The Upcoming Spain Itinerary

The Coffee Engines are now idle. Everything that could be made before I jump on a plane at stupid in the morning on Sunday has been. All that remains is ship the last couple orders tomorrow morning, make up the Transatlantic Reset BBotE sampler vials for Fr. Gabriel and I, and then get to the airport. I will leave ordering on so you can call dibs on production when I get home on the 20th but, obviously, nothing is going to get made or shipped while I’m in Spain.

It’s a little like this.

For those not familiar with the Transatlantic/Transpacific Reset trick, I always bring two sampler vials of BBotE with in my carry on. The vials are clear and less than 3.5oz each, so they are TSA approved even if they do get a hard squint every time. I drink the first vial when the plane touches down on the runway. I finish the second vial as I hit customs, toss the empties in the bin, slap my sunglasses on like Horatio Cane as I walk out of the airport, and stride boldly to a full day without jetlag across the sea.

I was kindly asked if I could provide an itinerary of my upcoming walking of the Camino Primitivo, ideally with maps for the geographically challenged, so that people could follow along with my adventures so that the tweets/skeets I’ll invariably make along the way will make some sort of sense¹. I’ll leave it to you to use Google Earth to figure out where we’ll be. To start with, this is the optimum “everything goes as planned” schedule. There are some bits we’ll have to figure out when we get there at various stages. The only hard and fast date is the plane ticket home.

May 28th: Depart from SFO at stupid in the morning.
May 29th: After planes and trains, arrive in Oviedo.
May 30th: Oviedo to Escamplero. We’re old so starting with a short leg by cutting the normal first day of Oviedo to Grado in half.
May 31th: Escamplero to Grado. We will still be old, so another short day.
June 1st: Grado to Salas. First full long walking day. If we’re gonna be crippled by a day, this is likely it.
June 2nd: Salas to Tineo.
June 3rd: Tineo to Pola de Allende
June 4th: Pola de Allenda to La Mesa
June 5th: La Mesa to Granadas de Salime
June 6th: Granadas de Salime to A Fonsagarda
June 7th: A Fonsagarda to O Cadavo Baleira
June 8th: O Cadavo Baleira to Lugo. This will be the longest walking day, though this should be kind of easy walking.
June 9th: Lugo Day 2, LUGO HARDER. Taking a moment to enjoy the only Roman walled city left and resting after the previous day. Also, very likely laundry.
June 10th: Lugo to Ferreira 26.1km
June 11th: Ferreira to Melide 21.1km
June 12th: Melide to Arca/O Pedruzo 33km (may want to break into two days, Arzua is a halfway point)
June 13th: Arca/O Pedruzo to Santiago 20km
June 14th: Enjoy Santiago, maybe go to Finisterre
June 15th: Train to Madrid
June 16th: Madrid Stuff
June 17th: 2 Madrid, 2 Stuff
June 18th: Madrid 3, MadRAD
June 19th: Madrid 4, Madrid With A Vengeance
June 20th: Fly home from Madrid.

After suitable post-flight sleep in my own bed and snuggle the kitties, the Coffee Engines will fire back up and BBotE will start shipping again. I mean, I’m gonna need that coffee.


1: Tweets/skeets making sense not guaranteed.

My Last Day At Pole

IMPORTANT SKIN OWNERSHIP PROTIP: Flesh that has been frostbitten is thereafter more vulnerable to being frostbitten again. It seems that it is also more vulnerable to sunburn than ever before.  SPF 45 did not help the patch on my left calf, which I know for certain was well slathered.

How did my calf get frostbitten you might ask? Luckily, ish, I remember that one event in October quite well because traumatic pain helps memory jump direct write-to-long term, skipping over the toasted winterover short term memory. As I later learned, this is also how LSD works and making flashbacks forever as it puts the brain in a trauma state because, MAN, did that frostbite hurt like a sumbitch afterwards…

The replacement cryo tech, arrived on First Flight. I don’t quite remember the turnover I did for him, though according to my Green Brain I spent two days doing it. I can only assume he learned valuable and important things that saw him through his year. As a birthday present and probably because I was awfully toasty, my boss decided to get me out on an early flight. Memory starts kicking in again sometime around around 6pm, October 29th, 2003, when I escorted New Cryo to Club 90 South to induct him into the bar when it still had winterovers as had been done for me.

Me: Alright, I leave tomorrow morning…weather permitting.  Do you have any more questions?

New Cryo: Nope, I think I’m good.

Me: Are you sure?  Because after I leave here, I am gone.  There will be no easy getting a hold of me and I will not be thinking of you.

NC: Yup, I got it all.

Me: Positive?

NC: Yup.

Me: Well, I asked three times.  Let’s go to the bar so I can serve you your first scotch on Ice. (even getting toasty didn’t dull my puns)

We went to the bar and I asked him what his poison was and he said it was, indeed, scotch. This was good since Polemart was more or less empty of mixers at this point and scotch is one of the few things delicious straight. He asked for two fingers which, as his faithful bartender, I obeyed by sticking them upright in the cup and pouring until I felt booze splash my palm. He gave me a look that let me know I was his kind of madman. I happily joined him and the other winterovers, who were hiding in the bar from the strange new faces, gave him a hearty welcome. He in turn joined us winterovers in shooing away some uninvited FNGIs (fucking new guys on Ice), for he knew his invitation was special and would not have it debased.

After two more glasses and viewing “Midnight Run” for the who knows how manyeth time, New Cryo was very drunk. Not only was that a goodly amount of whiskey, but he had only been at Pole for two days which is not enough time to acclimate to the altitude. High altitude lowers alcohol tolerances and worsens hangovers (so I’m told). He was from Arkansas, so not much better than sea level. As he listed slightly in his chair, I asked him a question.

Me: Well, what do you want do now?

NC: (slurring): I wanna break something.

Me: (jumping off the stool): Excellent! Go get your coat, let’s go!

NC: Wha?

ME: (as leaving through the back door of the bar) Go get your coat. I’ll see you out front.

Like I had for most of the winter, I was wearing a Hawaiian print shirt, shorts and Tevas, and I needed to change to go play outside…especially on a snowmobile at -65F. I learned that lesson during eight months earlier when I rode out to the liquid nitrogen plant for the party while carrying a 10L dewar to get a refill for more cryogenic cocktails. LN2 on bare legs much less the cold is, well, cold.

So I put on expedition socks, boots, gloves, a fleece top, my gaiter, my Scott Base touk and went out to greet New Cryo, but I did not change out of the shorts. He was in full ECW gear and verrrrrrrrry slowly negotiating the three steps from the old galley to the snow surface, holding on to the railing for dear life. I took his hand and escorted him through the tunnels out on to the plateau. He kept asking what we were going to break. I told him that he’d see. We got to the Do Not Freeze (DNF) shack and I opened the doors. Within was Sex Machine, the most reliable of the snowmobiles I’d used all year. He had a look of horror.

NC: We’re going to break a snowmobile!?!?

Me: No no, we have to get there first.  Need a snowmobile for that.

NC: Where are we going?

Me: You’ll see.  Get on and hold tight.

I drove the snowmobile at out of the shack and through town to the skiway, where I ripped it into full throttle, flying down the middle of the skiway. Despite his inebriated state, he pulled off a decent joke.

NC: Umm…this is the way back to McMurdo. I just got here, man.

Me: Very funny, just hold on. It’s going to get exciting in a second.

At the end of the skiway there is another 600 miles or so of snow and ice before you hit the Transantarctics.  In short, not a flat groomed surface. Sastrugi, which are sort of like overturned snow dunes, sort of, and they cover most of the middle plateau. When you hit them at full speed on a snowmobile, you catch a bit of air, and then you hit the next one, and the next…so much fun. I am very proud of him for not falling off. After a mile or so, I brought the snowmobile to a power slide stop next to some bamboo poles sticking out of the snow with black flags on them.  New Cryo rolled off the seat muttering, “Ow, my ass, ow, ow, my ass” on repeat. He wandered over to me as I kicked snow off of a sheet of plywood.

NC: What the hell is that?

[I flipped the sheet over exposing a tunnel leading down into the snow]

NC: [peering down into the hole)] Okay, what the hell is this?

Me: [as I shoved him] This is what we are breaking.  The rules. 

