LOCKHEED CONSTELLATION

June 22, 2019


One of the most gifted engineers in our nation’s history was Mr. Bill Lear.  Lear was born in Hannibal, Missouri on 26 June 1902 and over a forty-six (46) year time period produced one hundred and twenty (120) patents.  He founded the LearJet Corporation.  The Lear jet is without doubt one of the most beautiful aircraft ever conceived.  From one memorable life came one memorable quote, as follows:

“If an airplane looks like it will fly—it will fly”.

He was talking about profile, lines, curvature while imagining the “slip-stream” created by the leading edges and the flight surfaces.  One other airplane that fits that description is the Lockheed Constellation or “Connie” as the design came to be known.  A remarkably beautiful aircraft.

My very first flight was in 1969. My father, sister and I departed Lovell Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee heading to Atlanta.  We flew to Atlanta in a DC-3, twin engine propeller-driven aircraft.  (I’m sure after death I will have to change planes in Atlanta before arriving in heaven.  Some things never change.)  Moving from arrival gate to departure gate during the very early years of commercial aviation took a minimal amount of time.   The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was not the city within a city that exists today.  Upon arriving at our departure gate, I saw for the very first time a marvelous aircraft meeting all of the descriptive points Mr. Lear had in mind. Let’s take a look

.LOCKHEED CONSTELLATION:

The Lockheed Constellation (“Connie”) was a propeller-driven, four-engine airliner built by the Lockheed Corporation between 1943 and 1958 at the Burbank, California Lockheed facilities. The Constellation’s fuselage is shaped like an airfoil to add lift.   It curves upward at the rear to raise the triple tail out of the prop wash and slightly downward at the front so the nose-gear strut did not have to be impossibly long. Lockheed decided that the airplane’s admittedly large propellers needed even more ground clearance than did Douglas or Boeing on their competing transports, which resulted in the Connie’s long, spindly gear legs.

It was known as “the world’s best tri-motor” because it had so many engine failures it often flew on three.  There were large numbers of engine fires during the Constellation’s early development, but many airline pilots flew it for years without ever feathering an engine.

The Constellation was one of the first pressurized airliners with the Boeing 307 Stratoliner being the very first.  Cabin pressurization was absolutely required to improve the service ceiling of commercial aircraft and make flying above the “weather” a very welcome reality.  During WWII it was discovered that flying about 10,000 feet required oxygen to preclude issues with dizziness.  It was no different for commercial flying.

Lockheed built 856 aircraft using numerous model configurations—all with the same triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage. Most were powered by four 18-cylinder Wright R-3350s. The Constellation was used as a civil airliner and as a military and civil air transport, seeing service in the Berlin Airlift . It was also the presidential aircraft for Dwight D. Eisenhower.   At the present time President Eisenhower’s Air Force One is resting in a field at Marana Regional Airport.   Dubbed Columbine II in honor of the state flower of first lady Mamie Eisenhower’s native Colorado, the plane was state-of-the-art in its time.  It’s a real shame this early version of Air Force One is not on display.  

The Constellation’s wing design was close to that of the P-38 Lightning, differing obviously in size.  The triple tail kept the aircraft’s height low enough to fit in existing hangars, while features included hydraulically boosted controls and a de-icing system used on wing and tail leading edges. The aircraft had a maximum speed of over 375 mph (600 km/h), faster than that of a Japanese Zero fighter, a cruise speed of 340 mph (550 km/h), and a service ceiling of 24,000 ft (7,300 m). At the time the service ceiling was a significant breakthrough in aviation technology.

According to Anthony Sampson in Empires of the Sky, Lockheed’s Skunk Factory and Kelly Johnson may have undertaken the intricate design, but Howard Hughes’ intercession in the design process drove the concept, shape, capabilities, appearance, and ethos.  These rumors were discredited by Kelly Johnson. Howard Hughes and Jack Frye confirmed that the rumors were not true in a letter in November 1941.

After World War II the Constellation came into its own as a very fast civil airliner. Aircraft already in production for the USAAF as C-69 transports were finished as civil airliners, with TWA receiving the first on 1 October 1945. TWA’s first transatlantic proving flight departed Washington, DC, on December 3, 1945, arriving in Paris on December 4 via Gander, Nova Scotia and Shannon, Ireland.

