Weekly Roundup Friday 29 June 2012

You don’t have to be Mr Spock to recognize the illogic of suspecting William Shatner (aka Capt Kirk) as a potential terrorist.

Good morning

It has been more a tech than a travel week, with the exciting release of Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet being announced on Wednesday.  One of the articles added to this weekly roundup is my first impression of the device; but if you simply want the bottom line, it is a great device at a great price and will utterly vanquish both the Kindle Fire and B&N Nook tablets, while perhaps not having a huge effect on the iPad.

As I ask rhetorically, why buy a less featured Kindle Fire for the same price as a Nexus 7?  The Kindle locks you into only Amazon’s eBooks, and limits the other things you can use it for; the Nexus 7 allows you to read Amazon’s books, B&N’s books, Google’s books – books galore, every which way, plus allows you to use the tablet for everything else you might want to do as well.

It was interesting to see Google settle on a 7″ diagonal screen.  Is there an ideal size for a tablet screen?  Well, I’m glad you asked that question, because also appended is an article all about size issues (to do with tablet screens, of course).

The third appended article talks about a piece of news that on the face of it looks great – Twitter will start quality controlling some of the messages that people can send so as to ‘curb hate speech’.  But as one who professionally lives or dies by the First Amendment, read my analysis and see if this move isn’t concealing some more disturbing trends.

Plus, we also have material below on the following topics; a lot of stuff altogether; maybe save some of it up for a nice lazy 4 July celebration next week.

  • Boeing Changes CEOs Unexpectedly
  • Airbus to Build A320s in Alabama?
  • Supersonic Jets – Nothing New Here
  • Microsoft the Biggest Winner of Android’s Expanding Sales
  • A Reason Not to Buy a Mac
  • Flight Attendant Taunts Passengers on Delayed Flight
  • TSA Scanners are Safe Study Author Recants
  • Captain Kirk Suspected of Terrorism – Drops His Trousers
  • TSA Screener Violates TSA Policy, Desecrates Dead Man’s Ashes, Laughs at Grandson
  • Illegal, Inappropriate, and Naughty, Yes.  But a Terroristic Threat?  Not in a Million Years
  • And Lastly This Week….

Boeing Changes CEOs Unexpectedly

Just a couple of weeks ago, Boeing was doing the rounds of airlines all around the world, setting up meetings for senior executives with their own senior executives to be held at the Farnborough Air Show, scheduled to start next weekend.  Their team was being lead by the CEO of their Commercial Airplanes Division, Jim Albaugh, and airlines were being invited to make appointments to meet with him.

On Tuesday this week it was announced that Albaugh would retire with effect from 1 October.  He is 62, so that wasn’t totally astonishing.  But it was also announced that he was stepping down immediately, with a new CEO taking over his duties without any delay whatsoever.

Everyone has been extremely tight-lipped about the matter, and Boeing isn’t commenting at all.  Albaugh’s official farewell note to Boeing staff reads as a very morose document, and offers no explanation for his sudden departure.

Albaugh held the top position for not quite three years, although he is a long-time (37 year) Boeing employee.  He was generally respected as a blunt straight-shooter, and on a couple of occasions he spoke somewhat frankly about the problems with the 787 program, which some people are saying he got back on stream.

On the other hand, Boeing’s new 737 MAX program remains snarled up even now with a final specification for the new plane not yet released, and (in my opinion) the entire program of delays and non-response to Airbus’ initiative was a terrible mess and unnecessarily regrettable.  Boeing of course disagrees with me on this, and no-one has been publicly roasted for the months and months of missed opportunities as between the Airbus launch of the A320 neo and the eventual semi-launch of the 737 MAX.

Albaugh was replaced with another long-time Boeing employee, Ray Conner.  Conner started as an engineer on the factory floor and has now worked his way up to the top position in the Commercial Airplanes Division.  Will he bring in a fresh approach to Boeing’s marketing and production?  Or more of the same?

Airbus to Build A320s in Alabama?

Boeing makes 737s in one location only (Seattle).  Airbus already makes its competing A320 in Toulouse, Hamburg and, more recently, in China too.

Rumors are now strongly indicating that Airbus’ earlier offer to open a US production line if it won the Air Force tanker contract will now become a reality, but not for the tankers (it didn’t win the contract) but for A320 planes instead.  As this article reports, Airbus is expected to shortly announce a production line in Mobile, Alabama.

It is interesting to see that an Alabama line would lower Airbus’ labor costs compared to its two European production lines.  I guess we should be appreciative they didn’t simply ramp up their Chinese production which surely must have the lowest production cost of all.

One thing that is not quite so clear is that this assembly line would be for only the final assembly of the planes.  The major substructures such as wings and fuselage would be made in Europe and shipped to AL to be bolted together.

