Hike and Fly the "Kleiner Mythen"

I used to hike the smaller Mythen at least once a year with a paraglider on the back to fly down. Usually i took the Chaemi route which involves some light climbing. Many times I saw mountain goats, and once I slept near the top. Last year I didn’t make it, so I wanted to revive the tradition. Last Thursday I sent messages to some friends asking who would join. Pascal came. With good company the whole trip is even more pleasant. Just before we reached the summit, the fog came in and blocked the view in takeoff direction. We decided to descend. We almost reached Zwischenmythen when the fog lifted. So we hiked up again. The reward was a gentle glide into the sunset. I appreciated every second of the flight a lot more then if I went up with a cablecar.

DCIM103GOPRO

The legacy banks in Switzerland

Transaction costs

I have a separate bank account for my tandem flying hobby at the local bank where I live. I didn’t want a plastic card for it, and setting up online banking turned out to be too complicated. So I pay a CHF 3.00 fee for every withdrawal at the counter. That is, if I go to the branch at my home town.
But last week I wanted to withdraw some money near where I work, less than 30km away, at a branch of the same bank. The teller told me that he would have to make a phone call to the other branch, and that the transaction would cost CHF 10.00
That was too much for me. Considering that a bitcoin transaction to Australia (16’000 km) costs CHF 0.02, the transaction cost of the retail bank per km is more than 250’000 times as expensive as that of BitCoin.

Communication

In Switzerland we usually don’t tell each other how much we earn, or how much we have on our bank account. Swiss Banks even had a reputation of secrecy up until recently. Naturally when you communicate with your bank, you expect this to be confidential. So I asked my bank representative for his public key some years ago, so that we could exchange encrypted emails. His answer was that I would have to use the messaging in the online banking platform in order to enjoy encrypted communication. I strongly dislike to have to log into different web platforms in order to communicate with different people. Some banks even communicate with their customers through centralized unencrypted social media, thus voluntarily introducing a man in the middle. I just had to accept what they offered for the time being. Hence I used this messaging system to cancel my credit card last year. He asked me if I wanted to cancel right away, or just not renew it when it ran out in a couple of months. I opted for the later. But then it was renewed nonetheless. So I asked what went wrong, and to please fix it. The answer was, that I didn’t specify when to cancel. Of course I did! Whether the message disappeared from the system because of some glitch, or was deleted intentionally to cover up incompetency doesn’t really matter. Fact is, the communication channel failed completely. Accountability is an important part of communication. This incident cost a lot of trust that I had in my bank.

Stranded funds

But the story with the cancelled credit card didn’t end there. Because it was not cancelled in time. Some company where I used a service, renewed without my consent. Thus they charged the card that should have been terminated by that time. So I had to send a printed form for the chargeback to the card operator. It took some time, but the money came back to my card account. And for another half a year, I receive a monthly letter stating the balance would be reimbursed next month. I misinterpreted this that it would be automatically sent back to my bank account. But it won’t. I have to send them another signed letter by snail mail to perform the obvious. As if it was 1995, and the electronic signature on my email was not 1’000 more secure than the ink on the paper.
Maybe I’m just spoiled with how well everything works with BitCoin. But the legacy banks really could do a better job.
Companies that deal with BitCoin usually:

  • Have competent and responsive customer care
  • Offer real two factor login with hardware tokens
  • Encrypt and sign the eMails with OpenPGP
  • Execute transactions instantly, not only once per work day
  • Have reasonable fees, even if the volume is still ramping up
  • Care about the usability of their platforms

And where they have limitations, they are usually imposed by the legacy financial institutions.

Back to Mac (nothing to do with Apples)

After I stopped flying in competitions, I also slowly stopped flying competition gliders. So I went back to my old and proven sports class glider. I meant to replace it for a long time. But as my Gradient Aspen 1 is by now more than eleven years old, there really were no more excuses.

So, I took the time to test new gliders. The first one I tried was the successor, the Aspen 5. It felt familiar and comfortable. They also have some good results in sports class competitions. So I almost bought one.

But I wanted to try at least one other model. The most obvious was to see what Mac Para has to offer. After all most of my competition gliders were from MacPara, and I still consider the Magus 4 the best glider I ever flew. The description of the Marvel sounded good, but the model is more than two years old. So I asked if the successor is imminent. Most paragliding companies don’t announce the new models in advance, as they still want to sell the old one. I still expect a successor next spring the latest. That is probably the reason why I got such a good deal for the demo glider. Since I don’t fly cross country as much as I would like to these days, I don’t need the latest and greatest. Instead a glider that I am comfortable with, and that lasts for another decade. Ah and there is another factor. I still like the design of the MacPara gliders. When I was collecting information on the Mac Para switzerland webpage, I was pleasantly surprised to see a picture of myself and my Magus 4 over the pre pyrenees at the 2006 pre World Cup.


