Aug 162012
 

Here I am, being given lessons in how to use my iPad, by my not quite 8 yr old daughter.

Good morning

A somewhat shorter newsletter this week, due to a second hard drive failure in my computer in almost as many months – this is discussed further in the newsletter itself.

I lack both the time and energy to recreate the content that I’d written during the week prior to the hard drive crashing (while I was traveling), so what you see today is what had been backed up several days before and a bit more added on Thursday evening; items on :

  • El Al Does the Right Thing
  • The $6 Billion Slow Speed Train From and To Nowhere That No-one Wants
  • Even More Expensive High Speed Plane
  • Backing Up Your Laptop When Traveling
  • Anna’s iPad Secret
  • A Strange Acquisition by Google
  • All Men Are Potential Pedophiles?  So Says Virgin Australia
  • United Loses a Child Passenger
  • TSA More Popular than Congress
  • And Lastly This Week….

El Al Does the Right Thing

I wrote three weeks ago about how an error on United’s website caused it to sell some $33 roundtrips to Asia – in first class no less.

When United discovered the error, it refused to honor the bookings and cancelled them all.

El Al had an error last Monday that caused it to offer $1600 fares for travel from New York to Israel for a mistaken $400.  About 5,000 of the tickets were snapped up during the three hours the faulty pricing was online.

But rather than cancel the bookings, El Al has decided to take its lumps and has said it will honor the bookings made.  Well done, El Al.

The $6 Billion Slow Speed Train From and To Nowhere That No-one Wants

Here’s a quick update on the ‘train crash’ that is California’s ‘high speed’ rail project.

Originally estimated as a $33 billion project, the cost quickly blew out to $100 billion, before supporters revised the concept to drop the cost down to a claimed $70 billion.  Unfortunately, the revisions meant that ‘high speed’ – the core concept of the undertaking – was sacrificed.  And as for the expectation that ridership levels would get anywhere near a sustainable level – projections put forward by the project’s supporters assume a $40/gallon cost of gas as being a necessary inducement to get people out of their cars and onto trains.

Never mind the clearly ridiculous assumptions used to justify the project, its blow-out costs, or its emasculated and much less appealing proposed form.  The bankrupt state of California – or at least its elected representatives – are dead keen to press on with this $70+ billion project, with the first part of track to run between two spots in the least populous parts of the state, to not be electrified, and not be high speed.  Probable ridership – close to zero.  Benefit to the state – even closer to zero.

Sounds like a great idea, no?  Only in California.

ps :  I love trains.  I’d love to see the US criss-crossed by true state of the art high-speed rail.

Indeed, this was promised to us by Obama in 2009 and he set aside $8 billion for high speed rail in 2010.  I don’t know where the $8 billion has gone, but I do know there’s not a mile of high speed rail to show for it, which is sadly as I predicted back then.  The boast made at the same time by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the US would become a world showcase for high speed rail looks even more foolish now than it did then.

Lying to the public as a means to trick voters into supporting inappropriate rail projects that invariably disappoint is not the way to win ongoing support of the major funding that is needed to create ‘real’ and viable high speed rail.  Unfortunately, the more enthusiastic of high speed rail supporters seem to think that any extra rail service, on any basis at all, is a step forward.  I disagree.  Failed investments merely give more validity to the detractors of high speed rail, who can point to billions of dollars wasted with nothing useful to show.

Already the Californian project has lost the support of Californian voters in general, who can see what the supporters try and obfuscate – that a project which, as originally promised, with true high speed rail, a good route, and a $33 billion price tag, could have been a great asset; but has now become a dysfunctional waste of very much more money for very much less functionality.

Even More Expensive High Speed Plane

The press has been full of articles over the last week or so about Wednesday’s planned test of a hypersonic model jet.

Most of the articles introduce the craft as if it was being considered to be developed into a regular production plane, as being capable of traveling between New York and London in less than an hour.  This is a bit misleading.  Here’s one of the better articles, with some great graphics and video.

