• The Right to Bear Pocket Knives

    The following is a special message from American Security Theatre (AST), a group that seeks a dramatic reversal of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies.

    37DD5A18-6368-49A2-90D5-87391BB3E8B4.jpgWe hereby petition the incoming Obama administration for a modest change, an immediate change that would signal a new direction for air travelers, a new freedom for frequent fliers. Here it is: recognize the need of Americans in the friendly skies to bear tools that fit in their pocket, by which we mean the ever-so useful pocket knife, also known by its brand names, the Swiss Army Knife and the Leatherman Multi-tool.

    Ever since 9/11, pocket knives and their owners have been separated at airport security checkpoints everywhere, never to be reunited. According to the TSA, knives are prohibited, except "for plastic or round bladed butter knives." Who carries a butter knife in his or her pocket or purse? The TSA's unhelpful "Summer Travel Tips" says: "Pocket knives, self-defense sprays and other potential weapons are also prohibited." What a huge misunderstanding! Pocket knives are tools. If you consider them to be weapons, certainly they are Weapons of minimal Destruction (WmD).

    Talk about sweating the small stuff, missing the forest for the trees, looking for love in all the wrong places. If pocket knifes are prohibited, why are nail clippers and corkscrews allowed? Why not allow an all-in-one pocket knife, which best prepares a person for any emergency? Especially, what with emergencies on the rise!

    We can bring screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers under seven inches on planes but not 3-inch pocket knives. Hammers and saws are not allowed, nor are cattle prods but none of these fit in your pocket. We don't seek permission to bring an entire toolchest but we need to go places with all the tools that a good pocket knife provides. Scissors and knitting needles were once confiscated but they are now permitted. The TSA could re-classify any of these humble items as potential weapons or as useful, personal tools.

    So, on behalf of readers of Make magazine, I submit this petition with high hopes that the new administration will hear our plea. Many of us have been carrying Make's imposing Warranty Voider, a branded Leatherman Squirt, and we're losing them to the TSA. The prohibition seems absurd. We should be well-equipped when we travel.

    On a recent trip, I had to buy safety razor blades and batteries, and back in my hotel room I found myself in a struggle with clamshell packaging that would not submit to fingernails and teeth. I regretted not having my pocket knife handy. No, I was mad that my pocket knife was unable to join me on my trip. Then, I had a flashback to when I went through airport security, where an elderly man was pulled aside by the TSA because attached to his keychain was a small pocket knife. Obviously, he had not reviewed the list of prohibited items. The poor man was upset at first; he did not understand that he had to remove the pocket knife from his keychain. This was hard enough for him to do but he couldn't believe that he also had to turn the pocket knife over to the TSA — for keeps — when he finished the task. He asked the TSA why they needed his pocket knife and the uninformed officer was unable to give him a satisfying answer. I thought to myself, pitifully, that I was glad I had not accidently brought along my pitiful pocket knife. In my hotel room, I felt bad that I had not responded with more empathy to my fellow travelers plight. Maybe I should spoken up then and there.

    All I could think of was that another confiscated penknife was destined for Ebay, an abundance of utility without a home. How sad! You'd think the TSA would have the good sense to re-distribute the pocket knives to the truly needy.

    The TSA prides itself on trapping innocent people. Here's a story found on the TSA site from April of this year.

    On the morning of April 16, security officers in Wisconsin discovered a 4.5-inch knife hidden inside a Barbie doll box in a passenger's carry-on bag. When the passenger was questioned, he said that he forgot which Barbie doll box he put the knife in and thought the box with the knife was in his checked luggage.

    The passenger surrendered the knife, but had to re=book on another flight.

    Should we be proud of the TSA for exposing a Wisconsin man's Barbie doll fetish and making him "surrender" his knife? I mean, the guy's from Wisconsin and he's surrendering. President-elect Obama should be sensitive to the idea that Americans shouldn't be surrendering to other Americans. We are not our own enemy.

    It's too bad Inauguration Day doesn't come earlier so that we could get this change in place for the busy holiday travel season. There's also another item on the list of prohibited items that's going to bring huge disappointment for the holidays: would you believe, Santa, that the TSA won't allow Americans to travel with snow globes in their carry-ons?

    Another point to be made, although not as sharp as the others, is that many people have successfully carried pocket knifes through security without detection. Most of the time it is unintentional but they are surprised to find that the TSA didn't notice. A lot of prohibited items are not caught. I hear people bragging that water bottles go through just fine in the pockets of cargo pants. I now know that I can forget pulling out my personal toiletries, even those over 3 oz., because they go through in my carry-on without detection. I've come to rely on it. The TSA doesn't seem to notice. It's only when you're honest and declare that — oops — you've discovered a pocket knife on your person or in your carry-on, only then do you lose it. That's not a way to keep people honest.

    So, if this tiny change is too much to ask, if we haven't made the case that pocket knives are safe and essential everyday personal items, indeed tools just like combs and toothbrushes, or like cellphones, consider quietly crafting a compromise whereby the TSA agrees that when a pocket knife passes through, the uninformed officers intentionally ignore it. Let's apply a "don't tell, don't ask" policy. I won't tell a TSA officer that I have brought my pocket knife with me and an officer won't ask me if I have one.

    The new president won't even have to make this policy public but he can let us know. President Obama can give us a "wink-wink" when he names the new head of the TSA and we'll know that old policy is on its way out with Michael Chertoff and Kip Hawley. The AST thanks you in advance.

  • Sparechange.gov

    While we're waiting for the new economic stimulus plan to be unveiled on change.gov, or while we're waiting for it to kick-in, how about developing a backup plan at sparechange.gov?

    Here's Tom Waits in a YouTube video singing the Depression-era "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931). It's a little rougher than the traditionally smooth Bing Crosby version.

    They used to tell me, 
    I was building a dream
    With peace and glory ahead.
    Why should I be standing in line
    Just waiting for bread?
    Once I built a railroad, 
    I made it run
    I made it run against time
    Once i built a railroad, 
    and now it's done
    Brother, can you spare a dime? ...
    Once in khaki suits,
    Ah, gee we looked swell
    Full of that yankee-doodle dee-dum!
    Brother, can you spare a dime?

    There are more and more people all around us needing our help.

  • Near The Burgess Shale

    We stopped yesterday in the small town of Field, in Yoho National Park in British Columbia. It's the western side of the Continental Divide from where we were in Banff National Park. Here we are looking north from Field over the Kicking Horse River Valley.


    Field, which has a picturesque setting beneath Mount Stephen, below, was built for the construction of the railway and it looks like a model train village today. Railway workers began uncovering unusual fossils in the area. Charles Walcott came in 1908 to explore the trilobite bed near Mount Stephen. A year later, nearly 100 years ago, he discovered the Burgess Shale, which he named after nearby Mount Burgess. Walcott, head of the Smithsonian Institution, spent many years excavating the fossils and returning them to his museum.


    The Burgess Shale lies within Yoho National Park but you can only visit there in summer under the direction of licensed guides. We had a look-see in the information center and then headed to Calgary to fly home.

    Years ago, I had read Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life and the brief visit to Field made me want to find the book first thing upon returning home.

    Gould writes that "the invertebrates of the Burgess Shale…are the world's most important animal fossils. Modern multicellular animals make their first uncontested appearance in the fossil record some 570 million years ago." These fossils represent a record of the Cambrian explosion and "they are precious because they preserve in exquisite detail…the soft anatomy of organisms."

    Gould writes lyrically:

    The animals of the Burgess Shale are holy objects — in the unconventional sense that this word conveys in some cultures. We do not place them on pedestals and worship from afar. We climb mountains and dynamite hillsides to find them. We quarry them, split them, carve them, draw them, and dissect them, struggling to wrest their secrets. … They are grubby little creatures of a sea floor 530 million years old, but we greet them with awe because they are the Old Ones, and they are trying to tell us something.

