Has innovation stalled?

This sentence, from the Wall Street Journal, strikes me as being profoundly wrong:

Today, another half-century later, a coast-to-coast flight still takes you as long as it took your father in the 1970s. And with the major exception of computers, nothing in your luggage is likely to be much more useful or valuable than dad’s equivalent.

It may well be the case that aeroplanes fly at the same speeds that they did in the 1970s.  I don’t know for sure, but my understanding is that supersonic speeds were banned due to noise factors. No doubt someone in the thread will clear that up. Let’s also concede the point about “major exception of computers” – like wow, let’s ignore the single greatest area of human innovation in the past 20 years.

Okay – the material your luggage is made out of is very strong and very light weight compared to luggage in the 1970s. Your luggage will have wheels on it now. Luggage with wheels would have been a luxury item in the 1970s. The entertainment on the flight will be much better than what it was in the 1970s. Remember the single movie in the cabin? That was a feature of flying until the late 1990s. I reckon the food the would be better too, today. Hard to believe, but yes.

Then what about the computers? Paper tickets? Movies on demand on your own device? Books loaded on your own device?

So while it may be true that the experience of flying is very similar – hurry up and wait, fly through the air, and arrive at a destination faster than all alternatives. But many, many aspects of the experience are very different and much improved. Cheaper too.

When thinking of innovation, it’s not just gadgets and new-fangled things that we should think about – it’s improved business models and improvements in pre-existing gadgets that we should think about too.

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102 Responses to Has innovation stalled?

  1. And the Thermomix, don’t forget the Thermomix.

  2. Buccaneer

    Internet connection on the flight I too last night. Took my own device too. I reckon autopilot might be a bit better too. Not to mention the ticketing system.

  3. Rob MW

    That reminds me Sinc. How much is a $200.00 aeroplane ticket ?

    Absent too many obstacles, it is more likely it will take about 1 hour to take that 1 hour drive 🙂

    Sinc – you worry too much about what other people shouldn’t worry about.

  4. BorisG,

    I don’t think supersonic flying was banned. I think it died out because it was too expensive for economy passengers and did not develop economy of scale to make first class travel viable

  5. stackja

    Airline travel from point A to point B might be quicker but getting on and off is probably slower because of security. Why security? Naughty word?

  6. Yes that sentence is wrong. Flying coast-to-coast doesn’t take “as long” as it did on the 70s, it takes longer. Nowadays, the delays in take off queues and waiting for a landing slot are baked into schedules.

    It is true that supersonics failed in part because of noise, but the fact remains that 50 years after Concorde first flew no one has cracked that technology problem.

    I would agree with the vast improvement in inflight entertainment, but economy seats are now worse and leg room often pitiful. I don’t agree that food has improved, at least in economy. The main change is that fares are enormously cheaper.

    For those at the pointy end, it is different. International business class is now better than 1st class 50 years ago.

  7. Pyrmonter

    Price as well. You can fly to Europe for less today than it cost to fly in 1988. That’s a result of continual, incremental improvements, even if the airframe was, until very recently, the same lumbering beast of a 747.

  8. RobK

    Much of recent development has been in bio sciences. Nanotechnology.
    Wheels are mostly still round.
    So called “brushless DC motors”, which are really a form of stepping motor with permanent magnets, have enabled 3D printing and 7axis milling machines, robotics etc.
    Semi conductors enable so much more than just computers. Viz. power switching, inverters, PID control gear, geophysics of all sorts.
    Sometimes journos report on their own bubbles.

  9. RobK

    High power lasers, rail guns.

  10. lotocoti

    I don’t know for sure, but my understanding is that supersonic speeds were banned due to noise factors.

    Environment groups and NIMBYs around the world tried to make supersonic flight verboten.
    They were largely unsuccessful, although I gather some of the compromise supersonic corridors were less than efficient.

  11. Fair shake of the Sauce bottle

    I think you may have overlooked red wine in cans, women’s rights to bare tattoos and Melbournes 80 kmh freeways.

  12. mem

    Wheels are still round.
    Chairs have four legs
    Coal power provides the cheapest and most reliable energy.

  13. RobK

    From wiki:

    The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. The X-15’s official world record for the highest speed ever recorded by a manned, powered aircraft, set in October 1967 when William J. Knight flew at Mach 6.70 at 102,100 feet (31,120 m), a speed of 4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h; 2,021 m/s), has remained unbroken as of 2019.[1][2][3]
    Physical constraints to getting much faster.

  14. JC

    There are a couple of reasons flights are slower coast to coast compared to the 60s and 70s. A commenter above mentioned the tarmac traffic. There’s also the issue that airlines have found peak engine/fuel efficiency is at air speed at which they now travel…. slower.

    This also adds to the argument the piece is making. Innovation hasn’t solved this problem, that is innovating faster more efficient engines.

  15. Ellie

    I’ve just boarded a flight. Waiting to depart. Everyone had their luggage checked re weight. Some just one kilo over and they were told to go the service desk to pay extra. Others ditching certain items in their luggage to bring the weight down. A few cranky people.

  16. RobK

    Roadmap sales have plummeted.
    I sometimes wonder how much more efficient deliveries are with gps.
    Surveying, aerial photography. We would feel a distinct shock should those services fail for any length of time.
    Most drivers would be lost much of the time and simple cadastral measurements would take many, many times longer.

