Weekly Roundup Friday 5 July 2013

"O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Good morning

Our nation’s independence has been safely celebrated yet again, now for the 237th time.  Let’s hope for at least another 237 similar celebrations into the future, but at the same time, our freedom today is very different to how the founding father’s thought it should be and would remain.

One has to wonder, with the daily revelations about NSA and other governmental warrantless spying programs on us (even the Postal Service takes copies of every piece of mail it handles now) just what the founding fathers would make of today’s world, and with fireworks being banned in much of the country, there’s a definite irony in no longer having the freedom to celebrate our freedom as we formerly used to.

Instead, we might choose to drive somewhere (in a car that must be registered and which is subject to hundreds of safety laws, with our seat belts mandatorily fastened, air bags at the ready, the car mandatorily insured, and with a mandatory driving license) to watch an official firework celebration, possibly paid for by our income taxes (also something not countenanced by the founding fathers).  And as we make our way to wherever we’re going, we risk being accosted by the Homeland Security Department, who was conducting a full-scale drill across the country on Thursday, and being required to submit to bag searches.  On our way home, we might be stopped by regular police and forced to submit to a random breathalyzer test.  When we get to the fireworks display, if we look even potentially like we might be less than perhaps 40, we’ll have to show ID if we want to enjoy an alcoholic drink, or drinking may be banned entirely.  And those who smoke may find themselves unable to do so at all, no matter what their age.

If it is played, we should treasure the words of our national anthem, which are under threat of being rewritten, due to them increasingly being perceived as too war-like, too patriotic, too Christian, and likely to give offense to people of different persuasions, religions, and cultures.

Progress.  A funny thing, isn’t it.  Anyway, I hope you had a great day, and that you avoided the worst of the heatwave.

Some farewells this week.  Sadly, Google Reader finally disappeared on 1 July, as did another Google related product – do any of us even remember life before Google?  I used to use Alta Vista as my search engine prior to Google’s appearance, and was surprised to learn that it has still been out there, now owned by Yahoo.  But it Alta Vista is now disappearing on Monday, along with a bunch of other Yahoo products/services as part of Yahoo’s own increasingly desperate attempts not to disappear itself, too.

And an RIP to Douglas Engelbart, a name you probably don’t recognize, but arguably should.  Doug pioneered many aspects of modern computing and the ‘man-machine interface’, with his most significant contribution being the device he patented as the ‘X-Y Position Indicator’, selling the patent for $10,000.

Exactly what is an X-Y Position Indicator?  The chances are you have one, or possibly even many of these devices.  But you call them by a different name.  They are now called by the much catchier name of ‘computer mouse’.

His other work involved innovations such as multiple windows – a profound productivity improvement that we’ve all enjoyed until Microsoft attempted (with notable lack of success) to take them away from us in Windows 8.

Here’s a short obituary of Mr Engelbart, a man who has probably shaped the modern world at least as much as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Engelbart was that he didn’t get filthy rich; here’s an interesting list of ten others who similarly failed to bag the money their inventions could have potentially brought them.

There’s not a lot this week, but please do read on for :

  • Never Mind the DoJ :  US/AA Merger Proceeding on Track
  • Another Merger?  SAS and Finnair?
  • The Flipside of Charging Heavier Passengers More Is….
  • Easyjet Reduces Allowable Cabin Bag Size
  • How to Ensure Wi-Fi Fails on Flights
  • Another List of Bests
  • A New Service Good for Children When Traveling
  • TSA Going to the Dogs
  • Unanswerable Questions Department – Hotels and Toothpaste
  • Flying Car Video Doesn’t Inspire
  • And Lastly This Week….

Never Mind the DoJ :  US/AA Merger Proceeding on Track

Confirming the cynical expectations of those of us who sadly anticipate that the DoJ and DoT reviews of the US/AA merger will evoke no more than a ceremonial giveback of a few slots at a few airports as part of an otherwise across the board approval, two airline sources ‘who asked not to be named’ said that the DoJ’s review is normal and no problem.

The unnamed sources expect approval to be announced on schedule, allowing for the deal to close some time in the third quarter this year.

Sadly, they are probably correct.  The ‘fix is in’.  Details here.

Two other developments also seem to have the unnamed sources sublimely unworried.  A lawsuit has now been filed in federal court alleging the merger will hurt 38 named plaintiffs.  The attorney (Joseph Alioto) previously filed a lawsuit against the Southwest/ATA merger, lost, and had to pay $67,495 in attorneys fees for the airlines.

