New Years

Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia. Today, most New Years festivities begin on December 31 (New Years Eve), the last day of the Gregorian calendar, and continue into the early hours of January 1 (New Years Day). Common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Years foods, making resolutions for the new year and watching fireworks displays.


The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new years arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.


In many countries, New Years celebrations begin on the evening of December 31—New Year’s Eve—and continue into the early hours of January 1. Revelers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes-symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Years dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Years Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, round out the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere. In Sweden and Norway, meanwhile, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Years Eve; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever-popular “Auld Lang Syne” in many English-speaking countries. The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.)

In the United States, the most iconic New Years tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Over time, the ball itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing public drops of items ranging from pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) to possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia) at midnight on New Years Eve.

Article Provided By: History

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Privacy vs. Security – Are you prepared for the thorny issues surrounding student surveillance?

Security - Surveillance in High Schools

Security In Schools

A lot of school administrators are looking into installing security cameras in their districts. They want to keep their students safe. They want to keep tabs on people entering and leaving their schools. They want to cut down on vandalism and theft, and they want to do it now.

What’s the urgency? Look at these numbers: During the 2005–06 school year, according to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Department of Education, 86 percent of public schools nationwide reported that one or more serious violent incidents, thefts, or other crimes had occurred at their school, for a total of roughly 2.2 million crimes. That works out to about one crime reported for every 20 students. And that doesn’t include vandalism and graffiti: Nearly 100,000 incidents of vandalism are reported in the United States public school system every year.

Cameras are expensive, with some high-end systems costing $500,000 or more, plus annual maintenance fees. But some administrators seem to think that installing security cameras will solve their problems. Even administrators in low-crime districts want the cameras, if only to deter potential crime. Anecdotally, cameras appear to be effective at detecting and deterring crime, though hard numbers are difficult to come by.

Installing cameras, however, can be controversial. There have been protests and legal action surrounding camera installation at schools nationwide, and there are a number of issues to consider before signing off on surveillance. What problems are you trying to solve with cameras? If you do install cameras, what kind of atmosphere will it create at your school? Most importantly, what do parents and students think?

When word got out that administrators at the Seaholm and Groves high schools in Oakland County, Michigan, were considering installing security cameras, it led students to organize the group Students Against Security Cameras (SASC). Its members have attended school board meetings to protest the plan, which they feel would be an unnecessary expense and would promote an atmosphere of distrust in the schools. SASC students even have a Facebook page spelling out their concerns, with more than 850 members so far. At press time, the school board had yet to make a decision about security cameras.

Terry Piper, the principal at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan, feels the time is right for security cameras at his school. After all, dozens of schools in their county have already done it, and with some success. “There are 30 high schools in Oakland County, and every single one of them has security cameras except Seaholm and Groves,” Piper says. “They’ve seen thefts go down. They’ve been able to solve instances of vandalism on occasion, and there have been student altercations where they’ve been helpful. They also serve as a deterrent, so you never know how many things might have happened if you hadn’t had them.”

Some of the student group’s arguments, Piper maintains, rest on incorrect assumptions—for example, that the cameras will be prohibitively expensive. “We haven’t taken any bids yet,” he says. “They don’t know much about school funding, so they don’t know that it’s not going to take away from instructional programs. There’s a separate budget for that kind of capital outlay.”

Piper is convinced that security cameras are a valuable tool for combatting petty theft. Many such thefts take place in locker rooms; though cameras are barred from locker rooms and bathrooms, Piper plans to install cameras outside Seaholm’s locker rooms, as well as in the main hallway, and outside at the main entrance. The question is: How do you determine whom you’re going to question if you’ve got video of 50 kids walking out of a locker room following a theft? Do you interview them all?

Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, asked a Michigan principal that same question, and she found that it all boiled down to profiling. “He actually said, ‘We know who the bad kids are,’” she says. This made her wonder: Well, then, why do you need the camera?