  17. RobK

    JC,
    that is innovating faster more efficient engines.
    With present known physics you can have faster, or more efficient. To have both we would need either a materials breakthrough or a physics breakthrough.
    There are arguments raised that the pure sciences aren’t getting the attention they used to.
    A plane doing Mach6.7 is twice the speed of a high powered bullet or around the speed of a high explosive shockwave in air. Basically the air is stacked up in front of the plane and compressed to red hot it’s a physical problem. You can go out into space as Elon suggests. I recall discussing this idea with my brother when we were teens before falling asleep.

  18. A Lurker

    So while it may be true that the experience of flying is very similar – hurry up and wait, fly through the air, and arrive at a destination faster than all alternatives. But many, many aspects of the experience are very different and much improved. Cheaper too.

    The experience in cattle class…sorry, economy isn’t much better. Packed in like sardines, with almost no legroom…
    …and we now have to put up with virtue signalling…cough Qantas cough

  19. It now takes me a longer time to travel by air in AU.
    e.g. Flying SYD – MEL . Trip to airport used to be 20 minutes, now takes 40 minutes.
    Checkin and security times, pick a bad number.
    Less seating space. The whole experience now sucks.

    After many many years we are still using the wheel as the primary means of transport.
    Where is my anti-gravity propelled, near light speed sedan?

  20. RobK

    or around the speed of a high explosive shockwave in air
    Oops, that should be “the velocity of detonation” of a high explosive. I.e. the reaction rate which is much faster than the speed of the shockwave in air, which is the reason it compresses the air to red hot.

  21. max

    Why Planes Don’t Fly Faster

  22. JC

    RobK

    There are, what, around 100 metals in the periodic table? Have they combined all or partial to come up with better alloy combinations? Don’t think so. The point of the piece is that we haven’t seen a slowdown in all areas, but we have in some. Aircraft is one example where the speed of innovation and even the manufacturing process has slowed.

  23. BorisG,

    Actually airplane engines are now vastly more efficient, including on the latest 747, which actually has little in common with the original. And also no one has mentioned safety. Safety has vastly improved, largely due to automatic flight control systems.

  24. better alloy combinations

    BoN won’t be far away. There is some awesome work being done with alloys and there is some awesome alloys around.
    Memory metals – https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/a15773/shape-shifting-metal-alloy/

  25. JC

    Granted, plane travel may have actually slowed down, but there are tons more planes around causing congestion at airports. The sheer numbers are an efficiency improvement in itself. However, a lot to do with that would be better electronics, which the piece concedes has created efficiencies .

  26. JC

    Hi Boris
    Have the engines improved that much or have the electronics supporting the engine improved? I tend to think it’s the computer junk which has.

  27. max

    One reason is that the speeds we were flying in the ‘60s are still the most efficient for the engines we use. Commercial aircraft are typically powered by turbofan engines, which are most efficient at speeds of 400 to 620 miles per hour. Military aircraft can go much faster with turbojet engines—more than 1500 miles per hour in some cases—but that takes an incredible amount of fuel.

    The Concorde aircraft could reach speeds of 1300 miles per hour at cruise altitude, but it used 46.85 pounds of fuel for every mile flown and could seat only 100 passengers. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner, which has a cruise speed of 648 miles per hour, uses only 18.7 pounds of fuel per mile and can seat 291 passengers. The speed just wasn’t worth it for airlines, and the Concorde was retired in 2003.

    https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/92971/why-planes-dont-fly-any-faster-they-did-1960s

  28. Bruce

    @ RobK:

    “Sometimes journos report on their own bubbles.”

    SOMETIMES??

  29. JC

    100 years of aircraft enegines.

    The future of flight

    Aircraft designers continue to look for new sources of power while they refine existing powerplants, mainly jet engines and some opposed internal-combustion engines. In some cases, they are waiting for strong, light, heat-resistant materials affordable enough to replace some of the metal in aviation engines. For example, Superior Air Parts, Coppell, Tex., recently developed a sump/induction system for piston aircraft engines. It is made of Ryton, a polyphenylene sulfide plastic from Chevron Phillips. The new sump weighs 8lb, half of the previous one. The key to replacing the metal in this case was finding a plastic that resists corrosion and exposure to all the fluids associated with piston engines.

    While designers are free to replace older parts with lighter, easier-to-manufacture versions (if the FAA and other certifying bodies agree), they don’t have as much leeway in making engines that increase aircraft speed. Most nations prohibit supersonic flight, a fact that probably contributed to the demise of the Concorde SST. Still, engineers are looking at new types of high-speed jet engines.

    Pratt & Whitney, for example, just completed ground test at Mach 6.5 on a flight-weight, hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet. It burns standard JP-7 fuel, which is used to cool the 150-lb engine. Scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjet), have no moving parts. Combustion takes place as air moves supersonically through the engine. It’s a mechanically simple design, but the aerodynamics needed to compress and discharge the air are complex. The engine will be used on high-speed, long-range missiles, though some might make it into less-expensive space launch vehicles and possibly commercial airliners and transport planes, legislation willing.

    Another variation of the ramjet being explored is the pulsejet. It works like a scramjet, except it is limited to subsonic speeds, and airflow and combustion are intermittent and controlled by a series of valves ahead of the compression section. The German V-1, or buzz bomb, used a pulsejet that fired 40 times per second. Theoretically, pulsejets are more fuel-efficient since combustion is not constant, they can be built in different sizes for different levels of thrust, they are mechanically simple with few moving parts, and they have high thrust-to-weight ratios. On the downside, current technology limits efficiency, they are noisy, and vibrate too much. This confines them to small, nonpiloted aircraft.

    In the past, hydrogen was the fuel commonly used on ram and scramjets. And it is still being considered as an aviation fuel. But most engineers believe it will have to be in the form of cryogenic slurry to give it the power density needed. Another possible fuel being explored is paraffin wax, but it is being looked at as a rocket fuel, not necessarily for airliners and Piper Cubs.

    https://www.machinedesign.com/automation-iiot/article/21831683/100-years-of-aircraft-engines

  30. RobK

    JC, There are, what, around 100 metals in the periodic table? Have they combined all or partial to come up with better alloy combinations? Don’t think so.
    Those metals which are alloyable have been much researched and some very exotic ones appear in supersonic aircraft viz hafnium, tantalum, very high melting points. The practical use of these is the question. Drag on air frames is exponential but when you reach the speed of sound in that medium you are in, suddenly a lot of energy is lost to hitting the sound barrier. We have the horsepower to do it as the concorde and many military aircraft show. We can reach earths escape velocity. As Musk says; you could be anywhere on earth in half an hour (or something) but the energy costs are very high and the material stresses are also high. A minor failure at mach 6 and you literally vapourize….everything.

  31. Tel

    So called “brushless DC motors”, which are really a form of stepping motor with permanent magnets, have enabled 3D printing and 7axis milling machines, robotics etc.

    Stepper motors have been around since forever but there’s a bunch of things that changed recently:
    * Moved away from reluctance motors towards Neodymium magnets.
    * MOSFET design is much better.
    * Control systems can now utilize the tiny embedded microprocessors.
    * Everything is so much cheaper.

    The old milling machines had a control unit the size of a fridge, and even then could only do simple operations.

    Yeah, I would say the “Big One” for my generation has been computers, software, miniaturized electronics and that’s still settling down, maybe will continue to ripple out for another generation.

    The was a coincidence of major breakthroughs just before the Great Depression: internal combustion engines, artificial nitrate fertilizer, household electricity. Those things took several generations to settle down, no one finds them strange today but you could argue that the Great Depression was triggered by tech shock (and made worse by government meddling in response to the tech shock).

  32. BorisG,

    I actually think (laymen’s Veen) there may be a sufficient number of premium passengers around the world who would pay very high price for faster travel to fill a number of supersonic jets on a number of busy routes. However this segment does not have economy of scale to justify enormous development and innovation costs.

    Another factor is that only a fraction of wealthy passengers would trade luxury for speed.

  33. Davey Boy

    Big data, neural networks, machine learning.
    Progression to 5G for the implementation of mobile internet & device capabilities.
    Government ability to monitor individuals and control freedoms.

  34. RobK

    JC,
    The article The future of flightdemonstrates my point. Scram and pulse jets have been around a long time but they are at the edge of materials strength, as they say. The other point is the G forces involved. They mentioned vibrations. Visualise passing through air at around 7000kmh, the change in air density over that distance will give you a bumpy ride. Seriously high energy bumpy.
    On a side note, I don’t have the link but GE had a press release a while back where they are 3D printing jet engine injection nozzles, reducing the number of parts from hundreds to just a few for each injector. Cheaper and better.

  35. BorisG,

    Another aspect is that cabin pressure is higher on modern aircraft, which improves comfort. I remember how badly my ears were affected back in the day. I don’t think people appreciate this though.

  36. JC

    The other point is the G forces involved. They mentioned vibrations. Visualise passing through air at around 7000kmh, the change in air density over that distance will give you a bumpy ride. Seriously high energy bumpy.

    I appreciate the vibration issue. I flew the Concorde a few times and the shake was very different to a regular flight. It’s hard to explain other that it was like a very fast motion vibration of a regular plane. It was a like fast Parkinson disease shake 🙂 The entire contraption shook and was really strange.

  37. jupes

    Today, another half-century later, a coast-to-coast flight still takes you as long as it took your father in the 1970s. And with the major exception of computers, nothing in your luggage is likely to be much more useful or valuable than dad’s equivalent.

    Mark Steyn has a good take on this.

    He compares 1890 with 1950 then 1950 to the time of writing another 60 years later.

    Picture a man or woman of the late 19th century, perhaps your own great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother, sitting in an ordinary American home of 1890. And now pitch him forward in an H G Wells machine, not to our time but about halfway – to that same ordinary American home, circa 1950.

    Why, the poor gentleman of 1890 would be astonished. His old home is full of mechanical contraptions. There is a huge machine in the corner of the kitchen, full of food and keeping the milk fresh and cold! There is another shiny device whirring away and seemingly washing milady’s bloomers with no human assistance whatsoever! Even more amazingly, there is a full orchestra playing somewhere within his very house. No, wait, it’s coming from a tiny box on the countertop!

