The only thing we have to fear

The only thing we have to fear: The cable news folks are running non-stop stories like this AP article that say “how easy” it is for someone to blow up a plane. Quote: “To puncture an aircraft’s fuselage would require an explosive charge ‘half the size of a cigarette packet,’ he said.” In the few minutes I flipped around the channels, there were “experts” on every channel explaining “how simple” it is to smuggle liquid explosives onto a plane, and once on board, how just a “contact lens cleaner” sized bottle of liquid explosives, detonated with a digital watch, can blow a hole out the side of an airliner and cause it to crash. After a few minutes of these “how-easy-it-is” claims, I half-way expected one of them to claim you can take down a 747 with a litre of Diet Coke and some Mentos.

What is going on here? Are terrorists idiots? If it’s as easy as the experts are implying, why are terrorists just now getting around to figuring that out? Or, as common sense would suggest, perhaps it’s not as easy as the experts are implying to smuggle and handle liquid explosives.

While I have no doubt there is abundant truth to what these experts say and I fully expect there will be some major terrorist action somewhere in the U.S. in the near future, I am having trouble with the level of fear-mongering they are heaping on us today. If it were this easy, wouldn’t there be planes blowing up all the time? I’ve passed through security checks at least a hundred times since 9/11 and I can’t remember not having at least one bottle of water. Add them all up and there have probably been hundreds of millions of gallons of water taken onto planes by passengers in the past five years — not counting the thousands of pounds of tooth paste, lip gloss, skin lotion and shampoo. If a couple of ounces of liquid explosives could take down a plane, why does it take a “plot” like that revealed today for the government to finally get “tough on bottled water”?

Either I have too elevated a perception of how cunning terrorists are, or too cynical a perception of how hyperbolic “experts” can be, but I feel there’s a disconnect between what the experts are saying and how few planes have dropped out of the sky in the past five years.

Yahoo! News using Flickr today as a citizen journalist tool (and how-to do it yourself)

Yahoo News using Flickr today as a citizen journalist tool (and a how-to do it yourself): The front page of Yahoo! News is featuring a link to a slide show of photos related to today’s airport backups. It’s a nice use of a standard Flickr feature that can be used in such a breaking-news situation where lots of people are able to share photos from their individual vantage points. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras and the ability to post such photos instantly to such a service as Flickr also makes this “citizen journalist” tool a natural for such an event as today.

Here’s what they’re doing (and this assumes you are familiar with the basic features of a Flickr account):

1. They have set up a Flickr account (pro) with the user name “ynews_edit

2. Someone has logged into the account and is finding photos related to today’s news, most likely by searching for photos tagged with terms like “heathrow

3. The user of the account is adding the photos to the account’s “favorites page”

4. The link on the front page goes to a slide show version of the account’s “favorites page”

Despite the fact that Yahoo! owns Flickr, this is a simple hack anyone with a Flickr account can use to display photos on one page (and one slide show) from multiple Flickr users who have posted public photos. (Flickr has another tool that allows multiple users to post photos to a “group” — which works well if several people are collaborating on such an effort.)

Update: Social Media and the London Terrorist Plot (via: Dave Winer)

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‘Airlines terror plot’ disrupted

‘Airlines terror plot’ disrupted: (From the BBC) “A plot to blow up planes in flight from the UK to the US and commit ‘mass murder on an unimaginable scale’ has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said.”

Doc Searls, who had 6:45 a.m. EDT flight out of Boston Logan blogged this from the TSA security line: “I can see that, for most folks flying in the U.S. (and maybe elsewhere), it’s going to be a long day today.”

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