Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Obscure Lingo from the Machine Frontier

Back from my 42nd public-speaking gig. The one this week was in Miami, doing a keynote for a congress of the forensic engineering division of the American Society of Civil Engineers

While there I added to my collection of trade lingo, accumulated during more than three decades of research into the machine frontier. This first one is from the Miami conference, and was new to me:

Spike-killed ties: These are cross ties in railroad tracks in which the spikes have worked loose, and have been pounded back in repeatedly. After so many times, the wood is weak and the tie has lost its grip. Spike-killed ties are bad because they lead to wide-gauge derailments

Blue line: This is what USAF mission planners call the path that pilots of low-observable (aka stealth) aircraft are supposed to follow while in enemy airspace. The idea is to travel where the radar fence is weak, wherever possible. As all geeks should know, stealthy aircraft aren't "invisible" to radar; they're just hard to pick up. The best route is one where the airplane is lost in the noise, and only resolved for brief intervals, if at all. 

Iron roughneck: Automated tool to attach, and detach, sections of a drill string on an oil rig. This substitutes for human roughnecks who relied on tongs and chains. 

Rabbit tool: Small hydraulic device used by firefighters to force open steel doors in steel frames. 

Burning bar, aka thermic lance: Pipe filled with metal rods, fed by oxygen at the operator's end. Once ignited at the other end the metal burns at a very high temperature. The flame will burn through any substance in its way, including diamond. Here's a video:


Dead leg: A section of pipe that's been left behind, supposedly sealed, after work in a complicated set of piping, typically a refinery or chemical plant. According to the Chemical Safety Board, dead legs can be dangerous because they increase the chances for pipe breaks.

Alarm storm: A wave of automated alarms when a bunch of things going wrong at once. I've heard it used among power-plant operators and surgeons. 

Gin pole: A derrick-like framework that tower builders use. It's installed temporarily on the mast. Because it's massive enough to bring the whole tower down in a collision, they take extra care whenever moving it. 

Jesus nut: A Vietnam-era term for a fastener at the top of the rotor mast in Huey and Cobra helicopters. 

Battle short: A desperate measure in the Navy during combat, in which safeties are bypassed to save the ship, say, overriding a reactor scram. 

1 comment:

  1. "Alarm storms" also happen in pipeline control rooms. The NTSB Report about an ammonia pipeline leak in 2004:

    "He (the controller) stated that from 11:15 a.m. to 11:48 a.m. an unusually high number of alarms and status events were displayed for the pipeline. During this 33-minute period, the SCADA system displayed 119 alarms and status events."

    http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/PAB0702.pdf

    And, this was not the only time a pipeline controller has gone to the "Whack-a-mole" approach to clear alarms.

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