Summer Sales and More From Bob Mayer
As usual, the first of the month brings a plethora (Yes, I know what the word means) of free and discounted books.
Free today only:
The Green Beret Pocket Sized Survival Guide
The first two books of the Area 51 series are discounted all month to $1.99; also on Kindle Unlmited.
Phoebe and the Traitor is only .99 or Kindle Unlimited for the next five days.
I noticed Youtube put an ad on my latest post on 20 Things Every Hiker Shoulder Have after it hit several thousand views and that got me thinking. Yes, dangerous. I’ve added a subscribe button to all my videos and am in the process of updating them, with things like me actually talking. One day, soon, but not too soon, I will actually, maybe, appear in one. I need 1,000 subscribers to get to the monetize plateau where Youtube actually kicks some of that ad money to me, you know, those 3 cent deposits, so if you’re interested in stuff, not just survival, subscribe please. Go to any of my videos and hit the little button in the bottom right. I’ll be doing survival, writing presentations, history, trivia, stuff on my books, which is pretty much all the previous and more. I’ll also be updating the older ones.
Let’s all enjoy the coming warm months! Unless you live on the southern hemisphere, in which case, don’t fall off.
How AI Will Cripple Authors’ Livelihood versus the Uncanny Valley
Something lost in all the talk of ChapGPT, Bard and the newer programs focused specifically on writing fiction is that they all violate copyright law. AI isn’t generating original work, it’s taking work that is already done, tossing it in a blender and spitting it back out.
There are thousands of writers doing exactly that right now. Either they don’t care that they are stealing, or it hasn’t occurred to them. And this article, and all the other articles, and all the complaining on social media, isn’t going to stop them. It is a reality.
It reminds me, on a much larger scale, of the author who bought hundreds or thousands of paid fake reviews in the early days of Kindle. Before Amazon caught on and cracked down on it. But this is far, far worse. Magazines have already had to close submissions after being inundated with AI generated stories.
I submit Amazon KDP and other platforms are already getting AI generated books and will soon be inundated with them. Worse, will be the people who actively and deliberately violate copyright by feeding books they didn’t write into a AI program, simply hit the “regenerate” button and voila, they have their new book. This is happening and will increase exponentially. No matter how bad they are, this flood will hurt the earnings of authors who produce their own work by diluting the market.
This same applies to all written material. The WGA is on strike because their very existence is threatened by AI. Book authors have no such power.
It’s the Wild West now.
However, it is key to remember something about AI. It has no soul. That might sound philosophical, but it’s very pertinent. AI is not conscious. It is a LLM: large language model. It takes input, prompts, and then combs through what it already has in its databanks (almost all of it illegally copied or, worse, willingly uploaded by writers) and, if attached to the internet, from that great depository of knowledge and dreck. If you think about it, even if it steals someone else’s unique story, it is still a copy of that story. An echo. What does that mean?
There’s a term called the “uncanny valley”.
This was coined by a robotics professor, Masahiro Mori in 1970 to describe an innate human response to a robot that appears human but isn’t.
In this graph the x-axis equal human likeness and the y our emotional response. As you can see, initially as a robot becomes more human-like we do fall for it a bit with a positive response. But there comes a point where the response turns abruptly the other way and we might even be revolted but at the very least we feel unease.’
That dip is the uncanny valley.
I’ve looked into various AI and AI writing software and experienced the same. The writing is, overall generic and bland. Occasionally there are intriguing phrases. Even some unusual twists. But overall, something is off. And that’s just for a scene. For an entire book?
Another aspect is garbage in-garbage out. Since the internet is now a vast wasteland of garbage and conspiracy theories and flat-out bad information, the AI is scraping that in along with valid stuff. Indeed, it’s uploading bad writing too. When I asked ChapGPT about myself it informed me there was a television series based on my Area 51 books. Which was news to me.
Indeed, it constantly comes back with wrong answers. Because there are so many wrong answers out there floating around on the internet.
One caveat though, is that we also have an overall dumbing down of the population because of all the misinformation on the internet. Flat-earthers can find other flat-earthers and no longer feel like the fringe. Look at the anti-mask, anti-vaccine movement? If one googles “what can go wrong with the vaccine” you get a ton of answers, none of which, of course, are what immense benefit a vaccine has had in saving lives. And thus, people dive down a deep rabbit hole of disinformation and ignorance. So perhaps many people are ready for AI driven content?