    Since the book was first published in 1989, Gould's interpretation of the evolutionary significance of the Burgess Shale has come under some criticism. (You can read some of the criticism in Amazon's reviews of the book.) Also, other Cambrian fossil sites have been found in Greenland and China. However, you can't mistake Gould's true enthusiasm for the story of the Burgess Shale, and its breakthrough role in helping us understand the history of life on earth.

  • Michael Moore on Bailout of US Auto Makers

    Michael Moore was a recent guest on Larry King talking about the auto bailout. Moore's terrific documentary, "Roger & Me," targeted the auto companies in 1989 while they closed plants and laid off workers. Moore tells Larry King that in the movie when the GM representative said that 30,000 people could be laid off in Flint, he thought it was a joke. Years later, it came true. Moore says he's conflicted, as many of us are, about what to do. He doesn't have any confidence in the leaders of this industry.

    Moore doesn't want to see the loss of more jobs in the US auto industry. He also doesn't trust the current management teams that got them into this mess. Hard to argue against either position.

    I don't know if I can go so far as Moore to believe that the government could do a better job running these companies. However, it's clear that this manufacturing capacity could be a great asset if applied to an overhaul of the US transportation system.

    I liked Michael Moore as the bumbling everyman in Roger & Me and I've liked his movies less and less as they've become strident setups. I was happy to see Moore in this interview get back to something like his old self. It's somehow personal again.

    Since this interview, the CEOs of the Big Three had a humbling day on Capitol Hill, unable to defend their use of separate corporate jets to bring them to the hearing and more importantly, unable to articulate what they would do with the money they're asking for. They've supposedly gone back to Detroit to work on a proposal and muster the courage to go back to Washington in December.

  • Alberta Meteor Sighting

    Last night, there was a report of a meteor streaking across the Alberta sky and crashing somewhere in Western Canada in the early evening. Sadly I did not see it but some local TV coverage can be found on YouTube.

    There's a Canadian scientific website for reporting meteor sightings and impacts but it's mum on last night's event.

  • Icefields Mystery Trails

    BoingBoing readers may help me identify what made the trails in the photo below, taken from Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. I took the photo from the road when I noticed what looked liked ski trails. Except I don't believe they are ski trails; they were in a remote area where it would not be safe to ski.


    The above picture is a blow-up from this photo, which might provide more context. I should also add that I'm not a skier nor a snowboarder.


  • If Nobody Got Told

    "The biggest fuck-up with killing people, if nobody, if nobody got told then nobody would've slipped information," he added.

    I was reading this story of a Calgary murder trial in Toronto's Globe and Mail and I was surprised by the above quote. I'm not used to seeing "fuck-up" in a newspaper but then again I'm reading mostly American newspapers. Not only would the obscenity cause problems for American editors, but the grammar would give them another reason to reject the quote. It's a choice between decency and realism, and I liked the Globe and Mail's choice, which gives me greater insight into how this awful man thinks and acts.

    I can't resist summarizing the crime story, which is tragic, but it sets up another astonishing quote from this 25-year-old murderer. He and his then 12-year-old girlfriend killed her family because they didn't want him seeing her. These cold-blooded killers fled but were caught, presumably because they told friends how to find them. On the way to a psychiatric evaluation, the man gave details of the murders, bragging to a fellow traveller who was an undercover cop. He was already thinking about what life would be like with his girlfriend after prison.

    He ruminated about their plans once they get out to have a "gothic wedding," move to Germany, buy a castle and raise a couple of kids. He talked almost proudly about the notoriety the murders had given them. "Me and my old lady have become legends," he said.

  • Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

    Today, we travelled up the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise. We didn't make it all the way to the Columbia Icefields but we saw lots of incredibly beautiful mountains and glaciers. I took this picture near Glacier Lake.


    The next photo, I believe, has a view of the Crowfoot Glacier.