The tunnels lead down into the cockpit and the cargo section of a wrecked LC-130 that did a pinwheel down the skiway decades ago and has been slowly buried in the snow ever since. You aren’t supposed to come here until after last flight but now New Cryo was first the FNGI of this crew who knew where the wrecked plane was.  Someone else would have to show him where Old Pole was. It is also a proud Pole tradition to write your name inside of this plane, which New Cryo gleefully participated in.  We then climbed out, closed it back up and rode back to the station. The wreck is about three miles out and I was feeling a bit cold. I thought a stop at the Cryo Barn to warm up would be a good idea.

We got there, turned on the music, and had a seat in the warm. My back was really cold on the left side (wind had been blowing up my fleece, Frostbite #1). The patches on my cheeks and forehead where the insulation on my goggles weren’t so good tingly as they were after ever snowmobile ride (Frostbite #2). I then looked down at my left calf. It had red and white stripes, like someone had slapped it…HARD. I poked it and the skin was hard, the wind ripples had frozen in it (Frostbite #3).

Me: “Hmm.  That is really going to hurt when it thaws out.”

NC: “Holy crap!  Why did you wear shorts?!?!”

Me: “Going to hurt a whole lot.  I mean, wow.”

I put the snowmobile away and escorted New Cryo back to his room for a well deserved scotch coma. I then went back to my room and resumed packing. As I did so, my calf began throbbing.  I figured that my best bet was to sleep through this bit before it really started hurting and so I did. When I woke up for the flight the next day, the calf was swollen like the worst sunburn ever, almost circling all the way around. The pressure from the swelling was like blood pressure cuff, every step was squeezing pain. Climbing into and out of McMurdo plane was torture. Somehow, I thought a hot shower would be a good idea when I got to there. No, no it wasn’t. The pain was repeated on Halloween walking aboard the flight back to Christchurch.

Once I left Antarctica though, the frostbite and all the small cuts and cracked lips healed rapidly. All the frostbitten patches peeled like the worst sunburn ever but I got off very lucky. The patch on the left calf now has less hair and feels a bit smoother than other places, but that’s about it.  Sun sensitivity was a new discovery. 


Most of this was originally written circa 2006. I have no idea if the old LC-130 is even accessible anymore or if the snow and ice have finally claimed it like so much other gear and Old Pole. The general sensitivity to all kinds of things for those frostbite patches has never really improved in the subsequent 17 years.

Sex Machine was decommissioned and sent home as waste in the 2006-7 season. RIP, you were a mighty steed.

A Thank You From The Babushkas

UPDATE: It’s two years as of today. I’ve sent $8500 and Robyn has gotten it closer to $12k. Rebuilding continues, life feels tenuous still, and assholes in Congress are not helping.

A year ago today, Putin decided that Russia should escalate and continue its invasion of Ukraine that began in 2014. This was a bad idea and has made many people unhappy.

On February 24th, 2022 he decided to have another go at Ukraine with assumption he could conquer it all in 72 hours. This was hilariously incorrect though not without inflicting a lot of suffering on the people of both Ukraine and Russia in the process. On March 9th, I made this post where I promised to send a quarter of every sale of a Coffee Wave or Goat of Science bottle of BBotE to our fixer former fixer in Ukraine that took care of my Hollywood photographer and I in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. I’m still doing it and thanks to the kindness of everyone that grabbed a bottle, everyone that grabbed gift certificates they will never redeem for the babushkas, everyone that just handed me cash just because, as of today I’ve been able to send $6600 their way. Through the power of Hollywood, Robyn’s gotten the grand total just shy of $9k.

Yeah, I know this is chump change compared to the greater forces of NAFO, St. Javelin and the Georgian Legion but it’s still something and I’m proud of that. People that were afraid they wouldn’t get food or medication during the invasion, people who were trapped by new minefields laid in slightly radioactive forests, people who worried about their children and grandchildren nearby getting hit by poorly aimed missiles got help they might not have otherwise got. Once the assault on Kyiv failed and rolled back, some rebuilding and mine clearing could begin; this is what our fixer has been focused on not just for the babushkas and their families but all of their neighbors. A lot of people were made homeless or reduced to camping in the yards of the shit smeared looted rubble (yes, that happened a lot in the villages between Chernobyl & Kyiv) that used to be their homes. The first level of recovery last year was cleaning, patching holes, and putting plastic over broken windows to keep disease down and mosquitos out. And, of course, keeping people fed when it’s hard to get food in.

I do have a fresh message from our fixer that’s been looking after the babushkas in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and their families in the villages between there and Kyiv.

“Dear Robyn & Phil,

 I am doing analysis of the last year and preparing for next warm season. The remaining money that you’ve sent is still on my bank card. The biggest problem is recovering ruined or damaged buildings, installing heating systems in the houses provided by the government instead of ruined (new houses are completely empty and don’t have any stove for heating). So I am waiting for a warm period of the year to do that and now I am accumulating money the same way like I did it last year. Thank you and everyone for the help!

Best regards, [REDACTED].”

They also attached an itemized list of every cent they’ve spent where I wiped a tear away because, dude, we never asked you to do that. Not gonna ask either. I trust a fixer to know where to find what they need and to spend what needs to be spent, that’s the whole point of a fixer. But I simultaneously understand their desire to make sure the we know, that everyone knows, that at all levels of Ukraine wants a break with their past and a better future. Part of that very recent post-Soviet past was kleptocracy by oligarchs and getting away from that was the whole point of Maidan; part of the Russian invasion in 2014 was to try to put that bullshit right back in place like Putin likes it. Fuck that.

Without further ado, I want to share some pics from our fixer of folks we’ve helped. It may seem small, but it was the world to them when they needed it. Because the fear of reprisals is strong, and I can’t blame them, I have been asked to blur faces but they still wanted to give their thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

Just some cool dudes getting ready to head out with supplies.

 

Until you can get windows back, some decorated plastic and tape will do.

 

A little elbow grease to demo a house down to walls so you can rebuild.

In conclusion, Слава Україні, Героям слава! Not all heroes wear uniforms, some just make it possible for others to live, like our fixer. My offer on the Coffee Wave & Goat of Science will continue until the fighting is done. If we can get past the $10k mark by the end of March I’ll be thrilled.

And most importantly, thank you. Thank you for making this possible.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE: Rad Presents

I think he best way to start this is by shaking my ANGRYFIST at Amazon & eBay for being the gray/black markets of choice for all manner of things that should not be there. Bullshit Lasers only scratch the surface of their almost complete lack of policy enforcement.

[The twentieth in an ongoing series of my compiled explainers for my CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE quizzes. There’s never really a right answer but some might work out better under the constraints of the scenario. It’s like poetry, really.]

It is known that once you have three of something, you officially have a collection. The moment you get that third flamingo, you’re The Flamingo Guy and you start accumulating more flamingos until you have so many that they collapse into a pink hole.

NOTE: I’m not necessarily complaining about this.

I have so many different collections, people have a hard time deciding which pile of things to add more things to. It’s polite to give folks variety to work with for gift giving occasions. But there are some collections that lead to problems. If you’ve ever played the card game Set, which is about rapid pattern recognition, you may see some patterns in the poll options for some Cursed Collections. Do you have a collection of Atomiciana? You might get any of these. A collection of radioactive thingees? All but the AVLIS plans, unless they were contaminated.

Wait, do you have dedicated room of Nazi artifacts?

via GIPHY

Let’s start with the most benign of these gifts, the CP-1 graphite. Chicago Pile-1, our first reactor of sorts, was dismantled and rebuilt at the site that would later become Argonne National Lab. The moderating graphite was broken down into small bits that turned into souvenirs. Every sample I’ve seen is encased in acrylic, properly labeled that it came from CP-1, and had been given out as executive desk/lab retirement gifts in the 1950s & 60s. Every year, the American Nuclear Society has a drawing for the student chapters to win one. The graphite is a neat historical object with almost zero activity. It will present no difficulties to get, other than proving provenance for a random hunk of aesthetically pleasing carbon. Incidentally, if you have a spare kicking around please drop @nuclearkatie or I a line. Did I say no difficulties? I mean no difficulties other than the very limited quantity of CP-1 graphite in the world. Getting a piece that’s not incredibly overpriced bullshit is the hard part. 

More difficult and way more fraught is your own personal fuel element from the Haigerloch reactor. Incidentally, I would love a chandelier made to look like this with dimmer from dark gray OFF to supercriticality blue-white ON using LED cube elements.

