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Stupid Engineering Mistakes

Posted December 01, 2006 11:25 AM by amichelen

In June 2006, Wired Magazine published a list of (what they consider to be) the 10 most stupid mistakes in the history of Engineering. The list includes dam failures, boat sinking, power grid failure, and other mistakes. Take a look and classify them from the most to the least stupid .

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/start.html?pg=9


Abe

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#1

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/01/2006 1:48 PM

Can we separate failures caused by greed from failures caused by negligence? Blaming the consumer (Firestone 500 tires, 1970s) strikes me as an example of corporate greed. The decision to build a structure (St. Francis Dam, 1928) on a defective foundation is downright negligent.

If anyone is interested in additional nominees for this "hall of shame", don't forget the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. We can blame the bean counters for buying cheaper materials, but somebody managed to ignore the wind-induced mechanical resonance.

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#37
In reply to #1

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/28/2007 10:04 PM

If you're referring to wind draft as being a good source of oxygen supply, forget it, the smoke in the Towers was choking the flame down to 500 deg. F. If the Trade Towers with all of it's modern construction was a failure, we better be thinking of taking down the Empire State Building before it falls down ? ! ;-)

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#2

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/02/2006 6:20 AM

The twin towers of the 9/11 terrorist attack should not have collapsed. The top section smashed and burnt maybe, but not the undamaged floors underneath.

But engineering mistakes need to be considered against the knowledge of the time.

With hindsight most things are predictable.

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/02/2006 5:48 PM

You say the twin towers should not fall even after being stroked by heavy planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour and loaded with tons of combustible?

This is unfair; nothing in this world can resist such an impact.

Jaime Soto Figueroa

http://www.matharts.cl/

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/03/2006 1:09 AM

I disagree. Although the hypothesis has never been tested, and I hope never will be, I believe a pre stressed concrete building with a sprinkler fire control system would have a good chanced. I understand this type of construction is now being used on the world trade center site. The concept has many advantages over the usual steel frame building like column free floors, concrete encased core with fire stairs and lifts etc.

I worked on a building constructed this way and the effectiveness of sprinkler was tested on two occasions. On both the fire was out long before the fire brigade arrived on site.

I have been told that the world trade center towers didn't have sprinkler systems. Can somebody tell me if it is actually true or not because if it is it would seem to me to be a remarkable oversight on the part of the designers?

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#20
In reply to #5

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 2:03 PM

Buildings were sprinklered and design was sound except for the issue of aircraft at high speed slicing through the sprinkler mains and rendering the system useless. In addition, sprinkler density is determined by the fire load calculated for the occupancy. Unfortunately, it's damn near impossible to calculate the fire load that can be inflicted on a structure by atomized and pooled fuels (are you going to calculate for JP-4? JP-5? Gasoline? Kero? Steel is elastic as we all know and so long as we use steel (even protected with jacket), if you damage the protection by a knife edge wing, no steel structure will remain standing with that kind of exposure. And let's not forget the impact load of pancaking floors...

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#22
In reply to #20

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 10:57 PM

Physicist you stated;

"It looked to me as if fuel was aflame immediately after impact"

Which is of course true but there are two parts to the fire. The fire ball we saw was fuel that was atomized by the impact an ignited by various sources. This part is spectacular but dies down after a few seconds. The second is the remaining fuel that flowed throughout the structure and spread the fire. It's the second part of the fuel fire that caused the weakening of the structure and its ultimate collapse. This is the fire that the sprinklers would combat and while they may not be able to extinguish the fire they would undoubtedly reduce the spread and lower the temperature.

Guest you raised a couple of points;

"Buildings were sprinklered and design was sound except for the issue of aircraft at high speed slicing through the sprinkler mains"

And

"so long as we use steel (even protected with jacket), if you damage the protection by a knife edge wing, no steel structure will remain standing"

The points you make about damage to the sprinkler risers and steel frame jacketing are valid but both these points are addressed with a pre stressed concrete construction. To start with the amount of steel is reduced dramatically and it is all encased in concrete. Secondly the core of the building is concrete rather than the plaster board and therefore offers a great deal more protection. I have seen test of aircraft being run into concrete structures and when you clear the debris away you can hardly tell that the structure has been hit. Keep in mind aircraft are fairly flimsy structures, it doesn't take much to destroy them.

Weather or not this would prevent the ultimate collapse is unknown as the fire is still a problem. The concrete core that encases the lift shafts, service risers and fire stairs however would stand a hell of better chance of remaining useable than the plaster board version. Even if the building collapsed there would be a good chance the core, which is a structure in itself to that is built prior to an to which the floor are attached, would remain relatively intact. I hope the concept is never tested in reality but my money is on a pre-stressed concrete building being able to cope with the sort of damage that brought down the WTC towers.

I saw a program on the reconstruction work at the WTC site and the new structures are indeed pre stressed concrete that they claim could withstand a similar attack. I am surprised that it has taken this long to catch on because we have been building skyscrapers like this in Australia for something like 40 years now.