Weisberg, with the Michigan ACLU, has worked with students across the state to fight security cameras in schools, and she doubts the necessity of cameras in many schools. She points out that many of the schools that install the cameras tend to be in well-to-do districts, with some of the lowest crime rates. Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, which plans to install 53 cameras on its campus, is a prime example. “Ann Arbor does not have a high crime rate,” Weisberg says. “They’re a very affluent district, so there’s a lot of eyes in the hall. [Administrators] did say, anecdotally, that they thought [cameras] made people feel safer. But students said it made them feel like they were being watched.”

So the ACLU assisted the students in their fight, and provided them with academic studies in the US and UK that argued that surveillance cameras had little effect on crime. (You can read about these studies at the ACLU site.) “The students did a good job of using the research we gave them to develop their arguments—a lot of Big Brother–type arguments, asserting their due-process rights as students—because they are in schools to learn how to be adults,” Weisberg says.

The students’ “Big Brother” fears may not be completely off the mark. At a high school in Novi, Michigan, for example, administrators don’t only monitor the cameras themselves—they also allow police access to the footage. And public schools in Demarest, New Jersey, have gone a step further: In 2007, they began allowing police to monitor live feeds from school security cameras. “It concerns me that schools would, without thinking about due process, simply turn over access to the police,” Weisberg says. “I think it’s a matter of schools looking very myopically at how they think their students are safe, and not really thinking about the consequences of it.”

The danger, she says, is that with cameras recording every student infraction, more and more activities in schools will become criminalized. A scuffle between two kids in a hallway, which once would have been solved with detention or suspension, could now been seen as criminal activity—especially if the police are involved. “Kids are not only getting kicked out of school, but also sent to the police,” Weisberg says. “There’s this tendency, with all of this stuff on tape, to send more kids to jail.”

Schools need to have a compelling reason for the cameras before installing them, Weisberg says, or they may be abused. “I think schools are worried—they have to keep their student body safe, and they have to keep parents assured that their children are safe,” she says. “The general public seems to think that a camera means safety. It does bring in a slippery slope, because there is going to be a tendency to use the camera tapes to look at every little thing.”

Seaholm’s Piper points out that there have been cameras in his schools’ parking lots for a decade, without protest or problems. “I’ve asked students, ‘Do you know of anybody whose rights or privacy has been violated by those cameras watching you come in and out of the building?’” he says. “They said no. I said, ‘So what makes you think that having cameras inside the doorways, when we already have them outside the doorways, is going to make us change the way we do business?’ Their arguments were more emotional than logical.”

Weisberg grants that security cameras can be useful tools, if used sensibly. “I think the ACLU and the students agree that there may be room at schools to have cameras at entrance doors,” she says. “I think everyone’s concerned about who has access to schools, especially elementary schools. But it’s worth thinking about what you’re trying to achieve.”

When administrators consider installing security cameras, it’s crucial to involve parents and students in the process.

Administrators who don’t involve them can create huge problems for themselves down the road. A few examples:
During a 2003 girls’ basketball game at Livingston Middle School in Overton County, Tennessee, visiting team members noticed a security camera in the girls’ locker room. It turned out the camera had recorded images of the team members in their undergarments when they changed their clothes. Several other students had been similarly videotaped over the previous months. The scandal led to Brannum v. Overton County School Board, a lawsuit on behalf of 24 students. In a key legal decision last year, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a school may not install security cameras inside locker rooms, where students have an expectation of privacy.

In late 2007, student newspaper reporters uncovered the fact that the principal at Newton South High School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, had installed five security cameras outside a locker room without informing faculty, the school committee, or the rest of the community. It caused an uproar among committee members, teachers, students, and parents—a situation that any administrator would rather avoid.

Kenneth Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland, Ohio–based consulting firm, stresses the need for open communication. “There has to be an education process by the administration, to explain the purpose of the technology to parents and students and staff, and how it fits into the overall school-safety program,” he says. “The communication piece is one that can easily turn around and bite school administrators, if they haven’t done a good job at informing people on the front end.”

