Laptops, Linux, and US Customs

This weekend I went to meet some friends in the beautiful Commonwealth of Massachussets. I live north of the 45th Parallel in this part of the world (many of you might think “So what?” Think of the 49th Parallel, where the Canada/US border is much of the time out west.) I find crossing the border stressful, I always have all sorts of delusions about the difficulties I’ll be experiencing while answering questions from someone carrying a gun. (Usually the remarkable crossing is returning home: The Canadian guards roll their eyes in a bored kind of way when I pass them my passport, no doubt thinking “Oh, he’s a citizen, we have to let him in.)

One of the things I was worried about was my laptop. On the advice of my Linux-guru brother, I ask him to set up an automatic login so that should the friendly US border guard ask me to show him my computer, it’ll boot up no trouble and not go through a login that may raise suspicion that I might be logging into a bogus account hiding all sorts of nefarious things. He also recommends that all .mp3’s be absent as well as other, ahem, illicit material (which I don’t normally have anyway), advice I take to heart.

However, besides the nuisance of a possible confiscation of my beloved 5+ year old laptop, what really has me worried is a suspiciously-asked:

“What’s that?”
“The gnome desktop under Fedora Linux.”
“Oh, that looks different.”
“Sure, you can get Linux off the internet for free …” (wince, I shouldn’t have said that, at least not that way …)

And then a bunch of annoying explanations that no Sir, I don’t have any illegally downloaded software, yes Sir it’s free and legal to do so, no Sir, there’s no copyright infringement here, no Sir, I’m not one of those nefarious computer crackers you hear about, think of this the way you might think of a Mac; an alternative to Windows …

Of course, the really nice border guard couldn’t have been less interested in the fact that I had a laptop with me, let alone that I turn it on.

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