This is an interesting reversal of the strategy Boeing attempted so spectacularly unsuccessfully with its 787 and some parts of its 747-8 programs.  In that case, Boeing had the major sub-assemblies made all around the world and shipped to the US for final assembly.

Supersonic Jets – Nothing New Here

Still on the topic of building planes, and if, like me, you miss the wonder-years of the Concorde and lament the unnecessary retirement of what was one of the most profitable parts of BA’s operation (see my careful analysis here), you are always interested in and hopeful about announcements of developing new supersonic planes.

Here’s a bit of a ’roundup’ article on several new developments currently underway.  I’ve seen it all before, maybe you have too; and in sad reality, for pretty much the entire almost 12 year history of The Travel Insider I’ve been regularly passing on links to articles talking about proposed new supersonic planes, always projected for 10 – 20 years in the future.

Still, the pictures look nice.  Here’s the link.

Microsoft the Biggest Winner of Android’s Expanding Sales

Last year, 400,000 new Android devices were being activated every day.  This year, it is now over 1 million Android new devices every day.

That’s good for the Android hardware manufacturers, and probably will be good for Google in the long run too – it gives away the Android OS, but benefits by having the phones mesh into its infrastructure for services and advertising delivery.

But did you know Android’s apparently arch-competitor – Microsoft with their newly announced Windows Phone 8, and their direct relationship with Nokia, and their announcement that they’ll start selling their own tablet devices too – also benefits almost every time an Android device is sold?

Microsoft has asserted that Android infringes on some of its software patents, and so has successfully persuaded most manufacturers to pay it a royalty fee on each copy of Android they load onto a device.  So manufacturers get the complete software for free from Google, then turn around and have to pay $10 – $15 to Microsoft for what some people would call nothing at all.  That’s a large chunk of the total cost of building a unit when you think they can sell for under $200.

We estimate that probably about two thirds of all Android devices involve a fee to Microsoft.  Do the sums, and that comes to about, oh, $3 billion this year in direct net profit to Microsoft, just for asserting a patent right on some obscure part of Android’s back end programming.

It seems clear that Microsoft is making enormously more money from passively taking in Android royalties than it can ever hope to make from selling Windows Phone 8 software.

Maybe Microsoft should abandon its go-nowhere strategy with its own phone/tablet OS and concentrate on helping Android’s sales to increase still further.  It might make more money that way.

A Reason Not to Buy a Mac

With dreary regularity, whenever I comment on the occasional challenges I have with my Windows based computer, some readers urge me to buy a Mac instead.

They’ve become quieter over the years.  The traditional leads that Mac computers once held in fields like graphics and desktop publishing have totally disappeared – indeed quite the opposite, these days it is common to see a new Windows version of these types of programs appear before the Mac version.

And now, this week, we learn of another reason to avoid owning and using a Mac.  Studies have proven that Mac users tend to earn more and spend more than Windows users, and so Orbitz has decided to take advantage of that by preferentially showing more expensive hotel options first to people visiting their website if they’re using a Mac.

It is spooky how much companies know about us these days – clearly much more than the TSA does, as I commented here.  The biggest source of their information is none other than ourselves.

For example, any time a company invites you to sign on with your Facebook login, what they are implying is ‘Please let us access everything that Facebook can tell us about you, your friends, your interests and activities’.  Would you go into a car dealership and first thing show the salesman your financial details, and tell him how much you wanted to buy his new car, which you are in a position to afford and drive off the lot right now?  No, of course not (unless you wanted to pay full sticker price).  You’d play cagey and coy, you’d act hard to get, and seek out the best set of incentives you can get.

Well, it is the same thing online these days, as shown by the Orbitz example.  If you don’t wish to allow a company access to this outpouring of personal data, insist they give you an alternate way to connect to their site and potentially buy products from them.

One final point.  This is not a new development.  Occasionally something slips up and there is a revelation that merchants are structuring their deals based on what they know of the people visiting their site.  They might reduce the price if you visit from a merchant shopping/comparison site.  If you come back after a couple of previous attempts they might sweeten the offer substantially.

And when you visit sites like, for example, Amazon, you’ve really no way of knowing if the discounted prices they claim to be offering are actually their best discounts, or merely the level of discount they think they need to offer you to buy their product.

When merchants talk about ‘customizing the shopping experience’ for each individual customer, you didn’t really think they meant that in a way that would work to your advantage, did you?

Flight Attendant Taunts Passengers on Delayed Flight

Passengers on an American Eagle flight were suffering a ‘flight from hell’ – and this was all before the plane ever got to take off.  A combination of problems, including the inexplicable determination that the plane was suddenly deemed by the pilot to have insufficient fuel to get to the destination (while waiting in line to take off) added up to many passing hours of delays.

After six and a half hours of delay, the flight was eventually cancelled completely.