    The music is briefly disturbed by a low rumble from the front yard, and our time-traveler glances through the window: A metal conveyance is coming up the street at an incredible speed – with not a horse in sight. It’s enclosed with doors and windows, like a house on wheels, and it turns into the yard, and the doors open all at once, and two grown-ups and four children all get out – just like that, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world! He notices there is snow on the ground, and yet the house is toasty warm, even though no fire is lit and there appears to be no stove. A bell jingles from a small black instrument on the hall table. Good heavens! Is this a “telephone”? He’d heard about such things, and that the important people in the big cities had them. But to think one would be here in his very own home! He picks up the speaking tube. A voice at the other end says there is a call from across the country – and immediately there she is, a lady from California talking as if she were standing next to him, without having to shout, or even raise her voice! And she says she’ll see him tomorrow!

    Oh, very funny. They’ve got horseless carriages in the sky now, have they?

    What marvels! In a mere 60 years!

    But then he espies his Victorian time machine sitting invitingly in the corner of the parlor. Suppose he were to climb on and ride even further into the future. After all, if this is what an ordinary American home looks like in 1950, imagine the wonders he will see if he pushes on another six decades!

    So on he gets, and sets the dial for our own time.

    And when he dismounts he wonders if he’s made a mistake. Because, aside from a few design adjustments, everything looks pretty much as it did in 1950: The layout of the kitchen, the washer, the telephone… Oh, wait. It’s got buttons instead of a dial. And the station wagon in the front yard has dropped the woody look and seems boxier than it did. And the folks getting out seem …larger, and dressed like overgrown children.

    And the refrigerator has a magnet on it holding up an endless list from a municipal agency detailing what trash you have to put in which colored boxes on what collection days.

    But other than that, and a few cosmetic changes, he might as well have stayed in 1950.

    He acknowledges the computer as the exception but other than that, he has a point I think.

  38. BorisG,

    Jupes how many homes had an air conditioner in 1950s?

  39. RobK

    * Control systems can now utilize the tiny embedded microprocessors.
    And sensors. Miniature, accurate, cheap. Even mid range phones have an accelerometer resolved on 3axis, a magnetometer resolved in 3axis, luxmeter, sound meter, gps, cameras etc
    Tel is right, it will take a while to adjust and there are improvements all the time, eg. Differential Global Positioning DGPS allows centimetre accuracy for autonomous mining, precision agriculture, etc. the differential technique was not part of the original gps concept but developed later and works spectacularly well.
    I think Tel might also be onto something regarding economics and some similar evolution in technology influencing the Great Depression involving productivity change and expectations in the market.

  40. Ƶĩppʯ (ȊꞪꞨV)

    we are in a bit of race against time due to catastrophic demographics. there is already a shortage of doctors in italy. there will be shortages in every specialised field in the next few decades. innovation will invariably slow down, sometime in the second half of this century we may reach a downward inflection point from which it may be difficult if not impossible to climb back from.

  41. RobK

    today most of us could afford a Dick Tracy watch that actually works.
    When I was a kid i was into radio control planes, wireline, then 2 channel superheterodyne wireless(analog).
    There was a show on TV once called Eye in the Sky about a kid who had a radio controlled plane with a camera in it and he solved all kinds of mysteries…… a bit like a drone, well exactly like a drone. Almost unimaginable then.
    How often as a kid did you piss yourself laughing pretending to have a dick tracy watch because it was far fetched. Who cooked with a microwave before 70s? Induction cooker? Breadmaker? Cappacino machine? Stuff is not only well made but incredibly cheap (often too cheap to fix).

  42. Professor Fred Lenin

    The flight is probably the same time but getting to and from the air terminal probably takes longer .
    Melbournes new E class trams are slower a driver informed me ? The doors close slower than the older ones , that figures on a 40mstop trip . But they look much better and seem smoother in stops and starts .
    Progress ,its wonderfull , innit?
    All we need is more coal fired electricity to piss the thunberg kid off Oh wait we might end up against a wall.

  43. RobK

    downward inflection point from which it may be difficult if not impossible to climb back from.
    I have wondered about that. How do you cram the knowledge of so many into the heads of so few, as demographics changes. Multi disciplinary skills will need to ramp up and the history of technology and science must be dragged along too. Training and skills need to be seriously dealt with. It’s a worry when education is potentially a weak link in society. It maybe a bigger worry than tech advances, it maybe a big part of the equation .

  44. egg_

    Smart phone, fvcktard, it could almost fly the plane.

  45. egg_

    Pretty much all that’s navigating a Tesla.

  46. RobK

    Smart phone, fvcktard, it could almost fly the plane.
    For many recreational drones, they do. My point was to contrast Jupes comment that not much has changed but it’s gradual and you don’t notice much of it after a while.

  47. egg_

    RobK
    #3262634, posted on December 15, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    My comment was directed at the WSJ author.

  48. Pauly

    Materials science has advanced massively.
    Modern composite materials are lighter, stronger and thinner than the old materials used. So a 747 made today weighs less and carries more and does it much more safely than the same design built in the 1970s.

