Saturday, 13 July 2013

Boeing Engineers buy Management hats.

It hasn't been a good year for Boeing. In the early part of the year their band spanking new 787 Dreamliner was grounded because of several battery problems, some of which resulted in fires. After 4 months of trying work by Boeing the 787 was declared airworthy when several fixes were made. Primarily fitting the batteries in a large semi armoured box and increasing the spacing between batteries to allow more cooling. The root cause of the problem was never identified, everything that looked dodgy was fixed but with no definitive proof.
Boeing rolled out the fix to the entire fleet start with Ethiopian Airlines aircraft in May, hoping this was the end of the story but come the 12 July and another fire is reported on a 787 parked at Heathrow, this aircraft had been parked up for several hours and the fire was detected by a smoke detector in the cabin.. This time doesn't look like the batteries, as the fire is in a different place, just in front of the fin.
The few schematics of the aircraft, that I have seen, give this as the location of an electrical power distribution hub, which I suspect should have been largely idle at the time simply providing power for lighting, air conditioning and perhaps so cleaning appliances. The source of the power was most likely a ground feed with no power coming from the batteries and the APU switched off.
This doesn't totally isolate it from the batteries as they are essentially part of the same system which leads to the possibility that will be familiar to most programmers, that when you fix one problem another one shows up or you discover that despite find a problem in one place the problem persists because it was occurring earlier on in the chain but only becomes apparent.
In this case if we imagine that the batteries are overheating because their current flow exceeds the specifications. If the batteries are then uprated to take this flow, then there will still be excess current flowing around the system which will produce heat and if there are any vulnerable parts they may fail.
I don't know whether the batteries were being charged or discharged at the time of the fires or if they were in any other mode at the time, but several do appear to have happened on the ground, with the reduced air flow, this would produce overheating compared with when flying, this would also apply to this location in the aircraft.
In some some forms of battery backed power supply all input power is directed via the battery system so that if the external power fails there is a smooth transition to using the batteries. If this is the case with the 787's system then it would mean that the power reaching the power distribution points would have gone through the battery system.
If this is a completely separate fault then perhaps the problem has been fixed but it is still a problem that Boeing could not pin down the fault, it is an unsatisfactory state of affairs as you cannot say you have fixed something you did not identify, at the very least Boeing should be continuing to investigate the original problem, until they can categorically explain what it is and demonstrate the fix works and that they now understand the system.
After the 1986 Challenger disaster it became clear that some of the Morton Thiokol engineers had been asked to make decisions with their "management hats on", rather than their engineering knowledge, Boeing looks to be doing the same. If there was a professional body for Engineers this should result in some being kicked out. The point of being a professional is that you but the ethics before company and self. We have been here before it it usually doesn't end untill people die.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Abu Qatada and Theresa May who is the most dangerous?

Well Abu Qatada has finally left the country, in the end went voluntarily and didn't fight the last attempt. You could argue that he saw that the UK had done enough to ensure a fair trial and so decided to leave and not waste public money frivolously, personally I doubt it, perhaps he has worked out that with time served he'll be free in Jordan sooner than here. Whatever his decision making process we owe him a debt of gratitude, through his struggle UK law has now been brought up to a standard where it reflects our intentional obligations, the obligations we entered into as a nation of our own free will.
No sooner has May found that the Human Rights act does not allow her to do what she wants than she talks about scrapping it. Which of our human rights does she want to remove, which layer of protection from the vagaries of government ministers out to make capital does she want to remove.
The issue was very simple and the attitude of the UK was set long before the human rights act came into being. The UK does not in any way support torture and will not under an circumstances place somebody in a position where they might be tortured or information gained by torture used against them. To make sure that politicians and the government kept to that, the government joined a system where an impartial 3rd party would check the UKs compliance. Theresa May is unhappy that this independent body pointed out that deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan would be a breach of the UKs commitments. So her plan seems to be to get rid of the oversight, which would leave us at the mercy of politicians.
If HMG was only required to uphold human rights of those people it likes, then every time a government changed a different group of people would become vulnerable to abuse. While starting off with it may only be Qatada and Co, the pernicious corrosive effect would eat its way down so that if not you then your grandchildren would be vulnerable.
The Tories like to claim to be proud of the British legal system and some of the principles of English law but when those principles conflict with their bigotry they will happily throw those principles out of the window. How can the Tory backbenchers be proud of things they are so willing to ditch?
So what is May saying that the body that decided was at fault in law or is she saying she does not want the UK to oppose torture? The Abu Qatada case should prompt HMG to look at our relationships with all the countries of the world and make sure that we can be sure that we do not accidentally encourage torture of anyone, to make sure that no one can hide behind the inadequacies of UK law. It should not be used as a way of Tories buying popularity by betraying principles.
Once again thanks to Abu Qatada UK law is improved, if May get her way then it will be degraded and the principles for which the Tories believe England stands for will be made weaker.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

