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Blog : Posts tagged with 'crash'

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The Unconnected

In which we bear bad news


Breaking bad news to people is always hard to do. Even if it’s something as mundane as a dead computer. I took a quick look at a machine one of the staff had brought in from home, in my lunch break; it’s vitally important she gets it working again, apparently, because it’s got all her daughter’s schoolwork on it, and they have to have a computer now to do all their assignments on.* It only needed a quick look to show that it’s not coming back to life. Its hard disk is almost certainly now a former hard disk, with no hope of getting her homework back.** But how do I tell her?

Latest addition to my RSS reader: Bad Archaeology. The navigation is a bit awkward, and their “latest news” page doesn’t seem to get archived, but there’s some very good stuff in there, if, like me, you would love to try poking members of the Erich von Däniken Fan Club with long pointy sticks. Their latest article is on King Arthur, as an example of what happens when you set out to prove a point, and try to use archaeology to do that. I’m tempted to write something longer about exactly that, soon.

In other news: I’ve been listening to Phoebe Kreutz lately. Her songs make me smile, and make me want to listen to more of her songs. So that has to be a good thing. Hurrah for good things!

* I’m not sure I believe that. This isn’t a rich town, and there must be many many children in the area whose parents don’t have a PC.

** A normal boot sequence halts with “Non-system disk or disk error”, which, if your other drives are all empty, is never a good sign. A Linux boot CD finds the hard disk, prints out lots of nasty disk hardware errors, and then says it can’t read the partition table. Not good, not at all.

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Grump

In which things tend to go wrong in groups


Why do things happen together? Why do bad events congregate, and bad things happen at the same time? Why do unrelated things all break, and why is it always the Most Important People who break things.

Like on Friday at work; when the Managing Director’s daughter’s laptop needed fixing; then, the MD’s email became corrupt enough to crash the email server; then, a Very Important piece of software, without which we do not get paid, lost its internal databases to file corruption. All unrelated machines, unrelated events. There’s no way any of them are connected, I’m absolutely sure about that, so why did they all happen together?

Especially when, on Saturday morning, H’s laptop bluescreened itself and then refused to boot. Checking its disk for errors resolved things,* but not before H had had a major panic that the whole machine had died. Oh, and then, H’s DVD player decided to spit out loud white noise instead of any audio it was supposed to be playing. The last few days have left me tired, stressed, and annoyed at the slightest little thing, because it feels as if every piece of hardware around me is set to attack.

* apparently resolved things, at any rate. I am wary of what may have caused the original bluescreen.

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Facing points (part two)

In which we go over some railway history


More notes on the Lambrigg and/or Grayrigg train crash from a couple of weeks ago. Continued from here.

As I said in the first part, it was known for many years that junctions are a dangerous thing. Any place where a train has a choice of routes to take is a danger point, and the railways, for a hundred years or so, got around this by avoiding them as much as possible. A freight train, going into a siding, would have to run past it, stop, and back up slowly into the siding.

This is a very safe and careful thing to do, but it is very, very slow. Trains take a long time to slow down, and a long time to stop. Backing up has to be done very slowly, too, and the whole operation blocks the main line for rather a long time. If the train could run directly into the siding, things would be a lot faster.

Similarly, if one line of a pair has to be closed for engineering works, trains have to run in both directions over the remaining line. The old way of doing this was very slow indeed – the train would have to stop, reverse backwards onto the other track, then reverse again so it was going forwards. All very fiddly and slow,* and it would have been easier if there was a faster way to do things.**

So, in the 1960s and 1970s, an awful lot of the rail network got simplified and redesigned. In particular, “emergency crossovers,” like the ones involved in the Lambrigg crash, were installed every few miles on the main lines. Essentially, all they were there to do was let trains switch across to the other track if one line had to be closed for maintenance. This, though, meant greatly increasing the numbers of relatively dangerous, maintenance-heavy facing points on high-speed main lines. Cost was no longer an issue – greater automation and mechanisation of the railways meant that all points were fitted with exactly the same locking equipment, so the legally-required and previously expensive locks on facing points were now provided for free. Maintenance still mattered, though.

Note that I said “relatively dangerous”. Facing points are maintenance-heavy, purely because they are intrinsically more dangerous than trailing points. This isn’t an issue, though, so long as the maintenance gets done. And, over the years, all points started to be given the same level of maintenance – there is in many ways no longer a distinction between facing and trailing points, maintenance-wise, because as I said above they nearly all have the same fittings.

So long as the maintenance gets done. That is the key. Railways just aren’t maintained in the same way that they used to be. There’s no longer a man walking every stretch of track, every day of the year, looking out for faults, like there used to be. If facing points aren’t maintained properly, they become dangerous, and they’re likely to cause accidents, such as Lambrigg and Potters Bar. The problem is, they’re vital to being able to run the railway smoothly and flexibly. If you want to run a flexible railway, it’s going to cost you more. You have to be willing to pay the price, however you want to pay it.

* there are lots of other rules involving people waving flags and people whose job is just to be unique, but I won’t bore you with them.

** This has nothing to do with the closing of alternative routes, incidentally, which people sometimes go on about as being a Bad Thing in connection with the rail network. Alternative routes are often a lot less useful than people like to make out.

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Facing Points

In which we delve into railway history following a recent accident


Some notes on the Lambrigg rail accident (also known as the Grayrigg crash in the media).

