(1) HERSTORY. James Davis Nicoll, in “Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part III”, continues his series for Tor.com.
…Clarion graduate P. C. Hodgell has been active since the late 1970s. She is the author of the long-running Chronicles of the Kencyrath (nine volumes since 1982). Readers of a certain vintage may have vivid memories of the twelve-year desert between the third book in the series, Seeker’s Mask, and the fourth, To Ride a Rathorn. Currently she has the active support of a publisher whose name escapes me. Since the series is continuity-heavy, you will want to start with the first volume, 1982’s God Stalk, in which an amnesiac woman of a race of staunch monotheists finds herself in a city of a thousand gods—none of whom seem to be particularly helpful gods…
(2) CROWDFUNDING AMAZING: AN UPDATE. The Amazing Stories Kickstarter has accumulated $7,811 of its $30,000 goal, with 23 days remaining. Steve Davidson has begun revealing the authors who will be in the first print issue:
We are pleased to announce the following writers have contributed stories; Kameron Hurley, Paul Levinson, Dave Creek, Shirley Meier, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Allen Steele.
While we’re excited about all our authors, let us tell you a little bit about Kameron Hurley and her story…
(3) ANALOG BLOG. From a Featured Futures’ links post I learned about The Astounding/Analog Companion, “the Official Analog Science Fiction and Fact blog.” Last month they published Gregory Benford’s background notes about a piece he wrote for the magazine: “Thinking About Physics a Century Hence”.
I’ve published over 200 short stories and over 200 scientific papers, reflecting a symmetry of sorts.
My career as a professor of physics at UC Irvine has taken most of my working life, with writing as a hobby that has surprised me by success. So I see SF through a scientific lens, focused on plausible futures. But sometimes I just wing it, and speculating on physics a century hence is a grand leap, indeed.
The mock future news report in the current Analog issue [“Physics Tomorrow: A News Item of the Year 2116,” March/April 2018 Analog, on sale now] came from a contest the journal Physics Today ran in 2016: to devise an entry for that journal in a century. I took the challenge, and produced this “story” because the physics intrigued me.
Physics Today did not select my essay, from 230 others. They published much more pedestrian stuff. Since then, I’ve worked with an old friend and general relativity physicist Al Jackson, to calculate in detail how to in fact make a “gravwave transmitter.”
Then I thought, why not try Analog? As a physicist and SF writer, both avenues are natural. Indeed, maybe writing future news items is a new way to think of SF….
(4) ASIMOV’S TOO. There’s also an Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Author & Editor Blog called From the Earth to the Stars. They recently conducted a “Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal” about her Asimov’s story “Artisanal Trucking, LLC.”
Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
Mary Robinette Kowal: I was at a conference in a round table discussion talking about automation and privilege. At some point, we were talking about how knitting, which used to be a necessary thing, became automated with knitting machines and now it is a luxury art. It’s expensive to buy wool. It takes time and leisure to make a garment. I said, “I imagine the hipsters of the future will totally do artisanal trucking.” I had more of a point but stopped talking as Story stampeded through my brain.
(5) USING SOCIAL MEDIA. Dawn Witzke begins a series of posts with “On Professionalism: Part 1” at Superversive SF. No writer can go wrong following this piece of advice:
Writers must be on social media, which means that everything, personal and professional is up for examination. How you present yourself online can affect what impression other authors, editors and publishers make of you.
Stick to arguing ideas, not making personal attacks. Most likely this will not be reciprocated. That’s okay. Let them look like the jerk.
Trolling is a whole other ball game. While it’s not seen as professional, some writers use it as a marketing tool (Milo Yiannopolus), which is all well and good if you publish in hotly debated subjects like politics. But in general, it creates as many enemies online as friends. Use with caution.
(6) HAWKING ON THE AIR. Watch Mojo has assembled the “Top 10 Unforgettable Stephen Hawking Cameos in Pop Culture.”
Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking passed away March 14, 2018. But before Stephen Hawking died, he not only made some incredible scientific breakthroughs; there are also many hilarious Stephen Hawking cameos to remember him by. Whether he was supporting Monty Python, speaking to John Oliver or playing poker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stephen Hawking was a fabulous ambassador for science.
