Accordion Guy, who not only got to attend an extended Q&A with Neal Stephenson but also won one of the door-prizes (a trip backstage to meet the author), lucky bastard, blogged his notes from the Q&A. The entry is entirely fascinating in a wonderfully geeky way, but there’s one passage in particular that caught my attention. Stephenson digresses momentarily, talking about his arrival in Toronto:
He’d flown in from London, and over the duration of the flight started to feel feverish. On the “three-mile long walk from the plane to customs” (Toronto, despite the fact that it’s a major Canadian hub, has what has to be one of the most poorly-designed airports on the planet), passed by a customs officer, who was seated with a laptop. The laptop was attached via some kind of interface cable to a pole, on which sat a box. This pole/box setup was position in such a way that all passengers had to pass by it. After Stephenson walked past it, the customs official stopped him and asked him to walk past it again. When he asked why, the customs official showed him the setup — the box was a sensitive infrared camera which was hooked to to the laptop. While the other passengers who walked past showed up as moving blue shapes, Stephenson registered as hot red flare. A nurse showed up, and after a brief interview during which he assured her that he hadn’t been spending the last few weeks “hanging out on a pig farm in Guangxing”, was free to go.
You know, my conference roomie, Tara, said she’d seen something like that, though she interpreted it as a more standard video monitoring point. Of course I’m pleased that health officials have got that SARS thing under control, but I can’t help but be a little concerned that this technology has been deployed with so little announcement. Today, they screen for fevers. What next?