Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boom gate madness

And it's not always the drivers at fault. It's the incompetent government railway gate controllers. I have myself driven around lowered boomgates. Why? Because they are often poorly synchronized with train movements. After waiting for some time in front of a lowered gate with no train in sight, I have looked carefully for a train coming and, seeing none, I have driven around the gates. And as long as I could see the crossing in my rear vision mirror there was still no train.

It's about time the media stopped blaming the public and started blaming the incompetent bureaucrats who undermine all faith in the signalling system. And I WELCOME any prosecution over my admission that I have broken the law. I would just LOVE to have an incentive to go to the dangerous crossings with my stopwatch and time what happens there

TWO people were lucky to escape with minor injuries when their car was hit by a train in Brisbane's north in another crash involving boom gates. About 7.30pm the car went around level crossing boom gates on Glenholm St, Mitchelton and was struck from behind by an inbound train.

Local resident David O'Sullivan said he was standing outside his house when the crash happened. "The car was stopped there, the boom was down and the train had already tooted," he said. "The car has pulled out and around the boom gates and half lined up to miss the other boom gate." He saw the train hit the car from the driver's side. "It's right about the slow-motion thing. It felt like forever but it was over in an instant."

He said the man and the woman in the car were very lucky to survive but he often saw people driving and walking around the lowered boom gates. [Obviously one of the mismanaged sites] Both the driver and passenger were taken by ambulance to the Royal Brisbane Hospital with minor injuries.

A Translink spokeswoman said the crash had caused disruptions to night services. "The passengers on that train were transported by bus and we are expecting buses to run for the rest of the night between Mitchelton and Ferny Grove stations," she said. The spokeswoman said services should be returned to normal before the morning peak period.

Despite a $1 million advertising campaign this year warning of the danger of attempting to beat oncoming trains, motorists continue to disobey lowered boom gates at alarming rates. [Funny, that] The first three months of the year saw 53 collisions with boom gates - a rate of four a week.

The T-intersection on Telegraph Rd in Bald Hills, also on Brisbane's north, has had more near-misses and boom gate collisions than anywhere else in the southeast. [So look into the timing there] In the past 16 months, 12 boom gates were hit and broken by motorists and in the past year three near misses with trains were recorded.


Big problems with the latest Qantas airbuses

It's getting bad when business passengers refuse to fly on them. I said from the beginning that I would never fly on one. I think my prophecy that they will become a second De Havilland Comet is becoming ever more likely. Reliance on computerization has been problematic enough on earlier airbuses and the computerization on the new planes is bound to be even more complex and hence more bug-susceptible

Disgruntled passengers on the new Qantas A380 luxury superjumbos have started calling it the A3-Lately or the A-180 (as in degrees), because of delays as long as eight hours. And, according to one Qantas insider, premium business passengers are demanding to be on the old Boeing 747, saying there is "absolutely no way" they are travelling on the Airbus A380 because of the unreliable departures.

The A-180 nickname stuck after one plane, bound for Los Angeles last month, came out of the hangar, loaded up with passengers, had technical problems, unloaded and went back to the hangar - a 180-degree turn. According to one business class passenger, that QF 11 flight took off eight hours late. After several attempts to rectify technical problems, the pilot told passengers he was not happy and unloaded them onto another A380 that took off just before 9pm.

A week later, QF 12 from Los Angeles to Sydney was three hours late due to what the pilot told passengers was an electrical fault with the A380 air-conditioning. Another passenger reported an A380 flying to LA earlier last month had a faulty fuel gauge which showed a full tank halfway into the flight.

There appear to be issues with plane layout as well. According to one flight attendant, when Russell Crowe was travelling in first class in the A380 recently, he complained about the noise from people walking up and down a set of stairs next to the first class suites. (The actor did not return a call yesterday.) The A380 is so quiet first class passengers could hear any clatter nearby. A barrier has since been erected to stop business class passengers using the stairs to access first class toilets.

