A colleague recently recommended the show Airline, and I nearly watched the entire first season in a single sitting.  It’s a lot like Cops, but instead of filming police officers as they perform their duties, Airline films customer service agents for Southwest Airlines in several of their focus airports.

It’s good television for the same reasons Cops is.  First, we’re watching professionals do their jobs well.  Whereas frequent travelers dread the rare events that happen once in a hundred trips, crews see that many flights every day, virtually guaranteeing mayhem.

Second, many of the people they encounter are complete idiots.  Some are perfectly pleasant travelers and some are passengers subjected to genuine wrongs that need to be righted, but others are outright jerks who just need to be barred from society.  (My favorite so far is the woman who berated the baggage office staff after she failed to recognize her own bag on the carousel.)

Naturally, most encounters on the show result in the passenger threatening to sue the airline, call the police, or at a minimum to “never fly Southwest again!”  It’s practically a mantra.  After just 20 minutes of watching ticketing agents get berated for enforcing perfectly reasonable policies, I wanted to run over to the airport just to stand patiently in a line like a civilized adult.  “You lost my bag?  How unfortunate!  Could you please call me when it arrives so that I may pick it up?  Thank you!” I’d say, for example.

What bothers me most is that in several episodes it’s clear that a single supervisor can spend much of her day interacting with a single problematic customer.  Southwest must necessarily employ an army of staff solely to handle this minority of passengers — and it’s absolutely the right thing to do, since without such an army the rest of us would be stuck in line behind them.

What I like best is this exchange between an unjustifiably irate passenger and a customer service agent, which occurs repeatedly:

Angry Passenger:  I want to see a manager.
:  I am the manager, and I’m the one telling you you’ve missed your flight.

Southwest agreeing to feature in the show is an interesting gamble.  Their logo is in virtually every shot, since it covers their planes, uniforms, and even airport walls.  Their name is mentioned constantly in natural conversation.  Even their routes get some discussion as passengers mention their various destinations.  However, the routine flights and happy passengers that surely comprise most of their operation don’t get much screen time.  We only see the people so unhappy with their experience they leave swearing off the airline for life.

I say it worked in their favor.  Southwest will begin service to Boston’s Logan International Airport on August 16th, and even after seeing six hours of air travel nightmares, I’d like to give them a try.

Only the first season of Airline is out on DVD, but Netflix has it available to “Watch Instantly.”

Self-Creating Tables

I recently tried creating a new database table only to learn a table with that name exists already.

[me@mysql db] > CREATE TABLE log_search (
, search VARCHAR(255)
, created_by VARCHAR(128), created_on DATETIME)
ERROR 1050 (42S01): Table 'log_search' already exists
[me@mysql db] > DESC log_search;
| Field         | Type                | Null | Key | Default             | Extra          |
| log_search_id | bigint(20) unsigned |      | PRI | NULL                | auto_increment | 
| search        | varchar(255)        |      |     |                     |                | 
| created_on    | datetime            |      |     | 0000-00-00 00:00:00 |                | 
| created_by    | varchar(128)        |      |     |                     |                | 
4 rows in set (0.00 sec)

I love naming conventions!  My favorite part of programming is when I start to write a routine only to learn I already wrote it months ago in preparation for what I knew I’d be doing now.

Invisible Discipline

I’m really beginning to like the nights that I lie down early and hear Sophie’s nighttime routine happening in the other room without seeing anything.  Tonight, Mommy walked out to check on her and I just heard this:

Take off the purse.  Take off the poodle.  Take off the backpack.  Take off the horses.

The purse and the backpack I get, but I’m afraid to ask how she was wearing a poodle and two or more horses.

Belated Consequences

Since the dawn of computing, people have joked that returning one library book late as a child will ruin your life in any number of ways: keeping you from running for elected office, showing up in a tax audit, et cetera.

Well, my girlfriend just tried to get a library card only to learn that when she was 11, someone checked out a book in her name and never returned it.  Now they won’t give her a new card!  My favorite part: this predated computer records, so someone specifically took the trouble to document this little girl’s missing book in the computer system when it arrived.

This is better, at least, than the man who returned a book 47 years late for a $171.32 fine.

Society is Like Broccoli

Foodler lets lazy people (like me) order food online from area restaurants and have it delivered.

When browsing menus, the site highlights certain food terms and offers definitions.  For example, if you don’t know what “chipotle” is, just click it to see the definition:

A brownish-red hot spice consisting of ground, ripe, and dried jalapenos that has a distinctive hot, smoky, biting, sweet, and meaty flavor.

When planning an order from Moogy’s recently, I noticed the word “broccoli” highlighted, and couldn’t resist clicking.  Broccoli is:

Tiny bunches of tightly closed green buds growing from a thick edible stalk.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider our achievements as a society.  As an average Foodler user, I’m already expected to lounge on my couch as I order food and have it delievered, without exerting more effort than I would in writing this sentence.  Now, in addition, I’m expected to be unfamiliar with what broccoli is.

And if you turn your attention to the left, you’ll see the Morlock race evolving beneath our feet.

They Moved Kenny!

We lost some of our student offices to reconstruction this summer, and with limited space one manager briefly toyed with having staff share their offices with students.  Though we managed to make better arrangements, the memory of this plan seems to linger.  Today, someone in another department remarked:

I keep trying to clean my office, but I’m afraid I’ll get students in here.

I laughed, but he went on:

Well, the last time I cleaned, I got Kenny.

He gestured toward another desk in the corner, clearly once used by Kenny (another member of our staff), but now overrun with equipment so as to be unusable.

It’s like an infestation!

Steps to Success

After a delicious dinner at Zoe’s last week, we took Sophie through the Harvard campus on our way back home.  She was unimpressed at first, barring some occasional questions to confirm that we were visiting a college, that colleges are where people get smart, and that she can go to one once she’s bigger.

Her interest grew, however, upon seeing the towering steps of the Widener Library.  She lept from her stroller and bounded up to the top in seconds.  “I want to stay here!” she announced when she got back to the bottom, and shot right back up again.  When she tired of those steps, she sat in the stroller only long enough to cross the yard to another building with fun stairs, and then another.

It was a great outing, though I joked at the time that we might have inadvertently taught her that colleges are places with a lot of stairs.

Tonight, we took a trip to White Mountain Creamery in Brighton for some ice cream, and strolled through the Boston College campus on our way home.  (Campuses tend to be tranquil places when not overrun by students.)  The moment she heard the name of the place, she asked, excitedly:

Can we look to see if Boston College has any steps?

Come to think of it, I do remember walking up a lot of flights of steps while I was in college.  Maybe she’s on the right track!

Strollers are Good

Following are reasons strollers are excellent inventions:

  1. They increase the maximum possible speed at which a child can be transported from one place to another
  2. They decrease arm fatigue resulting from carrying the aforementioned child at the end of the trip when she has become tired
  3. They reduce dramatically the perception that I’m a creepy guy ogling the bikini-clad women coming out of the women’s changing room at the beach.

I watched about seven separate people today give me the dirtiest looks I’ve ever seen, glance down, notice the stroller, and then smile and walk by peacefuilly.

Nice Guy = Creepy Guy + Stroller