Despite being reconciled to many annoying things, I still harbor palpable resentment against the abominable GE “puffer” machine in which I was assaulted last October.

So it was gratifying to have Cory Doctorow broadcast my description of the sordid experience in yesterday's BoingBoing

I really hope this vile contraption goes the way of the dodo bird, and that those who conceived it are reassigned to some task with zero human interface – soldering circuit boards for example.

I have not bought a single GE lightbulb, toaster, or refrigerator, since my experience with this abusive industrial waste.  The sight of their logo makes me change stores. 

Is there a “Worst User Interface of All Time” award for which I can nominate this thing?  Or an “Industrial Designer Least Likely to Succeed” dinner for its inventors?  Please convey my nomination – and that I've seen some bad design before, and know of what I speak.

Seeing the BoingBoing article, Carrick Mundell of provided a corroborating report.

From Boing Boing, it seems Kim Cameron didn’t appreciate being subjected to the GE EntryScan3 at the San Francisco airport security checkpoint.

‘What’s it like? People, I really hated the GE product. It is tiny, and closes around you. I felt seriously claustrophobic. Then it shot bursts of air at me so hard it actually hurt. I had been told there would be “puffs of air”, but these were not, by any definition, puffs. “Puffs” make me think of cigar smoke. Or “Puff the magic dragon”. Puffs of wind. But these were hurricane strength blasts. Meanwhile the machine barks orders like a concentration camp commandant. Where did they get the voice? It speaks in a chilling metallic imperative borrowed from a really bad science fiction movie. In fact it was barely believable that adults would unleash this contraption on anyone.’

I have to agree. I got “puffed” on a return trip to Seattle last November and had a similar reaction to Cameron’s. The woman in the security line behind me also got puffed and we chatted a bit afterward comparing our experiences. We both thought it extremely weird. Neither one of us had the dreaded “SSSS” on our boarding passes indicating to security personel that we were suspects. Both of us had purchased our tickets well in advance. Both of us were traveling round-trip. In fact, we both looked exactly like the 30-something knowledge-worker wage-slaves that we were. Weird.

Cameron does a good job of explaining the feeling of being inside one of these things. It’s like a sci-fi gas chamber. Your thoughts trend toward, “What happens if the machine detects something? Will robotic arms shoot out and immobilize me? Will a tranquilizer gas be released? Will a trapdoor open sending me sliding down to some underground holding cell?” It’s creepy.

A lot could be done to improve the experience. But in addition to making it more “people friendly” how about adding features that might get people to want to be puffed? How about turning it into an “air shower” that blows dust, germs and microbes off your body? Maybe it could use ionization to clean your skin? This would help make air travel be less of a burden on the immune system. If we’re going to have sci-fi security systems, why shouldn’t we have sci-fi personal care systems, too?


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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.