July 5th, 2014


3 Last Thoughts on the 4th of July

Someone, I think it was on NPR, spoke of some wags in England trying to make the Third of July a holiday... The last day Americans were Englishmen...

Odd thought while watching 1776... Congress was in session on a holiday? (grin)

Which brings me to a story that I heard, but didn't see, since I wasn't in the experimental physics groups during grad school at Michigan Tech. This had to be 1986.

A 3-inch bore, 4 T superconducting magnet was being installed by Oxford Magnetics for MRI work. It was late at night. The double Dewar design has an outer jacket of liquid nitrogen, the magnet immersed in liquid helium. Alas, the gas company from Chicago didn't deliver enough liquid helium. So after cooling the unit down, they started bringing up the supercurrent as far as they could safely, according to the charts.

Click. Whoosh. FOG.

The superconducting magnet has quenched. The current exceeded the critical current and the wire suddenly gained resistance, generated heat and vaporized the liquid helium. Everyone out of the room -- there is no breathable air in here. When liquid gasses because gasses, there is like a 600:1 volume change. 40 L of liquid helium at 4K, then warmed by the Ideal gas law up towards room temperature. Displaced a cube of air over 10x10x10. It was midnight.

Not to worry too much. Helium doesn't want to do chemical reactions and each atom is so small, within minutes all would be gone from the lab -- straight through the walls and ceiling, too. (Hell, for that matter, in six weeks or so of rising free in the atmosphere, all that helium will have reached escape velocity and left the Earth.)

Turns out the tables they had were for the wrong model. The man from Oxford Magnetics said that in a couple of hours he'd call the office and get the right pages faxed. They still had some liquid helium left.

But will anyone be at the office? It's Friday, why not? Because it's a holiday.

Not in England.

Dr. Phil

Perpetual Motion Violation Train on Track 1

Beautiful weather in West Michigan Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 72°F on Thursday and 76°F for the holiday. Without a Will Smith movie opening on the 4th of July, I still found a SF blockbuster that had a script...

This is not an easy movie to find. I saw no trailers, heard no buzz online. I only know of Snowpiercer because I saw an article in Entertainment Weekly. Apparently there's a snit between the Korean filmmakers and the US distributors. They wanted 20 minutes of cuts, the director said No, so it went in limited release. After being a huge hit oversears. Then buzz here caused it to open a bit wider, but In A World faced with a billion screens showing Transformers movies, it was hard to find screens. As a result, when I looked for our Fourth of July blockbuster, it wasn't at Holland 7, Holland 8, Celebrations North-South-Rivertown. But it WAS opening at Celebration Woodland, which is the Jack Loeks second run theatre in Grand Rapids.


We ended up with nachos and hot dogs -- come on, it's the 4th, gotta have a hot dog -- and settled into our seats.

Snowpiercer [R]
Celebration Woodland Theatre #1 12:55pm 2x$5.00

Korean film with an international cast, mainly in English, Snowpiercer is based on a French graphic novel series, Le Transperceneige.

They say you are allowed three impossible things in a SF story... up to a point. I'll put out the illogic of having a globe circling train going around in a convoluted path once a year, never stopping, for eighteen years. The last people and creatures alive in the world after the catastrophic failure of a global warming cure precipitated a deep ice age. Now... think about this for a moment. Let's forget for the moment the perpetual motion machine engine from which they extract useful work, which is violating all the laws of thermodynamics. Just consider entropy. Do you think that track is going to be intact every time around? This would have to fail.

And I won't even bring up the question as to why the train has to even move to be an Ark.

No. This train is a metaphor. A device to create layers to break through. A journey. A struggle. A revolution.

I take it that in the graphic novel the train was a thousand cars long, which makes for a better Ark. This one is like forty and they built 15-20 car interiors. At the tail, it's fascist ghetto. At the head, it's decadent useless party life a la the Capital in Hunger Games. In between are all the cars needed to provide for the rest. Food, school, prison, dentist. The revolution starts in the tail and drives to the engine.

Implautible? Sure. But go with it. The CHARACTERS totally believe the situation they are in, its convincing, even while impossible.

The cast... amazing. Our hero is Captain America, though with his beard and clothes, I kept seeing Noah Wylie from Falling Skies. And Ed Harris is always great. Think of his self-important director from The Truman Show combined with Kodos the Executioner from Star Trek "To Catch The Conscious Of The King". The Korean father and daughter are exceptional.

But the real star is the always amazing Tilda Swinton -- if you've never seen Orlando you're in for a treat. Here she is the perfect Nazi functionary, in love with the fairy tale of the Party, and way too fond of violence and an admonishing condescending attitude until she has to save her own skin.

Be the shoe.

The ending isn't satisfying in the conventional sense, but it most definitely works.

Highly Recommended -- Catch This On The Big Screen If You Can

TRAILERS: Locke Guy on the run movie? Trailer was designed to be obscure. Supermensch: Legend of Shep Gordon I was afraid was going to be another Will Farrell comedy. Instead it's a documentary about this really nice guy who ended up being the promoter for all sorts of acts. Stars Michael Douglas, Alice Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Shep Gordon, Emeril Lagasse -- Shep may have invented the celebrity chef. Boyhood -- oh I've heard of this one. His stars were six years old and he filmed his movie over the next twelve years. That's dedication. Also the trailer for Chef, the lovely food movie we saw the other week.

Dr. Phil

Ferrett Is Wise

Ferrett Steinmetz on being a Real Writer:
I get a lot of apologies, when people write to me. They think that I’m just some blogger, and then they discover I’m actually a professional writer with a novel sold and a SFWA membership and one big-ass award nomination…

…and they cringe. They’re not a Real Writer, they tell me. And I am. And they apologize for wasting my time.
And then the money quote, the secret sauce:
You’re a Real Writer even if you’ve never had a publication. You’re a Real Writer if nobody’s (yet) heard of you. All you have to do is to follow the three steps: Write the best work you can possibly do, write as much of the best work as you can possibly do, and send it out.
There's much more, and if you are a young writer or a new writer or an unpublished writer, you should read the rest of it.

Trust me on this. We've all been there.

Dr. Phil