Engineer & Entertain

Ideas I grapple with

Archive for the category “Movies”

Ricin to the finish

One of the greatest series in the history of television ended a few weeks ago. Before you continue reading this post, please note there will be Breaking Bad spoilers in this post.
While I am not surprised by debates of its meaning and other post game analysis, I was surprised to see people question the logistics of Walt poisoning a nervous, stevia addicted, tea fancying, methylamine supplier. This is the guy who built a meth empire, destroyed several ring leaders, had ten people killed in prison in two minutes, and jump started a RV with science.
Ricin is a poisonous protein from castor beans. It kills by shutting down the protein factories in your cells called ribosomes. The signs and symptoms a person experiences depends on how the poison is introduced to the body. If it is inhaled then the person will die of respiratory failure, while ingestion will terrorize the GI tract. Eating 5-20 castor beans can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tachycardia, and seizures for 4 days until your inevitable the death. There is no antidote and treatment typically focuses on treating symptoms and organ failure.
A stevia packet contains 1 gram of stevia. If you wanted to poison a 120 pound executive of a German conglomerate which owns a fast food chicken company, then you would need roughly 109 mg of ricin. With a LD50 of 20 mg/kg, if Lydia weighed 180 lbs you would only need 1.6 grams.
180 lbs * 1 kg/2.2 lbs * 20 mg/kg = 1636 mg
There is clearly enough space to accommodate the poison and sugar substitute. So how do you get the poison in the packet and reseal it?
I am not a sucrologist so I could not tell what the packet was made from. If it is plastic then you could cut it open, add the poison, and reseal it using an iron or other heating element. Not all that different than how it was made.

If it is a paper sachet then the glue keeping it closed could be dissolved with acetone or goo gone, the poison added, and then resealed.
So what would hinder this plan (aside from having the ethics to not kill people)? Not a whole lot. Ricin is very stable over a wide pH range and does not break down when exposed to UV light. If it is exposed to 80*C temperature for over one hour though it will denature and become nontoxic. Depending on the tea, it should be prepared 76*C to 100*C. The temperature is hot enough to render the ricin useless, but the tea is not likely to be at the temperature for a long enough time.
The biggest issue with the plan is making sure Lydia received a packet with ricin. There might be one stevia packet at the table or a waiter could be bribed to bring her a specific packet.

In conclusion, poisoning Lydia was a minor task for Walt. Let us go back to discussing color and its meaning in Breaking Bad.

Holmes for the holidays

Sherlock Holmes is a good movie, but a mediocre Holmes adaptation. If you have ever had a desire to earn your own pound and a shilling you may prefer rereading the short stories. If you have no clue what a pound and a shilling is, then go right ahead and watch the movie.

The movie does not draw from any Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but the story follows a similar formula to other Holmes stories. The move also cherry picks details from the stories to use for the characters. Irene Adler is used as a femme fatale love interest for Holmes rather than a person of intrigue because she had bested him. In the story A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes has an appreciation and admiration for her that resulted from her cunning, not her feminine wiles. Moreover, Holmes loves himself best and is generally depicted as a calculating machine than a person drawn to sentiment. The movie gives Holmes his ego, but also a requited romantic kindling toward Irene Adler.

There were some details which were well executed. Sherlock’s pugilistic tendencies and bartitsu fighting style is enjoyable to watch. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not gifted when it came toward writing fight sequences. Doyle did excel though in proving Sherlock to be a very intellectual character. Holmes is certainly an action hero, but he is also very cerebral and the scenes which depict his thought and cunning are limited. None the less, Robert Downy Jr. did well to embrace and display Holmes’ quirks.

Dr. Watson was also portrayed well. In the films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, Watson was a bumbling idiot rather than Holmes’ equal and colleague. Watson is clearly gifted intellectually and physically as one would expect from a physician and veteran of war. Watson’s gambling habits and womanizing traits are also alluded to and carried over from Doyle’s work.

I enjoyed the movie, but there are better Sherlock Holmes adaptations. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett are more faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My favorite Sherlock Holmes representation comes from Dr. Gregory House and Dr. James Wilson. House M.D. only makes passing references to Sherlock Holmes, but what great references they are.

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