Trans World Airlines transatlantic service started on February 6, 1946 with a New York-Paris flight in a Constellation. On June 17, 1947 Pan American World Airways opened the first ever scheduled round-the-world service with their L-749 Clipper America. The famous flight “Pan Am 1” operated until 1982.

As the first pressurized airliner in widespread use, the Constellation helped to usher in affordable and comfortable air travel. Operators of Constellations included the following airlines:

CABIN:

For its time, the cabin represented the ultimate in luxury with comfort and room to spare.

Maybe someone can comment on a statement I have heard more than once.  In the early days of commercial aviation, all of the cabin crew had to be registered nurses.  Do you know if that is a fact? 

COCKPIT:

Notice from the digital below, all of the flight systems were analogue. No digital in those days.  Also notice, the aircraft was meant to be managed by a three-man flight crew; i.e. pilot-in-command, co-pilot and flight engineer or navigator.  The right side of the cockpit was designed for a navigator.

Two fairly large fans, one left and one right, kept the flight crew reasonably comfortable.

Times have certainly changed from my first flight in 1969.  No more analogue or two-man flight crew and now air travel is the “new” Greyhound.  It’s affordable, at least to some degree. 

As always, I welcome your comments. 

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GLOBAL PEACE INDEX-2019

June 15, 2019


We all hope for safety within our neighborhood, our city, our state and certainly our country.  One of the reasons, if not the reason, people and families are streaming north from Central America is the lack of safety due to gangs and the drug culture.  People simply want to live, work, raise their families, educate their children. The drug culture does not allow that to happen.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at safety world-wide.  We do by accessing the Global Peace Index or GPI.  

The Global Peace Index has just published the thirteenth edition of their index which ranks one hundred and sixty-three (163) independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the GPI is the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness. This report presents the most comprehensive data-driven analysis to date on peace, its economic value, trends, and how to develop peaceful societies. The GPI covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population, using twenty-three (23) qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, and measures the state of peace using three thematic domains: the level of Societal Safety and Security; the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and the degree of Militarization.

The results this year show that the average level of global peacefulness improved very slightly in the 2019 GPI. This is the first time the index has improved in five years. The average country score improved by 0.09 per cent, with eighty-six (86) countries improving, and seventy-six (76) recording deteriorations. The 2019 GPI reveals a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, but new tensions within and between nations have emerged.

Despite this improvement, the world remains considerably less peaceful now than a decade ago, with the average level of peacefulness deteriorating by 3.78 per cent since 2008. Global peacefulness has only improved for three of the last ten years. The fall in peacefulness over the past decade was caused by a wide range of factors, including increased terrorist activity, the intensification of conflicts in the Middle East, rising regional tensions in Eastern Europe and northeast Asia, and increasing numbers of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US. This deterioration was partially offset by improvements in many of the measures of the Militarization domain. There has been a consistent reduction in military expenditure as a percentage of GDP for the majority of countries, as well as a fall in the armed services personnel rate for most countries in the world. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) remained the world’s least peaceful region. It is home to four of the ten least peaceful countries in the world, with no country from the region ranked higher than 30th on the GPI. However, despite ongoing armed conflict and instability in the region, it did become marginally more peaceful last year. The bulk of the improvement occurred in the Safety and Security domain, with average improvements in score for the homicide rate, incarceration rate, terrorism impact, Political Terror Scale, and violent crime indicators.

We are now taking a pictorial look at the numbers:

As you can see, Iceland is the most peaceful country on the globe.  This has been the case for some years now. You will notice that the United States is an embarrassing 128 on the list.

As you will see below, Afghanistan is the most dangerous country to live in followed by Syria, South Sudan and then Yemen.

RESULTS:

CONCLUSIONS:  I would encourage you to look at the entire web site to get a better understanding of the condition our globe is in.  Also, it’s may just help you plan your next vacation.  Some places you definitely do NOT want to go.

UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

June 5, 2019


There has been a great deal of discussion lately concerning UFO.  Are they real? Where do they come from?  How long have there been sightings from reliable sources.  Please take a look at the following article from the magazine “MILITARY CULTURE”.   

Encounters with unidentified aircraft by pilots have once again prompted Department of Defense officials to take action.  More specifically, the Navy confirmed that the service is drafting guidelines to establish a formal process for pilots and military personnel to report UFO sightings, Politico first reported.  The move comes following a surge in what the Navy called a series of intrusions by advanced aircraft on Navy carrier strike groups.  “There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” a Navy spokesperson told Politico.  “For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report.  To improve upon past investigations, the Navy wants to establish a formal process so that “such suspected incursions can be made to cognizant authorities.”

