Was hydrogen the cause of the Hindenburg fire?

October 22, 2006

The Hindenburg explosion, from Wikipedia.org

I saw an episode of “Secrets of the Dead” on PBS last weekend, called “What Happened to the Hindenburg?” It was very interesting. It’s the story of Dr. Addison Bain, a retired NASA scientist, researching the disaster. He knows it’s the cause of people’s fears of hydrogen as a potential fuel. He calls it “the fuel of the future”.  The investigation that was conducted in the U.S. at the time blamed free hydrogen, presumably from a leak in one of the hydrogen cells in the ship, and possibly a static electricity discharge on the ship, for the explosion. Bain worked extensively with hydrogen during his tenure with NASA, and understands its properties. Something in the official story didn’t sit right with him. He presents a convincing case that hydrogen was not the initiator of the fire, but rather it was the doping mixture put on the outer skin of this particular airship.

According to Bain’s theory, a combination of chemistry, and the physics of electricity initiated the fire. It started with the skin, and spread to the hydrogen cells, which then caused the hydrogen to ignite. Bain likened the doping material used on the Hindenburg to solid rocket fuel, since it contained iron oxide and powdered aluminum, among other chemicals. Both of these metal compounds are used in the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle. He coupled this with the weather conditions on the day of the landing. The atmosphere in the area was likely electrically charged, due to nearby thunderstorms, and a thunderstorm which had produced precipitation had just passed. He postulates that the airship frame, and the outer skin had become electrically charged. The outer skin was probably wet. Bain claims that the wetness caused the skin, which was made up of fabric panels and had been painted in the doping material, to be unevenly grounded when the landing lines were dropped in preparation for landing. The frame was designed to be grounded, because the engineers knew that it was possible it might become electrically charged in the atmosphere. Bain claims the engineers did not anticipate these conditions, however. The theory goes that some of the panels did not ground their static charge easily when the frame was grounded, due to some panels being wet, and others not. This created an uneven charge between these charged panels and the rest of the ship, which probably caused one or more of the panels to electrically discharge via. arcing, which would’ve produced a lot of heat, igniting the doping material on the panels. The fire started in the tail and made its way to the front of the ship in less than 1 minute.

As is documented in this article on Wikipedia, there are those who disagree with this theory, saying that the doping material, while combustive, doesn’t burn very long, and they estimate it would’ve taken an hour for the skin to burn from back to front. I haven’t read their work, but my guess is they’re just considering the skin by itself, not the hydrogen gas, which contributed to the fire after it started, according to Bain’s theory. As was documented in the show, an interesting twist emerged in Bain’s research. It turns out one of the Hindenburg’s engineers did a test on two small zeppelin models shortly after the disaster. One was fashioned after an earlier airship model, and one was modeled after the Hindenburg, using identical materials as were used on the full size ships. He made both airships wet, and caused them to become electrically charged, creating the conditions that he suspected existed at the time of the accident. He grounded both of them. The older model, which did not use the volatile doping material on its skin did nothing. The Hindenburg model immediately caught fire. This would seem to confirm Bain’s theory. The reason this test did not become known is that the Zeppelin company chose not to make it public. Bain offered up the idea that perhaps this was done for insurance reasons. It was less damaging to them to let hydrogen take the blame. The thing was, the airship industry died as a result. No one felt safe flying in them after this incident. It may have died anyway, because airplanes were beginning to take civilian passengers at this point. They provided faster transport.

But now the stakes have changed. Hydrogen offers the possibility of an alternative fuel source for electrically-powered and combustion powered machinery. Personally I don’t see hydrogen as a rosy scenario. It will hopefully allow us to be more fuel efficient, but I think people have misconceptions about where hydrogen for fuel comes from. All means of generating hydrogen involve using energy. Currently we can extract hydrogen from water, or crude oil. It’s my understanding that most of it now comes from oil, and currently, getting it from water uses up more energy than it creates. Any carbon-based material is a potential source of hydrogen. Anyone who has taken organic chemistry knows this.

Anyway, it was a fascinating story. I applaud Dr. Bain on his research. The debate on this is not over yet, but I find his research convincing.

