Nov 16 2010

Let’s try ‘Israelification’ instead of Humiliation

Posted by PAgent in Current Events, News

With all the furor over the new TSA procedures (what a choice: let someone touch your junk, or let someone ogle your junk), why don’t we look at how Israel handles airport security?

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

“The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport,” said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” Sela said.

Does it work? The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

Read The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother

Jul 08 2010

Let’s Get It Over With, Already

Posted by PAgent in FYI

One of my mother’s favorite aphorisms went something like “It doesn’t matter how scared of childbirth you think you are, God has planned it so that once you’ve carried a baby for nine months you’ll willingly go through ANYTHING to get it out of you.” As she brought five children into the world, I think I’ll have to take her word for it.

The same sort of emotional arc is currently manifesting in my life. The preparations for my trip to Australia have been drawn out so long, and been so all-consuming, that I just want the damn thing to START already. At work, in particular, the scheduling gymnastics that have been necessary to either meet or delay various deadlines have been exhausting, whether it’s from working ahead or carefully explaining to a client that I just won’t be able to work on their project because I will be upside down and talking to kangaroos. Or eating them. The kangaroos, not the clients.

Add a big ‘ol scoop of office DRAMA on top of that, and frankly I’m spent. With a bit more than 24 hours to go, I find myself staring dully into space, knowing intellectually I should be working even more frantically, but unable to flog my brain into compliance.

So, no matter how much I dread travel, no matter how horrific spending 15+ hours in a plane sounds, and no matter how self-conscious I am about sleeping on a plane, at this point I just desperately want to get this adventure rolling. Once I get my butt into a seat and the door closes behind me, I will be able to relinquish control and enter a vegetative state. And that will be when my vacation actually begins.

Jul 02 2010

Ticking Inexorably Down To Zero

Posted by PAgent in FYI

I am wearing brand new shoes today. They are New Balance size 11 1/2, EEEE.

I have wide feet. This makes purchasing shoes just slightly less convenient than obtaining mistletoe harvested at midnight on the solstice by a virgin using a golden scythe. But I digress.

They are almost hiking boots, with high tops for ankle support but light enough to be used for walking. I am wearing them to work because I have about a week to break them in before heading off to the Land Down Under, where they will be subjected to a flavor of abuse that is currently unforeseeable.
Read entire article.

Apr 15 2010


Posted by PAgent in FYI, GradSchool

Along about my second year of grad school, I got a message from two of my best buddies, J and S. They were going to take several months and bum around Europe together. Would I like to come along?

These were two guys I’d known since junior high, with whom I’d had many memorable adventures. To say ‘no’ would be insanely stupid. How many opportunities like this ever arose?

Nevertheless, I said no. Regretfully of course, but I turned them down nonetheless. Two years into a Ph.D. program is NOT the time to take an extended vacation. A graduate program is intended to suck up all your time, energy, and ability for however many years you’re in the program. As Ph.D. candidates, we were already expected to be in lab every day, most evenings, and at least one day on the weekend. Dropping everything would cost me: It would cost me at least a year spent catching up to where I should have been, and it would cost me whatever good will I had with my advisor, who would NOT be amused that one of his students just skipped off to Europe because they felt like it.

To put this in perspective, this is a man who once told his group “I want you guys to enjoy your Christmas. Take some time to celebrate and relax….but don’t leave town.” No, really, he did. But I digress…

So I declined, and in due course the two of them jetted off to Europe. I periodically received heartbreaking postcards from them. One from France during the grape harvest, one from Munich during Oktoberfest, maybe a dozen in all. I tracked their happy progress through Europe with a burning coal of resentment in my gut as I shuttled from my one-bedroom apartment to the lab and back every day, enjoying the wonders of scenic east central Illinois.

Of course, such a trip creates lifelong memories, and so when the three of us get together these days one of them is apt to say “This reminds me of that time in Austria when that bus full of nuns thought you were a terrorist…” and they’ll be off, reminiscing about their grand adventure. My burning coal has been well-banked, but it isn’t quite out yet. I’m 45 years old, and I have plenty of regrets to contemplate when I’m feeling maudlin, but that lost opportunity ranks among the top five, easy.

Last year, my good friend J suggested that S and I come and visit him in Australia for a couple of weeks. I was astonished to hear myself NOT saying no. Remaining noncommital, I hesitantly mentioned it to the Wife, expecting her to shoot it down as too expensive, too inconvenient, too disruptive. Surprisingly, she suggested that I do it, pointing out that a person doesn’t get too many opportunities like this.

And so, to my ongoing amazement, I will be going to Australia this summer. For the record, the only times I’ve left the continental US were daytrips into British Columbia as a child. I’ve lived in Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and Texas, and I’ve visited a dozen more states for various reasons. But I’ve never traveled. I figure this trip will make up for it.

Having made the plans, scheduled the dates, and now purchased the exceedingly expensive plane tickets, the reality is beginning to sink in. In particular, the reality of a 15-hour trip over the Pacific ocean. Do you know what I think of when I think of being in a plane over the ocean? The plane crash from “Cast Away,” specfiically the shot where Tom Hanks watches the shattered plane fuselage sink down, down, down into the black depths of the ocean. Also, I will have a prominent place in the plane: I will be the guy that snores like a bulldozer, thanks to my sleep apnea.

But I’m trying not to think about that. Instead I’m thinking about the chance to visit the other side of the world, LITERALLY. Some people never get that chance. And I get to do it with two of my dearest friends. I think it’ll be a good time.