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[travel] The theory of lines

I believe line-standing behavior is a common topic of study in game theory, psychology and other areas of research. I had a refreshingly frank conversation with an Alaska Airlines counter agent about it this morning, at any rate.

The classic airline counter line is a so-called “snake line”, which winds back and forth until it reaches the debouchement, where the next available agent (or check-in machine, these days) provides support to the person who’s been waiting longest. That is to say, the person who’s reached the head of the line. (This ignores line expansion issues from the tail end.) This is probably the “fairest” system in most passenger’s eyes, as we’re conditioned to line-standing from a very early age by the school system, if nothing else. First come, first serve. It also optimizes for passengers in trouble, as the rest of the line flows around them to other agents/machines while their issue is being resolved.

The problem with the snake line is that it can be perceived to be moving quite slowly. Even when it is moving effectively, it may look slow due to the layout of the line. So net customer satisfaction drops with both actual wait time and perception of slowness.

Alaska Airlines in Portland has adopted a “lane” system instead of the snake line. Think of grocery store cashier lines, where you have to pick a register, and you’re stuck there even if a problem occurs ahead of you in line. Unless you know the error is serious, say, a crashed cash register, there’s no percentage in changing lines because you have to start all over at the back. It’s first come, first serve in each lane, but the net speed of lanes can vary widely.

In my case this morning, the line to my right moved front-to-back twice before my line moved at all. By the time I realized this, there were people behind me, and it was very impractical to move out of my line without a lot of disruption of luggage or taking down the guidepoles or something. (Even once my line did move, every single passenger in front of me had some issue which prevented a simple, error-free check in.)

So when an Alaska Airlines employee happened by, I flat out asked her, “What do I do when this line won’t move?”

She smiled ruefully and apologized, saying that passengers complained frequently about the newer lines for exactly the reason I was. As I said to her, this was a line-standing system only a consultant could love — it concentrates the penalty for handling errors on the few passengers in a given lane, while maintaining the flow in other lanes. This may be a net benefit to Alaska Airlines, but it’s a sharp penalty to me personally for having selected the wrong line.

Our primary selection criteria in a multi-lane line environment is shortness. Shortness might be a result of prior line abandonment due to an existing stall. Or it might indicate a more efficient than normal line. Except by standing aside and observing the overall pattern of the lines, there’s no way to tell in advance. That in turn is a poor strategy, because after observation time, you still have to stand in line, so you may as well observe while waiting in line.

The funniest thing was what the woman said to me afterward, about her supervisor. “The guy who designed this system never has to use it, that’s why we can’t get it changed back.”

That right there is a profound comment on decision making in corporate America.

[travel] Off to LaunchPad

I’m off to LaunchPad shortly, via a morning flight to Denver and an afternoon van ride to Laramie. Expect continued light blogging with intermittent wit and erudition. Further reports as the situation and bandwidth merit.

[writing|child] New adventures in parenting, getting stuff done

So I got a bunch of the way through the change notes on “In the Forests of the Night.” I plan to put that to bed tomorrow, and have Green in Wednesday. Thursday at the latest. Then I’m just going to ripsnort through LaunchPad and Denvention, with strategic nap breaks. That is good.

Meanwhile, had to arm wrestle the_child today. Some version of test anxiety gave her stage fright (literally), and she needed a bunch of gentle Dad-like intervention. It was a very Brady moment, but I think I succeeded.

Another day of Day Jobbe work tomorrow, plus finish packing, Fireside time, then Wednesday I’m off into the wild blue yonder.

[travel] I’m back; briefly

I’m back at Nuevo Rancho Lake. I failed to blog last night or this morning due to time pressures — worn out last night after dinner and a brief appearance at the Clarion West party, then a fubar this morning when I discovered I’d left my meds in a restaurant. All was solved, and I got a nice bonus breakfast in with bravado111.

