Friday, March 28, 2014

Coffee Cup, Doughnut: the Lemming's Back

The Lemming's joke about a topologist and a doughnut fell flat.

As you can plainly see, the Lemming's back.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370: Missing For Two Weeks

I gave the Lemming some time off. He should be back in time for next week's post, provided he doesn't go wandering off to haunts of coot and hern, or wherever he's been going lately.

This week, I've got a very serious topic: Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared from radar between Kuala Lumpur and the Andaman Sea.

That was two weeks ago.

Here's what we know:
  • Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on shortly after takeoff.
  • The 239 folks on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are still missing.
  • The flight left Kuala Lumpur at 16:41 GMT, March 7; and was expected in Beijing at 22:30 GMT.
  • No trace of the airliner, or the people on board, has been confirmed.
  • Folks on MH370 included artists, children, and at least one engineer.
  • Their homes were in China, Malaysia, and other countries.
  • Their family, friends, and associates are understandably concerned.
Yesterday I read that satellites spotted two objects in the Indian Ocean, between Australia and Antarctica. More about that:
One of the objects is vaguely rectangular and roughly 24 meters long. It might be part of the Malisian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER.

Or it might be a nearly-submerged cargo container lost from some freighter; debris washed downriver and into the ocean from a construction project; or something else unrelated to the airliner.

Here's what the BBC had to say about Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370:

1,460 Miles, 2,350 Kilometers, West by Southwest of Perth

(From Australian government, US National Transportation Savety Board, Malaysian government, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)

"Missing MH370: World's most difficult recovery"
Rebecca Morelle, BBC News (March 20, 2014)

"The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is now focussed on the south Indian Ocean.

"Ships and planes are hunting for two large objects spotted in satellite images that could be floating debris.

"But if these are located and confirmed as wreckage from flight MH370 - and that is still a big if - one of the most complex recovery operations ever undertaken could lie ahead...."

I wasn't surprised to see that it's now a recovery, not a rescue, operation. It is still, I think, very remotely possible that the 239 people who disappeared may still be alive. But that seems increasingly unlikely.

Some folks deal with uncertainty by distracting themselves with unrelated activities: a job; household chores; exercise; whatever. Others apparently drag a trawl net into their mind's abyssal zone in search of explanations.

I've seen some colorful conspiracy theories hatching: including the usual 'it was space aliens.' Someone even spent time debunking a rumor that MH370 had reappeared in — what else? — the Bermuda Triangle.

Sometimes that sort of nonsense can be amusing. In a situation where more than 200 people are either dead or stranded without supplies: not so much.

"Possible Object"

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"If the objects in the satellite images do belong to the plane, they could help scientists to find the crash site"

"...The first stage would be to carefully examine any fragments of the craft found. Their condition, for example whether they show any signs of an explosion, could begin to shed light on what happened to the plane.

"Importantly, they could also help to narrow down the location of the crash, and the possible site of the plane's 'black box' flight recorders.

"But David Mearns, director of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd, says because of the amount of time that has passed since the flight vanished on 8 March, this would not be easy.

" 'If the debris is confirmed, the positions and times that any pieces are found will be clues that will have to be used to determine where the plane actually impacted,' he explains.

" 'But in this instance, we are talking many days after the plane would have crashed - that debris will have floated for a very large distance - and potentially an uncertain distance. If we don't know what the winds and currents were doing at that time, it makes the search box enormous.'..."
(Rebecca Morelle, BBC News)

Searchers may find one or more of MH370's flight recorders by tracking the acoustic pingers: if they're still working, and searchers get close enough before the devices run out of their 30-day lifespan.

The good news is that, MH370 crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, and if searchers find the wreckage - - - that's a lot of "ifs."

That part of the Indian ocean has some of the roughest seas in the world: but the ocean floor, some 4,000 meters down, it's smoother than the submerged mountains and ravines that held Air France 447's wreckage.

I think it's prudent to remember that it took searchers about two years to locate the Air France 447 wreckage and start piecing together what went wrong.

Friday Morning, March 21

(From Lai Seng Sin/AP, via Bloomberg, used w/o permission.)
"A woman leaves a message for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia."

"Missing Plane Maintained Steady Speed Over Indian Ocean"
Alan Levin, Bloomberg (March 21, 2014)

"The missing Malaysian airliner may have cruised steadily across the Indian Ocean after diverting from its route, according to an analysis of satellite pings, the clearest idea yet on how investigators pinpointed a search zone.

"Engineers at Inmarsat Plc (ISAT), whose satellite picked up the pings, plotted seven positions for the Boeing Co. (BA) 777-200ER on March 8, Chris McLaughlin, a company spokesman, said in an interview. The plane flew steadily away from the satellite over the equator while pinging, McLaughlin said....