The Navy confirmed a fleet-wide message on the UFO-reporting initiative is in the works.  While this development comes sans any admission of the existence of alien life, it signals a return to DoD acknowledgement that the series of recently documented encounters are at least authentic enough to warrant further investigation.

What if, and it’s a big what if, we make contact?  What if we have an opportunity to talk to these ETs?  How would we do that.  Is there a UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE we might use to strike up a conversation?  Let’s look.

Merriam-Webster defines language as “A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures or marks having understood meanings.”  The operative words in this definition are ‘means of communicating’ and ‘understood meanings’.  There are 116 different “official” languages spoken on our planet today but 6900 languages AND dialects. The difference between a language and a dialect can be somewhat arbitrary so care must be taken when doing a “count”.  English, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Spanish etc, all have specific and peculiar dialects; not to mention slang words and expressions so the discernment between a language and a dialect may be somewhat confusing to say the least.. 

The book of Genesis (Genesis 11: vs. 1-9) recounts a period of time, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, when an attempt was made, by mankind, to become equal with God and that one language was spoken by all the people.  We are told that the attempt was not met with too much favor and God was pretty turned off by the whole thing.  Go figure!    With this being the case, He, decided to confound their language so that no one understood the other.  This, as you might expect, lead to significant confusion and a great deal of “babbling” resulted.  (Imagine a session of our United States Congress.)  Another significant result was the dispersion of mankind over the earth—another direct result from their unwise attempt.  This dispersion of the populace “placed” a specific language in a specific location and that “stuck”. 

Regardless of the language spoken, the very basic components of any language are similar; i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.  You get the picture. The use and structure of these language elements within a sentence do vary.  This fact is the essence of a particular language itself. 

Would mankind not benefit from a common language?  Would commerce not be greatly simplified if we could all understand each other? Think of all the money saved if everything written and everything spoken—every road sign and every label on a can of soup—could be read by 6.8 billion people.  Why oh why have we not worked towards that over the centuries as a collective species.  Surely someone has had that thought before.  OK, national pride, but let’s swallow our collective egos and admit that we would be well-served by the movement, ever so gradual, towards one universal language.  Let me backup one minute.  We do have one example of a world-wide common language—

MATHEMATICS

Like all other languages, it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and word order, synonyms, negations, conventions, abbreviations, sentence and paragraph structure.  Those elements do exist AND they are universal.  No matter what language I speak, the formula for the area of a circle is A=π/4 (D)²

  • π = 3.14159 26535 89793
  • log(10)e = 0.43429 44819 03252
  • (x+y)(x-y) = x²-y²
  • R(1),R(2) = -[b ± ( b²-4ac)]^0.5/2a
  • The prime numbers are 2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29,31,37—You get the picture.
  • sinѲcscѲ = 1

 Mathematics has developed over the past 2500 years and is really one of the very oldest of the “sciences”. One remarkably significant development was the use of zero (0)—which has only been “in fashion” over the past millennium.  Centuries ago, men such as Euclid and Archimedes made the following discoveries and the following pronouncements:

If a straight line be cut at random, the square on the whole is equal to the squares on the segments and twice the rectangle contained by the segments. (Euclid, Elements, II.4, 300 B.C.) This lead to the formula:  (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 + 2ab

The area of any circle is equal to a right-angled triangle in which one of the sides about the right angle is equal to the radius, and the other to the circumference, of the circle. (Archimedes, Measurement of a Circle, (225 B.C.)  Again, this gives us the following formula:

A = 2pr·r/2 = pr 2

These discoveries and these accompanying formulas work for ANY language we might speak. Mathematics then becomes the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE.

With that being the case, why do we not introduce the “Language of Mathematics” to our middle-school and high school pupils?  Is any school district doing that?  I know several countries in Western Europe started this practice some years ago with marvelous results.  This “language” is taught prior to the introduction of Algebra and certainly prior to Differential Equations.  It has been proven extremely effective and beneficial for those students who are intimidated by the subject.  The “dread” melts away as the syntax and structure becomes evident.  Coupled with this introduction is a semester on the great men and women of mathematics—their lives, their families, were they lived, what they ate, what they smoked, how they survived on a math teacher’s salary.  These people had lives and by some accounts were absolutely fascinating individuals in their own right.  Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus, was a real grouch, a real pain in the drain AND, had been jilted in his earlier years.  Never married, never (again) even had a girlfriend, etc etc.  You get the picture. 

