Weekly Roundup Friday 1 June 2012

And the Winner Is? See our Reader Survey results, below.

Good morning

Last Friday saw a new record for the blog in terms of page views.  One of the items last week was linked to from The Economist, and that brought visitors flooding in.  Many thanks to the kind folks at The Economist for the generous attribution and link – links are the lifeblood of internet publications such as this.

Even though my computer was down for almost two days during the changeover of one hard drive for the next, I’ve amassed a bunch of great stuff this week, so be sure to read the other four articles appended to this compendium.

Alas – a late Thursday ps to my triumphant story of swapping hard drives – the underlying problem (which I’d never thought to be hard drive related) has now reappeared.  Two days of hassle, largely wasted.

Anyway, please read on for :

  • Reader Survey Results
  • United :  Southwest Made Us Cancel Flights from Houston to New Zealand
  • European Dinosaurs Play the Blame Game Too
  • Slowdown?  What Slowdown?
  • Blast From the Past :  Glamorous Airline Uniforms
  • Airbus to Offer Wider Seat Option
  • Might Your Plane Suddenly Plunge Uncontrollably Earthwards?
  • The Best iPhone Service Provider?  All of Them!
  • RIM RIP?  But Patents to the Rescue?
  • More on Hard Drive Backing Up and Recovery
  • The Benefit of Looking Like You’re Over 75
  • Lastly this week….

Reader Survey Results

Last week readers were asked their opinions about wearing t-shirts with slogans when flying.  This arose from a woman being turned away from a flight due to wearing a t-shirt with a strongly worded slogan on it (details in the link to last week’s newsletter).

So, did you think people should be allowed to fly, no matter what type of slogan their t-shirt might display, did you think that slogans were okay as long as they didn’t feature obscenities like the ‘f word’, did you think any controversial slogans should be banned, did you think anything capable of offending people at all should be banned, or did you go as far as to think people should not have anything on their clothing at all, other than, presumably, bland colors and gentle patterns?

In addition to the voting, we had a range of comments, most advocating the most permissive of approaches.  But reader Bob voted for both the most and least permissive responses.  I asked him which he meant, thinking one was a mistake, but he sent an interesting response back :

Well, I personally do not think that anyone, especially airline personnel, should be policing the First Amendment.  It is what it is and people should be allowed to express their opinions publicly if they choose.

But on the other hand, there are certain things that I, and many other people, find offensive, and I feel that people should be sensitive enough to the feelings of others to not deliberately go out of their way to offend them.  So, as you can see, I feel strongly about both answers.

Bottom line, don’t wear slogans on your clothing that are or could be offensive, but, if you feel you must, then I will just have to ignore you and your crassness.  Does this make sense?

Another reader wasn’t quite so ambiguous, asking for a more strongly worded version of the first option!

A couple of readers, including Bob above, referred to objecting to any infringement on their first amendment rights.  But – short lesson in civics follows – the first amendment refers to government actions only.  It does not restrict what private people and corporations can do in private places, and a plane is definitely a private (as opposed to public) place.  This is the First Amendment in full :

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment is widely misunderstood, and not only for the freedom of speech thing.  The further freedom of religion right referred to first has somehow been interpreted as prohibiting rather than condoning religious expression, although this interpretation curiously seems to apply only to expressions of the Christian faith.

Anyway, back to the topic, here are the results of the survey.  Thanks to all who responded.


United :  Southwest Made Us Cancel Flights from Houston to New Zealand

The dinosaur airlines are of course expert at blaming anything and everything except themselves for their ongoing shortcomings.  I suppose we should congratulate United for some ‘outside the box’ thinking when it blamed Southwest for its decision to cancel a long promised new nonstop service between Houston and Auckland, New Zealand.  It makes a change from blaming excessive taxes or too high jet fuel prices, or excessive labor overhead costs.

Now, some readers might at this point be thinking ‘Huh?  Southwest doesn’t fly to New Zealand, does it?’.  And you’d be correct in that thought.  Southwest does not fly anywhere within 5,000 miles of New Zealand, and has no apparent plans to do so.

