expensive mistakes

How To Drain A Lake

This is Lake Peigneur. It looks serene and like any of the other lakes that dot the landscape of southern Louisiana. It was, however, the scene of a spectacular engineering snafu on November 20, 1980. That’s the day that, according to the best guess, a Texaco drilling rig miscalculated where they should be drilling and pierced the roof of the Diamond Chrystal Salt Company salt mine, causing a huge vortex and draining the lake into the salt mine. The Delcambre Canal, which normally flows from Lake Peigneur to Vermillion Bay began flowing backwards, filling Lake Peigneur with salt water and temporarily creating a 150 ft. waterfall, the largest in Louisiana.

Don’t take my word for it. Hit the jump for a video from Discovery Channel’s “Engineering Disasters” about this bizarre event. And remember to check and recheck your work. A small error can have major repercussions.

Continue reading How To Drain A Lake


We Aren’t Always Perfect

Yesterday I mentioned Little Joe had 8 launches, and 6 of those were successful. You are good with the maths, you realize that means 2 were not. Well, in the early days of rocketry, all the way into the 1950s, launching rockets was almost a crap shoot. We were learning, and that means we were making lots of mistakes. That was the reason for Little Joe and for all the testing that went on — and goes on today — for each rocket program. The more you test the more weak links you find and eventually you should have a robust rocket system. This is why today’s rockets, many of which were designed decades ago, are regarded as reliable. This is why new rocket programs, like the Falcon 9 from SpaceX, are exciting.

Engineers, despite what the movies say, invite failure. Failure is a learning experience. Figuring out why something failed and fixing it is one of the few ways to make something better. Failure is an option.

Hit the jump for some spectacular early rocket failures.
Continue reading We Aren’t Always Perfect


Startup: Bloooooooooooohrg!

Attention all employees: please do not feed tequila shots to the Xerox any more.



Not-so Great Moments in History – Chernobyl

Chernobyl 1986

Today marks the somber 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, that on 26 April 1986 turned the small sleepy Ukrainian town of Pripyat into one of the most infamous and feared locations on earth.

The disaster sent a plume of radioactive contamination over much of Europe and Eastern Russia, crippled the economy of the former superpower USSR, and remains the single worst nuclear disaster the world has had to face.

While the current Fukushima disaster resulting from last month’s 9.0 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan ranks a similarly classified Level Seven on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), it is considered much less serious than the event in Chernobyl due to factors including containment, deaths and contamination.

In the early days of the 1986 accident, the seriousness of the unfolding disaster wasn’t fully understood even by officials within the USSR who were alerted to high radiation levels by neighboring countries. And it wasn’t until recent years that the full extent of the danger has been fully revealed. Continue reading Not-so Great Moments in History – Chernobyl

Mobile Aps

Smartphone Aps – Earthquake trackers

A world connected

Spaceship Earth, a rocky place

The recent events in Japan are nothing if not frightening, heartbreaking and tragic.

Many of us have friends, loved ones and/or colleagues in 日本 (Nihon), and nearly all of us interact with their technology and culture on a regular basis in one form or another. I myself have numerous personal connections to Japan, which makes the recent events in that wonderful country strike home and tear at the heart.

With all the sensational coverage on destructive earthquakes, volcanoes, sleeping super-volcanoes and tsunamis over the last several years, we are often reminded of the sheer power our planet contains, and how our attempts to control it are ultimately futile. Mother Nature has the last word; we had better be listening.

Having lived in two of the most seismically active places on earth, both Japan and Hollister Ca, it is amazing how suddenly the world can go crazy. For those who live in the ring of fire, it is more than just an evening news story, it’s very real.

Last year I installed the Android Ap “Earthquake!” by Retro Meier on my smartphone, which uses real-time USGS data to plot and notify the user of seismic activity from all over the world. Continue reading Smartphone Aps – Earthquake trackers

Pushing Boundaries

A Flurry of Learning: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

San Francisco City Hall after the earthquake

Having grown up in California I’m no stranger to earthquakes. One earthquake that we learn about in school is the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Besides just being a big earthquake, the San Francisco earthquake sparked a flurry of learning about earthquakes that North Americans had not yet seen to that point. Continue reading A Flurry of Learning: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake