Ian M Tripp Is Building a Bomb

Composed on the 21st of April in the year 2006, at 3:43 PM. It was Friday.

Considering how few packages I get outside or inside the holiday months, I sometimes wonder if merely looking at the recipient's address on the boxes in my building qualifies as stalking. Considering the slim to none odds of an unexpected package being for me, my daily interest has graduated from brief hope to pure voyeurism.

Ian M Tripp gets a lot of packages. Square ones (for large peices), small ones (nuts, bolts, wires), and flat ones (plans, diagrams, pornography). All unmarked, some without return addresses, some cleverly labelled "eBay item," or even more insidious and federally criminal "IRS." He's been at it for a long time, so it must be a fairly large bomb.

Now, one pound of TNT is the amount of TNT in a standard WWII anti-tank mine. If tanks aren't your major problem in life, you can blow up a house, and probably bring down my apartment building if you put it on the bottom floor, or in the basement. TNT is fairly easy to make with sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and toluene. You can get the acids from a chemical supply warehouse, and buy toluene from a hardware store in five gallon drums. The recipe is online, or you can get it from high school students, who, according to my last, meticulously researched calculation, are still the most dangerous people in the world.

Ian M Tripp lives in 3C, which is the apartment across the hall from me. I've seen 2C, directly below it, and since 2B, below me, is exactly the same as my apartment, I can assume 3C looks pretty much like 2C. Or, if not 2C, 4C, as the archtictect seemed to have a crisis of faith about closet space when he got to 4B. Since the difference in closet space between 2C and 4C is about four square feet, and my next calculation will have at least a 200 square foot margin of error, we can let it go.


I'll give my own apartment an estimate of 1100 square feet. The C apartments are a little smaller, so we'll say 950 square feet. The ceilings are roughly 9 feet high, giving us 8550 cubic feet. The best deal I've found on TNT offers 1/2 pound blocks measuring 1 7/8" x 1 7/8" x 7". Punching in 1.875x2x7 gives us 24.6 cubic inches. Sticking with inches, 8550 cubic feet gives us 12x12x12 cubic inches per foot, for a total of 14,774,400 cubic inches, enough room for about 600,585 1/2 pound blocks of TNT, or 150 tons.

After some searching, I found a rough estimate of what 150 tons would do. Typing "150 tons TNT" into a major search engine brings up a lot of nuclear test journalism, since that's about what they used to test fission bombs in the war. After some searching, I found a rough estimate of what 150 tons would do in a forum of people arguing over the inevitable war between Star Trek and Star Wars characters.1[1]

If Ian M Tripp spent the last year doing nothing but mixing TNT, and assuming the floor didn't give way, he would have enough to inflict third-degree burns on people 350 meters away. So, ignoring the buildings in the way of the blast:

Fig 1.1

As you can see in Fig 1.1, third degree burns at four football fields of clearance suggests that my block, my bar, and my laundry mat would be engulfed and consumed in explosive death, and a good chunk of the Brooklyn-Queens expressway would go down. This is no nuke; it would only severely suck for the northeast corner of greenpoint. Micky D loses a franchise, and the kids in the park are basically fucked.

But c'mon. Greenpoint isn't exactly a hotbed of economic drama. The BQE would be a score, but since this is a residential area, you'd have to choose between high traffic on the expressway, and potential victims actually being home. Why would anyone blow up Greenpoint?

Greenpoint, from a social stance, is just the hipsters' next victim. As a representative of the kind of transient media artist that drove up rent in Williamsburg, I can see my evil clones slowly crawling over old bars and family businesses and—through some kind of diabolical secretion composed of hair products and Belgian beer—committing a bizarre social exogenesis, leaving over-stocked art supply stores and bars with cute names in their wake.

All I can think is that 150 tons of TNT might be Ian M Tripp 's warning shot. "Go back to Williamsburg!" his battle cry, he sets the fuse and offers a prayer for the lower middle class descendants of Polish immigrants, thus making his last stand against the reign of the nihilist trust fund baby.