He has also filed unsuccessful lawsuits against the Northwest/Delta and the United/Continental mergers.

Maybe this time he will strike it lucky?  But the odds seem stacked against him.

Also ‘investigating’ the merger are the Attorneys General of 19 states (Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia).

They can investigate all they like, but if they don’t hurry up and do something more pro-active, their investigating will be a waste of time and the merger completed.

Another Merger?  SAS and Finnair?

I’ve always had a soft spot for both SAS and Finnair, perhaps because both airlines have occasionally served Seattle and provided interesting alternative routes to Europe, sometimes at great prices too.

However, both airlines have been struggling as of late, and the new CEO of Finnair commented that he saw benefits in a merger with SAS.  But, then again, whenever does an airline executive not see benefits in a merger?  The last airline I remember prominently saying it saw no benefits in a merger, and wanted to stay independent was American Airlines, and they’ve definitely changed their tune.  Details of the Finnair CEO’s comments here.

We’re not sure about the benefits of a merger between Finnair and SAS, because political considerations would probably require the merged airline to maintain a lot of duplicate/triplicate/quadruplicate infrastructure, not only in Denmark, Sweden and Norway as at present with the already merged entity that is SAS, but in Finland too into the future.

The merger would also be awkward because Finnair belongs to Oneworld and SAS to Star.  Indeed, just this week Finnair announced a stronger tie-in to the AA/BA unholy trans-Atlantic alliance.

The Flipside of Charging Heavier Passengers More Is….

Airlines are doing everything they can to reduce the weight their planes have to carry each flight.  Every imaginable service cut-back, from fewer food and drink choices to smaller in-flight magazines, even the abolition of blankets and pillows which surely weigh next to nothing is being justified on the grounds of reducing the weight of each flight and therefore the amount of fuel burned.

So is it surprising that Indian airline Go Air has focused on a major weight variability – the weight of its crew members?  Not only has it decided to employ more female flight attendants and fewer male ones, it will also be favoring slimmer women, due to them weighing on average 35lbs – 45lbs more than men.

Go Air says this will save them up to $500,000 a year in fuel costs.  Details here.

Easyjet Reduces Allowable Cabin Bag Size

Discount UK airline Easyjet made a startling discovery last week.  On many of its flights, there is insufficient space in the overheads for all the bags passengers carry on with them.  We’re not sure how extensive and expensive a study was required to reach this startling conclusion!  In all seriousness, congratulations to them, because few other airlines seem not yet to have discovered this salient part of our traveling experience.

Easyjet has accordingly reduced the allowable size of carry on bags, down from a previous 56 x 45 x 30 cm (ie 22 x 18 x 12 inches) to a new maximum of 50 x 40 x 20 cm (20 x 16 x 8 inches).  Larger bags will have to be checked.

In the US, airlines have vague and generally unenforced size policies, with a common maximum size being 22″ x 14″ x 9″.  Interestingly, while the airlines specify these dimensions as the maximum external dimensions for a bag, and sometimes even create sizing templates to those dimensions, luggage manufacturers measure their bags based on internal measurements, ignoring things that ‘stick out’ such as handles and wheels.  So you could well have a bag that the manufacturer describes as ‘standard legal 22x14x9’ but which won’t fit within an airline’s 22x14x9 template.

We find it hard to fault Easyjet.  The reality clearly is that not everyone can fit their bags in the overheads, and it is often the early boarders who also most flagrantly cheat with multiple pieces of carryon, each of enormous size.  The present system doesn’t work; some different approach is clearly needed.

How to Ensure Wi-Fi Fails on Flights

Although many of us want to have Wi-Fi available on flights, it seems that, for 94% of us, the presence of Wi-Fi is more a ‘comfort blanket’ for us than an actual service we use.  Surveys suggest that only about 6% of passengers actually use inflight Wi-Fi.

Now you can probably guess the reason for this low uptake.  It is expensive.  If it is was cheaper, it seems reasonable to expect more people would use it.

So what is GoGo, the major inflight Wi-Fi service provider in the US doing?  Its solution to the low adoption rate is to increase its prices.

A brilliant move on GoGo’s part.  Not.  Details here.

Another List of Bests

This week’s list comes from Travel and Leisure magazine, with lists created by reader voting for hotels, destinations, airlines, airports, cruise lines, and all sorts of other things.

As always, the lists are strange.  For example, the best city in the world is Bangkok, followed by Istanbul.  Those surely wouldn’t be my choices.  And the fifth best airport in the world – Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv?