So why is United blaming Southwest for a move that some of us had long expected – the cancellation of a service that was a legacy from the Continental part of the now merged airline?  Oh, their excuse revolves around Southwest being granted the right to fly additional flights from Hobby Airport in Houston to Mexico and/or Canada.  Apparently, if you are a United executive, this is sufficient as to destroy any opportunity to fly your flights from Houston International to Auckland, New Zealand.

Should we add that the new flight to New Zealand was due to start next year, while the new international terminal facility at Hobby isn’t even due to be constructed until 2015?

More details here.

European Dinosaurs Play the Blame Game Too

Ben Sandilands in Australia has an excellent piece contrasting the recently announced financial results for the world’s ultimate low cost carrier – Ryanair (the airline everyone loves to hate, but still flies on anyway, apparently) and the more hoity toity European dinosaurs – Air France/KLM, Iberia (now merged with BA) and Lufthansa.

Ryanair reported record profits (€543 million for the half year, due to a 12% increase in passengers and 24% increase in revenues).  The other three carriers, not nearly so good results.  Their explanation – the Eurozone meltdown and general economic decline.  Strangely, these issues – true as they may be in isolation – don’t seem to be affecting Ryanair, which continues to steal both passengers and profitability from the larger carriers.

Slowdown?  What Slowdown?

Although Air France/KLM, Iberia(BA) and Lufthansa might be worrying about the impacts of economic things, that’s not what their own airline association – IATA – says, at all.  According to just released IATA figures, overall air passenger numbers in April this year were a full 6.1% up on April last year, with this 6% rate of annual growth expected to continue or possibly even increase further in the months ahead.  And for Europe, there was an overall 5.9% increase in passenger traffic.

But, as far as the dinosaur airlines are concerned, their own poor results are definitely not their own fault.  It must be someone or someone else at fault, not themselves.

Blast From the Past :  Glamorous Airline Uniforms

Here’s a lovely photo essay from an Australian journal, with links to more extensive galleries of flight attendant uniforms over the decades – initially featuring Qantas, and with a chance to also go visit a portfolio of 1142 uniforms from 433 airlines as well.

Don’t blame me if your Friday morning passes more quickly than it should while reminiscing about ‘the good old days’ of airline travel.  I think there truly were some ‘good old days’ if you dig far enough back; certainly I have a few wonderful memories myself, of times when premium cabins were really quite over the top – not with sleeper beds or at seat videos, but with service, amenity kits, food and drink and a general feeling of luxurious exclusivity.

Airbus to Offer Wider Seat Option

Not quite as glamorous as the pictures of svelte airline hostesses of years past is the reality that we’re all, ahem, somewhat bigger these days.  Airbus has announced an interesting new seating option on its A320 series of single-aisle planes that cleverly takes advantage of the advantage these planes have over the very much older Boeing 737 series of planes – the A320s are 7 1/2 inches wider.

Typically A320 planes have seats that are about an inch wider than on 737 planes (18″ instead of 17″), with the other 1.5″ of extra width being used to make the aisle slightly wider, too.

Airbus is now suggesting airlines should change from having two rows of three identical seats on either side of the aisle (some airlines have the middle seat slightly larger than the two end seats due to there being no extra space for the middle passenger to spill over into) and instead have two ‘normal’ seats for the window and middle seat, and an extra-wide seat for the aisle seat.  They say if you reduce the two seats from 18″ down to 17″ and increase the aisle seat from 18″ to 20″, you still have the same overall width for the group of three seats, two of which are now reduced down to 737 type dimensions, but the third of which is massively much wider, and ideal for, ahem, people who are also much wider than can comfortably fit in a normal airline seat.

Airbus isn’t just doing this to offer a unique benefit which Boeing can’t match (although you know that has to be a huge factor).  It also points out that airlines could charge more for the aisle seat.  Charging as little as a $10 premium for the wide/aisle seat would bring in $500 extra on a typical A320 flight.  Multiply that by however many flights a day the plane operates, and the extra profit starts to become a huge amount more money for the airline, and perhaps even gives the airline happier customers too.

More details here.

Might Your Plane Suddenly Plunge Uncontrollably Earthwards?