Drive home took a little longer than originally planned due to a stop for lunch with kenscholes and jensfire, who live at the diametric opposite end of Portland’s conurbation from me. Since I was more or less passing Scholes Manor on my way to Nuevo Rancho Lake, it was easy enough.

I’m going to mellow now, answer email, do my much-delayed morning Web crawl and link salad, then either take a nap or work on Green. Off to Launch Pad Wednesday, me.

[personal] Miscellaeous updatery

I’ll post a report about yesterday’s signing later, I’m running very behind this morning. In brief, good travel, good socializing, good book-ness. Working today, then in town for dinner with some Seattle peeps. Can someone send me the directions to tonight’s Clarion West party?

Also, I haven’t forgotten the Steampunk Abecedary. I just need a catch up day or two before I can deal with that. I’m also on two important revision deadlines between now and the end of the month, and heading off to LaunchPad. So, um, probably not a lot of blogging for the next few days.

In case you missed it, open question thread here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].

[travel] In transit gloria Thursday

In DFW, loitering near Gate C17. Flight down was uneventful. I did find some lunatic fringe Christian spam in comments on jlake.com, which I deleted. Not sure that was quite the right move, because it wasn’t technically spam so much as rant, but I don’t have time right now for pointless rhetorical combat with someone who confuses faith with facts.

Given my recent adaptation to a toilet-based lifestyle, I’m spending a lot more time in airport men’s room stalls. (Yes, this is almost over — the antibiotic course is working well. But it’s not over yet.) I’ve been ranting about the lack of outlets in airport lounges for a long time. Here’s a thought: why are stalls designed as if no one ever carries luggage? Have you tried maneuvering a roller bag and a computer satchel into one of those things. Rant, rant, rant. It’s like the good old days on this blog! I must have woken up feisty.

Just now loaned my cell phone to a Marine sergeant passing through on his mid-tour home leave from Iraq. He needed to call some of his family and was messing with some nearby payphones. I have a very strong negative view of the war, but I don’t for a moment confuse corrupt and venal Republican policymaking with the dedicated service of the men and women in uniform. (That was one of the great errors of the Left during Vietnam — inhumane, inhuman, and simply mistaken.)

Off to forage for food shortly.

[travel] Off again

Well, I’m off again at the crack of doom. Heading back to Seattle for tomorrow’s signing with Brenda Cooper at University Books. (Dinner to precede, meet at 5 pm on the corner by the book store, or call me.) I’ll work from the home of the lovely and talented on Friday, then make my way toward the Clarion West party that night before returning home to Nuevo Rancho Lake on Saturday.

Got editorial feedback on “In the Forests of the Night”. Somewhat to my amazement, the feedback was positive and quite minimal. I’ll be a lot tougher on myself in the rewrite, frankly. All good. Meanwhile, Green continues apace. This is a pretty good book, truth be told.

I’m tired as heck, and the antibiotics make my mouth taste like pennies, but otherwise I feel rather myself tonight. As usual, expect continued light blogging through Sunday.

[travel] Lafayette, I am somewhere

Well, I seem to be in Omaha. At least that’s what the rental car contract says. The Hertz random upgrade program hath delivered unto me a brand new Chevrolet TrailBlazer, due to a “broken car wash.” Just the vehicle for these days of $4+ per gallon gas. Luckily, about half my meetings this week are literally across the street from the hotel.

On leaving Seattle this morning I had a lovely aerial view of four Cascade volcanos almost in alignment — Mt. Ranier, Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. And I’m enough of a Northwesterner now to identify them by their profiles as well as by their relative locations. I then kicked some serious butt on “In the Forests of the Night”, wrapping the first draft a bit over 18,000 words.

After that I did some crit, some contest judging, and some reading of Green. I have to a bit of audio work in the next day or two, otherwise I’m focused on Green, which has a no-shit deadline of the end of this month. (I actually finished the requested revisions back in June, on time, despite all my excellent cancer adventures, but the excellent and incomparable casacorona give me an month’s extension.)

garyomaha commented tonight that I seem more like my old self than he’s seen since the cancer bus ran me down. I think that’s true — for several hours today Classic Jay was in evidence. Completing a major story, having a clear head, I just am me. Of course, I’ve since cratered, and I still can’t do airline Sudoku (I tried), but, hey. One damned thing at time.

