Archive for the ‘Explosives’ Category

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

I was so busy yesterday that I missed this, but December 6th this year was the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.

For some reason, I don’t think this is generally well remembered, outside of Halifax anyway. I knew about it at a fairly young age, but that was because I read a first-hand account of it in a really old “Reader’s Digest” that one of my grandparents had around the house.

Halifax was a pretty busy port in December of 1917. There was a war on, after all. On the morning of the 6th, the SS Imo (a Norwegian flagged ship chartered to carry relief supplies for Belgium, but empty at the time) struck the SS Mont-Blanc, a French flagged ship, in a narrow section of the harbor.

The Mont-Blanc was heavily loaded with high explosives for the war effort, and also barrels of benzol. It sounds like the initial collision was at low speed, and damage to both ships was minimal.

At first.

But the collision started a fire on the Mont-Blanc.

The commotion soon brought out crowds in the largely working-class neighborhood along the narrows. Some survivors’ accounts described the immediate aftermath almost as if it were a fireworks display, with exploding barrels of benzol bursting in the sky. Many people, to their later harm, peered down at the harbor from the hillside neighborhood through windows.

At 9:04:35 AM local time (according to Wikipedia) the Mont-Blanc exploded.

Vince Coleman, the dispatcher for the rail line that ran along the front, feared the worst and telegraphed a stop order to a train heading for the city: “Munitions ship on fire. Making for Pier 6. Goodbye.” He died almost immediately afterward. The city, which was a hub for undersea cables from Europe, lost all communications with the rest of the world.

Over 2,000 people were killed. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 more were injured.

Plays, special exhibitions, films and events, as well as shop windows commemorating the anniversary, are spread throughout the city.

The shop windows are deeply ironic: an estimated 600 people were blinded by flying glass.

The explosion is estimated to have been the equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT. (Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, had an estimated yield between 12 and 18 kilotons. Wikipedia gives an estimate for the Grandicamp explosion in Texas City of 2.7 kilotons equivalent, but hedges that a bit.) Before the atomic bomb, this was the largest man-made explosion in history.

The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,000 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont-Blanc’s forward 90 mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, and the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.

The NYT has a good article up. Wikipedia entry.

TMQ Watch: December 5, 2017.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

The headline tells you all you need to know, in this week’s TMQ

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Tales from the bizarro world.

Monday, August 21st, 2017

I saw a story this morning that I was sort of vaguely keeping track of, but didn’t consider blogging. Yesterday, the FBI, BATFE, and Houston police blocked off a street in a Houston neighborhood, brought out the robot, and were telling people to stay inside:

The FBI said it was “lawfully present conducting law enforcement operations” that are “in the interest of public safety,” according to an agency statement. “Since the matter is ongoing, we are unable to provide additional details at this time.”

Then the other shoe dropped. Apparently, there’s an explosives aficionado who lives on the block. And said gentleman tried to blow up a Confederate statue in Herman Park.

When confronted Saturday night in the park, he tried to drink some of the liquid explosives but spit it out, officials said.
Federal authorities said one of the tubes contained nitgroglycerin and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, HMTD, a “highly explosive compound” used as a primary explosive. Nitroclycerin, in its purest form, is a contact explosive.

I describe the gentleman in question as an “explosives aficionado” because the police previously raided this house (and a couple of others) in 2013:

The following year, the younger [Andrew Cecil Earhart – DB] Schneck was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty in federal court to knowingly storing explosives. In 2016, a judge released him from probation ahead of schedule.

What really grabs me about this is the whole “he tried to drink the explosives” angle. I can’t find much information about the health effects or toxicity of HMTD. But everyone knows nitro is a potent vasodilator (that’s why they give heart patients nitro pills) and that exposure can cause severe headaches.

And even if he managed to choke it all down, couldn’t BATFE or the FBI analyze the dregs in the container? Guy doesn’t exactly strike me as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Though the fact that he was able to make and transport nitro without converting himself to chunky kibble makes me think he deserves some credit. (It looks like HMTD is fairly easy to make, the ingredients are mostly readily available, and it’s not quite as unstable as TATP.)

Random notes and a whole bunch of obits: September 19, 2016.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

I didn’t have much to say about the Mew York attack because:

1) I was busy Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.
b) It was an emerging situation that I don’t think blog posts could have done justice to.
III) I didn’t have anything to add.

I still don’t have much to add (except that I went “Holy s–t!” when I read about this morning’s shootout), but I did think this was kind of interesting: the NYT on the finding of the second device and taking it away in a “total containment vessel”:

The total containment vessel is essentially an inside-out diving vessel, Lt. Mark Torre, the commanding officer of the department’s bomb squad, said in an interview in July. “Instead of keeping the pressure out and keeping you alive in five fathoms of water, it keeps the pressure in,” he explained. Should a bomb explode inside, tiny vents allow pressure to escape. “It sounds like a hammer hitting a piece of steel,” he said.

