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The inside of an M26A1 fragmentation grenade

+Sreek Menon shared this image earlier, and I'd like to share it to you with some more explanation of what you're seeing here. The image struck me because it's both beautiful and terrifying; at first glance, it looks like a piece of jewelry or decorative art, a sort of Fabergé egg meant to kill. 

This image appeared in a thread on Reddit (, where there are some very interesting comments; lucilletwo has a particularly informative one.

Here's what you're seeing. The pin is visible as the ring behind the grenade, at the left, and the pin which is sticking out through the handle. Its role is to hold the safety clip in place. When released, the clip can fall off (when throwing it, you grip the clip in your hand and pull the pin; as it leaves your hand, the clip falls) which lets the hammer (diagonal line at left) move on its spring and whack the primer. (Orange stuff and triangle at the top center) This lights the delay charge (bright turquoise) which burns for three seconds; at the end, it releases the clips (blue and gold) which are holding the spring (coiled at the center) fixed. This pushes down the striker pin (the golden rod at the middle) so that it strikes the primer charge (red) which sets off the initiator charge (greenish-gray). This, in turn, will detonate the parts which were removed from this grenade: booster charges of very fast explosive (tetryl) which are wrapped around the cylinder, and Composition B which fills the entire body of the grenade, the main explosive.

The golden squares which you see around the rim are actually a single coil of wire which wraps the whole mechanism and which has been notched into cubes. These cubes are torn apart by the explosion and fired off as shrapnel in all directions. It's surrounded by a thin sheet of metal that holds it all together. The result is designed to kill or maim anyone within 15 meters when it goes off. 

Why am I going through all this? I think it's because the dissonance between the beauty of the item and its nature. I remember a similar feeling as a child, when I was quite obsessed with nuclear weapons. (A side effect of growing up during the Cold War; I could recite for you, in great detail, the effects of nuclear explosions, the models of weapon, and where they were likely to hit) They have a beautiful, elegant simplicity, and produce something which genuinely strains the outer ability of the human mind to comprehend. And that something is destructive. 

We are attracted to and repelled by death, in all its forms.
Ross Judson's profile photoJay Geater's profile photoMatt Harmon's profile photoBoris Borcic's profile photo
"for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so"
It seems rather complicated. I wonder how few parts it would take to replace all those mechanicals with electronics.
+John Poteet Mechanical grenades and mines can fail, but I assure you that the failure rate of electronic grenades and landmines -- given the wide range of environments in which they must operate -- will be far higher. Whether you consider that to be a plus or minus depends on your circumstances and point of view, of course. An advantage of electronic mines is that they can be easily designed to automatically disarm under various circumstances, but the world still opts very much for the old-fashioned "reliable" mechanisms.
It's disturbing how many people who worked (or are still working) at the National Labs have managed to compartmentalize the abstract or technical beauty of nuclear weapons from their purpose and effect. This has been a problem for arms designers throughout time, but starting with Oppenheimer (who ultimately came to understand, and was punished by the dark lord Teller as a result) this took on a whole new meaning.
Just read that the M26 was used mainly during the Vietnam War. A mature invention. 
+Lauren Weinstein I'm confused. We can implant electronics inside human bodies, strap them to the front of missiles where they operate at 10's of gravities of force but we can't design an electronic grenade that only has to survive the environment a human can walk around in? 

Is that cost of components or "nope can't do it?" 
+John Poteet That grenade is mechanical.  It was designed in a world that knew about nuclear weapons.  Electronics don't fare well on the nuclear battlefield (which was the assumption in the mid-20th century).  A mechanical trigger mechanism for a chemical explosive makes perfect sense in that context.
So much effort, so much craftsmanship, into something so small and yet so deadly.

