No laptops???
September 4, 2002 11:02 AM   Subscribe

No laptops??? How am I going to watch my DVDs? Or, for that matter, get my ego stroked by people ogling my TiBook?
posted by fpatrick (35 comments total)

 
The article mentions UWB (ultra wideband) chips as the culprit, due in the next year or so. Would this be the same as Bluetooth?
posted by fpatrick at 11:03 AM on September 4, 2002


UWB and Bluetooth are not the same. My (albeit very limited) understanding is the Bluetooth is intended for a much smaller range than UWB (which may compete with 802.11).

As to the topic of the thread -- wonder what a ban on laptops in planes would do to productivity. Guess I'll have to resort to trashy novels as in the days of yore, rather than actual work. Wonder if a keyboard and Palm Pilot would fall under the ban...
posted by Medley at 11:16 AM on September 4, 2002


What about a Simputer?
posted by matteo at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2002


Laptops that include a UWB chip are expected to go on sale in 2003.

How come I've never heard of this until now? If this isn't 802.11a, b, or g, and it's not Bluetooth, what in the heck is UWB?
posted by mathowie at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2002


Or, for that matter, get my ego stroked by people ogling my TiBook?

Used your TiBook at a cafe lately?
posted by laz-e-boy at 11:18 AM on September 4, 2002


Good idea, then I won't be tempted by minesweeper and solitaire when I fly on Olympic Airways for my next visit to Greece.
posted by stvc15 at 11:22 AM on September 4, 2002


I wondered the same thing, Matt, but ZDNet's link for more info was broken. You'd think that, if UWB is going to be common enough for a blanket ban, that more people would have heard of it.
posted by me3dia at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2002


Here's a good summary of how UWB fits and an older piece on how it works and what is exciting and threatening about it (you can't eavesdrop).
posted by grahamwell at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2002


On an airline security-related note (and security in general), here's an interview with Bruce Schneier, security guru and author of the now-legendary Applied Cryptography, from this month's Atlantic Monthly.

As Schneier suggests: "The problem with airport security, you know, is that it fails badly."
posted by mrmcsurly at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2002


There should be a way to test for this technology at the gate. Jay
posted by jayj at 11:42 AM on September 4, 2002


Good thought, Jay. But it may cause more 'social engineering' kinds of problems than it's worth -- arguments at the gate about who has to check a laptop (and realistically, who's going to want to check their computer?) Or forcing the flight attendants to keep track of which people in which seats are allowed to use laptops and which aren't, and so on.

Matt: A brief history of Ultra Wideband. DoD was doing classified work with it before it became a commercially viable option, I think.
posted by Medley at 11:56 AM on September 4, 2002


I found it ironic that the ad on the article page was for a notebook computer.
posted by jazon at 11:59 AM on September 4, 2002


Know what I like the most? The fact that no one in the airline industry is going to differentiate between laptops with this feature and those without it. I can just see trying to explain to a security checker the differences between ethernet, 802.11 and bluetooth.
posted by LukeyBoy at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2002


Test for it at the gate? They can't even manage to find knives and guns!
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2002


The technology for UWB has been around a while.

There is a fierce battle going on right now. The FCC has apparently approved UWB even among fierce opposition (good overview but stupid pro-corporate article). There was also a recent IEEE colloquium in which different communities were able to express their specific concerns (there were many). The GPS and Radio Astronomy community are particularly up in arms.

The company at this center of this maelstrom is Time Domain. They own most of the patents to this technology. Their website is worth checking out.

I have quite a bit of training in Radio Astronomy and in this realm at least I can say that UWB is the equivalent of radio pollution. It is a form of spread-spectrum technology which uses discrete pulses (the silence/timing is also part of the information signal) instead of sine waves. As such, it shows up on most receivers as low-level noise (not much power is spread across each band). For RA, this is a digital signal processing headache, as it will decrease the signal/noise ratio and perhaps swamp out faint radio sources (the noise will be non-random and thus not amenable to averaging techniques)

wish i could write a longer comment but I gotta run...
posted by vacapinta at 12:14 PM on September 4, 2002


The worst thought is putting a laptop in checked luggage, so long LCD.
posted by jonah at 12:24 PM on September 4, 2002


It would be great if Apple chose to not adopt UWB, so that anyone with a Mac laptop gets to use it on the plane, but the Windows users have their machines confiscated.
posted by panopticon at 12:28 PM on September 4, 2002


Good idea, then I won't be tempted by minesweeper and solitaire when I fly on Olympic Airways for my next visit to Greece.

Uhh, stvc15, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Greece just outlawed all video games.

PC based, mobile phone based, even handhelds like Gameboy.

Big fines and possible jail as well "Greek police will be responsible for catching offenders, who will face fines of 5,000 to 75,000 euros (about $4,980 to $74,650) and imprisonment of one to 12 months".

On a plus, Internet cafes can stay open but - you guessed it - NO GAMES!
posted by Mutant at 12:33 PM on September 4, 2002


anyone with a Mac laptop gets to use it on the plane, but the Windows users have their machines confiscated.

Erm, right.

