Case Closed! Closed?

My mom sent a clipping from the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, the island’s weekly news source (the site seems not to be searchable, and Google doesn’t turn up the story online, so I can’t link to it).

The headline reads, “Atheneum has no problem with outdoor wireless use,” and the story begins, “Rumors notwithstanding, the Nantucket Atheneum’s wireless Internet signal is welcome to those who come within the signal’s 300-foot radius.” It goes on:

“We have no objection to people tapping into our signal,” said Frank Jewell, the library’s interim director.
Questions arose about the library’s stance on the issue after the Nantucket police a month ago intercepted [!] a man tapping on his laptop while leaning against the rear of the Atheneum during the day.

Deputy Police Chief Charles Gibson said he noticed the man while driving up Oak Street behind the Atheneum. Gibson asked a nearby summer police officer to check into what the man was doing. He said he would have done the same if he’d seen someone with a laptop tapping at the rear of a business or residence.

The summer officer told the man to “don’t be hanging around back here.”

“It did look a little suspicious,” Gibson said.

From there, word began to spread that the police considered outdoor users of the signal to be engaged in a theft of services.

Jewell, however, said the service is free to all comers.

The story goes on to explain that the Atheneum restricts usage within the library (to the second floor, to permit more space for reading print books on the first floor), and that there have been some acts of vandalism in the past year (though not electronic vandalism, just old-fashioned hooliganism).

The Story

After I first read the story, I was amused, and put it aside to blog here. In transcribing the story for this entry, though, I’m struck by the odd inconcinnity of this account with my own experience. The Deputy Chief’s story sounds very little like what happened to me.

  • The mysterious “tapper” was leaning against the rear of the Atheneum; I was sitting on a public bench beside the Atheneum.
  • The newspaper story says that this incident gave rise to a “rumor” that “the police considered outdoor users. . . to be engaged in a theft of services,” but in fact that’s exactly what the officer who rousted me told me.
  • The story says that this took place “a month ago,” but if the article was published last week (when the weekly paper would have had to go to press in order for it to get to my mom, who then clipped it and mailed it to me), the incident couldn’t have taken place longer ago than two weeks, give or take a day.

Now, it could be that the police had chased away some other laptop-user two weeks before my surprising run-in with the constabulary, and that word just hadn’t gotten around to the officer who chased me off. Oddly, though, the officer who asked me not to hang around the Atheneum with my laptop open himself used the specific charge of “theft of signal,” amplified with the explanation that the Secret Service had instructed the local police on this point, when this was the precise allegation that the newspaper identifies as a misguided rumor. Or it could be that the story is indeed about me, and that the reporter, or police spokesperson, muddled the dates a little and was confused about exactly where I was sitting — while explicitly disavowing the felony warning that the officer made against me.

Whatever — the end of the story, assuming this is actually the end, turns out to be just as weird as the beginning. At least the librarians come out as heroes of free use!

1 thought on “Case Closed! Closed?

  1. i am a resadint and native of nantucket, and a reader of the inky mirror(the local name for the news paper). if it would be alright with you, i would like to write a leatter to the editor w/ a like to this page, so that they may do a folow-up on this. i personaly have never had any problems with this, but i dont use my laptop much anymore. i am inclined to belive you, over the cop, but i have had no bad experiances with the local law enforcement. part of this may be some damage controle do the to the hotly contested sherifs election in the upcomeing months. anywhay, i hoe that you will alow me to do this

    Posted by: schuyler at September 7, 2004 08:15 PM

    Dude, if you do write a letter, please get an adult to read it before you send it in.

    Posted by: rick at September 7, 2004 09:54 PM

    yes, i know, my spelling is horrid. but lets not reduce to semi-personal insults…

    anywhay, apart from the amazingly bad spelling, what do you think of the idea?

    Posted by: schuyler at September 7, 2004 10:00 PM

    I think it’s a good idea, but I reiterate the need to have somebody else read over the letter and correct any spelling mistakes. It really is important to have a correctly-spelled letter.

    Posted by: Kevin Ballard at September 7, 2004 10:56 PM

    I shore hope them Inky Mirror peeple have a speling checkor.

    Posted by: xxxxx at September 7, 2004 11:03 PM

    There is no point in being pricks people. Give the guy a break. He got the message with the first smart ass comment.

    Posted by: Al at September 8, 2004 01:01 AM

    I know some brilliant programmers and insightful geeks who are dyslexic and spell very poorly — making fun of someone’s spelling online is a lot like making fun of someone’s speech-impediment. Sometimes it turns out to be an affectation, sometimes it turns out that you’re making sport of someone with a cleft palette. So stop being pedantic dorks, all right?

    Posted by: Cory Doctorow at September 8, 2004 06:40 AM

    “inconcinnity” made my day…

    Posted by: tom matrullo at September 8, 2004 08:36 AM

    I think it would be great for someone to respond to the editors. I would also suggest that the original participant (AKMA) send a letter him/herself in order to clarify the circumstances.

    Posted by: Slippy at September 8, 2004 02:31 PM

    Without being a pedantic dork (though I reserve the right to be a prick) – I agree that the writer should have his spelling corrected in order that it be received as a serious concern for the issue rather than the inane rambling of a inebriated dorkus communis.

    Posted by: Edweirdo at September 9, 2004 01:23 PM

    Sigh… that should be “of an”. A spellchecker would not have helped here. But in a way that error makes my point as it diminished the message.

    Posted by: Edweirdo at September 9, 2004 01:33 PM

    Yes, my first thought was, “that pedantic dork, edweirdo, I don’t trust anything he says – he’s grammatically challenged! What moron doesn’t know the “a” v.s. “an” rule?”

    I actually missed it until you pointed it out.

    Posted by: Slippy at September 9, 2004 03:58 PM

    Why are there so many self-appointed spelling police here when the real is the freedom to mind ones own business in a public place. Since when is sitting there using a laptop evidence of a potential crime?

    We don’t need permission from the police to just be. I too am troubled particularly by the inaccuracy around what the officer alledged and what what reported. If the SS or the police want to know if signals are being stolen, they should first investigate enough to know whether the wireless network in question is open or closed and whether the systems people have any complaint or even concern about said theft.

    Posted by: Gerry at September 9, 2004 04:52 PM

    Yes. We did wander off subject. Sorry.

    I assume that if I can connect without a password it is a public system. However, some people don’t know how to lock their connection and I may be invading their network.

    Thank God there are police to keep me in line (or offline).


    Posted by: Edweirdo at September 10, 2004 09:44 AM

    Over at Lessig’s place, they’ve been discussing sampling and the legal concept of de minimus. There’s an example of its application in the link above. I wonder whether that concept would make otherwise harmless free riding on an accidentally unsecured access point unactionable.

    I realize that’s not the case under discussion here–the access point was deliberately freed for public use–but here is where the question occurred to me.

    (By the way, I’d rather edit any reasonable number of intelligent bad spellers with something to say than one useless article with perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar.)

    Posted by: adamsj at September 10, 2004 08:46 PM

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