The newly discovered Flame computer virus, busy infesting Iranian (and other Middle Eastern) computers, has been talked about quite a lot this week.  Coming not long after the earlier Stuxnet virus which also infested Iranian computers, it points to the ongoing vulnerability of computer controlled devices to viral attack.  In the case of the Stuxnet virus, the viral attack resulted in uranium separating centrifuges operated by computerized controllers being mis-managed to the point that not only was the uranium separation faulty, but the centrifuges destroyed themselves due to being given deliberately destructive commands.

This begs the question – if a computer bug can infect a uranium separating centrifuge in a super secret super secure facility somewhere deep below the ground in Iran, where else can they go?  A less well circulated article also came to light this week, exposing a ‘back door’ in a common computer control chip that is used in airplane control circuitry, both military planes and modern civil airplanes such as, for example, the new Boeing 787.

What if that controller became infected by a virus – something that is half way to happening already due to the presence of the obscured back door into the chip’s controlling logic?  Is it possible that modern passenger planes could be remotely controlled by a hacker halfway around the world, and made to plunge to their fiery deaths by a few keystrokes?  The answer appears to be yes.

Here’s an interesting article that speculates some more about airplane computer control vulnerabilities.  One thing is for sure, the TSA’s attempting to restrict the weapons of yesterday’s airplane hijackers – boxcutters – off today’s flights will in no way prevent tomorrow’s hackers from hijacking our planes by remote computer control.

More on Hard Drive Backing Up and Recovery

After last week writing about the ease with which hard drives can now be backed up, I finally completed the switchover from my old hard drive to my new one this week.  The good news :  I didn’t lose a single piece of data.

But, wait for the bad news.  Reloading the operating system, the necessary device drivers, the software, and then reconfiguring the software the way I wish it to be was an extraordinary lengthy and surely unnecessarily complex procedure.  I was doing this solidly for 12 hours on Tuesday, and more time on Wednesday, and still today (Thursday) continue to encounter new programs I need to configure before using for the first time, and so on and so on.

In particular, for a while I was stuck in a ridiculous loop where I would run Windows Update, download and install the updates, then, after having done that, run Windows Update again, to discover more updates, download and install them, then, repeat and find more updates, and so on – six times in a row before it stopped discovering more updates.  As much as I appreciate the updates, I have to wonder if there isn’t an easier way that this could be done all at once, rather than six times consecutively.

Yes, my data was backed up and readily copied back onto the new hard drive.  But the application programs and their settings?  Not at all.

There’s got to be a better way.  Currently there is a semi-solution, which is called ‘cloning’ your hard drive.  This makes an exact copy of absolutely everything on your hard drive, with the reasoning being that if you need to replace your hard drive, you can do so then just copy everything back to it, including all the installed programs, their configuration settings, and everything.

You might think this to be a great way of simplifying things.  Well, yes, in theory it is.  But in practice?  I don’t think so.

The thing is that over time you inevitably have problems creep into programs, and most of all, into your Windows registry file.  The last time I looked at my registry file, it had over 700 errors in it as a result of various programs not properly installing or uninstalling, operating system crashes, and so on.  The computer as a whole had a growing number of no longer needed applications that would automatically install upon startup and was just running slower and slower due to the accumulation of ‘mess’ that accumulates in a typical Windows system.

If you clone your disk, when you restore it, you are back to the same messy gunked up environment that you had before.

There are other ways that these things could be handled, perhaps utilizing a standardized set of configuration files in a standardized location for all programs, so that when you reinstall a program, it can immediately take its configuration and customization data from its configuration file and apply this information to itself, setting it back up the way it was for you before.

As I’ve said before after past similar events, the biggest impediment for many of us when considering upgrading our computer or our operating system is the hassle factor involved.  The computer industry as a whole – hardware and software, both – must be missing out on literally billions of dollars of exta revenue due to people being slow to upgrade.  With the incipient advent of Windows 8, I’m almost certain that I’ll not upgrade, because I don’t want to waste almost two frustrating days reinstalling everything on my computer again.

The Best iPhone Service Provider?  All of Them!

One of the reasons I started The Travel Insider, and in particular, adding some product reviews, was my intense dislike of typical ‘main stream media’ reviews which end up praising everything and criticising nothing.  Some of the larger publications that rely on advertising revenues even have editorial policies that require all products, no matter how bad, must get at least three out of five stars in a review.