What do we really know about the greatest mathematicians?  Do we ever study them when we use their wonderful work?  I think not.  Think about it.  PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!


Does anyone remember books?  We tend to take for granted the notion that people of the world can or should be taught to read.  In the early history of our country, books were somewhat a rarity.  Most children were first taught to read from the Bible because that was sometimes all they had to read.   If we go to the CIA Factbook for countries of the world, we see the ability to read is used as an indicator of poverty and development.  In 1998, the UN defined eighty percent (80%) of the world population as literate, defined as the ability to read and write a simple sentence in a language.

Reading was not always the universal goal for powerful rulers and kings, and in ancient times, literacy was the trade secret of professional scribes. A few centuries later, in Europe, literacy was defined as the ability to read and write in Latin. Later still, the bar was lowered, and people were considered literate if they could sign their names.   In 1841, thirty-three percent (33%) of all Englishmen and forty-four percent (44%) of Englishwomen signed marriage certificates with their mark.

We are now in the “information society” where access to the internet, books, magazines, newspapers, and other written documents seem to be readily available to just about everyone, at least in the United States.  Unfortunately, regardless of the literacy programs already initiated in many of our public schools by our government, illiteracy continues to grow at an alarming rate. According to a study conducted in late April 2015 by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, thirty-two ( 32) million adults in the United States can’t read above a fifth grade level, and nineteen percent (19%) of high school graduates can’t read. NOTE:  THAT’S GRADUATES BY THE WAY!!!!!!

According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is tied to reading failure.” Statistics back up this claim:  eighty-five percent (85%) of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over seventy percent (70%) of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read beyond a fourth grade level. As you can see, literacy rates represent a real problem in our country. 

As a species, our thirst for knowledge is evident by recognizing the great libraries that existed in ancient times as well as those existing today.

Why don’t we all get in Mr. Peabody’s Way-back machine and take a look at the great libraries in history.  Then we will examine the great libraries of today.

ANCIENT TIMES:

  • ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT— History tells us that the first ‘universal’ library was the Great Library & Mouseion in Alexandria, Egypt.  Hungry for conquest and knowledge, Alexander the Great spent the last eleven (11) years of his life (334 to 333 B.C.) exploring the world. To broaden the enterprise, he dispatched scholars to unexplored regions to gather knowledge and map their journeys. After the death of Alexander the Great, the pharaoh Ptolemy I commissioned the Great Library project, appointing his adviser, Demetrius of Phaleron, to build the library and become its first director. It is said that the Great Library of Alexandria even had an intricate system of registration and classification.
  • THE CELSUS LIBRARY— Another early library was the Celsus Library in Ephesus, built in 110 A.D. by the Council Gaius Julius Aquila. The library became one of the largest collections of antiquity, storing an estimated 12,000 hand-written books. Books could not be taken out of the library, but were handed to readers by library officials and read in the reading room. The scrolls of the manuscripts were kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. There were double walls behind the bookcases to prevent them from the extremes of temperature and humidity. The capacity of the library was more than 12,000 scrolls. It was the third richest library in ancient times after the Alexandra and Pergamum. The facade of the library has two-stories, with Corinthian style columns on the ground floor and three entrances to the building. There are three windows openings in the upper story. They used an optical trick that the columns at the sides of the facade are shorter than those at the center, giving the illusion of the building being greater in size.
  • THE UNIVERSITY OF SANKORE— The University of Sankore in Timbuktu employed an army of scribes, who earned their living copying the manuscripts. As a result, Timbuktu became a repository of an extensive collection of manuscripts. What were scribes paid? A papyrus of the second century AD gives rates “for 10,000 lines, twenty-eight (28) drachmae for 6,300 lines, thirteen (13) drachmae.” The Emperor Diocletian tried to standardize the pay scribes received throughout the Roman Empire: “to a scribe for the best writing, one hundred (100) lines, twenty-five (25) denarii; for second quality writing one hundred (100) lines twenty )(20) denarii; to a notary for writing a petition or legal document, one hundred (100)lines, ten (10) denarii.”
  • THE BODLEIN LIBRARY—This library is the oldest surviving library and is located in Oxford, England.  The Bodleian collection consisted not only of books and manuscripts; it housed pictures, sculptures, coins and medals, and ‘curiosities’: objects of scientific, exotic or historical interest. There’s even a stuffed crocodile from Jamaica!  Today’s Bodleian claims to hold eleven (11) million volumes, and to offer fuller access to online publications and databases than any other academic institution in the UK.
  • CHETHAM’S LIBRARY (Manchester, England) — Chetham’s library is said to be Britain’s oldest surviving public library. Karl Marx visited the library in 1846, at the invitation of his friend Frederick Engels. In the bay of the library’s reading room, they carried out the research for Das Kapital.  Over the years, water seeping into the masonry of the building has threatened the structure. Fortunately though, English Heritage has provided grants that will be used to restore this beautiful and significant national treasure.
  • LIBRARY OF CONGRESS— The Library of Congress, founded in 1800, is said to be the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. However, like the libraries of Ephesus and Alexandria, it became a victim of fire. During the War for Independence in 1814, British troops burned the Capitol building and destroyed the Library’s core collection of 3,000 volumes. One year later, however, Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 books for $23,950 and the Library was restored. Today the Library of Congress claims to be the largest library in the world, with nearly 142 million items on approximately 650 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 32 million books and other print materials, 3 million recordings, 12.5 million photographs, 5.3 million maps, 5.6 million pieces of sheet music and 62 million manuscripts.
  • THE BRITISH LIBRARY(LONDON, ENGLAND)– Compared to many other significant libraries, the British Library is relatively young having been brought into existence in 1972 by the British Library Act. The 1971 White Paper recognized that the constituent bodies of the proposed British Library (principally the British Museum Library) were seriously short of space and that re-housing the various collections was a top priority. The new library combines various components, the best known of which were the library departments of the British Museum, then one of the largest libraries in the world. Lenin had been impressed. It held, he said, a more comprehensive collection of Russian books than the libraries of Moscow and St Petersburg. Other famous visitors to the reading room included Marx, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf. As is so often de rigueur with projects of such vast scale, the St Pancras building became mired in delays and spiraling costs, but was finally opened by the Queen in June 1998.

We have taken a very brief look at libraries of ancient times, so let’s look at contemporary libraries in modern times.

MODERN DAY LIBRARIES (THE TOP TEN IN THE WORLD):

  • LIBRARY OF CONTRESS
  • BODLEIAN LIBRARY
  • READING ROOM AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM,LONDON, ENGLAND
  • YALE UNIVERSITY BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY
  • VATICAN LIBRARY, VATICAN, ROME
  • NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ST.MARK’S,VENICE,ITALY
  • BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT, OTTAWA, CANADA
  • NEW YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY, NEW YORK, NEW YORK
  • THOMAS FISHER RARE BOOK LIBRARY, TORONTO, CANADA

A most impressive fact about modern-day libraries is the architecture of the building the books are housed in.  The top ten (10) in the world are architectural marvels, not to mention the number of volumes, magazines, tapes, movies, newspapers, microfiche, etc etc contained within the buildings.

To demonstrate this fact, let us now look at several digital photographs at the architecture of several modern-day libraries.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

BODLEIAN LIBRARY

VATICAN LIBRARY

BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ST.MARK’S,VENICE,ITALY

CONCLUSIONS:  I certainly hope the internet does not cannibalize our desire to read books.  To me, picking up a written manuscript is far preferable to reading online.  It is just not the same.   I’m not in the “loop” for Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc etc.  I do have a LinkedIn account but other than WordPress and LinkedIn those are the only real “social” outlets I visit.  With the news I read, there is a bias relative to some of the social media outlets available on today’s web.  I had much rather stay away from those.  As a matter of fact, I’m more than a little nervous with the news outlets I read.  I sometimes think “Uncle Walter” (Walter Cronkite) just might be turning over in his grave if he knew what was being published today. 

As always, I welcome your comments.

BOEING 737 MAX

May 11, 2019


The five points given below were taken from an excellent article written by Jacob Beningo and appeared in “Electronics & Test Aerospace”, May 2, 2019.  I have added my own comment relative to those five (5) points.  It appears, from what we know now, there were no mechanical failures causing both aircraft to crash.  The real failures were lack of training and possibly embedded electronic systems effecting on-board systems. 