I don’t remember if the APD has one (or even if we talked about that during the bomb squad presentation) but I’ll try to ask next time around. I keep thinking I should do a post on the APD bomb squad, bomb squads in general, and the weirdness thereof. (Did you know: you can’t just have a bomb squad? Even if you’re a police force. In some cases, even if you’re a major metropolitan police force, as opposed to East Podunk that has six officers and makes their entire budget off of catching speeders where the limit drops from 70 MPH to 25 MPH. Nope, no bomb squad for you.)

I made note of most of the big obits over the weekend, but there are quite a few others that I think are worth observing and commenting on.

NYT obit for W.P. Kinsella.

Charmian Carr, who was the eldest von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”, was in “Evening Primrose” with Anthony Perkins…and that was pretty much it. No snark intended, but I bring this up because: I keep thinking about a new series spotlighting actors and actresses (but most of the ones I’ve found so far are actresses) who had very short careers – like one, maybe two, at most a small handful of credits – and then left Hollywood for whatever reason. I’m thinking the first entry may be sometime in October.

James Stacy, TV actor. He was in a series called “Lancer” that ran for three years and which I have no memory of. Not long after “Lancer” ended, he was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle: Mr. Stacy lost a leg and an arm, and his passenger was killed. He kept working in what the NYT describes as “specialized” roles, though his career was interrupted by a suicide attempt and prison time for child molestation.

Howard E. Butt Jr.. oldest son of the founder of the HEB grocery chain. HEB is huge in this part of the country, and Mr. Butt, Jr. was in a position to take it over. Except…

But Mr. Butt, a Southern Baptist, who as a college student and lay minister had led a Christian youth revival movement, wrestled with the dual pressures of the business and his spiritual pursuits. That struggle led to severe depression, which he later discussed openly.

He ended up turning leadership of the chain over to his brother, ran the family foundation, and continued his ministry.

At the same time, he continued to encourage the evangelical movement to engage other Christians, even those unaffiliated with a particular church. In 2000, he began giving a one-minute radio homily, a segment he titled “The High Calling of Our Daily Life,” which highlighted the role that faith has played in the successful careers and personal lives of ordinary people. His homilies were carried on 3,000 stations in every state, reaching millions of listeners.

I used to catch this on KLBJ-AM when I was driving to work at Dell and still listened to the radio.

Duane Graveline, who I’d never heard of before. And neither had my mother, who was an adult during this time. Dr. Graveline was an astronaut:

With much fanfare, the space agency named Dr. Graveline one of six new “scientist-astronauts” on June 26, 1965. The group included two physicians, two university teachers, a research physicist and a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt, who would later walk on the moon and become a United States senator.

He was in the program for about two months. A month in, his wife announced she was divorcing him. Shortly after that, he “resigned”:

In his memoir, Donald K. Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts and a longtime NASA official, said: “The program didn’t need a scandal. A messy divorce meant a quick ticket back to wherever you came from — not because we were trying to enforce morality, but because it would detract from the job.”

I don’t recall Dr. Graveline being mentioned at all in any of the histories of the space program that I’ve read (and I’ve read several). It sounds like he had some issues: he was married a total of six times and lost his medical license twice. The first time, it was suspended for two years after “a large number” of Demerol went missing. The second time, it was revoked permanently “over allegations that he had sexually abused children” (though not, apparently, ones that were patients of his).

C. Martin Croker, animator and voice actor. I was most familiar with him as the voices of Zorak and Moltar on “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”. I’d include a clip here, but the one I want to use is actually on the A/V Club page. And: according to the A/V Club, most of the “Space Ghost” episodes are now up for free streaming on the Adult Swim website.

Don Buchla, one of the early electronic music innovators. I’d never heard of him (perhaps because Bob Moog got all the press). I’ll try to remember to ask Todd next time I see him if he was familiar with Mr. Buchla’s work.

Mr. Buchala and Mr. Moog were contemporaries:

In the early ’60s, the better-known Robert Moog, who died in 2005, and Mr. Buchla arrived independently at the idea of the voltage-controlled modular synthesizer: an instrument assembled from various modules that controlled one another’s voltages to generate and shape sounds. Voltages could control pitch, volume, attack, timbre, speed and other parameters, interacting in complex ways.

Part of the reason Mr. Moog may have gotten more press was that he put keyboards on his machines. Mr. Buchla “wanted instruments that were not necessarily tied to Western scales or existing keyboard techniques. To encourage unconventional thinking, his early instruments deliberately omitted a keyboard.”

