Skip to main content

Laptop Ban Stranger Than I Thought

Today’s Washington Post WorldView newsletter throws more light, a lot of shade, and a lot more confusion onto the ban I linked to last night, on taking laptops and tablets in hand luggage from certain airports.

First, I didn’t realise that the list of affected airports is different between the UK and the US. Second, for the US, it is just a small set of airports, not all airports in the affected countries. The UK takes the broader approach — but for a different set of countries.

The most interesting point to my mind is that this may all be Trump trying to help American businesses:

When pressed by reporters, officials in both countries said the measures were not a response to a specific threat, but rather the result of intelligence assessments that concluded groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are seeking new methods to sow terror in the skies, possibly through hidden bombs in electronic equipment.

And later:

Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.

“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”

So unfair. But if that’s what’s behind it, what the hell does our glorious leader get out of going along with a slightly modified version of it? It’s certainly not to protect British airlines, as they (unlike American airlines) are affected by the ban. Maybe my “lapdog” dig was exactly right. For years Tony Blair was referred too as George W Bush’s poodle. Maybe Theresa May is adopting the same role for Trump. Which is a horrifying thought.

Another WaPo article contradicts all that, though, suggesting that the whole thing might be based on some credible concerns:

The U.S. restrictions were prompted by a growing concern within the government that terrorists who have long sought to develop hard-to-detect bombs hidden inside electronic devices may have put renewed effort into that work, according to people familiar with the matter

But it asks the question and fails to get a satisfactory answer, “Why not ban all electronics on flights, then?”

People familiar with the discussions said the restrictions were designed to defeat the particular type of threat that is of greatest concern: the possibility that terrorists could smuggle explosives inside electronics and manually detonate them once on a plane.

Even if that makes sense (after all, its not like a computer in the hold is (or could hide) some kind of timing device): why just from a strange subset of airports, even in the countries of concern?

And if it’s all based on a real threat, why the US/UK difference?

They also raise the real concern that journalists, activists, and just ordinary citizens, will be separated from their personal information, leaving it under the control of unknown people.

Buckle up, folks, this ride is only going to get stranger and more unpleasant.

Stupid Fawning Lapdog Government Apes the US Again

Our glorious leaders have seen fit to copy Trump and his cronies with banning laptops and tablets on planes — from certain countries. The only possible reason for this madness is to punish people for coming from (or visiting) those countries.

Worse, though: such a ban is only going to:

  1. make things even more confusing and complex at airport security, and
  2. get extended until it covers all flights, everywhere. You wait and see.

Mandatory Options

Where I’m working at the moment we’re using a tool called Splunk for some log file viewing and analysis. I hadn’t come across it, though apparently it’s quite well known.

So wanting to know a bit more about it, I thought I’d have a run through of their tutorial. To do that you have to sign up for an account. That’s fine, it’s free, there’s no obligation. I’ve signed up for plenty of things.

Except… well, look:

The Splunk signup screen, showing a non-optional checkbox
Splunk Signup Madness

That little “Yes, I want to receive…” checkbox looks like a fairly standard opt-in. The kind we always opt out of. But look at it. Look at its reddish border. The asterisk. These are fairly standard1 ways of indicating that a field is mandatory.

A mandatory opt-in checkbox.

A mandatory option.

After grabbing that screenshot I closed the page. How not to get people to sign up.


  1. Though the red is bad UI/UX, because it doesn’t work well for people with colour-blindness. 

Holding Pattern

I’ve been working on a more substantial piece about music and gigs and nostalgia and my gig-going plans for the year, but it’s getting long, and possibly out of hand. So I’m going to delay it till later.

Consider this a placeholder.

And so it’s got some content of value, let me just draw your attention to the National March to Parliament next Saturday, 25th March. Meet from 11:00 in Park Lane.

I don’t know if it can do any good, but if you believe, as I do, that Brexit must be stopped, then you should try to be there.

Reading Materials

You’re probably wondering what’s happened to my books posts. Surely I must have read something since January (and I thought I’d posted about two books this year, but apparently not).

Thing is, after the Twin Peaks book, I started something rather large. I’m over 200 pages in, which means I’m about one-sixth of the way through it.

It is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem: a monster hardback with tiny print. I picked it up when I went to see him interviewed by Stewart Lee, back in November. I could have got either the hardback or a slipcased three-volume paperback version. Almost as soon as I started reading I wished I’d gone for the latter, because it’s so damn heavy to hold.

So it’ll take me quite a while till I’m ready to write about it. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, though.

Vanessa Bell and Princess Leia

We went to Dulwich Picture Gallery today, to see both the permanent collection and the Vanessa Bell exhibition. All very fine. But I was struck by one of Bell’s paintings in particular.

It’s called “The Model,” which makes it hard to search for, being so generic. But it’s clear to me that the hair & makeup people of the original Star Wars must have been familiar with it, since it is totally where they got Princess Leia’s headphone hairstyle.

