Franklin Faraday Insights Roundup for February 27, 2021
Technology + Common Sense + Dangerous Machines
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Welcome to our weekly (now interplanetary) roundup of actionable and interesting things!
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This week has so much cool stuff, Google and Gmail don’t want you to see it all. In that case, click here to read on Substack.
In this issue:
— New! In our “Ask Someone Who Knows Something About That” section, @CarlForsling tells us why he would fly in an electric VTOL taxi…
— China, China, and ? (maybe China) causing cyber problems…
— About all those engine failures…
— Where (and where not) to smuggle drugs in ships…
— Founders have cognitive distortions… (we knew you had to be crazy to start a company)
— Don’t leave your train unlocked in Canada…
— Parents hate school boards, and one school board hated them back…
— Amazing breakthrough in child heart transplants
— Not that kind of tape worm!
— Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!
— Another amazing video screen illusion from Asia!
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Ask Someone Who Knows Something About That…
Joby Aviation released a new video of their electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to accompany the news that they picked up $1.6 billion in cash at a $6.6 billion post-money valuation via a SPAC. Joby, readers may recall, merged with Uber’s “Uber Elevate” electric air taxi business and received the first eVTOL airworthiness approval from the U.S. Air Force under the Agility Prime program in December 2020.
So, we queried our good friend, Marine Osprey pilot and very talented writer @CarlForsling, who provided a much more optimistic viewpoint. (You should also read his take on why the Osprey is the Future of the U.S. Military and, well, generally everything else he writes…)
Carl pointed out that the Joby aircraft and other air taxi designs are “very different” from turbine-engine tiltrotors like the Osprey. “The electric aircraft don’t have the engines, gearboxes, or rotating swashplates [like helicopters] and are expected to only travel short distances,” he said. (A swashplate tilts the helicopter’s main rotor, changing the aircraft’s pitch and roll. Bad things happen when they break.)
“More importantly, the types of failure modes are very different,” Carl explained. “The quad (and up) based electrics rely on the redundancy of being able to fly on 3 rotors to an emergency landing in the event of a failure. There is no intent to power the fourth—they merely route more power to the remaining three and change the control laws to compensate. [The design] relies on the intrinsic simplicity and reliability of independent electric motors to provide a level of safety.”
In contrast, “a tiltrotor has to keep both rotors turning at all times.” Furthermore, “Because of the range, speed, and power needed, it uses jet turbines to power its rotors. If one fails, a physical shaft transfers the power to the other side. If both fail, it actually declutches the rotors from the engine and either glides like and airplane or autorotates like a helicopter.”
Carl’s verdict? “Short answer...yes, I'd fly in either,” he told us. “Because the air taxis are so automated anyway, they won't fly like any existing aircraft. You may initially need a ‘pilot’ present for regulatory purposes. In my opinion, the sooner they transition to full automation, or perhaps automation with a person ‘on the loop,’ i.e. monitoring perhaps several aircraft in case of an issue, the better off they'll be.”
InSight Crime published this very cool graphic and fascinating description of all the ways drugs can be hidden in—or attached to—a ship.
1.) All the cool kids in Silicon Valley are on the invite-only clubhouse app, but security issues continue to surface. First the app was banned in China (where users were reselling invites, given the attraction of uncensored discussions), then the Stanford Internet Observatory discovered that Clubhouse was using Shanghai-based company Agora for the back end, potentially providing the Chinese government access to audio conversations. Clubhouse said they were fixing the issues, only to have additional problems with users exploiting vulnerabilities to gain access and stream audio content from Clubhouse rooms.
Our take: Press reports have focused on privacy and Chinese government interception, but the idea that there is much privacy in large scale audio conferencing apps is very naive. More concerning is that Clubhouse requires users to upload all their contacts in order to send invites. While it seems this data is not going to China (yet), it poses a much greater privacy concern.
2.) Adobe Flash has long been plagued with security vulnerabilities — so much so that Adobe finally ended support in December 2020 — yet the problems just won’t go away. Adobe authorized a Chinese company to continue distributing a Flash player app in China, and—you guessed it—it turns out the app was installing adware along with the Flash player.
3.) Not connected to China—that we know of—is a new strain of mysterious malware called Silver Sparrow that was compiled for Apple’s brand new M1 chip (as well as older Macs). Malwarebytes determined that Silver Sparrow had infected about 30,000 computers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, and Germany — but did NOT contain a payload. Instead, it literally contained a binary executable that simply said, “Hello, World!” Red Canary did a technical analysis here, and an ArsTechnica User named effgee posted how to find and fix the problem (highly technical.)
