Solving For The Real Time Airline

Yesterday we considered the opportunities that real time analysis of flight data could give us. A valid question to ask would be: “Why don't we have such systems in place already?” After all, we have sensor, compute, storage, and communications technology. We're accelerating the machine learning and artificial intelligence systems that can analyse vast amounts of information.

Volume and Von Nieumann

The short answer is Volume and Von Nieumann.

Image of the Von Niemann Design
Thanks Von Nieumann, you changed our lives...

Essentially the sheer volume of the data we would need to sense, collate, and analyse is far too great to ship to computer systems powerful enough for this real-time analysis. Not to mention it's not all in the aeroplane. One of the little items missed by most watching “Air Crash Investigations” is that much of the forensic information used to determine what caused a crash is found by detective work. Maintenance logs, pilot's bank accounts, even ATC training schedules.

And the Von Nieumann architecture, even with the exponential effect of Moore's Law, mean sufficiently powerful computers are too heavy and power hungry to install on aeroplanes. The Watson that beat Jeopardy players was a room full of computers. Admittedly now shrunk significantly, but still too expensive, not to mention too unsophisticated to make the number of decisions required when things go wrong in flight.

What exacerbates this is that Moore's Law, the doubling of transistors on an affordable CPU roughly every 18 months, is coming to an end. Currently bits are saved as electrons. The transistors in processors and on a memory chip effectively act as electron (bit) buckets. The laws of physics mean that somewhere between 10 and 7 nm and electrons start bleeding between these buckets.

Already we've seen evidence of this slow down. OEM's have mitigated problems by increasing the number of cores on a die, and ramping up clock speed. However, this increases energy requirements, along with heat, and weight of the computer. Throwing more processing at this doesn't solve our RT Black Box dilemma.


Sometime soon we'll come to a physical limit on the Von Niemann architecture…

The only way we can design the computer powerful enough for the RT Black Box, is to fundamentally change the architecture. So we can increase processing power, whilst decreasing energy requirements, weight and heat management. Somehow we need to improve the efficiency of the machine, so we need less code, requiring less processing, to do more work.

Interestingly the Black Box gives, with its real time memory core, gives us a hint to this new architecture.

The Machine

HPE Labs is working on just such an architecture. By inventing non-volatile memory, the memrister, we can turn the Von Nieumann architecture on it's head. Rather than CPU centric machines, attached to RAM and storage, we change the architecture to memory centric machines, attached to multiple SoC processors. The memory fabric is non-volatile, yet reads and writes at similar speeds to Dynamic RAM.

Now we could build machines easily powerful, light, cool, and frugal enough to install on aeroplanes.

This is just what we need to build the Real-Time Black Box.


HPE is not the only organisation working on NVM (non-volatile memory), SoC, or photonics (to shift all that data around efficiently). However, it seems that the competition is working on adding NVM to the volatility hierarchy, rather than replacing it entirely.

If there is a pivot point for the next 50 years of computer progress, this is it.

This is an exciting time to be alive as we herald in the next generation of computing…


There is Only One Planet…

…which is enough if you do it right!!

How much of our amazing planet have you seen? How much are you planning to experience before we screw it up monumentally, or you’re physically no longer able to get out there and enjoy it?

Even for me, where the Travel Force is strong, 2015 was a busier year than most. Although mostly this was for work, which despite the “glamour” of staying in nice hotels at desired locations, is pretty much the worst type of travel. Yeah, being away from your family, unable to do anything with consistency, sucks. But still better to make an effort to see the world than to commute the same congested road every day.

Also, where I can I’ll try to grab a couple of days extra before or after the business week and rent a motorcycle, or explore a town.

2015 by the Numbers:

Last year I travelled 210 259 kms, which puts my average speed over the year at a whopping 24 km/h!

I was away from home for 108 days or 34% of the year. If we look at the working year, this shoots up to almost 50%.

This took me to 19 cities & towns in 8 countries on 4 continents (including Australia).

The most memorable trip (not to mention most memorable car purchase) has to be buying my Jeep in Perth, then driving it across Australia (4650 kms) in just 3 days over the ANZAC Holiday week-end in April.

Madness? Perhaps, but then how often in life do you get to road trip across a continent with your mates? (Answer: Very seldom indeed)

Apart from driving a Jeep insane distances in 3 days, top experiences include:

My first visit to the Grand Canyon – a friend and I took an open top Mustang whilst we were in the US for the HP TechCon conference.

Riding through the hills around San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I’ll never tire of those roads and views.

South Africa was fantastic and as expected, many fabulous experiences ensued:

Aliwal ShoalReconnecting with the universe boating to and diving Aliwal Shoal.

Meeting the kids at Dayspring Children’s Village. This is where Amanzi volunteered a couple of years ago. We were inspired and humbled. Joy has nothing to do with possession, and everything with contribution.

UntitledZebula Private Game Reserve in South Africa. My third time, and always a treat. So many experiences here – Game drives, interacting with African elephants, quad bike safaries, clay target shooting, and just chilling in the pool with wild animals saying “hi.”