Trump tells administrators that an effective safety program is less about technology than it is about people. “Technology is an extra tool, and technology is only as good as the human element behind it,” he says. “The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body who will recognize strangers on campus, or report rumors, or report a student having a weapon on campus, and so on.” If you don’t have the school community in your corner as part of a comprehensive safety and security policy, then even the most sophisticated security camera system won’t be effective.

Administrators also need to address the idea that security cameras bring up a lot of hot-button emotional issues, such as child safety and privacy. “You tend to find people are on one extreme or the other on this issue,” says Trump. “Either they’re totally anti-equipment, or they believe totally that equipment is the solution and cure-all for everything. Neither is necessarily the right position.”

In any case, parents should be kept well informed about every step of the process. In Trump’s experience, he says, “a majority of parents tend to support it, and like the presence of those cameras, because it provides a clear indicator that there’s some additional measures to protect their children.”

Michigan ACLU’s Weisberg agrees that parents tend to go along with a decision to install cameras, but she isn’t sure that’s a good thing. “You know, most people trust their schools, and they trust that they’re doing the right things by their students—so there’s great leeway given to an administrator’s request,” she says. “Parents don’t like to fight that. So I’m particularly proud of the students who take on that fight—and, hopefully, it helps enlighten the school boards and administrators in terms of what they’re doing and what they’re spending their money on.”

As you weigh whether to install security cameras, it pays to listen to students, parents, and faculty. If you engage people one-on-one and address their concerns about safety and privacy, you may be able to make everyone in the community a part of your security plan. You may find that you only need a few cameras—or none at all. In the end, it’s all about keeping students safe. And that’s something everyone can agree on.

A Question of Trust
Ronald D. Stephens is the executive director of the National School Safety Center, an independent nonprofit that focuses on school crime prevention and safe-school planning. As a former teacher and assistant superintendent, he shared his views on security cameras with Scholastic Administrator.First and foremost, schools have to ask hard questions about what kind of climate they want to create, Stephens says. “When they put a four-way camera in the intersection I go through on my way to work every day, I wasn’t pleased about that. It tends to say, ‘Hey, we don’t trust you.’” Many students, he adds, feel the same way about cameras in schools.
“How do we create a climate that’s conducive to education without making the place look like a juvenile detention facility?” Stephens says it has to be a decision that is well thought through and that involves students, parents, and the community.Stephens also cautions against seeing cameras as a quick fix. Cameras don’t stop all crimes, he warns, and he uses the example of Red Lake, Minnesota, where a 16-year-old high school student shot and killed five students, a teacher, and an unarmed security guard in 2005. “They had camera surveillance, they had a safe-school plan, they had metal [detectors],” he says. “They had two security officers at the front door. But the student still came in, overpowered them, and still committed those heinous acts.” But he understands why cameras are so appealing, especially when high-profile school violence hits the news. “People want to do something after a crisis, and sometimes they pick the thing that is tangible, visible and easy to measure.”Cameras work best, notes Stephens, when they are deployed to take on a specific, here-and-now problem. “I was working with a school district in a midwestern state,” he says. “These kids would come up to the school’s double-entry doors with their Jeeps, run a chain through the door handles, hook it up to the back bumper, and pull the doors off. We told the district, ‘Put in a surveillance camera. Do it until you find your culprit, and then you can pull it out.’ What they found was that when they put the surveillance cameras in, vandalism at the school went down by 95 percent.”Students do not shed their rights at the schoolhouse doors, Stephens warns. “If the school does something that does not use common sense or good judgment, they will ultimately have to answer for that in the courts,” he says. “Let’s be thoughtful about what we do and how we do it.”
Article Provided By: Scholastic
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FAA Announces Small UAS Registration Rule (Drones)


UASToday begins the first day of registration for all unmanned aircraft (Drones) or UAS in the United States (December 21, 2015). The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Dec. 14, 2015 a streamlined and user-friendly web-based aircraft registration process for owners of small unmanned aircraft (UAS) weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms) including payloads such as on-board cameras.

In order to get as many new and older owners of drones to register their (UAS), starting today and for the next 30 days registration fee will be waived to all thous who register early. After that, the regular price of $5.00 will applied.