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#52
In reply to #22

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 9:25 AM

Knife edge wing ? Try it; place a three inch aluminum bar and slap it against a 1" steel plate @ 560 miles an hour and watch what you get ? As far as slicing through mains, it would've automatically pressurized by the Sprinkler system and flooding the floor with 250 psi of Water !

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#23
In reply to #20

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/02/2007 5:48 AM

Collapse of twin towers, general comment - I thought I read somewhere that one of the reasons they were vulnerable was because a design requirements was possible future (planned) demolition.

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#42
In reply to #23

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:08 PM

Planned demolition ? I never heard of that? The engineers were very specific in the foundation work, on bedrock ?

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#40
In reply to #20

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:04 PM

Ok....JP-4 and 5 are gasoline fuels used for the military and very high altitudes, because it's freezing point is much lower then A1 kerosene. Gasoline fuels are not used by flights within the U.S.. No, each floor is able to sustain the floor above, this was the reason for building all the columns into the outside of the towers.

If the sprinkler system was cut, this would only actuate the sprinkler water pressure automatically, as you can see in the lobby, there was no water present. The pressure on a automatic sprinkler system is very high pressure, where did it go ? "I guess someone forgot to plug it in ?" tee hee.

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#41
In reply to #20

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:06 PM

This test was already done on Myth Busters...check it out. They used a steel cable and cut through 3" aluminum bar.

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/03/2006 6:14 AM

I agree that it is unfair, but the buildings did not fall over or collapse at the time of impact, but some time much later. And both towers towers collapsed in similar circumstances.

The attack itself, foreseeable in a far fetched logic sense, had to be discountered by probability and commonsense, otherwise we would never build anyhing.

But with hindsight many of the previously cited disasters were not 'stupid' at the time in terms of available knowledge.

How about the use of asbestos. That's an engineering material, used by engineers, for very good engineering reasons. But now known to be have been handled in a 'stupid' manner.

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#24
In reply to #6

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/23/2007 5:50 PM

horace40 wrote: "The attack itself, foreseeable in a far fetched logic sense, had to be discountered by probability and commonsense, otherwise we would never build anyhing."

------

Seems NYC's skyscrapers have a history of attracting large, low-flying aircraft. In July, 1945, a B-25 smacked into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. And here is a Mutual News radio bulletin of the event.

Of course, there weren't terrorists then. Only governments whose hidden agendas forced them to burn Reichstags in order to mold public opinion into something more accommodating to their ulterior, otherwise-objectionable aims. Oldest trick in the book, and it works every time. Worked for Caesar. Works for George.

Quiz: Which Roman official invented the bucket brigade, and why?

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#44
In reply to #24

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:12 PM

Your right, aluminum cannot cut steel ! Now match this up to the trade towers and you'll see how stupid it looks ?

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#43
In reply to #6

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:10 PM

I've handled asbestos when I was very young, never paying any mind to the problems with it; then, there wasn't any ? I'm over 50 and I attend Karate classes too !

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#50
In reply to #43

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 8:30 AM

Your not in the clear yet, some of the asbestos related diseases can have delays in excess of 40 years between exposure and the appearance of symptoms. You can develop an asbestos related diseases from inhaling as little as one particle and one of the nasty things about it is that as the exposure decreases the length of time between exposure and symptoms increases.

Admittedly the risk is small but it is not zero and there is still a chance that you will develop an asbestos related disease.

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#53
In reply to #50

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 9:32 AM

Well, if I wait until I'm seventy, I guess there's not much to worry about ? I'll let you know. Right now, I'm experiencing my eyes are going bad at 52, from all the melting of steel and welding I've did. Now, because of my CDL license I have to wear glasses, which is going to be a trip while driving. My heart and lungs are doing good, and my doctor doesn't see any other problems, except he wants me to consider to stop smoking, which is the only thing I've got left to stop, and I'm worried if I do I'll die !

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#14
In reply to #4

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 11:08 AM

jaime, the engineer who designed the wtc buildings designed them to with stand a blow from a 747 a much larger airplane. i work in a forge and i can tell you that a regular fire burns anywhere from 1100 deg f. to 1800 deg f. depending on what type of fuel is feeding a fire. forging temp is about 2250 deg f. ask your self how if heat rises the thousands of steel beams below just suddenly failed and dropped in a nice neet pile below. what about building 7 that had minimal fire damage and still failed and ended up in a nice neet pile? oh yeah, building 7 was not even hit by a plane.

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 11:34 AM

I think you will find that the WTC towers were designed to cope with the impact of a 707 rather than a 747. When the towers were being designed the 747 didn't exist and the largest aircraft of the time was the 707.

Do you know if the WTC towers had sprinklers? From what I understand they didn't and while they may not have been able to put the fire out they would have kept the steel cooler and possibly prevented the collapse. Eve if they didn't prevent the collapse they would defiantly lengthened the time before the collapse.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 12:03 PM

You're probably right that sprinkers would be little use in extinguishing aviation fuel, particularly when some of it has been atomised. What I have no idea about: given the amount of fuel, would a standard sprinkler supply system survive long enough for the sprinklers to make any difference?

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 12:24 PM

You would be surprised how effective sprinklers are at putting out fires regardless of what's burning. They also keep the temperature down and stop the fire spreading. Remember jet fuel is kerosene and wont burn by itself at room temperature, it either needs to be heated or have some sort of wick to burn.

I worked on a skyscraper many years back and there were two fires whilst I was there that set of sprinklers. In both cases the fires were extinguished within seconds and long before anybody could get to seat of the fire. Don't forget even if you smash the pipes you will still get a hell of a lot of water being dumped into the vicinity.

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 12:50 PM

It looked to me as if fuel was aflame immediately after impact - on the exit side of the building. Sprinklers work best when the heat is localised, so that all the available water can be delivered locally. If, as appears to be the case here, the fire is extensive before the first sprinkler becomes activated, there will be places where there is not enough water available to stop the fire. That is why fire crews can have such problems extinguishing established fires, even though they pump orders of magnitude of water than can be supplied by a sprinkler system. Plus: the problem I would see following a pipe burst would be that you might have plenty of water in some areas - but none in others.

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#48
In reply to #17

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:30 PM

Thanks for responding, I ran into a flow switch problem back in the 80's (mud clogged it up), damn thing was scaring the hell out of the tenants ! I knew that if I opened it while the switch was still in activation, I would have a mess on the 4th floor ! I called Grinnel Corp. to help me with this situation, and he explained to me the pump system, of how it generates the pressure and how to deactivate it for repair.

N ow, whatever happened to the Tower sprinkler systems ? This is one question no one in New York wants to answer ! ???? I know they had to have them, because all public buildings are required to have them !

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#47
In reply to #16

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:25 PM

Nah,, the only atomizing that went on was the fuel that splashed out the back end into a fire ball. You can see a woman at the entrance crash site. All the rest had to burn slowly, for lack of oxygen between the mass of liquid. I believe there were more fires that started and which severely choked the whole fire, that's why you have all the black smoke. The hotter the fire, the less smoke. Of course to get it hotter means you have to have more oxygen, and this doesn't add up to the timing of the building collapse.

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#46
In reply to #15

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:20 PM

The only thing I heard was the water mains were damaged out in the street from the first collapse, but that doesn't make sense to why the sprinkler systems didn't work ?

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#55
In reply to #15

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 9:47 AM

Forget it, it wasn't a 747, it was a 757 (a 10,000gal.-two engine, single isle plane).

They called this, after the 737, a fuel efficient model. It's so slow compared to a 727, it literally breaks your neck trying to achieve altitude. I know, I flew from Baltimore to Manchester on a 737. We didn't top off until it was nearly time for our decent into Manchester N.H.

After leaving from Boston; that was a trip. I'm sitting in the back, and we're waiting for two planes to land - sideways to us - I thought the pilot would wait for the second plane, but instead he hit the fuel and shot out from in front of plane #2. It scared the piss outta me ! I thought we wouldn't get enough speed to keep from getting hit, but none the less, we escaped outta there !

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#66
In reply to #55

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/02/2007 10:59 AM

"Forget it, it wasn't a 747, it was a 757 (a 10,000gal.-two engine, single isle plane)."

Bollocks, the aircraft that struck the north tower was an American Airlines Boeing 767-223ER registration N334AA and the aircraft that struck the south tower was a United Boeing 767-222 registration N612UA.

The other two aircraft hijacked on that tragic day were a United Boeing 757-222 registration N591UA that was crashed into a field while the passengers attempted to overpower the hijackers and an American Airlines Boeing 757-223 registration N644AA that was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC.

There is a considerable difference between Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 series aircraft the Boeing 757 have a Maximum Take off Weight MTOW 115,600 to 123,600 Kg and a maximum fuel capacity of 43,490 L while the Boeing 767 series aircraft have a MTOW of 142,992 to 204,116 Kg and a maximum fuel capacity 90,770 L. Put all that together and it adds up to more than doubling the amount of energy being released when the aircraft hit.

The other point I would like to clarify is that at no time did I say there was a 747 involved. What I did say was that when the towers were designed they considered what would happen if a Boeing 707 series aircraft was flown into the buildings. At the time the WTC towers were being designed Boeing 707 was the largest aircraft around and the Boeing 747 was still only the beginning of a concept stage and few people had any concept of an aircraft that big.

They called this, after the 737, a fuel efficient model. It's so slow compared to a 727, it literally breaks your neck trying to achieve altitude. I know, I flew from Baltimore to Manchester on a 737. We didn't top off until it was nearly time for our decent into Manchester N.H.

While it is true that the B-727 series aircraft did have a cruising speed greater than the B-737 in nearly all the time airlines operated them both at a cruising speed of mach 0.81. There were several reasons for this but the two main ones were fuel consumption and Air Traffic Control. ATC can become an absolute nightmare if you have aircraft flying oh jet routs that have different cruising speeds so for the most part they try and cruise at mach 0.81.

As for the inability of a 737 to reach cruising altitude that can happen to just about any airliner if the atmospheric conditions cause the air to drop in density and the aircraft is close to its MTOW. I sat on the flight deck of a B-727 on a 3,000 Km leg that had exactly the problem you are referring to. The flight was from Darwin to Adelaide during the wet season and the high temperature, humidity and approaching tropical depression made the air so thin that the flight engineer insisted that we delay the flight till the temperature had dropped to 25° C. Even then the aircraft could only get to 27,000 feet initially. We did eventually get to 33,000 feet but that took nearly 2,000 Km of flying south towards the cooler denser air and the burning of half the fuel load.