Recently the news headlines have been dominated by two crashes involving Boeing’s new 737 MAX aircraft. Both of these tragedies occurred under similar circumstances and within six months of each other. The fallout from these disasters may only be starting as aircraft around the world have been grounded, production of the 737 MAX has been decreased and March sales of the aircraft dropped to zero. The damage to Boeing’s reputation as a safety leader has now also come into question as investigations have been opened into how the system at the center of the investigations, MCAS, was developed and certified.

The investigations into the sequence of events that led to the loss of these aircraft with resulting causes will take time to fully discover—maybe even years but certainly months. However, with the information that has currently been released, embedded systems companies and developers can look at the fiasco Boeing is currently going through and learn and be reminded of several general lessons that they can apply to their own industries and products.

Lesson #1 – Don’t compromise your product to save or make money short-term

There is normal pressure on businesses and developers today to increase revenue, reduce costs and ship products as fast as possible. The result is not always quality. It isn’t security. It isn’t user friendly. The objective is maximum short-term growth at any cost as long as the short-term growth is maximized.  The company needed to remain in good standing with Wall Street and their investors.  That seems to be the bottom line.  Boeing appeared to be under significant pressure from customers and shareholders to deliver an aircraft that could compete with the Airbus A319neo.  They may have started to cave to this normative pressure.

Lesson #2 – Identify and mitigate single points of failure

Boeing and the FAA are looking at embedded systems in trying to discover the root cause of both failures and how corrections may be made to eliminate future tragedies.  In any embedded system that is being developed, it’s important to understand the potential failure modes and what effect those failures will have on the system and how they can be mitigated. There are many ways that teams go about doing this, including performing a Design Failure & Effects Analysis (DFMEA) which analyzes design functions, failure modes and their effect on the customer or user. Once such an analysis is done, we can then determine how we can mitigate the effect of a failure.  This is common practice for systems and subsystems of any complexity.

Lesson #3 – Don’t assume your user can handle it

An interesting lesson many engineers can take from the fiasco is that we can’t assume or rely on our users to properly operate our devices, especially if those devices are meant to operate autonomously. Complex systems require more time to analyze and troubleshoot. It seems that Boeing assumed that if an issue arose, the user had enough training and experience, and knew the existing procedures well enough to compensate. Right or wrong, as designers, we may need to use “lowered expectations” and do everything we can to protect the user from himself.

Lesson #4 – Highly tested and certified systems have defects

Edsger Dijkstra wrote that “Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence.” We can’t show that a system doesn’t have bugs which means we have to assume that even our highly-tested and certified systems have defects. This should change the way every developer thinks about how they write software. Instead of trying to expose defects on a case-by-case basis, we should be developing defect strategies that can detect the system is not behaving properly or that something does not seem normal with its inputs. By doing this, we can test as many defects out of our system as possible. But when a new one arises in the field, a generic defect mechanism will hopefully be able to detect that something is amiss and take a corrective action.  

Lesson #5 – Sensors and systems fail

The fact that sensors and systems fail should seem like an obvious statement, but quite a few developers write software as if their microcontroller will never lock-up, encounter a single event upset or have corrupted memory. Sensors will freeze, processors will lock-up, garbage-in will produce garbage-out. Developers need to assume that things will go wrong and write code to handle those cases, rather than if we will always have a system that works as well in the field as it does on out lab benches. If you design your system considering the fact that it will fail, you’ll end up with a robust system that has to do a lot of hard work before it finally finds a way to fail (if it ever does).

I had an opportunity to hear the chief engineering program manager discuss the “Dreamliner” and the complexities of that system.  They were LEGION. Extremely complex.  Very time-consuming to work out all of the “bugs” relative to all of the computer programming necessary for successful AND safe air travel.  Trying to make a system “simple” by making it complex is a daunting task and one that needs to be accomplished, but it is always a “push” to get this done in a timely fashion and satisfy management and Wall Street.


Portions of this post are taken from “Design News Daily Magazine”, online version, FW 18, 2019.

I often hear there will come a time when education will be completely online, in other words, no classroom.  The teacher will lecture via the internet and all classes may come to us through video conferencing or SKYPE-like services.  I know I am ‘old-school” but I do not think that will nearly fill all requirements students have relative to obtaining enough information and structure needed to enter the workforce after graduation.  I KNOW, eliminating the classroom will not suffice as far as fulfilling an engineering degree that is usable. (Usable is the operative word here.)  There is too much give-and take in the classroom for that to occur.   Too many questions would go unanswered providing a dearth of preparation for the “outside and real” world.

