Weekly Roundup Friday 6 July 2012

Andy S Griffith, 1926 – 2012, RIP.

Wednesday saw our annual celebration of America and all that makes us so great and good.  This year the sum of America’s greatest and best was sadly diminished by the death of Andy Griffith, of a heart attack the previous day, in his home in NC at the age of 86.

Probably everyone reading this today has seen his eponymous television series, The Andy Griffith Show, running eight seasons from 1960 – 1968.  Many times people confuse an actor’s role with the reality of who the actor is ‘off camera’, but in the case of Andy, he was largely the same on and off camera.  While he never received any screen credit for it, he is generally accepted as the driving force behind the series.  He helped create the show in the first place, was involved in the characters and their developments, and participated in the development of every script.

I have a particular appreciation for this television series.  My seven year old daughter and I watched every one of the episodes of all eight seasons.  They are all full of life’s lessons, encourage good moral values, and provide examples of how to live one’s life honorably and well.  I’m sure Andy never intended them as a parenting aid to be used 50 years later in a world now tragically bereft of positive role models for children, but intentional or not, they have not only helped Anna to be a better girl but me to be a better father.  Thank you, Andy.  One fan put it a bit irreverently but nicely when he said “I don’t need to ask ‘What would Jesus do’; I simply ask ‘What would Andy do’.”

As an aside, or as an attempt to make the preceding more directly relevant, all eight seasons of The Andy Griffith Show are available on the wonderful Netflix streaming service (click link for my review of this).

When Anna and I finished watching this series, I wasn’t sure what to replace it with, so cast back even further, and we are now going through the six years (and 234 episodes) of Leave it to Beaver, something I’d never seen before, and which is also on Netflix streaming.

If you’d like to experience a bit of ‘Mayberry’, you might wish to visit Mount Airy, NC.  This small town, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the town Andy was born in, and it has donned the mantle of being Mayberry-like.  Nearby is Pilot Mountain – presumably the precursor to ‘Mount Pilot’.

There’s not a lot this week.  We can all take a bit of a break.  But we do have some things for you, including :

  • Reader Survey – How Much Would You Pay for Business Class Air Travel?
  • Updated Pages on London and Nearby Touring
  • Another Olympic Sized Disappointment
  • New Vegas Terminal Opens
  • Three Pieces on Plane Crashes
  • Philippine Immigration Officials Even Less Technically Adept Than Their Call Center Operators
  • New Nonsense from the TSA, Old Excuses
  • And Lastly This Week……

Reader Survey – How Much Would You Pay for Business Class Air Travel?

Here’s an article which advocates paying extra to fly ‘up front in the better seats’ – whatever that actually means these days.  The writer quotes a Travel Insider reader, Bill Catlette, as advocating the good sense in paying more for business class, suggesting business travelers use the oft cited justification :

Make the point that, look, if I’m jammed back in seat 32E, I’m not going to be working on your stuff, and given the opportunity to work, I’d rather be working. And if it’s a couple of hundred bucks more to give me hours of concentrated work time on a flight, that makes sense.

The other big justification, particularly for long haul and overnight flights is ‘I arrive at the destination rested, refreshed, and ready to become instantly productive rather than needing a day of downtime to recover’.

But for the purpose of this survey, let’s focus on domestic flights of no more than six hours duration, and please imagine yourself not just as a possible beneficiary of being authorized to upgrade, but also as somehow incurring some cost consequences as well.  It is obvious what they’d be if you are a business owner, if you’re a manager of someone else’s business maybe it comes out of a budget that you already have over-allocated for other essential activities.

Let’s also define ‘business class’ as being limited to a roomier seat that reclines more and with a more generous seat pitch – the typical sort of domestic first class seat that are 2 + 2 across on narrow-body planes.  It includes free drinks and food, and lets you board early, but for the purpose of this analysis, let’s not consider anything else like extra free luggage allowance or whatever.

So, the question is, if you are traveling on business, how much extra per hour of flying time do you think it makes good business sense to pay for the extra benefits, such as they are, of this ‘business’ type class experience.

I wouldn’t pay anything more at all

Less than $25 per hour of flight (eg less than $75 on a three hour flight, twice as much for a return ticket)

$25 – $50 per hour of flight (eg $75 – $150 on a three hour flight, twice as much for a return ticket)

$50 – $75 per hour of flight (eg $150 – $225 on a three hour flight, twice as much for a return ticket)

$75 – $100 per hour of flight (eg $225 – $300 on a three hour flight, twice as much for a return ticket)

More than $100 per hour of flight (eg $300+ on a three hour flight, twice as much for a return ticket)

Thank you for sharing your opinions; I’ll provide the results next week.