- #10: “Monty Python Live (Mostly)” (2014)
- #9: “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (1993-2009)
- #8: Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” (1994) & “Talkin’ Hawkin’” (2014)
- #7: “Stephen Hawking’s New Voice” (2017)
- #6: “Anyone Can Quantum” (2016)
- #5: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (2014-)
- #4: “Futurama” (1999-2013)
- #3, #2 & #1???
(7) A BBC/HAWKING ROUNDUP.
- “The science that made him famous”: Just in case anybody needs a review; has his misses as well as his hits.
- “Scientist’s most memorable quotes”:
The downside of my celebrity is that I can’t go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.
As the world mourns Prof Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76, there has been a particular outpouring of emotion in China, where the visionary physicist was revered by scientists, students, the state and even boy band stars.
- “The book that made him a star”, by the Cambridge U Press director who suggested it:
In 1982, I had responsibility for his third academic book for the Press, Superspace And Supergravity.
This was a messy collection of papers from a technical workshop on how to devise a new theory of gravity.
While that book was in production, I suggested he try something easier: a popular book about the nature of the Universe, suitable for the general market.
Stephen mulled over my suggestion.
(8) FLEISHER OBIT. Michael Fleisher (1942-2018): US comics writer and novelist; died February 2, aged 75. Titles he worked on include The Spectre, Jonah Hex, Shade the Changing Man (created and drawn by Steve Ditko). Famously sued The Comics Journal, publisher Gary Groth and Harlan Ellison over a 1979 interview in which the latter described Fleisher (tongue in cheek, Ellison later claimed) as a “certifiable (..) bugfuck (..) lunatic”; the court found for the defendants. [By Steve Green.]
(9) TODAY IN HISTORY
- March 14, 1994 — Robocop: The Series premiered on television.
(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY RELATIVIST
- Born March 14, 1879 – Albert Einstein
(11) COMICS SECTION.
- John King Tarpinian isn’t the only one who remembered this is Pi Day – The Argyle Sweater.
- Off the Mark also has a subtle play on the day.
- As a commenter says after reading today’s Lio, “Before buying a book, always check to see if the title is a typo or not.”
(12) THANKS AND PRANKS. CBR.com answers its own question about the Harlan Ellison references in Hulk comics of the Seventies: “Comic Legends: Did A Hulk Classic Pay Hidden Tribute to a Sci-Fi Great?”
Anyhow, amusingly enough, Thomas was so pumped about having Ellison work on these issues that he actually decided to go a step further and, since the issue came out on April 1st, he would do an April Fool’s prank of sorts by working the name of over 20 Ellison stories into the story!
I won’t list all of them here, but I’ll do a few (the great poster, ruckus24, has all of them here).
Most notably is the title of the story, which is an adaptation of one of Ellison’s most famous story collections…
(13) MAD, YOU SAY. At Galactic Journey, Rosemary Benton reviews the newly released (55 years ago) Vincent Price film Diary of a Madman: “[March 14, 1963] Rising Stars and Unseen Enemies (Reginald Le Borg’s Diary of a Madman)”.
It feels as though, no sooner had the curtain fell and the lights came up on February’s horror/fantasy gem, The Raven, that the film reel snapped to life with another genre-crossing macabre film. While last month’s movie was a light, dry and sardonic comedy with a vaguely medieval setting and a cast of horror movie icons, Diary of a Madman, steps forward with a much more sobering aesthetic.
(14) SEMIPRO AND FAN CATEGORIES. Abigail Nussbaum continues a discussion of her Hugo nominating ballot in “The 2018 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Publishing and Fan Categories”. Here’s Nussbaum’s picks to succeed her in a category she won last year.
Best Fan Writer:
(A brief reminder here that I have announced that I would decline a nomination in this category if I received enough votes to qualify this year.)
- Nina Allan – Nina had a great 2017, with her second novel The Rift gaining wide acclaim and attention. She also continued to do good work as a critic and reviewer, on her personal blog, at Strange Horizons, and in the Shadow Clarke project.
- Vajra Chandrasekera – We didn’t see as much of Vajra’s nonfiction writing in 2017 as I would have liked–his focus these days seems to be on his own fiction and on being a fiction editor at Strange Horizons. But his writing at the Shadow Clarke site was some of the most insightful writing that project offered up, in particular this review of Aliya Whitely’s The Arrival of Missives.
- Erin Horáková – After nominating Erin’s magnum opus for Best Related Work, you’re probably not surprised to find me nominating her in this category. As well as that magnificent essay, Erin did other writing for Strange Horizons in 2017, covering movies, plays, and board games.
