Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Bullshit detection system

The screengrab below from the Energex website shows the output from their lightning detection system. The way it works is that a private company has a network of lightning detectors along the east coast of Australia (essentially AM radio recievers) and they detect and triangulate all lightning strikes. The system can detect lightning strikes all the way out to NZ (well, strong strikes).

Once the strikes are detected and triangulated, they are fed out to customers via the internet. The customers tend to be companies like electricity suppliers - people with the kind of infrastructure that gets damaged by lightning strikes (like Energex).

In the old days, it used to take over 24 hours for electrical system repairs to be made after a storm. There were two reasons for that. One was that before damage could be repaired, it had to be found - and that's not as simple as it sounds when you have thousands of kilometres of stuff to check. The other reason is that maintenance crews work shifts, and for a lot of these companies, most of the staff work from say 7am to 3pm. At 3pm, they all knock off and go to the pub - and are therefore very difficult to recall afterwards if there is damage to be fixed.

Once they got a lightning detection system in place, repair times plumetted. Firstly, because the controllers could look at the location of strikes plotted against a map of their infrastructure and work out with some accuracy where damage had occured. Crews didn't have to spend hours trawling up and down the line looking for a strike.

The second reason is that the system allows you to see a storm approaching, and the plotting allows you to predict with some accuracy where it is going to go. If you see a storm coming in at say 2pm, you ring the depot and tell all crews not to go home - they are now on overtime. You can even tell them to load up the trucks and head for suburb X, since a storm will hit there in two hours time. That way, crews can be pre-positioned and alerted as to the likely points of damage. You can't stop stuff being blown up by a strike, but you can speed up the time to fix it.

These systems work by colour coding the strikes and ageing out the old strikes. The screengrab shows the colour coding system. That way, you can easily see the path of a storm by looking at the pattern of colours.

It's a great system. It even tells you the strength of a strike, so you can filter out the low powered strikes and just look for ones that blow everything up when they hit. It also detects some in-cloud strikes - I didn't know until I saw this system that not all lightning hits the ground. Some just bangs around in clouds.

Pity we don't have a similar thing for detecting bullshit. Well, we do have bullshit detectors, but until now, no one has plotted bullshit pronouncements on a map, and then aged them using colour codes. It would have been good to have started around election time, and then plotted all the Kruddy announcements up until now. Stupid election promises would now be fading to a dark blue, whilst the crap that we heard on the weekend from 2020 would light up the map in a blaze of white - something like a nuclear blast.

I'll have to think about this.

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