Saturday, July 30, 2011

Looters vs. NOPD: a table



Looted Wal-Mart

Looted Wal-Mart

“Sniper fire” (really a Relief Valve)

Long range, deadly fire

“Raping Babies”

Raping children

Body count: Looters shot 1 cop in the head (survived)

Body Count: Still counting (1 conviction so far, probably a few more soon, maybe a lot more)

Rapes: 2 confirmed sexual assaults in Superdome, others elsewhere

Rapes: Equipped and ready to go

Next time a storm runs this way, here's a humble suggestion for the governor's office: issue additional orders to shoot NOPD on sight.

UPDATE- NOPD vs. TUPD gunbattle. Nobody hit, despite both officers being "expert" firearm-wielders.*

Another thing NOPD loves doing along with criminals: stealing guns:

*- The article was a little unclear as to whether it was just NOPD firing or the NOPD and TUPD exchanging rounds.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Deepwater Horizon Investigation Updates

There's been a multitude of investigations into the Deepwater Horizon / Macondo Blowout and I figure I'd summarize where we're at.

There's broad agreement between all the reports on the facts (with a few minor exceptions), but each one puts different emphasis on which actions were most important.

Transocean's Report came out not too long ago. Watch this video; it's excellent.

I liked most of Transocean's report. There were only a few howlers in there. Transocean endorses the maintenance as good practice (I'm personally not so sure; scheduled maintenance is perfect for turbines {things with well defined MTBF's}, but not great for something with weird failure modes like a BOP). They also say that the AMF/"Dead Man" fired successfully within an hour of the initial blowout (doubtful, but not impossible, according to the Det Norske Veritas report), but the blind shear rams failed to seal. The DNV report said the shear rams were closed days later by ROV intervention, which TO says 'closed the rams further.' Both agree the off-center drillstring was to blame for the failure to seal. The other big howler in TO's report is the treatment of fast rescue craft.

Transocean praises the Fast Rescue Craft from the Bankston (used to pluck multiple casualties from the water), but TO never mentions that the Horizon was never fitted with a FRC mostly to save space and money. The regulations allowed them to get away with this because they designated one of their large, slow, unwieldy lifeboats as their rescue craft, despite the fact that they are incapable of performing an injured swimmer pickup. There are some drawbacks of FRC's, but for a vessel the size of the Horizon, in my opinion as an engineer, the omission constitutes a design blunder. Had the Damon Bankston not been on the scene, there would be more than 11 dead.

USCG/BOEMRE almost finished, but won't meet deadline

The National Academy of Engineering has a draft report out, but the final report is still being worked on.

The Chemical Safety Board has another investigation they're working on. Note that they've gotten very, very little cooperation from anyone offshore, because nobody wants the CSB to have purview over offshore. The CSB is a funny little organization. They've got no enforcement powers, their reports are generally not (directly) admissible as evidence in courts, but they're packed with some really brilliant PHD's and do wonderful reconstructions of events:

CSB Video of Texas City.

I love engineering disaster books. Love 'em. I picked up the book the CSB head put together about Texas City and was so disgusted with BP's management I couldn't finish it, that's how in-depth it was.

More notes:

But medical records kept under seal....

All of these investigations reaching slightly different conclusions is a GOOD thing. It means we'll actually learn something and the 11 lives weren't lost for nothing.

Jury Duty - Impressions

A couple weeks ago, I had the honor (?) to serve Orleans Parish criminal Jury Duty.

A few quick notes:
* I had many people warn me about how disorganized and chaotic the system was, but I have to say, on the whole, it was fairly well organized. Parking was no problem. One gripe: it seemed like the jurors had to arrive earlier than the judges, who would trickle in hours after the jurors.
* I brought plenty to read and needed it all. I was very surprised at the prevalance of E-readers/Nooks/Kindles/etc. Far more people were using them than I thought.
* A constant complaint during the Voire Dire was NOPD. Juror after juror would say, "I'm sick and tired of picking up the paper and seeing some officer under indictment for murder, rape, etc." I appreciate that it's actually fairly difficult to 'prove beyond a reasonable doubt' that someone is guilty. Case after case, for better or for worse, depends on the testimony of a single officer and the conviction rate will rise and fall based off NOPD's reputation first and foremost. Check out this report from The Lens for an idea of what people look at NOPD as.
* There was an extremely large contingent (>1/3 of the jury pool) that openly advocated, at a minimum, marijuana legalization. The Voire Dire for drug cases was far more involved that it should have been. The prosecutions spent way too much time trying to pick out anyone who may have thought about smoking a joint one time. On the flip side, defense attorneys spent their time trying to get the jury most likely to result in an acquittal / were most uncomfortable with the thought of judging someone else. I personally feel that the jury should be closer to a representation of society and then take your chances and present your case from there. If society is skeptical of drug busts, than the average jury should reflect that.
* Fortunately, the entire time, I was only picked for 1 jury and that guy pled guilty at the start of the trial. One group of my fellow jurors had to sit through the trial of an NOPD officer who eventually pled guilty to raping his step-daughter. From what I heard after the trial finished, that was a seriously messed up case.

For all of its flaws, it's hard to think of a better system than trial by jury. It's not perfect, but it's the best we can do for now.

Further reading: New Orleans juries aren't voting 'guilty' too often, analysis shows

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, the TV show is done for the season. To fill the time (an get into some fiction, for a change), I've picked up the books. I've finished Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings and started A Storm of Swords.

The books are pretty good. I've never read about a character I've wanted to hate more than the little impudent whelp Joffrey. (MINOR SPOILER, Highlight to read: Joffrey takes a crossbow to a crowd of people begging for bread.)

