R. Fink | The Packet Rat: At Disney, getting a line on supply and demand

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

Facing a potentially stressful holiday with extended family'and the uncertainty of whatever technological fiascoes the new year has in store'the Rat and his spouse did what any reasonable people would: They packed up the family roadster, threw the kids in the car and hurtled southward on I-95, notifying kin that they would be spending the holiday at Disney World.

'It'll give me a chance to check out all the cool new biometrics they're using, and some of the other technology we could use in our homeland security applications,' the whiskered one explained to his boss as he surreptitiously sent in his leave request from a WiFi hot spot at a truck stop somewhere in South Carolina.

Disney has turned to biometrics to eliminate the gray market in park tickets, and the revenue the company lost to it. When park guests enter, they run their tickets through a turnstile and get their pointer fingers scanned, linking them permanently to the tickets'much to the dismay of the ticket-scalpers who had been doing a brisk trade in discounted fragments of 'park hopper' passes.

'Of course, at these prices,' said the Rat, 'it's just a matter of time before someone starts selling their digits with their tickets.'

After paying for parking and a monorail ride, and getting scanned at the gate, the Rat and brood marched into the park. The cyberrodent had plenty of time to reflect on the coming year as he stood in line to get a 'FastPass' for Space Mountain (so he could avoid standing in the even longer 'standby' line). Apparently, the Rat family wasn't the only nuclear-family unit dodging interaction with its extensions.

'If we could get people to pay to wait, we'd never have a budget shortfall again,' the Rat mused as he finally fed his family's tickets into the FastPass machine to get a reserved spot ... in four hours. 'Well, looks like we have some time to kill in other lines now.'

Disney isn't the only company that knows the value of creating a line. Nintendo and Sony both have stoked demand even higher for their Wii and PlayStation 3 consoles by limiting their distribution in advance of the holiday season while they ramp up manufacturing.

'Maybe Microsoft should try the same thing with Vista,' the whiskered one told his wife with a smirk. 'If people see people standing in line for Windows upgrades, they might actually think there's a reason to get in line.'

'I think the State Department and DHS are doing that with tourist visas,' Mrs. Rat shot back. 'Maybe they should try the FastPass system.'

'Well, the ticket system might be cheaper than radio frequency identification passports,' the wirebiter replied. 'And maybe more secure.'

The Rat looked around at the relative tranquility of the waiting throngs.
'Maybe we should just outsource homeland security to Disney.'

His wife bit her tongue, resisting the urge to make Mickey Mouse allusions.

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