- Samira Nadkarni – A lot of Samira’s best work is happening on twitter, where in 2017 she made some incisive comments about works like Star Trek: Discovery or Thor: Ragnarok (she had some equally interesting things to say last month about Black Panther). In longer writing, some standouts include her review of Deserts of Fire, an anthology about “modern war” whose project Samira argues with vociferously, and of the Netflix show Crazyhead, in which she discusses the genre trope of conflating mental health problems and superpowers.
(15) NEWS TO ME. Those who wish to enhance their terminological education can start the thread here –
a friend just informed me that some people are referring to worldcon 2019 in dublin as "dubcon" and FOLKS,,, I HAVE.,,, SOMETHING TO TELL YOU,,,,,,,
— S. Qiouyi Lu ? ??? ?? five-star bespoke yelling (@sqiouyilu) March 15, 2018
Just remember – once you know, there’s no going back!
(16) INFOGALATIC. Did you forget about Vox Day’s intended Wikipedia replacement, Infogalactic? Camestros Felapton hasn’t. He gives a status report in “Revisiting Voxopedia”.
Actor Robert Guillaume is alive and well on Voxopedia despite dying in October 2017 in Wikipedia: https://infogalactic.com/info/Robert_Guillaume as is (for all you Swap Shop fans out there) Keith Chegwin https://infogalactic.com/info/Keith_Chegwin who on Wikipedia died in Decemeber 2017. More famous people are more likely to have their deaths recorded but it is hit and miss.
The majority of pages remain as out-of-date Wikipedia pages from 2016 and the basic issue with Voxopedia remains the same: not enough editors and the editors it does have are mainly working on fringe projects. These are supplemented by one-off vanity pages (e.g. https://infogalactic.com/info/Richard_Paolinelli )
In comments, Camestros says Paolinelli wrote most of his own entry for Infogalactic. I’m fine with that. Never depend on others to make you famous, as Elst Weinstein and I concluded 40 years ago. (You probably wondered why there’s a copy of Weinstein & Glyer’s Discount Hoaxarama in every hotel room.)
(17) UP IN THE AIR. From the BBC: “Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, say scientists”. A synchrotron scan shows that the bones were hollow enough to allow short bursts of flight.
The famous winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx was capable of flying, according to a new study.
An international research team used powerful X-ray beams to peer inside its bones, showing they were almost hollow, as in modern birds.
The creature flew like a pheasant, using short bursts of active flight, say scientists.
Archaeopteryx has been a source of fascination since the first fossils were found in the 1860s.
(18) OFF THE SHELF. Our hero: “‘Boaty McBoatface’ sub survives ice mission”. The popular-choice name was passed on to autonomous submersible operating from the officially-named RSS David Attenborough. Boaty is just back from 48 hours exploring under an ice shelf.
The nation’s favourite yellow submarine swam under a near-600m thick ice shelf in the Antarctic, returning safely to its launch ship after 48 hours away.
It was an important test for the novel autonomous vehicle, which was developed at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC).
Boaty’s handlers now plan even more arduous expeditions for the sub in the years ahead.
This includes a traverse under the sea-ice that caps the Arctic Ocean.
(19) FANTASTIC DESTINATION. David Doering declares, “This Miyazki-inspired ad for Oregon travel is stupeyfyingly gorgeous!” — “Only Slightly Exaggerated | Travel Oregon”.
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Steve Green, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, David Doering, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]
@James Nicoll: honestly, I’m a little surprised nobody’s suggested the Foundation Trilogy.
Bill: Cum grano scrolis.
They’re in downtown Portland. They have the kind of Christmas parties where there are scantily clad dancer/yoga folks doing poses in the corners and on the internal balconies in their office.
Or so I’ve heard… definitely not having ever crashed the party without an invitation.
So I was looking for additional mentions for a now-cringeworthy article before the bridge collapse today, and I see that Vox Day is already on it. (Link to Google cache.)
Wow – I looked this up on the basis of your comment. It didn’t really sound like my thing but…wow…it’s exactly as described but I’ve been binge reading it and it is amazingly sweet and also richly imagined. Very much a slice of life in a future world that feels utterly plausible. Nice illustration of disability being relative to society. Also a clever and subtle imagining of a society changed through technology. Lots of strong sci-fi concepts with some really likeable people negotiating the ever-difficult problem of being in love.
