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March 30, 2007

Kids these days
Posted by Teresa at 12:02 PM * 163 comments is reporting that a high school senior has temporarily blinded himself with a device he learned about on the Internet. The video verson of the story has WHDH’s Victoria Block saying, “The online sites showing kids making bombs is a growing and volatile problem for police.”

Yeah, right. As if kids didn’t mess themselves up that way before the internet existed.

Here’s the print version of the story:

SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. — A high school student from Swampscott is seriously hurt while attempting a stunt made popular on the Internet. Jaren Richard, 15, and his friends mixed alcohol and chlorine together in a plastic bottle on Wednesday, after getting directions online. The victim was allegedly both badly blinded and burned during the reaction.

“The police were the ones who informed him and myself of how powerful it was,” said Jaren’s mother, Dianne Richard. “It’s a bomb. They actually created a bomb, and by capping it, the explosion… it was as powerful as a shotgun.”

Put anything that generates gases into a plastic soda bottle. Screw the lid on tight. It will explode. Will it be as powerful as a shotgun? I doubt it.

As Jim Macdonald remarked to me in chat:

Heck, I made bombs back when I was young, years before there was an internet.

Anyone who stayed awake in high school chemistry can do it.

(I didn’t make that exact one after I figured out how to make high explosives.)

The instructions for the cholorine-and-alcohol bomb were in a book at the White Plains Library in the children’s room, where it taught you how to make a model submarine that fired torpedoes.

Lots of great books for kids published in the thirties and forties that taught you lots of cool stuff. Check out Dan Beard’s Boy’s Handy Book some day.

Back to the news story:
The sweatshirt Jaren was wearing apparently saved the boy’s life, according to Dianne Richard. Seeing Jaren injured, his friends immediately retrieved a hose to rinse out his eyes.

However, it may be between one to six months before Jane’s eyes are completely healed. “My eyes kind of sting,” said Jaren, talking to 7NEWS while recovering at home.

Police say the teen found out the hard way the stunt is something you should definitely not try at home. Authorities hope that other kids will learn from Jaren’s experience before they try to create any homemade bombs from instructions off the Internet.

“It could be anyone’s son or daughter,” said Det. Sgt. Tim Cassidy, of the Swampscott Police Department. “It’s unfortunate what’s on the Internet now, and these kids want to experiment, like typical teenage boys do.”

Police are still investigating this incident, but they have not ruled out the possibility that charges could be filed in this case.

I’d like to see those instructions. I have to wonder whether they actually said, “Mix these two liquids together in a soda bottle, cap tightly, and stand over it until it explodes.”

I can’t watch videos on this machine, but Jim says these are three YouTube videos of one of the bombs: one, two, three.

Comments on Kids these days:
#1 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 12:43 PM:

Must be time for the annual "Teh Internet is Scary!" news series.

Last year it was about kids reading on the Internet about putting dry ice in soda bottles.

#2 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 12:46 PM:

Heck, the Gentleman's "toy" chemistry set had lovely bomb ingredients and instructions for all sorts of experiments we weren't permitted to put in a more current book of kids' experiments.

Teach kids how to make stuff go boom, and some of them will try to do so. Give kids the information they need, and the smart ones will figure it out, and make stuff go boom. Some of them will have Learning Experiences.

#3 ::: Cynthia ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:09 PM:

I seem to remember certain peers managing to blow things up quite adequately long before the internet was around to tell them how to do it.

It is a long held theory in my family that some people are born with a pyro-gene and others are not. (Mind you, we're rednecks, not geneticists -- but our bonfires are legendary!)

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:09 PM:

Ignorance is more dangerous than knowledge.

Ignorance is what causes you to crimp a copper pipe full of gunpowder shut with a hammer, what causes you to put the LOX on the charcoal briquettes before you light the charcoal, or pour the water into the acid.

Early exposure to competent handling of fireworks, and other things which go boom, makes the potential scope of the consequences of one's ignorance more viscerally real. I'm all for that, and while there is nothing quite like hearing the dirt rain down behind you when you thought you were safely far away, these days we have GooTube and similar, so at least kids can see the flaming devastation without having to cause it in an unsupervised way.

This ought to make them more sensibly cautious.

It won't always, but then again no one is proposing replacing the crosswalks with tunnels everywhere, either.

#5 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:17 PM:

(Teresa says:)
I’d like to see those instructions. I have to wonder whether they actually said, “Mix these two liquids together in a soda bottle, cap tightly, and stand over it until it explodes.”

All three videos show the makers of the minibombs stepping WELL AWAY from their creations. In fact, in #3, you can actually hear someone say "Back up, back up!" when the soda bottle they're using shows signs of expanding before the explosion.

So, uh, yeah. "Do not stand over explosive device" may not be an explicit instruction, but people viewing these three videos, at least, ought to have had a clue.

#6 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:26 PM:

I got into trouble for a bomb scare in junior high school. I was called to the principal's office for an error in my admission paperwork. While exiting the classroom, I joked that 'somebody must have found the bomb in my locker'. While I was with the principal, some numbnuts in the classroom pulled the fire alarm.

Lucky for me, the principal shook his head and sent me back to class. These days I probably would have been arrested.

Oh, and as for chemical reactions, I was mixing chlorine and ammonia and trying to trap the gasses in balloons. But nobody found out about that. I just wish my high school had had a science fair...

#7 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:29 PM:

I learnt about the potential of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil on the BBC kid's programme Blue Peter.

As farmers, we had 40+ tonnes of fertiliser on-site, and 7000 litres of diesel.

I've also handled and used pesticides closely related to nerve gases.

Fortunately, the nanny-state attitude hasn't quite taken over in the UK (my mother, who qualified as a nursery nurse when there was a war on, and they needed people to look after the babies of munitions workers, thinks modern nannies are a pretty feeble bunch), and so we have TV shows like Brainiac showing the use of alkali metals. The guy who introduces the segment is Richard Hammond, who holds the British speed record for inverted driving..

These are the sort of pyrotechnic loonies who make you proud to be British.

And remember: the BBC is a Public Service Broadcaster.

#8 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Heck, I burned my cheek semi-badly with burning oil, in my 5th grade classroom, demoing a chemistry experiment for a class project. ("Splitting" oil in a test-tube over a burner.) This was deemed educational by all involved.

In 6th grade I had a nice chemistry set, and my friends and I made gunpowder and fuses.

In junior high, I had access to the Anarchist's Cookbook, thanks to a hippie bookstore in Ann Arbor. Thankfully I had just enough sense not to try any of their recipes for TNT, etc.

But apparently I must have had access to Internet videos back then to accomplish this; I had no idea!

#9 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:39 PM:

oh hell, the internet has nothing to do with kids liking explosives. i was making my own gun powder and fireworks before the WWW was even invented. i learned it the old fashioned way - from my pyromaniac uncle.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:51 PM:

a high school senior has temporarily blinded himself

I blame Joycelyn Elders for this.

#11 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:51 PM:

Kids these days have it too easy. In *my* day, you had to read popular science books to find the recipe for ammonium tri-iodide. *And* they didn't always have it in the index, forcing you to read the entire book to find it.

#12 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:00 PM:

Instead of the Internet, these kids should be in scouting. There's not a single Eagle Scout even the least bit interested in blowing anything up.

I do think the Internet makes it easier to be irresponsible about explosives in general. Learning this sort of thing from a friend, or a scout troop, means that it's handed down with demonstrations and probably at least a few warnings-- setting a sandbar on fire, never ever picking up an unexploded firecracker (he was lucky it was inside a cucumber), which bombs are too messy or troublesome to be worth it-- and if you start with a group, the ones who don't know what they're doing won't get to be in charge. I'm all in favor of blowing things up for fun, but I'd rather have everyone involved.

#13 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:07 PM:

I had to read the DuPont Blaster's Handbook to figure out to explode things with what we had around the homestead. We had the 1969 edition, it was an exciting read for a 10 year old with time on her hands and access to a shop/garage.

Never mind the bomb aspect, doesn't everyone know at least a couple of people who were overzealous cleaners, mixed the ammonia and bleach, and gassed themselves? That is also why you don't use bleach to clean the cat box.

#14 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:10 PM:

Things that go boom! are always fascinating to kids.

They taught us to make gunpowder and explosives in high school chemistry class -- especially the ones with iodine percipitate. Explicitly.

Bet they don't do that anymore.

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:13 PM:

Serge #10: Only if he starts growing hair in the palm of his hand.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:15 PM:

My father's dictionary, dating to the 1940s, had the formula for gunpowder in it.

#17 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:15 PM:

In *my* day, you had to read popular science books to find the recipe for ammonium tri-iodide.

And then you had to try to bring a paper towel soaked in the still-drying stuff home on the school bus. And then you had to abandon said paper towel out the window of said school bus, when it was clear that little puffs of purple vapor from around the drying edges were only the beginning of something that probably shouldn't be happening in your lap.

#18 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:20 PM:

A good friend of mine in junior high and high school was much in the habit of Improvised Amateur Chemistry Experiments in his room and his dad's garage, with a great variety of found objects and please-don't-tell-me-where-you-got-that materials, and would frequently call me up to announce things like "So I made a bomb out of a light bulb today." ("Of course you did," I'd say.) He was exactly the type you'd probably expect: smart, restlessly inquisitive, a little nuts. I know I spent many years with fingers crossed, hoping he'd survive long enough to decide to use his powers for good. But I have a hard time imagining the Internet would have made things worse; if anything, a little outside information might have been a valuable resource.