First, the one hour flight time ignores the hour or more you can also spend on the ground, taxiing, queueing, and so on that unavoidably adds to the elapsed time between boarding a plane at one end and deplaning at the other, and all the time spent under 10,000 ft and speed limited to 250 mph while at such altitudes.  (In the case of the linked article and its four hour claim for Sydney to London, this ignores the likely need to refuel once or twice and the difficulties with flying at super and hyper sonic speeds over land, due to sonic boom issues.)

The second point, however, is that no-one will ever, ever, use this technology for passenger or airfreight transportation.  This is not about developing a new civilian technology at all.  This is about developing a new form of cruise missile type technology, but whereas current cruise missiles fly at subsonic speeds similar to those of passenger airplanes, this new technology might be able to be adapted to allow cruise missiles to fly very much faster.

This article is a bit more balanced than some and doesn’t solely talk about the New York – London flight time canard; but when it talks about a program to develop cruise missiles that could strike anywhere around the world within an hour, it too strays into fantasy land.

Flying at six times the speed of sound is about the same as 4200 mph.  Half way around the world is a distance of about 12,000 miles – in other words, three hours flight time assuming a straight line of flight (which is not necessarily certain).  There’s no way that anything other than ballistic missiles can be expected to travel 12,000 miles in an hour.  And, just like the Sydney-London in four hour claim, what about the need to refuel?  It is unlikely that a craft traveling at those sorts of speeds would be able to carry enough fuel for 12,000 miles plus a worthwhile payload.

Oh – and the cost of this?  As the article reports, the cost is classified.  But if it costs in the order of $10 billion to get a plane like the 787 from the drawing board to the air, you can bet the cost of something like this will be considerably more.  Just don’t go betting on ever riding on such a plane.

Indeed, the costs of such a system would not only be many billions for initial development.  With the final developed craft being single shot missiles, how much would each missile cost?

Don’t get me wrong – I like things that go fast and things that go bang, but this is not a good use of the military’s or the nation’s limited funds.

Backing Up Your Laptop When Traveling

Only a couple of months ago I was reporting on the death of my barely one year old hard drive and used that experience to offer some articles about the latest and greatest in backing up services and software and techniques.

I was out of town on Tuesday this week and all of a sudden, blammo!  Computer stopped working.  After a bit of fussing around, it turned out the problem was that my replacement hard drive had also failed.  Ooops.

Now, when I’m at home base, my computer is being close to real-time backed up, 24/7.  At least, in theory, any time a file is changed, or a new file created, it gets backed up.  Hopefully this is the same for you, too.

But what about when I – or you – are on the road?  I had decided the risk of failure was so minor, and the hassle factor so great, that I’d simply not worry about backing up while traveling.  Big mistake.

Bottom line – I had to cut my trip short and rush home on Wednesday to replace the hard drive, reinstall everything, then recover what had been backed up until the weekend, and set about recreating the balance.  A twelve + hour exercise merely to get the new drive installed and everything configured, and now extra time to repeat the work lost, all overflowing with frustrations and problems (as is always the case, alas).

Western Digital – the manufacturers of the two prematurely failed hard drives, was singularly unapologetic about anything, and not very helpful either.  I called them on Wednesday morning from my hotel room, and the first obstacle was they wouldn’t do anything until I gave them the serial number of the hard drive.  They suggested I use their utility program to read the serial number off the hard drive, overlooking the Catch-22 that when the hard drive has failed, the utility program doesn’t work.  The next suggestion – ‘Pop the drive out’ sounded easy, but rather than popping, the process requires a special miniature Philips screwdriver which I didn’t have with me.

When we finally worked past that roadblock (they reluctantly agreed to simply look up their records and take the serial number from there), they offered me regular or fast exchange service – regular being I send them back the faulty hard drive, and they send me a new one some days later.  Not very helpful now that I’ve essentially concentrated all my computing onto one computer – the one with the failed drive.  I needed to return to functional productivity asap.  I asked for the expedited service, whereby they send me a drive first then I send my old one back second.  They agreed to do this, but said it would be sent to me in 3 – 5 days time.

