6-4-11 Hodgepodge

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Fly by Failing Faster

From a story about a mechanical engineer who won the X Prize of his day, comes the following moment of insight:

[E]veryone working on solving human-powered flight would spend upwards of a year building an airplane on conjecture and theory without the grounding of empirical tests. Triumphantly, they'd complete their plane and wheel it out for a test flight. Minutes latter, a years worth of work would smash into the ground. Even in successful flights, a couple hundred meters [later] the flight would end with the pilot physically exhausted. With that single new data point, the team would work for another year to rebuild, retest, relearn. Progress was slow for obvious reasons, but that was to be expected in pursuit of such a difficult vision. That's just how it was.

The problem was the problem. [MacCready] realized that what ... needed to be solved was not, in fact, human powered flight. That was a red-herring. The problem was the process itself, and along with it the blind pursuit of a goal without a deeper understanding how to tackle deeply difficult challenges. He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: how can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours not months. And he did. He built a plane with Mylar, aluminum tubing, and wire. [emphasis added]
In a contest that had gone on for eighteen years without a winner, MacCready won the prize after six months of work. (HT: The Endeavour)

Weekend Reading

"So why haven't solar and wind triumphed? After all, isn't Al Gore right that the sun gives us more energy than we could ever need, 'free forever?'" -- Alex Epstein, in "Four Dirty Secrets about Clean Energy" at Fox News

"[O]n a day in which the Dow dropped almost 300 points, a 12% rise in the most leveraged VIX product available doesn't appear to be a terribly lucrative return. " -- Jonathan Hoenig, in "Betting on the Next Big Drop? Bad Idea." at SmartMoney

"In the least regulated sectors of medicine, such as LASIK eye surgery, patients can freely see whoever offers them the best value for their medical dollar. The result over time has been rising quality and falling costs." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Here comes Obamacare's Big Brother: Accountable Care Organizations" at The Christian Science Monitor

"A lot of people confuse 'like' and 'respect.' They're so wrapped up in whether someone likes them that they forget to ask, 'Does this person respect me?'" -- Michael Hurd, in "Is It Love, or Respect?" at DrHurd.com

Humanitarian Carnival

From Futility Closet comes a historical example of a medical service being provided for free to the needy, while making money for the provider:
[Martin] Couney moved to the United States in 1903 and displayed babies at Coney Island every summer for 40 years. Because he charged the parents nothing, the exhibition brought the expensive procedure within reach of needy families, saving hundreds of lives as it educated the public.
Follow the link for more and a picture of the building containing "Dr. Couney's Baby Farm."

Back to Flight

I close today's post by pointing to a small set of beautiful long-exposure photographs of planes taking off and landing.

-- CAV

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