America's top 99 problems

Max Read ranks the nation's problems in order of severity: "5. A loss of perspective on what is and is not important." Read the rest

Massive plane stuck on short runway

A Boeing 747 DreamLifter, a gigantic cargo plane, landed at Wichita Jabara airport instead of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. This wouldn't be a problem, excerpt for the fact that Jabara's runway isn't long enough for it to take off again. Twist ending: the pilot believed he'd mistakenly landed at a third airport, Wichita Beech. Jeez, how many airports can Wichita have? Read the rest

Blackout: What's wrong with the American grid

It began with a few small mistakes.

Around 12:15, on the afternoon of August 14, 2003, a software program that helps monitor how well the electric grid is working in the American Midwest shut itself down after after it started getting incorrect input data. The problem was quickly fixed. But nobody turned the program back on again.

A little over an hour later, one of the six coal-fired generators at the Eastlake Power Plant in Ohio shut down. An hour after that, the alarm and monitoring system in the control room of one of the nation’s largest electric conglomerates failed. It, too, was left turned off.

Those three unrelated things—two faulty monitoring programs and one generator outage—weren’t catastrophic, in and of themselves. But they would eventually help create one of the most widespread blackouts in history. By 4:15 pm, 256 power plants were offline and 55 million people in eight states and Canada were in the dark. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 ended up costing us between $4 billion and $10 billion. That’s “billion”, with a “B”.

But this is about more than mere bad luck. The real causes of the 2003 blackout were fixable problems, and the good news is that, since then, we’ve made great strides in fixing them. The bad news, say some grid experts, is that we’re still not doing a great job of preparing our electric infrastructure for the future. Read the rest

I will not put a pun in this headline

You may be pleased to know that there is an International Forum for the Study of Itch. And it has a regular conference, which just leads to inevitable jokes. Read the rest