Worse, down the line, everyone can do their own AI driven content and no longer need anyone else’s. Why not be the hero in your own story?
Regardless, AI is here. It’s a reality. And we need to face that reality.
It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humidity.
Understanding Wet Bulb Temperature and Its Dangerous Implications
I saw Wet Bulb temperature used in a science fiction short film and decided to investigate further because we tend to say “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” a lot. Well, how exactly?
Climate change has brought about numerous environmental challenges, including the rising temperatures around the world. One significant metric used to measure heat stress is the Wet Bulb Temperature (WBT).
Wet Bulb Temperature is a measure of the combined effects of temperature and humidity, indicating how efficiently the human body can cool itself through evaporative cooling. Originally, it was measured using a thermometer with its bulb wrapped in a wet cloth, which is then exposed to the air. The rate at which the water evaporates from the cloth cools the thermometer, and the temperature reading obtained is the Wet Bulb Temperature.
When the Wet Bulb Temperature reaches high levels, it signifies extreme heat and humidity, posing severe threats to human health and well-being. Here’s why it becomes dangerous:
1. Reduced Evaporative Cooling: The body cools itself by sweating, and the evaporation of sweat from the skin helps dissipate heat. However, as the Wet Bulb Temperature rises, the air becomes saturated with moisture, hindering the evaporation process. This impairs the body’s ability to cool down, leading to heat stress and potential heat-related illnesses.
2. Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion: When the body is unable to cool itself effectively, heat stroke and heat exhaustion become significant risks. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels, resulting in organ failure, confusion, and even death. Heat exhaustion manifests as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and muscle cramps, often preceding heat stroke if not addressed promptly. I cover prevention and first aid for this in my survival books. Also, in a free slideshow.
3. Impacts on Respiratory System: High Wet Bulb Temperatures can also worsen respiratory conditions, as the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature becomes compromised. This is particularly concerning for individuals with pre-existing respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, or other chronic conditions.
4. Threats to Vulnerable Populations: Elderly individuals, children, pregnant women, and those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to the impacts of high Wet Bulb Temperatures. Their bodies may have difficulty adapting to extreme heat and are more prone to heat-related illnesses, making them particularly vulnerable.
In recent years, there have been alarming reports of areas around the world experiencing Wet Bulb Temperatures close to or exceeding the limits of human survivability. Such conditions are highly concerning as they indicate a potential for uninhabitable regions, mass migrations, and social and economic instability.
We often hear of the heat index instead of wet bulb, but they are different.
1. Heat Index: The heat index, also known as the “apparent temperature,” is a measure of how hot it feels to the human body when relative humidity is factored in with the air temperature. It takes into account the combined effects of temperature and moisture on our perception of heat. The heat index is typically higher than the actual air temperature on hot and humid days. It helps in assessing the risk of heat-related illnesses and determining appropriate precautions or warnings for the general public.
2. Wet Bulb: The wet bulb temperature, on the other hand, is a measure of the lowest temperature that can be reached through evaporative cooling under current atmospheric conditions. It is determined by wrapping a wet cloth around the bulb of a thermometer and measuring the temperature decrease caused by evaporation. The wet bulb temperature is primarily used to evaluate the potential for evaporative cooling, which affects how effectively the human body can cool down through perspiration. It is particularly significant in assessing heat stress in outdoor or occupational settings.
While the heat index focuses on the perceived temperature by considering the combined effects of temperature and humidity, the wet bulb temperature primarily addresses the cooling potential through evaporation. Both measures are useful in assessing heat-related risks and determining appropriate safety measures, but they provide distinct information about the atmospheric conditions. Thus, I pay more attention to the wet bulb temperature.
Apple has a free app for this, Zelus WBGT.
I go into hot weather preparation and first aid in The Green Beret Preparation and Survival Guide and the first aid in The Green Beret Pocket-Sized Survival Guide.
What disaster you may face, would you like me to cover next?
Prepare for and deal with Flash Floods
Someone on twitter asked me about this, referencing several recent disasters, where people experienced flash floods. So here goes.
Flash floods are sudden and powerful natural disasters that can occur with little to no warning. They pose a significant risk to life and property, making it crucial for individuals and communities to be prepared. By taking proactive steps and having a solid emergency plan in place, you can enhance your safety and minimize the potential damage caused by flash floods. This blog will provide you with a detailed guide on how to prepare for flash floods, empowering you to protect yourself and your loved ones.
