Balloon Festival (Fiesta) 2009

Posted by jerry on March 15th, 2009 — Posted in Journal, Travel

The Canberra Balloon Fiesta has been in full swing from 7 March to 15 MArch (today). For the past week we have had several balloons of all shapes and sizes pass overhead in the morning on their way to a landing in the wildlife corridor at the end of our street.

Balloon Festival

So this morning we decided to check out the launch site on the lawns of Old Parliament House next to the lake.

Old Parliament House, Canberra

It was still dark as we parked and found several hundred people getting an early morning coffee and preparing to go into the marquee labeled “Pilots Briefing” This is so that pilots can get an up to date brief on the weather and wind patterns, and likely landing spots enroute. Everywhere there was an air of expectation.

Balloon Festival

There would have been at least a dozen balloons neatly stashed on trailers ready to be filled from small petrol driven fans and, people were struggling under the weight of large propane cylinders. The thunderstorm last night had cleared the air and as the sky began to lighten it was perfectly cloudless.

I took a couple of photos of the waiting balloons and of Old Parliament House.

A band set up to play, and then came the announcement that the winds were running in the wrong direction and – perhaps worse – the ground was too wet. This would not necessarily have been an issue for take-off, but for landing, as the balloon envelope needs to be laid out flat along the ground and then rolled and folded to fit back into the trailer. As this was the end of the festival – that would mean putting away a wet envelope, perhaps for a month or two before the next flight, which would mean that mildew could cause damage to the stitching or the sail-cloth fabric and render the balloon unsafe for next time. So flying operations were cancelled.

Balloon Festival

The crowd was understanding and they continued to soak up the festival atmosphere and the cameraderie of fellow enthusiasts as we departed. Next year’s Balloon Fiesta will be from March 6-14 in Canberra, Australia.

Retromobile 2009 – a green veteran and vintage car exhibition in Paris

Posted by jerry on February 9th, 2009 — Posted in Journal, Steam, Technology, Travel

The 2009 Retromobile show in Paris is on 6-15 Feb and displays a range of European marques from veteran, vintage, classic and later. But this show has a twist – one of its key themes is green technology, so the show displays a number of cars from the turn of the 19-20 Century using alternative fuels, including electric, steam, hybrid, and compressed air vehicles from over 100 years ago.

Thanks to Charles Bremner of TimesOnline whose article inspired this one.


London to Brighton rally – 1995

Posted by jerry on February 3rd, 2009 — Posted in Journal, Steam, Travel

Every year in the first weekend in November as the frost is settling over Hyde Park in London you can see about 200 unique cars dating from the 1890s up to 1904. They drive the 60 miles from London to Brighton to commemorate the repeal of the notorious ‘Red Flag Act’ (Locomotives on Highways Act (1865)) that had restricted motorised vehicles to 4mph in the country and 2mph in towns. The Act stipulated that vehicles needed a crew of three – the driver, a stoker and a man to walk 60 yards in front carrying a red flag or lantern to ensure that traffic (mostly traction engines) were kept to a walking pace. There must have been good money for fast joggers!

The Act was replaced in 1896 with the Locomotives on Highways Act (1896) which became known as the Emancipation Act – which defined a new category of vehicle: ‘light locomotives’, which were less than 3 tons unladen weight. These vehicles were exempt from the 3 crew member rule, and were subject to the higher 14 mph (22 km/h) speed limit. In celebration of this new law, Harry John Lawson – founder of Daimler Motor Company in Coventry – organised the first London to Brighton run on 14 November 1896.

Almost 100 years later, in 1995 I attended the start of the London to Brighton run – the following photos were taken at that time. Some are a bit shy of focus – I had a manual focus pentax K1000 camera and it wasn’t easy to catch these cars on the move!

This 1896 Whitney steam car was driven by Jeff Theobold, of the Steam Car Club of Great Britain – veteran of many runs – who told me the car made the run successfully each time he campaigned it, despite some burner problems near the start – a result of too much waiting around before the start, making parts of the engine too hot or too cold for efficient running, but after a few miles it sorted itself.

1896 Whitney

I also spotted this 1900 Gardner-Serpollet
1900 Gardner-Serpollet steam car

And then a succession of Locomobile/early Stanley steamers from 1900-1903

stanley steam car

stanley steam car

stanley steam car


Travel – NZ – Leonardo Da Vinci comes to Chrstchurch

Posted by jerry on October 6th, 2008 — Posted in History, Journal, Technology, Travel

For a couple of years now I have been trying to catch an exhibition of machine models made by Florentine craftsmen to Leonardo daVinci’s designs. The exhibition has been put together by the Florence museum and has been traveling the world. I just missed it in Sydney and then it was due to head off to Perth, then to Christchurch, but was due to finish there on 28 Sept. And it has not been widely advertised. So imagine my surprise when I spotted a desultory poster advertising the exhibition, and noting that the season has been extended to 27 October at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch!