    This applies to every part of the aircraft, from the fuselage to the engines to the fuel tanks to the seats in the cabin.
    Without factoring computer assisted avionics and engine management this alone makes air travel cheaper and more efficient by a significant magnitude over how we flew 50 years ago.

    Its a bit lime saying it takes the same time to drive from Sydney to Melbourne as it did in the 1970s. That’s true but you are doing it more safely, more efficiently, more comfortably, more cheaply and with more entertainment.

  49. RobK

    John Reid deals with a basic issue in physics in his book.

    The title, The Fluid Catastrophe, refers to the failure of the Navier-Stokes equations of Fluid Dynamics to properly account for the entropy associated with turbulence. These equations describe a mythical fluid “continuum” which is everywhere smooth and continuous. In this book a granular description of the natural world is proposed which is more realistic, more closely related to observation and consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This shift in emphasis has repercussions for a number of disciplines as summarized in these pages viz:

    Discipline Page
    Computational Fluid Dynamics The Myth of the Continuum
    Geology South Atlantic Earthquake Swarm
    Glaciology On Ice Ages
    Oceanography The Wind Sea Fiasco
    Philosophy A Failure of Rationalism
    Physics A Return to Empiricism
    Statistics Yule’s Nonsense Correlations

    http://fluidcatastrophe.net/
    It’s about a paradigm shift in thinking needed to better handle things including the carbon dioxide conjecture.

  50. Heard a guy on ABC News24TV advocating for the use of airships again and he said there had only been one accident – the Hindenburg. Neatly forgot about the R101 crash killing 48 people and R34 being destroyed after a series of crashes and accidents.

  51. RobK

    John Reids book is a good read for the layman and the scholar. Excellent thought provoking read, easy to follow.

  52. Ƶĩppʯ (ȊꞪꞨV)

    Pretty much all that’s navigating a Tesla.

    a gaming gpu or two on new models

  53. hzhousewife

    we are in a bit of race against time due to catastrophic demographics. there is already a shortage of doctors in italy. there will be shortages in every specialised field in the next few decades.

    I find it intensely irritating that the medical fraternity control the numbers of specialists allowed to train so tightly when people have to wait three months for an appointment. It smacks of terrible greed. Why we have to steal foreign trained nursing staff from third world countries is also a shame on our nation.

  54. Ƶĩppʯ (ȊꞪꞨV)

    in fact there is a shortage of doctors across europe

  55. Tel

    in fact there is a shortage of doctors across europe

    Strange sort of fact, why not simply pay them more? Have we forgotten about price signals so soon?

  56. Watch Your Back

    The Innovation hasn’t stopped but the rate of improvement may have slowed down. However, the main problem that puts me off flying is intrusive security that targets everyone.

    When this and other delays are taken into account, flying is no faster than it was 30 years ago. It’s like the traffic in London. It moves at 11mph and always will.

  57. Nob

    Software driven improvements are an easy win.

    Mechanical technology breakthroughs are far fewer and further between.
    (Though their research and design is sped up by software).

    The media has no clue about this and continues to write up proposed mechanical developments as if they’re as imminent as the next iPhone upgrade.

  58. egg_

    Yeah, I would say the “Big One” for my generation has been computers, software, miniaturized electronics and that’s still settling down, maybe will continue to ripple out for another generation.

    We’re in the Information Age* – the IoT (Internet of Things) is the next big thing.
    Engine makers can now mill rather cast engine blocks, thanks to Electronics taking mechanical tech out of the dark ages (plus plasma cutters, etc.).

    *Thus Scientists posture that we’re all holograms in a holographic Universe.
    /Rimmer

  59. Bruce of Newcastle

    BoN won’t be far away. There is some awesome work being done with alloys and there is some awesome alloys around.

    Also metal compounds. The gallium nitride laser breakthrough for example, and of course high temperature superconductors.

    Sadly a lot of effort has been diverted by the climate scam, so most of my old uni department seems to be working on some green project or other. Can’t wait for the fraud to collapse so that all these talented people can return to something real and constructive.

  60. egg_

    Can’t wait for the fraud to collapse

    Good luck with the Third World Grid they’re inheriting.

  61. Tony Tea

    Nothing says quantum leap in innovation like the score review system in the AFL.

  62. Boambee John

    JC at 1645

    I appreciate the vibration issue. I flew the Concorde a few times and the shake was very different to a regular flight. It’s hard to explain other that it was like a very fast motion vibration of a regular plane. It was a like fast Parkinson disease shake 🙂 The entire contraption shook and was really strange.

    Flew to the US once with my then boss, a former air force engineer.

    Enough air turbulence that there was a steady vibration as we flew along. Probably because he knew I was a nervous flier, he commented (without looking up from what he was reading) “Those impulsive shocks are bad for the airframe”.

    “Another drink please, steward!”

  63. Fess

    Innovation does not usually occur in great leaps. Nearly all innovation is incremental. One of the general problems with journalists is that they don’t understand the technical and scientific domains. The speed of sound is a clear boundary – the physics of supersonic flight are quite different to subsonic. Commercial jets cruise at around 900kph. Go much above that – you are approaching the speed of sound and the laws of physics determine that airframe and jet engines are much less efficient. What has changed is that the aircraft have steadily become quieter, more fuel efficient, more reliable, more durable, cheaper to maintain, safer etc. They can make supersonic aircraft, of course, but there isn’t enough of a market for the passenger travel at the prices they would have to charge. The WSJ article is a furphy.