The Lament Configuration, courtesy of https://hellraiser.fandom.com/

The good news is that these cubes weren’t enriched uranium, just naturally occurring uranium. It’s still technically speaking Not Okay to ship this as it is TENORM (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material) but it may be hard for people to notice. What you do have is something that’s an esoteric, VERY IDENTIFIABLE, product of Nazi Germany. Depending on where you are in the world, it may be very illegal to possess, much less sell, this outside of a museum. Austria, Belgium, France and Germany comes to mind. In America, sigh, it’s merely tacky.  It is the ultimate in cursed cubes, short of this one.

Consider not giving the gift of authentic Nazi items. Or reproduction ones. Really, just don’t. Unless you really, really, REALLY know that the recipient wants it and is going to use it for the Forces of Good.

Speaking of don’t, DON’T LOOT ANTIQUITIES! If you aren’t familiar with the Elamites, we’re talking about one of the earliest city building civilizations. Proto-Persians. Eternal foes of the Sumerians. The last undeciphered original alphabet from the Fertile Crescent. Do I specifically know of any Elamite figurines with uranium based glazes on them? No, but then [folds arms with a harrumph] it’s been a while since I’ve been allowed in a museum with my meters. BUT WHY DO YOU HAVE ONE?!!?

via GIPHY

The collector market in antiquities is very fraught. The argument that without the collectors, some of these items might never have been found ignores that this almost always comes with the loss of the context they were found in. Context is often more informative than the item. But why uranium glazed? We’ve only known about radioactivity for 135 years, but the uranium ores have been regarded as awesome since time immemorial. Everyone loves those yellows and greens! Antiquity was as gaudy as they could achieve, we didn’t invent garish color. If you’ve received a glaze-shedding Elamite figurine, the dispersible radioactive material is the least of your problems. You have stolen from the cultural heritage of humanity but, more specifically, Iran. There are some laws about this. If there’s any saving grace to the Hobby Lobby bullshit, it’s that forgers learned that they had a incredibly rich idiot customer that had no idea what they were buying. But some was real. Some of it was looted from museums, some from digs, and that context is lost forever.  But the interesting value of a radioactive glaze is that could help identify sourcing and trade routes in the Elamite kingdoms. No need to worry about classified information informing the current Iranian regime that they have RICH domestic uranium deposits. They’re well aware.

But when it comes to classified items, the AVLIS-1 drawings are where you’re gonna get into the deepest trouble. Elamite figurines are gonna tangle you in court for years. Classified drawings will land you in prison while being tangled in court for years. There’s certain folks who recreationally collect schematic drawings and vacuum equipment, trolling surplus sales hoping for rare, weird esoteric things. But I have an important piece of advice: If you find a drawing or a piece equipment stamped with AAA and a number…shit. Don’t read any further. Don’t take any pictures. Call your local DOE site office and let them know you have a Triple-A marked item and would like to surrender it for destruction. This is because someone fucked up and you shouldn’t have this.

*YOU* didn’t fuck up. This is the key thing to keep in mind.

AAA means that something is a special form and was supposed to be destroyed before leaving where it was made, or it should have been reviewed for release and had that AAA marking removed/defaced. If you’re in the UK, the AWE had an equivalent marking but damned if I remember what it is at the moment. The Soviets never had anything as useful for their gear, just summary execution. AVLIS-1, in case you weren’t aware, stands for Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation Mk1. If I can summarize the project, everything is possible and more awesome with lasers, please give us all the appropriations money. Because we wanted to prove that there were other ways to do uranium enrichment other than centrifuges.

ANSWER: Yes, we can. We can do a lot of things, but they’re not the most efficient, cheap, clean and good way. High fives everyone, project complete.

Except no project is really complete. Nothing is abandoned. As I said, “the drawings for AVLIS-1”. The last time I saw a reference to AVLIS, it was with respect to an AVLIS-5 facility in Iran being mothballed as part of the JCPOA.  If you recall a thing called Stuxnet being used to temporarily wipe out the Iranian centrifuges, it is also good to keep in mind that was never the only option Iran had. That, very likely, they took what America abandoned and worked on it some more. Four iterations worth.

This is your horrifying reminder that once you do the Manhattan Project once, you know the end point works. You just have to find your way there and you aren’t obligated to follow the same path as before. In fact, you can leapfrog entire decades of dumb stuff.

Happy holidays.

~fin~

Planned Service Interruption June 2023

While final details have not been hammered out yet, I will be away on travel from the end of May through late June and thus there will be no BBotE or Stein of Science production during that time. I will leave ordering on to let people get in line pending my return and add a biiiig banner to let people know nothing ships until the end June.

Why is this happening? Because it’s important to achieve life goals. I have been wanting to take a long hike where I ramble for days and days at least since high school and have never really made it happen. The one I was going to do in New Zealand went very awry due to poor planning/available information, please click here to enjoy my two part tale of our misadventure on the Otago Rail Trail. But this time my path is extremely well documented as people have been walking it for over a millennium, so my chances of misadventure are greatly reduced! I will be walking the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela with my friend Fr. Gabriel.

I had sufficient fun going with Fr. Gabriel to Israel & Jordan so that he could collect Catholic bling and experience points to level up, that I figured it walking the Camino would be a great way for him to earn even more. I get my long walk in a beautiful place filled with history, with fantastic food & cider all the way, and me walking with Fr. Gabriel helps him fulfill the Rule of Augustine (“two by two, hands of blue”) so that he can even go out and do this. The whole reason the Rule of Augustine is there is to minimize the shenanigans monks & priests can get up to when they’re out on their own; somehow the upstanding moral character of their companion to keep them on the straight and narrow is never questioned. This does mean I do now need to make some effort to be in better shape by the end of May and try to remember more of my Spanish.

Come to think of it, the last longish hike I did was the St. James Walkway in New Zealand, but the mosey for this St. James will be much longer. No, I didn’t do it just because it had a place called Cannibal Gorge, but it did catch my eye while planning.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE: Anti-Drone Radiation

I’m very proud of all of you for identifying that these are all TERRIBLE IDEAS. The thing about terrible ideas is that they still occur to people and sometimes staggering amounts of money will be spent to try to make them real and marginally less terrible.

Explainer time!

[The nineteenth in an ongoing series of my compiled explainers for my CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE quizzes. There’s never really a right answer but some might work out better under the constraints of the scenario. It’s like poetry, really.]

To those who refuse to play inside the constraints of the poll and demand more reasonable and less theater destroying options, I think you haven’t had the pleasure to read/experience enough of the systems development and appropriations process. We get to your answer…eventually.  Or we may invent/develop your answer several times, shelve it, and it never sees the light of day because the cash pipeline for development is not aimed at your baby. It becomes one of the deep sighs of armchair generals that think of all the designs that could’ve been. Or, alternatively, your answer is very easy to make but the conventions of warfare mean it never gets used as it’s a War Crime In A Box. You’ll need the window to shift on what’s acceptable first, which is why LASER WAR is becoming more possible.

But that is another story. 

All four of the options in this poll would definitely get you some side-eye from The Hague but some are more serious than others. Let’s start with the one that most definitely puts you on Santa Shits In War Criminals’ Stockings list. Anytime someone suggests setting off a nuclear weapon, even “It’s just a little guy c’mon”, no matter for what purpose, you just lost the game. I appreciate that you really, really, REALLY hate drones but it might be a titch excessive to set off a nuclear weapon, even a tiny one, to try to knock them out of the sky. If you aren’t already familiar with the Davy Crockett, please take a moment.

Since we originally made it Jeep mountable, a nuclear capable Hilux technical for theater denial anti-drone warfare is not beyond imagination. It’s a thing of nightmares really. Again, don’t casually nuke things. Yes, Gen. LeMay I’m thinking of you. [shakes squirtbottle] 

But as long as we’re mentioning Mr. Air Force himself, let’s talk about chaff. Traditionally, you use it to foul radar but it’s less useful against the CMOS camera systems of modern drones, though they may have radar as well.

Since enough people have sent videos of it happening to me over the years, here’s hoping you’re familiar with the oversaturation of CMOS detectors you can do with exposure to ionizing radiation. It’s very similar to overexposing film, disturbing/ruining the image. If you you could deliver enough airborne radioactive material as “chaff” to the vicinity of the drone, that was also spicy enough to mess with the CMOS, that’s a legit method. Of course, there is the teensy tiny problem of what happens to chaff afterwards. When tiny bits of aluminum, mylar, or glass rain out of the sky it’s pollution but at a nuisance level. When your airborne radiological dispersal device rains out of the sky, congratulations! You’ve just made a large scale contamination event. Curtis LeMay’s strategic bombing doctrine might look kind in retrospect. You’ll win the skies but lose the ground below.