"...When officials estimated the plane was flying at or near its cruising speed of more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) an hour, it produced a probable path the engineers were 'very confident' about, McLaughlin said. The engineers don't know the plane's track for certain because the satellite pings can only be used to estimate an arc along the earth's surface where it would have been, he said....

I decided to add this Bloomberg article to today's post, since it's among the most detailed I've seen. The bottom line is still the same, though: there's been no verified sighting of wreckage from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, and all 239 people are still missing.

There's also some analysis here, and a detail that I don't remember seeing elsewhere.

Flight MH370 Landed? Unlikely

"...If the Inmarsat estimates are accurate, it would have been impossible for the plane to have landed before its satellite transmitter sent the final ping at 8:11 a.m., almost seven hours after its last known position as it left Malaysian airspace, according to McLaughlin's account. Because the 777 burns more fuel at lower altitude, it also suggests the plane remained at cruising altitude.

"The plane was flying at 542 miles an hour at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) at 1:21 a.m. when its transponder stopped functioning and it disappeared from Malaysian's civilian radar system, according to FlightRadar24, a flight-tracking company.

"The engineers at Inmarsat were able to validate their estimates of the plane's position by matching its position at 1:07 a.m., when it sent a burst of data through its Aircraft Communications and Reporting System, McLaughlin said. That final transmission on Acars included a GPS position that was used to calibrate the other estimates, he said...."

Much as I would like to believe that the Boeing 777 landed safely, and that everyone on board survived: it seems very, very unlikely:

"Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Kuala Lumpur-based Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, talks about Malaysian Airline System Bhd.'s missing Flight 370. He speaks Rishaad Salamat on Bloomberg Television's 'On the Move.' "
(Description of Bloomberg video: "Landing, Hiding MH370 'Extremely Unlikely': Herdman" (March 17, 2014))

Although the evil mastermind and his henchmen might successfully hide an airliner in a spy story (remember "Thunderball"?), real life doesn't necessarily work that way.

A Boeing 777 is more than 200 feet long, with a wingspan to match. That's a lot of metal to hide: particularly in these days, with robot satellites keeping digital eyes peeled.

Flight MH370: A Long Wait

If you get the impression that this is an unusually long wait for some trace of the missing flight to turn up: you're right.

"...The longest period in modern passenger-airline history between a disappearance and initial findings of debris was seven years ago, when Adam Air Flight 574 went missing off the coast of Indonesia's South Sulawesi. The Boeing 737-400, operated by PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines, lost contact with air traffic control Jan. 1, 2007. Wreckage wasn't found until 10 days later....

"...In the search for Air France 447 wreckage, authorities were able to narrow down a 5,000 nautical-mile area after finding floating objects five days following the crash. They also had a last known position plus four minutes of signals from the plane's so-called Acars system, which was turned off on Flight 370.

"Even with those clues, the pings from Flight 447's recorders weren't picked up. It took two voyages over almost a two-year period to find the debris field with unmanned underwater vehicles that searched the ocean floor with sonar equipment...."
(David Fickling, Alan Levin, Thomas Black, Bloomberg (March 17, 2014))

Patience isn't easy, particularly when so many folks desperately want to know what happened to their family, friends, and fellow-workers. But I think cultivating patience is better than the alternatives.

Finally, and no pressure at all: this is just a suggestion. Prayer couldn't hurt: for the folks on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, and everyone connected with them.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day, 2014: Where's the Lemming?

It's been worse, like the year when Mr. Nerdly posed for a last-minute holiday greeting.

Even so, the Lemming might have at least provided a caption for this picture: apart from "last train to Cuain Caite."

Vaguely-related posts:

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Alchemist Trap

(From "Beschreibung allerf├╝rnemisten mineralischen Ertzt unnd Bergkwercks Arten," via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

That's an alchemist's workshop, in the late 1500s. If some of the equipment looks familiar: you've either been watching old 'mad scientist' movies, or seen a chemical lab.

Quite a lot of a chemist's glassware, like retorts, was standard equipment for European alchemists, back when they still had some credibility.

Then alchemists realized that claiming they could make lead into gold, or preserve an aristocratic lady's youthful looks made getting government grants a lot easier.

As a fundraising strategy, it worked: until enough aristocrats realized that the court alchemist's gold came from the treasury. There's more to researchers calling themselves "chemists" instead of "alchemists," of course: there always is, when humans are involved.

Then there's the story of two enterprising chaps and a clueless emperor, and that's not quite another topic.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Nullurpa: The Unsoda

The Lemming's mind wandered again this week, returning with advertising art: and no explanation.

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