I would prefer an actual Faberge egg, in all its wasteful extravagance, to this strange beauty whose only purpose is to destroy; and yet it is fascinating and compelling, another product of the strange dance humanity performs with mortality - moving closer and farther but never leaving the pattern.
+John Poteet Electronics of that level of reliability are expensive. They also require a power source, and reliable power sources are even more expensive. And you wouldn't actually reduce the part count by much; you could replace the timer mechanism, but not the safety catch or the detonator. 
+Yonatan Zunger, thanks for the details...grenades i've seen looked so drab, dark olive green or black on the outside; who knew it's so colorful on the inside?!  i'm awe-struck at its inherent beauty and power of destruction, something else i didn't know was possible before...
Yeah we are good about thinking how to kill each other better.
No reason to celebrate that.
It's funny, but I think there's never been an age in which weapons were uglier than they are right now.  Maybe that means we're growing up as a species?
+Gary Walker I suspect that, instead, weapons have simply become cheaper; no longer being made primarily as status or display items, but more utilitarian. 
+Yonatan Zunger That's a good point, actually.  Much the same way that iron tools were always more utilitarian than their bronze counterparts.
p.s. thanks for introducing me to the wonderful world of reddit...i mean i always knew it existed, but this is the first time i'm actually going through the entire thread...
The first target of my personal brand of antimilitarism has always been the weapon engineers - assuming they don't work themselves under the emergency of actual legitimate defense, but rather set the stage for others to pull the triggers under such terms -- this, precisely because I believe weapons engineers get the same sort of pleasure from an elegantly working design that I can get from writing software/algorithms... but this, only because they cultivate a blind side to the detailed human impacts... to me, there is a sign error committed when the downstream emergency of legitimate defense serves to relieve the upstream moral responsibilities of persons who do have the time to consider - but don't.
All those shrapnel shards can't be wrong! Way to turn this into a moral debate. In the history of humanity, selfishness, greed, rape and war, do you think for 1 second that the rule of law and the law of war no longer apply? Since now that we  in the west have animal rights to rival human rights, government promoted abortion and so forth? Ravi Zacharias says something like "we have educated ourselves into imbecility...".  
+Samuel Kazee Please don't overload my use of "morals", if it helps, replace it by "hygiene". I do believe
(1) that wartime is a pathology
(2) that you just expressed the opposite view (3) which can't be considered in disconnection from your home country having been engaged for 12 years now in a war that many have criticized for having been defined in such a way that it can't end.
+BAG GAB The kantian imperative allows to draw the line at the individual level.
Boris i agree with you that pathologies exist, murder, theft, rape and so forth, but law and war being seperate or against those things. I would simply suggest to you that the strong protect the weak, and do for the weak, what the weak will not do for themselves, that is down the street and around the world. 
+Samuel Kazee you are basically implying that the police and the military do the same thing and this denies there is ground to distinguish wartime from peacetime - peacetime that does not by itself exclude crime, while crime by itself doesn't imply wartime. I think this confusion is a big mistake (although consistent with the background of "War On Terror" which in effect blurs the line).
+Susanne Ramharter  There are those who would dispute that technology is inherently neutral.  While the military has had a great deal of interest in nuclear and chemical weapons, it's rather less motivated to seek out a Sun Bomb or Wind Bomb (though concentrated solar energy may have been used by the ancient Greeks as a "burning mirror":

There are also philosophies and religions which are more or less amenable to violence.  Christians and Muslims both have their histories of violence toward others.  Jainists and Raelists not so much.
The "line" is that human nature is such that we must be governed. Perhaps the distinction you are failing to see is right and wrong, that without police and military, "just war", there would be more suffering and not less.  
lol! um well, this is why we have police and military, law and war, to help people who can't distinguish, like i m saying. No seriously, there is evil in the world, that's why there is law and war. 
+Gary Walker  Much the same way that iron tools were always more utilitarian than their bronze counterparts.   Got any specific references or sources on that?  Interesting concept.

Iron is much harder to work than bronze, and requires vastly more energy (higher melting point).  Though it's harder, and can be made fairly ornate.  There are a few armory exhibits which are among the more interesting sites at some of my favorite museums.  Deadly, utilitarian, and yet still artistic.
Thanks for sharing +Yonatan Zunger  - I agree, both beautiful and terrifying. Reminds me of Andreas Serrano's beautiful photos of handguns.
At first listen, it sounds like the Rube Goldberg machine of weaponry.
+Robyn Miller It's not really that bad. A description that detailed of a stapler would sound just as complex. 
+Samuel Kazee You seem totally impervious to the notion that war is characterized by people resorting to violence not for personal gain but by loyalty to their communities and hierarchies. On all sides. Your insistent call to "law" and "right and wrong" and your implied reduction of war enemies to petty criminals, murderers and rapists, this all just reflects an imperialistic or religious instinct that the law of your own land or party has universal scope - so that you can't apparently fathom the idea that enemy fighters may and do themselves selflessly obey the exact same logic (except for being rooted in their own community and sense of right and wrong, but that's an irrelevant detail as far as evaluating said logic is concerned).