1. Understand Flash Floods:
To effectively prepare for flash floods, it’s important to understand what they are and how they occur. Flash floods are rapid-onset floods caused by heavy rainfall, dam or levee failures, or sudden snowmelt. They often happen in low-lying areas, near rivers, and in urban environments with poor drainage systems. Recognizing the signs and knowing the flood-prone areas in your vicinity will help you make informed decisions and take immediate action when necessary. However, a lot depends on the composition of the ground under you. Our house in Boulder, Colorado, on top of a ridgeline, flooded after a torrential flash rain and the entire water table rose up and flooded everyone’s basement. So be aware of drainage!
2. Stay Informed:
Keeping yourself updated with weather forecasts and flood warnings is vital. Utilize local news sources, weather apps, and official websites to stay informed about potential flood risks. Sign up for emergency alerts or notification systems provided by your local government or disaster management agencies. This will enable you to receive timely information, evacuation orders, and safety instructions.
3. Create an Emergency Plan:
Developing a comprehensive emergency plan is essential for every household. Discuss the plan with your family members or roommates to ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. The plan should include:
a. Evacuation Routes: Identify the safest evacuation routes from your home or workplace to higher ground. Be aware of alternate routes in case the primary ones are inaccessible.
b. Emergency Meeting Points: Establish designated meeting points both within your neighborhood and outside, in case family members are separated during the evacuation. I cover the IRP, ERP and Big Out Hide Site (BOHS) in detail in The Green Beret Preparation and Survival Guide. In fact, everything below is covered in detail there, but this is an overview.
c. Communication Strategy: Determine a reliable communication method to stay in touch with your loved ones during emergencies. Share contact information with each other and have backup power sources for mobile devices.
d. Emergency Kit: Prepare a well-stocked emergency kit that includes essential items such as non-perishable food, water, medication, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, extra clothing, blankets, and a battery-powered radio.
4. Safeguard Your Property:
Taking preemptive measures to protect your property can significantly reduce flood-related damage. Consider the following steps:
a. Elevate Essential Utilities: Raise electrical panels, switches, sockets, and wiring systems above the flood level. Similarly, elevate HVAC equipment, water heaters, and other appliances.
b. Install Check Valves: Fit check valves in sewer traps and drainpipes to prevent floodwater from backing up into your home.
c. Waterproof Basements: Apply waterproofing sealants to basement walls and floors. Consider using flood-resistant materials and keep valuable items elevated or stored in waterproof containers.
d. Clear Gutters and Drains: Regularly clean and maintain gutters, downspouts, and drains to ensure proper water flow. This will prevent clogging and minimize the risk of localized flooding. One item I highly recommend getting that can save your life and/or save you a lot of damage from accidental floods is a water alarm. Here’s a post I did on that after the deadly floods in Kentucky in 2022. Here is the direct link to a battery powered alarm on Amazon—definitely worth $12.50.
5. Insurance Coverage:
Review your insurance policy, especially the coverage for flood damage. Standard homeowner’s insurance typically does not cover flood-related losses, so it is crucial to consider purchasing flood insurance separately. Consult with your insurance provider to understand the options available and ensure adequate coverage for your property.
6. Practice Flood Safety:
During a flash flood, personal safety should be your top priority. Remember the following safety guidelines:
a. Evacuation: If authorities issue an evacuation order, follow it immediately. Do not attempt to cross flooded areas by foot or in a vehicle.
b. Avoid Low-Lying Areas
: Stay away from creeks, streams, and drainage channels, as they can quickly fill with fast-flowing water.
c. Turn Off Utilities: Before leaving your home, turn off gas, electricity, and water supplies to prevent hazards or further damage.
d. Seek Higher Ground: Move to higher elevations and find sturdy shelter in a multi-story building or on a roof if necessary. Never seek refuge in a flooded attic or basement.
e. Do Not Drive Through Floodwater: Avoid driving through flooded roads, bridges, or underpasses. The depth and strength of the water may be deceptive, and you risk being swept away. I cover what to do if you get swept away in your car in the books and elsewhere.
Preparing for flash floods is crucial to safeguard yourself, your family, and your property from the devastating impacts of these sudden disasters. By understanding the risks, staying informed, creating an emergency plan, protecting your property, and practicing flood safety measures, you can be better prepared to respond effectively and mitigate potential damage. Remember, preparedness is the key to resilience, and it can make a significant difference in your safety and well-being during flash flood events.
What specific disaster, perhaps unique to where you live, would you like to see me cover?
Keeping Cool During an Extended Power Outage in Phoenix: A Practical Guide
I saw someone pose the question on twitter the other day about what would happen in Phoenix if the power went out for three days during a heat wave. It would be quite a disaster. As part of an Area Study, this should be a disaster you identified and have prepared for. Here are some suggestions.
Phoenix, Arizona is known for its fierce summer heat, with temperatures frequently soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. While the city’s power grid is designed to handle the increased demand from air conditioning during these hot months, there are times when the system might falter, leading to an extended power outage. Power loss during extreme heat can be not just inconvenient, but also potentially dangerous. However, with a bit of preparation and know-how, you can stay safe and comfortable even during the harshest power outages. Here’s a practical guide on what to do in Phoenix if there is an extended power outage during very hot weather.
## 1. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is critical when dealing with hot weather. Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. You may need more than the typical 8 cups a day in extreme heat. Always have a stock of bottled water at home for emergencies like this. Also, limit the intake of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, as they can dehydrate you. This goes back to the very first task in my Preparation and Survival Guide: at the very least have two cases of bottled water per person in your household. This will last you six days. I recommend more than that in dangerous, low water places, like Phoenix.
## 2. Create a Cooling Plan
When the power goes out, your air conditioning will, too. It’s essential to have a plan to cool down your home or, at least, create a cool space. This could involve setting up battery-powered fans, using wet cloths or spray bottles for evaporative cooling, or creating a cooler area with ice in a cooler or bathtub.
## 3. Protect Your Home
To prevent heat from building up in your home, cover windows with shades, blinds, or curtains during the day. Using reflective or light-colored window coverings can help deflect the sun’s rays. At night, if it’s safe and the outdoor temperature has dropped, open windows and doors to let cooler air in.
## 4. Check on Neighbors
If you’re able to, check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or those with health issues. They may need additional assistance during a power outage.
## 5. Find a Cooling Center
Many cities, including Phoenix, open cooling centers during heatwaves for people without access to air conditioning. These locations could be libraries, community centers, or other public buildings. Before the summer heat hits, familiarize yourself with the locations of these centers in your area. These only work if they have a generator and plenty of fuel.
## 6. Protect Your Food
Without power, your refrigerator and freezer won’t be able to keep your food cold. To minimize the risk of food spoiling, keep the doors closed as much as possible. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
## 7. Prepare for Power Restoration
When the power is restored, there may be a surge that can damage electronics. Unplug your devices to protect them, and plug them back in only after the power has been stable for a few minutes.
## 8. Have a Plan for Medical Needs
If you or a family member rely on electrically powered medical devices, have a backup plan in place. This could involve having backup batteries, a generator, or a plan to go to a healthcare facility if needed. I have a Yeti 400 backup battery, linked to two additional batteries that can charge off six 100 watt solar panels that give me enough power to keep my wife’s CPAP and a small, camping refrigerator running. One positive is that you have access to plenty of sunlight in Phoenix and the surrounding area. Solar backup is always a great idea, even at a base level. Here is more on SOLAR in a free powerpoint presentation.
## 9. Stay Informed
Have a battery-operated or hand-crank radio on hand to stay updated on the situation. Also, many utility companies provide updates on their websites or via social media. Even if your home internet is down, you might be able to access these updates on a mobile device. This is one of the four survival essential items I say is your baseline and costs less than $60 (includes water mentioned earlier).
Remember, the key to staying safe during an extended power outage in very hot weather is preparation. Make a plan, stay informed, and take steps to keep cool. Even in the face of a power outage, you can stay comfortable and safe in Phoenix’s summer heat.
Do your Area Study.
Prepare. You cannot prepare after the fact!
What preparedness and disaster situation specific to your locale would you like me to blog on in the future?
The Quiet Girl: Brilliant Film and Excellent Acting
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film do so much with so little dialogue and action. The Quiet Girl is a very quiet film. It’s a simple premise: a girl goes to spend the summer with relatives on their farm.
It’s an Irish film and a lot of Gaelic is spoken which is intriguing. My grandfather spoke Gaelic although the only word I remember is eejit. Which ain’t good. The film is set in 1981, but it seems ancient.
