Archive for the ‘Explosives’ Category

That ’70s post.

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Ah, the 1970′s. What a time.

Remember Alexander Calder, the noted sculptor? Died in 1976? Well, he had a dealer, Klaus Perls, that he worked with exclusively. It was, by all accounts, a close and very friendly relationship.

Was.

In a recently amended complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court, the Calder estate says the Perlses surreptitiously held on to hundreds of Calder’s works and swindled the artist’s estate out of tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps most surprising, it says that Perls, a dealer with a sterling reputation who campaigned to rid his industry of forgeries, sold dozens of fake Calders. The suit depicts Perls as a tax cheat who stashed millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account, a secret his daughter said she maintained by paying off a former gallery employee with $5 million. She added that Calder had his own hidden Swiss account.

It looks like the Perls family stipulates at least part of these claims, specifically the parts about the Swiss bank accounts. But they also claim that part of the reason Perls had a Swiss bank account is so he could transfer profits to Calder’s Swiss bank account.

In court papers, Mr. Wolfe, the Perls lawyer, said, “Alexander Calder and Klaus Perls were kindred spirits in that they both had an aversion to paying taxes.”

I knew there was a reason I liked Alexander Calder’s work.

The 1970′s were also a time when it was much easier to get your hands on explosives. Especially if you were 17 years old. And if you were peeved at the California Department of Water and Power.

The blast ripped apart a 4-foot-wide steel gate that regulates the flow of water to the aqueduct. Windows were blown out of the gatehouse atop the spill gates and its concrete floor buckled.
About 100 million gallons of water meant for Los Angeles were instead flushed into Owens Lake, which had been dry since the Department of Water and Power opened the aqueduct in 1913.

Nobody was injured. Mark Berry, one of the two men responsible, spent 30 days in juvenile detention. And he now works for the DWP.

(I love this telling detail: “The air was filled with the banana-like smell of nitroglycerin.”)

(And this one: “Berry said his father, as yet unaware that his son was one of the culprits, boasted to a neighbor, ‘If I ever find out who bombed the gates I’ll buy him a steak dinner.’” Gardner Dozois and Edward Abbey, please call your offices.)

(Since I made a “That ’70s Show” reference, I believe I have to link to this Penny Arcade. Especially since I am all about fish out of water prison dramas.)

Quote(s) of the day.

Friday, August 30th, 2013

I probably would have posted these even if Lawrence hadn’t done a quote of the day, because: Derek Lowe! More “Things I Won’t Work With“!

But I can’t decide which one I like more:

Explosions are definitely underappreciated as a mixing technique…

Or:

The hyenas will have to remain unspayed, because it’s time to add fresh azide to the horrible mercury prep.

“Spaying hyenas” has so many possible uses.

“How was work today, honey?”
“Spaying hyenas.”

(“Spaying Hyenas” is also the name of my next band. We do Daft Punk covers.)

A couple of random bits for July 27, 2013.

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

This one goes out to Lawrence and a couple of other friends.

I have written previously about NASA’s “System Failure Case Studies” site, where the organizations posts brief analysis of significant failures and the lessons learned from them.

NASA recently redesigned the site: I find it slightly more aesthetically pleasing than I did previously. And one of the things they’ve covered recently is the Piper Alpha disaster.

Some other recent SFCS articles of note:

  • the crash of a F-22A Raptor, apparently due to a combination of pilot hypoxia and bad ergonomics (especially when pilots were wearing night vision and cold weather gear).
  • The Halifax explosion. It seems to me that this event is mostly forgotten today, but I vividly remember reading a first hand account from one of the survivors in a really old Reader’s Digest at my grandmother’s house:

    The Mont-Blanc drifted toward the Halifax shore and then blew apart, with a shockwave equivalent to 2,989 tons of TNT expanding across Halifax at more than 4,900 feet per second and reached across 325 acres. The pressure and temperature (in excess of 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the origin) pushed a fireball of hot gas and debris into the sky that rained shrapnel on people in the streets below. The water around the Mont-Blanc was immediately vaporized and a 52-foot tidal wave swept three city blocks deep into Halifax’s Richmond neighborhood. Windows were reportedly shattered over 50 miles away from the epicenter.