  64. JohnJJJ

    But many, many aspects of the experience are very different and much improved.
    It is about the experience not the mathematics or engineering. In the 70’s flights were about people talking and the stewardesses were fabulous. It was a thrill and everyone combined to enjoy it. Now the ‘customer’ stares at a screen in a pod. In the 70s the perceived waiting time was zero as you chatted. Now the lonely waiting time seems infinite.
    Try making a joke in the security queue to see the difference.

  65. Bruce of Newcastle

    Hehe, just saw some great innovation on tv just now. See below.

    The careful design, experimentation, materials of construction, cost minimization and OH&S are all non-trivial. Someone spent a long time and a lot of R&D getting this to work.

    Of course it also says a lot about our civilization that so much development effort goes into such projects as this one.

  66. RobK

    JC, (i missed your comment earlier)
    It’s hard to explain other that it was like a very fast motion vibration of a regular plane. It was a like fast Parkinson disease shake 🙂 The entire contraption shook and was really strange.
    The frame is very rigid and strong. The peak acceleration and frequency of the vibration is high even if the amplitude is not.The fatigue cycles on the materials is high. This makes it expensive to engineer safely.

  67. sfw

    I miss the free beer and wine as well as full meals on all domestic flights, as much as you wanted.

  68. RobK

    And there was a non- smoking section for wosses.

  69. MikeS

    Even a bad day in Qantas cattle class is better than it was in the 80’s. Whenever I feel that 25 hours discomfort in an armchair is hardship – I reckon with the knowledge that several of my ancestors made the journey below decks on convict ships and lived to tell the tale. I’m ‘lead’ maybe ‘flint’ class frequent flyer and providing the airline gets me there alive and hooks me up with my luggage, I don’t really care about much else.

    When I was a recent graduate back in 1983, I flew around the world with Qantas and TWA. The in-flight movie was on a crappy screen on the mid section bulkhead. Between Sydney, Honolulu and San Francisco I saw “Yes Giorgio” (Pavarotti as romantic lead – look it up – snore) twice. Two months later at JFK, a friendly conversationalist in the departure lounge speculated about the in flight movie to Heathrow. I said “I don’t give a shit as long as it isn’t “Yes Giorgio” – guess what? Life on board got better….

  70. Of course it also says a lot about our civilization that so much development effort goes into such projects as this one.

    Yeah Bruce, I might like reading about the chemistry of silanes, but five year old kids deserve a happy childhood.

  71. The Sheriff

    There’s a shortage of nurses because too many are now trained in university “nursing faculties” which leads to mediocre intellects with delusions of grandeur wanting to play pretend doctor and making decisions of both clinical and administrative nature rather than emptying bedpans and actually caring for patients.

  72. Leo G

    Then what about the computers?

    In the 1970s I occasionally used the office “portable computer”- which was principally used to process engineering data collected in field tests. I call it portable, because it was at times transported by van or railcar. It weighed in at about 150kg including peripherals. Several thousand might together match the capabilities of a contemporary notebook PC.
    The WSJ need not have made the exception of computers. A useful portable computer in the 1970s would not have been personal luggage in any coast-to-coast flight.

  73. Mundi

    Travel is known to stagnate for a long time.

    Washington traveled to battle in a way no faster or better than the roman armies that preceded him by 1600 years.

    Cars will never be driven at higher speeds that our current 60-100 km until they are all self driving cars.

    Air travel has dropped in price since 70s an extraordinary amount. Travelling across the ocean was only done by rich, or those emigrating.

    It was as recently as the 90s that the cheapest flight from melbourne to brisbane was $899.

  74. TBH

    I’m skeptical of the notion that innovation has slowed. In my industry (IT/OT), the advances in technology over the last couple of decades have been utterly remarkable, especially in the telecommunications space, but it’s now in the realms of industrial process control, autonomous vehicles and the application of machine learning and AI as applied to industries like manufacturing, mining/oil and gas, medical and all sorts of other areas. The firm I work for has a speciality in what’s called Industry 4.0, where sensors, data feeds from those sensors, predictive and prescriptive analytics all allow more efficient and safer manufacturing. That area is only beginning.

    My daughter wants to do biomedical engineering at uni and that area is also in its relative infancy. The same with mechatronics, which my son wants to study. The sky is still the limit there.

    With respect to the example of air travel, I’ve been flying since I was a teenager in the 80’s and there are some aspects where it’s worse (security, waiting around, leg room), but there are others where it’s heaps better (cheaper — and that’s a big one, entertainment on the flight, catering — it’s definitely better on the Asian airlines, more choices of flights, premium economy class). We might not get there any faster, but I would rather fly now than when I first started, especially internationally.

  75. Nob

    The Sheriff
    #3262858, posted on December 15, 2019 at 10:23 pm
    There’s a shortage of nurses because too many are now trained in university “nursing faculties

    This also delays entry to the workforce by five or more years.

  76. Lutz Jacoby

    What about all the medical advances? And just have a look at a camera from 1962.

  77. Howard Hill

    Has innovation stalled?

