Thursday, 20 March 2014

Goodbye, Khushwant Singh

The self-described "Dirty Old Man" of Indian literature has passed away just one short of a century. Rest in Peace, Khushwant Singh.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Endemic short-termism and Bt corn in the United States

Courtesy of wired. 

That's what happens, ladies and gentlemen, when you chase profits without listening to scientists. Rootworms are back and they're more resistant to Bt corn than ever. And it could have easily been avoided  - by avoiding constant corn monoculture and creating "refuges" of non-Bt corn, Rootworms could have been reduced over the long term. And they didn't even let the scientists take a look at it until it was too late!

Now it's back to insecticides and environmental pollution. And so much for the money, too.

MH370 : Why the startlingly simple theory is probably true

Link above. I'm not going to bother explaining Chris Goodfellow's inflight fire theory again because it really is that simple.

Brief questions that need to be answered to make that theory airtight -
1. Did the autopilot revert to settings for a previously flown route and send the plane flying towards a different set of waypoints after the fire broke out? What explains the strange maneuvers that kept the plane at low altitude?

2. What made the autopilot choose to fly the plane over the Southern Indian Ocean if that case were true? What were the settings?

3. Where exactly do the radio cables run? What prevented radio communication while the plane's autopilot and flight systems continued to function? 

Of course, the answers to this dilemma could only come from the DFDR and the CVR, both of which are with the plane, wherever that is.

Fire-induced depressurization, fuselage damage and air contamination could also explain the decision to fly low. Of course, the radio issue is something that could best be answered by a Boeing engineer.

Bar all the flip-flopping and changing statements from the Malaysian authorities, this actually accounts for all the anomalies in the flight.

1. None of the crew had any known reasons to commit suicide, and flying for hours into the open ocean doesn't seem the like the most effective way for a suicidal pilot to go about. Suicide doesn't look sensible.

2. Hijacking / terrorism - a terrorist had plenty of opportunities to turn the plane into a guided missile but sent it heading off into the open ocean. If it was hijacked and landed at an airfield, why has there been no ransom message, no demands, nothing? And even if it was hijacked, what was the motive? A hijacking or act of terror makes no sense, and no group has made any verifiable claims to having taken over the aircraft.

It's probably more sensible than a practical joke gone haywire. And since a 777 already burnt up due to a ground fire in Cairo, it's quite possible that other 777s are also vulnerable to electronics bay fires. Hopefully this theory will turn out to be true in the face of all the utter garbage going about everywhere.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

MH370 vanishing - an experiment or a practical joke gone terrifyingly wrong?

There's enough outrage and enough conspiracy theories floating around about MH370, so I suppose one more outrageous theory doesn't come to mind. From aliens and meteorites to hijacking, all sorts of things have come up and all seemed equally likely, and now hijacking of some sort seems the most viable option. But there's the question of motive, which has yet to be answered - why has no terrorist organization claimed responsibility, and what is the motive of a possible hijacker? An airplane that flies around for hours after being hijacked is not likely under the control of a suicidal pilot or a 9/11 suicide bomber.

There were 20 employees of Freescale Semiconductors on board and Freescale works on military technology like radar jammers. Conspiracy theorists suspect that these men were either the target of the hijacking, or were responsible for it and used Freescale's technology to cover up the airplane's radar signature. That latter idea is wrong - and stupid because you can't just bring a radar jammer inside a 777's fuselage and expect it to work (Try bringing that kind of thing in cabin baggage in the first place). Besides, the plane was tracked throughout.

But here comes Hugo Teso. Teso proves that it is possible to hack into a modern airliner's computer systems using nothing more than an android phone, and that "cyber-jacking" an airliner is possible with nothing more than a smartphone app! And the hacker needn't even be on the plane!!! Wow.

Even if MH370 was cyber-jacked remotely by a mobile phone, that doesn't answer basic questions about the hijacking, like who, why, and where. The "how" isn't nearly enough.

One especially outrageous possibility comes up, in the midst of all this worry and fear and terror : an experiment, or a practical joke by someone onboard. Someone could have been testing Teso's cyber-hacking app by hacking into the airliner's computer, and then sent it off-track just for the sake of scaring the daylights out of the pilots. For kicks, the hacker made the flight instruments display the wrong information, or shifted the plane onto its old flight path. The pilots may not even have noticed the plane turning if they were sitting, especially if it were a very shallow bank. A sleepy or distracted pilot may not even realize that they're off-course. Trouble with the radios might be put down to an electronic fault.

And what happens after this? The hacker, oblivious to the damage done or expecting the joke to be harmless, goofs off for a while longer, and maybe goes to sleep, expecting the plane to head back on course to Beijing with two very annoyed pilots on the flight deck. A classic case of internet trolling, eh?