Facing points are a bad thing. Facing points have always been known to be a bad thing. This has been known ever since the railways were first created.

A facing point is, essentially, a junction, where one line of rails splits in to two. The opposite is a trailing point: a junction where two lines come together to become one. You will quickly realise that a facing point becomes a trailing point if you stop your train and reverse it, and vice-versa.

Facing points are dangerous; trailing points are safe. You can drive through a faulty trailing point, or a trailing point set the wrong way, and you’re unlikely to have your train come off the track. You’ll probably wreck the point, unless it’s designed for you to do that to it,* but your train will be unharmed. Do that with a faulty facing point and your train is going to end up all over the place.

Now, this was never a problem, because for years main-line railways only ever had tracks in pairs, one track for each direction. Going the Wrong Way was strictly against the rules. The main reason for this was to stop trains meeting head-on, but it had a secondary benefit: it meant that engineers could get rid of as many facing points as was possible. This was partly an expense issue. Anyone who’s ever had a train set will know that if you switch a facing point whilst a train is on it, Bad Things will happen as different parts of the train try to go in different directions. This isn’t what happened at Lambrigg/Grayrigg, but it has the same result; and when the government realised, they quickly insisted that all facing points be fitted with a complex arrangement of locks and train-detectors to make sure you can’t do that. Back then, that involved mechanical locks which needed a lot of careful and regular maintenance and adjustment. Now, most of it is done electrically, but there is still a mechanical lock somewhere in the point’s machine that holds the various moving parts of a point fast when a train is nearby. Of course, that’s only any use when the rest of the point is mechanically sound too.

So, anyway, as I said, if all lines are one-way only you don’t need facing points. Not until you get to big junctions, at any rate, where you have to live with them. Freight lines didn’t need the expensive facing point locks, so freight trains always backed into sidings. And the railways happily ran like that for a hundred years or so, and facing points rarely caused accidents. In modern times, though, it didn’t really work.

(continued here)

* Lots of points on rural lines, nowadays, are what’s called “sprung points”. They’re not controlled, they just sit there. Use them as a facing point, and they’ll always send you the same way.** Use them as a trailing point, and you can approach them from either route without problems.

** Left, usually

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Grumble grumble

In which we have problems


Well, in addition to not being able to find any of the Christmas presents I want to buy in the shops; the computer has started misbehaving. It crashed in the middle of an update, and hasn’t been working right ever since. For those of you who have been on the internet since the early 90s: I’m posting this using the text-only browser Lynx. because it was the only one I could get working quickly whilst getting the rest of the machine back on its feet.

So if anything in this post looks a bit strange, that’s because I can’t really see what I’m doing, because the text-entry widget in Lynx is a bit…

The Plain People Of The Internet: So what was the explanation for all those other posts looking a bit strange, then?

Me: Har har.

More whining posts tomorrow; or if I’m in a good mood, I’ll tell you about the pantomime I went to see.

Update: Although Lynx lets you create posts in WordPress, it doesn’t seem to like you editing them. Grrr, again.

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Predictive

In which we thank people and skim over a few other things


Well, I was glad Gordon Brown did take my hints on a couple of things.* I’m just disappointed that he didn’t single out blue cars for rebates.

Thanks to everyone who commented on Tuesday’s whining post, both on the site and privately. I’m still doomed, though. More on this to come soon, I’m sure, along with musings on those people who leave their abusive partners, only to go back to them a few months later. When they could easily find some much nicer people who aren’t abusive,** if they wanted.

Current small reasons to feel pleased with myself: I’ve managed to completely avoid watching anything at all to do with the Commonwealth Games, even though one of the medal-winners is a teacher at my old school. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep avoiding it until all the fuss is over again.

Current small reasons to get pissed off: the computer keeps crashing, usually at the most inappropriate moments. I know what the problem is: a very obscure bug in the disk controller driver which very few people have come across, and nobody seems to know the cause of.*** Bah.

On the other hand, I do have a large box of biscuits on my desk at the moment. But not for long, I suspect. Hurrah!

* although, to be fair, everyone else in the country had already vaguely guessed the road tax changes.

** ie, me, or Big Dave

*** it only comes up if you have a Promise SATA disk controller, a Maxtor SATA disk, and are running one of some Linux 2.6 subversions. But not all – the problem apparently disappeared in one revision of the driver, only to come back in the next.

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Crash

In which I am driven into


It’s Friday lunchtime. I’ve popped into town just to get out of the office for an hour, and now it’s time to head back to work. Into the car, and I’m gently drifting through the car park towards the exit with a CD playing loudly,* when…

Something is moving too close to me, but before I can respond – BANG!

A big, dark car has driven right into the side of me. I jump out of the car in a great panic, forgetting to turn off the engine or even try to take the key out.

I had absolutely no idea what to do. I’ve been in crashes before, but only ever as a passenger. This was the first time that anything bad had happened to my own car. I was shaky, jittery, shocked and adrenalin-flooded. No idea what I should be doing, other than taking down the other driver’s name and address. Looking back, though, luck was on my side. I’m not hurt, and the shock went away after a few hours. The car still works. I can still drive it, even if it does have a big, nasty dent in the side. If I’d been hit a foot further forward, the door would probably be unusable; and I’d have possibly been hit too. If it was a foot further back, the back axle might well have been wrecked. As it is, though, I just have a big dent until the garage can manage to get hold of some replacement panelling.

* An Add N To (X) album, if you must know

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