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Is that a laser pointer in your pocket?
March 30, 2008 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Laser pointer import ban in Oz Seems there's been a rash of people aiming laser pointers at planes in Oz. With an incident of a pilot being "temporarily blinded", this action may be a little less...well, as Oz politicians put it, "amusing". Previously.

All the laser pointers I've seen were red. These in the latest "coordinated attack" in the Sydney incident were green. Apparently prices have really come down on these new green babies.
posted by telstar (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
What does the Wizard have to say about all this?
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2008


Well, the lasers are green, and then the name "Emerald City". He'd probably be ok with it.
posted by telstar at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2008


Australia is referred to as Oz? Because I was hoping the incident was the downing of the wicked witch.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2008


No, we downed the wicked witch last November.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:34 PM on March 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


I wasn't all that surprised to see they don't allow laser pointers into the Oswald Maximum Security Prison either.

What's that? Oh.

Kind of unsure what exacly they're considering banning - I am picturing the little red dot being banned, meaning executives everywhere will have to go back to pointing with physical objects. Unconscionable. If the lasers are green, as the article says, and have the range to interfere with low/landing/uplifting aircraft, then that points more towards the commercial ones used for advertising signage and raves.
posted by cosmonik at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2008


>Australia is referred to as Oz?

Only by people who can't spell 'Aus'.
posted by pompomtom at 3:37 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's really just to distinguish Oztraya from Austria.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:45 PM on March 30, 2008


I'm assuming they're talking about higher-powered models. I've seen videos of very high power lasers that are sold to consumers. here's one. This company sells a 350mW green laser, whereas the one on thinkgeek was less then 5mW.
posted by delmoi at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2008


(here is a video of someone popping balloons with one)
posted by delmoi at 4:12 PM on March 30, 2008


telstar, I don't see where in that link a politician has said it was amusing. Can you clarify this please? I see a CASA spokesman saying it's not amusing so I assume that's in response to someone saying it is amusing. But who? I can't imagine any pollie in his or her right mind saying it is.

Anyway, I don't think we need to ban the sale of laser pointers. Way too nanny state for my liking, and they do have some legitimate uses in normal, everyday society. I do think we need to increase the penalties for doing stupid shit like this, however. And I'm not just talking about bigger fines. I'm talking about a huge jail term (25 years min) if you're proven to have used a laser pointer to try and blind an aircraft pilot. Then let it be known that that's what you face if you're going to try and do something like that.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:18 PM on March 30, 2008


Think of the kitties Australia! Cats love laser pointers.
posted by birdherder at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2008


> some legitimate uses in normal, everyday society

Not trying to be annoying here, but what are these uses? I've never seen a green or red laser pointer being used for anything but mischief (or popping balloons, woo!) so I'm genuinely curious what they're really supposed to be used for.
posted by dabitch at 4:34 PM on March 30, 2008


dabitch: They're used as pointers by teachers at pretty much all levels of education and by people giving presentations.

For example, the remote controls of some computer projectors (like you'd use to project a Powerpoint) even have laser pointers built in, so you can use them to advance to the next slide and as a pointer.
posted by david06 at 4:38 PM on March 30, 2008


Red laser pointers are also the best cat toys ever invented.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:40 PM on March 30, 2008


If you criminalize lasers, only the criminals will have lasers. Then what's going to happen, huh smartypants?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:46 PM on March 30, 2008


hehehe, the cat toy thing is true.

I've seen laser pointers used at presentations. And honestly, one really doesn't need a super powerful bring-airplanes-down bright green (or red) laser for that, you can look just as wanky using your hands or an old-fashioned pointing device such as the long stick that serves to both pull down the screen you project your powerpoint on, and point at stuff on it with.
posted by dabitch at 4:46 PM on March 30, 2008


I was in a meeting with a guy who used a green laser to point at things on the screen. He was actually sitting behind me and I was turned sideways when he first fired the thing up. It was a big, industrial-look job with warning labels. Just looking at the dot on the screen made my eyes hurt and I cowered in fear at accidentally getting hit in the eye. I'm not saying that they should be illegal, but people shouldn't be wielding them around like a cooler version of a standard low-power red laser pointer. It's just not the same thing.

