Archive for October, 2012

The Schiensh of Bond: Quantum of Solace

Skyfall is so close I can smell it. My parents booked their tickets last week. MY PARENTS. They usually only book for Harry Potter films. But, on our way to Mendes and QILF we still need to negotiate Quantum of Solace and we had better do it quick before I forget it again.

The problem with QoS is that while it is a serviceable Bond film – it does the join the dots globe-trotting reasonably well and it more or less has a plot – it suffers from not being as good as Casino Royale, and from being utterly humourless. It doesn’t have the stupid of an invisible car, Denise Richards as a nukular physicist, outrageous racism, psychics, space battles, stupid Bond-girl names, jet-packs, gadgets, gizmos, death rays, submarines, or sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads. Dominic Greene is no Blofeld, He’s not even a Le Chiffre. In short, it’s not bad enough to be memorable.

Luckily, it looks like there’s some suspect science in there…


Leaving aside the fact that the pile of junk airplane that Bond has managed to acquire for the plane chase would never be able to out-manouevre the pursuing fighter plane, that’s not how you skydive. Here’s what tv tropes has to say on the matter.

We’ll assume that Bond and Camille are at terminal velocity – so somewhere around 120 miles per hour. The parachute is opened about 2 seconds before they hit the ground. It is very unlikely that opening the parachute at this height would slow down Bond and Camille to the point where they wouldn’t be smashed to pieces. Although the deceleration provided by deploying the parachute should (according to wikipedia) slow descent from 120 miles per hour to 18 miles per hour, this isn’t quite instantaneous – it would take a few seconds to slow them down (as you can see from the graph below).


For things like BASE jumping, modifications have to be made to the equipment; BASE jumping is done from lower, land-based altitudes, and a chute must be deployed much more rapidly because the fall is that much shorter and there is less time to slow down to a survivable falling speed.

As has previously been discussed in Schiensh of Bond there are numerous documented cases of unlucky skidivers whose parachutes fail to open. Although people can survive, they seldom survive completely unscathed.


How to make a desert

Dominic Greene’s plans for world domination of Bolivia involve placing a puppet dictator and controlling the water supply. By building dams and creating sink holes, Greene has successfully taken control of 60% of Bolivia’s water supply.

Bolivia is rich in natural resources, including vast amounts of natural gas, and an abundance of minerals. Although the country is rich in natural resources, environmental degradation is leaving the inhabitants in poverty. These threats include deforestation, water pollution occurring as a result of increased industrial mining and natural disasters. The links between environmental degradation are highlighted in this report.

Throughout much of Bolivia, water sources are plentiful, however, in some areas including the mountainous regions, water is becoming more scarce. The real threats to fresh water are principally pollution; there is industrial waste from mining activities, tanning and leather processing, sugar refineries and there issubstantial pesticide run-off from farming.

Creating a desert from tropical rainforest is major factor in the incidence of environmental disasters. Deforestation, either because of logging, clearing of forest for farmland or extraction of minerals, leads to degradation of the soil. Without the trees, topsoil is eroded and is less able to absorb water. It becomes less fertile, but the area becomes much more prone to flooding. This change in the landscape is known as desertification.

Dominic Greene’s plan to hide all the water is somewhat unambitious – he could more successfully create a desert by pushing industrial development in this developing country. Though, I suppose this would not be entirely in keeping with his environmental image.


Why is there a hotel in the middle of the desert?

I have yet to find a convincing argument as to why there is a hotel in the middle of the Bolivian Atacama desert. It’s clearly deserted. No one uses it. Nor can I understand why, in the world’s driest desert, there are such a large number of flammable fuel cells in and around the mostly wooden hotel. Health and Safety clearly is not a thing in Bolivia.

Why would anyone build a hotel in the middle of a desert? Well, the structure used in Quantum of Solace is the Paranal Residencia, a hotel built for workers of the European Southern Observatory, where there is a telescope in the Chilean Atacama desert called the Very Large Telescope. According to a paper on making the Paranal observatory more green, the complex relies entirely on diesel powered generators. The alternatives they were looking at were solar photovoltaic cells and wind power. Not hydrogen cells.

