Weekly Roundup Friday 20 May 2011

Fasttrainb Good morning

Summer is making increasingly promising noises of its pending arrival on our doorstep any day now.  In my case it has resulted in needing to buy a new mower to replace my old petrol powered mower that sadly failed to revive after its winter hibernation.

I decided to save myself the ongoing maintenance hassles of a new gas mower, and considered getting an electric mower instead.  However, after measuring out the length of cord that would be needed, and contrasting that with the much shorter maximum recommended cord lengths, that seemed like an impractical solution (and the hassle of having the cord trailing out the back of the mower is not to be underestimated either).

And then a third solution appeared.  A battery powered mower.  Amazing – what will they think of next!  It has the freedom of range of a gas powered mower, and the reliability of an electric mower.  I bought one from Amazon accordingly.

Alas, I'm not sure it was the right choice.  The lead-acid type battery (same as a car battery, but slightly smaller) makes the mower very heavy, which is an issue on anything but flat firm ground.  And the battery only lasts about 30 minutes, with my lawn typically taking anywhere from 20 minutes (if the grass is short and dry) to 40+ minutes (if the grass is wet and/or long).  Because a recharge takes 12 hours, this can make mowing the lawn a two day process.

The battery provides only a low level of power and the blade quickly slows down when encountering heavier clumps of grass, and for some reason, the blade – although of course new – isn't cutting very cleanly which rather demands the lawn be mowed twice each time for the best result.

So, if you're about to get a new mower yourself, be careful if you are considering a battery powered mower.

Enough on that, this is not The Gardening Insider, although for sure a battery powered mower is an interesting gadget, which is always the sub-theme of this publication.

And talking about gadgets, there are two interesting gadget items for you in the rest of today's compendium.  The first is an update on the already excellent Netflix video streaming service – the quick executive summary being that in the three months since my earlier detailed review, it has improved on a number of fronts and is even more compelling now than it was then.

The second is a prediction that the until-now-unassailable supremacy of the Apple iPad may be finally about to meet its match, with a surprising new entrant into the tablet marketplace expected to shortly announce two Android-based tablets that may get closer to viably competing against the iPad than any previous tablet.  Read on down for the identity of the new competitor and why/how I think they might succeed.

So is there any pure travel content this week?  Gosh yes!  Pages and pages and pages of it (five to be precise).  I've published a new series on How to Drive in Britain, with advice ranging from how to park and where to find car parking, how to go through roundabouts, and what your chances are of getting speeding tickets.

This series may be of little interest if you're not planning on driving in Britain any time soon, but if/when you're next planning a trip that way, you'll find it invaluable.  And with roundabouts slowly starting to appear in the US too, maybe the page on how to drive through roundabouts might be of immediate relevance now.

This week may note the 100th anniversary of the birth of commercial aviation This article claims that 17 May 1911 saw the first fee paying passenger flown to a specific destination.

Other notable steps in the industry's development occurred with the first in-plane toilet, only a few years later (1913), the first meal (in 1919 which was not free but sold for 15p), the first air hostesses (with United – they had to be no older than 25 and no heavier than 115 lbs) and the first supersonic airplane in 1969 – and no, it wasn't the Concorde, but rather the ill-fated Russian copy, the Tu-144.

I wrote last week about How to Instantly Create Millions More American Jobs (the solution being to make it easier for would-be visitors to the US to get visas to come here).  That struck a nerve for many readers, who had their own stories of ridiculous visa refusals to people who wished to come spend money as tourists in the US, and this week saw further economic data on the massive impact of tourism on the US economy.

The US Commerce Department reports that the US took in $134.4 billion from foreign visitors in 2010.  With a best guess suggesting that foreign tourism could quickly increase 50% with a more welcoming visa issuing regime, this suggests there is at least another $67.2 billion just waiting to be earned from tourism.

Talking about billions, I also wrote admiringly of Emirates' record breaking $1.45 billion net profit in 2010.  They are not alone in bringing in an annual profit of over $1 billion.

 Singapore Airlines reported a $1.09 billion profit for the last year (up from $216 million the previous year) and Cathay Pacific almost tripled its previous year profit to a new high of $1.81 billion.  Amazing.

Or perhaps not so amazing.  If you've looked at the cost of airfares to Europe this summer, you'd clearly see where the profit is coming from.  Traveling across the Atlantic seems more expensive than ever before, and all the planes are full.

So you'd think this was a great reason for the airlines to add some more flights – a lovely combination of high fares and full planes would surely encourage at least one or two brave airlines to remember that their mission is to fly people on planes to far away places.

Well, actually, no.  Delta and its Skyteam partners Airfrance/KLM and Alitalia have announced plans to cut back their jointly operated trans-Atlantic flights by 7% – 9% starting from this fall.

The bulk of these reductions seem to be coming from Delta, which said it will cut its Atlantic flights by up to 12%.  Delta is also cutting back its Memphis hub with a 25% reduction in flights to/from Memphis, and overall, hopes to take 140 planes out of service over the next 18 months.  Presumably this is a 'gross' reduction of 140 planes, to be offset by new planes coming into their fleet.

