Computers & Mobile Science

There’s a bunch of yada yada yada at the beginning of this video. Clicking the embedded player above should take you right to the pr0no for pyros at 1:28, and you can always rewind if you want to watch a professional synthesize a little bit of the highly unstable stuff and/or learn about its history. Video from the BBC, an online teaser for their documentary Explosions: How We Killed Countless Millions Shook the World.

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12 thoughts on “Nitroglycerine detonation at 1/600 speed

  1. Did this really have to be put in there?
    Explosions: How We Killed Countless Millions Shook the World.

    With a strike through “Killed Countless Millions”? I mean plague and disease have done worse. Also we did a lot of killing before explosives.

    I just think its very tacky to do that.

    1. I have no problem with dispassionate historical and scientific analysis of weapons technologies. In fact, I think it’s important and interesting. What strikes me as tacky is when such commentary crosses over from the realm of dispassionate analysis into crowing about how awesome guns, bombs, and fighter jets are, especially if it does so without presenting the opposite viewpoint.

      “How We Shook The World” seems to imply that the history of explosives and explosive development is something we should be unreservedly proud of, as a species. It’s fascinating video footage, but I think that title is in pretty poor taste.

      It reminds me a bit of the show “Future Weapons,” which I have tried many times to watch because the subject totally fascinates me. But the way the technologies are presented–all the rock and roll music and the beefcake ex-SEAL guy talking in breathy whispers–is so out of step with the terrifying reality of the subject matter that I get annoyed and turn it off.

      Anyway, I’m sorry if it rubbed you the wrong way. If what I’m supposed to be doing here is just straight reporting, then I agree: Gratuitously inserting myself into the facts is a no-no. But generally I’ve had success with adopting a more personal tone and style. Perhaps in this case I should’ve resisted.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      1. I agree with you on that. But from this clip it seems to have more to do with Dynamite which has Nitroglycerin in it which makes me think more of construction and moving mountains and also for gather resources underground since the title is :How we Shook the World”. Those type of shows I love to watch weapons not so much. The weapon shows like you said they are fascinating but they seem less about how they work and how cool they are…

        Sorry if I came off rude. I just don’t see explosives as something inherently bad, even though it has caused harm. But if its like future weapons I could understand.

      2. Sorry Mr. Ragan.

        Your commentary on the documentary title was unnecessary and inane. Please keep the topics to MAKE and keep political/philosophical opinions out.

        Just as in the Coilgun article (Sept 20th), you should have left your “unwritten rule” exactly that – unwritten.

        I come here primarily for the MAKE vibe, but secondly because it is free of the cacophony of opinion noise prevalent every where else.

  2. Please, folks, consider the history of this discussion before jumping all over Sean for his snarky strikethrough. It is impossible to separate explosives in general – and nitroglycerin in particular – from the ethical conundrum to which Sean alluded. I think it was entirely appropriate for him to highlight that in a case where the BBC had clearly tried to gloss over it.

    Why did Alfred Nobel donate his fortunate to a prize endowment for peace, science, and literature? Because he was wracked with guilt about where that fortune had come from, and feared that history would remember him only as a cynical arms dealer. Which he was. Did his subsequent acts redeem that? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly worth remembering both sides of the equation.

    1. The tension between the intellectual pleasures and pecuniary rewards of defense-related research and its moral consequences has always interested me, as much from a dramatic or psychological point of view as for any other reason. I don’t claim to have any answers; I’m just interested in the dilemma.

      My father, now retired and in his 70s, had a very successful career as an electrical engineer throughout the Cold War. He’s a man who likes to tell stories, and I’ve heard many of them repeated several times. But there’s one he told me just once, about being involved, early in his career, in an equipment test in which a test pilot was accidentally killed. My father is conservative, Republican, and believed in the struggle against Communism to the point of completely unreserved support for Nixon, Kissinger, and American military intervention in Vietnam. He’s also a very kind and gentle person, and following that accident he left the defense industry altogether. He was not responsible in any way for what happened, and while I don’t claim to know his reasons, exactly, that story is one that resonates with me pretty deeply on a personal level.

      I am reminded also of Fritz Haber, who won Nobel’s prize for Chemistry in 1918 for his instrumental work in discovering how to “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere for manufacturing fertilizer (or explosives). He was also instrumental in the German army’s first deployment of chlorine gas as a weapon at Ypres in 1915. His wife of 14 years committed suicide a month later, and supposedly guilt over Haber’s association with the horrors of chemical warfare was partly responsible.

      Then there’s the story of Gerald Bull, whom many may recall as the brilliant Canadian gun designer who was killed in Brussels in 1990. His death was probably an assassination motivated by the fact that, late in life, he was willing to accept funding from Saddam Hussein in order to achieve his lifelong dream of building a gun capable of launching small payloads into orbit.

      I find all of these people–Nobel, Haber, Bull–to be sympathetic characters. I don’t think there’s a “moral” to their stories or that whatever unpleasant consequences may have befallen them as a result of their involvement with weapons R&D were “deserved,” in any sense. I just think the psychological transformation in each case–or lack thereof–makes for compelling drama, and that is perhaps precisely because the complex moral problems involved, many of which had broad-ranging historical consequences, do not necessarily have easy answers.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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