29th St. Mall opened Oct. 13

October 18, 2006

I read about 29th St. opening on Saturday, and figured I’d give myself a tour. It’s nice. It’s purely an outdoor mall. The article I link to says that a little more than half of the stores opened on opening day. A couple more are probably open by now. As best I can tell the new Wild Oats has not opened yet. Staples was opening soon, last I heard.

The new theater is not open. They just started laying the foundation for it. It will not open until next summer. I don’t know about you, but it sounds like things got behind schedule, and they’re just opening it now, because this is when they promised everybody it would be.

Before it opened I did a little looking. Every time I’d meet a police officer and ask them how things were going. Without fail they’d get this cynical look on their face, and the tone of their voice sounded like, “This project is so messed up.” That’s how I found out when the new theater was opening. I got the same response this time.

I can remember when the northern addition was added on to the old Crossroads Mall. Just about all of the stores were there on opening day. A couple of the bigger stores probably didn’t open until later, but one definitely got the feel that the store space was filled up.

I walked around the 29th St. Mall and I think I saw all of the stores. What’s there is pretty high brow. I almost felt inadequate (financially) walking by them.

The Apple Store was neat to see, and it was buzzing with excited buyers, but I didn’t see anything too interesting (I have all the technology I need right now, thanks).

There were quite a few restaurants.

As I was walking around I passed by a couple of young women, and I overheard one of them say something like, “I’d shop here if I could afford it.” Tell me about it! They were nicely dressed, too, so you couldn’t say that they were poor homeless people. What the lady said is the truth. Unless you’re at least upper middle class you’re probably not going to buy very much from the stores that are there. Target (at the northern end of the mall), Staples (towards the southern end), and Home Depot (also at the southern end) being the exceptions.

The restaurants are nice at least. I can imagine going there with my friends from Denver when they come up to visit.

A claim that puzzled me is supposedly they specifically picked stores for 29th St. that would not compete with the Downtown Mall stores. I don’t see how this can be true, unless all of the high brow clothing stores have left the Downtown Mall. The Downtown Mall has more craft stores, but that’s the only real difference I can think of. Borders bookstore is opening on 29th St. at some point. They have a store on the Downtown Mall already. Hey guys. Uh, you sure you planned this? Not that I’m complaining really. Personally I think Boulder tries to plan (read: control) too much sometimes, especially when it comes to property issues.

I think the layout of the mall was well done. Each street on the mall transitions reasonably well into surrounding shopping areas. Travel north past Target, make a caddy-corner turn (right, then left), and you’re at Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Vitamin Cottage, or the Landmark Theater. Take the southeast exit (behind Home Depot, I think), cross 30th, and you’re at CompUSA, and King Soopers. Go out the western, Canyon exit, and you can get to Eads News and Smoke, or World Market, right across the street. Go out the northwestern exit on Walnut, and you’re at Marshalls, Circuit City, etc. The transitions are not great in a couple places at this point, but maybe the city will improve them later.

I am glad the 29th St. Mall is finally open. It couldn’t happen too soon. Looking at the Crossroads eyesore for the past 6 years has not been pleasant. This was the one physical feature of Boulder that I thought was embarrassing. According to Frank Bruno, the City Manager, the opening of 29th St. will not increase the city’s sales tax revenue this year or next year, to get it back to where it was in 2000. What I remember him saying is that sales tax revenues are expected to continue to decline into next year.

Until more stores open that appeal to me there, I won’t be visiting 29th St. too often, except to shop at Target on occasion. And I’ll continue to do some of my shopping outside of town. The selection is better and more affordable. Obviously I’m not trying to bash the new mall, but unfortunately I don’t find much there that’s appealing yet.

Polk apologizes

October 5, 2006

In a statement to the City Council, Richard Polk apologized for his behavior.

“I have embarrassed myself, my family, my friends, my fellow council members and the community,” Polk said at the beginning of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “I realize that, as an elected member of the City Council, I have an obligation to act responsibly at all times.”

“I understand that the voters have placed a level of trust in me that has been shaken,” Polk said. “Words cannot say how deeply sorry I am. I intend to regain that trust and confidence. Service to the community has always been valued as one of the most important things in my life.”