Ooops.  Not that anyone is superstitious, oh no.  But United briefly revived its flight numbers 93 and 175 this week, only to receive complaints every which way due to these being the flight numbers of the two planes United lost on 9/11.  United apologized and is removing them from its schedule again.

Talking about lost flights, great news is emerging from France about the now recovered black boxes from the Air France A330 that crashed into the South Atlantic in June 2009.

Notwithstanding almost two years at massive depths, it seems the data on both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder is reasonably (or possibly even completely) intact, and experts are now working to match up the voice recording with the data events so as to be able to get a complete picture of what was happening to the plane and why.

There has been no official findings or statements yet, but reading between the lines of various comments made, and a happy statement from Airbus saying that no new modifications to its A330s are expected to be required based on the data so far analyzed, it increasingly seems that the key factors in the crash may relate more to pilot error than plane failure.

This and several earlier pieces by Australian aviation reporter Ben Sandilands seem to be the best coverage of the situation to date.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  I'll let reader Jim tell his story which definitely deserves its accolade as horror story of the week :

Dear David:  As usual an excellent newsletter.  I especially enjoy the "security issues" that are brought up.

A few weeks ago my wife was flying to Great Britain, out of Newark Airport to visit our daughter and her husband who live in London, and she encountered a problem with TSA who initially didn't want to let her clear security.

The young lady checking your id and boarding pass refused to let her go thru since her boarding pass (printed at home from Virgin Atlantic's website) said she was flying from "NEW YORK – NEWARK" not just Newark.  When my wife persisted in explaining that it was printed from VA's website the young lady demanded to see her return ticket.   My wife then had to explain that it was an electronic ticket and you don't get your boarding pass until you check in to return.

She was eventually allowed to continue, but it just goes to show the incompetency and lack of training and common sense that prevails with our government bureaucracies these days.

Talking about incompetency and the lack of training, there have been repeated cases where the courts have upheld, with no shadow of a doubt, that it is totally 100% legal to photograph, videotape, or in any other way record TSA operations at airports.  But that hasn't stopped the TSA and airport police from continuing to arrest people who do so, and concocting all manner of fanciful charges against them.

The latest example happened a week ago at Denver International Airport, where four people were arrested after a 'suspicious incident' – the suspicious incident being that one of the four was videotaping the other three as they stood in line to go through security.  The reason for the videotaping seems to be that two of the three had no ID on them and clearly they wished to see what would happen to them (the right to fly without ID is one that is often misunderstood by the TSA).

All four people were arrested on a charge of 'suspicion of interfering with a transportation facility'.

 I've not uncovered any follow-up as to what happened to the four people subsequent to their arrest.  Here's one of the better initial reports of the event.

Exciting news for rail fans in China.  The new high speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai is now in trial operation, and will be open to regular traffic at the end of June.

The 825 mile distance between the two cities will be covered in five hours, implying an average speed of 165 mph.  When I did the journey by regular express train in 2008, it took me 11 hours.

There will be 90 trains between the two cities each day, with most including a varying number of intermediary stops too.

Not quite such good news for Amtrak, alas.  On the positive side of the ledger, Amtrak's ridership has been steadily growing, with 18 months of consecutive increases, and last year had a total of 28.7 million passengers, more than any previous year.  Amtrak projects an even higher total passenger count for this year.  That is an excellent situation.

But – now for the negative side of the ledger.  Although ridership is increasing, so too are the railroad's losses.  Last year it suffered a $420 million operating loss.  This year it is expected to reach $506 million, and next year they are projecting a $616 million loss.

Maybe Amtrak should learn from the US airlines and shrink itself still further into oblivion profitability?

Talking about Amtrak, did you read about the woman who had to be removed from a train while traveling from Oakland CA up to Salem OR?  Although she was in a designated quiet carriage, she apparently talked, nonstop and loudly, on her cell phone for 16 hours (from 10pm, all through the night, until 2pm the next day), ignoring requests from passengers and train officials to stop.

Here's an article and even interesting video of her being removed from the train at a level crossing where the train made a special stop.  Her response?  She complained that she felt 'disrespected'.  Some people's self-centeredness and total lack of consideration can still astonish me.  She is one such person.

But the most surprising thing?  To my mind, it is the 16+ hour battery life of her cell phone!

On the other hand, perhaps this gentleman has the makings of a new business plan for Amtrak – maybe it should offer transportation for animals as well as people?

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

Davidsig265 David.


2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 20 May 2011”

  1. David – I’m not sure what brand of battery-powered mower you purchased. But I’ve had a Neuton (http://www.neutonpower.com/) for 3 seasons, beginning a 4th, and its battery gives me 45 – 60 minutes, although I am now noticing a difference with age (of the battery, not my own). Yes, lawn height and dampness affects mine also. But the blade is quite good – haven’t even sharpened it yet. The battery is somewhat heavy, but doesn’t make the mower hard to use, and it’s the only weighty thing about the machine. Sounds like it might be lighter than yours. I can definitely recommend Neuton.

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