    Yes. Only in Venuztralia though. Everything is banned, kids learn nothing but the number of genders they can choose from. Media only talk about kangaroos and penguins. About the only thing happening here is higher taxes, more rules and windmills, almost forgot about the windmills, did I mention the windmills? Oh yeah, we don’t make them here either.

    Just got myself a 3D printer, what a marvel of technology. Sorry but not made here.

  78. Iampeter

    But many, many aspects of the experience are very different and much improved. Cheaper too.
    When thinking of innovation, it’s not just gadgets and new-fangled things that we should think about – it’s improved business models and improvements in pre-existing gadgets that we should think about too.

    That’s not really innovation. Innovation is paradigm shifting. For example, think of the differences between a gramophone playing back a record, to today’s digital stereo playing pack mp3 files. That’s innovation.

    Nothing like that has ever occurred with commercial flying. Or cars. Or any industry that has being regulated to within an inch of it’s life. All the innovations we’re seeing in tech today will also soon come to a grinding halt now that they are under the full assault of regulators.

  79. I_am_not_a_robot

    On the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11, Mark Steyn touched on this subject.
    An Australian, say, who died at the age on 90 in 1990 lived through remarkable times, one born in 1950, when for instance space flight was already in the horizon, hasn’t experienced anything comparable IMO, so far.

  80. lotocoti

    In the 1930s, you could hop on a LNER non-stop to Edinburgh.
    Have a three course meal in the dining car.
    Watch a movie in the cinema car.
    Quaff martinis in the saloon car.
    Get your hair and nails done in the salon.
    Send and eventually receive telegrams.
    Listen to your favourite radio programmes via personal headphones.

  81. ACTOldFart

    lotocoti at 9:40 am

    And if I’m not mistaken, the locomotive that did it, the Flying Scotsman, was then the fastest in the world

  82. Rafe Champion

    What Iampeter said. Runway innovation in regulations that kill freedom and productivity.

  83. Rafe Champion

    Duplicate comment detected.

    It was worth saying twice!

  84. RobK

    Innovation does not usually occur in great leaps. Nearly all innovation is incremental.
    Another area that impacts on innovation is intellectual property regulation.
    There are conflicting forces pushing commercialisation, R&D and industrial protectionism. It’s an area where small players are easily stymied and bullied by lawfare. I don’t know of a simple solution.

  85. Sorry, but airbags in cars was a paradigm shift. Maybe one that the victims of takada might wish never happened but many lives have been saved as a consequence. Indeed the whole safety in cars thing came from the drivers strike in formula one and although the movement is now a victim of over regulation, it’s actually an example of genuine innovation. This includes seatbelts and even ABS. There is currently a massive paradigm shift going on in vehicles becoming electric (although it’s not yet clear if this one will actually peter out). Saying there has been no paradigm shift in cars in as ignorant as the journo that penned the article.

  86. lotocoti

    And if I’m not mistaken …

    I believe FS (the loco) didn’t haul too many Flying Scotsmans (the train).
    The A4s did the bulk of the high speed work, Mallard being the fastest in the world.

  87. OldOzzie

    Has innovation stalled?

    Not in China

    Chinese criminal gangs spreading African swine fever to force farmers to sell pigs cheaply so they can profit

    Report by state media says some offenders are leaving infected feed in sties and are even using drones to spread contamination

    Pork prices have spiked as a result of the disease and gangs can profit by getting around controls to smuggle meat across provincial boundaries

  88. Speedbox

    Buccaneer
    #3263191, posted on December 16, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Airbags and ABS are undoubtedly important safety measures and have saved many lives or reduced injuries but I think the 3 point seat belt must hold the title as the single greatest safety innovation in the motor vehicle.

    Millions of lives saved and countless injuries reduced or eliminated since Nils Bohlin invented it in 1959. Sure, it took a few years to be introduced into all cars but probably everyone reading this can recall a traffic incident they have been involved in that would have resulted in their injury (at least) were it not for the humble 3 point belt.

  89. Buccaneer

    I think the 3 point seat belt must hold the title as the single greatest safety innovation in the motor vehicle.

    Agreed, all these and other innovations like the collapsible steering column, deformable bumpers, side intrusion bars, the safety cell, rupture resistant fuel tanks were all the result of a significant change of attitude to safety. Watch Ferarri – Race to Immortality to find a better context as to why these series of changes occurred. We take it for granted but even in the 80s baby capsules were not a given for lots of families.

  90. Botswana O'Hooligan

    Tomorrow marks the 116th anniversary of something a couple of Bikies dreamed up, brothers named Wilbur and Orville, and also the 84th anniversary of a contraption Donald Douglas dreamed up so generations of us could fall under her spell, the DC3. Those contraptions made a lot of noise much to the delight of the ear trumpet manufacturing industry and over the years they have prospered and innovated until we ex DC3 drivers and firemen who are stone motherless deaf from their song written by Mr. Pratt & Whitney or indeed one written by the surviving Wright brother, can barely find the minute hearing devices, let alone install batteries in the damn things. Innovation hasn’t stalled in that regard. Without going into lift coefficients, drag curves, lift drag ratios, the various segments of climb, and why it takes longer to get anywhere, just think of the things the Greens, Tim Flannery, Ross Garnaut, malcolm turnbull, and Greta Thunberg, have done or would do to our Earth, expunge those names and insert “Bean Counters” for they have managed to make some of the most beautiful and eye pleasing machines in creation do exactly the opposite of what they were designed to do, go slow. The bean counters have innovated us backwards just as the Greens et al have done.

