Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 18/1/2005My journey of exploration with the little green laser pointer continues -- taking care, as always, not to dazzle or upset the innocent. There is something of the jewel about it: it triggers atavistic acquisition tendencies in even the most level-headed.

Tuesday 18/1/2005
My journey of exploration with the little green laser pointer continues -- taking care, as always, not to dazzle or upset the innocent. There is something of the jewel about it: it triggers atavistic acquisition tendencies in even the most level-headed. It also means I tend to visit friends who have bathrooms with lots of mirrors and shiny tiles. [And it's just so much fun in the office - Ed. ]

My fear of arrest for terrorism has somewhat abated, too. Far from being devices of evil you can buy on a market stall for a quid and then use to bring a 747 down in seconds, lasers are now officially tools for preventing terrorism. The North American Defense Command NORAD -- you know, Strangelove, War Room, the Big Board -- has said that it will be using red and green lasers shone into the cockpits of planes to warn them when they're entering a restricted area. It thinks this is a better way to grab the attention of pilots who aren't answering their radios than the current, expensive method of flying a fighter alongside the errant aircraft and dropping some flares.

Unsurprisingly, pilots are less than thrilled. How can they tell the difference between the 'good' lasers and the bad ones, they ask? Easy, says NORAD, the good ones will flash red-red-green. At the time of writing, no bad people with lasers could be contacted to find out whether they too were capable of flashing red-red-green, but there is some fear they might find out and learn how to mimic this behaviour. Well, say the pilots, how can we know that the good lasers won't blind us? Ah, specially designed not to, says NORAD. A physicist who muttered 'a laser is a laser and you can't get much less harmful than those little pocket devices that run on two teeny batteries' was later invited to a free holiday in Cuba.

And so the nonsense continues. At least RyanAir has stopped its ridiculous ban on 'laser powered devices' on its flights: despite asking crew and ground staff alike, I was never able to find out just what one of these were. I once saw a small model of a proposed spacecraft that was kept aloft by high power laser pulses up its jacksie: that took far more lab equipment than you could ever get on as hand luggage. And then there's the US anti-missile laser system that sits in the nose of a 747 and can never, ever work: it might, however, bring down a Ryan 737. Perhaps they know something we don't.

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