Two engines and a brace of ducks.

The big news story when I was out last night was the Hudson River crash, in which a jet with approximately 150 passengers spilled itself into the river with no loss of life.  The plane, which had taken off from LaGuardia only a few minutes earlier, crashed after losing both engines.  One survivor who sat over the left wing heard a bang and saw blue flame coming from that engine not long after take off, followed by the pilot telling the passengers to brace for a crash. At this time it is supposed that a flock of birds caused both engines to fail, I would guess by being sucked into each.

Scary as the ordeal must have been and grateful as we are for the survival of all passengers, there are questions to be asked about future take-offs and successful landings.  First on my mind is the bird question.  I would guess that the flock in question wasn’t startlings or sparrows or anything of that size – I feel like twin jet engines could chew up and spit out such crunchy little bits without trouble.  I would guess that this flock would need to be made up of a more sizable bird – at least a flock of ducks, or possibly even geese.  I suppose though if you managed to suck in a great enough number of thrushes, say, at the correct density, you could manage to stall the engine.  Still I would find it very unlikely.

So how do we move forward?  Should planes in the future attempt to avoid bird flocks?  Is such a thing even possible?  Just how common are these ‘bird strikes‘, as the pilot called them?  According to Bird Strike Committee USA, there have been more than 56,000 between ’08 and ’04.  Since ’88 however, there have been only 219 deaths as a result of wildlife strikes.  The real cost comes in damage – estimated to be about $600 million a year in the US alone.  Seems we could do something about that.

Finally, warmest wishes go out to our pilot hero man, Sully.  Who doesn’t love a name like that?  And he’s a saftey consultant in his spare time.  I’m sure the current accolades will rev up business for that.  This articl also reveals that the bird or birds in question were, in fact, geese.  So, double bonus points for Sully and the remainder for me.


My brain, your brain.

I barely remember the one college Calculus class I was required to take to complete my undergraduate degree.  I could say it’s because I wasn’t really interested in the class – it was only a requirement, not a passion.  I could say it was because i wasn’t applying myself, or because the lecturer who taught it was from Eastern Europe and i missed half of what he said in trying to puzzle out the first half of the words coming out of his mouth.  I could say it was because my first semester of college I barely slept and calc was just another place to rest my head for a few weary minutes.  But the truth is something far more far-reaching – I never saw math as a worthwhile skill.

I have a poet’s soul.  I can listen to a physics professor talk about the wonders of the universe or an inventor talk about his new Idea, or a designer talk about a current project and be totally enthralled.  But I am more enthralled with the words, the person, and the passion they show than the ideas behind them.  I do have my own curiosity and love of learning.  I do still have some interest in the less word-oriented aspects of life.  But to me they remain subject matter, rather than goals in and of themselves.

A part of this preference is probably due to old prejudices.  Language is a female sphere.  Hard sciences are male.  Despite the growing numbers of girl students doing just as well as boys in analytical subjects such as math, there remain underlying preferences that are not necessarily based on ‘natural’ tendencies.

There have always been questions as to whether or not boys are predispositioned or socially conditioned toward certain subject matter.  Obviously boys and girls are biologically different.  Most likely certain parts of our brains either start out different as well, or at least adapt differently due to slightly different bodily functions.  At the same time, there are countless ways in which that brain function is identical, or at least very similar, between a wide variety of individuals.  What then does it mean that most engineers are still men?  What does it mean that I consider myself a nerd, but still feel superior to the science nerd?

If there is a brain difference between girls and boys that makes one or the other less strong in certain sciences, that’s one thing.  There will always be outliers anyway.  But I would guess the difference is more ‘personal preference’ than actual skill.  And if so, are we as a society telling our sons and daughters to value very different skills and even modes of thinking?

Why I love Greyhound.

Normally, I am an environmentally conscious person. I like doing things that don’t gouge the land. At the same time, I am also cheap. Sometimes these two things work together, as in forgoing the convenience of a car in favor of public transportation. Sometimes however, the cost to convenience outweighs the benefits, such as when they are working on the Longfellow Bridge every single weekend and what should be a straight shot train ride into the city becomes a train + shuttle + train ‘adventure’.

My recent weekend trip to Maine is a case in point. I had a wonderful time, of course, and the ride up, despite a little traffic, was pleasant. The return was less so. The driver was young and inexperienced, two qualities which I can understand and forgive. I myself was at one time inexperienced, and even my current level of know-how has not equipped me to drive a bus. However, he was also an hour late. Meaning if there was any traffic, I was not going to make the last train to the last bus back to Belmont. Still, I wasn’t terribly worried. I do have friends with cars who stay up late and could probably be coerced into driving me home. If not, there’s always taxis.

Once we left the bus terminal, the unpleasantness was far from over. I don’t know if many of you are familiar with bus terminals, but one feature that tends to be universal is proximity to an interstate, or at least a highway. There also tend to be giant signs telling the driver and others how to reach said highway. In Massachusetts these signs might be placed behind even larger trees, but in general they are still there. My bus driver decided to ignore the signs placed directly for his benefit as well as the directions given to him at the bus depot and take us on a tour of Portland.

After about 20 lefts, the driver pleaded with us for help. Did anyone know Portland or how to get back to the highway? Fortunately, somebody on that bus full of cranky, tired, and now severely annoyed patrons knew his way around. Unfortunately, the route back to the interstate went under two very low train trestles. Although I am a Christian, it is rare for me to truly reevaluate my life on a Sunday. Clenching my teeth and wishing I could shut my eyes as my inexperienced bus driver barreled under each too-low bridge marked one of the rare occasions.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy my trip. I loved going to Maine, especially to be able to afford going to Maine. And I’m sure I will someday take the bus again. In the meantime, I may just have to check out Amtrak.