The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime reading

Articles that piqued my interest this morning:

Back to writing software.

MH370: Epitaph

William Langewiesche, a pilot and journalist, has examined some of the worst air disasters in modern history. I read Fly By Wire in an hour and a half. His reporting on the demolition of the World Trade Center is legendary.

In the upcoming issue of The Atlantic, Langewiesche assembles the best evidence we have about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 on 8 March 2014. It's a must-read for anyone interested in aviation:

Primary radar relies on simple, raw pings off objects in the sky. Air-traffic-control systems use what is known as secondary radar. It depends on a transponder signal that is transmitted by each airplane and contains richer information—for instance, the airplane’s identity and altitude—than primary radar does. Five seconds after MH370 crossed into Vietnamese airspace, the symbol representing its transponder dropped from the screens of Malaysian air traffic control, and 37 seconds later the entire airplane disappeared from secondary radar. The time was 1:21 a.m., 39 minutes after takeoff. The controller in Kuala Lumpur was dealing with other traffic elsewhere on his screen and simply didn’t notice. When he finally did, he assumed that the airplane was in the hands of Ho Chi Minh, somewhere out beyond his range.

The Vietnamese controllers, meanwhile, saw MH370 cross into their airspace and then disappear from radar. They apparently misunderstood a formal agreement by which Ho Chi Minh was supposed to inform Kuala Lumpur immediately if an airplane that had been handed off was more than five minutes late checking in. They tried repeatedly to contact the aircraft, to no avail. By the time they picked up the phone to inform Kuala Lumpur, 18 minutes had passed since MH370’s disappearance from their radar screens. What ensued was an exercise in confusion and incompetence. Kuala Lumpur’s Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre should have been notified within an hour of the disappearance. By 2:30 a.m., it still had not been. Four more hours elapsed before an emergency response was finally begun, at 6:32 a.m.

The mystery surrounding MH370 has been a focus of continued investigation and a source of sometimes feverish public speculation. The loss devastated families on four continents. The idea that a sophisticated machine, with its modern instruments and redundant communications, could simply vanish seems beyond the realm of possibility. It is hard to permanently delete an email, and living off the grid is nearly unachievable even when the attempt is deliberate. A Boeing 777 is meant to be electronically accessible at all times. The disappearance of the airplane has provoked a host of theories. Many are preposterous. All are given life by the fact that, in this age, commercial airplanes don’t just vanish.

This one did, and more than five years later its precise whereabouts remain unknown. Even so, a great deal about the disappearance of MH370 has come into clearer view, and reconstructing much of what happened that night is possible. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight-data recorder may never be recovered, but what we still need to know is unlikely to come from the black boxes. Instead, it will have to come from Malaysia.

What follows should give anyone who cares about functioning institutions pause. Langewiesche doesn't so much indict the Malaysian government for incompetence as simply lay out the facts and let the reader decide, a la Robert Mueller. Example:

For all its expensive equipment, the air force had failed at its job and could not bring itself to admit the fact. In an Australian television interview, the former Malaysian defense minister said, “If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point in sending [an interceptor] up?” Well, for one thing, you could positively identify the airplane, which at this point was just a blip on primary radar. You could also look through the windows into the cockpit and see who was at the controls.

Had MH370 belonged to (or flown out of) a functioning, institutional government, we might actually have found it and known what happened.

Langewiesche alone should give you enough reason to subscribe to The Atlantic. Grab this month's issue and see so many others.

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...

Busy weekend

Just a few things in the news:

And hey, summer begins in three days.

Stupid anti-union tricks

Delta Airlines' management showed this week that they have no clue how their greed comes across:

Two posters made by Delta as part of an effort to dissuade thousands of its workers from joining a union drew a torrent of criticism after they were posted on social media Thursday.

The posters included messages targeting the price of the dues that company workers would be paying if the union formed.

“Union dues cost around $700 a year,” one noted. “A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.”

The other, with a picture of a football, was framed similarly.

“What does $700 mean to you?” it said. “Nothing’s more enjoyable than a night out watching football with your buddies. All those union dues you pay every year could buy a few rounds.”

Delta made $5.2 billion in pre-tax income in 2018 and gave away about $1.3 billion to its employees in bonuses, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Union supporters were quick to point to the company’s financial success in recent years — it made $10.5 billion in revenue the first quarter of the year and saw its profits increase 31 percent to $730 million. Its chief executive, Ed Bastian, reportedly received $13.2 million in compensation in 2017.

Nice work, Delta. Yet another reason I fly American.

Can't suspend disbelief on this point (GoT spoilers)

If you haven't seen Game of Thrones Season 8, episode 4 ("The Last of the Starks"), stop reading now.