    I've been reading How Old is that Mountain? by Chris Yorath. In answering the question in the book's title, Yorath uses a metaphor that will stay with me longer than most of the geological terms. He said it's like a new house built with hundred-year old timber. The rock was formed first long before the forces that "deformed" the rock and created the mountain. The sedimentary rock in the Banff National Park was formed about 610 million years ago but the mountains were created 90 to 60 million years. In addition, glaciation and erosion continue to change the mountains as well as carve the valleys between them.

    I was disappointed not to get further north. (Ok, I'll admit that I didn't top off the gas tank before leaving Lake Louise and there were no services along the way, so I had to turn back fearing we might not have enough gas for the round trip.) I wanted to get to the Columbia Icefields and ideally all the way to Jasper. The sight I wanted to see was Mount Athabasca, which is described as the hydrographic apex of North America. That is, water from this mountain drains in three possible directions — west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic and north to Hudson. Yorath writes that it is the "one point on which a mountaineer can pollute all three oceans with a single act."

    I will have to come back again. There's lots more to explore. I want to see the Canadian Rockies in other seasons but this glimpse of early winter is really wonderful.

  • Avalanche!

    I heard the distant rumble and looked up from the trail. I quickly took this photo as fast as I could.


    It's a relatively small avalanche but I'd never seen one before. They are the stuff of legend, especially in the minds of those who don't live in snow country. I can't place a particular TV drama from the sixties but I know that where I first heard the shout "Avalanche!".

    We were out about two hours on a trail leading from Lake Louise towards the Victoria glacier. It was very cold but sunny. We had been told to expect avalanches with the sun warming up the ledges. The trail leads to the Plain of Six Glaciers. The avalanche we saw was snow falling off the top of the Lefroy Glacier.

    Everywhere you see evidence of avalanches past such as this one.


  • Illustrating Alan Kay's Role in Portable Computing

    It's usual practice for a magazine to run an excerpt of a book written by one of its editors. However, BusinessWeek went one step further and converted an excerpt from senior editor Steve Hamm's new book into a comic or manga. His book, The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer, is "a popular history of portable computing and also a narrative of a single, contemporary product (Lenovo's X300) as it travels from conception to the marketplace." Here's the first panel of this version, which tells the story of Alan Kay, one of the creative visionaries and inventors of the computer revolution.

    Steve wrote in his Globespotting blog that one of his purposes in writing the book "was to get young people interested in being engineers, designers, inventors, and entrepreneurs." Make magazine shares that goal.

    I use Alan Kay's famous quote in my talks: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." I take the liberty of substituting "make" for "invent." I would love to have Alan Kay come to Maker Faire.

    View the rest of Alan Kay series on the BusinessWeek website

  • The Sound of Two Smokestacks Falling

    The demolition of Long Mill Dye House in Roanoke, Virginia brought down two smokestacks but one didn't fall as planned.

    8C07D05E-67A0-41FB-85E9-9376AA14A253.jpg photo from WSLS.com

    Watch this AP video and listen for one of the operators warn: "Be advised: one stack apparently did not fall in the right direction." There were no reports of injury to persons or property.

    Long Mill demolition video

    A local TV station WSLS reporter wrote:

    Many of the people who came out to watch the building crumble worked in the mill for years, but for some it wasn't such a sad sight to see their former employer come crashing down.

    "I hate to see them kill all the big rats, they had rats over there about 2 foot long," said Jim Chattin, who used to work at Long Mill.

  • Pygmy Tarsiers Re-discovered in Indonesia

    Pygmy tarsiers, long believed extinct, have been found in Indonesia, according to a story in The Globe and Mail. In August, researchers from Texas A&M, led by Sharon Gursky-Doyen, trapped two males and a female in moutain-top mist nets on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. With distinctive eyes, the pygmy tarsiers are primates; they are"about the size of a small mouse;" they have claws instead of nails, which is a distinguishing feature.

