The dangers of sunscreen
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2008
After spending Monday skiing, H and I stopped for an apres-ski lunch at the Inter-Continental Mzaar. The avant-ski peanut butter panini I had scarfed down at the charmingly named Ski Widow cafe was a distant memory by then, and in any case I am almost always ready to eat.
But when we pulled up to the hotel, H’s car failed the security check. Apparently, we were carrying explosives – or something equally dangerous. I began fretting, but the security guard didn’t look alarmed. He just looked bored. Who knows – maybe bomb-bearing skiers are an ordinary sight in today’s Lebanon.
Every hotel, mall, office building and even some private parking lots/garages has its own security staff, who screen incoming cars for explosives. Usually, they work in two-men teams.
One man takes a mirror on a pole – basically, a human-sized version of the instrument your dentist uses to inspect your teeth for plaque – and uses it to check the under-side of the car.
And yes, it does bear a strange resemblance to the old crumb-scooper vacuums that Wendy’s used to use.
The second man on the security team has the more glamorous job: he shuffles his feet carefully to produce an electric charge and walks past the car, from engine to trunk, carrying what looks like the mutant child of a car antenna and a corrugated metal box.
(Photo courtesy of ATSC UK. The photograph shows the mini, hand-held version.)
The antenna responds to the ionic charges that explosives give off (I’m getting this from my uncle, not any deep scientific knowledge of my own, so please direct any hard-hitting technical questions to him c/o IntlXpatr.) by swinging around in the direction of the car. If the car has no explosives, the antenna remains pointing directly ahead.
In other words, it works just like a dowsing rod, but without the New Age music and dream-catchers.
Lebanese security firm ProSec uses the ADE-651, and describes it as follows:
This equipment detects traces of both particulates and vapors, allowing for non-invasive searches of luggage, personnel, mail and containers without the use of radioactive source or external carrier gas. The working principle is based on electrochemical (Thermo-Redox) detection. The range of detection is around 50 meters with obstacles and up to 650 meters in outdoor parking lots, the unit can also detect explosives submerged in water or buried underground. Detection from a hovering helicopter is also possible.
Oh yes, because Lebanon has so many helicopters to spare.
Does the antenna box work? Not everyone thinks so. There’s a blog dedicated to questioning whether these explosives detectors do anything more than part governments and security firms with taxpayers’ and clients’ money: Sniffex Questions. Another critique can be found at Schneier On Security.
What I can tell you is that these detectors also detect the presence of other items.
Are you carrying perfume? the security guard asked H. Cream?
Both the guard and H turned to look at me, a sad case of female stereotyping … especially since it was true. No, I wasn’t carrying a bottle of perfume (“this is a ski trip, not a fashion show!” I can hear my father saying), but I did have a travel bag filled with two types of sunscreen, one anti-wrinkle cream, and some ordinary hand lotion – all in FAA-unfriendly size tubes.
I handed over my unguent collection, blushing, and the guard tested us again. Bomb-free, we continued on our merry lunch-ward way, one of us sporting freshly lotioned hands.
If you want to test the ADE-650/1 yourself, you can purchase one here. No word on how much it will cost you, but I hear that they go for quite a bit more than the traditional divining rod.