Unsurprisingly, the passengers were getting restless, and it seems one of the flight attendants was taunting and goading them on, encouraging them to carry out illegal acts so he could sic the police on them.  The police were even called at one stage (but we believe no arrests made).

His piece de resistance was making an announcement over the PA that they were about to shut the boarding door, and if any passengers had the balls enough to do so, this was their last chance to leave, otherwise they’d be stuck with him for the duration of the flight.

The announcement was recorded on a passenger’s cell phone camcorder.  Go see the footage for yourself, and tell me if that flight attendant still deserves a job.  More details here as well.

Needless to say, American Eagle finds itself unable to make any sort of meaningful statement about the appalling incident.  Shame on them.  This is why flight attendants run amok – because they know they can.

Oh, American Eagle did have one comment to make.  They said the flight was delayed and then cancelled due to rain, and so therefore they weren’t liable for any passenger compensation.  A six and a half hour delay, all due to rain?

It is hard to know which side hates the other more vehemently.  Do the airlines and their customer facing staff hate their passengers the most?  Or do the passengers hate the airline and its staff more?  Either way, what a shame that it isn’t a mutual admiration and appreciation relationship, instead.

Interestingly, the flight attendant is a confirmed, albeit only semi-literate, passenger hater.  Some years ago he wrote to the FCC complaining that passengers weren’t paying enough attention to his announcements and pleading that passengers not be allowed to use cell phones while on board.

TSA Scanners are Safe Study Author Recants

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a new study purporting to show that TSA X-ray scanners are safe.  My point was that the study seemed to suggest quite the opposite, and I disagreed with the newspaper headline conclusions.

Now, in an interesting twist, the study’s principal author has written a letter to the LA Times (perhaps where she was first quoted) to say that she did not mean to imply the xray machines were safe.  She also politely points out her analysis seems to contradict some TSA claims – the TSA have said the radiation didn’t go beyond the skin, she is saying the radiation goes in further and into vital organs.

Here’s her letter which is polite but clear in its intent.

Captain Kirk Suspected of Terrorism – Drops His Trousers

Poor old William Shatner – or as many of us will always think of him, Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek series.  Others of us will think of him as the Priceline guy, or maybe TJ Hooker, or one of his many other long time starring roles on television.  No matter how people think of him, you’d think that no-one would think of him as a potential terrorist (surely that would be contrary to the Prime Directive!).

But while going through airport security at LAX on Thursday, he was singled out for secondary screening, and in the confusion, ummm, his trousers fell down.

Oh – did I mention that Shatner is, these days, 81.  I thought the TSA had triumphantly announced, only a couple of weeks ago, that it would go easy on the more elderly travelers.  Apparently ‘going easy’ is a relative term.

TSA Screener Violates TSA Policy, Desecrates Dead Man’s Ashes, Laughs at Grandson

Here’s a story that is so appallingly bad it is hard to know where to start or stop.  I’ll simply suggest you read the article about what happened, here.

Illegal, Inappropriate, and Naughty, Yes.  But a Terroristic Threat?  Not in a Million Years

This story would normally be well placed in our ‘And Lastly This Week…’ section – you need to read it to understand the humorous ridiculousness of an altercation between a 72 year old man and his neighbor.

The man was rightly arrested and charged with various crimes.  But, one of the crimes he was charged with is ‘Making Terroristic Threats’.  How can that be possible?  He had a tiny underpowered pistol and was in an altercation with one other man who had, it seems, deliberately provoked the confrontation.  Are such things now to be held as terroristic threats?  Is a six shot .32 caliber pistol now a ‘weapon of mass destruction’?

What’s next on the list of acts deemed to be terroristic threats?  Being late returning library books?  Read the story and weep for our country’s loss of common sense and proportion.

And Lastly This Week…..

We’ve the July 4 holiday just around the corner.  Unfortunately, it is on a Wednesday this year, so there’s a tangible level of temptation for some people to ‘throw a sickie’ and take another day or two off to extend the break.

Talking about sickies, there’s nothing worse than getting sick on vacation, is there?  It always seems like such a waste of time – to spend precious vacation time unwell.  But such is life, and most of us accept the random pricks of (mis)fortune and get on with our lives.

But most of us don’t live in Europe.  If you need another vivid example of the problems that Europe is beset with, and why it is cheaper for Airbus to assemble planes in the US than the EU, think about this recent European Court of Justice decision (the equivalent of our Supreme Court, sort of) that held workers are entitled to extra compensating vacation time if they get sick during their regular vacation days.

For once, however, the NY Times adds a brilliant bit of snark when it says, at the end of the article, that the new right doesn’t extend to the 25% of adult Spaniards who are unemployed.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, have a great 4 July with lots of fireworks, bunting, beer, and barbeque – and good health on your next vacation (unless you’re European).






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