(He is still alive, in possession of all digits and limbs, and gainfully employed making - he tells me - the Largest Pipe in the World. Which suggests to me that kids who are fascinated by materials and tools and chemical processes ought not be discouraged too hard in finding interesting and useful things to do with them.)

#19 ::: Kiwi C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:20 PM:

I can't tell you how many kids I personally know who put dried beans up their noses after reading about it in Little Women for the first time. We all do dumb stuff, but the sources of inspiration are various. Sometimes we hear about it from other kids or even grownups. Grrr....

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:21 PM:

Fragano @ 16... So did my own dictionary in the late 1960's. I actually made some gunpowder, but was quite content just laying a trail of it on a wooden plank then light it up with a magnifying glass. A nice big whoosh later, there was a deep gouge in the plank.

#21 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:22 PM:

I feel a little bad getting all Darwinian at kids and their parents, but geez, when I was a kid, my mom taught me things like "think before you act" and "all those chemicals under the sink can hurt you, so don't be stupid with them."

We did all kinds of crazy science experiments in school, but the teachers always stressed the importance of things like, say, goggles. Sure, they looked dorky and we hated them, but deep in our hearts we knew they made sense. If kid hasn't learned that lesson by the age of 15, his education has been suck-ass.

And it now occurs to me that the very fact that we as a culture consider a 15-year-old a "kid" may be part of the problem. I realize we all want to protect our offspring, but once the pupa matures, a cocoon is hindrance, not protection. Maybe if more children were allowed to scrape their knees, they would learn to recognize and avoid serious idiocy.

#22 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:26 PM:

Tania @13, I almost did the bleach/catbox routine once but my partner blanched and yelled when he saw the bleach bottle hovering over the box.... Hell, I'd never had Chemistry classes so I'd no idea there was any harm.

Back when made-for-TV-movies were new, there was one that showed how to make nitroglycerin in a bathtub. I'm sure you can see what's coming -- some yahoo tried it and became a candidate for a Darwin award. The next time the film aired the nitro making sequence had been cut.

#23 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:27 PM:

All I had to work with when I was a kid was my mom's copy of The Heterodyne Boys Big Book of Fun. She gave it away after I tried the zeppelin project.

#24 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:32 PM:

I was never all that interested in blowing things up myself (aside from the occasional baking soda and vinegar volcano), but my father used to build and set off rockets all the time. Apparently, there were numerous occasions on which he prepared the rocket fuel in the kitchen oven, though he was careful never to tell my grandparents about this until much later.

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:33 PM:

There is a reason why the MythBusters begin each of their shows with a warning NOT to try this at home. ("No, Bobby, you may not put a gunpowder-filled rocket on the car's roof.") Still, I'm waiting for the day some yahoo tries to sue them anyway.

#26 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:45 PM:

The other thing I was going to say was: I don't remember having to be explicitly taught that explosive things, well, explode. I imagine I learned through example, though; my dad would set off fireworks for the 4th, and while he is somewhat the reckless type, would be darn careful about it, which probably is what sank in.

Personally, I think that a culture that goes too far towards "protect the kiddies no matter how that restricts people" forgets that that means the kiddies don't get exposed to enough danger to learn better.

Generalistically speaking, at least, this has been the trend. I know plenty of parents who don't buy into the "pad every corner and watch kid every minute so they can't possibly experience danger" fad, but one of those selfsame parents -- a good friend of mine who is raising a very smart, explore-everything type of kid and doing a damn fine job (this kid is, among other things, extremely computer-savvy and one of the politest kids I've ever met, and to my knowledge has not yet had a serious injury) -- encountered this attitude a lot when she was talking to other parents. It frustrated her to no end. Me, too, honestly.

#27 ::: L.S. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:47 PM:

Oh my god! The internet is scary and evil! Please! As if kids have ever needed help with this kind of thing. Back when I was a kid, we didn't have the internet to help us blow shit up! No! We had to come up with it ourselves! By going to the library, which is an equally dangerous place.

I'm just lucky my dad lived long enough to reach adulthood. In rural Appalachia in the 1950's, there certainly was no internet. There was hardly any TV or books! But being an enterprising soul, he attempted to blow himself up no less than ten times during his childhood, and that kind of can-do spirit is so lost on kids today.

If he had been sitting around playing WoW on the intarwebs, he wouldn't have had time to dump himself in a frozen creek on homemade skis, mix chemicals in glass milk jugs and cork them until they exploded, or coat barn swallow posts with motor oil (in imitation of tree liming techniques he had seen on nature TV-- the birds didn't stick quite so much as they sort of slid around, hung upside down and flapped), or build homemade cannons (he's got a scar from that one), or use a fishing pole and a tin can to interfere with the radar of the bats in the barn, or cause my mother to be grateful to this very day that she only had girls, lest those genes get passed on. (Though I still thank my dad for my own intellectual curiosity, my wondering about how things work, and my ability to hook up four game systems, a stereo, a DVD player, and a VCR all to the same TV without having to look at the directions. And for making Air and Space my favorite museum.)

You don't need the internet to have a little scientific curiosity! or in this case, stupidity. there's really a fine line between the two, and only because it's drawn by the survivors. ^_^;

#28 ::: Nathan Russell ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Hmm, in high school, we had a month after the AP chem exam before the end of the school year. With the teacher's permission, we did all kinds of dumb shit (tm) up to and including doing the H2SO4/sugar thing in a liter beaker in the middle of the room (no hood, evacuated a floor of the school briefly).

Also have heard about various Fun With Cryogens in Sealed Containers (tm) incidents that have happened in various university physics departments. Nobody got hurt though.

I have to wonder about the kid being temporarily blinded though... it sounds like he wasn't hit by anything, is it likely to be just the oxidizing effects of chlorine and/or hydrazine?

More to the point... kids will do this sort of stuff, and some will do it dumbly and get hurt. Likewise, some (probably a much larger number) will get hurt riding mountain bikes into rough terrain. That hardly indicates a need for a ban on mountain bikes, or a need to censor the internet to keep them from finding out that if you ride a mountain bike down a slope it can be fun.

#29 ::: Tiff ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 02:59 PM:

I have a four volume set of books called The World of the Children, published in 1950 (I think) which contains instructions on how to make your own gunpowder. I also have a book of magic tricks, demonstrating some of the many exiting things that can be done with concentrated sulphuric acid and ammonia.

I'm sure the only reason I survived completely intact is that you can't buy all this stuff from the local chemist any more.

#30 ::: Nathan Russell ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:01 PM:

Oh, the same chemistry teacher told us about an incident that happened at a past school (boys' Catholic school, in fact) where he'd taught. Apparently 2 students *filled* a gallon milk jug with gasoline, strung it on a rope between two trees, built a campfire under it and then shot the jug with a rifle. The video they made - and showed to the teacher! - ended with one of the trees on fire and them trying to beat it out with their jackets.

#31 ::: Aaron ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:05 PM:

About five years ago my mates were making those sort of chlorine bombs for fun. They didn't do well at school and didn't use the internet. No, they figured it out from their apprenticeships as mechanics etc.

Send the police to the trades! The children must be protected!

#32 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:26 PM:

Man, my dad has stories of his misspent childhood. (Heck, he was even given a stern talking to by the local police force for using equipment from his old high school back in Van Nuys.) When we were little, he taught us how to make basic fireworks. The cops who lived in our neighbourhood often helped us. We used to explode our Halloween pumpkins the day after Halloween in the empty fields down the street. For a high school project, my friend Michelle and I composited shots of an exploding apple stuffed with black powder so it looked like it was sitting on my sister's head, interspliced it with shots of Lawrence of Arabia blowing up trains, discussed the chemical reactions and put the William Tell overture playing in the background. (We got an A.) All BEFORE the advent of the Interweb in our lives.

My favourite cheap and easy trick is making soap bubbles filled with gas from the bunsen burners and lighting them.

#33 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:29 PM:

I hurt myself pretty good about 20 years ago with some explosives.

Some buddies and I had this little toy cannon, steel, maybe .32 caliber? We're out in the woods playing with the thing. We've got some smokeless powder and one of those little scoops, about what you'd put in a .44 hot load. We stick a fuse through a little hole in the top, pour in two scoops of the powder, and jam a little plastic wad in the end. Then we set it down in the dirt and light the fuse and stand back. Boom.

Near as I can figure, there was a rock in the dirt behind it. Or something. I dunno. I got my forehead knocked open pretty good. Spent a week in the hospital, and the surgeon had to put some bones back together, both the outer layer that had been shattered, and the inner layer (up against the brain) that had had a thumbnail-sized piece punched out of it.

This was 1988. In whatever larval form the intertubes may have existed, we were unaware of it. This was just your garden-variety stupid kid behavior.

Incidentally, one of those guys is now serving an extremely long sentence for an unrelated murder. I'm pretty sure that wasn't internet-related either.

#34 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:30 PM:

PixelFish@#32 - Flaming Soap Bubbles?! That I have to try. I even have enough of the right stuff around the house. The 14 year old nephew is going to love this. This is why I am the "fun" aunt.

#35 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:37 PM:

--E @#21: I am ashamed to admit that to this day, I find myself sneering at the use of goggles for anything that isn't hazardous enough to also require gloves, tongs, and possibly a remote triggering mechanism. On a practical level, I realize why they're useful. But I was introduced to the idea of goggles in the lab when we did a lab on measuring the freezing point of water, with the most hazardous ingredient involved being a bucket of ice cubes, because you Always Wore Goggles While Doing Labs, no matter what was involved. So instead of being impressed with the importance of safety precautions, I was deeply impressed with the arbitrary stupidity of certain types of regulations being applied in a blanket manner.

