Close encounters
of the fourth kind

They said to be at the airport two hours early—so I was. This was the first time I'd flown since the whole unfortunate incident last year and the first time I felt that security would really be looking for anything in my suitcase other than potentially embarrassing items they could wave in the air for everyone else to see.

Don't get me wrong—I'm thankful they're finally taking this seriously—I just don't understand it when I see reports on the news that someone has gotten a handgun through security when I can't get through wearing a belt.

So I got in a long and winding path to the security check which oddly took just five minutes.

The first thing I noticed was that the security people were tiny. There are plenty of big, tough guys in Oakland, but they had managed to choose people who could have been taken for Keebler elves. Maybe they were chosen so more of them could fit in this small and confined space and the big tough guys were watching from above, ready to throw themselves on you. One could only hope.

There was a big sign with an arrow that simply said, "Here" pointing down at a big hole in a big machine. It had the odd feeling of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, as if this was going to confuse Elmer Fudd into throwing  himself into the x-ray machine.

I thought it might not be such a bad idea to lay down on the conveyor belt and get a full-body x-ray. It could save thousands in expensive medical tests and increase the efficiency of the healthcare system. "Take a trip—and a test!" might get more people to the airport.

I resisted getting on the conveyor belt, and put my one piece of carry-on luggage through. The machine promptly spit it out at me as if it tasted bad.

"Ba bop bor bapbop" the woman behind the machine mumbled in a way only a bomb-sniffing dog could hear.

I shrugged my shoulders and raised my hands in the silent international sign of "huh?" and she yelled "Take out your laptop" this time at a volume Jimmy Hoffa could hear.

I thought I'd been so smart when I packed—I'd carry just one bag and it would contain all the clothes and technology I needed. It turned out my laptop, digital camera, chargers, cables and other techno-stuff took up more space than my clothes but I got it to fit.

Now I had to open that bag and take apart the carefully assembled puzzle of clothes and cables it had taken me hours to artfully arrange. I put the laptop in its own little plastic hamper and sent everything through the machine wondering if there'd be any digital information left at the other end.

I walked through the metal detector portal and set off more alarms than you'd hear on P. Diddy's Bentley. Then a tiny man with the metal-detector-wand looked at me as if to say 'is that a rocket launcher in your pocket or...'

He told me to remove my belt, my watch and everything in my 16 cargo pockets as well as my shoes and deposit them all in a tray that was sent speeding down the conveyor belt towards a group of strangers who looked at my tray as if my wallet and shoes would go with their outfits.

Somehow, without anything in my pockets or even a belt to hold up my pants, the metal-detecting wand was still beeping at me as if I'd swallowed a salad fork.

This all culminated with the miniature security man lifting my shirt and waving the wand over my bare stomach while my beltless pants were inching down and his wand was still beeping. I realized I'd been turned into a floor show for the 120 people now in line and was only embarrassed when there was no applause.

After all this, I got to the gate and realized I had one hour 50 minutes to wait.

After amusing myself by watching what people wore to get on airplanes these days (for a moment I thought I had accidentally stumbled into a sleepover) it was time to board.

Right before walking the plank to the jet, a very large arm pulled me aside and the man attached to the arm informed me that I'd been "selected" for inspection. He made this announcement as if I'd been chosen by Bob Barker on the Price is Right and it was time to "come on down!" What it really meant was I once again had to remove everything from my pockets while they rummaged through my suitcase.

While I knew the small foil-wrapped mint in my pocket couldn't possibly constitute a risk, the security person still eyed me in a way that looked dangerously like he was thinking "cavity search."

Luckily, my iron stomach didn't make his wand beep and I was allowed on the plane, shoes, belt and all. I was relieved to know at least I didn't pose a risk to myself and was fairly secure in the knowledge that no one else had boarded the plane armed with anything more than a mint.

Daniel Will-Harris

Download this column for your PDA. Make sure to download the free reader for Palm or PocketPC at http://www.mobipocket.com

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Get A Free Web Virus Scan
which cleans infected files at:


There's another ugly new virus going around like crazy. The "Klez" virus propagates itself by sending itself to everyone in your address book, and it uses different subject lines so it's not easy to spot. This means you can get e-mail from a friend and think it's fine, but it can be infected.

If you're not careful, and your anti-virus program doesn't have up-to-date virus signatures, this virus can even infect some anti-virus programs and shut them down.

You can learn more about it and download a free utility to remove it at


One way to keep from opening virus files is to be sure of the kind of files you're opening. GIF and JPG files are safe—BUT—you need to make sure they really end in .GIF and .JPG. Unfortunately, since Windows hides filename extensions (like .exe) by default you can still accidentally open a dangerous file if you aren't careful.

You can make sure you're seeing the full filename with extensions: go to your Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer) and turn extensions on using Tools/Folder Options/View and UNcheck "hide filename extensions for known types."

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Safer Credit Card For The Web

While we're talking about web safety—I'm not one of those people who's afraid to use my credit card online. That said, when I buy something online from someone I don't know I use my American Express card's "Private Payments" feature.

This generates a special credit card number good for only one use. Even if someone gets hold of this number, they can't use it again. You can use Private Payments with any American Express Card and while it works at most sites, I did have it fail at one, so it's not foolproof. Find out more at http://www.americanexpress.com  

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One more thing:

I've never swallowed a salad fork, but as a child I did once swallow a penny in a Mexican restaurant because my brother, Howard, dared me to. I then promptly threw it up on the table. Ah, siblings.




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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.