Weekly Roundup Friday 10 August 2012

Released last weekend, this purports to be a new picture of the Loch Ness Monster.

Good morning

I write this to you in a state of bemused shock, even though the event that triggered this occurred two days ago.

My not quite eight year old daughter nonchalantly showed me how to do something on the iPad that I didn’t previously know, myself (but had often wished I could do).  How long before I can pass the editorial torch to her and retire, I wonder?

And talking about passing the torch, do we have time for another weekly commentary on the Olympics?  They are, of course, about to reach their epic conclusion this weekend, so this may be my last commentary for almost four years.  I should preface my comments with the gracious concession that the television coverage has been impressively excellent, as has many of the feats of human physical ability.  But is this the best and only way to showcase such things?

It seems this time the event has been marked with more dysfunctional political correctness than any previous time.

The Olympic ‘Police’ continue to assert themselves inappropriately, even banning people from bringing their own sandwiches to free outdoor concerts.  This article refers to that, and also makes mention of a limit on the type of cameras and lenses people can take into Olympic events.

The big scandal for the Olympic (sex) Police is the presence of non-approved condoms in the Olympic village.  There is an official (and abundant) supply of condoms, but apparently some scurrilous person or persons unknown has slipped in some unofficial ones too.  The mind boggles at how this particular bit of branding enforcement is carried out.

Amazingly, and notwithstanding the disruptions and disappointments, the Mayor of London says he wants to host the Olympics again.  Although Mayor Boris Johnson says he has no aspirations to higher political office, it seems the Olympics have probably boosted his public standing in the country as a whole, and within the Conservative Party.  Although the Conservatives are the senior partner in Britain’s unusual coalition government, they are taking a drubbing in the opinion polls, and current leader and Prime Minister David Cameron could be considered vulnerable, and for sure if he loses the next election (which, if held tomorrow, would be a certain loss) then Boris’ chances of getting the leadership would be perceptible.  Methinks he doth protest too much about his current lack of interest in the position.

Of course, London is unlikely to get a chance at hosting again for many decades, so the reality of his claim of wanting to host them again is unlikely to be tested.  Many other countries have to be given a turn in politically correct rotation first, with the next city/country to seize the (poisoned) chalice being Rio de Janiero in Brazil.

Not everyone in London is keen to see the Olympics return.  Here’s an interesting alternate view on the impact of the Olympics on the local residents, exposing another part of the generic Olmpic lie (the claimed benefits for the local residents).

There’s not as much content this week as normal, although I’ve added one feature article which follows this roundup, looking at US Airways’ startling claim that if it merged with AA, that would make the airline industry more competitive.  You might think the opposite to be true, and I do too.  Read my analysis to see why.

I’ve been more than full time focused on the upcoming North Korean tour for the last week, indeed Thursday alone I originated 140 emails to do with the tour, most of which required some thought and research into past email chains prior to sending/replying.  But there are a few things following to make it worth your while to read on in the newsletter…..

  • An Illegal Airline Fee?  Lawsuit Claims So.
  • Future Trend – No More Free Food on International Flights?
  • Future Trend – Self-Entry Terminals at Airport Lounges?
  • New Luggage Service from AA
  • Corporate Lies Part 1 – Qantas
  • Corporate Lies Part 2 – Rogers Wireless in Canada
  • Who is Most at Risk from Airport X-Ray Scanner Radiation?
  • The Loch Ness Monster Lives?
  • And Lastly This Week…..

An Illegal Airline Fee?  Lawsuit Claims So.

Okay, so there are very few airline fees that we like, but are any of them actually illegal?  A lawsuit now seeking to be certified for class-action status believes that Spirit’s ‘Passenger Usage Fee’ is deceptive and illegal.

Spirit’s ‘Passenger Usage Fee’, according to the suit, is ‘fraudulent, deceptive and unconscionable’.

It is also close to unavoidable, something that is, in general, not permissible.  Sure, you could go to the airport and buy a ticket there, and avoid the fee, but for most of us, a trip to the airport takes an hour or more of travel, some dollars of gas and more dollars of parking – it costs as much or more than the fee we’d save.