And jonah, one would think you could take a laptop in a carry-on if you didn't turn it on.

posted by Yelling At Nothing at 12:37 PM on September 4, 2002


Bah. Bad closing tag.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 12:39 PM on September 4, 2002


jayj, your site is nice but please don't self link unless it adds to the thread. Thanks.
posted by keithl at 12:52 PM on September 4, 2002


Most laptops have manufacturer dates printed on them. Flip it over, take a look. My sluggish 650 MHz P3 won't have UWB installed any time soon.
posted by benjh at 12:54 PM on September 4, 2002


What sort of nonsense is this? Do they expect us to trust our laptops to the checked baggage area? Fat friggin' chance. Come on FAA, welcome to the 90s, let alone the next millenium....
posted by mogwai at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2002


What sort of nonsense is this? Do they expect us to trust our laptops to the checked baggage area?

I expect the rules would be like those for cell phones, i.e. keep it in your carry-on if you wish, but don't turn it on.

On a related note, how long do you think the anti-game law in Greece will be around, until they realize they have to outlaw Windows (Solitaire, Minesweeper)?
posted by Triplanetary at 1:16 PM on September 4, 2002


My god -- I just realized. I'll have to start reading BOOKS!!!
posted by fpatrick at 1:20 PM on September 4, 2002


And this adds yet another reason why I look to every alternative possible before flying: it's too damned much a pain in the ass anymore.

GIVE ME HIGH SPEED RAIL TRANSPORT, DAMMIT!
posted by tgrundke at 2:04 PM on September 4, 2002


i'm surprised that no one has commented that another problem here is that the airlines are unwilling to upgrade the aircraft to be compliant with newer technologies. This has been a problem with cell phones for quite a while.
posted by quin at 5:32 PM on September 4, 2002


As your link points out, quin, the whole stated reason for the inflight cellphone ban is shaky at best and fraudulent at worst. Operating a cellphone at an airplane's altitude mean it "sees" many sites at once and can quickly overload cellular systems on the ground. (which pisses off cellphone companies, which -- you guessed it -- have a lot of clout with the FCC.)

I can actually see the rationale for banning FM receivers and the like, but do airliners really ever not know where they are nowadays? GPS, VOR, DME etc. (not to mention Air Traffic Control) seem to do a really good job and are multiple-layer redundant.
posted by Vidiot at 8:35 PM on September 4, 2002


The concept of banning notebooks on planes will never happen. If UWB has a future as the replacement to 802.11, Microsoft/Intel/Apple will have to have a way to turn it off -- like the recent internet phones/pda gizmos.

And you Mac zealots would not like Apple not to adopt UWB if it turns out to be 'the next big thing'. Imagine not having 802.11.

Considering before the econ downturn/Sept 11, Boeing was looking at ways to get broadband on planes, I'm thinking the airline industry would be on our side.
posted by birdherder at 9:18 PM on September 4, 2002


i'm surprised that no one has commented that another problem here is that the airlines are unwilling to upgrade the aircraft to be compliant with newer technologies. This has been a problem with cell phones for quite a while.
heh. Maybe I'm overly suspicious, I always figured the real problem with cell phones was that they couldn't charge for them like they can for the skyphones on the backs of the seats. Determined that after I realized I left my phone turned on during a flight from Buffalo to NYC, NY and the plane didn't crash. oops. Turned it off about halfway there and I noticed beforehand that it was registering as "out of range," so I wonder if any phones would work at that altitude, being so far from the towers.

I can understand why they aren't worrying about upgrading the aircraft right now. How many airlines are bankrupt right now? I know US Air is, I think TWA, there's more I can't recall offhand. With the economy being what it is now, and so many people still wary after Sept. 11, travel is down, it seems like the revenue necessary to continue normal operations and develop new technologies just isn't there.
They're treading a fine line, though. For long trips people will still pick air, that's not in question. However, as it becomes harder for business travelers to work on planes during short in-state flights they may see a drop off in revenue.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:35 PM on September 4, 2002


Don't let the terrorists find out about these deadly UWB chip laptops!
posted by Dukebloo at 10:02 PM on September 4, 2002


Vidiot, Oh i agree completely. The reason for the ban seems completely specious. But i'll allow them their argument of "Cell phones and other electronic gear makes planes unsafe" because i'm going to have to counter with "Then aircraft need to be redesigned to be safer".

People use cell phones, people use PDAs and laptops and MP3 players. People will do this regardless of whether or not they are supposed to. If these devices pose a legitimate threat to the aircraft, then the aircraft itself needs to be improved.

Of course this won't happen because it's too expensive, but it makes sense to me.
posted by quin at 10:46 PM on September 4, 2002


Take me to Kabul, or I'll text ya!
posted by cogat at 1:27 AM on September 5, 2002


The problem with the ban is that these devices (at least cellphones) DON'T post a legitimate threat to the aircraft.

They do, however, post a legitimate threat to: a.) easier and quicker cellphone calls on the ground; b.) the bottom line of the airlines/comm companies selling airphone service; c.) cellphone companies (because of airbone cellular phones overloading their cell sites.)

sigh. I had to explain to a flight attendant the other day why my GPS wasn't likely to bring down the plane. Still didn't work.
posted by Vidiot at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2002


Also, improving aircraft is a series of tradeoffs (as in anything engineering-related.) Like the old joke about "why don't they make the entire plane out of the stuff that they make the black box out of?" Answer: Because the plane would be too heavy to get off the ground.

They try to make planes as safe as possible without compromising the aircraft manufacturers' and airlines' profit structures.
posted by Vidiot at 9:52 AM on September 5, 2002


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