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February 28th, 2013

A training-ship bosun cheerfully reminded the recruits that it’s just as deadly falling from the mainsail yard, as it is from the much higher ‘royal’ yard… 

…and he had a point. The critical thing was holding on, clipping the harness on whenever possible, whilst focusing on the task in hand, rather than the ever-present danger of dropping.

It’s difficult to say whether we fear heights disproportionately after seeing nerve-wracking movie-stunts…Mr Bond has a lot to answer for…and whether in real-life situations, we’d otherwise adjust to the fact of being up high, and get on with our reason for being there.

The anticipation that heights will thrill us, is certainly a powerful driver of entertainments and architecture design. Why else was Portsmouth’s 170-meter high Spinnaker Tower given a glass floor?

Likewise, the SkyWalk, 200 meters above the Grand Canyon; visitors’ health & safety are assured, so the horror of the height mutates into a sense of fun and wonder. Evidently there’s nothing intrinsically terrifying about height, as long as we’re sure of safety…

…in fact we actually seek out the thrill of potential terror. We always have; Pisa’s cathedral bell-tower was planned from the start with a viewing area on top, although when work commenced 840 years ago, they may not have predicted the tower itself would become the view.

On the other hand, views like the one from England’s highest summit, reward the effort of the ascent without terrifying the climber. Perhaps the ‘sea’ of low fog reduces the feeling of height? All the same, a palpable sense of danger is a reliable entertainer…

…even if providing thrills for paying customers requires vigilant maintenance, in a type of work that would frighten most of the clientele. But what can you expect if, as in this clip, you build a rollercoaster out of wood?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCNyPV7ehjI

February 24th, 2013

It doesn’t seem to matter how foul the weather or how bleak the financial outlook is; somewhere, there’ll be a man with a mind like a child, planning something crazy, exciting and often dangerous.

This junior instinct for fun doesn’t mean an unschooled approach – in fact the whitest knuckles are usually on spectators, who don’t realise how skilled and scientific the stunt is…usually…

…of course, part of the attraction of any extreme outdoor activity, is the wild and scary possibility that something may go spectacularly wrong with the plan…

…but almost inevitably, all manner of high-flying stunts and entertainments are eventually tamed or modified, till kids, grannies, even docile canines can have a go…

…and for the really nervous novice with an energetic side, bits and pieces from the average garage can be combined to make a hang-gliding simulator that doesn’t leave the ground at all.

Even before an evolutionary leap took speed-hungry dinghy-sailors into the air with the astonishing ‘foiling’ Moth, a human-powered hydrofoil had been built and was shown to work…

…although the speed achieved, slower than a sprinter on land, wasn’t enough to spur development. Arguably, the rider didn’t need that helmet either…less than some other riders, anyway…

…such as the cycling speed-record holder. Of course, riding inches behind a motor-vehicle that resembled a squashed garbage-truck, struck some as reducing the purity of the achievement.

But there’ll always be gravity as the final, ultimate barrier. Human-powered flight is still in its infancy, aided by super-light materials, high-tech, and super-fit human machinery. However, for most, going onward and upward continues to rely on fuel, even if, as seen here, the ‘flyer’ doesn’t have to stay with the gas-tank:

 

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