Monday, August 25, 2008

"If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders." - Jeff Goll

Back on the water after a two month hiatus. That was rough; mothing was the centrepiece of my physical training program, such as it was. I had to resort to mountain bike riding of all things - tough, but good company. Now back to the water. I am sore after only a short session.

I have learned to multiply my estimated times for any major construction project by about 2.5 to get them to correlate with reality. This is mostly down to job-related issues, but also to my habit of perseverating over design options. There are people who can motor right through this stuff and crank out functional items, but these people are mostly professional, or have done it before in some capacity. When it is the first time and there is no instruction manual, lots of options present themselves. Frequently several are tried before the first one proves the most feasible and achievable - a design orbit of sorts.

The short version is that it works. It is not perfect, and there may be some heartache involved in getting it perfect, but overall I am amazed that it is as close to a functional setup as it seems to be straight out of the box. The amount of empirical guesswork involved in getting to the water yesterday was considerable, and yet there I was, taking off. It does everything it is supposed to do - not always to the proper degrees, but what do you expect with only an hour on the water? At any rate the required steps from here are iterative, in areas where iteration was anticipated and easily accommodated. It is a keeper. Need to sand the foil to something better than 150 now I guess. I am still a bit concerned about breaking foils off, but a lot less so than previously. I should be able to sail this one until v2.0 is ready.

I think I have had a glimpse of the future, but time will tell. It always does.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


When I lived in Georgetown (DC) there was this little wood-fired barbeque place right down the street that was entirely too convenient and tasty. I had it on speed dial so I would not have to wait through the line at the cash register; I would saunter in, pick up my order immediately and sit down to eat at the common counter. On the wall by the door hung an incredibly massive chain-like device made of cast iron, with each link having a different shape, plenty of spikes sticking out, etc. It looked like something from a medival dungeon; a human anchor of sorts to keep people from wandering too far. The sign next to it on the wall said "What is this?" I think there used to be a TV show where people were asked to identify found objects - generally metal ones no doubt plowed to the surface by farmers. That's where I get all my obscure, impossibly weird metal objects - the farm.

Godfrey N. Hounsfield, in accepting the 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine for inventing the CT scanner, said of his childhood:

I was born and brought up near a village in Nottinghamshire and in my childhood enjoyed the freedom of the rather isolated country life. After the first world war, my father had bought a small farm, which became a marvellous playground for his five children. My two brothers and two sisters were all older than I and, as they naturally pursued their own more adult interests, this gave me the advantage of not being expected to join in, so I could go off and follow my own inclinations.

The farm offered an infinite variety of ways to do this. At a very early age I became intrigued by all the mechanical and electrical gadgets which even then could be found on a farm; the threshing machines, the binders, the generators. But the period between my eleventh and eighteenth years remains the most vivid in my memory because this was the time of my first attempts at experimentation, which might never have been made had I lived in a city. In a village there are few distractions and no pressures to join in at a ball game or go to the cinema, and I was free to follow the trail of any interesting idea that came my way. I constructed electrical recording machines; I made hazardous investigations of the principles of flight, launching myself from the tops of haystacks with a home-made glider; I almost blew myself up during exciting experiments using water-filled tar barrels and acetylene to see how high they could be waterjet propelled. It may now be a trick of the memory but I am sure that on one occasion I managed to get one to an altitude of 1000 feet!

Now that's my kind of Nobel Laureate.

So years from now when my moth is hanging in the rafters of the barn getting shot full of holes by grandchildren with air rifles, parts will start to fall off, and they will probably have no idea what things like this are for:

Come to think of it, I'm not so sure what it is for either. But maybe that will never happen, as the barn, built in 1915, somehow got hit by the Jet Stream last week in a severe Bow Echo and was completely shoved off its foundation. This barn has seen a few wind storms before, and has been progressively reinforced over the years, which is why it was not simply destroyed. I would say it wasn't bolted down firmly enough, but the winds were clocked at 115mph only a few miles to the west, and the 5/8" steel bolts holding my cousin's grain bin to its foundation are still in the concrete - well half of them, anyway. Every last one sheared off, at which point the bin flew several hundred feet into a field. This kind of damage extends from South Dakota to Chicago - a distance of over 500 miles. Tornado schmornado - they should really be making natural disaster movies about Bow Echoes.

What all this has to do with Mothing is anyone's guess, but then these things aren't always obvious until later. So I'm going with it.

Scott made some interesting comments on the future of the class and all I have to say is, well, if you want to be me, be me, and if you want to be you, be you. 'Cause there's a million things to do, ya know that there are - ya know that there are - you know that there AAAAHHHRRR...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dawn Goes Down to Day

I used to love the forum on the Australian moth site. It was full of all sorts of technical discussion on the latest developments. At some point people stopped posting stuff and it started to, well, suck. Which is OK because it remains the only Moth forum on the planet that I know of. So I still go back there and re-read all those old posts from time to time, if only to remind myself of an age in Mothing when people were less guarded and trying to help each other along.

But no one really posts much useful information anymore - technical information is guarded like it's the family jewels. And maybe that's OK - after all, if the last few years have proven anything, it's that there are far more people interested in sailing foilers than in designing and building them. So if you are one of the few people developing new things, you are in the minority, and the stuff you are making is potentially more valuable than it ever was before - potentially.

The bar has been set pretty high and there is less low-hanging fruit to pick, or so it would seem. To move the current state of development ahead, you really have to put some effort into it. This puts the process out of reach of most amateur builders, or at least those without access to good software and CNC machines, which is pretty much saying the same thing.

It appears increasingly that the only people with enough time to do development work of any real value and sail at a high level are people who neither build nor blog. It doesn't hurt to be independently wealthy either. Or to dream.

I keep waiting for John Harris to post something about the setup he used to win Worlds. It's always nice when a champion does this to sort of clue everyone else in about what worked. Perhaps the class is too contentious for this sort of thing nowdays, but if so, it's a real pity.