Red Mars review

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you like world-building scifi, you will probably like this book. I usually like world-building scifi, but the book is so long, and I was so sleep-deprived that I didn’t super get into it.

But the characters are interesting, and the plot is kinda bland and straightforward until it wasn’t, so I think it’s a good book!

View all my reviews

commercial airplane crashes and the chain of events

I have a bit of a fascination with airplane crashes, and while feeding baby Nick in the middle of the night I’ve been watching a lot of Air Disasters (also known as Mayday/Air Crash Investigations/etc.). It’s pretty well done and does a good job of presenting the investigation as a mystery that needs solving, although I have a feeling things are dramatized a little bit to preserve this narrative.

After watching way too many episodes, one of the takeaways is that commercial aviation is incredibly safe, so when a plane crashes it’s because a bunch of things went wrong, not just one thing. This is know as the chain of events, and I recently watched an episode that really encapsulated this well.

The flight was Garuda Indonesia Flight 152. Here are all the links in the accident chain:
– The air traffic controller used the wrong callsign for the plane when giving instructions, because he was confused with an earlier flight that day (“Merpati 152” instead of “GIA 152”). When he realized his mistake, he repeated the instructions with the correct callsign, but forgot to say again that he was putting them on a course to approach the runway from the right side instead of the typical approach from the left side. (this was done because there was a plane departing from the runway at the time)
– Then when the plane was told to turn right, the captain (who was used to flying the normal approach) instead turned left, presumably out of habit.
– The first officer was distracted during the turn because the captain was complaining about the cockpit being hot. (In the US, this would be a violation of the Sterile Cockpit Rule, although I’m not sure if there’s a similar rule in other countries)
– As a part of the turn they were cleared to descend to 2000 feet. But the plane continued to descend lower than that – the assumption is that the captain set the autopilot wrong, although this is unclear.
– Because of forest fires in the area, the air was smoky so the pilots couldn’t see the ground.
– For some reason, their GPWS didn’t activate telling the pilots they were getting close to the ground. This was presumably a bug in the GPWS or something.

If any one of these had not been present, the accident would have been avoided. And during the investigation, safety agencies like the NTSB will try to address all the causes. For example, in this case a recommendation was made that flights going to the same destination should not have the same flight number, even across airlines. This is what makes commercial aviation so safe!

(this is similar to the computer security idea of defense in depth – you want to be protected at multiple layers)

How to feel about the midterm results: pretty good!

So the results from last night were a little confusing – it’s hard when there are sooo many races to make sense of it all. Here’s why I’m relatively happy this morning after sleeping on it:

– The biggest thing is that Democrats took the House by a pretty healthy margin. There are still a number of races that need to be counted (grrr California) or recounted, but it’ll be something like D 230-R 205. This means the Democrats can stop any funny business with the Census or repealing Obamacare, and will also have oversight power over the Executive branch (hopefully they won’t overplay their hand; very curious to see how this plays out)

– Beto lost, but only by 3 points in Texas which is very good. The fact that he turned so many people out to the polls almost certainly helped Democrats flip two House districts (including the one where I grew up!), two state Senate seats, and at least 11 state House seats!

– The Democrats didn’t do quite as well at governors races as we had hoped, but we did flip seven states. (including beating Kris Kobach in Kansas(!) and Scott Walker in Wisconsin) I will say that losing in Florida and Ohio is not a great thing if you’re looking for omens in 2020…

– The Senate was, obviously, not great. If you look at the predictions for the outstanding ballots it looks like it will be R 54-D 46. But it was an incredibly tough map for Democrats. And it is encouraging that we easily won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. (thinking about 2020 again!)

– Apparently:

which is very good news when it comes to redistricting in 2020 and whatnot.

– Ballot measures were really positive. Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska all expanded Medicaid coverage (although Montana did not) A whole bunch of anti-corruption measures passed, including redistricting reforms in Michigan and Colorado. Florida will no longer disenfranchise convicted felons that have served their time.

I am disappointed that it wasn’t more of a direct rebuke to Trump, as candidates Trumpiness didn’t seem to affect the results very much. See:

But in general it was a pretty good night. Remember: Democrats won the national popular vote for the House by around 7 points, which is a big accomplishment!

Elections matter: go vote!

I’m seeing some memes along the lines of “everyone’s so crazy about the election but it doesn’t matter that much” or “people should be friends with others who vote differently from them”.

