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Engineers look at the Gulf and see an engineering problem:

Devices fall out of favor, but seldom if ever get abolished by design. The explosion of the Hindenburg showed the dangers of hydrogen as a lifting gas and resulted in new emphasis on helium, which is not flammable, rather than ending the reign of rigid airships. And engineering, by definition, is a problem-solving profession. Technology analysts say that constructive impulse, and its probable result for deep ocean drilling, is that innovation through failure analysis will make the wells safer, whatever the merits of reducing human reliance on oil. They hold that the BP disaster, like countless others, will ultimately inspire technological advance.

The sinking of the Titanic, the meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor in 1986, the collapse of the World Trade Center — all forced engineers to address what came to be seen as deadly flaws.

“Any engineering failure has a lot of lessons,” said Gary Halada, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who teaches a course called “Learning from Disaster.”

Don't expect engineers to think like social service folks, or environmentalists. Doesn't make their POV invalid, just makes it different. And whether it's the Johnstown Flood of 1889 (a dam failure leading to legal innovation - "state courts' move from a fault-based regime to strict liability, and American Red Cross' first major relief effort, lead by Clara Barton) or the Titanic (lesson learned: have enough life boats), or the Triangle fire (better building code for fire exits and escapes) there's much to be learned from many disciplines when a disaster occurs. Reviewing the engineering lessons doesn't mean igoring the rest.

Want another example? Doing proper disaster planning instead of hiring a consultant to xerox everyone else's. Ed Markey:

What we found was that Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell and BP have response plans that are virtually identical. The plans cite identical response capabilities and tout identical ineffective equipment. In some cases, they use the exact same words and made the exact same assurances.

I welcome learning lessons from the industrial disaster. In fact, everyone should be as eager as the engineers to do so.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 05:46 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yep Dr Strangelove (9+ / 0-)

    Hired the Bland Corporation to plan for this scenario.
     title=

    We Destroyed this Village in order to save it from the Viet Cong er um Taliban

    by JML9999 on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 05:52:21 PM PDT

  •  which speaks to one huge problem: (4+ / 0-)

    that scientists are being denied access.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 05:55:24 PM PDT

  •  Here's lesson one, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lorinda Pike

    stop drilling for this garbage at all.

    Ixtoc was drilled in 160 feet of standing water and it took nearly 10 months to cap it.

    The real disaster isn't Ixtoc or Maconda, the real disaster is bringing up coal, gas and oil and burning it.

    The Lung Association estimate that perhaps 100,000 people in this country die from the effects of air pollution every year in this country.

    Isn't that enough of a disaster to make us want to change?

  •  I suppose that as engineer, I should point out (12+ / 0-)

    that a defective design, no matter who made it, is inimical to the engineering credo -- "make it right the first time".

    Don't you think, or don't you? - The National Lampoon Radio Hour

    by AlBob on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 05:57:14 PM PDT

  •  The "emergency plans" presented to congress were (7+ / 0-)

    reminiscent of copied book reports submitted by Mr. Kotter's Sweat hogs. Given that this is the level of foolishness and disregard for the people and their safety that big oil corporations are capable of in their arrogance I think we have some more fundamental issues to deal with before we even get to engineering problems. For me this abdication of responsibility raises the question of whether oil and gas production should be nationalized. To fight endless rear action court room battles with wealthy corporations seems a dubious way to prevent nightmares such as the current one in the Gulf. Take the production of energy out of the free market. Make it a controlled utility as it is not an optional purchase for people. And yes a government truly run for and by the people will do a far superior job of protecting the resources and the ecosystem than the rich, cynical clowns who went before congress to offer protection of Gulf walruses!

    •  singe: important to remember the Oil Co's are NOT (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      singe, Egalitare

      run by engineers.

      More's the pity.