I suppose it's just as well that I keep living in places where fireworks aren't allowed within city limits, or I might get a chance to be forcefully reminded of why goggles are actually a good sort of thing to have around, or possibly even on.

#36 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:37 PM:

I love how news reports like this ("Fearmongering News 13 is the market leader in making you afraid RIGHT NOW") encourage us all to relate stuff-blowing-up stories.

Mine is fairly mundane, as it involved my seventh grade science teacher showing us how to make nitroglycerin. For the final step he hid behind one of those set of world maps onna tripod, used an implement with a two foot long handle, and FWOOM! the mixture exploded. He wasn't making much, so it wasn't a big explosion, but it was still fabulous. He went on to tell the story of the year he made nitroglycerin and it didn't explode as part of the final reaction, leaving him with the problem of how to dispose of it.

Scientists always have great stories, though most of them are set in college or graduate school. One professor I knew was told to dispose of a fist-sized chunk of sodium, and he and his friends decided to go throw it in the nearby lake. Another visited a friend who had built a homemade cannon; in firing it, they managed to bring down the middle school cafeteria. (Good thing it was a weekend.) I never did manage to blow myself up, though I did set myself on fire with a CO2 laser.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:40 PM:

I was always more into the flames than the explosions, so lighter fluid was my friend. Every few months, my best friend and I would take all the plastic models I'd built recently (kits, so I wouldn't have to feel bad about sacrificing a lot of work) and set fire to them. We always did this on a flameproof surface like cinderblock or concrete, just because it was obvious that if we didn't we'd have a fire we couldn't easily put out.

Rockets were fun too, and there were all sorts of interesting things you could do with commercially available solid rocket fuel pellets. Poisonous fumes, actinic light, containers rushing around the driveway, what's not to like?

#38 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:46 PM:

A part of my student job in college was to dispense chemicals and supplies from a campus stockroom. The fun you have as an amateur with stuff you made around the house is taken to another level when you involve professionals in your games.

My favorite was rather silly and harmless -- pouring liquid nitrogen on the floor so I could watch the dust bunnies dance as it boiled off.

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:48 PM:

Stephen Granade @ 36... I did set myself on fire with a CO2 laser

"Why don't you just call it a death ray?"
(The sherriff in Eureka)

I wonder what anecdotes Bill Higgins could regale us with?

#40 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:48 PM:

Tiff 29: demonstrating some of the many exiting things that can be done with concentrated sulphuric acid and ammonia.

Typo or irony?

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:53 PM:

We made firecrackers in class in junior high. Everyone complained about the excessive amount of tape I was using. Mine was the only firecracker that actually exploded.

I never did the REALLY dumb stuff, but a friend of mine and a friend of his decided to try to electrolyze water with alternating current (using a piece of lamp cord). Nothing much seemed to be happening, so they put some salt in the water (to increase its conductivity, of all things). It didn't help (of course), but the air did start to turn a little green...they fled.

#42 ::: Nathan Russell ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Tania@38 - apparently in some campuses it's common to use liquid nitrogen to quickly get all the crud off lab floors when one's advisor is coming in.

#43 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:57 PM:

I guess everyone has a childhood or high school explosives story. This was way before the internet, in the late sixties.

My high school chemistry teacher liked giving unannounced tests. She also banged her fist on her desk frequently. A classmate hated those tests. He precipitated some nitrogen tri-iodide on a sheet of notebook paper that was carefully dried in the back of the classroom. The next time she announced a spur-of-the-moment test, he calmly handed in a blank sheet of paper, and went to the boys room.

Fortunately, it was down in the stack far enough that no one was injured, but she was VERY startled. He wouldn't have gotten caught if he hadn't bragged about it to all and sundry.

#44 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:05 PM:

I am a bit annoyed that now that I live in a place where I can get dry ice at the grocery store, I also live downtown and near all the infrastructure that can arrest me for a dry ice bomb.

The exploding bubbles is great fun. My father's a high school science teacher, and he'll do that for good classes. Every class gets an exothermic reaction demonstration-- air-filled balloon taped to board and lit, then hydrogen and hydrogen-air mixture. I had a chemistry professor use acetylene when he couldn't find enough hydrogen; his hearing was permanently damaged and everyone in the first few rows had blast-hair.

It's the first rule of keeping the attention of people who don't care what you're talking about: blow it up.

#45 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:08 PM:

Serge @ 39: It wasn't a death ray! It was a laser for trapping and cooling atoms down to near absolute zero. It just happened to be a laser that you could have also used to cut sheet metal or set people on fire.

Though I did laugh and laugh at that part of Eureka.

One more lab story. Atom trapping and cooling is normally done with the alkali metals such as lithium and sodium and potassium. You turn the metal liquid, then gaseous, and funnel the gaseous form into a vacuum chamber. Eventually your vacuum chamber is coated with your alkali metal. We were using lithium, which wasn't so bad, but a competing group was using sodium. When they had to bring their vacuum system up to atmospheric pressure, they'd clean off the sodium by taking the metal bits out back of the building and tossing them into a plastic trash can filled with water. After a while the trashcan would split, so they'd haul in a new one.

#46 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:10 PM:

I can honestly say the closest thing to an explosion story I've got involves putting M80s in dumpster-style garbage bins, and that was less for the "blowing up" part than for the "How cool would THIS sound?" part. For me personally, at least -- I had friends who had interesting accidents in chem class, including one who managed to set her hands on fire, though only minor burns as what she'd really set on fire was a coating of something flammable.

I'm pretty sure my father's only stories involving blowing things up would also involve the Army. His childhood tales involved things like pouring Coke into his ear to see what it sounded like and climbing on top of the garage and falling off, badly fracturing his left arm -- you can still see the scar to this day. I'm sure there's stories I haven't heard, but seems like I'd remember something involving explosions.

No, wait, I lie. Not a story, I witnessed it: shooting Roman candles down the alley towards garbage cans to see what would happen. Actually the only thing that did was a lot of pretty sparks flying down the alley, but fireworks = explosives.

He actually started this out with "Don't try THIS at home, kiddies!" Never mind that we were, you know, at home. My father's a little strange at times. ^_^

#47 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:23 PM:

Returning to my brother and his Boy Scout stories, one of their explosive games involved Roman candles and a guy with a tennis racket. He may have had armor, but probably not.

#48 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:56 PM:

I'd like to see those instructions. I have to wonder whether they actually said, "Mix these two liquids together in a soda bottle, cap tightly, and stand over it until it explodes."

That sounds like what happened to a friend who tried to make mead in a metal bottle with a twisting cap. When he tried to open the bottle, the cap took his nose off.

The role of the internet in all this is that you used to read a short note in the local paper if a kid in the next town did something stupid and had it blow up in their faces, now you get it repeated on dozens of major websites when it happens 1000 miles away.

Tina @26, Personally, I think that a culture that goes too far towards "protect the kiddies no matter how that restricts people" forgets that that means the kiddies don't get exposed to enough danger to learn better.

Reminds me of some essay by Umberto Eco which I read years ago, about a newspaper notice about a kid who climbed into the bear cage at the zoo to pet the bears, and got eaten by the bears. Eco noted the obvious: Being clueless is dangerous.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Stephen @ 45... It wasn't a death ray! It just happened to be a laser that you could have also used to cut sheet metal or set people on fire.

Hmmm... Still sounds like a death ray to me.
Just keep it away from any tripod.

#50 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 05:00 PM:

Here's an excerpt from the Boston Globe story about this incident:

On Tuesday afternoon, the teenagers, who borrowed the formula from a YouTube video, went to work in the backyard. They placed the bottle on a picnic table and took several steps away. A minute later, the bottle remained intact. Richard, 15, grew impatient, walked to the table, and began to pick up the bottle. Suddenly, the mixture inside turned yellow. Then all Richard saw was white.

Emphasis added. It's one thing to try to duplicate something you saw on the InterTubes, but another to fail to actually follow the directions. Even someone raised entirely on TV and movies should know you don't fool with an apparent fizzle.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 05:05 PM:

My chemistry teacher in high-school never went for kaboom stuff, but I do remember the time he brought in a terracotta jar filled with iron oxide and with a strip of magnesium lanted in the middle. The details are hazy as this happened about 35 years ago, but, when everything was ready, he lit up the magnesium. When it was over, there was smoke all over the classroom, the container was cracked, and there was a hunk of iron glowing and burning a hole into the countertop.

Amazing how an old man whose deadpan expression would make Alfred Hitchcock look like an excitable loon, could still convey glee.

#52 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 05:07 PM:

Magenta #43:

The story I was told by my boyfriend happened the year before I took chemistry and involved the other teacher. A carefully prepared (nitrogen tri-iodide) dry sheet was placed in the wastebasket, which the teacher was wont to use for target practice.

My own class amused itself with amateur glass-blowing, and throwing lighted pieces of paper out the second-story window into the courtyard. We didn't blow stuff up; instead we clogged it--my lab partner deliberately ignored the instructions and poured the mothball preciptate down the drain as I watched with a horrified expression on my face, mostly from the notion that my lab grade was going with it.

#53 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 05:08 PM:

my uncle once made a cannon out of a foot-long steel tube (maybe .50 cal), capped at one end with a heavy-duty screw-on pipe cap. he forged his own ammunition by melting lead pipe in the woodstove, then pouring it into molds. he loaded it with gunpowder he made using chemicals he bought through the mail. and he ignited it by running the two wires from an extension cord into two holes he'd drilled in the sealed end of the tube. firing was the simple matter of plugging the cord into the wall - then resetting the breakers. it was strong enough to easily shoot through 1/2 plywood at 15 feet. eventually it blew up and put shrapnel all over the side of the house... he was firing it from underneath the back deck.

