3D Printing

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I bought a Printrbot Simple Metal 3D printer at work. We’ve got a bunch of ideas of things we’d like to do with students in anatomy, continuing with the linking virtual and physical information theme. The technology is at the stage where 3D printers can cost £500 or less, and the plastic they print with (PLA, for example, costs around £18 per kilogram). It’s pretty cheap, and it produces cheap things, cheaply. It turns stuff on your computer screen into real things. And it’s mesmerising to watch. And plays a tune (unintentionally) thanks to the constant movements of its 3 motors. This also fits with our idea of making technology available for all teachers to use in teaching, not just the ubergeeks.
When you have a 3D printer you realise how much you can do with it. I’ve been printing Christmas decorations to help improve the adhesion of the first layer of PLA to the print bed, and Kim will never have to buy another cookie cutter or mould. Just pop to Tinkercad, work through the tutorials and design some cookie cutters in any shape you want. Download, print, bake.

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Bird box beginnings

Bits everywhere
Jack’s bird box has been kicking around for ages and I’d like to make use of it. He enjoyed making it, and I asked him and Annabel if they’d like to gadget it up a bit and finish it off by adding a night vision camera to keep an eye on any birds that may choose to nest, and painting, draft proofing, and attaching it to the house. Annabel really liked the idea.
I bought a load of cheap bits and Annabel put together a Raspberry Pi computer after I’d set up the Linux operating system on the micro SD card. She plugged all the parts together herself, including the Pi noir camera that doesn’t have an infrared filter, and powered it up.

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Jack made a bird house a while ago with Scouts and while a great project in itself it hasn’t yet been used. We have attracted a lot of birds to the garden, including a family of bluetits that nested in the eaves or attic of a house opposite our garden. We also have some robins and larger birds like jackdaws, blackbirds, magpies and the odd wren. Maybe we could encourage some to best in Jack’s bird box.

I think we can take it a step further though and add a bit of gadgetry to get more out of this if some birds decide to nest. Annabel and I will have a crack at this on the weekend and I’ll post some more photos and describe what we’re doing then.


Running at Bala
This is a very late race report. One of the things about the last triathlon of the year is that you look forward to the season ending and the start of doughnuts, lying in bed in the morning, and shifts in routine. I’ve also been lazy about writing up my last race of the season: the Bala standard distance triathlon and the last European Champs 2015 qualifier. For a flattish out and back race it was somewhat eventful.
I wasn’t feeling too sharp before the race and looking at the data afterwards I can see that my fitness has been gradually declining during the season because of all the racing I’ve been doing. You rest for some races, it takes a while to recover before you can really train properly again, and then you’re straight back into the next race. Although racing regularly sounds good for race fitness, it’s not. It may be more effective for shorter races but for 2 hours of triathlon the recovery is too hard.

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Autumn and winter cycling and commuting

Autumn cyclepath
I’m still seeing lots of people cycling in September. Great! People seem to have really got into cycling in the UK in the summer and the continued dry, warm weather is helping. People are out early in the morning when I’m training and in the evening when I’m riding home from work. Lots of these cyclists have bags on their backs so they’re in the habit of cycling to work and home again. Running alongside some atrocious traffic this morning (the kids are back at school and this is now “normal traffic”) cycling has got to be a better way of commuting. Especially with all the great cycle paths we have in South Wales. Sometimes following a cycle path might give you a longer route but in many cases it’s even shorter than driving as they follow old railway routes.
When autumn comes it’s going to get colder, and then wetter, and then darker. One advantage of shorter days and darker mornings is that for many mornings on the bike you’ll get to see the sunrise without having to get up early. Sunrise on the bike with no traffic and none of that horrible glare or reflections from the glass in your car makes for a proper sunrise. Sunrise in a car is annoying. Sunrise on the bike is lovely. It’ll put a smile on your face. A sunrise seen between misty trees when cycling through the woods or the sun rising over the sea’s horizon is a great start to your day.

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Newness & adventure

Mountain biking on Skye
It’s that time of year, when summer is over, the mornings become cooler, and the kids go back to school. Most of us are getting back into our normal routines but some of us, like my son, are beginning new ones. He has started secondary school this week and he, like most of his friends, has been very excited about the start of this new phase of their lives. With it comes new freedoms and responsibilities, like walking to and from school on his own and with his friends, and managing his own learning and homework. Seeing him enter into this thing which to him is so new, different, interesting and a little scary is a reminder of the need for adventure no matter if it’s small or large.
I’ve been in my current job for 10 years. It’s a good job. It has good parts and bad parts. I have a strong routine, both weekly and through the academic year, but after 10 years it does get a little boring. And routine. When we get to this stage remembering how it felt to start a new school or a new job kicks something inside.

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XTERRA England

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I’ve had a bunch of favourite races this year and it’s difficult to pick out a number 1, but as a whole experience XTERRA is right up there and I can’t wait to do another one. What’s XTERRA? It’s a triathlon with a 1500m swim, a 30km (ish) mountain bike and a 10km (ish) cross country run. In XTERRA obstacles are put in your way, and your race is made as difficult as possible. Something that summed up the mindset of the organisers for me was a big branch that had been part sawn through so that it crossed the bike trail at head height. Love it.
XTERRA England was held in the Vachery Estate near Cranleigh, Surrey; not a particularly hilly place. The course was created from a lake swim, grassy fields, and copses that were hacked, cleared, and filled with logs and fallen trees. The bike course had alternating twisty sections of technical wooded single track and fields, and the run course matched this with 6ft ditches and a huge fallen oak to jump/climb over and a long path on the back section. I think the course had been put together by Sam Gardner and Richard Stannard, and when Richard passed me on the run he seemed to have been enjoying himself.

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Paratriathlon & guiding

As a triathlete I’m selfish. I’m well organised, manage my time well, train hard, get the hours in, do lots of stuff with my family and work hard (at work). But nonetheless to do what I do I have to focus this stuff around me. Racing is about me and my performance. Training is about preparing myself for race day. The idea of doing all this for another person is a bit of a weird idea for many triathletes, but when the idea of guiding a visually impaired triathlete was mooted it sounded like a challenge. At the base of it, what I do is about challenge so why not make it harder and do something new: try to guide another athlete to his best performance? I find it difficult to say “no” when someone suggests something new, difficult and interesting. 

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Welsh Champs

As I turned 40 this year one of my aims was to race in all of the Welsh Triathlon Championship events this year and have a crack at some medals. I’ve failed, missing the duathlon champs with a small gastrocnemius tear, and I’ll miss the sprint triathlon champs because I’ve elected to race in XTERRA England instead and give myself a new challenge. I did make it to the Welsh Standard Distance Triathlon Championships at Llandudno a week after the Euros and then to the Welsh Aquathlon Championships the following week in Poppit Sands. Those races were rather good.
It’s been a busy few weeks, which, with some prolonged work stress in combination with the training and racing stress (physical stuff, don’t be a salmon, etc) has left me a bit knackered. The Ffit Conwy Llandudno Sea Triathlon has a cracking course. I was much better off swimming in a sea with a bit of swell than in a calm alpine lake, and the 2 lap course helped with pacing and tactics. I was having a chat with the starter in a kayak when she sounded the horn and started the race, so it was a low stress start too. Parp and we got going, failing to even start my watch and getting into a pairing chasing the leader around the buoys.

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