  • And the Xcel Energy fire, which comes across as just total all-around incompetence:

    Although Xcel and RPI recognized the penstock as a permit required confined space, neither treated it as such during the recoating work…Entry procedures were not developed and the required daily permits were incomplete and lacking detail pertaining to the hazards of the day‘s work activities. Air monitoring was performed almost exclusively at the entrance, about 1,450 feet away from the actual work area within the penstock. Neither RPI nor Xcel provided the CSB with a documented basis for declassifying the penstock space as non-permit required…Xcel and RPI managers did not plan or coordinate the immediate availability of qualified confined space technical rescuers and equipment outside the penstock, although the use of flammable solvent in the open atmosphere of the permit space created the need for immediate rescue because of the potential for Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) conditions

    Xcel and RPI killed five workers because of these failures.

On another note, I greatly enjoy the Priceonomics blog, which has covered topics like how does SkyMall work (and their questionable ties to Xhibit Corp), what charities do with those donated cars, and the economics of starting a bike shop.

The latest article has some ties to something I wrote about previously – the pot growers of the Emerald Triangle. Or, as Priceonomics puts it:

Legal Weed is Hurting San Francisco’s Hippies

Some quotes:

“The hippy kids used to be able to sell their weed real easy at high prices,” he tells us. “There were lots of customers and they made enough in a few days to travel for a few weeks. Now though…” At which point Kenny repeats the complaint made by drug dealers throughout the park, that California’s legal dispensaries for “medical marijuana” have depressed prices and stolen away their customer base.

While legalization increased the supply of weed in California, the segment suggests that increased transparency – rather than increased supply – explains the price drop. Chuck, a dealer who switched from selling weed in California to New York and quadrupled his income, told WNYC, “There’s plenty of weed in New York. There’s just an illusion of scarcity, which is part of what I’m capitalizing on. Because this is a black market business, there’s insufficient information for customers.”

Administrative note.

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

I’m going through a little bit of personal agita right now. The next few days leading up to, and during, the holiday, are shaping up to be kind of busy. Mostly the fun kind of busy (some of us are trying to plan a range trip; plus, fireworks), but with some work involved.

This coming Saturday, I will be flying out to Cleveland. My maternal grandmother passed away on Saturday, and her funeral is scheduled for a week from today. I plan to take a laptop with me and blog as much as I can from the road, but be prepared for a bit of a slowdown.

(I know there’s been a bit of a slowdown already. Mostly, that’s because there hasn’t been a lot going on that I’ve found worthy of blogging. I think we’re into the summer slowdown season; things are so hot that everyone is acting like giant lizards, conserving energy as much as they possibly can. Which is great for keeping cool, but not so great for providing blog fodder.)

(Is it just me, or is Houston experiencing a rash of motel fires?)

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Friday, June 21st, 2013

A thread on FARK led me to the 1931 movie The Viking, which I was previously unfamiliar with. (This should not be confused with the 1928 movie The Viking.)

The Viking is somewhat interesting because it was the first talkie shot in Canada, because it was one of the earliest films shot in a documentary style (inspired by Nanook of the North) and because of how it was shot:

Much of the film takes place aboard the ship or on the ice floes of the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic, making for a difficult production.

The basic story of The Viking is your classic “young man runs away and joins up with seal hunters to prove himself worthy of his girlfriend’s love”:

Luke spots a seal herd, and, in a scene sure to be difficult viewing for modern-day audiences, dozens of hunters take to the ice floes to track the seals and slaughter them. During the chaos of the hunt, Jed attempts to shoot Luke, but snow blindness prevents him from hitting his target.

But other than the location aspects, and the seal hunting, why is The Viking interesting? After it premiered, the producer, Varick Frisell, decided “What this movie needs is more footage of ice floes.” So he and some film crew members went out to get pickup shots of the ice floes while their ship (the real ship named Viking) was hunting seals. The Viking (the ship) got stuck in the ice…

….and, on March 15, 1931, the good ship The Viking exploded, killing Frisell, his dog, and 26 other members of the crew.

Ice-breaking seal boats routinely carried explosives onboard to crack up the ice; authorities speculated that the explosion was likely due to an accident in the powder room.