Unfortunately, the theory breaks down, for two reasons. First, 150 tons of anything would probably fall through the floor before he had a chance to detonate it. Second, he'd have to be crazy to think a measly .15 kiloton explosion could stop the hipsters. On top of that, the ultimate fallout would look something like figure 1.2.

Fig 1.2

Inside the city, the actual caring radius is comparatively small. Outside the city, a much larger proportion of people would care temporarily, due to an interesting NYC phenomenon: people outside the city care about what happens to it more than the people actually in it. The orange and yellow areas would be pervasive across the US (and in parts of Poland), subsiding in the area between Pennsylvania and Virginia, which would be predominantly green. The only reason for the prevalence of green inside the city limits is that it's bad for business to be utterly callous in the face of death tolls exceeding three digits.

Given the limit of total cultural damage, and the impracticality of living with multiple tons of explosives, I assume Ian M Tripp has bigger things in mind. I expect he is building a BFN (Big Fucking Nuke). He must have obtained a chunk of weapons-grade plutonium and then moved to Greenpoint, on the accurate assumption that even people outside the city wouldn't give a damn about what happens in Greenpoint unless it was later found to be the epicenter of the explosion that finally got rid of New Jersey. Once he is safely tucked away in an anonymous chunk of the very heartland of anonymity, he starts ordering the basic parts for his master plan.

He gets away with this because he's got an engineering degree. The most complex machines start with a bunch of sheet metal and some wires; there's no reason Ian M Tripp can't start from that. Assuming he keeps the plutonium in a locked box somewhere away from the stove, he can reasonably avoid radiation poisoning while he builds the rest of the BFN. With a strong background in engineering, there's no reason to order a trigger mechanism when you can build one out of an alarm clock.

So I expect Ian M Tripp will be setting off his bomb fairly soon. A year seems long enough; since he hasn't already blown himself up, he must be near the finish line.

Regardless of his motivations, a nuke will do what it does best, and everyone will know about it. If he cares to leave a message with a suitably distant journalist, everyone will remember Ian M Tripp's message for generations to come.

Still, it's possible he's not so interested in vaporization. Though it's true that a 150 ton suicide attack on Greenpoint would not produce much interesting aftermath, 150 non-suicidal, two-pound explosions in the subway could do some serious damage.

With all the plans and boxes being shipped to Ian M Tripp, he could well be rigging hundreds of bombs, using a few chemicals and a box of alarm clocks. A box of pagers, and he could set them off with a pay phone. Ian M Tripp is clearly crazy (he is, after all, setting off a homegrown nuke any day now), but there are plenty of crazies out there with grudges they'd like to settle with large explosions. It's amazing it doesn't happen all the time. I mean, nobody could stop them. Nobody stopped Ian M Tripp. No one even knows about him. No one could no about him. Except me.

I would be accused of being paranoid if I called him out on it. Rightfully so; no one believes the neighbors are building bombs because it doesn't happen that often. I keep an eye on his packages, but that's all I can do. Nobody should get that many packages, especially when I only get two or three a year.

I suppose I'll wonder, in the brief instant before my body is reduced to its component elements, if I could have done more to stop him. Could I have listened at his door? Stalked him in the grocery store? Listened through a hole in the wall, gathering evidence? I wonder if I'll berate myself up for having assumed so much innocence in mystery neighbors. Damage is so easy to do, people are cruel and crazy, and yet I walk along the street everyday with fair faith that not one of the quarter million people I pass is going to blow me up. Despite the palpable bitterness that rises out of the constant New York failures of human nature, the clashing neighborhoods, and the concentrated, block-by-block class struggles, I still feel safe on my commute.

Yet here I am, waiting for the nearly ground zero nuclear demise in my immanent future. But I don't feel bad about Ian M Tripp's pending holocaust. There was no reason for me or anyone else to see it coming. I just made a lucky guess.

1 I can neither condemn nor condone this kind of debate, so judge for yourself, here. Nonetheless, Trekkies tend to be fact checkers, so I'll trust 'em.

I open my third eye, then secretly listen to Gordon Lightfoot.

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