To Catch a Thief, Dead to Rights

Or dead, anyway. This little drama unfolded over my recent vacation.

A friend had been talking with a coin collector he knew, who has a store in the area. The collector had come into possession of an old safe, along with the contents thereof, and it included a pair of aluminum containers. Inside the containers were vials of clear liquid, bolted to the inside. What was really strange is that the vials were sealed shut — no stopper or cap at all. There would be no way to get the liquid out except by breaking the vial.

Well, that made my friend nervous. One reason for storing a liquid like that is that it is nasty stuff, and hanging on to them would be potentially dangerous, so he urged the coin collector to turn them in to some responsible party. I got peripherally involved when he asked my advice, thinking that if these were a weapon of some sort, I might know someone who could help figure the mystery out, but I don’t. The consensus we reached was to contact the local Hazmat unit, but he ended up turning them into the cops, after some prodding by my friend.

The verdict? Poison gas. Or something that turns into poison gas; the word I got was phosphene (or phosphine), but the story has now hit the paper and they say phosgene. In either event, it’s nasty stuff.

Authorities say they believe the ampuls, which were held two apiece inside metal brackets, contained liquid phosgene, a deadly World War I-era chemical weapon used to choke enemies and, later, as a booby trap for safecrackers.

The idea being that if you drill the safe, you break the vial. Internet references more often point toward tear gas as being used, but something more sinister wouldn’t be out of the question. It wasn’t hard to find this picture of a different safe with a “Beware of poison dog” label on it, stuck over a tear gas warning label.

Takes a little romance out of the portrayal of the TV/movie jewel thief.

Sucking the Marrow Fun Out of Life Monopoly

Scientific Proof Of How To Beat Someone’s Ass At Monopoly

Ever build up a hotel on the greens, nearly bankrupting yourself in the process, and then sit and wait while your friend misses it again and again and again? Or when he lands on GO TO JAIL and gets all smug about staying there for three turns? “I’m just gonna relax.” God, what a dick. Clearly, the best strategy is to buy the oranges, build them up first, then have enough capital to buy and build the greens. If you do that, you get the money and the power and the woman.

It's Report Card Time

Bad Movie Physics: A Report Card

How movies stack up in the physics (and other science)-violation department, such as sounds in the vacuum of space and easy human-alien interbreeding.

To some extent, it’s understandable that space adventures play fast and loose with physics. After all, who wants to watch Han Solo spend years on the journey to Alderaan, only to find that the planet has twice Earth gravity and he can barely stand up, much less swagger?

Not too surprising that the two movies that got a clean bill of health were nonfiction (Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff)

Buckets of Watch

Quartz of them, at least.

Back from vacation, delayed a little by Snowpocalypse 2010 II: The Wrath of James Caan (It’s NOT Snowpocalypse 2010; that was the storm in February). I didn’t know how much snow the DC area would get and it seemed foolish to drive in during the storm or just as the cleanup were to begin. (And the part of abandoning my mom with whatever snowfall was there. That would have been bad). Turns out that DC got almost nothing — it had all melted by Wednesday evening — and Niskayuna got around 6″ (an amount easily handled), though you didn’t have to travel too far to find pockets which had gotten a foot or more, especially up in the hills. Further south and east got dumped upon. My route back, which was inland (Rt 88 to 81 to 15 to the beltway), was all clear.

So here’s a video about how a quartz watch works, which I found via fine structure

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As the New Year approaches, many people try to predict what will happen in it. This one goes a little further into the future: Ex-Shell president sees $5 gas in 2012

My prediction, if this comes to pass, is that the same people who cried “Socialism!” every time the Obama administration tried something (other than tax cuts for high-income people) to jump-start the economy will wail for government intervention to lower the price of gas. People who scoffed at hybrid and electric cars will wonder why nobody (government and businesses alike) has done more to make them more widely available.

They will do this without recognizing any irony.

That Unfortunate Negative Slope

America in Decline: Why Germans Think We’re Insane

As an American expat living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective.

The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less — right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical — the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.

The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.

The description of Glenn Beck is spot-on, and as to the question of how people can fall so far, so fast owing to our deficient social safety net, I think it has to do with the too-widespread misconception that “unadulterated capitalism” is somehow imbedded in our constitution.