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July 25, 2002

I'm in between trips this week, and for the last few days I've been feeling guilty for not providing you, my faithful readers, with something to tickle your minds and provoke your outrage. As always seems to be the case, however, if one is patient and observant, new material eventually emerges.

The first thing I want to share with you is something amusing from my trip out of LaGuardia yesterday. I noticed that the ticket counter has pasted to it a set of color pictures, of items one is not allowed to bring aboard the plane. You know, things like machetes, solvents, blow torches -- that sort of thing.

Oh, and lawnmowers. That's right -- one of the forbidden items featured in a color photo at the ticket counter is a lawnmower. How inconvenient to learn this only after one arrives at the ticket counter, with a Samsonite bag over one's shoulder and the handlebar of a Lawnboy grasped firmly in one's hands. You push that thing through a quarter mile of twisting ticket aisle only to learn you'll have to leave it behind. It's one thing to have one's nail clippers confiscated, but it's hard to replace a good lawnmower.

What's that, you say? Common sense dictates that one shouldn't bring one's heavy lawn maintenance equipment aboard a passenger jet? Apparently not, because someone in some obscure office of our overweening Transportation Department decided that passengers need a color photo to remind them that there's no grass growing on a 747.

So, a public service announcement from Sand in the Gears:

Fly safe; fly lawnmower free. Do it because it's the right thing. Do it for the children.

This message has been brought to you by your friends at Sand in the Gears. And now back to our regular programming.

You might recall some time ago I described for you a funny "Reply All" event that took place in my company. We've all been victim of the Reply All at some point in our careers, usually from some bozo on a 200 person distribution list who thinks the other 199 people need to know that he agrees with the sentiment in the original email, or that he doesn't want to be on the distribution list any more.

So today I check my email, and I find the following sequence:

1) An email about an upcoming political event, sent to a very large distribution group, including corporate officers and a CEO.

2) An email from an employee on that distribution list, who, apparently reminded by the previous email of a joke about a miscommunication involving the President's clock (thank you, President Clinton, for your long-lasting cultural legacy), accidentally sends it out to the entire distribution list. The one that includes his CEO.

3) Another email from said employee, apologizing profusely for his mistake.

4) A string of emails from various friends (not posted to the distribution list), all speculating on how many more hours this employee has left.

This episode puts me in mind of a friend from graduate school, who used to obsessively check his outgoing messages to any of the handful of us who were even remotely conservative, lest he accidentally send it to the entire graduate student list-serv, and be denounced as a troglodyte. It also puts me in mind of a poor fellow at a non-profit which shall remain nameless, who had some funny disparaging comments to make about some of the Trustees of that organization.

He made them in an email. He decided they were so funny that he wanted to save a copy, so he printed the email. He put the printed copy on his desk. Because the non-profit's Board meeting was a few weeks away, many employees there, including this fellow, were involved in preparing a Board book for the Trustees -- a thick collection of financial reports, highlights of programs, etc.

So, someone gives this fellow a section to proof, he signs off on it, and leaves it on his desk. On top of the email he printed out. You can guess what happened next. The unintended addition to the Board book wasn't discovered until he and the heads of his organization were sitting in a conference room with the Trustees, and they all collectively turned their Board book pages to find his email. I'm sure this was an uncomfortable situation.

So these anecdotes have me wondering what stories you've heard about snarky people being sabotaged by technology -- an email to the wrong people, a voice mail that gets played with the wrong person in the room, etc. Share your best stories in the comments section.

Posted by Woodlief on July 25, 2002 at 11:04 AM


If I'm not mistaken, the same airport warnings include a restriction against carrying on a speargun. Well, there goes my in-flight shark-hunting expeditions in the bathroom toilet cistern.

Posted by: Laurence Simon at July 25, 2002 11:15 AM

What about a collapsible fly-fishing pole? You may get some time at that toilet, yet.

Don't forget your snorkel, that could be handy, too.

Posted by: hbchrist at July 25, 2002 11:37 AM

Please, sir, would you tell us the "Clinton's clock" joke???

Posted by: Mary at July 26, 2002 8:57 PM

Flying back from Japan, they wanted to confiscate my pipe lighter. I pointed out that the shops past security sold them, so that was silly. This being Japan, they discussed it a bit and agreed, so I kept my lighter. In America the security robot probably would have taken that as an assault on their pathetic dribble of power and called the cops.
But I digress...
Beyond the security gates, in the shopping area, is a little store that sells radio-controlled toy supplies--transmitters, kits, engines, the whole gamut. And in a case at the back they were selling...chain saws. No, really. Apparently they're some sort of fancy two-stroke type that meets US emission requirements.
So they take away my tweezers when I got through security...and I can then buy a chain saw...? "Would you like that in the overhead bin, sir?" "No thanks, I'll keep it under the seat...nice and handy."
It's a weird world.

Posted by: Toren at July 28, 2002 2:58 PM

Also verboten...inflatable rafts!

Posted by: emily at July 29, 2002 10:51 AM

It's not the lawn mower, per, se it's the gasoline. Flamable liquids, save for liquor are not permitted in checked baggage and this rule has been in effect since well before 9/11.


Posted by: Anonymous at July 29, 2002 11:12 AM

Gasoline or not, I don't think I would have a lot of luck bringing anything in that has a a good 10 inches worth of blade on it...

Posted by: Tony Hooker at July 29, 2002 11:35 AM

Actually, if I remember correctly, the lawnmower is forbidden because it has an internal combustion engine - meaning the chainsaw would (of course) be forbidden on the plane also... though why they SELL it in the secure area is beyond me!

They might say that it's OK because it doesn't come with gasoline, but how hard would it be, really, to smuggle in some gasoline?

They might just as well be selling handguns. Of course, the handguns wouldn't come with ammunition, but I'm sure it's easier to smuggle ammunition through security than a handgun...

Anyway, that's insane.

Posted by: Deoxy at July 29, 2002 5:06 PM

I second the call for the Clinton clock joke.

Posted by: Anonymous at July 29, 2002 5:07 PM

Sorry, it's a PG site. Can't violate my brand identity. It wasn't that funny anyway.

Posted by: Tony Woodlief at July 29, 2002 9:38 PM