Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I don’t know if it is because I am a pilot or because I am an engineer – or perhaps it is both, but I like attention to detail. I hate things being wrong. When I visit an office and the desk is not lined up, it irks me, and often, I will fix it! I simply had to fix the door of an office at the high court – it was broken, for a long time, and its malfunction went unnoticed, accepted and ignored. It took me a matter of minutes with a Swiss army knife and some scraps from the floor. Fixed, working and functional – smiles all around –something that almost anybody could have done, but didn’t.

Recently, I was in a Government building where the Ghana Crest was sitting on the floor. The next day it was hung up with a new screw and string. It had sat on the floor for many months, just waiting to be fixed – all it needed was the desire to put it right, and I could not resist it. Why didn’t it get done before? Either because nobody noticed or nobody cared… or perhaps a combination of both.

The roads get the same treatment. Each year I send our field workers to fix the feeder road that approaches the airfield. Digging, compacting, filling – even ordering truckloads of stones for the repairs – and I take a shovel too. (However, the fact that it needs a new culvert, is beyond what we can manage to fix the longer term needs, which appears to be completely ignored, including the consequences for safety with annual floods.)

What happens when you fix these things? Well, you get much more criticism than thanks – so don’t do it for the thanks or the recognition – no, do it because it needs done, and you can do it. 

In aviation we are expected to identify problems in their juvenile days, to prevent them growing up to become disasters. We are then expected to rectify it if we can, and always report it, even if we can’t. If it is something that would make aircraft operations dangerous in any way, then we are expected to refuse to operate the aircraft – including, if it is a runway issue, refuse use of an unsuitable runway. Imagine if we all refused to use dangerous roads or travel in dangerous vehicles on the roads! Well, that would be a great thing to try, but I am sure that the mayhem would result in a fresh acceptance of ‘sub-safe’, ‘sub-correct’, ‘sub-suitable’ status across the country.

We have to ask where this acceptance of ‘not as it should be’ comes from. Well, I think that the schools are one place where we can start. Imagine that a child were to sit in school for ten years, looking at the back of their exercise books, and there to be several errors on it. Imagine that no teacher pointed out the errors, and in reprints the same errors replicated like mice taking over the kitchen!

Well, so far, I have found this to be a current practice. What bothers me more is the fact that others do not see the errors.

It all started when I was interviewing for apprentices and one applicant brought their school exercise book with them. My eye passed over it, and stopped at the glaring error in relation to Degrees and Radians. There are three basic ways of measuring angles - Degrees, Radians and Gradients. Most scientific calculators have a DRG button that changes the way that it treats angles. 

Degrees, we are all familiar with – 360 of them in a circle. 360 is a nice number because it has lots of factors. Divide by 2 for 180, 4 for 90, 5 for 72, 6 for 60, 8 for 45, 9 for 40, 10 for 36… makes for easy maths in angles and geometry, and is based on Babylonian mathematics, the same as the 60 minute hour and 60 second minute.

Gradians (or Gradients as they are sometimes called) originate from a decimal attempt at angular measure – where a quarter of a circle contains 100 gradians. There are 400 of them in a circle – therefor one Degree is the same as 1.11111111 Gradians – or one Degree is 9/10ths of a Gradian. This makes for great ease when working out slopes, and was popular with certain military and engineering folks.

The Radian, however, is the most amazing way to measure angles – and it is integral to the magnificence of the mathematics of the circle. 360 Degrees is the same as two pi (π) Radians. Therefore, one 360 Degree circle is the same as 6.283185307... Radians, which is much easier and more accurate for computers to work with! Why? Because pi is related to the circle, it is the ratio between the diameter and the circumference. Knowing the importance of Radians and their relationship to degrees is essential in many calculations, especially when using computers. Teaching the fact that there are 2 pi Radians in a circle, is basic to mathematics – so much so, that it is quoted on the reference tables on the back of many exercise books. OR IS IT?

Sadly, I have come across a plethora of different exercise books with the statement that ‘180 Degrees = 1 Radian’. This is WRONG. Blatantly wrong. It should read ‘180 degrees = pi Radians. It upset me so much that I set about reading the back of every exercise book I could find – and found that the errors were beyond belief. These errors are sitting there in front of the eyes of our young people, being absorbed into their subconscious, and being wrong. Another example that is subliminally destroying the credibility of our students is:

Exercise book says ‘100 square metres equals 1 acre’ WRONG – the correct answer is 4046.8564224… square metres equals 1 acre. 

Exercise book says ‘100 acres equals 1 hectare’ WRONG – the correct answer is 2.471053814671653 acres equals 1 hectare.

Now, few people are aware of the ARES. This is a rarely used area measurement where 100 square metres is equal to one ARE. Now, the ‘are’ is so rarely used, we have to ask ‘is it a spelling mistake on the back of the exercise book, or a mathematical mistake’. The point is, either way, it is wrong. Furthermore, you would be hard pushed to find people working with ‘ares’, but lots of people working with acres. I am sorry, but this lack of attention to detail is enough to create confusion and a barrier to learning in those who are required to look at the back of these exercise books in school. 

There are many other errors – and it simply amazes me, that when I show them to teachers the most common answer is ‘oh, is it wrong? I never read it!’. Please, look out for the minor details and watch how the big details come right! Please, if see it is wrong – do something about it. Please pass this to every teacher you know!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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