It all comes flooding out.

It BBC and Government have put flood defence back in the news, as far as I can see this is completely the wrong agenda. Floods are inevitable all you can do is move it to a different place on the river.
Over centuries rivers have been forced into smaller and smaller courses by the building of embankments and the reclamation of land. Rivers like the Thames are half the width that they used to be. The Mersey used to start at the bottom of Water Street in Liverpool the Goree and the Pier head are all built on reclaimed land. All of the docks, bar Herculaneum, were built out into the river. This has very little effect on Liverpool due to it essentially being the estuary but in other places the narrowing of the course constrains the river and in order for the same volume of whether to pass it must travel faster. In other places it forces the river to be deeper.
While Global Warming may increase the frequency of heavy rain it is not the only or even primary cause of increased flooding. A river's water comes from its catchment area and depending on the topology and geology of that taking time to go from being rain, or melt water,  to river water or at least it used to. In large areas now the land is either waterproofed with tarmac or fitted with drainage systems, which speed the flow of the water to streams and other tributaries reducing the time over which the water is dumped into the river. This causes flooding. In the past only rivers with catchments of particular geologies suffered from flash flooding where with hours the rain that fell over a large area moved down the stream, now it is far more common.
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The use of permeable surfaces, where ever possible, would allow a large portion of rain to be temporally stored in the soil, where it fell then slowly being released into rivers. If all amendable surfaces were made of "grasscrete", then the effects of flash flooding could be reduced and additional greenery be provided. 
Rivers have influenced greater areas than just between their banks, each river has a flood plain of some size, that is the area which when it gets too full it overflows into. These are so common an occurrence that the nature of the land in these flood plains is changed by the floods. The years of sedimentary deposits flatten out the land and produce rich fertile soils. Entire civilizations have developed on flood plains, Egypt is the most obvious but it also applies to the Indus cultures of the Indian sub content and Amazonia.
These civilisations took advantage of the river to grow, they worked with the floods, failure of the floods was a serious matter that could result in famine and starvation. Today, in our country our floods result in mass inconvenience, they actually kill very few people, but news crews are dispatched and cover in great detail the rise and fall of these natural events as if they were unexpected. Houses are flooded and cars are washed downstream.
There are exceptions like Boscastle where the events happened so quickly deaths are almost inevitable but in most cases a flood of the Seven or the Trent is an event which has hours or days of warning. It should not be a cause for panic but the trigger for a series of well understood practises which minimise the disruption.
If you build on a flood plain, then you build on stilts or have a ground floor garage. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to produce an electrical system which can survive a flood at the very least putting the vulnerable stuff up near the ceiling should work. Water proof plaster is available and used by people in wet rooms it's use in the living room is hardly a great handicap. A quick search on the Internet for "flood proof home" give lots of advice and while it make take some getting used to have in the washing machine on stilts is a minor inconvenience compared to not having one. Fitting door guards and snorkel bricks, with rugs and carpets that can be easily moved to the next floor. Having a small portable generator that can be used to power the upper floor and an electrical system design allow this when the ground floor is flooded.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Keep Khat out of the bag.