Here’s an interesting article setting out more about the case.  We wish the plaintiffs well.

Future Trend – No More Free Food on International Flights?

You just know that the airlines are very keen to start selling food on their long-haul international flights.  Not only would it save them the cost of the food currently provided (not that the meals cost much), but with the longer flights, they have more of a captive market and are likely to sell more food.

US Airways is taking a clever approach to evolving its international food offerings, perhaps with an eye to having them no longer included in the base ticket price a little bit into the future.  They are introducing some premium food items which you can buy alongside regular food items offered for free – and making it a slam dunk for the airline, you have to order them at least a day prior to the flight (meaning no wastage at all for the airline – every meal it orders has been presold).

This is of course a classic first step; the next step is to increase the for sale food and decrease the free food, then to steadily make the free food even worse than it currently is, and then, all of a sudden, the free food vanishes entirely, with the airline saying ‘Our passengers have told us they want to buy food from us, rather than eat free food’.

It will be presented to us as a new customer service enhancement, and none of the tame industry commentators will dare mention that perhaps the airline could have simply offered the better food as part of its standard inclusion.

Details on this, here.

Future Trend – Self-Entry Terminals at Airport Lounges?

What is the best feature of many airport lounges?

Nope, it isn’t the food, and neither is it the drink.  Forget about the seating, or the television screens, or magazines.  It is the staff – the airline staff behind the desks – usually senior experienced people who know how to work the system, and who are respectful, cooperative and helpful with lounge members who need flights changed, seats allocated, or whatever else.

Sure, these staff often do double duty as entry-way police as well, guarding who comes into the lounge, which is a task any entry level person could do.  Heck, it could even be done by a computer.

Ooops.  I shouldn’t have said that.  Because, down in Australia, Virgin Australia is installing automatic access control systems in its lounges, which will mean fewer staff on duty in the lounges, which will inevitably mean less access to skilled help when we need it the most.  The airlines are discovering a new way to cut back on staff – for our convenience, as this article suggests, but of course, ultimately it will not be for our convenience at all.

New Luggage Service from AA

Here’s an interesting new service being introduced by American Airlines at 200 airports in the US.  If you check a bag, you can now pay an extra fee and have it delivered to your choice of addresses when you and your bags arrive at your destination.

So you just waltz off the flight and do whatever you wish to do, while AA’s partner service provider, BAGS VIP Luggage Delivery collects your bags from the carousel and drives them up to 40 miles from the airport, for a cost of $30 for one bag, $40 for two, or $50 for three to ten bags.  If the requested delivery address is more than 40 miles, the cost goes up by $1 for each extra mile.

This could be useful for a businessman or vacationer who arrives somewhere early in the day and doesn’t want to be encumbered with luggage during their day’s activities (either for convenience, professional, or security reasons).  More details here.

Well done to American for coming up with an interesting new service, and a not outrageous price associated with it.

Corporate Lies Part 1 – Qantas

I wrote last week about a Qantas customer who claimed (and complained) that he had to wait 15 hours on hold to get through to a person at Qantas in a desperate effort to fix a Qantas computer messup on his booking.

Qantas disputed the claim, saying according to their call records, the average wait time over the 15 hour period was under one minute, and the longest wait time was 17 minutes.

Now, we’ve probably all been guilty of occasionally exaggerating how long we wait on hold, and frankly it is very hard to believe anyone would wait on hold for 15 hours.  Besides which, Qantas is a reputable airline, right (or is that an oxymoron?).

Normally, the matter would rest in an uneasy state of ambiguity, with most people tending to accept the guy had to wait on hold, but not for anything like 15 hours.

But.  And it is a delightful but.  The guy made the call from his cell phone, and so he released to the Australian press a copy of his cell phone call records, which confirmed his claim, showing a 15 hour 39 minute phone call to Qantas’ phone number (and also revealeing a $769 cost for the minutes used!).  Details and an image of his bill here.

We await Qantas’ abject apology and explanation.

