Monday, August 29, 2011

My Disasters, Natural and Otherwise

The earthquake came and went.  A little shaking, no worse for the wear, though Clink tells us in an upcoming podcast that she was a bit shaken (pun intended).  Then there was Hurricane Irene, and while the talk is now on how the media exaggerated, a quick walk around my neighborhood revealed 3 streets blocked by falling trees and two houses with trees on them.   I'm happy to report that my house is undamaged, but we've not had any power for a while now, and I'm blogging from a clinic workstation.    So much for 'natural disasters.'

Aside from this, I have had my own technologic demons.  Twelve days ago I took a quick flight to visit a family member.  On the way back, I placed my belongings on the security belt.  A guard popped out and told me to put my laptop in a separate bin, and I did.  I then walked through the body scanner.  It wasn't the usual metal detector devices, but one of those new strip-you/radiate-you body scans, and I'm not sure I've been through one before-- I usually manage to go through the 'other' line, but that day there was no other line.  A sign offers the option of a 'pat down' but I'll be scanned and go, thank you.  So I raise my hands like the picture shows, I hear a click, and thinking the "xray" is over, I put them down.  Oh, it takes long than that, and now I've "moved" in the scanner.  A security guard jumps in front of me, blocks my way and there is a call for a female security guard.
    "My stuff!" I say, starting to head towards the belt.
    "Don't go near your stuff," he barks.  Oh, it's not like I could walk through him anyway.   "Did you move in the scanner?" he asks.  Yes.  That's why.  Can't I walk through again?  No.  I'm now a potential terrorist.  A female guard in purple latex (?) gloves shows up and recites her poetry about the pat down and how she uses the back of her hands over certain body parts.  Do I want a private room?  No, just let me move on with my life.  I'm molested and cleared, and pointed in the direction of my stuff sitting on the belt.  I grab my suitcase, purse and shoes and move on.   After an unremarkable flight, I arrive home eager to check my email.  Where is my computer?  Oh, no, I last remember seeing it when I placed it on the security belt. Because the battery had died, I had no intention of using it on the plane, but I don't remember ever putting it back in my carry-on suitcase after security.  I call the airport and it's not there.  I call again in the morning and there is a laptop, found at the same  checkpoint, around the same time, but it's a different make and would be hard to confuse with my Macbook, especially given that I left a couple of USB chargers plugged in. 
     I rant.  I rave. (Roy says I do this well).  And somewhere in there, my wireless at home zorks and I can't access the internet from my desktop.  Verizon says it's the computer.  The next day, another tech and other evening on the phone (thank you to my husband) and they decide it's the modem, not the computer.  A new modem comes and things are back on line, an hour or so before we shut down for the hurricane which knocks out the power. 
     So ranting and raving and many calls to TSA, and five days later they review the security tapes.  There I am, but the table where the items items are placed as they come through the scanner is a white blotch, completely obscured by way the sun's glare.  There is no way of seeing if my computer came through or if someone picked it up. 
     In the meantime, I remember that my computer has anti-theft software on it.  I call to have it activated, and I see my own path with the computer, but there is nothing to indicate that it has been turned on since the battery died the morning of my flight.  Friends assure me that anti-theft software can be de-activated.
     And then there is the issue of the computer that was left around the same time.  Isn't that weird?  Someone left a computer at a security checkpoint and no one has called, 12 days later, to ask about it.  I keep thinking this has to be related, that someone grabbed the wrong computer, stuck it in their bag, went on vacation, and either hasn't noticed, or hasn't thought to link it to the airport security process.  I ask TSA to turn it on and see who owns it.  The battery is dead (what is it with these travelers and their dead laptop batteries) and they are looking for a charger.  If they will tell me the make and model of the laptop, I offer, I will send them a charger.  It does feel like a series of unfortunate and unlikely events. 
     Apparently they have a bunch of laptops and somehow TSA doesn't have the sense of urgency that I do.  Plus, my TSA agent assures me, the laptop was logged in 45 minutes after I went through the security scanner, and there is no way a computer can sit there for that long without the TSA agents noticing it.  I just can't find another story that would easily explain the disappearance of my Macbook, unless I put my laptop back in my suitcase and don't remember this (I was a little distracted after the whole security event) and someone on a full flight took my suitcase out of the overhead bin in the hopes of finding something valuable?  Other than the TSA belt, and placing my suitcase in the overhead bin for the flight, it was never out of my sight.  I usually keep the laptop in a separate bag, but since the battery was dead, that bag was in the suitcase and made it home. 
     It's time to buy a new computer and 'move on' but I'm concerned that the moment I do that, the old one will show up.  One friend says I must have tremendous faith in people to think that might happen, and I do.  Seems to me that if you set out to steal computers, you wouldn't do it on an airport security line in front of agents and a camera.  I'm feeling very unplugged!
Update on Wednesday 8/31:
After 12 days, TSA turned on the laptop that was left at the security checkpoint shortly after they ascertained that I was not carrying a bomb anywhere too obvious.  On day 13, they located the owner, a college student who had no idea where her computer had gone and she did not have my missing MacBook.  I believe my relationship with my personal TSA agent is now over.  I'm not sure if I should be annoyed about the whole process, or after reading about Steve Silberman's unsuccessful attempts to get his Kindle back from United Airlines, if I should be grateful that at least I had a live person to talk to, one who answered his cell phone while he was taking his daughter to college, and who responded to email messages and was eventually moved by my incessant nagging (who, me?). 

I had to do a last sweep before I move on.  I realized that I'd called the local airport twice and left messages at baggage claim, and that both messages had been returned by someone saying they had not found a computer.  I'd left two messages for the airline--AirTran, with details about my flight, and I had never heard back.  Before I spring for a new computer, I thought I would try again, because you never know if my computer could have slithered its way out of my suitcase and been found in an overhead cabin just sitting there.  I was determined to speak with a human.

After a number of phone calls and a little surfing, I did eventually find a human at both airports that I went through.  No computer.  Only no one knows where else the plane may have gone.  Is there a centralized Lost & Found for items found on planes?  Sort of maybe, I was put on hold and after 10 minutes called back.  "I taking another call" the same woman said.  She suggested I call back in 10 minutes, at which time she was able to tell me that 4 laptops were logged in, but that my MacBook was not one of them.  One baggage claim employee suggested I could call all 52 airports that AirTran flies to.  Oh my. 

My final stop was at Traveler's Aid in the airport I departed from.  They were very nice and read me the list of items that had been turned in for several days after my departure.  No MacBook, but I did ask if I could have the fishing pole.  If you're missing a green purse, a cell phone, sunglasses, or one of several suitcase, you left them at an airport.

Time to move on.  And yes, I'm sure I will fly again.  Next month, in fact, with very few valuables.  Friday I will be computer shopping.  Would you like to weigh in on my next computer?  Clink says I should get a refurbished Macbook, Roy says a MacBook Pro, Jesse votes for a MacBook Air, and AA suggests a netbook for travel.  And no, the lost computer did not have patient information on it.  As Jesse would say, "cold comfort." 

The video above is made to make you laugh, I hope it doesn't offend anyone.