    Here's a short video from the researchers showing the pygmy tarsier running up a tree.

    link to Texas A&M article.

  • Sweet Snow-made Declaration

    While on the trail to the falls in Johnston Canyon, which is a wonderful walk off a road that runs between Banff and Lake Louise, we came across this beautiful snow-made creation that declares a couple's love for each other. The snow-made man and woman were starting to melt but here's good wishes to their anonymous creators.


  • Going into Garage-mode

    Lidija Davis on ReadWriteWeb summarizes current VC advice for startups and entrepreneurs:

    Go back to the garage. That's the message venture capitalists at the Dow Jones VentureWire Technology Showcase in Redwood City CA today, are offering to entrepreneurs and startups.

    In the midst of one of the worst economic crises the world has seen, investors are in the main optimistic, and agree that to weather this storm and come out on top, today's entrepreneur's need to change their mindset and go back to basics: go back to the garage, and success will follow.

    Expect to hear startups saying "yeah, we've gone into 'garage-mode,'" modeling after the term "stealth-mode." The only trouble is what to do with all the boxes?


    image source.

  • Reporting from Banff for BoingBoing

    I'm doing my guestblogging assignment this week while in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. I came here to give a talk about Make and makers at Digitel (Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning), by invitation of Mike Eisenberg of University of Colorado at Boulder's Craft Technology Lab. After my talk, my wife and I went for a hike to see some of the magnificent mountains that surround Banff. The first real snow of the season came last Sunday.

    I took this photo below of Mount Rundle with the Bow River making a loop in the Banff valley. The town is out of the picture to the right.


    Tonight I've bought a book about the geology of Banff. Mount Rundle is on the cover. It's called How Old is that Mountain? by Chris Yorath. I want to learn more about this part of the Canadian Rockies and what they're made of.

  • Scrap market collapse threatens Bay Area recycler

    ACCRC is in desperate straits. The Bay Area electronics recycler is going through tough times with an emergency re-org and a lack of funds to pay taxes and healthcare for its employees. Its own internal problems are compounded by a sudden drop in the price of scrap metal. ACCRC has been a friend to Make and Maker Faire, and generally anyone in the Bay Area who uses computers and electronics and wants to make sure they are recycled properly.

    ReMake Event at ACCRC - 3

    Alex Handy, a member of a small team stepping up to see what they can do to help, told me that "the business has always been profitable because the recovery of the metals in circuit boards, combined with the California SB-20 bounty on monitors, have always been lucrative. When copper and other scrap metal prices were through the roof two years ago, things were great. We could make enough money off of electronic recycling to fill in the gap left after monitor recycling. But copper, like oil and every other commodity of late, has bottomed out. It's not as scarce as people were anticipating because many factories worldwide aren't ordering more, or as much, thanks to the economic slow-down."

    ACCRC has cut-back staff and sold off items in its inventory that still had some value. Still, ACCRC needs to raise money, and there's a Donate button on the ACCRC website. The team is trying to keep the organization afloat and survive long enough for scrap market to recover and put the organization back together. Please help if you can.

  • Merrill Lynch Needs a Dressing Down

    The Wall Street Journal, Friday November 14th, reports on "culture clashes" between the brokers of Merrill Lynch and the bank that bought them, Bank of America. As the article portrays it, the values of Wall Street are coming in conflict with those of Main Street. "Merrill staffers joke that Bank of America employees are recognizable in the elevators by their less expensive attire and American-flag lapel pins."


    Merrill Lynch is bullish on snobbery and status. These snobs, wearing more expensive suits, consorted to run their company into the ground. Now they look down on the company that rescued them and the people who work there as not being worthy, not sharing their own high status. It's another sign that failure will not humble Wall Street or cause them to change their ways. It's also a bad sign for Bank of America of the difficulty of getting these dandies to do an honest day's work.