  91. RobK

    A factor in over regulation of innovation is the cost and impact of standards. Also the access to, and compliance of those standards. And maintenance of the standards themselves.
    I think a big improvement would be to have either free or very cheap access to standards as this information is of public interest and it would improve innovation to have it disseminated widely. In many instances the standards are statute. Purchasing current standards for a project can cost thousands of dollars.

  92. GoTiges

    Innovation is quite often deliberately stalled in the public sector. Queensland health recently spent a fortune on a new IT system with built-in work flows. Most of its modules have not been enabled as it would cut a swathe through the public servant paper shufflers. Patient safety is the reason given.

  93. Deplorable

    Environment groups and NIMBYs around the world tried to make supersonic flight verboten.
    They were largely unsuccessful, although I gather some of the compromise supersonic corridors were less than efficient.


    I think the noise of the last big bang when it hit the ground put paid to the supersonic problem

  94. John A

    ACTOldFart #3263178, posted on December 16, 2019 at 10:33 am

    lotocoti at 9:40 am

    And if I’m not mistaken, the locomotive that did it, the Flying Scotsman, was then the fastest in the world

    The Wee Jock (formerly road number 4472) would be the most famous steam loco outside the USA (where UP Big Boy 4014 holds that “honour”). And it has now been restored to live running again (29 mins BBC doco).

  95. Jock

    Maybe Im getting old but I think we are going too fast in terms of innovation. The other day a friend told me of some keyhole surgery he had done to prevent bleeding into his brain. They entered in the groin, and got to the particular vein. They used a form of “glue” to stop the vein and within days he is walking down the street and no longer in fear of a massive stroke. This sort of stuff is expensive but also extremely innovative. Only done at two hospitals in Oz.

  96. John A

    Speedbox #3263215, posted on December 16, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Buccaneer
    #3263191, posted on December 16, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Airbags and ABS are undoubtedly important safety measures and have saved many lives or reduced injuries but I think the 3 point seat belt must hold the title as the single greatest safety innovation in the motor vehicle.

    But remember that airbags were a second-best invention due to the supposed US civil liberties furphy that people could not be compelled by law to wear seat belts.

    I don’t recall any product recalls for seat belts but we have certainly had a few with regard to airbags, haven’t we?

  97. There have been plenty of recalls to do with seatbelts. Many of them to do with pre-tensioners but not exclusively so. Airbags are also different in the US than countries where seatbelts are mandatory, they are bigger with a bigger explosive charge. Interestingly, there are more recalls for cars than pretty much all other categories combined. Most of them don’t get the coverage that Takata airbags got.

  98. Tel

    Just got myself a 3D printer, what a marvel of technology. Sorry but not made here.

    Hey do you have any suggestions? I keep looking into the concept but then there’s too many to choose from and I get onto other things, and next thing you know a new one comes along.

    I want to be able to make robotics stuff and a lot of people use 3D printing to build parts, but I’m not deeply into Mech Eng. I do understand the principles … but that’s only the start because there’s CAD software and file formats and many tedious intermediate steps. Judging from other people’s blogs they spend a fair bit of effort getting up to speed.

    There’s also CNC laser engravers available that deploy surprisingly high power lasers and I could imagine a lot of things to do with those, but how safe are they? You would need to wall off part of the shed and buy goggles and gear like that. I’ll bet a lot of people buy them but skip the laser safety procedures. God I only imagine what a disaster this will be once the union elfin safey guys come storming in the first time some teenager inadvertently stabs themselves in the eye with a 20W laser engraver.

  99. Howard Hill

    Yes, Tell they’re not for the faint of heart. But as you’re an experienced IT guy, from what I can gather, you’ll do just fine. I got a cheapy from the the chinks, Ender 3 for 300 bucks. Works as good as any, is open source and runs open source Marlin firmware. If you have a bit of common sense and some critical thinking skills, which is the same for any printer even costing thousands, you’ll be fine.

    On the cad software, I use Freecad, does all that I need. File formats, well there’s only one you need to worry about which all CAD software does, STL files. Then you need a Slicer program that slices your 3D model into, well slices, layers and generates the GCode your printer will use to build your part. Cura 3D is free and works on all platforms and performs as good as anything out there.

    The hardest thing as far as I am experiencing is materials. Most use a plastic called PLA and for most people it’s fine and prints really well with not too many problems. The problem for me is, it has a very low glass state ( melting point ) 60°c. ABS on the other hand is a great material with a much higher glass state, 150°c and that’s where the problems start. We’re now getting into the “fuck this is too much bother” territory, but once masted is fantastic, you get strong parts that can handle some decent temperatures.
    There are plenty of other exotic materials, too many to go into here, but if you can master printing ABS you’re on your way to printing anything.

    I could write 20 pages on this this topic and you’d probably be none the wiser. For $300 bucks and a bit of screwing around, you’ll gain more knowledge and be on your way to bu’lding your own 3PO, R2D2, before you know it :).

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