I said I wanted it shipped the same day, for next day early morning delivery.  I offered to pay whatever it would cost to get the drive the next morning.  The Filipino gentleman put me on hold, then came back some time later to tell me that – ooops – Western Digital had none of these drives in stock, but might have some more in about a week’s time.

Reading between the lines, the problem isn’t that they were out of stock of their popular mainstrean drive, but rather, they were out of stock of reconditioned exchange drives and unwilling to send me a new unit.

They then offered to send me a drive with half the cache and much slower rotational speed, saying I could use that until the proper drives came available then swap them over.  A kind offer, but with every recovery from backup taking me well over a day and terrible frustration, not very practical.

The solution?  Amazon showed the brand new drives in stock on their site, for only $90, and offered same day delivery for a mere $4 extra.  Whereas Western Digital couldn’t get me a replacement for a week or more, Amazon could get me one the same day.

You’ve got to love Amazon.  I ordered the drive about 10.30am and it was on my doorstep before 4pm.  Without their help, there’d be no newsletter this week.  Instead, there is one, albeit in truncated form.

I’m currently pondering the issue of how best to backup data when traveling.  Maybe you have some ideas.  My earlier decision – to not back up at all – doesn’t feel quite so clever now.

The apparently obvious solution – a cloud backup service – requires a moderately functional high speed data line, and that’s something one can not rely on.  A possibly better suggestion – one could get a tiny portable hard drive with USB connection like the Passport Drive – a unit that weighs less than half a pound, measures maybe 3″ x 5″ x 0.7″ or smaller, and takes its power from the laptop.  The problem is not so much the minimal weight/space such a device takes up, nor its affordability (approximately $100 price for a 1TB capacity unit), but rather the convenience of how you can switch from your main backing up process to this traveling backup process when you go on the road, without having the device go crazy each time and try to back up all the thousands of files and tens/hundreds of GB of data on your laptop.  You only want it to backup new and changed files, rather than everything on your computer.

If anyone has suggestions, please share them.

Anna’s iPad Secret

Still on computer issues, I mentioned last week how my nearly eight year old daughter taught me a trick that made my iPad (and iPhone) much easier to use.  Quite a few people wrote in to ask what it was.

In my case, I have a huge number of apps on both my iPhone and iPad.  Some are grouped in folders, and others are sitting on one of the multiple pages of home screen app displays.  The problem is that when I want to find an app I seldom use, it can take a frustratingly long time trying to find it, particularly if I’ve forgotten what its icon looks like.  We have become so expecting and demanding of instant gratification (or, at least, I have become so) that is is a negative experience to search through potentially 100 different apps to find the one we need – the needle in the haystack.

Anna’s solution – go to the search screen – the one to the left of the base home screen – swipe to move left rather than to move right to the second page of home screen icons, or tap again from the home screen to access it – and simply type into the search box part of the app’s name.  It doesn’t even need to be the start of the app name, just any part of it (or sometimes even part of its description) and – hey presto – the search results will quickly show the app you want.  Tap the appropriate result and the app opens.

This is a wonderful feature, and I’m embarrassed not to have thought of it before.  If you’ve had a similar problem, get familiar with the search function.  It is much quicker and easier than it sounds, and almost instantly brings you to the app I’m looking for.

A Strange Acquisition by Google

When you think about Google, you think about instant access to all the information in the world, being able to find almost anything about anything, getting close to real-time updates and up-to-the-minute information.  I know that after I post a new article, it will appear in Google search results sometimes in less than ten minutes.

So Google, in association with the rest of the internet, gives you instant access to up to date information about anything and everything.

Now think about a travel guide book.  That 2012 edition of whichever your favorite guidebook series is, about whatever country you are about to travel to, was probably published in 2011, was slightly ‘updated’ in early 2011 based in large part on 2010 research for the 2012 edition, while much/most of the information is more and more out of date.  The newest information is over a year out of date, and the older information might be five or more years old.  And while it might be thick, it is far from comprehensive.  It doesn’t list all hotels, it doesn’t tell you all about every town and tourist attraction, and so on.

