Weekly Roundup Friday 7 September 2012

At the DMZ in one of the conference huts that straddle the MDL – the ‘Military Demarcation Line’ between North and South Korea, with a stern South Korean guard – the North Koreans were nowhere to be seen.

Good morning

I was driving home last Friday evening after doing some shopping, and directly ahead of me, low in the sky, was a huge full moon.  Really, really big.  I guess in my 27 years in this area, I’ve never been in exactly the right place at the right time to see it exactly as it was on Friday evening.

It was, in a way, possibly the moon’s salute to Neil Armstrong’s passing, because it was simultaneously the day he was buried and also a ‘Blue Moon’ – one of those rare events featuring two full moons in one calendar month.  The last Blue Moon was New Year’s Eve in 2009, and the next will not occur until July 31, 2015.

Anyway, hello to you this week from Beijing, with thoughts of home seeming very far away indeed.  I’m traveling with the 35 other Travel Insiders en route to North Korea.  Most of us did the pre-tour optional extension to South Korea earlier this week, and we’re in Beijing to quickly join up with the rest of our group prior to heading over to Pyongyang on the North Korean national airline, Air Koryo on Saturday, and as a special treat, we’ll be on an Ilyushin IL-62, an airplane that few of us in the western world get a chance to fly on these days; but more about that upon my return.

The main reason for going to South Korea was to stand on their side of the DMZ and look over to North Korea.  We hope to get as close as possible to the same spot next week and this time stand on the northern side and look to the south.  We duly did this, and spent a day touring around Seoul as well.  I’ll be writing about the Seoul side experience as soon as time and internet access allows.

This week’s newsletter is brief for both obvious and obscured reasons and next week’s newsletter will probably be nonexistent, due to the time in North Korea being without internet access.  It is a while since I was last without internet for six days, and I’ve roughed out a twelve step program for myself and the other internet devotees in our group.

The obscured reasons being the hotel I’m at in Beijing (Best Western Premier Royal Phoenix) offers appalling slow internet access.  In the very short time free that I have to go online to prepare a newsletter, the slow internet drops my productivity from normal to perhaps 20% of normal.  Yes, it takes five minutes to do what I’d do in one back home.  Grrr.  It is a lovely and nearly brand new hotel in terms of room design and quality and external appearance, but the group checkin yesterday was the most disorganized I’ve ever suffered, at any hotel, whether in China, elsewhere in Asia, or anywhere else in the world.  Of course, the fact that one couple in our group also turned up to check-in with us -but without choosing to buy the pre-tour Beijing option in advance didn’t help, either!  Anyway, happily, all’s well that ends well.  And, most to topic, it is very disappointing that a modern hotel doesn’t offer a modern level of internet service to its rooms.

In addition to the newsletter, there is also a piece on new supersonic passenger airplanes.  Sometimes it seems to me that if only the R&D departments would put as much energy into developing a new SST as the PR departments put into talking about possible future planes, we’d have a sky full of them already.

Oh – also, a housekeeping note.  Two readers wrote in to say that their newsletter last week had all the text underlined in it.  As I mentioned, I changed some formatting to make the links underlined, but I didn’t expect all the text to be underlined too!  None of the test emails I sent to myself showed the underlining, but that’s not to say it isn’t out there.  If your newsletter this week is all underlined, please would you forward it back to me so I can do some troubleshooting and try and work out what the issue may be.

Below are pieces on :

  • Qantas and Emirates to Become Best Friends
  • Airships Again
  • Google’s Gmail Becomes Travel Averse
  • New Amazon Kindles Announced
  • Avoiding the TSA X-ray Scanners

Qantas and Emirates to Become Best Friends

The courtship between Qantas and Emirates has been an open secret for some time, but Qantas these days seems even unable to stage manage the release of its biggest change in strategic direction in 50+ years.  Many details had leaked prior to Qantas’ official announcement earlier this week about its new strategic alliance with Emirates, reducing the Qantas announcement to merely confirming what had already been speculated.

Qantas is terminating its strategic partnerships with long time ally, British Airways, in favor of now jumping into bed with Emirates.  But at the same time, determined to have its cake and eat it too, Qantas plans to remain a member of the Oneworld alliance, and so via Oneworld will still work with BA, while simultaneously working with a major BA competitor, Emirates.

Of course, if we are to talk competitors, what we see here is not two airlines with different strengths and weaknesses choosing to join forces to create a new bigger better whole, but instead we see two airlines who were direct competitors deciding to stop competing.  While doubtless both airlines will dress up this arrangement in terms of ‘greater customer convenience’ and ‘more flights to choose from’ and the usual platitudes, the inescapable fact is that two of the largest carriers out of Australia (I’ll guess that they were the two largest) have joined together.  At the same time, two other major players – Virgin Australia and Etihad – are also snuggling up ever more closely, and so from four airlines, we now have two.

