Some notes from the road

First I want to talk a little bit about airport security. This was the first trip that I was ‘nude-scanned’. The scanner was at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The device doing the scanning is a ProVision ATD. The type of scanner this is, is a millimeter-wave scanner. Unlike the X-ray backscatter type machines, these should not pose any health risks, as the radiation is not ionizing. There’s a comparison of the two technologies here.  When we flew in to the US, I saw the same machines deployed at O’Hare in Chicago, however, for some reason they were not being used. A regular metal detector was used instead. At LAS when leaving, they put some passangers through the millimeter-wave scanner, and some people through the metal detector. When it was my turn, four people had just passed through the metal detector. For no apparent reason (I didn’t notice a pattern), they closed the metal detector, and put me through the millimeter-wave scanner. You step into the device, and turn 90 degrees to face a set of instructions. There are spots on the floor marked for where your feet go, and you are instructed by a picture to hold your hands above your head. The device appears to do a sweep (looks like the door is closing on the round device), and then the TSA attendant asks you to step out.

Later, they also switched it around, bringing some people through the metal detector, and some through the scanner. Shit. Almost wrote scammer, there. An associate of mine walked through the scanner after me, and after that, he was patted down by the TSA agent. Why? Was he armed to the teeth? No, he was carrying a standard Finnish passport in his pocket. So the gorillion dollar device can’t distinguish between a passport and something that can be used as a weapon? Looking at some of the images of the user interface, and what I was able to see myself, the screen that they look at doesn’t show an image of a person when he or she is being scanned. Just a grey screen, which appeared to turn green when everything was okay. I didn’t see the “failed” scan, but i assume it might have shown the location of the suspected item. But, a passport? For reals? I felt a whole lot less secure after seeing that…

Also, how do they pick who gets the scanner, and who gets the metal detector?

A noteworthy detail is that there was a sheet of paper outside the machine which explained the technology, and the last row was something like “The use of this technology is optional”. Optional, when you’re four steps from the machine? I’m sure declining at that point would set off zero rectal search alarms? I was planning on declining myself, but I guess I might have chickened out / noticed the note a bit too late. I guess it would have meant the metal detector + a pat down, even if nothing beeped. And some gruntled TSA personel.

There were also new “rules and regulations” on the inbound flight. The Lufhansa flight attendants were ‘required’ to tell us that “grouping in the aisle or near the toilets or the kitchen during the flight is not permitted”. There was an incident on our Frankfurt -> O’Hare  747-400 type airplane where two people were using their phones near the toilets (both were of non-caucasian descent, if that matters), and the flight attendants announced, apparently due to this, that no loitering near the toilets was allowed. The two men declined to move, or didn’t listen, and a flight attendant was there very quickly, asking them to take their seats. After that, the captain turned on the fasten seat-belts sign. There was a rather clear connection between the two events. There was no turbulence, and we were thousands of miles from O’Hare.

You’re wondering about them using their phones? The flight had (paid) WLAN on it. The only caveat was that you were not allowed to use VOIP type applications, as per the terms of service that you accepted when you bought the service. 1 hour was 9,50 €, and 24 hours was 19,90. The connection was provided by satellite, and the service provider was T-mobile out of Germany. Latencies from the middle of the atlantic (or geostationary orbit i suppose?) to Finland were around 600-800 milliseconds. Downspeed was ~3Mbps, and up was 0.03 Mbps, according to Speedtest.net.

The connection worked very well in general, if you didn’t mind the slow upspeed, buying the service was easy with credit card. A notable detail is that when you associated with the AP, you had DNS resolution, so you could maybe have, contrary to the service agreement, have tunneled out using DNS, and something like NSTX. I didn’t poke around more, nor did I take too many other details off of the connection, but those are my notes.

I just had to edit this again to add this: God damn it it grinds my gears when people do not behave on aircraft. Jesus Herbert Christ! On the return flight to Helsinki, we had an awesome flight attendant. Funny, well spoken and approachable. When we were wheelsdown in Helsinki, still taxiing to our gate, a guy just decides to stand up to get his stuff. She told him “Sir, sit down!”. He did. Before we were completely stopped, and the captain had turned off the seat-belt light, there were at least ten mobile phones powering on, and seatbelts clicking lose.

People: You do not get off the airplane any faster by doing these dumb things. And if you tumble and fall, or drop some luggage on me while doing this shit, I will go medieval.

After we had come to a complete stop, I told the flight attendant “Same thing every time, huh?”, and she said “YEAH! Every time! Why do they keep thinking they’ll get off the plane faster?” She then turned to the man who had stood up during taxi, and asked him, “Sir, why did you stand up? Why? You could get seriously hurt!”, and he just shrugged and avoided her very piercing gaze, mumbling something under his breath.

P.P.S. Oh, and also, there are no bookshops on the Strip in Vegas. Just a hint to anyone who wants to maybe, I don’t know, make some money. I asked the concierge at the hotel we were staying at, and she said I’d probably have to get a cab to get to the nearest book store…

One Reply to “Some notes from the road”

  1. I think Vegas is one of those cities where lots of people come that have lots of money. The then also tend to have lots of tech gadgets, including e-books. Or they may read a lot on their tablets. In any case, it may be that the market for books on the strip in Vegas is very small, while the rent for the place would be very high. I’m not saying you couldn’t make money with the right kind of store – you know, one that really captures that passion for books. But it’s no surefire way to succeed what with everyone moving fast to electronic reading material. And again, I’m not saying there’s not a market for books anymore, I’m just saying… Maybe not the Strip in Vegas.

    It’s funny that you can buy 24-hours of Wifi on an airplane. I’d think it’s either per-hour or “the entire flight”. But I guess 24 hours makes more sense than, say, 16 hours or whatever the longest commercial flight is. And perhaps you might catch another flight from the same airline next, and your 24-hour credit is still valid there too? In that case it makes total sense. 🙂 I mean I’ve been flying for 30 hours before… You will want to avoid that like… say, hemorrhoids, but sometimes the trip is worth that.

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