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The TSA Ruined My Demos … Sorta

By: on July 7, 2014 in Demos, Development, Presenting, SQLbits

Happy Monday, all. As some of you know, I will be heading to Europe to be at SQLBits XII next week. I’m really looking forward to it, but I got a bit of bad news this weekend. Bad news is relative here – what I really have is a first world problem. Some of you may have seen the news this past weekend about how passengers flying back to the US from EMEA and the Middle East (official TSA post is here) may be subject to enhanced security measures around electronics. Basically, they want to make sure what you’ve got isn’t a bomb. I don’t want to be the victim of one mid-air. On that level, I totally am on board with that policy. That means things like laptops, cellular phones, portable music/video devices, etc. need to possibly be demonstrated as being able to be turned on at their request.

As a frequent flier, I’m used to changing rules and regulations at the airport. This new one, however, threw me for a loop because it basically torpedoed my portable demo setup. For the past year-and-a-half, I have been using a small form factor PC (currently  the Gigabyte Brix i7 configured with Hyper-V; I need to do a new post with how I’ve been using it) for my demos connected to something else. It’s been a really agile – and lightweight – setup. I’m still 4lbs or under. I was going to use the Surface Pro 3 (review coming soon) and the Brix, but not now. The Brix is a real PC – not a laptop. It does not have a battery or monitor.

Therefore by the letter of the law, if they ask me to power it on, I couldn’t without some juice. And I don’t think they’re going to provide me a plug to show them it’s just a computer (and then I’d have to hook it up via the cable to my SP3 … nightmare). That means I possibly couldn’t fly and I’d have to leave it there. Let me think about that … no. I’m not going to abandon something that cost me about $2,000 when all is said and done (would be cheaper now than when I did it …). I’m certainly not going to check it, either. And there’s no saying they wouldn’t remove it from my bag and deem it harmful. No win there. I looked into sending it back to myself (FedEx or something), but since Bits ends on a Saturday, there’s no local FedEx depot near Telford and none in London open late or on Sunday. Basically, a total no go. I am also not chancing that the internet will work, so hosting online or sticking my Brix on a VPN back home would be risky. That is why I am always self contained for my demos – some of which are very complex configurations. I did look for some sort of portable battery solution but that ran into a dead end.

So the SP3 will stay home right next to the Brix. I’m not leaving my fate to the security folks at the airport who may or may not ask me to turn my stuff on. Because of this, I am now basically redoing all of my demos under VMware Workstation on my laptop because I do not want to dual boot my laptop at the moment. I may ultimately also do that so I literally have total redundancy but that’s besides the point.

I do hope cooler heads prevail here over time because this one really hurts me in the short term – I’ve got a lot of work to do now to prepare for Bits this week whereas before I had very little. Long term, this is an investment, but this workload and headache was not one I needed right now. Thank heavens I still have a laptop that has 16GB of memory.

The biggest silver lining here: at least I wasn’t already in Europe when this went into effect. As much as my time will now suck this week, I can deal with it.


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