The factor that just may prove me incorrect is the cost of an engineering education.  Getting an engineering degree is tough, and the soaring cost of colleges doesn’t make it any easier. For many years, college costs have been rising at twice the rate of inflation, and today’s most expensive engineering degrees reflect that, having recently cracked the seventy thousand dollars ($70,000)-a-year plateau.

To be sure, all of those seventy thousand plus schools offer financial aid, often in substantial amounts. In some cases, the final dollar figure may be comparable to that of a state school after all the aid is totaled up. That, of course, is if the applicant receives financial aid. I am using current figures from US News & World Reports Best Colleges, and have put together a list of the most expensive engineering schools in the US. All of the colleges on the list offer great educations. You really need to sit down for this one.  Here we go.

1. Harvey Mudd College, $75,003. The country’s most expensive engineering degree belongs to a school that may not have the Harvard- or MIT-name-brand, but nevertheless features a top-notch engineering program. In this year’s edition of US News & World Reports Best Colleges, Mudd tied for first as the best engineering program among schools where the top degree is a bachelors or masters. A tiny school with just 844 students, Mudd takes a different approach to education. A big part of the school’s method involves fellowships for students, enabling them to make a strong connection between engineering theory and the real world. The final cost — $75,003 – includes tuition, room and board. About 50% of “Mudders,” as its students are known, receive financial aid, with $43,208 being the average package. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Imagine)

2. Columbia University, $73,446. Columbia University’s engineering school is the country’s third oldest, and is ranked 18th among schools whose highest degree is a Ph.D. The New York City-based college is extremely selective, offering entry to only about 6% of applicants. The average accepted applicant has an ACT score ranging between 32-35, with 96% in the top 10% of their class. Financial aid is generous – averaging about $58,000 – but only about half of incoming students receive such aid. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Andrew Chen)

3. University of Southern California, $71,625. As private universities go, USC is a whopper, with about 18,000 undergraduates, of which about 10% are enrolled in engineering. US News & World Report ranks USC’s Viterbi Engineering School 24th among colleges whose highest degree is a Ph.D. Departments include mechanical, aerospace, astronautical, biomedical, industrial, chemical, electrical, and civil. About 38% of admitted students receive financial aid, with the average package being $51,509. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Bestweekevr)

4. University of Pennsylvania, $71,200. A private university in the Ivy League, the University of Pennsylvania is both a great and expensive source of education. Its engineering school is legendary for its development of the first general-purpose computer, ENIAC, in 1946. US News & World Report ranks it 24th among engineering schools whose highest degree is a Ph.D. About 46% of students receive financial aid, with the average package being $48,971. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Bryan Y.W. Shin)

5. Northwestern University, $71,193. Northwestern University in Evanston, IL features one of the premier engineering colleges in the US, with a ranking of 14th from US News & World Report. It is, however, extremely selective, with only about 9% of candidates accepted. The average incoming ACT is 32-35, and 91% of accepted applicants are in the top 10% of their high school class. About 45% of undergrads receive financial aid, with the average package coming to $49,030. (Image source: Wikipedia)

6. Tufts University, $70,942. Tufts University of Medford, MA, isn’t a household name, but it’s a stellar, highly selective school. In 2019, only 14% of applicants were admitted, and the average incoming student had an ACT score ranging from 31-34. About 9% of Tufts’ small undergrad population (enrollment, 5,483) is enrolled in the engineering curriculum. Its engineering school is ranked 59th among those whose highest degree is a Ph.D. Financial aid is awarded to 38% of applicants. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Halpaugh)

7. Dartmouth College, $70,791. New Hampshire-based Dartmouth College is a liberal arts school, and as such gives a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) to all engineering science majors, then encourages them to stay on and earn a Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) degree. Like all Ivy League schools, it’s extremely selective, with only about 10% of applicants gaining admission. Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering is ranked 48th among schools whose top degree is a Ph.D. About 50% of undergrads receive financial aid, with the average package coming to $50,625. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Kane5187)