I’m going to sound like Mary Katherine Gallagher here, but the way I felt after reading this could be expressed in the lyrics of a song I heard many years ago called, “More Than Words”, by Extreme–sort of: “Hearing ‘I’m sorry’ is not the words I want to hear from you,” and, “What would you say if I took those words away. Then you couldn’t make things new just by saying ‘I’m sorry’.” I know, I know. I butchered the song. Anyway…

I expected this apology, but it doesn’t quite go far enough for me. I was looking for him to say that he will take actions in his own life to make sure this never happens again, namely checking himself into drug rehab. The way I read this is he’s not sorry he smoked pot. He’s sorry he got caught doing it. How can I tell he was smoking it while driving? The officer who arrested him reported the car wreaked of it when Polk rolled down his window. Some people are getting this story wrong, only focusing on the fact that the officer reported that he found a pipe in the car, and that it was warm. There was more than that.

I say this reluctantly, but I think Polk should resign. Drug addiction is a serious thing, and I think his behavior shows that he is addicted. He’s willing to be accountable for this incident, and that’s fine. Even a drug addict realizes sometimes they have no choice but to fess up. It doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything about the addiction, which is the root of the problem. I don’t get a sense from Polk that he’s willing to do what it takes to rectify the situation in his own life. He says he values public service highly. Given this incident, I would’ve liked to have seen him prove how much he values it. He didn’t step up to the plate.

It’s often within the realm of possibility to quit this sort of thing cold turkey, but it’s hard, or so I’ve heard. Unlike a lot of people in this town, the only drug I’ve ever come in contact with is alcohol. I’ve never become addicted (thank goodness), and I haven’t drank since I was in my 20s. Drug rehab. is there to help people out of addiction, because they recognize that it’s hard to do, and many people are not strong enough to do it themselves. There’s no shame in it. Remember, Mr. Polk, admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it.

Karr is released

October 5, 2006

First off, I have to make an admission. I don’t know what convicting in absentia means. That’s what I heard happened to John Mark Karr. I thought it meant they had the evidence against him and it was compelling enough to go ahead and put him in jail. Maybe I heard wrong. Maybe what it really meant was he was convicted on charges related to not appearing in court and fleeing the country.

Karr got out today. The prosecutor in Sonoma County, California had lost the evidence that they needed to go to trial, between the time Karr fled the country, and when he was extradited back to the U.S. Even so, according to their laws, even if they had gone to trial and the prosecution had won, Karr still would’ve been released for time already served in jail. As the article notes the most they were hoping for was to require him to register as a sex offender, but that’s not going to happen.

Talk about a lucky guy. He gets first class treatment when the feds bring him back to the U.S. at the behest of Boulder DA Mary Lacy. He gets a free trip to Boulder. He gets a free trip to California. Then he gets let go.

This sort of namby-pamby behavior on the part of the DA in Boulder, and in Sonoma, California just encourages more crime. It makes it look like criminals can get away with anything, because the prosecutors are incompetent.

It creeps me out that Karr is being let go without so much as a tracking device to let authorities know where he is. I’ve heard enough about him that I would not want him near children. There’s nothing stopping him now, except for aware parents.

School shooter takes on tactics of jihadist suicide bombers

October 3, 2006

The tragic shooting yesterday of school children in Pennsylvania, at a one-room Amish schoolhouse, was a copycat shooting, based on what happened in Bailey last week. According to the news report I link to, officials say they don’t think it’s a copycat. I beg to differ. Below I detail why. They say that the incident was caused by what was going on in the shooter’s head at the time. I can believe that. The evidence shows he was getting revenge for something that happened a long time ago. However, I think if you look at what happened, you can’t help but see that the two incidents followed a similar pattern. I think the shooter today followed the “playbook” of the Bailey shooting. It inspired him to take this action. He had been looking for a way to carry out his revenge, and he found the blueprint to do it.

