Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Falling pianos

Image from HERE
Yesterday I got to spend time with my friend Dino.

Dino and I worked together in the early 1990s.  He now lives 3 hours away.  We have not kept in touch.

His wife had a day-long meeting in Lansing.  He tagged along.
Dino was interested in the Captain's cattle.
I gave him a tour of the grounds.  The dogs flushed a pheasant, an event that he said made the entire six hours of road time worthwhile.
Dino cleaned my clock at the knock-down plates.
Then we went shooting.

Dino used to do a lot of shooting as a young man.  He was a member of an Explorer Scout troop affiliated with a shooting range.  He shot "High Power" at a university that encouraged shooting sports...back in the day.

He shot better than I did.  He shot my guns better than I did.  He had not been "shooting" in the past forty-five years.
Pianos used to be a significant cause of morality of the unwary and the proud.  Image from HERE
One of our recurring conversations involved "falling pianos" (or anvils).  To wit, how to avoid them.

Academics are now fond of calling "falling pianos" by the term "black swan".  You can tell who has skin-in-the-game by our choice of terms.

Dino's personal history is marked by many falling pianos.  His family originated in a part of Europe that was the frontier between two aggressive "powers".  The lines between the competing nations were redrawn every forty years.  The surviving members of his family restarted from absolute, abject poverty every two generations.

In his professional career, he worked for several divisions that were dissolved/reorganized/divested.  Those who saw it coming (the architects of the dissolution) were rewarded with golden parachutes.  Everybody else was twelve years older and had to restart.

Dino is no longer naive or proud.

In spite of his repeated exposure to greed, dishonor and stupidity, he believes that the next falling piano will be due to two converging trends.

Deferred Maintenance of Infrastructure

How can a society that is not capable of repairing pot-holes in the road and delivering safe drinking water be trusted to maintain nuclear power plants, the electrical grid and the network of gas and petroleum delivery pipes?

Infrastructure is long lasting by its very nature.  It always looks like it can last another year without maintenance.

Rationalization of Capacity, i.e., elimination of decoupled redundancy
Why should you have a spare part and I have a spare part and everybody have a spare part?  That is a pile of money that is tied up in non-revenue producing assets.   We can save a bunch of money if only one of us has the spare part (or spare capacity) and we share-the-spare.  Ditto for maintenance and engineering personnel.

Some commenters compare eliminating redundancy for cost savings to removing every third rivet in a Boeing 747 to sell as scrap metal.  Everybody knows Boeing overdesigned those birds!

Redundancy and safety margin are increasingly shared by autonomous, dynamic systems.  Tighter coupling increases the likelihood of positive feedback loops developing within those systems and increases the speed that harmonics can amplify.  What could go wrong?
Most people have great faith in knowledge. They are sure that there is a book somewhere that will solve all of their problems.
Dino says that we don't need terrorists or conspiracies or riots or Russian hackers to crash the system.  All it requires is time and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  And a piano.


  1. Don't feel bad, there are a number of folks that out shoot me with my own guns... sigh... And welcome back!

    1. Dino went six-of-seven on the 6" plates at 15 yards. He did not do as well at 25 yards, which is shown on the video clip. Watching from behind, he was not missing by much.

      Depending on the circumstances, it might be difficult to explain engaging "targets" at 25 yards.