October 6th, 2006

Uncle Duke

Phone Calls That Should Be Made But Probably Won't

Yes, hello? Is this the MBTA "If You See Something, Say Something" hotline?

Oh, good. Hi, listen, I can't speak very loudly, I'm on the train right now, Orange Line, heading north from Community College towards Sullivan Square.

I-- I can't see the train number, I'm sorry. Maybe if I move over to another seat at the next stop. But something strange is going on here that I think you guys should know about. There's a suspicious-looking man dressed all in black going around rummaging through people's bags. Well, it looks to me like he's approaching passengers and making them open their bags for him to go through.

No, I don't think he's taking anything from them, he's just-- well, he is like running like a stick of something over each bag too. I don't know what that could be. I mean, in this day and age, it could be anything, right? Like spores, or anthrax, or something.

Uh, six foot two, dressed all in black, I think he's even got a weapon with him. Yeah, it looks like a weapon. Some kind of truncheon looped in his belt.

A truncheon. It's, it's a club.

No, the kind you beat people with.

He's not using it, no. But he certainly looks threatening and intimidating. I don't think you'd want this guy coming near you if you were riding the train right now, and you certainly wouldn't want him going through your personal stuff. People don't look very comfortable right now. I don't want him going through my stuff, either, so that's why I'm calling you.

Yeah, he has "MBTA TRANSIT POLICE" written on his back, and-- wait, what?

You've got to be kidding me.

No, I have everything to be worried about. It's an invasion of privacy, that's what. We don't live in a country where people are randomly stopped on the street to have their belongings searched without probable cause.

Yes, I realize I'm on a train, not the street.

Private property doesn't enter into it, you're a public service, and--

Of course I'm innocent and I have nothing to hide. But I don't have to go round showing everybody the contents of my bag to prove it, now, do I?

No, no, wait, stop, I was asking a rhetorical question.

Uh, it's a question that doesn't require an actual answer.

To make a point, that's why.

Bothering you? I'm calling in a serious threat. Why aren't you taking this seriously? We've got rights as private citizens, you know.

Yes, I know you consider us second-class citizens, but we've got rights nonetheless.

Do you really think a terrorist is going to say "sure, check out my bag, here you go, hey whoops a bomb, how'd that get in here?"

Yes, that was another rhetorical question.

40 Ha-- wait, why do you want my address?

Thanks all the same, but I don't want a Dunkin Donuts gift card.

You're still not going to get it.

You can't do that and it wouldn't stand in a court of law and you know it. Besides, you can't keep track of your own trains, why should I believe you can track my phone through GPS?




Well, same to you and sideways, besides. Uh, I gotta go, that guy's shoving his truncheon in my face.

Have a worse one. Jerk.
What seems to be the problem, officer?
Make Mine Moxie

the measuring of the smoot bridge

Ed Symkus has posted, on the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon board, a great two part interview he had with Oliver Smoot several years ago. For the outtatownas in the audience, Oliver Smoot was the MIT freshman pledge whose body was used by his fraternity brothers, in 1958, as a unit of measurement for the Massachusetts Avenue bridge across the Charles River in Boston. The official measurement of the bridge, now commonly referred to as "The Smoot Bridge", is 364.4 Smoots (plus one ear.)

Interview Part 1 | Interview Part 2

Appropriately enough, Mr. Smoot, now retired, went on to serve as chairman of the American National Standards Institute, though it is not known if he ever proposed to bring the Smoot (approximately 5.667 feet) into accepted and official usage. A distant relative of his, also an MIT alum, just won the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics.