Or Is it the Gate Keeper?

Learning to type? The Key Master is a fun typing game.

I managed to score in the top ten, which is the first time I’ve ever been able to say that about a game. We’ll overlook the fact that it’s a new game and just suppose it’s because I’m a fast typist.

My only complaint is that you have to press the enter key after each word. In the real world that’s common for data entry, but less common with words. The game should use the space bar as the “accept” key.  It would be much easier for an experienced typist, and a much better learning exercise for a beginner.

Sophie is Cute (Exhibit D)

Sophie was very excited at my arrival when I first got there.  As she walked in the door I could clearly here my name overlaid with tones of excitement.   Ben’s here!

Until she saw me.

Then she immediately ran upstairs to her room as fast as she could go and refused to come out until I was gone… which wasn’t really likely to happen.  When she did have to come downstairs (to eat, for instance), she refused to take her eyes off me, certain, I think, that if she weren’t watching me I’d immediately transform into a drooling monster and destroy her.

When I was still there the next morning, she resigned herself to being in the same room as me, though any time I went anywhere near Mommy she ran over and pushed me away, yelling, “No!  My mommy!”

By the third day, though, the tables had turned.  Anytime I went anywhere near Mommy (or anyone else) she still ran over and pushed me away… but now yelled, “No!  My Ben!”

By this afternoon I had a voice mail that said, first, “Why won’t Ben talk!” (sorry, Sophie, I wasn’t really on the phone) and “Come back!”  Hehe!  I win!  And that’s very cute.

Phew, Indeed!

After the Green Line crash last week, NTSB officials are in town investigating the accident.

Four or five of them were on my B train this evening with a CBS reporter and cameraman, and as we pulled into Boston College one announced, “Phew.  We made it.”

Wait!  The National Transportation Safety Board was unsure about whether or not my train would “make it?”  I feel like this should bother me.

Next Idea: Self-Service X-Ray Machines

The TSA has been experimenting with a setup that lets passengers self-sort into separate “expert traveler” screening lanes for travelers who are fluent in TSA procedures. If you don’t want to be rushed or need more time you can choose the slower “family” lane instead. Some airports also have an intermediate “frequent traveler” category.

The screening procedures are identical for all lanes; the theory is just that expert travelers will follow those procedures more efficiently. I’ve been caught behind idiots who don’t understand that keys are made of metal or that the rest of us took off our shoes for a reason, so I appreciate the potential value of this segregation. Moreover, I applaud the broader effort to try new ideas to smooth out the complex screening process.

In practice, however, this idea fails completely. I just saw it in action at DIA – one of a few airports in the pilot program – and it just didn’t work.

I saw only two lanes designated for the “family” category when I went through, yet both were completely empty – not a single person was in either line. All the remaining lines were designated “expert traveler” and were clogged seven or eight people deep. I forfeited my (deserved) “expert” title and breezed through the family lane without missing a step.

In one sense this was a fluke. Surely at other times the family lane has at least a few people in it, and one uncoordinated parent with a disobedient young child could shift the entire balance. However, it highlights fundamental underlying problems.

First, lots of people want to believe they’re experts when they’re really not. And even genuine experts can make mistakes. Normally I fly through security in a smooth anti-terrorism ballet. Then came the mishap a couple months ago when I waltzed right through still wearing my cell phone and keys. Sorry, folks. I just held up the line. I know keys are metal, I swear!

More importantly, the total wait time in the entire system is exactly the same; it’s just being redistributed. The slowpoke who takes five minutes to sort luggage and remove liquids will still take five minutes, he’ll just be holding up a different line. The assumption is that slow people will be more tolerant of other slow people.

The same theory went into the Box Office Babies program at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Parents can bring their babies to the movies and let them cry as much as they want. Crying babies in these screenings are no less disruptive than in any other screenings; they’re just disrupting other people who happen to have babies themselves.  Some parents would still prefer to watch the movie uninterrupted, so they opt not to go to Box Office Babies (and presumably wait for the movie to be out on DVD).

At airports we don’t have the option of just bypassing the security line (perhaps a door marked “No Criminals Allowed” would work?), but some inexperienced travelers will still want to stand on the shoulders of experts before them and breeze through what was (until then) the fast lane.

Finally, this idea solves a problem many airports have already solved by just ushering those who fail the screening for any reason into a separate line to try again. A know-nothing novice with bottled water in his backpack and a knife in his pocket gets brushed aside, as does a seasoned guru who just forgot to empty his pockets this trip.

This system has TSA officials doing the sorting, so there’s no chance of someone being in the “wrong” line. And this way travelers don’t have to learn yet another policy on their way through the security maze. For me, choosing which type of line to join added a second or two of decision-making time, when I’d normally just glance around and hop into the shortest one.  (It doesn’t help that the “black diamond / blue square / green circle” designations, so obvious to those who ski, meant absolutely nothing to me until I read more about it.)

We should welcome new ideas from the TSA even when they don’t work out, but let’s scrap this one before it’s too late and we have to listen to a New Yorker with no luggage mouthing off to the foreigner in front of him who won’t take off his chain mail in the black diamond lane.

Congratulations! You’ve Shown Basic Human Intelligence!

“American Airlines, bowing to pressure yesterday from some of its lowest-paid workers, agreed to drop a $2-per-bag fee for curbside check-in service at airports throughout the country and to lift a ban on tips for skycaps at Logan International Airport.” – Boston Globe, 30 May 2008

I wrote about this issue a few weeks ago, when American retaliated against the skycaps (nine of whom won back $325,000 in lost tips in a lawsuit last month) by prohibiting all tipping at Logan. Now, in exchange for the skycaps dropping their charge of retaliation, the airline will allow tipping and get rid of the fee.

Of course, in just two weeks American will begin charging $15 to check even a single bag, so the old $2 fee to check a bag at the curb rather pales in comparison to the $15 it will cost to check one at all. This too will surely cut into the tips of skycaps, since fewer people will check bags at all (as is surely the intent) and those who do will again feel they’ve spent enough on the luxury already without giving their money away in gratuities. Since this fee isn’t levied directly against curbside check-in, I expect skycaps’ only choices will be to accept their new burden or defect to one of the few airlines that still allows checked luggage.

We should be glad American has backed off its ludicrous stance on tipping at Logan, but let’s not throw them a party. They’ve just done what they should have from the beginning. When a toddler finally concedes he can’t eat dessert before dinner we don’t offer a reward of extra cookies, we just announce our approval of his being a good little boy.

Sophie is Cute (Exhibit C)

Sophie came running in Wednesday morning just as I was waking up and decided it was time to become a monster – a routine activity on all lazy mornings.

She sat quietly for a long time, though, shooting me furtive quizzical glances, before eventually asking, “Ben glasses?”

“Yep. I wear glasses!”
“I took them off when I went to sleep.”
No! Glasses on!

I put my glasses back on, and she immediately proceeded to roar and attack me.

Apparently without glasses I cease to be Ben, and cannot play.

Sophie is Cute (Exhibit B)

We went with Sophie to play at the WOW Museum in Lafayette – a children’s museum with all sorts of educational games and activities. There’s a bank with a working pneumatic tube. There’s a platform you can stand on and pull an enormous soap bubble around your entire body.

There’s a music room and an art room, a pirate ship and a sandbox, a table full of magnets, an enormous doll house, a grocery store with a checkout lane, a railroad station, and at least a dozen other things I didn’t even get a chance to see.

At one point we played with a huge ball maze, where you drop a ball into one of many tubes on the side of a machine and wait for it to shoot out of one of the other tubes (unpredictably, to a child, at least). Sophie’s approach to this game was to grab a ball and run off to play with other exhibits while holding it.

When it was time to leave, she was quite upset, and understandably didn’t want to leave. There was lots of crying, all of which centered on the words, “My ball! I want my ball!”

She didn’t miss playing so much as she regretted having to leave behind a ball.

Sophie is Cute (Exhibit A)

(I got to play with Sophie, age 2, the whole time I was in Colorado. She is extremely cute, and this four part series will demonstrate that.)

While we were driving, Sophie decided it was essential that she have the umbrella that was sitting on the floor of the car, which she could of course not reach.

Sophie: “Mommy! I want that!”

The obvious “get out of jail free” answer to this request is, “Sorry, I’m driving.”

Sophie adopted an indignant expression, pointed at me in the passenger seat, and said, almost exasperatedly, “What’s that? Ben get it!”

As in, “Uhh, hello? What else is he there for? Duh!”

Sorry, Sophie. We hadn’t thought of that.

Well, You Don’t Punch Me in the Face!

“Hey!  You!  Don’t take those!”

– Elderly woman to me, as I walked past a row of grocery bags on the sidewalk that she was clearly unloading from her car

Evidently when I’m not wearing a tie I look like a criminal element of some kind.