As far as I know, and have been able to determine, this is the largest number of people killed in a single accident during the making of a film. I’m a little surprised I’d never heard this story before today.

TCM page on The Viking. Wikipedia. Entry on The Viking from the Canadian Film Encyclopedia.

Random notes: April 19, 2013.

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Holy crap!

Heard on the CBS coverage: “How do you lock down an entire city?” (Nobody had a really good answer to that question.)

Ten officers were being evaluated at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton early this morning, according to a source, who said the officers said they were hurt from grenades being thrown from the window of a car during a car chase.

More:

“It was more than gunshot wounds,’’ Wolfe told reporters about 5:30 a.m. today. “It was a combination of injuries. We believe a combination of of blasts, multiple gunshot wounds.”
Wolfe said it looked like the man had been hurt by an “explosive device’’ and that the man was struck by “shrapnel.’’ The man was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m. The hospital officials said they did not know his name.

(CBS, or the local CBS affiliate – I’m not sure which – just ran a commercial featuring an exploding air conditioner. Bad timing, guys.)

I may come back to this later. I want to do some research and possibly talk to Lawrence. In other news:

As a result of last week’s settlement in the legal battle over Broadway’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” Ms. Taymor’s directing credit on the musical has been enhanced – and it is now listed above the credit for Philip Wm. McKinley, who replaced Ms. Taymor after its producers fired her in March 2011.

Jimmy Haslam recently bought the Cleveland Browns. Haslam made a pile of money off of the Pilot Flying J chain of truck stops and “travel centers”. Yesterday, the FBI raided the Pilot Flying J headquarters:

A 120-page affidavit for a search warrant filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn., says Pilot Flying J sales employees withheld fuel price rebates and discounts from certain companies to boost the profitability of the company and increase their sales commissions. The affidavit says FBI and IRS agents are investigating charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud.

More:

The document says “the rebate fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Pilot’s current President Mark Hazelwood and Pilot’s Chief Executive Officer James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III, due to the fact that the rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville, Tenn., in which Hazelwood and Haslam have been present.”

The Browns just can’t catch a break, can they? It will be interesting to see how this plays out as we get closer to the NFL season.

(Heard on CBS: “I was going into this thinking there was some connection to somewhere.” No s–t, Sherlock.)

Edited to add: Since folks are distracted by Boston at the moment, let me note here: the confirmed death toll in West stands at 12.

The State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association said Friday morning that it believes 11 firefighters died in the explosion, including four who were emergency medical service personnel.

According to the association, one of those firefighters was from Dallas: all of the others were volunteer firefighters with the West Fire Department.

Wow. Just…wow.

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

For the handful of my readers who don’t read FARK, here’s cell phone video of the explosion. You may find this disturbing – not so much for the actual explosion video as for the aftermath.

Waco Herald-Tribune (link goes to front page). HouChron. Statesman. Dallas Morning News (as far as I can tell, the DMN does not have their coverage behind a pay wall).

“That whole side of town looks like a disaster,” Bill Manolakis said. “Who in their right mind sticks a damn plant next to houses?”

I wonder who was there first.

Noted: Tuesday was the anniversary of the 1947 Texas City explosion.

Random notes: April 16, 2013.

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

So here’s the latest on Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg: she says she plans to plead guilty to the DWI charge and accept whatever punishment the court gives her. No word on whether she’s going to hire a lawyer or act as her own attorney.

But. There’s a catch.

Chapter 87 of the state’s Local Government Code lists among the “general grounds for removal” of a district attorney and other county officials “intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage.”
Under that law, a removal petition could be filed by anyone who has lived in Travis County for six months and is “not currently under indictment” for a crime here. The petition would be filed with a district judge, and a trial would be held on the charge — with a jury to determine the official’s fate, according to the law.

“anyone who has lived in Travis County for six months” and “is not currently under indictment”. You don’t say.

And I said “What about ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s'?”
And Patrick Healy said “Closing on Sunday.”

Boston Globe. Boston Herald.

Edited to add: Joe Huffman, the man behind Boomershoot and someone who knows his way around explosives, has some informed speculation on what might have been used. Short version: it doesn’t look like a commercial or military grade explosive.

