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Re: Home science under attack
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 04:07:42 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Armando Stettner <aps () ieee org>
Date: August 12, 2008 10:20:18 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Cc: ip <ip () v2 listbox com>, "Tim O'Reilly" <tim () oreilly com>, "Robert Thompson <thompson () ttgnet com> phillip torrone" <pt () oreilly com >
Subject: Re: [IP] Home science under attack
Reply-To: Armando Stettner <aps () ieee org>

When I was about 13 or so, I also had a chemistry set in my basement. I was living on Long Island - Freeport, to be exact. I also remember the hobby shop with ALL sorts of glassware and little labeled bottles of chemicals. I had some really neat stuff: all sorts of chemicals - I seem to remember potassium ferrocyanide with which I did some chemoluminescence (I think that's one of the ingredients), sodium in liquid form, various acids, a few rolls of magnesium - not to mention all the paraphernalia: lots of pyrex stuff, triple beam balances, etc. All the chemicals were neatly arranged in this cabinet.

One day, I had mixed a concoction and was carrying it (premixed!) in a tin coffee can. Myself and a friend were carrying the stuff to the train tracks to test it out (light it) where it was relatively safe. The stuff started getting warm but I thought it was the sun heading the can up. Then it started getting REALLY warm. As it got hot, I dropped it in the middle of the street. The stuff flashed over. It was VERY cool.

But, I decided I didn't want to stay around any more and left.

Unfortunately for me, this all occurred in front of the house of someone who knew me (she was a 'friend' of my parents). She called the cops.

The Freeport police came to my house questioned me and my parents, joined in a little while by some county detectives. They were very polite. We took them down to the basement where I showed them all the stuff. The uniformed police left and the detectives continued to look at all the stuff and ask questions. They called somebody to ask some advice. It turns out they called the county labs. The guy got off the phone and asked 'you're not making any drugs down here are you?" I said no!! He smiled - he winked at my parents. Then he said the most unexpected thing: he said the gang at the labs offered to give me a tour of the labs anytime I wanted.

Then they left asking me to be careful. For me, it was actually a positive experience.

Today, I'm sure I'd face a visit from the Hazmat teams and the DHS. And, because of the triple beam balance, my house (or my parents') would be confiscated under the forfeiture rules.

Very sad....


Begin forwarded message:

From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: August 12, 2008 7:25:29 PM EDT
To: "ip" <ip () v2 listbox com>
Subject: [IP] Home science under attack
Reply-To: dave () farber net

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Tim O'Reilly" <tim () oreilly com>
Date: August 12, 2008 6:58:29 PM EDT
To: Dave Farber <dave () farber net>
Cc: Robert Thompson <thompson () ttgnet com>, phillip torrone <pt () oreilly com >
Subject: Home science under attack

I grew up with a chemistry set. You could get them in every corner hobby store. But as liability fears grew, the experimental ethic that built the US as a science and technology powerhouse faded, and such "dangerous" toys became much harder to find.

So when my Make magazine team decided to publish Robert Bruce Thompson's <a href=http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596514921/index.html >Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments</a>, I applauded. The book has been a great success.

But then this news came in from the author of that book:  

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that Victor Deeb, a retired chemist who lives in Marlboro, has finally been allowed to return to his Fremont Street home, after Massachusetts authorities spent three days ransacking his basement lab and making off with its contents.

Deeb is not accused of making methamphetamine or other illegal drugs. He's not accused of aiding terrorists, synthesizing explosives, nor even of making illegal fireworks. Deeb fell afoul of the Massachusetts authorities for ... doing experiments.

Authorities concede that the chemicals found in Deeb's basement lab were no more hazardous than typical household cleaning products. Despite that, authorities confiscated “all potentially hazardous chemicals” (which is to say the chemicals in Deeb's lab) from his home, and called in a hazardous waste cleanup company to test the chemicals and clean up the lab.

Pamela Wilderman, the code enforcement officer for Marlboro, stated, “I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation.”

Allow me to translate Ms. Wilderman's words into plain English: "Mr. Deeb hasn't actually violated any law or regulation that I can find, but I don't like what he's doing because I'm ignorant and irrationally afraid of chemicals, so I'll abuse my power to steal his property and shut him down."

In effect, the Massachusetts authorities have invaded Deeb's lab, apparently without a warrant, and stolen his property.

Tim O'Reilly, Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
707-827-7150   tim () oreilly com
http://www.oreilly.com, http://radar.oreilly.com


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