Sunday, April 29, 2012

I'm mysteriously going to start talking like this.

A massive European satellite the size of a school bus that has mysteriously stopped communicating with Earth has been spotted by another satellite in orbit.
"Mysteriously stopped communicating with Earth"? Oh, you mean it broke. I'll note that the satellite was from the ESA, so the first thing I'd do is check the list of subcontractors for the usual suspects, such as Lucas, Renault, or Fiat.

This must be one of those things related to price tags: A Kia Rio is broken down on the side of the road, while a Mercedes SL500 has "mysteriously stopped running." My desktop computer gets a broken power supply, but a Cray XK6 "mysteriously fails to power up." Your Taurus Millennium is a piece of junk, and my Kimber Pro Raptor II is experiencing "mysterious failures to feed."

(H/T to Unwanted Blog.)


Anonymous said...

Average Joe steals money, whereas well-heeled and politically-connected Tad "oversaw an accounting error."

Phillip said...

Working in the IT field, we know well the value of choosing how we say something's broken, and how we can be perceived due to the complexity of the conversation.

"Your high density disk drive is experiencing a random failure of the electromagnetic current correctly interpreting the data bits in magnetic alignment" beats "Dude, your hard drive is toast" every time.

Not to mention "There was an interface error that created a feedback loop that eventually led to this issue" is much nicer than saying "Dumbass over there clicked too many popups and got a virus on the network".

Catastrophic failure of non-redundant systems is IT speak for "I need money. A lot of it. Right now."

Roberta X said...

I'm trying to remember the name of the Italian auto-electrics company that was roughly equivalent to Lucas -- and of similar reputation, only more so.

It's a satellite. In space. They break. Subjected to high G, shaken to flinders, and dumped into vacuum and a lot more cosmic rays and high velocity dust than the surface ever sees, the wonder is that stuff keeps working -- and it's all worse with a big satellite. ESA might not even have been able to test the thing all in one piece, considering the size.

(In my limited experience -- 2 MGs and a Jag -- Lucas is unfairly maligned. Lousy grounds are the the carmaker's fault; add in hard-to-read "furrin" schematics and engineering traits and it's a recipe for shade-tree confusion, leading to things like the previous owner who carefully filed the points on my first MGB's diaphragm-type fuel pump into actual pointed shapes and then wondered why it didn't work very well.)

libertyman said...

An astute observation, as always. Our high priced possessions would never be subject to the mechanical woes that beset the cheap stuff.

ZerCool said...

Actually, it's a 6-volt positive-ground setup, and some foolish US astronaut tried to jump it with his Chevy.

So ... it's Bush's fault.

libertyman said...

Roberta X - perhaps it was Magneti Marelli?

Roberta X said...

Bingo! Thank you. Memory kept dredging up Italian "MM" names and even I knew it wasn't "Mille Miglia."

TJIC said...

> the first thing I'd do is check the list of subcontractors for the usual suspects, such as Lucas, Renault, or Fiat.

I'm reminded of the joke from the 1980s: Why doesn't Triumph make a personal computer?

A: They couldn't figure out how to make it leak oil.

Miguel said...

if you cannot dazzled them with brilliance, baffle them with BS

dogboy49 said...

"...a school bus that has mysteriously stopped communicating with Earth....."

This is serious. Were there any children in the bus?

og said...

Mm and spica for fuel. Bosch was no bargain either. The only way to unfairly malign lucas would be to accuse it of function.

Brad K. said...

Last September Dilbert (Scott Adams) addressed this very point in marketing. "Avoid saying 'unfortunately' when you talk to customers."

Anonymous said...

Lucas doesn't just make car electronics. Their strong position in the British refrigerator market is generally believed to be the reason that Brits drink warm beer.

Weer'd Beard said...

I will note that Taurus Millennium are prone to breaking, I believe if your Kimber runs well out of the box it needs to be sent back for work.

Robert McDonald said...

Mine was the Kimber Ultra Raptor, and it constantly failed to feed because it was a bad idea from the drawing board. Damn RIA ran better for years.

Anonymous said...


What a typical American view.

ESA satellite is working. It's just on its prescribed 16 weeks’ vacation, followed by 6 months of maternity leave, followed by a yearlong sabbatical to study man made global warming


Les Jones said...

I think 7:42 anonymous is taking another useful step down the right path. Beyond the price tag, it's the size of the legal department that price tag can finance.

Dean in Az said...

Ironically, I owned 2 Kia Rios in the past and I never had a breakdown that resulted in sitting at the side of the road.

Will said...

I worked in the motorcycle field in the 70's.
Lucas EARNED their reputation as the Prince Of Darkness. Unfortunately, the Italians weren't any better, they were just different in how they applied their brand of incompetence. (running the ignition power through the tail light!!?)

One of the problems the Brits had was laws that restricted them to home-grown products. (this went away by 1980, I think) Unfortunately, their industries ran out of mental horsepower by the late 50's, perhaps due to the lack of challengers from outside. They were pretty much coasting after the war. Their political left turn had some influence on this, I'm sure.

Tam said...

Dean in AZ,

"Ironically, I owned 2 Kia Rios in the past and I never had a breakdown that resulted in sitting at the side of the road."

I just picked a name out of a hat. Mercs aren't known for getting people stranded, either. Come to think of it, modern cars pretty much across the entire price spectrum are shockingly reliable compared to the standards of only twenty years ago.

Dean in Az said...

Well sure, you were comparing inexpensive to pricy, and Kias are certainly inexpensive if nothing else. I like em because they are/have been reliable for me, and they were the first car to have that outrageous 100k mi warranty.

