The Anonymous Widower

How The Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks To A Software Developer

The title of this post is the same as this article on IEEE Spectrm.

It is the best article, I’ve read on the disaster and I agree with nearly every word the writer has written, except perhaps some of his spelling.

Like the author, I am a software developer and I have had over a thousand hours in command of light aircraft, although I don’t fly now!

I have this feeling that this affair, will go down in history as one of the worst business disasters of all time!

I certainly won’t fly in any 737 again! Or at least not for a long time!

August 2, 2019 Posted by | Business, Computing, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Boeing Says It Could Halt Production Of 737 Max After Grounding

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on the Guardian.

This is the first paragraph.

Boeing said it could halt production of the 737 Max jet on Wednesday as it reported the company’s largest ever quarterly loss following two fatal accidents involving the plane.

To my mind, this is a self-inflicted problem caused by trying to stretch a 1960s design too far past the end of its design life.

Boeing realised that they needed a new larger plane and developed the fuel-efficient Class 787 Dreamliner to replace 747s, 767s and 777s.

It was total management failure to not planning to replace the 737 with a smaller plane based on Dreamliner technology.

Will Boeing Solve The 737 MAX Problem?

Compare it with the Class 710 train, that also had software problems that delayed the launch.

  • The Class 710 train is a totally new train, with masses of new features, liked by operators, staff and passengers.
  • The Train Management and Control System of the Class 710 train was very challenging to design and program.
  • If a train fails, it only comes to an embarrassing stop.

On the other hand, the following can be said about the 737 MAX..

  • The 737 MAX is an update of a 1960s design.
  • The mathematics of the 737 MAX must be challenging.
  • The computer system hasn’t been properly designed, programmed and tested.
  • If a plane fails, it’s a lot more than an embarrassing stop.

Boeing seem to have made a tragic mistake for airlines, passengers and them,selves.

Engineers will probably solve the software problem,but will that be enough to save the plane?

July 25, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , , | 1 Comment

PC Sales On The Up!

It has just been said on BBC Radio 5’s Wakr Up To Money, that PC sales are on the up and this is boosting Microsoft’s revenues.

So I sent them this message.

The new all-in-one PCs are tempting me to replace my aging laptop.

It was read out.

My PC will have a 27 inch screen and a wireless keyboard and mouse. It will fit my oval dining rom table perfectly.

The only thing more I need, is a bigger screen.

In 2010, I wrote this post called The Communication Wall.

We’re getting there!

July 18, 2019 Posted by | Computing | , , | 2 Comments

The Britons Who Played For The Moon

The title of this post, is the same as that of an article on page 15 of today’s copy of The Times.

This is two paragraphs – – .

The team was organised by John Hodge, who was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex and who had previously worked for Vickers Armstrong, which during the Second World War built the Supermarine Spitfire.

Mr. Hodge, now 90, would become a flight director at mission control – the one time that ‘Houston’ spoke with a British accent.

I’ve heard of John before.

Like me, John Hodge went to Minchenden Grammar School and one of our maths’ teachers; George Bullen,when I was doing Further Maths in the Sixth Form, told us the full story of one of his brightest students.

If John had a problem, it was that he couldn’t get a language O-level, which was needed to get to University in the late 1940s.

So he went to Northampton Engineering College, which is now the City University, where the qualification wasn’t needed.

I think George Bullen, with his John Arlott Hampshire accent, probably told us the story of John Hodge for motivation.

This is another paragraph in the article.

Peter Armitage, 90, who grew up in Hable-le-Rice, Hampshire, was also in the Avro group. In 1969 he oversaw the simulator that Neil Armstrong used to learn how to touch down on the moon.

As I remember it, the simulator was a hybrid digital-analogue computer using two PACE 231-R computers as the analogue half.

This picture shows the similar computer, that I worked on at ICI in Welwyn Garden City.

These machines could each solve up to a hundred simultaneous differential equations, in real time, so were ideal for calculating the dynamics of complex systems.

They were some beasts!

From what I read at the time, they were key in bringing the Apollo 13 astronauts home, as they could be quickly reprogrammed, if you were familiar with the dynamic model., as undoubtedly NASA’s engineers were.

 

 

July 17, 2019 Posted by | Computing | , , , | Leave a comment

Crossrail Rushes To Make Bond Street Ready For Testing

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on Rail Technology Magazine.

Mark Wild, who is Crossrail’s Chief Executive, is quoted as telling the London Assembly.

Our current focus is predominantly on key areas of risk such as ensuring that Bond Street station is at the required stage of completion to allow us to commence trial running early in 2020..

The more I read about this project, the more I believe, that the projects lateness is down to two things.

  • Some very optimistic project management by contractors to get some of the enormous contracts on offer.
  • A lack of resources in vital areas like some trades and the testing of trains.

But then what do I know about Project Management and computer software?

Could Bond Street also be the only really late station, as it is on a very cramped site in the centre of some of the most expensive real estate on the planet?

The 3D visualisation shows the area around the station.

Note .

  1. The new Western entrance to Bond Street Crossrail station, which is the cleared site with the russet-coloured building behind.
  2. The new Eastern entrance, which is just to the West of Hanover Square.
  3. Bond Street running down from Next on Oxford Street to Fenwicks.

Surface access is not good to say the least.

The same access problem probably applies at Paddington, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Moorgate and Liverpool Street stations, but at these five stations, there were buildings that could be demolished to give access for construction.

It should also be notes, that some of these stations have only a few local residents.

I’ll take a quick look at these five stations.

Paddington

This Google Map shows Paddington station.

Note the Crossrail station, which has been squeezed into the old cab rank, alongside the station.

Tottenham Court Road

This Google Map shows Tottenham Court Road station.