#54 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 05:09 PM:

And in science club, we spent part of one evening meeting aiming the laser at the drive-in screen a couple of miles away. The drive-in later expired, but not from that.

#55 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Oh, for pity's sake. I had a student set the classroom on fire in 1978, years before anyone had even heard of the internet. He first claimed to be demonstrating a chemistry experiment, but then was unable to explain why he should demonstrate a chemistry experiment in English class. At this point, alertly noticing the calendar, he decided that what he was doing was celebrating Pearl Harbor Day . . .

#56 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 06:04 PM:

A while back I found that my company (or the service they subscribed to) had blocked the wikipedia site in which was explained what acetone peroxide was and what it did. I already knew what acetone peroxide was - that's why I was writing an e-mail telling people not to store peroxide with the strong acids, particularly not in a cheesy plastic tray in the same fume hood as a mess of organic solvents. I was moved to write to our IT people and let them know the horse was out of the barn.

The page is still blocked.

I hope their also blocking web sites that tell you not to leave stuff on the stairs or plug to many extension cords into an outlet - that way the bad people won't know to do these things!

#57 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 06:20 PM:

L.S. Baird @ 27: or use a fishing pole and a tin can to interfere with the radar of the bats in the barn,

So, how long did it take him to figure out why that didn't work? *g*

#58 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 07:43 PM:

Serge #20: I couldn't get the ingredients. I did once nearly start a forest fire with baking soda and a match....

#59 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 07:46 PM:

I love how news reports like this ("Fearmongering News 13 is the market leader in making you afraid RIGHT NOW") encourage us all to relate stuff-blowing-up stories.

Well, anyone who is around to post such a story demonstrates the harmlessness of some such incidents. Unless their posting name is One-Eyed Jack, I guess.

Now I feel like I had a deprived childhood, though.

#60 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 07:54 PM:

My friends and I used to make bombs by crushing the heads off matches into copper pipes. We started with electrical detonators, and then discovered that crushed match-head on sellotape makes a cool fuse.

We learned from experience early on to use safety matches.

#61 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 08:14 PM:

Oh, back in the early 1980's my sister's junior high science class had a lab to measure the caloric content of food - students were to bring in foods from home that they could heat up and measure, well, whatever. I helped her scout out all sorts of interesting foods to try from our refrigerator - breads and vegetables and such, including hot peppers...capsaicin gas, anyone? They had to evacuate the science wing.

#62 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 08:50 PM:

Chris @ #59 - My dad has one real eye and one prosthetic eye*, due to an accident when he was a kid playing around with a black powder pistol. We use the it's all "fun and games until..." all the time. Oh, my point. He still loves blowing things up and/or shooting at them, with one eye. He's fairly safety conscious, but I have enough scars that I can honestly say he let me do some stupid things that the generous might call learning experiences. Or maybe we have a stupid, don't learn from our mistakes gene... Hmm.

*Freaked my teacher out when I brought a spare to Show & Tell in kindergarten!

#63 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 09:01 PM:

I got started with Chemcraft and Gilbert chemistry sets when I was about seven or eight. There was lots of stuff in there that would currently be banned. I remember an experiment for extracting metallic mercury from mercurochrome, as well as a lot of things (various colored flash powders) that would bring the Department of Homeland Security or ATF down on you nowadays.

When I was in my early teens I had a chem lab in my basement, with sodium and potassium metal, calcium carbide (for generating acetylene) and other violent and toxic materials. All this would be banned today, and with some justification; but it ultimately led to my career in chemistry.

I still have both eyes and all my digits. It's not clear that this was a bigger risk than giving me a car at age 16, which most states are happy to do.

Read Oliver Sacks's lovely memoir Uncle Tungsten; it's a vivid description of what we've lost in our attempts to abolish risk.

#64 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 09:03 PM:

My 10th grade biology teacher grew tired of my class whining about grades after one particularly hard test. "Fine," he said, "here's a bonus question for you. How many thumbs does your teacher have?"

"Two!" someone shouted quickly.

"Wrong!" he said, "one and a half!" He held up both thumbs, showing that one was missing everything past the knuckle. "I did learn to let go of a rope going around a pulley."

#65 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 09:11 PM:

DaveL@50: Yeah. The moment someone says "I don't think it's going to go off", it's best to physically restrain that person from going over to poke it.

I think Theodore Gray, who is obviously into making things go boom, has the best words on safety here and here.

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 09:23 PM:

I think I learned about safety, and about playing with fire, at an early age from my dad's own experience as a boy. There's nothing like being told what happens when you wear a Halloween costume with a flamable headdress while handling matches. Not the kind of hairtrim he enjoyed, apparently.

#67 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 09:51 PM:

Serge #51: I'm betting there were aluminum shavings involved too, and what you had was a lovely class demo of thermite.

Very first day of chemistry class, my teacher showed us how to balance equations. Simple algebra. The equation he used was for thermite. Then he demonstrated -- I loved that magnesium strip fuse, so bright! and after we were all awake and alert from the BOOM, he told us a story about welding a Green Line T trolley to its tracks with some thermite.

He claimed the best way to distract the driver was to have an accomplice go up and ask directions to Mattapan.

Never tried it myself. But it was a lovely kaboom.

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 10:09 PM:

That may be what my high-school teacher cooked up, Rikibeth, but, like I said, it was 35 years ago. Interestingly, when I met him nine years later, nine years older and me legally an adult, our paths crossed and, not only did the old guy recognize me but he called me by my name. I never could figure out if that was because he had a prodigious memory or because I had made an impression on him because I was actually interested in what he was teaching.

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 10:35 PM:

It sounds like time to bring out the story about my father's work buddy, who (at another job) found some primer cord in a desk drawer around the corner from a swaging operation. He took it away from whoever had the desk and put it in his own, figuring he knew what it was and how to handle it.

He had stories about things like gold azide, too.

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 11:07 PM:

Thylophact beat me to the Uncle Tungsten plug.

In addition to easy access and chemicals, and being given space for her very own chemistry lab, Sacks had something orthoganal to the "dangerous crap on the Internet" fauxhood. Sacks had uncles and aunts and parents who were doctors and scientists and manufacturers.

I would have loved having my own Gilbert chemistry set as a kid. I would really have loved having SOMEONE in my family like Sacks's mentors.

#71 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:19 AM:

Diatyrma wrote -
Instead of the Internet, these kids should be in scouting. There's not a single Eagle Scout even the least bit interested in blowing anything up.

Yeeeahhhh.... riiiiiighhht
(I went to Boy Scout camp with several who went on to become Eagle Scouts. Each and every one of them was a budding pyromaniac, as likely to use bug spray to incinerate the flying biting beasties as keep them away from oneself.*)

Of course, my teenage little black book of explosives and dirty tricks manual was painstakingly (if not too clearly - other than the actual recipes themselves) copied from the (also carefully copied and referenced) explosives and dirty tricks manual of a friend - and then copied by others. The information got around, even long before teh interbutt made it easy. (I am old enough to remember when personal modems never went faster than 300 baud, BBSes were rare and unusual beasties, and computers rarely supported more than 16 colors - but young enough that "personal computer" was an oxymoron for only a short part of my life).

Funny thing is, half of that book was "how the fuck this shit can go wrong, the horrible things it will do to you if it does, and how to minimize the chances that you will burn your parent's house down, blow off various body parts you're reasonably fond of, poison yourself, get yourself arrested, or killed." and the whole first page was an admonition that even the most innocuous recipe in the book was, in fact, dangerous, and that not being careful would likely get you bleeding or dead.

Funny enough, none of us ended up bleeding, or dead, and most of our pyrotechnical mishaps were small ones - and the larger ones (relative scale) were insufficient to cause any kind of structural damage.

*Not that I can claim to be any better... my parents opined, when I asked for a quantity of saltpeter for the chemistry set I kept in the attic (at age 13 or so) that if I wanted to mess around with black powder, they would take me to Creekside (the not-so-local - but very well equipped - FLGS (Friendly Local Gun Store)) to buy some Pyrodex or suitable other explosive, and we would mess around with it in a local gravel pit where I was unlikely to blow any fingers off - or I would need to make my own arrangements for saltpeter (ISTR my father reminding me that the chicken coop was, in fact, full of chickenshit...).

#72 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:23 AM:

Kimiko Writes -
All I had to work with when I was a kid was my mom's copy of The Heterodyne Boys Big Book of Fun. She gave it away after I tried the zeppelin project.

Damnit, I wanna come from the universe Kimiko grew up in!


#73 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:36 AM:

I guess everyone has a childhood or high school explosives story. This was way before the internet, in the late sixties.

Yeah, I have several; I attended high school in the late 1980s. Some of us were dialing in to local BBS's but none of us had Internet access, and even if we had, the ability to Google up bomb-making instructions on the Web was a decade away. A teenager with a pyro streak and more intelligence than common sense will figure out a way to make things go boom.

#74 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:37 AM:

Stephen Granade wrote
It wasn't a death ray! It was a laser for trapping and cooling atoms down to near absolute zero. It just happened to be a laser that you could have also used to cut sheet metal or set people on fire.

I'm pretty sure any energy-emitting device that can (at all rapidly) cut sheet metal, or set people on fire at more than a few inches range counts as a death ray.

