Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Inept Bombing Attempt Or A Clumsily Staged Drama?

This morning, when I drove to work, there was a heavy traffic near the intersection that I needed to go through. I didn't think much of it at the time but I found out later that there was a car bomb clearing attempt nearby.

The Fearless Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin (FCPM) said "he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Thursday because he left his house earlier than normal." There was a man arrested and brought to a police station. He was found to be a former driver of General Pallop Pinmanee, a retired army general who is serving on a few military panels. General Pallop was fired in the after noon by the FCPM.

General Pallop had something else to say, however. "If I was behind it, I would not have missed.", he said. See this video of his interview (around 3 minutes into the video.)

I am very amused by these findings:
  1. The car was driven round and round the narrow street which is more than a kilometer away from the FCPM's house, at least an hour after the FCPM left his palatial estate.
  2. The car was finally parked, on the right lane, near the intersection, guaranteeing maximum traffic stoppage.
  3. The trunk of the car was left open, showing miscellaneous bombing devices.
  4. The bombing devices were not assembled, totally not ready to be detonated.
  5. The driver parked the car, walked away somewhere (leaving the trunk wide open), then walked back to the car to be captured by the police.
  6. The FCPM confidently, victoriously, and bravely proclaimed the various details of his would-be assassination attempt even though he was quite unsettled when a few middle-aged ladies shouted him down when he tried to have a bowl of noodle a few months ago. Note that the FCPM used to proclaim that there was a bomb on his plane a few years ago but later the Boeing's engineers found that the blast was caused by some air-conditioning malfunction.

There is an opinion (in Thai) from one of the guys who ran Thailand's intelligence service. Basically, his opinion is that this is bullshitake.

I notice that this super major news totally eclipsed the scandal about the FCPM's supporters, including police officers, assaulting some protesting elderlies and women when they showed up to protest the FCPM's too-lengthy stay in power on Monday. An educational video can be found here.

I think somebody is getting very desperate. I don't think it's the anti-Thaksin coalition though.

Monday, August 21, 2006

If You Need To Teach Programming To Physics Students In Two Days, ...

... you can try Python! See the handbook developed at Oxford here.

Python is my favorite programming language now.* A programmer should be able to learn (and start to be productive in) Python in an afternoon using the tutorial that comes with the installation. For a more detailed introduction, Dive Into Python by Mark Pilgrim is very hard to beat. I bought his book even though he lets us see all the contents on the web, just to show my appreciation.

If you use Linux/Unix or Mac, you should already have Python installed. If you use Windows, you can download the Python installer at or use ActiveState's package (which I use.)

There are useful collections of Python recipes at Python Cookbook and Python Grimoire. You can see and learn from example programs there.

If you are hungry for even more tutorials, you can come to this page where you will find 300+ tutorials about using Python in all kinds of things.

As for the editor and development environment, you can use the included IDLE or PythonWin editor, but I prefer SPE and PyScripter. PyScripter runs only on Windows but SPE runs everywhere that Python runs.

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*My preferred programming languages in the decreasing order are: Python, Mathematica, C++ (which I use like C with STL), C, Perl, Delphi, and VBA. I only read Java, but do not write programs in it. I hope to learn about Haskell, Erlang, and Lisp in the coming years.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Applied Chemistry: How To Make A Zombie*

Tetrodotoxin is a very potent neurotoxin found in pufferfish (ปลาปักเป้า) and other animals (เช่น คางคกบางประเภท และ ปลาหมึก blue ring.) It blocks sodium channel in cells, disrupting the cell's normal signaling mechanism. The person poisoned by tetrodotoxin will become numbed, paralyzed and die of respiratory failure if the dose is high enough** ("...Only 0.00000065 g of tetrodotoxin is required to kill an adult, making it about 1000 times more toxic than cyanide." ... "It is a terrible death," reports on fugu devotee. "Even though you can think very clearly, your arms and legs become numb and you cannot sit up. You cannot speak, cannot move, and soon cannot breathe.")

In the 1980's, Wade Davis went to Haiti to explore the Voodoo's method of making zombies. He brought back the "Zombie Powder" which was analyzed and found to contain tetrodotoxin. It seems that the powder was used by unscrupulous Voodoo practitioners to create zombies who would be used as slaves in plantation. Apparently, people would be poisoned by the powder, became sick, "died", buried, and later dug up by the criminals to be sold as a slave. Once sold, the "zombie slave" is kept docile and confused by another drug that contains tropane alkaloids. Dr. Davis' experience is described in his book "The Serpent and the Rainbow" which was later made into a movie.

I wonder whether Juliet was given tetradotoxin (probably at approximately 0.00000015 g, since she was a small teenage girl), by Friar Lawrence when Romeo thought she was dead. Had the Friar reduced the dose by 5-10%, she would have waken up in time to prevent Romeo's suicide. To think of it, Friar Lawrence probably succeeded many times in similar situations but we only know of Romeo & Juliet because he failed so spectacularly in this case. (Of course, it was not the Friar's fault; I would place the blame squarely on Romeo for being way too hot-headed and didn't wait another day--or another half hour.)

*I know I didn't tell you exactly how to make a zombie. However, any self-respecting mad scientist can use the provided clues to do further research him/herself.

**Six fishermen in Thailand died from consuming pufferfish a few years ago.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

How Heat Kills

I descend from people who sweat easily. My mom sweats easily. I sweat easily. My son and daughter sweat easily. I suppose some of my grandchildren will sweat easily too. Thailand's hot and humid weather does not help us at all. After an hour of exercise, I sometimes sweat up to one hour afterward, even in an air-conditioned room.

Today, I found an interesting article about the mechanism of how heat kills people and how, if I don't sweat enough, I can die*:

On a very hot, sticky day, you may not be able to radiate any heat from the surface of your skin, and your sweat won't evaporate fast enough to keep you cool. (You'll have an even bigger problem if you're dehydrated.) The heart responds by pumping more blood away from the internal organs. This deprives the intestines of oxygen, which damages their linings and makes them more permeable to endotoxins. (The strain on the heart can also lead to arrhythmia or cardiac arrest.) At the same time, an overheated core causes an inflammatory response throughout the body. The combination of the inflammatory response and the endotoxins in the bloodstream can suppress the body's natural mechanism for cooling down.

Once your core gets above about 104 degrees, you're in serious danger. High internal temperatures lead to increased pressure in your skull and decreased blood flow to your brain. (Doctors diagnose "heatstroke" when the heat starts to affect your central nervous system.) Damaged tissue may also enter your bloodstream and lead to kidney failure. Very high internal temperatures—like 120 degrees—can destroy the cells in your body through direct heat damage.

Of course, there is an antidote: How to Cool Yourself Without Air Conditioning.

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*To convert F degrees fahrenheit** to C degrees celsius***, use the relationship (F-32)/9 = C/5. Therefore, 104 degrees fahrenheit is 40 degrees celsius while 120 degrees fahrenheit = 48.9 degrees celsius.

**Degree fahrenheit is named after Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a German physicist who invented the mercury thermometer and developed the scale of temperature that bears his name (1686-1736).

***Degree celsius is named after Anders Celsius, a Swedish astronomer who devised the centigrade thermometer (1701-1744).