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March 11, 2005

Code 46

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I watched this movie on DVD last night.

I only heard of it when I read a favorable mention of it in The Financial Times last year.

I pre-ordered it from amazon, then forgot about it.

I do this a lot: sometimes the release date is six months or more from today, but so what?

When it arrives, it's like found money: oh, will you look at that.

So, to the movie.

It's a really, really good futuristic - say, around 2040 - dystopian thriller/romance.

Stars Tim Robbins, who I'm really growing to like a lot as an actor, and Samantha Morton (one of the precogs in "Minority Report," here with a relatively thick head of hair, at least an inch long).

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it was clearly shot in Shanghai, where the present-day architecture lends itself quite nicely to the city a few decades hence, the setting for much of the film.

Code 46 is one of the laws in force: it states that people who share significant amounts of their genetic code are not allowed to "liase."

If they do, and a child results, and the parent(s) didn't know they were related, the child is aborted.

If one or both of the parents knew they shared code, it is a criminal offense, severely punished.

The reason for these sanctions is that up to two dozen clones of a given embryo are produced and carried to term in the highly regulated society.

So it is very possible for clones to partner with others and have their offspring then meet.

Robbins plays an investigator for a state-supported FBI-like security apparatus, in charge of tracking down violations of "cover" - permission to be in a given place.

Morton works at "The Sphinx," the governmental arm which produces high-security cover documents called "papels."

Their paths cross, and the movie happens.

Behind it, suffusing it, making it wonderful, is a meditative, beautiful soundtrack.

As I watched I wished, knowing it wasn't likely to be available, I could buy the soundtrack.

Imagine my surprise - and pleasure - when I went to amazon and found that, indeed, there were others like me:

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the soundtrack exists.

The movie's a bit difficult at first, because Morton's adopted a funny kind of accent that's hard to decipher.

Then, you realize that people speak a kind of patois, with all sorts of French, Italian, and Spanish words ("papel") used as part of common speech.

After about twenty minutes, you wish we did the same, it sounds so natural and appealing.

Highly recommended.

Note: you might wonder why it is that most movies and books and suchlike I write about here are "highly recommended."

The explanation is simple: I'm not gonna waste my energy and your time on telling why I disliked something - for the most part.

Sure, every now and then there's a negative review of something, but when I remember, I try to not bother with things that don't, or won't, or can't, in some way, make your life and world better.

And that's all I have to say about that.




March 11, 2005 at 07:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Levers — a pleasant on-line game

Levers

It's very soothing, deceptively enjoyable.

Gentle sounds and movements.

Perfect for a day where you just don't feel like doing much.

Huh?

That's every day?

Well, then.

March 11, 2005 at 07:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CultNews.com

Cultnews2

Never forget that every great religion started as a cult.

Without exception.

As Robert Shrimsley put it in The Financial Times: "One bloke who says he's got the number of God's private cellphone, a handful of dedicated followers widely scorned by everyone else, a bit of money and somewhere to preach."

Wait a minute - that's hitting awfully close to home.

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I looked very carefully through the archives of CultNews.com, but to my great relief found not a trace, not a mention of bookofjoe.

So I remain under the radar.

Good, 'cause that's where I do my best work.

The site was started by Rick Ross, "cult expert and intervention specialist," in July of 2002.

The archives are a treasure trove of things fringe.

Plenty to occupy you while you watch the clock tick down those last few minutes today....

March 11, 2005 at 06:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blinking Spiked Bracelet

Audmon02

Be the coolest person at the club with this zowie accessory.

"Press the button on the side to make the bracelet flash."

£3 ($5.60) here.

WWBW*?

*What would Barbie wear?

March 11, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Crossing the Atlantic on a Dead Engine' - Part II

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Last Friday evening, March 4, I finished bookofjoe for the day with a long, detailed account of the journey of British Airways Flight 268, which left Los Angeles on Friday evening, February 19 with 351 passengers aboard, bound nonstop for London's Heathrow Airport.

Long story short: the plane lost an engine on takeoff but attempted to make the trip on its three remaining engines, coming close but ultimately having to declare "Mayday" and make an emergency landing at Manchester (U.K.) Airport.

Today, a passenger who was aboard that very flight and became aware of my blog entry posted a comment about his experience and that of his wife, who was traveling with him.

He wrote an account filled with fascinating details I've not read nor heard of in any media report.

