Monday, January 19, 2009

Cockpit dynamics, undersea cable, national security

Another great post by Bob Sutton, this time about the recent airliner crash in the Hudson River and how no one died. He cites work by one of his mentors about the NASA cockpit studies I've talked about. Some highly excerpted quotes:
Richard [Hackman] is the world's expert on group effectiveness and I am lucky to count him as one of my mentors ... Some people in the groups area are more well-known in business circles, but Richard is the best, especially if you care about evidence rather than faith-based practices.

One of Richard's biggest research projects was on the dynamics of airline cockpit crews, and he devoted many days -- for over a year of his life -- sitting in the jump seat of the cockpit and observing and coding the dynamics if the dyad or triad. One of the main lessons that came from this --and related -- research is that the less time that a crew has been together, the more group dynamics problems they have and the more mistakes they make.
Bottom line: tired crews who've worked together make fewer mistakes than fresh crews who are new to each other.
As Hackman writes, he sometimes has the impulse, when boarding a commercial flight, to stick his head in the cockpit, and ask the crew if it is there first flight together -- the odds against an incident are very low even on first flights, but Hackman points out that your risk as a passenger would be far lower if you avoided first flights together.

Funny/sad bonus topic: AT&T is proposing bringing more transpacific fiber connections from Hawaii and Asia into their facility near Montana de Oro on the central California coast. You can see the environmental study (adverse effects are minimal since the conduit and facilities is already in place). But the funny/sad comments are here. In case they go away, here's the funny one -- "Is this necessary? I talk to Hawaii all day long using VOIP. We really don't need anymore fiber optic cables. Landlines are on the way out" -- and the both at once uninformed (there are already fiber optic cables coming onshore at that location) and corrective comment -- "It certainly doesn't sound good for Montana De Oro and I'm also against that location choice. That being said, fiber optic cables are the necessary 'backbone' that connect wireless and wired voice and data everywhere - how do you think your VOIP gets to Hawaii?"

There's a nice detailed list of Pacific undersea cables here. More information about the Montana de Oro and the Grover Beach cable landings on this guy's blog.

Another bonus topic, this one pretty sad, and something the new administration will need to pay attention to: the security situation in Mexico (see AP story, Reuters column, and WSJ column).