Beyond Fear

Today I spent some time lounging about in the couch reading Schneier's Beyond Fear and a few other things - these past few weeks I've made significant inroads into my reading list, totalling around a book a day. Guess it is one thing I can do all day...

All Schneier's books should be mandatory reading for anyone even remotely involved in security work. Being still somewhat "in the field" and being forced to perform regular pilgrimages abroad for meetings, I've looked on with a critical eye as airport security was raised several (often meaningless) notches after 9/11. Although European airports have yet to reach the level of nonsensical paranoia our U.S. cousins are treated to, I had deconstructed the need for visible (but largely ineffective) security a while ago and pinned it squarely on the need for the powers-that-be to restore confidence in people.

Which is acceptable until you see through Schneier's writing the futility of such actions and the ways security can be totally distorted according to someone's agenda. A case in point (and which is so far indelibly stuck in my mind) is the way small (but harmless) metal items like tweezers and nail files were confiscated at the gates, while tobacco and cigarette lighters (you know, combustible materials) were allowed on board.

Why? Because there is such thing as a tobacco lobby, that's why.

This is not to say the book focuses on this sort of details - they are supplied as little interesting nuggets to prove a set of sharp, penetrating insights about what security is really about and how most of the things we actually perceive as "security" are nothing but shims we've grown accostumed to. This is an unsettling book, for sure, because it redefines our notion of security.

And guess what, it's not the sort of paranoia we're constantly seeing in the media.

Why I Won't Fly

This is as good a time as any to jot down some notes on why I hate flying these days. Security is always little more than a passing annoyance, actually - their ability to remind me I have loose change in my pocket can be somewhat amusing, but I keep thinking their extremely low incident rate (which the authorities like to use as an indication of their effectiveness as a deterrent) is, in the light of Schneier's arguments, exactly the same as their success rate (i.e., they have low incident rates because very catch few people smuggling things past them).

The thing is, I fly badly. I'm not scared of flying (I know the statistics as well as anybody, including the cute little jokes about someone having to be the statistic), and I have no trouble with the actual flying (even on bumpy rides), but it gives me sinus trouble for one or two days every time I get off a plane. That is the main reason - I get it every time, and occasionally a splitting headache to go with my constant sniffing.

Not to mention that the whole process makes an ungodly mess of my work schedule, my mood and my personal life - so I have an acute distaste for travelling on business, especially when I can't either fly back the same day or stay around a week.

(Guess what, the current fad is two-day meetings with no direct flights and six-hour commutes, totalling a three to four day absence from the office. And people think face to face meetings are worth this glaring display of inefficiency...)

Fortunately, I am one of those people who can maintain a civilized demeanour no matter how annoyed I am at having been dragged out of bed at five in the morning, having a cold shower, taking a smelly cab, waiting in several lines for half an hour each, have a doorframe bleep at me and, ultimately, being served a noxious sandwich in lieu of breakfast - and no, my company usually won't upgrade us from coach. Not that the food is any better, mind you.

And, of course, the way luggage is handled is apalling, and I have taken to travel carrying only a laptop bag or a single carry-on case - containing a spartan set of clothing and a set of hand-picked gadgetry guaranteed to make me independent of whatever "get rich quick" scheme the hotel has set up for their Internet access.

That said, I actually enjoy travelling quite a bit. Go figure...