Maybe not a very efficient one, mind you... but a death ray nonetheless.

#75 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 03:18 AM:

"However, it may be between one to six months before Jane’s eyes are completely healed. “My eyes kind of sting,” said Jaren, talking to 7NEWS while recovering at home."

Let this be a sobering lesson for you all.

Say, have any of you heard of the teenager who made his own nuclear reactor in his garden shed? Here's the story. Puts the rest of you to shame, really.

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 03:34 AM:

Scott Taylor @ 74

OK, so it's a slow death ray.

#77 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 03:41 AM:

Yes, there seems to be lot of cluelessness in the world these days, but it was ever thus. When I was in junior high (middle school to you more recently evolved primates) in the late 50's, four or five of my classmates got bored one evening and decided to chuck a lit firecracker under a car parked down the street.

How was this clueless? It was a police car, and the person sitting behind the wheel was the town's deputy chief of police. And they didn't get away because they were in full view in the light of a streetlamp, and the Deputy Chief knew at least two of them. What was still funnier was that one of the kids was the Mayor's son. I would have given a lot to be a fly on the wall when the Deputy Chief and the Mayor talked this one over.

#78 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 04:21 AM:

At first I thought my lack of childhood blowing-things-up experiences denoted a truly wimpish and prissy kid.

But then I thought about it a bit more and realized that while the rest of you were scientifically making things go boom, I was following my natural fantasy inclinations and inciting mayhem with bows and arrows, horses, and other medieval pusuits.

We did do baking-soda-and-vinegar bombs, but mostly quit after my brother got exotic and put mustard and other kitchen ingredients in one and chemically burned a patch in the backyard. Grass never grew there again. After that, Mom was not nearly so generous with the necessary ingredients.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 05:50 AM:

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

#80 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 05:57 AM:

Any catapult, Margaret?

#81 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 07:13 AM:

Kimiko@23, Scott@72: Are you aware that Bill Heterodyne often posts on this very blog? Okay, in this timeline his name is Higgins....

#82 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 08:02 AM:

Nitroglycerine is appallingly easy to make. A soap factory once accidentally made several hundred gallons of nitro in their factory in downtown Chicago. (A leak in the nitric acid pipe above the glycerine storage vat.) No one was hurt: the solution to the problem was to add Lots and Lots of soap flakes to the mix.

#83 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 09:30 AM:

Scott Taylor @ 74: CO2 lasers -- any gas lasers, really -- work by having a continuous lightning strike going on inside. Our CO2 laser was hand built, and the 30,000-volt electrodes could be touched if you weren't careful. Given that the same laser design had killed a guy elsewhere when he had touched both the laser and the optics bench, we put up all kinds of safety guards and plastic shields to keep us away from the electrodes.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, yes, it was a death ray, but not in the way you'd think.

#84 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 09:50 AM:

Jim Macdonald #82: For the soap that goes BOOM?

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 09:54 AM:

Bruce @ 77

That's so clueless that they sound like they were trying for a Darwin Award.

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 09:58 AM:

James @ 82... Was that soap factory a subsidiary of Acme?

#87 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 10:44 AM:

My partner and I were reading this thread (he was reading over my shoulder) and he raised the point that making things go "boom" appears to be a rather gender-specific pastime, in that most of the stories about it tend to be about boys or from boys. My first comment was "cultural stereotyping - girls aren't supposed to be interested". Then I realised - girls are actually interested in the whole "let's mix all this stuff up and see what happens" - it's just that they get to channel the impulse into cooking experiments instead.

So, instead of blowing oneself up, a lot of daughters have been there showing their parents something either hideously overcooked, massively undercooked, coloured some unbelievable shade, or seasoned with a combination of spices only palatable to someone who has been unable to smell or taste things from birth. This is usually done with the full range of emotional blackmail tricks ("pleeease?" *bats eyelashes* *big puppy eyes*). Why blow your annoying siblings up, when you can poison them instead?


#88 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 11:21 AM:

Kimiko @ 23: "All I had to work with when I was a kid was my mom's copy of The Heterodyne Boys Big Book of Fun."

Were you ever able to successfully magnetize aluminum? And huzzah for the Stanley and His Monster reference.

Serge @ 39: "I wonder what anecdotes Bill Higgins could regale us with?"

Mixing matter and antimatter! Top that. (And huzzah for another pre-Girl Genius Heterodyne reference.)

SpeakerToManagers @ 77: "OK, so it's a slow death ray."

No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die...eventually.

#89 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 11:33 AM:

My dad became a forensics engineer, specializing in the interesting effects of thermodynamics.

He grew up in rural northern Canada, and as a teenager began experimenting with model rockets. (Homemade. Rural meant you made your own entertainment, and when your relatives work at paper mills and their power plants, you have access to useful and cheap components. The results were fun for the whole town, all 100 people watching the show.)

How was he to know that rockets that went over 8000 feet showed up on the Pine Tree Line radar? And that there were treaties and rules about not doing that?

Well, he got a stern talking-to from the military folks who showed up once they figured out the weekend pattern to his show. He stopped with his own rockets, although he did end up working with others (Gemini).

Nowadays, I think doing that would get you up on a very bad list. Odd times, these.

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 11:41 AM:

mds @ 88... Mixing matter and antimatter! Top that!

I'd rather not. For one thing, I'm out of dilithium crystals.

#91 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 11:59 AM:

An example of why things are bad nowadays:

About 7 years ago, a college engineering student had a summer internship at a local Silicon Valley company. They made workstations, and the back rooms were filled with machines that once were worth thousands, but now were doorstops (Thanks, Moore's law!).

The intern thought, and his boss agreed, that creatively destroying a workstation would make for a fun lunchtime. Out in a parking lot he set up and blew up a workstation, entertaining the watching crowd.

Except for a security guard, who called the police. The kid was arrested and charged with something nasty involving explosives. The kid had wicked things in his house- lighters, welding equipment, motor oil in the garage. You know what can be done with motor oil? Bad stuff. The kid faced jail and a felony record.

The kid's lawyer called my dad, and my dad was, as expected (see story above) keen to help. He went over the police's case against the kid.

After he pointedly told the police that synthetic motor oil can't be used for fuel oil wickedness, the police dropped the charges.

But otherwise they were so sure they'd precrimedly caught the next Tim McV, and police have no graceful way to back out of a theory*.

I don't know where the next generation of experimental rockets and aviation engineers will come from. The fear sure can't be helping the space program.


* as written about on the Boston scare thread. i.e. once they announce they've caught an arsonist, they can never admit that the fire wasn't an arson.

#92 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:05 PM:

#71: Yeah, I remember the bug spray flamethrower trick from Boy Scout camp, too.

Using the bug spray as a flamethrower is mostly harmless, provided you're careful where you point it (and the Scoutmaster isn't watching, of course.) Disposing of the "empty" can by casually tossing it in the campfire is the kind of thing that gets remembered for quite a while. (I never actually saw someone do that, so I suppose the stories might have been inflated a bit.)

#93 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Why is there enough idiocy to go round, but never enough cotton wool (to stuff into the mouths of people who open them to speak without having the least idea what they're talking about)?

Which might include me, some of the time.

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 12:55 PM:

Sometimes, even smart people make mistakes -even those smart people who aren't conceited and think they couldn't possibly goof up.

My dad had probably been a quarry's mechanic for 30 years when, one day, while fixing some heavy machinery, he unscrewed one part of it. Which had, unbeknowst to him, was still under high pressure. Bam! it went, straight to the high ceiling. Problem was that my dad's arm was in the way.

He's also had rocks fall on his head in that quarry.

And there was the time he got one fingertip sliced off by a fence wire that had sprung back.

#95 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 91

I don't know where the next generation of experimental rockets and aviation engineers will come from. The fear sure can't be helping the space program.

Seems like even into the 90's we still had the idea in this country that if you catch someone using ser abilities for mischievous purposes you make the punishment that they have to use those same abilities to aid society. Some of the more flamboyant hackers of the time are now computer security consultants. I suspect a lot of such people do it out of boredom, because they don't know that there are real challenges for their skills out in the world.

But I think you're right: now, if they* catch someone doing something wrong, the first reaction is that the goal is terrorism, and not japery.

I doubt we will have a next generation of space engineers like we had in the last half of the 20th century. SF had a large part in their interest in space, I think, but the sense of discovery so many of us got in finding SF, which was a tiny and rather special part of the publishing business, my not be there when SF is just another genre.**

* I started to type "we", which would be common usage, but I'm not any part of this stupidity, so I'm not going to participate even grammatically.

** This isn't a position I'll defend vigorously; I could easily be wrong. I don't get to discover SF again, so I can't know for sure what that's like for a later generation. Let me know if I'm wrong: I'll be happy to hear it.

#96 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 02:02 PM:

Serge @ 80

I didn't build a catapult, but the creaky brain cells seem to think one of my brothers built some interesting machines after I left for college.

Meg @ 87

I didn't cook odd things so much as a kid, but one of my brothers claims I do it now. ("She put ginger and allspice and cinnamon in the lentils! She put cookie spices in the beans - and they weren't in the recipe! She put grape jelly on her hot dog!")

#97 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Margaret Organ-Kean:

I didn't build a catapult

Well, do you want to? Or would you prefer an onager, or a ballista, or even a nice, simple trebuchet? We do have a backyard for assembly...

#98 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Margaret @ 96

Those sound like interesting lentils and beans. Middle Eastern? (I'm guessing because Persian recipes do things like that. Stew with nutmeg and cinnamon. Rose-petals as seasoning. Orange-blossom preserves.)

