May 28, 2009

A day to remember

Yesterday evening I had mentioned that I was planning a trip up to Canada to pick up two items I had won at auction. I left the house around 11:00 after getting breakfast and watering the garden and checking that the garbage was out. I noticed that there were some helicopters overhead but didn't think that much of it. We live a couple miles from the border and we are used to seeing choppers and border patrol vehicles all the time. I got on the road about 11:30 or so -- this is a trip I have made several times in the last couple of months. The auctions have a lot of crap and a lot of stuff waaay up in the arctic but there are two cities that generally have useful stuff and are only two hours away. Heading through Canadian customs, I was pulled over, handed a sheet of paper and told to go in the office and wait. This has never happened before. Fifteen minutes later, I am on the road again. The Canadian Costco carries a different product selection than the US Costcos so it is always interesting to stop in there. One of our employees has a bad tooth so she asked me to pick up a bottle of the Acetaminophen and Codeine tablets -- these are OTC up there and prescription down here. I said sure. I asked the Pharmacist how many bottles I could take over the border and was told fifty tablets per person, per car. There were 200 in the bottle. I stuffed the bottle deep down in the junk in my trucks center console and drove on. Lunch at Timmies. I go to the auction place and receive my first surprise: The picture in the auction website:
What was presented to me when I picked it up:
I had thought that this would be a nice countertop unit. Not something almost six feet tall and a good five hundred pounds or so. Oh well... And it was not a true Colorimetric unit, there were 48 temperature controlled wells and each well had an LED and phototransistor at the bottom. It is a backscatter colony counter that operates on a specific color of light. You put your sample in and stuff grows and you measure the growth by the amount of light scattered back to the phototransistor. By the pure definition, a colorimeter allows you to vary the wavelength of the light being used so you can plot absorption or backscatter against the wavelength, not just at one wavelength. As a homebrewer, this would have been great for culturing yeast and making sure of its purity and vigor. The people at the auction place are great and there is no problem having them use a forklift to load the trailer. The other item was a sweet little dental X-RAY unit. A couple of years ago, I had gotten an older X-RAY unit from a chiropractors office that had closed but the control panel was not functional (missing a lot of components) and it was too big for what I wanted. I sign off and start driving the 35 miles back to the border crossing. I get there and they ask where I live, where I was today, what is that crap in my trailer and if I have a receipt for it. I produced the receipt but unfortunately, I also gave them the printouts of the auction descriptions. The look at it, scratch their heads, spend some quality time with their radios and then motion me over to the side. (I am starting to see a theme here...) I take my slip of paper and sit down around 4:45 or so. It seems the issue is with the one single line of description of the unit in question:
fully automated blood culture and mycobacteria testing system
It is not like I am taking some foreign technology into the United States. This puppy was manufactured in Durham, North Caroline and then exported with zero issues into Canada. Now that I am trying to get it home and into the DaveCave(tm) it is suddenly an article of danger. I am bored out of my skull. I have two books in the truck but they will not let me out to get one. I walk around and am told to sit on a specific bench where I have no view of my truck. I left the windows rolled down as it was a hot day and I was not expecting anything -- this is just a piece of very very basic lab equipment. Finally, after two hours of deliberation, they hand me a sheet of paper stating that that infernal machine is not allowed in the US of A and that I am responsible for its disposal. This is at 6:00PM. The auction house closes at 3:00PM. There are no dumps open at 6:00PM that I know of. I get back into Canada, do the 70 mile round trip back to the auction house, unload this 500 pound piece of equipment at a nearby industrial park parking lot (by myself -- thank God for the previous work of Newton and Archimedes!) and I headed back home. I finally get back to the USA border, show my passport and am handed a sheet of paper, waved over to the side and told to go into the office... Again... Fortunately, two of the Officers that had processed me earlier were still on duty and recognized me. A quick (fifteen minute) once-over and I was on my way. All the while, the thoughts of the two hours without seeing my truck the first time while the Codeine pills were in there. Did they find them then and just not say anything waiting to see if I declared anything? On my way back the second time, I did pick up a 6Pack of hard cider and I did declare that (as well as a box of TimBits). It is now about 8:00PM and I am hungry so I stop in a local burger chain, grab a quick meal. I get back to the store at 9:30 to find that one of our customers had some issues with some videos that his daughter had rented and forgotten about and this moke threatened to come and punch out my employee on duty that evening. That phone conversation happened about fifteen minutes before I showed up so I hung out there until the 10:00PM closing. I sent an email to the auction house apologizing for this but letting them know that the US Border had a major case of the vapors with that "blood" machine and letting them know that I forfeited my $40CND and that I released the machine back into their custody. During the auction, there were eight other bidders so they should have no problem selling it again. As for me, I spent eight hours of my time, about five gallons of gasoline and two plus hours sitting on a hard bench with nothing to read. In their defense, the Border Patrol does an excellent job most of the times. Their background is law enforcement and that is the majority of what is needed. If I were King, I would set up an office, staffed 24/7 with geeks and scientists and if there was any sort of outlier, the data could be phoned in or emailed, the geeks could spend a few minutes on fscking Google, determine the safety of a unit and give a thumbs up or down. The people making the decisions today were not biologists, they didn't know that just because something was configured for doing blood assays that it could not just as easily be reconfigured by a maker or hacker to culture yeast for cider or beer. That office would catch more potential problems than are done now and they would provide fast passage for those people who were not a problem. Win/Win. But we are talking the government here... Posted by DaveH at May 28, 2009 10:28 PM