WHY DOESN'T YOUR KITE FLY MISTER?
Just about every week now (I'm exaggerating for effect here), another "settled" question about what is a healthy diet is overturned.
After 40 years and probably billions of lives made more miserable by eating stuff that doesn't taste good, and by guilt from having succumbed to the siren call of some really tasty animal, saturated fats are suddenly no longer the villains that we were told they were.
An Epic Debunking of The Saturated Fat Myth
And salt; decades of insipid but healthy "salt free" eating has now been shown to be in vain.
And coffee; far from being bad for you, is now known to be beneficial in various ways- not least for protection against liver cancer.
We'll we shouldn't, the science is getting better:
The reason we've been saddled with all these screwed up dietary theories that are only now being de-bunked, is complexity. The first step in attacking complex problems (like diet- and kites), is to study aspects in isolation. This is called reductionism, much derided by artists, greenies and other wishy-washy's who delude themselves that it's possible to "holistically" understand the whole without first understanding the parts. Only when there's a reasonable understanding of underlying and contributing mechanisms is it possible to begin to integrate these into a 'theory of everything' for a particular field of knowledge.
During this reductionist phase, researchers in a field develop plausible hypotheses for particular causes and effects. For example:
The saturated fat theory, known as the diet-heart hypothesis, goes like this: "Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol lodges in the arteries causing atheriosclerosis and eventually, heart disease."
The salt theory is: "When we eat salt, we get thirsty, so we drink more water. Excess salt causes the body to hold on to that water to dilute the saltiness of the blood, and that retention increases blood volume, which leads to higher blood pressure, and thus to heart disease, strokes and other serious conditions."
That these and other dietary theories from this period do not correctly predict the responses of entire populations (while perhaps being correct in specific cases) only became known when wider studies were done. Sure, the revisions took rather longer than they could have because institutions were protecting their reputations by the misplaced rationalisation that admitting error causes a loss of public confidence in the system. But that they are being overturned is proof that the system does actually work.
Things are different now; not that institutional agendas won't continue to get in the way, but we have vastly greater number crunching capabilities coupled with a huge and growing epidemiological data base. For fields like human diet, the reductionist phase is now complemented by studying multiple causes and effects simultaneously. I'm very hopeful that we will increasingly get useful evidence-based dietary advice- and that this will inform both longer life expectancy and better life quality.
For kites (single line kites that is), I'm not as sanguine:
Kites may not be as difficult to understand as the finer points of "you are what you eat", but they are pretty damned complex. And kites haven't had the 100+ years of concentrated scientific effort that has consumed a fair part of developed nation's GDP (the USA spends about 18% of its total expenditure on health care each year, and some significant part of this goes into research and development). The study of kites hasn't even properly entered its reductionist phase yet. Even the most basic cause and effect relationships are not known in any quantitative sense, which must happen before there can be an even embryonic theory of kites.
Which is why I HATE it when some kid says this to me, "Why doesn't your kite fly Mister"- and even more so when an adult does.
Because I have no answer that doesn't make me look stupid: Here I am, an adult playing with a kite (kid's stuff) and I can't even get it to fly properly.
And it gets worse when they then say something inane like; "It's unbalanced, you should balance it"
To which I have to remain mute, much as I want to lash back with "stupid person, you have no clue not only about why kites don't fly, but that you don't even KNOW you're ignorant".
Because when I have a kite that doesn't fly adequately it's because I DON'T KNOW what to do to make it work- though I'll generally have more theories as to what's amiss than vegans have diet fads.
Trying to make sense of kite behaviour is the main reason I fly kites, always has been, to which end I tend to only fly kites that are misbehaving- as there's not much to be learnt by continuing to fly a kite that's up there, painted to the sky. Which is not the sort of story that is in any way a useful answer to "Why doesn't your kite fly Mister" because if I could actually explain all this, it would just probably elicit: "Sounds like a waste of time"- which is even more difficult to answer, as it's a question I sometimes ask myself.
Why is working out how kites fly useful?
It's not by comparison to big questions like finding out why some countries, even with massive and ongoing foreign aid, are quite unable to devise governments that provide their citizens with basic services. Or the really worrying one at present; why significant numbers of (generally young 'empowered' female) city dwellers are on a crusade to species suicide via organisations like Greenpeace: Their screwed belief is that humans are the enemy of the planet and that we should apologise and off ourselves- or at the least de-populate back to small self-sustaining communities (where life would be "nasty brutish and short" as a penance for our getting above ourselves, no doubt). Like all religions this one has no logic, as humankind is the only chance that furry animals, whales and the eco-system in general have of any survival at all in the longer term (and maybe even the short term). We may not like the mantle of godhead that this puts on us, but it's a responsibility that we have no way to abrogate, so we should just get on with it.
But I digress, by comparison to these large problems that need solutions, kites are trivial, and pursuit of them is a "misallocation of resources" (the 19th century had a more succinct word for this; sinful).
Sinful as they are, I'm hooked on kites, and am much more interested in getting to understand them better than in reforming.
To which end, I've pretty much decided that kite festivals are a waste of time:
While occasionally useful as a check on whether a particular new design is making real progress, they are generally not good places for kite development on account of the wind rarely being what's needed for any particular test, the sky being too crowded, lack of sewing and kite modification facilities, and requiring days sitting on boring aeroplanes to get there and back. Cervia this year was an exception (apart from 4 days on aeroplanes and the time zone changes).
Best I spend more time here where I have excellent facilities and test sites, rarely having to wait more than a day or so for whatever wind I need.
And we have 2 cute little kittens arriving next week- which will require (or at least demand) 100% attention; my contribution to our acknowledged responsibility to take care of furry animals.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON, 1 JUNE '17
Erratum: In last month's newsletter I erroneously stated that the Balinese Janggans are judged on their weaving flight. They are not.
Kevin Sanders has very politely corrected me; It's Bebeans that are so judged: "They are judged on how well they "swim". Too static, the fish is clearly dead. Too lively, it's not a fish, it's an out of control kite. --- Janggans are judged on how still they are in the sky and how well their tails flow.---"
Here's a short video from Kevin showing the difference between Bebean and Janggan:
However, the point I was using the Janggan tails to make remains correct- the more rotational freedom between a kite's head and its tail, the more rapid it's recovery from angular perturbations will be.