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#45
In reply to #14

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:18 PM

Absolutely right ! Heat rises, it doesn't migrate downward, unless something is down there sending up heat. What I find neat is the fact, it stayed molten all the way down 870 feet into the basement, like a meteorite ! The fire department even said, it was running down the gutter ways like Lava. That's some weird steel to be doing that, I haven't seen anything like that in all my casting days ? Someone tried to slip in the Iron word, but that would only mean, the temperature had to be close to 3000 plus degrees.

How are you going to get three thousand from 1200 deg. F. max ?

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#54
In reply to #14

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 9:40 AM

What kicks my ass is the fact, I've melted over 43,950 crucibles of chromium cobalt alloy for over 4 years; still do, off an on, and I've never got it to stay liquid for more then 1/10th of a second ! Hell, on a miscast - (straight through), it comes out like grits of hot sand ! There's more to the story of that 7 billion dollars Silverstein got for those towers then we're being told ! ?

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#70
In reply to #54

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/31/2007 9:33 AM

Size is important - starting from a fixed temperature, the time to solidify should depend (approximately) the square of the linear dimensions.

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#38
In reply to #4

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/28/2007 10:45 PM

At the most, the plane could weigh 100,000 tons, but it's aluminum, not steel. Look at the films, it's melting into the building, not really slamming up against it. The engines and wings would've been torn off ! Now go back and look at the construction 1967 WTC and look at the Steel, it's 14" square, not card board or paper ? 400,000 tons of concrete, just comes crumbling down like powdered crackers ?

Those at ground zero are pissed and they demand answers.....besides,

"binny and the jets !"

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#39
In reply to #38

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 4:02 AM

"At the most, the plane could weigh 100,000 tons"

A fully laden aircraft weighs nothing like that and I believe you will find the record is held by the Antonov An-225 which comes in at a maximum take off weight of 640 Gg (640 tonnes or 1,411,000 lb) which is nothing like 100,000 tons.

There are two problems with an aircraft impacting a building as they did in the WTC.

  1. The kinetic energy the aircraft possesses. Every time you double the speed you quadruple the amount of energy, so, even though the mass of the aircraft is relatively small when compared to the mass of the building the energy content is high due to its velocity.
  2. Up to one third the mass of an aircraft can be fuel and this was what caused the ultimate failure of the WTC towers. However, the fuel in jet aircraft is kerosene and for jet fuel to burn it needs to be heated, atomized or socked up by something that acts like a wick. The problem in the WTC towers was that much of the fuel vaporized on impact and burnt very quickly, but it started many secondary fires that went unchecked. These unchecked fires then heated the steel to a point that it lost its strength and so, resulted in the catastrophic failure of the structure.

"Now go back and look at the construction 1967 WTC and look at the Steel, it's 14" square, not card board or paper ? 400,000 tons of concrete, just comes crumbling down like powdered crackers ?"

The load bearing outer structure of the WTC was as you say 356 mm2 steel structure but these were hollow tubes linked to the center structure which was also made of steel by trusses. The internal partitioning, including those around the fire stairs and lift shafts were all constructed of drywall or Gyprock. The fire stairs and lift shafts around the area of the impact were not strong enough to withstand the impact of the aircraft and were destroyed, cutting off the escape routes to all those above the point of impact.

I have seen experiments and tests where aircraft have been deliberately flown into concrete and the aircraft comes of second best in all these tests. While there is damager to the concrete and the cracking it rarely fails catastrophically while the aircraft pretty much disintegrates to less than component level. You also need to remember that we are talking about reinforced concrete, not concrete by itself and while there may be a certain amount of cracking the concrete can still act as both structural elements and a fire isolation barrier.

You also mentioned the problem of the heated gasses from the fires and this is a serious problem but a problem that can be engineered for. If you pressurize the fire stairs from the bottom you can minimize the amount of smoke and poisonous gas that enters the fire stairs from floors that are on fire. By pressurizing the stairs from the bottom you minimize the risk of pressurizing the fire stairs with smoke or poisonous gas which by their nature of being hot will rise.

As was shown by the damage to the pentagon where the structure was primarily reinforced concrete, while many structural elements were damaged by the impact they did not fail catastrophically and continued to function as structural elements.

While a pre-stressed or reinforced concrete structure may also fail due to the heating associated with secondary fires started by the jet fuel, having the fire stairs and lift shafts constructed from reinforced concrete would more than likely mean they remained functional after the impact. This would at least give those trapped above the point of impact a chance or escape as opposed to no chance in the WTC towers where the fire stairs were primarily constructed of drywall or Gyprock and were destroyed by the impact of the disintegrating aircraft.

I hope the hypothesis is never tested but from what I have seen, a building that had its core constructed from reinforced or pre-stressed concrete would have better survivability with the core structure remaining functional after the impact.

