(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘aviation

“Like guns and crosses, maps can be good or bad, depending on who’s holding them, who they’re aimed at, how they’re used, and why”*…

 

World Map

“A New and Accurat [sic] Map of the World,” John Speed 1626. For background, see here

We expect maps to tell us the truth. They seem trustworthy, after all: when you need to figure out how to get from Copley Square to Fenway Park, or if you’re interested in comparing the income levels of Boston’s neighborhoods, the first reference material you’re likely to seek out is a map.

But maps, truth, and belief have a complicated relationship with one another. Every map is a representation of reality, and every representation, no matter how accurate and honest, involves simplification, symbolization, and selective attention. Even when a map isn’t actively trying to deceive its readers, it still must reduce the complexity of the real world, emphasizing some features and hiding others. Compressing the round globe onto a flat sheet of paper, and converting places, people, and statistics into symbols, lines, and colors is a process inherently fraught with distortion.

Meanwhile, what we understand to be true is based on what we have seen in maps. For example, how do you know that New Zealand is an island off the coast of Australia if you’ve never been on a ship in the Tasman Sea or flown up in space to see it yourself? That fact about the world is one you can believe because you’ve seen it reproduced over and over again in maps produced by people and institutions that you trust…

Because they seem to show the world how it “really is,” maps produce a powerful sense of trust and belief.  But maps and data visualizations can never communicate a truth without any perspective at all.  They are social objects whose meaning and power are produced by written and symbolic language and whose authority is determined by the institutions and contexts in which they circulate.  From the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, a remarkable online exhibit that explores the many ways in which maps and data can mislead: BENDING LINES: Maps and Data from Distortion to Deception. (Lots of fascinating information and LOTS of glorious maps!)

See also: “How to Detect the Distortions of Maps.”

And lest we underestimate the innate challenges facing cartographers, “The U.S. Is Getting Shorter, as Mapmakers Race to Keep Up.”

* Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps

###

As we aspire to accuracy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1784 that Élisabeth Thible became the first women to ascend in an untethered balloon (eight months after the first manned balloon flight).  When the balloon left the ground Thible, dressed as the Roman goddess Minerva, and her pilot, Monsieur Fleurant sang two duets from Monsigny’s La Belle Arsène, a celebrated opera of the time.  The flight lasted 45 minutes, covered four kilometers, and achieved an estimated height of 1,500 meters.  Their audience included King Gustav III of Sweden, in whose honor the balloon was named.

Thible

Élisabeth Thible on a later flight

source

 

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”*…

 

Castillo_de_San_Marcos

 

In 1702, when the Spanish still ruled Florida, an English fleet from colonial Carolina approached Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish stronghold on the Atlantic shore.

The fort guarded the Spanish empire’s trade routes as well as the surrounding city of St. Augustine, and the English wanted to run this politically and economically important outpost for themselves. Led by Carolina’s governor James Moore, the English boats dropped their anchors and laid siege.

But even after nearly two months of being shelled with cannonballs and gunfire, the fort’s walls wouldn’t give. In fact, they appeared to be “swallowing” the British cannonballs, which then became embedded within the stone. Precisely how the walls did this remained a mystery for the next three centuries.

Normally, a cannonball creates long, deep cracks in stone that radiate out from the impact’s center, causing catastrophic damage to a structure. This was clearly not the case for the walls surrounding Castillo de San Marcos. Built from coquina—sedimentary rock formed from compressed shells of dead marine organisms—the walls suffered little damage from the British onslaught. As one Englishman described it, the rock “will not splinter but will give way to cannon ball as though you would stick a knife into cheese.”…

The secret of the Spanish– and what it might mean for the future: “The Mystery of Florida’s Cannonball-Eating Spanish Fort.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche

###

As we muse on mutable materials, we might send altitudinous birthday greetings to Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin; he was born on this date in 1838.  An inventor, engineer, and manufacturer, he was the aviation pioneer who built the first rigid dirigible airships– called, in his honor, Zeppelins.