For lots of searing commentary, you can read through the first few articles on Ben Sandiland’s excellent blog.

Airships Again

I mentioned in the opening comments that we seem to see a lot of stories about possible/proposed new supersonic passenger planes.  Several times every year we see items about possible new planes, planes which always sound fantastic, but which we never hear any more from subsequently.

I’m not saying the government should step in and fund the development of a new generation of SSTs, but I am saying that for NASA to award a $100,000 prize as an incentive to the ‘best’ new SST design is a pathetic nonsense.

If the cost of developing such a craft were, perhaps, $20 billion in total, that is equivalent to you going to your wealthy parents and saying ‘Mum, Dad, now that I’ve turned 50, it is time to leave home and buy a house of my own.  I’ve found a really nice fixer-upper for only $200,000, and I know you have one hundred times that cash in the bank, can’ you help me with the purchase?’.

Your parents turn to you with love in their eyes and say ‘Yes, certainly, son.  We’d be delighted to help.’  Your mother digs into her handbag and pulls out – a dollar bill.  ‘Here you are, son.  Aren’t you lucky to have such loving and supportive parents.’

Yes, contributing a single dollar towards a $200,000 house is proportionally the same as contributing $100,000 towards a $20 billion project.  A total non-event.

But – oooops.  This is supposed to be about airships.  They are the other zombie dream out there.  The hope of an airship revival is every bit as stubborn at refusing to die as are the hopes of a new SST, but the reality of a new airship in commercial production remains as elusive as does a new SST.

Here’s a typical article full of hope and excitement, and equally full of far-fetched promises

Within three years, Boyd said, his company could be manufacturing as many as 30 airships a year.

“People don’t recognize it, but Southern California is the epicenter for hybrid airships,” he said. “We’ll certainly be filling the sky with something unusual in the coming years.”

We hope it’s true, but we’re not holding our breath.  Sure, airships have promise as an ultra-long ‘stay on station’ airborne platform for observation and spying purposes, but will we find ourselves dressing up in our Sunday best prior to enjoying an airship ‘cruise’ to somewhere?  Almost certainly not.

Google’s Gmail Becomes Travel Averse

I had a three hour layover in Narita on the way to Seoul, so naturally I pulled out my laptop and made use of Narita’s free Wi-Fi to catch up with email.  Except that Gmail refused to send email to my Outlook mail client; instead telling me triumphantly that it had detected a suspicious sign-in attempt which it was way to clever to allow to succeed.

I managed to calm Gmail down – with some inconvenience – only to have to repeat the process again with some but not all my Gmail accounts upon arrival in Seoul.

Since when did logging in to one’s email accounts, from the same laptop as always, but merely from Narita instead of Seattle become suspicious?

And – yes.  When I got to Seoul, the same thing happened again.  And, a third time, upon arriving in Beijing.

The really strange thing is Google happily allows me to log in through a web browser or through my cellphone, but when I use the Outlook front end, it gets very worried.  Is this Google simply trying to force people away from using a competing front end into their email system – when I read email through Outlook, Google can’t serve ads alongside the emails.

New Amazon Kindles Announced

To my chagrin, I am not only away for Amazon’s new Kindle announcement this week, but I’ll be away for what is likely to be Apple’s announcement of the new iPhone 5 next week.  There’s also the possibility of a smaller screened iPad being announced too.  Lots to hurry home for.

But a quick very short comment on the new Kindles that Amazon announced on Thursday.  The key products announced are an updated 7″ screen sized Kindle Fire, to replace the original Kindle Fire announced a year ago, and a new model with a larger 8.9″ screen.

The 7″ model (called the Kindle Fire HD) is now closely comparable to the Google Nexus 7 in terms of both features and cost.  But ‘closely comparable’ means that the Kindle Fire HD therefore loses the match, because it is a closed-system device with only some of the full Android features, and only allowing you to buy through the Amazon store and Kindle ebooks.  The Google Nexus 7 allows you to buy everything from Amazon plus everyone from everyone else as well – it is by far the more open ended solution and so if you’re looking for a 7″ sized tablet, it is the better choice.

But for how long?  Next week there’s a possibility that as well as an iPhone 5, Apple might also announce a tablet with a screen size of about 7″.  How would its ‘mini-iPad’ stack up with the Google Nexus 7?  We of course have no idea today, so you would be very well advised to wait another week.

As for the larger screen Kindle Fire, this is an interesting device but it again suffers the same limitation as its smaller confrere – being a closed system Amazon-only device.  At $299 you get a lot more screen and it is not without appeal, but again, let’s see what Apple does next week.

A point of interest to me has been how few iPhones I’ve seen in Seoul and now Beijing.  Oh, sure, there are still a lot, but much fewer than in the US.  Everyone here seems to have phones with very much larger screens, and with the iPhone 5 being rumored to simply lengthen its screen a little bit but not widening it at all, I’m not sure that the iPhone 5 is actually going to become a clear new ‘must have’ device.

