July 2005

Misjudgments Led to Latest Shuttle Woes

The New York Times has an article on NASA's "normalization of deviance". For more than twenty years NASA has accepted the failure of the safety features of the Space Shuttle. It's akin to driving a car with seat belts that have been cut in two for twenty years. Having not had an accident one lulls oneself into the belief it's not a safety problem. What the New York Times misses, though, is that this is the same problem that caused the Challenger incident two decades ago.

Unfortunate reminder

Nineteen years and six months ago today I was sitting in junior high reading class when I heard the terrible news. 75 seconds into the flight of STS-51L the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. It was a terribly sad day. Ultimately one can look at the accident that January morning in several ways. In an appendix to the Rogers Commission report on the events that morning Richard Feynman observes that "the slow shift toward decreasing safety factor can be seen in many examples."

The well-documented decline in safety standards is nowhere more evident than the terrible tragedy of the loss of the Columbia in February 2003. The theme Feunman documented after the Columbia incident seems to be at work still. It is a critical flaw in thinking that because a failure wasn't so bad last time it won't be bad next time.

Now, with the Discovery on its way to the International Space Station comes word that NASA has suspended future shuttle flights. The problem? The same problem that caused the Columbia disaster. This following several days delay related to troubleshooting a faulty sensor. All of this calls into serious question whether the culture of decreasing safety standards has really been addressed.


It's nice to see that we made the right decision in leaving Denver/Boulder a year ago. Though the Forbes report on the most overpriced places to live includes too many western cities including Seattle, Portland, San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles in with the traditional eastern overpriced markets like New York and Chicago. It makes the crunch in Sin City seem not so bad.

Old data

Where do you want to go today? The marketing slogan from Microsoft might reach up and bite them. As the announcements of Longhorn's change to Vista are abounding so is the news that their new mapping product deletes Apple's Headquarters. It appears they are using terribly old dating back to the late 20th-century. If you look closely maybe there is even a Lisa being turned out.

One has to wonder at the thought process, or lack thereof, that goes into releasing a mapping product to compete with Google and using data that is so very old. Maybe it was cheap for a reason.

Weather data to dry up?

Senator Rick Santorum introduced the National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005 earlier this year. The bill would have several troubling effects. These impacts may mark the first time the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have had occasion to be allied on an issue.

The bill, which Santourm says was crafted with the "jobs of Pennsylvanians in mind," would limit the National Weather Service's ability to provide information to the public. Instead the agency would use its tax-payer funding to create "a set of data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers of products or services." These services, such as Santorum campaign donor AccuWeather, would then provided to consumers through commercial services.

Limiting access to commercial providers would eliminate the provision of data for so much of rural America. Everybody from search and rescue teams to farmers and small town fire-fighters would be at the mercy of these commercial providers for critical, sometimes life-or-death, situations. With the recent fires in Southern Nevada for example, the large weather services didn't have information available. Residents of the farms and rural residences would have had no information to make decisions. In truth we need more information not less.

Mailman update from FreeBSD ports

This is one of those things I always seem to forget in terms of syntax. To do an update on Mailman running with the Postfix MTA on FreeBSD there is a configuration option necessary to set the mail GID properly.

The command is this:

% make MM_GROUPID=mailman

So the whole process looks something like

% mailmanctl stop
% make deinstall
% make MM_GROUPID=mailman
% make reinstall
% mailmanctl start

Anoymous blogging

There are several folks I know who are blogging anonymously or with pseudonyms. One former colleague who has since moved on wrote in their blog that it was a new start in another place because colleagues were reading what was written. With the desire of some folks to blog anonymously or with pseudonyms, here are a few tips:

  • Don't use your email address: If your email address on every system you get one on is joesmith123 then don't make your pseudonym joesmith123. This all-to-common mistake makes it very easy to follow people to various message boards where they may have posted about things thinking they were anonymous.
  • If you move your blog don't advertise it on the same list: If you were listed on a site with all stories from the Smith family and you list your new site there chances are it will be found.
  • Don't use the same tool: If you consistently use one tool (as I do with Drupal) then try something else for your alter-ego.
  • Don't post pictures of yourself: Especially if you have pictures posted elsewhere on the internet.
  • Don't post at the same time: Don't post to your alter-ego at the same time of day.

Writing anonymously in public can be interesting. If you're normally a pessimist try the optimistic point of view, a liberal can try conservative ideas and vice versa. Most of all, don't post something that will be terrible if it gets tracked back to you. Chances are very, very, good that somebody will link your alter-ego to you if you say something controversial that garners attention. No amount of anonymity will keep you hidden because somebody always knows who is using what computer at the moment.

Tracking changes

Somebody has posted a flickr image showing NetNewsWire's before and after view of a blog post. This is a really important feature of NetNewsWire that most RSS readers lack. More than once I've seen an outrageous post, linked to it and had the author change the post.

Travel thoughts

Pretty good. Leaving Chicago this afternoon I debated taking the standby on the earlier flight. Of course it meant giving up my isle seat for what would likley be crammed in between what Southwest euphemistically calls "Customers of Size". Much to my delight I was instead slated into an aisle exit row seat where I gladly forgo the "reclining" seat for the awesome leg room. I could have easily used the 15-inch laptop instead of the 12-inch but I ran the battery down at the airport choosing to charge the 12-inch instead.

Of course nothing is perfect. Something about being in the row with the teenager who ignores the repeated request to close the window shade is quite annoying. I like looking out the window as much as the next person, but when the cabin is dark but for a single very bright light a few feet away the eyes are playing a constant game of trying to adjust to the light and many other customers are unable to see the movie.

On the topic of teenagers and movies, or teen movies, Netflix delivered American Pie 2 the other day. It is much better than the original and is full of good laughs at the expense of coming-of-age teens.

America West has a great American classics music channel with folk songs, The Boss, The Beach Boys, Elvis Pressley and Lee Greenwood's classic anthem. Less successful is the in-flight entertainment and cafe. First the entertainment system. The last flight it didn't work at all. This time about a quarter of the seats don't work and the screens are in terrible condition. The on-board "cafe" this afternoon was stocked with only a few breakfast meals. None of the lunches advertised. The last trip was similarly poorly stocked with only "snack packs" and not the sandwiches advertised.

Home to TiVo

Amazingly with my terrible small portion of television viewing these days one of the things I miss the most in a hotel room is TiVo. Compounding the problem on this trip is that most hotels don't have the Outdoor Life Network, which carries the Tour de France in the United States. At least by this evening I should be able to watch the magical win of Armstrong in the individual time trial.

Chicago pictures will follow when I get back to the PCMCIA card I left at home.