Updated Pages on London and Nearby Touring

I spent a bit of time this week updating some pages on the site that desperately needed updating – a page on the London Pass (a great value way to visit attractions in London) and a page on day touring out of London by train.

The London Pass page simply required adjustments to the cost of the pass and the calculated savings – everything had unsurprisingly gone up a bit (including the savings) in the last three years.

If you’re visiting London any time and wanting to spend a day or two (or three or more) doing the main touristy sorts of things, the London Pass can be a great way to save on the admission fees.

There were astonishing changes though on the Day Tours from London by Train page.  First, I was very surprised to see how much Britrail passes have increased in the last five years – particularly because the UK exchange rate has weakened from when I last did the conversions (it was almost 2:1) to at present, where it is about 1.6:1.  So not only are we paying more in US dollars, but the exchange rate has added another 20% increase to the UK cost of these passes, too.

So, when I went through specific train fares for roundtrips from London to various popular out-of-London places, I was expecting to see fairly draconian increases in the prices to match the increases in pass prices.

But – get this – as often as not, the cost of the fare had dropped as had increased over the last five years (this is in underlying UK pounds, so it is not an exchange rate issue but a true reduction in local currency cost).  Sure, some prices had increased, and some had stayed the same, but what astonished me were the fares that dropped.

The Brits love to complain about the cost of their rail travel, and about the trains themselves, whereas to us in the US, stuck with only Amtrak, the trains seem unbelievably good, and to see rail fares that have dropped over a five year period rather than increased is beyond extraordinary.

Don’t you like the thought of living in a country where many trips can be made, to most other places, more quickly and easily and comfortably by train than by plane?

If you’re planning on visiting Britain, I do commend the concept of basing yourself in London and simply taking day tours by train to places outside of London.  So much of England is less than two easy comfortable quick hours by train from London, and most places have multiple trains every hour, so you’re never late for a train, just early for the next one.

Another Olympic Sized Disappointment

Talking about London, it is now exactly three weeks until the start of the 2012 Olympic Games, being held in London starting on 27 July.

As invariably happens, the earlier hype is now being replaced by reality, most notably this week by major tour operator Thomas Cook desperately trying to discount and remainder off way too many unsold Olympic packages.

The company slashed the price on many of its packages with discounts of up to 50%.  The company is expected to lose as much as $16 million due to having contracted with hotels and other suppliers at high costs and how having to sell the packages on at a loss (or, worse still, having them sit entirely unsold)

If you have any sense, you’ll stay well away from London and Britain in general during the Olympic Period.

Over the last few months, Britain has been having strange and increasing difficulties at processing arriving passengers, particularly at Heathrow, where just last Friday the latest outrage saw lines half a mile long and waits of 2.5 hours to get processed through Immigration.

The biggest outrage of this is that, when finally nearing the front of the line after 2.5 hours waiting, passengers noticed that two out of every three immigration desks were empty, unmanned!

Delays are expected to be even worse when the crush of Olympics bound visitors start arriving.  Smart travelers will fly to Paris or Brussels and then take Eurostar to London.  With a journey time of less than two hours from Brussels or only two hours 15 minutes from Paris, that’s less than the time passengers will spend waiting to go through Immigration at Heathrow.

And the greedy British unions are putting the screws on.  They are demanding a special Olympic bonus, just because the Olympics are being held in London.  While it doesn’t really make much difference to bus or train drivers – you would think – they are striking over a demand for £500 ($800) after tax bonuses to recognize they will be doing ‘extra work’ during the Olympic period.

They already stand to get paid for every minute they work, including overtime as applicable, but feel there is a need for an extra $800 sweetener.  After tax, of course.

New Vegas Terminal Opens

The new Terminal 3 at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport is now open for business.  Bravely approved in 2008 – not exactly a time of bullish growth – the terminal project cost $2.4 billion, and was completed on time and on budget.

The terminal, feeding to new ‘E’ gates, will expand the international arrival processing capabilities of the Customs/Immigration area from 800 up to 2000 passengers an hour, adds extra gates and also another car parking building.  It has 14 gates and 14 luggage carousels, which means that, in terms of dollars per gate, the project overall cost can be represented in terms of $171 million per gate added.  Or, if you prefer, it has 1.9 million square feet of space, a cost of $1265 per square foot.