Now, again, your country having been involved for a long time into a quite inadequately defined "War On Terror" patterned after an even more poisonous metaphor of "War On Drugs", these are alleviating circumstances... but not to the point of compelling me to listen to you if you don't mean to do the least effort to de-bias your perspective from this background.
no way i m going to let robyn miller have more fun on this thread than us, boris. people fight for others or they fight for themselves (ideologies). Are you imagining a dog with no teeth or some philosophical construct where men need not be governed, where this is no right and wrong? Or is there such a thing as truth at all? Nationalism versus patriotism is meaningless without a moral framework in which there is a right and wrong - good guys and bad guys, law and war and peace. 
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.

Wait, what?

Oh yeah. Sometimes, force is necessary to defeat force.
You think this is violent and brutal?
This isn't close to hideous.

Our own bodies are constantly at war with environmental bacteria and other pathogens.

Ever seen a macrophage at work?
Yeah, then this grenade would seem comparatively merciful.
+Edward Morbius this is a common misconception about bronze and iron. Iron is much easier to work than bronze. Bronze working requires casting. Bronze can't be reforged if it breaks (and it is also more brittle than good iron as well as less strong). Then, of course, there is the fact that iron is orders of magnitude more common than copper, much less tin. Bronze was never common enough to be truly utilitarian. Even the tools used to mine ore in the bronze age were made of stone, wood, and bone.
I always found it interesting that they were named for pomegranates. 
+Yonatan Zunger you ever seen the inside of a claymore mine? Now that is some serious intentional shrapnel. 

Pretty good pic of the 700 BBs encased inside, without showing the 1 1/2 lbs of C-4 to hurl them forward. They have a 60 degree arc of full coverage, and if I remember most of it right, well, within 10 meters its pretty much absolutely lethal (you wouldn't really want to live with that many holes in you I think), 50 meter arc for the kill zone, and serious damage/potentially lethal up to 100 meters. 

Here's a little random cartoonish pic to explain more about it. It sounds from this image that the military isn't using it any longer, but they still are. Claymores are very damned useful.
+Robyn Miller For a stapler description, let's use this picture:

The papers to be stapled are placed atop the anvil, with the target staple area over the crimp area. The carrier is kept inside the handle, held in place by a friction latch and a lock. (The silver rectangle on the side of the handle) Inside the carrier is a deck of staples, which are pressed against the plate at the front of the carrier by the main spring and the pusher. When the user pushes down on the handle, the hammer is pushed against the frontmost staple and cuts it off from the deck, through the hole, through the papers (guided by the railing at the front of the carrier), and against the anvil. It enters the crimp area and its tips are bent inwards, until it's fully bent into its final shape. Finally, a spring near the fulcrum pushes the hammer back up and out of the way of the staples, so that the deck can be pushed forward again and a new staple loaded.

The reason this explanation seems so complicated is because it's decomposing everything into its smallest component parts. The grenade explanation, for example, becomes a lot simpler if you think about the natural groupings: a grenade consists of shrapnel wrapped around an explosive core with a timed detonator in the center. The shrapnel is made of a coiled wire, notched into cubes. The explosive core is a lump of Composition B with an initiating charge: since the detonator is going to go off at a single spot, and you want the entire ball of explosives to go off, you have a cylinder of very fast explosive which will take the explosion from the detonator all along the length of the main charge before the main charge starts to go off.

The timer seems complicated, but it's simpler if you realize there's a single component which keeps getting reused: a classic hammer detonator. This is the same sort of mechanism that's used in guns and many other things: basically, a hammer on a powerful spring whacks into a pressure-sensitive explosive (the primer) which sets off some other explosive. A timed detonator is simply two detonators separated by a fuse: the first detonator lights the fuse, and when the fuse burns down, that releases the catch on the second detonator. The hammer on the first detonator is cocked and held back from going off by the clip, and the pin (and jungle clip and other parts) are simply meant to keep the detonator from whacking into the timer until it's time to set it off.

That's really the heart of engineering: decomposing complex systems into smaller parts which are easier to reason about and combine.
+Edward Morbius my first association on looking at the image and reading the text was that there is often beauty in objects that have great destructive potential. Then came the quote.  
Sorry if it seemed strange, a slight neurological condition makes my brain work more with associations and makes well reasoned arguments a bit difficult ;-)
+Susanne Ramharter  I've done stranger.