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#49
In reply to #39

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/29/2007 3:35 PM

What I'd like to see a test on is what would happen to a 3" bar of aluminum striking a 1/4" bar of steel @ 560 miles an hour, I bettcha the steel wins ?

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#51
In reply to #49

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 8:52 AM

Given enough energy it will punch a hole in the steel just the way a built made of lead with a thin copper jacket can.

You are also forgetting about things like titanium, high tensile steel etcetera in things like the undercarriage and engines.

Basically it doesn't matter what the material is if it has sufficient energy to deform the steel it will deform the steel

You are also still ignoring the fact that you don't need temperatures anywhere near the melting point of steel to cause it to start loosing is structural properties. If you don't believe me go and try it with a piece of reinforcing rod. Try and bend it cold then heat it up till it is just starting to glow and you will find it a hell of a lot easier to bend. If it cools down slowly after you have heated it you will also find it really easy to bend even when it returns to room temperature.

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#58
In reply to #51

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 10:25 AM

Yeah, shooting a metal jacketed bullet at 16 to 18ga steel will knock a hole in it, but that's traveling 1200 ft./sec. which is about 700 to 800 miles an hour. The plane's width will smack the bolts and break them. And by concussion, the steel bends inwards; this is the only way I could see it physically, but no, aluminum will not cut steel. Hum,mm, could you imagine an aluminum steak knife ?

I'm sure after the plane entered, the uprights, had to splinter the wing-tanks into pieces, throwing the fuel all over the 200 square foot floor area; with combustion and with the engines being thrown out the other side, through the windows. I don't believe the elevator doors were open, so I don't see how the fuel made it downwards into the basement anyway ? Fire Escape doors are always closed by a retraction device.

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#69
In reply to #58

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/31/2007 9:30 AM

What are you saying - that a high-speed jet of water not will cut any solid? There are a lot of businesses out there making reasonable money on the basis that it does.

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#72
In reply to #58

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

08/02/2007 7:53 AM

Hi Gator224,

· I'm sure after the plane entered, the uprights, had to splinter the wing-tanks into pieces, throwing the fuel all over the 200 square foot floor area; with combustion and with the engines being thrown out the other side, through the windows. I don't believe the elevator doors were open, so I don't see how the fuel made it downwards into the basement anyway ? Fire Escape doors are always closed by a retraction device.

First off lift doors are not water, fuel or air tight so anything spilled in quantity near or around the doors can easily get into the lift shafts.

Next off all the internal partitioning and walls of the WTC towers were constructed of Drywall or Gyprock which is about as good at stopping debris from the disintegrating aircraft as a piece of paper is at stopping a bullet. As a result it doesn't matter what the status of the doors is if the walls of the lift shafts and fire stairs are ripped away. This is why nobody that was above the point of impact survived as there was no way to escape when the fire stairs were destroyed on the floors that the aircraft impacted,

Interestingly in Australia the fire stairs and lift shafts are constructed from reinforced or pre-stressed concrete on all sides. They are also deliberately positioned diametrically opposite so it would be difficult for any single event to damage or destroy both sets of stairs. If you stand in a fire stair riser in an Australian sky scraper you will have at least 300 mm and up to 1,000 mm of reinforced or pre-stressed concrete, in any direction between you and the outside of the building. Now an aircraft impacting such a structure might be able to damage and crack the concrete but I seriously doubt it would be able to destroy it as happened in the WTC fire stairs that were surrounded by Drywall or Gyprock.

The fire stairs in Australia are also pressurized from fans that are located at the bottom and are supplied with power via fire proof cables that have several levels of back up power to draw from and which usually includes a diesel powered generator.

Now I hope the hypothesis is never tested, but if I were ever to be in a building that is hit by an airliner I would certainly prefer to be in a building constructed along the lines of Australian sky scrapers, than a building constructed the way the WTC towers were.

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#57
In reply to #49

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 10:00 AM

A well known explosives 'educationalist' used to give the following demonstration: he would hand a soft beeswax wax candle around the audience. How would then charge a high-velocity rifle, and load the candle into the rifle. He would then brace the rifle against a wall, and fire the candle at a thick steel plate. I wouldn't say the candle "won", but there was a very substantial hole in the plate.

Coming to your "test", presumably the two have the same cross-sections? If so, the chances are that both will deform considerably, and embed themselves in each other, albeit with significant splatter, and the warmed-up pair will continue moving together slightly below 400-mph.

Fyz

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#31
In reply to #2

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

05/10/2007 9:14 PM

The reason for the premature collapse lies in the floor beam design these were only designed to withstand a down ward loading. When both the direct impact and fire damaged a large number of the beams both partly melting them and physically dislodging others the collapse of several floors became inevitable. These then dropped onto those underneath over loading them and causing a pancaking effect. I saw two different documentaries both arrived at the same conclusion. Not enough fire protection, no sprinklers installed, the load factor was only just enough to support the structure plus a small additional load from the office furniture etc. They cut too many corners to get it built on time and at as low a cost as possible. Yes it was a 707 not 747.