Registration is a statutory requirement that applies to all aircraft.  Under this rule, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to December 21, 2015, must register no later than February 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors. Owners may use either the paper-based process or the new streamlined, web-based system.  Owners using the new streamlined web-based system must be at least 13 years old to register.

Older and newer owners of UAS can register through a web-based system at

The Registration Task Force delivered recommendations to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on November 21. The  new rules for UAS aviators incorporate many of the task force recommendations.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.”

What You Need To Do

UAS owners will need to complete their online registration before they operate their drones to be legal. They will need to provide their name, home address and e-mail address. After finishing the registration process, the web application will generate a Cerificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.

The identification number will be good for all drones and model aircraft that are owned by the register. This means that the same I.D. numbers will apply to all UAS’ owned by the register today and in the future, weather it is just one or one-hundred. The registration will be valid for three years for only $5.00 (waived for the first 30 days, from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan. 20, 2016).

FAA Administrator Huerta said, “We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season. Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”

The full rules for UAS owners and their responsiblity can be viewed here:

By, Lance Roberts

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If you liked this article, you may want to read this:

Drones Soon Will Be RegisteredRegister Your Drones, Government Says

How Airport Security Works – Part 2

Airport Security (Continued)

Step Through, Please: X-Ray System

While you are stepping through the metal detector at airport security check stations, your carry-on items are going through the X-ray system. A conveyor belt carries each item past an X-ray machine. X-rays are like light in that they are electromagnetic waves, but they are more energetic, so they can penetrate many materials. The machine used in airports usually is based on a dual-energy X-ray system. This system has a single X-ray source sending out X-rays, typically in the range of 140 to 160 kilovolt peak (KVP). KVP refers to the amount of penetration an X-ray makes. The higher the KVP, the further the X-ray penetrates.

Airport Security

In a dual-energy X-ray system, the X-rays pass through a detector, a filter and then another detector.

Image courtesy L-3 Communications

After the X-rays pass through the item, they are picked up by a detector. This detector then passes the X-rays on to a filter, which blocks out the lower-energy X-rays. The remaining high-energy X-rays hit a second detector. A computer circuit compares the pick-ups of the two detectors to better represent low-energy objects, such as most organic materials.

Since different materials absorb X-rays at different levels, the image on the monitor lets the machine operator see distinct items inside your bag. Items are typically colored on the display monitor, based on the range of energy that passes through the object, to represent one of three main categories:

  • Organic
  • Inorganic
  • Metal

While the colors used to signify “inorganic” and “metal” may vary between manufacturers, all X-ray systems use shades of orange to represent “organic.” This is because most explosives are organic. Machine operators are trained to look for suspicious items — and not just obviously suspicious items like guns or knives, but also anything that could be a component of an improvised explosive device (IED). Since there is no such thing as a commercially available bomb, IEDs are the way most terrorists and hijackers gain control. An IED can be made in an astounding variety of ways, from basic pipe bombs to sophisticated, electronically-controlled component bombs.

Airport Security

An X-ray of a bag Notice that all organic items are a shade of orange.

Photo courtesy L-3 Communications

A common misconception is that the X-ray machine in airport security check points, used to clear carry-on items will damage film and electronic media. In actuality, all modern carry-on X-ray systems are considered film-safe. This means that the amount of X-ray radiation is not high enough to damage photographic film. Since electronic media can withstand much more radiation than film can, it is also safe from damage. However, the CT scanner and many of the high-energy X-ray systems used to examine checked baggage can damage film (electronic media is still safe), so you should always carry film with you on the plane.

Electronic items, such as laptop computers, have so many different items packed into a relatively small area that it can be difficult to determine if a bomb is hidden within the device. That’s why you may be asked to turn your laptop or PDA on. But even this is not sufficient evidence since a skilled criminal could hide a bomb within a working electronic device. For that reason, many airports also have a chemical sniffer. This is essentially an automated chemistry lab in a box. At random intervals, or if there is reason to suspect the electronic device that someone is carrying, the security attendant quickly swipes a cloth over the device and places the cloth on the sniffer. The sniffer analyzes the cloth for any trace residue of the types of chemicals used to make bombs. If there is any residue, the sniffer warns the security attendant of a potential bomb. In addition to desktop sniffers like this, there are handheld versions, that can be used to “sniff” lockers and other enclosed spaces and unattended luggage. Walk-through models, such as GE’s Entry Scan 3, are also available. These sniffers can be used to detect explosives and narcotics.

