Wednesday, April 27, 2005

While I'm waiting for Eclipse to restart (again, sigh)...

...I figured I'd tell my dear readers about the fun night I had last night. Catherine really wanted to see this movie called After Innocence at the TriBeCa Film Festival. She started waiting in line about an hour before the movie was supposed to start, but just before we got to the front of the line, we were told there were no tickets left! Alas! Woe! But a kind old woman in the line had told us that sometimes they say that and then change their mind, so we hung out for a bit. Lo and behold, some guy came up and gave us 2 free tickets. Wow. This totally makes up for the free circus tickets I wasn't in town to use. Not only was the movie really moving, but the director and producer and all of the exonerees and Phil Donahue and the Innocence Project people were all in the audience and did a Q&A afterward. And then we rode back on the free double-decker American Express shuttle, which was cold and assailed by tree branches but otherwise entertaining.

One of the funniest parts of the evening was hearing Barry Scheck rail again Florida, which in the movie is shown to spend 3 years trying to keep an innocent man in jail on technicalities and is now apparently regressing. It's very depressing that these people receive no compensation or assistance and don't even have their records expunged. The chart of causes of wrongful convictions is pretty fascinating.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Shoe removal

So the TSA had a sign at the airport saying they would respond to comments promptly, so I decided to test it out. I was impressed by their promptness, but less impressed by their clarity.

My message (April 7):

One of the most frustrating things (apart from long security lines) about flying these days is the inconsistency of the rules. Some airports tell me to take my sneakers off, some don't, and both yell at you when you do the wrong thing. Some says it's becuase of the potential for metal in my shoes, some don't. It's all very confusing.

Just today, flying out of PDX, I was going to keep my shoes on. The woman at the gate said, "You can take off your shoes if you'd like." I'd rather not go through the trouble. It's hard enough to put on my jacket and belt and putting away my laptop and grabbing my bags without slowing down the line - why take off my shoes if I know they won't set off the metal detector? But it turns out this isn't a suggestion. After I give her a quizzical look and start walking, she says I should take my shoes off and it isn't because of the possibility of there being metal in my shoe. So I take one shoe off, but the guy manning the metal detector says I can leave them on.

Great! A voice of reason. But I go through the metal detector and then he pulls me aside for no reason (I was not flagged, and I had not set off the metal detector) and starts going me over with the wand. As far as I can tell, he decided I was suspicious because I didn't want to take my shoes off. That's just stupid.

And of course this is just one of the many annoying and bizarre incidents I've had in my travels since the TSA took over. The least you could do is make the rules absolutely crystal clear across all airports, post clear signage, teach your employees to be less obnoxious, and provide chairs and such for people to undress and dress as your whims demand.

Frustrated and not feeling much safer for the hassle,
Kushal Dave

Their message (April 9):

Thank you for your email message.

TSA screening personnel are required to screen ALL footwear to ensure that no prohibited items are hidden inside. You are NOT required to remove your footwear prior to the walk-through metal detector; however, screening personnel may recommend removal based on SEVERAL criteria.

Screeners are required to encourage removal of footwear that may contain metal as well as many other types of footwear that DO NOT contain metal. Even if the metal detector does not alarm when you walk through it, you may still be directed to additional screening and asked to remove your footwear due to other criteria that screeners are trained to observe.

Footwear that is less likely to require additional screening includes:

· "Beach" flip flops
· Sandals
· Thin-soled athletic shoes

Footwear that is likely to require additional screening includes:

· Work boots
· Platform shoes and platform flip flops
· Any shoe or boot containing metal

Tip: Since thorough screening often includes X-Ray inspection of your footwear, wearing footwear that is easily removable will help speed you through the process.

TSA has developed standard screening practices for all of our Nation's airports, and passengers can expect essentially the same procedures. While the procedures are the same everywhere, the interpretation of those procedures results in some slight variations from airport to airport - situation to situation.

We work hard to achieve consistency in the security training process. We inspect screening operations at airports and continue to monitor the number and nature of complaints we receive from the traveling public to track trends and spot areas of concern that may require special attention. This ongoing process will enable us to ensure prompt, corrective action whenever we determine that security screening policies need modification or specific employees are the subject of repeated complaints.

TSA Contact Center

Friday, April 8, 2005

How do people use the Bible?

I've been looking at the Bible a bit as part of this little toy project I'm doing, and I ran across this line about Cush (pretty close to a common bastardization of my name), who begat Nimrod. Nimrod, it turns out, was the builder of the Tower of Babel in his career prior to being a Green Day album.

