Friday, 30 November 2012

Failure is definitely an option

I‘ve recently been re-reading Eugene Krantz’ book “Failure Is Not An Option “. If you’ve never heard of the name before, Gene Krantz was a flight controller in NASA during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era. He was the flight controller on duty when Apollo XI’s Lunar Module Eagle first landed on the moon – yes, and despite the conspiracy theorists I have no doubt that it actually did just that. Like many an impressionable nipper, I was raised from my bed in the wee small hours to watch the landing live on the telly – an act of kindness from my parents for which I will always be grateful – and I’ve always been fascinated by the American manned space programme up until the end of Apollo ever since.

It’s not an original point to make, but while reading the book I was once again struck by the fact that what looked like a perfect mission, in the case of Apollo XI flirted with catastrophe in more than one way. The original landing site turned out to be covered with boulders, and unsafe, so Neil Armstrong flew the craft manually , thus using up fuel. They landed with only about 20 seconds’ fuel left in the descent stage tank. During the descent and landing the switch arming the ascent stage’s rocket was snapped off, and Buzz Aldrin had to improvise one from a pen. If it had not worked, well, the two of them would still be there now. The landing itself came close to being aborted because of a computer alarm. Basically the amount of work that the computer had to do was too much, and it was overloading. The ironic thing about this is that now, 43 years later, the laptop on which I am typing this post is probably many times more powerful than the computer on the lunar module. It couldn’t happen again.

All of which has rather begged me to ask the question – in this day and age, why can’t the rugby club get a microphone that works ? Last night it was my turn to do the quiz. All was well for the first couple of rounds. Then the microphone began to cut out. In the past it used to start whining for no apparent reason, (my dad used to do the same, God rest his soul) but you could get around it by doing what Ronnie Barker’s Arkwright used to call “jer – jer – jiggling it a bit. “ Last night there was no whining, but it just started cutting out in the middle of a word . I don’t know if you’ve ever used a microphone in a venue, but it is the most disconcerting thing in the world when you can hear your voice all around, then suddenly there’s nothing, even though you’re still talking. Which means that you have to say the question all over again, during which the mike will probably cut out again.

I gave up after round three. The very nice steward did her best , and I went back and tried again for round four, but it was no good. So I went back to basics, and stood in the middle of the bar, and bellowed out the questions and answers. ‘ When you’re talking to a full hall, speak from the diaphragm ‘ I was once told when I was a student teacher, and so that’s what I tried to do. I don’t think I was very successful, since my throat is a little bit raw this morning.


Ben Dutton said...

The failure of a mic is indeed bad - I host each week in a venue that is two floors, and vast. One week the mic broke, and we hadn't got a spare then, so I had to shout the questions in four different parts of the pub. Needless to say I could barely speak the next day, and the quiz overran by 40 minutes.

Londinius said...

Hi Ben

The opposite for me. I finished the quiz in record time on Thursday night, so much so that more than one person was seen to look at his watch and muse "Early finish - is he on a promise tonight or something ? " To which the answer, sadly, was no.