Maybe more localized scope is in order rather than theater denial weapons. What if I could fry their CMOS and electronics from the ground instead? So, an accelerator mounted in a tank turret and a highly collimated gamma beam amount to the same thing to the drone in the sky. There are some very different concerns on the ground. As I said in my hint, photons are indistinguishable to the observer other than by their energy. 1MeV is 1MeV, doesn’t matter where it came from. But as a matter of definition, we say gamma rays come from nuclear reactions whereas x-rays come from electron shells. Which means for your highly collimated gamma beam, you’re gonna need a LARGE source of very energetic gamma. Radioactive materials annoyingly emit radiation in all direction uniformly, but you only need the tiny pencil beam you’re aiming. Also, aiming is non-trivial.

Did I say LARGE? I meant to say STRATEGIC. We are talking about the kinds of sources where people normally add lots and lots of safeguards to keep people away from getting up to shenanigans with them. As in, Homeland Security would like a word with you about it. Of course, as some of you identified, having a source this large with gamma emissions potent enough to knock things out of the sky is ridiculous. Much more efficient to just wheel a reactor out and open a shutter on the side of it. No biggie. If this sounds impractical due to the size and weight of the package to have the requisite shielding and equipment to safely operate, I’d say you’re right. But the US Army has tried truck mobile nuclear reactors before. It can be done. What you have created, however, is a thing we like to call a High Value Target. One that would be another potential radiological dispersal device if it were destroyed with enough enthusiasm. Drone operators are very enthusiastic. You would attract so many! Good bait, I guess.

Instead, let’s go for the more science fictional option of the turret mounted accelerator for your tank. This has the tremendous advantage that when you turn it off, the accelerator is (mostly) not a radiation hazard anymore. Similarly less concerning when someone blows it up. But the problem with saying “accelerator” is that you have to answer the questions “What kind of accelerator? What are you accelerating? Whaddya wanna do with it?” The most reasonable thing to try to slap on tank turret, for given values of reasonable, would be to throw a ruggedized medical accelerator as a synchrotron radiation emitter on the tank and good to go!!!

[listens to earpiece] Wait, I’m being told that this might not work.

You’ll want the synchrotron emitter to give that high energy x-ray that’s indistinguishable from gamma rays, because otherwise you’re firing accelerated charged particles at the sky and they behave differently. Well, not that differently. You get scattering no matter what. Also, depending on what you’re accelerating and how much oomph you’re putting into, you will slowly make your tank radioactive through activation. But you may have noticed that we tend to put accelerators in very large shielded facilities. Your tank…will not be one of those. The vocabulary word for the scattering associated with firing your beam into the sky, whether it be from an accelerator or incredibly large radioactive source, is Skyshine. High energy photon means they have very short wavelengths, which means they run into a lot of air.  Most of your beam will keep going, but some will be coming right back down at you, bathing the battlefield in a lovely ionizing glow. Mostly centered on the emitter location. I recommend not being near there. 

This would suggest that the safest way to implement this ionizing radiation based anti-drone system would be to have it be a remotely operating system. There’s a word for this, rhymes with crone. 

For all the people who desperately wanted to use radio frequency interference on the drones instead, GOOD NEWS, both the acceleration components of an accelerator or the synchrotron radiation from magnets both have a decent RF component. But it’s incidental and not aimed. 
If you read turret mounted accelerator as something more like a rail gun for firing hypersonic rounds at drones, that is an extremely reasonable idea in comparison which will still absorb tremendous amounts of Appropriations money. Oddly, enough it is also a radiological hazard.  Not nearly as scary as all the other things but still an opportunity to make crew badges read funny because of a little thing we call Dark Current. If you leave the accelerating magnets on idle, they don’t care that you’re not firing a projectile. They accelerate *everything*.  As a general rule, you shouldn’t look down the bore of any gun but this rule applies to accelerators as well. If there are charged particles to accelerate, they’ll do it. And because they can accelerate both positively and negatively charged particles, it applies at both ends. 

All of this is to say, bless their hearts, General Atomics has never met a request for proposal too daring to turn down. That even if one military branch nopes out of it, there’s several more to talk to.

~fin~

The Decembering 2022: Holiday Boogaloo

One of the ways I mark the change of the seasons is when I get my first order designating it as a holiday gift. It’s my sign that I need to revise this post for a new year and gird my loins for the MAXIMUM PRODUCTION that’s soon to come. This year it happened on my birthday, so here we go.

To the people that are very proactive and organized in their holiday shopping, I’ll answer your question now: yes, you can place an order now in an earlier production window for a holiday shipment. Please leave a note saying “Delay shipment until $DESIRED_DATE” with your order so I know you want it later rather than ASAP.

It was only -38F that day. It's a dry cold.
My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002. I still love that shirt.

The last pre-Xmas BBotE production window will close on December 21st. All things being equal, everything shipped domestically by the 20th should end up at their destination by Christmas Eve. I can’t control catastrophic floods, volcanic eruptions, special military operations, etc. but a week and change is usually quite sufficient to get everything to its destination, even international. I will put another pre-order window up and crank as much out as humanly possible after the 20th. Domestic shipping on Thursday December 22nd has a chance to get there by the 24th, but I make absolutely no guarantees about shipments in that window arriving in time. Express mail gets more and more necessary in the last days. I’ll do my best, but that’s all I can do.

Worse come to worse, gift certificates are always an option. 

To reiterate shopping advice from the previous years, here’s a few things you should probably think about if you decide to place an order for a holiday gift from Funranium Labs:

  1. Steins of Science Availability is Limited: I am maintaining some inventory, but not many. If you really, really want one and the one you want is not available, contact me sooner rather than later so I can do my best to get one for you ASAP. However, with COVID considerations resupply is tricky. I likely will not be getting another shipment between now and the end of the year but I can try.
  2. BBotE Is Perishable: When refrigerated, it has a shelf-life of about three months (possibly longer, but I’m only going to quote three).  If you’re going to wrap it up and put it under the tree, this a present to put out on Christmas Eve and the promptly put back in the fridge after unwrapping. Alternatively, embrace the idea of the holiday season and decide to give it to the recipient immediately, for all days are special. For shipments going directly to people as gifts, I stick a consumption guide in the box, with a note of who ordered it for them, and stamp the box “REFRIGERATE ON RECEIPT”.
  3. Let People Know BBotE Is Coming: I know part of the joy in presents is the surprise of what you get. However, joy is not the emotion most people feel when a bottle of mysterious black liquid shows up on their doorstep, especially if it’s been sitting there for a week outside because they were out of town. Give them a heads up, that something’s coming they’ll want to stick in the fridge. As I said in #2, I also tuck instructions in the box for a gift going directly to the recipient and a note stating who sent it.
  4. The pre-order slot dates date are “Ship No Later Than”, not “Ships After”: But I get your orders out as soon as I can after they come in. If you want to order something NOW to ship later, effectively reserving a spot later in the production queue, you can do that but please leave a note with your order telling me when you want it to ship by.
  5. International Shipments Go Out Express Mail: Because I don’t want BBotE to get stuck in postal facilities or customs, express is the only way to ship to minimize their time in bureaucratic hell. Expect it to take 3-5 business days to get to you, so time your orders accordingly to make sure things get to you in time.
  6. APO/FPO: If you wish to send something out to someone with an Armed Forces address, there’s good news and bad news. Good news – it’s no more expensive than priority mail. Bad news – I can’t guarantee any date as to when things will arrive and this has gotten worse in the COVID  times (see #5). Outside of active war zones, things move somewhat normally; inside war zones and on ships at sea, things get iffy. Also, depending on routing, some nations (I’m looking at you, Turkey) have bounced BBotE back to me on the basis that it is, and I quote, Morally Questionable Material. Amazingly, my shipments to Korea and Okinawa seem to arrive faster than they do to other places on the west coast of the US mainland. Go figure. In short, I’ll do my best but you’ve been warned.
  7. Local Pick Up: Resupply shipments will go out to all the BBotE Ambassadors as fast as I can crank them out, so be sure to drop them a line if grabbing a bottle that way is more convenient for you. A message to them will help them decide what to fill their cases with. I’m sure they’d like clean and empty refrigerators as their Christmas present.
  8. Turkey, Italy & Brazil: It breaks my heart to say this, I can’t ship to these countries. Italy, I absolutely do not trust your postal system. The level of theft shipping things anywhere south of Rome is, frankly, appalling. If you ask me to ship to Naples, I make absolutely zero guarantee of it arriving. Brazil, your customs causes shipments to languish for so long that the BBotE goes off before it arrives, even if shipped express; steins seem to be fine though. Turkey, well, I discussed that problem in #6.
  9. BBotE Production Is First Come, First Served: My maximum daily production output is 12L per day. Thus, people who request 12pk cases will lock up production for an entire day.
  10. BBotE Has No Kosher Or Halal Certification: While Robert Anton Wilson did confer the papacy upon me, and all the other people in the Porter College Dining Hall at UCSC in 1996, this does not permit me to sanctify food. I do have a helpful Dominican priest in Salt Lake City who’d probably be willing to bless your BBotE for you, but that’s still not helpful for most people. Sorry. 

