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Tuesday, August 14 2018

A Couple of Thought Experiments

PoliticI was a bit of a prankster, in my day.
And my high-school physics teacher was a sharp cookie.  He discouraged dangerous pranks by openly talking with me about past pranks, and actually helping me plan some in safer ways.

So one day, he tells me about the "stink bomb" he made, when he was in high school.  I'd like to tell you about that, and also another friend's universal remote.  And then we can talk about airport security, mmmkay?

So Mr. Osborne once took a couple of test-tubes, some rubber sheeting, some rubber bands, and some glue from his high school chem lab, together with some iron filings and some sulfuric acid.  The acid went in one test tube, the filings in the other.  Both test tubes are covered with sheeting, and secured with rubber bands.  The filings-tube is inverted, glued on top of the other one.  As he walks out of class one day, he turns it over and drops it in a wastebasket.  The acid goes through the sheeting, into the filings, and reacts.  (I suck at chemistry, but I think the output would likely be water and sulfur dioxide (rotten-egg smell) gas.  They had to evacuate the whole building, he claims.   The point:  separated things can be mixed, and one can implement a delay (the time it takes to burn through the sheeting) or a switch (suppose he'd gotten advanced, and put a mechanical trap door with a timer on there.)

Now, my friend Chip did something different.  He took apart his parents garage door remote, replaced the "tuning" circuit with a frequency scanner.  He also switched out the battery and op-amp, so it was more powerful.  Never tested it, of course, but in concept, he could change the open/close state of every garage door within a few block radius.  (Chip and I also did some experiments with "radio", sending signals across a room, frequency modulating up and down, etc.)  The point is, a high-schooler (albeit an exceptional one) was able to modify an existing transmitter to work over longer distances or at different frequencies.

Now imagine that a suitcase had a bomb that needed to be mixed.  They've implemented a trap door between the two items.  (They=bad guys.)  The door is triggered by pushing on what looks like a car alarm remote.  They pack this in a suitcase, so that it looks innocuous (like wine bottles or something.)

Yep, you guessed it.  A terrorist who is intent on a suicide airplane bombing mission, and who can build complex "mixable" bombs and timers, it seems to me, doesn't give a hoot about bringing liquids on planes.

You are being inconvenienced for no increase in security
Oh, and by the way...while my proposed approach might work.  Bringing materials in your carry on?  It wouldn't.

I say the doors.  Screen passengers intelligently.  Allow passengers to bring razor blades or gatorade on if they want.  Retailers plan for a certain amount of loss.  If what you're doing doesn't actually increase my safety in any measurable way, it ought to not increase my inconvenience.

Tomorrow (or another day), I'll also explain why Republicans are winners.  (Hint:  they focus on how they say things, whereas Dems think "what" they say matters.  It's related to this story, because in both cases, it only works with your complicity.  Dems are failing because people would rather not think...  And for the same reason, nobody tells Kip Hawley he can't do this.  They just call him names.)
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