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#32
In reply to #31

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

05/13/2007 6:44 AM

I have enquired about this before and so far have received conflicting responses. Can anybody confirm whether or not there were fire suppressing sprinkler systems installed it the WTC towers or not. If not why not and which idiot let them build a building that tall without sprinklers. If they did have sprinklers why were they not more effective at suppressing the fires.

I have seen what sprinkler systems can do when triggered and the effectiveness at suppressing fires and protecting the building is quiet phenomenal. In the two instances that I have been directly involved with, the fire was well and truly extinguished by the time the fire brigade arrived. All the fire brigade needed to do was check the fire was out, turn the sprinklers off and start the pumps up that drained the 1.5 m of water that had collected at the bottom of the lift shafts.

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#59
In reply to #32

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 10:44 AM

I found this from the NIST, it makes some sense, but leaves a lot to the imagination.

http://wtc.nist.gov/pubs/factsheets/faqs_8_2006.htm

8. We know that the sprinkler systems were activated because survivors reported water in the stairwells. If the sprinklers were working, how could there be a 'raging inferno' in the WTC towers?

Both the NIST calculations and interviews with survivors and firefighters indicated that the aircraft impacts severed the water pipes that carried the water to the sprinkler systems. The sprinklers were not operating on the principal fire floors.However, there were ample sources of the water in the stairwells. The water pipes ran vertically within the stairwells. Moreover, there would have been copious water from the broken restroom supply lines and from the water tanks that supplied the initial water for the sprinklers.

Thus, it is not surprising that evacuating occupants encountered a lot of water.Even if the automatic sprinklers had been operational, the sprinkler systems—which were installed in accordance with the prevailing fire safety code—were designed to suppress a fire that covered as much as 1,500 square feet on a given floor. This amount of coverage is capable of controlling almost all fires that are likely to occur in an office building. On Sept. 11, 2001, the jet-fuel ignited fires quickly spread over most of the 40,000 square feet on several floors in each tower. This created infernos that could not have been suppressed even by an undamaged sprinkler system, much less one that had been appreciably degraded.

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#56
In reply to #31

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 9:55 AM

Ok, I'll agree on the load factor of the upper floor weight, now how'd all that molten steel make it's way in liquid form into the basement; as still stay liquid for 5 weeks ?

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#67
In reply to #56

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/02/2007 11:07 AM

"now how'd all that molten steel make it's way in liquid form into the basement; as still stay liquid for 5 weeks ?"

I have never heard the claim that molten metal flowed down the buildings interior and stayed liquid for several weeks. Where did you get this from and can you supply links to the source of your claims?

Are you sure that what you are claiming to be molten metal wasn't jet fuel that flowed down the lift shafts and into the lower parts of the structure?

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#3

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/02/2006 2:13 PM

I noticed #4 on the list shows another example of our neighbors to the north helping us..

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#7
In reply to #3

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/03/2006 7:18 AM

The asbestos problem is more about corrupt profit hungry management rather than an engineering mistake. The product should have been removed from the market when it was discovered to be dangerous not several decades later. The whole thing about asbestos is a classic example of greed and now we really do have an engineering disaster on our hands. I bet you the engineer that told them not to use it got fired too.

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#8

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/04/2006 3:59 AM

No-one has mentioned tetra-ethyl lead yet.

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#60
In reply to #8

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 10:46 AM

Has anybody noticed that you can't physically take down a High Rise without the use of explosives ? I've never witnessed to a deconstruction of any tall buildings, and Lord knows, everyone in Baltimore was blown down !

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Anonymous Poster
#9

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/04/2006 9:01 AM

If we don't take appropriate action (and even then we may need a load of luck), coal and oil will dwarf all of these.

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#19
In reply to #9

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 1:46 PM

Does no-one else think that not responding to potential climate change is on track to become mankind's most significant "stupid engineering/business/political" mistake (au Asbestos) ever?
If so, is it because:
1) It's not an engineering decision? (neither was the continued use of asbestos)
2) It's not a real problem?
3) Eradicating most of 'civilisation' is the best thing we can possibly do, regardless of the suffering caused en-route
4) Other - please say

Fyz

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#10

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/04/2006 12:56 PM

Mistakes will always be welcome due to the amount of knowledge it lives us.

Understand by mistake "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc. "

Talking about the two towers that falls... it was a mistake because Insufficient Knowlege about the amount of energy delivered by a air plane full of gas. Ans even this thinking will be incorrect somehow :).

There are another mistakes like when one is child and put ones finger into the Electricity plug. Here start the knowledge that Electricity is harmfull :).

People that is making experiments looking for somenthing and because no ones took care about some variables, constants or parameters, something new poop up, like the guy who makes the mistake and invent the tire... or something like that.

Have a nice day!

Delmar

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#33
In reply to #10

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/26/2007 12:57 AM

The horrific amount of dust from the Twin Towers collapse made no sense at the time to me. Then I found out it was a drywall and strut structure design. Without the drywall the buildings appear more like mobile homes set up in a vertical position, and thus were each a perfect chimney from the get go.

