Days: it’s a blog thing

Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…

Saturday, February 01, 2003 ↓

REST IN PEACE: Ilan Ramon, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark

I’ve worked in aviation and space systems for most of my professional life, and I still do (at least for part of it). I get on and off around four aeroplanes a week. I’m acutely aware that take-off and landing are the riskiest parts of flying, and sometimes I get a reminder ― like some weeks ago when the flaps on the Fokker F-100 bringing me back into Edinburgh jammed, just as we were on the final approach to the runway. We went around again and made another attempt at landing, with the control surfaces still not all operating properly. We hit the ground fast, there was a lot of very heavy braking, and we were met by the fire tenders and checked over by the fire crew before the aircraft was allowed near the terminal building. Apart from a little disquiet amongst the passengers, there was no harm done ― though if the pilot had been unable to apply any flap whatsoever, then things could have been rather more difficult.

But the risks of air travel are as nothing compared to those of launching a vehicle out of the Earth’s gravitational pull, strapped to the back of a couple of solid-propellant rocket boosters. Nor of bringing it back through the atmosphere at twenty-five times the speed of sound, with very little margin for error in the angle of approach. More than 100 missions over twenty years without loss of a craft on re-entry are inclined to make us forget the inherent risks. Today’s horrifying events are a stinging reminder.

In its 113 launches, the space shuttle has failed only twice. In itself that is a good record but it is still high when translated into everyday terms.

If the same statistics applied to everyday travel then anyone who drove their car to and from work once a day would be lucky to live to the end of the month.

A sobering thought from David Whitehouse, the BBC News Online science editor, writing in another article.

It is seventeen years to the month since the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost shortly after launch, in what was, frankly, an entirely avoidable accident. The Rogers Commission, which investigated the incident, had the benefit of the membership of Dick Feynman, not only the greatest theoretical physicist of his generation, but also a practical man of good common sense; and with the directness, clarity of purpose and human skill to cut through the bureaucracy, evasiveness and cover your ass antics of executives at NASA and Morton Thiokol, to get to the cold, hard and strikingly crude simplicity of what went wrong.

The teams enquiring into this latest disaster won’t have Feynman to help them, as he died less than two years after publication of the Rogers Commission report. But I’d like to think that NASA has learned from Challenger, and that this investigation will be carried out in an atmosphere of complete openness and honesty. We can’t shy away from saying that space flight is dangerous and that it is inevitable that there will be accidents. But if we find an opportunity to improve safety and reliability ― especially if as the result of an accident ― we must grasp it positively.

Posted at 10:42 PM

Friday, January 31, 2003 ↓


From time to time I’m driven to look at what Google searches have brought people to my site. One of the latest is ben hammersley is a twat. If the searcher had the same Ben Hammersley in mind, there’s nobody less deserving of such an ungracious description.

Isn’t Google clever, though? More so than the searcher, perhaps:

Your original search: ben hammersly is a twat returned zero results. The alternate spelling: ben hammersley is a twat returned the results below.

Ever since I mentioned inebriated Scandinavian waxwings, a number of folks have landed here while looking for swedish birds. I presume they’re not looking for the likes of blue Swedish ducks, appealing as they sound. (“This is a striking looking bird and the genetics of achieving the colour make it a challenging breed for breeders. Friendly and a good size.” Sounds like an ideal bird.). They might be looking for a shag, though.

Posted at 7:40 PM


And a hat. And a scarf. And a pair of shades. Yes, on Wednesday Zoe showed us pictures of her Twat (figuratively speaking). With something inflatable.

I’d give you a link, but she doesn’t put permalinks on individual posts — so you’ll just have to visit and explore. Now featured under Regularly Watches…

Posted at 7:03 PM


Hello to anyone past or present who may have arrived here via Odessa Street, following a forgivable linkage slip by Lee. I hope you haven’t been too confused or disappointed.

Posted at 7:02 PM


When I left Gothenburg this morning, it was bloody freezing — but bright and sunny. I arrived back in Edinburgh this afternoon, where it’s bloody freezing — and grey and snowing.

Makes me wonder where I should really live, especially since the client who sends me there requires that I carry on making weekly visits to Sweden’s second city for as far as I can see into 2003. No change there, then.

Posted at 7:01 PM

Sunday, January 26, 2003 ↓


You might have noticed on Friday night or Saturday morning that the entire internet appeared to have ground to a halt. The reason was exploitation of yet another one of those pesky Microsoft security flaws. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “yet another”, because this one has been known about for some time. Ben reflects:

So, now the aftermath. Here's my predictions: Microsoft will get shouted at, Slashdot will be full of people calling for BillG's head, the worm writer will turn out to be 14 and just messing around with something that got out of control very very quickly. It will not have been terrorism, but the US government will pretend it was and try to install some wacky firewally thing. And still no one will patch their machines.

“People need to do a better job about fixing vulnerabilities,” said Howard Schmidt, one of President George W. Bush’s cyber-security advisers. Nah, it’ll never happen. Microsoft need to do a better job of writing software.

Posted at 3:23 PM


Bruce McCall invites us to review the codicils to Saddam Hussein’s last will in The New Yorker magazine.

Posted at 2:55 PM


I’ve just found a recently-started weblog, and it could turn out to be a little gem. A little reminiscent of Mil Millington’s Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, the gorgeous (she says so) Zoe takes the female perspective in My Boyfriend Is a Twat. An excerpt: distressed that her boyfriend will not attend to a problem on her blog because he is working on another web site, she writes

The Twat was also kind enough to point out that no, I do not come second to this website he's working on, there is also coffee, cream buns, medieval siege equipment, large parts of Cumbria, almost all of Africa, novels by Grahame Greene, anything written by George Orwell, garden sheds, bacon rolls - at this point I hit him.

Once his lip has stopped bleeding the Twat will do as I say.

I’m rather fond of women with that spiky kind of wit. If she should ever get fed up of her current Twat, well, I’ve always liked Brussels…

Posted at 2:27 PM

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