      Texas is NO Bush League! LBJ, Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 11:50:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  absolutely. and the engineers can all get nice (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BlackSheep1

        federal jobs with pensions and health care plans and while the salaries may or may not be equal to what they are in the corporate system they will be able to do serious engineering without having to listen to marketeers and folks from the home office who think they are being too cautious or whatever.

        i take this somewhat extreme position (seen as extreme mostly since the wonderful reagan error (no typo there) because i worked in government and am proud of the work that we did. in the seventies and eighties i worked on de-institutionalizing mentally ill and mentally retarded people and setting them up in more normal living situations in communities. we had a mandate and we in most cases we did amazingly good work. later i worked training inspectors of day care programs for kids and so on....government workers can do great things when given clear objectives and leadership. and without having to worry about profit margins the complete focus can be on service. so i think energy should not be left to the pimp shits who have brought us to where we are today, junkies for oil and coal and watching our ecosystems die.

        but i do take your point and hope i didn't offend anyone with a pocket slide rule :)

  •  I think of engineers as problem solvers which is (10+ / 0-)

    a very positive perspective.  I'd love to see that positive viewpoint applied to all aspects of this situation -- work whatever problem there is to the best solution, and that would also mean taking care of the people doing the cleanup, revising procedures, or whatever.  

    I would think Exxon, Chevron and the rest would look at this, and just in their own selfish interest of keeping their company fiscally afloat, would be eager to glean every bit of knowledge they could from this situation and revise their procedures.

    I know a lot of folks here are very pessimistic -- there's no need to tell me it won't happen.

    Dear Father, hear and bless the beings of the sea and singing birds; and guard with tenderness small things that have no words. ~A child's prayer

    by ParkRanger on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 05:59:36 PM PDT

  •  the real lesson... (4+ / 0-)

    ...is that companies will "preserve the environment" and "ensure safety" by doing what is required by law or regulation, and only what is required, or less.

    "She's petite, extremely beautiful, and heavily armed." -1995 Michael Moore documentary Canadian Bacon

    by Tom Seaview on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 05:59:43 PM PDT

  •  Honestly (6+ / 0-)

    As long as the engineers bring new light to this dark mess of a situation, and help prevent it from ever happening again, we are all better off.

    Spock or McCoy?

    I'll take either.

    As long as they are good and they get the job done.

    I just hope they get the access they need to do their jobs.

    That's my biggest worry.

    •  can't we have all 3: Spock, Scott & (0+ / 0-)

      Dr. McCoy? Kirk's career would have been short, brutish and nasty without that trio of advisors!

      Texas is NO Bush League! LBJ, Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 11:51:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Deepwater was a MANAGEMENT failure. (7+ / 0-)

    Don't go blaming the engineers for it.

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    -Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:02:12 PM PDT

    •  Agreed (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, mataliandy, BlackSheep1, BachFan

      It didn't matter much how it was engineered, these monkeys would have figured out how to bypass and break it.  That's the way they were running the operation.

      The engineering principles were already known and if normal practices had been followed there would almost certainly have been no blowout/fire/explosion/spill.

      The management culture was completely dysfunctional and the chain of command was/is a mystery.    Regulatory oversight was non-existent.

      The engineering aspects that should be addressed are some minimal specifications for shear rams, controller redundancy, some data logging, etc.  The other main thing that appears to be needed is way to successfully hook up a production draw or cap to a wild well within a few days of blowout/major failure.  

      Processes/specs must be updated for deepwater.

      Note to Democratic leadership: I'm all out of carrots, but I still have my stick.

      by Celtic Pugilist on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:32:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  well, among other things, Celtic Pugilist, (0+ / 0-)

        NOT massively modifying the BOP and control panel, without bothering to document the changes anywhere, would've been a big step forward.

        BP is truly awful. Ask Fishgrease, or anybody in the oil patch. Ask Bob Cavnar.

        Texas is NO Bush League! LBJ, Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees -7.50,-5.59

        by BlackSheep1 on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 11:53:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  who's blaming the engineers? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlackSheep1

      I agree completely.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:37:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's more the title, and article's thrust (0+ / 0-)

        I suspect most engineers see this as a management failure rather than an engineering failure.  

        Not that I'm defending the weaker parts of the engineering.  There are several devices that I believe should be improved and certain practices should be explicitly disallowed.    

        Note to Democratic leadership: I'm all out of carrots, but I still have my stick.

        by Celtic Pugilist on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 08:17:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the BOP failed (0+ / 0-)

          for starters.

          "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

          by Greg Dworkin on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 03:58:22 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  True, but it wasn't the core problem (0+ / 0-)

            The BOP seems to have failed because it wasn't properly maintained.  There are some design criteria and regs that should be strengthened for BOP's but it is not a device that is likely to provide a reliable safeguard.  

            The real safeguard is in doing the drilling/logging/casing/cementing properly in the first place rather than blowing off all of the best practices and doing something that is almost guarranteed to test the blow out preventer.