And: if the election or politics in general don’t affect you that much, then that’s great! But you should realize that that’s a position of privilege and not everyone is that lucky.

For example: because Obama was elected president, he was able to nominate two liberal-leaning judges to the Supreme Court. This meant that when United States v. Windsor and later Obergefell v. Hodges came up, they were decided in favor of same-sex marriage, so I was able to legally marry David. This meant that we had a whole range of legal protections and opened the door for us to have kids.

So in an extremely real way, the consequences of that election are the reason that David and I have two wonderful kids.

There are many other examples (i.e. if your only way to get insurance is through the health exchanges and you have a preexisting condition), but this is one that affected us personally. If you’re in a place where most political things don’t affect you personally, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you should realize that not everyone is in that position.

So: VOTE!

monday linked list: China maybe didn’t hack, except for the other hacks; doctors reading lab results; how to save the Supreme Court

– After that big China hack story last time, it might be falling apart – Apple and Amazon have issued very strong denials, and no other news source has been able to confirm much. Here’s an article that casts doubt on it.

How the US Forced China to Quit Stealing – Using a Chinese Spy – …but that’s not to say that China isn’t involved in hacking. Here’s an interesting part of the story:

Donald Trump’s trade war against China has largely been couched as a way to punish China for its years of rampant intellectual property theft. And the official documents that make a case for that war have made scant mention of the progress that the Obama administration made. “After years of unsuccessful US-China dialogs, the United States is taking action to confront China,” wrote the US Trade Representative’s office, disregarding the quite successful dialog that took place at the Omni Shoreham hotel in 2015. If the US isn’t going to acknowledge that things ever got better, what incentive does China have to keep on good behavior?

What the tests don’t show: Doctors are surprisingly bad at reading lab results. It’s putting us all at risk. – the math here is really not that hard, but it’s important that doctors get this right! (thanks David!)

How to save the Supreme Court: The Supreme Court faces a legitimacy crisis. Here’s what we can do about it. – I expected to roll my eyes at these suggestions, but they’re actually pretty good ideas. (I think the Supreme Court panel is the most feasible one) I used to be a big fan of lifetime appointments because it’s a very good antidote to corruption, but it makes the stakes for a Supreme Court seat so ridiculously high that I’m willing to consider other options now.

Stumbling Toward Armageddon: Newly declassified documents show why the Americans and the Soviets came so close to war in 1973. – because Brezhnev was addicted to sleeping pills. Much like with nuclear missiles, this is why the strategy of “raising tensions to get what you want” can have catastrophic results.

Wall Street Loves These Risky Loans. The Rest of Us Should Be Wary. – gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

The exciting new idea hospitals have to bring down drug prices – hospitals are banding together to produce generic drugs; competition is good!

In Praise of Mediocrity: The pursuit of excellence has infiltrated and corrupted the world of leisure. – yay hobbies!

The Faster, Cheaper, Better Way to Charge Electric Vehicles – battery swapping always seemed like a good idea, and maybe it’s coming back!

IBM Takes Cybersecurity Training on the Road – I like escape rooms and I don’t know much about cybersecurity but I’m willing to learn if I can get in this sweet truck!

Fight Night With LeBron: Laker fans get their first glimpse of L.A.’s newest megastar, in one of the most chaotic home openers in memory. – I’ve always been a minor LeBron fan, but I think this article converted me to a major LeBron fan, and I hope the Lakers do well except when they play the Rockets 🙂

2840 miles on a tank of gas!

So the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is working out really well! We can almost make it to work and back without using any gas (depending on traffic, the weather, etc.), but since we can charge it at work assuming we can find a spot, most days we don’t use any gas. To wit: we just went 7 weeks 5 days between filling up the 15 gallon tank, and in that time drove 2840 miles (2527 fully electric) for an effective rate of 189 mpg!

Obviously this doesn’t count electricity usage, but not having to run to the gas station every few weeks is kinda nice!

Another fun statistic it keeps is that we were driving for 91.5 hours in that time, which works out to 1 hour 40 minutes in the car per day, which…wow. That’s skewed by the days we were working from home on paternity leave (since one of us would drive to and from daycare twice every day), but still I’m not convinced that’s actually right and if it is it’s really depressing so I’m going to stop thinking about it now!