Note the amount of cleared space around the station,

Farringdon

This Google Map shows Farringdon station.

The Crossrail station is to the West of the current station. It must have helped contractors, that the station had been redeveloped a couple of times for the construction and update of Thameslink.

Moorgate

This Google Map shows Moorgate station.

Moor House, which is the large office block behind Moorgate station, was built in 2004 and was designed to accept Crossrail in the basement.

Finsbury Circus, which is the green space in the East was used as a construction site.

Liverpool Street

This Google Map shows Liverpool Street station.

The main entrance to the Crossrail station will be in front of the Broadgate office complex, which is to the West of the station.

This section of Broadgate is also being redeveloped, which probably helps and hinders in equal measure.

Conclusion

I think lessons will be learned that can be applied to other cross-city rail projects.

  • Future-planning as with Moor House should be increasingly used.
  • Should stations be built in conjunction with other developments?
  • Are stations in areas of high real-estate values a good idea?
  • Could more innovative ways be used to bring in construction materials?

Will future projects be better?

July 16, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boeing Suffers New 737 Max Issue That Could Delay Return

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

This is the first paragraph.

US regulators have uncovered a possible new flaw in Boeing’s troubled 737 Max aircraft that is likely to push back test flights.

The FAA have released this statement.

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is following a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 Max to passenger service. The FAA will lift the prohibition order when we deem it is safe to do so. We continue to evaluate Boeing’s software modification to the MCAS and we are still developing necessary training requirements. We are also responding to recommendations received from the Technical Advisory Board. The TAB is an independent review panel we have asked to review our work regarding 737 Max return to service. On the most recent issue, the FAA’s process is designed to discover and highlight potential risks. The FAA recently found a potential risk that Boeing must investigate.

Bodies like the FAA don’t take chances.

The BBC article also says this.

Other sources said the problem was linked to the aircraft’s computing power and whether the processor possessed enough capacity to keep up.

Sorry Boeing! But I’ll never fly in a 737 Max!

 

June 27, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , | 3 Comments

The Importance Of Libraries For Research

I went to a fund-raising event for Book Aid at the British Library on Monday evening.

The main purpose was to raise funds for the library in Mosul, which has been wrecked by IS.

The event made me think, about the number of times in the 1960s and 1970s, I used libraries for research.

  • My undergraduate thesis was about analogue computing and I used information about how Lord Kelvin and his elder brother; James, were developing and using mechanical analogue computers in the late 1800s, that I had found in the Liverpool University library.
  • A few years later, whilst working for ICI, I found that by properly searching Chemical Abstracts in their library, I could find the solution to difficult problems. Nowadays, you’d use the Internet!
  • When I developed Artemis, I needed methods to improve the performance of the software. Some I developed myself, but one particular algoithm used for linking datasets together was found in a paper, written in the 1960s in IBM’s library. In those days, getting the maximum performance from not very powerful computers was more difficult and the algorithm was important.
  • These days, with everything on the Internet I use libraries less. Although, I regularly visit Hackney’s Records Office near to where I live, to browse old images, reference books and maps.

Do we all underestimate the part books, play in our lives?

June 23, 2019 Posted by | Computing, World | , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Device Charging On The Overground

This picture, that I took at Shoreditch High Street station, says it all.

There were a selection of leads for all the different devices.

June 23, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Struggling With GMail

Many years ago before GMail existed, I started using Chrome and opened a Google account, so that I could run Google Alerts on subjects in which I’m interested.

I’ve had my e-mail for getting on for thirty years and I can’t see any reason to change it.

On my mobile phone, I have created a new Google and GMail  account, so that, when I travel I have access to e-mail, as well aw text.

Everything works fine on the phone, but how do I log in to my GMail on my laptop.

I’m always asked to create a new GMail address, when I try. But I already have one.

How do I sort this mess out?

June 17, 2019 Posted by | Computing | , , | 2 Comments

My Latest Thoughts On The Boeing 737 MAX

I had this message read out on BBC’s Wake Up To Money this morning.

I have been involved in the programming of several first-of-their-kind computer systems dating back to 1969. They are always late ad usually need a couple of goes to get it right! Boeing didn’t do enough testing.

Although, I’ve been mainly involved in programming user systems and I’ve never controlled anything  by a computer program, I have worked with a lot of people who have. One team, I worked alongside, programmed the world’s first computer to fully control a large chemical plant.

But even, when I was writing something as big and complicated as Artemis, you had to take into account, that not everybody using the system, thought the way you did.

Those that fly aircraft differ in one area, that has nothing to do with sex, racial type or religion. Their experience of flying aircraft varies from a couple of thousand hours upwards.

It is no surprise to me, that some of the great aircraft stories of safe landings in difficult circumstances have been done by very experiences pilots, often with years of flying less reliable military aircraft.

They have used their experience to get themselves and their passengers out of trouble

It should be noted that the pilots of both the Indonesian and the Ethiopian planes, had several thousands hours of experience.

  • On the whole, human beings are generally risk averse and pilots are no different to the rest of us.
  • We also don’t like surprises.

How many times have you installed a new copy of a popular software system to find that it is radically different and it takes you several weeks to get used to it?

When I was writing Artemis, I made sure, that, I didn’t create any surprises for customers all over the world. The software was also tested to destruction.

Getting a calculation wrong in Artemis, would be unlikely to have had fatal consequences.

Conclusion

Have Boeing with their MCAS computer software fix to cure the inadequacies of an obsolete air frame, made two big mistakes?

  • They have created an airliner, that goes against pilot experience?
  • They didn’t do enough testing.

I will not fly in any 737 until the day I die!

June 17, 2019 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , , | 2 Comments