The story is riveting, so unique and well-written I believe the New York Times would have published it as on Op-Ed piece.

This is by far the most interesting and informative account I've yet seen of the events of that singular flight.

Here, then, is the unedited, unabridged story of "BA268passenger":

    My wife & I were passengers on this flight. Here is my passenger’s eye view of the incident. (When reading it, it might be worth bearing in mind that I am a pretty “laid back” individual who doesn’t easily get stressed – so other passengers may have a different point of view.)


    My wife & I were in the “World Traveller Plus” (Premium Economy) cabin, sitting over the front of the starboard wing, so unfortunately (or is that fortunately!) we couldn’t see the affected engine from where we sat. We were, however, well aware of the problem a few seconds after take-off when we heard a loud (but muffled) “bang, bang, bang, bang…” noise and felt a violent vibration which went on for what I would estimate was about 5 or 6 seconds (this would tie in with reports I have read from an eyewitness on the ground, who reported a 20 ft jet of flame coming from the inner engine on the port wing, lasting for about 6 seconds). The noise and vibration then stopped and the plane continued its ascent – but it was climbing VERY slowly, so it seemed pretty obvious to me that the pilot must have shut down one of the engines.


    There were a lot of anxious looking passengers at this point (not least my wife) – but I was surprised to see that (at least within my field of view and hearing distance) there was no sign of panic or screaming. I’m not sure if it was any different at the back of the plane (from where the flames would have been easily visible). Not surprisingly, the captain hadn’t made any announcement at this point (I assumed he had much more important things to think about at that time, so I was quite happy to wait!).


    We continued to climb slowly and headed out to sea. At some point later (as I remember it, it seemed quite soon after takeoff, but it may have been after we started circling over the Pacific) we went through two more sequences of the loud banging and violent shaking – which I assumed was caused by the pilot trying (and failing) to get the engine running again, although I have no proof of this. I don’t know whether there were any more flames present during these events.


    I think it must have been a short time after this that the captain made an announcement to the effect that (I’m paraphrasing) “as the people on the left hand side of the plane must be only too aware, there was a ‘surge’ in one of the engines just after take off, so I have shut it down. I am now going to circle over the ocean for about 10 minutes while I assess the situation and contact BA headquarters before deciding how best to proceed”.
    The cabin crew then started moving about the cabin to help to reassure anxious passengers. I heard one of the cabin stewards suggest to one passenger that he thought we would dump fuel over the ocean then return to Los Angeles – little did he know…


    After circling for about 15(?) minutes, the captain made a second announcement to say that, having assessed the situation and spoken to the people on the ground, he had decided to continue to London on three engines. He did say that in his opinion it was perfectly safe to do this and we could be assured that if he had had any safety concerns he would not be taking this course of action. He also said that having recomputed the flight plan, he was confident that we had sufficient fuel for the journey. The new flight plan gave a landing time of 4:20pm (rather than the scheduled landing time of 2:55pm).


    I think the cabin crew were somewhat surprised by this announcement, but they soon got into their cheery, “continue as normal” mode and quickly set about handing out the free booze! (although I did later hear from a passenger nearer the back of the plane that things had not been quite as cheerful back there). There was some muttering amongst the passengers, but on the whole I think most people (at least within my earshot in the small World Traveller Plus cabin) were willing to trust the captain’s judgement on this (not that there was much we could do about it, anyway).


    Watching the “moving map” display, it was interesting to see that the plane headed off across the USA in a much more easterly direction than I had expected (the solid line showing where we had been was heading roughly east, but the dotted, great circle continuation line was much more northerly). I assumed at the time that the pilot was keeping his options open with regards to possible alternative landing sites in the US, but it did worry me slightly that he might run short of fuel if he took a longer route. Having thought about it since, I suppose the easterly course might also have been to avoid any mountains that might be higher than we could fly over if we lost another engine, or it might just be that this "southerly route" was where the better winds were – but I have no way of knowing what the pilot was actually thinking.