For those of you who read this far, I congratulate you and game on. Let the holidays begin.

EXTRA LIFE 2022

It’s that time of year again where among the ways I celebrate my birthday season is by staying up late and playing a lot of games. That’s right, it’s time for Extra Life again!

On November 11th & 12th, I will be joining the rest of Team SENSIBLE SHOES for a 24 marathon of our favorite board game, Shadows of Brimstone, for Extra Life 2022! Another year has passed so we’re older, our bodies are frailer, and we’ve maybe learned valuable lessons from the last five years (yes, this will be our sixth year), so we’ll be splitting this over two days again. There will still be a whole lot of BBotE, fine drink and impromptu dance parties to keep us going because that’s a whole lot of sitting on ass while gaming. For people that pledge over $50 on my Extra Life page, I will send you 10% off coupon code for the Funranium Labs store that’ll be good until New Year’s Eve (and no, coupon codes don’t stack). Please join us for being very, very silly and help some sick kids because that’s one of the things I want to do with my extended birthday fortnight. Once again, there will be a Twitch stream and there will be a chat function which I’ll add a link for as soon as we know it. If you feel like it, please go donate to either my personal page or to our group page, TEAM SENSIBLE SHOES. There are some other rewards you could claim as well, like selecting what characters people are playing, what our character names are, and what the towns and mines are called. 

Because, as Norville Barnes says, it’s all:

via GIFER

Thanks to the power of vaccines and test kits, we’ll get to play together in person again! For those of you watching us on the stream, we’ll still be disembodied voices to you while the action is on the board. Thankfully, this means there will still be as opportunity to yell “PORK DELIVERY!” once more when the fresh chicharrones from the Pig Wizard show up this year. I am so excited to have some Pig Wizardry in my life after a three year drought.

Fun With PUREX

Originally wrote this 16 years ago as I was getting my masters degree. As my adviser often asked “Don’t you want to learn normal things?”

While PUREX may save us from being buried in nuclear waste it is not without peril, though it’s more of the did-you-actually-think-this-through-before-you-started-pressing-buttons variety of peril.  It is vitally important to take a moment before you start playing with big machinery full of radioactive materials in the middle of simultaneous inorganic & organic chemistry.

For the record, I have personally performed the uranium half of the PUREX process…in a 20mL test tube.  It was damn impressive to observe this happening in my hands.

So, how it works:

PUREX is an acronym that stands for “Plutonium and Uranium Removal by EXtraction”. First, you bring the uranium up into solution as uranyl nitrate in concentrated nitric acid.  “Concentrated Nitric Acid” is one of those chemical phrases that lets you know that you are about to do something dangerous, just like Darkwing Duck.

Next, mix up the tributyl phosphate (TBP) in kerosene. Hearing that words phosphate and kerosene together make me start to think of Oklahoma City. Add the TBP/kerosene mixture to the uranyl nitrate aqueous solution. Now it really sounds like a truck bomb. However, the organic and aqueous phases are immiscible, with the kerosene floating on top.

What do you do next? That’s right, you shake the thing that sounds like an explosive VIGOROUSLY.

As you do this, greatly increasing the reacting surface area as you mix the bejeezus out of it, some of the uranium will slip out of the nitrate and pop into the middle of the TBP’s handy ring. You then decant the organic layer, add a fresh one, and repeat. Eventually, the vast majority of the uranium will be sucked out of the aqueous phase.

And that’s how PUREX works. You change the organic compounds slightly to grab the specific actinide element you want, but it’s more or less the same. What you do next with the organic phase depends on what you’re after.

Now, this is when it works correctly.


In the course of my research into radiation accidents, I came across one category called “Red Oil Fires” which had occurred at Savannah River, Hanford, and the Tomsk nuclear complex in Russia (a hot part of Siberia if there ever was one).  It was only in reading closely, that I realized that what the accident report was calling “red oil” was the same mix of chemicals used in the PUREX process.

There was a handy safety tip my radiochemistry teacher neglected to share. Below 130C, All Is Well Citizen! Above 130C…remember the Murrah Building? That’s right, if you get it too hot – oh, and the mixture is self-heating – the “red oil” mixture can detonate. Of course, since you are using this to separate plutonium and uranium, it is an explosion full of radioactive delights. I believe this would qualify as a radiologic dispersal device.

One would assume that these accidents could be prevented by keeping a cooling jacket of some sort on the system, or that there was a shut off for the mixers that would stop agitating the chemicals so that it could simmer down, or that there was some kind of ventilation thingee to take away the splody vapors. These would be good assumptions. Such things do exist. They do, however, need to be working and/or actually turned on by personnel. The good news is that there have been precious few of these accidents (4 total that I’ve found so far).  The bad news is that one of them, the one at Tomsk in 1993, gets compared with Chernobyl contamination-wise.

There is another hazard that comes with PUREX that is peculiar to uranium and plutonium: Criticality. The whole point of PUREX is to concentrate uranium and plutonium.  If you get too much fissile material in one place it, duh, achieves critical mass.  There’s some strange things that happen because this is all in a liquid phase (yes, liquids can go critical).  The key question becomes, “How enriched is the stuff in solution?” This was the question they failed to ask at Tokaimura, September 30th, 1999.

You see, they had developed some processes using PUREX to extract uranium to make reactor fuel. The one they used most often was the one for Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) with is less than 5% 235U. They had another one, that was rarely used, to process Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), using the same system, which mainly involved a change in how large a batch they made. Both of these processes had been certified and approved by JAEA, Japan’s equivalent to the Department of Energy.

Over a couple of years operation they gotten a lot more business than they started with. Managers came up with a great idea to bump up the size of the LEU batch process that involved a large tub, a big paddle for stirring, and then climbing up a ladder to pour buckets of this solution into a separator tank. They did not consult with safety personnel or the governing body regarding this change.

Then they got their first order for HEU in years. They moved over to another building with an identical set up and got to work using the unapproved process.  When the worker added the fourth bucket of nitric acid with dissolved HEU to the separator within 90 minutes, there was the lethal blue Cherenkov flash that let everyone know a criticality had occurred.

Two died, one of them over a very long unpleasant month, several hundred were exposed, and roughly 300,000 were in harm’s way and “given instruction”.

There was another PUREX criticality that occurred at Hanford just because they turned the mixer speed up too high. Obviously, the fluid started creeping up the walls the faster it was spun. Not so obvious was the fact that as the shape of the fluid changed, so too did its critical mass. X kilograms of nuclear material in solution resting in a tank was fine; one tenth of that was enough to go critical in that nice spun up shape.

Chemistry and radiation is a sticky wicket. Really gotta think about things before you do things.

A Sweetwater Tale

These events originally happened on November 12th, 2008 in Sweetwater, TX when I went to visit Ludlum Measurements. I add them here for posterity.

SCENE: Our Hero, Phil, is seated at the bar of the closest consumption establishment within walking distance.  He is dressed in shorts, sandals, t-shirt and wearing his long red hair in its typical ponytail.  There is a pint of beer in front of him and he is waiting for his cheeseburger.

Enter Belligerent Drunk in Camo who sits to Phil’s right.  Phil cannot help but notice the enormity of the man’s belt buckle and the cowboy hat with the hatband of a linked chain of silver Texases.

Belligerent Drunk in Camo:  What brings you to Sweetwater, ’cause you sure as shit ain’t from round here?
Phil:  Here doing a training class for work.
BDC:  Who you work for?
P:  UC Berkeley.
BDC:  BERKELEY!?!?!!  I shoulda known…

BDC launches into a rant about goddamn hippies, fuckin’ queers, and strangely enough, vegans, who he seems to hold a special hate for above the other two, though all three are obviously connected.

