Archive for August, 2008

Cheese and electronics: An explosive combination

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Codex Manenssis  totally flipped out last month when Peter, one of my Microsoft friends, told me about his really nasty experience at an airport in Israel a few months ago, when his laptop, for unknown reasons, tested positive for explosives. Even though there was obviously no bomb in his laptop bag, he was escorted all the way to the plane by two policemen and his luggage was independently handled and shipped to Austria. Needless to say, he had to go through a lot of questions and a not very pleasant situation. “My god, I would not even know how to react in those circumstances”, I though. “That’s gotta be tough…” And indeed it is.

Just a few days ago I made a quick flight connection in London Heathrow on my way to Munich. The waiting line at the security check was huge and in order to speed up the process we were told not to remove laptops from their bags. When my backpack with my computer and the dozens of gizmos, peripherals and chargers went through the X-Ray machine the alarm went off - the loudest and noisiest alarm I have ever heard. Off course all the people turned their heads in my direction. Without any time to react I was surrounded by 4 big guys and a policeman. “Is that your bag?” “Yes” I could see the two X-Ray machine operators looking at the screen with their eyes open, talking excitedly to each other and pointing fingers to the monitor. One of them rose up his hand and demanded someone to come and check something. After a few seconds the guy that had just arrived told me that they had to run another check on the bag and asked me to go with them to a separate room.

While I was being escorted to the other room I was trying to imagine what the problem was with my bag. Sometimes, if you have a lot of electronics in the same bag the operator can not identify them on the screen and has to open the bag, put them in a separate tray and re-run the bag a second time. But that was very different from having to go to a different room with 5 policemen behind your back. At that moment my mind was spinning big time, trying to think about all the different possibilities: somebody put something in my bag and I did not notice; the fishing gear I was bringing from Spain made the X-Ray machine act weird; the Germans had finally succeed tracking me down from that time I had stolen a couple of candies in Germany years ago…

I can promise you guys that when that officer was opening my bag in the room his hands were totally trembling. His only question was: “Where are you coming from and where are you going?” No reasons, no explanations, no nothing. WTF?. He carefully took out the laptop and all the electronics from the pockets, rubbed them with a small rag hold by long tweezers, and put them in a tray. The other five guys were so closed to me that I could almost hear their breathing. He suddenly took out a plastic bag from my backpack, and very carefully unwrapped what there was inside: a big chunk of cheese. I had been in Spain for a couple of days before going to Germany and had bought a manchego cheese at the airport, hoping to be able to sneak it though customs back in the US. Since I had already checked in my luggage I had to put it in my hand bag.

De Nobilitatibus Sapientii Et Prudentiis Regum Codex Walter de Milemete,1326

When the officer saw the cheese he totally started laughing out loud. “Cheese!” he exclaimed, “it’s just cheese”. The other 5 guys laughed too. “Great, where is the joke here?” I wondered. When the guy stopped laughing, he asked: “Did you know that cheese has the same density as an explosive? Well, let me think… I must have missed class the day they explained that at school. “No, not really”. “We totally thought you had a bomb in the bag. With the computer, the electronics and the cheese located the way they were inside the backpack it looked like a bomb. We have reasons to believe there is going to be a terrorist attack any time soon and the security level is at its maximum. Sorry for the inconvenience, but it was too obvious for us. You are clear to go

The funny thing is that I had gone through 2 security checks (one in Madrid and another one in London at the same airport) before that one and nobody had detected any potential bomb at all, or any cheese for that matter. It makes me wonder how accurate all those machines are. Oh well…

I only hope they did not put me in a black list or something - that’d suck. Now the question is: I should put the cheese in my backpack or in my suitcase when going back to the US?