            I know from personal experience in chemical process equipment design/operation that relying on final lines of defense like relief valves will result in failures...sometimes even when the safety device works properly.  You try to avoid modes of operation that would ever require them to prevent vessel rupture.

            There's nothing quite like having someone ignore your written system design requirements and catastrophically rupture a vessel as a result.  (Luckily, nobody was killed or seriously injured--but it was very close.)

            Note to Democratic leadership: I'm all out of carrots, but I still have my stick.

            by Celtic Pugilist on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 04:06:10 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Just because engineers are smart (0+ / 0-)

              enough to learn lessons (such as which cap works at that depth and why), that doesn't change that this was, as others have stated, a management failure.

              "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

              by Greg Dworkin on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 04:09:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  I remember when I worked at Wash. Mutual... (10+ / 0-)

    back when it still existed, as a programmer, in mortgage-backed securities modeling.

    The mathematicians were all telling management that the bubble was going to pop sooner or later, and that the various get-rich-quick schemes were a really bad idea.

    You all know what happened.

    Moral: The problem isn't on the engineering side. The problem is on the decision-maker side.

    Like whoever made the decision to turn of that alarm-thingie, and the various other shortchanged safety bits, in the case of BP spill.

    I'm gonna go eat a steak. And fuck my wife. And pray to GOD - hatemailapalooza, 052210

    by punditician on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:02:17 PM PDT

  •  NYTimes is WRONG about the Hindenburg (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    polecat, NYFM, Derfel, Lorinda Pike

    Thar disaster DID kill off passenger dirigible travel - and it has stayed dead. What we have now, and they made a comeback fairly recently, are strictly for the use of the visual broadcast media, no paying passengers allowed.

    If it's
    Not your body
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    AND it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:02:23 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, what's the deal with that? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, BlackSheep1

      How did the editor let that one by?

      The explosion of the Hindenburg showed the dangers of hydrogen as a lifting gas and resulted in new emphasis on helium, which is not flammable, rather than ending the reign of rigid airships.


      Scoff!

      Good fnord-spotting, by the way.

      "Dear Buddha, I'd like a pony and a plastic rocket"
      --Malcolm Reynolds

      by drobnox on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:34:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Airships may return (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BlackSheep1, BachFan

        Here's an article from The Guardian with some details.

        On the plus side, we have new materials that could make rigid airships stronger, lighter, and faster.
        They use far less energy because they don't have to spend a huge chunk of it fighting gravity.
        Thin film solar panels could provide free power during the day, which could supplement other power supplies. (Check out this story about a drone staying aloft for over 2 weeks.)
        We have a much better understanding of weather systems - the big problem for lighter than air craft has always been storms and high winds.

        On the negative side, supplies of helium are limited - and not getting better.

        Want a look at a fictional exploration of a modern lighter than air freighter? See if you can find a copy of Dean Ing's "The Big Lifters" It's an action-suspense techno thriller featuring a huge airship, middle east terrorists, high speed rail, and cheap access to space.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:06:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the "return of dirigibles" is a Popular Mechanics (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar, Celtic Pugilist

          cover story and that's about it.

          •  You mean this one? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BlackSheep1

            Warning! Link to Free Republic rip off of Popular Mechanics article.

            Here's a link to some illustrations.

            Don't dismiss lighter than air ships too quickly. If you need a platform that can stay in the air for days or weeks at a time over an area of 'interest', and have to lift a fair amount of gear, airships are getting a second look. Electric motors, solar panels and new battery tech means they wouldn't have to be refueled. They're a logical development of drone technology - and the Air Force is already certifying its aircraft to run on synthetic fuels because they can see the near term possibility of shortages of aviation fuel. Boeing has developed a prototype for an RPV running on hydrogen.

            That's why the BBC story about the solar powered drone in my comment above is getting a lot of interest from the military. Not just days but weeks in the air without needing to refuel.

            "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

            by xaxnar on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:31:28 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not that one specifically (0+ / 0-)

              "Giant Dirigible on Drawing Board" was a cover story on Pop Mech and Popular Science more times than I could count.

              Not because its feasible and not because its likely, but because it makes for a dramatic cover illustration that sells copies.

              And they are never going to "reign" and never did.

              •  In the days before the great flying boats... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                BlackSheep1

                Zeppelins were the only way to fly across the oceans in style.

                Meanwhile, things change.