LAST MINUTE BALLOT CHANGE!
Owlmirror: Thanks. I’ve never heard of the animators behind this spot, but they’re clearly quite talented and deserve more work.
Pretty much everything Camestros said.
Ugh, I’ve had to mute Uncanny Magazine on Twitter because they’ve been spamming the Hugo Awards tag so hard, with tweets that each take up a full page, that it’s impossible for me to see any other posts. 😠
I may just leave them muted, I am so pissed off about the eligibility posts they’ve been making with exploitative photos.
And then there is all the tweetspam of
“here’s a bunch of stuff totally unrelated to Fan Writing which you should still totally consider for the purposes of nominating me as Fan Writer” 🙄
An eligibility post is one thing, but this is just an ego-dump. I will be glad when the Hugo nomination deadline has passed.
I submitted my own Hugo and Retro-Hugo nominations a few days ago and submitted my Mom’s today, since she just gave them to me. So that’s 2018 Hugo and Retro-Hugo nominations done.
Kip W: In pixel veritas
your turn . . .
E pixelus scrollum.
ps: Off to bed now, so Semper Pixelis! (Semper Pi)
Off to bed? Then . . .
In pixel requiescat
Lux et veritas; ars et scienta; pictel* et volumen
* Cod Latin at its coddest: pixel = picture element = pictura elementum [Google translate; what do I know from Latin?] = pictel
@Darren Garrison: how thoroughly vile. Wonder what he’ll say if/when the announcement comes out that the design was sound but male strawbosses screwed up the execution? The silence will be deafening….
Several Species of Small Furry Filers Gathered Together in a Scroll and Grooving With a Pixel
Scrollo scrollini pixelus
Scrolling, scrolling, over the glowing page.
I love the way music is used to enhance the mood in Always Human! I’ve never read a webcomic with a soundtrack before.
The bridge collapse– Some cables had loosened, and the crew was tightening them. No one said, “Hey, maybe we should stop traffic while we’re doing this critical safety adjustment…”
No one thought it was done and ready for use. It wasn’t scheduled to open till 2019.
People aren’t dead because a bridge of an innovative new design was not complete and installation was still a work in progress. They’re dead because some idiot(s) didn’t take an elementary safety step while working on it. Gender not known at this time.
Ken Richards: Several Species of Small Furry Filers Gathered Together in a Scroll and Grooving With a Pixel
We have a winner!
@Lis Carey People aren’t dead because a bridge of an innovative new design was not complete and installation was still a work in progress.
From the Miami Herald coverage:
“In almost all bridge or building collapses, though, construction errors are to blame, not design, said Ralph Verrastro, a Cornell-trained engineer and principal of Naples-based Bridging Solutions, which is not involved in the FIU project.”
“The construction phase, [Princeton University civil engineering professor Maria Moreyra Garlock] noted, is often the most dangerous point in the life of the bridge.”
I’m an electrical engineer, not a civil, but I’d expect that there was a test plan that should have been followed that would have covered the procedure being done when bridge collapsed. And that it failed for one of two reasons:
1. The crew doing the stress test was not following the test plan.
2. The engineer(s) who wrote the test plan were working outside their level of experience/competence (which is a violation of the ASCE’s Code of Ethics — see here) or didn’t have proper peer review.
As to whether traffic should have been stopped or not — the whole purpose of this type of (very much) more expensive construction was that it minimized impact on traffic on the road below. You can’t build a bridge across a highway without heavy stuff being suspended over the road, and the public that wants to use the highway won’t allow you to close it for the length of time this is going on.
But that’s okay — you design the procedures (a whole lot of engineering is designing a plan to do work, rather than designing a physical thing) and the structure to allow for this. You anticipate failure modes, and come up with procedures that prevent or mitigate them. I’d bet that this is where the FIU Bridge failed, rather than substandard steel or concrete, or a missing weld, or some other failure of fabrication and construction. And even if it turns out that you can point to a specific error in construction, say a bad mix of concrete, or an over-tightened cable, that still ultimately is a failure of design/planning, because all safety-critical steps in the fabrication and construction should be followed with a test or inspection that validates them, and reveals the problem before the disaster occurs.
And like the ASCE linked article above points out, there’s probably multiple, cascading failures of planning and execution that lead to this.