The smallest of gestures are profound—such as leaving a cookie on a table. Yet underneath every scene are grief, sadness, hope, dreams, love and friendship.
The young girl who stars, Catherine Clinch, is wonderful in her role of a 9 year girl who is invisible in her own family and at school. How she slowly emerges from her shell with her relatives, the older couple who nurse their own deep wound is the arc of the story. Perhaps because my wife and I have the same wound this story particularly affected. The thing about loving someone is you take the risk of the pain of losing them.
The cinematography itself is worth the view. Long shots, close-ups, a long tree lined driveway, water at night, all of it is beautiful.
While some may view the ending as ambiguous, it is crystal clear for me that all three characters show in their actions how they have changed and are able to become complete human beings.
It is a small story that packs a knockout punch. Highly recommended.
Will AI replace creatives?
A lot of discussions lately among those of us in the creative fields such as writers, whether AI will replace us. So I went to the expect. I asked AI if it would be replacing me as an author. Here is the response:
No, authors will not be out of a job because of artificial intelligence. While AI can generate text, it cannot replace the creativity, imagination, and originality that human authors bring to their writing. AI-generated text may be useful for certain applications, such as summarizing information or generating reports, but it cannot replicate the unique perspective and voice of a human writer.
Furthermore, many aspects of the writing process involve skills that are not easily replicated by AI, such as researching, organizing ideas, and editing. While AI can assist with some of these tasks, it cannot replace the critical thinking and decision-making that human authors bring to the writing process.
Overall, AI is a tool that can enhance the work of authors, but it cannot replace them. As long as there is a demand for original and creative writing, there will be a need for human authors.
The question is: should we believe it?
Also, AI is evolving exponentially. Even if this is true today, will it be true next year?
What do you think?
The English, a TV Series review: Slow, Yet Intense, oddly mesmerizing
I stumbled on this series on Amazon Prime knowing nothing about it. I thought “that actress is familiar” and, of course, it’s Emily Blunt. Loved her in Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow. The actor was vaguely familiar and years ago he was the wolf in Twilight, Chaske Spencer.
Terrible title, though: The English. As Mary Higgins Clark said once at a conference, a title should invite you in. This is, eh, what? Take it from me, the master of the bad titles (Eyes of the Hammer anyone?), title is important.
Brief summary: an English woman, Emily Blunt, arrives in the American west (in this case filmed in Spain, because) to avenge the death of her son. She runs into a Pawnee scout and across six episodes the two of them encounter a despicable, yet entertaining cast of odd (to put it mildly) characters.
There’s Black Eyed Mog, to name just one. Ciaran Hinds is a terror in the first episode. Rafe Spell has a great time being the antagonist for the series and he’s a nasty piece of work.
Nothing is quite as it seems in this story and I don’t want to give any spoilers. The opening is slow. It really takes a while to get into the story, a couple of episodes at least, which in a six episode series seems a lot, but the payoff is worth it.
There are references to the Civil War and Fetterman. The main action takes place in 1890. The initiating event in 1875, which is a year before Custer. But nine years after the Fetterman Massacre which I cover in Great Disasters.
There are plenty of surprises. In a Larry McMurtry way (perhaps Black Eyes Mogg is in homage to one of his characters?) the west in this series is brutal and nasty and life isn’t precious. It is also amazingly small with everyone running into each other over and over, again in a McMurtry way. There are some flashbacks to the initiating event and things around it. There are also abrupt jumps in the plot, but those work. Hugo Blick moves slow but doesn’t waste time in set up. It’s difficult to explain.
I preferred Godless for entertainment, which was more a straightforward western, but The English is worth it because its more unsettling. And deeper. The further I got into the series the more I enjoyed it and looked forward to what came next. Give it a shot.
Who Are Patience and Fortitude?
My two favorite lions guard the front entrance of the main branch of the New York Public Library. Long before the Internet (actually the first Internet message was sent in 1969, a free slideshow about that is on my slideshow page) became widely used, I would make the subway trip downtown to do research at this branch as it had the most extensive periodical holdings.
They are located in front of the main entrance to the Library on 5th Avenue.
They were put in place on 23 May 1911.
They gained their names during the Great Depression by Mayor LaGuardia, who was named after the airport, because he felt those two qualities were what was needed to get New Yorkers through those hard years.
The cost of the lions? $5,000 in 1911 money. That comes out to about $150,000 in today’s dollars, which is still actually cheap. I guess the mob didn’t get a cut.
BTW, to remember which is which, Patience is on the south side and Fortitude, is on the north side which is closer to Forty-Second Street.
Teddy Roosevelt, the infamous Rough Rider, didn’t like them. He thought they should be bison. Why? Who knows. Actually, given his background, that’s pretty obvious.
Then again, Benjamin Franklin thought our national bird should be the turkey, not the eagle. Go figure.
John Astor, who chipped in some bucks to the library, thought they should be beavers. His family had made its early fortune in beaver pelts.
They are both males. Because. Misogyny.
What Seven Cascade Events Led to the Titanic Sinking?
Every disaster requires seven things to go wrong. Six Cascade events leading to the 7th event, the disaster. At least one of the Cascade events involves human error. Thus most disasters can be avoided.
By studying past disasters we can learn to avoid future ones. Focusing on the Cascade Events and how they can be stopped is key! The Gift of Failure
“There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.” Phillip Franklin, White Star Line vice-president, 1912
The Titanic sank in the early morning of 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The official death toll is 1,517 making it #5 on the all time fatality list for shipwrecks. What makes this sinking notable is that the Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time of its maiden voyage and was declared ‘unsinkable’ by its builders.
Roughly 1,000 BC: Snow falls on Greenland, which will eventually become the iceberg the Titanic strikes.
31 July 1908: Plans for Number 400 (Olympic) are presented to the White Star Line and approved. Number 401 (Titanic) is also approved.
31 March 1909: Construction begins on Titanic.
1909: The fatal iceberg calves off a glacier on the west coast of Greenland.
31 May 1911: Number 401 slides on 22 tons of soap and tallow into the water. It is not christened or formally named, keeping with White Star tradition.
2 April 1912: First sea trials of Titanic. 10 April 1912: Titanic sets out on her first, and last, voyage. 14 April 1912; 11:40 pm: Titanic strikes an iceberg. 15 April 1912; 2:20 am: Titanic sinks.
THE CASCADE EVENTS:
Cascade One: An unusual weather pattern caused more icebergs than usual and forced them farther south than normal. The ice that struck the Titanic was formed three thousand years ago, via snowfall on the western coast of Greenland. Compressed into ice, then slowly pushed downward and outward as part of a glacier, the iceberg calved into the open ocean about the time the keel of the Titanic was laid in Ireland, thus setting two objects, thousands of miles apart, on an inexorable collision course. The iceberg made a rather difficult and unlikely journey, from Greenland, to Baffin Bay, to the Davis Strait, to the Labrador Sea and into the North Atlantic. Less than one percent of icebergs calved in a year make it that far. By the time it struck the Titanic it was 5,000 miles from its origin.
Lesson: Expect the unexpected. The icebergs were farther south, but it was also April, the worst iceberg month. It was well known as the season went on that it was a bad year for icebergs in the North Atlantic. Thus, while it was unusual, it wasn’t unexpected that the Titanic encountered one during this trip.
Cascade Two” Rivets were of inferior material, some put in by inexperienced welders, causing more damage during the collision than should have occurred. The iron rivets were class 3 (best) instead of 4 (best-best). While many believe the hole ripped into the Titanic by the iceberg was huge, there were actually six small gashes, totaling about one square meter. That is an incredibly small group of holes for such a large ship, totaling an area less than the size of your dining room table. But the six holes were stretched along the side of the ship pouring water into six of sixteen watertight compartments: if four flooded, the ship was doomed. Additionally, the ‘watertight’ compartments were only that in terms of bottom and horizontal. They were open on the top.
Lesson: Set realistic goals and don’t skimp on the cost of construction. Class 4 rivets should have been used at the very least, if not steel. Even more important was over-reaching in construction. Building the world’s three largest ships at the same time caused shortages of material and skilled labor. Yet, this did not deter the company from doing it. They set a goal, which exceeded safe capacity, and many paid the price for it.
Cascade Three: Lack of a sufficient number of lifeboats for the crew and passengers. Titanic carried lifeboats to accommodate 1,178 people; for a ship with a capacity three times that. British vessels over 10,000 tons were required to carry at least 16 lifeboats with capacity for 50% of passengers and crew. The Titanic actually exceeded this requirement by having a capacity for 52% of the people on board. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a focus on the 48% that weren’t provided for. The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats. 14 were wooden with a capacity of 65 each. 4 were collapsible boats (wooden bottom, canvas sides) with a capacity of 47 each.
