Airborne Carcinogens and the Little Black Box

Well there are two issues on my mind today that I’d like to rant about, the first being airborne carcinogens. For those who need to study their vocabulary, airborne means “in the air”. A carcinogen is a substance that has been identified as a cause or potential cause of cancer.

So what airborne carcinogens am I speaking about? Cigarette smoke, of course. We’ve all heard the stories and read the reports, second hand smoke in high amounts can lead to cancer (though not in nearly so high a case as being a long-time smoker). There is no arguing that inhaling the smoke of cigarettes, from either end of the butt, is BAD for you. I do not argue with people’s right to smoke, I’ve always believed that people have a right to be stupid as long as it doesn’t adversely effect those around them, however the big question is this: do I, as a non-smoker, have a right to be in a public place without being exposed to potentially dangerous airborne substances in cigarette smoke?

Well the answer is yes, for those who couldn’t figure that before I told you. I have every right to walk down a street or across campus without being exposed to dangerous substances, and this right overshadows the right of others to indulge in those dangerous substances.

In order to protect those who consciously choose not to expose themselves to these dangerous airborne whatnots, it is absolutely imperative that smoking in public places be prohibited. This is already occurring in some of the more liberal parts of the country, and I find it extremely disturbing that the conservatives—whom I usually agree with more than not—are protecting people who choose to expose those around them to dangerous things. YOUR RIGHT TO SMOKE DOES NOT GIVE YOU LICENSE TO EXPOSE ANYBODY ELSE TO THAT SMOKE. Period. The law should follow this track of thinking. Smoke at home and among those who exclusively smoke. Do not smoke around me, as that crosses the line between expressing your rights and trampling mine.

Now that all you smokers understand NOT to smoke in public places, or at least perhaps THINK about the OTHER PEOPLE that you tend to forget exist, I’ve got another issue to tackle (also regarding to something airborne . . . well at least before this becomes an issue). That issue is the “little black boxes” on airplanes that oft become the centre of attention after a crash.

Before I go off ranting on these mis-named orange reflective boxes, understand that my deepest sympathies and prayers go out to the victims and families of the recent plane crashes. Please don’t consider me insensitive, but the issue of the Flight Data and Cockpit Voice Recorders is one definitely worth considering.

When TWA Flight 800 went down in the North Atlantic off of the New England coast, the “pinger” (radio transmitter) that allows searchers to find the Flight Data Recorder DISCONNECTED from the box itself making the search for it especially long and exhaustive. On September 11th, the little black boxes of the plane that hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, were in the middle of a raging fire for so long that although they were recovered, they no longer had any recoverable data on them. Of the two planes that hit the World Trade Center in New York City, little black boxes will probably never be found and even if they are will surely fare much like the Pentagon boxes.

What’s my point? The data stored in the Flight Data and Cockpit Voice Recorders is hugely important in the aftermath of a crash and its investigation. Whether it be a criminal investigation like the September 11th incidents or a “normal” crash investigation like Flight 800 and the recent crash in New York. Yet even in a world of satellite telephones, wireless internet, and supercomputers on your desktop (PowerMac G4), this data is still stored on orange metal boxes ON THE PLANE. See what I’m getting at? WHY NOT HAVE THIS DATA BROADCAST THROUGH SATELLITE PHONE TECHNOLOGY AND RECORDED BY THE AIRLINE ON THE GROUND!? Imagine, in the aftermath of a crash the entire flight’s worth of data could be sent to the NTSB with a click of a mouse at American or United Airlines. With a hijacking in-progress, live data (and the recording at the end) could be sent directly to the FBI or other investigative body. It seems logical to me!

In the computer world we have a concept called “off-site backup”. Insurance companies, government agencies, and surely thousands of other organizations make backups of all their critical information daily and have it sent electronically or shipped SOMEWHERE ELSE. This way, if a building burns down or something catastrophic occurs to the computers, the information is still somewhere else with minimal loss. It only makes sense that instead of expecting a box to survive something as violent as an airline crash, that information be sent somewhere off of the plane. Think about it.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.