Monday, October 13, 2008

A curious use of self-selection at the airport

At Midway Airport, TSA signage splits passengers entering the terminal into three groups: families and passengers with special needs, "casual travelers", and "expert travelers". The first category needs no explanation, but the demarcation between the latter two--or even what it means to be an "expert" at traveling--is unclear.

Nevertheless, after a few moments of thought, I moved to the "expert" line, which moved more quickly than that for the "casuals". Perhaps there is something to it, or perhaps the line is merely faster because fewer people will self-identify as "expert" anything. One would have to sit at security for a couple hours and count the number of fumblers and nincompoops going through each line, or better still, time each passenger's delay at the metal detector, to be sure.

There was no check for expertise, and no meaningful social sanction--not even a dirty look--for fumbling. Plainclothesed TSA workers didn't watch for "experts" who stood still on Midway's famous "moving walkways" ("Caution, the moving walkway is ending...") We can't rely on people even to not smoke on the sidewalk or in doorways, or to control their conversational volume; can anyone explain why in this situation they should be expected to meaningfully segregate themselves by ability to efficiently pass the security screening?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Things one wouldn't suspect exist.

In the Biosciences West building at the University of Arizona, there is a refrigerated snack machine stocked with Fermentas brand reagents and standards, the 'Enzymatic' Automatic Freezer.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Yes, Sarah Palin is a "federalist."

Over at the Daily Kos and elsewhere, fellow amateur pundits are making the claim that because a group historically known as the Federalists supported a stronger central government than their chief rivals, "federalist" is a synonym for "supports stronger central government than one's chief rivals."

That's ridiculous. Not only does it reveal ignorance of a widespread modern movement, it also misses the point: "federalist" describes a position concerning the structure of government. Here the somewhat-educated Palin gets it right and her would-be betters get it wrong.

I explain in livelier terms over at Associated Content.