Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mexico 2008 – and lovely randomness

This summer, I will be staying in Mexico for 20 days. I will be attending both the ICME (International conference on mathematics education) in Monterrey, and the HPM (the meeting of The International Study Group on the Relations between History and Pedagogy of Mathematics) in Mexico City.

The trip here went well. However, I met two different approaches to randomness which were interesting. In Chicago, I was pulled aside for a routine random check of my luggage. Of course, I knew that nothing was wrong, so my only thought was “Why did they pick me?” I was stressed, since I didn’t have much time, and didn’t know exactly how much time all the procedures in transit in Chicago would take.

In Monterrey, much the same happened to my colleague – she was picked randomly to be checked. How? It was simple: every passenger picking the green line (Nothing to declare) had to press a big button. Then someone (probably a computer) decided if you should get a green or a red light – if you got a red light, you were chosen for random check.

The difference is not so large, but for the passenger, it does feel better, and the people working there will be able to defend themselves against the charges of racial profiling and all such charges that are usually impossible to defend yourself against. (However, they should still be able to check people who they found particularly suspicious…)

Then we were to take a taxi to town. We went to a counter and was presented by a screen. The woman behind the counter told us that we could pick any taxi company we wanted – or press the big “random” button. We chose to press “random”, paid our taxi ride and went out to find the company. An altogether better solution than to have every single taxi company having their own counter in the arrivals area – and the alternative would have been that we had walked out of the airport and chosen a taxi at random outside.

So already on the first day: two nice ways to use randomness to solve problems.

(Written 4th of June 2008.)

(The blog posts from Mexico will be posted with a delay of 20 days. This is simply because it is not considered advisable to advertise to the world that you are staying away from your apartment for weeks…)

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