    Unfortunately I didn’t spend much time studying the moving map during the flight, since it seemed to make my wife more anxious – so I thought it was better to keep her calm than it was to study the flight in great detail. I did occasionally look at it though – and the two things that stuck in my mind were that we seemed to spend a lot of time at only 27,000ft (although we did get higher later), and we were flying through almost still air (without the tail wind we would have expected if we had been in the jet stream). The display often showed headwinds of, say, 4mph or tailwinds of, say, 3mph – tiny figures. I therefore made a mental note to myself that I would be surprised if we made it all the way to Heathrow (although I thought it best not to mention it to my wife). Another interesting piece of information from the flight display was that our arrival time stayed pretty constant at about 4:20pm or 4:30pm – so we can’t have been losing too much time due to the unexpectedly low altitude or unfavourable winds. Indeed we finally landed at Manchester at about 4:04pm (so not much later than the flight plan had predicted 10 or so hours earlier) – but presumably only by burning more fuel to keep our speed up.


    I didn’t notice the precise time that our destination on the moving map changed from Heathrow to Manchester – but I think it was very late on (only a few minutes (maybe 20 minutes?) before we landed there). The captain made an announcement that we were running low on fuel so he had decided to divert to Manchester “where we would be met by an army of ground staff who would help us with our onward travel arrangements to either Heathrow or other destinations for which we had missed our connections”. He said that our shortage of fuel was because Canadian air traffic control had been unable to allocate him the altitude he needed (I assumed at the time that he meant over Canada, but I suppose he might have meant over the Atlantic).


    At Manchester we made a pretty good landing (past a group of fire engines, with lights flashing) although we did seem to brake very hard and stop very quickly. I can only guess that this was because we needed to leave the runway at one of the early exits, to keep us well away from the terminal building. We sat on the tarmac for quite a while before the doors were finally opened and we transferred to buses to drive us to the terminal. I had a quick look at the faulty engine as I climbed down the aircraft's front steps - but I couldn't see any obvious signs of damage.


    We had to collect our luggage (which took quite a long time) then check in at the BA desks for a shuttle flight down to Heathrow (they had sent a plane up from Gatwick to pick us up, and said there would be a later flight for anyone who didn’t make it onto this first plane). There was an enormous (but surprisingly calm) queue of people checking in for this flight. The ground staff coped pretty well (as the cabin staff had done on the flight). In addition to this special BA flight, some people were put on a British Midland flight; I’m not sure how many people failed to make it onto one of these first two flights (nor how many people decided to continue their journey by road or rail). The original intention was that the BA flight would leave Manchester at about 6pm, but people weren’t being checked in that quickly. My wife and I got onto the plane at about 6:15pm but had to wait there for over an hour until the final wheelchair-bound passenger could be carried to her seat. We finally reached Heathrow at about 8pm (5 hours later than scheduled, but glad to be home).


    As to whether the captain made right decision in the circumstances, I’m not really in a position to say. I’m inclined to think he did (at least from an operational point of view – although the resulting bad publicity might make it less good from a commercial point of view). After all, it was his life on the line just as much as ours, so I doubt he would wilfully have made a reckless decision. I’m also not as sure as some of the armchair experts seem to be that the alternatives were that much safer (and they were almost certainly less convenient).


    Some people seem to believe that we should have immediately returned to LAX – but, as I understand it, we would have been too heavy to land immediately, so that meant that we would have had to spend an appreciable amount of time either burning up or dumping fuel prior to landing. I don’t understand the mechanics of dumping fuel, but I am not sure that I fancy the idea of dumping it anywhere near an engine that has recently been emitting a sheet of flame! In any case, if we could stay in the air long enough to do that, why shouldn’t we be heading in the right direction while doing it (and assessing the situation as the flight progressed)?


    One thing that might make me change my mind about it being the right decision is if it turns out that the engine suffered something other than a simple “surge”. If it had suffered physical damage, that might potentially have damaged other parts of the aircraft, I would have been less happy about carrying on. I don't know whether the captain's instruments etc gave him sufficient information to confirm that it was simply a surge and nothing else.


    I suppose that if I had been given the chance to vote on it, I would probably have chosen to land somewhere like New York or Chicago, rather than flying across the Atlantic on 3 engines (has there ever been a successful landing of a 747 on water?) – but I am willing to believe that the pilot understood the situation better than anyone else, and so was the best person to make the decision as to how to continue. As it turned out, we all got home in one piece – and even on the right day, so I didn’t have to take an extra day off work :o)
    It’s unfortunate that we had to land at Manchester rather than actually making it to Heathrow in one go, but in the great scheme of things it wasn’t a big problem.


    As to the amount of fuel remaining, I don’t understand how a 747’s fuel system works, but I have seen suggestions that (despite still having about 5 tons of fuel) there might have been some doubt in the captain’s mind as to whether the fuel pumps could get all of the fuel to where he needed it for the remaining three engines. It therefore seems only good sense to get the plane on the ground as quickly as possible.


