Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lessons from the Vasa, and Other Baltic Musings

The Vasa, courtesy of the Vasa Museum,
I'm back from Europe, and jet-lag is setting in to a significant extent. Before I drop, I wanted to post about some of the places we saw on our Baltic cruise.

Oslo seems clean, and modern in a timeless, Frank Lloyd Wright fashion, although the focal point of the city is the Akershaus Fortress, built in the 1300's. For some reason, I find the place very intriguing. Copenhagen had the feel of a much older city, with a feeling of age that we simply don't have in the much younger United States. Stockholm is somewhere between the two, and I found it my favorite of all the places we visited. Helsinki was rather stark, though it still has much of beauty, including a Lutheran church blasted from a stone hillock. Our time in St. Petersburg was rather surreal; a visit to Russia is still uncomfortable, even though the Russian Republic is now a democracy. Our guide spoke almost whistfully of the old Soviet era: it was hard, but the State took care of its people. I fear the old generation will have to pass on before freedom is totally accepted. The Russians are well on their way, however; there were many more Lexuses on their roads than I see here at home! Talinn, Estonia, was a surprise; there is a beautiful medieval city adjacent to a very modern metropolis. The Estonians recovered their freedom and statehood only 15 years ago, and they are fiercely proud of their new/old democracy. If only their weather was better! We ended our trip with a few days in London. We saw the major sites (Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Madamme Tussaud's, Harrod's), although we certainly didn't even begin to scratch the surface. London is horrendously first glance, the prices are similar to ours here in the US, but those numbers are Pounds Sterling, not Dollars, and therefore everything is roughly double in price.

Oh, yes, before I forget...gasoline everywhere we went was going for about $7-8 per gallon. It was only about $2 or so in Russia, but our guide told us that salaries were commensurately low as well.

Our ship and the cruise line delivered us safely, and very well fed, but there were a few (but significant) glitches that I'll discuss in a later post directed at Royal Caribbean. Get out your bashing clubs, folks!

Delta flew on time, and they didn't lose any of our luggage.

Now, the story of the Vasa. The ship was built in 1628 on the order of King Gustavus Adolphus. On it's maiden voyage, it sailed into Stockholm harbor, listed over to one side, drew water in through open gunports, and promptly sank. The good news is that it was encased in clay at the bottom of the bay, and was nicely preserved for 333 years until it was rediscovered and raised from the depths. It is on display today in a huge museum built around it, a ghost ship returned from the dead. What happened? Here an analysis from the Vasa Museum's website:

In the 17th century there were no scientific methods of calculating a ship's stability. It was not uncommon that warships heeled over and sank. Their cargo - the guns - were placed relatively high up in theship, whereas merchant-vessels stored their cargo in the hold, ie inthe bottom of the ship. Instead of using calculations, the 17th century shipbuilders used so called reckonings, which recorded certain ship-measurements. However, the reckonings used in building the Vasa were intended for smaller ships with only one gundeck. The Vasa was built differently. She had two gundecks with heavy artillery (when the norm was to place lighter guns on the upper gundeck). The standard rules obviously did not apply here. Deep down in the Vasa several tons of stone were stored as ballast. They were meant to give the ship stability. However, the main reason for the Vasa capsizing was that the ballast was not enough as counterweight to the guns, the upper hull, masts and sails of the ship. In the inquiries after the Vasa disaster it was revealed that a stability test had been performed prior to the maiden voyage. Thirty men had run back and forth across the Vasa's deck when she was moored at the quay. The men had to stop after three runs, well before the test could be completed - otherwise, the ship would have capsized. Present was Admiral Klas Fleming, one of the most influential men in the Navy. His only comment to the failed stability test was "If only His Majesty were at home!" After that he let the Vasa make her maiden voyage.Who, then, were to blame for the disaster?

Admiral Fleming. Partly. He could have stopped the ship after the stability test. On the other hand, the ship was already complete and the king was waiting impatiently in Polish Prussia.

King Gustavus Adolphus. Partly. He was anxious to acquire a ship with as many heavy guns as possible. He had also approved the Vasa's dimensions and was keen to have her completed rapidly.

The shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson. Partly. Although he built the hulltoo narrow, he was a skilled shipbuilder who had previously built manygood ships. His unexpected death the previous year just complicated matters.

The captain Söfring Hansson. According to a new theory the capsizing of the Vasa may be blamed on the captain. He sailed a brand new ship with open gunports. The Vasa sank when water gushed in through the lower gunports! It would have been wiser to test the new ship on her maiden voyage with closed gunports.However, the inquiries showed that no one could really be blamed for the disaster. The main reason being the insufficient theoretical knowhow of the period. The Vasa was something new - a military experiment. After the Vasa, many successful ships were built with two,three and even four gundecks. The shipbuilders learned from their mistakes with the Vasa and improved later designs.

Facinating stuff. In some ways, we can today be very thankful that the Vasa met its doom in this manner, because it otherwise would not have been preserved for us today.
So, what lessons do we learn, and how in the world does this apply to PACS? Well, the Vasa website was a little more conciliatory toward the king than our guide; apparently it is commonly felt in Sweden that the whole mess was the King's fault. Gustavus declared that the Vasa was to be built with too many gun-decks, which made it very top-heavy and unstable, and the Admirals and Captains, and everybody else had to go along. The King is the King, after all. So, this is what happens when someone bulldozes ahead, convinced that his (or her) way is the right way, and the experts and critics be damned. I'll grant you that it is unlikely that lives will be lost if one picks the wrong PACS system, but the point is that the building of a ship, or the assembly of a PACS system, should not hinge on the whims of one group that "knows what's best" for everyone else. Rather, such decisions need to be made by acquiring as much knowledge and expertise as possible. The ship, or the PACS, needs to perform its duties, but it cannot be weighed down by bells, whistles, or guns that would jeopardize its functions, even if the King, or the radiologist, or the IT folks demand it. Compromise, folks. And listen. Or somebody might be digging up the remnants of your PACS in 300 years.

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