                Just last year, work on a prototype modern airship using new technology had gotten to a critical test point.

                If we want to keep the power of flight, but we no longer think burning tons of hydrocarbons is acceptable, than these ideas may get a second look.

                The history of technology is full of abandoned methods that were dropped when something a bit better came along. But that  didn't mean they were intrinsically flawed or impractical - nor capable of further improvement. We've learned a hell of a lot about engineering, aerodynamics, materials, etc. since we turned away from airships. Just as railroads are starting to look a lot better these days, so too airships may once we take a second look and find out what we can do now with what we've learned.

                The near future is going to require quite a few changes in the way we do things. A good idea limited by the technology of an earlier day is not the same thing as a bad idea today.

                "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                by xaxnar on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 08:33:13 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  No one will ever want to spend that much time (0+ / 0-)

                  getting from point a to point b.

                  Not enough people to make it a major form of transportation.

                  Remember our point of disaggreement with them original article was the notion that airships ever "reigned".  Never happened.

                  Can you make a better airship today?  Sure. You can make a better Titanic too. But no one wants to cross the Atlantic in it.

                  •  It all comes down to how you define 'major' (0+ / 0-)

                    As for reigning, you might also note the Concorde never really dominated transatlantic flight in terms of numbers; the vast majority of passengers did and still do fly subsonic. But it had an incredible amount of glamour attached to it. Flying the Concorde made a statement that went far beyond just getting on an airliner. In that sense, Concorde reigned over the airways.

                    Air ships are stuck in a chicken and egg situation right now. Until they get built, no one knows what kind of traffic they'll support. And without hard traffic numbers, no one is ready to gamble on building them - yet.

                    They don't need hundreds of acres of concrete to take off and land, they are potentially far quieter than conventional aircraft, and assuming solar panels prove practical for power to some degree they will be far more fuel efficient. Fuel costs are what are killing the airlines these days - and it's NOT going to get better.

                    Plus the speed issue is changing - if new designs can reach 100mph or so AND operate from city center to city center, it's possible they could create a sizable niche in the transport market. Ditto for carrying freight. I suspect there's a certain density of population where relatively fast, reliable and efficient air ship design could compete effectively.

                    If I had a billion or so, I might just take a shot at funding it to find out. When you look at all the small prop-jets/regional jets now taking up slots in the airline system, and the number of towns that have lost air service or would like to be connected to the system, there's a market there. Can modern tech air ships fill it?

                    While we're talking about what-ifs, don't forget one of the other chicken and egg scenarios. There's a niche for hydrogen powered cars, but no one will buy them if they can't get hydrogen at the corner gas station. And the corner gas station won't sell hydrogen until the cars are out there....

                    It's like the old joke about the guy trying to get someplace asking for directions, and being told "You can't get there from here." I greatly fear that sums up our chances of creating a future we will want to live in - rather than the one we're likely to get.

                    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                    by xaxnar on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 11:23:02 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  There's also (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BlackSheep1

          The Clean Air and Peaceful Contentment Dirigible Airline story for kids. It's very cute, especially if you are nostalgic for 1970s style illustrations.

  •  I've been there (7+ / 0-)

    working for a telecom equipment mfr. All our stuff was designed, and tested, to the UL specs for lightning protection - and in '92 hurricane Andrew came with lightning that burned it all out. We redesigned all that interface hw, and I'm sure all our competitors did too.

    I think any engineer would agree, the first lesson is to at least follow existing best practice. From most reports BP wasn't even doing that, because the corporate beancounters consider safety too expensive.

    "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war" - John Adams

    by esquimaux on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:03:14 PM PDT

    •  Not to defend bean counters, but (0+ / 0-)

      They take the simplistic view that you should design for the average. 99% of the time, that will be sufficient. Who worries about 1% events right? It's not cost-effective. Heck - even in this Gulf spill, they may be right. The cost of clean up for a one-time event is still minor compared to the returns they've been getting for years on business as usual.

      Which is why putting bean counters in charge is a recipe for disaster.

      Sooner or later Nature always gets around to reminding us that the average design always needs to incorporate a safety factor that can withstand the possible - and eventually certain - outside the normal range of the 'average'..

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:16:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  bingo! "bean counters in charge is a recipe for (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar

        DISASTER."

        From Desert One to Macondo 252, it's proven time and time and time and time and time and time again.