On Saturday, February 20, UA 328 had an engine failure followed by a fire and parts falling over Colorado…
On Sunday, February 21, a similar incident took place with a Boeing 747 in the Netherlands…
On Monday, February 22, a Boeing 757 conducted an emergency landing in Salt Lake City due to engine problems…
Insider Paper @TheInsiderPaperBREAKING NEWS: Delta flight #DL2123 from Atlanta to Seattle with 128 passengers onboard was diverted to Salt Lake Int'l Airport after the Boeing 757-200 experienced mechanical issues with one of its engines: SLC Airport spokeswoman https://t.co/ne5HpvtnoE
And then on Tuesday, February 23, this Mooney lost power and hit a car in Livermore, California…
(A more dramatic version, with a very surprised cameraman using explicit language, is available here.)
On Friday, February 26, there was another Boeing 777 with engine problems in Moscow
What is going on?
Saturday: Boeing 777 (Pratt and Whitney)
Sunday: Boeing 747 (Different Pratt and Whitney)
Monday: Boeing 757 (Different Pratt and Whitney)
Tuesday: Mooney M20E (Single engine propeller)
Friday: Boeing 777 (GE engines)
Engine failures are relatively rare, but there are (or were) a lot of airplanes flying a lot of hours. Failure statics are complex and usually do not mean what people think they mean. One frequently quoted statistic in the press is that “one jet engine will fail every 375,000 flight hours;” however, this is from a Wikipedia article citing an article on aerial surveying as a source. We went down this rabbit hole and could not find the actual FAA statistic, nor could we find it in an Australian research paper which was also listed as a source in some places. In any case, we know single engine piston engines fail more than jet engines, perhaps 1 per 10,000 to 20,000 hours… but no one really knows because failures that don’t cause accidents aren’t usually reported.
UA 328 was initially reported as an uncontained engine failure, meaning the parts flew out the sides of the engine instead of through the engine and out the back as designed. The NTSB later stated that they no longer believed this was the case though “it was still an event we don’t like to see” (nor do we, especially as a passenger.) Uncontained failures are relatively rare, though notable failures on commercial aircraft occurred in 2018, 2017, 2016 (twice), 2015, 2010, and 2001, sometimes resulting in injuries and fatalities, and sometimes not.
What do we think is really going on? Confirmation bias. Everyone is now looking for engine failure stories, and statistically speaking—even with the downturn in travel—people are going to find them. Aircraft jet engines are amazingly reliable given their extreme complexity.
We found an article here on engine failures that was as good as anything else, and it claimed that we should expect about two accidents caused by engine failures per day based on historical accident statistics.
We are not big video fans, even when watching at 2x speed to get through that “amazing Ted Talk” faster. This week we found a rare exception in this beautifully produced video on “The Cognitive Distortions of Founders” by Michael Dearing at Harrison Metal.
1.) Why did Texas have blackouts and boil orders during weather that Canadians refer to as “summerish?” Because when Canadians lose power, they derail trains to get it back.
2.) If you can’t steal a train, you can always try heating your home by mining cryptocurrency.
The Oakley Union Elementary School Board (near San Francisco) resigned after they made offensive comments about parents during a virtual meeting… and didn’t realize it was being broadcast.
We’ve never seen a press article apologetic enough to say that the video wasn’t “quite as incendiary as the play-by-play makes it sound.”
Just goes to show how behind the schools are… most of the kids are smart enough to keep their offensive comments in private chats…
Health (UK Edition)
We aren’t going to talk about the virus that shall not be named this week.
1. ) Using a device called a “Heart in a Box,” U.K. doctors at the Royal Papworth Hospital (RPH) in Cambridge transplanted hearts from patients who had suffered cardiac death into children for the first time. Since 2015, the approach—first tested in adult patients—has doubled the transplant capacity at RPH every year.
2.) A U.K. mom pulled a worm out of her 10-year-old’s ear and rushed him to the hospital, where doctors sent the worm off for analysis… then her son wondered out loud if it could have been the tape—real sticky tape—that he put in his ear the prior week and couldn’t get out…
The sad thing is that we can totally see how this would happen… but how did the doctors confuse a piece of tape with a worm too?
Another one of these awesome things… even better than last week
From our fast talking, very expensive, and increasingly mean lawyers, via Zoom:
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