More details have come out about the Bailey shooting. Duane Morrison, the shooter, had left what looks like a suicide note before going into the school. The police say there’s evidence that he molested (groped) some of the female students he took as hostages, and he sexually assaulted some of the others. So it looks pretty clear that Duane went into it expecting to die, but before that, he wanted to carry out a sick fantasy. I haven’t heard that he’s had a regular pattern of pedophilia, but it sounds to me like he had that tendency, just from the age group he picked.

It’s unclear whether he intended to shoot anyone else besides himself, going into it. He originally had 6 hostages. At the end he only had two, because he had let the others go, one by one throughout the ordeal. He was using the remaining two as human shields against the SWAT squad that had stormed the building. The victim he shot and killed had tried to escape.

The killer today, 32-year-old Charles Carl Roberts,  upped the ante. He left a suicide notes, and he took lumber with him to barricade the school doors so as to make it more difficult for police to get to him. He went in with the idea that he was going to die, and that he was going to take innocent female students with him.

He did the same thing that Duane did. He ordered the male students out of the schoolhouse when he took it over. He lined up 12 female students against the blackboard, tied their ankles together, and then shot them one by one, execution style. Then he shot himself. Two of these students were killed, along with a teacher’s aide. The others are at the hospital. One of those in the hospital died this evening. It’s amazing that that many survived, in any case.

In this case, as in the case of Bailey, Charles appeared to have no connection to anyone at the school. The common denominator between the two was that the school was in a picturesque area, with little to no history of violent crime, and there was no security at the school. This sounds sick, but it was “easy pickings”. He wanted to victimize some people, and they were the easiest available targets. I say “available”, because according to the news, this school was close to where he lived.

He deceived the police. He told them when they surrounded the school that if they didn’t back off, he would start shooting. Before they had a chance to even try to back off, he started shooting. I bet it made them pause for a bit, though, which was apparently all the time he needed.

In both cases, it looks to me like these suicidal killers are doing the same things that jihadist suicide bombers are doing in the Middle East. There are differences, but the technique is the same: kill yourself, and kill or hurt others in the process.

This isn’t unique to these school shootings either. For the past 15 years I’ve heard of shootings at work places that follow this methodology (if you can call it that). A male, disgruntled former employee enters where he used to work, kills certain people he has a grudge against, and then kills himself.

Suicide always hurts those who are close to someone who kills themself. That’s not what I’m talking about though. What makes a person do this? If they’re so intent on killing themselves, why don’t they just do it? Why do they feel the need to hurt or kill others in the act? I’m not advocating suicide. I’m looking at their premeditated actions.

I’m no psychologist, but I have been reading about a very insidious mental illness called malignant narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Long ago I used to hear that jihadist suicide bombers had this disorder. Part of this is, of course, an insatiable desire for attention; to feel needed, loved, and significant. According to the article, the person with this affliction only feels like they’re getting this if it is denied to others. They must be regarded as extra special. In the article I link to, the defining characteristic of the malignant narcissist is seeing everyone else as an object, no more significant than a bug or worm, or even a tool in the workshop. They do not see human beings as human beings, worthy of empathy, but rather they see them as a means of reflecting their own self image back to them, as if they were looking in the mirror. The attention is the necessary ingredient. Without it, they feel they do not exist. So they will do whatever it takes to get it. If they can’t get positive attention, they will settle for negative attention. The article notes that this is not unlike how infants behave, and it is natural for them. What normally happens is humans grow out of this mentality as they get older. But for those with NPD, they do not.

Another characteristic I’ve read about of those with NPD is a glorification of one’s own aggressiveness, and desire for power.

In a different article I read, it said that the person with NPD expects everyone around them to reflect their own self image back to them. If they don’t, the person becomes enraged, and punishes them severely for not complying with the fiction that he or she has created for themself.

This may not be an accurate diagnosis of these people who have done these awful killings, but I throw it out there as a possibility.

Edit 10/12/06:

I learned this past weekend that the shooting in PA was in fact not a copycat crime. So the premise for my original post was wrong. The evidence shows that Charles Roberts was planning and buying materials (like the lumber) in preparation for the crime just shortly before the shooting happened in Bailey, CO. So the fact that these events happened so close together in time, and similar motives and planning went into it was a complete coincidence. It’s like truth imitating fiction. I couldn’t have made this story up.