But more on that after its official release next week.

Avoiding the TSA X-ray Scanners

Last week I mentioned that apparently, if you tell the TSA you have a medical condition that prevents you from raising your arms over your head – a requirement for going through a probably dangerous X-ray scanner – the TSA typically treat this as a benign issue and rather than forcing you to submit to an intimate feel up/pat down, they simply walk you through the good old fashioned metal detector instead.

I’ll struggle to ignore the idiocy of this policy – what self respecting terrorist would agree to go through the X-ray machine if he thought he could go through the metal detector instead – and instead be appreciative of the loophole in the system.

But the big issue is – what sort of credible story can you tell to explain why it is you can’t put your arms over your head?  I asked if any physicians could help, and got a couple of answers back.

One indicated that rotator cuff injury is a common reason for not being able to put your hands over your head, and another suggested that polymyalgia rheumatica is a valid reason.

Another reader and friend and fellow FS student wrote in to say :

Hi David. In answer to your question re: what medical condition would contraindicate raising the arms over the head.-

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome:  Pressure against the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet, a small space behind and below the collarbone, can lead to pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the arm and hand. The majority of cases are due to compression of the nerves to the arm, often result of neck trauma such as whiplash, a fall or repetitive stress.

When the patient raises arms over the head, it can cause compression of the vascular bundle and result in fainting.

The next condition that comes to mind is Frozen Shoulder Syndrome :  http://www.wakefieldsports.com.au/files/articles/Frozen_Shoulder.pdf

By the way-As a Chiro Med student, I distinctly remember the first day of X-ray class. As we entered the lecture hall, we saw the following words written by the professor on the board in BIG letters:

“There is NO SAFE LEVEL of ionizing radiation.”

That comment has stayed with me through the years. I do NOT go through the scanning machines. I also do not allow my  children to do so as they are especially susceptible due to their rapid cell division during physical growth. DNA is very vulnerable to damage by radiation while cells divide.

Down’s Syndrome Child Deemed a Security Risk

Here’s a thought provoking article about a family traveling with their 16 yr old son who has Down’s Syndrome.  The all-wise all-knowing pilot, based on ‘observing the boy’s behavior’ in the airport gate area, deemed him to be a security risk, and so refused to allow him to fly.

There are differences of opinion about the relevant facts, but one thing is clear.  Maybe the boy was well-behaved and maybe not.  But to call him a security risk is beyond stupid.  If the pilot doesn’t want to fly with a potentially disruptive intellectually handicapped child, maybe he has the right to decide that.  But the pilot and all the other airline personnel involved should at least be brave enough to tell it like it is, because to suggest the boy was a security risk is clearly outright nonsense.

Until the week after next week (no newsletter next week), please enjoy safe travels






4 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 7 September 2012”

  1. Does the US have antidiscrimination laws to protect disabled people? If so, it sounds like the pilot who denied boarding to a Down’s syndrome passenger, just committed an offense. I’m unsure if the pilot/airline gets fined or imprisoned under that legislation. In Europe it would have been definitely against the law.

  2. Hi David–

    I don’t know if it would be economically feasible, but when you mentioned airship “cruises” the idea of “cruises to nowhere” struck me. As you probably know, on water the term means a “cruise” that simply leaves from a port, travels some distance, and returns to the same port, with no stops along the way. They’re sometimes used to allow gambling once the vessel enters water outside the state’s jurisdiction. Anyway, it struck me: what about airship cruises for sightseeing, like balloon rides? For instance, I could see an airship cruise over the Grand Canyon being popular – or one over some particularly dramatic mountains. They could be educational, letting a person see “the lay of the land” over a group of Civil War battlefields or how an urban area developed from an initial settlement.

    I could also see them as, say, dinner cruises – imagine having an elegant, white-tablecloth-type dinner while cruising over the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, or just off Manhattan with the skyline, or Chicago.

    Again, no idea of whether these would be cost-effective – I have no idea what operating costs are for an airship – but it’s conceivable.

    Now, for travel – if they can’t match auto speeds (and I don’t know if they can) then they probably can’t do point-to-point travel very readily. But they may have niche uses.

    Have a safe trip in North Korea.

  3. Frozen shoulder. Probably the most common shoulder condition in middle aged people, and to varying degrees it prevents lifting the arm, and a whole lot of other helpful activities (like combing your hair, putting on a seatbelt, holding a plate at a buffet, lifting anything, even pulling up your pants). Even if people don’t have a clue what it means, the name alone implies to anyone with a scintilla of intelligence (hmm, does that include TSA emps?) that you can’t move it. Now, it would not be smart to be toting a whole lot of things in that arm when you name your diagnosis, but if that claim is all it takes to avoid more damaging radiation, well, use your own judgment!

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