I <3 Geeks

Reid and Audrey's map helped Portland PD find the boom.

I present the following story not to make a point about social media, the utility of Twitter, the power of the real time interwebs or any of that.

The only reason I’m sharing it is that I love the hacker spirit and what geeks can accomplish with the proper motivation.

Last night, about 8 PM Pacific, an extremely loud boom was heard all around Portland, where I live. I say boom because the cause of the noise was undetermined.

Reports immediately hit Twitter. I know because I noticed them, and yet, I hadn’t heard the boom. That’s not very significant because I’m oblivious.

Within the first 15 minutes, a hashtag was decided, #pdxboom.

Next, a friend of mine, Reid Beels (@reidab), created a Google Map to crowdsource and triangulate the location of the boom, which was still unknown, as was its origin. Update: Two friends of mine were responsible, Audrey Eschright (@spinnerin) being the other.

Shortly thereafter, the boom had its own Twitter account, @pdxboom,  an IRC channel had been established, and the boom had a foursquare venue for checkin.

Awesome.

At this point and for most of today, no one knew what caused the boom. Local news outlets were scrambling, calling NORAD, the airport, strategic air command, the National Weather Service, the various geological agencies.

No one knew anything definite.

Being geeks, natch, there were many theories. My favorite one was the unicorn burial ground.

Finally today, Portland police discovered evidence that the boom was in fact an explosion caused by a pipe bomb.

Guess how they found the evidence?

They used Reid and Audrey’s Google Map just as designed to target their search efforts.

Epic win, FTW!

Oh, and the map even had a heat map, to make it more useful.

Heatmap by Nathan Bergey from Flickr used under Creative Commons

Why do I love this story? Because it underscores the curious nature of geeks, the desire to use technology for good, and the overall tightness of community.

Oh, and because I’m a geek too (and proud of it), was partially involved in the geekery and didn’t have anything better to do on a Sunday night.

The mystery turns out to be rather disturbing, so I’ll bet the police (and the community at large) are thankful that Portland’s geeks had nothing better to do on a Sunday.

Despite the unnerving cause, it was an unexpected and highly entertaining way to spend an otherwise mundane night.

The tweets are gradually rolling off Twitter search, and I recommend browsing them for some geeky fun.

Find the comments.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

6 comments

  1. Does it have to be one or the other? Police work involves collecting all manner of evidence. Having lived in large metros where calls to 911 went immediately to hold, I don't think people who tie up 911 lines with calls about a loud noise are doing a civic duty.

    Twitter provided a place for the alarmed and curious to go, and I'm sure the crowdsourced data added to what the police already knew.

    That area is a park and unpopulated to the west. They're saying the topography of the hills on the west side of the river made the boom resonate eastward, which makes sense when you look at the heat map.

  2. Does it have to be one or the other? Police work involves collecting all manner of evidence. Having lived in large metros where calls to 911 went immediately to hold, I don't think people who tie up 911 lines with calls about a loud noise are doing a civic duty.

    Twitter provided a place for the alarmed and curious to go, and I'm sure the crowdsourced data added to what the police already knew.

    That area is a park and unpopulated to the west. They're saying the topography of the hills on the west side of the river made the boom resonate eastward, which makes sense when you look at the heat map.

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