Star Simpson’s first interview on the Boston airport LED sweatshirt scare.

Update: Complete and unedited transcript of our interview here.

In today’s episode of Boing Boing tv: One year ago, a 19-year-old MIT engineering student named Star Simpson got dressed to go pick up a friend at Boston’s Logan airport. She pulled a hoodie out of her closet, a wearable tech design she’d made with a light-up LED-circuit on the chest. In her hand was a small pink rose she’d crafted from hardened clay, a gift for her friend.

A few hours later at the airport, after an airport employee mistook her sweatshirt for a bomb and the rose for an explosive implement, Star found herself surrounded by 40 armed police who believed she was a suicide bomber. She was arrested for “possessing a hoax device,” and an unprecedented media frenzy ensued. Here was the Boing Boing post from that day.

A year later, after a long series of court dates, a Boston judge ruled that Star must perform community service and make a public apology. Star says she intended no harm. She believes the authorities were unfairly harsh with her long after it was obvious she posed no threat, and that legal proceedings were unduly influenced by a prevailing atmosphere of anxiety over terrorism (this just months after a similar case in Boston).

She has since dropped out of MIT, and says the school’s reaction felt like “being disowned.” She moved out of Boston in part because of recurring threats and attacks from strangers.

Star has finally come forward to tell her side of the story publicly, and she does so on Boing Boing tv today.

If you’d like to make your very own LED breadboard hoodie, the folks at Instructables have just published Star’s plans here. They’re too graceful to say this, but I will: do not wear this to airports. Make a Breadboard Sweatshirt (Instant Wearable Electronics!)

MAKE will soon be publishing a related article.

Previous Boing Boing tv episodes :

* Star Simpson’s fuzzy logic, MacGyver, MIT lasers, and trippy glasses: Maker Faire with Phil Torrone

Related Boing Boing blog posts:

* MIT student arrested for entering Boston airport with “fake bomb”

* Improvising electronic devices is not a crime

* OK Go’s LED Jackets

* ATHF LEDs all over Boston today



About Xeni Jardin

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.
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17 Responses to Star Simpson’s first interview on the Boston airport LED sweatshirt scare.

  1. insomma says:

    It’s confusing having two open threads on this post. :(

  2. mdh says:

    First, great piece. Star is well named. I live near Boston, and the State Police here are not nice people – even outside of work. I know, I live next door to one. He’s a jackass and yells at his kids (I can hear it 200 feet away through the woods!)

    Second, I do not mind commercials on BBtv, bills must get paid – but that commercial interruption in the middle of a 3 minute piece was executed poorly and ruined the flow of the piece, and if I may say go further, it was insulting to my otherwise rapt attention. The ad in the middle ruined the whole thing for me (not the commercialism of it, but rather the execution).

    If the story had hit less close to home, I’d have just closed the window. Be the groundbreakers, find a new way.

    • Xeni Jardin says:

      @mdh, wait, what?

      but that commercial interruption in the middle of a 3 minute piece

      I don’t know what episode you were watching, but this one was about 10 minutes long. We sure do have to pay the bills, and video does not grow on trees. We’re grateful that there are generous, hands-off sponsors willing to make sure we have the editorial and creative freedom to produce work like this — work we believe is meaningful and contributes value to the world.

      Hey, if you’d like a refund for your admission fee, let us know where to send it. I know you’re a regular commenter and viewer, and we appreciate that. But your criticism is unfair and based on a gross factual inaccuracy, so no, it doesn’t wash.

  3. mdh says:

    Just so I’m clear, it’s not the commercial, it’s the interruption. And in that case, the particularly jarring interruption.

  4. ecotea says:

    What have we come too? When we in a time in this country of overwhelming paranoia. This could be considered a neo-con victory. Very sad.

  5. David Carroll says:

    Dequeued #11

    What the hell is wrong with you people, blaming the victim!

    Um: What posts are you reading? Everyone who has commented so far seems to be quite sympathetic to Ms Simpson’s predicament, and has rightfully placed the blame squarely at the feet of “the man”.

    The fact that she had to pay a fine and one year probation, instead of getting a signed apology from Michael Chertoff and a wad of cash makes my blood boil.

    P.S. to Xeni,Dana, Derek et al: Best segment ever! Clapity clap clap…..clap!

  6. p96 says:

    We need to hold our elected officials accountable for every injustice like this. They are not making us safer, they themselves are making it more dangerous for us innocent people, and especially those of us who are more creative and weird in their eyes.

    It’s almost like a war on art and creativity; a continuing backlash against hippies or something.