Now that you have passed through security and are waiting to board your plane, let’s see what is happening with your checked baggage.

Check Your Bags: X-ray Systems

In addition to passenger baggage, most planes carry enormous amounts of cargo. All of this cargo has to be checked before it is loaded.

Most airports use one of three systems to do this:

  • Medium X-ray systems – These are fixed systems that can scan an entire pallet of cargo for suspicious items.
  • Mobile X-ray systems – A large truck carries a complete X-ray scanning system. The truck drives very slowly beside another, stopped truck to scan the entire contents of that truck for suspicious items.
  • Fixed-site systems – This is an entire building that is basically one huge X-ray scanner. A tractor-trailer is pulled into the building and the entire truck is scanned at one time.
How Airport Security Works

In some airports, medium X-ray facilities are set up to scan an entire pallet of luggage at a time.

Photo courtesy L-3 Communications

One old-fashioned method of bomb detection still works as well or better than most hi-tech systems — the use of trained dogs. These special dogs, called K-9 units, have been trained to sniff out the specific odors emitted by chemicals that are used to make bombs, as well the odors of other items such as drugs. Incredibly fast and accurate, a K-9 barks at a suspicious bag or package, alerting the human companion that this item needs to be investigated.

In addition to an X-ray system, many airports also use larger scanners. Let’s take a look at those next.

Check Your Bags: CT Scanners

The first security check that your checked bags go through depends on the airport. In the United States, most major airports have acomputer tomography (CT) scanner. A CT scanner is a hollow tube that surrounds your bag. The X-ray mechanism revolves slowly around it, bombarding it with X-rays and recording the resulting data. The CT scanner uses all of this data to create a very detailedtomogram (slice) of the bag. The scanner is able to calculate the mass and density of individual objects in your bag based on this tomogram. If an object’s mass/density falls within the range of a dangerous material, the CT scanner warns the operator of a potential hazardous object.

CT scanners are slow compared to other types of baggage-scanning systems. Because of this, they are not used to check every bag. Instead, only bags that the computer flags as “suspicious” are checked. These flags are triggered by any anomaly that shows up in the reservation or check-in process. For example, if a person buys a one-way ticket and pays cash, this is considered atypical and could cause the computer to flag that person. When this happens, that person’s checked bags are immediately sent through the CT scanner, which is usually located somewhere near the ticketing counter.

In most other countries, particularly in Europe, all baggage is run through a scanning system. These systems are basically larger versions of the X-ray system used for carry-on items. The main differences are that they are high-speed, automated machines integrated into the normal baggage-handling system and the KVP range of the X-rays is higher.

With all of these detectors, scanners and sniffers, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not allowed take a gun or bomb on a plane. But what else is prohibited?

Now Boarding

While most of the things that you can’t take on board an airplane are fairly obvious (guns, knives, explosives), there are some things that most people wouldn’t think about. Who would have thought that a smoke detector could be considered hazardous? If you do transport a hazardous material on a passenger plane without declaring it, you could face a fine of up to $27,500! Make sure you contact the local airport authority if you have any concerns about an item you plan to carry with you on a trip.


There are a number of items that you cannot carry on a plane, and some of that can’t be packed in your bags, either:

  • Explosives: Fireworks, ammunition, sparklers, matches, gunpowder, signal flares
  • Weapons: Guns, swords, pepper spray, mace, martial arts weapons, knives with blades of any length
  • Pressurized containers: Hair spray, oxygen tanks, propane tanks, spray paint, insect repellant
  • Household items: Flammable liquids, solvents, bleach, pool chemicals, flammable perfume in bottles 16 ounces or larger
  • Poisons: Insecticides, pesticides, rat poison, arsenic, cyanide
  • Corrosives: Car batteries, acids, lye, drain cleaner, mercury

Because terrorism is a constant and terrifying threat, this means that any mention of certain words, such as “bomb,” “hijack” or “gun,” can lead to your immediate removal from the plane and quite possibly your arrest, even if the word is said in an innocent manner. Everyone who works in aviation, from flight attendants to security personnel, is trained to react immediately to those words.