One thing it doesn’t have is a gate or carousel number 13.

Heathrow (and LHR bound passengers), look at this expansion and eat your heart out.

Terminal 2 will now be closed.  Twenty three different airlines will move from either T1 or T2 to the new T3.  But others, including AA, DL, US and WN will stay in Terminal 1.

Three Pieces on Plane Crashes

To no-one’s great surprise, the formal final report of the French safety agency into the Air France crash over the Atlantic (AF447 from Rio to Paris in June 2009) has now been released, with its primary finding being that pilot error was the primary cause of the crash.  The report said, among many other things, that the pilots demonstrated ‘a profound loss of understanding’ about what was happening and what to do.

Here’s a technical discussion on the matter and here’s a less technical explanation.

But there’s one contributing factor not mentioned in either article.  In a ‘normal’ two pilot cockpit, the flight controls – ie rudders and control column – are duplicated and linked together and move in unison.  If one pilot turns the control column in front of him to the left, the control column in front of the other pilot moves exactly the same.  This means that both pilots can see and sense and feel what the other pilot is doing, and understand how the control surfaces on the plane have been configured.

But in the Airbus, the plane is flown by computer game type joysticks, and they don’t move in unison.  The pilot on the left can’t immediately sense or feel what the pilot is doing on the right.

In the case of the Air France crash, some people have suggested that the crazy counter-intuitive control movements that the pilot flying the plane carried out were not appreciated by the other two pilots in the cockpit, who may have simply assumed that the pilot flying was acting rationally in response to the plane’s apparent control needs.  It has been said – mainly by pilot apologists – that a large part of the crash is therefore Airbus’ fault, because surely if either of the other two pilots had realized the crazy stick back commands being sent by the pilot flying, they would have realized the problem and acted to resolve it.

Indeed, apparently at one point, and clearly demonstrating the lack of cockpit coordination, one of the two pilots had pushed his joystick fully forward at the same time the other pilot had his joystick pulled fully back.

These are valid points, but the main cause remains bad piloting and bad pilot supervision and support.  As the report also points out, while it appears there was a surprising lack of training given to the pilots on how to recover from what is actually the most basic aerodynamic problem a pilot ever encounters (a stall), there are also lots of occasions when other Air France pilots have succeeded in resolving similar situations.

Everyone was killed on AF447 – unsurprising when you consider the speed at which the jet slammed into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  But here’s an interesting set of pictures and information about a crash in which no-one was killed, and when you see the destruction caused by the crashing plane, you have to wonder how on earth there wasn’t a sizeable body count.

Rounding out this triptych of air disaster stories, an abiding mystery may be getting closer to a solution, with this new expedition believing it will find what happened to Amelia Earhart and her last flight on which she simply vanished.

Philippine Immigration Officials Even Less Technically Adept Than Their Call Center Operators

One of the more stupid requirements of any country’s immigration service used to be a requirement to show your ongoing ticket out of their country again as ‘proof’ that you’re not going to illegally overstay.  These days, with eTickets, no-one has hard-copies of tickets; we don’t need them for anything.  I’m occasionally asked, particularly by the Rent-a-cops who masquerade as ‘security screeners’ at foreign airports when flying back to the US, to see a copy of my ticket.  I refuse, inviting them to go look at the reservation on any of the adjacent checkin counter screens, and pointing out to them that these days tickets aren’t printed out any more.  They always look a bit embarrassed and change the subject.

More sophisticated national security forces don’t need to ask you for any of your ticket details, because they have already accessed all your details directly from the airline computer.  So there shouldn’t be any need to see a copy of your flight arrangements or ‘eTicket’ or whatever it is these days.

Unless, of course, you’re going to that nation sadly mired in squalor, poverty, unemployment, corruption, and call centers – I refer to The Republic of The Philippines.

Apparently the Philippine immigration authorities are worried that people from the affluent west might for some extraordinary reason want to overstay when visiting a country that frankly is notable more for the lack of tourist attractions than for their presence, and so now they are requiring that arriving visitors must be able to produce a hard copy printed eTicket for their flights on out of the country.  And, just to confirm that they are thoroughly stuck in the previous century, they refuse to accept electronic images of your ongoing tickets.

