Failures in Technical Communications

I always liked this presentation for Technical Communication. My teammate and I decided to do it on failures of technical communication.

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Mars Climate Orbiter (Polar Orbiter)

This missing was going good until a thruster shot off wrong and the orbiter burned up in the atmosphere. It turned out that one of the groups gave its information in the standard system while everyone else was using the metric system. Oops.


  1. Mission Background
  2. Findings

Phenergan (Promethazine HCL)


This drug was to help people with severe nausea. The only problem was that if it was injected wrong it caused gangrene. The instructions were so byzantine that even trained nurses couldn’t inject it correctly (see below.) The reason that the company didn’t update the instructions after people started to get hurt? Wyeth said the government wouldn’t let them, but that wasn’t a good enough reason for the courts.


  1. A lawsuit that went to the supreme court
  2. What happens when the drug is injected incorrectly

Challenger Explosion

The Challenger exploded in 1986, the cause was likely group-think, found so often in government and larger companies. I cannot show the chapter from the Edward Tufte’s book Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative we used for copyright reasons.

Miscellaneous Information

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A recent study conducted at the Swiss federal Institute of technology in Zurich analyzed 800 cases of structural failure in which 504 people were killed, 592 people injured, and millions of dollars of damage incurred. When engineers were at fault, the researchers classified the causes of failure as follows:

Insufficient knowledge


Underestimation of influence


Ignorance, carelessness, negligence


Forgetfulness, error


Relying upon others without sufficient control


Objectively unknown situation


Imprecise definition of responsibilities


Choice of bad quality




From: M. Matousek and Schneider, J., (1976) Untersuchungen Zur
Struktur des Zicherheitproblems bei Bauwerken, Institut
für Baustatik und Konstruktion der ETH Zürich,
FrBericht No. 59, ETH.

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Political Question Sites

Bored tonight, I stumbled upon some sites that said that they will graph your political views. Curious I tested some of these sites out.

World’s Smallest Political Quiz

This site will show you your score by using eight questions. I skeptically tested it out. The outcome was unsurprising. It said that I was a mutt, a Leftist/Libertarian mix, though it called me a “Centrist.” This quiz is cool because it is easy. Just don’t expect it to be too illuminating.

Link: World’s Smallest Political Quiz


The Moral Politics Test

I kinda like this test. Its 16 questions attempts to map your morals to a political system. The questions made me think and choose the lesser of two evils (or greater goods.) While this was nice to see, some of the questions didn’t pertain to my beliefs so I couldn’t answers well.

Overall, not too bad. Since I didn’t answer some questions, the overall score likely leaned right a little for more moral order, but the breakdown that it gave me was correct. Except for the ‘04 Election, no way would I have voted for Nader, that crackpot lost it a decade ago.

Link: The Moral Politics Test

The Political Compass

This is a long test, but not too difficult to go through if you have a spare 10 minutes. I like that they didn’t let you choose neutral, which is usually a cop out. Some of the questions are poignant, some throw away so it ends up feeling like a muddy experience. It did do a good job picking my overall philosophy on capitalism, though I am more liberal is individual rights. Therefore, it seems the test is geared towards government regulating against corporations rather than individual rights.

Link: The Political Compass