Speaking of crimes, remember the Kaufman County DA killings? Remember how people were suggesting the Aryan Brotherhood was involved? Yeah. About that.

When are we going to get to the fireworks factory?

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

How about “never”? Is “never” good enough for you?

A truck laden with fireworks exploded on an elevated expressway in central China on Friday, unleashing a blast that threw vehicles 30 yards to the ground below and killing at least nine people, state news reports said.

Legal note.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The University of California and Dr. Patrick Harran, a chemistry professor at UCLA, have been charged with three felony counts of “willfully violating occupational health and safety standards”. Yes, you read that right: the University itself is being charged with felonies.

The charges stem from the death of Sheri Sangji in December of 2008. Ms. Sangji was employed in Dr. Harran’s lab:

Sangji was transferring up to two ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe came apart in her hands, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air. The synthetic sweater she wore caught fire and melted onto her skin, causing second- and third-degree burns.

She died 18 days after the incident.

I’m kind of hoping Derek Lowe will have some comment on this, and I’m willing to listen to arguments on the subject. My gut feeling is that the felony indictments are appropriate: Ms. Sangji should not have been working without a flame-resistant lab coat, and it isn’t clear to me that she was provided with appropriate equipment, training, or supervision. This is what trials are for, of course, and details may come out during the trial that will change my mind. But:

Two months before the fatal fire, UCLA safety inspectors found more than a dozen deficiencies in the same lab, according to internal investigative and inspection reports reviewed by The Times. The inspectors found that employees were not wearing requisite protective lab coats and that flammable liquids and volatile chemicals were stored improperly.

But the required corrective actions were not taken before the fatal fire, the records showed.

Edited to add: Many thanks to Chemjobber both for pointing us to Derek Lowe’s commentary, and for providing a link to an article from Chemical and Engineering News summarizing the incident in more detail.

Also, thanks to Lawrence for a somewhat related link, which we had missed: the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board report on the Texas Tech lab explosion in January of 2010. I swear that I covered the explosion at the time, or shortly afterwards, but I can’t find the link now. In any case, the report is pretty much what you’d expect: “the physical hazard risks inherent in the research were not effectively assessed, planned for, or mitigated; the university lacked safety management accountability and oversight; and previous incidents with preventative lessons were not documented, tracked, and formally communicated”.

(Short summary: the lab was working on a government project involving detection of explosives. Part of their work involved making something called nickel hydrazine perchlorate, which goes bang rather easily. The lab had been making small amounts (100 milligrams) but the students involved in the production of NHP that day decided, for various reasons, to scale things up and produce about 10 grams. The NHP went bang while one of the students was trying to break up “clumps” in a mortar and pestle.)

TMQ Watch: September 13, 2011.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

This week in TMQ: the Chronic-what-les of Narnia?

No, we’re not kidding. And we’re not going to call Gregg Easterbrook Aaron Burr, either. After the jump

(more…)

DEFCON 19 notes: day 1.

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

“Welcome and the Making of the DEF CON 19 Badge”: didn’t bother going. I don’t care much about the making of this year’s badge.

“WTF Happened to the Constitution?”: perfectly fine talk. Except for some of the case law theprez98 referenced, pretty much everything he covered was already familiar to me from “The Agitator” and “Hit and Run”. That’s not his fault, though, and I’m sure a lot of what he covered was new to the rest of the audience. I was also previously unaware of The Assault on Privacy, and will have to add that to my blogroll.

“From Printer To Pwnd”: This was a fun little talk, covering multi-function printers and the vulnerabilities they introduce into networks. Basically, people get sloppy with these devices and fail to do things like change default passwords; also, many of these devices have bugs in the embedded firmware. The presenter, Deral Heiland, demonstrated some interesting attack vectors: “malformed” URLs which allow you to bypass authentication on certain devices, “information leakage” attacks which allow you to get useful information (like passwords) out of the web admin pages, “forced browsing” attacks which allow you to grab device address books (which may also contain passwords), and “passback attacks” which trick the device into communicating with an attacker (for example, using LDAP configuration script testing). All of this culminated in the release of Praeda, an automated toolkit for attacking multi-function devices. The latest version can be found here: I don’t have a link to the slides, but will add one when I do.

