October 2015

A recent Wall Street Journal article named The Myth of Basic Science by Matt Ridley makes a fascinating argument that government spending on basic science does not result in technical innovation. The article argues that, instead, most innovation results from tinkering, and only after the tinkering results in new technology, will science catch up to fully explain it.

 

It uses steam as an example where it notes that the science of thermodynamics did not mature until after basic steam engines were invented and operating. In other words, the article argues that science simply fills in the knowledge gaps of innovative ventures.

 

It then goes on to argue that therefore government sponsored basic science is a not an effective investment.

 

As often is the case, Wall Street Journal and its writers raise an interesting point but jump to conclusions rather than fully working through the problem.

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As noted in an earlier blog, we love loadouts, they are a uniquely satisfying engineering exercise and often bring out the best in all participants.

 

Loadouts are complex projects that need to be designed and guided by experienced personnel, but even the highest level of experience cannot always prevent a mishap.

 

For a number of years we have been involved in the resolution of such a mishap and our involvement resulted in the discovery of a potential loadout failure mode that needs to be further disseminated in the industry to prevent a reoccurrence.

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Ships, cars and airplanes are all quite reliable, but since they move and ocassionally behave in unexpected ways, it is necessary to provide emergency systems to protect passengers or crew, or allow passengers and crew to escape.

 

There are many such systems like seatbelts, air bags, escape slides, life rafts and life boats. The design and operation of such systems is always complex and often includes complex trade offs and, due to the inherent safety of boats and airplanes, only allows limited actual testing. Some systems are incredibly cost effective (seatbelts) others are effective, but carry high additional costs and can be questioned with regard to cost and safety effectiveness (such as air bags).

 

Marine evacuation systems (MES), and particularly marine evacuation chutes belong in that latter category and this blog raises some issues we have encountered.

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Ignorance is very pervasive and fighting ignorant behavior can be very exhausting. Jonathan Swift is believed to have said that you cannot reason someone out of something they were not first reasoned into. If that statement is true, and it certainly contains a lot of truth as far as I can see, it means that opinions and judgments need to be based on reasoning before they are made.

 

It also should not be forgotten that reasoning should be based on correct data. I have previously mentioned Hans Rosling as an example of clear thinking based on good data and mentioned his excellent TED lectures. (After this blog, if I have the energy, I plan to discuss a TED lecture by Boyan Slat that is nothing short of incredibly awful)

 

Hans Rosling passed away in 2017 but his interesting and amusing TED lectures live on and he deals with devastating ignorance in   “How not to be ignorant”. Hans and his son Ola provide some very direct guidance as to how one can make more accurate judgments on world events and developments even with limited data. The lecture is a delight, but, after looking at world trends, the lecture concludes with four very simple guidelines that almost automatically allow any person to make much more accurate world judgments without access to data on the subject.

 

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