        Texas is NO Bush League! LBJ, Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees -7.50,-5.59

        by BlackSheep1 on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 11:57:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thank you, DemfromCT, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, amk for obama, Lorinda Pike

    for letting us beg for recs.
    i've gritted my teeth so hard during this disaster that i could double for cheney now.

    The Addington perpwalk is the trailhead for accountability in this wound on our national psyche. [...you know: Dick Cheney's "top" lawyer.] --Sachem

    by greenbird on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:04:06 PM PDT

  •  Well I'm glad someone is learning... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    polecat, Lorinda Pike

    ... because "Drill Baby Drill" is still echoing in my ears...?

  •  Being willing to learn from disasters is not (7+ / 0-)

    ...the same as being willing to suffer disasters in order to learn.

    As an engineer, I speak only for myself.  But, I think that the Deepwater disaster was an unnecessary learning experience.  There was every reason to believe that it was simply a matter of time before a blowout which couldn't be handled with available technology.  BP had outrun, in its desire to maximize profits, its abilities to handle the possible failures which could result.

    No demonstration of this was truly necessary, if only the oversight had been done properly.

    "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

    by rfall on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:09:11 PM PDT

  •  The viewpoint of engineers is good in many ways. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DemFromCT, wonmug, BachFan

    As this diary says, we try to learn from our mistakes, and we don't believe that nature responds well to PR--it does what it does, ruthlessly.

    That said, as an engineer myself, I make this request:  don't allow us to run the world!  To many of us, the end is not interesting, but the means for getting there.  Which isn't, most of the time, what is best for the world.

    "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

    by rfall on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:12:19 PM PDT

    •  I have to say (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BachFan

      that as an engineer, I've always done what my corporate masters said I should do. I've been obedient and compliant, but, I've always tried to bring about the best results for the world in general, regardless of what my company desires.

      Don't you think, or don't you? - The National Lampoon Radio Hour

      by AlBob on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:20:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed--I was not trying to impugn the integrity (0+ / 0-)

        ...of engineers.

        Just trying to say--badly, it would appear--that we are not the best people to be running the world.

        "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

        by rfall on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:23:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  some engineers I used to work with said (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BachFan, rfall

      some products should have a label that says "keep out of reach of engineers"

      ( because they always wanted to play and experiment with everything )

      PLEASE donate to a global children's PEACE project: Chalk 4 Peace

      by RumsfeldResign on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:23:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Dude (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, BlackSheep1

      We could hardly do worse.  The more ethical people I've met are engineers.

      •  Ethics isn't the issue I was trying to raise. (0+ / 0-)

        I did a poor job of raising the issue of engineers being tinkerers, and most of the engineers I've worked with, for and beside would want to make "just one more change to see what happens", which is often not what the world needs.

        "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

        by rfall on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:49:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rfall

      don't let management or marketing design the products either. Or politicians. Or voters.

      In terms of running the world, my utopia would be one where politicians respond to their constituents by setting the goals to be achieved (write the specs, as it were) and engineers or other technical types (could even be social scientists in some cases) do the detailed design to accomplish the goals.

      And then some mechanism measures how well the goal was achieved, re-evaluates the goal, and we iterate through the design process again, ad infinitum.

      Of course it only works to the extent that people are working for the common good and not just to line their own pockets.

      We are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

      by badger on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 09:47:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I posted this on the Mothership diary comments (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, BachFan

    but it seems worth re-posting:

    A friend's boss had dinner with an Exxon engineer (here from Saudi Arabia) who is working on the Deepwater Horizon. Guy said several things:

    A big concern of the device on top is the weight and what it may do to the connection and the pipe below it.
    He is pessimistic about the (already leaking) top hat.
    On any given day there is much, much more natural oil and gas seepage in the Gulf that anyone might imagine.
    He is about 50-50 on whether the relief well will work. The problem, he says, is how the materials will act at that depth and pressure. Never been tried and no one knows. "If it were in 1,000 feet or 500 feet, I would be confident. But at this depth nobody has any real idea what is going to happen."
    He thinks the team out at the well head is "very impressive," some of the best minds in the industry and great engineers. All that and they still can't get the damn thing plugged.
    He's all in favor of the Obama moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf because there are anomalies on a lot of wells and we don't know enough about them.

    But the scariest thing?

    He thinks there is a good chance none of this will work in which case we are looking at "a four-year event" because that is the best estimate of how long it will take this well to equalize itself.