And while pilots who fly the A380 say they are confident in the planes, the Air France A330 crash last month and other recent incidents involving high tech Airbuses have sparked concerns about over-reliance on technology which has essentially "pilot-proofed" aircraft. Around the world, aviation experts and pilots are debating whether planes are becoming too automated for pilots to control in emergencies, in which computers override pilots.

Essentially pilots are flying a computer in the sky. "And sometimes things go wrong with your computer," says the A380 captain Barry Jackson, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association. "It's pretty hard to reset something in the air." But he says he is "confident going to work" on the A380, that the aircraft is safe, and he will be flying one to Singapore on Sunday. He stressed that the A380 is different from the Air France A330, and in particular that the speed sensor system that appears to have been one of the causes of the Air France crash is not the same. But he agreed airbuses "haven't been having a good run lately".

The problem with the A380 fuel gauge was a design problem that Qantas engineers have since developed a maintenance procedure to prevent. "Technically the A380 has had its teething problems," he said yesterday. But he says 747s had similar teething problems when they were introduced by Boeing.

Investigators of the Air France Airbus A330-200 flight 447 from Rio to Paris which disappeared on May 31 with 228 people, have been looking at technological malfunctions, beginning with the plane's speed sensors, combined with stormy weather, as the cause of the crash. The A330 is typical of the fly-by-wire aircraft that use electronic systems to control the plane rather than hydraulic or mechanical devices.

According to The Sunday Times the pilot's instruments were giving "inconsistent" readings of the plane's speed. And an internal Air France report, quoted by the British newspaper, said "the reliability of these [fly-by-wire] aircraft has the consequence of reducing the pilots' appreciation of risk".

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has also been investigating recent incidents caused by computer glitches on high tech planes. There was the Qantas Airbus A330-303 "in-flight upset" on October 7 last year when the plane surged up and down over Western Australia, before pilots were able to wrest control from the computer and bring it down safely. The aircraft, en route from Singapore to Perth, "abruptly pitched nose-down twice while in normal cruise flight". A flight attendant and 11 passengers were seriously injured. The bureau found the autopilot had disconnected after the aircraft's computer systems started receiving "erroneous data" from the so-called air data inertial reference units (ADIRUs). The bureau also reported "other occurrences" involving similar anomalous ADIRU behaviour" in September 2006 and December 2008. "But in neither case was there an in-flight upset."

In March the bureau investigated another computer glitch which led to a tail strike involving a United Arab Emirates Airbus A340-500 during take-off at Melbourne Airport. The investigation found "an incorrect weight had been inadvertently entered into the laptop when completing the take-off performance calculation prior to departure based on a take-off weight that was 100 tonnes below the actual take-off weight of the aircraft". The result was the plane did not produce enough power to take off and although the pilots managed to override the computer and apply maximum thrust, the plane's tail hit the runway.

Then there was the Air New Zealand A320 Airbus that crashed off southern France on November 28 after what French investigators described as a power surge which made it fly sharply upwards, stall and crash as it was landing in Perpignan.

Jackson says the concern is the prospect that, as planes become more automated, financially strapped airlines will devalue pilot skills. Just this January, flight engineers were phased out of Qantas flight decks because their functions had been automated.

After 22 years with Qantas, Jackson says experience in flying light planes or in the air force is superior to simulator training. "Those skills are still needed no matter how automated planes are." Yet cheaper pilots, with fewer "real world" flying hours are replacing experienced pilots around the world, he says. The importance of pilot skill was clear in the emergency landing of a US Airways plane on New York's Hudson River in January. In this high-tech age we can't forget that the most important safety equipment is a well-trained pilot.