I need to rant about the impossible—not just improbable, but impossible—success of the Iron Fleet's attack in the middle of the episode.

<rant>

Now, I get that Game of Thrones is fantasy. White walkers, dragons, magic, and all that, I get it. I gladly suspend my disbelief in the fantasy elements of fantasy stories all the time. As a relevant example, when the Night King speared Viserion last season, it made sense, because the Night King was a magical being. Obviously he had a magic spear! I'm cool with that.

But dammit, get shit right when it's not a fantasy element.

Unlike the Night King, Euron Greyjoy is not a magical being, no matter what he thinks of himself. So him shooting down Rhaegal with a battery of ship-mounted, artillery-sized crossbows was total bullshit. It served the plot 

Hitting a fast-moving aircraft with a deck-mounted gun is so insanely difficult that navies could not reliably do it until the 1960s. You need computer-assisted, radar-guided targeting systems and gyroscopically-stabilized guns. Or ship-to-air guided missiles, which have radar and computers built in. Even then, they miss all the time.

Before computers, anti-aircraft guns worked by saturating the sky with rapid-fire, explosive ordnance. Flying through hundreds of exploding 50mm rounds will, sometimes, bring your plane down—but not as often as one might expect. And that's true even with guns mounted on solid ground. Ship-mounted AA guns gave sailors more of a feeling than a fact of protecting their ships from aerial attack. Just ask, oh, anyone who served on a ship before the Vietnam War. Or the guys on the Arizona.

Only after the 1890s, thanks to an invention US Navy brass didn't even understand at the time and almost killed, could a ship even hit another ship reliably from any distance over 100 meters. Even in World War I ships would pound away at each other with 15-inch guns and hit one time out of 100. (Of course, one or two hits with ordnance that size could sink a ship.)

The problem is roll. Ships roll in the water, even when at anchor, even in nearly-still water. Deck-mounted guns therefore need to float freely in their mounts so that they don't change position after you have a firing solution on your target. That was the invention the US Navy didn't even want until the officer who invented it demonstrated it in a live-fire exercise.

But even if the ships sat in completely placid water, the Iron Fleet's crossbows would have huge variations in accuracy because their projectiles lack flight stability. They had small fletching and the crossbows themselves provided no rifling. (Notice the bolts in the show don't spin in flight, even though archers in ancient times knew enough to add spin to their arrows by tweaking the fletching.) I would bet half the Lannister gold that one of those things firing from a fixed position on land at a range of 1,000 meters couldn't hit a barn twice in 100 shots.

So: The idea that a ship-mounted crossbow could hit a dragon in flight at a range of well over 1,000 meters while the dragon is actively evading it is so stupid I'm annoyed that it happened even once, let alone multiple times.

And let's not even discuss the energy required to launch a ballistic projectile that large across that distance. Energy that comes from human beings winding them up. It would take minutes to reload those things using human power. So even if they scored a nearly-impossibly-lucky, fatal hit on Rhaegal, Drogon would roast them alive while they were reloading.

Bottom line: unless the Iron Fleet secretly brought a modern destroyer to the battle, they couldn't have hit Rhaegal if he were sitting on the next boat, let alone flying evasively thousands of meters away. Hell, they couldn't have hit Denarys's ships at that range, except by accident.

And no, that's not my only problem with the episode, but it's the one that annoyed me the most.

</rant>

Quick links

The day after a 3-day, 3-flight weekend doesn't usually make it into the top-10 productive days of my life. Like today for instance.

So here are some things I'm too lazy to write more about today:

Now, to write tomorrow's A-to-Z entry...

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

More on the 737 MAX 8 crashes

Pilot and author James Fallows points out this Seattle Times article as a good explanation of how the Boeing-led safety process for the 737 MAX 8 airplane may have contributed to their recent accidents:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

Early on in certification of the 737 MAX, the FAA safety engineering team divided up the technical assessments that would be delegated to Boeing versus those they considered more critical and would be retained within the FAA.

But several FAA technical experts said in interviews that as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process. Development of the MAX was lagging nine months behind the rival Airbus A320neo. Time was of the essence for Boeing.

A former FAA safety engineer who was directly involved in certifying the MAX said that halfway through the certification process, “we were asked by management to re-evaluate what would be delegated. Management thought we had retained too much at the FAA.”

“There was constant pressure to re-evaluate our initial decisions,” the former engineer said. “And even after we had reassessed it … there was continued discussion by management about delegating even more items down to the Boeing Company.”

Wow, that sounds familiar. And this is why we need competent, well-funded regulators for safety-critical industries.

The Ethiopian government says they'll release the preliminary accident report in 30 days.