#99 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 03:58 PM:

No Greek Fire either, Margaret?

#100 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 04:25 PM:

The Boy Scout bug spray stories remind me of one of my experiences. We were at a camporee that didn't allow you to have liquid fuels, including charcoal lighter fluid.

We were, however, allowed to have cooking spray.

Since cooking spray is cooking oil in a spray can, we figured that spraying charcoal with it before putting the charcoal on the fire would help it catch.

This worked just fine, until one of the other Scouts decided to simplify the process and just spray the fire directly.

It did get the fire going, I must say...and I think Alex jumped backwards about three feet, from a crouching start. No harm done, no eyebrows missing...but it made quite an impressive FWOOMP noise.

#101 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 05:09 PM:

A friend of mine, in his youth, made a 'machine gun' based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci. He tested it by firing a series of golf balls against the side of his parents' garage; which was followed by his father tearing out of the house shouting "What the hell are you doing!?".

His device was confiscated by the local police, who seemed to have taken some pride in it; it had been on display in the police station for some years.

#102 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 05:46 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 101... I think the MythBusters tested da Vinci's steam-powered gun last year, then proceeded to upgrade it to a huge bowling-ball-throwing cannon aimed at San Francisco from across the Bay. Not particularly efficient, if I remember correctly, but it worked.

#103 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 06:00 PM:

I don't think the Internet was involved when an acquaintance of ours took his troop of IIRC 12- to 14-year-old Boy Scouts winter camping in the Sierra Nevada, and they achieved a burning snowman. It might have been a local cultural reference, though.

#104 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 06:21 PM:

My highschool had a "mountain man" come in and do some demonstration (I forget for which class... I'm certain it was some friend of a very good teacher... I was blessed with several... they made up for the dolts).

Part of his demo was a demonstration of rate of fire, bow vs. muzzle-loader. I had been talking to him and it came up that I did archery, so he selected me to do fire arrows (inside the classroom) from when he fired one blank charge of powder, to the next.

So I got off about six shots (he was a pretty quick load). Somehow, when the class was mingling afterwards, I managed to talk him out of the powder he had left (why it wasn't in a horn, or some such, I've no idea).

At home I manufactured a flash-bomb. This wasn't new to me, I'd done it before; a crimped taco of aluminum foil and a fuse.

But I didn't have any fuse. So I made some. That was a mistake. I took some paper, a bit of hair spray to make it sticky, and dusted it with some of the gunpowder.

So far, so good, but I rolled it with the powder on the inside. When I touched the match to what should have been enough fuse... the flashbomb went off.

I lost a quarter inch of hair, and baked the back of my thumb (it's a semi-controlled blast).

I was, however, wearing goggles.

My uncle told a story from his college days (he was an engineer). Seems the frat boys would pin their girls on canoes in the lake. So he, and a few friends, swiped some sodium, did some tests and put the sodium in weighted coffee cans, full of deisel, or perhaps gasoline. The lids of the cans were pierced, and when the oil coating the sodium got a gap in it, the lake caught fire.

They did this in the middle of the lake, and timed it, so he says, so that the blaze started when the canoes were being launched.

CO2 bombs were our favorite 4th of July noisemakers. They wouldn't set the hills on fire. But the local Fire Dept. would end up, every few years, driving around to see what was up.

I won't detail the hand grenades, cannon, bottle rockets (with the bottle as rocket) etc. I played with.

I think I credit all my limbs and digits being attached to the pressmen I knew as a little kid. Half of them were missing the tip of their pinkies, from popping hickies.

#105 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 07:24 PM:

Terry Karney @ 104: I think I credit all my limbs and digits being attached to the pressmen I knew as a little kid. Half of them were missing the tip of their pinkies, from popping hickies.

There has got to be a definition of "hickey" I'm not familiar with. (Wanders off to Google....)

#106 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 07:28 PM:

Ah. Much is explained. I knew those as "halos."

Sheesh, can't tell where my mind is these days....

#107 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 07:32 PM:

Since the discussion has swerved into mentions of SF, I can confess that while reading it my thoughts have been tending toward a weird question: which planet in this solar system would be best for blowing things up in spectacular fashion? (For moons, I guess Titan might be combustible -- if the non-gaseous state of the materials doesn't change things.) Mars and ex-planet Pluto seem to be less likely, but what about the others?

#108 ::: kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 07:45 PM:

Sheesh, can't tell where my mind is these days....

spring crop of zombies got you too?

It's probably within a 200 meter radius: their random shuffle keeps them close.

#109 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 08:33 PM:

Bruce @ 97

Let's make a tiny one and terrorize the squirrels! Then we could take it indoors and use it as a cat toy. :)

PJ Evans @ 98

Well, probably descended from Middle Eastern stuff. I got the idea for the beans and alternate spices from one of the Silver Palette cookbooks, I think. I just spent time experimenting with it as I think most canned lentil soups are pretty bland.

The fruit & meat combos are not that uncommon - lamb & mint jelly, current sauce on beef, salmon with blueberry salsa, apricot glaze on ham, so I'm not sure they could be traced to a particular cuisine.

I just like to experiment a little.


No Greek Fire. The Rohirrim didn't use it.

#110 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2007, 12:04 AM:

Ah, match head bombs. I remember them fondly. More or less. My kids liked to launch them, using, natch, match head rockets. I remember telling them, "Now you know, you got to do that outside. And don't point it toward anything."

Being old, I of course have many explosion stories. But you don't need to hear them. I will ask, though, did any of you see the video that was around about two years back, showing kids launching bottle rockets out of their asses? Worked about as well as you might think, for the reasons you might think of.

#111 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2007, 12:19 AM:

#92 Yeah. Bug spray.

One slow week at camp the resident pyros progressed to the can in the fire by about Thursday. Thankfully, the valve melted off before it exploded and it just made a rocket screeching short of noise and lots of flame.

There weren't any more fires for the rest of the week. Except for someone igniting a chunk of magnesium fire starter and burning through a 2" thick picnic table.

I didn't know an Eagle scout that wasn't into pyro or knives. Or both.

#112 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2007, 12:43 AM:

Another Eagle Scout data point:
My mother's father was an Eagle Scout. He had a brass carbide cannon that he fired for July 4. No other pyro tendencies that I ever heard of.

#113 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2007, 10:55 AM:

Faren@107: There was a story in Strange Adventures with a similar premise -- alien from Titan (IIRC) is humanized and sent to Earth as a spy. For some reason, spying involves working as a farmhand, where he picked up a cigarette habit. Goes back to Titan to report, and Titan goes boom. Even as a kid, I knew that was a little silly (for one thing, where's the oxidizer?).

#114 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2007, 05:11 PM:

Rats, I got beaten to the Radioactive Boy Scout story.

Anyone who hasn't read 1001 Things to Do with Liquid Nitrogen might want to check it out. I like the teakettle in the freezer; elegant.

#115 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2007, 11:38 PM:

I've got a bunch of friends who are lucky that they have all 10 fingers. Including one who accidentally burned a hay field in North KC.

As a young child I learned of the hazards and scariness of firecrackers watching my brother (10 years older) and his friends destroy various toys, etc. with M80s.

But the biggest scare while we were living in Leawood was precipitated by my uncle Lloyd. Imagine if you will a lovely, huge, sloping-up-away-from-the-house back yard. the house made a nice backdrop for the patio with assorted lawn chairs seating all my aunts, uncles and my grandparents. I suspect my father was out of town (he was a TWA pilot, that was not unusual) because of what happend.

We had started setting off fireworks. Lloyd suddenly said, "you know I remember shooting off roman candles holding them." Then he got one, picked it up and lit it. About 30 seconds later he uttered a profanity and dropped it. Aimed toward the patio and seated relatives.

I swear I've never seen a bunch of old folks move so fast, including my grandparents. They all had levitated as the roman candle balls started pelting toward them, sliding nicely over the damp grass. 10 ball roman candle. Truly impressive.

I think I'd had the temerity to go around the house the moment I heard him offer to hold one, I would light fireworks but had a healthy respect for their powers.

No harm, no fire (it hit the side of the house and bounced off, not the wood-shake roof which might have caught fire if it was dry enough (I recall it being a damp year).

Still cracks me up. Mom would have spanked me if I'd made that suggestion, but no one challenged my uncle (that's why I think my dad was absent, he would have gone, 'you don't need to do that.")

#116 ::: mk ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 03:13 AM:

Meg @ 87: We didn't get visits from missionaries for years after my mother fed a pair some vegan carob cake I had made myself.

My father told me childhood stories about making root beer at home that resulted in an explosion or two. There are other stories that didn't involve food that probably contributed to his getting an engineering degree later on.

#117 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 03:47 AM:

My senior English teacher (retired), local boy and coolest guy who ever lived, tells this story about the days when he was a fresh-faced kid at my high school.

Back in those days, there was a thriving shrimp fishery in the area. Big catcher-processors patrolled the offshore waters, which is probably why there is no longer a thriving shrimp fishery in the area. Anyway, one unusually fine spring day, he went beachcombing and found a can of shrimp that had fallen from one of the ships. Maybe it had been dumped for failing quality control. In any case, it no longer looked like a squat cylinder; instead, it looked like a sphere with a flat band around the equator. In fact, it looked like a smoke bomb.

He got a brilliant idea.

The next unusually fine spring day, about a week later, happened to be a school day. He asked for a bathroom pass and quietly slipped outside, sneaking around the building to the main air intake. There he had stashed a bag containing the aforementioned spherical flat can, a clothespin, a pair of dish gloves, and a large nail. Applying the clothespin to his nose, he took a deep breath, held it, and stabbed the can with the nail. He immediately dropped the can and the nail and started to run as fast as you can run while holding your breath.