Except that whenever the pilots realized that the plane was flying all the way off course, it would have been too late. They probably expected the body of water they were flying over to be the South China Sea, and turned port (left), expecting to go back onto the Chinese mainland, when they were in fact heading over the Andaman Sea and had turned out in the middle of the Southern Indian Ocean, one of the most desolate stretches of open water on the planet.

And what happens next? They're flying for hours, and by the time the sun comes up and is in the wrong position at the wrong time, the aircraft is totally lost and out of sight for everyone, the hacked instruments and radio have been messed up so badly that they can't send any messages or even figure out where they are. Maybe they realize that Australia or India is the closest land to their location and turn that way, or maybe they meander about with their hacked instruments and finally run out of fuel at sea.

Worst practical joke or software experiment ever? Possibly. It's not a pleasant theory, but what can be pleasant, with 239 people missing and probably dead, and the entire world flummoxed?

Saturday, 15 March 2014

MH370 - What the hell, I called it.

There's about a hundred other news items similar to the one above, all saying the same thing - the search area for MH370 has now been expanded to the Indian coast. I called it two posts below, and true to form, the search area keeps expanding and expanding. Soon enough they'll be searching the jungles of Orissa and Chattisgarh, and the dense forests of the Himalayan foothills for the plane too. This entire exercise looks like a gargantuan waste in money and time.

This freakshow has, understandably, convinced Malaysians that the airliner was hijacked. Even so, where does a hijacked airliner go? It doesn't meander about at sea and vanish - a hijacker planning to land the plane and take the passengers hostage would have to find a pretty big airport to land a 200-plus ton airliner. A hijacker planning to use the plane as a flying bomb would likely have targeted Kuala Lumpur or one of the other major cities of South-East Asia...which never happened. So if the plane was hijacked, what the hell was the hijacker's motive in sending the plane so far out of the way and hidden from radar cover? And how do you hide a plane with a 63-meter wingspan once you've landed it and taken the passengers hostage? The "sky pirate" theory in the news just doesn't answer any of these basic questions.

This isn't like the PLO pulling off its old dirty trick of landing airliners, offloading the passengers and then blowing up the planes on live TV or one of Osama bin Laden's ghoulish schemes...then what the hell is it? Who's responsible for this? A suicidal pilot wouldn't have flown the aircraft away for hours before crashing it. Wouldn't the passengers have put up a brawl with the hijackers if such a thing had happened? Post-9/11, passengers are more likely to be worried about their plane being turned into a flying bomb, and I don't think everyone on board would be willing to sit quietly and be martyred by a group of fanatical maniacs. Even if it were hijacked, how did the hijackers get knives/guns/bombs on the aircraft, or any weapons or instruments with which to pose a credible threat to the pilot and the crew? What's the answer for that? And which passengers were responsible for this crime?

There is other talk on pilots' forums that I haven't linked to here, but the pilots in question suspect that military radar was simply tracking the wrong aircraft throughout, and that the plane actually exploded and burnt up in midair very close to the original search area, and that it was possible for satellites to miss the explosion. Finding the burnt wreckage of the aircraft on the seafloor near the original flight route would be gruesome, but it would put an end to the circus of speculation surrounding the aircraft's fate at present.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

MH370- Boeing 777 cracking and corrosion issues

Interesting, but no cigar. The Boeing 777 cracking issue was a serious issue, but did not warrant grounding the entire fleet of 777s. The aircraft on which the issue was first detected had accumulated far more cycles than the accident aircraft. While it's possible for a decompression incident to have disabled electrical and flight systems and disrupted communications, that certainly doesn't explain why the aircraft vanished from the air and went AWOL, and neither does it explain the other strange goings-on.

A minor possibility, and inadequate as an explanation of the whole bizarre episode.

MH370 - India joins the search too, Malaysia claims it went near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The sheer absurdity of the MH370 disappearance continues to reach new heights. As if having a Boeing 777 with 239 passengers on board just vanish into nothingness - an modern airliner 63 meters (200 feet) long and weighing close to 300 tons fully loaded, not a piddly little single-engined aircraft - wasn't absurd enough, the behavior of the Malaysian authorities has been mind-boggling. Now they claim to have traced the aircraft all the way to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands! Couldn't they have told the Indian authorities about this sooner?

Just like I predicted in the previous post, the Indian Air Force, Navy and Coastguard have gotten involved in their search for the missing airliner, making India the 12th country to join the search for the plane.

Given the sheer ridiculousness of the plane's off-radar whereabouts, it's doubtful that they will find anything at all. The plane may be thousands of kilometers away from Indian territory, and the search might be a wild goose chase. In other circumstances, the search and the resources thrown into it would be completely justified, but the contradictory and sometimes meaningless information about the aircraft's whereabouts aren't helping. What the hell is going on here?