He patented his idea in 1895, then formed a company to build airships in 1898–  though many thought his invention incredible, and dubbed him “Foolish Count.”  His first airship took off on July 2, 1900; its success stimulated funding.  Eventually, he produced more than 100 dirigibles for military uses in World War I, during which, the Zeppelins were used to bomb Britain.  After the war, he continued to improve the design and built a fleet of airships for commercial passenger service, which included transatlantic flights.  Zeppelin use ended after the May 6, 1937 Hindenburg fire disaster at Lakehurst, N.J.

220px-Bildnis_Ferdinand_von_Zeppelin source

 

Written by LW

July 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have time to fall”*…

 

paper planes

Three of the forty entires in a database of paper airplanes with easy-to-follow folding instructions: “Fold N Fly.”

* Orville Wright

###

As we send ’em soaring, we might recall that it was on this date in 2003 that the final scheduled flights of the British Airways Concorde brought an end to the era of supersonic passenger service that had begun in January of 1976.

300px-British_Airways_Concorde_G-BOAC_03 source

 

Written by LW

October 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I was once told that flying involves long hours of boredom, interrupted by moments of extreme fright”*…

 

Boeing Model 314 Clipper “California Clipper,” Pan American Airways [source]

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, there was a Pan Am Clipper proceeding to Auckland, New Zealand [from its San Francisco base] when the radio operator announced to the crew, in a panicked voice, that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The Captain realized that this was not a joke, after looking over at the radio operator’s face, and said, “Please confirm the details of your news with Pan Am headquarters in New Caledonia.”

When the radio operator returned to the Captain’s side he advised that the news was in fact correct and they advised me to tell you the following, Implement Plan A.” The Captain reached for a sealed envelope from his jacket…

And so began a globe-circling trek that ended on January 6, 1942 at La Guardia’s Marine Air Terminal: total flight time was 209 hours; total distance, 31,500 miles (a circuitous route that involved dodging first Japanese then German military aircraft that considered the American plane “a strategic military resource” to be destroyed).  It was the first around-the-world flight by a commercial airliner… the hard way.

Read the fascinating story of this unintended circumnavigation at “The Long Way Home….Pan Am Flight 18602.”

* “Franklin W. Dixon” (the shared pseudonym of the many authors of The Hardy Boys novels)

###

As we buckle our seatbelts, we might recall that it was on this day in 1920 that Lt. John H. “Dynamite” Wilson of the 96th Aero Squadron, Kelly Field, Texas, leapt with a parachute from a De Haviland B airplane at an altitude of approximately 20,000 feet and made a safe landing in a turnip patch.

 source (and larger version)

 

Written by LW

June 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The safety of the people shall be the highest law”*…

 

As society creates new technologies and new kinds of risk, we’re often slow to pass laws to regulate them. Tort law is a democratic tool for people who experience harms to seek redress and to make a difference that benefits others: prompting new discoveries, clarifying the nature of the harms involved, and deterring powerful organizations from propagating those harms…

How do lawsuits grow our understanding of the risks and harms of new technologies? What incentives do they offer corporations to ensure the safety of their products?  The American Museum of Tort Law in Winchester Connecticut– the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to any part of the law– aims to explain: “The American Museum of Exploding Cars and Toys That Kill You.”

* Marcus Tullius Cicero

###

As we ponder the precautionary principle, we might send high-flying birthday greetings to Paul Kollsman; he was born on this date in 1900.  An inventor who was obsessed with aviation, he invented the world’s first accurate barometric altimeter (1928), a device that became vital to aviation safety.  It found wide acceptance when, in September, 1929, Jimmy Doolittle made his historic “blind flight,” proving that the Kollsman altimeter made navigation possible “flying on the gauges.”  The invention played a major role in enabling routine scheduled air service in the U.S. and around the world.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 22, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: