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Sturgeon's House

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Good morning, my fellow nerd-faces. 


I've had an idea for a while now. During my time back in school, I've learned a bit about myself. Firstly, I didn't learn shit math-wise in high school. Going back for engineering school required me to learn everything I should have learned in high school over the course of a semester when I started this program. 


Add to that, a few years ago I began to tutor high school students in math, science, reading, whatever they needed. I never thought I would really like teaching high school kids, but it turns out I enjoy it a ton. It's great to twist the minds of the easily swayed idiots mold the minds of the future. 


While teaching these kids, I've noticed a very unified theme among everyone struggling with math. 


Which is, "What's the flippin' point of learning all of this crap?!?!"


Well, I want to change this. Math is taught in high school as repetitive arithmetic and rules without basis or definition. It's a lot of "Eat this problem, do this, don't ask questions, don't bother remembering it. Just do it for the test and move on."


My idea is to put together a little book. A little black book of industrial disasters.


Industrial disasters that I can research and build a narrative of what happened, why it happened, and finally, how somebody screwed up the math and then people died.


My daydream is to one day be an old crotchety man  with 40 years of industrial chemical engineering experience, sitting in a math classroom in some tiny high school somewhere, scaring the shit out of kids. And this book would be the way to do so. 


In my chemical engineering classes, we go over failures in design that lead to disasters. Reactors that blow up, high pressure pipes not designed correctly or high temp lines not insulated properly. I believe I can take every one of these disasters and work them down to a set of high-school level equations that can be solved, though with difficulty, by children. 


Hypothetical situation, a child asks "Why is this crap important? I'll never use this ever." 


I break out the black book 


"Come to the board, and let's do some math." 


If the student cannot solve the problem, or he/she doesn't remember to take a negative sign through the equation or square root the answer, I can silently nod and then bring up the source of the problem. 


"Oops, forgot to drop the negative at this point. Let's see what that does... Oh, your pressure is far too high. Here's what happened due to your mistake." 


The powerpoint comes up and shows the pictures of the crater that is the only thing left after a chemical plant creating fertilizer exploded. 


"25 people died, over 70 more injured, and over a billion dollars in damages. Including an elementary school. Good thing it wasn't occupied on the night shift. How many people are in this classroom, kid? About 25? Imagine you drop a negative sign tomorrow, and everyone in this classroom dies." 


Boom, Instant horror. Instant context. 


Now this may be the the wet dreams of a sadist, but I feel that this book would be a fun way to add context to math for kids who question why they are being forced to learn these "arbitrary" rules over and over again. 


Here's an outline of each article in the book.





Picture of said disaster


Quick summary of the location, the background, the chemical/material that failed, quick explanation of why it failed. 


Original equations, with known constants and assumed values.


Broken down, simplified, integrated equations, made to have one or two unknowns to solve for.


Solution to simplified equations.


Then, finally, the aftermath of the failure and what happened.


More pictures. 



This is a rough post-breakfast draft of what I would be doing for each disaster. I'm sure I can get a number of disasters to analyze and break down into this form. 



In summary, I need your help. Give me disasters to analyze and I'll put them in the book if there's enough information. Give me the proper information and I'll build something to scare children into realizing that math has a purpose, has context, and is still the most important thing they'll learn in school. 



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Poorly timed overflow error leads to a bunch of people getting zapped with radiation; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25


Bridge design fails to account for wind loading, collapses; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tay_Bridge_disaster


I can get some more next week, the library at work has a couple books on engineering fuckups.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I think I learned about it from here, but there was an AD for the 787 regarding a coding error, that could cause the generators to shut down if running for too long continuously. Given the timescale at which it occurs (~248 days) it wasn't ever likely to happen but the consequences could have been severe.

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Not exactly a disaster, but does the Gandhi bug in the Civilization game count?

Gandhi’s obsession with nuclear bombing in the series was first noted in the sequel title Civilization II, wherein India would often evolve into the most hostile civilization during the mid to late stages of a match. Cause of this was a glitch in the artificial intelligence (A.I.) settings for Gandhi’s aggression level. Despite starting with the lowest level of aggression to reflect Gandhi’s historical legacy of pacifism, as the game progresses towards the Modern Era the Indian civilization would often become more hostile and confrontational towards other leaders as a result of a coding error. At that point in the game Gandhi’s already low aggression value would lower into a negative value in the game’s code, at which point the error caused Gandhi’s aggression to underflow into the highest setting just as the level of military aggression begins to wane across the world in the game, going from 0 to 255. With the advents of strategic nuclear weaponry in the Atomic Era, Gandhi’s hyperaggression typically leads to rampant threats and use of nuclear bombs on other civilizations, earning him an odd reputation of being a nuke-obsessive warmonger.