Air Marshals

If fences and barriers are the first line of defense, the air marshals are the last. If everything else fails and a terrorist still gets onto a flight with a weapon, an armed air marshal can take control of a situation and restrain the attackers. Although the air marshal program has existed since the 1970s, it has never had as high of a profile as it has in the post-9/11 era.

An air marshal is a federal agent disguised to look like regular passenger. Each air marshal is authorized to carry a gun and make arrests. There are not enough air marshals to cover every flight, so their assignments are kept secret. No one knows which passenger is the air marshal, or even if an air marshal is present on the flight at all. Although their exact numbers are kept classified, airline insiders estimate that only five percent of U.S. flights have an air marshal on board. This is still a major increase – in the years before 9/11, a handful of marshals guarded just a few international flights.

In addition to policing the sky, new laws have forced the installation of locks on cockpit doors. This could prevent hijackings by terrorists who are trained to fly passenger jets by keeping them away from the plane’s controls.

Article Provided By: Science – How Stuff Works

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Airport Security How Airport Security Works – Part 1



There is more to the holiday we know has Christmas.

Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.


The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.


In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.


It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.


Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.

The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.

Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.

Article Provided By: History

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How Airport Security Works – Part 1

Airport Security

Airport Security

Terrorism has been a problem for airlines and air travelers since the 1970s, when hijackings and bombings became the method of choice for subversive, militant organizations around the world. Although airport security has always been tight, the 9/11 attacks woke many people up to a harsh reality — it wasn’t tight enough.

On that day, men armed with simple box cutters took over four passenger jets and used them as flying bombs. What security measures might have stopped them? How has airport security changed since then? According to the Department of Homeland Security, 730 million people travel on passenger jets every year, while more than 700 million pieces of their baggage are screened­ for explosives and other dangerous items. In this article, we’ll find out how high-tech solutions are being used to make flying as safe as possible — and we’ll also consider if what we are doing is enough.

The First Line of Defense

Imagine for a second that you are a terrorist who wants to blow up or hijack a plane. You know that once you get inside the airport, you will have to pass through metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, and possibly a search of your clothes and luggage. How could you by pass all of those security measures? You could climb a fence or drive a truck to a sensitive area of the airport.

For this reason, the first line of defense in airport security is the most obvious: fences, barriers and walls. Tall fences that would be difficult to climb enclose the entire airport property. Security patrols regularly scan the perimeter in case someone tries to cut through the fence. Especially sensitive areas, like fuel depots or the terminals and baggage handling facilities are even more secure, with more fences and security checkpoints. All access gates are monitored by either a guard station or surveillance cameras.

Another risk is that someone could drive a truck or car containing a bomb up to the airport terminal entrance and just blow up the airport itself. Airports have taken several steps to prevent this. Large concrete barriers, designed to block vehicles up to the size of large moving trucks, can be deployed if a threat is detected. Loading zones, where people once parked their cars to get their baggage in or out of the trunk, are now kept clear of traffic. No one is allowed to park close to the terminal.

Who Are You?

Airport Security

One of the most important security measures at an airport is confirming the identity of travelers. This is done by checking a photo ID, such as a driver’s license. If you are traveling internationally, you need to present your passport.

Simply taking a look at a photo ID isn’t enough, however. The high-tech buzzword in airport security today is biometrics. Biometrics essentially means checking fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial patterns using complex computer systems to determine if someone is who they say they are – or if they match a list of people the government has determined might be potential terrorists.