I made an offhand remark about how the Tower of Babel was used by the religious right as justification for squashing science and knowledge in areas like stem cell research, thus prolonging human suffering in the process. Catherine decided I was a condescending prick (which I often am), but on this particular point I'm still not convinced. In particular, Catherine, ever the well-studied philosophical relativist, argues that the Bible is a philosophical source like any other, say Plato, and that people who quote it are citing parables as analogies, finding eloquent statements of their own views, and finding views that have stood the test of time. She thinks the Bible has first principles no less indefensible than, say, utilitarianism, and that even arguing that my liberal views permit greater freedom by not trying to repress the behavior of others (something Lisa was recently discussing on her xanga and which I tried to convince Eric of recently) still relies on arbitrary principles. All this may be true, but I guess the real issue is the authority of the Bible. If the Bible is just plain wrong in places, then there is no real reason to believe any particular portion of the Bible unless there is specific reasoning backing it up. Unfortunately, the justification of any given idea may derive from God, of whom we have no existence proof and to whom, therefore, it is hard to ascribe any authority. Plus God is also the source of some of the wrong (slavery, subjugation of women, homosexuality) portions of the Bible. A lot of people, from what I've seen, quote the Bible not because it states something well, but because they think there is inherent authority in any precept of the Bible, even if no substantive justification is provided therein. I feel like somebody must have articulated my argument more clearly than me, but I'm way too lazy to find it.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Still loving the free WiFi

Wow, free WiFi at the airport? No sales tax? Free/cheap public transit largely run on the honor system? Lots of bookstores and coffee shops? Is Portland run by communists!?!?!?

The rest of CHI turned out to be pretty impressive. I saw many more things I liked than last time. Especially just basic interaction techniques and UI ideas for things like mousing and scrolling and zooming and focusing. I'm going to have go back over everything I saw and make sense of it. Patrick Baudisch was responsible for a lot of the things that caught my eye. Damn he's prolific.

A few other links of note:

Sadly I missed the popular Edible User Interface and Social Networking in Fur talks. :-( But both the opening and closing sessions were very entertaining. Michel Waisvisz was really impressive, although sometimes his work verged on overly loud noise.

What else did I do? Went to Powell's. Ate lots of good and cheap food.

I'll miss you, Portland!

Monday, April 4, 2005

God bless free WiFi

I'm writing this entry from the increasingly cold Pioneer Plaza in Portland. The free Wifi is actually superior in quality to the $10 a day wifi in the Hilton. (This is the second time I've stayed at a Hilton recently, and it's ironic that the thing that has made me notice what hotel I've been staying at is the number of things they try to charge people for (gym, wifi) after charging expensive nightly rates for rooms that are at best average and have crappy towels and wimpy cable.)

Portland's a cool town. Urban, but certainly not New York. Filled with hipsters. And the smell of pot. And homeless people. Last night we found this cool bar called Tube that was a small bar basically encased in a plastic tube. Cheap drinks, good rock DJ. I haven't really done much sightseeing, but Susanne's accounts of her tour of Shanghai Portland (about how drunkards were kidnapped to work as sailors) added a bit of local flavor. I'm still recovering from a tasty big dinner last night (and an equally good veggie burger for lunch). Oh, and the public transit is free in the city center. And there are signs that tell when the next bus is coming. Does life get any better? Wow.

Getting here was an ordeal. American Airlines was in chaos on Saturday. For the second time in as many trips on American, I had to switch terminals at JFK, which requires walking quite a bit in a hurry and getting through security again. Their fancy phone update service called me several times to let me know my flight was getting kicked around, but they weren't so sophisticated as to actually rebook me when I was going to miss my connection. Instead, I had to call them, but at least I beat the poor saps waiting in the hour long line at the terminal in JFK. Absurd. And there was no meal on the flight, even after the rush and the poor food options in the terminal. Jeez. The highlight of the flight was definitely Spanglish.

Yesterday was the CHI Beyond Threaded Conversation Workshop, which was pretty chaotic. The hope of an emergent organization didn't quite materialize and things got too theoretical for my taste with efforts to frame a "design space." When we finally got into breakout groups, we realized we didn't even agree on things like what the purpose of online debate should be or what was best for readers. There were a lot of interesting people and some old friends in the workshop, and we got a pretty good enumeration of issues to consider in designing discussion interfaces and of sites we all thought were fascinating. The workshop wiki should be public soon.

What else? I went for a long run today and got lost several times. There are some very pretty and very slummy areas in Portland. Sadly the Rose Garden was not in bloom. I went to the Doc Martens store, but even they don't make the shoes I liked in my size. Seriously, some day somebody is going to get rich using technology to make custom clothing for guys who are sick of stores that cater to tall and fat people. I hurt my neck doing situps. Am I getting old?

Gotta run.