With a level of idiocy that our own border patrol people will struggle to achieve, the Philippine authorities have now announced they will not accept the sighting of a pdf image or an email message on your laptop or tablet or phone screen.  But if you had printed it out prior to flying, then it apparently has the force of law, and you’ll be welcomed in to their country with a friendly smile.

Oh – in fairness, the last few Filipino support support staff I’ve spoken to about my Dell laptop have all been pleasingly competent and helpful.  I might suggest to the next one that he go work for their Immigration Department.

New Nonsense from the TSA, Old Excuses

The TSA moronically said

TSA employees have many layers of security throughout airports. Passengers may be randomly selected for additional screening measures at the checkpoint or in the gate at any time

They of course love to trot this statement out any time they are confronted with inconsistencies or foolishnesses on their part.  Just like the airlines blame everything on jet fuel costs, the TSA excuses all illogic by their ‘many layers of security’.

If you’d like a good laugh, go have a look at their brightly colored 20 different layers of security.  Perhaps indicating their own confused state, they show us – passengers – as a layer of security.  I thought we were the suspects, the ‘enemy’.

On this occasion, the response was triggered by the question ‘Why are you forcing passengers to open containers of liquids that they’ve bought inside the secure part of the terminal before you’ll let them continue down the jetway and onto the plane?’

It is a good question, for sure.  But I’m not sure they provided a very good answer.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week……

Have you made your summer plans yet?  Are you going somewhere fun and special and different?  Checking something off your bucket list?  Or having a quiet summer at home and conserving the cash flow?

If you’re looking around for vacation ideas, may we suggest a couple?  Maybe you’d like to drive a tank, and if you do, you might choose to pay the extra fee so you can drive the tank over the top of a car and crush it.

If that appeals, then you’re sure to also like the sound of this new resort, offering a particular type of experience to a currently under-served demographic.

And now, really lastly this week, wherever you might be flying, let’s hope you don’t encounter these two flight attendants.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






4 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 6 July 2012”

  1. > Many times people confuse an actor’s role with the reality of who the actor
    > is ‘off camera’, but in the case of Andy, he was largely the same on and off camera.

    Very nice tribute to a great actor but please don’t confuse him with “Sheriff Andy”. Griffith admitted in interviews that his real personality was a composite that included his character he played in the movie “A face in the crowd” (1957). He also named his agent as a factor in his success.


    1. Hi

      Just two comments in reply, and I do agree that Griffith several times said he was a more complex character than that portrayed in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’.

      First, if he truly was like Sheriff Andy, he would be modest and self deprecating, and this is exactly the sort of thing a modest and self deprecating person would say.

      Second, all actors hate being stereotyped, and always proclaim themselves to be individuals imbued with a full panoply of personal characteristics and with the ability to portray all types of people in movies/tv shows.

      And, for a bonus third point, of course the Sheriff Andy character is lacking in full depth. That is probably true of just about any television character (or perhaps better to say caricature). But that’s not to deny the rich river of decency that courses through the character, and also, I suggest, the man. The last perfect person to walk the earth did so 2000 years ago, and was crucified for his perfection!

      Here’s another good obituary which talks about his role and his character : http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/07/03/andy-griffith

      and I think this note by Ron Howard also seems to confirm his general greatness of character

  2. Being more complex than “Sheriff Andy” does not diminish Griffith’s accomplishments. Thanks for a nice tribute.


  3. Hi David,

    I was cleaning out the e-mail and reread your piece on Andy Griffith.

    I saw something about Andy Griffith, written by former Senator and part-time actor Fred Thompson, who was also commenting on the death of Ernest Borgnine.

    You’re right that Andy Griffith and Andy Taylor were pretty much one and the same. Thompson came to a similar conclusion, although Andy Griffith was a bit more introverted that Andy Taylor.

    But I saw Andy Griffith on a talk show about 10 years ago. He had won a Grammy for a CD of old country hymns. He made an interesting observation. He had done every TV, Broadway, and movie role with the idea of working to make each performance as good as possible, with the hopes of getting good reviews and some awards.

    On the other hand, he had done the CD purely for fun, with no interest in trying to garner good reviews and awards. The nomination was a surprise, and winning the Grammy was a total shock.

    He said that he came to a conclusion. If had done all of his performances for fun, rather than trying to get fame and acclaim, there might be some other awards sitting next to the Grammy in his house.

    That sounds like something Andy would have told Opie, after revising a paper so many times that it would up getting a B from Miss Crump, rather than an A.



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