Like the sign says: "Do not look into laser with remaining eye."
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:48 PM on March 30, 2008


Even red laser pointers are eye-annoying when wielded by one of those guys who can't keep it still but spastically circle everything "important" on the the screen for like five minutes at a time while saying "and this here...uhm..is...the...uhm....uuuuhm..". Can we make that illegal? Please?
posted by dabitch at 4:52 PM on March 30, 2008


You have to wonder what kind of rocket scientists decide to point these things at planes full of people.
posted by Dasein at 5:50 PM on March 30, 2008


It seems like most airplane cockpit designs would require a potential laser assailant to be at the same or greater altitude than the targeted plane. Perhaps a beam could shoot past a pilot's view perpendicular to the ground, but not into their eyes without being reflected.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 6:57 PM on March 30, 2008


Green pointers produce a visible line - useful for pointing out astronomical objects. The red ones won't work for that.
And of course, lasers make great sniper sights.
posted by bystander at 8:15 PM on March 30, 2008


lasers make great sniper sights...in the movies.

are they actually used by real snipers, though? it seems to me that a red dot moving about would kinda give the game away. or do snipers only go after solo victims?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:41 PM on March 30, 2008


It seems like most airplane cockpit designs would require a potential laser assailant to be at the same or greater altitude than the targeted plane. Perhaps a beam could shoot past a pilot's view perpendicular to the ground, but not into their eyes without being reflected.

I think it's important for pilots to be able to, you know, see the ground. And the only way for that to work is if light from the ground can reach their eyes.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 PM on March 30, 2008


This company sells a 350mW green laser, whereas the one on thinkgeek was less then 5mW.

And cost $80, whereas you can pick up a nice 30mw job on DealExtreme for just $25 inc. postage.

The laser geeks here
swear by the bargains on Deal Extreme.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2008


dabitch: They're used as pointers by teachers at pretty much all levels of education and by people giving presentations.

For example, the remote controls of some computer projectors (like you'd use to project a Powerpoint) even have laser pointers built in, so you can use them to advance to the next slide and as a pointer.


I admittedly haven't seen this very often, and always the dinky red ones. But I've never been able to find the dot without first figuring out what the presenter is intending to point at anyway. Am I the only one? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm somewhat colorblind?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:15 PM on March 30, 2008


I think it's important for pilots to be able to, you know, see the ground. And the only way for that to work is if light from the ground can reach their eyes.
Well, if you look at a jetliner cockpit, the windows are actually high enough that the pilots viewing angle is pretty close to 180 (that is, horizontal to the plane). I actually don't think that being able to see the ground is that important for most of the flight. I guess during landing it'd cause some problems, but even then it isn't as if pilots aren't trained to land in low-visibility situations.

The other thing to consider along these lines is that airplanes move pretty damn quick. Even a Cessna is moving at about 150 MPH, with jetliners cruising 4-5 times faster.

I'm not defending the shining of lasers in pilots eyes, I'm just saying banning them outright seems like a pretty harsh move, considering how difficult it would be to actually do anything to a plane with one.
posted by !Jim at 10:15 PM on March 30, 2008


Wow, I didn't realise that you could to that. I'm going to try it for myself.

Seems like a daft thing to advertise- "Calling all dickheads, calling all dickheads, shining lasers at jet aircraft is a cheap thrill not to be missed- it really gets attention and possible even better that vandalising railway signals"
posted by mattoxic at 10:36 PM on March 30, 2008


!Jim: The article in the second link reports that a pilot was blinded temporarily by a laser, which suggests that it is quite possible to shine a laser in a pilots eyes.
posted by ssg at 10:44 PM on March 30, 2008


If the laserdude stands at the far end of the runway and the plane approaches some kilometers away, low and slow, I could se a direct line from laserdude to pilot.
posted by Catfry at 12:41 AM on March 31, 2008


Sounds like blatant protectionism to me. They're just trying to appease the powerful domestic laser pointer industry lobby.
posted by rhymer at 1:19 AM on March 31, 2008


Some of these newer lasers are bright enough that the reflected, diffused light off of a sheet of paper could seriously wreck your night vision or ability to see clearly.

At the ranges we're talking about, beam divergence on most crappy pointers is going to be large, so it's not some tiny dot of light in a plane cockpit, we're talking about 2-10 feet wide of searingly bright light, like God's own flashlight beaming at them.

That much light spread out over a dot couple feet or even a dozen feet wide is going to light up everything in a cockpit. There will be "hotspots" focused by any bent glass or curved reflective surfaces.

And since it's a hand-held laser, the light won't be steady, either. The pilot will get a nice strobing effect as some moron tries to target the cockpit windows but can't quite keep it on target due to very minor hand movements.

Kiss your night vision and ability to read the night-vision-safe cockpit instrumentation goodbye.

Why do you think the US military uses laser pointers as "non lethal" dazzlers to blind potential threats? It works!



Banning the lasers might, help, but it might not. They're easily importable. Almost anyone could pick one up while abroad and throw it in with some pens and office gear and it'd be hard to spot.