Anyway, assuming that the plane has a five-hour flight time after going away from the Straits of Malacca, and assuming that it took another hour longer to reach the Andaman Sea and go "poof", the plane would still have another four hours of fuel left. Even if this is a generous estimate - cut it down to three hours of flight time near the Andamans - that means that the plane could be anywhere between 2100 to 2700 kilometers away from its last known location. MH370 had enough fuel to reach Beijing and stay up for another 60 to 90 minutes in the air - that's enough to cross the Bay of Bengal and visit India, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. The search area, if it keeps ballooning like this, is going to extend to the whole of the Bay of Bengal, or even head further south into the Indian Ocean, an area as large as India itself. Nobody's going to find the plane if the search area keeps growing like this!

The "Twilight Zone" scenario is going to continue for a while. Apart from scouring images for signs of aircraft wreckage, the only thing left to do is to wish the searchers "good luck", because they're really going to need it.

EDIT: One expert admits that the plane must have landed, and it seems that a phone could possibly ring out on water. (which I find extremely unlikely). And yes, it is amazing.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

MH370 tracked across the coast - complete insanity prevails - and possible solution? Indian and Indonesian efforts?

How this could possibly have happened beats me, and I'm sure enough people will be scratching their heads about it. The Malaysian Air Defense Network tracked the missing aircraft making a U-turn all the way from the point where it dived and dropped off civilian radar, across the entire Malaysian Peninsula, across from the East to the West coast!

Why the hell did they keep silent on the issue? What if the 777 had been hijacked and was heading for Kuala Lumpur with a suicide attack in mind? This is outrageous. Fighters should have been scrambled at once, and SAM batteries readied.

Of course, with the Air Force keeping its mouth shut about this, it's quite possible that fighters were indeed readied and SAM batteries set to fire, but that this whole thing was kept shut so that a hijack and hostage situation could be dealt with outside the realm of the media, where things would get wild. This is mere speculation, possibly fantasy, and it also assumes that the Malaysian Air Force is indeed extremely competent and has acted in the best manner possible in this incident. If the competence theory holds good, the plane is indeed hijacked and on the ground, and negotiations are underway - or perhaps commandos are ready and waiting to storm the plane, flush out the hijackers and get rid of them, and rescue the passengers and crew.

The worse possibility is that the Malay Air Force has been dreadfully incompetent, and that the plane has been hijacked or taken away by a psychotic/drunk/insane crew to an unknown location. That the plane still physically exists is quite possible, given that passengers' phones are still connected and ringing even when no one picks up the call. Destroyed cell phones from dead passengers don't ring. But where could they be? What rogue group could possibly have a runway large enough to sneak away an airplane that's 63 meters long and has a 63 meter wingspan? This requires the services of a proper airport, and one with a runway broad enough to land a 777! Not something you'd get in the jungle, right?

Unless, of course, the airplane has ditched at sea, and the passengers and crew are dead. Which is the most terrible option and which hopefully isn't true. The "ghost" mobile phones suggest that it's not, but we have to see...

This also means that the Indian Air Force base on Car Nicobar needs to be brought into action, along with the Indonesian Air Force. The Indonesians should have tracked the plane at least part of the way, and the Indian Air Force base could have detected the 777 had it come close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

All of this, is, of course, speculation. But there's something very wrong going on here, and events simply do not make sense. Now that the actual last contact with the aircraft is known, how far can the aircraft have flown without being detected by radar - by any nation? There were at least 5 more hours of fuel left on the plane when it was last detected, and that's a long way for any aircraft to go. Where is MH370 gone? To be seen. To be seen.

Monday, 10 March 2014

MH370 - The worst aircraft disappearance in history

The MH370 disappearance is the worst in history, it looks like. Out of the approximately 1400 people who have vanished in air travel, the 239 lost in the MH370 disappearance would be a good 17 percent of that total. It's like the Oceanic Airlines flight from Lost or something from Stephen King or The Twilight Zone - this kind of thing is just not meant to happen. Unlike Air France 447, which sent a whole set of automated distress signals before it went down into the mid-Atlantic in stormy weather in 2009, there hasn't been so much as a squeak from the missing 777.

More blogging on this later, if any, but apart from terrorism, the kind of rapid structural disintegration of the aircraft required to cause it to so completely vanish implies either an internal fuel explosion or something literally outlandish (a meteorite strike, for instance). Tracking actually was effective only to above 30,000 feet, and the loss of altitude data in the last track suggests incredibly rapid descent - it's hard to imagine anything that would cause a commercial airliner to lose 35,000 feet in two minutes.

INS Sindhuratna - another battery fire

Late blogging, I know, but it looks like the INS Sindhuratna just had the same problem as the Sindhurakshak - except, luckily, the battery fire didn't set off the torpedoes and blow up the entire submarine in this case. It's more likely that the battery fire happened in compartment 3, housing the crew, where it was less of an instant danger to the ship. The ship's Freon fire extinguishers also kicked in and filled the air with toxic fumes - a case in which the crew would have to wear gas masks while the compartment was flooded with oxygen-displacing freon.

This is an alarming state of affairs, and it raises questions about Indian submarines as well as the Project 877/Kilo class submarine design itself.