    It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -- Thomas Jefferson

    by AtlantaJan on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:20:07 PM PDT

  •  This Was a Morton-Thiokol Management Problem (4+ / 0-)

    As the ROV, Fishgrease et al diaries have explained, the engineers already knew a lot more than was done right here.

    And as in Prince William Sound, containment and remediation resources guaranteed in the application variously didn't exist or weren't nearby.

    Again, not an issue that's even appropriate for engineers to "learn from."

    It's just like national politics. We're tripping over the facts. They're just disqualified from the conversation.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:22:31 PM PDT

    •  Yes, and NASA too (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlackSheep1

      NASA was pushing for the launch which is why Morton-Thiokol was willing to override their engineers.

      The manager who had to make the ultimate decision was an engineer.  In the meeting with the team about what to do, the execs told him "to take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat."  And that's exactly what he did.

      If you look at the launch stills and video you can see the joint clog with propellant granules at ignition (a little puff of smoke.)  It might have survived except that NASA violated their max windshear launch criteria for the launch as well.  You can see this shear zone as a change in the contrail.  This appears to be roughly where the joint re-opened.

      One of the engineers told his carpool to watch the launch, because he said the shuttle would blow up on the ground.  He was close.

      Note to Democratic leadership: I'm all out of carrots, but I still have my stick.

      by Celtic Pugilist on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:44:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Hindenburg did NOT end the era of (0+ / 0-)

    rigid airships?

    Which alternate reality was this analysis datelined?

    •  I can't even comment on the rest of the article (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elwood Dowd, xaxnar

      That fallacious comment totally discredited the whole article. I think I'll go watch "Sky Captain, and the World of Tomorrow" again.

      "Dear Buddha, I'd like a pony and a plastic rocket"
      --Malcolm Reynolds

      by drobnox on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:38:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They're thinking of those pipsqueaks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BachFan

        that hover over major sports events. Those aren't passenger ships, guys, they're mobile TV platforms. And they've made a comeback within the last few decades.

        If it's
        Not your body
        Then it's
        Not your choice
        AND it's
        None of your damn business!

        by TheOtherMaven on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:57:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Blimps are not zeppelins (0+ / 0-)

          They're not RIGID. And we certainly not living in the age of them.

          "Dear Buddha, I'd like a pony and a plastic rocket"
          --Malcolm Reynolds

          by drobnox on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:02:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Actually, you're all wrong - and right. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BlackSheep1

            The Hindenburg crash did pretty well end commercial flight by dirigibles - but what had gotten most of them was not the problem with hydrogen. The Hindenburg was using hydrogen for lift because Hitler's Germany had been cut off from U.S. supplies of helium. U.S. airships were using helium to avoid the explosion hazards of hydrogen.

            The largest helium lifters with rigid frames were the USS Macon and the USS Akron. They were nearly as large as the Hindenburg - and they were able to act as  flying aircraft carriers!

            The military had a great interest in dirigibles because A) they possessed much greater range than the heavier than air planes of the the day, and B) they could stay in the air for days at time. For the Navy, this was of great interest because they could potentially patrol vast areas of the oceans, scouting for enemy ships. (Remember, this was before nuclear subs, radar, and recon satellites.)

            It wasn't the Hindenburg crash that spelled an end to rigid airships - it was their fragility. Most of them were lost to accidents involving winds and storms - and problems in handling them under difficult conditions. Macon and Akron were both lost this way; other countries had comparable disasters. But the range and endurance of airships were still good enough to keep the US Navy operating blimps into the 1960s.

            Now that we're entering an era where fuel supplies are becoming harder to obtain, and greenhouse gas emissions are becoming a concern, the economy of airships is starting to look attractive again, especially when designers start thinking about what can be done with the new structural materials available, solar panels for power, computer-aided design, and so on. The far better capability to detect what weather conditions are at any given time and location is also another factor that might make a return to dirigibles feasible some time in the near future.

            Anyone who's been packed into the cattle car conditions of a budget airline can only look at the lounge and dining room of the Hindenburg and sigh....

            "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

            by xaxnar on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 08:16:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Don't go hating on us engineers (4+ / 0-)

    If you'd have listened to us you be in a lot better shape right about now.  Blame the MBAs, and other people who think where there's a will there's a way.  A good engineer knows failure is always an option.