Recovery efforts continue following Florida bridge collapse
The advantage of this method of bridge construction is that most of the real construction is done off-site. That’s why you don’t need extensive road closure. However:
Which means that if you’ve erected it, but it’s not fully completed yet, and you’ve got an identified safety issue such as, ahem, loose cables, you bloody well close the road temporarily while you make that adjustment. You do it even if its going to be unpopular, because bridges collapsing on traffic and killing people is even more unpopular, and also, killing people accidentally because you didn’t want to incovenience people is just effing stupid.
If people using this bridge construction design have convinced themselves that they have reduced the necessary road closure time to zero, then we are talking about overweening ego, not design, either good or bad. Seriously. Consider what thos means:
Reducing duration of work zones. That’s fantastic. But really, no sensible person would have traffic running under a not yet completed bridge when they’re working on correcting a known instability. Because, as noted above, rapid collapse, zero reaction time, and dead people.
Lis Carey on March 16, 2018 at 6:13 pm said:
Apparently someone called in a report of cracks in it a couple of days ago. Unfortunately the person they called was out and didn’t get the voicemail until today.
The pics from before the collapse that I saw showed what I would describe as Not Enough Additional Supports – there appeared to be one set near one end, but for safety I’d have expected at least one more, in the center (where the street is divided), and preferably one near the other end from the visible set.
That seems to me to be even more serious than, “Hey, we have some loose cables, here!”
I think that speculating as to the specific causes of the collapse (loose cables, cracking in the concrete, insufficient supports at the center of the span, etc., etc.) is a fool’s errand at this point. It may have been something that was reasonably foreseeable, it may have been something that happened immediately before the collapse. We don’t know. In a year or so, there will be multiple federal and state reports on the event that will lay these things out. But you don’t and I don’t know what caused it, or who dropped the ball, or what should have been done differently.
Which means that if . . . you’ve got an identified safety issue such as, ahem, loose cables, you bloody well close the road temporarily
More than one assumption there. Was a safety issue identified? Are loose cables that need to be tensioned in fact a “safety issue”, or an expected event in the process of redistributing the loads as the bridge is moved from the ground to above the highway? What does “loose” mean — was there actual slack in the cables, or were they simply under less tension than expected (say, 20,000 lbs instead of 50,000 lbs, for example)? Who is “you”? — I guarantee that the site manager doesn’t have immediate authority to close an 8 lane Federal Highway. Logistically, how do you even do that? For planned construction closures, the FDOT issues a permit. But you can’t send your crew out into the highway with orange flags waving the oncoming traffic to stop — that’s bound to cause wrecks as well. Closures have to be planned in advance and implemented deliberately to happen safely. If your plan has to have a procedure in advance that allows short-term, quick-notice full highway closures, the first thing you do is go back and mitigate whatever issue was that caused the need for the closures — design them out of the process.
I don’t know how long it was between the notice of loose cables and the accident, but it could have been short enough that a closure could not have been implemented. And I don’t know if loose cables were assessed to be a risk sufficient to start a closure process, or if that is a routine occurrence as a span is moved from construction (where it is supported along its length) to its final location (where it is supported at the ends). They had a procedure in place to tighten cables, which tells me that it was anticipated at some level, which tells me that loose cables in and of themselves weren’t a safety concern of sufficient magnitude to immediately close the highway. But again, we don’t know.
If people using this bridge construction design have convinced themselves that they have reduced the necessary road closure time to zero, then we are talking about overweening ego,
They obviously didn’t convince themselves of that, because they closed the road to move the span across the highway. FDOT has said that they had issued blanket permits for two-lane closures for Jan through Apr, but had not been asked for full road closure.
And while there may have been technical reasons that support closing the highway (I’m sure that the engineers involved would have been fine with completely closing it from the time it was moved into place until it was commissioned for use), there were strong social pressures to leave it open as much as possible, and those are design constraints just as much as span, lifetime, weight-bearing capacity, wind loads, etc. The FIU design team was in an environment where “There are elements at FDOT that will oppose lane closing at all costs.”
Remember the Shuttle Challenger, which exploded because its O-rings didn’t work at low temperatures. But it never should have launched at low temperatures, and did only because of NASA management pressure to meet a schedule driven by President Reagan’s speech. The engineers said “No”, the management said “Yes,” and guess who won?
So I think its premature to talk about “overweening ego” at this point. There are so many possibilities about why it could have failed.
