I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

That's the deal!

Some time ago, at the cafeteria of the University of Canberra, I ordered a muffin and a short black coffee and was asked to pay five dollars.

Yesterday, I went again to the same cafeteria, again ordered a muffin and a short black and was told to pay $6.70. When I picked up the coffee from the lady who was working the espresso machine, I asked: “When is the offer of $5 for a coffee and a muffin valid?”

“Why, always.” She answered.

“Then why was I asked to pay $6.70? I want my 1.70 back!” I said while smiling.

At that point, the lady who had been at the cash register came back and told me that the special offer of $5 for a sweet and a coffee was for a medium-sized coffee, not for a short one.

I pointed out that clearly the offer was designed to exclude large coffees, which cost more, not small black ones, which use less energy, less water, and no milk.

I found it so outrageous that I couldn’t let her get away with such nonsense. Finally, after some insistence from my part, she relented and refunded me my $1.70. But she was clearly annoyed and, while giving me the money, she complained “But that’s the deal...”

Friday, January 4, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #10 - 007 Tomorrow Never Dies

A couple of days ago, I watched Tomorrow Never Dies, the second 007-film with Pierce Brosnan (1997).

I was appalled to detect a huge factual mistake.

Bond is supposed to make a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachute jump. Before he makes the jump, an officer tells him that he needs to keep his oxygen mask on if he wants to avoid dying of asphyxiation, because he will be jumping from five miles of altitude (26,400 feet or 8 km).

While this dialogue is taking place, they are standing in the cargo hold of a military transport airplane with the loading gate completely open. Although they should be enduring conditions comparable to those close to the summit of Mount Everest, they behave and talk as if they were in an office building.

No, no, no...

What surprises me is that the director, the actors, and the dozens/hundreds of people who contribute to making a film didn’t noticed it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #9 - Donna Leon

Yesterday, I finished A Noble Radiance, the 8th Brunetti novel by Donna Leon.

As usual, Leon’s crime novels with Commissario Brunetti are always a pleasure to read. But this time Leon made a mistake that invalidated the whole plot.

*** WARNING: Spoiler ***

In A Nobel Radiance, somebody dies when he opens a briefcase containing enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb.

Now, bombs are built with either Plutonium or highly enriched Uranium 235. To build an implosion bomb, in which a volume of fissile material is highly compressed by means of conventional explosives, you need between 5 and 15 kg of fissile material.

As both Uranium and Plutonium are very dense, it is conceivable to use a briefcase to carry enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb. It would be a heavy briefcase, not least because it would be lined with lead.

So far so good, but Leon didn’t consider that fissile materials generate heat, with a power of the order of ½ kW / kg. In other words, the, say, 8kg of fissile material in Leon’s briefcase, would have continuously generated as much heat as four cloth irons set to maximum.

As lead melts at less than 330°C, I’m not even sure that, with so much heat being generated by the fissile material, the radiation-absorbing lining of the briefcase would have remained solid.

Can you imagine going around with a 20kg briefcase too hot to touch? And then shipping it to Istanbul claiming that it is a pack of ten thousand plastic syringes?

There are perhaps other issues, like the partitioning of the material to avoid approaching criticality (which would significantly increase the generated amount of radiation and heat) and the fact that the material was in the form of small blue pellets (while both U and Pu are grey), but the heat is the critical one (pun intended!)

James Kirk Street

As a Trekker, I’d love to live in James Kirk Street, even without the “T.”. Wouldn’t you?

James Kirk Street, less than 5km away from where I live, was named after James Frank Kirk (1920-1997). The ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Planning Authority explains that he was Chief Executive of Esso and of the Australian Bicentennial Authority. Kirk was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, awarded an honorary DSc from Newcastle University and became a champion of the environment as chairman of the Landcare Australia Limited.

Fair enough.