Monday, October 31, 2011

Making Towards Life

This piece, by Luigi Boccherini, makes towards life, while so much of our culture seems to make towards destruction and death. By the time we are 10 years old, the sociologists tell us, we have witnessed over 2,000 murders on television.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flight Simulator

When I was in Barrow, Alaska a few winters ago, I visited with the Search and Rescue pilots who would be alerted if I'd been in an emergency. Touring their office, I was surprised to see one pilot seated at a PC, flying a flight simulator, like you see above. These computer programs have come so far that they're useful for pilots to keep up basic hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, and, probably most importantly, checklist procedures memory when they're not actually flying. So, now, sometimes late at night, when I can't sleep or need some item to work on the balloon project, but don't have it, I fly a flight simulator to keep me conversant with things like glancing at the altimeter to know my altitude, understanding the effects of winds (I can set clouds and winds at whatever altitudes etc. I want), and checklists; for example, in the screen grab above, I'm making my 'base' leg of the approach (which I learned in paragliding flight training) and have to keep an eye on my altitude, speed (not too fast, not too slow!), using flaps to decelerate at a certain time, my vertical speed (and whether it's positive or negative), drop landing gear at the right time, and so on as I maneuver in for a landing at dusk at an airstrip near San Francisco.
For the balloon project, the main things of relevance here are becoming familiar with the altimeter and the vertical speed indicator, both instruments on my current flight panel. Otherwise, not much here is directly relevant to flying a balloon, but there are balloon simulators out there, and I mean to get one. I will then connect that to some actuators that will activate my flight panel instruments, so that as the program runs on the computer, sitting at the controls I will be able to simulate flights while completely suited up in the pressurized pressure suit. That will be invaluable experience, just as simulator time is a major component of any pilot's training and skills maintenance.
Flying the simulator is also, I have to say, a lot of fun. I am certain that some elements make it sometimes harder to fly than an actual airplane; for example, there is no physical sensation of movement, that pilots use to help gauge what the aircraft is doing, and as good as the graphics are, depth perception is still difficult to simulate.
In the image I'm setting up landing in a twin-prop Cessna. I like twin-prop aircraft of any kind, and don't like much single-engine craft of any kind! I have been in enough of them--over Canada, Kenya, and Alaska--to realize that I don't like staking so much on just one engine!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Quick Test

Unable to focus on a piece of writing this morning, a little while ago I put on the helmet and pressurized the system. Still little bugs to iron out -- though just about anything other than perfect isn't 'little' at all -- but good to see they system come right up to good pressure and voltage. I need to seal off all the wiring after making the final connections, get the tank refilled, and make one or two adjustments to the pressure suit itself. Then, I think I'm ready for the full test.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Too Easy to Forget

The avalanche of advertising that assaults us daily often uses, in a fragmented, shredded form, some of civilization's greatest achievements. We respond to these fragments because even these bits carry a great freight of two thousand years of our civilization's sensibilities. Here is one, often stripped into parts, that we rarely get to hear in its entirety;

Bach Cello Suite 1.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Evolution Talk

A talk I'm giving tomorrow; image placed here for boring, technical reasons...but if you're interested, see you there! The talk is based on recent article, linked here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

System Pre-Test!

Last night's pressure leak was just a loose connection, and I fixed it this morning. I then connected the electrical system, pressurized the breathing gas / suit inflation system, and turned on the master power switch. All well! The new pressure regulator works beautifully and is much easier to control, right down to even finer than 1psi increments. Pressing the inflator button on the suit worked to send gas to the suit (on the right, with the pressure restraint garment pulled aside from the connection for now) and the electrics turned on a small 'cockpit' light (on a foot-long snake neck) to help illuminate the instruments, and the voltmeter displayed the battery charge. Power is flowing through the main breaker without loss of amps downstream, and the oral-nasal mask breathing system worked to inhale breathing gas from the tank and then purge exhaled gas out the appropriate hose. It all works. Now, back to the last adjustments of the pressure restraint garment, which means more sewing, which I can only do once I get my hands on some large sailmaking needles; I finally broke the last of mine last week. This was the last one remaining from the set that Dad bought for me before the sailing raft expedition back in 1998-1999. So - very close to the full suit test, and I'm looking for people to help with that, which will include one suit manager, one power/gas system manager and one person to shoot stills and video.

But wait! One more component to build -- the suit coolant system, requiring a new fluid pump and sewing the coolant hoses into a special vest. Still -- awfully close, now, to the incredible day when I can demonstrate the viability of this system! Hoo eee! The anticipation is fantastically energizing!

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Pressure Control Unit Installed

After a departmental get-together, I rushed home to build the new pressure controller into the system; it's the unit I'm dialing with my left hand in the photo, the unit with two red hoses coming off of it. All well--until I pressurized the system. There's at least one leak somewhere, and I have to check all the connections. If they're all OK, then it's a defect in the control unit...and I'll move on to fixing that. I'll be on the fix before sunup!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pressure Controller

Finally, the new pressure controller arrived. This steps down pressure from the breathing gas tank to the actual breathing regulator. The previous one was a little too fiddly and its intake pressure limit was a little too close to the pressure coming off of the breathing gas tank. This one, though weighing five times more than the smaller one, and more difficult to mount, is far superior, and its overall robusticity inspires confidence. I have to take it apart to be sure there's no grease in the system, as pure oxygen and grease can lead to combustion! Taking it apart and putting it back together, as I do with my SCUBA regulators, will be my best way to really understand how it works. It's better than looking at a schematic diagram, and better than looking at a video clip; nothing is better than carefully inspecting every element as I take it apart and then put it back together.