    In the BP case, a few managers who actually knew what probability means would have done wonders.

  •  The dispersants (0+ / 0-)

    There's a bunch of oil that's dissolved or in suspension or something. It's going to get into the thermohaline circulation, sometimes called the ocean conveyor belt, and end up in everywhere. Plankton, fish, mammals, us...

    Free University and Health Care for all, now. -8.88, -7.13

    by SoCalHobbit on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:34:58 PM PDT

  •  Learning Experiences, Teachable Moments (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, BachFan
    1. Learning from experience is nearly always useful, especially if: A) you survive the original experience and B) you expect to be repeating history one of these days.
    1. Learning from OTHER peoples experience is even more effective, especially if: A) you're far enough outside the zone of catastrophic destruction to survive, B) you can say "I warned them it was a bad idea" or C) you can claim that you did without fear of contradiction.
    1. Learning from failure is easy; learning from success is a less common skill but no less valuable because it's too easy to ignore all the things that can come back to bite you later while everyone is congratulating you on how well you did.

    Exercise for the reader: consider the above three rules of thumb, and relate them to your own personal experiences. Then relate them to Kaufman's Rules. (First 7 of 28 here.)

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:46:15 PM PDT

  •  Not to be pedantic... (0+ / 0-)

    But you cite the faults of your argument. Nobody learned anything from Chernobyl other than better disaster messaging and what not to do during it. Chernobyl itself was an example of ignoring advances in technology and practices to save time and/or money. It was an outdated design when it was built, and it was not built to spec...

    Like modern medicine, it's useless if the patient doesn't take the pills. But people often think the mere fact that it exists protects them.

    "All I have left is pain and hope-- Hope that the pain will fade away..."

    by Cofcos on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 06:53:16 PM PDT

  •  And every single Irwin Allen disaster film (0+ / 0-)

    has led to fantastic innovations that have kept us safer in the event of a Flood! (1976), Fire! (1977), or Towering Inferno (1974). I want to include Earthquake, too, because I always associate Richard Roundtree racing his motorcycle in front of the floodwaters with Allen.

  •  The "reign of rigid airships" continued (0+ / 0-)

    with helium?  Those guys must have been educated with a Texas history book or some other absurdity because...

    A) Commercial airship travel died right then and there with the Hindenburg.

    B) there never was a "reign" of rigid airships of any kind.  There were never more than a handful of dirigibles in operation.

  •  But BP Did Nothing Wrong (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, xaxnar
    1. Cut corners, risk workers lives, save money.
    1. Accidents do happen.
    1. Turn on the public relations effort.
    1. Bully or pay off elected officials.
    1. Hire black prison labor to clean up the most visible mess.
    1. Make lots of compassionate and green TV and print ads.
    1. Lobby Congress even more than usual.
    1. Pray for a GOP takeover in November.
    1. If it happens, all good, back to business as usual.
    1. If not, return to step 3 and repeat as necessary.

    Voila! Never plan ahead for the worst when you can simply convince most people that everything is OK by a flood of post-disaster PR.

  •  really it's a matter of framing the problem (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger

    engineers will come up with the best solution, even a socially responsible one, if the problem is framed appropriately.  If you're operating within the narrow confines of "design the best oil rig", well, you get what you asked for, externalities be damned.  If the problem is stated as "design the best energy source considering all costs" you're gonna get an entirely different beast.

  •  Atul Gawande for Post-BP Spill Prevention Czar (0+ / 0-)

    I had just finished reading Atul Gawande's book, "The Checklist Manifesto" when the BP Oil Spill occurred.  I immediately thought he is the person whom Obama should have working with the oil companies to help them put a preventative process in place for avoiding spills in the future.

    We as a nation insist that airplane crews have training and processes in place to prevent air crashes and it has made a huge difference in the number of casualties in the air.  Why not do the same for oil drilling?

    We can do better. Together we will.

    by nudger on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 08:00:24 PM PDT

  •  i don't think engineers view the WTC collapse... (0+ / 0-)

    ...as a failure.

    in fact, i heard many skyscraper designers talk about how the towers "collapsed according to specification." in other words, the structural supports were designed to withstand an hour or two of intense heat, and then the entire building was designed to collapse vertically like a stack of pancakes (as opposed to tipping over sideways).

    freedom isn't free, but it isn't dumb either.

    by astro on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 04:11:22 AM PDT

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