A new system called CAPPS II could help accomplish some of this. Short for Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, CAPPS II will require more personal information from travelers when they book their flights, which will lead to a risk assessment of no risk, unknown risk, elevated risk, or high risk. Passengers considered risky will be further screened. Although the system has been delayed and isn’t in place yet, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) predicts that CAPPS II will make check-in faster for the average traveler.

You may have noticed the public address system at an airport replaying an automated message telling you not to leave your bags unattended. And you’ve probably noticed that check-in attendants are asking some questions that sound a little odd:

  • Has your luggage been in your possession at all times?
  • Has anyone given you anything or asked you to carry on or check any items for them?

These are very important questions. A tactic used on occasion by terrorists is to hide a bomb inside an unsuspecting person’s luggage. Another tactic is to give something, maybe a toy or stuffed animal, to someone who is about to board a plane. That innocent-seeming object may actually be a bomb or other harmful device.

Just a month after the 9/11 attacks, the President signed a new law that restructured and refocused the airport security efforts of the U.S. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act established a new agency, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The TSA’s mission is to:

  • Prevent attacks on airports or aircraft
  • Prevent accidents and fatalities due to transport of hazardous materials
  • Ensure safety and security of passengers

While the TSA deals with all forms of transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is devoted entirely to the operation of the U.S.’s civil aviation. FAA agents are located at every major airport for immediate response to possible threats. Most major airports also have an entire police force, just like a small town, monitoring all facets of the facility. Background checks are required on all airport personnel, from baggage handlers to security-team members, before they can be employed. All airport personnel have photo-ID cards with their name, position and access privileges clearly labeled.

Step Through, Please: Metal Detector

All public access to an airport is channeled through the terminal, where every person must walk through a metal detector and all items must go through an X-ray machine.

Almost all airport metal detectors are based on pulse induction (PI). Typical PI systems use a coil of wire on one side of the arch as the transmitter and receiver. This technology sends powerful, short bursts (pulses) of current through the coil of wire. Each pulse generates a brief magnetic field. When the pulse ends, the magnetic field reverses polarity and collapses very suddenly, resulting in a sharp electrical spike. This spike lasts a few microseconds (millionths of a second) and causes another current to run through the coil. This subsequent current is called the reflected pulse and lasts only about 30 microseconds. Another pulse is then sent and the process repeats. A typical PI-based metal detector sends about 100 pulses per second, but the number can vary greatly based on the manufacturer and model, ranging from about 25 pulses per second to over 1,000.

If a metal object passes through the metal detector, the pulse creates an opposite magnetic field in the object. When the pulse’s magnetic field collapses, causing the reflected pulse, the magnetic field of the object makes it take longer for the reflected pulse to completely disappear. This process works something like echoes: If you yell in a room with only a few hard surfaces, you probably hear only a very brief echo, or you may not hear one at all. But if you yell into a room with a lot of hard surfaces, the echo lasts longer. In a PI metal detector, the magnetic fields from target objects add their “echo” to the reflected pulse, making it last a fraction longer than it would without them.

sampling circuit in the metal detector is set to monitor the length of the reflected pulse. By comparing it to the expected length, the circuit can determine if another magnetic field has caused the reflected pulse to take longer to decay. If the decay of the reflected pulse takes more than a few microseconds longer than normal, there is probably a metal object interfering with it.

The sampling circuit sends the tiny, weak signals that it monitors to a device call an integrator. The integrator reads the signals from the sampling circuit, amplifying and converting them to direct current (DC).The DC’s voltage is connected to an audio circuit, where it is changed into a tone that the metal detector uses to indicate that a target object has been found. If an item is found, you are asked to remove any metal objects from your person and step through again. If the metal detector continues to indicate the presence of metal, the attendant uses a handheld detector, based on the same PI technology, to isolate the cause.

Many of the newer metal detectors on the market are multi-zone. This means that they have multiple transmit and receive coils, each one at a different height. Basically, it’s like having several metal detectors in a single unit.

In the next section, we’ll discuss what happens to your carry-on items while you’re going through the metal detector.

Article Provided By: Science – How Stuff Works

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Airport Security How Airport Security Works – Part 2