Wednesday, February 13, 2019

This, as they might say ...

... is littoral-ly bloggable: A stealthy futuristic ship is docked at Pier 30-32 in SF. Here's what it is.

When commissioned this weekend as the USS Tulsa (LCS-16), the 421-foot-long vessel will be the newest in the U.S. Navy's Independence class of littoral combat ships. Littoral refers to operations near shore, or just off the coast.

"It looks like something out of Star Wars," says Mike Rainey, a Navy public affairs officer, who is helping organize a ceremony on Feb. 16 to commission the ship.

The ship's relatively small size, a trimaran design with three hulls and a helicopter flight deck astern make this ship fast, agile, maneuverable and able to perform a wide array of missions. Earlier ships of this size and mission type maxed out at around 17 knots (about 20 miles per hour), while the LCS (powered by two gas turbine engines, two main propulsion diesel engines, and propelled by four water jets) can zip through the open seas at speeds up to 44 knots (51 mph).

I suspect that the closest the USS Tulsa has ever been to Tulsa is when she was first launched from the boatyard in Mobile.

At any rate, welcome to the Bay Area, USS Tulsa and her crew!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

ProPublica and the Navy Times on the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions

This weekend, ProPublica's website is running two blockbuster hard-hitting reports on the McCain and Fitzgerald destroyer accidents of the summer of 2017:

The two reports make a strong case that technology by itself is worse than meaningless; you have to invest in people. Training, communications, support: all these things are critical.

Copeman fired off a couple more memos before retiring, hoping he might at last get the leadership’s attention.

The first warned of the fleet’s increasing “configuration variance” problem: The same systems operated in dozens of different ways on different ships, confusing sailors as the Navy shifted them from one vessel to another.

“I liken it to this,” Copeman told ProPublica. “You have a car with a steering wheel and a gas pedal and one day you walk out and get in your car and an iPad sits were your steering wheel used to be and the gas pedal is no longer there.”

Copeman enlisted a four-star admiral, Bill Gortney, to sign the memo and distribute it in the upper echelons of the Navy. His memo would prove prescient. Four years later, confusion over the McCain’s new steering system caused the ship to turn in front of an oil tanker.

See also this set of articles in the Navy Times:

a lack of training in basic seamanship fatally combined with material deficiencies to create “a culture of complacency, of accepting problems, and a dismissal of the use of some of the most important, modern equipment used for safe navigation.”

Wow, there's a lot to think about in these articles.

It's interesting, although perhaps a stretch, to consider the above information against the recent report of the Lion Air tragedy in Indonesia: Lion Air’s deadly flight was a 13-minute struggle between man and machine:

A little over a week after the crash, Boeing put out a bulletin advising airline operators on how to deal with erroneous sensor information that would lead to “uncommanded nose down” maneuvers, while the FAA ordered flight manuals to be updated with the process to follow in such a situation. Boeing has said that the aircraft is safe, and that it is working with regulators and investigators to understand the factors leading up to the crash.

The directives prompted several of the biggest US pilots’ unions to say this was the first time they were hearing of the new anti-stall system. “Before the crash we were not provided any information on the MCAS or even its existence,” captain Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the union for American Airlines pilots, told Quartz.

He added that bulletins after the crash provided clarity on differences between the override process for this 737 variant compared with the older 737NG model, which the Max succeeds. “We have those differences… [and] are asking further questions to better understand our airplane’s automated flight control systems,” said Tajer.

Tajer added that the directives and bulletins describe a “fairly complex emergency situation,” involving a system that can engage soon after takeoff, when the plane is still at a low altitude, and a number of alerts that could prove confusing or distracting.

Powerful technology is worse than useless if you can't figure out how to operate it.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

How Schools Work: a very short review

Frankly, I was rather pre-disposed to have a bad attitude toward Arne Duncan's How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.

For one thing, political memoirs generally leave me cold. It's too much "history is written by the victors," for me, for one thing. And they are written (duh!) by politicians, who while they may be very smart in many ways, are usually not experts in the particular field in which they are commenting.

Moreover, over the years, I hadn't really paid much attention to matters of public education policy (shame on me!), so I didn't have a lot of burning questions of my own on which I was hoping to hear from Duncan.

So I approached How Schools Work with a fair amount of trepidation.

But I was quite surprised!

Duncan is a great writer; How Schools Work moves right along, with a nice mixture of concrete anecdotes, more abstract material about policy struggles, and frank and honest self-evaluations of where he felt he got things wrong versus where he still feels strongly that he understands the way things ought to be.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this (slim!) volume is that Duncan attempts too much. He covers a lot of ground and necessarily leaves many critical topics covered in only a cursory fashion.

But surely the purpose of a book like this is to take people like me, and get them to comprehend a least a little bit of the enormous complexity of trying to fashion a social system that will help each child as much as possible.

If Duncan can manage to get his readers to at least fathom some of the underlying issues that are under debate, that by itself is worthwhile.

Sadly, the problems he wrestles with are hard, very hard, but I can report that How Schools Work is certainly worth your time.

Get educated!