Not Enough Additional Supports – there appeared to be one set near one end, but for safety I’d have expected at least one more, in the center
If you have a span that is designed to be supported at the ends (as the pictures I’ve seen show), then giving it significant support in the middle is probably not wise — you’d place that section into lateral compression when it is designed to be in longitudinal tension, and the section at the top, instead of being in compression, would be in tension. Just by adding the support you’re talking about, you could create a failure mode, instead of preventing one.
I’ve got a 30-year career related to catastrophic engineering failure and I’m curious to see what the forensic experts say about causation as far as the actual collapse; typically everybody points fingers at everybody else in the beginning until the science settles. As far as responsibility my liability finger is waving at at whomever the general contractor charged with scheduling road closures while this unstable thing was being erected over the road. Construction trades get slapped hard for exposing their own workers to danger, which is why all that personal protective equipment and those voluminous incident plans exist. No doubt there were all kinds of changes and delays and inspection fails that made scheduling the road closure difficult but there is no excuse whatsoever for neglecting to wait until they could do it without endangering the general public.
Lis, this pic shows how it collapsed in the center more than at the ends. That’s where I would have expected support to be placed!
Yes, well, apparently Bill knows better than any of us, and both losing the road when they found it to be unstable and in need of adjustment, and additional supports were unnecessary. Especially unnecessary are additional supports in the middle, where the collapse seems to have been most dramatic and complete.
I had an interesting encounter last summer while on training in Boulder.
I try to travel cheaply and picked a hotel within walking distance of the training center so I could walk back and forth. It looked like a great route on the map. It turned out the side of the road I’d planned to walk on was under construction, and the approved pedestrian route was across eight scary lanes of scary traffic and back again.
So being sensible (aka easily scared by thick disrupted traffic), I walked around the construction barriers and didn’t cross the road Monday through Wednesday.
Thursday morning, I was through the construction zone and trucking to training when I heard a man trying to get my attention. It was the safety guy for the construction site. He told me he’d seen me earlier in the week and wanted to talk with me about why I wasn’t crossing and what he could do to encourage people to cross.
We had a great talk and I explained to him why it seemed safer to me to cross on his side. I didn’t point out that his liability and my safety were, in my opinion, in conflict. I’m sure he thinks about that sort of thing already, and he doesn’t make the rules. But I was impressed that he’d noted what I did and kept an eye out to talk with me.
That reminds me of an example Galileo used:
Not about the present event, but one of the more amazing features of major roadway works in the SF Bay Area in the last couple decades has been managing significant traffic disruptions, both in terms of the duration of the disruption and in terms of getting public buy-in for accepting that disruption. E.g., during the re-building of the western half of the Bay Bridge, scheduling the two complete closures for long holiday weekends (major traffic is commute) and carrying through on having them open again for the next workday morning. People in general accept the shut-downs because they’ve been given confidence that they really have been minimized and won’t involve time-overruns.
A thread that I started about the bridge on another forum has some good links–rather than reproduce them here, here is a link to the thread.
A few years ago, I was at a friend’s glass shop when he asked me to help him put a large plate of glass onto his carpeted work table. I said sure and put on the protective gauntlets and picked up my end. He said, “Now, we’re going to lean this against the edge of the table,” whereupon we put the glass against the table, the plate glass’s long central axis past the table’s edge and above the table itself. “Good,” he said. “Now, on the count of three, I want you to let go of the glass and let it drop.”
“What?” I said. He answered, “Trust me.” And so I did.
The glass dropped onto the table with a satisfying dull thud.
“What the hell?” I said. “Why didn’t we just lay it down?” “Because,” he explained, “it’s really hard to put the glass down evenly. One side is always higher than the other. The glass twists and sometimes breaks. Doing it this way, the only force on the glass is gravity pulling it evenly downward, and so it falls flat.” Or words to that effect.
A decade later, and I still find that wonderful.
@Heather Rose Jones: people-in-charge are definitely learning more about how to schedule around traffic — and how to convince drivers that the schedule will work. A few years ago, about a dozen 4-lane viaduct spans were replaced in the elevated section of I-93 north of Boston. For each span, traffic pinching (reducing traffic in the non-rush-hour direction to 2 lanes on the adjacent span, then moving the rush-hour direction to the other 2 lanes) started after 6pm Friday and was done by 6am Monday. The highway department got a lot of information into the Boston newspapers (including what alternate exit to take if the pinch cut off the driver’s preferred exit) and had signs all over the place (ditto); materials were in place (possibly including major beams pre-cut) before each pinch started. Worked out so well they didn’t even need the extra weekend built into the schedule — a big change from the same highway south of downtown ~30 years ago, which ran over because the contractor relied on old plans instead of measuring the spans as installed.