8. Brown University, $70,326. Brown University in Providence, RI, is yet another of the highly-selective Ivies, with only about 8% of applicants being admitted. It’s engineering college, which makes up about 6% of Brown’s undergrad population, is ranked 38th among schools whose highest degree is a Ph.D. About 44% of new students receive financial aid, with the average package being $49,269. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Apavio

9. Smith College, $69,924. Smith College in Northampton, MA is typically thought of as a liberal arts school, and is in fact rated 11th among all the nation’s liberal arts colleges by US News & World Report. Still, the small all-women’s school completed a new science and engineering facility in 2009, with the idea that it would “blur the boundaries between traditional disciplines, creating an optimum environment for students and faculty to address key scientific and technological developments of our time.” Smith’s engineering program is ranked 15th among schools whose top degree is a bachelors or masters. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Samasinter)

10. Carnegie Mellon University, $69,883. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has long been regarded as one of the nation’s premier engineering schools. In 2019, US News & World Report ranked it sixth among schools whose highest degree is a Ph.D. The university is relatively small, with an undergrad population of just 6,664, but engineering makes up a whopping 24% of those students. Carnegie Mellon is world-renown for its work in robotics, with many of its grad students filling key spots in companies making autonomous cars. About 39% of undergrads receive financial aid, with the average package being $43,182. (Image source: Wikipedia/by Dllu).

CONCLUSION:  You will notice that MIT, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Duke, Rose-Hulman, University of Wisconsin, Perdue, etc. were not even mentioned.  These are remarkable schools when considering an engineering degree.  Really, most accredited engineering universities do an excellent job, certainly for undergraduate work leading to a BS in engineering.  Look at the faculty, the location, the cost and you will do just fine choosing a university that meets all of your engineering-student needs.


It always amazes me as to how fast the corporate world adopts technology while our politicians wait and watch.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no different.  Let’s reacquaint ourselves with a working definition of AI.

Techopedia defines AI as follows:

“Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science that strives to create intelligent machines.”  AI has become an essential part of the technology industry. Research associated with artificial intelligence is highly technical and very specialized. The core problems of artificial intelligence include programming computers for certain traits such as:

  • Knowledge
  • Reasoning
  • Problem solving
  • Perception
  • Learning
  • Planning
  • Ability to manipulate and move objects

One other definition says:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.

Basically, the same definition—The Rise of the Machines.

AI is only one part of the technology trend that is overtaking manufacturing and other commercial fields but it is finding its way into most technology.

According to Modern Material Handling, April 2019: “CFOs (Corporate Financial Officers) are shifting their priorities from cutting costs to rapidly investing in technology and data.”  This is according to Grant Thornton’s 2019 CFO Survey, conducted in partnership with CFO Research.  This survey found that a significant percentage of senior financial executives are currently investing in advanced technologies such as:

  • Advanced Analytics—38%
  • Machine Learning-30%
  • Artificial Intelligence—41%
  • Drones and Robotic Systems—30%
  • Blockchain—40% (NOTE:  Blockchain. A blockchain is a digital record of transactions. The name comes from its structure, in which individual records, called blocks, are linked together in single list, called a chain. … They work together to ensure each transaction is valid before it is added to the blockchain.)
  • Robotic Process Automation—41%
  • Optical Character Recognition 45%

Many CFOs are well on the way to implementing these amazing technologies:

  • 40% report that their finance function has already implemented advanced technologies and automation technologies in risk management.  This is compared to 20% in 2018.
  • 30% use machine learning, compared to 8% in 2018
  • 25% use AI, compared to 7% in 2018

The National Association of Manufacturers has released results from the Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey for the first quarter of 2019.  This survey shows nine consecutive quarters of record optimism, with an average of 91.8% of manufacturers positive about their own company’s outlook over the time compared to 68.6% across 2015 and 2016.

One technology leading the field is robotic systems.  Robotic systems were shipped to North American companies in record numbers last year, with more non-automotive companies installing robots than ever before.  In 2018, 35,880 units were shipped.  This is a 7% increase over 2017.  Shipments to non-automotive companies grew 41% to 16,702 shipments for that year.  This growth came in several areas as follows:

  • Food and Consumer Goods—48%
  • Plastics and Rubber Products—37%
  • Life Sciences—31%
  • Electronics—22%

It is becoming quite apparent that companies, especially manufacturing companies, that do not embrace advanced technology will find themselves beaten by those who do.  They will be left behind simply because they will no longer be able to compete. 

Might be time to take a look and get on board.

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