Despicable Dearden again

A judge who just LOVES criminals

A QUEENSLAND father who bashed a man caught molesting his 10-year-old son is facing a prison sentence, while the boy's attacker walks free. In a highly unusual case, Shane Thomas Davidson was spared jail despite pleading guilty to molesting the boy on State Of Origin night last year. Judge Ian Dearden told Beenleigh District Court the sentence was reduced because the young victim's father had wrongly taken action into his own hands and badly beaten Davidson. "There is no place in our community for a vigilante approach," he said. Davidson was sentenced on Monday to a nine-month intensive corrections order.

The boy's father is awaiting trial on one count of grievous bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Today, the father's brother told Radio 4BC's Greg Carey that his sibling snapped after the boy repeated his claim that he had been molested to his mother and then to friends from across the street. "My brother just lost it then; he dragged him (the sex offender) outside", the brother said. He said he arrived at the scene to discover "my brother in handcuffs sitting in the back of a police car". He said it was up to the public to decided whether the pedophile had suffered enough for his crime. The brother said the pedophile's abuse of his nephew had "absolutely put a wedge in all of our hearts".

Child safety campaigner Hetty Johnston yesterday slammed the sentence for Davidson. "In this case, they've got it woefully wrong," she said. "What the offender did was totally unnatural."

In handing down his sentence on Monday, Justice Dearden said adult offenders who committed sex offences against children must serve actual jail time – unless exceptional circumstances were found to exist. "This is one of those rare and exceptional cases," he said. "When an individual takes the matter of punishment into their own hands, the offence committed by the person may be far, far more serious and, therefore, have far more serious consequences then the original offence."

The court was told Davidson was at the child's house at Eagleby in June last year to watch the State of Origin match with the boy's father and a few other people. After the game, Davidson went into the boy's bedroom and began massaging the child's penis under his clothes. When the boy woke up, Davidson asked the boy to show him his penis and offered to do the same. The child refused and went to tell his father what happened.

The man then attacked Davidson, dragging him outside, throwing him on to a concrete path where he struck his head and repeatedly kicking him. Davidson later underwent extensive facial surgery in the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Yesterday Davidson told The Courier-Mail he regretted what he had done but didn't think it was something he should go to jail for. "As far as these sorts of offences go, it's pretty minor," he said.


Bosses show bias against ethnic applicants

People are always going to be most comfortable with people like themselves. You are never going to be able to alter that

THE key to nailing a dream job may be all in a name - your name. New research has found job seekers with ethnic-sounding names have a harder time securing an interview than their Anglo-Saxon colleagues. Researchers from the Australian National University sent more than 4000 fake CVs to employers hunting for staff through job advertisements as part of a 2007 experiment.

Professor Alison Booth said the researchers varied just the names on CVs to take a gauge of "hiring discrimination" and found people with ethnic names were less likely to be called up for an interview.

Job hunters with Anglo-Saxon names had a 35 per cent hit rate with employers in getting a phone call in response to their application. But aspiring workers from different backgrounds had to work more than twice as hard in some instances to get a call back. "To get the same number of interviews as an applicant with an Anglo-Saxon name, a Chinese applicant must submit 68 per cent more applications, a Middle Eastern applicant must submit 64 per cent more applications, an Indigenous applicant must submit 35 per cent more applications, and an Italian applicant must submit 12 per cent more applications," Professor Booth said.

In Brisbane, the research suggested Chinese job hunters faced the greatest discrimination, having to send out more than double the number of applications to get the same results as their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Italian workers fared better in Melbourne and Sydney but in Brisbane were forced to post almost a third more applications to get the equivalent number of interviews.

The level of discrimination also varied between job types with hospitality employers much less likely to give interviews to Middle Eastern and Chinese workers. Chinese women also had a harder time securing interviews than Chinese men. That trend was reversed for Italian women, who had a better success rate than the opposite sex.

Among the last names surveyed were Rosso, Ferrari and Romano (Italian), Chen, Huang and Chang (Chinese), Kassir and Baghdadi (Middle Eastern) and Tjungarrayi (Indigenous). They were pitted against Anglo-Saxon last names including Abbott, Adams and Johnson.


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