Leonardo da vinci exhibition

I quickly cleared a morning and decided to go – there are 60 models from the simple to the complex, covering a good range of Leonardo’s designs.

At the entrance is a speculative full-scale model of the controversial bicycle – possibly drawn (crudely) by one of Leonardo’s apprentices, or possibly a rather later fake.

Leonardo da vinci exhibition

Either way, the bike lacked any means to steer, so at best it would have been something like the 17th century boneshaker. That said, Leonardo certainly drew designs of chain drives, noting their efficiency as a means of transferring power from one cog to another.

Leonardo’s studies for flying machines are well represented, including the flyable hang glider – tested in modern times, as well as the famous helicopter

Leonardo da vinci exhibition

The helicopter is derived from a children’s toy that was known in Italy at the time – and probably not too unlike the one I was able to get to fly, using a string pull – see the instructions here.

And while his war machines are well documented – and represented at the exhibition, I was particularly taken with some of the lesser known aspects of Leonardo’s work, notably his theatre machines. Leonardo was known for his designs for spectacular special effects in theatrical productions for his patrons. Some of these appear remarkably prescient, such as the magic lantern projector

Leonardo da vinci exhibition

And what has been touted as his car – actually a programmable stage cart that was able to steer a pre-determined course apparently sensing and avoiding obstacles. The cart was driven by bow-like springs, but it also had a separate spring-driven cam system for the steering – not highlighted in the exhibition, but demonstrated in other reconstructions of his models.

Leonardo da vinci exhibition

The catalogue is well worth the money, although the literal translation into English from the Italian is flowery and resmbles a machine translation rather than a full rendering into English. But it is very well illustrated.

All up the exhibition is excellent – with models very faithful to the originals and many hands-on exhibits. It is on now at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch NZ on Rolleston Avenue. Canterbury Museum is open every day (except Christmas Day)
Summer hours: 9.00 am – 5.30 pm (October – March); Winter hours: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm (April – September).

The exhibition – Da Vinci Machines: The Inventions and Designs of a Genius is on until 27 October, and prices are: Adult $12, child $8 (under 5 free), family (2 adults and 2 children) $35.00, students and senior citizens $10.00.

It is well worth a visit. You can see more of the machines here


Travel – Christchurch NZ

Posted by jerry on October 2nd, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Travel

Heading out for a quick holiday visit to NZ to see our daughter perform in SWING – Circo-Arts latest circus production – so far we’ve made it to Sydney airport where we can skim some free wifi at the Bar Coluzzi coffee shop in the International lounge.

Airports are strange liminal spaces where people are held briefly in stasis – not ready to board yet, but filled with anticipation or exhaustion depending on whether you are starting out or returning to distant shores. the coffee shop empties periodically as another crowd gets ready for check-in prior to all the security checkpoints.

Alarmed but not alert

It is a space where people screen out the world, their lives on hold temporarily, to the extent that the fire alarm achieved zero response. From anyone. Correction – one person downed their coffee a little faster, lest it be taken from them. Other than that, there were no instruction, no information and no sense of alarm. The alarm might as well have been a garbled announcement for the late departure of a plane bound for Timbuctu rather than the steady insistent beep-beep-beep. Perhaps they were waiting for the non-existent announcement. Perhaps they were waiting for a follow-up woop-woop rising tone to indicate evacuation. But eventually the sound simply stopped. Perhaps an alarm test. We may never know.

The two coffees, croissant, soup and potato wedges came to just over $34 – it filled the gaps, and the coffee was good – as was the food, but maybe next time I’ll make some sandwiches and just go for coffee. We were both hungry up to that point, despite having had a decent breakfast. No-one warns you about how you feel hungry after three hours of sitting still in a bus with your knees around your ears because your carry-on won’t fit in the narrow tray above – good for hats but not much else. The fiddle fitted though.

Shopping mall as museum of contemporary culture
With only two and a half hours before boarding there’s not much to do except find a hot-spot and get online, or maybe do some last-minute shopping. But we are on the wrong side of international for most of the shops – besides, we’ve actually got everything we’ll need in our bags. We don’t smoke, the technology is reasonably up to date and we’re just not big drinkers, so it’s really just a museum of contemporary culture, rather than a shopping experience.

And to cap it all they are refurbishing the airport so even the museum bit is more wooden hoarding than retail eye-candy.

But the coffee is good – perhaps it’s time for another.