One of the benefits of retirement is having the time and inclination to reflect on the
human condition. When I was still working life was pretty much a cycle of work-related
concerns interwoven with welcome family time. Entertainment and sleep never seemed to get a fair share, but that made them all the more precious. Now, the hour glass has been inverted. I used to look forward to weekends like crazy – forget the worries of work and enter the family world. Now weekends are the more boring part because the whole world seems to stop doing interesting stuff and the streets get too crowded. Plenty of time for sleep these days, but my eyes pop open when the sun comes up. Dang. Plenty of time for entertainment, but they don’t make enough movies for adults anymore. Same for books – when a really good one comes out I jump on it, and then there’s a gap. I notice the details of the news more because I have the time, and blogging gives me a reason to pay attention. I am fortunate to have some excellent online pen pals who keep me sharp that way. Geeze, one little slip and they are all over me. I love it.
Time passes, technology advances, but people are still people. I noticed today that a British nuclear submarine went aground. Hate when that happens. How the hell does it when they have inertial guidance and GPS? It is likely a case of distracted driving.
They were on “sea trials”. For the non-naval readers this means that the sub was either brand-new or newly-repaired and was doing tests to make sure equipment, systems and the ship itself were all working properly, and I can tell you from experience that, especially in a submarine, perhaps the most complex combination of technical systems man has ever constructed in one package, there are always problems. So there they are, tooling around near land with
reports flying about this and that not working right and personnel being rusty from being ashore too long or just being brand new, and bang. Author Bob Woodward would likely call that a WTF moment. Who put that shallow spot there? Oops. Really bad career day for the Navigator and the CO. The crazy thing is, the ship’s nav systems should have told them exactly where they were every minute. Unless those were broken. Anyway, there are always backup methods. No excuses – it’s distracted driving.
Even the most experienced and best-trained people can get distracted and as long as humans are a link in the chain it is going to be a concern. The grounding made me recall the collision of the submarine USS Greeneville with a Japanese trawler in 2001. That was also caused by distraction and lack of caution by an over-enthusiastic skipper.
But you know the amazing thing? Even as the world gets more complicated we humans DO have the capacity to learn from mistakes. Take aviation for example. In the early years airplanes crashed with great regularity, and that includes passenger planes. But
with increasing time the industry has learned and while there have been some close calls from time to time, as far as I can tell it has been 33 years since the last large loss of life on a U.S. commercial flight. That would have been the collision in the Azores in 1977 when two jumbo jets collided and 520 people were killed. The Wiki page on aircraft accidents (which strangely includes 9/11 as an “accident”) has this to say about the industry:
Aviation safety has come a long way in over one hundred years of implementation. In modern times, two major manufacturers still produce heavy passenger aircraft for the civilian market: Boeing in the United States of America and the European company Airbus. Both have placed huge emphasis on the use of aviation safety equipment, now a billion-dollar industry in its own right, and made safety a major selling point—realizing that a poor safety record in the aviation industry is a threat to corporate survival. Some major safety devices now required in commercial aircraft involve:
- Evacuation slides — aid rapid passenger exit from an aircraft in an emergency situation.
- Advanced avionics – Computerized auto-recovery and alert systems.
- Turbine engines – durability and failure containment improvements
- Landing gear- that can be lowered even after loss of power and hydraulics.
Currently in the news I note that teen driving deaths are down, despite the added
distractions of cell phones and texting. That surprised and pleased me. This is apparently due to safer roads, seat belts, air bags, and better rules, all part of what one hopes will be continuing improvement.
Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could apply the same principles to medical errors, politics, and financial systems? Well, don’t worry about keeping track of progress. There are more and more of us retirees coming along to help you with that. And raise hell over it too.