To get more of your fix of Game of Thrones, check out First Draft's awesome commentary. Wired: Call the Banners goes through a bit of the strategy of the characters (by the Danger Room blog guys). Be warned: the Wired article has a few spoilers.

And now, here's Joffrey getting bitch slapped to close:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tulane Engineering Updates

"Tulane Breeds a New Kind of Engineer" (Apologies in advance for ABC26's horrible ads; turn down the volume at first)


I found this Interview with Tulane Science and Engineering Dean Altiero. Some snippets:

There are task forces in place looking into several potential programs, including Computer Science, Geological Engineering, and Human Factors Engineering. Of these, the plan for Computer Science is the most developed at this point.
[on the return of the computer science major] The longer term plan is for a full undergraduate major within five years.


Tulane Civil Engineering grad pilots the final shuttle. Doug Hurley went to Tulane on a NROTC scholarship and eventually became an astronaut, along with his wife.

Tulane vows to bring on-campus football back. Dickson said he and the university refuses to strap itself with a mountain of debt to build facilities.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Balloonist

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost.

She reduced altitude and spotted a man below. She descended a bit more and shouted: 'Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago but I don't know where I am..'

The man below replied, 'You're in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You're between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.'

'You must be an Engineer,' said the balloonist.

'I am,' replied the man, 'how did you know?'

'Well,' answered the balloonist, 'everything you have told me is probably technically correct, but I've no idea what to make of your information and the fact is, I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all. If anything, you've delayed my trip by your talk.'

The man below responded, 'You must be in Management.'

'I am,' replied the balloonist, 'but how did you know?'

'Well,' said the man, 'you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my f**king fault.'

H/T Reddit

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bunch o' Book Reviews

It's been a while since I did a book review, but since I finished the P.E. exam and don't have any grad school (yet), I've been filling my time with book and depleted my "to read" pile.

Here are a whole bunch of quick reviews (with covers from Good Reads):

The Making of the Atomic Bomb
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.
Loved it. Exhaustive technical coverage of the making of the bomb. It teaches lots of physics and project management. I wish I had read this book when I was in college. Rhodes has a writing style I really like. I've picked up Dark Sun and The Twilight of the Bombs. I've read Twilight of the Bomb and that one covers more of the political side (although the part where the IAEA tracks down the pieces and parts of Iraq's nuclear program is fantastic). Nuclear Renewal is dated crap and is to be avoided.

Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans
Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans by James Gill.
Fantastic. A must-read to understand New Orleans history and why New Orleans society is structured the way it is. There was a speech in one of the last Treme episodes where the old plutocrat describes how each successive generation tried to keep the next one down ('until the Standard Oil men left for Houston').

One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander
One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander by Sandy Woodward.
The Falklands War was a surprisingly nasty little war that everyone has sort of forgotten about (partly because the US was incredibly embarrassed by it; the Reagan administration loved the staunchly anti-communist Junta and the Brits, of course were Robin to our Batman). Woodward gives a lot of credit to the 'Argies' ("We should have realized a country that made great Formula One drivers also made for great fighter pilots"). Had the Argentinians either waited for the British to scrap their carriers or waited for the assembled fleet to fall apart from rust and overdue boiler maintenance, they would have won.

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945
Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 by Leo Marks.
Candice read it and then got me to read it. It's all about SOE's operations and field ciphers. Note that you always hear about Bletchley Park's cryptography, but never allied codes (except for maybe the Navajo codetalkers); that's because the allied codes were crap. One of the German cryptographers wrote a book about "Operation North Pole." The book itself is a bit frustrating at first. There's a lot of discussion about the confusing nature of SOE's command hierarchy. Leo Marks doesn't really understand it (which is the point), but it slows the beginning down. A lot of reviewers also thought it was way too technical, but I thought that was the best part of the book (explaining WOK's and one-time-pads). A very sad ending as well.

The Control of Nature
The Control of Nature by John McPhee.
I firmly believe that all engineers should read 1 'engineering disaster'-type book per year. I thought that To Engineer Is Human would do it, but I hated the explanation of fatigue failure, so I gave up on the book and moved on. I found the Control of Nature thanks to XKCD and loved it. Like a combination of Rising Tide, Bayou Farewell, and Inviting Disaster. It covers 3 topics: the Atchafalaya/Old River Control Structure, volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and debris flow in Los Angeles. The only drawback was the analogies (5 million gallons per minute is like ______) droned on too many times and I didn't like some of them.

The Forgotten Soldier
The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer*.
A French/German kid from Alsace-Loraine enlists into the Grossdeuchland Division of the Wermacht. You rarely read histories of the losing army. This is another one Candice got me to read. This is, despite 50 years and the stumbling block of translation, one of the greatest war accounts ever written. Starkly anti-war. Almost the entire book is the long, slow retreat from Stalingrad. You'll be reading the book and you'll get to a part that really just reaches out and grabs you and shakes you. In one part of the book, he remarks how reading war accounts shouldn't be 'in the comfort of your own home, in a nice cozy chair, but instead in a field, cold, starving, tired, standing for hour after hour.'

UPDATE- More random thoughts.

On The Control of Nature: geologists must get pretty cocky around engineers. Geologists study mountain chains being worn down by erosion and here are the engineers proposing 'taming' a river.

On Silk and Cyanide: There's a great quote where Marks is visited by another cryptographer and they talk about political matters and then, as Marks writes, "He paid me the greatest compliment: he got technical." LOVE THAT QUOTE!

* There's a little controversy about Sajer. Some think the book is a forgery, but I don't find that view very credible, although Sajer admits that it's more of an emotional book than a strictly factual reference. Guy is apparently still alive in Paris.

Happy 4th

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Videos of the day

Samuel L. Jackson reads "Go the F*ck to Sleep".

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about NASA's recent changes and future.

How to make Vacuum tubes by hand