Rik van Hemmen's blog

 

Over the years I try to write a blog around Christmas time that deals with the spirit of Christmas.

 

I have posted poems, art and stories, but this year a pass-it-forward present was dropped right into my lap.

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In a prior blog I commented on ignorance and how easy it is to jump to incorrect solutions. In that blog I made reference to Boyan Slat and his Ted Lecture as an example of an incredibly awful Ted lecture.

 

In his lecture Boyan Slat proposes a method for removing plastic trash from oceans. The lecture is presented by an enthusiastic young man in front of a basically ignorant audience. With universal approval he makes a moving appeal for doing something we all want to do: Save our environment.

 

A friend sent me link to this lecture knowing that I am one of those seaweed hugging engineers and hoping that I would enjoy this young man’s resolve. Instead I was horrified.

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Causal analysis is a surprisingly complex process that over the years has been subject to push and pulls from a wide variety of professional influences. When determining the actual cause of an accident or an incident, any number of stake holders would like to address the issue that “caused” the accident, whether to prevent a reoccurrence or, on the other side of the remedial spectrum, to punish the causal party.

 

In theory, there must be a cause for everything, but, in practice, finding the cause often involves a high level of judgment, and judgment is complicated and often deeply flawed. If judgment were to reside in one professional community, there is a possibility that some type of convergence on the determination of the cause of an incident could be developed. And once the cause is established, we can give that cause a name. It apparently is too simple to simply call it “the cause” of an incident, and that makes sense, since all too often there are multiple causes of an incident.  And because there can be multiple causes, different terms for causes have started to emerge.

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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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Except for the passenger ship terminal above 42nd street, commercial ship operations in Manhattan have pretty much come to an end.

 

One of the last commercial shipping terminals to be built on Manhattan was Marine and Aviation Pier 40. It was built in 1962 at a cost of $18 million expressly for the use of Holland America Line, which for the previous 73 years had docked at Hoboken. For its time, it was ultra modern and designed to handle passengers and cargo.

 

Holland America Line signed a 20 year lease at $1.2 million per year, but by 1966 the passenger trade was rapidly declining and cargo trade was containerizing which made Manhattan a terribly unsuitable location. In 1966 Holland America Line merged its cargo business into ACL and they moved to Port Newark in New Jersey, and around the same time the passenger ships moved to the passenger ship terminal.

 

Whenever my father passed the terminal he would tell me that this move was the worst real estate deal ever made by Dutchmen. Which means that Manhattan is both the location of the best Dutch real estate deal and the worst Dutch real estate deal ever.

 

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As surveyors we rush around the world on short notice, arrive at some distant port and then are asked to look at a damage situation or some technical or operational problem. We crawl into tight and dirty spaces and end op taken pictures or measurements of broken components.

 

Often we rush back to catch the next plane. But every now and then you get a glimpse of something that makes you realize that technology is a wonderful thing. It is immensely creative and, if we are lucky, we technologists get to put our heart and souls into creating objects that in many ways are indistinguishable from the greatest art created by man and that can leave a lasting impression.

 

I was dealing with a crankshaft damage on a large diesel engine and when I stood up inside the lifted entablature I felt like I was inside a Cathedral of Internal Combustion. It was quite beautiful; it radiated power and passion by its creators and provided a nice space for a little contemplation.

 

 

 

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Rik van Hemmen's picture
Friday, August 14th, 2015

What's So Funny About ORB's?

During the MAX1 conference Captain Tim Sullivan of Hornbeck Offshore sprung a surprise on us. His presentation dealt with Hornbeck’s very impressive efforts at improving MARPOL compliance and then towards the end of the presentation he mentioned that they needed to simplify their Oil Record Book guidance and therefore had handed all their stuff to a professional manual writer. He then held up a little booklet that looked quite familiar to us, but actually was a brand new version of a well known concept.

 

Hornbeck Offshore had commissioned Todd Brock (famous author of “Building Chicken Coops for Dummies”) and the Publisher John Wiley & Sons to produce “Oil Record Book for Dummies”!

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