BDC:  That’s what I think at least.  Sure as fuck glad I ain’t from there like you.  I’d probably be shooting people in the streets.
P:  Oh good god, no.  I don’t live in Berkeley; I live in Livermore.

The clouds of anger depart BDC’s face.  It seems he’s done some work in Livermore up at the windfarms in Altamont Pass and now works down here on the big wind turbines outside of Abilene.

BDC:  Sorry, buddy.  You shoulda said you were from Livermore off the bat.  That may be one of the few bastions of Real America left in California.
P:  Don’t mention it.
BDC:  I mean, looking like you do…
P:  That’s alright. I just assumed you were gay, looking like you do. You know how many “cowboys” I’ve seen in SF during Pride like you?

BDC turns purple, decides not to deck Our Hero, and storms out of the bar.  Bartender, who has been watching and listening to all this, decides this may be the most hilarious thing he’s seen in months.  He gives Phil a free pint.

EXUENT OMNES

Lewis Black 2004 – If It Hadn’t Been For That Horse…

In September 2004, I went to the Lewis Black show at the Improv in San Jose. I was expecting an evening of Lewis detonating at the audience and I wasn’t disappointed. It occurred to me that I’d never seen a Comedy Central presentation of him that was longer than a half hour. I figure this is because cutting the “fuck fuck fuckity fuck fucks” out of his hour and half show makes it about right. It was fun to watch the improv anger section, where he simply takes the local paper and mines it for humor and things to be angry at on stage. He starts vibrating with rage but by the end of the show, he was calm and happy, having let off all that steam.

Before the show, I was at the bar getting a Manhattan. Lewis walked up to the bar to get a bottled water while he was cruising the audience to see what kind of crowd he had for the evening. I’d wore my Antarctica winterover shirt to work that day because, at the time, damn near everything I own had “Antarctica” on it somewhere. More to the point, I’d worn it to the show since I was too lazy to change.

LB: [looks me up and down] Where the fuck do you get a shirt like that?
Me: Well, first you go to the South Pole for a year.
LB: Really?
Me: Yup.
LB: No shit?
Me: Nope.
LB: Fuck. [points at the Manhattan the bartender just placed in front of me] You need another one of those.

And then he went on his merry way.

During the show, as he wound his way through a beautiful rant about Janet Jackson’s exposed breast at the Super Bowl, Gov. Schwarzenegger, the Old Testament, and Georgia, he calmed down slightly for a moment. He took a drink of water and then said, “You know, you people…you’ve been dealing with this shit non-stop, 24 fucking 7, as it happened. You’re numb. But out there in the audience is some poor fuck that just spent a year at the South fucking Pole. Imagine what the fuck this like for him!”

It was like when I was at the Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine show all over again, but the except this time the CD I bought didn’t get autographed to “Pole Boy”, just Phil.

The autographed CD I got in 2004 from Lewis Black. Because of this CD & show, I eternally look for a Starbucks across from Starbucks.

Looking Out For The Babushkas

UPDATE: As of April 2nd, you all have through your purchases and gifts given us enough to send $4400 to our fixer in Kyiv so far. I didn’t expect this much generosity and our fixer certainly didn’t either. You’ve made an old Stalker cry with your kindness.

As you might be aware, Russia invaded Ukraine. I apologize for the rude surprise if this is news to you.

One of the invasion routes that got people in a hell of a lather was the one from Belarus to Kyiv via Chernobyl. My goodness did people get excited about this thanks to radiophobia and the magic word “Chernobyl”. Gotten to spend a fair bit of time untwisting knickers from this in the last two weeks but that’s not the invasion effect I want to discuss.

I want to talk about the resettlers in the Exclusion Zone. Please note, all references to our fixer are being left very intentionally vague just in case.

Resettler Kitty – Most of the babushkas have cute kitties that are in desperate need of scritches. (photo by Phil Broughton, 2016)

When my friend Robyn and I visited in 2016, our fixer made a point to introduce us to some of the resettlers, who are mostly women (AKA the babushkas), that had returned to living in the Exclusion Zone. While arranging things for folks to get out there was their living, I got the distinct impression they were very fond of the resettlers and looked at them as their collective grandmothers. Doing little things like building windmill generators for some battery chargers and making some radio/cell phone relays so they could get help in emergencies. Also, bringing them treats like cigarettes, oranges, aspirin and chocolate. When Robyn went back the following year and spent a while living in the Zone with the babushkas, each of them thought it a crime that Robyn didn’t have any kerchiefs of her own. This is how Robyn ended up with a dozen or so beautiful kerchiefs as each babushka gifted her with one so that she would look proper the next time she visited. That is a kindness that is heartbreaking to even type.

So, when Russian troops decided to take a mosey on into the Zone, we reached out to our fixer to see if, 1) they were okay, and 2) if the babushkas were in any trouble. While, obviously, their business wasn’t happening with a war on and occupation in the Zone, the more important effect of the invasion was that the one and only store was closed. The babushkas are used to not having much of anything in the first place, but this cut them off from the few pleasures they might get and it’s not like they get out of the Zone much. That didn’t sit right with Robyn and I. Luckily, the hard part is already solved: we have a fixer quite willing to smuggle things to the babushkas even during enemy occupation of a nuclear accident area. I believe the quote went something like “Fuck ’em. I’d do it anyway and it’s not like the fucking Russians know where they’re going better than me in the Zone.” Bless their Stalker heart.

And so, like with my trip to Fukushima, I’m declaring the 750ml Coffee Wave and 1000ml Ineffable Mustachio’d Goat of Science to be fundraiser items for the babushkas. You buy either of those items and I will send a quarter of that to Ukraine for our fixer to go look after the resettlers in the Zone. If you just want to hand me cash to pass along, I’ll do that too but I’d feel better if you got some Black Blood of the Earth for your trouble.

Coins of Transition: Revolutions & Civil War

[Editorial Note: This post has sat incomplete for almost three years because I was trying to stitch together some very big and complicated concepts spanning roughly 2600 years. Coming back to this and trying to figure out what I wanted to say, I figured out that the real uniting theme and thesis is {Marge Simpson voice} “I just think they’re neat!”]

A while back I had an idle thought that stuck in my head. In the last several posts, I talked a lot about colonial money systems and, for America, the not-so-great transitional money that we used during the Revolutionary War, the Continental. In February 2019, a weird post-Soviet collapse commodity token came into my possession which led me to ask myself what happened to the money during the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War? I have post-1940s Soviet currency and coins in my collection, but there had to be a period where the Tsar’s ruble was still common and I assume no Bolshevik worth their red banner was going to use anything with a Romanov crest on it. Did they just stamp a hammer and sickle across the old coins (AKA overstriking)? What did they run their economy with at the dawn of GLORIOUS SOVIET STATE!?!?

What I was asking about a is very particular modern case of one of my favorite arguments in favor of coin collecting: money’s importance to the historical record in telling us stories from the peoples and nations of the past. For some civilizations and eras, their coins may be all we know about them. But like all kinds of intelligence gathering, the absence of a thing or conflicting evidence is almost as telling as a definitive information. Today, I’m going to be talking about Money When Everything Falls Apart.

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: since the dawn of money itself until very recently, the economic basis and power of country’s currency was based on the purity of it’s precious metal content, with gold being most valuable, then silver, and then copper/brass/etc. Also, their economies were strictly cash systems without much in the way debt and finance that are so common today until the 1600s (no, I don’t want to talk about the Templars). I am not arguing for or against the gold/silver standard here but I am quite clear that our ancestors believed in it and that influenced their actions with historical consequences.

During periods of turmoil, when there is weak/poor leadership, civil war, or invasion, there is usually a corresponding collapse of the coinage, either in quantity or quality. There may be rapidly changing coin designs, usually because a new leader means a new coin. There may be leaders from whom we never find coins because:

  1. They were all destroyed to damn the memory of that leader.
  2. They were all recollected to melt down and re-mint as either higher bullion content, or the same but debased instead.
  3. The treasury was carted off as booty and the government subsequently fell.