Khat or Qat
It appears that Home Secretary Teresa May has decided to ban Khat, a mild stimulate from the Horn of Africa, that has been growing in popularity in the UK, while banned in other countries. This is the latest in a series of government changes that are in direct opposition the recommendations of it own advisory body the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). The substance will become a Class C, that carries the lowest degree of penalty. Class C is what cannabis was downgraded on the advice of the ACMD, then upgraded from on the advice of the bigotry of Gordon Brown. In the various studies done to assess the personal and social harm of drugs, Khat (Qat) is usually rated bellow legal drugs like GHB, and far far below Alcohol and Nicotine.
Some have suggested that by making a drug popular with certain immigrant communities illegal, then the number of convictions of people in those communities will increase and allow for an increased number of deportations from those communities.
It would be interesting to compare recreational drugs with other recreational activities, in terms of damage done. Whether it Rugby, Football, Motor racing, mountain climbing, dancing, high heels, parachuting etc. All of these things or activities are considered by some "proper fun" but all of them create some damage to the user and have the potential to have effects beyond the individual with through them being obsessive or been injured falling off the high heels or mountains. Deaths are not unheard of in these kind of activities, the danger is part of what attracts people to these things. The stimulate part of the brain, they have little or no other purpose, often they do not even add to your fitness or life expectancy.
The way this proper fun works is by causing chemical changes in the brain, these changes can produce many different effects and while the moderate stimulation of them is good providing feedback to allowing people to continue dangerous but needed task, to construct unneeded task simply to produces these biochemical changes is no more or less natural than taking any drug to produce similar changes, properly controlled taking the right drug produces the right effect without the danger of mutilation and injury.
The ban on drug sales has produced a black market which is unregulated the true dangers come from not being able to take what you desire because there is no monitoring of the market. Parachuting and mountaineering would become a lot less popular and a lot less safe if the equipment was produced in the black market and had to be smuggled around and kept hidden and if dealing such equipment would put you in prison.
Societies reason for the differentiating between "real fun" and "drug fun" goes back to religion which has us as something other than a complicated chemistry set, on legs, while there are substances and activities which are so dangerous to the individual and society we should control them, there are many that we should not. The decision as to which is which should be left to independent bodies not to political entities look for votes or to please their own pseudo religious views.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bombs away

Well last night was exciting, for me it started when looking out of the windows a bomb disposal lorry and police escort went flying by, in the general direction of the local Mosque.
While this building is not very old Liverpool was the site of one of the first Mosques in the UK. Liverpool has a wide range of religious denominations most of which get on quite well, this wasn't always true, though typically it was the Catholic and Protestant chunks of the population that used to fight down Scotland road.
You still seem remnants of this as the Orange Lodge marches or some group decides to burn a flag, all this used to go one as little sad bits of aggravation. However, whilst this used to be just the an excuse to get drunk recently things have got a lot nastier with the likes of the EDL jumping on the bandwagon this threatened to get a bit out of hand when a group carried out its march to commemorate James Larkin, a Liverpool born Irish trade unionist. Merseyside Police had to scramble to respond.
Those supporting the march where by no mean neutral several were members of the SWP. So we had the old sectarian fight connected with the current left/right wing fight. This is not a good mix.
Last night bomb or non bomb as it turns out, was left by either a "tall white man" or a "black Brazilian", the latter seems to have become a favourite, I'm not sure how you tell someone is Brazilian, I don't know if I could recognise the accent. However what the story reminded me of is the conflict in Nigeria between Boko Haram and the government. There have doubtless been  atrocities in Nigeria and the possibility of people fighting a proxy war here does exist.
Today in the Liverpool Echo we get a bare bones story with some potentially rather racists comments which has attracted the attention of some grade A idiot first time commenters, the most loud mouthed of which do not seem to be from Liverpool.
In Liverpool in addition to the homegrown Christian sectarianism we have the universal left right fault line, we have imported several additional fault lines namely the West Indian and African fault. Whilst this vast collection should allow us to shrug and tell people stirring up to get lost, it still makes us the Balkans of England with the same number of divisions and the same percentage of hot heads on all the sides capable of forming unholy alliances with each other and dragging us all into the pit.
Let us hope that having overcome 1 sectarian division we can serve as an example we owe it to the people who held that rift in the past and we owe it to the 96 not to let new divisions set in.

Update

Well most of my facts seem to have been complete and utter bollocks. Today, the following Tuesday, a man was issued with a police caution for causing a public nuisance. The man has today been described as a 22 year old Danish man. That was subsequently changed to a 22 year old Somali man. I really have no idea what was going through his mind or that of the "Black Brazilian" or "Tall White Man", that had early been blamed.