Google Gadgets and lessons from an aircraft crash

I've been playing around with some of Google's APIs lately, especially their Gadgets. These are mini web applications that can plug into iGoogle and other pages and are written in XML and JavaScript (although they may reference more sophisticatedprograms written in other languages). So far I have written one that shows the CSIRO media release RSS feed and another that lists CSIRO Podcasts. They aren't finished, so I won't link to them yet.

Google make it pretty easy and I am looking forward to making some other gadgets. Last weekend I also borrowed a book called Hacking Google Maps and Google Earth by Martin C Brown. It's a little old now, but I feel inspired to try writing some code to interact with those applications. Something useful for travel.

Last night's Air Crash Investigations program about the Kegworth Boeing 737-400 crash contained a number of lessons which could be applied more broadly across many areas of work. The causes of the crash can be summarised as:

  1. An engine with a design flaw that cause the fan blades to shatter above a certain altitude. The engine has not been flight tested during development.
  2. A lack of pilot training on the aircraft. The 737-400 had a number of changes over previous models.
  3. Instrumentation that was difficult to read.
  4. Crew and passengers trusted the pilots abilities to the extend that they did not attempt to convey observations thatmay have assisted the pilots in making the correct decision.
  5. Distraction caused by an interruptions at a critical moment.

The lessons, as I see them, are:

  1. Always attempt to test in realistic environments.
  2. You can't always rely on past experience if there have been changes.
  3. Usability is important!
  4. If you see something wrong, speak up!
  5. Interruptions and other distractions can be dangerous.