Category: Technology

Why Don’t Airplane Black Boxes Transmit to Land?

Jesse Davis, my friend and another Madison based entrepreneur, asks this question in his post today called Thinking Outside the Black Box.  He says:

Instead of spending billions (literally) of dollars developing black boxes that can resist 5,000 degree heat, impact of the highest magnitudes, and can send radio transponder signals from depths of 12,000 feet below sea level for up to 30 days, someone should have suggested the possibility of a solution that lies outside the black box.

Why can’t black boxes transmit their data in real time to a backup station via the internet or cell phone transponder?  It seems like it would be a fairly simple engineering project, but it has not been done yet.  Hopefully some engineer is working on this project right now and works harder and faster because of the recent Air France crash.  It would seem like this idea would be something that both the government and the airlines would love to have.

Mother Finds Missing Son 27 Years Later on Facebook

A British woman from Liverpool recently found her now adult son on Facebook after being unable to find him since he was abducted by his father.  The woman was married to a Hungarian man, but they got divorced.  The ex-husband had visitation rights and took the boy to the zoo, but never came back.  The ex-husband took the then 3 year old boy back to communist Hungary and was not heard from for 27 years.

The boy’s aunt and mother appealed to parliement and the Prime Minister, but they were unable to help get the boy back.  Fast forward to 2009.  The boy’s aunt googled his name and the first hit was his Facebook page.  They sent him a message and a phone number and waited.  After two weeks, he messaged back and he was able to be reunited with his mother.

This story shows the incredible power of the Internet and social networks in general.  Its not to see a story in the media about some of the benefits of social networks, rather than stories about the dangers.  I wonder how many other missing children are on Facebook without their parents’ knowledge?

Bill Gates on Disease, Teachers and Mosquitos

Bill Gates returned to TED this year to give an update on what his foundation had been doing for the last year, along with how he thinks the world can start to solve two of the biggest problems in the world today: disease and lack of good education.  Gates’ presentation can be described in one word: Optimism.

Bill Gates’ TED Talk

The first half deals with malaria.  I had not realized that malaria was a problem in the US and other rich countries up until the 1950s.  It killed over 5m people worldwide during the 1930s and was not completely eradicated in the US until the 1970s.  Now, it only affects poorer countries, which happen to be around the equator.  Gates says that “more money is spent on baldness drugs than malaria drugs” each year. 

Most people would agree that our priorities are clearly misplaced.  This situation is a clear example of a problem that the market cannot solve completely on its own.  Poor people cannot provide the profit motive necessary for big drug companies to develop the cures necessary to eliminate malaria worldwide.  The Gates foundation, other charities and some rich governments should step in to fill the void.  Tax credits, grants and other incentives should be used to stimulate innovation in areas where there are not sure economic profits, but provide real social benefits.

I would also like to see a drug company cut their ad budget by 50% and use those billions to invest in a cure for malaria or another one of the treatable mass diseases, as drug companies now spend about an equal amount on advertising as they do investing in new drugs.  Imagine a big drug company cutting half of its Viagra, Propecia or Zantac ad budget to focus on developing a new malaria drug.

Imagine the positive (free) press that a company could get by doing this.  They could craft their new image around being an altruistic drug company and even run ads in the US touting their contributions to global health care.  Even a 25% cut in advertising in the US to invest in Malaria would be substantial.  This solution is probably too controversial for conservative drug companies, but it would be interesting to see.

I would also like to see one car company stop advertising completely and pass on the savings to consumers, or just keep the savings.  Everyone knows cars and brands of cars, so why bother advertising?  But that is another post for another time.

The second half of Gates’ talk focuses on what makes a teacher a good teacher.  Through research funded by the Gates Foundation, they found that a top 25% teacher improves student performance on standardized tests by 10%.  Unfortunately, the teacher’s performance is not rewarded.  In fact, teachers who many not be very good, but want to learn cannot even learn from good teachers because of contracts.

Gates touts the KIPP academy in Houston, another branch of the KIPP School that I talked about in a previous post, as a model for the future.  He says that the combination of giving children a chance to work hard, along with analysis of teacher performance produces results.  96% of children at the KIPP academy in Houston go to college.

I would love to see some sort of reward mechanism implemented for great teachers to help compensate them for their work.  Gates says that the good teachers are more likely to leave their jobs to change profession than bad teachers, so some sort of reward system is needed.  Gates is hopeful that many of these innovations can be brought to public schools in America, which will better help us compete internationally.

Were Flight 1549 Passengers Lucky the Pilot was American?

In Outliers, Gladwell talks about how Korean Airlines reduced its crashes from the most in the world to one of the safest airlines in the world.  He argues that pilots from countries where it is difficult to question superiors suffer more frequent crashes than pilots from countries where questioning superiors is the norm.

I bet the passengers on Flight 1549 who had read Outliers were glad that the pilots where American and not another nationality.
If you haven’t read Outliers, see my previous post on why everyone should read it.