@Lis: Bill probably does know more; read (e.g.) Why Buildings Fall Down (includes some bridge falls) for discussions of why simply adding a support isn’t necessarily a win (even without Galileo’s example, which isn’t exactly relevant).
Am I really the first to point out that there are significant differences between an iron bar and a long slab of marble?
(edited to answer myself: Looks like I’m the second, right after Chip Hitchcock.)
Didn’t mean to suggest a precise analogy, just that adding supports can lead to non-intuitive results.
They might not have avoided the collapse with more supports, but they could have avoided some of the deaths and the destruction of private property if they’d closed to traffic while they were working on the adjustments.
I have no expertise myself, but the SF-movie-related essay Suspension Bridges of Disbelief seems like it might be a relevant read for those interested in that sort of thing.
On the bridge collapse:
I’m a bit familiar with post-tensioned bridges. The engineering company in this case was one of the first in the US to do post-tensioned bridge design. (Maybe THE first; they’ve been doing this a long time.) The point of this sort of design is to cut down on the number of supports needed. One of Figg’s more famous bridges built by this technique is the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
An engineering mistake is always possible, and should be investigated, but I’m going to look at the contractor first. I would not be at all surprised to learn that the contractor didn’t quite follow the specs on concrete or steel. We’ve all heard about the guardrail end unit that didn’t have enough steel to do its job, right?
@Lis Carey Yes, well, apparently Bill knows better than any of us,
I’m disappointed that this is your takeaway, especially since I specifically said “I/we don’t know” at least three times in the post.
@Heather Rose Jones getting public buy-in for accepting that disruption.
That is a political, not an engineering/construction process, and politicians are loathe to tell their constituents “here’s something we’re going to do that you won’t like”. But it still should be done.
@Rose Embolism: I’m not as quick as @Camestros Felapton, but I’ve read “Always Human” over the past few nights and it was great! Thanks for recommending it! I’m happy with my Hugo Graphic Story noms, but in an alternate universe, I could see nominating this. 🙂
I had tried it quite some time ago when someone (probably you) rec’d it, but I just didn’t get into it at the time. I’m glad I gave it another shot! I hope the creator does a new webcomic (it sounds like she will; not sure if/how I’ll find out, but I may have to monitor her Tumblr RSS feed or something).
@John Arkansawyer: You’ve reminded me of when I was working in a photocopy shop, of the problems I had mounting large paper onto foam core. The foam core had adhesive all on one side; the instructions that came with it said to take off the adhesive, and then lay down the paper, and press it down gently.
Which never worked for me. It was impossible to get the paper started evenly enough: it would always bunch up and form rivers. Which meant having to reprint the document (very expensive for us if it was a color inkjet print!) and throw away the foam core.
I did eventually figure out a better process. Our large black-and-white document copier used big paper rolls, and at their core was a cardboard tube. So I took a 36″ long cardboard tube, and wrapped the liner from one of the foam core boards around it, securing it with rubber bands. I would roll it up in the piece to be mounted. Then I’d take the foam core board, remove the whole liner, and then replace it, shifted over a couple of inches. Then I’d lay down the tube on the liner, and let the edge of the paper come loose, so that it overlapped the exposed adhesive…and then roll the tube backwards, to press the paper against the sticky stuff. As with your glass, human hands couldn’t do things evenly enough: a mechanical process was required.
Once I had the mounting process started, it was a matter of gradually peeling away the liner and unrolling the document, pressing down as I went. (Not both at the same time: my arms aren’t that long! A little of one, then a little of the other.)
Trimming the excess foam core away required new utility knife blades. A blade plenty sharp enough for most uses would be too dull to cut the foam instead of tearing it.
I would like to thank James Davis Nicoll, Rose Embolism, Camestros Felapton, and Kendall for recommending the webcomic Always Human — and especially Meredith for mentioning that it came with a soundtrack, because otherwise I would never have known to turn on my speakers. What a lovely work it is; the author is an amazingly talented artist, and her original instrumental soundtrack is an incredible enhancement to the story.