“Black Ops of TCP/IP 2011“: You know how people talk about wanting the old funny Woody Allen back? This was the old funny Dan Kaminsky back; the guy who does deep arcane magic with TCP/IP packets and DNS.

His talk broke down roughly into three parts:

  1. Bitcoin. Short summary: Bitcoin is remarkably secure (“there are entire classes of bugs that are missing”) but it isn’t anonymous, and doesn’t scale well. Kaminsky found a way to basically build a file system on top of BitCoin (BitCoinFS) and also outlines ways of breaking BitCoin anonymity. In the process, Kaminsky also outlined a serious flaw with the Universal Plug and Play (UPNP) protocol used by many wireless routers.
  2. IP spoofing. Kaminsky was running a little behind (it took a while to fill the Penn and Teller theater) and was speeding through this portion of his talk. Rather than attempting to give detailed summaries of how all this stuff works at the low TCP/IP level, I’ll suggest you check out the slides.
  3. Net neutrality. Kaminsky’s developed two tools: N00ter and Roto-N00ter, designed to detect ISPs playing silly buggers with packets (for example, giving preference to packets destined for Bing over packets destined for Google).

“And That’s How I Lost My Eye“: the funniest panel I went to today. Deviant Ollam, Bruce Potter, and Shane Lawson wanted to see if it was possible to destroy a hard drive in less than 60 seconds such that the data was unrecoverable, without setting off alarms or damaging any nearby humans, and without spending a lot of money on something like the SEMShred.

Ollam took the explosives/incendiary part of the equation. His results can be summarized as: it might be possible to use explosives, especially the popular “boomerite” type explosives used in exploding targets, to destroy a hard drive. But playing around with explosives, especially when you’re activating them electronically, is a good way to attract the attention of unpleasant people with badges. Apparently, those same people have no problems with explosives triggered by a rifle bullet, so if you want to affix an M1A above your server with a ton of “boomerite” below, go ahead…

Chemical methods didn’t work out very well either. Cobalt isn’t highly reactive, and the type of acids that can quickly dissolve a hard drive platter aren’t easily available at Home Depot and don’t play well with people and other living things. There were a lot of slides of vats of acid doing nothing to hard drive platters.

It’s also hard to destroy a drive physically. Hole saws, spade bits, and grinders did nothing.

The presenters did discover that a combination of a salt solution and electricity could strip the plating off of ceramic platter drives. But that didn’t work on aluminum platter drives.

What finally did work was fire. Propane and MAPP gas (which you can’t get in the US any more) will melt aluminum, but it’s hard to apply those to a spinning drive and have it melt; the spinning drive tends to dissipate heat. The presenters were working on an automated solution involving a glow plug, propane, and an Arduno, but ran out of time before they could finish that project.

However, you don’t have to melt a drive to render it unreadable; you only have to heat it to the Curie point. That’s not quite as spectacular as a spinning drive throwing off chunks of molten aluminum, but it will work. (However, if I understand Wikipedia right, the Curie point of colbalt is 1100 degrees C, and the melting point of aluminum is 660 degrees C. So I’m not sure what that buys you.) I wonder:

  • Could you come up with some sort of inductive heating method for hard drives?
  • I also wonder, thinking about Deviant Ollam’s approach, what would happen if you fired a nail gun loaded with the right kind of nails into a spinning hard drive at close range? I wonder if Snoop ever tried that. (I also wonder if a nail gun at close range would trigger “boomerite”.)

“Key Impressioning“: I can’t give this panel a fair evaluation. In brief, impressioning consists of sticking a blank key into a lock, moving the blank up and down, removing it, noting where the lock pins hit the key, filing down the contact points, and repeating the process until all the pins reach the proper depth and you have a working key. The presenter gave a live demo of this process, and was impressively quick at it.

The problems I had with this panel were:

  • the camera that was set up for the demo did a poor job of showing the actual process.
  • the sound was off for over half the panel. Combined with tbe presenter’s accent, that left me able to make out about one out of every four words he said. I’m sure he’s an okay guy; I just couldn’t see what he was doing, or hear much of what he said.