Lesson: When building technology outstrips current safety requirements, one should not take the easy way and adhere to outdated laws. The reality of the new technology requires a new reality in safety requirements. After the Titanic, the lifeboat requirement was changed so that a ship was required to carry enough lifeboats for its capacity, a common sense requirement that should have been implemented by designers and builders as ships grew larger. Sadly, while the Titanic’s lifeboats had the capacity for 1,178 people, there were only 706 survivors.
Cascade Four: The two lookouts in the crows nest didn’t have binoculars because the key to the locker holding them had left the ship before sailing. The key was held by David Blair, an officer who was re-assigned just before the Titanic sailed. He failed to turn over the key to the box holding this equipment. One of the lookouts, Fred Fleet, survived and told the official enquiry he had no doubt that he would have spotted the iceberg earlier if he’d had binoculars. When asked how much earlier, he said that it would have been in “enough time to get out of the way.” Aside: Curiously, ninety-five years after the sinking, the key and a postcard from Blair indicating his disappointment at missing the sailing sold at auction for almost $200,000.
Lesson: Key equipment is just that: key. Pun inevitable. To realize an essential piece of gear isn’t available should raise a red flag, not a shrug. Just because the key wasn’t available, doesn’t mean they couldn’t have broken open the box and gotten to the binoculars. But institutional inertia was at work here: the lookouts didn’t want to complain up the chain of command and be labeled trouble-makers. An organization has to establish an environment of openness where potential problems can be raised before they become cascade events, particularly with regard to safety equipment.
Cascade Five: The ship was going too fast for the conditions. Captain Smith had a delusional mindset. Each day the ship encountered no problem, it went faster. On the first day, Titanic covered 386 miles. Day two: 519. Day 3: 546. The Titanic was warned several times of icebergs in the area. The ship was sailing full speed into an area with obstacles. With lookouts who didn’t have binoculars. A ship that massive is very slow to turn and even slower to stop. During sea trials, the Titanic required 850 yards to come to a halt from full speed. And 3,850 yards to turn around.
Lesson: Human error via speed. ‘Slow down’ is a mantra that works more often than ‘speed up’ does. Many human made catastrophes are the direct result of speed. And not just in a conveyance moving too fast. Speed is dangerous in inspections, production, and many other areas. Paradoxically, Captain Smith was slow in his decision to order the ship to be abandoned. It took 45 minutes from the time Smith was told the ship was going to sink for the first lifeboat to be launched; and it was only partly full. It took another hour and twenty minutes for the last lifeboat to be launched. When speed was critical, Smith and his crew didn’t deliver.
Cascade Six: Warnings were ignored and the wireless radio wasn’t used correctly. The radio on the Titanic was the most powerful in the world at the time. Its normal working range was guaranteed for 250 miles, but it could often reach 400 miles. Interestingly, the range was much greater at night, reaching out to 2,000 miles. This is bolstered by the fact that the two radio operators had watches that went from 8 pm to 2 am and 2 am to 8 am. They were not on duty during the day. The wireless was engaged in transmitting messages to New York City during the Night To Remember, as they had piled up all day long. In fact, passenger communication was such a priority that when the Californian tried to radio about encountering ice, the Titanic’s operator replied with “Shut Up!”
Lesson: Lack of standing operating procedures with regard to the radio caused its ability to warn to be ineffective, and its ability to secure rescue after the final event to be minimal. While the most powerful radio was built into the Titanic, it was viewed more as a passenger amenity rather than an integral part of the ship and key to its safe operation. When we prioritize amenity over safety, the results can be catastrophic.
Final Event: At 11:40 PM on the 14th of April 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg, causing fatal damage to the ship. It sank at 2:20 am on the 15th of April.
Lesson: The United States inquiry concluded that all those involved had followed the standards of shipping as set at the time. The disaster was therefore an “act of God.” In essence, the British inquiry reached the same point, noting that Captain Smith had not done anything particularly unusual, following long-standing practices of the time, which had not previously been shown to be unsafe. After all, British ships had carried over 3.5 million passengers in the decade before the Titanic with only 10 fatalities. Ultimately, they were following delusion events, making a disaster like the Titanic inevitable.
This and 20 other great disasters are covered in detail in The Green Beret Guide to Great Disasters.