Huge Props to the TSA

You read that right. A few weeks ago I had an awesome experience with SFO's TSA (specifically, Covenant Aviation Security), and I'd like to share it with you.

In addition to my own distractibility (which is clearly at fault here), I blame Daylight Savings Time. For some reason we were flying out at 7am (just a few short, sleepy hours after DST kicked in), so I was already off-kilter. Going through the security screening, I unconsciously took off my shoes and belt, tossed my bags in the queue, and put my Air in a plastic bin. Showed my boarding pass and ID to the screening guy, waited for my gear to appear, re-robed, and headed off to the gate.

You can see where this is going, right? Still half-asleep and not really knowing what time it was (or was supposed to be), looking forward to going back to sleep on the plane, I didn't realize until somewhere over Minnesota that my Air was no longer with me. I'd left it sitting in that plastic bin back at SFO. Absentmindedly, I'd channeled Steven Levy. Apple's partially to blame here too—the Air is so damned light I didn't even realize it wasn't in my bag.

Virgin America's sympathetic flight attendants advised me to check in with their ground staff as soon we landed, who could get in touch with their SFO counterparts, who could contact the TSA. (Alas, they wouldn't check for me mid-flight). I wrote down all the details I could remember—what time we went through security, the color and texture of my Air's sleeve, that it had an iPhone sync cable in its pocket, etc.—and tried to put the whole thing out of my mind for the remainder of the flight.

But I couldn't stop thinking through worst-case scenarios. I reckoned it was already loose in the black market, what with this terrible economy and all. I didn't have FileVault enabled, nor an open firmware password set up—just OS X's "require password when waking from sleep or screen saver," and disabled auto-login. My 1Password pass was different than my login and system passes, so theoretically those should be safe. But given physical access to a machine, anything's possible, data access-wise. Oy! But it's an Air, which has no cd drive, so admin access to the machine would be a bit challenging.

Finally we landed at JFK, and I eventually found a kind and persistent Virgin America baggage services employee named Zarmina who helped me out. After a few telephone back-and-forths with some too-busy-to-help-us SFO/Virgin people, it became clear that I'd need to sort it out myself. Zarmina told me on the phone that evening that their SFO supervisor checked with the TSA, and they didn't have it.


Off to the Apple Store to plunk down for a new laptop. Ouch.

(An aside: my tale broke several Apple employees' hearts, and they very kindly tossed in a free case. A red one this time. Like, less easy to leave sitting in a plastic bin at airports.)

My last hope (to which a very small part of me still clung) was TSA/Covenant's official Lost and Found process, which I initiated via a voicemail on their SFO phone #. They said they'd call back during their normal business hours, which (sadly) never happened. I called several times a day until I got ahold of a real live person.

Her name was Asia, and she is my hero.

I described my laptop to her, and how and when I'd so carelessly left it back at SFO, and she said, "It's sitting right here."


I nearly fell over. And she could FedEx it to me by 10am the next morning. Apparently this happens all the time, so they've got well-worn process for tracking and returning things to people. I faxed her the details, and had my laptop back the next morning.

And the Apple Store crew gladly accepted my returning the one I'd just purchased, and were relieved by the tale's conclusion.


The TSA takes a lot of heat while doing a difficult job, and much of it is justified. But here's one example of a great experience with them, where their organization and process worked exactly as it was supposed to.

What have I learned?
  • label my gear with my contact info, just. in. case.
  • customize it to distinguish it: when I got home I decorated it with stickers from Blogger, Fire Eagle and DollarApp
  • research Mac OS X security more deeply (which I've done, and will write more about soon)
  • and double-check bins when leaving a TSA booth. Duh.


Faith and Reason

On first glance, this guy sounds kinda totally nuts. But by the end of the interview, he's saying some perfectly reasonable things:
Wired: Thorny ethical issues?
Horner: If you think we're playing God, maybe. But we're already modifying plants and mice. I don't see a lot of people jumping up and down complaining about better tomatoes.


Wired: Are you getting flak from other researchers?
Horner: Scientists who play by someone else's rules don't have much chance of making discoveries.


Wired: It would certainly prove the creationists dead wrong.
Horner: Religion is about faith, not evidence. Comparing science and religion isn't like comparing apples and oranges—it's more like apples and sewing machines.


Matt Haughey fixed Obama's Blog Feed


Back on February 23rd, he twittered:
"The whitehouse.gov blog really needs to understand the guid. Google Reader shows every edited post 2 or 3 times as separate items. Annoying."
That had been annoying me too, but I'd just been paging by them. Matt's note reminded me that I have a friend who worked with the Obama Campaign and Transition Team's tech crew, and he probably knows the right people to sort it out. I sent him a quick email, and a day later it was fixed.

And Matt (and the rest of us) rejoiced:
"! Whitehouse.gov fixes their feeds! http://tinyurl.com/ahwg6b I can't imagine the last presidency going from complaint to fixed in 24hrs."