Several students and friends have asked me as the local space guy: Hey, what about that asteroid thing in Russia? I am very complimented, like I’m Jim Head and somebody asks me about earthquakes. Jim Head is a god and I’m at most a cherub.
Anyway, the more remarkable asteroid story was the little old siberian lady minding her own business sipping tea (really!) when a meteor became a meteoroid (ie landed) via piercing the roof of her house, pretty much ruining both (the roof and the house). Which was in a sense (such is human logic) GOOD LUCK because she wasn’t killed. Hey, do you feel after your girlfriend dumps you and you mess up an important test that you had good luck because you were not hit by a meteor? Would that optimism were so effective.
There is a tendency to believe that nature is cruel. I have some experience with that. My older (and wiser) brother reminds me that if you ride a bike on the roads with traffic, you have no right to worry about being eaten by a shark swimming off the beach in Charlestown (in August, not in February). The chances of a shark killing me are roughly 1 millionth of a car driver killing me, and in fact I have been hit by cars 6 times so far, and nibbled by sharks? Zero. So my brother is trending toward right. Older brothers have that annoying quality.
Rick, where are you going with this? I’ll tell you:
Meteors rarely kill people. People kill people. Particularly engineers. We are the most dangerous of all humans. We are the ones who tell people it’s safe to sit in buildings despite that we know there are earthquakes and the buildings will collapse and crush their inhabitants. Deer, for instance, are rarely killed in earthquakes. We are the ones who put glass windows in schools and sit kids next to them knowing that if the glass shatters the kids will be badly hurt. We build airplanes which crash, cars which run over cyclists on the bikes we build riding on the roads we design. Just in traffic alone worldwide we kill about 100,000 people per year. That’s about 2x the rate at the height of vietnam. And when Vietnam was going on students were striking and ready to overthrow the government. The protest about cars and we engineers who built not just the cars but the highway system they run on??? Not a word – we are not just lethal, we’re very sneaky.
So let’s not pass the buck to the asteroids and meteors, ok? Sure every few billiion years something terrible happens, but in the mean time, it’s all us. If we made, for instance, better glass (and in fact we know how to do that) the meteor would have been a curiosity but not a tragedy. The devil did not make us do it, btw.
OK, whine to me “how likely is it that a meteor enters the atmosphere, heats up quickly, and the combined sonic boom and shock wave of its fracture caused by rapid and inhomogeneous thermal expansion causes a lot of structural failures of glass in a populated area blah blah blah?”. Not very? But how many chances do we take with our gadgets and we squeak by, eh guy?
So you roll the dice, every so often you lose. That’s a decision, but again, don’t blame the meteors, the earthquakes, lightening causing forests to burn (not a problem unless you live in that forest above ground in a wood house etc. – all “clever” engineering ideas we like).
Why bore you with this apparently rambling philosophical discourse? Because one day we are going to talk about reliability and you are going to think it’s not engineering because it’s not circuits, dynamics, finite elements, fluids, thermo, materials… that which Brown has taught you is engineering. You believe everything Brown tells you? Hey, if you build something and it kills somebody that’s not good engineering, by my book. So reliability is not engineering?
See you next week, if you live. And me too.