I’m happy.

[travel] “From Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton”

Ok, not really. From Seattle to the Omaha Country Inn and Suites is more like it.

I’m loitering in SEA, waiting for my flight. bravado111 was kind enough to drive me here, which was immensely helpful. This airport, though…wow is it poorly designed. The Alaska Airlines check-in system was clearly specced out by a consultant who flies first class, or not at all. Even the airline employees seemed exasperated. And the security area was laid out by someone who either has no feet or has never been in an airport. I’ve seen worse, but not often. The only thing that made the experience manageable was I was here early enough that the airport was not filled with people.

In the air most of the day. I’m planning to finish “In the Forests of the Night”, though I wasn’t able to get my usual exit row on this flight due to being booked via American codeshare. Basically that means I can’t wrangle advance seat assignments, and Alaska doesn’t care that I’m platinum on American. So I may be too squeezed in the cheap seats.

If I arrive in a timely manner, I’ll have a quick dinner with garyomaha and elusivem. Then it’s a two-day strategic planning retreat at the Day Jobbe, a day of face time at the office, and back to Seattle for my Thursday reading/signing with Brenda Cooper at University Books.

As usual, expect continued light blogging. See some, all or none of you on the backswing.

[travel] On the move again

I’ll be packing today, and writing as well. For those playing along with the takehome game version of “Where’s Jay”, I’ll be out this afternoon by car to Seattle, where I will be crashing chez bravado111. Off on a(n unusual) Sunday flight to Omaha tomorrow. Back to Seattle Thursday for the University Books reading and signing that night alongside the lovely and talented Brenda Cooper, and the Clarion West party next Friday. So I won’t be home again until a week from today.

As usual, expect continued light blogging with intermittent bursts of hypergraphia.

[links] Link salad for a Friday

A review of Mainspring Powell’s | Amazon thb | Audible ] — Not so much with the liking, this one.

Amazon.com interviews Stephen Hunt — Author of the truly awesome Court of the Air. Gratuitous drive-by mention of my description of the novel: “If Charles Dickens and Jack Vance had ever collaborated, they might have written this book…a collision between English letters and the hard-edged vision of grunge fantasy.” Plus loads of steampunky goodness. Fantasy Book Critic has more.

xkcd on literary criticism

Air travel poses weighty problem for musicians with big instruments — Huh. Obvious in retrospect, but, huh.

Researchers have controlled the position of a single electron in a silicon circuit. — This will change one or two things. Personally, I’m excited about the implications for management of power requirements and waste heat.

NASA’s Deep Impact probe films Earth as an alien world — Cool stuff. Very cool. (Hat tip to Bad Astronomy Blog.)


7/18/08
Time in saddle: 6 minutes
Last night’s weigh-out: n/a
This morning’s weigh-in: 248.6
Currently reading: n/a

[travel] A “Where’s Jay” update

Last week in Omaha they asked me to come back next week. (This is out of sequence, for a planning meeting.) Because I can never do anything the easy way, I am driving to Seattle this Saturday afternoon, planning to stay at the home of bravado111 and his lovely family that night. I’ll fly out of Seatac early Sunday morning, leaving the Genre car there.

In Omaha we’ll have a bonus Omaha Beach Party. Then I’ll be back to Seatac Thursday the 24th, because I have a signing at University Books that night. So there will certainly be a dinner or some such. I’ll stick around Friday with mine hosts so I can hit the Clarion West party Friday night the 25th (unless I’ve messed up the dates again), then head back to Nuevo Rancho Lake on the 26th.

The following week, I’m off to LaunchPad, then Denvention.

Just in case you were going to be in any of those places and wanted to catch up to me.