More:

Mr. Buchla’s instruments had modules with more colorful names, like Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator, Quad Dynamics Manager and, for his random-voltage noise generator, Source of Uncertainty.

Damn. I want a “Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator”.

In 1965, with $500 from a Rockefeller Foundation grant made to the Tape Music Center, the composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender commissioned Mr. Buchla to build his first voltage-controlled instrument, the original Buchla Box.
It included a module that would transform both avant-garde and popular music. Called a sequencer, it vastly expanded the concept and functionality of a tape loop by generating and repeating a chosen series of voltages, enabling it to control a recurring melody, a rhythm track or other musical elements. It would become an essential tool of electronic dance music.

Dallas.

Friday, July 8th, 2016

I went to bed pretty early last night (after a frustrating attempt to deal with Wells Fargo) and didn’t find out what was going on until 5 AM this morning. (Great and good friend of the blog RoadRich texted and emailed us, but we were sound asleep when things started breaking.)

I really haven’t even had a chance to look at the news yet, and don’t have any profound thoughts. But I wanted to get something up. Consider this an open thread for discussion and updates.

Dallas Morning News coverage.

Please keep in mind:

In a semi-related vein, this is an interesting thread from Reason’s “Hit and Run”. Part of my answer to this is: the author is asking this question less than 24 hours after the incident took place. All the facts were not in, and probably still are not in even now. Why should the NRA (or any other organization) be making public statements until we have all the facts?

Edited to add: Been tied up. Apologies. The reports I’m seeing now pretty much all state that the dead gunman was killed by a breaching charge attached to a police robot. The temptation is great to make Asimov jokes, but the situation is too serious, so I’ll just link to this Statesman article which quotes the “executive director of a nationally recognized police active-shooter training facility in San Marcos” as stating it was “unprecedented but perfectly legal.”

Happy 3rd of July.

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Even though it is full of the usual anti-fireworks crapola we hear every year around this time – the same anti-fireworks propaganda that has been ruining the holiday and the country ever since I was in the single-digit age range – I wanted to note the NYT‘s “A History of Fireworks Mayhem on the Fourth of July” because:

110 years ago today…

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

…early in the evening on December 30, 1905, Frank Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho, returned to his home in Caldwell after a busy day downtown. (Among other tasks, Steunenberg renewed his life insurance policy.) He opened the side gate to his home…

…and set off a massive explosion that gravely wounded him. He was carried into his home by family and neighbors, and lingered for a short period of time before succumbing to his injuries around 7:10 PM.

For days thereafter, passerby were picking “little bits” of the governor out of the debris.

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Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Friday, July 4th, 2014

History has shown, Scruff observed, that you can never have too many fireworks.

Indeed. We spent a fair amount of money on fireworks for tonight, but the people of Dyckman Street make us look like pikers.

Scruff, whose real name is Ralphy Sanchez, 27, heads a group known as Down Post, representing a block on Post Avenue between Academy and Dyckman Streets. He is confident his group will put on the best show; he estimated that he had about $1,500 of fireworks at the ready, much of it, he said, bought with the proceeds from sales of marijuana.

Of course, this is illegal in New York City. But the people of Dyckman Street don’t give a rat’s ass.

Each block has a 10- or 20-person explosives team, but anyone is free to join. First, the firecracker chains go down — two long ones can stretch the length of a block and light the pavement in a polychromatic blaze for 15 minutes or more. Soon, they pull out the smaller rockets, handing the Roman candles to the children.

Do you smell that, former Mayor Bloomberg? It smells like…freedom.

Happy Gavrilo Princip Day!

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

(And a tip of the Hatlo hat to Guffaw.)

Some advice for those of you who choose to celebrate today:

  • Archdukes are somewhat of an endangered species these days. Make sure you have the proper permits and observe the bag limit of one.
  • Princip probably didn’t eat a sandwich (as we’ve discussed before) so if you want to maintain authenticity, find a place that serves Bosnian food. That might be hard if you’re not in a large metropolitan area; in Houston, there’s Cafe Pita. In Austin…well, if you’re going to deviate from authenticity, the Noble Pig is open until 5 PM.
  • Make sure your cyanide hasn’t expired.
  • Also, know the depth of your river before you attempt suicide by throwing yourself into it.
  • Consider how long or short your grenade fuse should be. I’m really not in a position to make specific recommendations, but a ten second fuse seems a bit long.
  • If you happen to be driving any archdukes on this day, make sure you know the route. (If Franz Ferdinand’s chauffeur had a GPS, or even a smartphone with Waze, would WWI have been avoided?)
  • Also, make sure your car is tuned up. There’s nothing worse than backing up and stalling in front of an assassin.
  • It may be a little late for this, but it looks like you can pick up a reasonably nice FN 1910 for short money on Gunbroker.

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.”