Live Report From The Mound
You may recall our story on the Marble Arch Mound a couple of issues back - London's newest failed infrastructure-art project. Well, I was in London this weekend, and tickets are free now, so I had to go see it.
While it is mostly not great - unconvincing from afar, the steps have a bit too much give in them, the view from the top is so limited you can't even see Marble Arch - there's still about five minutes of fun climbing to the top, listening to all the visitors remark about how bad it is, and then taking a peek through the wall to see just how much scaffolding is inside.
The supposed art project/gift shop that was supposed to be inside has not even a hint of presence, though, apart from the start of the staircase that was meant to lead to it. Ominous ambient music was coming from inside at all times, and I was not even fully convinced it was intentional.
All in all, a wonderfully British disappointment, the main achievement here being by the scaffold constructors who managed to put this thing together, and the gardeners who managed to make trees survive on the side of it.
Snowmakers Turn Out To Have More Uses
The Calidor Fire is raging across the Californian Sierra Nevada right now, threatening the town of South Lake Tahoe and some of the ski resorts in the area. CalFire have been doing a remarkable job fighting it, but there's only so much you can do after one of the driest years in memory.
On the positive side, though, one ski resort (Sierra-At-Tahoe) used their snowmaking machines - which, if you're not familiar, are just basically big fans with water sprayers on the front - to throw water spray onto their buildings, letting them save all but one (a maintenance shed).
While it would be nice to extend this to the rest of California's towns and settlements, the massive drought that California is in is the cause of a lot of this fire in the first place, so it's not like there's a lot of water to spare.
The Supply Chain Crisis Continues
The logistics and supply chain problems that were kicked off by COVID are still happening almost two years later, and that's in large part because there's not just one root cause - it's a load of things bouncing off of each other to cause an overall headache.
This article digs into the example of one container of fertilizer, delayed many months in China from its journey to US farms. Containers are scarce, prices are high, and ports are unable to cope with the surge in traffic now things are opening up - and more.
I suspect we'll see the ripple effects from these supply issues for another year or two to come. It would be nice if we'd consider running supply chains not at 100% capacity so they have a chance not to be disrupted by the next tiny problem that happens, but, well, capitalism I guess?
We Just Made Those Levees A Little Bit Higher
The US Army Corps of Engineers continue to be one of the best parts of the US military after it turned out that they didn't just build New Orleans some more flooding defences after Hurricane Katrina - they overbuilt them.
And, it turns out, that little stretching of the rules might just be what saved a lot of New Orleans this week after Hurricane Ida hit. Now, of course, there was still damage - most notably, the city was severed from its power feeds thanks to every single transmission line going over the river being damaged - but it's a lot better than it could have been.
Of course, the storm didn't just affect New Orleans - it cut a damaging swath right through the US up to and including New York, where the subway had a rather wet and watery time - but very few cities are below sea level like New Orleans is.
How Are You Going To Admire The Tunnel Going That Fast?
For some reason - probably involving adrenaline and/or a death wish - Dario Costa became the first person to fly a plane through a tunnel this week, and then immediately became the first person to fly a plane through two tunnels as he somehow went for two on the first attempt.
I'm not sure I even need to explain to you how dangerous this is - pilots consider getting closer than a quarter of a mile a "near miss" - but, props to him for pulling it off. Just, well, don't try this one at home. And definitely don't try it in the world's longest road tunnel.
Seriously, You Need A Safety Culture
A rather worrying report emerged this week of not just deviations-from-flightpath and warnings during Richard Branson's "I need to beat Jeff Bezos" flight into near-space back in July, but also an overall lack of good safety culture at Virgin Galactic.
Of course, when Michael Alsbury died back in 2014 test-piloting SpaceShipTwo, we all hoped it was a one-off and that the time Virgin took to return to flight included fostering a proper safety culture. Unfortunately, it seems they instead fostered an "achieve at all costs" culture, which as most pilots will tell you, will get you killed sooner or later. As the saying goes - there are old pilots, there are bold pilots, but there are very few old, bold pilots.
The FAA have grounded them while they investigate, and I kind of hope they put them through the wringer on this one. If we're going to have a commercial space sector it needs to be safety first, profits second.
Extortion Via Casino Bomb
I've been on a plane for ten hours recently, and so I finally managed to read this long-form story of the events around the Harvey's Casino Bomb - an attempted extortion in 1980 with an ingenious explosive device that confounded the FBI so much they made it their artifact of the month a couple of years ago.
Fortunately, nobody was killed by the bomb, but they failed to disarm it and it blew a five-story hole in the casino it was left it (sneaked it under cover of photocopier delivery, no less). The FBI did eventually find the bomber and imprison him, though their attempt to meet him at the ransom drop-off point - often one of the weak points in any extortion attempt - was not the break they needed.
It's interesting to see the detailed picture of the bomb's prototype - it, well, looks very 1980s - and also I think remarkable to note how much less common these bombing/extortion attempts are in recent decades. I presume we have, among others, the FBI to thank for that.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Moo-ria?
Switzerland is a beautiful country with many things, but chief among them are two standouts: a lot of cows, and a lot of mountains. The cows enjoy being on the mountains, but what do you do when one gets injured way away from any sensible means of transport?
Well, of course, you give it a helicopter ride in a sling, at least as far as the nearest road. They seem relatively unimpressed by the whole ordeal, but then I've rarely seen a cow impressed by anything.
The Alps, by the way, are no strangers to weird aviation solutions to problems - there are a series of stunningly dangerous "Altiports" where the runway ends in a mountain, with the most famous probably being Courchevel. I'm always impressed watching pilots land and take off there, though I'm sure a cow wouldn't be.