One of my favorite people in the world of tech culture has always been Make magazine senior editor Phil Torrone.
Over the years, I've done a number of stories about his various exploits, including Roomba Frogger at South by Southwest 2006, his laser-etching business, his jamming of TVs at a hotel in Austin, Texas, and his work in helping organize Maker Faires. Beyond that, I've always enjoyed talking with him, as he's a world traveler, a top-notch intellect, and a world-class culture jammer. He's just my kind of guy.
And there's certainly one thing about Torrone that is evidenced in the things he does for fun and for work: he is not shy about pushing social and cultural boundaries. In fact, based on my personal observations of him, he kind of revels in doing so.
So when I saw a Boing Boing post on Tuesday reporting that Torrone was seen at this week's ETech conference in San Diego with a carry-on bag that has a fully formed imprint of a handgun on it, I was both shocked and not at all surprised.
What I would have given, I thought, to have seen him take that bag through airport security; to see what I'm sure was his straight-faced gaze as Transportation Security Administration personnel encountered the bag.
As Boing Boing blogger David Pescovitz put it in his entry, "Fortunately, (Torrone) made it through security with enough time to catch his flight."
I bet he did.
To be fair, Torrone's bag is a production model from the Dutch firm Vlieger & Vandam, and I'm sure he's not the only person traveling around with one. In fact, the firm makes the bag in three colors and also has one with an embossed knife.
But holy cow! What chutzpah. Especially because we all know that airport security don't take things that make them think of weapons lightly. Witness what happened to MIT student Star Simpson when she wore a shirt with some home-made electronics built-in to the Boston airport last year.
And I'm not at all surprised. If you recall, during this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the gadget blog Gizmodo caused a huge uproar when it ran a prank turning off TVs at the show, including those being used for a major Motorola presentation.
Gizmodo took a massive amount of flak for the prank--though its profile was also raised immeasurably--but one thing was lost in the mix.
As Gizmodo itself reported in its initial story on the prank, "when Make offered us some TV-B-Gone clickers to bring to the show, we pretty much couldn't help ourselves...Thanks to Phil Torrone for the gear."
When I read that, I had to smile, especially after the firestorm of controversy that erupted afterward, not one single bit of which was targeted at Torrone. But I knew that somewhere, he was laughing his behind off at what he had wrought.
The reality is, Torrone is one of those people worth watching, no matter where he goes because he's always up to something interesting.
I'm sure there are those who think his brand of humor and sense of boundaries is anti-social and even dangerous. Having been there for the Roomba Frogger episode and having read the many, many comments readers left after I wrote about it, I actually know that for a fact.
But at the same time, I think that society's conventions need a little tweaking from time to time, and it takes people with a little chutzpah to do so, people who aren't afraid of the kind of response their actions will engender. And I also know that Torrone would never actually put anyone in danger.
So all I can say is, if you happen to be heading to Austin later this week for this year's South by Southwest conference--where I know Torrone will be--keep an eye on him. You never know what might happen.