Due to the popularity of the bug, it was later intentionally put into later iterations of the game where Gandhi would intentionally be given the highest level as a producer and user of nukes.

FYI: Originally the aggression scale went from 0 to 10.


Gandhi got 255.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've started my first entry in this book. I have chosen The Great Molasses Flood





And if anyone needed to know what sensationalist media reporting is nothing new, here's a quote from a paper at the time. 





Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage ... Here and there struggled a form‍—‌whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was ... Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings‍—‌men and women‍—‌suffered likewise.[2]:98 
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  • 2 weeks later...

First story is in beta form currently. Here's what I've done so far. This is a representation of the word document I have cooked up. I have yet to add citations.


The Great Boston Molasses Flood




On Wednesday, January 15th, 1919, just after lunchtime, a tank burst. But this wasn’t a tank filled with water or gasoline; This was a tank filled with molasses.


This tank was owned by the U.S. Industrial Alcohol company. Molasses is oftentimes used in the creation of ethyl alcohol. It is fermented, then the product of that process is distilled to create things like whiskey. However, the U.S. Industrial Alcohol company was storing molasses shipped from the Caribbean for the production of munitions that could be sold to the US army.  boston-molasses-flood_5.jpg



This tank was situated near the harbor, as well as Boston’s second oldest graveyard and popular tourist attraction. This was a very busy part of the city, with numerous businesses operating near the tank. The tank had a capacity of 2.5 million gallons. U.S. Industrial Alcohol built the tank very quickly, making a few mistakes in its construction. The locals enjoyed the tank because it leaked molasses due to poor construction. Individuals would collect the molasses as it dripped down the sides of the tank.


On that Wednesday the tank was almost full. It held 2.3 million gallons of molasses. The tank failed at a manhole cover, situated low on the tank. The resulting explosion of liquid molasses caused waves up to 20 feet high and rolling through the city of Boston. 





As a result of the poor construction and planning by the U.S. Industrial Alcohol company, 21 people died, horses and pets were caught in the wave and suffocated. 150 people were injured. The wave of molasses was estimated to have traveled 35 miles per hour (mph).


The wave caused over $100 million in today’s dollars, destroying a huge swathe of the city.


A firsthand account is below, by the Boston Post.


Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage ... Here and there struggled a form‍—‌whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was ... Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings‍—‌men and women‍—‌suffered likewise.


Since it was January in Boston, the temperature was close to 40 degree Fahrenheit. So while the molasses initially flowed very freely, it was quick to congeal. This hampered the rescue efforts. In other words, people who were caught beneath the molasses became stuck there, like insects in amber.











Problem Set-up








Gravity Constant, g: This is the acceleration that everything with mass experiences. It pulls toward the center of the earth, and cannot be stopped. The gravity constant at sea level is 32.2 Feet per Second Squared (feet/Second^2)


Density, p: Density is a measure of how much mass is contained in a specific amount of volume, or space. For example, steam has very low density compared to ice, even though they are the same thing (Water). Density has units of Mass per Volume, or in this case we can say Pounds mass per Cubic Feet (lbm/ft^3)


Pressure, P: Pressure is defined as the total force divided by the area on which the force acts. Force can be applied by gas particles bouncing off the wall of a container, by water above a submerged object, or even by solid shapes pressed into another object. Pressure has units of Force per Unit Area, or in this case, Pound Force per Feet Squared (lbf/ft^2)


Volume, V: Volume is defined as a unit of three-dimensional space. For our purposes, we’ll measure Volume in cubic feet (ft^3)


Diameter, D: The diameter is a line segment from opposite ends of a circle that travels through the circle’s origin. This is a distance, and we will measure it in feet (ft)





Pressure exerted on a surface that is submerged in fluid can be found by using the following equation


{Sturgeon's House Edit: This didn't copy over because file type discrepancies. It should look like this, except written in Word 2016}






Where lower-case p is density of the fluid, g is the gravity constant, and h is the height beneath the surface. The tank can be assumed cylindrical for this problem.


As shown in the diagram of this tank, there is a manhole at the bottom of the tank. Find the pressure exerted on the manhole.



{SH Edit: Below is solution (how do i, a person, do spoiler tags?)

Also, the formatting for the Word 2016 mathematics package didn't save over to OpenOffice, so I just made a screenshot of the solution.}






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