In the US, it's a felony to beam a laser at any aircraft - stationary, flying, parked, taxiing, whatever - and as an enthusiast who used to run a laser show and play with lasers I think the law makes sense.

Seriously, don't do this. Lasers are brighter and more dangerous than most people realize.
posted by loquacious at 1:53 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well you know once a subject hits main stream tv it gets more press. Years ago they had this as an episode on CSI Miami
posted by tabberone at 5:51 AM on March 31, 2008


If you criminalize lasers, only the criminals will have lasers. Then what's going to happen, huh smartypants?

Nobody would be able to burn DVDs any more. Seriously, how the hell do you ban something that's sitting in every PC in the country?
posted by Leon at 5:52 AM on March 31, 2008


Dasein writes "You have to wonder what kind of rocket scientists decide to point these things at planes full of people."

Really bad rocket scientists?
posted by krinklyfig at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2008


Years ago they had this as an episode on CSI Miami

So when it eventually does hit the mainstream, its going to hit it big and maybe be part of a CSI Las Vegas plot!
posted by Molesome at 9:37 AM on March 31, 2008


When I clicked on Telstar's last link ("Amusing") it was the Sydney Herald's website. The Google-generated ad-box featured two companies selling a variety of hi-power green lasers, and one company selling pilot training. I like the irony.
posted by yazi at 9:52 AM on March 31, 2008


Lots of surface-to-air missile systems use lasers for targeting. Maybe these incidents are causing false-positives on cockpit warning systems?

Just a thought...
posted by LakesideOrion at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2008


bystander : Green pointers produce a visible line - useful for pointing out astronomical objects. The red ones won't work for that.

I suspect that, if any problem really exists, it probably stems from this. I've had friends use a green pointer when we had our telescopes out, and I could totally see them not noticing that they were pointing it in the direction of some small plane.

"Look! There's Orion's belt!"

"Hmm, I don't remember Mintaka wobbling that much. In fact, it looks a bit like it's falling from the sky..."

"Weird."
posted by quin at 1:34 PM on March 31, 2008


I'm thinking I'll need to buy a cheap laser pointer, give it to my wife, drive to the other side of the valley to where they're developing some new properties, and have her point it my way. I have a real hard time believing there's a blinding dazzle.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:13 PM on March 31, 2008


I'm thinking I'll need to buy a cheap laser pointer, give it to my wife, drive to the other side of the valley to where they're developing some new properties, and have her point it my way. I have a real hard time believing there's a blinding dazzle.

Back when just bare-bones OEM laser diode modules ran about 150-200 a pop, I still had an 8-10 milliwatt HeNe gas tube that I used for laser shows.

8-10mw these days is nothing, really. Your average cheap ass red laser diode pointer is 3-5mw.

One of the first things I ever did with my tube laser was to go out at night, set it up on a tripod and drag an extension cord out to the sidewalk to shoot a stable, static beam all the way down my street, through a neighborhood park and eventually land on a distant garage door.

Why? One, these things weren't portable. My tube was about 2.5 feet long, needed AC power, etc. Two, there was fog/dew in the park, rendering the beamline visible like a neon sign. Three, I wanted to see what the target looked like from about 1,500 feet away.

It was huge, like 10 feet in diameter. Quite bright still, the whole garage door bathed in that weird specular diffusion glow that lasers do. I could see the ripples and distortions in the glass exit mirror, the ripples from convecting air distorting the beam.

Looking back down the beamline was like looking towards an insanely bright flashlight. I could see a bit of blue-purple in the flare of the exit mirror, and the rest was just super-bright red, even standing off to the side and out of the actual beamline - I never actually looked at it from within the beam.

Anyway, that's a tiny laser, on axis with steady beam. A cheap little laser pointer of similar wattage held in someone's hands isn't going to give very impressive results.

However, some of those handheld pointers are 300mw, in a much brighter, easier to see green wavelength. I can't even imagine how insanely bright those are.

Trust me. You'd see that. You might be able to see that in broad daylight, but at night if someone pointed it at you, you'd see it from like twenty miles away. 50mw would be enough.
posted by loquacious at 5:03 AM on April 1, 2008


dabitch writes "I've never seen a green or red laser pointer being used for anything but mischief (or popping balloons, woo!) so I'm genuinely curious what they're really supposed to be used for."

A laser is a crazy useful thing, even in hand held form. In the last couple weeks I've used a laser to assist in levelling a foundation pour, as a line of sight go/no-go validator in a game of 40K, lined up holes in framing for piping, and amused the cat.

Besides a plain import ban where possession isn't also banned is going to be laughably ineffective.
posted by Mitheral at 10:33 AM on April 2, 2008


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