UntitledSodwana Bay, where I learnt to dive in 1991, qualified countless divers as an instructor (although not as many as on Aliwal), and got another 7 dives in over the 3 days we were there. There aren’t many places you can launch a dive boat through the surf zone, snorkel with dolphins, dive with both pelagic and reef creatures, in warm (24C), clear (20m viz) water just 2 miles from shore.

#WhereAmI Heading into the OfficeManila or, more accurately, Makati. Another first, kicked off the year. Is this the most western of Asian cities? Definitely the worst airport.

So, travel.

Never has it been more affordable. No, you don’t have to fly business, or stay in hotels. AirBnb, or just friends, family, and camping will do.

You can fly, train, drive, motorcycle, sail, cycle, hell, even walk.

You can travel to far flung places, or just see more of the country you live in. But I’ll tell you this…

…your happiness is indirectly proportional to the size of your comfort zone. So get out of yours 🙂

and travel


“By Any Means” Sydney to Vancouver

Project 2012: Day 253

Finally all the packing that can be done is done, and the journeys starts. Today is very much like Charlie Boorman's “By Any Means” series. Tonight's destination is Port Angeles. Some fair way from Sydney.

Leg One: West Pennant Hills > Sydney International – 1998 Honda Civic

My daughter Em gave me a lift to the airport in her little Civic. Besides the “hey, slow down in the tunnels for the 24 hour cameras” we made awesome time. On a spectacular spring morning. Blue skies and sunshine on the Opera House over the Harbour Bridge.

Although my time saving tip to get a well placed park kind've fell apart. Here's how it's meant to work:

Instead of following the signs to Arrivals, then driving round to the undercovered car park, then heading up two floors; you head around to Departures.

Just opposite the Qantas entrance is a bridge to the covered car park, marked “Valet parking.” Turn right over the bridge, past the actual Valet parking spot, and through the boom get next to the motorcycle parking (which is how I discovered this) Now you're on the right floor, next to the walkway to the terminal, and generally pick up a park very quickly as there's always people leaving.

The problem this morning was every man, woman, and child, and their dog, was in a taxi trying to get into the terminal at departures. Still we made it in, and managed to park without having the altercation with the bogan. He was waiting for one park then changed his mind at the last second, when another opened up first, except we were at the other one already.

Leg Two: Sydney > Vancouver – 2007 Air Canada Boeing 777

Seriously, is everyone in Canada really this friendly? I mean usually the crew direct you to your seats, because of course no intelligent adult could possibly get to their labelled seat in a hollow aluminium tube? Your seat is either on the left, in the middle, or on the right. But there's always someone looking at your boarding pass who just can't help themselves. “Oh your seat sir is number 22C and it's down that way, on your right.” No shit, Sherlock.

Still, redundant directions aside, the staff were gushing, and nothing was too much trouble. “Can I hang that 7kg leather motorbike jacket up for you sir, even though I don't have the strength to hold it? Of course I can.”

Usually people are friendly, and generally patient. We all know that the quickest way to get the aircraft into the air, is to let others do their thing without trying to push past. But often this “patience” exhibits with a sense of duress. “I'll just wait while you get yourself sorted out, but I'm clearly waiting for you with my 17 bags hanging around my person.” Not this flight. Here people happily put down their bags, and helped others. Then were helped in return. Seriously passengers who didn't know each other headed up and down the plane, carrying bags, packing the overhead bins. It's like another world.

Finally, an airline with thinking, adult crew. No rush. No militant “Switch off your phone, disconnect from the world, and watch me while I bore you with the ridiculous notion of a light and a whistle.” Don't get me wrong, the safety checks were done, the briefing given, but the crew had an air of calm efficiency, and friendliness. Phones were off well before take-off, but I guess they figured the pilots could get us to the runway without their GPS being affected by my phone as the door closed.

The down side of friendliness is over communication. You settle in. Decide between “MIB 3” or a 3rd viewing of “The Avengers” and start the movie. First announcement, no problem. Second, ok I get some people like to know what height and speed we're travelling at. Third, seriously you couldn't give us the briefing about customs before we land? Fourth, this is ridiculous; even if we don't know, we'll figure out we have to clear customs in Vancouver when we're there. Fifth, far out(!!) we really don't need to hear the two choices of meal again. Sixth, CAN I JUST WATCH MY BLOODY MOVIE IN PEACE PLEASE!!! (I knew I should've watched something on the iPad)

Oh, and every announcement is repeated in French. That's right folks, 12 interruptions in about 25 minutes, and that before the meal service. I could've sworn the skipper introduced his co-pilot at Ernest Hemingway in the French. Better ease into this Canadian laizze fare with some Scotch & Canadian Dry.

Nice staff, great plane. 10″ wide screens with on-demand everything. USB charging in every seat + 110V International plug sockets. Just 3 buttons on the armrests – Call, Stop Call, and Light. Everything else is on the touch screen. Brilliant.

Another breakthrough. The 1st airline I've flown with a simple stereo audio socket. A single one. No need for the airline airport tax of $12 for the “twin mono to stereo adapter” that you always forget at home. They also recognise most people have their own headphones, so they don't give you a set unless you ask. Brilliant.

I could swear the seats have more legroom than I'm used to. Maybe I'm dreamin'.

Apart from that. Uneventful flight.