Paracuda walk & fly

In the Paracuda paragliding club, we distribute the organization of the events among the members. So I agreed to organize a “walk n fly” event in October. Usually pilots go up with a cablecar to go flying. This saves us from having to carry the equipment for too far. But for people that want to do a bit more sport and see a bit more from the nature, there is “walk n fly”. It’s the perfect undertaking for autumn, where the thermals vanished and the temperatures retreat. The interest was stealthy from the start, but I still hoped some people would join. To my dismay, I was alone on the meeting point.  That didn’t stop me from going to hike though. The Wasserberg was covered in a cloud, and the description in the Internet described the trail as difficult to find. So I save this one for later. Instead I went to the familiar Pfaff near Glattalp. About once a year, I take the cablecar to the Glattalp, and do the half hour hike to the Pfaff. It has a huge take off area with two possible directions. After I was airborne, I headed straight to the Kupferberg with a nice little cloud atop. As I approached, the birds left, and apparently the thermals as well. So I went to the next one. This was the mountain straight on top of where my father grew up. I remember looking up the wall when I was a kid, visiting my grandmother. It looked enormous from below, but at the hilltop looks very friendly. It even spared some thermals for me. In October late afternoon it’s already very nice, if you can hold your position for a couple of minutes. After cruising around in the Bisital some more, I landed right behind my uncle’s cows. That was actually the most difficult part of the flight. There is a tight grid of power lines, and only from atop I could spot a cell big enough to squeeze into. I had a coffe at my cousin’s house, and then hiked back to the car. The signs indicated more than an hour, but actually it takes only slightly more than half.

 

Generating flight vouchers with LaTex

Learning LaTex was on my todo list for many years. Like most people of my generation, I learned wysiwyg text programs in school, and used them for a long time for most stuff that ended up on paper. Actually, to be exact, the first text processing program I learned in school didn’t fall into the wysiwyg category, but was DOS based. I think it’s name was “Farsight”, but I can’t find any information about it on the internet. Since I am no friend of proprietary lock-in systems, I switched from MS Word to OpenOffice a long time ago, and more recently to LibreOffice. But even though their file format is open, it’s still binary. I know, I know, Word and ODF offer textual formats. I think they are mostly XML based. But the last time, I looked at one of them, I could not believe how overloaded with useless trash they were. The most annoying limitation of binary formats, is when you want to store the documents in a version control system, and compare different revisions. I used html for a while for documentation purposes. Although it is very good for these textual diffs between revisions, I’m not artistic enough to make it good looking. Hence, I thought for a long time that LaTex would be worth learning.

Also, for a long time I wanted to automate the vouchers for our tandem flights at paraeasy.ch. Even-though I knew that this was a perfect match, I had too many other things to do. As I’m currently reading a book about LaTex, I have my perfect hands on exercise. Hence, I prepared a template tex file for the vouchers and one for the invoices. Then I wrapped a python script around, that handles the rest.

The traditional way to keep track of which vouchers are active, and which ones were redeemed, is to keep a list. But after reading all the buzz about smart property, I figured that BitCoin is actually a perfect solution in itself. I generate a unique BitCoin address for each voucher, and load it with some coins. That way I can easily check, if the voucher is still valid. In fact, even other pilots that fly for us, can easily verify the validity of our vouchers. Now the perfect solution would be to load it with the full value, but since the BitCoin price is still quite volatile, the risk would be too high. After all, I need to be able to pay other pilots in case of a BitCoin crash. So I decided to load the voucher addresses with half the value. That way I can better tackle the risk.

As an opensource believer, I pushed my scripts to github, hoping they might be useful for somebody. I didn’t go to full lengths, in making it a configurable drop in solution. So, if you want to use it, leave me a message, and I will help you set it all up, and make it more configurable along the way.

Now, what happens if somebody orders a flight voucher on paraeasy.ch?  After the customer fills in all the required fields, and presses submit, I receive an email with a html table containing all the information. I then save the mail with evolution to a folder as an mbox file. Next, I start the python script which performs the following:

  • Generates a new unique number for the voucher.
  • Parses the information from the mbox email file.
  • Generates a BitCoin address that contains the initials of the passenger.
  • Replaces the placeholders in the tex files with the actual information.
  • Generates a qr code with the relevant information, and a gpg signature thereof.
  • Generate pdf files for the voucher and invoice.
  • Add the new entry to the list of active vouchers.
  • Add the pdf files, the updated list as well as the encrypted private key for the BitCoin address to my private git repository.

The system is not finished yet, but it already looks like a big relief. In the future, it might also generate the email to send the pdf file back to the customer.

celebrating 2'000 flights

Last week, I didn’t even realize that I completed my two thousand’th flight. Only when I updated my flight log book, I found out. I knew that I’m close, but that day I did lots of short speed flights, and one of them was the one.
For the first one thousand flights I needed only four years. I celebrated the event with a couple of friends and a big bottle of Champaign. It was in March 2006 from the Zugerberg, and I top-landed after twenty minutes.
Since I don’t fly as much as back then, the second thousand flights took eight years. I held up the tradition with the Champaign, though. Not on the 2000th flight, which I missed. Instead, we celebrated the 2005th flight today, after I did three tandem flights for Peter from the Rigi.
So here is a small statistic:

Gliders 61
tandem flights 265
speed flights 145
flights with competition gliders 540
countries 20
flying areas 164

Lauchernalp Speedflying

During our family ski holiday last week, I went one day to my favourite speedflying location: the Lauchernalp in the Lötschental.

Enjoy the footage:

Mountain Wagas

Every season has its virtues. What I like to do during the winter season is Wagas games, and the Fronalpstock is perfectly suited for that. Wagas are usually performed by flying close to sand dunes in the constant sea breeze, but powder snow is just as soft as sand. Instead of the constant sea breeze for soaring, we have some altitude difference in the mountains. Well, to be honest, the snow didn’t look particularly soft last Sunday, hence my Wagas games ended up being even more cautious.

Here are some pictures:


And a video: