Leonardo’s Glider

Posted by jerry on October 31st, 2004 — Posted in History, Journal, Technology

We will of course never know if Leonardo ever truly flight-tested his glider designs, but there have been a couple of recent attempts to see how sound the design was. A 1980s reconstruction apparently did fly but has been criticised for its use of modern materials such as nylon sail cloth and aluminium, bringing the weight down by a factor of eight.

In 2002, however, the BBC commissioned another reconstruction – this time using materials faithful to Leonardo’s design – bamboo for the framework and sealed cotton for the sail. While there were stability problems, the addition of a tailplane – consistent with Leonardo’s other work on flight – provided a workable solution.

daVinci glider

And this one managed several stable flights, including one as long as 18 seconds with considerable promise for longer flights under better conditions…
Leonardo da Vinci glider


Hobbit found in Indonesia

Posted by jerry on October 28th, 2004 — Posted in History, Journal

What a find! The remains of a one metre (3′) tall adult female hominid has been found on the Indonesian island of Flores. Nicknamed ‘the Hobbit’ the fossil skeleton of a relative of homo erectus (precursor species of human) was reported in the scientific journal Nature and has been identified as a new and previously unknown branch of the human genera, named homo floresiensis. It seems the floresiensis was an intelligent hunter and now skeletal remains have been found and dated to as recent as 12000 years ago – so they were clearly coexisting with modern humans.

Archeologists believe homo erectus arrived on the island about one million years ago evolving into the diminutive relative as an adaptation to island life, hunting similarly diminutive elephants the size of water buffalo (so there’s enough left over for second breakfast!). However, scientists believe that if the time of arrival has been correctly determined, they must have arrived by boat! Do we have here the makings of a story in which a few surviving hobbits were taken to the safety of a far distant island by some friendly elves? Probably not. But the presence of sophisticated stone tools indicates a far more intelligent creature than its chimp-sized brain would suggest – perhaps intelligent enough to build a basic water craft.

As the BBC article notes:
“Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores’ inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to “murmuring” to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.”

And there is the intriguing possibility that a few descendants still live in the region…

Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.

The commonality of legends throughout the world of hirsute little people living alongside much bigger modern humans has been given new strength by this discovery. Such legends are of course the source material that anthropologist and Scandinavian linguist JRR Tolkein drew upon in his tales of the hobbits. Who knows? Perhaps the legends were closer to the truth than previously realised!


My daughter’s birthday!

Posted by jerry on October 27th, 2004 — Posted in Journal

Yup today added another birthday to the list 😉 birthday

Eve seems pretty pleased with the fire clubs we bought her – a great surprise! You should’ve seen the look on her face when she opened the parcel.

The clubs are Beard brand fire clubs from Firetoys in the UK – great quality nice balance – I recommend them!

Eve had an excellent day which we topped off with dinner at Mama’s Trattoria in Canberra’s city centre


Leonardo – the man who wanted to know everything

Posted by jerry on October 25th, 2004 — Posted in History, Journal

What a wonderful documentary on Sunday night! Called: “Leonardo – the man who wanted to know everything” it is a two part documentary of an amazingly versatile bloke. One of my workmates said he must’ve been a sad man because so many of his wonderful ideas did not come to fruition in his lifetime. More than 400 years after his death a British team built and tested his design for an armoured vehicle, a parachutist tested his parachute for probably the first time, using Leonardo’s design to the letter, his underwater breathing apparatus was tested – successfully and so on.

I think there are probably three reasons why many of Leonardo’s designs remained untested in his lifetime:

Firstly, it is likely that like anyone with different ideas, he would have come up against conservatism “that thang’ll never fly Orville…” so there may well have been a marked reluctance to invest in blue sky research – an attitude that persists to this day. Small steps, and make sure they’re winners beats the big risk most times – even today.

Secondly, allied to the first – how do you convince people to fund, let alone actually try something really and genuinely new? Moreover, a new idea without a ready market will usually fail – not because of a design flaw, but because no-one can see the uses to which it might be put. Alexander Graham Bell allegedly designed the telephone as an aid for the hard of hearing rather than a communications device that would revolutionise the world.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly – Leonardo seemed more interested in the idea than its execution – he rarely finished anything – and even then it was under pressure and past the deadline. For a creative mind, it is surely enough just to have the idea and work out its solution – does it really need to be built to know instinctively you have modeled the right solution on paper?

So why did it take 400 years for his armoured vehicle to reach the prototype phase? Obvious really – he worked for the Florentine Defence Department – clearly the thing was:

a) rejected on principle because the finance advisor was a navy man
b) resubmitted in revised form as an inverted boat – then rejected because Florence was not a maritime power
c) redesigned by a committee to ensure the mechanism would be incompatible with the wheels
d) advertised for tender – in the Beaconsfield Herald and other regional newspapers
e) offered to the lowest tenderer
f) locked in a legal dispute between competing tenderers for the documentation phase
g) tender suspended for 20 years pending the outcome of a judicial inquiry into the dispute
h) subjected to construction delays because of cost over-runs and budget cut-backs
i) further delayed because a clerk had misfiled the plans – for 130 years
j) re-issued for tender
k) delayed because no-one had retained the technology to achieve the metallurgical specifications defined in the original tender documentation – no-one used wrought iron any more.
l) further delays because of a green ban on logging the old growth timber specified for the armor
m) held up pending a new white paper – the Sforza government had been supplanted by the Medicis
n) new design specification issued to allow for plantation timber and a greener technology
o) design released for tender
p) offered to the lowest tenderer
q) halted while inquiry held into whether a steam engine might be retro-fitted within the existing design
r) modified design released for tender – original lowest bidder had gone out of business.
s) offered to the lowest bidder
t) work halted over industrial dispute between boiler makers and carpenters on the same workplace
u) work continues (slowly) only after Industrial Relations Tribunal intervention
v) work suspended pending inquiry into construction delays
w) Inquiry finds the biggest delays to be caused by inquiries
x) work continues – s l o w l y (it’s a Defence contract – each rivet has to be hand made to the original tender’s specifications and approved by the Board before installation)
y) work halted by budget cutbacks owing to the size of the Florentine deficit
z) work resumes but there are systems integration problems due to incompatibility between mechanism and wheels…

However, the parachute worked first time exactly as Leonardo designed it to – and once the mechanism was sorted, the tank revealed itself to be a remarkably modern design.

Next week we get to see the glider and the underwater breathing apparatus – I’m looking forward to it!


A gentle reminder – Canberra bushfires

Posted by jerry on October 18th, 2004 — Posted in Journal

The few spots of rain and the lowering clouds are a welcome sight over Canberra – then we crested the hill and saw the colour of the cloud – not pure like rain clouds, but muddy, like over-mixed oils on canvas – smoke hangs once more over Weston Creek. There is of course no forest there now, just plain hills and weeds and a few skeletal trees not yet removed. And the windrows – the remnants of the forest sketched in charcoal across the landscape. It is not yet Summer, and light rain is forecast for the next few days. Time for some fuel reduction burning. A gentle reminder.

burning the windrows

Two views from the end of our street at sunset.

and at 11.00pm. A gentle reminder.