Japan: Drone carrying traces of radioactive material lands on roof of prime minister's office


It’s a pet peeve of mine to refer to these things as drones. It’s an RC aircraft. “Not a toy,” but not a Predator drone, either.

I’m not going to go all “words have meanings, people!” in the general case. But the discussion about the regulatory environment that surrounds the hobby has practically been ceded because people who want to sound cool can’t resist using a word for their nearly-toys that has all the connotations of weaponry and AI scare-mongering. RC aircraft fly in the park. Drones attack.

Also, model rockets are technically “missiles.” Thankfully, the connotations of “missile” are less ambiguous, so those hobbyists haven’t succumbed to this tendency (even though their hobby is infinitely more weapon-like).

In case it’s not clear, I’m not really laying this at Xeni’s feet. She didn’t start the fire, so to speak.

I feel much better. Thank you!


A radio-controlled gunnery target version of Tiger Moth appeared in 1935 called the DH.82 Queen Bee;
it used a wooden fuselage based on that of the DH.60 Gipsy Moth (with
appropriate structural changes related to cabane strut placement) with
the wings of the Tiger Moth II.[7] There were nearly 300 in service at the start of the Second World War. It is believed the name “Drone” derived from “Queen Bee”.


Sure. And because of this coincidence and the ensuing military and movie-making history, “drone” gets all the connotations of:

  • Worker bee
  • Automaton
  • Being enthralled to the will a remote other, ala Skynet
  • Predator/death from above
  • And now, $200 aerial photography platform with 5 minutes of battery life.

Where the connotations come from is, I guess, interesting from an etymological standpoint. Whether you can just go to an unpopulated place and fly a 1/4 scale Sopwith on a Saturday afternoon, without having to be a licensed pilot is perhaps more interesting, as is what that means for our default reaction to this kind of misguided government intrusion, which happens to get a bit of play here on BoingBoing.

It’s not a slippery slope to despotism, but it’s a thing.

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Cesium? I hardly know 'um!


I’ve heard people were upset shortly after the term ‘automobile’ was coined because it mixed Latin and Greek terms. I’ve also met people who refuse to accept trucks as a kind of car, even though it’s still a ‘horseless carriage’, but I guess one could consider it to be a ‘horseless wagon’.

Perhaps we should take to calling trucks ‘wags’. I think I like the term more than ‘lorry’.


I assume someone wanted to send him a message in the form of a small sample of the radiation the Japanese government is having no qualms about subjecting parts of their population to, lying to them about supposedly save areas near Fukushima that are really contaminated.


No but even hobbyists call them “drones.”

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No but even hobbyists call them “drones.”

I’ll bite. This is fun. I know that hobbyists call them drones. I even pointed that out. I thought I was pointing out that hobbyists themselves, among others, are ceding the whole regulatory discussion by calling them “drones” because “drones” sounds cool. ("…them…calling their nearly-toys ‘drones’…")

This doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult idea.


I ate a burrito, once. This has as much to do with anything as your horseless carriage remark.

I don’t think it has a legal impact. The laws are being crafted with the input of the FAA. The fact that the FAA doesn’t want people flying things everywhere and people crash them on the White House lawn is likely to have more effect than the fact the people use the D-word.


I’m just annoyed with the phrase “Contained traces of radiation.”

It’s not like you can carry radiation in a bucket, it’s right there in the word itself, radiation is moving.

It should be phrased more like: “Contained traces of radioactive material.”


Sorry, the term drone used to describe a machine was first applied to radio controlled airplanes without the ability to shoot. Burrito means little donkey.

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The issue would not be whether the FAA refers to them as drones. The issue would be whether ordinary citizens feel as if it’s appropriate for the FAA to apply the regulations that it does to model aircraft. It’s not theoretical. There have been changes, and there have been restrictions on flying “drones” for profit. That last bit is shocking if you’re telling someone they can’t put a camera on a trainer RC airplane for profit. It’s not so shocking if you’re talking about putting an imaging system on an aerial platform.

These are (probably bastardizations) of ideas from Habermas. Namely, speech is “communicative action,” a feature of the “lifeworld.” The lifeworld is often “colonized” by “The System”–how we think of hippies meaning that is not a terrible approximation–by altering and restricting communicative action. My point is that the System is getting it for free, in this case. Our ire is not raised.

“No, officer, that is not a child’s wagon. It’s a suitcase-nuke transport device. It moves like a dozen of them at a time, silently.”

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You are the best type of pedant. The technically correct kind! :slight_smile:

Bender, you've rigidly applied the law with no regard for its intent. Well done! You'll go far in this organization.

There’s also that thing with radiation being a process. You can’t store light, or “contain traces of light”, and while the other kinds of radiation are massive particles, He nuclei, protons, neutrons, neutrinos, all that stuff is pretty much harmless and not considered radiation at all when it’s sitting still in our reference frame. It’s only dangerous and radio active if that stuff is getting spat out of a material and going fast. You don’t need to shield yourself from hydrogen and helium when they’re cold and sitting around because they grab electrons from the environment really quickly, long before it can get into your body and break apart DNA.

Technically, you can’t store light (not counting things like slowing light down with advanced physics shenanigans or using strontium aluminate or other phosphorescent material), but you can make it on demand from other forms of storable energy.

Same goes for radiation. Case in point, xray tubes and particle accelerators (usually you can get electrons, protons, and sometimes neutrons, on demand).

Bouncing it through a medium is “advanced physics shenanigans?”

When the medium is a Bose-Einstein condensate, it could count as such.