Waiting in line

Among the quantitative models I enjoy teaching, my favorite is probably queuing theory because of its ratio of practical-benefit-plus-surprising-insights to effort required to ‘get it’ (and use it).  Alex Stone has a nice op-ed on queuing in the NYT today, which begins with an example of thinking outside the box that I always use in class:  briefly, your plane does always arrive at the far end of the finger, not randomly. This is partly because (i) it minimizes aircraft taxiing in and out time and getting stuck in apron traffic (airplanes queue too, and Stone misses this one) and partly (ii) because maximizing your walk to the baggage carousel, past as many distractions as possible, shortens what feels to you like ‘the wait for your bag’.

I am mystified, given the batch of interesting and useful psychology Stone packs into his article, that he fails to provide the invaluable, priceless, life-altering secret with which you can never again wait in line, for the rest of your life.  I have up to now only shared this secret, imparted to me by the late Edith Stokey along with a lot of other wisdom, with my students, but you can learn it after the jump:Always carry a book (and now you can have a whole library on your phone!).


Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

2 thoughts on “Waiting in line”

  1. As my aging eyes move further into presbyopia (also called trombonist’s syndrome), my ability to abide fine print wanes quickly. When I bought an e-book reader, I got the Kindle LX, because its screen is large enough that I can have acceptable size print and not have to be constantly scrolling.

    Books on my Android? Only if they are audio books!

  2. Since there is nothing that is not political, may I suggest that it would be nice if all jursidictions were required by law to set up their polling places to meet certain standards of average and peak waiting times, given reasonable estimates of the the arrival rates of voters?

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