As for the fuel cells apparently powering the hotel in the film – we don’t get much information about them, we do see a container of hydrogen explode. Hydrogen is very flammable. so if there is shooting and stuff going on, it’s going to catch fire. Especially if your building is primarily made of wood…

Right, Mendes. BRING IT.


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The Schiensh of Bond: Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a) my favourite Bond film, but also causes me something of a problem because b) unlike the rest of the Bond films, the dodgy science is all but absent. Thanks for listening to my wailing from Die Another Day. However, what sort of lemur would I be if I didn’t go digging – so this months BlogalongaBond is inspecting the minutiae.

It’s 2006, Bourne has happened. Parkour is a ‘thing’, and Gunther von Hagens is having legal troubles concerning his suspiciously fresh corpses. Bond has be re-Bourne (sorry) in an origins story, drenched in realism that takes us back to a time before he was a double-0. Hell, it worked for Batman.

Anatomy Lesson

Gunther von Hagens is a Polish anatomist known for his live tv dissections and his hat. The hat being less controversial than the dissections for some reason. Human dissection has had a bumpy ride. The Greeks acknowledged that human dissection was an important step in understanding how the human body worked, and understanding how the body works is vital in figuring out what to do when it goes wrong. Human dissection was forbidden by the Romans, so the greek physicians had to make do with animal dissections, Galen was one such anatomist and had to work under the assumption that what was true for a monkey was true for a human. Curiously, Christian Europe had no such issues with human dissection, and thus it continued. Controversies would emerge from time to time regarding the origins of the bodies. In England dissection was prohibited until the 16th century, when the Royal College of Physicians and the Company of Barber Surgeons where allowed to perform dissections on bodies of executed. But then, the demand for corpses outstripped what the gallows could supply, and more dubious suppliers emerged.

Von Hagen’s genius which enabled the Body Worlds exhibition to happen (as well as the Animals Inside Out exhibition this year) is his patented method by which he was able to preserve the tissues of the cadavers in resin. There are extraordinary exhibits in the Animals Inside Out exhibition where only the blood vessels have been plasticised – including the shark below.

Weeping Blood

Le Chiffre’s interesting eye defect is known as haemolacria and appears to be the result of an injury to his eye.

Weeping blood comes merely from a derangement of the tear duct…The condition is rare

Le Chiffre

It is quite rare, there are only a few documented cases and there doesn’t seem to be one clear cause, however it may result from conjunctivitis, damage to the tear duct, a tumour of the lacrimal gland (which produces tears) and it can occur acutely in women as a result result of monthly hormonal fluctuations.

Bond Loses it All

The following section comes with the caveat that I know nothing about poker, so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I had a two hour crash course on Texas Hold ‘Em with someone with better math skills who does play poker. There are numerous discussions on the internet as to why the games in Casino Royale are unrealistic. For a start, people complain about Bond “Splashing the pot” – shoving in a load of chips, scattering them so that they are hard to count. But that’s the kind of man Bond is, he doesn’t hold with “Etiquette” and being helpful to dealers.

The hand in which Le Chiffre cleans out Bond is rather interesting if very unlikely (All of the games are discussed here). On the table are a pair of Jacks, a pair of Kings and an ace. Bond has a very good hand – full house, aces and Kings. From Bond’s point of view, there are only two possible hands Le Chiffre can get that can beat this: a pair of Jacks (which would give Le Chiffre four of a kind) or two Aces (this would give Le Chiffre a better full house than bond, three Aces and two Kings). Let’s look at the odds of this.

