matt dances in front of the parthenon

I’ve been avidly keeping up with Matt Harding, the nomadic soul who quit his job three years ago in order to travel the world (and who has made a point of trying to get a video clip of himself dancing in nearly all his destinations). He’s landed at a roster of the most exotic places I can imagine, and each of his journal entries is a new chance for me to get lost in another culture for a few pages of exploration. His most recent posting, from Athens (as in Greece, not Georgia), is a great one — he actually got detained by the Athenian police for dancing in front of the Parthenon.

I’ve never had any experience with civil disobedience. I think of myself as a spineless wimp and I guess I imagined I’d fold pretty quickly, so it was nice to learn that I can withstand a little intimidation when the matter at hand is truly ridiculous enough.
I don’t know how I would’ve held up if there’d been anything serious at stake, like life or liberty. This was just about the pursuit of happiness, which trails a distant third for most of us.

The sad thing about the whole story is that while it’s easy to mock what feels like a provincial police response to Matt’s dancing, in today’s increased security throughout the United States, I’d bet anything that there are a million similar stories of other goofy tourists being unnecessarily detained by American security and police forces while shooting pictures and home videos in front of our famous buildings and monuments. (Just ask Thomas Hawk, who’s done a bang-up job documenting his own troubles.)

Update: did you think I was kidding with that last bit? (via Boing Boing)

There’s no question that I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about claims that cellphones can cause problems with airplane guidance and control systems; I’ve always seen it as existing in the same class of claims as ISPs claiming that voice-over-IP might “disrupt their networks,” claims that are as much about protecting control as they are about ensuring safety or quality. This month, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are publishing results of a study of in-flight cellphone (and GPS receiver) use that validates their continued furtive in-flight use, and reviews a sizable chunk of retrospective data about interference, and the editorial board of IEEE Spectrum has referenced the article in a call for a systematic study both of portable electronic use and interference aboard airplanes before any changes are made to the current use bans. (Sadly, as is generally the case, most news reports and weblog posts about the article aren’t doing a good job of explaining the findings; most of them either make the direct claim or appear to want readers to make the conclusion themselves that the study found clear evidence of navigation or control system interference, something the study very definitively did not do.)

Sure, my personal stake in this is that I don’t want to be on an airplane that crashes as a result of someone’s need to stay on their cellphone for the duration of the flight — but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m also very interested in any finding that might prevent having someone screaming details about their personal life into their cellphone in the seat next to me.

Fascinating — did you know that the rules for using Continental’s in-flight power outlets specify that you must remove your laptop’s battery before plugging in? No other airline (American, United, Lufthansa) seems to care; Delta even mentions the convenience of being able to charge your laptop’s battery as one of the perks of using the in-flight power outlets.

Good to know, good to know.

Between banning smiling in the picture and including an RFID chip that can be read (and snooped) from as far as 30 feet away, the State Department sure is mucking with the U.S. passport! Alas, there’s not much to be done but buy a foil-lined cover and accept that your passport picture is going to finally reflect how the typical person looks after having to deal with the hassle of international travel in a post-9/11 age.