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#34
In reply to #33

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/26/2007 7:51 AM

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised at how the WTC towers were constructed. In Australia most of the tall buildings are constructed from pre-stressed concrete. They start of building a core that contains the lift shafts, risers and fire stairs. They then construct a series of vertical concrete pillars at the building perimeter and hold them apart with concrete pillars that form the perimeter of the building. A web of high tensile steel is then woven between the core and outer structure and embedded in concrete forming the floor The floor is actually poured with a slight upward bow and once the concrete is sufficiently cured they tension the cable that run through the slab till it flattens out. The result is a floor that is under an incredible compressive load that gives the concrete phenomenal strength to weight characteristics. While maximum thickness of the slab floors is still about 200 to 300 mm it is a webbed structure that may be as thin as 25 mm and has an average thickness of between 50 and 100 mm.

You also have a core that protects the fire stairs and when you stand inside them there is between 500 and 1,000 mm of reinforced concrete in any direction between you and the outside of the building.

I was flabbergasted when I heard that the fire stairs in the WTC were primarily protected with dry wall and while I have not been involved in building tall building for over a decade and I may well be wrong, but, I doubt you would get approval for a building that had fire stairs surrounded by dry wall.

I hope it is never tested and a building constructed from pre-stressed concrete may well collapse when hit with a Boeing 767 loaded with fuel like the WTC towers, however, I feel that having the critical escapes buried in the middle of the building with at least 500 mm of reinforced concrete protecting them in any direction ,would more than likely mean they remained usable and give those trapped above the impact point at least a chance of escape.

I understand that the building now under construction at the WTC site are using pre stressed concrete techniques rather than the steel frame so I guess the concept is spreading.

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#35
In reply to #34

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/28/2007 5:07 PM

What are they going to do with the older buildings like the Empire State Building ? If the technology wasn't suitable for the Twin Towers, why are they allowed to be left standing ? I believe if WTC had flaws, then legislation should recommend all structures made of steel be dismantled and/or reconstructed. I betcha we get to the bottom of what happened to those towers that way ?

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#36
In reply to #35

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

06/28/2007 8:49 PM

What are they going to do with the older buildings like the Empire State Building ? If the technology wasn't suitable for the Twin Towers, why are they allowed to be left standing?

You have raised a very valid point and trying to retrofit older buildings to comply with newer standards is something that needs to be done on a case by case basis.

There are steel framed building in Australia but to the best of my knowledge there are none that utilize dry wall or as it is called here gyprock, so extensively. Even with a steel frame buildings the risers, lift shafts, fire stairs and critical areas are constructed from reinforced concrete rather than dry wall. The dry wall or gyprock is normally limited to partitioning type structures that are not critical or part of the buildings core.

I hope the hypothesis is never tested, but, I would hazard to guess that fire stairs constructed from and surrounded by reinforced concrete would stand a considerably better chance of being serviceable after being hit by a Boeing 767 that fire stairs made of dry wall or gyprock.

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#63
In reply to #36

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 11:01 AM

When I visited China, I found their structures are all made of H bar, I bar, and Rod Iron. Every piece is welded and then formers are specifically placed so each part of the floor connects to a piece of the wall and then poured. This makes the building like a puzzle of intimate supports. The walls and ceilings are all concrete, some areas are at least 36" thick ! No Unions, and they work around the clock, I would watch them pour concrete and weld in the middle of the night, while I was in December of Harbin, China. The temperature was well below zero and the Cement Trucks had a quilt wrapped around the Tank. The building I was watching had at least 80 floors.

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#62
In reply to #33

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 10:53 AM

Yeah, you would think that, but take a closer look:

http://wtc.nist.gov/pubs/factsheets/faqs_8_2006.htm

You'll find that each floor was sealed from the above and below floors.

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#68
In reply to #62

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/02/2007 11:39 AM

"You'll find that each floor was sealed from the above and below floors. "

While it is true that each floor is designed to be fire isolated the isolation can only be assured provided the core structure where the lift shafts, risers and fire stairs remains intact. In Australia the core is constructed from either pre-stressed or reinforced concrete and more than likely would have remained relatively intact after the impact. However in WTC towers the core was constructed from drywall or Gyprock which would offer little to no resistance to the remains of the aircraft traveling and several hundred kilometers per hour. Once the walls of the lift shafts, risers and fire stairs are damaged then the floors are no longer isolated and can funnel fires upwards and things like water and jet fuel downwards.

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#61
In reply to #10

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 10:51 AM

The only problem, the fuel was Kerosene (lamp oil).

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#11

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/04/2006 5:11 PM

In terms cost I submit the following two Engineering disasters:

Archetect - Um Pharaoh, we might have made a mistake in our calculations, you don't mind a bent pyramid, do you?

Pharaoh - We'll just build a new one (red pyramid)

Colossus of Rhodes

Roughly the same size as the statue of liberty, made of wood and bronze. Took a decade to build. Collapsed within 56 years. Laid on the ground for another 800 years.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/04/2006 9:35 PM

pls whats the name of this strycture??

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/05/2006 9:16 AM

The names are provided in my original post, they are;

The Bent Pyramid

The Colossus

Let me know if you have any questions.

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#21
In reply to #13

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

12/07/2006 3:58 PM

I think one of the worst failure's in the UK was the building of numerous nuclear reactors whose primary purposes was to produce plutonium for the construction of bombs and kid the public that their were really intended for power generation.