Anyway, go have a look and see what surprises you can uncover, too.

A New Service Good for Children When Traveling

There’s an interesting new startup called Kidoodle TV which provides a range of streaming video content for children, and designed to provide age-appropriate content for children under 12, with various reporting and restricting options available for parents.

It will be available on a variety of devices – phones, tablets, computers, smart televisions and game consoles – and will be available for $5/month.  It can be used both at home and as a very convenient ‘portable’ service when traveling.

At present they are accepting people into their beta test program, and if you join, you get free access during its test period.  If you have children in that age range, why not sign up.  I did.

Details here.

TSA Going to the Dogs

People often suggest the TSA should make greater use of dogs in its screening procedures.  I’m generally in favor of that, but it is important to understand their limitations.  I noticed this at first hand one time when talking with a police dog handler and petting his dog.  The handler proudly told me how his dog could reliably detect even the slightest amount of explosives.

I smiled politely, subtly rubbed my hand on my concealed pistol, and held it out for the dog to sniff, then patted the dog.  The dog showed no interest in me or the smell of the fairly recently fired gun, gun oil, and cartridges that I’d deliberately tried to make as prominent as possible for it to detect and respond to.

So while it is great to see the TSA using dogs in a new trial project at Denver and other airports, I’m a bit surprised that it seems passengers can now avoid being screened if the dog doesn’t alarm as they pass (or so the report suggests).  For one thing, dogs surely can’t smell pocket knives.

Maybe the dogs can detect ‘real’ explosives, but there are many more things that can threaten the safety of a plane and its passengers than traditional classical explosives.

Unanswerable Questions Department – Hotels and Toothpaste

Why do hotels provide soap and shampoo but not toothpaste?  For that matter, why do they provide combs and washcloths, but not toothbrushes?

Here’s an article which asks the first question, but doesn’t completely answer it.  Interesting, albeit inconclusive.

Flying Car Video Doesn’t Inspire

The Terrafugia Transition flying car seems to be a bit like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbox.  Just when you think it is getting close to reality, it recedes away again.

First announced in 2006, I wrote in 2009 that it was then expected to start being delivered in 2011 to people who had pre-ordered and paid deposits on them, with a price of just under $200,000.  In 2011, I reported it was getting closer to being released (whatever that means) and its price had increased to $250,000.  Earlier this year (April), I noted it was now expected in about a year and with a base price of $279,000.

Now I can’t even find any promised delivery date or price on their website, and the FAQ I linked to in April has disappeared.  So who only knows what the current price and delivery date may be, but at least there is now a video showing the car/plane being driven and flown.

But – and it is a big but.  The vehicle looks totally unappealing as both an on-road and in-air conveyance.  It is very cramped inside, carries little weight/payload, seems ungainly on both the road and in the air, with a 70 mph maximum road speed and climb rate proudly reported in the video as being only 300 feet per minute.

Our dream of an elegant effective dual purpose car/plane shows no signs of being realized, any time soon, with this vehicle.

And Lastly This Week….

The fickle friendship of the US has struck again.  After abandoning our ally in Egypt in 2011 – one of the few moderate Middle Eastern politicians and one capable of working with Israel (Hosni Mubarak) – and supporting the Muslim protesters against him, the US then dropped the new Muslim regime it had helped create after it finally became apparent to our politicians what was obvious to the rest of us right from the start – a Muslim Brotherhood regime is incapable of being friends with the US, and now we have a temporary army coup.  One wonders what will be next – any time we support regime change, it seems the net result is more opposed to US interests than the previous regime that we abandoned (ie Libya as prime recent example).

However, an interesting trivial point is the use of laser pointers by protesters in Cairo, particularly shining them up into the sky to illuminate airplanes and helicopters.  There are some very powerful ones shown in the pictures in this article (but probably none as powerful as the one I bought in Beijing last year…..).

Talking about international problems and the US, here’s an interesting story about how the German chancellor, Angela Merkel (and Germany as a whole) has adopted yet another American term and made it part of their language.  Not a very stateswomanlike term, to be sure, but sometimes, definitely an appropriate one.

And lastly this week, to end as I began, with some July 4th thoughts, what would the day be without the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating competition on Coney Island?  This year’s winner was again Joey Chestnut, making it the seventh year in a row he has won, and setting a new world record with an impressive 69 hotdogs (and buns) consumed in 10 minutes.  That’s 20,010 calories, 1,173 grams of fat and 48,990 mgm of salt.  Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels (and hot dogs in moderation)







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