There are five cards in the middle, and two cards in Bond’s hand – Bond can see 7 cards in total, there are therefore 45 cards Bond can’t see. The odds of Le Chiffre getting one Jack are 2 in 45, the odds of Le Chiffre getting the second Jack are 1 in 44. As a calculation, the probability of Le Chiffre getting both Jacks is this:

2/45 x 1/44 = 0.001

That is a probability of 1 in 1000

The odds of Le Chiffre of getting the two Aces is the same, so there is a one in five hundred chance that Le Chiffre has a hand that can beat Bond. Essentially, what I am saying is that Bond is right to be confident of a win, and the fact that he is swayed by Le Chiffre faking his tell is beside the point. At this point, Bond doesn’t miss-play when he throws everything into the pot, he is rightly confident in his hand.

The final game is also riddled with inaccuracies and improbabilities: the players reveal their cards in the wrong order; they don’t show in the order in which they have played, Bon’d hand isn’t particularly strong on it’s own. To work out the probability of Bond winning, taking into account all the other players cards and the cards already on the table takes more mathematical skill than my grade B in GCSE maths (read: I can’t be bothered).

Clearly all for dramatic effect.

Dirty Martini

Later the same evening, Bond is poisoned. This manifests as profuse sweating and Bond Looking Like Shit. in an attempt to get the poison out of his body, Bond attempts to make himself vomit by drinking a whole load of salt water. However, the poison is taking effect, he runs to the Aston, contacts MI6, who identify the toxin in his system using the crazy telemetry chip which is relaying his vital signs. There is a brief moment of panic, where they argue over what drug to give him before he defibrillates himself, and they end up opting for whatever is in the useful blue pen.

After stating that Bond has “ventricular tachycardia” which they identify by looking at Bonds electrocardiogram That’s some impressive data relay – there’s quite a bit of data involved in transmitting real time physiological parameters – stand in the wrong place and my phone can barely cope with Google maps.

Ventricular tachycardia is a fast heart rate that originate from the ventricles, rather than the pacemaker node. This means that the heart beat is uncoordinated. In a patient with a pulse, electrical shocks to the heart can stop the ventricular tachycardia, but this is different from using a defibrillator. A defibrillator should only be used on patients where the heart has stopped, because if it’s given to patients with a heart beat, it can further disrupt the coordinated beats of the heart.

Digitalis was identified as the poison, I’m not entirely sure how – a number of drugs may cause ventricular tachycardia. And in my experience, identifying a chemical takes more than just looking at the victim’s biological signs, it usually involves big scary machines – like spectrometers or chromatographs. Just to be pedantic, Digitalis is just the latin name of the foxglove, it doesn’t specifically pertain to a particular toxin. The foxglove contains several compounds with similar actions, digoxin is the most important, but it also contains ouabain. These are cardiac glycosides. When ingested, they cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In the heart, they slow conduction in one of the pacemaker regions, increase the force of contraction, and mess with the rhythm – including ectopic pacemaker activity. Glycosides increase the activity of nerves which slow down the heart because they slow the spread of electrical activity through the heart. In higher doses, digoxin disrupts the electrical activity to such an extent, that the rhythm originates from different places in the heart, and can lead to ventricular tachycardia (so this part of the film is accurate). Also, my reading seems to suggest that MI6’s suggested drug treatments are fairly on the ball. They settle on lignocaine – this is a local anaesthetic, but what it does is it stops nerve conduction. Other drugs that would be useful are beta blockers – these block adrenaline receptors in the heart and will slow the heart down, or phenytoin which reduces the spread of electrical signals in the heart.

What I find a little disturbing is how quickly the digitalis in Bond’s martini get’s to his heart. Though digoxin takes effect quite rapidly, it still needs to be absorbed by the stomach before it can be carried to the heart. The absorption seems to take about 30 mins to 2 hours.

That sinking feeling…

I find it hard to believe that the building in venice is being supported by floats. While Venice is apparently sinking and there are plans to raise buildings on pistons. The foundations of the buildings are built on small islands, and the canals or Venice aren’t that deep anyway…

Next month in BlogalongaBond, I shall be trying to stay awake through Quantum of Solace, a feat I have yet to achieve…

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