The whole "some technologies have the capacity to be more evil than others" idea is one that's been rolling around in my head for a few decades, though it's been inspired by some more recent research.  My general working assumption is a meme I've seen online:  large low-entropy pools are inherently dangerous.  Alternatively:  something that's got a lot of potential bundled up in it can be highly disruptive if abused (though potentially useful if used well and wisely).
+BAG GAB Your figure of the Engineer reminds me of the parable of the peaceful exoplanet. That one is inhabited by ET who never resort to violence and have never known war. Someday an artist's exhibition starts a scandal. People come out retching. The exhibit is of a machine gun (or perhaps a hand grenade). The artist signs "Satan".
I live on the outskirts of a great Fortress. It was built at great expense over a period of more than 90 years starting in the early 1800s.

The terrain around it is honeycombed with tunnels and underground chambers to facilitate attack on besieging troops. There are blind passageways that end in cannon emplacements. There are parapets that have been engineered to the centimeter to favor ambushes.

Vicious architecture. But parts are also very beautiful.

And the most crucial: No shot has ever been fired in anger here. 
As long as you keep in mind that death is not the end of evil (due to the inescapable recycling program), then it becomes obvious that sooner or later things will re-occur, the challenge is to evolve the conditions such that the re-occurrence takes place in a world which would limit the ugliness, mindlessness, and blindness of the patterns.

Basically, we have to make evil work harder to survive whilst altering conditions such that destructive actions make less and less sense to more and more people, at some threshold most of the crime problems will disappear and the only types of evil that will remain standing will be recalcitrant fundamentalism, and diabolical geniuses.

The former is easier to contain and defeat than the latter.

Now what kinds of evil would a diabolical genius want to commit and why, that's the question of the century.
It's a faberge egg's evil twin, opposite in geometry and purpose. 
+Yonatan Zunger 

A side effect of growing up during the Cold War; I could recite for you, in great detail, the effects of nuclear explosions, the models of weapon, and where they were likely to hit

You and I have something in common, then. Have you been to the Titian II missile museum?

Two lines come to mind for me:

The first is that when news of Oppenheimer's reaction to the bomb reached Truman, he is reported as allegedly saying Who the hell does he think he is? I'm the one who dropped it.

The second comes from Kim Stanley Robinson's The Gold Coast when Jim, the principal protagonist of the novel confronts his father  - Dennis, the aerospace weapons engineer - about what he does. It's an involved conversation but Dennis explains that while he can't make war impossible, but he can try to make impractical.
Joe, the idea of evil grows out of its primitive function as a baby talk rallying cry to a negative tropism, what makes it toxic to judgment, or IOW a reasoning bug, to apply it over the anterior matter of fixing the sane methods and the concrete aims of positive or negative tropisms and subsidiarily rallies. IOW, while the word (or idea of) dog itself does not bite, the word (or idea of) evil does itself promote, communicate and perpetuate evil inside improperly organized audiences. When in doubt, forbear

That error, and the patterns of negative rallies that follow from it, is I surmise central to the pathologies of what you call "recalcitrant fundamentalism", +Joe Hacobian -- while naming the latter one of two residual chronic causes of evil.

The other residual cause of evil you chose to promote as forming the most significant challenge to reason, is "the diabolical genius". I believe this pick short shrifts Hanlon's Razor and damningly denies the wisest aspects of its intuition. By far not all people with any good sense can be led to think it sane to suspect themselves of secret evil, while most can be led to think it sane to suspect themselves of secret stupidity. The figure of the diabolical genius serves to turn attention to the exact opposite of these issues.

Edit: the right way to deal with outliers is to rectify Kant's imperative to a more robust form built of willability over not everybody but over everybody outside adversely chosen cabals of sporadic individuals.
+Joe Hacobian  "recalcitrant fundamentalists" is just but the front God-waving item of a much wider zoo of demonstrations that evil can be to innocent yourself like yourself to one of your own innocently obedient constitutive cells. The name of evil is first of all meant as a trigger of such "innocent obedience".

(You possibly notice that I criticize you for putting the name of evil to work while doing it myself - but the case is as I see it that I only borrow a little from what you do yourself, what you can't condemn and doesn't add to the semantic pollution of the background).
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