When he had gone far enough away that he judged nobody could identify him, he stuffed the clothespin and the gloves into the nearest drain and settled down to watch. He figures that the elapsed time between "pschhhh" and "Last one out lock the door" was 15 minutes, tops.

Two free days off. Nobody ever suspected him.

Of course, he always follows up that story with the true tale of what happened to two guys left to keep an eye on a non-processor boat that had lost power with a hold full of iced shrimp. I think their names are on the Fishermen's Memorial downtown.

#118 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 06:29 AM:

MK #116: Back in the mid-60s, my father decided to homebrew beer. He bottled before fermentation was completed; this had, ahem, explosive results, and a kitchen awash in strong-smelling beer.

#119 ::: Nathan Russell ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 10:34 AM:


Heh, I was a counselor in training (read:unpaid slave) at a scout camp the summer I was nineteen. Well, I proudly told the other guys the week my own troop was coming to camp. Said troop stayed at a campsite that, like all the others, had a latrine complete with a bottle of bleach to deodorize the floor.

Well, my troop (or at least one particularly brilliant member) decided that he'd get it *really* deodorized by pouring the whole bottle of bleach down the latrine. Note that urea decomposes into ammonia (a major contributor to the smell which he was trying to alleviate). So what I believe one staff member termed a "toxic death cloud" came out of the latrine, we nearly had to move my troop to another site, and the other staff never did let me forget it.

#120 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 03:48 PM:

Oberlin college cites one of its ancient rule books as saying "No student shall burn gunpowder without permission of the President."

It is said this rule was necessary because burning gunpowder trails was a fad once. (see comment 20)

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 04:41 PM:

Erik Nelson @ 120... burning gunpowder trails was a fad once. (see comment 20)

Down with the Presidential Oppressors!

#122 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 04:55 PM:

Burning gunpowder trails makes more sense/seems more fun, as a fad, than goldfish swallowing.

#123 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Fragano wrote -
Back in the mid-60s, my father decided to homebrew beer. He bottled before fermentation was completed; this had, ahem, explosive results, and a kitchen awash in strong-smelling beer.

My father's incident with this was not-quite sparkling wine (it wasn't supposed to be...) and it was in the 70s instead of the 80s, but, yeah... it's kinda amazing how much pressure can be built up in a well-corked bottle before it goes (POP!) and sends the cork flying through the darkroom cum winecellar* with great velocity.

*(it was originally set up as a darkroom. Dad turned it into a wine cellar. Then back into a dark room that had some storage space for wine bottles, when he decided he'd had enough fun bottling**).

**(It was, perhaps, inevitable that my father - who was an organic chemist at Kodak, way back when - would take up either brewing or wine-making. Something about all the free carboys and other glassware he could take out of the EKSalvage system. It was likely just as inevitable, given his predilections, that as soon as he got good enough to be not-amateur at it, he quit and picked up another hobby...).

#124 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 05:48 PM:

Scott Taylor #183: My father used crown corks to seal the bottles, sometimes too well, judging by the broken glass that had to be swept up.

His later endeavours in this area were less explosive, since he made a liqueur with ripe allspice berries (the berries mashed and fermented in a vat with sugar and cinnamon; the fermentation was stopped by adding 180+ proof rum). This was a superb product, much better and smoother than the commercial varieties.

#125 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 06:38 PM:

**(It was, perhaps, inevitable that my father - who was an organic chemist at Kodak, way back when - would take up either brewing or wine-making. Something about all the free carboys and other glassware he could take out of the EKSalvage system. ... )

Not to mention the "chemistry at home" aspect of it. My dad was an organic chemist for Rohm & Haas, and I remember him making apple wine from cider, and later bottling his own root beer. (Bleah. I hate root beer anyway, but root beer with yeast in it ... shudder!) I think he felt that the simple setup was in some ways more satisfying than the things he did at work.

I still have some of the things he brought home from the lab, like a mixing spatula, with one end rounded like a shoehorn, and the other an oblong, flat tab.

It's odd in retrospect that he didn't make real beer, but he passed away before home brewing really caught on. My boyfriend and I have made some really kickass stuff, though -- fond memories of Toad Spit Stout -- before I found out I was gluten intolerant and took up red wine.

My dad had some horror stories about lab incidents, like the time one of his coworkers got perchloric acid on a tissue ...

#126 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Erik Nelson #120: I would comment on that, but I have a history with the President of Oberlin College, and I'm probably still being surveilled.

#127 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 07:43 PM:

In #107 Faren Miller writes:

Since the discussion has swerved into mentions of SF, I can confess that while reading it my thoughts have been tending toward a weird question: which planet in this solar system would be best for blowing things up in spectacular fashion? (For moons, I guess Titan might be combustible -- if the non-gaseous state of the materials doesn't change things.) Mars and ex-planet Pluto seem to be less likely, but what about the others?

Your question brings immediately to mind Larry Niven's first (and wonderful) novel, World of Ptavvs.


Pluto, having been knocked into the outer solar system by a cataclysm a couple of billion years ago, had gases in its atmosphere freeze out into layers of stuff with different boiling/freezing points as the planet cooled off. All the oxygen is frozen out in one layer. Nitrogen above that. The highest layer is frozen hydrogen.

Pluto has lain quietly for eons under its blanket of differentiated gases. It's a global bomb waiting to go off. The characters are approaching, attempting to land their fusion-powered torchship, and the fate of Mankind hangs in the balance.

The payoff scenes are fun. They're also geochemically preposterous-- but they sound plausible, to a scientifically-hip reader, if there is a breathtaking chase plot going on in the same pages.

(To begin with, it seems unlikely that a free-oxygen atmosphere could arise in the location Pluto, in the story, is supposed to have started from. It also seems unlikely that no comet or asteroid impact has punched through into the oxygen layer since it formed, though the text indicates Niven has thought of that objection.)

#128 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 07:49 PM:

The City of Aurora, Illinois, has an ordinance forbidding the construction of siege engines in residents' yards. They didn't have that rule before my pal C.O. moved to town.

(Before you ask: A ballista.)

#129 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 10:23 PM:

Bill @ 128

They're afraid of something (cows? VWs?) being launched and bringing down the wrath of NORAD?

#130 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 10:26 PM:

My mother had a story about her father making ginger ale one summer and leaving it in the basement to do its thing while they took a vacation trip. Unfortunately the weather got a little warm, and when they got home there was ginger ale all over the basement. (Blown-off caps.)

#131 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 11:27 PM:

The Army makes hand launched roman candles. Do not set them off by banging your helmet (the detonator is a shotgun primer, set off by moving the covering cap to the butt, and banging on it).

I've done it with a bare hand... it stung.

The stupidest "stuff in a fire" story I have comes from the Army.

I was at PLDC (sergeant's school). We'd been in the field, at Ft. Lewis, Wash (in Jan). We had a burn barrel to keep warm (which idiot city kids would overfill while we were humping the boonies, and so stifle. That's when I learned that smoke grenade smoke is 1: flammable, and 2: is a great bellows/fire restarter, but I digress).

We had to police the area (which was awash in brass, from making sure no ammo was left to return, a process worth almost any effort to avoid).

Some idiot found a belt of about 25 unfired rounds of 7.62 (.308 Win) ammunition.

He tossed it into the, mostly defunct, burn barrel (which was ash, covering a small pile of coals in the bottom).

They cooked off, while the Sergeant Major was in earshot. We were the nearest platoon, and had to re-police the area, which had been done piss-poorly, with people just shoveling leaves over holes filled with brass.

It was one hellacious set of pops, thankfull no one was near by. The brass from a round in the fire won't do much (even if it's got a bullet) because there's nothing to contain the pressure once the bullet/blank cap gives way.

But these were wrapped in steel links, and those might have gone flying.

#132 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 11:47 PM:

Terry, YIKES! That is really scary.

#133 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 02:18 AM:

Terry @131,

A "things in fire" case my dad the forensics engineer worked on.

Bunch of guys go out camping, and at night they sit around the campfire, talking. One guy's hearing aid starts to fade, and he replaces the battery.

Just then another guy feels a lash across his face, like he's been grazed by a bullet. His eyelid but not his eye is torn.

It was the hearing aid battery, thrown into the fire. The lid-facing-lid shape means the larger half aims the smaller half like a small shaped charge.

For his tests, my dad built steel wire mesh containers - ones with fairly high mesh-per-inch counts, because hearing aid batteries are small. He'd then heat the battery up until it went off.

The way one exploding h.a.battery deformed the mesh, you'd think the mesh was plastic, not steel.

#134 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 07:16 AM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @133

Do you happen to remember what type of battery that was? I think zinc-air batteries are most common in hearing aids now, but mercury used to be used a lot, I believe (I know they were used in cameras almost exclusively). You'd think mercury would do all sorts of nasty things if heated quickly under the right conditions.

As far as I know, the zinc batteries I use are not classified as hazardous waste, as mercury and lead based batteries are (at least here in Oregon). But if they can explode, I'd like to know. I've seen (and smelled) a toxic dump fire before; I'd hate to know I contributed to one.

#135 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Speaking of batteries... A few years ago, I had a small battery in my pant pocket. (No joke, please.) I was walking around the office when things started feeling quite warm down there. I quickly took out the battery. No leak, no nothing. I think that somehow all the loose change also in that pocket had created enough of a contact that the battery was discharging. I think.