    These are the good people we're helping bail out and they look down their noses at the rest of us. It bothers me that we're providing welfare payments to people who fly first-class, stay in five-star hotels, eat in expensive restaurants, watch sports in skyboxes and travel in limos more frequently than rock stars, all the while being impeccably dressed in the classic fashion. It just makes me want to rise up out of my seat in coach, walk to the front of the plane and grab one of them by their silk tie. I want to scream: "Get out here, you bum. I know you're not the one paying for this." I'd half-expect them to defend themselves by saying "Hank Paulson said I could sit here."

    The bare truth is that they have lived this lifestyle by taking people's money in return for worthless advice. Their specialty is knowing what's good for themselves, not understanding what's happening in the market. Read Michael Lewis's year-old article in Portfolio: The Evolution of an Investor about a broker named Blaine Lourd who finally understands the disservice he performs.

    The problem was the entire edifice of modern Wall Street, in which some people –- brokers, analysts, mutual fund managers, hedge fund managers -– presented themselves as experts and were paid fantastic sums of money for their expertise. But essentially, Ellis argued, there was no such thing as financial expertise. "I read this book," Blaine says, "and I thought, My whole life is a lie, and everyone around me is facilitating this lie."

    If you see a broker dressing like one from Merrill Lynch, tell him to loosen his tie, roll up his sleeves a little and lose the Italian-made loafers. Tell him times have changed and he won't be dressing anymore like he's made of money.

  • Beach Dreams

    I saw a nostalgic photo in the bathroom of a NY City restaurant recently, a picture of the beach at Coney Island and the ocean was absolutely filled with people from where the water met the shore to as far out as people could stand. It was such a great picture that could be interpreted two different ways: what an awful thing to go to a crowded beach OR what an amazing time you'd have in the middle of all those people enjoying the day of the beach. Think of its opposite — the island beach with white sand and nothing but you and nature, the kind of photos you find in "Travel and Leisure" magazine. It's another setting that could be seen and experienced two different ways — I've found paradise because I can lie on this beautiful beach or, an hour later, I'm bored because there's nobody here and nothing to do. One test is to ask yourself what you'd have done as a kid. The kid has to prefer the crowded beach with lots going on.

  • Tinker in a Collective Shop

    Check out Daniel B. Smith's article on Lewis Hyde in the New York Times Magazine: "What is Art For? Hyde is the author of "The Gift", an influential book exploring the idea of gift economies. It's a book that I have meant to read. Hyde seems to be a practical man as well as a man of ideas. He wrote an essay "Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking" because he was reading Berryman's poems while working in a hospital's drunk ward and noticed the same kind of delusional language he found in the poetry.

    Hyde is working on a new book about, in Smith's words, "recovering the idea of the cultural commons as a deeply American concept." Smith writes that Hyde's emphasis is not on the "lone genius" but the "inventor eager to share his discoveries."


    (image from the Franklin Institute)

    Despite [Ben] Franklin's notorious talents of self-promotion, he was explicit that his inventions were not and should not be his to claim as property. Offered an exclusive patent on the Franklin stove, he refused on the grounds that the invention was based on previous innovations – specifically, on theories of heat and matter articulated by Isaac Newton and the Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave. "That as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others," Franklin wrote in his "Autobiography," "we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously."

    Of course, you might say, this was an easy position for Franklin to take: he was rich. People need their copyrights to live. But that's exactly Hyde's point: copyrights are utilitarian things. They generate money to pay a mortgage and buy groceries and continue working. Extended too far beyond their practical usefulness, copyrights not only contradict their original intent; they also wall creators off from the sources of their inventiveness. Genius, Hyde believes, needs to "tinker in a collective shop."

  • Hard Drives' Dying Moans

    From a repair shop comes a collection of the sounds of hard drives failing. Their last words, their dying moans.

    Love is not the dying moan of a distant violin-it's the triumphant twang of a bedspring. — S. J Perelman

    These are noises that will please the ears of circuit benders everywhere. I kind of like the Maxtor drive "with stuck spindle and musical siren." Kind of like a John Cage piece.