Travel guide books are a dinosaur in today’s modern information age, and with the growth of Wi-Fi and 3G/4G wireless everywhere internet access, and eBook readers and tablets and smartphones, it is becoming possible to replace heavy bulky (and expensive) guidebooks with apps on your phone and tablet, that give you much more uptodate and comprehensive information, which are keyed in to your GPS and camera so they even ‘automatically’ know what you are looking at and go straight to the information you might want without you even having to ask for it.  Programs like, for example, Google Goggles, can answer questions that guidebooks seldom or never could – questions such as ‘What is that building over there and what is interesting/significant about it?’.

So how surprising is it to learn, this week, that Google has purchased the Frommers series of guidebooks.  There are apparently something like (from memory) 230 different titles in the Frommers series, and Google is thought to have paid $23 million for them.

How does Google plan to integrate the often incomplete and unavoidably out of date information from Frommers into its search results?  Will it continue to print paper editions – will it continue to contract with travel writers to refresh the titles each year?

Some commentators have tried to link Google’s purchase of the Frommers range of titles as consistent with its earlier purchase of the Zagat restaurant review service.  But the two are totally different.  Zagat is a crowd-sourced real-time new media compilation of ordinary people’s restaurant reviews; sort of a TripAdvisor for restaurants.  Frommers is primarily a traditional series of traditional guide books.

On the face of it, this is a counter-intuitive case of new/high tech buying an old/low tech product.

All Men Are Potential Pedophiles?  So Says Virgin Australia

I could make a joke about blushing shy virgins, but it isn’t really a joke to read of how Virgin Australia forces passengers to move from their pre-assigned seating if they happen to be male and if the airline has also decided to put unaccompanied minors in seats next to them.

Here’s an interesting article, that also quite correctly reports the practice is widespread among many airlines.  The most telling part of it is the comment from the CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, near the bottom.  He says that the only way to enhance the safety of children on flights is for the flight crew to be more attentive to the children and what is happening to/with them.

In other words, lazy airline flight crew would rather move men away from children, whether there’s any need to do so or not, than to do their jobs and supervise the children that the airline has charged massive amounts extra (often $100 each way – see for example here) to accept as unaccompanied minors.

United Loses a Child Passenger

But even with $100 fees and keeping men away from traveling children, there’s no guarantee your child will make it to their destination as planned.

Here’s an appalling story about how United managed to lose a 10 yr old girl who was connecting between two flights at O’Hare.  Well, not so much ‘lose’ as just blatantly ignore the child and lie to the child’s parents.

As this other article points out, the girl tried her hardest to get United staff to assist, but they told her they were too busy.  What sort of person – male or female – ignores a 10 yr old girl’s pleas for help?

TSA More Popular than Congress

Should the TSA be delighted?  And/or should Congress be appalled?  (Answers :  No and yes.)  A Gallup poll this week showed that people give the TSA a much higher rating than they do Congress.

A question to ponder as we move ever closer to the November elections :  We’re in a democracy, where our elected Congressmen have to be elected by popular vote.  So how is it that Congress has an approval rate of 16% (compared to the TSA’s stellar 54%) even though most people voted, less than two years ago, for the people they are now giving thumbs down to?

And Lastly This Week….

Sometimes one almost feels sorry for the airlines.  On the rare occasions when they come up with something innovative, they run the risk of public condemnation and government fines.  That is, when they are low cost carrier VietJet Air in Vietnam, and their innovation is, ahem, a mid-flight dance presentation by bikini clad beauty contestants.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

 

David.

 

 

  6 Responses to “Weekly Roundup Friday 17 August 2012”

  1. David: for back-up on the road I use a small LaCie 1Tb drive, Firewire-powered, and a great back-up programme called “SuperDuper”. The first time you use it, it will make an exact copy of your hard drive, and thereafter it will make what it calls a “smart copy”, i.e. only changing what has changed on your HD, thus being vastly quicker. If you leave it running, you can schedule it to back-up as often as you want, and it operates in the background. It is fully bootable too. I’me using an iMac and a MacBook Pro, so I have ever had only one problem – the HD on the iMac – quickly replaced and then restored to status quo ante with the click of a tab. Try it out. http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html

  2. David, I think the Cloud backup is your best bet. You can do it from home and, most of the time, on the road. As you know, you do not need high speed WiFi for email, typing documents, etc. and I expect you do not need instant back up much for pictures, videos, etc. The messing with an additional drive which needs to be attached almost all of the time sounds most difficult. I guess if you are going to do some long docs and not have WiFi access, you could carry a USB thumb drive to back up THOSE documents and then delete once on the cloud when you get to WiFi.

