Steve just alerted me to a post in TIME magazine that includes the most terrifying moment of my life in its “Top Ten Hacks of All Time”. How on earth did they think this was a “hack”? Nothing cool or clever happened. No MIT Deans bailed me out of jail saying “All Tech Men Wear Batteries”. I was in court for almost a year. I dropped out of school. Hack??!
Not only that, but most of what they report is utterly false. As much as it sickens me to reprint their tripe, here’s the copy so I can break it down line by line [this is such a waste of time, but I feel obliged to respond to this nonsense. Now that I can talk about it, I can’t just let it stand]
“Terrorist or Techie?”
Mike Adaskaveg / Polaris
In 2007, authorities arrested an MIT student at gunpoint in Boston’s Logan International Airport. Her crime? In truth, it was one for the fashion police: while holding five to six ounces of Play-Doh in her hands, the sophomore, as secretary of the MIT Electrical Research Society, arrived at the airport wearing a black sweatshirt decorated with a battery-powered circuit board that lit up to reveal the phrase “Socket to Me.” To authorities, the contraption looked like a bomb — and the Play-Doh like plastic explosives. The student, who was charged with possessing a hoax device, claimed she had no such thing in mind: she was going to the airport to meet her boyfriend. And as for the outfit, it was career day at MIT, she said, and she just wanted to stand out.
POINT 1: NO PLAYDOUGH
There was never ever ever any “playdough”. Who believes this shit? Someone seriously thinks I was fondling some playdough on the way to the airport??? No, I was in a goddamn hurry to meet my boyfriend and then get home to finish my problem sets. What’s true is I had a (hard, ceramic!) sculpted flower/fake rose for him. A flower, for my boyfriend. Yeah, cute, right?
Additionally, the Boston State Police use playdough in simulations to recognize Semtex (plastic explosives), so it’s really fucking convenient for them to claim this. Does it worry you that the police at the airport can’t describe the fucking difference between something hard, and “playdough”? That they would straight-facedly report this to you? After several hours of consideration?
POINT 2: PRESIDENT, THANK YOU
I don’t know where this one comes from. At the time I was not “secretary”, I was president-elect of the MIT Electronic Research Society.
POINT 3: IT WAS A STAR.
While I’m not entirely sure how the author managed to post a photo of my sweatshirt, and at the same time write that I had some sort of scrolling display that showed actual words, it’s obviously false. The LEDs were basically a flashlight in the shape of a star. That’s it. Do you have a flashlight? Yeah. Just like that, only dimmer.
POINT 4: POLICE KNOW BETTER
The Boston state police bomb squad is good. They know what electronics are. They weren’t confused that this might resemble a “bomb” at all. See Massachusetts’ “wrongful arrest” laws to understand how MA’s police are incentivized to press charges. (Any charges, even made-up charges like “possession of an infernal machine” in my case, or frequently the catch-all “disorderly conduct”)
POINT 5: A SWEATSHIRT ISN’T APPROPRIATE TO MAKE YOU STAND OUT AT A CAREER FAIR
Yeah, it’s true I once wore this while walking through a career fair, but the idea that I did so because I needed to make myself stand out is ludicrous, and just one more [intentional?] misinterpretation by the police. I also wore this same sweatshirt every day of that whole preceding week. I happened to decide to see what was up at a career fair that happened that week, but wasn’t looking for work particularly. I wanted to see what cool stuff people were working on, and who comes to recruit at MIT. So, you should faithfully report that I also wore it to dinner, wore it while studying, wore it while biking between Boston and Cambridge, wore it on the subway, wore it in class, wore it in my research group while building other electronic shirts, wore it to the grocery store, and while doing a whole host of other mundane things related to on campus student-life.
There you have it. If you know how to get in touch with TIME about posting a retraction, please inform me post haste.
Generally speaking — don’t read TIME, don’t believe papers. I had no idea how wildly inaccurate journalism was until I got covered. I have unbelievable skepticism for the written word, since. You must always consider the author, the business model, and the motivations of the people involved.
I’m really agitated after writing this, so I hope it’s been worthwhile to write. Yet I suspect that the wrong information, the lies (white and otherwise) originally spread by the police, and propagated by lazy journalistic behemoths, will never truly go away. This drives me pretty crazy, especially when I meet people who get that knowing look and say, “I know you..” I can tell you with certainty what they’re about to say. How often does that happen? We’re past the two year anniversary, and sometimes it’s every day — usually at least several times a week.
Finally, here’s some information I dearly wish I’d had in 2007:
Don’t Talk to Police — it cannot help you (advice from a lawyer!)
BUSTED: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters (long but worthwhile)