    A lot has been made of the fact that the captain made a mayday call (although we weren’t aware of this as passengers) and didn’t want to “go around” – but as I see it, that was a sensible precaution to ensure that he had a clear runway to land on. I have also seen it suggested by someone who seemed to know what he was talking about, that it is best to avoid flying “nose up” (as when “going around”) when fuel is low – something to do with the way that fuel is fed from the tanks.


    One thing that I think is very important in these types of situations is keeping anxious passengers informed of what is going on. On this particular flight the captain said the problem was caused by a “surge” in the engine, and he mentioned sparks or flames & vibration. This did at least tally with what we had experienced – although I don’t suppose many of us had any idea what a “surge” was. Personally speaking, I would have felt less anxious if he had gone on to say something along the lines of:

    “For those of you who don’t know, a surge in a jet engine is somewhat similar to a car back firing. It looks & feels dramatic, but it is not in itself dangerous, and does not imply serious damage within the engine, or to any other aircraft component. I can see from my instruments & gauges, that all other engines are functioning normally, and the engine I have shut down is not causing fuel loss, or any other problems. This aircraft incorporates a high degree of redundancy in its design and is certified to fly for long distances on three engines. In the extremely unlikely event of me having to shut down another engine, it is also perfectly capable of flying, and landing, using any two of its engines. Whilst this situation may seem somewhat dramatic, please be assured that it is something that we pilots train for on a regular basis”.


    I would only have wanted him to say things that were true, but if he could have said at least some of this, it would have made me feel happier and less anxious. It might also have given me something more concrete to discuss with my wife when trying to convince her that we weren’t about to fall out of the sky.


    I also think it would have been good to have been told why we couldn’t immediately loop back and land at LAX – which is what I assume most of us passengers expected him to do. We passengers don’t know about maximum landing weights or things of that sort, nor do we know what is involved in dumping fuel, and how long it might take - so a bit of explanation wouldn't have gone amiss.


    That said, if things were as hectic in the cockpit as I suspect they might have been (monitoring the aircraft, checking weather, checking manuals, liaising with engineers on the ground), I can at least partially forgive him for devoting his time to more pressing issues than keeping us passengers informed.


    All in all, this was a pretty dramatic flight, and not one that I would care to repeat any time soon, but it hasn’t put me off flying BA – in fact I’m flying to Baltimore with them next week. I will however be interested to see the final report into this incident if it’s ever made public (particularly given that the same plane had a problem with the replacement engine in the same position, only a few days after our flight – so there is at least a suspicion of a fault with something other than the engine itself).

March 11, 2005 at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Long-Reach Lotion Applicator — never again will you have to wonder 'who's got your back?'

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From the website:

    Simply fill this applicator with lotion, cream, or oil, and the rolling balls will gently massage it into your skin.

    Make of durable plastic, the 17.5" applicator lets you reach all areas of your back without twisting, bending or straining.

You scratch my back and I'll do yours.

$9.99.

March 11, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Hail Estonia!' — Rated #4 in the world in the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom

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Truly amazing, what can happen when government backs off.

Buried in the Soviet system after World War II, Estonia essentially ceased to exist until the Communist world collapsed.

Now, in little more than a decade, Estonia is behind only Hong Kong, Singapore, and Luxembourg in the degree of freedom, transparency, and fairness in its business sector.

Surprising, at least to me, is that the U.S. only comes in tied for twelfth, falling from fifth in 1998, just six years ago.

Also amazing to me is that Venezuela, once one of the richest countries in the world, is today in the bottom group of "repressed" countries, along with Haiti, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

The list has been created for the past eleven years by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.

March 11, 2005 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's Most Depressing Shower Curtain

Tilcocurtain

Pictured above, it's called the SAT Shower Curtain.

On it are the "Top 100 SAT vocabulary words along with their definitions."

So now you can't even chill in the shower after a tough day at school: no rest for the wicked, I suppose.

A 14-year-old Twin Cities girl named Alex invented it as a result of her older sister's always telling her to spend her free time studying SAT words.

Alex thought, why not study them while taking a shower?

Hey, why not?

Why not print toilet paper with SAT words so you could use that time wisely as well?

The company also makes an SAT Math shower curtain and an SAT English Grammar version.

No end of fun.

$19.95 here.

March 11, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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