#136 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 08:55 AM:

I've heard that can happen, Serge. Never noticed it myself, but I don't carry a lot of batteries.

#137 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 09:03 AM:

Me neither, Diatryma. I definitely stopped mingling them with loose change after that. (I suppose the heat came from the coins's metal and alloys not being good conductors. Hmm... Did I accidentally create a toaster, albeit a very slow one - like Stephen Granade's death ray?)

#138 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 09:18 AM:

#64, Stephen Granade (in this thread, a grenade?): My dad was missing his little finger after getting impatient with a winch on his trawler and trying to encourage it a little by pulling on a steel cable. He also got his face smashed up with a crowbar after trying to encourage another recalcitrant winch. I try to be very careful with machinery, myself.

#139 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:32 AM:

Bill Higgins (#127): Thanks for the Niven reference! (Any memories I might have of that book are long gone.) On yesterday's Open Thread I gave a link to an interesting photo on Astronomy Picture of the Day, and today's is cool too -- Io spouting, in color. Lots of dangerous moons and planetoids out there....

After reading all these stories of scary youthful experiments, now I'm wondering what kinds of trouble Chinese teenagers might have gotten into in the first days of gunpowder and fireworks. (Or was the parental leash too tight back then?)

#140 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:40 AM:

Serge, #135. Happened to me, though in my case it was a keyring with keys on, rather than loose change.

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:45 AM:

You too, cd? I wonder if the metal/alloy's high resistance is indeed the cause.

#142 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:51 AM:

Ethan #126: Both my sons are currently Obies. My older son is a physics major, I'll have to ask him if he's burned any gunpowder.

#143 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:52 AM:

Ethan #126: Both my sons are currently Obies. My older son is a physics major, I'll have to ask him if he's burned any gunpowder.

#144 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 11:31 AM:

Serge (135) et al:
The battery itself gets hot when shorted out, confirmed by my own experience and this entry from the Energizer FAQ:

Is it dangerous to carry loose batteries in a purse or pocket?
Batteries can be short-circuited by metal items such as coins, keys, paperclips, etc. A battery that experiences a short circuit can become very hot, increasing the potential for leakage and personal injury.

#145 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 11:43 AM:

John Houghton... Thanks. Like I said a bit earlier, that discouraged me from mixing batteries and coins forever. Still... I wonder if I should test for that possible outcome MythBuster-style. Then again, maybe not.

#146 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 08:04 PM:

Want to make a bang... toss entire joints of green bamboo into a fire.

Keep them not much longer than a few inches, and not very wide.

I've read these were the first fire-crackers.

The steam builds up, in the interior of the bamboo until the walls can't contain it. Pop! get too large a joint, and the pieces can be painful.

#147 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:09 PM:

A couple of anecdotes; one of my father's and one of mine.

My father was the last manager of a fertilizer plant in Scotland circa 1963. As they did the clean up, they came across a couple of interesting items - like a small number of sticks of old, sweaty gelignite. That is, it was breaking down and the nitro was coming out. They disposed of these by very carefully carrying them out in a field and building a small fire over them; light and retire. Nitro burns very nicely. But you don't want to stay close to the fire, just in case something generates a shock.

My own: it turns out that the standard ionizing smoke detector is also a good chlorine detector. A janitor was trying to clean a wheeled garbage cart (the big plastic tub on wheels kind.) He tried bleach. Not clean enough, so he slops in some "Mean Green". Said "Mean Green" is 10% hydrochloric ... mixing results in the arrival of the real "mean green". At 100 ppm, fire alarms go off and we all evacuate, a darned good thing. Even the fire department didn't know that chlorine would trigger a smoke detector. Of course, he did this in the men's washroom, about as hard a place to ventilate (air out) as I've ever seen.

(Our ERT team leader got in serious hot water for resetting the alarm system the second time it went off that day. They were right; thinking you know the cause and knowing the cause are too different things.)

#148 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:13 PM:

#144 et all - I shorted a 9V battery on a package of Hall's coughdrops in my front pocket. The metalized package is surprising conductive. That was hot!

The nasty thing about the 9V is that both terminals are at the same end. Professional ones come with a little plastic cover for the terminals. I wasn't using the cover the day I had one in my pocket, alas.

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:20 PM:

Henry @ 147

There was an incident a year or so back, here in Los Angeles, where they found old, deteriorating explosives in an old building. They couldn't get the bomb robot in, so they set fire to the building. It was close enough to the railroad tracks that they closed down that block of track until the situation was stable. Played hob with the morning commute.

#150 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:47 PM:

James MacDonald @82 and Fragano @ 84 --

It is an Exploding Shampoo Plot!

#151 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 03:52 PM:

Caroline #150: In that case, shampoo could lead to real poo...

#152 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 06:44 PM:

In the early 70s Eva and I lived in Davis, CA, a college town about 10 miles west of Sacramento. On April 28, 1973 at about 7:30, I was trying to sleep in because it was a Saturday, and I didn't have to go to work. Also, my wife was 7 months pregnant with our first child, so sleep wasn't that easy to come by anyway. We lived on the ground floor of a 4 unit apartment building in a large apartment complex; just outside the back window was a railroad track. Freight trains going by about 10 feet away was another sleep problem.

I woke up to hear a lot of talking out the back window, and went outside to see what was going on. At the back, we were at the edge of town; the flatness of the land there gave us a view clear to Sacramento. On the horizon there were several clouds of smoke, and we heard what must have been very loud bangs coming from that direction. We spent several hours alternately watching the view from the back, and watching the (relatively!) closeup pictures on TV.

We later found out that a train carrying 1,000,000 pounds of US Navy munitions had caught fire in the marshalling yard just outside of Sacramento. The resulting explosions hurled some of the cars over 100 feet into the air. Luckily, they didn't all go at once, and the first one gave enough warning to evacuate the two surrounding towns (3-5,000 people). Amazingly, there were no deaths, although the town of Antelope was completely destroyed.

As soon as I heard this news I realized just how lucky we were. The cause of the fire was a hot bearing on a car wheel; if it had waited another few hours to heat up, that train might have exploded right in back of our kitchen, where it was scheduled to pass after the cars had been rearranged.

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 07:27 PM:

Smoke bombs and fire and ringing in the ears.
Perchlorate stings the eyes and makes the smell
that fills the nose. We wipe away the tears
from fumes and peer into the midget hell
created by our craft. Don't stand too close,
the lore relates, or lose a precious part.
That safety lore passed down the years to those
who use the lore from those who lore impart.
The kids these days don't handle safety well;
they get no lore from older pyro addicts,
but copy television tricks. They get too close,
pick up duds, otherwise auto-darwinate.
Their common sense is rare, rash urge inflicts
a harm they could prevent. Perhaps a dose
of parent's wisdom could allay their fate.

#154 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2007, 08:22 PM:

Back in the day we did things with no net,
we tested each device knowing that the end
could come faster than we could apprehend.
But still we knew that there was magic yet
in every test tube in the complex set
that we had lusted for, we knew each trend,
each step in the long process, and would bend
every rule possible, and not break a sweat.
Now, when we see the crater and the smoke
comes dark and choking from the ravaged ground
we regret nothing. There was a good chance
we could have done the thing, that's no joke;
but now we sit here and cannot make a sound,
instead we cry for those who'll never dance.

#155 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2007, 05:43 PM:

This week, the local NBC station has been reporting on kids using bottle rockets and saying in an ominous tone "and they may have found instructions for them on the Internet." Who needs the internet? I learned from the older guys.

#156 ::: Pie ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 07:45 AM:

Was noticing explosives seem to interest the male gender! So, there needs to be groups(like boy scouts) who delve into explosives with the Lads..with the first rule of thumb..Safety and "Don't try this at home"! Seems like they need a lot of time experimenting with their pyrotechnic urges!

#157 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 01:56 AM:

Now, in my neighbohood, we play "was that fireworks, or was that gunfire?"

I don't think the internet is at fault.

#158 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2014, 07:54 PM:

I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone
to do it for you? Plz reply as I'm looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from.

#159 ::: Carrie S. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2014, 08:15 PM:

I mean, the grey is quite elegant...

#160 ::: Mary Aileen sees old spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2015, 08:57 PM:

#158 is spam from 2014.

#161 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2015, 10:25 PM:

Folks, look what I found on File 770--

Kyra on May 28, 2015 at 6:04 pm said:

Turning and turning in the widening blog
The puppy cannot hear the puppeteer;
Things fall apart; the Hugos cannot hold;
Mere doggerel is loosed upon the fans,
The canine tide is loosed, and in Spokane
The ceremony of awards is drowned;
The fest lacks all conviction, while the trolls
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some aggravation is at hand;
Surely the Slated Hugos are at hand.
The Slated Hugos! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image of a nominee story
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert prose;
A text with turgid body and an end wholly bland,
A phrase blank and meaningless about guns,
Is moving its dull verbs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant reviewers’ words.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That sixteen nominees in fiction slots
Were read like nightmares in my shaking Kindle,
And what rough book, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Sasquan for its award?

#162 ::: Mary Aileen sees old spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2018, 09:17 AM:

#158 is still hanging on from four years ago.

#163 ::: SunflowerP ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2018, 04:35 AM:

And this is why I have come to treasure, not the spammers (though they too play their part), but the diligent Fluorospherians who winkle the spam out from the depths and flag it: they lead me to archival delights. In this case, the excellent filkpoem that Lori Coulson found and shared, but, alas, in the wrong thread, where it languished unappreciated, but does so no longer.

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