Orgone Research

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cute Dog Blog

I've owned cameras and taken pictures since I was a child. My first camera was a Polaroid that took black and white "instant" photos that you had to wait a minute or so before you could open the little plastic envelope. I think you were supposed to wipe it down with some sort of chemical stabilizer afterwards. As an amateur, you have to take a lot of pictures before you get one or two that came out well.

I love my new digital camera. I've taken over 4000 photographs since I got it in April of 2005. These two dog photos were only the 26th and 27th photos I took with my new camera! I think they came out fairly well.

By the way, this is not my dog.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Light My Fire

As you may know by now, I have strong but mixed feelings about the TV show Mythbusters. It seems like they employ protective equipment when they don't need it, yet they often do reckless and stupid things without any protection at all. I can't believe they do any kind of pyro at all indoors. Take a look at what happens at about 2:50 into this video:

Note too, that it happens on Adam's watch.....

Oh, did that bring back memories! I previously blogged about my friend Mike and me making and detonating a pipe bomb. Though we had made crude black powder before, at that time we were on a kick of making a propellant out of sugar and potassium nitrate. Mike and I had discovered Paladin Press, and in fact had ordered a couple of books from them. One was The Poor Man's James Bond, and the other was one of the ever popular Get Even series of books. I think it was in the Get Even book that we learned a recipe for making a "smoke bomb" using sugar and potassium nitrate. The fatal flaw in the recipe was having to carmelize the sugar in the mixture using heat.

Mike and I never had a problem with this, as I believe we used an electrical hot plate which had no open flame. You also have to go really slowly in heating the mixture. At one point I suggested to my friend Dave Peterman that we should make a really big smoke bomb. I think our plan was to light it off under the Higgins Avenue bridge on a Friday or Saturday night, probably to piss off the jocks cruising in their Cameros and Trans Ams. Dave and I decided to enlist the help of our friend Randy Pepprock, as Randy had his own apartment and so avoided the onus of parantal supervision. I think this all happened in the summer of 1980, when I was 17 or 18. Randy Pepprock was in a band called Who Killed Society about whom Steve Albini once said;

Circle Seven when they were called Who Killed Society actually were a motherfucker band. Just amazing. If you can imagine it, almost a cross between old Agent Orange and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Then they turned into Circle Seven...whose record had its moments but it definitely wasn't as good as it should have been.

--Steve Albini, Forced Exposure 9

Randy was the real deal, as punk as you could get in Missoula at the time. But deep down he was a really mild and thoughtful guy. He eventually went on to create a business called "Downtown Deco";

So one night Dave, Randy and I mix potassium nitrate and sugar in a saucepan inside of Randy's apartment. Unfortunatly, Randy had a gas stove...

The sugar was turning to carmel just a little too fast, and suddenly all hell broke loose. We had WAY more stuff in our saucepan than what you see in the Mythbusters clip, and in 2 seconds the entire apartment is full of white smoke. Randy had the presence of mind to pull the saucepan into the sink, or at least off the stove. Some of the incindiary mass got on his linoleum floor, but thankfully nothing in the room caught on fire. We opened the window to let out the plumes of white smoke. We expected the fire trucks to arrive in moments, but amazingly they never did. I think because the building was so old there were no smoke alarms to blast anyone with ear-splitting sound, so I think most of the building's residents never even knew. I felt really bad for one old man, who bundled his most valuable worldly possesions in a small plastic bag and slowly descended the main stairwell to escape the smoke.

Dave and I profusely appologised to Randy. Some time later, Dave and I set about to help Randy repair his carmelized linoleum. We did it in a typically punk way, by cutting out an undamaged section from under his bed, and swaping it with the burned section beside his stove. The really weird part about this was finding writing and strangely drawn crucifixes on the wooden floor underneath the linoleum. We didn't cut enough flooring away to get the whole screed, so we never knew exactly what it all said. Perhaps it was a curse of some sort; divine karmic payback for our incendiary transgressions.

Well, what can I say, seeing the Mythbusters, a couple of professional FX guys, doing the same kind of fucked-up thing I did when I was 17 kind of warms my heart. First of all, if you want smoke, there are MUCH safer ways of generating it than trying to carmelize sugar and potassium nitrate. Second, if you play with fire, DO IT THE FUCK OUTSIDE!!!!!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Just Beat It

From time to time, my mother would encounter a glass jar with its lid stuck on. Her reaction would be to bang the lid onto the stainless steel counter top in our kitchen. As I moved through childhood, I eventually encountered that classic "scientific" household tip; run the metal jar lid under hot water. This was claimed to be "scientific", as it was claimed to be based on the principle of differential expansion; the metal would expand more than the glass, and so would result in a greater spatial tolerence between the metal and the glass.

While it's clear by sheer empirical proof that this technique works, I began to doubt the claimed reason several years ago. After I became something of a gearhead I became rather obsessed with threaded fasteners. This was partly due to reading a really wonderfull book entitled Engineer to Win by Carroll Smith.