Bell lived until 1961, so her work is still in copyright, which I expect is why it’s hard to find a decent image online, but Google Image Search has this.

Take a look. Tell me I’m wrong.

The Return of SonoAir

Back in January I wrote about trying to play podcasts through the Sonos. As you’ll recall1 I had tried and failed to install AirSonos on my NAS, and was considering trying SonoAir on my Mac.

I did try it, but it never quite worked. The app launched, and found the Sonos network and the speaker. But it didn’t appear as an AirPlay device to my phone. I could make it work in one context: iTunes (on the same Mac) could see it and use it as a functional output device.But that wasn’t much use, as the Sonos already has access to my iTunes library from where it’s backed up on the NAS — and also to Apple Music. So being able to play from iTunes to the Sonos brought nothing new.

The added functionality I was looking for was to be able to play podcasts from Overcast, and switch to the speaker when I’m listening in the kitchen. For that my iPhone or iPad needs to be able to see the speaker.

So it all didn’t look too promising. But I was just having another go, and I noticed that the version on the website is 1.0 (BETA 6.1), while I had BETA 4. A quick download and we’re up and running: it works!

Now I just have to keep my MacBook running at all times. Oh well.


  1. I know, you probably won’t. 

Missed

Well, yesterday genuinely feels like the first day I’ve missed posting this year. A few post-midnight posts have counted towards the previous day, but although I’m writing this early in the morning, it’s definitely the 16th.

It’s for a good reason, though: I went to the pub after work.1

The occasion was the monthly drinks for ex- and still-current-Misys people. Always good to see folk I haven’t seen for a while. And Misys are in the news at the moment. It looks like my old section, Payments & Messaging, won’t be long for this world (even what little is left of it). This D+H outfit — Vista, the owners of Misys, have bought them and are planning to smoosh them together with Misys — is big in payments. I’d expect that their products will be seen as superior, and our Payment Manager will start to be sunsetted.

That’s certainly the likely trajectory if Misys management end up running the combined organisation. They have a permanent, severe case of inverse not-invented-here syndrome. Any product that the company has been making and selling successfully for years (decades, in the case of Midas and Equation) is automatically suspect and needs to be edged out in favour of something that came from another company, and/or is newer and less capable.

Mind you, those old products have a habit of keeping on keeping on (and making the company money). Because, of course, they meet the needs of customers.

Not that anyone was talking about that at the pub.


  1. I did start to write something when I got home, but it was never going to be anything viable. Looking at it this morning it doesn’t even make sense. 

Wiretaps and Wipeouts

Couple of thoughts about the news, tonight. First of all, CNN reports on Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s “counselor,” and her strange thoughts about microwaves:

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said, before suggesting that surveillance could take place through phones, TVs or “microwaves that turn into cameras.”

I want one of these magic microwaves. I mean, think about it: you can reheat your leftovers, then take a photograph of them and post it to Instagram. All from the same device.

More sanely (at least slightly) they seem to be backing off from the nonsensical wiretapping accusations. According to Sean Spicer, the Whitehouse press secretary:

“The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities”

So that’s OK, then.

In another article they treat it all more seriously, pointing out that doing down your predecessors is a tactic of dictators everywhere:

They, too, use the apparatus of government to support their whims. And worse, they also seek to punish their predecessors in office and political opponents — as we have seen in countries from Iran to Zambia to, of course, Russia.

How long until we hear Trump surrogates suggest that Obama might be guilty of a crime?

Closer to home, the UK government’s Mayhem programme involved them forcing through the Brexit bill, so we’re teetering along the slippery slope, getting ready to run towards the cliff of deadly metaphors.

Jeremy Corbyn has things in hand, though. He tweeted:

This is the same Jeremy Corbyn who, just a few weeks ago, put a three-line whip in place to make his MPs vote in favour of the initial version of the bill — which is identical to the version that has now been passed, since the Lords’ amendments were all rolled back.

I voted for him as leader, twice, but I regret it now, I’ve got to say. He’s a decent guy, and I agree with him on many — even most — issues. But on this, the most important thing facing our country today, leading to potentially the biggest disaster since the Second World War, he’s been completely useless. Worse: complicit.

Broadchurch Thoughts

I hope everyone’s following the new series of Broadchurch. If you thought the second season didn’t live up to the first, then I think you’ll find that the third brings it back to greatness. Trilogies always sag in the middle, don’t they?

People are being very positive about it on Twitter. Many of the comments are around how every guy you see is a possible suspect. Which is very true. I’m just glad to discover that there are eight episodes, not six as I had thought. Which means we’re still not quite halfway through.

David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are fantastic together as ever. and Jodie Whittaker as Beth is amazing.

Most of all, I think it bodes well for Chris Chibnall’s future role as head writer on Doctor Who.