By now everyone has heard about the MIT engineering student who decided it would be a great idea to build and wear an imitation suicide bomb vest -(self-designed for Career Day, of all things !) to Logan Airport in Boston. Yes, THAT Logan Airport : the one used by some of the 9/11 hijackers :thus proving students ( although referred to as "men" and "women" ) quite often have a great deal of growing up left to do.
It was also prima facie evidence of something I've long believed : engineers, scientists, and techies of all sorts tend to be "wired differently" from the rest of us.
Here's a story from August,2007 that illustrates this :
David Hahn, 31, from Clinton Township, Michigan, has been accused of stealing smoke detectors containing americium. Hahn was previously described as "The Radioactive Boy Scout" after trying to make a thorium-based reactor in a shed at his mother's home when a 17-year old. Now 31, Hahn, was being held in the Macomb County Jail on charges of larceny from a building.
According to the story. Hahn had a number of (apparently stolen) smoke detectors, and it was speculated he was trying to extract the americium from them. Americium is a radioactive metal that is quite similar to polonium and could ( I believe) be used to make a "dirty bomb"-or-more threatening still- be alloyed with beryllium to create a neutron source that would be far more dangerous.
Hahn's motives (He says he was researching for a book) are - at best - murky.
Hahn's adventures are not unique: a Pataskala, Ohio (near Columbus) man was taken into custody on sexual assault charges,and a search of his home revealed a jar about half full of castor bean seeds-which can be used to make ricin : a deadly bio-poison for which there is no antidote. Police say "rocket fuel" was also found. (I'm not sure I want to know what that was all about !)
Students are not the only people capable of immature and misguided conduct.
All across the nation, there have been false bomb threats. These usually get phoned in right after lunch on Friday afternoons - presumably by employees looking to start their weekend early.
New Jersey had a staggering number of such incidents until it worked out a remedial strategy: The police respond in full force, and they make a thorough search ...but no employees are allowed to leave the building unless a real threat is found. (By strange coincidence the number of bomb threats has gone from several per week to one every few months...)
All of these incidents remind me of the old fishing hole I visited as a boy. The water would sometimes be so dappled with "fish strikes" it would look as if the pond was being hit with a rain shower; but, on closer examination, the "big fish" creating all that fuss would turn out to be minnows.
That didn't mean there were no big fish present. You would see them swirl up once in a while from the cool depths to grab a minnow, or to steal the bluegill you had just hooked.
The people we need to worry about are out there - and, just like the bass and pickerel of my youth,catching them is the tricky part - especially when there are so many minnows tying up the attention and resources of those whose job it is to keep us reasonably safe.