Smith discussed how threaded fasteners stay fastened. One classic way is to use a a "thread locker" like Loctite. Good enough, but what do you do when when you want to remove the fastener? According to Smith, you use heat. Heat lowers the viscosity of the thread locker chemical, and vastly lowers the torque required to unscrew the fastener.

Suddenly it dawned on me, that's how the old stuck-jar-lid trick works as well; it's probably not due to something as exotic as differential expansion, but simply to lowering the viscosity of the thick food substance caught in the threads! Think about it, jar lids are not usually stuck when they are unopened, they get stuck after you pour out the food substance. Further, they are usually stuck when they are kept in the refrigerator, increasing the viscosity of the food stuck in the threads!

Though I believed the commonly held explanation of "differential expansion" as a child, I was correct in believing that heating the jar lid with hot water is the correct technique to remove it. I remember telling my mother this, and further suggesting that her banging of the jar lid was counterproductive, in that it would tend to cause the threads to bend and distort, and make things worse. Sadly, my mother was a fundamentally irrational person, and continued to bang away at those stuck jar lids. She went to her death believing that was the way to do it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exploding Propane Tanks

I had a little accident in welding class yesterday. Of course it was not my fault...

I had welded together several pieces of metal to form a v-grooved butt joint for an innershield test coupon. I grabbed a propane and air tank with an old style valve that you have to manually light in order to pre-heat the metal before the final weld. I had used this unit before, and in fact it was my instructors tank. I lit it with my butane lighter. Almost immediately, a gas leak appeared, somewhere about the neck or the valve of the canister. I didn't have my gloves on or I would have simply turned the valve off. The entire valve and burner area was engulfed in flames. I decided this could become serious so I grabbed the canister by the base in my right hand and boogied it outside. I set it on the concrete outside, still burning. It looked like a Molotov cocktail. My instructor saw what had happened, and simply put it in a big water tank, which I didn't happen to see on my way out. I was shaken by the experience, but not hurt. I sloughed off some burned hair from the back of my right hand.

I suspect, but do not know, that a great deal more heat would be required to actually cause the canister to rupture, but hey, in a situation like that your emotions take over. I'd probably do the same thing again. This incident reminded me of something that took place way back when, probably about 1991.

It was winter time, and I was out target shooting in an old gravel pit near North Bend WA. I think it was right around the time of the first Gulf War, at least when Desert Shield became Desert Storm. I had gone through several hundred .45 rounds, and had actually stuck around into the darkness of the late afternoon to see the orange fireballs created by the burning propellant. Now it was quite dim, and I decided that it was time to pick up my ejected brass cartridges before I stopped being able to see them. I holstered my pistol.

Now a car pulls up and parks on the road beside the gravel pit. I hear someone get out. This is vaguely creeping me out, as it does not make sense that someone would start their target practice when it is just getting dark. Soon I hear the unmistakable sound of a round being racked into the chamber of a firearm. My instincts tell me something is wrong, but I still have live rounds left in my holstered pistol should worse come to worse. I continued to pick up my brass, hoping that I will get done post haste.

Presently the man rolls up to me and says hi. He is as friendly and charming as can be. Suddenly I understand why he has arrived at this hour; he's planning on shooting a propane tank! He sets a typical plumber-style propane cylinder down range and beside it lights a pool of gasoline or some flammable liquid. The burning liquid helps illuminate the propane cylinder. He takes several shots at it with his rifle, but does not hit it. He asks if I would like try. I take very careful aim, as the target is probably 30 yards away. Indeed, I was able to hit it with a .45 pistol, and the canister erupts in a ball of flame. Strangely, a car just happened to be driving down the road at the exact same time! It think it safe to assume the driver would have been startled...

It's strange how the mildly mundane things in life can remind you of the truly weird stuff that actually happened. That was the last propane cylinder I ever blew up, and it will probably remain that way.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


When I was about 8 my vocabulary expanded. No, not really expanded, perhaps exploded. Because of this, things began to happen to me that I couldn't really understand at the time, and became a source of life long turmoil and torment.

I can remember Reader's Digest magazine having a "build your vocabulary" column each month. I remember it having 20 words with multiple choices for the correct definition. My mother highly encouraged me to pursue this, and I enjoyed doing it. At the time, Reader's Digest seemed very "grown up" so it seemed like quite an accomplishment to be able to take these tests and do well on them. But of course at 8, a child does not have the developed social skills to know how to present these sort of behaviours to the world. The world of Missoula Montana in 1970 was a cruel place for a child with a large vocabulary.

When I realized I was good, I wanted to be better. I set about to learn ever more exotic and "big" words. My mother had taken to reading the books of Adelle Davis and Prevention magazine, and so I became aware of the "eight essential amino acids". I decided it would be cool to memorize these words, and of course to show them off at school. The very pinnacle of "big words" was one I found listed in the Guinness Book of World Records: "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" at 45 letters. It really was not too much for me to memorize this word, as I could give the letters and syllables a sort of rolling cadence.

Well, I think everyone can see where this is going. As you might imagine, my new found skill was greeted with absolute ridicule by the other children at Paxson grade school. Usually the fourth and fifth graders wouldn't pay any attention to the social games of the third graders, but I was the exception. The word got out that I was a freak of some sort, and and various fourth and fifth graders would crowd around me at recess and demand to know what "that thing in my pants is called" or "what's under your underwear". I honestly had no clue as to why I was being tormented. At 8, I simply didn't have the social skills to realize that they not only didn't think "big words" were cool, that they took it as a direct insult.

But the torments of the fourth and fifth graders were nothing compared to the terror that I felt by my own classmates in the third grade. The ringleader of my tormentors was a little shit named Michael Nimlos. Since I was never beaten by my parents, I really had no concept of serious physical pain. The thought alone that I would be beaten after school by Michael Nimlos and his gang of assholes was itself terrifying. Michael Nimlos had already chased me once after school, and I ran to the safety of a house on the way and rang the doorbell hoping that someone would be inside. Nimlos broke off his attack.

Since I knew that I now had the threat of multiple, simultaneous attackers, I decided I needed an improvised weapon to deal with the threat. I never had the famous GI Joe "action figures", but instead a series of Western figures by Marx, including Captain Tom Maddox.
Tom Maddox had articulated joints. His legs were connected at the hips by a spring that ran transversely through the pelvis. His arms and head were held by the same kind of spring arrangement. If you pulled the arms and legs far enough out of the sockets, you could remove the springs from their connecting points, and be left with a plastic torso. I sacrificed my Tom Maddox to make my improvised defensive weapon; a mace. I strung a twisted sisal rope through Captain Tom's pelvis, and tied it off to form a loop. The free end I could wrap around the torso. This created a weapon small enough to conceal in my jacket. Why I never simply went to my parents before the attack, I really don't know. Perhaps the fear of "telling" inhibited me from taking the direct approach.

The appointed day came, and indeed after school the faster, stronger boys encircled me in a vacant lot beside the school. Michael Nimlos was there, goading on Teddy Vinton and two of the Burwick brothers, Terry and Tracy. I pulled out my improvised mace and swung it around my head. Indeed it worked, or perhaps they viewed the situation in a more comical light than I did, and didn't want to venture into the path of the swinging plastic torso.

At this point I had to tell my mother, who decided that a passive approach was best; don't tell the school administrators about the physical attacks, but instead pick me up after school in her black Renault Dauphine. I could see her parked there at 3:00 PM each day, and it reassured me that I would get home safely yet another day.

Even after the after school gang attacks stopped, I was still tormented. It was a genuine shock for me to learn the reason I was being tormented. At one point I was taken out in the hall with Michael Nimlos, even though I was clearly the victim, and a teacher asked Michael why he was tormenting me. Right there, it comes out: "Big Words". I began to overeat when I was eight, and became somewhat overweight. In retrospect, it was obviously a reaction to stress, as I have the same problem today.

When recess would end we had to line up and quite down before we were allowed back into the building. Grade school was a study in chronic lack of adult supervision, and this day was no exception. Though the third grade class was lined up, they were not quiet, and the chant began; "Matt, Matt, you gotta lose some fat", again and again. I perceived it was horribly wrong to go inside before allowed to do so by the teachers, but I couldn't stand it anymore, and ran inside and sat down in my desk, crying. Miss Hanson, the fourth grade teacher, heard me and came in to comfort me.

Yes, being 8 years old, overweight, large vocabulary, and living in Missoula Montana in 1970 was a really shitty combination.

Yeah, life can be a bitch for a child with a large vocabulary. As you might imagine, as one grows up, you don't get physically threatened for having a large vocabulary, but from time to time, you still catch shit from people who decide you must be a pompous asshole for using unusual words. Frankly, I think having a large vocabulary is kind of like being left handed; it's easier to move through the world using the tools you are comfortable with, but you must adapt to the mainstream from time to time and use your right hand. You have to be able to read your audience and decide what kind of words will allow you to be best understood. As you grow up, you learn that having a large vocabulary is almost NEVER a social advantage.

As I've gone through life from time to time I've seen "vocabulary building" programs that are usually sold as a set of audio recordings to build your vocabulary. Jebus, do these people really know what they are getting into?

Over the years I've wondered what ever happened to that little shit, Michael Nimlos. Well, I see he became one of "Missoula's greatest dads":

Now it must be admitted that people do grow up. Perhaps Michael did too. Would he torment and physically threaten me today? Probably not. I can't deny I did mean things to other children, and I'm sure I underestimate the impact it really had, but you know, I never organized any after school gang assaults. On the other hand, why should I give him the benefit of the doubt? I still have a large vocabulary, maybe Michael Nimlos is still an asshole...

Perhaps I actually got off easy in childhood. There are people who have experienced much more physical and psychological torment than I ever did. I can only say that for me, what should have been a wonderful development of a mental skill turned into a nightmare that still torments my memory.