Sunday musings: Black box history, New Pompeii excavations, Napping at airports

airplane black boxWe read about the history of the airplane black box from the BBC. It deals with persistence and personal tragedy. Smithsonian Magazine provides a look at new Pompeii excavations filled with new discoveries and opening new sections of the buried city. Finally, new amenities are beginning to turn up in domestic airports to make spending time there pass faster.

This little-known inventor has probably saved your life with his airplane black box

This story is about the invention of the airplane black box that is so important in studies of airplane crashes. This fascinating story of David Warren takes us from a crash in Australia to the introduction of the airplane black box in aircraft across the world.

The chances that a recorder [or airplane black box] had been on board — and survived the fiery wreck — were basically nil. But what if every plane in the sky had a mini recorder in the cockpit? If it was tough enough, accident investigators would never be this confused again, because they’d have audio right up to the moment of the crash. At the very least, they’d know what the pilots had said and heard.

VPN: Key for Travelers' Internet Security DownloadThe idea fascinated him. Back at [Aeronautical Research Laboratories] ARL, he rushed to tell his boss about it. Alas, his superiors didn’t share his enthusiasm.

Dr. Warren took to his garage and assembled his 20-year-old radio parts. He’d decided the only way to overcome his critics’ mockery and suspicion was to build a solid prototype.

It would be the first-ever “airplane black box” flight recorder…the first ones off the line were orange so they’d be easier to find after a crash — and they remain so today.

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The new treasures from Pompeii excavations

I used to live only a short drive from Pompeii. Of course, everyone visiting Naples on vacation wanted to see the Pompeii excavations. I certainly obliged. Much of the old city was still covered in volcanic debris — an amazing amount of land to be excavated. Naturally, thefts and major damage to the site were endemic, however, the Italian government has a hand on the destruction. Now official Pompeii excavations are turning up new treasures.

One of the central mysteries of that fateful day, long accepted as August 24, has been the incongruity of certain finds, including corpses in cool-weather clothing. Over the centuries, some scholars have bent over backward to rationalize such anomalies, while others have voiced suspicions that the date must be incorrect. Now the new dig offers the first clear alternative.

4 International Air Travel Rights DownloadScratched lightly, but legibly, on an unfinished wall of a house that was being refurbished when the volcano blew is a banal notation in charcoal: “in [d]ulsit pro masumis esurit[ions],” which roughly translates as, “he binged on food.” While not listing a year, the graffito, likely scrawled by a builder, cites “XVI K Nov”—the 16th day before the first of November on the ancient calendar, or October 17 on the modern one. That’s nearly two months after August 24, the fatal eruption’s official date, which originated with a letter by Pliny the Younger, an eyewitness to the catastrophe, to the Roman historian Tacitus 25 years later and transcribed over the centuries by monks.

Art, exercise or a nap? All could be yours during a long layover

Many travelers love a place to spend a couple of hours sleeping between long layovers. Or, we might want to have somewhere to spend time other than sitting in long rows of seats people-watching or engrossed in a streaming movie or reading a book. Some drink coffee. Today, many airports are beginning to offer different amenities that make time pass faster.

In Europe and other international airports, travelers can find workout rooms, showers, movie theaters, and nap rooms here and there, but domestically, the pickings are slimmer. Now, airports are beginning to recognize this passenger need.

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Airports in the United States — eager to lure travelers as airlines consolidate — are increasing amenities to include culture, fitness and even the opportunity to commune with a little nature. And since most travelers passing through will shell out for at least a cup of coffee, many of these added amenities are designed to influence travelers to choose to fly, say, via Kennedy Airport instead of Newark, or into San Francisco International rather than Oakland.

When all else fails, sleep it off. In Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Charlotte and Philadelphia, tired travelers can check into the Minute Suites, which can be rented for $42 an hour. (Editor’s note: That’s less than airport clubs for nonmembers.) These private rooms are soundproofed and offer sofas that convert into beds. Many also have private showers.