Don’t Take “No” From a Computer

Ironically, at the CSIT Conference, I had a discussion with a friend about the importance of Computer Science.  The discussion went beyond our passion for programming into the realm of just straight forward common sense.

How bizarre that I found an application in real life yesterday.

In a simple example, how many times have you gone to a store and a request for payment is made by the person behind the counter for an amount that is clearly wrong?  It’s a case for consumer mental mathematics.  There’s still nothing like the expression on a clerk’s face when they point to the screen and says “That’s what the computer says”.  Well, why don’t you ask it again?

It happened to me in real life yesterday in my efforts to return home after a flight delay.  Storms over Minneapolis and mechanical problems had made the connections tight and those of us who had run what seemed to be 10 miles from one gate to another only to see our ride home just roll back from the gate were first hand witnesses.  The ultimate rub in the face was seeing it parked there for 10 minutes before proceeding.

Heads down, we noted that there was a later flight and so it was off to the Help Desk to get some.  We were told to run our boarding passes over a scanner and our itinerary would be adjusted to get us home.

And it would have.

Step 1 – Find a comfortable chair and go to sleep
Step 2 – Hop a plane to Chicago
Step 3 – Have a very short wait
Step 4 – Hop a plane to Detroit

and be home by noon.  It is a solution; there is no denying that.  But, is it the optimal solution?  I asked an attendant and got the “it’s in the computer” response.  Ah, but there’s a real person behind the counter.  I wonder if she is open to alternative solutions?

I shared my story with her and her comment was awesome.  “We’re a big airline; there’s got to be a better way.”   Yes, the flight is marked as full but her experience kicked in.  As she noted, because it’s a late flight and it’s also delayed, that there will be no-shows.  So, she worked out a plan for me that included a first thing in the morning solution which was a direct flight earlier that the one above.  She put me on that flight and also put me on standby for the later flight.  What service!  I got her name and her supervisor’s and will be sending off a note later today.

I shared my success with my other co-runners and they quickly got on board with the plan.  Next, it was off to the gate and to see what was shaking.  Up to the counter and voila, here’s my boarding pass.  How easy was that!

So, my conversation earlier bore out.  While a computerized solution is often enough, a little mental test can be helpful in determining whether it’s the optimal or best solution.  The best part is that all of us runners got on the flight!

It would be nice to have that airline representative take a deeper look into all things computer scheduling wise!  Maybe she could have them write a routine #therearepeoplethatwillmisstheirconnectionbutifwegetacarttotheirgatetheresnoproblem

links for 2010-07-14