Humans or Robots?

November 2010, Warren Matthews


One of the disadvantages of getting older is that one remembers when society was quite different and common sense was just that... common and experienced everywhere in everyday life! So often people are now driven to act like little robots and completely lack any initiative and are afraid to take responsibility for anything unless it is written down in some rule book.

One of the disadvantages of getting older is that one remembers when society was quite different and common sense was just that... common and experienced everywhere in everyday life!

So often people are now driven to act like little robots and completely lack any initiative and are afraid to take responsibility for anything unless it is written down in some rule book.

I mention this because it is prevalent everywhere now.  Many people have experienced it with their Doctors.  If your total cholesterol is over 200 you must go on a statin.  Even if the Doctor doesn’t even believe in statins they will still prescribe them because they may be working in a clinic or hospital…where those are the rules, and they are afraid of not following them even if it is not in the best interests of their patient.

I had an experience a couple of days ago which you may enjoy…non-medical.

When I fly to our Thailand office I usually use Emirate Airlines who fly direct to Bangkok via Sydney.  I always find this a bit annoying going via Sydney because I never have check in luggage and therefore I cannot take my favourite bottle of New Zealand wine with me.  Even if it is purchased at duty free in NZ and sealed with the invoice.  This is because under the Australian rules anything over 100mls is prohibited.

It’s a bit silly in this case as you walk of the plane through security in a secure area and then back on to the same plane again.  Total duplication of effort.

Anyway, this trip I had a 100ml pump action type bottle which I had our final formulation of our new facial foaming wash. I was taking it with me to give our Thai staff a chance to try it before signing off on the formula.  I should mention that this has been in development for almost 2 years and we have tried dozens of samples. It has been a real challenge to get the results and still keep it natural…but, we have now succeeded.

But, we only had one bottle left and that was the one I had in my little plastic bag.  We are ready to go into production with it provided our Thai staff are happy with it, so we don’t want to spend more time producing further samples.

Anyway, one of the human ‘robots’ in the Australian security zeroed in on this bottle and noted that it did not have an official manufacturers label on it stating 100mls.  I explained that it was a sample bottle and that we were the manufacturer and that it is a 100ml bottle as we purchased thousands of them to hold 100mls.

However that was not good enough and he wanted to confiscate it.  I then told him to get his supervisor…i.e. the senior ‘robot’.

He came down and sung the same tune.  So, I suggested a few options.  One is that I could write out a label on the spot saying it contains 100mls and stick it on the bottle and sign it as the manufacturer which I am authorised to do.  No, that was not good enough.

OK…what about if we get a notary to come down and I give a sworn statement that it does not contain more than 100mls.  No, that won’t work either.

What about if I eat some of the contents…to which I squirted some out and ate it.  Nope, that didn’t work either.

OK…let’s tip the contents out into a container which is a 100mls and marked as that.  This would prove that the container would only accept 100mls.  We could then put the contents back into the original bottle.  Nope…that won’t work either.

As you can appreciate I was not very impressed by the time we got to this stage.

So, I thought I would concede.  I said OK, hold it here for an hour and I will call my office in NZ and they will arrange for a courier to pick it up and courier it to Thailand.  Nope, can’t do that.  When asked why…they are not a storage facility and are not allowed to hold anything.  I then point out they are storing things because they throw it in a bin they have there anyway.  Couldn’t they just stick it on top of the bin for an hour?  Nope…against the rules.

I then once again repeated to the supervisor/manager that as far as I understood the rules provided for the bottles not to exceed 100mls and there was no requirement for a bottle to have an official manufacturers sticker on it.  I asked them if that was his ‘rule’ or the company he worked for?  He said the Australian government’s rules.

I then went to the Emirates lounge and brought up on my laptop the Australian government website with the regulations about carrying liquids.  As expected there was no reference to a bottle having to have a manufacturers label on it.  Of course it is very explicit about the maximum size being 100mls.

So, back to the security section again.  They called the supervisor/manager down again and I had the laptop open at the Australian government website setting out the regulations.  I reminded him that he said he was just enforcing the Australian government rules and asked him to show me where the rules supported his contention.  Once again he said the bottle mustn’t be over 100mls.  I said no argument there and we both know that the bottle is not over 100mls but where is the rule about the manufacturers’ label.

There isn’t one.

But, he still wouldn’t budge.  In the meantime this was providing some entertainment for other travellers.  