Corporate Lies Part 2 – Rogers Wireless in Canada

With the political season heating up, we’re being besieged by half truths, distortions and lies any time we interact with any media.  Indeed, these days opinion surveys show a weary acceptance by much of the public, who now expect much of what politicians say (and not just when running for re-election) to be lies and/or nonsense.

But surely, for most of us, there still should be some moralistic twinge of concern when companies flat out lie, and there are laws to do with slander and libel when companies say untruthful bad things about each other so as to harm their competitor and benefit themselves.  We may have given up on our venal politicians, but can’t we hope for better from our corporations?

Here’s an amazing article which describes how Rogers Wireless in Canada claims that the principle of free speech gives it the right to tell lies about its competing wireless companies.

The company has brought an action in the Ontario Superior Court seeking to overturn a federal law requiring companies to actually test products before making claims about their performance.  It is motivated to do so after having been stung with a $10 million fine for telling lies about a competitor.

We await the outcome of the case with interest, but not much hope.

Who is Most at Risk from Airport X-Ray Scanner Radiation?

Here’s a great article that integrates several different threads relating to the danger of airport X-ray scanners – you know, the things we have to stand in front of and be X-rayed by, the devices which can’t find artfully concealed explosives but which do irradiate us each time we go through them (see many earlier stories on this topic for more).

Among other things, the article points out that similar radiation generating machines in hospitals are usually tested on a daily basis.  The airport scanners – which are probably in use for more hours every day, and which expose hundreds more people every day to radiation, are tested once a year.

They are electro-mechanical devices, and as you doubtless well know, any sophisticated device with moving parts is susceptible to occasional glitches and problems.  In the case of an airport X-ray scanner, a ‘glitch’ or ‘problem’ could cause damaging doses of X-rays to be concentrated in one part of our body rather than spread evenly all over.

And to answer the question posed at the start of this section, the most at risk people are – hmmm – the TSA staff who have to work around the machines all day every day.

So there’s a bit of poetic justice.  Although, sadly, the people at the front line – the ones who smugly parrot claims of how safe the machines are, even though they have no personal comprehension of even what an X-ray is or how the machines operate, are not the people who have established the policies they follow.

An unrelated X-ray risk :  Falling asleep on the conveyer belt that feeds luggage into the luggage Xray scanner.

The Loch Ness Monster Lives?

I’d love to believe the story recounted in this article (and largely repeated here with better photos) in which a Loch Ness cruise operator claims to have taken a photo of the monster (shown at the top of the newsletter and in the articles.

I do indeed believe there may have been an unexplained creature in the loch in the past.  But, much as I want to believe, I can’t believe for an instant that this picture is real.  Some of the more intelligent reader comments at the end of both articles touch on some of the weaknesses of the photographer’s story, which include thoughts such as

  • Why did he only take one picture although he claims to have seen the monster for 5 – 10 minutes?
  • Although a ‘professional’ Nessie searcher, all he had on his boat was a pocket digital camera?
  • Why no video?  Even a pocket digital camera can take video these days.
  • Why did it take from November (when he claims he saw the monster) until now to release the photo?
  • What is the point of allegedly having the photo validated by nameless experts if he refuses to disclose who they are?
  • Was there no-one else on the boat at the same time who would have also seen it?
  • Could he not have telephoned back to his base, or to anyone else, and had them go look and see the monster too?
  • The angles and perspective in the photo feel wrong.
  • The color composition in the monster is at odds with the color composition in the rest of the photo.

So we’ll put this one down to a colossal fake.  Alas.

And Lastly This Week…..

Las Vegas – that city of extravagances and excesses – has announced a new buffet – the largest ever, with 524 different menu items on offer, at Caesar’s Palace.  Tempt yourself with the details here.

But, wait!  Don’t eat too much at the buffet, or else you might forfeit an opportunity on a new website to travel the world for free.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, whether they be for free or not






3 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 10 August 2012”

  1. David– Having gone through a bunch of Laptop drives (last one in Prague), I’m switching to SSD. Yes, it’s more expensive and lower capacity, but the MTBF is significantly lower and they are much higher performing. Combine that with the Passport and you’ve got a great solution.

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