Weekly Roundup Friday 14 September 2012

Are we there yet? Note the open unsecured overhead shelf for carry-ons on this Ilyushin IL-62.

Good morning

First off, a progress report on the underlining problem which is affecting some browsers and email clients.

The newsletter mailing service has identified the problem, and has already fixed it for one or more of the six different newsletter options (instant, daily and weekly, all in both summary and full form) and they/I will get it resolved for any remaining formats when I get home next week.  So please may I ask for your forbearance one more week on this nuisance.

I’d indicated there would be no newsletter this week, but had hoped to exceed expectations and still provide one, but the hotel’s internet connectivity in Beijing is close to zero.

So the lack of a newsletter this week is due to the Best Western Premier Royal Phoenix’s appalling internet service rather than the six days in North Korea immediately prior.  Shame on this new hotel – while nice in most other respects, I’ll never return due to the inability to work while staying there.

However, I did manage to create and then upload a review on Delta’s Economy Comfort seating, which is attached to this roundup, and I also wanted to briefly start to talk about our group’s North Korean experience.

Ilyushin IL-62 Flights

First, a comment about and contrast to the Delta Economy Comfort review.

I felt I’d traveled from the sublime to the ridiculous, when transitioning from Delta’s Economy Comfort seating on the flight from Seattle to Narita, and experiencing, instead, coach class on  the Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang to Beijing yesterday.  I’d flown over to Pyongyang in a cabin that was actually analogous to Economy Comfort – regular seats but wider pitch between them, however the return flight saw me near the very back of an Ilyushin IL-62 – a very noisy place to be, because the plane’s four low-bypass engines are mounted to the side of the fuselage at the rear, rather than hung off the wings.  I recorded sound levels peaking at 94 dBA at my seat, and thanked my lucky stars for some hearing protection in the form of my noise cancelling headphones (OSHA recommends against extended exposure to sound levels above 85 dBA).

The most distinctive thing about the flight was not the noise, however, and neither was it the open overhead racks for placing bags on (thank goodness we didn’t encounter turbulence and have bags spill out and fall on top of us!).  It was the appallingly cramped seat pitch.  Even with the seat in front in the full upright position, and with my own rear pressed hard into the back of my seat, my knees were painfully pressing into the back of the seat in front for the entire 90 minutes or so of the flight.

Some Initial Thoughts on North Korea

But the flight was bearable and brief, and most of the time, the flights are on newer Tupolev Tu-204 jets with presumably more modern seat pitch, too.  And happily that was the worst of the six days – our time in North Korea exceeded expectations in every respect.  It was absolutely safe – we never ever felt at all threatened, and indeed, with only a few rare exceptions, the people seemed friendly and happy, smiling and waving at us, and practicing their English (often in the form of saying ‘good bye’ when the circumstances might have made ‘hello’ a more appropriate comment!).

We saw a great deal, including plenty of monuments, and the food we ate was better than expected – not remarkable, but satisfactory, and in sufficient quantities.  There were some strange eating-related experiences, such as the time we were offered to have an extra supplement with our lunch – basically being a boiled chicken that had been stuffed with ginseng.  The cost of the boiled chicken?  30EUR per chicken!  A disappointment and surprisingly expensive.  On the other hand, sometimes food was remarkably inexpensive, as were drinks too (although again with a huge spread between high and low prices for comparable things).

The Mass Games were the most amazing spectacle that any of us have ever seen.  One person described it as a cross between the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics, a Nuremberg Rally from the 1930s, and augmented by performers on unicycles!  It was an apt description, but in using these terms, I totally fail to describe the overwhelmingly impressive spectacle of some 100,000 performers and their presentation.  It was so good that several of our group went back a second time to see it again.

Talking about hundreds of thousands of people, there was also a slightly surreal experience one evening when seven of us went to a state of the art amusement park and enjoyed some amazing rides on roller coasters and other things.  It was surreal because the entire amusement park had only the seven of us, and for a while a half dozen other tourists too, but no-one else, apart from a large group of young Army girls, sitting on the ground and singing.  The park was officially closed, but was opened for us, so we could go from ride to ride with no queuing or delay at all.  That certainly beat Disney’s long lines.  We had to pay an admission fee and then a price per ride – at the end of our time, we had ended up spending about 10EUR each.  Great value.

I will try and write more about the experience in the next week or two, and I’ll get the other members of our group to help ensure I create something that is comprehensive and balanced.  However, the bottom line is that we all left North Korea very very pleased at having had the chance to experience a country that we left still not knowing much about, but which definitely confounded and refuted some of the negative expectations we all started off with.