So, I then explained to him that if he won’t  give it back we will sue him and his employer as the delay that could result from us being about to commence production of this product by him confiscating that bottle could cost us 10’s of thousands of dollars and I would make sure it came out of his hide.

With that I turned and walked away.  As I walked away he called out to me:  I’ll give you one last chance!

Excuse me... you will give ME one last chance?  And, what would that be?  He said if Emirates were prepared to accept it then he will give it back.  So, I called Emirates, he gave it to them and then they gave it back to me.

My parting announcement to all the security people who had all stopped work to follow the entertainment is that they should learn to have some common sense, display some initiative and stop being so afraid of everything.  At the end of the day it was only fear that got me back the bottle…in this case the fear of being sued.

I share this story with you because I think that it is important that we as individuals stick up for our rights when the occasion demands it instead of being bullied around by people who are too afraid to display a little common sense and initiative. I think that the world would be a better place if more people displayed a better level of cooperation.


  • “Warren, I had to re-read your story twice, because when I learned what was in the contents of the 100 ml bottle…I could no longer focus! Can’t wait for this to come out…may I pre-order…pretty please? About the incident, it’s too bad. I can appreciate that you tried to offer several alternatives and can only imagine how frustrating that must have been. I think you handled the situation extremely well…considering the circumstances. Going forward…make moreof the sample and I’ll hold on to it for you guys :)! Cheers, Tiff G.”

    Tiff G - December 14 2010

  • “No humans left just robots. When is the foaming facial wash to be available? I have a lot of customers waiting. Larry”

    Larry Taylor - November 26 2010

  • “I am an X-ray technologist and I am warning everyone to avoid the backscatter x-ray body scanners. NO amount of radiation is safe and the effects are cumulative. Avoid these machines at all costs.”

    Carl - December 01 2010

  • “omg that is completely ridiculous you had to go through all that to get a freakin small bottle through…”

    Stefanos - November 26 2010

  • “Hi Guys…thanks for the feedback. A couple of you asked about when we will have the facewash product. We have completed the formulations and are happy with it. The problem we are trying to overcome at the moment is for the posting or couriering of it. It is a foaming facewash and as such has a special bottle. The challenge is to be able to ship it without leaking due to pressure changes in the aircraft. Hopefully we will have it sorted soon.”

    Warren Matthews - December 14 2010

  • “quote: …One of the disadvantages of getting older is that one remembers when society was quite different and common sense was just that… common and experienced everywhere in everyday life!So often people are now driven to act like little robots and completely lack any initiative and are afraid to take responsibility for anything unless it is written down in some rule book… " ,,, unquote I think that you have forgotten (a function of getting older?), that this lack of initiative, and bureaucratic nonsense has always been, even in our youth. Don’t you recall the glory of the old NZR? It is internationally universal at the lower levels of government and local government levels – and in a hundred dozen QANGOs … and right there in your own company probably. It is human nature at work. I empathise with your problems Warren, I flew out of the US a very short time before they closed the airspace on 11th September, subsequent visits (until I got my new electronic passport) have been a form of purgatory. The 100mls level is totally arbitrary and of course, was there a group wishing to blow up a place then three or four mixing all their "allowed" 100mls would achieve a big enough bang. But rules are rules – and as Kristopherson wrote (with apologies to KK), "… The Law is for the protection of the People, and Rules are Rules as any fool can see, We don’t need no Face-wash totin’ beardy, Scaring decent folks, like you and me." …. We travellers just have to take  heart in that we are employing a substantial number of the otherwise unemployable and giving billions (of our tax dollars), to private industry by purchasing their machinery and take unwarranted levels of X-ray radiation. On the other hand, by wearing a kilt (nothing is worn under the kilt!), it might embarras the person doing the "pat-down" and done often enough might have them refuse. The pigs are cleared and ready for take off.”

    Murray - November 26 2010

  • “ These are not employees, they are muppets.”

    lisa - November 26 2010

Leave a Comment

Topics you might be interested in

Healthy Aging - What Is It Really?

September 2017 by, Warren Matthews

Different people have different ideas of what healthy aging is. These ideas will vary depending upon whether you are a man or woman and what your age is.

Read More

Your Brain, how do you keep it healthy?

August 2017 by, Warren Matthews

If you are over the age of 40, you may from time to time think about the possibility that your memory or general cognitive abilities will decline as you age....

Read More