Not to mention that it adds some prosperity to South Korea, which only helps serve to make North Korea look even worse... =]

Kristophr said...

Oh dear.

If Lucas was involved in that sat, then the problem would have been the other euros failure to use Imperial Volts.

CGHill said...

According to protocol, a Rolls-Royce does not break down; it "fails to proceed."

I'd hate to have to explain that difference to the guy in the tow truck. He has better things to do than worry about nuance.

Anonymous said...

Will @2:16 said:

"Unfortunately, their industries ran out of mental horsepower by the late 50's, perhaps due to the lack of challengers from outside."

They did not run out of mental horsepower. The "Mental Horsepower" moved out of the country, most of them winding up right here in the good 'ol U.S. of A.

Why did that happen, You might ask.

Because in it's infinite wisdom, the British government, in a famous (notorious) whitepaper of the time, decided it no longer needed a defense industry, and nearly the entire engineering class of the country upstaked, and moved to the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Those that moved to Canada and Australia also ended up coming here, to the immense benefit of U.S. Industry. The small number that did not move in the first huge wave of one of the biggest brain drains in modern history did so later when the labor unions used their strike powers to force companies to pay them more than their engineering compatriots were being paid. Since English engineers were much more rigorously trained than our U.S. equivalent, they did quite well for themselves here. All of my best bosses in the aerospace industry were English.


Old NFO said...

Magneti Marelli which was the primary supplier to SEAT... If Lucas was the prince of darkness, Magneti is the Queen of darkness!!!

In 'my' world, the usual comment is "Did if F'ing break AGAIN???"

Anonymous said...

"Mysteriously stopped working" is akin to economic reporting during Obama's regime. The word "unexpectedly" is always pasted on any bad economic news

Chris said...


I don't think that word means what they think it means.

Grayson said...


"Lights Unsafe Continuously After Sunset"


Anonymous said...

When a satellite just stops communicating, it IS mysterious. They usually have multiple communications links, and this one does:

Payload data transmission

- 2 Ka-band channels each at 50/100 Mbit/s via DRS (Artemis) for payload data
- 2 X-band channels each at 50/100 Mbit/s (direct transmission to ground)

RF links

S-band direct to/from ground via DRS for TT&C
Ka-band to ground via DRS for payload data
X-band direct to ground for payload data

Losing ALL communications is rare. You usually get some indication that something is going flaky because of all the on board monitoring of systems that is done.

But, it was only supposed to last 5 years, so they got their money's worth.

D. Scruggs

Anonymous said...


('58 TR3A, '68 TR6, '75 MGB)

Roberta X said...

S. Scruggs: Most satellite have directional antennas, more for reasons of gain than to keep the Martians from listening in, and they are supposed to be pointing down. "Lost all comms" usually means "pointing the wrong way."

It's an attitude problem; it went belly-up. Now it can't hear commands, so there's no flipping it over...unless they get lucky, and it's got some residual roll.

Anonymous said...

"It's an attitude problem; it went belly-up. Now it can't hear commands, so there's no flipping it over...unless they get lucky, and it's got some residual roll."

Given the number of satellite's that get ...incapacitate, but small annoying stuff. You think there's be a market for a "tow truck" satellite....of course it would have to be clever and complex and would probably break too.

staghounds said...

BSR, not just in the 1950s. About a third of the people in one of my Hunts are English engineers or their families, and none of them are 52 yet.

Johnny -Oh said...

My favorite euphemism for "broken" I overheard at a Tractor Pull. As the tractor was being aligned to the sled, the operator popped the clutch and it stalled out, then the announcer came over the PA and intimated that "He done come un-started". I laughed 'til I pee'd a little.

markm said...

BSR: Just eliminating the defense industry would have left plenty of engineers in other industries. I think the problem was taxes. I don't know when this started, but when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, the top tax rate was effectively over 90% of income. Everyone who could take their high-income job with them was fleeing the UK.

Anonymous said...

Staghounds and markm:

The infamous whitepaper was circa 1950-ish, and pre-dates the current small-scale, but continuous human capital flight from the U.K. by a good bit.

The 1950s brain drain was so pervasive that nearly the entire mid-level management structure at some US aerospace companies was made up of Englishmen, in spite of the fact that England had a much smaller population of engineers to start with. English engineers from the 1950s brain drain are all long-since retired.

Taxes in the '50s were not so much an issue, as European engineers had much higher levels of prestige and pay than US engineers, and US taxes were also much higher at the time. The disappearance of an entire industry (aerospace) that had played a huge national roll in England only a half-dozen years before, at the height of WW II, was the main culprit. No other industry in England employed a significant number of engineers, and it wouldn't have mattered in any event, as the few remaining engineers left the country when labor unions pushed unskilled labor to the fore at the expense of the professional classes who were NOT represented by unions.

The flight of the professional classes from England in the late 70's/early 80's post-dates the original brain drain by a good 30 years.


Ian Argent said...

One of the use for a private vehicle with surface to LEO capability would be to haul a field service tech and a selection of tools and spares, or at least some additional attitude adjustment or delta-V out yonder. This would make satellites immensely cheaper and light (which means cheaper, too). And make the man with the LEO towing franchise a short ton of money too.

Brad K. said...

Ian Argent,

Didn't Andy Griffith have a TV show, before Matlock, with just that theme? A low-cost-to-orbit platform and a scheme to salvage space junk as I recall. It didn't run long, in 1979. "Salvage 1", according to

Ian Argent said...

Unsure. In 1979 I was in preschool or kindergarten in New Delhi, watching the heffalumps bring Santa by.