Modern Bombs Don’t Tick

“The sky is falling!” – City of Boston

If you haven’t heard the news, today the City of Boston ground to a halt as streets were blockaded, the subway’s Red Line was shut down and bridges were closed for hours. The cause? Turner Broadcasting, as part of an advertising stunt, placed magnetic light-up displays in various places around the city, featuring a cartoon character giving the finger. Some pictures here.

Apparently, a subway worker and some other morons saw the ads, which were magnetically stuck to the sides of bridges and a support pole in the subway, among other places, and started calling in bomb scares. The city mobilized its entire police force, calling in bomb squads and reporting “safely” disposing of one of the devices by blowing it apart (with some form of water cannon, apparently) in Sullivan Square, noting that it contained an electronic circuit board with some components that were “consistent with an improvised explosive device”. Menino vowed his undivided vengeance against whoever was responsible; sound bites were collected from the Department of Homeland Security.

Now to be honest, this is a pretty stupid marketing stunt, even among marketing stunts. But twenty four cop cars and the bomb squad? Give me a puppy-buggering break. I’ve already done my ranting on the chicken littles prattling on about a “post 9/11 world”, code fuchsia terror alerts and all things Homeland Security, so I’ll spare you that. What really bothers me about this is that when a big media company pulls a stupid stunt like this, they put out a press release containing an apology, and maybe if they’re really unlucky, pay a fine (littering, disturbing the peace?), and that’s pretty much the end of that. But if a freelancer or everyday citizen pulled the same stunt, they’d go to jail and not come back.

“Authorities said some of the objects looked like circuit boards or had wires hanging from them.”

Yeah, I guess unpackaged circuit boards* are a deadly threat to society, unlike, say, a big package of nitroglycerin. Looking at the pictures, these are not crudely hand-soldered parts on a hunk of Veroboard, but actual professionally manufactured, machine-populated boards. If you look carefully, they even masked the boards with black solder mask, which costs extra (most boards are coated in boring green mask). Clearly the work of well-funded terrorists. (And brazen ones, at that. Only an audacious criminal mastermind would, rather than disguise a bomb as a pile of garbage or innocous empty cardboard box, instead make it light up and blink: “hey, look at me! I’m vaguely suspicious and clamoring for your undivided attention! Please find and safely defuse me, thus foiling my master plan!”

* * *

Something is seriously fucked in this country.

If I were to stick some perfectly legitimate prototype, such as a micropower data logger, onto a bridge, roadside or similar field-test scenario where they’d actually have an environment to log**, and got noticed, I’d spent the next five to ten keeping criminals out of my cornhole. A couple years ago, an electronic prototype (this one, which totally does not look like a bomb at all) nearly got a colleague and I thrown off a plane, which was delayed half an hour while the TSA opened it up and poked around inside. Not too incredibly long ago, I was riding the subway to the airport while wearing my Terrormouse t-shirt (featuring the text “TERRORMOUSE” under a large mouse with glowing red eyes), and an ashen-faced older gentleman actually asked me, dead-serious, “are you a terrorist?”

The whole point of TERRORism is to instill TERROR on a populace – have them jumping at shadows, unable to sleep at night and suspicious of their own countrymen. Under the dictionary definition, the terrorists are in City Hall, and they’ve already won.

* a surprising number of electronic devices for small volume, industrial, or laboratory use are left intentionally unpackaged, or sold with a separate “you put it together” enclosure, because electronics without an enclosure are considered industrial rather than consumer devices by the FCC, and so are subject to much less stringent certification procedures (which would otherwise totally kill the budget of many small projects).

** as opposed to leaving it powered up on a shelf in the lab, where there’s no environment to log, or rather no environment [rain, sleet, dark of night, vampires] at all to speak of, so it’s not really much of a test at all.


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