Similarly, we find coins with unknown leaders on them because:

  1. They were a leader who’s memory was damned, striking them from the domestic record, but some coins were buried in hordes or paid to mercenaries during their rule, circulating beyond the borders of the country where they’ve been intentionally forgotten.
  2. In a bid to gain legitimacy, they were coins issued by rebellions that then failed.
Confederate $10 Bill – Is it genuine? Is it a counterfeit? WHO KNOWS! (from the Phil Broughton Collection, 2022)

Of course, there’s also the possibility that the coin you found isn’t legitimate currency. Counterfeits aren’t just a swindle by the unscrupulous, they can also be a weapon of war. From the American experience during the American Civil War, “Honest Sam” Upham made enough counterfeit Confederate currency that a considerable percentage of the circulating bills during the early war were his, destabilizing the Confederate economy.  The Lincoln Administration was very uncomfortable with tacitly supporting this, by which I mean not arresting him, because what would stop Sam from doing the same to the Union? And if the Lincoln Admin was merely uncomfortable, the Davis Administration’s reaction was to instate the death penalty for counterfeiting because he may have “done more damage to the Confederate cause than McClellan and his army”. Please ignore how lackluster McClellan’s performance was in this metaphor, also that Grant & Sherman hadn’t happened to them yet in 1862.

Confederate 1 Cent (Restrike), Reverse – Note the cracked die marks. (from the Phil Broughton Collection, 2022)
Confederate 1 Cent (Restrike) – Note the chips from the cracked die. (from the Phil Broughton Collection, 2022)

You see, the Confederacy was extremely dependent on their paper money. They didn’t have much precious metal to make coins with and the only functional mint in the Confederacy was the small one in New Orleans (Dahlonega and Charlotte mints had been defunct for a couple decades at this point). Louisiana seceded from the United States in January 26, 1861 and by the end of April of that year they were completely out of bullion to work with, having struck all their coins with the old United States of America dies. Which is to say, they ran out before the Confederacy was really born and it never came back. The gold & silver rushes out in the west were on but none of that bullion was going to the Confederacy. And Gen. Winfield Scott’s last military contribution before dying, the Anaconda Plan AKA the Blockade, made certain that that no foreign bullion was ever going to show up. Theoretically, the Confederacy designed new coins out of pride, a penny and a half-dollar, but these never saw circulation. The example to the right is a restrike in my collection, made from the copies of the Confederate’s original dies that were so shoddily made that they cracked and chipped after just a few test uses. All this is to say future archaeologists will find no coin evidence that the Confederacy’s brief existence ever happened; the Confederate paper money, counterfeit and legitimate, will have all rotted away and the coins say it’s been the United States of America the entire time.


When the Russian Revolution/Civil Wars came, the largest contiguous nation on Earth fragmented in a spectacular and very Russian manner. I find that when the anglophone world thinks of civil wars, we tend to think in terms of a Star Wars-like Empire vs. Rebels dichotomy. That’s so cute and simplistic. Russia is here to teach you that you can not only have multiple sides in your civil war but that any given side can have multiple factions within it that bitterly hate each other. Let me start by trying to describe the factions in very simple terms:

  1. The Whites – The defenders of the Tsarist imperial order. Not necessarily supporters of Tsars, but of the order and privileges of the Ancien Regime.
  2. The Blues – The proponents of a more democratic, representative Russian state. Kinda.
  3. The Reds – The Bolshevik and other communist factions. TL;DR history, the Bolsheviks won.
  4. The Greens – The peasant movement that mostly wanted armies stop wandering all over the place like Trogdor, making life miserable for peasants.
  5. The Blacks – The Ukrainian anarchist movement to make a stateless state.
1918 Armavir 1 Ruble – Obverse (from the Phil Broughton collection, 2019)
1918 Armavir 1 Ruble – Reverse (from the Phil Broughton collection, 2019)

After some very promising victories, The Army of Don/Southern White Russian forces assembled a massive chunk of territory in the Caucasus and steppe lands near Crimea, driving out the soviets in control of the cities there. This is as close as they every got to being a nation of any kind, rather than some armies made mostly of Cossacks with a leadership full of serious reactionary grudges. Feeling proud of their achievements and trying to show some legitimacy, they managed to issue copper coins with a modified Romanov crest from their base of operations in Armavir. Note the double headed eagle without crown. This is supposed to signify a Russia without the Romanovs holding power as Tsars over it (no crown on the Romanov eagle). But this was something of a half-hearted effort, you can tell how rough this design is, as they assumed they’d be back in St. Petersburg in no time, with a proper mint, engravers, and bullion at their disposal.

Meanwhile, out in the Far East, Baron Roman von Ungern-Strernberg was trying to become a newer and whiter khan, paying for his armies in the preferred currency out there. We’ve discussed it before, the trusty ol’ Spanish 8 reales, which was still the most trusted coin in the world. So, yes, pieces of eight for his newly assembled Altai & Mongol horde. The Bloody Baron never minted any coins of his own because why bother with such trivialities when you’re an incarnation of the God of War. If you aren’t already familiar with the Baron, I do recommend reading about one of the more colorful characters in the Russian Civil War, occult studies, and not at all sane archaeology. It’s one of those names you keep tripping across in Weird History of the 20th Century and features in the Charlie Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum in The Laundry Files series.

1921 Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic 1 Ruble – Obverse (from the Phil Broughton collection, 2019)
1921 Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic 1 Ruble – Reverse (from the Phil Broughton collection, 2019)

Meanwhile, how did the Bolsheviks pay for everything? ANSWER: They didn’t. From 1917-1921, the Bolsheviks minted no coinage. What they did have was guns, land reform, and requisitions under the precepts of War Communism, many parts of which never really went away once they started. Except the result of all the requisitions was a certain level of “Why grow anything if the Bolsheviks will just take it?” nihilism. This, in turn, contributed to a series of starvation events throughout the former Russian Empire during the 1920s and 30s, like the Holodomor in Ukraine for the worst example.

Once all the White factions were eliminated, for given values of “crushed” (ahem, Finland), then the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic minted new rubles. But in 1921, it wasn’t the USSR yet, just a federation Russian soviets, but don’t worry, revolution was Russia’s leading export. The RSFSR transitioned into the USSR the following year so this was also a coin that only existed as legal tender for a matter of months. The Armavir & RSFSR rubles are both tangible snapshots of transitory nations, one that never was and one that quickly morphed into another.


1992-1993 Tartarstan 1kg of Bread, 10L & 20L of Petrol Tokens – Reverse (from the Phil Broughton collection, 2019)
1992-1993 Tartarstan 1kg of Bread, 10L & 20L of Petrol Tokens – Obverse…ish (from the Phil Broughton collection, 2019)

Fast forward 70 years to the coins that started my exploration. The collapse of the Soviet Union means NEW COINS FOR EVERYONE! Or at least you better mint some really quickly if you intend to be your own nation again. And, as happens a lot when things fall apart, the economy doesn’t collapse exactly because all the need and means of production were all still there, just missing a means of exchange to facilitate it. A Russian researcher who lived through it all in Leningrad had a joke that goes “No need to worry about not using the old money any more. There wasn’t anything to buy anyway.” [bad Russian accent] Very funny joke, you laugh.

But as previously noted, the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union were the largest contiguous nations on Earth but there’s a whole lot of not near the centers of power. One of the details missed in teaching the history of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union is how many small semi to almost entirely autonomous states were contained inside the giant red blob on the map labeled USSR. Part of this was revolution and civil war leftovers of smaller regions making their own soviets and then later joining the Russians to become the USSR. That, in turn, was a leftover from the older autonomous regions stitched together to make the fiction of the Russian Empire. Trying to manage anything as large as Russia from St. Petersburg prior to the advent of modern telecommunications was a whole lot of nodding and smiling of “Yes, we serve the Tsar faithfully but he is far away.” If you remember the 1992 Olympics with the Commonwealth of Independent States representing the athletes from the former Soviet Union, that was a bit of the compromise to cover all the not yet resolved borders and and sovereignty arguments from dissolution.

Tartarstan was one of those many regions that tried to go independent during the civil war and then got reeled into the USSR. During the Glasnost era, they were declared an autonomous soviet socialist republic within the greater USSR and then shortly thereafter were on their own with dissolution of the USSR as whole, with no remains of a central bank to call on. Trying to maintain basic support for their citizens, they issued a series of commodity based tokens for rations/some medium of exchange made by the Yugoslavian Mint (by which I mean the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under Milošević, as Yugoslavia proper had ceased to exist a few years earlier). They came in the “denominations” of 1 kilo of bread, 10L of petrol, and 20L of petrol coins with helpful iconography to let you know what they were for. For added fun, the 10L copper toned petrol coin got taken out of circulation quickly because enterprising souls had been nickel plating it to look like the 20L version. In 1994, Tartarstan rejoined Russia as an autonomous republic, signing the agreement with Tartarstan’s native son, Russian President Boris Yeltsin. This gave Tartarstan a full set of currency tied to a large economy…such that it was at the time.