Here’s a great example of such a review.  It starts off with an interesting promise – to answer its headline question ‘Which iPhone Carrier is the Best in Your City?’.  Those of us with, or considering, iPhones would sure love to know the answer to that question.

It’s conclusion?  AT&T is the winner, but Verizon is the best.  What?  You’ll need to read the review to see how the writer goes to great lengths to praise even-handedly both Verizon and AT&T, and even managed to find words of praise for the clear loser (Sprint).

RIM RIP?  But Patents to the Rescue?

Talking about iPhones, how about Blackberry?  Remember them – those slightly weird devices that slightly weird people had, way back before the iPhone?  Here’s an excellent article that all but lays flowers on RIM’s grave.  (RIM is the company that makes Blackberry phones.)

The most surprising part of the article is near the end.  It refers to how, in a single year, the value of RIM’s patents have massively increased in value from $1.8 billion to $3.3 billion.  This is, to put it mildly, counter-intuitive.  Patents generally last for either 14 or 20 years, and with RIM having been founded 28 years ago, it is reasonable to expect that its patents are a mix of older and newer patents; indeed, probably its more valuable patents are not ones developed in the last year or two, but some of its earlier patents.

So let’s say the average RIM patent is slightly more than halfway through its life.  That means that last year, sort of, its patents had, lets say, eight years of life, which equated to $1.8 billion in market value – in other words, $225 million per year..  This year, the seven years remaining should equate to $1.58 billion, but actually equates to $3.3 billion, a leap in value per remaining year all the way up to $471 million a year.

How can this be – especially as the fruits of the patents – the Blackberry phones – are failing colossally in the marketplace?  The answer, of course, is the new obsession with waging patent battles between companies, using them as weapons to prevent and penalize innovation, rather than as a device to encourage and reward innovation.

The Benefit of Looking Like You’re Over 75

The TSA has said it will now relax some of its screening requirements, some of the time, for people who look like they might be over the age of 75.

That’s the first ridiculous part of this new ‘gift’ to seniors.  Although they of course see our date of birth when identity checking our documents prior to our entry into the screening area, they’re not going to do something as sensible as stamp ‘Over 75’ on boarding pass or simply send these senior seniors to a special screening line.  Instead, at some murky ill-defined subsequent point, people who ‘look to be’ over the age of 75 will be told they don’t need to remove their shoes, belts or jackets prior to going through the X-ray machine or metal detector.

My guess :  You’ll be told you don’t need to remove your shoes or belt shortly after you’ve done so.

And what if you’re over 75 and not invited to enjoy this new service?  Or what if you’re under 75 and invited to participate?

Anyway, after the befuddlement of the selection process, it just gets worse.  What happens when a seriously and safely senior citizen hobbles through the X-ray machine with his/her jacket and belt on?  I’ll give you one guess, because that is all you need.

The same machine that sounds an alarm if you have as much as a handkerchief still in a pocket (and, reportedly, although I have no personal experience of this, they get upset about, ahem, women wearing ‘feminine hygiene products’ too) will of course sound an alarm upon detecting a belt and jacket on the person.

Which leads to one of two outcomes.  Either the person is then patted down – hardly a positive outcome of ‘relaxed screening’ or else they are told to go back, take off their jacket and belt, and go through again.  Which means it takes them twice as long to go through, and of course, in doing so, they delay everyone else as well.

After the tremendous ‘success’ of the TSA’s ruling last September that children under the age of 12 can keep their shoes on – a ruling that seems to have had no lessening in the number of regrettable incidents with TSA officers legally molesting children – you’ll excuse me if I see this new ruling as being another piece of nonsense rather than a solid change of direction.

Lastly this week……

We know that golf courses can be dangerous places.  Errant golf balls zip about the place in unexpected directions, landing anywhere and everywhere.  But here’s a story of something a bit larger than a golf ball that landed on a south Florida golf course.  Fore!

In the interests of providing you the comprehensive and unbiased coverage you expect on all topics, I should point out that residents of Mississauga (a suburb of Toronto) had a similar experience this week too.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels (and safe golfing too)







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