    • Hi, Mike

      Cloud backup would indeed work most of the time, for most things.

      But – in my case – I use Outlook for email, and my main email file is typically 2.5GB – 3.5GB in size. It is not possible (that I know of) to only backup the changed ‘bits’ of the file, so the entire pst file needs to be copied to backup on a regular basis, and that kills most hotel type internet access.

  3. re: Google’s Frommer’s Purchase. Frommer does far more than print guidebooks. They have a website and newsletter, I subscribe to. They also have up to date podcasts on various sites, etc. that are available free of charge. They provide links to all sorts of ancillary sites. They have done as much as anyone to bring the travel information industry into the digital age. I access their info often and just print out what I need. If Google can set up some sort of real-time feedback mechanism that is not as open to manipulation as Trip Advisor, the purchase may make sense. They’ve done a pretty good job of streamlining ITA. I find it easier to use and more user-friendly than the old version.

  4. While an “instant file copy” backup program is good at saving files, you ALSO want a backup program that does “images” (aka “cloning”) – an exact SNAPSHOT copy of the disk. This saves files, programs, OS, EVERYTHING. Some OS files cannot be copied with a simple copy while running; an IMAGE backup program gets around this. For windows, Acronis True Image (I’ve used 2010 and 2011, have heard negative reports about 12), or Norton Ghost (have also used).

    You can schedule full (which I do to a small external usb drive before I leave on a trip), then either incremental (only files that have changed since previous full or incremental backup), or differential (changed files since last full backup) while on the trip. Do this every night to the external usb drive. Tradeoff: incrementals backup faster but take longer to restore (must restore every incremental in the “chain” starting from full backup); differentials backup slower but only 1 file (plus full) to restore. I use incrementals. Backup images can be compressed to save space.

    Then, WHEN (not if) your drive fails, you restore the image to the new hard drive, and you are back up same as before, less the differences since the last backup. No program re-installation, no redoing configurations; the cloned image creates the “old” hard drive on the new one.

    Backup jobs can be configured, as in Full backup manually run, incremental or differential backups scheduled to run automatically every night. If only a couple of files need to be recovered, the software will mount the image and provide an explorer like interface to select files to restore. Full disk or individual partitions can be configured in the backup; also file exclusions (e.g. temp files).

    No experience with Macs, but a quick google search suggests “Carbon Copy Cloner” might fit the bill:
    http://www.bombich.com/ccc_features.html

    Hard drive failure, virus corruption, even “whatever did I do?” easily recovered from. Start a restore, walk away, and an hour or 3 later, like nothing ever happened.

  5. Dave, I recommend you rethink not just how you backup but your whole approach. I suggest you take a look at VMWare and using virtual machines. I have a vm for each logical set of applications. Personal separated from each business apps. I can copy a vm to any computer and provided I install the vm program do everything I could do on my home computer. When I return I copy the vm back onto my main computer andcontinue where I left off. There are many features that would solve many of the issues you had in the past so take a good look at vmware. I haven’t found a backup program that really worked. You can’t get around carrying a second hard drive. But if your notebook fails. You can go to any computer, install vmware, copy your virtual machine (or excute it where it is if you have usb drive) and your away because your vm is a self contained computer with all your software and settings and data. Lots of features lots of different ways to use it. On each real computer I just install the OS and vmware, everything else is installed in a virtual machine. I create a vm with the os and all the basic programs, drivers, printers. Then I copy and install specific applications or groups of applications. And just go back and forth between VMs as needed. Happy to provide more detail.

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