We all have things that we do when completely bored. At least I assume that I’m not the odd one out as far as that’s concerned. Whether, it’s a completely random task or just inspecting the lint in your bellybutton it’s just something to pass the time.
A few of the things that you might find me doing at 1am or while on a two hour conference call might surprise you… or might not.
All true geeks know what XKCD is… it’s a… well…. it’s a geek comic. I guess the best description is it’s own, “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” Always interesting comics but when you’re bored, you can click the “random” button at the bottom to get a random comic out of the history. Since I’ve read them all it’s not a lot of fun but a little known feature is that all, or at least most, of the comics have “alt text”. “Alt Text” was originally part of the HTML specification to deal with browsers that didn’t support pictures. So, where a picture on a web page might be you’d have a text description for it that looked like [Photo of Sunset over mountains]. These days this text is used for accessibility functions. In XKCD it’s used to sneak in a hidden comment. Usually, it’s something to do with the topic of the comic for that day but sometimes it’s just a witty saying or bit of social commentary. A great way to waste time.
I read NASA reports like the recently released Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report. Not out of morbid curiosity but because they have passages like this:
Human space flight is still in its infancy; spacecraft navigate narrow tracks of carefully computed ascent and entry trajectories with little allowable deviation. Until recently, it remained the province of a few governments. As private industry and more countries join in this great enterprise, we must share findings that may help protect those who venture into space. In the history of NASA, this approach has resulted in many improvements in crew survival. After the Apollo 1 fire, sweeping changes were made to spacecraft design and to the way crew rescue equipment was positioned and available at the launch pad. After the Challenger accident, a jettisonable hatch, personal oxygen systems, parachutes, rafts, and pressure suits were added to ascent and entry operations of the space shuttle.
As we move toward a time when human space flight will be commonplace, there is an obligation to make this inherently risky endeavor as safe as feasible. Design features, equipment, training, and procedures all play a role in improving crew safety and survival in contingencies. In aviation, continual improvement in oxygen systems, pressure suits, parachutes, ejection seats, and other equipment and systems has been made. It is a core value in the aviation world to evaluate these systems in every accident and pool the data to understand how design improvements may improve the chances that a crew will survive in a future accident.
The Columbia accident was not survivable. After the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) investigation regarding the cause of the accident was completed, further consideration produced the question of whether there were lessons to be learned about how to improve crew survival in the future.
This investigation was performed with the belief that a comprehensive, respectful investigation could provide knowledge that can protect future crews in the worldwide community of human space flight. Additionally, in the course of the investigation, several areas of research were identified that could improve our understanding of both nominal space flight and future spacecraft accidents.
This report is the first comprehensive, publicly available accident investigation report addressing crew survival for a human spacecraft mishap, and it provides key information for future crew survival investigations. The results of this investigation are intended to add meaning to the sacrifice of the crew’s lives by making space flight safer for all future generations.
The reports go into great technical detail and are presented in a language that allows the average person to understand them. They present data relating to accidents in the most humane and respectful way possible. It’s truly fantastic that you get this level of expertise and human understanding out of a Government organization. The reports are up front about the data that they do not have or can not guess. When they stray into speculation they are very clear on this fact and go to great lengths to relay to the reader that this is the case. Truly good reading for the science minded.
A lot of times I’ll just load a game to play. Usually something that doesn’t take a lot of attention like a lower level “real time strategy” game like EA’s Red Alert. In these game there’s usually an objective and computer opponents that send “enemies” against your forces. I like to build up a very strong defense and then slowly whittle away at the other guys. If I’m particularly bored I’ll load a game with three or four bad guys against me. Usually I can “win” in very short order but the games allow you to continue after winning so I’ll continue the game and keep going until I’ve destroyed every trace of the enemy… every troop, every building… it’s a great way to waste several hours for no gain.
I’ll usually start with Google News and find something that interests me. It might be the story itself, a comment related to the story or it might be just a passing bit of unrelated “fact” that I find odd. From there I’ll spend time doing additional Google searches to try and figure out how often the media got a particular topic right. Answer: not often.
Worst Case: YouTube user comments.
As Aviatrix hints in this post, if you want to get an understanding of how stupid, illiterate, inane, insane, racist, etc the folks that you see in the mall are then this is the place. Doesn’t matter what the topic of the actual video is… just find one, any one, and read the comments. For best results pick one related to politics or guns.
Anything in the blog reader but I generally consider that stuff more productive. (links at right)