2013 North Korean Tour to Proceed

Notwithstanding a diplomatic incident/misunderstanding one day which required a formal written apology from a group member for an inadvertent transgression, I’ve secured permission just minutes ago to bring a group back to North Korea next year, and I expect the 2013 North Korean tour to be even better than this year’s tour, as I of course now have a better feeling for how to shape and steer the experience while we are there.

If you couldn’t come this year due to a clash of scheduling, hopefully you can come in September 2013.  And if you held off on visiting due to concerns about safety, security, or anything else, I assure you that you can put all those fears to rest and confidently embark on what will truly be a very interesting experience.

Apple’s New Product Announcements

Lastly, a quick comment on Apple’s new iPhone 5 which was announced yesterday.  I might write in more detail about it in the next week or two, and I might choose to buy one myself as well.  The new iPhone 5 is an incremental upgrade rather than a revolutionary new phone.  It has a slightly longer but no wider screen than before, meaning that the iPhone continues to lag behind the ‘state of the art’ in screen sizes.

This is disappointing, and while it is nice to see an extension of its height, it is unfortunate that there was no matching extension of its width to preserve the same screen proportions, and it now makes for a confusing situation for developers who will have three different aspect ratio screens to develop for (earlier iPhones, the new iPhone 5, and iPads) as well as five different pixel resolutions.

The phone now has some 4G wireless connectivity but on a confusing either/or basis – there are two phone models, one for US 4G services, the other for 4G services in the rest of the world.  This is disappointing, forcing us to choose between two options when all of us would much prefer to have ‘all of the above’ as our choice.

It doesn’t have near-field communications, which again means the iPhone continues to fall behind its competitors, but it does have some more ‘smarts’ added to its camera capability.  The phones will be sold at the same prices as the earlier model 4S, while both the 4S and the even older standard iPhone 4 both drop in price.

I sat out the iPhone 4S release because I felt it offered too little extra over my iPhone 4.  If I had an iPhone 4S, I would probably be tempted to not upgrade to the iPhone 5, but having skipped a generation, the urge to upgrade is a bit stronger for me with the older phone.

Of greater interest – and greater surprise, and greater disappointment – was what Apple did not release.  There was no mention of a new mini-iPad.  This means Apple is ignoring the massively growing market for $200 – $300 premium tablets with 7″ screens, with its only products being either the larger more expensive entry level iPad ($500) or a tiny iPod Touch.

The iPod Touch’s 4″ screen and $300 entry level price contrasts very poorly with the Google Nexus 7’s 7″ screen and $200 entry level price.

Until next week and a normal newsletter from a normal place once again, please enjoy safe travels






6 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 14 September 2012”

  1. Wait a little longer for the mini iPad. I was thinking of going the Apple route as they do have some nice features, but think the Andriod phones are surpassing Apple in many respects – probably due to competition. What about a comment about WiFi ac in a coming article.
    Glad the North Korea trip went well. I just wish they would let tourists wander about more and mingle with the “folks”. Looking forward to more on your trip.

  2. Perhaps its time for you to take a look at the Samsung Galaxy S III. Based on your description of the IPhone 5, I believe the S III to be superior.

  3. Hi. I’ve noted below a couple of questions regarding the North Korea 2013 Tour:

    1. What would be the maximum number of participants on the tour?

    2. Did you (or someone in your previous group) take the photos shown on your Day 1 to 5 detailed itinerary or were they supplied by North Korea? I like to take photos and am wondering about possible restrictions as to when or where photos can be taken.

    Looking forward to your reply.

    H H

    1. Hi, H

      Thanks for writing and your interest in next year’s North Korea tour.

      To specifically answer your questions :

      1. Maximum number : In 2012 we had 35 people in our group. We split ourselves over two large coaches, each of about 40 seat capacity, so everyone could have a double seat to themselves if they wished. Each coach had two local guides, plus of course I was on one coach and I had a ‘deputy leader’ on the other coach for coordinating issues on that coach also.

      It was actually a good size. Not too big and not too small. I’d not want to go much bigger, though.

      2. Photos : I took hundreds of pictures, some of the others took thousands of pictures. The detailed itinerary pictures were stock photos I got elsewhere and I used them for the 2012 itinerary too, but I’ll be preparing a 2012 Trip Diary that will use ‘real’ photos taken by the people in our group.

      The main restriction on photography was to not take pictures of soldiers or military installations. This was subsequently extended to ‘don’t take pictures which make fun of North Korea or show North Korea in a bad light’ and also ‘If you are taking a picture of a statue of Kim il Sung or Kim Jong Il, don’t cut their head off’.

      But in general, almost all the time and everywhere, we could take pictures, and people had a variety of cameras from small little pocket cameras to massive big DSLR cameras and lenses.

      Thanks for your questions, I hope you’ll choose to join us.


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