  7. Chaz says:

    We have a lot to fear (from our own gov). That said, Why, when you have to take off your shoes because of the paranoia would you wear anything that could,EASILY,be misinterpreted? Star should not have been sentenced or hassled after it was clear that she meant no harm just young obliviousness. Wish her well and this will be forgotten in time.

  8. mdh says:

    Hi Xeni, I think I failed to get my point across.

    Like, entirely. May I go again please?

    No problem with the existence of the ads. Problem with the execution of the ads. Nevermind about paying bills with ads, I fully hope you profit from them. Yay! money! I need it too.

    But does the ad need to interrupt the content in such a short work? I found the transition from the interview into the ad very jarring in this particular case, and that’s really the only criticism I’ve had to date with BBtv. Could you put them all up front? I assure you I’d watch the ads even if I knew when they were coming. I might even not mind them if I knew they were coming. Look at what hulu does (which is likely above your budget just now), they put little markers in the time-bar to tell you when an interruption is coming, but for all their stuff less than about 20 minutes they put all the ads in the beginning of the clip.

    I hope that’s more fair.

    And if that was 10 minutes, (and yep, it sure was) then I was totally lost in the video, and that means ur doing it SO right.

  9. Kytsune says:

    Star gets the dubious honor of being a victim of security theater—and an actor in this poorly written manuscript of fear. A perfect example of how fear and overreaction don’t make people safe: they make people stupid.

    As an individual it’s really hard to stand up to the law. Especially when the DA decides that it is impossible to take someone with a hard charge (because it’s so patently bogus) and instead lays a catchall on them for the sake of punishment. Community service for misbehavior on the part of the police.

    Doing their job stopped at the point where they apprehended her for being an “apparent danger” and did not extend to claiming—without evidence, expertise, or even the slightest knowhow—that they had caught a suicide bomber or someone with a “hoax device.” Maybe it’s the fact that she managed to make it all the way to the airport without a single surprise or care that puts that reaction beyond the pale. The most telling statement then and now still is the “And she’s lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue.” line delivered with pride by the spokesperson, as if every citizen should know that encounters with the police at the airport should be lethal if luck isn’t with us.

    I don’t really warm up to the “You should have known better” or “I’m not that stupid” crowd. Environments of hostility exist because other people are stupid. Leave the blame on them. The number of objects that could be misinterpreted by anyone is gigantic—and unsurprisingly includes emblems on T-shirts, and to stretch a point, nationality. Embarrass the police for making dubious and eventually totally incorrect claims. With cries of “terrorism” we allow authorities to get away with bad acts that just wouldn’t jive with almost any other part of life.

    This conduct is abhorrent to a free society.

    And was it really necessary to keep her rose for a year? Really? How petty.

  10. mdh says:

    Oh, and thank you very much for the free ice cream. It’s exquisite.

  11. Takuan says:

    in times to come, will Star be canonized as a martyr? To any untainted mind she is a innocent, bright and talented hope for the future. To be burnt at the stake by grunting, fear-mongering swine for having superior intelligence, no malice and genuine purity of mind and soul really ought to qualify her.

  12. dequeued says:

    What the hell is wrong with you people, blaming the victim!

    So what if this very bright 17 year old made a poor judgement decision, does she deserve to have her life turned upside down?

    How is this her fault?
    What I hear people saying is:
    The TSA goons are a bunch of irrational assholes, therefore, it’s her fault for provoking them.

    Yeah, she was “asking for it”

  13. cervical says:

    It’s so sad that Star left MIT and Cambridge! The lesson is: Be slightly anti-conformist in any way and get ready to be lynched, even in liberal Cambridge. I hope she comes back.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It’s a sad, painfully stupid America we live in.

    This is just one of many examples of civil servants who are at times willfully ignorant or just plain ignorant.

    The tragedy is that not only does it waste MY money and YOURS, it leads me to believe that a terrorist with half a brain could walk right on by and do what they will.

    If this is our security, then I am going to go get some sand to put my head in as it will be just as effective.

  15. seanboing says:

    Star should have been acquitted of all charges. I guess though when you’re facing the ultra-paranoid Boston police, fueled by the media, they don’t want to back down. I love your comment, Star, about the justice system holding the case off until the press dies down. That isn’t a good reason to delay trial. Are judges elected in Boston? But often justice can take awhile, especially when the case is as well known as this one.

    As a hardware hacker myself my heart goes out to you. The average person doesn’t understand electronics or exposed wiring. They think all wires can electrocute you. Wires are dangerous. Because they watch sensational TV shows their mind instantly jumps to conclusions.

  16. mdh says:

    I just hope she stayed in Massachusetts. We need more Stars.

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