This led to much contamination and ruined the reputation of nuclear power generation in the eyes of the public when it is now really needed when the dangers of CO2 generation by fossil fuel power generation has been recognized.

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#64
In reply to #21

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 11:06 AM

Yeah, I believe the whole concept of self sufficient power for homes should have been included in our quest for modernization. Try telling that to big corporations that wanted control over all gas & electric production ? Ronald Reagan warned them that deregulation was approaching, which means we can generate our own power, but the industry wanted to give him the finger instead. Guess what, deregulation is here, but it's too late.

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#73
In reply to #11

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

11/25/2007 4:49 PM

"Archetect - Um Pharaoh, we might have made a mistake in our calculations, you don't mind a bent pyramid, do you?"

Pharoh: Why should I have a bent pyramid?

Architect: Cutting all those stone blocks was going to be a lot of work. Didn't want to waste manpower and good stones when we had lots of rubble to fill the space and still end up with a nice new looking true pyramid. 'Accidently' we ended up with a lot of rubble all around the central core.

Architect: The new pyramid is already about 1/2 height.

Pharoh: Salvage it or start over.

Architect: We'll cut the angle and height and call it the "Bent Pyramid"

See "The Riddle of the Pyramids" by Kurt Mendelsshon.

A pile of Rocks doth not a pyramid make. It takes a pile of BLocks!

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#74
In reply to #73

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

11/26/2007 5:53 AM

Ah, but have you heard that somebody has figured out that there is a way to use an ancient form of concrete?

It turns out that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between this ancient concrete and the limestone used as the primary material in the pyramids. If they did use a form of concrete it would certainly go a long way to explaining how they managed to build the darn things to quickly and accurately.

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#25

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/24/2007 1:11 AM

All the blokes out there will hate this one.

The castrating toilet seat.

Specially designed so the cistern is positioned in such a way that way that when the toiled seat is raised it balances precariously in the vertical position. The slightest movement or loss of concentration by any male operator results in the toilet seat involuntarily returning to the horizontal position and the inevitable response of;

"OOOOOHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!

I am going to kill the bastard that disigned this piece of crap when I find him!"

Said seat was found in the toilets attached to the emergency department of a hospital. At least it was conveniently located close to medical help.

How do you think I got the crossed and bloodshot eyes of my avatar?

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/24/2007 9:03 AM

Masu, the situation is clearly aggravated by the tendency of females to dress the offending seat cover with various ornamental coverings

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#27
In reply to #25

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/24/2007 12:28 PM

Masu's frantic avatar squeaked: "OOOOOHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!"

So you did visit California. Even still - apart from this little mishap - did your avatar enjoy his..er..its abbreviated tour of Neverland?

-e

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#65
In reply to #25

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

07/01/2007 11:12 AM

Sounds like a spring loaded toilet seat.....a woman must've designed that shit ! To lazy to put the seat down, when I usually have to lift it up ? Don't get into the argument, they'll swear the lid is suppose to be down, for sitting on. I argue, it's not for reclining, it's for taking a dump ! "How ya expect to see the beautiful blue water if the lid's down?"

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#28

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/24/2007 12:56 PM

I don't care what Wired Magazine considers the ten most stupid mistakes in engineering history. Microsoft Windows tops my list as the worst engineering debacle ever. Why? Million$ in financial resources and man-centuries of effort are forever lost every single day thanks to The World's Most Popular Computer Virus. So much so that the general consensus among consumers is that computers in and of themselves are inherently fragile and prone to failure. What's worse is that, for some inexplicable reason, we just accept this and obediently buy the next upgrade every time Microsoft rearranges the bugs and hides them behind a veil of yet more bells and whistles.

Maybe entomologists understand the phenomenon best. They call it imprinting: A baby duck emerges from its shell and regards the first large object it sees as its Mother.

-e

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#29
In reply to #28

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/24/2007 1:51 PM

Agreed. Amongst other issues, either those guys have never heard of structured permissions, or they think they are part of a courting ritual. What scares me more is that many Linux are going the same way - presumably in order to compete on speed when running applications that were optimised to run under MS. And have you seen the size of the latest bloatware?

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#30
In reply to #28

Re: Stupid Engineering Mistakes

01/24/2007 5:42 PM

Europium, My immediate impulse was to suggest that biologists, especially those who in the case of ducks study migratory fowl would better understand "imprinting". Considering the topic (MS bugs) I consider the use of entomologist elegant.

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#71
In reply to #30

Ethanol

07/31/2007 10:55 AM

Ethanol - food goes into gas tanks not into stomachs. Farms are for growing fuel, not food. Less land to grow food on, more ethanol, less food for people, higher food prices. Already happening. US public will not see topsoil going up in engine exhaust. Soil, its that dirty stuff, yuckeepoo. Guilt taxes on fuel may benefit asphalt production however: have you ever noticed that asphalt is dark and from your car looks similar to topsoil? No mowing required. What an improvement! By 2012, 50% of food consumed in the US will not be produced within the borders of countries other than the United States.

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