The sad coda is that Tartarstan was the last autonomous republic within Russia to lose their autonomous status. The Kremlin under Putin decided to not renew the autonomy agreement, quietly letting it expire in 2017 as both the United Nations and Russia decided to ignore their request for recognition of sovereignty.

 

THE DECEMBERING 2021: The Holidays Cometh

As we enter our second year of holiday shopping & shipping in a pandemic, with the experience of last year’s complete postal/shipping omnishambles and DeJoy’s continued dedication to EXCELLENCE, I expect that this year is going to be a bit exciting too.

To the people that are very proactive and organized in their holiday shopping, like as the person that I let place a reserve order in August for shipment on December 15th, I’ll answer your question now: yes, you can place an order now in an earlier production window for a holiday shipment. Please leave a note saying “Delay shipment until $DESIRED_DATE” with your order so I know you want it later rather than ASAP.

It was only -38F that day. It's a dry cold.
My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002. I still love that shirt.

The last pre-Xmas BBotE production window will close on December 18th. All things being equal, everything shipped domestically by the 18th should end up at their destination by Christmas Eve. I can’t control weather, volcanic eruptions, asteroid strikes, or complete collapse of the world postal system due to pandemic and neglect, but a week and change is usually quite sufficient to get everything to its destination, even international. I will put another pre-order window up and crank as much out as humanly possible after the 18th. Domestic shipping on Tuesday December 21st has a chance to get there by the 24th, but I make absolutely no guarantees about shipments in that window arriving in time. Express mail gets more and more necessary in the last days. I’ll do my best, but that’s all I can do.

International shipments, however, are another matter entirely. As I detail further in #5, international shipping as a whole has gone to hell in a handbasket. Sorry Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Worse come to worse, gift certificates are always an option. 

To reiterate shopping advice from the previous years, here’s a few things you should probably think about if you decide to place an order for a holiday gift from Funranium Labs:

  1. Steins of Science Availability is Limited: I am maintaining some inventory, but not many. If you really, really want one and the one you want is not available, contact me sooner rather than later so I can do my best to get one for you ASAP. However, with COVID considerations resupply is tricky. I likely will not be getting another shipment between now and the end of the year.
  2. BBotE Is Perishable: When refrigerated, it has a shelf-life of about three months (possibly longer, but I’m only going to quote three).  If you’re going to wrap it up and put it under the tree, this a present to put out on Christmas Eve and the promptly put back in the fridge after unwrapping. Alternatively, embrace the idea of the holiday season and decide to give it to the recipient immediately, for all days are special. For shipments going directly to people as gifts, I stick a consumption guide in the box, with a note of who ordered it for them, and stamp the box “REFRIGERATE ON RECEIPT”.
  3. Let People Know BBotE Is Coming: I know part of the joy in presents is the surprise of what you get. However, joy is not the emotion most people feel when a bottle of mysterious black liquid shows up on their doorstep, especially if it’s been sitting there for a week outside because they were out of town. Give them a heads up, that something’s coming they’ll want to stick in the fridge. As I said in #2, I also tuck instructions in the box for a gift going directly to the recipient and a note stating who sent it.
  4. The pre-order slot dates date are “Ship No Later Than”, not “Ships After”: But I get your orders out as soon as I can after they come in. If you want to order something NOW to ship later, effectively reserving a spot later in the production queue, you can do that but please leave a note with your order telling me when you want it to ship by.
  5. International Shipments Go Out Express Mail: Because I don’t want BBotE to get stuck in postal facilities or customs, express is the only way to ship to minimize their time in bureaucratic hell. Expect it to take 3-5 business days to get to you, so time your orders accordingly to make sure things get to you in time. FAIR WARNING, the international postal system, even for express, has been squirrelly this year due to the continued reduced number of flights because of COVID-19. It is bad enough that the USPS has suspended the express mail guarantee to a laundry list of nations and has just flat given up on others. Please check the USPS suspension announcement to see if your country is one of them.
  6. APO/FPO: If you wish to send something out to someone with an Armed Forces address, there’s good news and bad news. Good news – it’s no more expensive than priority mail. Bad news – I can’t guarantee any date as to when things will arrive and this has gotten worse in the COVID  times (see #5). Outside of active war zones, things move somewhat normally; inside war zones and on ships at sea, things get iffy. Also, depending on routing, some nations (I’m looking at you, Turkey) have bounced BBotE back to me on the basis that it is, and I quote, Morally Questionable Material. Amazingly, my shipments to Korea and Okinawa seem to arrive faster than they do to other places on the west coast of the US mainland. Go figure. In short, I’ll do my best but you’ve been warned.
  7. Local Pick Up: Resupply shipments will go out to all the BBotE Ambassadors as fast as I can crank them out, so be sure to drop them a line if grabbing a bottle that way is more convenient for you. A message to them will help them decide what to fill their cases with. I’m sure they’d like clean and empty refrigerators as their Christmas present.
  8. Turkey, Italy & Brazil: It breaks my heart to say this, I can’t ship to these countries. Italy, I absolutely do not trust your postal system. The level of theft shipping things anywhere south of Rome is, frankly, appalling. If you ask me to ship to Naples, I make absolutely zero guarantee of it arriving. Brazil, your customs causes shipments to languish for so long that the BBotE goes off before it arrives, even if shipped express; steins seem to be fine though. Turkey, well, I discussed that problem in #6.
  9. BBotE Production Is First Come, First Served: My maximum daily production output is 12L per day. Thus, people who request 12pk cases will lock up production for an entire day.
  10. BBotE Has No Kosher Or Halal Certification: While Robert Anton Wilson did confer the papacy upon me, and all the other people in the Porter College Dining Hall at UCSC in 1996, this does not permit me to sanctify food. I do have a helpful Dominican priest in Portland who’d probably be willing to bless your BBotE for you, but that’s still not helpful for most people. Sorry. 

For those of you who read this far, I congratulate you and game on. Let the holidays begin.

Birthday & Extra Life 2021

It’s that time of year again where I celebrate getting older by hanging out in a graveyard and playing games to help sick kids. If you’ve been following a long with my shenanigans for awhile, you know Dia de los Muertos is my birthday and I’m excited to be celebrating it in a new neighborhood that I’m informed enjoys the bejeezus out of that day. This year, as I continue to try to be a responsible adult in the COVID times, my plan is to stay local and hit up Rolling Hills Memorial Park. Last year was good times with the Hells Angels and Jonestown Victims, so we’ll see who I find this year.

But on November 11th & 13th, I will be joining Test Subject Not-A-Whale Biologist (AKA Thomas White), Test Subject THE WORLD, and my Lovely Assistant for a 24 marathon of our favorite board game, Shadows of Brimstone, for Extra Life 2021! Because we’re old, our bodies are weak, and we’ve learned valuable lessons from the last four years (yes, this will be our fifth year), we’ll be splitting this over two days. There will still be a whole lot of BBotE, fine drink and impromptu dance parties to keep us going because that’s a whole lot of gaming. For people that pledge over $50, I will send you 10% off coupon code for the Funranium Labs store that’ll be good until New Year’s Eve (and no, coupon codes don’t stack). Please join us for being very, very silly and help some sick kids because that’s one of the things I want to do with my extended birthday fortnight. And, yes, there will be a Twitch stream and there will be a chat function which I’ll add a link for as soon as we know it. If you feel like it, please go donate to either my personal page or to our group, TEAM SENSIBLE SHOES.

Because it is all, as Norville Barnes says:

via GIFER

The tricky part  is COVID-19. Just like 2020, my Lovely Assistant and I don’t get to go down to play in the Gametarium and instead will be remoting in. For those of you watching us on the stream, this won’t be much different than previous years; we’ve always been disembodied voices to you while the action is on the board. Unfortunately, this also means there will still be no opportunity to yell “PORK DELIVERY!” for when the fresh chicharrones from the Pig Wizard show up this year. This is more of a personal tragedy for me though because I still really want that order from Pig Wizard.

Lastly, THE DECEMBERING (though that’s last year’s page) will soon be at hand again. If you’re planning your holidays that far out, before Halloween even, jeez, I envy your preparedness, but I understand in light of logistics chaos. I’m just mad that there were very few Halloween decorations to buy to deck my home out in fresh skulls; everyone skipped straight to Xmas crap.