have to think of something else.
video
Thinking that I would use the wind to my advantage, I grabbed my trusty kite, some gaffer tape, some foam blocks and of course my FlyCam and walked to a nearby piece of open land.
With a bit of messing about I soon had the camera wrapped in protective foam and attached to the assembled kite.
The wind was annoying. It would gust hard then suddenly drop off leaving the kite flutter to the ground.
My first flight was with the video running. Weaving the kite from side to side in a vain attempt to gain height resulted in a very wobbly picture that left you with a distinct sea sick nausea.
Next I tried taking some stills. The wind was a little more cooperative this time.
Running backwards (dodging the minefield of dog poos left by mindless owners) got me some good altitude.
Once up high, I could appreciate how lucky I was to live in such a leafy area, dotted with lakes. Sometimes I take all this for granted, I shouldn't...
The resolution on the pictures isn't all that I hoped it would be. The camera is compromised by its weight saving (37 grams). More lifting capacity is required.... I've still got that ex-military parachute that I used when I had a go at flying (see - Lets go fly a kite...). I packed it away after it nearly ripped my arms off and threatened to drag the car that it was tethered to across a field. I wonder?!...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Helicam revisited...

Another version of my previous video, but now with music and additional photos.
video

Monday, 29 September 2008

Goodbye faithful friend...

The sickening crunch of metal meeting metal filled my heart with dread.

I watched in slow motion horror as the bodywork concertinaed up towards me. There was a mule kick from the steering wheel and pedals. The seat belt tore into my chest. I awaited my coffin to fold up and crush my legs...
The moment never came. My friend took the blow. Little Micra had saved my life...
Shiny panels slowed the impact, crumpling as designed.
Things didn't look good.
From the front you could pretend that the damage was superficial...
...but it was soon clear that a large and important section of car was now...gone!
I felt like crap. Everything ached. It aggravated all my old injuries including my 'bionic' leg from my motorbike accident. Luckily, whiplash and a hurt shoulder complete with 'seat belt' stripe were my only major concerns.

The guy that hit me had run a red light. I'd survived, but little Micra had not been so lucky.
We shared fond memories, Micra and I. Exploring the world together, we loved nothing better than a razz through the lanes...

Sunday, 21 September 2008

'Helicam' higher...

This poor little helicopter has fallen off, rooves, hit washing lines, trees, paddled in birdbaths, as well as the ground coming up and hitting it on numerous occasions; all without major damage.
Oh, but hit a bit of floppy tall grass with the rotor results in a 'top locked over shank sheet bend' knot of twisted green rope wrapped around the shaft accompanied by a shriek indicating that every last tooth has been stripped off the drive gears...OOoow!!
video
Flying helicopters is like watching a horror movie...you know something bad is going to happen, you just don't know when!
Nevermind, these things can always be rebuilt. I couldn't resist the temptation to modify it just a little. A new inner drive shaft topped with an aluminium fly bar support that allows the top blades to articulate even more...cool. A quick test flight and I'm ready for new horizons.
My previous attempts at ariel videography were thwarted by the camera switching itself off. I'd put this down to me not charging it sufficiently, but, even though the camera was new, it turned out to be the battery. Replacing the tiny postage stamp sized lipo battery was a fiddle. I've got big blokey wide fingers. I need the dexterity of a trained monkey, but that's a project for another day.
I fashioned some over sized skids from polystyrene in order to avoid crushing the camera on landing.
A lanyard was also included to prevent any camera free fall videos...
It wasn't the prettiest of setups, but it did the job.

As the machine rose ever higher, a speck in the sky, a halo of sunlight reflecting off the blades the only indication of its unnatural presence, I felt a dread that this would be the last time I'd ever see it. It didn't matter how still it was on the ground, up there where eagles dare, there was always a wind, or a thermal to snatch it away...
I was unable to get the views I really wanted as I had to turn it into the wind to enable enough control to keep it in 'known' airspace. I was glad to bring it back down, opting for a 'petal cushion' landing on a very surprised Begonia.
Next project... Lights, and night flying!
I reckon there's plenty of fun to be had buzzing a few drunks on their way home. That should spawn a few UFO sightings!!!...

Monday, 8 September 2008

Helicopter highs...

The idea was simple. Learn to fly a model helicopter, attach a mini video unit to it and get some cool footage. In reality it didn't turn out so simple.
I began with a cheap 3 channel electric model. No good. After practicing enough to elude myself that it was me controlling it, and not visa versa, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't up to the job. The slightest puff of wind sent it drifting to the far end of the garden.
A better helicopter was purchased. Coaxial rotors (2 main rotors mounted one above the other operating in opposite directions) for stability, 4 channel control employing a proper swash plate for pinpoint positioning. Now I was able to go up, down, forwards, backwards, plus yaw left and right, or any combination of all six together.
Learning to fly this was like patting your head while rubbing your tummy while riding a bicycle!! Two weeks later I could fly with reasonable accuracy.

I started off using a little wireless camera. Fairly light at only 20 grams the helicopter lifted it easily, unfortunately it required a heavy battery to run it. The weight was too much and flight became laboured and clumsy. I purchased a specialist flight camera. It only weighed 37 grams, and would take stills as well as 25 frames a second video, storing them on an SD card...perfect.

After weeks of windy, wet, dull, unsuitable weather, there came a still, brightish day. Everything was set... except the camera battery wasn't fully charged, damn. It switched off after 30 secs of video, which was VERY annoying. Luckily it had enough juice to carry on taking stills, one every 4 seconds. The first attempt seemed to be going well. Achieved a good height, span it around to look back at the house. Then, as I descended, the wind funnelling around the house gripped the little chap and urged him down to the main road. After amusing the rush hour traffic with a couple of jaunty pirouettes, it headed for the sanctuary of the front garden. The Bumble bees buzzed in annoyance as it landed on the flower heads next to them in the Buddleia bush. A battery change and a quick pruning to remove the majority of the collected foliage and it was time for another attempt. Brimming with enthusiasm I flew ever higher... The little machine was a silhouetted speck against a wide sky. This may have been part of the problem as the wind tussled the rotors... The tail boom was missing after a previous incident when the ground came up unexpectedly and hit it. It wasn't now very clear which way the helicopter was pointing. I descended a little, gravity being the only control I was sure of. That was better. Now I could see which way it was facing. Look left, over the neighbours garden... Look behind, for a view of my garden... Spin 180 degrees for a look at.... CRAP!! Who put that roof there?! Rotor tips whined at 3000rpm against the roof tiles, desperate to gain escape velocity. It was no good, the camera and tired battery forced an unceremonious 'gutter' landing. It dangled perilously from the high roof, swinging calmly from the one skid hooked over the gutter edge.
Not to worry. I have a plan. If I buy an even bigger helicopter, and attach a hook underneath. Hover it over the stranded one......